Tuesday, January 31, 2012

An Invisible Thread

So I have to give props to my book club ladies for picking out these amazing memoirs lately. Last time it was The Glass Castle, and this time it was An Invisible Thread. Normally I don't have much time to read memoirs for pleasure, but I'm so glad these two stories were set before me.

An Invisible Thread by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski is one of those true stories that just grabs you by the heartstrings and doesn't stop tugging. My long time friend Phuong from high school suggested this book and I halfway through it I was telling her how I could literally feel my heart swelling as I read this story. Seriously, everyone should read this.

In short, it recaps the fateful meeting of one successful NYC businesswoman and a destitute inner city child, and how they managed to bond and establish a friendship that exceeded the tests of time and doubt to become something much more: family.

It is a beautiful story, and I guarantee you will become a different person after reading it. It's quick and easy and so gripping. I think I teared up in every other chapter. I couldn't put the story down. I read every chance I had to find out what happened between these two totally different people who were brought together by an invisible thread.

There are pictures and even a link to a video so readers can see who they're reading about. And there is also a website so others can share their own stories of coming together by an invisible thread. (link above)

Treat yourself to this story. You will feel a warm sensation fill your soul. I was reminded of the Grinch when his heart grew three sizes on Christmas day--not that I'm the Grinch, lol, but you know what I'm saying ....  That's how I felt reading this story. It is an indescribable feeling.

Kate Quinn at our blog chain wanted to know what makes us feel, and this book right here made me feel more than any other has in a long time. You can also check out what makes Eric and Michelle feel.

Have you read any books like that lately? Please share ...

Saturday, January 28, 2012

On the Scene

Happy weekend! Hope you've had a great week. It's been a busy month, hasn't it? Seems like so much is going on.

I just finished my second round of revisions ... or should I say re-visions on my YA, and entered it in ABNA, not that I expect to win, but because they give awesome detailed feedback on your first chapter, even if you don't get past the second round. Still time if you want to enter, but you better hurry!

As promised, today I have more from kid lit powerhouse, Mary Kole's, webinar on writing YA/MG. I have a series of posts from the course going, so if you missed any, I'll have links below.

Today I'm talking about scenes, and how to make sure they have what they should to compel our readers to, you know, keep reading!

Here's a checklist for you:

** Your MC (main character) must want something. In every scene.
** Don't mistake bickering for the conflict in your scene. What's the big picture?
** Subtext. What are the underlying objectives? What actions do your characters take to reach their goals?
** Are there enough shifts in action? Changing beats? Remember, in real life people never come out and ask for what they want. Don't rely on stilted dialog.
** Always end the scene/chapter on a turning point. There should be a new obstacle, frustration, or realization revealed or the scene isn't important to the story.
** Give each scene you can irreversible impact. Make it so there is no going back.
** Are there enough story values? Using both positive and negative emotions and switching back and forth throughout each scene and entire story?
** Has the antagonist had a brief relating moment to the protagonist in at least one scene?
** Some writers make emotional maps of each scene, highligting each emotion to ensure all are present
** Subplots present? Remember conflict isn't linear. Let subplots add complication to the main story problem
** Use subplots to showcase contrary sides
** Use surprises and reversals to bring out turning points in the story
** There should be a disconnect between reality (of story) and character's expectations.

Hope those are helpful. James Scott Bell's book Plot & Structure is also very helpful for tweaking scenes. If you missed the last two posts from Mary's class on writing, click here for First Chapter Objectives and here for Big Idea.

Also, Georgia McBride, freelance editor and founder of YALitChat.org is teaching a self-editing and revisions course, which you can find here.

How about you? Anything to add for crafting compelling scenes? I love to hear your tips and comments! 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Real Deal

I'm lucky to network with so many amazing writers of all different genres and styles. Being a kid lit writer myself, I tend to frequent those sites geared toward writing for kids, especially YA. A few months ago I found this uber awesome site:

Why do I love this blog? They not only post on all things YA, they actually get teens on the scene to answer reading and writing related questions. 'Cause, you know, if we're gonna be writing for teens... we should kinda know what they like and dislike. Right? Right.

This month they're hosting an Ask-A-Teen workshop where any blogger can participate. The mission? Ask any teen anything! How could I resist?

So I chose the very talented and very smart McKenzie McCann over at the Ubiquitous Perspective. I'm not exaggerating, McKenzie is one of the smartest and realest teens I've ever met. And fortunately for me, she is also beta reading my YA thriller right now and giving me such awesome feedback on how to make my characters more authentic. She calls me out on teen dialog and overuse of italics like a pro... this girl is keepin me in full check, and I love it. (italicized just for you, McKenzie) lol

'Cause, you know ... I'm not exactly a teen any more. (Thank, God! ) lol Teen years are tough.

I asked McKenzie a few questions and she has tons to share:

* First, tell us about yourself: age, grade, interests….
 Well, I’m sixteen years old and in my junior year of high school. My interests have become slightly limited in recent years, mostly because writing has been my reason for breathing since freshman year. Hence, what little time isn’t taken up by school work is endlessly devoted to blogging, revising, querying, writing, reading, etc. Outside of that, I spend my summers at Girl Scout camp, I’m a counselor for Outdoor School (which is basically an educational, district-funded, hands-on science camp for middle school students), and I watch Food Network and Cooking Channel religiously. To sum me up, I suck at being a teenager.

1.    *  How much do you read on average? 
Ooh, how much indeed? I’m going to say that in the past week, I’ve probably read three hours for my government class, two for AP Language, eight reading Madame Bovary (my current read), and four hours beta reading. That comes to…seventeen hours? I suppose that’s my average.

2.   *   Do you lean more toward YA or adult stories? 
Yeah, this is always difficult for me. What I’ve discovered is not that I like one genre more than the other, but that I care more about writing style, themes, characters, and concepts. I don’t read Kurt Vonnegut because he wrote adult novels; I read his books because he wrote about a guy who undergoes controlled near-death experiences to interview dead people, because he writes about the universe having an existential crisis, and because of Kilgore Trout’s hysterically quirky science fiction stories. These ideas could be written in either adult or YA genres, but they just happen to be adult. Likewise, I didn’t read I Am The Messenger by Markus Zusak because it was YA; I read it in spite of that.

3.     * What is your preferred genre? Fantasy, classical, romance, contemporary? 
I like realistic fiction best. Honestly, I haven’t quite figured out why myself. I guess some part of my thinks that the real point of reading (and writing) is to better understand the world we live in, and reading about a different world can distract me from what I feel is the point. I don’t think all books set in alternate realities fall into this distracting setting-based style, but some do.

*  Do you have a fave author or book? Explain… 
Oh, yes. My favorite author and poetess on earth is Maggie Estep. I read to understand the world, and the way she writes, she never holds anything back. My favorite book of hers is called Diary of an Emotional Idiot. The title really does say it all. There’s a lot of telling in it, but the book isn’t written for us to draw our own conclusions. No. Zoe tells us everything about herself, and it allowed me to comprehend how truly fascinating life can be. That’s why it’s my favorite.

5.     * What character from any book do you most identify with, and why? 
       I don’t make attempts to identify with characters. If I wanted to read a book about someone who was just like me, there’d be no point. I’d know everything about the character and then I’d have nothing to learn. I read so that I can learn tough life lessons vicariously.

6.    *   What issues in YA books are overdone? Which would you like to see more of? 
       I am so sick of paranormal romance and dystopian novels that I’m about ready to poke my eyes out. What’s the big deal with them? I don’t get it. The Hunger Games? I’m sorry, but it’s just The Giver with child gladiators. There are so many better books to read.As for what I’d like more of, I want books that take people living alternative lifestyles and use those lifestyles as backdrops instead of putting it at the forefront. I feel like all types of media have gotten in a rut in assuming that anything outside of mainstream behavior or choices automatically generates serious problems for that person. It’s not always true. My parents are lesbians and their current life concerns are things like taking care of aging parents, losing weight for a vacation to Hawaii, paying bills, dealing with long work hours, a mouthy teenage daughter, and crazy graduate students. WOW. Look at how weird lesbian life is.…That last sentence was sarcasm, if you couldn’t tell. :) My point is I’d like to read a book about a polygamist family who has money problems, or a genderqueer college student whose parents get divorced. People who live like this should be thought of like everyone else, not put on display.

7.     * When reading YA, what really makes your eyes roll?
     When the female main character is so delicate I could just puke. That back and forth of ‘what if he likes me? What if he hates me? Did he mean to do that? Oh my gosh, I just don’t know what to think of it. I like him so much, but oh, what if he doesn’t like me back?’ Puh-lease. Like I want to read 300 pages of whining.

8.     * If you could give one piece of advice to YA authors when writing about teens, what would it be?
 Teenagers vary a lot more in the real world than people seem to think. Sometimes I feel like I’m reading the same character over and over again, even if they have different interests or different backgrounds or different anything. It’s almost like each of them processes information the exact same way and their view of the world is the same. In Paper Towns by John Green, Margo was a great example of someone with a very different way of thinking and perceiving.

9.     What is one of your greatest life lessons you’ve learned so far?
       That anyone is capable of anything. The idea was mentioned while I was going through the counselor-in-training program at camp last summer. They meant it more in terms of ‘any child who comes through here should be pushed to reach their goals as much as the next child, because they are capable of it.’ But the more I’ve noticed it, the more I’ve been surprised to see how true it is. I’ve learned underestimating people is the worst disservice you can do to them, because they’ll never achieve more than they’re told they can. My best friend is legally blind, and I really do think she can do anything…except properly steep her tea.

10. What kind of teen character would just rock your world? 
       Like I kind of mentioned earlier, I’d love a character who is so far off the beaten path that they’re almost intimidating, but as we get further into the story, the reader is still able to develop that connection. I want to read more Margos and fewer Katniss(s?).

11.  Do you prefer ebooks or print? 
       I prefer hardcopies because while reading a screen makes me feel technologically advanced, a book reminds me that things in life don’t need to be any more complicated that ink on a page. I have a lot of mixed feelings ebooks. You can imbedded videos? Pictures? Audio? That’s not what makes a good book, and I’m almost fearful we’re going to forget that. Think about music. For so many years, being a good musician was something you had to work tirelessly for. Now we have auto tune, synthesizers, and computers. Classical music might be art, but pop is what sells. I have a bad feeling that pretty soon, a good ‘book’ will be based on its technological achievements instead of artistry, like music is now.

12. * Do you visit YA author websites/blogs? If so, what do you like/dislike about them… or wish you’d see more of? 
       I don’t follow authors just because they write YA, no. I like blogs that give me some insight into who the blogger is. I have to care about who sits behind the computer screen, otherwise I won’t stick around for long. What would the point be? Tons of blogs have advice on writing and publishing, book reviews, blogfests, thoughts, etc. That kind of thing is cheap, but only one person can blog the way some of my favorites do.

13. * How important is a book’s cover, blurb, or review when considering on reading? 
       As a matter of fact, the two things that will get me to pick up a book is the title, and the spine. Think about it. If I’m walking in a bookstore, the first thing I’m going to see is the spine of the book. That’s my first impression. Every author should make sure they have a good spine.Anyway, after the spine and the title, I do read the blurb. It drives me kind of crazy when a book only has little quoted reviews on the back. I don’t care if Stephen King says this book is the coolest thing since sliced bread, because the title is Thundernuts and I want to know why. Reviews don’t mean as much as recommendations, and it has to be from someone who knows my taste in books.

14.  *How far in to a YA story do you read before determining if you’ll continue or not? 
      One page. I’m trying to juggle high school, teendom, and authorhood, plus I’m mean. :)I have a lot of things I’d rather do than read books I don’t like. When people say things like, ‘oh it gets better,’ the only thing I’m thinking is: why not just read a book that’s good all the way through?

15.  * What’s the biggest blunder, if any, you notice YA authors making?
       I don’t see a lot of intelligent protagonists. It’s usually a side character who has to provide all of the insights. Don’t be afraid readers can’t relate. Trust me, if they like to read, they’re plenty smart. 

There you have it, straight from the teen's mouth. Lots of things to consider when writing your next YA. And if you liked this post, there are plenty more interviews over at YA Confidential, so check them out.

Be sure to hop over to McKenzie's blog too and show her some blog love. She's a super star!

Tell me, if you write YA, what do find most interesting about this genre? If not YA, did any of McKenzie's answers strike a chord with you? We were all teens at one time, how would you answer any of these questions? 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Solve the Mystery ...

Isn't this a fabulous cover?  It gives such a mystical feel. And today is the first time the world is seeing it. J.C. Martin's new book isn't out for sale yet, but this is her fantastic cover reveal celebration! 

What is Oracle? 

As the countdown begins, the body count rises.

With London gearing up to host the Olympics, the city doesn’t need a serial killer stalking the streets. They’ve got one anyway.

Leaving a trail of brutal and bizarre murders, the police are no closer to finding their latest murderer than Detective Inspector Kurt Lancer is in finding a solution for his daughter’s disability.

Thrust into the pressure cooker of a high profile case, the struggling single parent is wound tight as he tries to balance care of his own family with the safety of a growing population of potential next victims.

One of whom could be his own daughter.

Fingers point in every direction as the public relations nightmare grows, and Lancer’s only answer comes in the form of a single oak leaf left at each crime scene.

I love it! Doesn't sound great? And you don't have to wait for the book birthday to start solving the mystery .... 

J.C. is running a blogging mystery of her own all day today. Solve it and you can win $20 Amazon gift card. All you have to do is hop over to Mystery Tour Headquarters and inspect the blogs listed there for clues. Come on, you know you want to! Who doesn't love a good mystery??? 

For those participating in the Rebel Writer Pledge, see my link on the sidebar for my goal page. 

Thanks for stopping by here! Read any good mysteries lately? Do tell ....

Friday, January 20, 2012

The WRITE Dreams ...

Such a catchy name, eh? Well, I didn't make it up. If you're not already familiar with the awesomeness of Marieke and the other ladies at Write Dreams, let me take a moment to acquaint you. It is SO worth your while to get to know their amazing efforts and causes. Each year they arrange fantastic auctions for writers and readers, to help raise funds for special causes.

Last year they had great success for the Japan relief efforts after the earthquake. Right now, they are raising funds for Donna's Dream House. Don't feel bad, I didn't know what Donna's Dream House was either... it's based in the UK.... and rather than tell you what they do ... I'll leave you the link and tell you it is an AMAZING effort.

Last time Write Dreams had an auction, I won an arc and ten page critique from a super fun debut author. It's worth it to hop over and see their items... Every day they add more to the auction, so you can check it daily. Lots of YA and MG authors. And these are beneficial to everyone who participates.

Marieke has stopped by to tell you a little about why this fundraiser for Donna's Dream House is so important to her ....

Hi , It's Marieke here. :)

  I remember walking past a hospital room one day. The room appeared to be sealed off and its white walls and sterile smell didn’t fit in the otherwise colorful children’s hospital. The people inside wore gowns and gloves to keep the risk of infection to a bare minimum.
It looked like the scene from a thriller – Outbreak, or something.
Instead, what I saw were the effects of a bone marrow transplant. I remember staring at the room while the whole process flashed around in my head. A transplant meant harvesting marrow through a needle in your hip. It meant severe chemotherapy to destroy all the remaining marrow in your body. It meant not knowing what would happened next.
I don’t remember if the patient was a boy or a girl, I just remember standing there, aged 12, thinking it might be me.
Up to that point, I’d spent a lot of time in several hospitals; after that moment, I’d spent even more time in medical care because my immune system was doing everything it shouldn’t and nothing it should. Standing outside that room is one of many memories that would forever stay with me. The others? Going to a sea aquarium with other patients. Being allowed to wander around the off-limits section of a military airport (hey, I’m a geek!). Ice cream on an afternoon away from the hospital. Singing along on the top of my voice to Meat Loaf songs at the hospital school’s dance. The colors and laughter of a family room.
Because the only thing that outweighs not knowing if tomorrow is still there is living today to the fullest, together with family and friends. Donna’s Dream House gives children and teens with life-threatening diseases the chance to make those memories and live those dreams. At least, it did. Until right before holidays, part of the main building was torched beyond repair.
They were forced to cancel Christmas for the families set to stay there.
Think about that for a moment.
And then hop over to Write Dreams, a kidlit auction to raise money for Donna’s Dream House. This week and next we have some amazing lots of signed books, critiques, ARCs, swag… not to mention a whole lot of UK authors chipping in too, so the perfect moment to try out some delish foreign books ;-) Hop over and please help us give Donna’s Dream House a better start of 2012. 

Thank you!

Thanks to Marieke for that heartfelt memory. I'm telling you, peeps, hop over to the Write Dreams blog and just look at what the arsons did to this charitable organization. Unbelievable. 

FYI if you plan on bidding and you're from the U.S., the amounts shows in GBP sterling. So here's a quick currency convert for you:

1.00USD = .65GBP           1.00GBP = 1.53USD

Next week I'll have more from Mary Kole's webinar, so check back then. And please, by all means head over to Write Dreams and start your bidding! You may just stumble onto an excellent opportunity, while helping a wonderful cause!

Thank you SO much for stopping by here! Have a wonderful weekend! 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Childhood Home

Today on the blog chain, Jonathan Arntson wants to know:

Imagine the home(s) where you grew up, and start drawing a floor plan. As you draw, memories will surface. Grab onto one of those memories and tell us a story.

This isn't hard for me to do, since my parents still live in the same house I grew up in. I see it all the time, though it looks quite different after years of remodeling and redecorating.

But I'll tell you a quick story of something that flooded my mind with memories while I was there the other day.... I was looking for something in one of the upstairs bedroom closets and noticed the wall in the back was still incomplete, which led back behind the wall, from one end of the house to the other.

Memories washed over me and settled like a cozy blanket. When my two younger brothers and I were kids, we buried a treasure map in an old wooden box way back behind the wall there. We singed the edges of the parchment the map was drawn on to make it look old and interesting, and we sealed the edges of the box with candle wax. Yeah, I know .... what the heck were we doing with matches and candles??

Um, being kids .... naughty ones. *sheepish grin*

Anyway, flash forward to present day and my seven year old son wanted to know what I was doing in the closet, so I told him about the memory and showed him how, if you climb back behind the wall, you can get from one side of the house to the other through the rafters, and that as a child, I stashed a secret treasure map back there years ago.

He was dazzled. 

We tried finding it, but it was not as easy as we'd hoped. What fun would that be, anyway? Now the seed is planted in his head and he's determined to find it one day. It will give him something to plot and plan, if nothing else. He'll be disappointed to learn there is no treasure, only a map ... but hey, let a kid dream, that's what I say! ;)

For more on the blog chain, visit Eric who posted a day ago, and Michelle who posts today. 

Do you have any childhood memories from the house you grew up in? Please share!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Got YA??

Hey, y'all! If you write YA or MG like I do, here's your chance to pitch to two agents and an editor starting tomorrow and running through this weekend!

Head over to YALitChat and sign up. All you have to do is be a member (which is free at the first level) and post your 1-5 line pitch in the forum. Agents will be perusing the posts next week and leaving comments. If you're selected, you will win a full professional critique of your story. How cool is that??

YALitChat is a great place for YA/MG writers to connect and there are soooo many benefits. I'm one of the moderators over there and I post news articles on the blog there. If you need to brush up on how to pitch, check out the articles I've posted here and here.

Just to mention one of the many benefits of becoming a Tier 2 member, you can take part in the Agent Mailbox Submissions. There are currently 21 agents and editors at the Agent Mailbox panel and not only do you get a preferred submission (over the slush) by using the Mailbox, founder and freelance editor, Georgia McBride will critique your query and first 500 words before submitting .... for free.

So far, I've had 3 partials and 1 full request through Agent Mailbox.

Come join the fun and become a part of this awesome writing community.

I'll be posting my pitch there tomorrow. See you there! 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

First Chapter Objectives

More from kid lit extraordinaire, Mary Kole's, webinar. This was geared toward YA/MG writers, but any writer can benefit from her professional advice.

I have tons more to share with you, but today's post is on the blasted glorious first chapter. Here are some things I learned from Mary, but posted in my own words. Check this out:

* Good first chapters introduce the MC (main character) without a huge info dump. Put MC in motion and sprinkle in just enough details to ground us so we can bond with the MC while he/she is in action.

* Make MC sympathetic, not pathetic, by showing him/her in action. 

* Inciting Incident has to occur in first chapter. If it doesn't, cut, cut, cut until it does.

* Shape the reader's expectations for the rest of the story. *** This is a big one I notice when doing beta reads. The first chapter will be great, but then in the next couple of chapters the story changes so drastically, I had no idea where we were going. If it's a thriller, give the expectation as such; sci-fi, add something to ground the reader. Usually with book covers and blurbs we get a better idea of this. Still, Mary did mention it.

* STORY PROMISE along the same lines as expectations. Make sure the first chapter tone relates to the rest of the story. Is the story promise funny, negative, suspensful, etc.

* Back story is okay. We shouldn't be afraid to use back story... just in moderation. Use only enough to let reader get comfortably nestled into the story and bond with the character. 

Hope these are helpful. Any questions regarding them, please leave in comments and I will gladly answer if I can.

Much more coming, so please check back here soon. Also, here is an excellent opportunity to help out a fellow writer. Please check this link for more details. Let's show the blogosphere how well writers support each other.

Any tips on crafting the first chapter that you'd like to share?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Insecure Writers Group

Today's the day for the Insecure Writer's Support Group monthly posting. The first Wednesday of every month is when it happens and there are a whole bunch of bloggers who participate. Anyone can join, so feel free to add your name to the list, or just hop around and read the different posts.

Click pic for the list of participants over at Alex J.Cavanaugh's blog.

So let's see.... where am I on my writing path ... Oh yeah! I just finished the first draft of my YA thriller and gosh darn it feels good! But now I'm going through this weird kind of love/hate relationship with it. I love that my characters have developed and my plot is pretty tight, but man I keep thinking, what the heck did I do??? No one is going to wanna read about this! Teens interested in historical documents that keep a huge political secret? They don't want to read about that, do they?

They want paranormal dystopian romances, for Pete's sake!

And then I think, well no .... that's not all true. I'd have read a story like this when I was a teen: a conspiratorial/ controversial Indiana Jones meets National treasure kind of tale full of adventuresome danger.

Yep, I'd have been all over it. But will the average teen today?? I dunno.

So you see what I mean?? I'm splat in the middle of my first round of revisions and digging my work, but questioning every step of the way.

That's where I'm at right now. And I have to apologize because my blogging has been the bare minimum these past few weeks while I'm trying to get my WIP ready for beta reads. I've been so consumed with it, and the holidays and kids, that I've neglected so many other blogs and there is nothing I can say to that, except something  had to give.

I'll get caught up soon though. And I miss visiting so many of you. Those who comment here are always the first on my agenda to visit, and if I happened to miss you over the last few weeks, please accept my sincerest apology. I love you for stopping by here and your comments mean the world!

Tell me, how is your writing coming along? And do you ever go through a love/hate relationship with your work?