Monday, October 20, 2014

What's in Your Toolbox?

With November quickly approaching, I've seen lots of posts on how to prep for NaNo this year.

I won't be participating, since I'm still editing my current WIP (I'm almost 260 pages in), but all the NaNo stuff got me thinking about being prepared for novel writing and editing, and what I keep in my writer's toolbox year-round. So here it is:
And it's just about this messy.
Writing: The Drafting Stage/Craft Honing

NaNoWriMo really put me in touch with my drafting process back in 2011. With a spreadsheet to keep track of word count, and a separate spreadsheet with character sketches and chapter synopses, I always felt confident at this stage.

For those of you pantsers out there (I'm sure there are many of us), I highly recommend Rock Your Plot by Cathy Yeardley--I often build my outline around the elements she includes, such as inciting event, plot points, pinch points, etc.

I'm also increasing my focus on character development--since I feel weakest there. Mostly, it's getting to what your protagonist wants (goal) and why they want it (motivation). Explore who your characters are, and how they've been shaped by their experiences. Sometimes characters won't tell you these things until halfway through the novel (or even after the novel is written). This happened to me in my current WIP, when I finally realized her main goal was to fill the holes within herself.

At all writing stages, published or not, growing in craft is something we can all do. For this reason, craft stuff probably constitutes the biggest part of my toolbox.

Books:

Rock Your Plot by Cathy Yeardley
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card
The Art of Character by David Corbitt

Blogs:

Fiction University
Writer Unboxed

Editing: The Revising Stage/Perfectionism and Fear Mongering

I'd admit, this is still an uphill battle for me. I just printed out pages of a revised chapter that I plan to look at tomorrow with fresh eyes, but even before I do, I know it will need a lot of work.

A lesson I learned the hard way was not to worry about line edits too early. Sometimes the perfectionist in me refuses, but when I ask her if she's being helpful, and she says no, I tell her to take a hike. And then I allow myself to be satisfied with my product, even though it might be messy and unfinished.

Another big and hard lesson in this process was learning that the best editor = space from my novel. Which means trunking my first draft for months, maybe a year. When I finally do revisit content, here are some things I try to consider:

First stage: Are the characters compelling people that readers want to hang out with for hundreds of pages? Is the plot engaging? Is there a strong hook to reel readers in? Writing 21st Century Fiction by Donald Maass is helpful in this stage, because it includes all kinds of useful exercises to ramp up narrative.

Second stage: Is everything consistent? Are there story flaws?

*Insert many stages of editing and trunking, including drafts to beta readers*

Last stage: Is everything consistent? Do the sentences read awkwardly?

I'm still honing this part of my toolbox, so if anyone wants to include something in the comments section, I'm all ears.

Books:

Writing 21st Century Fiction by Donald Maass
GMC: Goal, Motivation, Conflict by Debra Dixon
Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and David King

Blogs:

Fiction University (Mentioned above, but covers all writing stages)
A Novel Edit

Publishing: The Final Stage/Sending Your Stuff into the Great Beyond 

I've had a tendency to focus too much on this stage, so I'm only designating a small part of my toolbox to it. Still, it's good to know some basics, such as who your audience is, what genre your book fits in (including what genres are actually out there) and what age group your book will fall under (such as the nuanced differences between Young Adult and Middle Grade, standard word counts, etc.). You can keep an ear to what's trending, but don't marry yourself to it. And don't just write to the market, because it's constantly changing.

Books:

Writer's Market by Robert Lee Brewer (a new one of these comes out every year)

Blogs/Websites:

Absolute Write Water Cooler
Janet Reid, Literary Agent
Fiction University (Mentioned above, but covers all stages of the process)


Okay, your turn! What's in your toolbox?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Key to Speed Drafting

Taking a break from my usual Reasons for Requesting or Rejecting, let's talk about speed drafting. We are, as we all know, only a couple weeks out from the start of National Novel Writing Month. The month of November in which every writer loses their social life. Everywhere, aspiring and established authors sit down in coffee shops or libraries or the isolation of their own bedrooms and try to crank out 1,667 words a day. Its a pretty daunting task, especially if you're not used to speed drafting.

But for me, speed drafting is the only way to write a book. Its just how my mind works. I tend to be very ADD and a book that sparks my fancy one month might lose my interest in the next. As such, I need to set goals for myself or I'd never finish writing a book. For every MS I've written, I have always written the majority of the first drafts in one month.

In fact, for the third year now, I am doing Octowrimo in addition to Nanowrimo. Its become an odd tradition now for me to have a 'Two book Autumn'. The first year, I started writing a novel in October and ended up finishing it because I wanted to start fresh on something for November. The second year I just got so excited about one new idea that I wrote it before September was out. I did Octowrimo after that and ended up getting too burned out to do Nanowrimo that year. And this year its Octowrimo again. I've done a lot of speed drafting so let's look at a few tips for how to crank out words fast.

1) Know Everything
Yep. Just know everything ever. Just kidding. But you do have to know everything about your world in characters. Establish everything in your head and get a good feel for the story you want to right. The better you understand your characters, the better they'll speak to you when you have to write about them. Your character might surprise you in the midst of the writing process. That's just what characters do. But you can at least TRY to know everything about them. Knowing your characters will especially help the dialogue flow. And knowing your world will make descriptions go a lot faster.

2) Outline
Seriously. I know that there are probably a lot of pantsers out there and if you absolutely, one hundred percent, can't outline, then don't. HOWEVER knowing the basic trajectory of your story can be very useful. For one thing, it influences how you write your beginnings, but more importantly, it gives you the ability to skip around.

For example, say you're having a lot of trouble writing this one scene. Its just not flowing at all. You're not in the mood. But there's this scene later in the book that you REALLY want to write at the moment. If you've outlined and you know where this scene fits in the story you can jump ahead and write that one. You can go back and fill in the blanks later. As long as the draft gets done, who cares what order you write it in. You're going to end up editing the crap out of it later anyway. And speaking of which...

3) Turn off that Inner Editor
Your speed drafts will be crap. This is a fact of life. The MS I'm writing right now? Hate it. Its awful. The dialogue prattles on for too long and there isn't nearly enough description. I use 'was' maybe ten times a page. I haven't even bothered to check on my punctuation.

But does that matter? Nope. Because the first draft isn't about making it perfect. Its about getting the thing down on paper. Your inner editor will be tempted to fix things. 'PLEASE let me go back and rewrite this chapter,' it will say. But you have to squash that voice down. Accept that your first draft will be crap, and you can let yourself go.

4) Find your Writing Time
In the end, none of this matters if you can't carve out a decent writing time. Find the place and time of day when you are most productive and lock yourself in. Inform your friends and family that you love them dearly but that you have to write. If they know you, they'll probably understand. And hey, if you write fast enough, you'll have time to spend with them later. But be intentional about when you are going to write. Don't dawdle and drift to youtube to watch cat videos. Sit down and get yourself typing. Because at 1,667 words a day, you'll have a novel by the end of the month. And that's pretty cool.

So are you prepping for Nanowrimo? If not, you really should try it out. Speed drafting might not be for you but at least you can say you tried it. And most people can't even say that. Happy typing!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Blank Page

For the most part, I am a linear writer. I like everything together in the same document, in the order I want it to go in, but that doesn't always work. 

In my WIP, I've been stuck on one scene for a while now. Of course, it's an action scene. For me, those scenes always require a lot of revision. I always put in too much emotion or too much detail or both and totally screw up the pacing in the first draft. My perfectionist brain can't handle this. Just the idea of writing an action scene makes it shut down and then, somehow, I'm checking my email. Or Facebook. Or anything besides working on that blasted action scene.

I tried to sit down and force myself to write it. I knew how I wanted it to go, so that wasn't the issue. It was just getting my fingers to type what I knew would be horrible, horrible words. I couldn't tarnish my previously "perfect" draft with such an awful scene.


The solution (that I've known about for a long time but always forget)?


I opened a blank document and told myself it was okay if I screwed it up because it never had to touch the real document if I hated it. Three days later, I have a shiny new action scene that, at least for the moment, I think turned out pretty good. Such a simple solution. Too bad it always takes me so long to remember how well this works for me. :)


What about you? Any types of scenes that trip you up? What do you do to get unstuck?

Friday, October 17, 2014

What's your stamp?

Happy Friday, OAers! If you haven't seen it yet, the winners of the October Mystery Agent contest have been posted. Head on over to look at the results and take a look at our interview with this month's agent!

I have been plugging away at a new project lately, and whenever I work on that new-project-groove, I spend a lot of time thinking about the work-in-progress in relation to other things I've written. If a story idea has themes, characters or relationships that are too close to my last work, then that idea either needs to wait a while, or isn't developed enough to have a life of its own yet (and then it still needs to wait a while.)

But there are similarities that follow me from project to project, too. I have been writing for long enough now that I've identified many of my favorite tropes to use, though I'm recognizing more and more all the time. I love stories about negotiating power imbalances: both in relationships and in the character's station in life. I love old, unreliable legends coming to life. I love the consequences of a long-past action echoing into the present.

And there are littler character tropes I love, too: found families, tragically codependent best friends, characters whose lives depend on saying the right words, characters whose decisions are fueled by someone long gone. And recently, it was pointed out to me that my shy, socially awkward characters show their love to those they're comfortable with by getting snarky with them. (And that is totally true. I love that dynamic.)

These tropes are sort of my stamp, as it were - proof that you're reading a Becky Mahoney story. And the fun thing is, the more I play with my favorite tropes, the more they begin to evolve. And I can't wait to see where some of them take me next.

What are some tropes that tend to reoccur in your work? How do you think your readers would describe a quintessential 'you' story?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

October Mystery Agent Reveal!!!

Time to reveal our awesome Mystery Agent. Everyone please give a very warm Operation Awesome welcome to TAYLOR HAGGERTY from the Waxman Leavell Agency!!!



A little about her (from the agency's website):

Taylor is drawn to novels with a compelling voice and grounded, relatable characters that pull her into their world from the start. Her favorite books have strong emotional elements that stay with her long after she finishes reading.

Her current interests include young adult fiction, historical fiction, and historical romance. She's actively seeking middle grade and young adult novels of all genres, historical fiction, women's fiction, and romance—contemporary, historical, and new adult. She does not represent screenplays. She is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and received a master’s degree from Emerson College’s Publishing and Writing program. Prior to joining Waxman Leavell in 2013, she worked at the Gersh Agency.

And without further ado, Taylor has chosen four winners who each get to send her their FULL manuscripts.

Congrats to:


J. Redman - Sea Hawk & the Lone Isle
J.C. Davis - Cheesus Was Here
Peggy Rothschild - Punishment Summer
T.L. Sumner - Culloden Immortals

Please email us at operationawesome6 (at) gmail (dot) com with the subject October MA Winner for further instructions.

Taylor was kind enough to answer a few questions for us so we can get to know her a little better.

OA: Any tips for writers struggling with their pitches?

TH: Run it by someone who isn't familiar with your book. Agents don't know anything about your story prior to reading the pitch, so that getting feedback from a similarly fresh set of eyes can be invaluable. Beyond that, I'd just say to focus on what makes makes your book unique, and be as specific as possible about the conflict/stakes.

OA: When considering a romance manuscript, do you have any favorite tropes? Any you aren’t crazy about?

TH: Friends to lovers and forced proximity are probably two of my favorites, but all tropes are welcome.

OA: Have you read any books lately you’ve fallen in love with?

TH: I'LL GIVE YOU THE SUN by Jandy Nelson was beautiful. Highly recommend it!

OA: You are looking for historicals and historical romances – do you have a favorite time period? Least favorite?

TH: I am indeed, and I enjoy reading novels set in all different time periods—for me, the fun of historical fiction is that sense of discovery, of being swept away to an entirely new time and place. Surprise me!

OA: Any exciting news you can share?

TH: I recently signed several wonderful new clients that I'm thrilled to be working with, and I'm actively searching for more talented writers to add to my list, so I'm looking forward to an exciting fall!

OA: And a few just for fun:

Coffee or Tea? Lots and lots of coffee.
Sea or mountains? Sea!
Chocolate or bacon? Chocolate! Preferably in oatmeal chocolate chip cookie form.
Ebook or print book? Both.
Favorite tv show? Oh this changes all the time, but I finally started watching OUTLANDER, so I'm pretty excited about that one at the moment. (Can we get a moment for fangirl squeels please - squeee!!)

Thank you so much to Taylor for being our Mystery Agent this month!! And congrats to all the winners!!

Stay tuned for info on our next Mystery Agent contest!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

NaNo?

Image via darlawrites.com

We're almost midway through October. It also means we're almost to November. Hitting November means I need to get my butt in gear and start some Christmas shopping. It also means it's almost NaNoWriMo time.

I say every year that I'll take part, but I'm usually already working on a project when it rolls round. This year is no different. 

I love the concept of NaNo. 50,000 words is a huge chunk of manuscript. The community is fabulous. I know plenty of writers who have taken part. And, one day, I'm pretty sure I'll end up giving it a go. But, at the moment, I find setting myself a daily word count target (without the 30 day deadline to hit 50k) is a better fit for me. 

How about you? Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? 


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Are you SURE you’re ready to publish?

Anyone can publish anything these days—it really has become that simple. And I’m sad to say that lately, I’ve quit more books than I’ve finished.

If you want to compete seriously with the traditional market, you MUST find an editor. Not your mom, your sibling, or your best friend who doesn’t want to hurt your feelings. And not just a proofreader.

We all thrive on cheerleaders, but what most people really need is someone who is impartial about the project and has a serious eye for writing skills. The quality of your work and ongoing reputation depends on it, and publishing your first, second, or third draft of a manuscript without an editor is a huge mistake.

“Just ignore those earlier reviews. An edited version has been uploaded and it’s much better now!”

Too little, too late. You can never remake that first impression with your readers. (Unless you delete the book and give it a new isbn/asin.. which you might consider if you already regret hitting the ‘publish’ button.) :-)

A good editor will point out the candy bar scenes that won’t be missed if you took them out. In some cases, a 4k chapter of showing is NOT better than a single sentence of telling. Yes, I know we’re told to “show don’t tell,” but let’s get real, especially if your book is bordering on being too long already. I (the reader) don’t need to see your character’s daily routine at the beginning of every day to believe he/she has morning issues. Really! A solid example is all it takes, and it wouldn’t take more than a few words now and then to remind me how dreadful the mornings are.

A good editor will tell you if your story/scene/chapter is not moving forward. I know you love hanging out with your characters, but I don’t want to spend my free time reading about people chit-chatting around a basket of unfolded laundry. It just reminds me that I should probably stop neglecting my own. So if your characters are bored and unfocused, it’s highly likely your reader will pick up on that feeling and go find something to do (something more productive than reading). This isn’t to say your characters aren’t lovable when they do their household chores, it’s just that keeping your reader engaged might require more cleverness than you thought.

A good editor will point out the words/phrases/ideas that you tend to overused. There’s nothing more annoying than seeing three unrelated growls in one paragraph, and two in the next. We all have our crutch words, but a good editor will point them out and suggest coming up with something a little more creative.  

A good editor can feel emotion and cadence in your words. Do you wonder why an action scene falls flat, even though there’s blood and guts and explosions everywhere? Emotion (too much/too little) and cadence (fast/slow) (pace). Sometimes your best friend can’t put a finger on WHY something feels off, where as an editor can offer many reasons and suggestions.

A good editor will make you see your writing from someone else’s perspective (fresh eyes). If the editor isn’t picking up on what you were trying to accomplish, then maybe you need to do it differently, or give up on the theory if (after careful consideration) you decide the idea isn’t worth defending.

A good editor will know about tense, point of view, and basic grammar. There are times to break these rules, and an editor will help you break them with purpose, or they will stand their ground and tell you it comes across as sloppy and unprofessional.

A good editor will find major and minor plot holes and perhaps help you fill them in. “If I was in a haunted house, I’d just leave. Why are they staying?” “If I walked into a restroom and found a dead body, I’d be calling the police. Why is this person suddenly on the run?” “If I was kidnapped, I’d be trying to free myself. What’s keeping this kid from yelling and screaming when there are people everywhere who could potentially save him?” These are good questions! Anything that pulls your reader out of the story to question the believability/reality is a serious risk. You can’t expect your readers to stick around for five more chapters to figure out the answer. (Obviously there’s an aspect of mystery to consider, but be certain your reader is asking the correct questions if you’re laying a trail of clues.)

You always have a choice to accept or not accept an editor’s opinion. In doing so, you either learn to defend the choices you’ve made in your novel and writing style, or you grow as a writer, seeing the weaknesses you didn’t notice before (such as a lack of character depth/growth, emotion, or forward momentum).

After the editor has done his/her magic, especially if you incorporate lots of structural changes, find a good proofreader (because the editor no longer has fresh eyes when it comes to technical details). What’s the difference between an editor and a proofreader? An editor analyzes your work as a whole. A proofreader looks at the technicalities. An editor will tell you your character hordes too much. A proofreader will tell you it’s hoards, not hordes. An editor will tell you these examples feel repetitive, a proofreader isn't reading for content.

No matter how epic your story and characters are, leaving errors for your reader to find is an irritating turnoff and a sure way to get poor reviews. The LAST thing I want to do when I’m taking the time to read for my own personal enjoyment... is edit.

As a reader, what kills a story for you?

Monday, October 13, 2014

My Office is Peaceful Once Again!

We recently replaced the flooring in our house, and I jumped on the opportunity to put tile in my office (an 11'x10' converted bedroom). The carpeting in there had a Crater of Doom worn into it from rolling my chair from desk to desk, and a more durable surface was overdue.

But as much as I love the new floor, I wasn't prepared for how disruptive renovations in my office would be to my work schedule. The office was supposed to be the priority for completion, but the contractor wasn't as familiar with the epoxy grout and that translated to several extra days of scrubbing to get the film off the tile (not scrubbing by me, mind you--but it's not how my hubby pictured his vacation).

The extra days meant I was sort of a vagabond in the meantime, sometimes working in the craft room, and sometimes in the travel trailer at the dinette. That latter spot wasn't too uncomfortable at first, but then we had 90+ degree days and I had to turn on the air conditioner out there. Which also meant ear plugs, because that sucker is loud.

But even with the "fun" of packing up and trying to find a place to settle, I was able to answer emails and tackle some other items on my to-do list--but not any actual writing. Which is when I got the email from my editor, asking for some blurbs and an elevator pitch on the Sekritt Project. Sigh.

One insight did come from all this turmoil; it hearkened back to my 20s, when I kept waiting for my life to "settle down" or "smooth out"--then I would be able to write. But I eventually had to realize that "settled" doesn't happen--or even if it is possible, you can't wait around for the perfect opportunity. You have to make those opportunities, at least if you're trying to be serious about creating some sentences.

So I'm returning to to book two of Crow's Rest (and those blurbs my editor wants) with a new determination. And because I know some people will be curious, here are a few before and after photos of the office flooring (yes, that is tile and not wood):








We also have some new reading chairs in our living room--plus another YA bookcase--and you can see those pics today over on Angelic Muse.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

PROTECTING YOUR FILM RIGHTS

Many people have asked me about film rights and other questions. I’m sorry I haven’t responded--but with my first film coming into production in a month--I just don’t have the time to respond to everyone. I hope this post will be of help to all of those I haven't been able to respond to. I really appreciate everyone and I wish you all the greatest success in your creative projects. 

Just to be clear--this blog isn’t meant to be used in any way for legal advice. This is just my own personal experience in the film industry. I have an amazing entertainment attorney who I go to for advice and I suggest you do the same.

 Below are a few simple rules. 

1.    I never sign a book contract that grants or gives away my film or audio rights.

2.    I would never work with a director or producer if they did not have film credits or  credentials. (Its easy to look up anyone in the business on IMDB. Check to see what movies they have made and watch them! ****If there is no information or just a facebook page, proceed with caution. Breaking into film isn’t easy and there are a lot of scammers out there. Do not pay for services that offer huge promises. )

3.    Distribution. I would never work with anyone who didn't have connections to major distributors. 

4.    Always sign with an Entertainment Attorney to help you. Make sure they have experience and a proven history in Entertainment law.

5.    Be informed about your project. Stay on top of it no matter how tired you are. This is your one shot! Make a big splash!   

7.    Do not get discouraged-I know its hard. Breaking into  film is a hard battle. Thankfully there are many ways to go about it. Keep going no matter what! Do not give up!


Have a great weekend everyone!

Friday, October 10, 2014

When Windows is your biggest window


The first 8 years of my marriage were lived out in rentals, mostly apartment rentals. There was one little colonial house with a frosty basement and pokey stairs, the kind you trip down when pregnant. Being home with kids in apartments in a one-car family situation, I often felt like a shut-in. It was a good day if I took my tinies to the park, their recreation center classes, or on a nature walk. We did a lot of fun things INSIDE, but my anxiety over handling the dangers of California roads/traffic, strangers, and wild-kids-who-don't-listen often kept me inside.

Feeling cut off from the world by my circumstances, I reached out to the online community to socialize with distant family, stay abreast of the news, and cultivate my writing talent. I found so much support, plenty of avenues for stretching out as a person. I wouldn't say it was a limiting experience, but I wouldn't call it rich, either. Truth be told, I spent too much time on the computer, whether writing, reading for others, blogging, or perusing the news.

When we moved recently and bought our first house, in the country of all places, something changed pretty drastically. I had WINDOWS! Lots of them, facing the light and the mountains and the sight of my kids playing in the backyard! Suddenly I spent less time on the computer. Feeling safer in our little community, I ventured out more, joined a co-op, discovered the library programs, and put my kids in swimming lessons. I talked to people face to face. At first it was scary, coming out of my protective shell. I worried about saying the wrong thing (common for me), losing one of my wayward children, or damaging public property (I have all boys). With some early successes, I felt encouraged, and just plain got out more! About this time, my husband and I got smart phones, which let us have our "Windows away from Windows," so to speak. I could check my email, communicate with distant family, read books via the kindle app, and do flashcards with my kids, all away from the computer. (Of all the inventions that have helped stay-at-home moms--the vacuum, the blender, the crock pot, the sticky note--the smart phone may have been the most liberating for me personally.)

When I approach writing today, as a liberated person, I don't do it feverishly or constantly. I do it purposefully. In fact, everything I do these days is done on purpose. I feel freer to act rather than to be acted upon.

And though I write less than I did before, I believe what I do write has a richness that was missing before. Maybe let's call it SUNLIGHT.

Source
Please share your own experiences in the comments. Each path is so richly different, and this has only been mine.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Don't leave me hanging

I came across a quote today that totally made me think of Kell's recent Happy Endings post, and had to share: 


Not too long ago, I read a book that made me really sympathetic for the main character. His outlook on life was depressing, he had lost sight of his goals, and he was even ruining relationships by not being honest (because to him, the confrontation just wasn't worth it). As the book progressed, I wanted to grab the guy, pull him aside, and tell him I'd be his best friend. That I'd help get his crap together. I was completely engrossed in the story, and by the time the ending came along, I was ready for closure. 

And yet... I didn't get it. In fact, I wanted to chuck the book across the room when I finished, because it was as though my emotions had been strung along and I was at the top of the roller coaster and the author just walked off, leaving me hanging there staring down at the inevitable drop never to come. 

Is that life? The imperfect ending? Sure, a lot of times it is. But, it's like Ms. Lamott's quote above. Tell me the story of how your character faced the situation, what they felt, and how it made them a different person (for better or for worse). There can be sadness and loss and the frustration of not having things "all together", yes; but at the end, give me closure, not a bunch of tears and an uneasy feeling making me wish I'd never picked up the book.



Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Finding Your Readers

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about marketing. Part of it is that life has gotten exceptionally busy (fall always seems to go this way) and marketing is the first thing that gets shoved aside when everything else gets crazy. But another part of it is that, aside from a Bookbub promo I did over the summer, I’ve seen very little return on any marketing efforts I’ve made.

This is a topic that is covered constantly in almost every writer’s group I belong to, every Facebook group I’ve joined and every forum where I lurk. And we all question one another – what works?

I’ve done a couple Facebook parties and Twitter events. And they’ve been fun and there’s been lots of interaction. With other writers. And I love writers. They get me. They know about the struggles of raising kids and writing books, working a day job and fitting my passion into scant hours here and there. They know all about the difficulties I face in trying to get my books to a wider audience. But they. Are. Not. That. Audience.

I think we spend tons of time marketing to each other. And let’s face it, though I’m a voracious reader – and I bet most writers are … there are only so many of us! If my books are really going to break out, find their sweet spot, then I have to find a way to talk to the readers who are looking for books like mine.


I’m working on some new answers to this issue, but I’m curious if anyone else has been thinking along these lines. I know Kristen Lamb has, and her book Rise of the Machines has definitely pushed me in this direction. Has anyone else noticed our tendency to market to each other, and if so, how have you pushed your marketing outward? What creative things have you done to find authentic readers?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Edited prose falling flat? Check your inner critic

Ernest Hemingway said, "Write drunk, edit sober." The problem with editing sober, though, is if it goes too far unchecked, it can turn into "church lady" sober. The inner critic taunts your loopy, messy prose, making you feel stupid for writing it in the first place. Sort of like this:



The unfortunate result of this, at least for me, is prose with all the life sucked out of it, leading to flat characters and a weak plot. Yeah, the sentences go together, but if there's no life in them, they're not worth reading.

I ran into this with a recent short story I wrote for my MFA class. It explored what might happen if our bad ideas didn't come from us, but from external, invisible beings who planted them to ensure we learned from our mistakes. (Much like an inner critic, no?)
My protagonist is one of these invisible beings, and the seed she plants backfires. Forced to confront her lizard boss Roebuck, she finds out the whole system is rigged. 

Here's the scene as I turned it in for class:

I can’t move. Can’t think. I stare, feeling like I’m seeing Roebuck for the first time. “Why control us this way? Make us do this if it doesn’t help the humans?”   
He flicks his tongue. Irritated. “Ignorance keeps the system healthy. Don’t question it.”
This isn’t right. My entire being buzzes with a new clarity. One that allows me, for the first time, to see into his brain. His memories.
There’s a silver medical table, with his former lizard self, much smaller, and squealing in pain. A human in a white lab coat injects him with a red fluid.
My mouth gapes, and I can’t speak. Zorg was right about pawns. I wonder how much he knows. How much he wanted to tell me, but was afraid of what Roebuck would do if he did.
I narrow my black eyes. “You don’t do this to help the humans. You do it because you want revenge on them.”
He growls, and pulls me toward another wall. An invisible door, one I didn’t know was there, opens. “They need to know the harm they cause others. Be accountable for it.”
The room seems to elongate. I stare at the empty elevator pod at the other side of the room, starting its countdown to leave.
I can’t let it. 

Here's the same scene with some deleted lines added back in, more showing instead of telling, and some sentences combined:

My joints stiffen. I can’t move. Can’t think. “Why control us? Make us do this if it doesn’t help the humans?”   
He flicks his tongue, irritated. “Because it works. Ignorance keeps the system healthy.”
I stare at his hooked face with its sinister scales and needle-sharp teeth. And for the first time, I don’t trust it. Fueled by anger, my mind buzzes, allowing me access into the deepest part of his brain, where his memories live.
On a silver medical table, his former lizard self, much smaller, squeals in pain. A human in a white lab coat injects him with a red fluid.
So that’s why. He doesn’t want to help the humans. He wants revenge on them.
Zorg was right about pawns. I wonder how much he wanted to tell me, but couldn’t, afraid of what Roebuck might do.
I narrow my black eyes, scathing. “You’re using us. All of us. To hurt them.”
"I don't have time for this." He growls, and pulls me toward another wall. An invisible door, one I didn’t know was there, opens. “They need to know the harm they cause others, and be accountable for it. Someday, you'll understand.”
The room elongates, and I stare at the empty elevator pod at the other side, starting its countdown to make someone else’s life unnecessarily miserable.
I can’t let it. 
 
The scene still needs work, but at least I've gotten hold of the emotional heft needed to carry it forward. I took a overly telling sentence that involved "seeing Roebuck for the first time" and showed how she perceives him differently instead. I also inserted more of Roebuck's reactions to her. But most importantly, I allowed my sentences to be a bit messier, inserting more cadence and variety within the prose by default.

So what about you? What kills your prose, and what have you done to spruce it back up again?

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Reason for Requesting: Personal Preference

Today's post isn't so much a helpful tip as it is a statement of fact: I--and all interns, agents and editors--only request things we love.

Sometimes, it isn't about your query or your writing or even your concept. Sometimes, things just don't click. And sometimes that's not your fault, its ours. Because we only request things that we can see ourselves falling in love with. Otherwise, why take the time to read? If an agent chooses to represent you, they are going to be spending quite a bit of time with your work. They need to LOVE it. And that's what you want too. Someone who's passionate about your work.

If there's nothing you can do about an agent's preferences, why am I telling you this? Because SUBMISSION GUIDELINES!

Every agent has them. Agents love to talk about what their favorite things are. And though you can't change them, you can use them to figure out who the best match for your book is. That way you save yourself a little heartbreak of being rejected by an agent who probably wasn't the right fit anyway.

I'll be doing a post about this sometime soon on my own blog in a little more detail. For now, remember: Everyone has a personal preference. Do your research and you'll have no trouble finding the right match.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

NaNoWriMo Is Just around the Corner

So somehow it's October already, and that means next month is NaNoWriMo! Seriously, where has this year gone? Sometimes I think time is actually speeding up.

Anyway, I haven't decided yet if I want to participate because I'll be dealing with moving and life. Maybe I'll just do a half-NaNo this year. We'll see. Work should be slower by then so maybe I'll have my brain back. :)

Whether I participate or not, I think I'll do another word count tracker spreadsheet like I did last year, if that will be helpful to anyone besides me. So if you're interested, please let me know in the comments here or on Twitter (@abbyannis). And if you have suggestions for improving on last years spreadsheet, I'd love to hear them.

Happy writing! :)

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

October MA Critique Forum

Welcome back to the Mystery Agent critique portion of our contest. The 16 entries (some didn't turn in their pitches and some opted out of the critique) will be open for your amazing feedback all week!

Our rules are simple:

Be helpful. 
Be relevant. 
Be kind. 

Thank you to all of you, and to all our amazing entrants! Happy critting!

Visit the entries in the tab under the OA blog banner: MA Critiques.

Just a little more info about the forum:

You DO NOT have to register to comment.
To comment on a pitch, just click Reply on the main post in the thread. It will bring up a comment box where you can enter your name and comment.
To return to the full list,click October 2014 Mystery Agent in the top left corner of the forum.

And once again, we'd love to know what you think about the new format. Let us know here in the comments. Any feedback would be awesome! Thanks!

  

Blast from the OA past: My Precious

Writing can be a solitary pursuit. Think about the time we spend hunched before our laptops like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. It's worse at the beginning of a wip. We cover our screens like someone is trying to cheat on a test paper. So when non-writer peeps ask me what my new wip is about, I tend to go:


(Image from Hyperbole and a Half)

Is it because I don't want to tell them? Nope. They're nothing but supportive. They pretty much need a medal to put up with me vanishing to write the first draft. And the second draft. And revisions. 

It doesn't mean I don't love them. It doesn't mean I'm not dying to share my latest crazy brain activities with them. But I allow myself to be a bit of a selfish shellfish. I write that first draft for me.

ME! ME! ME! 

We've heard thousands of times to write the story you want to read. It's true. If you don't want to read about your character or love them or want to torture them into submission with a plot twist of evil (yeah, I'm that kind of writer) then who else will care?

Sure it won't be perfect. They'll be loads you can improve on and change. You may even (whispers) shelve the manuscript. 

I love getting feedback that kicks my butt into gear. That makes me focus on the bits I've edged away from. But, until that moment arrives, I give you permission to be selfish. Make the mistakes you need to grow as a storyteller. Be indulgent. Throw in a dinosaur who eats the villain (you'll delete it before your CP's see... Okay, maybe don't add a dinosaur if your story isn't set then. hee hee). 

Hug your first draft close while you can. Like a small child it will change and grow. It won't want you to hug it forever. *sniff* It will become a grumpy second/third draft teenager (and make you hack it to editing pieces), but the love will still be there. Why? Because it was a labour of love in the beginning.

Then your job is to help it grow and make others love it.

Happy Wednesday. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Exclusive: Full Jacket Reveal for Crow's Rest!

In another milestone on Crow's Rest's journey to becoming a real book, we now have a full cover for it and I get to reveal it here on Operation Awesome today!

It's been really interesting to get a behind-the-scenes look at how specific the dimensions need to be for a cover. We started with just the front cover, which is often all you need for an ebook. But since this will also be in paperback (and possibly hardcover, if Spencer Hill Press likes the pre-order numbers) we needed a full jacket.

The artist/designer must meet an entire sheet of specifications, leaving an area for the bar code and other "business" type items, as well as being careful to allow enough room on the spine as the page count fluctuates. I originally wanted a picture of the local landmark that inspires the setting of Crow's Rest on the back cover, but I stumbled on another piece of art by the same artist as the background of the front cover art and knew it would be perfect.

Kelley York of X-Potion Design worked her magic on it once again. I love it! It's so lush, and by pure luck it has elements that tie into the book so well: the spiders and webs, the daisies growing in the grass, the watchful raven...

Oh, what's that? You want to see it, you say? Okay, enough stalling (click on it for a larger view)






I was joking with one of our Operation Awesome alumni, Wes Chu, the other day that I want to get this cover printed on a blanket and just wrap myself up in it--but I'm afraid that crosses the line into Crazy Author territory. But maybe it's just a perfectly natural love between an author and her cover?

You can add it on Goodreads here or pre-order it on Amazon here.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Happy Endings

I recently read I book I both enjoyed and admired a great deal, right up until the beautiful, satisfying, tragic end. Since it was a fiction based on actual people, I was compelled to read more about them, and that's when I learned that the love story between the real-life characters did not end in death, but marriage. So why didn't the book end that way?

Of course, some genres have a required format to their endings. A mystery must be solved. A romance must end happily. Commercial and literary fiction are more open as far as genre convention, and often that means the ending is more open as well. But in the book I read, the author avoided the romance-genre happy ending in order to conform to a literary-fiction convention of a tragic or bittersweet ending. In this case, it's a greater compromise to truth.

I like a happy ending. A tragic one can be satisfying and right, but even better is a satisfying, right ending where the characters have gotten what they worked for and feel hope, not regret. I don't believe tragedy is more literary than comedy. A well-written and plotted happy ending isn't less realistic. It's all a matter of when you end the story.

A wedding is often the end of a book, but it's the beginning of a marriage. We know that real marriages are not happy-ever-after. They are partnerships, negotiations, and hopefully happy-most-of-the-time. So if you end the book at a declaration of love, it's a happy ending. If you end it when the couple has suffered a grievous loss and isn't sure whether they can go on, it's sad. If you end it when they overcome the loss, happy again.

Life goes on after happy endings. It goes on after tragic ones. But usually I prefer my books to end at the happy moments. It makes the living part easier to manage.


About Kell Andrews:  Kell Andrews writes picture books and middle grade novels. Deadwood, her middle-grade contemporary fantasy about a cursed tree, is out now from Spencer Hill Middle Grade.  

Friday, September 26, 2014

Beginning at the End

I just read a life-changing novel. It was written in the flapper era as historical fiction from the Civil War era. It covers the 80 some-odd years of Abbie MacKenzie Deal as she dreams, then dreams of dreaming, then passes those dreams onto her children for an inheritance. She even lives to see the wealthy, ungrateful grandchildren who think her life story is quaint and her work ethic, antique. The writing is amazing, of course, as one would expect from someone named Bess Streeter Aldrich. Everything about this book screams "quaint pioneer book."

On goodreads
So why did I call it life-changing? I guess I'd have to say it was more of a paradigm shift than an actual lifestyle change that it inspired. If you want to experience the paradigm shift yourself, you have to read the book! Today I want to talk about one particular technical aspect of the book that sets it apart.

It didn't start at the beginning. It didn't start in medias res. It started at THE END.

I picked it up and immediately read how Abbie MacKenzie Deal (spoiler right in chapter one as to whom she'll marry) was found dead in her quaint country house, and how all her well-to-do, sophisticated children hurried home in fancy cars and limousines to mourn that she died alone after all she'd done for them.

THE END.

Except that the author had a story to tell, and she wanted us to know certain things about Abbie right off the bat, things we couldn't learn from young Abbie MacKenzie, the Scottish-Irish migrant who dreamed of singing on a stage. Incredibly, to me at least, this knowing the end from the beginning didn't make the story any less impacting. Indeed, the last pages of the book made those first pages more deeply meaningful. How was this accomplished?

First, what we see in the beginning isn't altogether shocking. We know that death for a woman in her eighties is not exactly a twist ending. And her attendance by children who have done well for themselves and become high-functioning members of society is in itself only vaguely interesting. We feel compelled to continue the story, if only to learn why it is that Abbie MacKenzie Deal warrants an entire book. What happened in her life that is so spectacular a book had to be written about it? (Hint: the author has written a great preface about this, as well.)

As we continue reading, we learn that Abbie wasn't always an old woman with fretful, high-society children. She was once a child with dreams of her own--some dreams that came true, and some, which once seemed very important, that never came to fruition. Against the backdrop of the election of Abraham Lincoln (her future father-in-law's odd friend), the Civil War, the martyrdom of President Lincoln, dust, famine, pestilence, and death, Abbie MacKenzie grows up. The choices she makes, the constant ticking of the infernal clock of Time that cannot be stayed, and the tragedy she must face again and again in the deaths of loved ones keep the story as fluid and dynamic as the creek running by her house.

In the last pages, we begin to see signposts, landmarks that remind us we are close to the end... or the beginning, as it were. The entire story becomes a beautiful circle, circumscribing the life of Abbie and all the lives that were touched by hers.

Would I start a story this way, with the main character being found dead? Probably not. I don't think I have the skill to pull it off, much less to make that death somehow beautiful and meaningful in a story that challenges the prejudices of present and future generations. But Bess Streeter Aldrich did it. And I'm an improved person because of it.

Happy Weekend Reading! Read something life-enriching!