Tuesday, April 22, 2014


I know what you're thinking. What does Earth Day have to do with writing? Well, the answer is nothing if you look at it from a purely environmental perspective. But today, I want to use the idea of Earth Day to remind writers that there's a lot more to life than staying inside and focusing on your work.

As we all know, writing can be a very solitary profession. It's easy to get caught up in a new world you're building, or characters you're creating, and forget about everything else in your life. Personally, I know how time can get away from you as you sit at your desk and allow the words to flow out of you. One moment you look at your clock and it's 9 am and what feels like only moments later, it's lunch time.

Even if you're on deadline though, you need a break. Time to rest your mind (and fingertips). So I recommend today not only be a day to celebrate the beauty of the Earth, and how we can protect her for future generations, but to stretch our legs and minds beyond the confines of our home/office and computer screen.

Now I'm not saying to stop writing completely (yes, I need to edit desperately today too) but what I AM suggesting is you take a moment to enjoy the day's beauty. Take a ten minute walk. Pack a lunch and go to the park. Jump on your bike and take a quick tour of your neighborhood. Whatever you choose, use today as an opportunity to get out of your head for a while and enjoy the serenity around you.

Even the most brilliant of writers need down time, and what better day than today to enjoy the new blooms, fresh air and a chance to reboot your mind! Your body, and your creative mind, will thank you for it!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Sailing Through Fog: How Writers Can Chart Toward an Unseen Horizon

Writing (and submitting, and selling, and promoting) can often feel like sailing through fog:

 photo 694968_zps97a5008f.jpg
Fog Photo by Psytrom, courtesy of Photobucket

It's pretty, but can you spot land on the distant horizon? Me neither. And the perils that lie ahead (other rocks, or, even worse, quicksand) are concealed, making the path more difficult. How can we make informed decisions when we can't even see properly?

Sometimes this happens on the novel level. Okay, I've plotted to the middle. Now what? I can't see my way through.

The same fog hits those of us querying or submitting manuscripts for critique too soon (something I've done more times than I'd like to admit). The book feels ready, doesn't it? We want to believe the rock is closer than it is, and then, crash. Cue rejection.

Or, for the published among us--trying to guess which audience your book will reach, and how to reach them. If this was clear sailing for everyone, all authors would have books flying off the shelves. But alas. Boat collides with rock.

Before we get too bruised, there's a better alternative. In her book Mystical Hope, Cynthia Bourgeault brought me the metaphor of sailing through fog in the first place. And offered this solution: "You find your way by being sensitively and sensuously connected to exactly where you are, by letting 'here' reach out and lead you...part of the local knowledge that all fishermen and natives use to steer by." (p. 49).

So it's not a matter of guessing your way ahead. It's about using what's immediately around you to chart your way. If I'd done that with my first novel, I would have realized it wasn't ready, and waited longer to submit it. Or, conversely, gotten the nerve to submit my more marketable novel to the WIP Contest instead of relying on the old, tired one just because it was complete.

On the novel level, this means looking at where your character is now...and why (not how) they got there. And using that to drive them forward.

As far as marketing and promotion go, use what avenues work for you instead of what everyone else is doing (or what's trending). Or, if you're agented but not yet published, this may mean trusting the course the river takes you, and adjusting accordingly.

Of course, hitting rocks is guaranteed. But we don't have to hit them all. Luckily, as writers, we can help one other navigate snags. It's why I love Operation Awesome, and the other writer communities I'm blessed to be a part of.

So, sail on. The horizon is there. Enjoy what surrounds you while you chart your way forward.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Reasons for Rejection: "As you know, Bob" Dialogue

Happy Sunday everyone! And welcome to my first official non-intro post on Operation Awesome!

As mentioned in my introduction post two weeks ago, I am an intern at a literary agency and one of my responsibilities involves reading the slush pile. The agency asks for a query, synopsis and the first fifty pages with submissions, but usually, I can tell if something is for me in the first ten pages.

Within the first ten pages, I either fall in love with the voice or I don't. There a lot of different things that make me fall and love and a lot of things that make me reject but today we are going to talk about a reason for rejection I call "As you know, Bob" dialogue.

This is a way of exposition dumping that seems clever because it is done through dialogue but comes off sounding very unnatural because... well... the characters have no reason to bring it up. Consider this scene.

"I can't wait to visit the rain forest this summer." Bob said.

"Are you sure? As you know, Bob, your parents were killed by a vicious tiger in the rain forest leaving you an orphan when you were very young." John replied.

This is a slightly exaggerated example, but the issue should be obvious. John is telling Bob something he already knows. Why bring it up? Its not as if Bob spontaneously forgot this life scarring trauma. This dialogue is here solely for the benefit of the reader and it comes off as awkward.

Exposition is hard. We have to find lots of clever ways to hide it. Sometimes we stick it dialogue but if not executed right, it will stand out like a sore thumb and the agent will be quick to throw the pages in the rejection pile, as natural dialogue is one of the most important elements of any novel. So what's a simple way to fix 'As you know, Bob' dialogue?

Simple: Put someone in the conversation who DOESN'T know.

JK Rowling is a genius in many ways but the best thing she ever did for the Harry Potter books was to make the main character Harry Potter, a boy who knows nothing about the wizarding world. He has to learn as he goes along, just as the audience does. In this way, Harry is an effective narrator. If he was a wizard like Ron it would be much harder to explain the world to the audience without some exposition riddled dialogue.

Exposition in dialogue is fine. But make sure that it makes sense. Put a confused outsider in the mix and you are on your way to a much more natural conversation. And that's another reason for rejection you can cross off your list!

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Writing Project Love Quadrangle

I'm a committed woman right now. What with the end-of-the-school-year crunch at my day job, the precious few hours I have for writing have to go towards one project, and that project is currently elbow-deep in revisions. Until I get this manuscript polished to go out into the universe, in other words, it's going to have my full attention.

Once it does go out into the universe, however, I'm going to have a fight on my hands. There are currently three other projects trying to seduce me.

There's the project that waited: the one that I started a little fling with last summer, that has patiently waited for me to wrap up my current MS. There's the wildly ambitious project: a sexy genre-blender that I'm really excited about... if I can pull it off right. And there's the dark horse: a thoroughly random idea that came out of nowhere and swept me off my feet. How's a girl to choose?

I know people who can juggle multiple manuscripts at the same time, and I'd very much love for those people to teach me their secrets one of these days. But until they do, I will have to contend with the writing project love quadrangles. True, it's an excellent problem to have, and you can always come back to a project next time. It'll probably be better for the extra time it spent steeping in your head. But it's so hard to take a world and characters you're already in love with and say, "Sorry, not yet."

If you've found yourself caught in a love quadrangle, maybe you've found a way to consider the pros and cons: whether you weigh market concerns, write a little of each project to see what shakes out, or imagine each of your love interests wrestling in jello. But one way or another, you have to choose eventually.

Best of luck. ;)

How about you? What's your strategy?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Can I Use That Picture?

First of all, I must preface this by saying that this post in no way constitutes legal advice in any way, shape or form. I'm just passing along some hopefully helpful information that I've come across :-)

I write a lot of blog posts. In addition to this blog, I'm also a part of 3 other group blogs (Scene 13, Embracing Romance, and The Naked Hero), as well as my personal blogs (my author blog, and Oven Mitts and Other Bits). And as we all know, a good picture spruces up a post very nicely.

But how do you know if it's okay to use a particular picture?

I always try to use pics that I know for sure are free to use. I carefully read the licensing agreements on the sites where I find my pictures and I always try to link to the source of picture, even if it's free to use and doesn't require a link. And for the most part, if I can't find a picture on a site that I know for sure is free and safe to use, or that I've purchased the rights to, I won't use a picture for that post.

Occasionally I'll write a post like the one I just did for The Naked Hero on Comic Book Heroes, that really could use a good picture. But using one nowadays when you don't own the copyright is scary. So I did some googling and found this post on Navigating Copyright and Fair Use Online. Be sure to visit the site and read the post in its entirety; it's got some great info.

But this is the gist I gleaned from it:

  • If you are using the photo as part of a discussion or review on the item/person pictured - for instance, if you are reviewing a product and include a picture of that product - that is most likely okay.
  • If you are using the picture in an abstract way (the post used the example of using a portion of the Dumb and Dumber movie poster to discuss dumb actions, but nothing in the post was actually discussing the movie) then that is not okay.

In other words, if you are using the image to physically identify what you are discussing in your post, you are probably okay. Again, can't stress this enough, this is just my understanding and I'm sure there are instances when this is not true.

So, for my post on Comic Book Heroes, in which I discussed various heroes from the current comic book movies, I used pictures of those heroes. To further cover my butt, I used the promotional movie posters instead of stills from the movie, my thinking being that since those are created to promote the movies, there would be less objection of them being spread around. Kind of like sharing a book cover. I'd love to see my covers plastered all over the place ;-)

Am I certain I'm in the clear? No...which is why I very, very rarely use pictures like this :-) I also keep a few credits going on sites like 123rf.com, shutterstock.com, istockphoto.com, etc. I can usually find a great photo for one credit and then I know for sure I am okay because I've purchased the right to use the picture.

Bottom line, if you want to be sure you are safe to use a picture, don't use one unless there is express written permission specifically giving others the right to use the picture, or unless you've contacted the artist to gain permission.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Query Sushi

Since it's the Easter school holidays, I'm spending the day with my gorgeous niece (we're making Easter baskets and cards and Easter nests filled with chocolate eggs. Yum). Being rushed off my feet means I'm revisiting a post today. 

I love Sushi. There's always something yummy going around on the conveyor belt at Yo! Sushi.

For anyone who hasn't been before the idea is you sit in front of a conveyor belt and choose what you like from a selection of dishes. Each dish is colour/price coded. And you can order off a menu if you want something in particular.

(Image: Voucher Mum)

So I'm sat watching all the yummy dishes going round, waiting to be chosen and enjoyed, and I realised that this is the same as querying.

I imagine an agent is pretty much sat at the table looking at all these dishes going around. We know they have a huge number to choose from depending on their preferences, but they only have a short moment to make up their mind before they pass. What they choose could be different on any given day. 

Just like what you pick from the sushi bar.

Some days all you see are California roll/urban fantasy and you want Katsu curry/dystopian YA.

But the agent could still pick your California roll query out if it looks appetising.

The job of the chef/writer is to make our dish/query stand out from all the others on offer.

So next time that 'I'm afraid this isn't a good fit for me' email pings in your inbox it just means the agent wanted a different dish that day.

One day an agent will pick your yummy California Roll/query off the conveyor belt.

It's just a matter of appetite.

*No sushi was harmed during the writing of this post. It did make me hungry though. :)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Blood Moon

(Reuters/Marcos Brindicci)
If you're living in the United States and haven't figured out filed your taxes yet—you'd better get on that. Today's the day!

Did anything exciting happen during the big Blood Moon event last night? I set my alarm to see it, but the clouds sort of ruined any chance of visibility, so I went back to bed and used my imagination to create all sorts of paranormal mayhem. I mean...all those unsuspecting, vulnerable people gathering in parks in large numbers. At night. And not just any night with any ol' full moon, but the night of a BLOOD Moon! (Surely a Blood Moon has more potential for danger than a BLUE Moon.)

And I wonder how many babies were born (or conceived!) across the world during last night's eclipse, if they are now bonded by some (evil?) force that will become apparent on the night of the next Blood Moon. Actually, since there are four more Blood Moons this year, we'd better change the age to 16 or 18 — since Baby Blood Moon Zombies probably won't go over very well. Also, why do these things never happen when a kid turns 17?

It's no wonder I can't sleep.  :-)

All I can say is, in light of the Blood Moon, none of my pets turned "corrupt" like they do in the game Terraria, and I'm pretty darn happy about that. :-) Although, I haven't checked the rabbit and chickens yet this morning. :-)

If you missed seeing the Blood Moon last night, here's video and article at CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2014/04/15/tech/innovation/blood-moon/

Great information for writers!