Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Is Chaos Interfering With Your Writing Life?

So how has everyone been doing on their writing goals this month? I was one of those that said I'd finish my first draft for NaNo. It didn't happen. Matter of fact, I barely wrote at all this month. HOWEVER, I feel pretty darn good about what I've gotten done. I've re-claimed my home.

Are you one of those writers that lets your house fall apart all in the name of writing? Well, from personal experience, it is difficult to feel relaxed and creative if you have chaos surrounding you. For my post today, I wanted to encourage you all to re-find your life...your real life, not your imaginary world. Gain control of your environment, then you will be able to focus when you sit down to create your written world. You will be happier. Your family will be happier. You will have balance.

In the past, I've done some home organization with the help of Flylady. She is great for teaching you routines and baby steps. I still use a lot of her helpful hints even when I am not following her advise exclusively. I suggest you check her site out if you haven't already.

Currently, I'm using a more simple way to get my life in order. For several months, I'd given my kids chore charts. (I highly recommend it!) Well, I gave myself a chore chart, as well, and posted it up on the fridge right next to the kid's charts. If I expect my kids to be responsible, then I need to show responsibility myself.

Here is my chart:

As you can see, I've added exercise (blech), studying my bible (Quite time), and WRITING and EDITING. I've made it a PART of my day, instead of making writing encompassing my day. 

My house has never looked this good. Seriously. And all of my chores, once you have the decluttering down (Rooms Rescues), it only takes a few minutes to get that done each day. I feel more at ease when I sit down to write, instead of feeling guilty that I haven't gotten my normal, everyday stuff done.

I am not an organized person by nature, just so you know. And I'm about as un-domestic as one can get. So if I can gain back my house and increase peace in my life, I know you can too.

Now, go do something to balance your life.

NOTE: And don't forget to come back tomorrow and enter our new Mystery Agent Contest. Oliver says that you won't want to miss it.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Post-NaNo Editing Checklist!

Congrats to all the NaNoWriMo winners!! 50k in one month? Ya'll are definitely my heroes.

If you didn't win, or didn't participate (like moi), it's cool. Something is better than nothing, right? Right.

So. Since the end of NaNo is upon us, I thought I'd talk a bit about what you'll all be doing this December. And by that, I mean one word: r-e-v-i-s-i-o-n. 

*cue evil laughter*

Okay. December is Revision Month. And in order to tackle Revision Month, you need to take things one step at a time (so you won't go insane). 

Ladies and gents, I give you the Post-Nano Editing Checklist!

1) Read your first draft without editing.

Just get a feel for your story and how you wrote it down, not how you envision it. That part comes after you've finished reading the manuscript. But you are allowed to make comments along the way, like put something in bold with the words "this sucks out loud" in blue font or whatever. That way, you'll know where to find what to fix.

2) Put first draft aside and brainstorm.

Take a sheet of paper or a blank Word document and write like there's no tomorrow. What are you going to write? Any new ideas/scenes/chapters that come to mind. You can also make a list of what works best in the first draft, what needs to be improved, and what needs to get cut. The more time you spend brainstorming new ways to tell your story, the less you'll pull your hair out during revisions.

3) Tackle little things first, then go for the big ones.

Don't try to fix everything at the same time. Sure, if you work better that way, go for it. But if you're susceptible to dementia like me, go slow. Maybe you think Subplot #1 is an easy fix, but it's not as important as Subplot #3. Trust me--everything in your manuscript is important. Why else would you have written it? Take your time to work on loose plot threads/unclear world building first, then dive into character goals and motivations/theme/voice. Or vice versa, if you consider the latter easiest. In the end, it's all up to you. 

4) Send to crit partners and/or betas

Another set of eyes is needed for any manuscript. Yes, you think yours is awesome, but someone else needs to agree with you. They'll spot problems you never saw coming, and might even make better suggestions than the ones you came up with during Brainstorming Session. Just make sure you mull over every bit of advice your crit partner/beta gives you, then apply what works best for your story. 

5) Rinse. Repeat... until you can't find anything else to fix.

So there you go. This December is going to be soooo much fun, right? Right.

Tell me: do you follow a different set of rules for edits? What's the Post-NaNo experience like for you?

Food for Thought...and Writing

So you know that whole stereotypical writer? Angsty, broody, dressed in black, eccentric, moody, often an alcoholic or chain-smoker (or both)? Same goes for artist, sculptor - anyone in the arts. People hear that I'm a writer and they'll look at me (a mostly normal soccer mom) and say "wow, cool, I never would have guessed." I can't really blame them. I still have that stereotype visual in my head even though I and most of my friends are writers who don't fit that mold.

I was asked once if I thought creative people needed angst to create. And you know what, it's an interesting question.

Do I think creative people need angst?…. No. Do I think many creative people have angst (at least more than the average person)? ….. Yes. Do I need angst? …. I have no idea.

Angst can be defined as “A feeling of anxiety or apprehension often accompanied by depression…[and]…going through deep emotional and possibly physical pain .” For you visual folk, this is how I see it:


No Angst:

I do tend to be more inspired by angst. Depression and sadness seem to draw the creativity out of me more than other emotions. (What this says about me I really don’t want to know…not sure I want to) :D The good news is, I don’t necessarily need the angst to be my own. I get very inspired by other people’s angst as well, like a really good, angsty song or movie. I guess I’d have to say, no, I don’t think creative people have to have angst in order to produce good work. But, I do think it helps.

Robert Penn Warren said:

The writer’s fundamental attempt is to understand the meaning of his own experiences. If he can’t break through those issues that concern him deeply, he’s not going to be very good.

I think this is what I try to do in my work. I wouldn’t describe it as “angst,” but I do dissect my experiences in order to serve up the most intense parts of them. And the more “angsty” emotions do tend to be the strongest, the ones that stick with me the most. For example, I was ecstatic at my wedding. It was a wonderful day. And then when my son was born, the love and joy I felt looking into his newborn eyes was beyond description.

But the experiences that are the easiest to delve into now, are the depressing ones, the sad, heartbreaking, fearful, adrenaline-filled, emotional ones. Though I remember the "good times" clearly, I have a hard time feeling that exact euphoria I felt at the best moments of my life. But I can feel the pain and anguish and rage and heat and desire and all consuming love or hate that I felt at the worst or most intense moments in my life at a moment’s notice – I just have to dip into the right memory.

This post is getting tremendously long, so I'll go into the whole emotion aspect more next week, but for now, let me ask you...

Do you think creative people need angst to create? Do you need it?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Literary Rock Star Interview with Teen Writer and Philanthropist Riley Carney

Have you had the pleasure of meeting Riley Carney on twitter?

You may have stumbled upon her interview this past September at CYNSATIONS or heard about the literacy advocacy nonprofit she runs with her brother (Breaking the Chain).

Or maybe you're already a fan of her fantasy series, The Reign of the Elements.

If not, then allow me to introduce you to a woman who loves books as much as you do, a woman who won't rest until she's shared that love with the children and adults of the world, a woman who started a nonprofit organization in her early teens and now, in her late teens, is in the middle of seeing her first five-book series published! This is an amazing person, someone who personally inspires me. I hope you'll enjoy getting to know her as much as I have.

Here's Riley.

Katrina: You started writing seriously when you were ten, but when did you know you wanted to be a professional writer?

Riley: I’ve always loved to write, so becoming a professional writer was always a dream for me. During first and second grades I wanted to be veterinarian, but I think that was because I was so proud that I could spell the word. After that, all through my elementary and middle school years, I always wanted to be a writer. I loved the idea that my job could be something as fun as making up stories.

Katrina: What resources did you find most helpful as a young writer? Friends? Family? The internets? What is your advice to other teens, or kids, who want to become writers?

Riley: So many resources have been helpful to me. My family, of course, is incredibly supportive. They are always my first readers and I trust their feedback more than anybody else’s. Twitter and the internet have also been immensely helpful. There is so much information out there and so many helpful people in the writing and publishing industry that it can be really easy to educate yourself on everything that is happening, to find writing tips, or just to be able to communicate with some truly amazing authors. It’s great to be able to make the kind of connections that Twitter facilitates that I never would have been able to without it.

My biggest advice for kids and teens who want to become writers is to keep on trying. Persistence is key if you want to succeed. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there – rejection and failure is part of the process. Also, educate yourself as much as possible. Read books about writing, read books about publishing, and just plain read!

Katrina: You have two published books, three more in that series, and another trilogy already written! Eight books by age seventeen. Are you participating in NaNoWriMo and what's next for you?

Riley: I am not participating in NaNoWriMo – I’m actually halfway through the first book of a new trilogy right now, and I never like to interrupt the flow of a book when I’m in the thick of it! This trilogy is YA with a dystopian bent to it, and I’m really excited about it. It’s different than anything that I’ve written before.

Katrina: Your parents must be immensely proud of you. But give it to me straight: are guys intimidated by your sheer awesomeness?

Riley: I’m not sure how to answer that one, except to say thank you so much for the compliment! :)

Katrina: If you were a character--any character--from a Harry Potter book, who would you be, and why?

Riley: I would definitely choose to be Hermione. She’s amazing – smart, funny, and quite dangerous with a wand. Honestly, I don’t know who wouldn’t want to be Hermione!

Katrina: (I would totally pick Hermione, too! She made me want to go to the library and read dictionaries. She rocks!)

At fourteen you started your not-for-profit against illiteracy, Breaking the Chain. At fifteen you wrote your first book. How did these choices influence each other? How did you make time to do it all?

Riley: Both my decisions to create Breaking the Chain and to write a book stemmed from my love of reading and learning. I first created Breaking the Chain when I learned that 120 million children worldwide are denied access to a basic education and that 1.2 million kids drop out of school each year in the United States. Hearing that and reflecting on my own education and my love of reading really propelled me to take action. My desire to write books and get them published came from my desire to share a story. I specifically targeted the age group of 8-14 since so many kids stop reading at that age, especially boys, and I thought that a fun, fantasy-adventure story might just keep some of them engaged in reading.

After I wrote my first book, I decided to leave my traditional high school and I began taking my classes at home through online programs from Johns Hopkins and Duke Universities. I usually do all my school work in the morning and early afternoon, and then spend the rest of the day writing, speaking at schools, or working on Breaking the Chain. I’m a little obsessive about scheduling my time, but I wouldn’t be able to get everything done if I wasn’t.

Katrina: Your not-for-profit, Breaking the Chain, has brought literature and learning to people near and far. We think it's incredible what you've accomplished and we want to support your efforts. Where is the greatest need and what can we writers do to help?

Riley: Breaking the Chain has built three schools in Africa, created a children’s literacy center at women’s shelter in Colorado, and given over 18,000 new books to classrooms in high-need or low-literacy schools across the United States. Here in the U.S., children are being left behind and never becoming literate. Two-thirds of children who do not learn how to read by the end of fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare. I think that the best way to empower children is to teach them how to read, Sixty-one percent of low-income families do not have age-appropriate books in their homes. Only through exposure to books do children truly learn to read, and since so many children in low income neighborhoods are only exposed to books at school, Breaking the Chain is putting reading books in classrooms that have none so that every student has access to books. If you’d like to support our efforts, you can visit our website at www.linkbylink.org.

As writers, we all know the power of books and reading. It’s our responsibility to help kids who haven’t had the opportunity to learn to read, or haven’t had the love of reading fostered in them, discover the power and enjoyment of reading.

Thank you for caring about children’s literacy and thank you for having me!

Thank you, Riley! You are such an inspiration to me. I'm so glad you took the time to join us and share about your world.

Operation Awesome peeps, you can say hello to Riley in the comments and find her at any of the links below. 

I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving! Christmas is just around the corner. Giving books to kids is like giving them a completely separate world to process this one through. Spread the awesome. :)



The Reign of the Elements, Book 1: The Fire Stone
The Reign of the Elements, Book 2: The Water Stone 

From the promotional copy of The Fire Stone:
Matt knows how to shovel hay, dig trenches, and dodge his father’s whip.
But when three terrifying creatures attack him, and he is rescued by a wizard, kidnaps a baby alorath, and is befriended by elves, Matt’s life transforms overnight from dreary to astonishing.
He unwittingly joins a quest to find the Fire Stone, one of the elusive Stones of the Elements which have the power to destroy the world, and is thrust into a string of perilous adventures.
Matt soon discovers that magic does exist and that he has extraordinary powers that can change his destiny and determine the fate of Mundaria.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My Precious!

Writing can be a solitary pursuit.  Think about the hours, days, weeks, months we spend hunched before our laptops like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. It's even worse at the beginning of a wip. We cover our screens like someone is trying to cheat on a test paper. Heck, when non-writer peeps (a.k.a the family) ask me what my new wip is about I go very vague. Kind of like this: 

Is it because I don't want to tell them? Nope. They are nothing but supportive of my hermit tendency to lock myself away with my fictional friends. Heck, they need a medal to put up with me going mute as I write that first draft.

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. I allow myself to be a bit of a selfish shellfish. I write that first draft for me.


We've all heard thousands of times to write the story you want to read. I'm here to tell you it's true.

If YOU don't want to read about your character, 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.

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.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Wisdom From a Fortune Cookie

In keeping with the theme of dealing with muck of publishing, I thought I'd share a few of my own thoughts.

As Amparo shared yesterday, if she can't be published, she'd write anyway. Kelly states that she writes because she strives for publication.

Me? It totally depends on the day. There are moments that writing is so satisfying that it makes me soar. Other times, writing is a labor of love--the pushing, pain-inducing, give me an epidural sort of labor. My writing journey initially started as "I am going to be published." and now teeters on "What the heck am I doing?"  to "This manuscript would make great toilet paper" back to "Maybe I can be published". So sometimes, the only thing that keeps me writing is pig-headed stubborn preserverence.

And that is tough sometimes, especially after query rejections. And even more so after editorial rejections. After you've had an agent and find yourself back at square one, it would be easy to chuck it all and forget the whole "writing dreams" thing. 

So here is when I share the fortune cookie I got the other day. I don't believe in them as fortunes go, but I thought it was a great quote.
There is no shame in failure. There is only shame in quitting.

Remember that next time you are considering throwing in the writing towel...

Monday, November 22, 2010

Why You Should Keep Going When The Going Sucks

Last week, Kelly blogged about hope for writers seeking publication, and the odds stacked against them. In case you missed it (and shame on you if you did!), you can read it here. 

Like her, I see the downside to this whole writing/publishing thing. It's not easy to stay hopeful, especially in times like these. Now I don't know about you, but I get discouraged quite often. And not just about writing. Life in general can be a very hard thing to deal with, right?

But guess what? 

That doesn't make me stop. 

Yes, I feel like throwing in the towel and calling it a day, but I don't. I can't. And that's usually what happens when you find something that makes you happy. Like you're not you unless you do it. 

For me, it's not so much about hope. It's... well... it's about being selfish. Writing makes me happy, and I plan on doing it for a very long time. Even if I never get published. Why? Because getting published is a goal, not the goal. That might not be the case for every writer, as Kelly mentioned in her post, but the one thing we can't lose perspective of is the actual writing part. That whole having your book in hardcover/paperback part? Just the icing on the cake. 

If I told you not to get discouraged, I'd be one big fat hypocrite. Of course you can get discouraged. It's n-o-r-m-a-l. Just remember to pick yourself back up and keep going. Even when the going sucks.

Especially when the going sucks.

You'll learn. Grow. Become a much better writer than you thought possible. And guess what? The more you improve, the more your odds of getting that book deal will be in your favor, right? It's not all about luck in this game, folks. Talent and perseverance go a long way, too.

So stay strong. Keep writing/editing/critiquing. Whatever you do, keep going

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Why Writing Both Fiction and Non-Fiction is Awesome - with the Fabulous Christine Fonseca

I first met Christine almost 2 years ago through our mutual friend and CP, Elana Johnson. We quickly discovered we were total soul-twins. I have been extremely lucky to not only get to be friends, crit partners, and agent sisters with this fabulous lady, but I also share with her the strange and awesome distinction of being a multi-genre writer - we both write fiction and non-fiction.  

I asked Christine if she'd stop by today and share with us why she thinks navigating both these worlds is so awesome.

Writing in Multiple Genres – Why I LOVE it!

First off, I’d like to thank Michelle and the fabulous peeps at OPERATION AWESOME for having me here today. When Michelle first approached me about writing a guest post and we talked about a topic, she said she wanted to talk about why those of us who write both fiction AND nonfiction do it. I thought, Sweet! A chance to talk about writing in both domains. Awesome.

Writing both fiction and nonfiction is an interesting endeavor. For me, it is a way to meet two very distinct and separate creative needs – the need to help people related to my work as a school psychologist, and the need to create stories that hopefully help in a completely different way.

As you can imagine, writing nonfiction and fiction requires different skill sets entirely – both with their own rewards and challenges. For me, this means that I get to engage more aspects of my creative mind, and meet more needs internally. All pretty amazing things!

The nonfiction side of my writerly life pulls on the more logical aspects of my brain. I research heavily for my books, doing traditional types of research, as well as focus groups and interviews related to the specific topic of my book. The voice of my works is my own, so in many respects it is like the presentations I prepare, the classes I teach and the counseling I do. It all originates directly from me.

The fiction is different. It appeals and draws on the creative side of my brain. The research I do doesn’t feel like I am conducting research for a doctoral thesis, the way it does with nonfiction. This research usually involves things like using google.earth to “visit” my setting, researching the meanings of names or certain symbology, and studying legends that will come into play in the stories. When I sit to craft a story, I get to lose myself in some other character’s voice. I get to disappear and “be” my characters, functioning as their storyteller.

Both are awesome endeavors. Both deeply satisfy a part of me. Both work to define different aspects of who I am.

I will say that it is hard, at times, working in both fields – like having two distinct careers in addition to the actual jobs I have. But the payoff is worth it as I feel more than a little blessed to be able to write in two specific genres and fulfill two distinct parts of who I am.

It is AWESOMENESS defined, I feel so fortunate to be part of both worlds.

What about you? Have you ever tried writing in such different genres? What do you like about it?
If you have any questions, leave them in the comments and I’ll stop by to answer.

Christine Fonseca is the author of EMOTIONAL INTENSITY IN GIFTED STUDENTS (Prufrock Press, 10/1/2010) and 101 SUCCESS SECRETS FOR GIFTED KIDS (Prufrock Press, May 1, 2011). In addition to writing books related to giftedness, she writes fantasy and contemporary novels for teens. If you would like to learn more about Christine, please visit: www.christinefonseca.com.


Website (you can find info on her fiction here as well)
Find me on Facebook or Twitter
Order Emotional Intensity in Gifted Children here.
Read the first chapter here.
Preorder 101 Success Secrets here.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

What is Critterpalooza?

Yesterday, Angela Ackerman mentioned Critter, the unofficial mascot of the kidlit community. Today, we went to the source of the traveling mascot idea... 

...and got the skinny on this chubby little cow...

Picture from Jacqui's adventure Taming the Critter
(Apparently, he's quite the junk food addict...ahem...
not like any of the Operation Awesome ladies...)

Katrina: Christy, what inspired you to send Critter out into the world, and what does he represent?

Christy: At first Critter started out as an interactive way to connect with my writing blog-buddies . . . like a Flat Stanley for writers.  When his travels were over I intended to use him as an inspirational muse-like decoration piece for my writing space.

It wasn’t until after the Haiti earthquake that Critter’s purpose changed.  It touched me deeply to see authors and illustrators auctioning their services and personal items (like shoes) to help those in need.  I wanted to do something, too, but I didn’t have the money or the influence to bring in the type of money that’s needed to make a real difference. Certainly no one was going to pay good money to buy my stinky shoes on e-bay.

Finally, it hit me!  I may not have fame or mucho-millions but I do have Critter.  At the time of the Haiti earthquake he had just started his journey, but already he had met so many interesting people and traveled so far.  My conscience wouldn’t allow Critter to be merely a muse on my desk.  I knew he could do some good in the world. 

Haiti had an obvious need, but since Critter still had a long way to go until his travels were complete, I decided to choose a charity that would always have needs.  Everyone who has hosted Critter is related to children’s literature. A children’s charity seemed a natural fit. Coupled with the fact that I have a daughter with a chronic kidney problem that will most likely require a transplant one day, I have a special empathy for families that deal with issues related to sick children.  I learned that St. Jude has a daily (let me say it again) DAILY operating budge of 1.5 million dollars. Most, if not all of it, comes through donations. 

Critter represents a thread that unites people around the globe, and the fact that you don’t need to be rich and famous to make a difference. Sometimes you just need to be a little creative in learning how to leverage the resources within your grasp.  Not to mention, he’s a good reminder of what can be done when people work together for a common goal. 

Katrina: Wow. This silly little cow has a serious purpose! We’ve been following his adventures on facebook and throughout the writerly blogosphere, but what do you think has been his greatest adventure thus far?

Christy: He has traveled to South Korea, been chased by dinosaurs, outrun a tsunami, crowd surfed at a concert, boated in the Virgin Islands, had his own maximum security in Vegas, been interviewed by the Texas Sweetheart’s... He did so many things and met so many people.  It’s hard to choose!

Katrina: Is Critter a he or a she? LOL. I had to ask because of the giant udder in front. ;) 

Christy: That is a good question.  The udder would naturally make one think “female” however the blue color and fangs makes “him” look more male-ish.  Though we tend to call Critter a “him” I don’t really know for sure. You see, Ian Sands created his critters to be mixed up animal creations.  He calls them “newimals”.   So, honestly, I think Critter is a mixture of all sorts and represents all mankind (and animal kind :0D )

Katrina: Ah, and now I am intrigued about Ian Sands' Critter Cube Book! Is the date of the auction to benefit St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital set? How long will we be able to bid on Critter, or how will the auction be run?

Christy: My aim is to auction Critter sometime in the first part of December. (just in time to buy the perfect gift for that hard-to-buy-for person) The exact date is yet TBD. 

He will be auctioned on e-bay and it will run for approximately one week. 

Katrina: What is Critter up to right now at this moment? And where should we look for him in the future?

Christy: Angela, at The Bookshelf Muse, still has some fun things in store for Critter. He’ll stay with her during Critterpalooza.  After that he will return to me sometime after Thanksgiving.  

You can follow Critter on my blog at: http://ChristysCreativeSpace.blogspot.com

Become a fan of Critter on Facebook at:

If you’d like to hear about Critter’s experience through Critter’s eyes, you can visit the Texas Sweethearts interview at: 

Thank you, Christy, for answering our questions, and for extending your creativity to make a tangible difference for children in need.

Operation Awesome peeps, you'll want to click on that top link for a collection of amazing literary giveaways (through tomorrow), including a Skype chat with some pretty freakin' special authors. 

Good luck to everyone who enters. May the real winners be the children at St. Jude's. :)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Literary Rock Star Alert: Angela Ackerman, The Bookshelf Muse

Ladies and gentleman, we have a literary rock star in our presence. She's a muse to every tired writer in need of that elusive synonym. Her gifts to writers everywhere include the Emotion Thesaurus, Setting Thesaurus, Color, Textures, and Shapes Thesaurus, and Symbolism Thesaurus.

Picture nabbed from her client profile at the Herman Agency

Here's my interview with Angela Ackerman 

Katrina: Angela, how did you feel the first time you completed a novel?

Angela: Pretty awesome. I completed it during Nanowrimo years ago, and wow it felt so good to write something that long and type ‘the end’. The book was horrible of course, riddled with purple prose and clich├ęs and would need a freaking lobotomy to make it work. Still, the feeling was addictive and I knew then that novel writing was definitely the path for me.

Katrina: What was the hardest aspect of novel-writing for you to master (I’m guessing it wasn’t descriptions)?

Angela: Voice. Boy it took a long time to figure out how to find voice. The breakthrough came when I stopped thinking about the reader and what ‘a proper writer should write about/what a proper character should be like’ and instead thought about me, me, me. I realized voice will not happen unless the writer risks everything and writes straight from the gut—good, bad, ugly. The writer’s job is not to be nice or model good behavior for readers, but to reveal the truth.

Katrina: How many novels have you written to date? And what is your latest about?

Angela: *thinks* Eight. Three chapter books, three young adults and two middle grades. And one malformed story I can’t even bear to call it a novel, but it’s a solid idea and one day I will make it work.  (It just wasn’t ready when I tried to write it. Sometimes that happens.)

My WIP is a Middle Grade Mythology Suspense. Osiris, Egyptian God of the Dead, resurrects in modern times and attempts to take over a dying town in the Nevada desert by replacing the inhabitants’ souls with those of his loyal dead followers.

Katrina: What advice would you give to someone who is just beginning to write his or her first novel?

Angela: Plan first, so you really understand what the story is about and what you want to accomplish. Then write and have fun with it.  Don’t worry, don’t revise…just write.

Katrina: What advice would you give to those of us in the query trenches?


#1 Don’t query until your book is brilliant. NOTE: it is not brilliant if you are tired of looking at it and so you decide it’s ‘ready’. OR if you think, ‘Yeah, this is good enough.’ BUT, when you are certain you know craft well, can shelve it for a period of time, then reread and find nothing worth revising beyond a word here and there…AND you love it so hard you want to dress it up and show it off and talk in a cutesy voice to it…then it’s probably brilliant. (Still, make sure crit partners agree.)

#2 Honor your MS by spending time honing your query, and learning what a good query is. Then see rule #1 and apply it to your query letter. 

#3 Target well. Don’t send it out to every agent that has a pulse. Send it to people you’ve researched and know will take good care of your MS. This is your career, not a plate of brownies for a bake sale. 

#4 Believe in yourself and your book. This is a hard path. Hold your head up high and feel good about who you are, all you’ve learned and what you’ve created.

#5 Remember rejections are not failures. They are proof of your dedication and that you are in it to win it. Personal ones are opportunities to reassess, learn and improve. 

Katrina: You and our Angela Townsend of Operation Awesome share a literary agent! Angie is always passing along her helpful writing advice. What’s the most important/helpful thing you’ve learned from your awesome agent, Jill Corcoran?

Angela: Jill is a gem, and I mean that from the heart. I think the most important lesson I’ve learned from her is to be adaptable. Sometimes I get stuck looking at a problematic scene from one viewpoint, like tunnel vision. She challenges me to move past it by discarding that view all together and finding an alternate way to bring events about. This always leads to epiphanies.

Katrina: You offer an incredible service to writers in your free emotions thesaurus, settings thesaurus, etc. Is there ever such a thing as too much description, in your opinion? If so, how do you know how much is too much?

Angela: Oh zombies, yes! The key with description is to offer a few strong details that paint a picture, not bloated, unwieldy paragraphs that derail both flow and pace. Every writer is different however, so it often comes down to writing the way you are meant to write. Some can make language dance on the page, and others have a crisper, tighter sense of prose. Regardless of style, successful description will only showcase details that forward the story. Choose details that act as a window into the POV character’s head and convey the stakes of the scene.

Katrina: Name an author whose work leaves you feeling giddy.

Angela: I’d have to say Rick Riordan. I love his voice in the Percy Jackson series, so snappy and sarcastic and hilarious. Too, his modernization of Greek mythology was nothing short of fantasmic.

Katrina: What makes zombies awesome?

Angela: They’re just so…honest. It’s all about that craving for flesh. There’s no pretense about it, no snobbery or entitlement. Rich, poor, successful or not…whatever they were before doesn’t matter because now it’s just about finding the next meal. Plus, they’ll make excellent minions for world domination…whenever I get around to it.

Katrina: Do you have any news or something you’d like the OA readers to check out?

Angela: Definitely check out CRITTER! He’s a cartoon cow that has been all over the world, promoting creativity and living with writers and authors (Beth Revis, Cynthia Leich Smith, PJ Hoover to name just a few). Creation of Ian Sands, he’s now hanging out with me in Calgary, Alberta and making appearances at The Bookshelf Muse. He’s collected tons of signatures, including world famous Naturalist artist Robert Bateman, and after his visit here will be auctioned off to benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. This is such a worthy cause that everyone in the Kidlit world can identify with! (Psst--BIG Critter contest is up at The Bookshelf Muse… Critter Palooza!)  

Thank you so much for the delightful glimpse into your writing process and the awesome query advice. And THANK YOU for the incredible resource you've given us! (What we really need is a thesaurus entirely devoted to the concept of awesome... Hey, THIS ONE might do the trick. ;)

Find more Angela Ackerman on the web:

The Bookshelf Muse Thesauri in Print on facebook (if you dream of seeing this resource in print, click like on the other end of this link)

If you have ever used Angela's and Becca's awesome writing blog in your own writing, here's your chance to say hi and thanks. 

And if you'd like to learn more about CRITTER and his mission for St. Jude's Children's Hospital, see our interview with his travel agent, Christy Evers.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Limits of Hope

Not every writer cares whether he is published or not.

I do. My hope of having a published novel is what keeps me writing. But what is the right amount of hope? Hope isn't limitless, nor should it be. It has to be tempered with the right amount of realism, which sometimes sounds a lot like cynicism.

It's easy to be cynical when I see how this business chews up some writers. I've seen writers agented, unsold, then ditched. Writers with published debuts that dropped like trees in an empty forest, who then couldn't get another deal. Writers whose books were sold but who had their contracts canceled before publication. Writers who almost had deals, only to have them snatched away when the imprint closed, or their editor left the business or just changed jobs.

And those are the almost-success stories. Others don't get that far.

The more hope you have, the more crushed you are when things don't work out. But when you don't have enough, you stop.

So what's the right balance between hope and cynicism? I'm still working on it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Nice Boys Poop

Guys in young adult novels are freaks. I love them, but they are sometimes freaks. Why?

 They listen to the girl in their life.
 They are sensitive, and protective, to the right extreme.
 They read books, listen to sappy songs and think about the future.
 They are heroic, gallant, etc., etc., blah blah blah.

So are authors setting up false expectations of guys for girls?

Will a teenage girl read a book and think that guys like Edward, Peeta and Sam actually exist? Will they hold out for that chivalrous, poetry reading, classical music loving, baking gods who make their knees go weak? I mean he could probably slit their throat if the situation called for it, but he'd do it with feeling. :)

Are these literary guys ruining a generation of girls with a lie that real guys can't live up to?

I think not.

Think about it, I've never read anything that questions whether classic literary figures spoil our expectations. I've never heard anyone complain Mr. Darcy, Mr. Rochester or Heathcliff set a bad example. These guys have been aloof, mysterious and consumed by love with dangerous consequences for a lot longer.

I know, have known - and dated - nice guys. There are still guys who hold the door open for you. Guys who listen and can share an intelligent conversation. Guys who are emotional and sensitive. Can they get grumpy, snap at you and sometimes - shock, horror - ignore you when you are being over-dramatic? Yeah. But even us girls sometimes do that :)

Are nice guys out there? Yes. And the best thing is they are real.

Maggie Stiefvater the author of Shiver (and other awesome books) also answered the question on her blog. I think her answers are interesting.

Also, check out this Jackson Pearce clip and her response to the question:

So remember, nice guys DO exist...and they poop.