Monday, December 24, 2012

Turning the key

Now that we have a child, packing for any kind of overnight trip requires checklists upon checklists: what it will take to keep her happy in the car, to help her sleep in a new place, to increase the odds that she'll eat, a separate bag of games and toys to keep her busy in the car, dvds, snacks, clothing for various climates, diapers, wipes, Kiku the monkey, pacifiers, little spoons for little hands, a bag of basic medical stuff ... you get the picture. And then we have to pack for us. It's quite a production.

The hardest part of leaving for a trip with a toddler is that moment when my hand is suspended next to the ignition, ready to start the car. Are we really ready? To we have everything we need? Is the phone charged? The tank full? Did you check her diaper? Are all of the pieces in place? Can we safely commit to leaving our home and venturing to wherever it is we're going? Because there comes a point in the drive when you can't turn back - and there are some things that can't be bought along the way in the event they're left behind.

This was my life two days ago as we prepared ourselves for the +300 mile trip to my inlaws' house, where we're spending the holidays. I literally taped the last to-do list on the back door so I wouldn't leave anything behind in the blurry-eyed state of our 0-dark-30 departure. I had that moment, toddler crying in the car-seat, husband popping the top of a rockstar energy drink and loading a Dora DVD into the laptop, where my hand would not budge towards the ignition. I'm leaving something. All the pieces are not in place. They can't be in place. We're forgetting something. I just know it. And then it hit me: I'm doing the same thing with my sequel.

Tanzy and her sidekicks have been inching towards the climax of the sequel for weeks. It's a big moment for all of them, and nothing will be the same once the dust settles. It's a scary moment for me as a writer, echoing the same kinds of questions in my head: are we ready? Am I forgetting something? Are all of the pieces in place. Are we SURE we're ready for this? Because there comes a point when you can't turn back... and there are some things that can't hop on the train once it's in motion.

Yes, it's a draft, of course it can be changed. Likely, it WILL change 100 times between now and the final draft. But this first draft blazes the trail. Even if I rewrite the whole story from the ground up, this first pass will color any new versions that come after it. Its smoke will linger in the proverbial air. Drafting the climax will force me to commit to how I see this whole thing shaking out. And it's making me seek and destroy any loopholes and inconsistencies in the plot preceding this epic moment.

But the time has come. The lists are checked off. The car is packed. The tank is full. Take a deep breath. Turn the key. Here we go...

p.s. Part of our traditions include setting goals for 2013, so be on the look out for that post in early January, and start thinking about your own. No matter how old I get, the new year always reminds me of a blank sheet of paper. So very, very inspirational. Have a fantastic holiday season!

Monday, December 10, 2012

The wrong way

The high school riding team I coach competed in another show this weekend. Before the competition starts, we do what's called a "course walk." Coaches lead their riders around the jumping arena, describing the best path from one jump to the next. Where to stay straight, where to hug the rail, when to move up, when to wait, etc. In short, it helps them see the big picture, and to have a game plan once they get in there.

I had two of my girls with me on one particular course walk. From the middle of the ring, they concluded that they were interested in taking a more "direct" route from jump five to jump six. The path they wanted involved making a sharper turn, but they believed it would give them a straighter path to jump number six. I disagreed, but I kept my mouth shut, and instead told them to walk it and see what they thought. It only took them half the distance to the jump to realize that the direct path wasn't straight at all, and would set them up for a really awkward turn on the other side to get to jump number seven.

I could tell that they were disappointed that they'd even suggested the route, but I told them I was glad they did, and glad that we decided to see what would happen should they have taken the direct approach. I wanted them to see for themselves why the route wouldn't work. If I simply told them no, they always would've wondered how that path would've ridden. Now they had a better feel for the whole ring. More importantly, they didn't just know which path to take, they also understood why.

As I explained this to them, it hit me how this same principal can apply to my main character and the course she's walking. It's made me brave enough to send her down paths I know will lead to a dead end, because I learn more about her each time she makes a decision, even if I disagree with her. Especially if I disagree with her. When we explore these alternate routes together, more pieces of the big picture and plot line fall into place. Even better: I understand what aspects of the plot are most important and why.

p.s. A huge congratulations to my team - we won high point champion team of the day, and qualified five riders for Region championships.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

NaNoWriMo - won and lost

NaNoWriMo - or, National Novel Writing Month - is made for people like me. I obsess, pull all-nighters, shun household duties, etc., and that's during the other eleven months of the year.

Want to know how many days it took me to reach that magical 50K word deadline? I'll have to let you know, because right now I'm sitting at a cool 41,010.

So what happened? A freaking miracle. At last, this single-focused, neurotic person that I am learned how to find balance between my two jobs, my family, and my writing. During NaNo. Go figure.

With two days left, I had 10,000 words to go. The old me resurfaced for a moment, itching to type the nights away in the quiet of a sleeping house. But there was a problem: one of my riding teams had a show on December 1st. That means an EARLY morning and a long day, and, more importantly, kids that really need me. All of me. A bright, alert, focused me. Not a me that hadn't slept in 48 hours. So, for the first time in a very long time, I counted the costs, weighed my options, and my writing lost. I didn't try to squeeze it in. I didn't go for the compromise. I let the other parts of my life come in first, and, more importantly, I didn't get my panties in a bunch about it. I made a choice, and I was happy with it.

I'd love to tell you that we had a spectacular show. That every kid came in first and we rode into the sunset like champions. Unfortunately, it was not our day. Not at all. It was the kind of day that was almost too much to handle, and that was a fully charged, well rested me. I can't imagine that I would've been able to be the coach they needed on a day like yesterday had I burned the midnight oil in the days prior to the show.

I think NaNo is a tool to help writers make their writing a priority in their lives. Funny that NaNo is what it took to make me learn the exact opposite: writing IS a priority, but not at the sake of people who count on me. Of course, I've always been a little contrary.

Yes, I still daydreamed about my plot and my characters about as often as most guys think about, well, you know. So I took notes. Texted myself in the grocery store. Jotted an idea down with a crayon as my daughter and I were coloring in front of the TV. Wrote a bit of dialogue on the show program yesterday. And then, I set them aside - both physically and mentally - until a better opportunity to obsess about them came along.

Thirty days. Forty-thousand words. And finally, the ability to multi-task. I lost. I won. I wouldn't change a thing.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

It's TOTALLY the little things

I'm currently about 35K words into the draft of my sequel. Truthfully, I'd hoped to make more progress this month. But I've caught myself stumbling around. Not on the big things. On the littlest of things. My main character needs to make a small movement. Something simple. Routine. For example, say Tanzy needs to move from one room, down a hall, and into another...

45 minutes pass

...Tanzy still needs to move from one room, down a hall, and into another. By now I've pulled out an unhealthy amount of hair, gone to the kitchen for some cookie dough, made hot chocolate, stared at my empty photo frame for inspiration, tried to get inside Tanzy's head (how does she FEEL about going down said hallway?! What color is it? What does she notice? What is she thinking about?) And then my head does somthing like this:

I can't get her down the damn hallway and in the next scene she's supposed to storm the castle/stop an anstroid from striking earth/save a basket of puppies adrift in shark infested waters?!

And then I get psyched out to the point of paralysis and Tanzy's feet root to the proverbial floor, which turns into quicksand and sucks us both under. And then my brain goes something like this: what the heck am I doing? I'm not a writer. The plot has gone to hell in a handbasket. I have no idea what I'm doing. The astroid hits, the princess is toast, the sharks are full.

Then, before I completely self destruct, I remember a helpful hint I got from my editor when she polished Tanzy's first adventure in preparation for publication: why not just let her walk down the hallway?

Huh?

"Try this," she says. "I walk down the hallway."

I walk down the hallway.

Simple. Tidy. Perfect.

As writers, we know how important it is to develop our characters emotionally. We also know how important it is to paint a whole picture. When done correctly, we allow our readers to live in our stories. It's a beautiful thing. You know what else is beautiful? Our readers are smart. We don't have to fill every sentence with physical description and emotional reactions. Too much, and our writing becomes so bloated that the story gets lost in the flab. And that's what most people want in a book: a good story.

So if you have a moment when you can't get your character from point A to point B, remember what they taught you in geometry: the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Can you vague that up for me? A quick lesson from my favorite little person.

I have a twenty month old daughter. Among her favorite current activities: coloring, collecting acorns, and - for better and for worse - repeating everything I say. My husband and I have learned a lot about ourselves as she demonstrates new skills: while she pretends to talk into the remote control like a cell phone, she paces in tight ovals and throws her other hand in the air. That's when she's mimicking my husband. We know when she's mimicking me when she hastily concludes with: "kay, bye!" and tosses her makeshift phone on the closest available surface.

She's also shown me that I've been a little lazy in the word department. Several months ago, she started pointing at objects when she wanted them. And apparently, I responded by asking: this? this? So now, when she wants something, no matter how big or small, no matter how many knick-knacks and doodads surround the desired object, she points and cries: "this! this!" Her little cheeks flush and she makes fantastically pudgy fists as I helplessly touch one object after another. This? No. This?!

The problem is obvious: instead of using descriptive, decisive words early on, "this" became the assigned word for anything my daughter wants. Oiy. Then it dawned on me: "this" can also happen in my writing.

I catch myself doing "this" from time to time, vague sentences that limp the bridge from the sentence before it to the sentence after. Or, on a larger scale, vague and "this-y" transitions that adhere two scenes together with little more than bubblegum. Unfortunately, guilt by association can apply, and those "this" moments often weaken the writing that directly surround them.

If you have a "this" moment in your writing, I have a feeling you know exactly what I'm talking about, and exactly where it is. That page or chapter you've been avoiding. Don't let it psych you out! As my editor said about a stumbling "this" sentence, pick an action and own it. Believe that it's not just the best thing to do - it's the only thing to do.

p.s.
I want to stand up and cry "objection!" against myself for just a moment, as I am now in day 17 of NaNo. First drafts can be chock full of "this." But the first draft is simply the map that shows your characters how to get from the first word to the last. Once they learn where they're going, they'll show you how they want to get there.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Riding a dead horse - the hard truth

Gory title, I know. I'm referencing a tongue in cheek comment I made in a previous post about word count. But here's the difference between beating a dead horse and riding one: you could beat a dead horse for all kinds of crazy reasons: anger issues, severe mental breakdown, or maybe you have an odd way of coping with grief. But to hop aboard and think that the poor lifeless creature is actually going to take you somewhere - anywhere - that's a different story all together.

Ok, time to cut the metaphor and get down to brass tacks (hehe.) The hard truth is this: sometimes your first book - or your fifth - or your twentieth - is just a practice run. But let's focus on that first book, because it's like a first love. It matters in a way that you've never felt about anything else before. You doodle about it when you daydream, talk about it until people start turning the other way whenever they see you coming, cover your wall with pictures of it, stop spending time with friends and family because this first true love consumes you on a soul level. And that kind of love is blinding you to its faults.

I want to interject here and say that I'm not writing this post because I've never ridden a dead horse. Boy howdy have I. The first book I wrote dove deep down into the bleakest recesses of my heart and dredged up all kinds of feelings. I poured them out onto page and page, bleeding words like a stuck pig. It was my truth. My story. So it had to mean something to someone else. Right? I shopped that story all over the place. I even went so far as to print the whole thing out and mail it to a professional connection I'd made at a women's magazine. This is ALL of what she ever said about it: thanks for the notepad (a gift I'd included in the package.) Ouch.

I had to admit to myself that the book, worn out and floundering, had run its race and come up short. But I still won. I learned so much about arc and pacing as I toiled over that first love. I learned about developing my characters and letting them have minds of their own. The hardest lesson of all: I realized that 99.9% of the time, my manuscript is not nearly as ready to run as I would like to think. Patience is a virtue - and one I still have to chase down with a stick from time to time.

That first book was my first true education as a writer. I penned a first word, and made it all the way to the last. I wouldn't trade a thing for all the mistakes I made between them. But I also no longer expect it to get up and run. I've stopped trying to edit and rewrite it into something that will sell. It is my teacher, plain and simple. And at last I've let it retire to a lush, green pasture. Its work here is done.

p.s. As soon as I get my house unpacked, I'm going to jump into the NaNoWriMo universe! So I probably won't have a chance to blog much this month. I will definitely do a little diddy at the end of the month to let you know how my first NaNo attempt turns out. I'm already starting a week behind... but I work best under pressure.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Happy Release Day to "New Pride" by Laura Diamond

I am so excited to host my very first guest post! Laura Diamond is dropping by Tanzy Hightower's stomping ground to tell us all about her new Novella, "New Pride," which releases TODAY! Happy release day, Laura! Tell us about New Pride.


New town, new love, new terror... It’s here! My prequel novelette, NEW PRIDE, releases today. I’m SO stoked for it to run wild in the world.
 
NEW PRIDE was born from my upcoming novel, SHIFTING PRIDE (coming December 7, 2012!). In SHIFTING PRIDE, the main character, Nickie, searches for her missing father, Richard…and NEW PRIDE is all about Richard’s journey to independence and new love.

NEW PRIDE Blurb: A shape-shifter without a pride, Richard Leone strikes a tenuous friendship with power hungry, Derek, from an unstable, rogue group. On a hunt in the forest, they encounter a gorgeous brunette, Molly, partying with friends around a campfire. Derek tells the rogue pride and they bristle at humans trespassing on their territory. Richard risks life and tail to protect his secret and the humans—especially Molly—while simultaneously trying to win her heart. When Molly is kidnapped, he faces taking on the rogue pride alone, but quickly finds he has to put his trust in Derek, not only to rescue his new love, but to ensure the rogue pride doesn’t wreak havoc on his new town.

Author Laura Diamond: Laura Diamond is a board certified psychiatrist and author of all things young adult paranormal, dystopian, horror, and middle grade. Her short story, City of Lights and Stone, is in the Day of Demons anthology by Anachron Press (April 2012) and her apocalyptic short story, Begging Death is in the Carnage: Life After the End anthology by Sirens Call Publication (coming late 2012). Her debut young adult paranormal romance, SHIFTING PRIDE, is coming December 2012 by Etopia Press. When she's not writing, she is working at the hospital, blogging at Author Laura Diamond--Lucid Dreamer , and renovating her 225+ year old fixer-upper mansion. She is also full-time staff member for her four cats and a Pembroke Corgi named Katie. 

How to find Laura Diamond on the web:






 
YouTube interview: In The DM Zone—Talking about SHIFTING PRIDE


*GROUP HUG* Thank you, everyone, for taking the time to celebrate with me and for helping me spread the word. This wouldn’t be happening without you. Yes, you! Without you, I’d have given up a long time ago. ;)
 
I hope you enjoy NEW PRIDE and SHIFTING PRIDE.  

 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Bridging the gap between a first book and its sequel

I'm currently drafting the second book in the Tanzy Hightower series. As I have it now, the sequel picks up twelve hours after the first book concludes. The writing is easier in some ways and harder in others. The characters' voices are strong and their opinions are solely their own, leaving me to do what they tell me. And they've driven the plot forward at warp speed. I took the time to reread the first 100 pages, and for a first draft, I found the structure to be sound. Until I had this thought: what if I never read the first one? Would this story make any sense? Heck no.

Here's my hang-up: one of my reader pet-peeves is when an author recaps the previous book in the first couple of chapters. The rhythm is usually sluggish and passive. I scan these parts as fast as I can until I find a tempo I recognize. Sometimes this means I've missed some gem of new information buried in the rehash, and I pay for my skimming ways later on. But it's very unlikely that all readers feel this way. So I asked a couple of writer friends if they had any words of wisdom as per how to weave the first book into the second - is it even necessary? Their answers were so fantastic that I wanted to do this blog post just to spread their very generous knowledge. Here's what they said:

From Mel Smith (www.mlfalconer.blogspot.com): We have to assume that there will be a significant amount of time between readers finishing the first book and beginning the sequel. In that light, I think you would have to do some physical description of the reintroduced characters but not as in depth as what would have been covered in the first book. A third book in the series could stand to have even less physical description because your fans would, by now, have a strong mental image of your characters. On one hand we assume our readers have read our first book, but on the other we have to make the sequel able to stand on it's own somewhat in the case a reader picks it up first. Many times I’ll start a second or third book in a series just because the first or second wasn't available at the time; that one, in turn, will urge me to seek out the earlier books.

I realize there are a lot of assumptions going on there. It's redundant, though I think we have to write for contingencies. The largest bane in my writing is that I assume my reader knows what I know of the story or sees what I see in my mind and due to this it may be best to purposely be heavy handed on the descriptions when reintroducing characters and plot points. (there is a fine line to do that for aesthetics and not insult our readers intelligence. This falls to craft and how we present the description.) For me I want to have a good balance. Authors like Stephen King take pages to describe something while others do so piece meal in small paragraphs throughout the novel. Something between those extremes is what I strive for. And I think you can lighten the descriptions for each subsequent book in the series.

A wonderful series to research ways of doing this is Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series and Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series.

From Justus Stone (www.justusstone.com)  I wouldn't duplicate, but whatever happened in the first book is going to influence the 2nd, so some recap is probably not a bad thing. Unless it's a tongue in cheek thing that becomes a trope of your series (like there's always a new Defense against the Dark Arts teacher, etc)


Thanks again, Mel and Justus! I'm inspired, and I have a plan. A dangerous combination for my characters...

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Review: "The Dragon's Call" by K.W. McKabe

I have to admit, I was hesitant to read and review this book - only because I've never read a dragon-based fantasy book before and worried it might fly to the peaks of high fantasy, losing me somewhere among the clouds. However, the fire-breathing (not-so-mythical) creatures were introduced and crafted in such a way that grounded the story in a great way.

Overview: (supplied by author on Amazon.com) In a thoughtless final act of destruction, humans wake the one creature of legend they have no protection against. Years after the complete subjugation of the human race, Derek, heir of the Dragon Queen, and Cecily, create a tentative friendship. But something or someone is stalking the human enclave. Cecily and Derek must find out who and why before she's next.

I was most impressed with how the author seamlessly integrated a fantastical overtaking by dragonkind into a very plausible outcome. She uses two POVs, and it's interesting because one is a man who survived through the war and the other is a girl who's never known anything else. So it's fun to see how differently they react to the same situation. And she does a great job of giving each POV a very clear voice. My favorite character is Derek, the love interest and heir to the dragon throne. I am also particularly fond of Cecily's father. His decisions and reactions feel very authentic, and even when they make me mad, it's so well done that it makes me feel like a teenage girl holed up in my room in my parents' house again. My one gripe is that the tempo of the writing changed a bit towards the end of the book. But I'm definitely interested in seeing what happens next! I give it four stars :)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Is sex appropriate in YA books?

Now that my debut novel is headed for the copy editor - and out of my hands - I'm outlining my sequels for Tanzy's next two adventures. Things will certainly heat up between her and her love interest, but how hot should they get?

Romance and physical relationships run the gammet in YA books: some climax with the two love birds finally, slowly, kissing each other, and another has two teens we've just met rounding third base and heading to home plate before the end of the second chapter. The popular Twilight series has Bella and Edward get hitched before slipping beneath the sheets.

So what's appropriate? My opinion is this: exploring sexuality in some form or another is an integral part of our teenage years. Whether we did it, didn't do it, talked about, read it, whatever - it's a time in your life when you start feeling things that you haven't before, that you don't completely understand, and can't always control. And when a YA story features a budding love, the sparks would feel a little chilly if these feelings weren't addressed one way or another.

On the flipside of all of those feelings, I do think that whatever our characters decide, we have a responsibility to make the experiences and consequences authentic. Glorifying the moment and coming out of it unchanged doesn't do anyone any good - neither for your characters nor your younger readers. As writers, we have to recognize that our characters are showing our readers what kind of treatment is acceptable and what is not. To be frank: Bella and Edward could've had sex before they got married and it wouldn't have bothered me in the least bit. What DID bother me was that it didn't bother Bella that sex with Edward left her covered in bruises. That is not acceptable treatment in my book.

To be completely honest, I've already written such a scene between Tanzy and her main squeeze. This scene is in a separate file, waiting to be dropped into the plot should Tanzy and her love interest arrive at this moment and the fire won't quiet. I'm not positive I'll use it, but I do know how the entire plot will change if I do. Because sex DOES change things - whether in real life or on paper. And if we go down that road, we owe it to everyone involved to see it through to the end.

What are your thoughts? Please leave them here, and include links to your blogs/sites/etc. And please feel free to disagree!!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Review - "Predator Girl" by S.B. Roozenboom

I was very interested to read this book for two reasons: I'm a fantasy junkie, and also, because the author, S.B. Roozenbaum is what I call a word-sister, since we're both authors for WiDo Publishing. I hadn't read a WiDo released book yet, and was very curious to see one of their finished products... but I'm getting ahead of myself.

First, the synopsis: (provided by author for Amazon.com) Strange and unusual beasts that few people are aware of roam our world. Jared Ferlyn is one of these few—a Finder, born with the gift for detecting and tracking paranormal beings. Tagging these Otherworlders for the government, he’s had his share of keeping fey, nightlings and other creatures from human sight. But when a strange new girl comes to town, Jared is unable to classify her despite his training and experience.

While tracking the mysterious newcomer, Jared is pulled into a dangerous environment that not even a Finder is prepared for. And he finds a whole lot more than he bargained for.

"We were a match made in hell, yet no matter how many times I repeated it, it wouldn't soak in. I'd never had so much trouble tossing a woman from my mind. For me, there was an off button that came with every girl. . . . But Ilume didn't seem to have one." (Jared Ferlyn in PREDATOR GIRL)

In a nutshell: This book takes a very different look at a trendy topic, making the type of paranormal creature featured feel fresh and intimate at the same time. I also found it very interesting that the main character and voice is a guy. It was fun to see the guy side of a love interest. His counterpart also has chapters from her perspective, and I really enjoyed getting the whole picture of the dynamic between them. Roozenboom is a heckofa storyteller.

Final words: I can't wait for the sequel. 4 1/2 stars!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Cover Reveal: "The Second Sign" by Elizabeth Arroyo

This is my first cover reveal as a blogger - and I'm so excited about it. Any cover design with wings definitely gets bumped up my must-read list :)

The Second Sign by Elizabeth Arroyo
Publisher: Sapphire Star Publishing
Genre: Young Adult Dark Fantasy/ Paranormal Romance
Release Date: February 07, 2013

Synopsis (provided by author): Bred to believe in the war between angels and demons, Gabby has come to the conclusion that love is responsible for war, jealousy, and all the other deadly sins she can think of. So when she’s exiled to the middle of nowhere for getting kicked out of her fifth school for fighting, she doesn't expect to meet Jake. Much less fall in love. But Jake is quickly drawn to the eerie beauty of her violet eyes while Gabby is unsettled by their undeniable connection.

When a demon guardian comes to collect her soul, she refuses to give it up. She’s not a demon. She can’t be. Her father and twin brother are angels. The demon gives Gabby twenty-four hours to decide her allegiance, and then starts killing her short list of friends, leaving a message behind: She is the Second Sign.

As Gabby and Jake begin to unravel the mystery behind the Second Sign, she learns Jake may be the key to saving her soul. But it means a sacrifice has to be made that will change their lives forever.
 
And, drum roll please....
 
 
 
 
 
Congratulations, Elizabeth! A stirring cover and an intriguing premise. Count me in!


Friday, October 12, 2012

"The next big thing" blog hop!! (who, me?!)

I was trolling one of my favorite author blogs when two familiar words caught my eyes: Jadie Jones. I'd been tagged in "The Next Big Thing" blog hop. Me?? Really!? What a great reason to throw back the curtains and shed some light on Tanzy's world.

Side note: thank you so much Katie Pendergrass for choosing me as The Next Big Thing. (If you don't know Katie yet, click here to check out her blog about her upcoming debut novel "Dancing Demons."

The Next Big Thing

1. What is the working title of your book?
That's a loaded question. I've gone back and forth between two titles: "Be Seeing You" and "Origin." It's likely that neither will end up as the final title. My publishers are working on that as I type. I can't wait to have a firm name!

2. Where did the idea come from?
Literally, a heavily medicated dream state. I'd taken a nasty spill off of a horse and had a concussion. For the first few nights after the fall, I had some very vivid dreams. A big part of this story was one of them. I also really wanted to craft a story about a capable, savvy heroine.

3. What genre does your WIP/MS fall under?
I would consider it a young adult or new adult urban fantasy with a twist of paranormal, and of course a heavy-handed dash of romance.

4. Which actors would you cast as your main characters if your book is turned into a movie?
FUN! A couple of notes about this before I list my casting roster. First, I have a pintrest account where I have created inspiration boards for all of my main and supporting characters. In a word: eyecandy. Here's the link: www.pintrest.com/jadiejones1. And, I have to say that Stephanie Leigh Schlund actually inspired the look of "Vanessa." Brilliant, blond, beautiful, and tough as nails (and Vanessa's are always manicured.) Stephanie and I met for lunch in a stretch of small town Georgia between where I live and where she lives. She's bi-coastal, so we go stretches without seeing each other. She walked into this tiny, smoky burger joint in a killer black dress and perfect black pumps, without a blond hair out of place. Waiters literally fell over themselves trying to clear a path for her. BAM - Vanessa. And this scene replays itself in a swanky night club in Louisville, Kentucky. (Huge congratulations to my dear friend Stephanie for landing the role of Cashmere in The Hunger Games -Catching Fire movie.) Anyways, on with the casting!

Tanzy Hightower: Alexis Bledel

 
Vanessa Andrews: Stephanie Leigh Schlund

 
Asher: James Marsters

 
Ryan: Alex Pettyfer

 
Lucas: Greg Finley
 
 
 
 
 
5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Gah! I'm terrible at the whole synopsis bit. I emailed my editor and begged for help as soon as I saw this question on the list. Here's my best attempt: After losing everything in one deadly night, Tanzy Hightower must put her faith in a new friend and a scarred, beautiful stranger as she uncovers the terrible reason her soul was first created - and brought back to deliver.
 
6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
My book has been picked up by WiDo Publishing, and is due for release next year!
 
7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Three or four months, I think. But it took many many drafts between that first one and the manuscript that I sent off in queries to agents and publishers. Over three years and too many drafts to count.
 
8. What other books would you compare this story to within its genre?
That's tough. I'd describe it as a love child between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Sea Biscuit. Except no vampires. Or jockeys. I've worked in the horse industry for the better part of 15 years, so I bring that knowledge to this story. Tanzy is a gritty barn chick who's not afraid of hard work. Tanzy reminds me a little bit of Katniss (Hunger Games) in that they are both a little prickly and hard to get to know. They don't rely on others well. But once you matter to them, you MATTER.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I'd gone through a few hits in my life where I'd stopped being good at seeing something - anything - through to the end. Once I locked on to the idea of it, I couldn't let it go. It wouldn't leave me alone. I was determined to see it through, come hell or high water. Side note: I never missed an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Ever. I would say that I was inspired by my deep and unmet desire for Buffy and Angel to have ended up together in the end.

10. What else about your book might pique a reader's interest?
There are layers of betrayal in this story that peel back all the way through. Also, since I do bring the horse experience to the table, I try to give snippets of real-life information about the equine industry.

Now on to the fun part! Passing along the honor - and the tag - of being "The Next Big Thing!" My tags are...

Summer Ross
Rachel Harris
C.J. Redwine
Matthew MacNish
Ellie Garratt

An editor: the best lab partner ever.

Soon after I signed my contract with WiDo Publishing, I recieved my first email from my editor,  introducing herself and explaining how she wanted my manuscript formatted for her first read-through. I'd heard horror stories about the editing process, and my short-lived experience as a writer in the political arena had instilled in me a sort of PTSD in regards to all red ink. But I was determined to soldier on and be brave about what she might say (or slash and burn.) When I emailed her, I told her not to hold back, and that the only thing I liked sugarcoated was my cereal. Or something to that affect. And then she explained to me what her role in this was: a partner, a side-kick, a sounding board. One edit turned into four, emails shot back and forth at all hours, and we became exactly that.

This is how I know best to explain the partnership between a writer and his/her editor. The process is more like a biology lab and not at all like a biology lecture. Lecture: the teacher stands in front of the class and yammers on for an hour, writing in chicken scratch on a dry erase board. Lab: you and your partner disect things, blow things up, create chemical compounds, mess with DNA, make fruitfly babies (gew.) You get the idea. You get your hands dirty. You get a little sweaty. And you REALLY learn.

My editor disected parts of my manuscript and we blew up other parts together. I started recognizing some of my own bad habits as a writer: my word addictions, redundancies, my reliance on metaphors, my odd way of breaking up dialogue and speaker, my obsession with having characters nod instead of say something. I was also forced to confront the weak spots in my plot and/or writing that I'd mentally swept underneath the stronger parts around it. She made me learn how to fight for my manuscript, and, more importantly, what to fight.

Ten minutes ago, I emailed my final line changes to my editor. So few, were they, that she insisted I send a "clean" copy (no mark-up bubbles, red text, etc.) so she could forward it directly to the copy editor. Five weeks, a big overview edit, and three line edits later, my manuscript is finally ready to move forward on this journey. The lessons I learned from my editor thoughout this process will affect the way I write forever. And as I write this little blog diddy, I can't help but wonder if she knows that, if she recognizes her lasting impact.

I knew my editor would change my manuscript. I had no idea she'd change me.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Inspiration Boards for Characters

You know what color your character's eyes are. You know (and probably envy) her hair. You know whether she's tall or short. You know her body type. But do you know what she really looks like? Do you know what face she makes when she's royally brassed off? The shape of her nose? The line of her jaw? Do you know how she carries her hands? Do you know what clothing/accessories she would but if she was in a store?

Painting a complete picture of your characters not only helps you get to know them better, but it's also ridiculously fun. (Especially when you're a mom with three jobs and you're painting a picture of your protagonist's chiseled love interest... but I digress.) It's also really easy.

The old fashioned way: grab a few magazines and cut out any and every thing that makes you think your characters: clothing, colors, faces, bodies, personalities, accessories, locations, etc. Separate them into piles per-character and then glue/tape them to an "inspiration" poster board. Write notes on your board as they pop into your head: catch phrases your character might use, bits of dialogue, memories, plot ideas, whatever strikes your fancy. Write it ALL down. You never know what little gem may tumble from your brain as you cut away like an 8 year old in art class.

The www. way: Pintrest. It's amazing, addictive, and a mess-free way to create inspiration boards for your characters. With a couple of clicks, you can pick an image and put in on a board for your character, and then keep on perusing. I usually run out of time before I run out of attention for Pintrest. I have even started inspiration boards for a couple of my main settings as well. Warning: I'm a homebody, and the pictures on pintrest of amazing sights all over this world have made me want to travel. Bad. (site url: http://www.pintrest.com)

An added bonus to creating online inspiration boards: your fans and potential readers can see exactly what was going on in your brain when you crafted your character/setting. And any link between a reader and a character only serves to strengthen the bond between them. For those of us penning a series, this is particularly helpful. I want my readers to KNOW my characters. I want them to have feelings for them: love, hate, fury, etc. And it's a lot easier to feel those things if you have a high-resolution picture in your head.

Just for fun, I'll post a few pictures from the inspiration boards for my main characters here. I think the old adage: a picture is worth a thousand words rings true. How many words will your inspiration boards create in you?

Tanzy Hightower


 Vanessa Andrews
 
 Lucas
 
Asher
 

Here's a link to my pintrest page: http://www.pintrest.com/jadiejones1.  I've created inspiration boards for my main characters and a couple of settings. If anyone has any other websites or ideas on this topic feel free to post - and please include and blog/site address.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Tackling writer's block: how to turn a stop sign into a speed bump

Writer's block: invisible, silent, and about as unsympathetic as ants to a picnic. And just like those pesky ants, it marches away with your plot/dialogue/character and drops it down a hole too tiny for you to follow. It's easy to glare at your screen, to consider the blinking cursor a traitorous bully. But I've noticed that any writing I muster with my face twisted into a pretzel typically comes off just as snarky and sluggish as I feel.

This debut novel of mine took me three years to write - and in those three years, I've faced down a lot of dead ends. Some successfully, and some not so much. During a particularly long stand-off with myself, I went on the hunt for a proverbial jackhammer. I read (a lot) and I google-searched til my finger cramped from scrolling. I've provided a list below of a few exercises I found most effective, but the key word is: exercise. I had to take time out from moving forward with my plot and stretch new muscles in my creativity. It meant slowing down my pace, but if I was being perfectly honest with myself, I had to admit I was at a complete stand still. So slowing down was actually an improvement.

1. The empty picture frame: Can't figure out how to get out of a scene? In Anne Lamott's "Bird by Bird," she describes an exercise she gives in classes that she teaches. She tells her students to find/make/buy an empty picture frame and to write these words inside: What do you see in here? Forget about the action that you can't force forward, and instead make notes about what you see - no detail too small to notice. Top to bottom, horizon to horizon. Paint the picture. Live in it. What do you smell? What do you hear? This helps me 99% of the time that I use it. My picture frame is green, by the way.

2. Who ARE you? When my dialogue starts to err on the side of a polite conversation in a church sanctuary, it takes my whole scene down with it. The ho-hum banter paves a path straight to somewhere fiery. Usually what's happened is that I've lost track of who my characters ARE. What are they all about? What makes them tick? In a separate file/notebook/etc, create a complete - and I mean crazy complete - description of the inner workings of your character. Ask yourself asinine questions about what he/she might do in every day situations: found a lost dog, made a cup of coffee, answered the door to religious zealots, found a fifty-dollar bill, got behind an extreme couponer in the 10-items-or-less checkout line. What would your character do? What would they say? Does their inner dialogue have a catch phrase? What word do they typically use to agree or disagree? Considering these questions seems like the long way around, I know. But knowing how they speak in every day circumstances will make their dialogue read in a way that feels meaningful and authentic to your reader without weighing down the whole page.

3. Plot stall: Your main characters are standing around staring at each other. Cocktail hour is over and the main course is still thirty minutes away. Awkward. Instead of sending your characters for another round of free drinks, try this: kill off your main character. Seriously. Copy the section/chapter/whatever and paste it into a new file. Then, write a quick story from the point where the engine fell out of your plot and kill off your protagonist. This exercise makes you look through the eyes of all of your other characters and consider their integrity (and their resourcefulness.) Or maybe your leading hero succumbs to an unknown food allergy or a moment of tragic clumsiness. Either way, I promise your original scene won't look the same upon return.

4. Back track: sometimes, I have to level with myself and embrace the fact that I HAVE written myself into a corner. Somewhere along the way, I chucked the spare tire to cut down on weight and now I've got a flat. Then I have to do what every writer dreads: search back to the last place the story was breathing on its own, and pull the plug on the rest. I'm a huge advocate for the delete button. To be fair - and honest - I always start a second document file where I paste the bigger pieces I've cut from my work-in-progress just in case I need them again. But I very rarely go back for them. Our stories are in our minds - not in our key strokes. A scene can always be recreated, even with some well-earned grumbling.

Please feel free to leave your own tips - or links to your own posts on the subject. Thank you for reading and happy writing!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

"looking" at you! - a writer challenge

LOOK! No, really, look. That was the challenge issued by my brilliant editor Summer Ross, who tagged me in a "look" writer challenge.

The rules: find out how many times the word "look" appears in your manuscript or work-in-progress. Then, post your favorite three paragraphs with the word "look" in it. Of course that means I had to evaluate each and every time I used the word.

When I saw the rules, I thought: piece of cake. That's not one of my go-to filler words. WRONG. Here's the truth in cold, hard numbers: I used the word "look" 327 times in 90,000 words. At first I thought, that ratio isn't too bad. Then I realized that there are 327 "looks" in 298 pages. That's a problem.

Look had become a filler word for me - people gave each other "looks" and "looked" at things and said "look" instead of owning an action, an expression, or just cutting to the chase (apparently, 327 times.) Needless to say, there's major editing happening over here. And I dutifully looked through every single "look." Here are my three favorite paragraphs with the word "look."

1.
Even now I can feel the drops of blood that splattered my cheek the moment my fist made contact. I catch myself wiping at it, sure I’ll see stains on the back of my hand. But there’s nothing there. A man could be dead because of these hands but they don’t look any different. Shouldn’t they look different? They start to tremble all over again. I shake them at my sides, shake them until they hurt.

2.
“Wait,” a new voice commands smoothly. Everyone goes silent at the sound, which is familiar even to me. The psych patient from the hospital. I wouldn’t forget that voice in a million years. The instant recognition makes the hairs prick on the back of my neck. As I turn to look for confirmation, everyone else in the courtyard drops into a deep bow. The only two left standing are him and me.

3.
“I am to make a crown. For his queen. He wants the horse shoe to be part of the center piece. If you don’t succeed…” He stops and looks away from her. The agony in their eyes cuts me to the quick. She wouldn’t let go of the necklace even in the face of death, and I left it on a bedside table. Two seconds ago, I was certain there was no part of my heart left intact. But there was. And it just shattered like a fist to a mirror. Spera and I are not the same. We are not alike. Not in the least bit.


Now for the last rule: once you've "looked," tag 5 writers in your response, and pass along this little challenge. If you've been tagged and want to participate, post your findings and your paragraphs on your blog/site/FB where ever, and make sure to let the writers you tagged know that they're next!

And here are my tags:

Rachel Harris
Lori Ann Robinson
Katie Snow Pendergrass
Kerri Cuevas
Charity Bradford

p.s.
"looking" at my three choices, I'm clearly a big fan of action of description in the use of the word "look."

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

line editing - DO judge a word by its cover

The good news: my totally rad editor gave me two thumbs up on the work I did on the "overview" edits (adjustments in major plot, characters, dialogue, and pacing/flow.)

The next step: in-line editing. In other words: making every word count. These words are literally purchased by our readers, which means they have a job to do. It means they've got to toil and sweat - because it means that word beat out every other word for the spot in the sentence. In the paragraph. In the chapter. In the story. Yes, I'm beating the horse. But the horse's job is to run. The horse's job is to win. And if you're riding a dead horse, you've got bigger problems.

On a lighter note, the first advice I ever got about word count was from a writer who I sat next to on a plane. I was a doe-eyed teenager who wanted to be a writer, and he was an adult who said things like "literary agent" and "word count." So I soaked up every piece of advice he was willing to dish, including this: "no publisher will look at your work as a first time author unless your manuscript is done (which is true as far as I know), and unless it is AT LEAST 100,000 words." That's not so true. In fact, depending on your genre, that's as far from the truth as you can get - especially in YA. That was probably the worst advice I have received to date as a writer. Why? Because it stuck with me, and I never questioned it. So I pumped my draft for word count - quantity first - and squeezed every word I could from the bones of my story, all in an effort to achieve that magic 100K count. The result: a plot that meandered from point to point, arriving unceremoniously at an overly concluded conclusion, disastrous dialogue weakened by almost every possible redundancy, and a protagonist whose defining moments were lost in scenes so descriptive tiles on the floor were counted (okay, thankfully that's an exaggeration, but you get the idea.)

So how do you know what to cut? Here are a few tips and words of wisdom that I've learned during this editing process:

1. Look for redundancy. Redundancy can be obvious - using a "real" word twice or more in a paragraph, but it can also happen in some indirect ways. Each new sentence should have a point all of its own, so make sure that pairs of sentences aren't saying the same thing twice. This can also happen in dialogue. Example: "Oh my gosh!" she exclaimed excitedly. See the triple repeat? "Oh my gosh!" works just fine on its own. Several well-known literary agents that blog are big fans of sticking with the tried and true he/she says and letting other versions of speech descriptions filter in as a rare exception.

2. Weak/passive voice. To be or not to be is NEVER the question, if you can help it. Cut out any "to be" verbs that you can and let your characters own their actions. Use words like is, was, are, am, be, been, etc. sparingly. But "to be" verbs aren't the only villains of passive voice. A few of my subconscious favorites: seems to, starts to, and begins to. *yawn.* I'm sorry, what was I saying? Try cutting the fluffy verbs from the action and see if you like the result.

3. Filler words. We all have them. Our go-to words when our creative juices are tapped out or we're trying to force something that just won't fit or flow. My go-to fillers: Just, seems, get, even, as, but, and suddenly. And, as an entire grammatical category: adverbs. Typically (hehe), adverbs fill the space where character-development/showing should happen. I tried to get away with this big time in my manuscript. I thought: if the editor sees this she'll tell me how to fix it. She did see it. You know what she said? "Fix this." Well played, madam. Well played.

4. The best advice I ever got and didn't want to believe: during my querying phase, I stalked more writing blogs than I cared to count, especially once I realized my 100K words bit was about as wrong as a nun at a strip club. I stumbled across a piece of wisdom that made me recoil from the screen and I rejected it immediately. Curious? The blogger's advice was this: find your favorite section of writing and cut it. Sounds crazy, right? Well here's the thing - the second I read it, I knew exactly what section of my manuscript I was most proud of as a writer. Then I read the blogger's reasoning: this section is probably just you showing off, and likely doesn't jive with the flow of the story or really add anything to the work around it. I disagreed with her for weeks. And I kept going back to it, tweaking it, finessing it. Not to make it fit better, of course, because it was my best writing. It fit! Didn't it? Kind of? Nope. Not at all. Finally, I cut it. And the whole chapter read so much better without it.

I hope this helps you avoid some of the mistakes I made. I'll post more soon on this topic. I'm learning so much during through the thoughts of my editor and I'm excited to share. Any other writers/bloggers/editors/whoever - please feel free to contribute your own tips (even if they completely contradict mine) and also please leave a link to your blog/page.

side note: I'm a BIG believer in Anne Lamott's concept of the "crappy" first draft (she uses a stronger word, but you get the idea.) Get your story down. Get your main characters fleshed out on paper. Then worry about finding the right words to do your story and your character justice.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Release Party and Giveaway - "The Dragon's Call" by K.W. McCabe

Just wanted to let you know about the upcoming release party for K.W. McCabe's novel "The Dragon's Call," on Friday, October 5th beginning at 4pm. Check out the official facebook event page for more info:

http://www.facebook.com/events/140672369410645/


Here's a little blurb about the book: In a thoughtless final act of destruction, humans awaken the one creature of legend they have no protection against. Years after the complete subjugation of the human race, Derek, heir of the Dragon Queen, and Cecily create a tentative friendship. But something or someone is stalking the human enclave. Cecily and Derek must find out who and why before she's next.

I couldn't wait to start reading, so I just bought a copy on Amazon. Want to win a free autographed copy? Entering this giveaway is oh-so easy: a Rafflecopter giveaway

my brief and bloody tour of political duty - summer of 2004

I have come to decide that most of us live two lives: the one that exists beyond each mouth and the one that exists somewhere behind it. That first world, the one where the sounds of our words do in fact fall on real, listening ears is one of constant edit; nipping and tucking. In protecting the longer future we water down the immediate reaction. Sometimes this bodes well for long term goals, and the censorship pays off. But sometimes it seems a mere beginning of the storms rolling in to toy with the boat of world number one. And as a bright-eyed, idealistic college junior, I headed into the sea of politics without a map or a compass. 
Four days into a hard-won internship at the Department of Education for a state that shall remain nameless, the Chief of Staff assigned me my first editorial. Only it wasn’t mine, it would be signed and therefore claimed by the Superintendent, and she had a whole lot more at stake than I did. So I contemplated this balance as I began outlining the editorial that covered a roundtable she’d hosted with a group of high school students from her state. The students had spoken with passion and zeal, demanding to know why their teachers weren’t paid enough and why they didn’t feel as challenged by their classes as they should have been. Now, I recognize that schools want to represent themselves well when sending students to meet an elected official, but I was immediately put off by the fact that this roundtable hardly represented any true student body. I would contest that over-achievers needs are different than their struggling peers, and to cater to one group alone starves the other. But as someone who was only there to take notes, I’d sat silently in the corner and jotted down the memorable questions and answers.
The next day I poured over their words and began developing my theme for the editorial. Now, obviously, I’ve never been elected to anything except for the editor’s position of my high school literary magazine, but I’d suffered through enough media campaigns to know that people were elected because of promises of change. With that in mind, I began crafting the students’ questions into one voice that spelled out the fact that the school systems needed help, and that there were two ways to do it: deal with the fact that higher taxes were necessary, or be smarter about the money already budgeted for the year. It challenged everyone from citizens to businesses to government to accept and rejoice in the responsibilities we all have in raising and educating today’s youth; and couldn’t we all agree that we all benefit from a society in which more members are prepared and productive?
As I finished my own editing I sat back and smiled at the screen, proud of my first piece, and proud that I felt like I’d really said something. My advisor read it and loved it too, and after gaining his approval I handed it off to the Chief of Staff for his review. Returning to the cubicle I shared with Jenny, an anal-retentive tree-hugging feminist, I relaxed for a moment and let the feeling of accomplishment soak in. She immediately began chattering on about some statistic that affected the ozone layer, and I nodded along, grinning like a fool, registering not a single word. I spun my chair around as I heard the chief approach (his hurried, heavy footsteps were very distinct) and smiled at him. But the happy-haze began to quickly burn away as I noted that no smile was coming to congratulate me. He slammed the paper down on my desk with his open hand spread across the draft that was marked from top to bottom in bright red.
“No, no, no!” he barked. I felt my back push hard against the chair, hoping it might open and hide me inside of it. “Have you lost your mind? This isn’t what I want at all. Did you read any of the samples from other writers?” he yelled. His cheeks were tinged with pink and a vein bulged above his right brow, filling out a couple of the lines on his too-young face. I shrank away from him as he dissected every word I’d been so proud of moments before. “And what the hell does this mean?” he exploded, pointing to a section I couldn’t see through the tears I was blinking back. Do not cry, I ordered myself. Not a single flipping drop. “Do you have any idea how many people this would piss off?” My fingers wrapped around the arms of my chair that had failed me as a hiding place. Somewhere behind my tongue I leapt up and met his fevered face with my own, raising my own hands and voice in protest.
“People elected her because of what she said she was going to change, not because they thought she wouldn’t piss anybody off,” I’d start, even and cool. “No one elects someone to ride the freaking fence. She’s here to lead, to help, and to make changes. Not everyone is going to like everything all the time. So if you’re not pissing anyone off it’s probably because you’re not doing anything at all. She got elected because of what she said she was going to do, not keep the same. She’s got four years to take a stand and follow through on the platform she was elected for, regardless of how it’s received. If she’s more worried about the next election than helping the schools then she’s a sorry excuse for a Superintendent. If she’s not pissing someone off then she’s not doing her job.” I’d finish, throw my papers in the air, storm out, and take the first flight back home. Instead, in the world beyond my tongue, I swallowed hard and tasted my own salt as he spun on his heel and left. I turned my chair slowly back to my desk and looked down at my bloody draft. The fact that Jenny wasn’t talking roared in my ears as I stared blankly ahead and tried to compose myself.
“He’s not usually like that,” Jenny said quietly as she placed her hand on my shoulder. As if she pushed some magic button I erupted into tears, weeping openly and bitterly in our cubicle. Ashamed, I looked up at Jenny through burning, drowning eyes and cried harder when I saw her own wet and shiny eyes, as if the recognition on her part that what just happened was really, really crappy validated my grief and made it easier to express.
We left early for lunch, and with no fore-mentioning, we didn't speak of the chief or the editorial. By the time we got back, I had myself back together and was ready to do my job: make the people of this nameless state love their Superintendent. As I put my bag down I glanced at the green post-it note stuck to the middle of my screen. “Check your email,” it said. I did, and found a brief, professional apology from the chief admitting he’d gone over-board, followed by an outline of how he thought the editorial should read. I shrugged to us both and began patting the students, the parents, and the Superintendent on the back as I redrafted the happy, shiny, fence-approved editorial.
On my final evaluation two months later, he noted to my internship advisor that I didn’t take criticism well, and that I should be more confident in my ability as a writer.  Eight years later I still mull over what those two comments together could possibly mean, and I still don’t have a flipping clue. But I did learn one thing. Okay, two. First: I do not belong in the world of politics. And second, there's nothing wrong with taking the edge off of sharp words, but there is something wrong with swallowing the truth.
 
p.s. Whether or not it would've rocked the proverbial boat, I still like the first draft of that infamous editorial much, much better.



Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Editing - part one

I have a really embarrassing secret to tell you. Before WiDo Publishing picked up my manuscript, I really had no idea how the "editing" part of the process went (wait for it, this wasn't the embarrassing part.) The only example I had to go on was an episode of Little House on the Prairie that I saw in third grade, where Laura sends her book off to a big New York publisher and the editor inserts the changes and sends it back for dear Laura's approval. Or something like that. Anyway, I really - really - (and please don't think less of me) thought that editors literally changed the story, and then sent it back to see what you thought of the changes they'd made. I know, right? Totally wrong. And I'm so glad that that's not how it works. Sidenote: I tried really hard to not run two "thats" concurrently and clearly failed. But I digress.

By the time I was querying WiDo and several other publishers, I was certain that my manuscript was as good as I could get it. And that's true. It was as good as I knew how to get it at the time, but it wasn't even close to a finished product. And then my editor sent me the first round of "overview" edits, and it was like a lightbulb went off, revealing not only the gaps in my pacing and plot, but also a sidekick to help me see how to fix them. I sent the revisions back to her a few days ago. Were they all for the better? Only time (and my editor) will tell. But I do know that the kind of writing she liked and said: do more of this, came easier. The changes she asked for made sense, and that helped educate me not only for these edits, but for future drafts. And I'm so glad that I was the one who sweated out those changes.

Even if you don't have an editor, find people you trust to review your work. You'd be amazed at who sees what holes. My husband even helped me rewrite the ending to my YA fantasy novel. A friend from high school helped me see through my muddled first draft to the key parts of the story. Another critique partner threw a stark raving looney fit when I tried to make a big change. And she was right. Make sure it's people you trust to be honest, and people who have your best interest at heart. And then be prepared for them to find things they want to see polished, because that really IS why you gave it to them in the first place, even if secretly you hoped they'd come back and say: don't change a thing! I'll admit it, I had a itty bitty baby hope every time I sent it to someone to critique and even when my editor read it for the first time that they'd declare it the best thing they'd ever seen. But thankfully they didn't say that. For starters, I'm glad I have friends who love me enough to tell it like it is. But even better: they care enough about the story to say: this part/dialogue/character/whatever needs some help.

And this is where I feel a need to plug my fantastic publisher. In re-reading that version of the manuscript that I sent them, I can see how much work it still needed, and it made it obvious to me that they believe in the story and in Tanzy just as much as I do. They took a huge chance on a brand new, unrepresented writer, and that's a source of inspiration for me to put in whatever it takes to bring this great story to life in the best possible way. I can't wait to share it with you :)

I'm kind of fangirling all over my editor right now. So I'll conclude by repeating what I tweeted upon receiving that first round of overview edits: there is no better education for a writer than an editor who believes in your story.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Review - My Super Sweet Sixteenth Century by Rachel Harris

Rachel Harris's debut novel "My Super Sweet Sixteenth Century" - or MSSSC as it's been dubbed in the social media stratosphere - was a huge departure for me in terms of what I normally read: dark, twisty, who's going to die before the curtain call kind of books. And I have to say, not only did I get caught up on some serious teen verbage, but I definitely enjoyed the carefree ride.

Description: (provided by Amazon.com) On the precipice of her sixteenth birthday, the last thing lone wolf Cat Crawford wants is an extravagant gala thrown by her bubbly soon-to-be stepmother and well-meaning father. So even though Cat knows the family's trip to Florence, Italy, is a peace offering, she embraces the magical city and all it offers. But when her curiosity leads her to an unusual gypsy tent, she exits . . . right into Renaissance Firenze. Thrust into the sixteenth century armed with only a backpack full of contraband future items, Cat joins up with her ancestors, the sweet Alessandra and protective Cipriano, and soon falls for the gorgeous aspiring artist Lorenzo. But when the much-older Niccolo starts sniffing around, Cat realizes that an unwanted birthday party is nothing compared to an unwanted suitor full of creeptastic amore. Can she find her way back to modern times before her Italian adventure turns into an Italian forever?

Characters: Cat Crawford is our time-traveling protagonist, and honestly was the character I had the hardest time getting to know. It took me a minute to make her take off her big, hollywood-style sunglasses and see what all was underneath. But as the secondary characters come to life around her, Cat truly begins to shine. I really enjoyed her interactions with her servant and with Alessandra. I think Alessandra's voice was definitely my favorite - and I heard that the anticipated sequel is going to be from Alessandra's point of view. Yay! Love-interest Lorenzo was a bit of a mystery to me. I like how he always watched Cat's back, but I'd like to see more from him in the sequel (at least i hope he'll make an encore performance.)

Plot: What surprised me about the plot was how easily Cat accepts that she's somehow been sent via gypsy voodoo back in time. There's very little panic. She assesses the situation, considers a couple of possibilities, and then rolls with it. I didn't expect the uptight Cat Crawford to suddenly become laid back about something pretty "frickin" major. But it's kind of nice that the author didn't spend a lot of time on the reaction and instead moved straight into the journey. The ending is a little more neat and tidy than I'm used to, with one great surprise at the end. However, there were so many characters at play that I'm grateful Rachel Harris decided to tie up most of the loose ends. There is one I'm very curious to see where she goes with it... and if you ever read this, Rachel Harris, I love and loathe that you left one very critical piece wide open.... I'm sure you know what I'm talking about :)

Voice: Rachel Harris does a fantastic job staying in the voice of Cat Crawford throughout the book. Not only does she create a very authentic feeling 16th century Italy, but it's very clear that we're experiencing it through Car Crawford's eyes. From her thoughts to the language in dialog to her goofs to the things she pays attention to, Rachel Harris stayed very true to character to the last page.

Setting: Just wanted to note how much research Rachel Harris must have done for this book. I loved all of the bits of history - like working in excellent references to how people at that time thought the Black Plague was spreading - and experiencing some of the cultural rights of passage, both pleasant and unpleasant.

In Conclusion: a strong 4 1/2 stars. There are a couple of angles that I wish were a touch more developed, but I'm totally hooked on the story and the characters, and am very interested to see where she takes the sequel "A Tale of Two Centuries," which is still in the works.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A pic in the life - my desk during deadlines

I am about 2/3 of the way through my first round of plot and big picture revisions, due to my fantastic editor this coming Monday. With two other jobs and a toddler, let's just say sleep and basic cleanliness have flown the coop.

(read between the lines: I'm totally stumped in a particular scene and I can't write my way out of it so I'm procrastinating... and noticing just how messy my desk is. I promise I'll get back to work as soon as I post this.)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Review - "Defiance" by C.J. Redwine - Five stars

This was a book that, after the second chapter i thought: I can't WAIT to review this book. It's not just an excellent story, but the writing is refreshingly talented. Sorry, I'm fangirling all over the place. Let me get organized.

Plot summary from CJ Redwine's blog (www.cjredwine.blogspot.com): Within the walls of Baalboden, beneath the shadow of the city’s brutal leader, Rachel Adams has a secret. While other girls sew dresses, host dinner parties, and obey their male Protectors, Rachel knows how to survive in the wilderness and deftly wield a sword. When her father, Jared, fails to return from a courier mission and is declared dead, the Commander assigns Rachel a new Protector, her father’s apprentice, Logan—the same boy Rachel declared her love for two years ago, and the same boy who handed her heart right back to her. Left with nothing but fierce belief in her father’s survival, Rachel decides to escape and find him herself. But treason against the Commander carries a heavy price, and what awaits her in the Wasteland could destroy her.

Story: what I liked most about the story is that protagonist and courier's daughter Rachel reacts 99% of the time like I would, which is so nice to read. She has authentic reactions and thoughts to things that happen to her. CJ Redwine also does an excellent job of having two different POVs with chapters being told either by Rachel or by love interest Logan. Each character had a very clear, distinctive voice, and moved the plot forward very well. Also, CJ Redwine went for broke - every time i thought: is she going to go there? She did. And how. This is not a light and fluffy happy ending read, so if you're of the faint of heart or get spooked at a little grit, this one might not be for you. But if you want one hell of a story that keeps you up til you finish it, then this is it.

Love: I found the relationship development between Rachel and Logan to be one of the best I've seen in YA novels to date. The dual-perspectives work really well, getting inside each of their minds and working through their doubts. It's fun to see the misunderstandings and the intentions that go quickly awry.

Writing: Author CJ Redwine has a vocabulary of words a rung above commonplace language, and uses them simply, sliding them into the sentences with ease. Loved this aspect of the writing. Her writing is also very visual, so the Dystopian world she creates is very easy to see and well developed.

Gripes: To be thorough, there were a couple of things that made me stumble every now and then. There's a big bad beasty that lives underground, dueling out fiery death whenever vibrations make it ornery. It's called "the cursed one," and while i started to accept the name towards the end, every time it came up in a sentence it took me a minute to move past it because I kept thinking of different things it could be called. It doesn't seem to cursed to me - seems like it's the one doing the cursing. Also, while the characters are most excellently developed, sometimes the emotional descriptions went a bit overboard for my taste. (Even though they were still supremely articulated.)

In conclusion: they better make this into a movie. And I can't wait for the sequel. A solid 5 stars.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Curses! - the use of "bad" words in YA novels

Now that our daughter is 18 months old, we've got to watch what we say down to the letter, because she makes a go of repeating anything and everything she can. One of my more frequented F words has been replaced with "foxtrot," and we say a lot of "seriously?" around here. Of course, I don't necessarily consider expletives the worst words there ever were. In our house, words like "fat," "stupid," and "retarded" evoke a much more fiery reaction than words I can't write here for fear my grandmother might read them.

But what about our young adult readers? To be fair, if an author aims to create a world that their teen fans can relate to, dialog is king. Gossip, chatter, lies, secrets, confessions - these kinds of things are what drive a teen novel. And expletives are now so commonplace it's cooler to abbreviate them that to use the whole word. Still, it bears mentioning that potty mouthed young protagonists may put off older readers in our potential crossover markets. And there are some that think bad language takes the integrity of the writing down a notch - and yet there are others that would argue if it's true to cause, a character cussing a blue streak would infact validate the integrity of said book.

Is there a right or a wrong answer here? Honestly, I'm not sure. But I do think it's most important to stay true to your characters. I'm drafting the sequel in the Tanzy Hightower fantasy series, and there's a point at which one of my characters realized another has set her up for an epic fail, and everything in me wants her to scream: "b#tch!" (sorry, Nana.) But I haven't used language in either book thus far, and to drop a word bomb might detract from the scene as a whole - not because it's a bad word, but because it's out of character for the novel itself. But in a YA fiction book I'm working on, one character is particularly crass, and no words are off limits for her. So my opinion is this: to thine own self be true, and no matter what words you decide to use, make them count.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Review - "Fallen" by Lauren Kate

To start, there are a lot of elements I really liked about this book. For starters, the writing was very well done: descriptive and artful. It was also a very different concept for a YA fantasy book from what I've read, from start to finish. Luce, our protagonist, is sent to reform school after her bystander-involvement in the fiery death of a would-have-been boyfriend. It's there that she meets a few new friends, a couple of mean girls, and, of course, a couple of boys that make her heart flutter (in very different ways.) Without giving too much away, I also really admired the concept of the fantasy element in this story. It was a big undertaking, and for me it made the story.

Unfortunately, although it's hinted, this element doesn't really come to light until the last 40-50 pages. It piques my interest about the sequel, but I never attached to the protagonist. I liked all of the other characters better than her. Luce's reaction to things great and small usually went against my own instinctive reactions. Because it's written in third person, the author can get away with using more omniscient descriptions in Luce's reactions, but it became distracting and almost aggrevating for me. At one point, something really horrible has just happened and Luce is in pieces, and then she's thinking about scrubbing her fingernails.

Daniel - love interest #1 - has some epic mood swings, and gave me emotional whiplash. His reasonings are well explained towards the end, but if I was Luce I would've told him where to go and how to get there after the first interaction. I like a little volatility, but it was a little too much of a roller coaster for me, especially because so much is a mystery or just hinted out throughout most of the book. Maybe it would've read better for me if it was done in 1st person, because although it's in 3rd, it's a very limited POV.

All in all, I would still give it 3 1/2 stars because it is well written and the fantasy element Lauren Kate tackles is EPIC, to say the least. I also really like a lot of her secondary characters. I just didn't hit it off with Luce. I know I'm in the minority here, obviously, because it's a New York Times Bestseller and has several successful sequels behind it. I can see why the teen market would eat it up, it just a little confusing for me.