Sunday, May 30, 2010

Give it a Rest

I finished my epic fantasy, In the Seventeenth Year, over eighteen months ago. A small publisher requested the full manuscript, asked for edits, and then held onto the revised manuscript for almost a year. When they finally got back to me, they passed on the manuscript, but they provided a (much appreciated) list of things their editors did and did not like about the manuscript.

While I was waiting to hear back about Seventeenth Year, I wrote my paranormal romance, Killing Kessler. Now that Killing Kessler is almost ready for the query stage, I'm beginning another revision of Seventeenth Year. When I wrote Seventeenth Year, I really thought I'd done the best job I could possibly do. Now, looking at it over a year later, I'm amazed at what I'm finding, especially the extensive use of passive tense. Maybe I've just grown as a writer (which would not have happened had I not spent that year writing Killing Kessler), but I really do believe the year I took off from Seventeenth Year has allowed me to look at it with a critical eye I never would have had before. Though I had routinely set Seventeenth Year aside for a couple of weeks between revisions, I never noticed the overuse of "was" and "were" until I'd let the book rest for a year.

First Draft in Thirty Days by Karen Wiesner (one of my all-time favorite writing reference books - if you're an outliner, I highly recommend it) advises setting a manuscript aside for a few weeks or even months after finishing the outline, after completing the first draft, and after final editing and polishing. With all this setting the book aside, sometimes it seems I'll never actually get to the query stage. But if I'm completing other steps of the process for other books along the way, soon I'll have several books ready for submission.

That's great, but as I go through this revision of Seventeenth Year, I'm discovering that's not the biggest advantage. Giving a manuscript a lengthy cooling off period really does allow me to come back to it with a completely fresh eye, seeing things I'd missed time and time again on my earlier edits. Yes, all this waiting does take an extraordinary amount of patience, but it doesn't seem so long when I'm working on another stage of another project in the meantime. Besides, we're writers, we know all about waiting, right? :)

What about you? Do you work on more than one project at a time? Do you give your manuscripts rest periods at various stages? If so, how long?

Happy Memorial Day everyone!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Toss Around Thursday - Blog Schedules

I've been thinking for a couple of months now that I'd like to follow a schedule with my blog. This is what I have in mind:
Monday - a writerly topic, such as picturing your characters
Wednesday - either another writerly topic or a bloggy topic, such as blogging on a schedule
Friday - what's happening in the blogosphere: mentioning contests and blogfests, giving away awards, entering contests such as Jen at Unedited's Friday Something vs. Something or T.J. Carson's Famous Friday Contest.

Since I'm posting a Toss Around Thursday question, you can see this whole schedule thing hasn't happened for me yet. I have great intentions every week, but something always comes up that I want to post on a certain day, and then I just end up following my old Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday schedule with almost no format. I'd like to follow a schedule because I think it would be easier to plan topics if I at least knew the ballpark of what I wanted to write about (and I thrive on organization.) But I've also seen lately that it's hard for me to stick to a schedule, and I hate to put constraints where they don't need to be.

So I'm wondering what you guys think. Do you use a schedule? Do you appreciate or even notice when other bloggers do? Do you recommend using one? Why or why not?

An Agent's Advice on Finding an Agent

In my last post, I told you about a web seminar I attended given by literary agent Mark McVeigh. (To visit The McVeigh Agency website, click here. To visit Mark's blog, click here.) Several people commented that they'd like to hear what I learned in that seminar, so today I'd like to share some of the highlights.

* When querying an editor, don't mention several projects, just your strongest. You can let them know you're a versatile writer by saying something like "I write middle grade and chapter books as well," but query only one project at a time.

* Have a few projects going on at once (Side note: this is something I've been doing for a while now, and it is so helpful!)

* Think outward to your letter's recipient. Ask yourself what this person wants and then give it to them.

* You can find out what people in the industry want by checking sources such as Publisher's Marketplace, Google, SCBWI, and Verla Kay.

* An author should be prepared to describe their work in three different ways:
#1 - A one-sentence summary that invites discussion and leaves the listener asking for more.
#2 - A 50-word pitch that tells the whole story: beginning, conflict, resolution, main character, secondary characters, time period, etc. (This is what you'll use in your query letter.)
#3 - A 100-150-word synopsis that gives a sense of character development, setting, how your story connects to today's readers, etc.

That's just the basics, there was a lot more great information shared at the webinar, but I don't have the time or space to cover it all here. Mark is offering more webinars on a variety of topics. His webinars include ample time for Q&A and a homework assignment for which he provides feedback. If you're interested in this opportunity, just let me know so I can point you in the right direction.

Side Note: If you'd like to find out a FREE and EASY way to donate a book to a child in need, click here.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Web Seminar with Agent Mark McVeigh

A few weeks ago, literary agent Mark McVeigh invited a group of his blog followers to particpate in a webinar session about publishing, and I was one of the lucky followers!

Mark is an agent with the Mark McVeigh Agency. Before that, he was an editor for eleven years, including editorial director at Simon & Schuster's Children's Publishing Division. Mark definitely knows the publishing industry. He's also a former teacher, so he knows how to structure a class and how to teach. What an awesome combination!

During the seminar, using the webcam on my computer and a website Mark directed us to, I was able to see and hear Mark and the other participants, and they were able to see and hear me. I was pretty nervous I wouldn't be able to get the whole thing working, but using Mark's directions I was up and web conferencing in no time. The really cool part is, I didn't even have to leave the comfort of my own travel, no hotel, no babysitters. I could even get up to let the dog outside when I needed to. I just love technology!

We focused on how to get an agent, an editor, and get published. I learned so much and took pages of notes, which I've already referred to repeatedly. We were all able to ask questions, which was so cool! Another valuable part of the webinar was the writing project he assigned, which we later submitted to him via email and he critiqued. How cool is that?

Many of the group members formed an online critique group, and I even found a beta reader in the group, which is like gold! I stay in touch with other participants through emails and through our blogs, and you know how much I love new bloggy friends!

Thank you to Mark - who is planning more of these webinars in the future, so check with me if you're interested - and all the other participants, who made this such a wonderful experience!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Donating Books to Children in Need (it's FREE and EASY)

I've just learned about a great opportunity to make a difference in a child's life. BlogHer and BookRenter have teamed up to get books into the hands of children in need.


"From May 3-28, together we are working to make a difference in children's lives by generating new books for children who need them most - via the nonprofit organization First Book."

All you have to do is leave a comment here telling them "What book has had the greatest impact on your life?", and they'll donate a book to a child in need - up to 1,000 books.

What could be easier than that?

My answer: Anything by Judy Blume - Deenie, Blubber, Then Again Maybe I Won't, Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, etc. Judy Blume made me want to be a writer. She's the only person I've ever sent a fan letter to - and boy was I excited when she wrote back (even if it was a form letter)!

How about you? Which book has made the greatest impact in your life?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

VIDEO BATTLE: Bikini vs. One-Piece

Hooray - it's Friday again, time for Jen at Unedited's Friday Video Battle. The battle today is bikinis vs. one-pieces.

The other bloggers playing this week are:

The Alliterative Allomorph
The Misadventures in Candyland
T.J. Carson's Writing Endeavors
Open a Window
Make sure you check them all out!

Also, check out T.J.'s blog to see her Famous Friday Contest entries.

Have you entered Jackee's Great May Scramble at Winded Words yet? If not, it's not too late!

Have an awesome Friday everyone!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Let's Talk Blogfest

Roni over at Fiction Groupie is hosting the Let's Talk Blogfest today. The rules for this blogfest are simple, just post a short excerpt of your favorite dialogue scene.

My excerpt comes from my epic fantasy, In the Seventeenth Year. Keenan and his companions have just battled an army of the evil King Xavier's soldiers. They would have lost the battle, except the beautiful Anjali, a human-elf hybrid with supernatural powers (such as creating fire - think Stephen King's Firestarter) came to their rescue. Keenan is attracted to Anjali, but he's in denial. Anjali has a secret of her own: she's engaged (against her will) to Xavier's son.

"You and that soldier called each other by name," Keenan said. "If you are an enemy of Xavier, how is it that you are so familiar with his soldiers?"

She boldly met his gaze. "I have fought his soldiers before."

"Pardon me, my lady, but it seems that anybody you may have fought in the past would be ash in the wind by now."

"I did not always have the powers I now possess."

"Is that so? I have never before heard of a half-breed developing new powers with time." Keenan had chosen his words carefully, and he enjoyed seeing the displeasure in her deep green eyes. "Half-breed" was not a kind term.

"And just how many half-breeds do you know, sir?" she snapped.

"Enough!" Nolan said. "The lady is right. We owe her a great debt. Without her Julian would be in the hands of those soldiers, possibly even dead. We will welcome her without reservation."

"Welcome her?" Keenan repeated. "What does that mean?"

Nolan looked at the elf. "You asked earlier to join our group. If the offer still stands, we will gladly accept your help."

A triumphant smile lit her face. "Thank you, sir. I will be honored to join your company."

Keenan snorted. "This is mad! She is extremely dangerous and, if you haven't noticed, on a first-name basis with Xavier's soldiers. Not only that, she's been spying on us."

"I said enough!" Nolan shouted. "When you learn to throw fireballs at Xavier's men, then maybe we will have no more need of her. Until then, we will take any help she can give us."

"Perfect," Keenan muttered. "Let's bring her along. That will make it so much more convenient for her to murder us in our sleep."

The elf tossed silky waves of hair over her shoulder and glared at Keenan. "You can rest easy, sir. If I wanted to kill you, you would already be dead."

That's it! Thanks for reading. Make sure to hop over to Fiction Groupie to see the rest of the entries and check those out, too!

Side Note: I just successfully added line breaks by editing the html! Thanks for all your help and suggestions, everyone!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

What's in a Name?

Exciting copy of Kayla's Daddy by Laura Bradford came in the mail this weekend. I won this wonderful book (by an amazing author!) over at Sharon Mayhew's Random Thoughts. Thanks, Sharon!

I've always been fascinated with names, and I've always loved baby naming books. Luckily for me, I don't have to give up my baby naming books just because I'm done naming my babies - now I name characters instead.

Of course the name has to be fitting for the character's nationality, age, etc. But I also like it to convey something of their personality. In my current wip, Murphy is so named because he was found as a child, with no memory of his former life or even his own name, in Murphy's Corner Store. But the name Murphy, to me, also conveys the athletic, all-American kind of guy that Murphy is. The mc, Tabitha, is called Tabs by her family, but Murphy calls her Tabby. Even though Murphy was raised as her brother, he's not her actual sibling. This is important to the story. I suppose most readers won't catch the nuance here, but maybe some will. The exotic, dark-haired beauty? Selena. The flirty barfly? Brandy.

My favorite baby name book is The Baby Name Survey Book by Bruce Lansky (though there's a new version out called - you guessed it - The New Baby Name Survey Book.) Not only does this book give the origin and meaning of each name, but also what people think of that name. Susan, for instance, is seen as wholesome, pleasant, and down-to-earth. Some people think she's whiny and fussy (can you belive that?!) Data was collected from a survey of over 100,000 parents to determine the predominant images of each name. Is your character quiet? Try Curtis. How about glamourous? Maybe Eden will fit her.

The funny thing about this book is that it's never on my bookshelf when I need it. Usually I find it in one of my kids' rooms. They actually spend time just reading through the pages of this baby name book - even my son. I guess names are fascinating to most everyone.

How about you? How do you choose character names? Do you spend a lot of time on them? Do you try to make them convey the character's personality?

In other news...Thanks so much for all the nice compliments on my family picture. I think most everyone guessed correctly that I am the sister sitting closest to my mom, with sunglasses pushed up on my head and a red shirt.

Also, thanks to all who offered advice on getting Blogger to recognize my paragraph breaks. Next time I have a problem I'll venture into editing the html (eek!)

I'll be back Tuesday with my entry for Fiction Groupie's Let's Talk Blogfest. If you haven't signed up yet, there's still time!

Happy Sunday, Everyone!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Toss Around Thursday - First Readers

I've had some goals to meet this week, and they've kept me busy! The wip is so close now. I've read through it start to finish, making edits as I go. After a short blogging/getting kids off to school/grocery shopping break, I'm going to go through it one more time (hopefully much more quickly this time!) before dropping it in the laps of my first line of beta readers: my mom, my dad, and my husband.
I know what you may well be thinking: Not such a good idea to depend on family critiques of my work. Well, my poor husband is being forced to read it for technical content. This wip includes guns and knives and cars. While he's not really an expert either, he knows a lot more about them than I do. He probably won't have much to say about the writing or the story itself.
My mom and dad, however, can and do provide invaluable feedback. My mom reads more books in a month that I probably read in a year, so she knows a great deal about what constitutes good writing. And she's not afraid to be brutally honest. She's one of my biggest supporters, and she's realistic enough to know I need honesty, not an ego boost. She also knows she won't hurt my feelings. I've learned from past experience that I don't have to take every piece of advice I'm given, and that the critiques I do receive are a gift, not a personal assault (I suppose sometimes they may be, but I've never received one of those - thank goodness!)
Late as always, I missed doing a Mother's Day post, but I've included a picture of my mom with me and two of my three sisters above. Can you guess which one is me? Happy Belated Mother's Day, Mom! And thanks for all your love and support over the years.
So what I'd like to toss around today is this: who are your first round critiquers? And do you ask your family to read and/or critique your work?
I know I haven't been around much this week, not posting or commenting nearly as much as I'd like. I even considered taking another blogcation, but I honestly miss you guys too much so I didn't want to do that unless I had to. But with a little luck and a lot of hard work, I should be able to get enough done today to spend some time in the blogosphere tonight.

And don't forget to enter T.J.'s Famous Friday Contest! I probably won't be entering this week (I don't have much creative energy left after a week of heavy editing), but I'm looking forward to reading/watching the other entries! Especially because Jen over at unedited says she made a video and it has my name in it. Eek - I hope that's a good thing! :)
Late Breaking News: I just signed up for the Let's Talk Blogfest over at Fiction Groupie. On May 18 post a short excerpt of your favorite dialogue scene. Roni's even giving away a $10 Amazon gift card. I hope to see you there!
P.S. Does anyone else have trouble getting line breaks in between paragraphs in Blogger? I had to put those asterisks between my paragraphs because it wasn't recognizing my line breaks and ran everything together. Are there any tricks to that I should know about?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Picturing Your Characters

My current wip includes a partier/ladies' man/scientific genius guy named Griffin Kessler. This is a picture of Griffin:I know what you're thinking: But that's Jared Leto. Or, more accurately for my purposes: That's Jordan Catalano. When I did my character development for this book, I thought about what Griffin would look like, and he looks just like Jordan Catalano. He acts a lot like him, too - though certainly with some major differences (the scientific genius part being the most obvious). But as I'm writing the book, when I picture Griffin doing something, it's actually Jordan Catalano that I see.

Another character in this same book, Murphy, looks like this:Now you're thinking: But that's Cam Gigandet. The only movie I've ever seen Cam Gigandet in is Twilight, and Murphy is as far a cry from grungy James as you can get. When I picture Murphy in my head, I see Cam in the picture above, but not James.
And now, for any guys out there, here's the female mc in my book (Tabitha):
This is Margarita Levieva. The only movie role I've ever seen her play is Annie in The Invisible. Just like with Cam, Tabitha may look like Margarita, but her personality is all her own.

I do this with most of my characters, but not all. It just helps me visualize the character better when I see them as a real person. Their personalities may be similar or completely different, but it really doesn't matter. I'm not modeling the character after the person, just getting an image of them in my mind's eye.

How about you? What helps you visualize your characters? Do you make a list of their physical characteristics? Draw a picture? Cut a photo out of a magazine? Or raid the internet for pictures of your favorite stars (like me!)?

Exciting news: I won T.J. Carson's Famous Friday Contest again! Hop on over to T.J.'s blog to see last week's winners and for your chance to win one of these beauties for yourself:
Happy Mother's Day, Everyone!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Epic Fail

I tried an experiment this week. I've noticed more and more bloggers responding to comments by email. I usually respond in my comments section, which I realize is not ideal because there's an excellent chance that person will never come back and read the comments. I do like this method, though, because when I read another blogger's comments, often I'm interested to see what that person had to say in response to someone else's comment. Also, if I'm really interested, I will go back and check a post again to see if the blogger replied, so it's not that these return comments are never read.

So I decided to try an experiment: I would reply by email to those people who left comments on my Sunday post. Here's where the epic fail part comes in. I'm going to tell you this at the risk of looking like a complete idiot. It's important to be able to laugh at ourselves, right?

I start by going to each commenter's profile, finding their email address, and manually adding it into my contacts list. Sure, it's time consuming, but I figure I'll only have to do it the first time. So I've sent a good twelve or so emails this way before I realize that when I receive one of these response emails, my comment is printed at the bottom of the email so I know what I said in the first place. Obviously that's not happening on these emails I'm creating from scratch, so these poor people will have no idea what I'm talking about. That's when I remember the handy little "subscribe to comments by email" button that I've never used. Super-duh! So I stopped about halfway through my list. So, if you didn't receive a response from your comment, I'm sorry. If your received a completely senseless email from me, I'm also sorry. Live and learn, right?

So, I went back and subscribed to my comments by email. The next time a comment came up, I hit the "reply" button, and my email was all set up. Nothing could be easier. Even easier than responding in the comments, I'd say.

Now I've tried both methods, and they both seem to work great. What I'd like to toss around today is this: How do you prefer to have other bloggers respond to your comments - in the comments section, in an email, or none of the above. And do you have any insights on either of these methods that you can share?

Happy Thursday, Everyone!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Check It Out!

Oh, happy day! I won Jackee's 100 Followers Contest over at Winded Words and my prize came today. It's absolutely beautiful and I'm so excited - I can't wait to take a nice long bath with all my new soaps and scrubs and lotions. Thank you, Jackee!

There's so much going on in the blogosphere at the moment, I just can't keep it all to myself!

First off, I hope you all got the chance to check out the entries in Lilah Pierce's Last Lines Blogfest and Charity Bradford's Baking Blogfest on Saturday. I entered the Last Lines Blogfest and enjoyed it so much, I'm going to be signing up for many more in the future. I've added a list of upcoming blogfests to my sidebar. This week, be looking for:
Raquel Byrnes hosting Primal Scream Blogfest on May 5.
Andrew Rosenberg hosting Bad Girl Blogfest on May 7.

Sharon Mayhew has posted her interview with author Laura Bradford (aka Elizabeth Lynn Casey) over at Random Thoughts. Be sure to check it out and sign up to win an autographed copy of one of Laura's books.

T.J. Carson of T.J. Carson's Writing Endeavor is the proud hostess of The Famous Friday Contest. It's fun and easy to play - just name the noun you'd most like to be, give three reasons why, write a brief paragraph about what you would do if you were this noun for a day, and be creative! T.J. announces the winners of the previous week's contest and begins accepting entries for the coming week on each Friday. She also passes out a stylish Fabulous Friday Winner badge to each week's three winners (you can check it out on my sidebar - that's right, I'm a Famous Friday Hall of Famer!)

Carolina Valdez Miller over at Carol's Prints is hosting the Will Grayson Squared Dance Contest to celebrater her 300 (wow!) followers. Congrats, Carol! Enter by May 25 to win some fanastic book packages.

And lastly, T.J. Carson has tagged me. I must answer the following five questions five times and then tag five people, so here goes:
Question 1: Where were you five years ago?
1. Taking the Institute of Children's Literature Advance Writing Course.
2. Sending my youngest child off to kindergarten (which was not a tear jerker, but an "hallelujah!" moment for me)
3. Several pounds lighter than I am right now. :(
4. Recovering from running my first (and only) marathon.
5. Not reading nearly as much fiction as I do now.

Where would you like to be five years from now?
1. Agented.
2. Published.
3. Several pounds lighter than I am right now. :)
4. Sending my oldest off to college (that probably will be a tear jerker for me.)
5. Contemplating my husband's retirement and a move to somewhere warm.

What is your to-do list today? (this is an easy one since it's sitting right next to me!)
1. Finish wip edits so it can sit for a week before final read-through (done!)
2. Write tomorrow's blog post (in process).
3. Research agents (not done yet).
4. Do bible study for tomorrow's class (not done yet).
5. Run on treadmill (next up).

What five snacks do you enjoy?
1. Fiber One bars (which is a constant source of amusement for my children, but they're really, really yummy!)
2. Yogurt.
3. Peanut m&m's (or any form of chocolate, really).
4. Grapes.
5. Cashews.

What five things would you do if you were a billionaire?
1. Buy a house on the ocean in California.
2. Buy a house in Hawaii.
3. Buy a house in the mountains in Colorado (that would be my hubby's choice - not mine!)
4. Donate to animal welfare charities all over the place.
5. Put my kids through college with no loans.

And now, I get to tag five of you: (okay, I really can't count - I'm a writer not a mathematician!)
Tag! Sharon Mayhew at Random Thoughts
Tag! Jackee at Winded Words
Tag! Old Kitty at Ten Lives and Second Chances
Tag! Niki at Wool 'n' Nuts
Tag! Theresa Milstein at Substitute Teacher's Saga
Tag! Amy at The Invisible Sister.

Happy Tuesday, Everyone!