Monday, April 4, 2011

DARA Agent Panel - What Are They Looking For? (And What Not to Submit!)

I spent Friday night and Saturday at the Dreaming in Dallas conference sponsored by the Dallas Area Romance Authors. It was WONDERFUL!! I made a few friends and learned quite a bit along the way.
I met Richelle Mead. Yea! (And I got her autograph!) I also had a nice conversation with Lucienne Diver. (I also got her autograph! I had a pic taken with her, but I don't think I've ever had such a bad picture of myself as this one so I'm not posting it!)

One of the sessions Saturday was an agent panel featuring Suzie Townsend, Beth Miller, and Lucienne Diver. A question was asked about character age. How old is too old for YA, and where does it cross over?
Their answer? College age characters (early twenties, basically) are a DEAD ZONE. Don't even think about it if you want to sell. It won't happen. If you can rewrite then do it and send those darlings to boarding school. (All three agents agreed on this.)

Ouch. (Will open file for rewrite as soon as this post goes up.)

Of course another question asked the agents what they were tired of, and what they were looking for. Here's the breakdown:
They are tired of YA angel/demon stories, vampires, and dystopians. Of course there are always exceptions, but unless yours is exceptionally fresh and original it's time to move on.
What are they looking for?
Ms. Townsend would like to find a YA thriller.
Ms. Miller is looking for YA fantasy and adult romance (but not romantic suspense).
Ms. Diver wants fresh stories that can cross genres. She wants a story with a great voice.
All three agents want stories with great characters that come off the page and stay with the reader.

If you're writing a YA, can it be developed into a series? (This is a good thing!) Keep this in mind and be sure to mention it in your query. Some editors are asking this when agents submit.

There you have it. Later, I'll share a few writing/editing tips I picked up.

(Oh, and the business cards were a good idea. I was very glad to have them!)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Work Faster. Work Harder. Keep Going.

I'm currently outlining my third novel. My first novel is still in need of serious revisions. My second novel stalled around 25,000 words (which I did not outline).

There is still SO much to learn. Sometimes I ask myself why I bother, when there are so many other worthwhile things I could use my time on. (my husband, kids, parents, home, school, church) I could fulfill my other obligations more thoroughly and with more peace if I would just quit this head game called writing.

The guilt comes from knowing that what I'm writing isn't good enough for publication.
The guilt comes from knowing that what I'm writing isn't good enough for publication yet.

See what I did there? Reread those two sentences. After the first I could easily say, "So why bother? Quit wasting time." After the second I need to say, "So keep going. Work faster. Work harder."

I need to work faster and harder. If I quit now then writing becomes yet another hobby I discarded when it got too tough. I know I have a lot to learn. I need to learn it faster. I need to discipline myself to do more in less time, not just with writing but with my life.

Today I was looking for motivational quotes for the students at school who are about to take the state tests. I think I may have helped myself more than them.

"If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right." Henry Ford
"Even experts were beginners at some thing." Unknown
"Never, never, never give up." Winston Churchill

I'll keep going. I'll work faster. I'll work harder, because I KNOW I can do this. It just takes time.

Monday, March 28, 2011

I'm a Nerd with Conference Questions

This Friday and Saturday I get to attend the Dreamin' in Dallas conference. It's sponsored by the Dallas Area Romance Authors, and will be my first writing conference. I can't tell you how excited I am!

But maybe this will give you an idea: I just bought a MATCHING notebook and folder (and new pens, but they don't match). Yep, I'm a nerd. So if you're there and you see a giddy woman with matching office supplies be sure to come over and introduce yourself. Or not.

I'm also a little nervous about this weekend. What if I "fan girl" when I see Suzie Townsend? Or Richelle Mead? It could happen. I could end up a puddle in the floor. Okay, I'm not really worried about that (even though it IS a possibility). I want to be as prepared as possible. I've read that it's a good idea to have business cards to trade with other conference attendees. Having cards ready saves time digging in a purse for a pen and paper. I get that, but what do I need on it? Email address? Blog site? Catchy phrase? Picture? What???

Besides business cards and spiffy office supplies, what else do I need? I must be prepared!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Distractions, and Opening Lines

Last week I made my way to Borders (again). It's wasn't my usual store, but one that is scheduled to close. I hate to see any bookstore close, but I couldn't pass up the savings.

And this is what I came home with:

How will I ever manage to read all of these AND write, too? I just finished the Vampire Academy series a couple of days ago. I'm still a little breathless from it. And have I mentioned how this series put the brakes on my writing? I haven't? Well, let's just say I haven't written anything in several weeks. I may have to have a few words with Richelle Mead when I meet her in Dallas next weekend. (What? I haven't mentioned that, either? Well, I'm going to the Dreamin' in Dallas conference. It's my first conference and I'm so excited!)

I'm forcing myself to stay away from the new books, at least until I finish this outline. But they're just sitting there, taunting me. It's almost as bad as having to stare at my favorite chocolate cake and not eat it.

I think I may have found a compromise, though. I've been thinking a lot about openings lately, particularly first sentences. I let myself read the first line of each new book, and they are exactly what first lines should be. They grab the reader, set the mood, and give a hint of what's to come.

Here's a little challenge for you. Below are the first lines from each book in the picture. Can you guess which opening goes with which book?

1. The day begins in the middle of the night.

2. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single girl of high school standing at Longbourn Academy must be in want of a prom date.

3. Someday you will beg for the honor of licking my feet. (I loved this one!)

4. This whole enormous deal wouldn't have happened, none of it, if Dad hadn't messed up his hip moving the manure spreader.

5. I remember lying in the snow, a small red spot of warm going cold, surrounded by wolves.

6. You're either someone or you're not.

7. "Just be yourself," my mother said, as if that were easy.

8. Janie Hannagan's math book slips from her fingers.

9. Everyone knows I'm perfect.

10. I used to be someone.

Some are easier to guess than others, but when you consider what each book is about you realize that the first line really does its job.

And now I'm off to agonize over my first lines. Again.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Amazing Reading Technology!

I just finished reading Kathleen Ortiz's post over at Neverending Page Turner. She shared a clip demonstrating Text 2.0.

It is AMAZING. The possibilities seem endless. As a former teacher my mind immediately began to think of all the ways this could be used in a classroom.

I don't know if this is available yet, but if/when it is I know I will be begging my hubby for an iPad.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Character Development, Facebook Style

A couple of nights ago I was wasting time on Facebook. (No surprise there!) I was looking through a friend’s friend list, and realized he had a pretty eclectic group of people on there.

And that got me to thinking. (No smart comments, please.) It could be somewhat useful to click through a few lists, land on a random profile, and just look at what that stranger likes. It’s amazing what a few tidbits of information (pictures, music, books, movies, quotations) can say about a person.

Why could this be useful? For me, it broadened the possibilities as I am fleshing out new characters. It also took me to places where real people are living right now: New York, Maine, Hawaii, Texas, and South Africa to name a few.

I have no idea how I landed on these pages, but I found a large group of young friends that are from the same province in South Africa. I wondered about them and the area they call home. Why are they there? What did their parents do for a living? What kind of life do they live? Do they dream of living somewhere else, or do they love it there?

If you find your creativity has gone missing, try this. I started with my friends list. I clicked on one friend and glanced at her friend list. I clicked on one of her friends and then picked someone off his friend list. I did this until I found something that caught my eye. (I just tried it again and found a Samoan metalhead, a guy that hunts mushrooms, an announcer for a pro basketball team, and another that enjoys rebuilding antique airplanes.)

Would you ever think to create a character that loves The Zombie Survival Guide AND Tuesdays with Morrie?? I didn’t think so.

Have fun!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Slice of Pie (or Two)

I might not be a great writer (yet), but I can bake a great pie. At least, that’s what this trophy says:

Of course, it could also say there needs to be more than one entry, but I hope that’s not it.

When I lived in this small town as a child, being in 4-H and FFA were a big part of my life. I grew up in the ag industry. So when our local livestock show was held a couple of weeks ago I wanted to support it and the families involved with it now even though my own children aren’t old enough to participate yet. Along with the stock show, the ag boosters hosted a bake show. After the baked goods were judged they were auctioned to raise money for the stock show premiums. I entered a chocolate pie that Saturday morning and went on my merry little way, hoping the pie tasted okay.

I guess it tasted better than just okay. (Yea! I didn't mess it up!)

For some people, making a good homemade pie isn’t a big deal. For most of us, though, it takes a lot of practice and (sometimes) luck. I won’t bore you with the details of the neurotic steps I take to make sure my pie turns out, but I will tell you that more than once I’ve made two pies just in case one is a disaster.

There are so many variables in making a pie, sometimes I’m amazed it doesn’t end up a sloppy mess more often.

And isn’t it that way with writing? We know what goes into a story to make it good. We know the steps we have to take. We know what to avoid. (How many of us have been told “show, don’t tell” but do it anyway?) With practice we get better, but sometimes it’s still a sloppy mess.

Hopefully we’ll reach the point that our writing will be even better than that pie, and someone will award us something even better than a pie trophy – publication.

Friday, February 25, 2011

We Interrupt This Program

I had a different post planned for today, but this morning I saw this:

and I had to share it.

Before my children were born I taught seventh and eighth graders. I quit teaching to stay home with my new baby, but it was with mixed emotions. There were days when I LOVED my job, and there were days when all the hassles made teaching a miserable experience. As with any profession, there are those who do their job wonderfully and with passion, and then there are those who are counting the days to retirement and making everyone around them unhappy in the meantime. I wanted to be an inspiring teacher, pushing my students to push themselves. Somedays it worked. Somedays it felt like train wreck, and I took it very hard.

Several years later I'm still undecided about it. Teaching is difficult work, and it's hard to have your game on everyday. This video sparked a positive response in me. It reminded me of so many things I loved about teaching. I wanted to yell "Yes! That's what I'm talking about!" If I ever go back to the classroom, I'll be sure to watch this again (and again, especially on the tough days)!

The author of this poem is Taylor Mali. He has been a classroom teacher, and is still a teaching advocate. He is also heavily involved with poetry slams. He has several videos on YouTube of his poetry slam performances. (Be warned, some are a little racier than others.) I really enjoyed What Teachers Make and Miracle Workers.

(What? You don't know what a poetry slam is? A slam is a poetry reading competition. The poems that do the best at a slam are the ones that the audience "gets" after a single reading. Forget the flowery language and abstract thought. These send the message home immediately, just like the one above.)

To all the teachers out there and to all the advocates that make them feel appreciated, I thank you.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How to Become a Fire Fighter in a Small Town

You just show up.

(Okay, so there’s a little more to it than that.)

Since moving back to the hometown an old friend has been asking Chevy (my hubby) to join the volunteer fire fighters. Last week he called to invite him to the monthly meeting, which had already started. Chevy politely declined, putting him off another month.

When he hung up the phone he said, “I would kind of like to go. They’re down to fourteen volunteers.”

He wasn’t asking permission, but I think he was hoping I would encourage him to jump in. So I did. He rushed out the door without looking back.

About an hour later he returned, with a shocked and amused expression. (Yes, apparently you can be shocked and amused at the same time.) He looked at me and said, “I’m in.”

“Just like that?” I asked, skeptical.

“Yep. They looked pretty happy to see me. I told them I was just there to check it out. They didn’t even ask. They just voted me in.” He smiled. “I’ve already got my gear, too.”

I started to laugh. “You mean your jacket and pants? Seriously?”

He smiled even bigger. “Boots, too. I got Gomez’s old stuff.”

(Let me explain here that this is my hometown, and it’s tiny. My high school class had 34. While I don’t claim to know everyone, I do know most of the names and most of the faces, even if I don’t always get them matched up. I have never heard of Gomez. I wouldn’t forget that name. In a town this small, it’s a name that stands out.)

So I asked, “Who’s Gomez?”

“I don’t know, but I asked them what happened to him. They said I didn’t want to know.” Chevy laughed, knowing that he had found a group of guys that could take it and dish it out as well as he could.

He went on to tell me how a young pup showed him all the trucks after the meeting, and demonstrated how to use them. I’m not sure because I wasn’t there, but it sounded like this little town has five fire trucks. I’d bet ten dollars that only three of them work.

Since then Chevy has filled out his paperwork, gotten his radio (which is sitting safely on top of the refrigerator because it has a bright red button that attracts children but also pages the entire department), and is now waiting for a background check to clear before he goes out on his first call.

Despite all the snow we’ve had lately, we are under a high fire danger this week. Oh, the anticipation!!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

What Every Writer Needs


Imagine if you didn't give yourself a headache trying to remember that awesome scene you came up with while in the shower. My brain would thank me for it. Wouldn't yours?

On another note, has anyone else thought today was Wednesday? Or is it just me? This snow has messed up my internal calendar!

Friday, February 4, 2011

My First Webinar!

We're on our fourth consecutive snow day. That's about two too many for me. And guess what? It's SNOWING AGAIN. We're on our way to an additional four inches on top of the eight we got Tuesday. Ick.

But enough about the weather. Yesterday I got to do something FUN. I listened to Mary Kole's webinar titled Publish Your Children's or Teen Fiction in Today's Market. I had never participated in a webinar before. It's basically watching a power point presentation while listening to a lecture, all online. There's even a side box where you can submit questions. Mary had about ten minutes to answer a few questions during the webinar, but will answer all questions submitted in a follow up email. How cool is that?

I'm not going to try to rehash everything she said, but two things really hit home for me. (Okay, there were more than two, but I don't want to sit here and type all day.) The first thing she emphasized was the importance of critique partners. Get your work critiqued, and critique for others! I confess I haven't done this yet. I guess I've been secretly afraid that once I get another writer to critique my work I'll get a note back simply saying, "Don't quit your day job. Ever." I know I need to take the plunge and get it over with. Yikes.

Another thing Mary talked about was what separates hopefuls from published authors. She listed character, voice, and authority as being the key differences. Characters should be a mirror and a window for the reader. Characters are what makes a reader care. They are the portal to the story. Voice is a hard one to explain, but she suggested we read our work out loud. Does it sound dry or clunky? Like a business memo? Too adult? Then there is authority. I admit this one threw me at first. We must have authority and confidence in our writing. When our writing is good, the reader won't notice. Our writing must be seamless. We have to know what we're doing. I confess I don't always know what I'm doing. Some days it feels like I don't have a clue. But I'm learning. I'm getting there.

I hope all of you are getting there, too.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Beat Sheet

Most of you probably follow Elana. Several weeks ago she blogged about a book called Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. It's a book about screenwriting, but it helped Elana figure out the problem with the first chapter of her novel.

Eureka! I ordered the book immediately, because I LOATHE my first chapter. My opening scene just feels wrong. It feels hokey, like I'm trying to jump in the middle of a BIG scene and falling flat.

The book tells us there are 15 beats in a screenplay, and describes each one. I think my opening scene better fits Beat 4, The Catalyst. I never let the reader get a glimpse of my MC's normal life, showing what she wants. (Rather, what she thinks she wants.) I also didn't introduce any of the other characters, which the book says should happen in Beat 3, The Set Up. I think I need to go back and write a new first chapter, hopefully one that hooks the reader AND helps the reader to care about the MC.

So, now I've been wondering about the rest of my novel. How alike are the beats of a movie and a novel? I've been debating whether or not my novel should fit into Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet. Or am I completely overthinking it?

Are you familiar with the Beat Sheet? If so, how closely aligned with it do you think a novel should be?

Also, Elle Strauss blogged about this book yesterday! She filled us in on how the book teaches you to write a logline. I loved this part of the book. It's a great resource for creating your logline, and Elle has it broken down for us. Check her out if you haven't already!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Hello Again

I have been fumbling around with what to write for this post for weeks now. How do I explain a ten month absence, or do I even try?

Here's the short version of the last ten months in my corner of the world:
(Trust me, this IS the short version!)
1. Hubby got a new job, with a commute that wasn't feasible for him.
2. We put our house on the market. It sold in TWO days. (Unbelievable!)
3.Selling our house that quickly meant that we had to put our belongings in storage and move in with my parents, who live between the old job and the new job. While the hubby commuted forty-five minutes one way, I drove our son forty-five minutes the other way because I had promised him he could finish his last month at his old school.
4. Did I mention that my parents don't have internet? Or even a computer? This rocked my world.
5. We found a house near the new job, but the contract fell apart. Don't ask me if I'm still bitter about this.
6. By this time we were nearing capacity levels for stress. We had put in so much time trying to find the right house in the right school district at the right price (not to mention all the hoops we had jumped through with the new financing laws), and it had all fallen apart the day before closing. I was sick of looking for a house.
7. A friend in my hometown said, "Hey, the parsonage is open." (He had been living there while he remodeled his own home and had just moved out two months prior.) We didn't want to stay in this little town. We didn't want to move into the parsonage. We wanted to move close to hubby's job.
8. We moved into the parsonage. (I can't believe I just typed that.) I hate to say it was out of desperation, but it kind of was. We got our things out of storage (which had partially flooded), cleaned what we could and threw away the rest.
9. My hubby decided a forty-five minute commute was fine. We enrolled the kiddos at my old elementary school, which is JUST ACROSS THE STREET. We attend church NEXT DOOR. My parents farm is only a few miles out of town. It's all VERY convenient.
10. When school started I subbed a lot. I volunteered a lot. I was asked to do a long term sub job at the elementary from early November till Christmas. That knocked me out of NaNo, and I was surprised by how disappointed this made me feel.

I had been itching to get back in the swing of things. I wanted to write again. I wanted to blog again. (And even try to do better at keeping a schedule!) I wanted to get back in touch with the people I was just beginning to get to know in the blogosphere. So if any of you are still out there, please forgive my absence. (And please still be my friend!)

Here's to a new start!