Monthly Archives: February 2011

Taking your own advice

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Welp today (yesterday now…) was the day. The day where the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest announced who would be moving onto round two. Unfortunately, I did not advance. While I didn’t really expect to make it to the end, I was hoping to at least make the first cut.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit disappointed. Thinking back to the post I recently did about prepping for rejection, I decided to take the day off from writing yesterday and wallow a little.  I think it’s important to let yourself feel sad over it and a short lived pity party isn’t an awful thing, just don’t let it drag on.

So it’s a new day and my party has fizzled out. I have to make plans to move forward. Revise the pitch/query some more. See if there are some more places online I can turn it in to get ripped apart. I’ll probably stop by the book store and flip through some of the books on publishing and check online directories to find agents who represent my genre. The plus about being booted from the contest means I can start shopping the story around much sooner since I don’t have to wait to see if I move on to other rounds. Silver lining!

I know that some of my other writer friends didn’t make the cut either, but they all seem to be moving on as well. I’m taking my own advice and not letting it get me too down. I’m sure there will be other rejections to come so picking myself up now is good practice for the future. Time to get back to it!

Don’t repeat!

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A friend of mine is currently reading the first draft of my soft sci-fi YA novel. We were discussing it the other day and she surprised me.

Her: I’ve noticed you use the word gingerly, all the time.

Me: Really?! I never use it in real life. Why would I even think to write it repeatedly?

Her: I don’t know, but I promise you, it’s everywhere.

Sure enough I used the ‘find’ option in Word and see that it really is all over the manuscript. How weird.  My other repetition horror? The word OK, which isn’t even a word but an abbreviation. My characters are constantly asking if someone is OK or saying they’re OK or it’s OK to do something. It tends to be followed by head nodding. I went through and deleted tons of them, changed them to alright or fine and they still seem overly abundant in my stories.

I know I’m not alone in this writing phenomenon.  So how do you correct this faux pas? Firstly, become good friends with the ‘find’ option for your word processing program. When you’re doing a read through or editing and start to notice a trend, jot the word or phrase down and then ‘find’ it later and replace it with something else or take it out all together if you can.  Another option is to consciously work at using new words and terms.  While I don’t think you should sit with the Thesaurus and look up crazy replacements for common words, it doesn’t hurt to purposely practice not repeating words and phrases while you write.

During my student teaching days, I taught my 4th graders a lesson called don’t repeat. The students had to come up with ten sentences about a classmate. The kick? They could not repeat a single word. No ‘is’. No ‘a’. No ‘the’. Nothing. It was hard! With a little prompting, they started to change their thinking. Instead of using the student’s name they would say “Mrs. X’s daughter” or “my classmate”, etc. They really got into it and came up with some very creative sentences.

Therefore, if my 4th graders could do it, so can you guys! I will give you a couple of topics to choose from and your challenge is to come up with ten sentences about that topic without repeating a single word. Bonus points if you can make a coherent paragraph or two with those sentences.

The topics are as follows (choose only one): writing, music, winter, movies, holidays

Completing the challenge and improving your writing is the real prize, but I’ll use a random number generator to pick a winner from those who enter and I will interview you about the blog or project of your choice for another blog post.  If you can make your sentences into more of a story/paragraph, I’ll assign you two numbers to increase your chances of winning.  You’ll have until the end of the month, which is next Monday the 28th at 9pm EST to get your entry in. Good luck and I’m looking forward to seeing what you guys come up with!

Prepping for failure – rejection happens

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You might be looking at today’s topic thinking, “pessimistic much?”, but failure and rejection are inevitable sometimes in life. Better to expect that it’ll happen at some point and be prepared to get through it, no?  I chose to bring up the topic at this time because next week those who have entered the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest will find out if they’ve made it passed the first cut. There are going to be a lot of disappointed people who may take the news  to heart and consider giving up. I say, DON’T DO IT! Not moving onto the next round does not mean your writing sucks or that you should never pick up a pen again.  It just means you need to stop down and look at your work. See what can be changed or improved. Get more feedback from others. Write, write and re-write. Try, try again.  If writing is your passion, you owe it to yourself it give it your all and that includes dealing with getting bad reviews, rejections and people just not liking your stuff.

I’ll share a little story with you all. I’ve been writing since I was in elementary school. First on a typewriter and then on a giant green screened IBM computer.  When I was in 7th or 8th grade, I started writing my first novel (rather than short stories). It was a sci-fi adventure called Jarva. I was so proud of it. When I hit 50 pages or so, we ran the half finished manuscript through a program that analyzed the words and sentence structure to tell you the reading level you were writing at. It told me I wrote at a 6th grade level. I was absolutely crushed.  I thought it was telling me my writing was awful and below me. Little did I know that a 6th grade level is close to what the average adult reads at.  It was a huge blow to my ego and consequentially I put my writing away and short of a couple of newspaper articles in middle and high school, I didn’t start writing again until I was in my late 20s.  Who knows what I could have produced in that time.

Am I worried that I’ll go back on a writing hiatus if I don’t move forward in the ABNA contest? No. Between being passed up for jobs and rejected by boys (notice I didn’t say men…),  I’ve learned to take it in stride and move forward. I’ll polish my pitch and try again elsewhere.

Writing, like any other art, is subjective. There are going to be people who don’t like it regardless of what you do and that’s OK. You may get twenty, fifty, a hundred rejections. It still doesn’t mean your work is no good. It means you look to improve on what you have and you keep sending out those queries until you find that person who sees the brilliance in your idea and feels as passionately for it as you do.  If everyone gave up after a rejection, we could have missed out on some fantastic stories. Below is a list(*) of some well known, even classic books and the number of rejections they received before they found that kindred soul who saw the glory in their work and wanted to get it out there to share with the masses.

Chicken Soup for the Soul, Jack Canfeld and Mark Victor Hansen (140)
Diary of Anne Frank (16)
Dr. Seuss books (15)
Dubliners
, James Joyce (22)
Dune
, Frank Herbert (23)
Gone with the Wind
, Margaret Mitchell (38)
Harry Potter book one, J. K. Rowling (9)
M*A*S*H
, Richard Hooker (17)
The Prncess Diaries
, Meg Cabot (17)
Watership Down
, Richard Adams (26)
A Wrinkle in Time
, Madeleine L’Engle, (26)
So if you do happen to get a rejection, or twelve, or thirty, it’s OK to be disappointed and saddened by it, but don’t let it keep you down. Don’t let it keep your story from reaching us. Regroup, make a new plan of attack and get back out there. Voracious readers across the world are waiting for your books! Don’t bail on us.

Romancing the novel aka Let’s get it on

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Since yesterday was that dreaded “aww let’s be overly lovey dovey and make all the singletons nauseous” day, I figured I’d talk a little today about my experiences with writing romance and sex into my novels.

As a YA author, romance of some sort is always involved, whether it’s puppy love, true love or ultimate heartbreak. Let’s face it, most teens let their hormones and their hearts lead them more than their heads.

I think everyone can remember their first love.  The butterflies you got when you’d see them or talk to them, the nervousness of wondering if they were interested in you too, the panic over how to kiss, how to act and oh my God you’re supposed to do what with your tongue?!  A lot of these feelings carry through to adulthood (although I think we have a little more confidence in ourselves and our uhh slick moves as we get older). We still get butterflies and hope that special someone likes us and worry about whether or not we’ll be compatible. I think those things keep writing romance easy for me. I can still relate.

If I’m writing it, I keep it fairly clean. I have no real problem with people writing more explicitly, but don’t feel it’s necessary for me. I’d rather write a steamy lead up and then imply something happens. Part of my reasoning is because I don’t want it to come off as sounding, well…cheesy. I’ve read enough Harlequin romances in my day to know 101 ways to describe/name a penis and the acts which involve it but the majority of them always left me snickering (that could have something to do with my 12 yr old boy sense of humor..but that’s not up for debate today).  Writing in that style would kill the mood in my opinion, so I bypass it and leave the details to the reader’s imagination.

When it comes to a sex scene in which participants are…not willing, I find it very difficult to get the words out, even if I’m not going into explicit detail. In my novel, The Other Side, there is a rape scene that plays a major role in the storyline. I sat in front of my monitor for days trying to work up the courage to write it. As is my style, the actual act is implied rather than intricately detailed, but that didn’t matter. It was still incredibly difficult to write and made my stomach hurt.

Love and sex are a natural healthy part of our lives, so there’s a pretty good chance that you as writers will have to add them to your story lines.  I think the key is to keep your writing realistic. While I’m sure we all have fantasies about the perfect experience, I would suggest sticking with what you know so you can rely on your own memories of feelings and reactions. If you’ve never seen fireworks while making out with someone, don’t write about it. If you’ve never had sex so good it’s caused you to temporarily blackout, don’t put your character through that. If your knees have never gone weak in reaction to an amazing kiss, then how do you really describe it well enough to make it believable to your readers?

Now I know there will be some people out there shaking their heads at me. “MB,” they’ll be thinking, “you’ve never crash landed on some distant planet or fought anyone with a sword, so how can you write about it if you haven’t experienced it?”  It’s true, I haven’t done either of those things, but I can do some research and get a good enough idea of how it works to write about it. Also, the majority of the population haven’t done those things either, so I will probably get a little leeway.  The difference being,  that most of your readers will have been in love and/or had sex at least once in their life, so they’re going to know if you’re exaggerating things or adding unnecessary fluff. When it pertains to everyday events or actions or emotions, I think it’s best to stick to what you know.  I certainly can’t stop you from saying the kiss from your hot bad boy character has left your heroine gasping for air like a fish out of water while fireworks bloom in front of her eyes and her knees turn into piles of jelly, but you can’t stop me from rolling my eyes and giggling when I read it either.

Just remember, realism goes a long way to connecting your reader with your characters and when the reader can relate, they will enjoy the story and want to come back for more.

Contest Winner

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In this special Monday edition, we’re highlighting Eric Satchwill, our contest winner! Eric is a Canadian writer who blogs at: Queer Boy Blogging where he discusses his life, his writing and books he’s read. I find it really interesting, so be sure to stop by and take a look. Add him to your feed!

If blog reading isn’t your thing, you can also follow him on Twitter: @Babseth

And in case you missed his great micro-fiction entry, here it is! I think he did a really good job building up some tension and making it a real story by having a definite beginning, middle and end. Thanks again for participating Eric!

A gentle nudge was all it took to send it rolling, bouncing down the stairs.

“Look out!” I called.

They scattered just in time, returning to crowd around where it fetched up against the wall. I jogged down the stairs to join them.

“Well?” someone asked. “What is it?”

I shrugged. “Does it matter? It’s treasure.”

Everyone nodded in agreement.

“Maybe you shouldn’t have kicked it down the stairs,” said another. “You’ve cracked it, see?”

We all leaned in for a closer look. The crack widened to reveal a sharp beak.

“A baby Phoenix!”