Thursday, November 10, 2011

I Do Not Like the Cone of Shame

Sometimes, submitting your writing to your critique group can feel like this. The Cone of Shame. Misery. Why on earth would anyone put themselves out there like that?
Oh yeah to get better.
The cone of shame isn't just for entertainment (though it can be very entertaining for the dog's owner). It is for healing. It is for making things better.
So the next time you feel a little embarrassed by submitting your work to get critiqued, remember what the Cone of Shame is really for.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Search for the Right Critique Partners: Part 2 Where to find them.

Critique partners are essential for developing writing and the right critique partner absolutely necessary.
But where do you find them?
  1. On-line groups. The resources online for writers seems limitless. Google it. A simple search will bring tons of groups and forums. Online writing communities are a great way to meet fellow writers. Find a group and contribute. Guarantee you'll make friends and eventually have a tight-knit group of people to share manuscripts with.
  2. Writer's Conferences. Writer's conferences are great resources. Better than great—they're tremendous resources. You can establish connections with fellow writers, rub elbows with agents, and make friends. Some of the best critique partners you can find are fellow conference goers.
  3. Friends and family. You have family members and friends who writes too. It might not be blatantly obvious, but you will know it if you watch for the signs. Keep your eyes open to find them. They are the ones with the notebook they take everywhere. If you listen, you can find the cousin talking about a rogue main character or friend discussing the plot issue she resolved over her morning cereal.
    What other places have you found critiquing friends?

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Search for the Right Critique Partner: Part 1

Picking a critique partner might be one of the most important decisions you will make in your writing. Those extra eyes can improve your work. They can see plot holes and character flaws that you miss. With just the right amount of support and advice, a good critique partner can help you make your story fabulous.
What makes a good critique partner?
The answer is different for everyone. Each writer has different styles and needs. Here is a list of things to consider when searching for the right critique partner.

If you write epic fantasy and your critique partner writes romance, there might be issues. While good writing is good writing, there is certain conventions in the different genres. If your critique partner loathes your genre, they might not be as helpful as they could be.

Critiquing Style
Styles of critiquing vary from person to person. Some like to point out what is wrong and leave it at that. Others prefer to make suggestions on how to fix it. This depends on your personal preference.

Time Commitment
Critiquing should happen at a pace that you are comfortable with. You don't want to have a mismatched level of time commitment. Either waiting forever to hear back from your critique partner or feeling overwhelmed and rushed to get their work back is frustrating. To avoid headaches, find someone who wants to critique at the same pace as you do.

What else do you consider in searching for a critique partner?

Tune in next time for advice on where to find a critique partner. Happy writing!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Books We Love

I recently read The Sapphire Flute by Karen E. Hoover and it got me pondering about what makes a book good. Not just good, but what makes a book awesome?
Sometimes, you find books that you like and other times you find books that you love. Books that you like you enjoy reading, but when you finish, you finish. It sits back on your shelf or is returned to the library and forgotten. Books that you love, stick in your mind. You see a word or a name in the real world and instantly it brings you back to that world. These are the books that are lovingly read and reread.
What makes a book un-put-downable? What makes you think of it weeks after reading the last page?
In an unforgettable book, the characters are lovable. They have to be so real that as a reader, you forget they are mere words on a page. The Sapphire Flute's characters are a good example of that. Immediately, before she even has a point of view, I am curious of the main character Shandae's role and worry for her future. I feel sympathy for her and I haven't even met her yet! Then, as she makes an appearance as a point of view character, she is loveable and easy to relate to. I care for her trials, because a tight emotional connection is established early on.
Phenomenal books stand out by the details in which the author writes them. In The Sapphire Flute, the settings and the characters are described so richly that the world feels real. I can feel what the scorching of the flames and hear the sweet music from the flute. It is more than just reading a book, it's being swept into a book.
The Sapphire Flute definitely falls under my personal “love it” category. It isn't just a good book—it is an unforgettable, awesome book. Currently, it is available at Amazon, but it won't be for long. Also, it is available on smashwords as an e-book.
Also, stop by sometime next week for an interview with the author and a contest!
Happy writing!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Conflict and Life's Woes

As I walked to chemistry, ten minutes late for the millionth time this semester, I came to a realization: Life would be a whole lot easier if I were on time. Likewise, wouldn’t life be easier if you always remember where you put your keys? What if dishes and homework never got stacked up and completed themselves?
Life would be easy.
Life would be boring.
I cannot imagine everyday with no conflict. What would that even be like?Like life, conflict is essential for healthy novels. Have you ever read a book about a happy little girl with a perfect life where nothing ever goes wrong?
No? If she’s happy and conflict free--there is no book.

Four important points to conflict:

1. The problems have to be real. It needs to be something the reader cares about. Adjust this for the readers. Five year olds care about lost kittens. Teenagers care about man-eating kittens.

2. The conflict should not be resolved immediately. Simple solutions are boring and don’t allow for much growth. Don’t make it easy for your characters.

3. Don’t go overboard. Too much drama is melodrama. If there is more death and tragic accidents in your novel than mosquitoes in Florida, then it might be a bit much. Too much drama is, in fact, a bad thing.

4. The stakes have to be high. The conflict must leave the readers at the edge of their seat--unable to satisfy the primal needs of hunger and sleep until the problem is resolved.

A novel without conflict is like a pencil without lead. What’s the point?
Enjoy life’s little catastrophes: the spilled ketchup and the lost socks. At least it’s not dull.
Happy writing!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

First Official Wisdom Wednesday! Interview with Tristi Pinkston

Today is the first official Wisdom Wednesday blog post!  I have an interview with the fabulous Tristi Pinkston.  Not only is she the author of the Secret Sisters Mysteries and several historical fiction novels, she is well known for helping fledgling authors. Rarely does a conference in the Utah valley go by that she isn’t there, teaching and encouraging. That can make all the difference! Where would new writers be without someone like Tristi? Who better to have for the first official Wisdom Wednesday?  Here’s the interview:

1. What is your favorite book?

I have several favorites.  I really love I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, Peace Like a River by Leif Enger, Christy by Catherine Marshall.  And the list goes on and on and on ... 

2. What would you say is the hardest part about being a writer?

There are a lot of hard parts.  One of the toughest for me is knowing that I want to be the very best I can possibly be, and yet getting hung up on the same mistakes I make over and over again, or not being able to take this scene I see so clearly in my head and get it down on paper so others can see it too.  Of course, then there's also fear of rejection, fear of no sales, wondering if anyone really likes me, wondering if I really have anything important to say ... you know, all that stuff. 
3. What is the most important thing new writers should know?

New writers should know that it takes a lot of work and study and editing and honing your craft to really get where you're trying to get.  You can't just sit down and write a story and expect success.  You need to pay your dues in research, in editing, in going through draft after draft after draft, and in patience.  But it's very worth it in the feelings of accomplishment you have afterward. 
4. How do you deal with writer's block?

I never force creativity.  If I get stuck, I stand up and walk away from the computer.  I do something else for a while.  I watch a movie, read a book, scrapbook, take a hot shower, run errands - anything to pull my mind out of the problem.  Then, a little while later, the solution will just come to me.  I've tried to jiggle my brain and make it cough up more ideas when it's not ready, and it clamps down and refuses.  I have to coax it by letting it relax.

5. How do you balance life and writing?

Um ... not very well, to be honest.  My housework always takes a back seat, and I do mean, always.  If I start to clean, my kids ask who's coming over.  I sneak in writing in between life, and I sneak life in between writing.  It's all spinning plates, and sometimes those plates come crashing down and I have to get them going again. 
6. What steps do you take in the editing processes?

I very rarely write a whole draft and then go back to edit.  I'll sit down and start the story, and write until I get good and stuck.  Then I'll go back to the beginning and edit it up until the point where I left off, adding details and making corrections as I go.  By the time I get to where I left off, I've usually added a few scenes I realized needed to be there, and I know where I'm going, so I'll head out into new frontiers and maybe make it another twelve thousand words or so before I get stuck again.  So I go back to the beginning and do the same thing.  By the time I'm totally done drafting out the ending of the book, I've been through the first part several times, and then I need to put the ending through the same process.  Then, after it's all done, I let it sit for a long time, usually about a month, and then I come back and do a full edit again.  Then I feel like it's ready. And somewhere out in the middle of all that, I take it to critique group.  That's hugely helpful in the process.

7. Who has had the biggest influence on your writing?

I can't really pinpoint one person.  I was inspired by authors like Ann Rinaldi, Dee Henderson, and Jan Karon.  I was cheered on by J. Scott Savage, Josi Kilpack, Kerry Blair, Rachel Ann Nunes.  I was hugged and comforted by Julie Wright, Shirley Bahlmann, and C.S. Bezas. I was applauded,and yet challenged to do better, by Gordon Ryan.  Every author I've ever met or read has had something to do with my writing today.  I've been molded by good people who cared about my career and wanted to see my success.

8. Who is your hero?

My hero is anyone who writes from their gut. 

9. Of your novels, which was the hardest to write?

Hmmmm.  That's a tough question.  My first novel was really hard because I was trying to figure this whole thing out.  My second was hard because the research I had to do was very disturbing to me - the concentration camps were horrific, and it took me a while to shake off the stories I'd read and the images I'd seen.  Writing did get a little easier for me after that point, not that it ever has become a piece of cake, but I learned how to turn out a manuscript in fewer drafts. I would say that the hardest one is probably one I haven't published yet, that I don't know will ever see the light of day.
The easiest?

The easiest novels by far have been the books in the Secret Sisters Mysteries series.  My characters start talking and I just sit here and type.  I do have to rein them in from time to time - they go on tangents and I have to make them stick with the story.
Your favorite?

Of course, the first novel holds a special place in my heart because it was the first.  The second novel helped me prove to myself that I wasn't a one-hit wonder.  My third is my family history book, and I'm probably most proud of it - if I died tomorrow, I'd die knowing I'd written something really worthwhile.  My fourth was a romantic suspense, something I'd never done before, and it was ground-breaking for me.  My two mysteries are just fun.  So ... which one is my favorite?  They all are!
10. Dark chocolate, white chocolate, or milk chocolate?

For cookies, semi-sweet.  I can do milk chocolate as coating on a candy bar, but I don't like too much of it all in one place. I like white chocolate on a pretzel. 

Thanks for letting me interview you Tristi!
If you haven’t checked out her blog, then shame on you—it’s great!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Book Review of Flora Segunda and Musings on Familarity in Fantasy Novels

After reading the back cover of Flora Segunda, I knew I HAD to read the book. The back cover reads: Being the Magickal Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass-Gazing Sidekick, Two Ominous Butlers (One Blue), a House with Eleven Thousand Rooms, and a Red Dog.
It screamed intrigue and uniqueness. And I was not disappointed. The main character, a girl named Flora is a delight. She’s spunky and tries to take on the world, but seems to make everything worse. Along with that, I loved the plot of this book because, just when you think you have everything figured out, it all falls apart again.
The world Ysabeau Wilce creates is fascinating, yet rings familiar. For example, in the book there is the land of Califia next to the ocean of Pacifica. Many times, the characters speak random words that have a Spanish feel like mustatshio--even in the title segunda. This seemed to enrich the culture, making the world more real. And yet, I didn’t have to keep flipping back to page fifty-seven to remember what a particular word meant because I was already familiar with the words (even though I don’t actually know very much Spanish).

How much familiarity is a good balance in Fantasy?

I’ve noticed a spectrum of familiarity in fantasy novels. At the light end is the urban fantasy--for example Twilight. Nothing in the setting is too out of the ordinary. Cars are still cars. Towns have stores--schools have biology etc.

Next on the spectrum are novels that take place in a skewed version of our world. Think--Harry Potter. It takes place in our world, but it’s not the same. Cars fly, stores sell owls and pumpkin juice, and Hogwarts really doesn’t have a traditional biology class.

As the spectrum continues there are the stories where our modern culture is seen in relics from the past. In City of Ember, for example, the city and culture is like nothing we are familiar with, yet they have light bulbs and cans of food. It connects to our reality, but in a distant, almost distorted way.
Then on the heavy end of the spectrum, the author creates a whole new world. Classic examples of high fantasy include Robert Jordan and J. R. R. Tolkien. The cultures and settings are entirely new.

Which is best?

Honestly, it depends on the story. The beauty of a spectrum is that stories can fall anywhere in between the two endpoints. It is not a simple all or nothing situation. For writing, it’s about finding the perfect balance unique to your own story. Part of Flora Segunda’s appeal is that it fits nicely in its spot on the spectrum. The story isn’t necessarily high fantasy, but not quite an our-reality-is-in-the-past fantasy like City of Ember. It is somewhere in the middle. The balance is suitable for the style of book and the world the Ysabeau Wilce has created.

For those who write fantasy, where does your story fit on the spectrum? How does that lend strength to it?
Happy writing!
PS. Stay tuned tomorrow—I have a special blog guest! :D

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Target Practice . . . Aka . . . Goal Setting

If you aim at nothing, you'll hit it every time. ~Author Unknown
Goals are good. Goals are good. Goals are good.
Even if you’ve barely dipped your toes into the world of novel writing or any other worthy pursuit, you’ve heard this mantra. Probably more than once and no less than a million times.
This is NOT going to be one of those sickly-happy, “Goals are awesome!” posts. In fact, if you are looking to hear about my excellent achievement in goaling or seeking inspiration for your goal setting, this is the wrong blog. This is just some things I’ve noticed about goals.

1. Having goals is great! Or more exactly, not having goals is awful. It’s like trying to eat soup without silverware. Doable, but it sure is messy. Weird how there seems to be a direct correlation between, setting goals and getting stuff accomplished.

2. Goals seem to work better if they are written down. Someone once said, “A goal not written is only a wish.” I say, “A goal not written is forgotten until three weeks after it was said to have been accomplished.”

3.Goals written down and lost do you no good. Last semester, my doggone planner ran off and I was completely lost. My. Life. Was. Over. I didn’t get a thing accomplished.

4. Finding a perfect sized goal is much like trying to find a perfect fitting pair of jeans. Some too big, some too small. Example: write a full novel in a day. What? Or in contrast write one word this week. The . . . Yes! I did it! In 50,000 days, I’ll have a novel! Oh wait . . .

5.Erring on the side of a too big goal is always better. Think the jeans analogy. Big goals make you stretch (though bigger jeans don’t--though they do make it so you can stretch). Anyhow, even if you don’t reach your goals, you have stretched further than you would have if you had not tried. It’s like the National Novel Writing Month--50,000 words in a month. That’s an amazingly high goal. If you only reach halfway, that is 25,000 words. How many of those words would you have written if you weren’t reaching for 50,000? Exactly.

6. If you tell someone your goals, you are under obligation to remember them and complete them. Accountability--that’s just how it rolls.

New life goals for me:
1. Keep better tabs on my planner.
2. Daily goals.
3. Finish editing Rising by May.
Great, now I have to. :D
Until next time, happy writing!