Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Amuse Your Future Self #NaNoWriMo


Like many of you, I'm deep into my NaNoWriMo manuscript. I've passed the 33,000 word point. Yay! If you want to find me on NaNo, click here.

When I say 33k words, you know that I mean absolutely horrible words, right? Like, toss 'em over the bridge kind of bad.

I used to worry about those horrible first drafts. I no longer worry. I plan my books with a loose outline and use index cards to keep me on track. If I'm inspired to change directions, I do.

Here's the thing. I don't worry about the crappy first drafts because I know they can be fixed. What I'm writing now will be like 50,000 words of detailed plot notes. It's when I work the story out in my head and bring the outline to fruition. Barely any dialogue, world description, etc.

But there's one fun thing that I do that I wanted to share with you. I amuse my future self.

You see, when I read through this for the first time (which will be weeks, maybe even months from now) I'll need a chuckle. I'll be convinced that I'm the worst writer ever, and how did I ever think I could shape that fuzzy idea into a full-length novel? (Note: the manuscript is never as bad as I think it will be)

So what do I do? I write notes to myself. Sometimes it'll be as simple as (dumb). Or sometimes I'll question myself (didn't I write this a few pages ago?). But sometimes my notes will make my future self smile. I might type (lame) or (is that the best you can do?) or (crappity crap crap). I might even type (this is where I felt like throwing my laptop at the wall. but i didn't. i kept going. now fix this mess)

This way I don't take myself too seriously. I'll remember that what I accomplished during the month of November was capture a story on the page. Nothing more. When revision time comes, I'll flesh out the characters, add dialogue, and ground the reader with sensory details.

First drafts are the toughest part for me, so right now I must focus on getting the story from my brain to the laptop. No looking back. And if I can make my future self smile in the process, I'm all good.

How about you, writers? Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Do you have any tips you can share with the rest of us?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Writing lessons learned from THE LONGEST RIDE


I'm a huge Nicholas Sparks fan, so I was excited to read The Longest Ride. Of course I learned some helpful writing lessons!

First, a little about The Longest Ride:

Ira Levinson is in trouble. Ninety-one years old and stranded and injured after a car crash, he struggles to retain consciousness until a blurry image materializes beside him: his beloved wife Ruth, who passed away nine years ago. Urging him to hang on, she forces him to remain alert by recounting the stories of their lifetime together--how they met, the precious paintings they collected together, the dark days of WWII and its effect on them and their families. Ira knows that Ruth can't possibly be in the car with him, but he clings to her words and his memories, reliving the sorrows and everyday joys that defined their marriage.

A few miles away, at a local bull-riding event, a Wake Forest College senior's life is about to change. Recovering from a recent break-up, Sophia Danko meets a young cowboy named Luke, who bears little resemblance to the privileged frat boys she has encountered at school. Through Luke, Sophia is introduced to a world in which the stakes of survival and success, ruin and reward--even life and death--loom large in everyday life. As she and Luke fall in love, Sophia finds herself imagining a future far removed from her plans--a future that Luke has the power to rewrite...if the secret he's keeping doesn't destroy it first.

Ira and Ruth. Sophia and Luke. Two couples who have little in common, and who are separated by years and experience. Yet their lives will converge with unexpected poignancy, reminding us all that even the most difficult decisions can yield extraordinary journeys.

Ok, and now for some writing lessons learned. Warning! If you haven't yet read The Longest Ride, and don't want to know any plot points, read no further:


  • Open with detailed character information--the book opens with Ira's pov like this: I sometimes think to myself that I'm the last of my kind. He's an old man who's been in a car crash. He reflects on early lessons his dad had taught him, such as never count money in public, hold doors open for women and children, and always give a customer more than expected. These life lessons tell us a lot about the type of man who's been in a car crash. I immediately liked him.
  • Remind the reader of the character's predicament--Ira is injured, cold and thirsty. He reminisces with his long-dead wife, recalling their love story. Every few paragraphs the author brings us back to the present, by injecting lines about Ira's pain, the falling snow, and the oncoming night.
  • Reference a life-saving anecdote early--Ira likes to watch TheWeather Channel. He recalls a story where a man survived a crash for over 60 days by eating snow. This memory comes into play later in the book, but it makes sense because it was established early.
  • Embed threads between two alternating stories--we have two parallel stories happening. Ira and Ruth. Sophia and Luke. I wondered how these two stories would connect, and paid attention to details that would finally bring them together. The author did a great job of keeping me curious, while also planting clues along the way.
  • Stupid makes sense--if the character has to do something stupid, like ride an angry bull even though he doesn't want to, give him a moral reason to do it. Luke shouldn't ride bulls anymore (I won't spoil the story here) but he does it anyway. Why? Not for fame or accolades, but to help his mom.
  • Eliminate short, choppy scenes--I actually got this tip from one of my beta readers for my own book. I had tied up the book with a few short scenes at the end. She suggested I pull what I needed from those scenes and write one significant scene. So I did. I was surprised by the amount of short, choppy scenes at the end of this book. It's still amazing, but that ending could've included one significant scene with the details from the short scenes.
What do you think of these writing lessons? Have you used any of them in your own fiction? Are you a Nicholas Sparks fan? Do you like stories with old/young points of view or parallel stories that merge at the end?



Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Not a Failure--A Learner #IWSG



Welcome, Insecure Writer's Support Group! Not signed up with this amazing group yet? Quick! Remedy that and sign up here.

Side note: my ebook "The Boy Who Loved Fire" is free today! Clicky here to download a copy :)

Recently I was listening to a very successful person talking about failure and making mistakes. He suggested that people take this attitude: "I'm not a failure, I'm a learner." 

This person had tried new things and failed. He'd tried some things and succeeded. His perspective was this: keep trying new things, even if you're scared. You will NOT fail, because even if things don't go your way, you've still learned something new. There's immeasurable value in that.

His statement really resonated with me. As a matter of fact, I'm about to do a whole lot of learning. I'm participating in NaNoWriMo again this year (my sixth!), but I'm trying something completely new. I'm using my beloved characters from my novel The Boy Who Loved Fire. Not a sequel, but more like a companion book. Plus I'm writing in dueling points of view. I've never done that before. Oh, and this will be more like a thriller. So yes, there will be plenty of failure...er...learning...going on.

I'm also studying ideas about releasing books as serials, podiobooks, and all kinds of fun stuff. One thing I've learned about this publishing business, especially indie publishing, is there are so many cool things to try.

What if something doesn't work out? I'll learn from it and move on to the next thing. And I won't consider it a failure...I'll consider it a learning experience.

Friends, what's your take on failure? Do you consider it a bad thing, or do you find value when things don't go the way you'd imagined? Are you afraid to try new things because of the fear of failure? Please share!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Writing lessons learned from GONE GIRL


Quick...before the regular post, are you participating in NaNoWriMo? I am! You can find me here.

As you probably learned in my post Unredeemable Characters and Unhappy Endings, I absolutely loved Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Like, I'm obsessed. As a reader, I was entertained. As a writer, I was blown away by the author's skill.

It was tough to whittle down the lessons learned to a manageable list, without giving too much away. Fair warning...if you haven't read the book yet, and don't want to know anything about the story, stop!

First, about Gone Girl:

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick Dunne’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick Dunne isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but hearing from Amy through flashbacks in her diary reveal the perky perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer? As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister Margo at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was left in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?

What writing lessons did I learn from this book? Too many to list in this post, but here are my favorites:
  • Get to know the missing person. How? In Gone Girl, we get to know Amy, the missing wife, through a series of journal entries. Early entries describe a wonderful romance, but soon the entries become dark and fearful. In my guest post on Traci Kenworth's blog, I listed ways for readers to care about an absent character.
  • Unreliable narrator. Nick, the husband/suspect, confuses the reader. Is he concerned about his missing wife? Sometimes. And sometimes it seems his concern is just for show. When he's interrogated by the police he tells us, "It was my fifth lie to the police. I was just starting." After that, I kept wondering if he was lying or telling the truth. I tell ya, this book is filled with liars, cheaters, and psychos. I mean that as a compliment.
  • Add personality to the prose. In Amy's diary, she tells how she used to write quizzes for women's magazines. When at a crossroad in her life, she'd write a quiz about it in her diary with multiple choice answers. It was a cute way to get to know the character better.
  • If there's a gun on the wall, use it. Remember that saying? If there's a gun on the wall, the writer had better use it? I can't remember who said it. Anyway, there was a couple of clues I picked up on that didn't go further. Nick and his sister Margo are twins. They'd even experienced telepathy. I expected the author to explore that in the story. If it was explored, it was done in a way that I didn't catch. It seemed like a missed opportunity.
  • List of suspects. Nick soon becomes the main suspect in Amy's disappearance. He does show signs of innocence, though, like occasional shock and worry. But there are also other characters who could be involved. There's a roving band of homeless men in the town, and there are old flames and stalkers who might have motive to harm Amy.
  • Unexpected character backstory. Most protagonists come from messed up families. After all, how interesting are characters who have wonderful lives and come from wonderful families? Amy's parents seem to have the perfect marriage and a charmed life. This made Amy uncomfortable about being single at 31. This perfect marriage also played into the story in unexpected ways. It went against type and also caused problems.
  • Treasure hunt for clues. In this story, there was literally a treasure hunt. Amy's anniversary tradition was to send Nick on a treasure hunt, with gifts planted along the trail. She goes missing on her anniversary, and yep, a treasure hunt had already been planned. Cops find clue #1 and gift #1 before Nick does. The gift has been carefully opened. This was a clever way to weave mystery and suspense into the story.

Have you read Gone Girl? Seen the movie? What's your opinion? What do you think of these writing lessons? Are you participating in NaNo? If so, good luck!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

On Sequels and Juggling Chainsaws: Interview with Crystal Collier



Today we have Super Mom and Super Author Crystal Collier here to shed light on writing sequels and juggling chainsaws. Her latest release, SOULLESS, is available now!

Q and A with Crystal Collier:

1. SOULLESS is the sequel to MOONLESS. Had you written a sequel before? How did you prepare for the process of writing a sequel?

I have actually written a couple other sequels. Great practice. SOULLESS wrote itself for the first 50 pages, then I told it to stop and plotted out the rest. If you want a solid story that carries specific themes and character arcs, you do have to slow down the muse sometimes.

2. What were your main writing lessons learned from writing a sequel? Continuity of story arc? Character arc? Adding new plot elements? None of the above?

It was somewhere between character arc and plot arc. I had to push my characters harder and into more difficult moments/decisions than in book 1. I agonized with them. It hurt.

3. Which marketing tasks worked best for MOONLESS? Which did not? Are you trying anything new with SOULLESS?

Because we home school, I’m pretty much confined to digital marketing for now. In that vein, the blog tour worked great. Goodreads giveaways expanded exposure, and getting featured on a ton of review blogs brought in significant traffic. With Soulless I’m being slightly less aggressive, focused on spreading the campaign out. I’ll be trying a facebook party and a live reading via youtube. We’ll see how they go.

4. Now that you have two books out, how do you balance being a busy wife, mother, author, marketer, and juggler of chainsaws?

I eat cheese, of course.

There is no balance. Some days I tip one way, the next, another. My weekly calendar is plotted out with a balance of tasks, one major thing to be done each day with writing, marketing, chores, family events, and whatever else comes along. Sometimes the planning even works, but effort over time (even with disruption,) equals eventual accomplishment.

5. What is the most important writing advice you’ve ever received? Why did it resonate with you?

I don’t know that it was an exact piece of advice. It was more an encouragement to study my industry and know what’s out there, what’s selling, and what publishers were looking for (both in technique and plot). That included reading all the time—industry books and popular fiction. Mostly it was that light bulb moment when I realized I needed to treat this job like a profession, not a hobby.

6. What’s next for the wonderful Crystal Collier?

(You called me wonderful! Yippee!) A baby. A serial story (Bellezza). The third book in the Maiden of Time trilogy (Timeless). TONZ of cheese. Survival.

Survival is good! Crystal, thanks so much for hanging out with us here on the blog.

Friends, have you ever written a sequel? What's your favorite writing advice? There are prizes! Want to enter? a Rafflecopter giveaway

About SOULLESS...

The Soulless are coming... 

Alexia manipulated time to save the man of her dreams, and lost her best friend to red-eyed wraiths. Still grieving, she struggles to reconcile her loss with what was gained: her impending marriage. But when her wedding is destroyed by the Soulless—who then steal the only protection her people have—she’s forced to unleash her true power. 

And risk losing everything. 


Connect with Crystal:

Blog | Twitter | Goodreads | Facebook | Website

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Unredeemable Characters and Unhappy Endings


Friends, I must brainstorm with you. I have this strange need to just chat about a book with book lovers, and try to understand a couple of things.

I just finished reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

Mind. Blown.

I'd heard the book was good, twisted, and dark. It was all of those things and more. I literally could not put it down. When I began Part Two, my eyes bugged at the twists. I shook my head in wonder at the author's brilliance.

After reading the final words, I wrote this on Facebook:

Just finished reading "Gone Girl." Holy cow. Wicked, twisted, and totally entertaining. I hope the movie is half as good. Who's read it?

The responses I got were fascinating. Most readers agreed it was dark and twisted. Most agreed it was good. Many had seen the movie and said it followed the book closely and was excellent.

But a couple of responses surprised me and really made me think.

My cousin Marcia said this:

"I didn't like it. It was well written but I don't enjoy stories where there is not a single redeeming character."

She's right! Except for maybe the sister and one of the cops, these characters were awful people. Selfish, manipulative, spoiled. Why in the heck did I care what happened to them? Morbid curiosity? What had the author done that made me turn the pages when I should've been cooking dinner? And why did I love a book that was peopled with unlikeable characters? WHY?

I'm still pondering that one. My writing lessons learned post about this book is coming soon.

My friend Kris said this:

"Totally sick and twisted! I really disliked the ending!!"

She's also right! The ending was NOT happy. It wasn't even satisfying. It was frustrating. I wanted to chuck the book at the wall and scream "NOOOOO!" I gravitate toward satisfying endings. After spending so much time with characters, I want to turn the final page and know that things are going to be ok--that these people will go on to live normal lives. This is SO not the case with Gone Girl.

As a reader, I didn't love the ending. As a writer, I admired it. Maybe that's why this book still haunts me. Maybe because I was reading it as a reader, while also marveling at the writer's skill. I'm rarely this surprised by twists, and believe me, this one has some gems. I can't even hint at them without giving away the story.

If you've read the book or seen the movie, and want to read an entertaining thread, there's a fascinating conversation over at Book Journey. Warning! Serious spoiler alert. I mean, they're talking about the twists and the ending.

Whether people like the book or not, it's definitely had an impact.

This book reminded me why we love books. They're entertaining. They make us think. They make us happy and afraid. Gosh, I love reading.

Can I understand why I sometimes love a disturbing book? No. But I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Have you read Gone Girl? Seen the movie? Have you ever thought about a book long after you've turned the final page? Have you ever loved a book with twisted characters? Have you ever enjoyed an unhappy ending and wondered why? Friends, help me understand!! 

(No spoilers, please! I don't want to ruin it for anyone else)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Writing About Personal Trials: Interview With Author Elizabeth Heins


Friends, today I'm honored that Elizabeth Hein, author of the newly released How To Climb The Eiffel Tower, is here to chat about her story and offer advice to new writers. But first, a bit about Elizabeth's book:

Lara Blaine believes that she can hide from her past by clinging to a rigid routine of work and exercise. She endures her self-imposed isolation until a cancer diagnosis cracks her hard exterior. Lara’s journey through cancer treatment should be the worst year of her life. Instead, it is the year that she learns how to live. She befriends Jane, another cancer patient who teaches her how to be powerful even in the face of death. Accepting help from the people around her allows Lara to confront the past and discover that she is not alone in the world. With the support of her new friends, Lara gains the courage to love and embrace life. Like climbing the Eiffel Tower, the year Lara meets Jane is tough, painful, and totally worth it.

What first inspired you to write How To Climb The Eiffel Tower?

When I was in the throes of my own cancer treatment, I met several people who told me that getting cancer was the best thing that ever happened to them. I found that hard to believe at the time. Still, that statement was a seed of an idea. I wanted to give voice to those women’s lives, so I imagined scenarios for how getting cancer could lead to a positive life transformation. After a few false starts, Lara began talking to me.

Who was your inspiration for the characters of Lara and Jane?

Neither Lara nor Jane is entirely based on a real person. The character of Lara is an amalgamation of several young women I have known over the years. Unfortunately, abuse and neglect are far more common than many people would like to believe. I grew up a loving family. Girls in need of a safe place seemed to follow me home on a regular basis.  I knew several girls that were exceedingly bright, but were made to feel stupid by the adults in their lives. Others were mistreated so much that they had no self-esteem left to carry them into adulthood. Even as a child, I was outraged at the way these girls had to live. I guess that indignation stuck with me and came out when I sat down to write this novel.

Jane, on the other hand, is a completely invented character. I was writing what became the first scene of the novel and she walked into the room. From there, the character developed a life of her own on the page.

How is this book different from other books about cancer?

I feel How To Climb The Eiffel Tower is unique because Lara is not a typical “cancer book” protagonist. Many of the other books I read as research for this book had protagonists that were leading charmed lives that were halted by a cancer diagnosis. Lara Blaine’s life was not great before she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Cancer could have been just another awful thing for her to withstand. Fortunately, she meets Jane and the other women that teach her to use her cancer experience to reframe her life. Few of the other books I read used cancer as a psychological tool that the main character can use to transform her life.

 What advice do you have for new writers?
  • Learn everything you can about the trade of writing. Read books of the craft of writing. Read books to learn how books are structured. Learn, learn, and then learn some more.
  • Write at least something every day so you stay in touch with the story. Once you get in the habit of writing every day, it is just that – a habit.
  • Writing is not a pursuit for the faint of heart. It is difficult. Don't give up. I have seen tremendously talented writers stop writing because it stopped being easy. Even more people walked away after a handful of rejections.
  • Follow your gut. You really do know what you are doing.
  • Allow yourself to write terrible first drafts; just don’t mistake them for final drafts. Get your ideas down on the page, then edit. Then edit again. Rest. Then edit again.
  • Find some writer friends. They will keep you going when the going gets tough.
Great advice, Elizabeth! Thank you.

Writers, have you ever written about your own personal trials? Was writing the story therapeutic? Do you write every day? Do you power through terrible first drafts? Please share!

Buy links:
Amazon UK 

Twitter: @_ElizabethHein