Saturday, April 30, 2011

Dangerous Typos

I was revising my book, when what do you know...I found a typo. Seriously, I've read this manuscript how many times? And I still had a typo?

Misplaced or missing letters can dangerously alter the mood of the story. Here are some examples:

awww vs. ewww
taunt vs. taut
trainer vs. trailer
spout vs. sprout
nose vs. hose
kink vs. kinky
dad vs. dead
give 'em hell vs. give 'em help

Yeah, a couple of these were buried in my manuscript. And they're spelled right, so spellcheck was of no use. Please tell me I'm not the only writer with these Doh! moments.

Can you add any other dangerous typos to the list? And it's time to spill the beans. What goofy mistakes have you found in your manuscript? And was it already out to agents or editors? Let's share the shame.

To all you A-Z bloggers out there, congratulations on a job well done! Your posts were so much fun to read.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Writers and the In Between

"We crucify ourselves between two thieves: regret for yesterday and fear of tomorrow." - Fulton Oursler

It occurred to me that writers are perpetually in a state of In Between. Where are you on this list?
  • Between the brilliant idea and the first draft
  • Between the first draft and the 20th draft
  • Between the polish and the query
  • Between the query and agent representation
  • Between representation and an editor's "yes"
  • Between the "yes" and the boxful of books shipped to your doorstep
  • Between the boxful of books and the sale of book #2 (or 3 or...)
With this writing life we've chosen, there are many In Betweens. Sometimes it's terrifying to close our eyes, build up the necessary faith & confidence, and leap from one side to the other. Landing on the opposite curb requires the courage to exit the In Between.

Remember this: "You are never given a dream without also being given the power to make it true. You may have to work for it, however." - Richard Bach

Is there an In Between you'd like to add to the list? What In Between stage are you in, and was it difficult to arrive at this phase of your writing journey?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Lessons learned from THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE

I just finished THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE by Jandy Nelson. If you haven't read it yet, I highly recommend this book. Here's a quick summary:

Lennie plays second clarinet in the school orchestra and has always happily been second fiddle to her charismatic older sister, Bailey. Then Bailey dies suddenly, and Lennie is left at sea without her anchor. Overcome by emotion, Lennie soon finds herself torn between two boys: Bailey's boyfriend, Toby, and Joe, the charming and musically gifted new boy in town. While Toby can't see her without seeing Bailey and Joe sees her only for herself, each offers Lennie something she desperately needs. But ultimately, it's up to Lennie to find her own way toward what she really needs—without Bailey.

Here are the lessons I learned from this beautifully written story:

The power of pacing--The author skipped ahead to parts that mattered. When she wanted the reader invested in a scene, holy cow, she slowed it down until each touch, breath, and heartbeat was savored at an agonizingly slow pace. I literally held my breath during some scenes, and felt all tingly. If you've read the book, you know what I mean.

Antagonists can be ambiguous--Craft books suggest that stories must have an antagonist, or an opposition character. I still can't nail down who the antagonist was in this story (if you've read it, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this). Was it Toby, Lennie's sister's boyfriend? Was it grief? Loneliness? Fear?

An author can find clever ways to reveal character--Lennie's thoughts were not journalized in an ordinary way. Her poetry was written on the backs of candy wrappers, on discarded coffee cups, and carved into trees. We learned her innermost thoughts and fears through her words. At first I thought this was random, but in the end, the author tied these moments together in a beautiful way.

A story's climax doesn't have to be a shoot-em-up chase scene--It can simply be a scene where we wonder, Will he forgive her? Will they come together and accept the past and forge ahead? Can this "companion pony" brave a new world without her "thoroughbred" sister?

I'm in good company with my love for this book. Check out Tahereh's post "Are you there Jandy? It's me, Tahereh."

What's your opinion of these lessons? And what has a great book taught you?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Most writers appreciate a morsel of validation from time to time, whether it's from writing peers, industry pros, or family & friends. As Rachelle Gardner wrote in this post, "It's perfectly natural to want validation for your work."

Are writers especially needy? I don't think so. Here are my thoughts:
  • Musicians are validated when fans buy their music.
  • Teachers are validated when a struggling student breaks through.
  • Employees are validated when they receive a raise or promotion.
  • Parents are validated when they receive compliments about their children
No matter where we are on our writing journey, with each project we finish, each positive critique we receive, or each lesson we learn, we validate that we're on the right path.

Jenny Torres Sanchez wrote in this must-read post: Sara Zarr at SCBWI -- VALIDATION -- "When you feel like you might be setting yourself up for failure or are unsure if you'll ever be able to clear the next hurdle, then hearing that what you do matters, that it is important and necessary, well then, that is one hundred percent, unadulterated validation."

I couldn't have said it better myself. Do you receive the validation needed to keep going? Do you offer validation to fellow authors?

If you're looking for inspiration and validation, check out Jill Kemerer's post about Nurturing the Fragile Writer's Ego.

Saturday, April 16, 2011!

I'm thrilled to announce that I've signed with the amazing Karen Grencik from The Karen Grencik Literary Agency.

My fabulous critique partners, Lisa Green and Leslie Rose, met Karen at a writing retreat and thought we'd hit it off. I included Karen in my first batch of queries, and a short time later, we signed a contract.

Karen is a lovely person and a talented editor. I'm working through her in-depth notes on my YA novel right now, and man, she's good (I have so much to learn).

I realize this is the beginning of a long and winding road (insert Beatles music). Representation offers no guarantee of publication. There will be disappointments along the way, but hopefully, HOPEFULLY, positive news will come my way. I'm honored to be taking this next step with Karen.

For you queriers out there, remember, it only takes one YES.
For those of you out on submission, I wish you GOOD LUCK.
For those of you with books out or soon to be out, CONGRATULATIONS.
Taking this journey with all of you is PRICELESS.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Dialogue--Make it Matter

In REVISION & SELF-EDITING (a must-have in a writer's library, IMHO), James Scott Bell shares this secret: "Dialogue is the fastest way to improve your fiction." He reminds us that dialogue must be intentional, and we need to know why we're writing it. Here are Bell's 8 essentials for good dialogue:
  1. It is essential to the story. It must advance the plot, reveal character, and reflect theme.
  2. It comes from one character to another character. Fictional dialogue must not be seen as an attempt to dump information.
  3. It has conflict or tension. Bell repeats Hitchcock's principle that great dialogue has the dull parts taken out.
  4. It sounds just right for the piece. Dialogue should keep readers in the story instead of pulling them out.
  5. It sounds just right for each character. Consider vocabulary, favorite words and expressions, regionalisms, dialect, and syntax.
  6. It isn't real life speech. Fictional dialogue must have the suggestion of real speech, but every word is purposeful (careful with um and uh).
  7. It is compressed. Bells suggests that unless a character has a strong reason to run off at the mouth, strive for crispness in word choice.
  8. It is rich with subtext. Bell states that "In great dialogue, what is unsaid is as important as what is spoken out loud."
Bell reminds us that dialogue in fiction is another form of character action, where the people we create try to further their agendas.

Let's talk. What's your opinion of these essentials, and do you have any dialogue tips you can share?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

What I learned from GOING BOVINE

I recently finished Libba Bray's GOING BOVINE. What a wild ride! Sixteen-year-old Cameron finds out he's sick and he's going to die. With the help of quirky, unforgettable sidekicks, Cameron sets out on a mission to find a cure.

I learn something new with each book I read, and here's my writing takeaway from GOING BOVINE:
  • Drama and humor go together like peas and carrots (for you Forrest Gump fans out there). Cameron experiences a life or death situation, but the book is funny. Seriously.
  • Embrace the unexpected plot twist. This book should require a seatbelt. The author cleverly whisks her readers away on a crazy journey. There's no way to predict what will happen to these characters.
  • We should let go of our fears and inhibitions & let our imaginations run wild. This book showed me that sometimes the zaniest scenes work, depending on the storyline.
  • The acknowledgement pages can be just as entertaining as the book. Bray opens this section with, "I would like to thank everyone I've ever kissed or punched and anyone who has ever kissed or punched me." And it only gets better!
Learning from brilliant authors is an entertaining perk of writing. What have you learned from an amazing book?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Watch your language?

I don't cuss. At all. I'm more like the church lady who says, "Isn't that special?" Recently my critique partners called me out on language. I had written shoot, darn, and heck when my character would, something else.

Writing bad language makes me uneasy, but stepping out of our comfort zone is part of the journey. I've learned that I shouldn't write what I would say, but what my character would say. And my character would use *gasp* bad words. I had to erase myself from the picture, leaving only my character and his salty language.

Once I let go of the goodie goodie, I had fun with it. After all, isn't that part of the fun of being a writer? We experience a different life within the pages. We can write about the dark and evil, even if we're good people. It's fun.

Agent Vickie Motter wrote a great post about Language. She reminds us that "Language has a lot to do with voice. What is it about your characters (in whatever world they are in -- this world, a Dystopian world, another world, etc), and how they talk that make them unique?"

While cussing isn't unique, and I wouldn't use bad words unless they were necessary, that type of language is part of my character. So this church lady used some bad words. Sorry, Mom!

Do you sometimes insert your own language in lieu of your character's? Did your critique partners catch you in the act?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

To peek or not to peek, that is the question

Agents and editors accept submissions via email, so we no longer stand beside our mailboxes as the mail carrier escapes our eager paws. Instead, we hover near the computer, waiting for the little red number to announce we've got mail.

Now that many people have smart phones, our email travels with us. My question to you is this: if you're querying agents, or out on submission to editors, do you check your email while you're away from home?

Part of me thinks I shouldn't check, especially when I'm with the kids. I don't want a rejection to affect my mommy attitude. When I'm out and about on my own, I think I'll sneak a peek. Especially if I'm shopping and have easy access to the self-medicating chocolate aisle.

I've given myself this pep talk: what's the worst that can happen? The agent/editor says no. It's a bummer when our best isn't good enough, and yet it might be that it's just not the right love match at the right time. My husband reminded me that rejections keep us humble, and because of them, we'll be more thankful when we hear a YES! Each rejection is a step toward our end goal.

If I see someone in a fetal position, holding their smart phone in one hand and sucking their thumb with the other, I'll assume they're a fellow writer who just checked their emails. I'll keep my chocolate handy for writer's first aid.

To peek or not to peek, that is the question. What would you do?