Saturday, September 29, 2012

Funny Book Titles

Ready for a good laugh? Me too!

There's a lot of pressure on writers to come up with impressive book titles. The following titles are memorable for their richter-scale-level-giggles.

First, my favorite:

Buy it here

Poor Pooh. We can't forget this one:

Buy it here

In the "huh?" category:

Buy it here

In the "I knew it!" category:

Buy it here

In the "check the closets I'm totally freaked out" category:

Buy it here

Aaaaaand, back to bodily functions:

Buy it here

Aren't these fun? Okay, okay, there's a theme here. But give me a break, I live with three boys! (Four if you count my husband)

Have you seen any fun book titles? What are your favorites, funny or not?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

7 Point Plot System

In case you haven't seen these yet, Dan Wells, author of "I Am Not a Serial Killer," has a great Youtube series on his 7 Point Plot System. If you're planning your NaNoWriMo novel now, or if you've pantsed a novel and need to refine the structure, this series can help a lot.

Wells reminds us that this plot system is only a skeleton, and that we also need the following to flesh it out: round characters, rich environments, try/fail cycles, and subplots. Some books start with an "Ice Monster Prologue," which is discussed in Part 4 of the series.

I'll summarize Wells' points here, and then link to all five videos below. Here is his seven point plot system:

  1. Hook--Or story idea. Under #7, Resolution, it's mentioned that if we know our story ending ahead of time we can then work backward to determine our opening. 
  2. Plot Turn 1--This can be described as the call to adventure, or the first doorway of no return. This plot turn introduces conflict, and changes our character's world.
  3. Pinch 1--A pinch is designed to apply pressure to our character. It forces the character to act, and sometimes introduces the villain.
  4. Mid Point--This is when our character moves from reaction to action.
  5. Pinch 2--Applies more pressure, and makes our character's situation seem even worse. Their plans fail, and everything goes wrong. At this point, it seems the bad guys have won.
  6. Plot Turn 2--This carries our story from the mid point to the end. Wells calls this a "The Power is in You!" moment, or "grasping victory from the jaws of defeat." Our character gets the last piece they need to solve their problem.
  7. Resolution--This is how our story will end, and everything leads to this moment. Once we know our resolution, we can then start our story in the opposite state. This defines our character arc.
It's cool how Wells applies the same structure to fantasy, romance, tragedy, and horror.

Do you recognize these plot points in your own work, or in your favorite books or movies? Does this help you define what should happen, and when? Do you have any plotting tips you'd like to share?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Silver Lining

I wasn't even going to blog today, because the last couple of days have been a bummer. On Thursday, the motor in my mommy mobile went kaput. And as all moms know, when the mommy mobile goes kaput, it's Suburban Armageddon. We'll for sure work it all out, but man, I thought I was having a bad day.

And then...

Last night, just as my son's JV football game was about to begin, a car on a nearby freeway hit the rails and flipped several times. A woman and three kids were injured (my firefighter hubby helped on scene, and says they'll be ok). Then during the second quarter of the Varsity game, a player from the opposing team had to be carried off the field on a stretcher. Those people had a bad day. For real.

On Thursday, without even knowing about my car problem, my 15-year-old son had posted this on Facebook:

"Sit down, relax, close your eyes, and just thank God for keeping you alive and healthy in a free country with a roof over your head, no matter what you're going through."

Yes. He wrote that. So even though I didn't feel prepared to blog today, and even if this post might be riddled with poor grammar and sentence structure, I thought I'd share that with you.

If you're having a rough day, I hope my son's words of wisdom help you as much as they helped me.

Have you ever thought you were having a bad day and then, bam!, you realized your day wasn't so bad after all? Please share!

photo credit

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Getting Back Together With A Manuscript (I hate you! I love you!)

Regular visitors to this blog may have noticed a change in tone a while back. I'd been having serious relationship problems with my manuscript, and Taylor Swift's latest song perfectly described my attitude.

I'd sing to my Work In Progress, "We are never, ever, ever, getting back together!"

Like, EVER.

I wondered if the colossal amount of time spent on this book was a colossal waste. Even though I knew writing time was never wasted, I thought my time on my book was the exception.

But contrary to the song, me and my manuscript are back together again and happier than ever. What changed? I began by asking myself these three questions:
  1. Do I love the story?
  2. Is it worth telling?
  3. Do I, as a reader, like reading it and think others will enjoy it, too?
I answered Yes to all three questions. So how did my manuscript and I mend our tumultuous relationship? Here's what worked for us:

Recognize problems and be open to solutions

Our gut tells us what isn't working. It's like the relationship therapist who helps us see what needs to change. 

Once I recognized problem areas, I searched through my notes for old, unused ideas. I thought of new ideas. I asked for advice, received it, and didn't brush it aside. I read blog posts by Janice Hardy & Martina Boone with new interest, focusing on how that information would enhance my own work. Literally...I was open to anything.

Give it time

This is always a biggie for writers, and I had to re-test my patience. Like a petulant child, I wanted my solutions now

My relationship-therapist-gut was on overdrive. I wanted to dump anything that frustrated me and write something new. But many times the good bones were there, I just needed to tweak this or that to make a scene more compelling. But when a scene needed to go, I had absolutely no problem cutting it. And once I'd written fresh scenes, I gave them time to marinate until I revised them.

Time. Time. Time. 

Appreciate the good

Once I'd cut the blah and enhanced the good, my own work looked lovey-dovey again. There was plenty of quality in my story, I just had to chill out, be patient, and let my mind wander. Once I started actively searching for solutions and applying them to the manuscript, it no longer seemed like a colossal waste of time. Re-reading passages became a joy again, and I got that feeling. You know the one.

Have I been in this position before? Yep. See my post "Is your story worth saving?" Does my manuscript still need work? Yep. But now that we're back together again, I'm thankful I didn't give up on it. Our relationship is totally worth the hard work.

Have you ever wanted to break up with your manuscript? If you stayed together, what saved your relationship? Do you have any other revision advice you can share with us?

And just for fun, here's Taylor Swift's song that I sang to my manuscript in frustration:

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Caution: Query Under Construction

The lucky winner of Jody Hedlund's latest release, Unending Devotion, is Karen K. Congratulations!

And now, a little about queries. Dun, dun, dun...

For the first time in a looooong time, I recently sat down to write a new query. And since I have the attention span of a 9-year-old boy, I'd forgotten all the great lessons I'd once learned. And so the research began.

Tips for writing successful queries are endless, as are agents' and editors' tastes in what they want to see in a query. As always, it's important to check the guidelines for specific agents and editors and follow those guidelines exactly.

Here's some helpful information:

Clarity Rules The Day

Scott Eagan, literary agent for Greyhaus Literary Agency, wrote this great post: Clarity In Queries--The Biggest Reason Editors and Agents Say No. It's a great post, and definitely worth a read. Eagan reminds us to answer these questions in our query:

  1. Title, genre and word count
  2. What makes your story unique
  3. Who the characters are
  4. What is their goal, motivation and conflict
  5. What is the central conflict in the story
  6. What is the theme or "take-away" for the author
Query Writing Basics has an excellent resource, Query Writing Basics, which explains what a query letter is, and what should or shouldn't be in one.

Style and Voice

One lesson I remembered is that our queries should whet the appetite of agents and editors. They should reflect the tone and voice of the manuscript. We should choose strong, specific words that quickly announce to the pros what our book is about.

Read Successful Queries

The links on provide plenty of samples of successful queries. When writing my new query, I dragged out my previous query that had caught my agent's attention. It was helpful to once again see how I'd whittled down my own novel into concise paragraphs with plenty of flavor.

Hook, Setup, Conflict

Elana Johnson, super person, amazing author, and Queen of the Query, has great tips for writing queries on her blog. Check out her posts on The Hook, The Setup, and The Conflict

On Bubblecow, Author Gary Smailes wrote The Query Letter That Won Me An Agent And A Four Book Deal (And Why It Was So Successful). It's interesting to see the author break it all down and point out what made it work.

Is my query finished? Heck no! There's plenty of work to be done. But studying the basics helped lead me in the right direction. 

Have you written a query letter lately? Do you like or loathe the process? Can you share any query tips with the rest of us?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Fun Secret About Bestselling Author Jody Hedlund

Friends, today we have a special treat. In celebration of her latest release, "Unending Devotion," bestselling author Jody Hedlund is here to share a fun secret wtih us. If you don't follow Jody's blog, you must remedy that. Stat! It's one of the most helpful blogs in the writing community.

But first, a little tease about Unending Devotion:

In 1883 Michigan, Lily Young is on a mission to save her lost sister, or die trying. Heedless of the danger, her searches of logging camps lead her to Harrison and into the sights of Connell McCormick, a man doing his best to add to the hard-earned fortunes of his lumber-baron father.

Posing during the day as a photographer's assistant, Lily can't understand why any God-fearing citizen would allow evil to persist and why men like Connell McCormick turn a blind eye to the crime rampant in the town. But Connell is boss-man of three of his father's lumber camps in the area, and like most of the other men, he's interested in clearing the pine and earning a profit. He figures as long as he's living an upright life, that's what matters.

Lily changes everything he thought he knew, and together they work not only to save her sister but to put an end to the corruption that's dominated Harrison for so long.

Jody Hedlund's Secret #6: What I wanted to be when I grew up.
By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund
Every child dreams of what they want to be when they grow up. And that often changes multiple times over the years as they mature.
For example, when my youngest son was about five, he was determined to be a professional football player when he grew up. He saw his Daddy getting excited about football games, and so he would go outside and practice and play football. 
When he was seven, he decided to forgo the professional football career in place of becoming Batman. A year after that, he thought maybe he'd like to be a drum player.
Unlike my son, I didn't waver in my career of choice. From my earliest recollections, I wanted to be a writer. I loved listening to my mom read. All my creative play reflected the stories that were already growing in my mind. And eventually when I learned how to spell and form sentences, those stories naturally made their way into notebooks.
During summer vacations, in the back of our old conversion van, I'd sprawl out with my notebook, and I'd spend the long car rides penning stories about princesses, princes, and happily-ever-afters. I filled notebook after notebook. 
When I was in junior high, I decided to take my writing a little more seriously, and so I began to enter writing contests for kids. I actually placed in a couple contests which was a valuable lesson in competition and honing my skills. 
The passion for writing followed me into adulthood. But when my college days came around, I knew I couldn't major in "novel-writing."  I'd need to pursue some kind of work that would help me pay the bills while I worked on my books. So I ended up in Social Work for quite a few years and liked it enough to get my Masters.
But ultimately the passion for writing wouldn't let go of me. And I'm grateful it didn't. Because there's nothing better than being able to do what you love, every day.
I love this quote from the late Steve Jobs: "The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle."
Maybe we won't be able to do what we love full time, all the time. But we can make a point to do it a little bit. Because eventually a little bit adds up to a long way.
What about you? What did you want to be when you were a child? And what did you end up doing? 
To celebrate the release of Unending Devotion, Jody is giving away a signed copy. Leave a comment (along with your email address) to enter the drawing. Valid only with US or Canadian addresses. Giveaway ends Friday, September 14th, 2012. The winner will be announced Saturday, September 15th.

Publisher's Weekly calls Unending Devotion "A meaty tale of life amid the debauchery of the lumber camps of 1880s Michigan . . . exciting and unpredictable to the very end."
For more secrets about Jody and additional chances to win her newest release, visit her Events Page to see where she'll be next in her "Fun Secrets About Author Jody Hedlund" blog tour.
Also join in the Pinterest Photo Contest she's hosting. Find more information about it on her Contest Page.
Jody would love to connect with you! Find her in one of these places:

Monday, September 10, 2012

Huge Giveaway For Writers!

Writer friends, today we have the joy of celebrating wonderful news with a writer friend. Sheri Larsen has signed with Paula Munier of Talcott Notch Literary. In keeping with Sheri's generous spirit, she's celebrating her milestone by organizing a huge giveaway for writers.

Lots of great prizes, folks. So please join me in congratulating Sheri. And please, enter these amazing giveaways. Just click on the links below. Good luck!

A message from Sheri:

Today, I invite you to celebrate with me!! I've signed with Literary Agent Paula Munier of Talcott Notch Literary! And because our literary community is so freaking fabulous and generous, I'm having a Bigger-Than-A-Shopping-Mall GIVEAWAY!! The giveaway consists of:
  •  two separate Rafflecopters with multiple giveaways 
  • and one grand prize Rafflecopter giveaway - to enter for the grand prize, you must enter either giveaway #1, #2, or both. 
There's only one mandatory entry. Everything else is up to you!! I know Rafflecopters can be a pain, but it was the only way to organize such a huge giveaway. The giveaway is open until September 27thWINNERS will be announced on September 28th. (Entrants may win more than one prize!)

Thank you so much for entering, spreading the word, and celebrating with me!!

Links to Rafflecopters: 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Writer Friends--Chicken Soup for the Writer's Soul

Writer friends are an oasis in the sometimes dry, quiet, confusing writing desert. They nourish our creative souls, and quench our thirst for discussion about books, writing fears, and personal journeys. After all, who else cares to discuss one space or two after a period?

Writer friends cheer us on when we submit our work. When we feel like talentless hacks *ahem*, they tell us, "Stop whining and keep working." (I may be paraphrasing just a bit)

Yes, writer friends make this crazy ride worthwhile. In honor of our awesome writing buddies, I thought I'd share a few cool quotes about friendship:

"Most of us don't need a psychiatric therapist as much as a friend to be silly with." -- Robert Brault

"Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life." -- Mark Twain

"Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, "What? You, too? Thought I was the only one." -- C.S. Lewis

"A loyal friend laughs at your jokes when they're not so good, and sympathizes with your problems when they're not so bad." -- Arnold H. Glasgow

"A friend knows the song in my heart and sings it to me when my memory fails." -- Donna Roberts

"The only service a friend can really render is to keep up your courage by holding up to you a mirror in which you can see a noble image of yourself." -- George Bernard Shaw

Writer friends, each of you is a priceless gem! Tell me, do you have cherished writer friends? In person, in the blogging community, or both? How have they helped shape your experience?

(And does anyone else know all the words to Spongebob's F.U.N. song? "F is for friends who do stuff together, U is for you and me...." No? I'm the only weirdo?)

photo credit

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Social Media Blunders As Plot Points

Social media is a fact of life these days. It's fun to connect with old friends, and to make new ones. But along with all the benefits come plenty of dangers.

We can use real-life social media blunders in our fiction. I've listed a few ideas below. We've seen the consequences of some of these blunders play out on national news, and I've heard of these happening at local schools.

Feel free to use what you want!

  1. Snarky cat fight or relationship squabble in a public forum. Everyone sees it & knows their business.
  2. Character posts on Facebook or Twitter that they're home alone. Danger comes knocking.
  3. Character is unknowingly being videotaped in a compromising position. That video is posted online. It goes viral.
  4. Character sends a personal text to someone which is then forwarded to a wide audience.
  5. Character posts something inappropriate, like a comment or photo, which is then seen by their dream date, college, or job. Dream date, job, or college then dumps the character.
  6. Character sends a text, email, or direct message meant for one person, but it's received by another. Think of the one person who should not read this message.
  7. Character has an intimate text conversation with someone, only to realize the person on the other end was a group of friends playing a prank. Character is the laughingstock at school.
  8. A Facebook post, a tweet or an email falsely incriminates the character in a crime. 
  9. The character connects with a stranger online, then meets with him alone in person. Online person is a creeper. Or her father. Or her chemistry teacher. Or her boyfriend.
  10. Character posts a photo or video of someone committing crime/doing drugs. Thugs want revenge.
  11. Character sends naked picture of herself on Twitter or via text, and it goes viral.
Social media blunders have broken up marriages, brought down powerful leaders, and caused suicides. They've resulted in embarrassing ripples at school, and rocked entire communities. 

Unless you write historical fiction, versions these blunders can be used as inciting incidents, subplots, and major plot points. Our characters can be forced to learn what we've learned: have fun, but beware.

Have you ever used a social media blunder in your fiction? Do you recognize any of these from your own community, or from the national news? Are there any you'd like to add to the list? Please share!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Power of Our Words

For the sake of this post, I'm not talking about the words we use in our stories. I'm talking about the words we use to describe ourselves and what we're doing.

You see, right now my confident self is in an epic battle with my insecure self. My insecure self is forgetting past milestones. She's sideswiping the positive emotions I feel when I work at something until I get it just right. She's trying to convince me that I don't have a voice, and that no matter how hard I try, I won't ever be a good enough writer.

I have a nasty habit of reminding people that I might fail. Each time I say those words, it's as if I'm setting one more pillow on the floor beside me. Soon I'll be surrounded by pillows of different shapes and sizes and colors, and each of them will be soft and ready to cushion my fall.

Recently, I heard a great message about the power of our words. The message included a story about a doctor who treated patients who hadn't been helped with traditional care. His treatment? Have the patients speak positively about their health, with positive results.

When we speak our words, whether they're negative or positive, we give those words life. We believe what we say about ourselves, so shouldn't we send our words in the direction we want to go?

My confident self is now telling my insecure self to lock her pathetic bum in the closet. She's reminding me to stop yammering about the problems facing my manuscript (the opening!), and to start focusing on a solution. She's knocking into my head that it doesn't matter how many attempts it takes, a problem can be fixed.

Yesterday I brainstormed with Awesome Hubby, and BAM!...a new opening was born. Positive thoughts have lifted my spirit, and reminded me what I'm capable of.

If you're like me, and your confident self is in an epic battle with your insecure self, send your insecure self on over to me. There's room in my closet. We'll lock them up, throw away the key, and play Barney the Purple Dinosaur's theme song on a loop until those insecure selves whimper and disappear.

Are you with me?

Tell me, are you ever forced to plug your ears when your insecure self is trying to knock you down? How do you handle that beast?

Not familiar with Barney's theme song? Consider yourself warned: if you listen to it, this song will repeat in your head. All. Day. Long.