Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Sharing Literary Recipes

(Snickerdoodles I made for my twins' 13th birthday party!)

A good friend of mine shared her easiest sugar cookie recipe with me. I added a twist to those cookies, rolling them in cinnamon and sugar and calling them snickerdoodles. When my fifteen-year-old son was in kindergarten, I started bringing the snickerdoodles to class parties. They became...dare I say it?...legendary. My son loved how it was his "thing."

When other moms asked for the recipe, my son's first reaction was to ask me not share it. His fear was that other moms would make the cookies for class parties and play dates, and his snickerdoodle world would turn upside down.

But I shared the recipe anyway. I mean, what if my friend had never shared the recipe with me? And you know what? It's still my son's thing. Yes, other moms made the snickerdoodles. And his friends-who-are-girls made them. But they took photos of themselves baking the cookies, and then posted them on Twitter and Facebook, tagging my son. Sharing the recipe didn't take anything away from him. It added to the fun.

I've noticed the same tendency with some successful writers. They don't hoard their wisdom, refusing to share what they've learned on their personal writing journeys. They don't hold tight to winning advice, fearful that a newbie writer will knock them out of the publishing world. Instead, they write craft books, blog and tweet about writing tips, and even critique pages.

I'm so thankful for them.

Here are some of my favorite successful writers who share their literary recipes:
  • James Scott Bell, who wrote my favorite craft book ever, Plot & Structure. He also blogs at The Kill Zone. He's a traditionally published author who dove head first into self-pubbing. His craft advice isn't stuffy. It's practical and encouraging.
  • Janice Hardy, who blogs at The Other Side of the Story. Talk about useful advice! She breaks down scenes. She helps with character development, plotting, and revision. She even critiques first pages for brave writers. Follow her on Twitter here.
  • Elizabeth S. Craig, who blogs at Mystery Writing is Murder. She shares her experiences as a traditionally published author who also indie publishes. She shares her list of "team members" who help prepare her self-pubbed titles. She helped create the Writer's Knowledge Base (also linked on my side bar). And she's the Queen of Twitter for writers (follow her here).
I could go on and on, but those are my top three. Can you add to the list? Any successful writers you can think of who share their literary recipes? Mention them in the comments, along with their links!

If you're interested, here's the easy sugar cookie recipe (real bakers, avert your eyes):

1 box white cake mix
2 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil

Mix all three ingredients. Roll into 1" balls, and space 2" apart on a cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 6-8 minutes. For snickerdoodles, simply roll the dough in a cinnamon/sugar mixture before baking.

By the way, I've made these with German chocolate cake mix, then frosted them with the coconut pecan frosting. And I've made them with red velvet cake mix, and frosted them with cream cheese frosting. Good stuff!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Clean the Manuscript We've Written

(my actual backsplash)

My husband and I built our own home. I'll describe the kitchen, and you can guess if you know the era.

Oak cabinets
Black Appliances
White tile countertops

Did you guess 80's? 90's? You're correct! We built the home through most of 1997, and moved in on March 20, 1998.

Not too long ago, I became obsessed with changing the look of our kitchen. Mostly the countertops. The white grout between our tiles was dirty, and dulled the entire room. Granite would be beautiful, but I'm tight-fisted with money, and I'm having a hard time parting with the cash.

One morning I realized that complaining about the dirty grout was silly. Why not just clean the countertops I had? I bleached every grout line, and it brightened the whole room. It's still outdated, but at least it's outdated and clean.

I just needed to do the work.

When I'm frustrated with a manuscript, I feel like it's hopeless and want to trash the whole thing, replacing it with something new and sparkly. But I soon remember that the new manuscript will also reach the same frustrating stage.

In my opinion, we shouldn't have several messy and unpolished pieces of work. We should go the distance. (Need revision help? See the Writer's Knowledge Base search engine on my sidebar) It might even be a good idea to have at least two manuscripts going, in different stages. Maybe one on draft 2, and the other on draft 6. That way when one gets tiresome and frustrating, we can switch to the other. 

Yes, some manuscripts will end up being practice books, and that's tough to swallow. But during times of frustration, we can also remember that just because it's white tile with dirty grout now, doesn't mean it can't be pretty granite when we're finished. 

We just need to do the work. 

Tell me, when you're slogging through revisions, do you ever switch to a shiny new idea? Do you ever feel like the book you're working on will never reach the polish stage? And most importantly, what are your kitchen countertops like? Formica? Tile? Granite? Quartz?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Writing lessons learned from WHAT HAPPENED TO GOODBYE

I zoomed through my third Sarah Dessen book, WHAT HAPPENED TO GOODBYE. Here's a brief blurb from Amazon:

Since her parents' divorce, Mclean and her dad, a restaurant consultant, have been on the move--four towns in two years. Estranged from her mother and her mother's new family, Mclean has followed her dad in leaving the unhappy past behind. And each new place gives her a chance to try out a new persona: from cheerleader to drama diva. But now, for the first time, Mclean discovers a desire to stay in one place and just be herself, whoever that is. Perhaps Dave, the guy next door, can help her find out.

As I've mentioned before, I've become a huge Dessen fan. Here are some of the lessons I learned from this book:

  • Consider a short opening to show character: the book opens with a short scene in a diner, where a lot is revealed. Mclean and her dad move around a lot because of his job.  Mclean's attitude? Instead of looking at her situation as a negative, she views it as an opportunity to reinvent herself in each new town. This perfectly sets up the character quirks, with enough backstory to make it believable.
  • Hint at strife: Dave, the love interest, lives next door. Before Mclean meets him, she watches him and his parents through the window, during dinner. Body language conveys that all is not right with this family. No conversation, shoulders rounded in defeat. Without a spoken word, we see that Dave and his parents are not happy.
  • Sum up a character in a nutshell: through inner thought, Mclean sums up Dave in one sentence--boy genius, smoothie maker, cellar dweller. It's a tight character description that says so much. It reminded me to use this type of description not only in a query, but in the manuscript as well.
  • Character contrasts: at school, the perky welcome-committee-of-one reveals she used to be a drummer in a metal band. With her quilted purse and sunshiney demeanor, this is a pleasant surprise. Dessen does this so well. She slips in fun details without it seeming calculated.
  • Serious moment? Add humor: Mclean's dad and his female restaurant manager must decide who's the weak link on staff. Problem is, it's everyone. When Mclean walks in on their discussion, they aren't stressed out and angry. They've opened a bottle of wine and they're goofy with laughter. It's endearing.
  • Involve a "together" project: the restaurant manager agrees to put together a model of the city in exchange for parking spaces. Dave is forced into the project to fulfill community service obligations, and Mclean works on it to help her father's restaurant. The couple bonds over this project, and the model city works with the plot as well. It becomes a symbol for finding your own place in your community.
"What Happened to Goodbye" is a quiet book that delves deep into family, community, and the courage to be ourselves. 

What's your opinion on these writing lessons? Have you used these techniques yourself? Please share any tips that have worked well for you.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Silver Linings

Welcome back, everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season.

I'm a silver linings kind of gal, and I've blogged about it before, but I hope you'll indulge me while I do it again.

During our sons' two week vacation, we'd planned on camping among enormous sand dunes in Glamis, CA. My husband and sons like riding ATVs & dirt bikes, and I enjoy chillin' at camp with my sisters and friends. It's a family favorite of ours.

This year, we had to cancel our trip. My firefighter hubby was scheduled to work New Year's Eve, and couldn't get the day off. (What? Emergencies don't take holidays? Psh) All of us were very disappointed, but our kids handled the news much better than expected.

We started a game. There were silver linings to canceling our trip, and we challenged each other to find them. I began the game with, "Silver lining! Our new kitties don't have to be alone." From there, the boys picked up on the game. After spending a simple day doing simple things, one of them would say...

Silver lining! We got to have friends over today.
Silver lining! We got to go to the movies.
Silver lining! We went bowling.
Silver lining! We went to a friend's New Year's Eve party.

On and on it went. Yes, we were sad about the trip, but Plan B was a lot of fun. And sometimes Plan B works best in writing and publishing as well.

Your Best Manuscript Ever was soundly rejected? Silver lining! It was a great learning experience.
Dream Agent rejected your manuscript? Silver lining! The perfect agent will fall in love with it.
Big Publisher rejected your manuscript? Silver lining! Small Publisher is your strongest advocate.
Tired of hearing no, or simply want more control? Silver lining! Self-publishing thrives.

Things don't always go the way we want, in regular life and in the writing life. But silver linings are there, we just have to look for them.

Tell me, did your writing path swerve, but Plan B turned out to be better? Are you able to find silver linings when your best laid plans go wrong?