Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Writing lessons learned from BEAUTIFUL CREATURES

I have to admit, "Beautiful Creatures," by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, is not a book I'd normally read. However, I did enjoy the story and will definitely watch the movie when it comes out on DVD. Here's a brief blurb from the back cover:

Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she's struggling to conceal her power and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps, and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.

Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. When Lena moves into the town's oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them.

In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything.

Here are some of the writing lessons I learned from this book:

  • Introduce the love interest soon: readers first experience Lena in one of Ethan's dreams. Ethan doesn't actually meet her until several pages later, but when it happens, it's natural. I've noticed that catchy love stories put the couple together soon, then throw obstacles in their way.
  • Create unexpected scene details: Lena's home, old Ravenwood Manor, is known around town as the haunted house with a crazy shut-in who lives inside. When we first read about it, the exterior is as expected...peeling paint, boards creaking, vines covering the windows. But inside, the interior changes to match the mood of the scene...from light and modern to dark and spooky. The interior of the house almost became like another character to me, and I was interested to see how it looked in each scene.
  • Create a unifying symbol or artifact: in this case, a crescent moon. It showed up on a necklace, an important book, and in other areas of the story. It all pointed back to the sixteenth moon, when Lena would be "claimed."
  • Assign unique smells to locations and characters: the scents associated with Lena were lemons and rosemary. Those same smells came into play in the neighboring plantation, and tied in with the story. Amma, Ethan's beloved housekeeper/caretaker, loved crosswords. The scents associated with her were pencil lead and Red Hot candies. (For help on adding sensory details, see my post Wise Agent Advice: More Fleas, Please)
  • Add a ticking clock: Lena writes numbers on her skin and her walls, and we soon learn this is a countdown to her sixteenth birthday. As the numbers dwindled, the tension increased.
  • Ambiguous villains, heroes, and adults with secrets make things interesting: Uncle Macon seems like the creepy uncle no one wants to meet. Amma seems like an innocent caretaker who happens to practice voodoo. The librarian seems like a librarian. Each of these characters hold secrets of their own, and good vs. bad becomes a bit blurry. This kept the story interesting.
Have you used any of these writing tips in your own work? If you read this book, did you pick up other lessons you'd like to share?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

How to Create an Author Page on Facebook

I'm technically challenged. When CD players first came out, I waited before I bought one. And waited, and waited, and waited. Finally, one of my good friends bought me two CDs for my birthday, which forced me to buy a player. I'm slow like that.

Fast forward several years. I have a personal Facebook page, but was intimidated about creating an author page. What I needed was Author Pages for Dummies. But I took the plunge and lived to tell about it.

If you'd like to connect and chat on Facebook, check out my new author page here!

If you haven't created an author page yet, I'll share what I learned. And if you already have an author page, feel free to correct me or chime in with your own tips for making a better page.

Author Pages for Dummies, Step #1--Sign Up

If you have a personal page, sign out. Then log on to At the bottom of the screen, beneath the green "sign up" bar, you'll see "create a page for celebrity, brand or business."

It gives you the following options:

  • Local Business or Place
  • Company, Organization or Institution
  • Brand or Product
  • Artist, Band or Public Figure
  • Entertainment
  • Cause or Community
I chose Artist, Band or Public Figure. Once you click on that tab, you'll need to "choose a category." I chose "writer." 

Then you'll choose a name. I chose "Author Julie Musil" to differentiate from my personal account name. 

Agree to the terms, then click "get started." Type in all the password stuff, then click on "sign up now."

Congratulations, you have a page!

Author Pages for Dummies, Step #2--Customize
  • Add your author photo. I used my Twitter photo, which is a couple years old, but it's recognizable. (I really need to learn how to air brush) Anyhoo...
  • Add a banner. Some talented people, like Stina Lindenblatt, create their own banners. Like I said, I'm techie challenged, so for now I used a stock photo from MorgueFile. Lots of great images to choose from, and they're free of charge and free of hassle. 
  • Upload content. I didn't want to invite people to an empty page, so I uploaded recent blog posts and accompanying images. Trial and error here, too--I learned to uncheck thumbnail if I didn't like the way it looked. I also learned to be sure my personal page was signed off, or it looked like my personal page posted to the author page. Ironically, creating an author page also encouraged me to learn more about Pinterest. I'm still new to this, but one of my fave authors, Jody Hedlund, regularly pins great stuff on her author page.
Author Pages for Dummies, Step #3--Spread the Word

I didn't want anyone to feel pressured about liking my author page. On my personal page, I let my friends and family know I'd created a page, and added the link. Many people ask how things are going with my writing life, and this way they can see on a regular basis.

Next I sent out a couple of tweets with the link.

I also added a Facebook badge to the sidebar on my blog. Facebook offers them here. I don't love what I have up now, so I'll play with it a little until I'm satisfied.

So that's the down and dirty on creating an author page on Facebook. If you've already done this, are there any additional tips you can add? Do you ever connect with authors on Facebook?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Poetry and Fiction--Interview With Author Michele Shaw

Have you ever read someone else's words and thought dang, how does she do that? Me too. I recently read Michele Shaw's full manuscript, and let me tell you, I was amazed. Her analogies are stunning. Her descriptions beautiful. Oh, and the plot was amazing. There's no doubt I'll be buying a hard copy in the near future.

What's her secret? I'm guessing it's because she's also a poet. If you haven't visited her blog yet, please stop by and read her poetry. It's a real treat. She captures an entire story and panoramic view in very few words. She was kind enough to shed some light on the inner workings of Michele Shaw.

1. I've read your poetry on your blog, and I was privileged to read your full manuscript. Your word choices are sparse, yet stunning. How difficult is it to find just the right word, one that conveys the perfect mood? 

Wow, funny you would ask me this question because I agonize over each word. I seriously can spend an entire day on one paragraph (and I have), but then I have to force myself to move on. It isn’t usually one word that conveys something for me, but a series of sentences with carefully chosen words and structure. It’s more about rhythm.

2. Do you consciously add poetic nuances to your works of fiction, or does it flow through you organically? 

It isn’t conscious at all for me, but just how the words flow from my brain. I guess I think in that mode at all times since I write poetry nearly every day.

3. It's obvious that poetry influences your fiction. What influences your poetry? 

I have so many influences from poets who write/wrote in structured verse to those who prefer free verse. I write both. I love Sylvia Plath and the darkness of Poe.

4. Have you always considered yourself a poet? Tell us a bit about your poetic journey. 

I submitted my first poem for a competition when I was in high school. Didn’t win a thing and though I kept writing, I didn’t submit poems anywhere until more recently. Poetry was more of a personal thing, but when I started posting poems on my blog, it got noticed and I am now submitting it and even seeing some of it published! Very exciting.

5. What's a favorite poem you wrote? What's a favorite poem written by someone else? 

A favorite poem of mine is called Skim--a sonnet. It’s a blending of fiction and poetry about a merman who collects mortal women.

A water walk in moonlit mist began,
her nightdress floating sheer against damp moss.
The search for whispered lovers crossed the span
with stardust moted air bespeaking loss.
One whistled sigh departed with regret;
familiar strangeness overtaking all,
as echoes high pulled currents to beget
wet anklets weaving closer to her fall.
Her steps did quicken, waving tides behind.
Ached yearning grabbed at birdsong to correct
increasing beats amongst the closing bind;
dewed fairies pleaded turning to protect.
Her capture through dank seaweed did supply
his wanted prize, another sweetheart’s cry.

(Unnecessary interruption from Julie Musil...guys, see what I mean?)

There is this white wall, above which the sky creates itself---
Infinite, green, utterly untouchable. Angels swim in it, and the stars, in indifference also.
They are my medium. The sun dissolves on this wall, bleeding its lights. A gray wall now, clawed and bloody.
Is there no way out of the mind? Steps at my back spiral into a well.
There are no trees or birds in this world, There is only sourness. This red wall winces continually : A red fist, opening and closing, Two gray, papery bags---
This is what I am made of, this and a terror
Of being wheeled off under crosses and a rain of pietas. On a black wall, unidentifiable birds Swivel their heads and cry.
There is no talk of immortality among these! Cold blanks approach us : They move in a hurry.
~Sylvia Plath

6. Any tips you'd like to share with aspiring poets? 

Write from the heart and in whatever way you feel comfortable. I believe poets have a writing voice just as authors have a voice.

Friends, she has the rare gift of making blow flies sound creepy yet pretty. Seriously.

Have you ever written poetry? Does poetry influence your work at all?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Impossible=A Four Letter Word #IWSG

"It's the possibility that keeps me going, not the guarantee."
--Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook

Welcome, Insecure Writer's Support Group peeps!

I love the above quote, because I can totally relate. There are no guarantees in a writer's life, but I sure am grateful for the possibilities.

I've decided something: Impossible is a new four letter word. We shouldn't say this nasty word, or else we'll get the stink eye from grannies who can't believe what's happened to this generation. We shouldn't say this word, or else our moms might wash our mouths out with soap (not that that ever happened to me).

Besides, as Audrey Hepburn once said, "Nothing is impossible. The word itself says 'I'm possible.'"

One of my favorite quotes comes from the movie, Soul Surfer (I blogged about it here). Bethany Hamilton, the teen who lost her arm to a shark, said, "I don't need easy, I just need possible."

Whenever our critical selves tell us something is impossible, here's what we should do: send them to the corner so they can think about what they just said.

“The possible's slow fuse is lit by the Imagination.”
― Emily Dickinson

Has anyone ever told you that reaching your writing goals is impossible? Have you even told yourself that your publishing wishes can't come true?