Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Scene Details From a Football Camp

My 16-year-old son recently spent some time at football camps. While waiting in the stands, the writer in me came out and I began scribbling down scene details on the back of my son's schedule. Well, I watched him and took photos too! But hey, as a YA writer, I never know when I'll need these details.

In case you're curious about how these camps work, or if you ever need scene details involving a football camp, I thought I'd share what I noticed.

The Location
  • College campuses: USC, UCLA and Cerritos College. Large, beige buildings surrounding a football field. 
  • Artificial turf on the football fields, with tiny black rubber bits scattered all over the ground (from the turf)
  • Powerade station with organizers filling cups for the players
  • Foggy L.A. mornings, but once the clouds burn off, hot afternoons
The People
  • Hundreds of teen boys, all races, all sizes. Not only big, burly guys, but smaller guys who haven't finished growing yet
  • Boys wearing school gym shorts--black, red, yellow, purple--with high school logos on the right leg
  • All boys wearing matching athletic shirts provided by camp organizers. White box in the center where boys wrote their names (some first names, some last names) with a black Sharpie
  • Hair: buzz cuts, curly, long hair held back in bands
  • Moms and dads in the stands, watching, taking photos, reading, looking at their phones
  • Some boys standing alone; some making small talk with other boys
  • Lone (brave) girl running laps around the track (there's a story there, right?)
  • Burly coaches with "Staff" written on the backs of their shirts
The Activities
  • Boys separated in groups on the field, stretching, warming up, jumping
  • Running the 40 yard dash
  • One on one drills
  • 7 on 7 drills
  • Grouped in rooms by position, watching film of their technique & receiving tips on how to improve
The Sounds
  • Coaches yelling instructions
  • Clapping
  • Whistles blowing
  • Chants at the end of claps, like "SC!"
  • At USC--nearby construction noise
  • One huge coach on the sidelines screaming at the players, "Come on Beyonce! Let's see what you've got, Beyonce!" (Not even joking)
What do you think of these scene details? Ever been to a football camp? Do you jot down scene details when you're out and about?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Writing Short Stories--Interview with Author Leslie S. Rose

Friends, today I'm excited to have my friend and writing partner, Leslie S. Rose, share her wisdom about writing and publishing short stories. Her tale "The Shimmer in the Woods" recently published in Paramourtal, Volume 2 from Cliffhanger Books.

The Shimmer in the Woods by Leslie S. Rose
Out to avenge his sister Gretel's death, a grown Hansel encounters a luminous female spirit. She offers to help him vanquish the witch, but she demands a terrible price in return.

1. Where did you get the idea for "Shimmer in the Woods?" Please tell us the journey from idea to final draft.

Thank you so much, Julie for giving me the opportunity to chat with you and your wonderful followers. *waves*

My favorite assignment in playwriting class back at UCLA was to turn a fairy tale into a one-act play. That fond memory coupled with my obsession for fairy tale retells and a ridiculous sweet tooth, lead me back to Hansel and Gretel. *hands out sugary roof shingles* 

We all know childhood trauma colors the rest of your life. I played the “what if” game and wondered how screwed up Hansel would be if he’d escaped the witch, but Gretel hadn’t. SPOILER ALERT – I killed Gretel.

The Shimmer creature was born from my days as a lighting designer. I always loved playing and painting with light. I just took its energy and power one step further and added personality.

As for the process, my first draft was drastically over the word count limit set in the submission guidelines. I took a deep breath and sharpened my editing knife. Two revisions and a flurry of slashes later, I met the limit – to the word. The story went out to my solid gold critique partners. *take a bow, Julie and Lisa* More slashing and haggling down to individual word choice ensued. I was at the San Diego State Writer’s Conference when I got the happy news from Cliffhanger Books that “Shimmer” had been accepted into the Paramourtal 2 Anthology. We danced through two more drafts together until “Shimmer” was ready to rock and roll. 

Who knew during the road to pubbing there would be a slew of Hansel and Gretel revisits popping up. The series ONCE UPON A TIME brought the bro and sis back, as did the film HANSEL AND GRETEL WITCH HUNTERS. I was trending and didn’t even know it.

2. How has writing short stories strengthened your novel writing skills?

I went to a seminar on short story writing where an author on the panel characterized the form as a one-act tragedy. So true. You have to smush story arcs, world building, characters, plot, and conflict into a very tight package. It’s essential to grab your audience in the blink of an eye and send your character on a complete journey while a very loud clock is ticking next to your ear. 

Working in the shorter format sharpened all the story aspects in my novels. It forced me to define each element with heightened clarity in my planning phases. In fact, writing short stories morphed me from a pantser to a plotter. I had a tendency to meander in my storytelling and there’s no room for that in a short story. My latest long-form writing has a crisper dynamic that developed from the challenge of writing short stories.

3. When I read your work, your design background shines through in scene details and mood. What can writers do to improve that part of storytelling?

Ah, thanks for the kind words. The task of visualizing a world/setting is my happy place. I need to know what sensory rich – visceral environment exists before I plop the characters into it. 

That harkens back to my theatrical design process. Create the scenery and lighting that allows the actors to enter the world of the play. It’s also a wonderful way to monkey with subtext and imagery.

My advice would be to create a concrete visualization board. You can collage in the abstract or represent specific scenes or transitions.

Sketch or paint if you have those in your bag of talents. Collect or create pictures representing:
  • Scenery/Setting - physical reality of environment – geography/climate
  • Characters – who would play them in the movie
  • Textures
    • Character clothing
    • Architectural treatments
    • Natural world
  • Aromas/Odors
  • Colors – evoking mood from your reader (I’ve been known to raid the paint chips at Home Depot to create a color palette that maps scenes or overall arc progressions. Light to dark/warm to cool/contrast vs. harmony)
  • Facial expressions
  • Thematic images/symbols
It’s a rush when your imagination springboards off the concrete visuals you lay out. 

Try making a PowerPoint or iMovie, coupling images with music that expresses the mood of a particular scene or punctuates a dramatic moment. Liken it to storyboarding or the pre-viz phase of movie production - a book trailer for your pre-writing phase.

4. What advice can you give us for writing and publishing short stories?

As far as publishing goes…
Be a cyber hunter or huntress to ferret out opportunities. Hit Bloglandia (my term of endearment for the world of writing and publishing blogs), search short story anthologies on Amazon then research the publishers, and network with other writers for recommendations.

As far as writing goes…
Run, don’t walk to the book Ron Carlson Writes a Story. He takes you through his process of writing a short story. Brilliant teaching.

My humble advice would be to think of your entire story as a climax scene. Hit your reader with quick stakes, quick character investment, and then drop a bomb on their world.

And don’t be afraid to kill Gretel.

Isn't she awesome?

Leslie, thanks so much for sharing your wisdom with us! Folks, Leslie is giving away a print copy of her anthology to one lucky commenter (U.S. residents only). Leaving a comment automatically enters you in the drawing!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Writing lessons learned from A NOBLE GROOM

I tore through Jody Hedlund's A NOBLE GROOM in just a couple days. It was the weekend and I had time by the pool! I loved this inspirational romance.

From Jody's web site:

Recently widowed Annalisa Werner has the feeling her husband was murdered but can't prove it. 

Alone with her younger daughter in 1881 Michigan, she has six months left to finish raising the money needed to pay back the land contract her husband purchased, and the land is difficult to toll by herself. She needs a husband. With unmarried men scarce, her father sends a letter to his brother in the Old Country, asking him to find Annalisa a groom.

For nobleman Carl von Reichart, the blade of the guillotine is his fate. He's been accused and convicted of a serious crime he didn't commit, and his only escape is to flee to a small German community in Michigan where he'll be safe. He secures a job on Annalisa's farm but bumbles through learning about farming and manual labor.

Annalisa senses that Carl is harboring a secret about his past, yet she finds herself drawn to him anyway. He's gentle, kind, and romantic--unlike any of the men she's ever known. He begins to restore her faith in the ability to love--but her true groom is still on his way. And time is running out on them all.

Of course I learned writing lessons from this book! Here are my top seven (Warning! Avert your eyes if you haven't read this book yet, and don't want to know any plot points):

  1. Don't start the story too late: We know we're supposed to start the story as late as possible, to avoid boring the reader with too much up front information. I appreciated that this story started before Annalisa's husband died. It gave me a glimpse into her troubled life with him without the need for a flashback. Plus, it readied me for how his loss would impact Annalisa's life.
  2. Binding goals: In Plot & Structure, James Scott Bell reminds us to give our main characters goals that bind them together during the story. Hedlund did a great job of this. Annalisa's goal was to pay off her debt and keep her farm out of the greedy hands of big shot, Ward. Carl's goal was to survive a death sentence and hide from his enemies. Their goals bound them together and kept them close.
  3. Fighting families: Annalisa's family used to serve under Carl's noble father, and felt betrayed by him. But Annalisa didn't know this at first. Conflict simmered because the reader knew how angry and hurt she'd be when she learned Carl's true identity. Family loyalty can create a huge crack between couples in love.
  4. Sympathetic characters: From the beginning, Annalisa had it bad--dead hubby, looming threat of losing her farm, a two year old child, losing her freedom to the next groom, plus she was pregnant with her dead husband's child. All that made me sympathize with her before Carl even entered the picture.
  5. Fish out of water: We've heard we should drop our characters into unfamiliar territory and see how they handle it. Hedlund did this well. Carl was a nobleman, and not used to manual labor. One of the worst places to drop him? A farm in Michigan. His bumbling attempts at plowing a field and tending to animals was endearing to the reader and Annalisa.
  6. Looming clouds: Early on, the reader knew that Carl would only help on the farm temporarily, until Annalisa's real groom arrived. As the story progressed, I remembered that Carl and Annalisa's time together would be short. This gave me the "hurry up and get together" feeling throughout the book.
  7. Bring them together, then rip them apart: Another great device for a love story is to bring the love birds together, but have something--or someone--rip them apart. Carl's deception came to light, and he was forced to leave the farming community he'd grown to love. Carl and Annalisa were both crushed by the separation.
There you have it--my writing lessons learned from A NOBLE GROOM. Have you read this book yet? Are you a fan of inspirational historical fiction? Can you share a writing lesson you learned from a great book?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

How to Handle Close Calls #IWSG

Welcome, Insecure Writer's Support Group friends!

Tell me if this sounds familiar:

An agent or editor replies to your submission, saying, "We love the story, but..." or "We love your characters, but..." or "We love your writing, but..." or "We came close to saying yes, but..."

You hyperventilate and want to shout, "If you like this, this and this, WHY ARE YOU SAYING NO?"

*bang head on wall*

*take a deep breath*

*pick drywall chunks and paint chips off forehead*

If you've been at this writing thing for a while, you've probably had some close calls. And if you haven't had any yet, you will.

I've had close calls. At first I was frustrated, thinking OMG, I can't believe how close I was. I sulked because my "almost" became a "no, thanks." But then a lightbulb snapped on over my head and I realized, OMG, I just had a close call!

It's all about attitude. How can close calls work in our favor? How can we handle them without frustration? Here are my thoughts:

  • Recognize close calls as signs you're on the right path. Your work is getting read. It's been noticed. Something about it sparked interest. No, it wasn't right for a particular agent or editor, but that doesn't mean it's not good. A close call reminds you that your manuscript has merit. You just haven't found the right love match yet.
  • Use close calls to fuel your dedication. Were you feeling defeated before your close call? Did the close call make you feel worse? Please, please turn that around. Use the close call as motivation to dig back in and keep sending out your work. Repeat after me: it came close, it came close, it came close. You have no idea how close you really are. Seriously. Need more rah rah? Check out my post, Don't Quit at the One Yard Line.
  • Use close calls as opportunities to sharpen your submission. If the agent or editor gave you specific reasons why they said no, hooray! Consider using those notes to beef up your query, pitch, or manuscript. Tired of reading your own story? Set it aside, read a great book, then come back to your manuscript with fresh eyes and perspective. You'll fall in love with it all over again. 
One agent, editor, or contest will not break your book. However, one agent, editor or contest can make your book. If we let close calls get us down, and stop sending out the work, how will we ever know what could've been?

Remember: it came close, it came close, it came close.

Have you had close calls yet? Did they frustrate you or inspire you? If you're published, how many close calls did you have before you got the call?