Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A tribute to time travel, and needing more time

I love stories with time travel or time-twists.  The Time Traveler's Wife, Somewhere in Time, Outlander, Time Bandits, the Terminator and Back to the Future movies.... just to name a few. (The Gates of Anubis and Thief of Time are on my TBR list - any other recommendations?)
I wish I could manipulate time like those stories that I so love.

(Btw, if you're looking for my Now Starring blogfest entry, click here or just scroll down a bit).

Right now, don't have enough time to keep up with family, work, writing and blogging. I'm very disappointed with my Round of Words in 80 days progress this past week (1500 words and some revisions, less than half my goal, bad girl!), and while I could easily blame it on Easter, having too much fun hopping around the writing blogs hasn't helped either.

So for the month of May, I'm taking a break from blogging so I can concentrate on getting my WIP finished and meeting my ROW80 goals.

 I am shutting off the internet in my house! Really! (but don't tell the wireless ghost, he may try to sneak in a signal or two).  

I plan to visit my favorite internet cafe once a week for a ROW80 writing update and dropping a few words of encouragement to my fellow ROW80ers, but... that's it for May.

But I promise, DOUBLE PINKY PROMISE after my self-imposed exile, I plan to greedily catch up on all the blogs of my regular commenters in June. In the meantime, if you catch me stopping by in May, please SHOO me away. Please??

I hope my ROW80 friends Susan Quinn, Sheri Larsen and C. Lee McKenzie did better this past week than I did.

I'll be back on May 3rd (briefly) for next week's update and to announce the winner for my Possession ARC giveaway - still time to enter if you are interested!

Oh, and if anyone else loves reading (and writing) about time travel, here's a neat post about time travel devices in fiction.

And ONE more great link - seriously this is so good - everyone should read this and tweet it and figure out a way to get it beyond the internet, too: Theresa Milstein's insights on the blogging community.

Wish me lots of WIP luck, please!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Now Starring blogfest

The Now Starring blogfest is up at Rapturous Randomocity. I had a lot of fun picking actors to play my main characters, after enjoying other bloggers' picks for Katniss, Peeta and Gale in the Hunger Games. Now that the casting has been announced, I'm - I'm remaining hopeful, shall we say?

My main character is seventeen-year-old Sidain, in my YA historical fantasy, A Handful of Scars. It's set at the end of the Roman Empire, in Greece, with Atilla the Hun and his hordes looming at the borders preparing to attack and plunder.

Sidain is clever with horses and building miniature aqueducts, and bitter over the betrayal that killed her father and destroyed her family’s reputation. Once nobility, now she and her mother are nobodies, all their wealth and status lost. Sidain has no intention of staying that way.

Liv Tyler captures Sidain's mischievous smile perfectly, which is why I picked Liv, even though she's not 17 years old anymore. Liv also radiates "determination" to me, and that's Sidain to the core. 

Next we have the Love Interest, Liet. Sidain is Greek, and the enemies of Greece at this point are the Huns. And guess what? Liet is a Hun. His horse was shot and killed during a raid on Sidain's hometown, and now he's stranded in enemy territory, without any friends or allies. Ed Westwick is an actor I found while randomly scrolling through pictures in People magazine, and his look was the closest I could find to Liet.  I hear he plays the bad boy on the show Gossip Girls, which I've never seen. So I have no idea how he comes across as an actor, but Liet's "the misunderstood bad boy".

Talos is another main player, a prince of a Roman province trying to free itself from Rome. The best word for him is "calculating" - and photos of Simon Woods clicked with me.

Sidain and Talos grew up together as childhood buddies. When they discover the need to marry for an alliance against the Huns, they are both rattled by the idea. 

Last is the antagonist. I found four digital images that made me think of Sil - some are female, some are male, some are in between. That's what Sil is like. Constantly changing, capricious, at times an ally, other times a foe. Not exactly a shapeshifter... but I can't give away too many details about what she - or he - is.  Just a hint: I'm a big fan of mythical creatures...

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The most important day to me

Today is the most important day of the year for me. I am a follower of Jesus, and nothing is more important to me than when he rose from the dead, with a promise that death will not be the end for us, either. God gave his only son, so that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16.

The wonderful writing blog, Novel Journey, had a fascinating and inspiring guest post by Athol Dickinson last week, How to Write a Masterpiece. It starts with these intriguing questions:

Do miracles survive after they have been scientifically explained?
Can intuition still guide our choices after we understand the subconscious factors at work?
Or do rational explanations for such things mean they never really existed in the first place?

It's interesting to see how he ties all these questions back to writing and the creative process, with some surprising references to Einstein and Michaelangelo. I highly recommend this post, even if you aren't a Christian. It's not preachy.

What is the most important day of the year for you?  I'd love to hear.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

How do literary novels hook you?

Last week, Moody Writing had a great post on literary fiction, which got me to thinking... if a book doesn't have "a character with a highly specified goal and huge stakes forcing them forward at the fastest pace possible" - then what grips us in literary fiction, what makes us keep on reading?
My first response would have been to say literary fiction keeps us reading because it's character-driven instead of plot-driven. But that's a pretty big generalization. Since digesting the Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass, I have a new answer:

Genre fiction is often (again, generalizing here, forgive me) driven by macro-tension: e.g. big plot things, lots of action, lots of disasters. Literary fiction is driven by micro-tension.

Micro-tension is easier to understand when you see it in action, than trying to describe it. So here I give you the first scene from Girl With A Pearl Earring, by Tracy Chevalier. This is one of the most striking literary novels I've read in the last year, despite the fact that very little happens in it. A girl leaves her home to work as a maid in the household of Vermeer, a not-yet-famous painter in the Netherlands of the 1600's. There's no affair, there's no "big" conflict, there's not even an antagonist in this novel. But it gripped me from beginning to end. (Btw, I did not see the movie by the same name. No idea how it might differ from the book).

What I've done here is copied the text from Chevalier's web page (making a big assumption that this okay to do because she posted the text online and I'm giving her credit, of course). I've highlighted the macro-tension in orange, and the micro-tension in blue. You will see only a little orange and A LOT, I mean A LOT of blue. And hopefully this will demonstrate what micro-tension is and how powerfully it works.


My mother did not tell me they were coming. Afterwards she said she did not want me to appear nervous. I was surprised, for I thought she knew me well. Strangers would think I was calm. I did not cry as a baby. Only my mother would note the tightness along my jaw, the widening of my already wide eyes.

I was chopping vegetables in the kitchen when I heard voices outside our front door -- a woman's, bright as polished brass, and a man's, low and dark like the wood of the table I was working on. They were the kind of voices we heard rarely in our house. I could hear rich carpets in their voices, books and pearls and fur.

I was glad that earlier I had scrubbed the front step so hard.

My mother's voice -- a cooking pot, a flagon -- approached from the front room. They were coming to the kitchen. I pushed the leeks I had been chopping into place, then set the knife on the table, wiped my hands on my apron, and pressed my lips together to smooth them.

My mother appeared in the doorway, her eyes two warnings. Behind her the woman had to duck her head because she was so tall, taller than the man following her.

All of our family, even my father and brother, were small.

The woman looked as if she had been blown about by the wind, although it was a calm day. Her cap was askew so that tiny blond curls escaped and hung about her forehead like bees which she swatted at impatiently several times. Her collar needed straightening and was not as crisp as it could be. She pushed her grey mantle back from her shoulders, and I saw then that under her dark blue dress a baby was growing. It would arrive by the year's end, or before.

The woman's face was like an oval serving plate, flashing at times, dull at others. Her eyes were two light brown buttons, a color I had rarely seen coupled with blond hair. She made a show of watching me hard, but could not fix her attention on me, her eyes darting about the room.

"This is the girl, then," she said abruptly.

"This is my daughter, Griet," my mother replied. I nodded respectfully to the man and woman.

"Well. She's not very big. Is she strong enough?" As the woman turned to look at the man, a fold of her mantle caught the handle of the knife, knocking it off the table so that it spun across the floor.

The woman cried out.

"Catharina," the man said calmly. He spoke her name as if he held cinnamon in his mouth. The woman stopped, making an effort to quiet herself.

I stepped over and picked up the knife, polishing the blade on my apron before placing it back on the table. The knife had brushed against the vegetables. I set a piece of carrot back in its place.

The man was watching me, his eyes grey like the sea. He had a long, angular face, and his expression was steady, in contrast to his wife's, which flickered like a candle. He had no beard or moustache, and I was glad, for it gave him a clean appearance. He wore a black cloak over his shoulders, a white shirt, and a fine lace collar. His hat pressed into hair the color of brick washed by rain.

"What have you been doing here, Griet?" he asked.

I was surprised by the question but knew enough to hide it. "Chopping vegetables, sir. For the soup."

"And why have you laid them out thus?"

I always laid vegetables out in a circle, each with its own section like a slice of pie. There were five slices: red cabbage, onions, leeks, carrots and turnips. I had used a knife edge to shape each slice, and placed a carrot disk in the center.

The man tapped his finger on the table. "Are they laid out in the order in which they will go into the soup?" he suggested, studying the circle.

"No, sir." I hesitated. I could not say why I had laid out the vegetables as I did. I simply set them as I felt they should be, but I was too frightened to say so to a gentleman.

"I see you have separated the whites," he said, indicating the turnips and onions. "And then the orange and the purple, they do not sit together. Why is that?" He picked up a shred of cabbage and a piece of carrot and shook them like dice in his hand.

I looked at my mother, who nodded slightly.

"The colors fight when they are side by side, sir."

He arched his eyebrows, as if he had not expected such a response. "And do you spend much time setting out the vegetables before you make the soup?"

"Oh, no, sir," I replied, confused. I did not want him to think I was idle.

From the corner of my eye I saw a movement -- my sister, Agnes, was peering round the doorpost and had shaken her head at my response. I did not often lie. I looked down.

The man turned his head slightly and Agnes disappeared. He dropped the pieces of carrot and cabbage into their slices. The cabbage shred fell partly into the onions. I wanted to reach over and tease it into place. I did not, but he knew that I wanted to. He was testing me.

"That's enough prattle," the woman declared. Though she was annoyed with his attention to me, it was me she frowned at. "Tomorrow, then?" She looked at the man before sweeping out of the room, my mother behind her. The man glanced once more at what was to be the soup, then nodded at me and followed the women.

When my mother returned I was sitting by the vegetable wheel. I waited for her to speak. She was hunching her shoulders as if against a winter chill, though it was summer and the kitchen was hot.

"You are to start tomorrow as their maid. If you do well, you will be paid eight stuivers a day. You will live with them."

I pressed my lips together.

"Don't look at me like that, Griet," my mother said. "We have to, now your father has lost his trade."

"Where do they live?"

"On the Oude Langendijck, where it intersects with the Molenpoort."

"Papists' Corner? They're Catholic?"

"You can come home Sundays. They have agreed to that." My mother cupped her hands around the turnips, scooped them up along with some of the cabbage and onions and dropped them into the pot of water waiting on the fire. The pie slices I had made so carefully were ruined.


Sorry, that was a lot for a blog post (over 1000 words). But all that micro-tension keeps you reading, doesn't it? The subtle conflict between Griet and her mother, between Vermeer and his wife, between Griet and her sister, between rich and poor, tall and short, married gentleman and nervous young girl, Catholic and non-Catholic... and there's even micro-tension in here I can sense without being able to even put a label on it. 

Would the macro-tension alone -  the girl having to leave her home to live with strangers - be enough to keep you reading? Would genre fiction benefit from utilizing more micro-tension, in addition to macro-tension?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Possession ARC giveaway #ElanasPossessionispowerful

I received my very first ARC in the mail last week and whipped through Elana Johnson's fantastic book. Help me spread "the buzz" about this great debut. I'm giving the ARC away, see below for more details.

My Round of Words in 80 days (ROW80) update is one I'm all keen to gush about. A couple weeks I posted about one of Donald Maass' great books on writing craft, the Fire in Fiction. This past week I've been busy doing all the exercises suggested in the Fire in Fiction for my WIP and I am THRILLED with the results.  I made some major breakthroughs with my characters, especially my antagonists (yes, I have two of them. One is a false cover for the real antogonist). (Love to be sneaky like that). 

Here's ROW80 updates from my partners Susan Kaye Quinn and Sheri Larsen.

Now back to Possession.  Elana Johnson's blog was one of the very first I started following, and it has been so fun hearing about her getting an agent, then a book deal, then the whole pre-pub process. She is so friendly and helpful and enthusiastic #Elanalove! I was so excited to finally read her book and I couldn't put it down.

Have you seen the movie Inception? You know, the dream within a dream within a dream mind-bender of a movie? Possession is like the YA dystopian version of Inception, with mind-control instead of dreams. It has you constantly guessing who is controlling who, and half the characters don't even know if they are the ones controlling or being controlled. It's wild and the tension is non-stop.

There's this wicked awesome thing called "techtricity" and all sorts of cool science-fiction gadgets. The walls move and talk and OMGosh the futuristic cell-phones are scary-cool.

But the heart of the story are the characters, Violet (Vi) who is all prickly attitude on the outside, and frightened heart on the inside, and she's falling for Jag though she's scared of what he represents. He's slick and smart and heroic and always keeps you guessing. 

Here's a little snippet that I loved, which gives you an idea of the tension of their relationship:
Jag caught up and fell into step beside me. He walked close enough to hold hands and far enough away that words could never repair the damage we'd done to each other.
And yet, there is some beautiful tenderness between Vi and Jag. I loved how"Vi talk" and "Jag speak" worked between the two of them. The tenderness and tension played a constant tug-of-war throughout the book.

Here's a snippet that gives a taste of the wonderful complexity that is Vi:
Gavin's face paled, her eyes hardened, and her smile vanished. "Vi?" she asked, her eyes darting between Jag and me. "The Vi?"
Having "the" put in front of your name automatically increases your status. Like The President or The Director or The End. Think about it. It wouldn't be the same if it were just End. I felt like it was The End for me because it clearly wasn't a good The.
The end packs some great twists and a great set-up for a sequel. Yeah, it satisfies you just enough while also leaving you hanging in anticipation for more.

ARCs are all about promotion and getting the word out. So please help me spread some buzz about this great book. To enter to win Possession, you must spread the word about the book (not necessarily my giveaway - I want this to be about Elana's great book, not my blog). 

If you tweet, please put #ElanasPossessionispowerful @ElanaJ somewhere in there so I can credit you and Elana can feel the love!You get an entry for leaving me a comment telling me you promoted the book someway, plus an extra entry for every tweet, facebook, or mention on your blog (if you facebook it or link it on your blog you'll have to tell me, otherwise I won't be able to find it to give you credit)

The giveaway is open until April 30th. 

Please go spread the word about this great debut! And tell me what debut novel you want me to help spread the word about, too. I'm all for supporting debuts (hope to have a debut book someday too!)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Potential of Paranormal Libraries

I grew up enjoying a lot of time in my local library*. But libraries really took on a whole new level of "wow" for me the first time I watched Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone. Flying books, books with an attitude - and a bite.

It got me to thinking that paranormal** libraries have a lot of potential.  I'm not referring to libraries containing paranormal publications, but libraries with their own paranormal qualities. Kind of like a haunted house, but better, because it's full of books, and with that much great literature, it's gotta have a ton of personality.

But just how much has the concept been used in literature, already?

I found this list "great libraries in fiction" on Amazon, but only a couple of these books sounded like they might have some paranormal elements:

Lirael: Daughter of the Clayr by Garth Nix. The list author says: "If I ever die and go to fantasy heaven, I hope it resembles Nix's immense library beneath glacier and mountain, where each door opens into a separate mystery."

Sourcery by Terry Pratchett. The list author says:  "This Discworld novel features the Librarian (who happens to be an orangutan) of the Unseen University's sorcerous library where the books have to be chained to their shelves to keep them from harming innocent browsers."

I also recently discovered Brenda Drake's blog, and she's written a book called Library Jumpers.  Her logline: "The gateways between the great libraries of the world don't require a library card, but they do harbor dangers..."  And if that isn't enough to entice you, she's collected pictures of AMAZING libraries from around the world.

Finally, I just came across a book (not yet released) by Victoria Schwab called The Archived. It's about "a teenage girl who must return the restless, ghost-like Histories of the dead to their rightful place in a labyrinthine supernatural library known as the Archive; when more Histories begin to wake and escape, she must stop the doors between the worlds of the living and dead from breaking open, all without falling victim to a beguiling History who is more human – and more disarmingly attractive – than the others."

OH my OH my do I want to read that one!!! (who am I kidding? I want to read ALL of them) 

I'm definitely going to have a paranormal or magical library in one of my stories someday. In the meantime... while I firmly believe the true beauty of a library is in its books, rather than its architecture, I still love to visit beautiful libraries. I leave you with picture of the A. White Room at a library I had the pleasure of studying many hours in during my years at Cornell University. It was part of a paranormal scene in this great book, Fool on the Hill by Matt Ruff, though the library itself didn't have any paranormal qualities. Darn.

* I started researching this post a couple days ago, before I realized this is National Library Week. Somehow, the libraries were speaking to me. Proof of their paranormal potential, indeed.

** I debated using the term "fantastical libraries" instead of "paranormal libraries". Which resulted in googling the difference between fantasy and paranormal - here's author Michelle McLean's excellent research on the matter.

Have you read any books with wonderful libraries - real or magical? And where's your favorite library?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Move over iPad, I’ve found something even better

I’ve had my eye on the iPad since it came out and it’s been a serious temptation. The problem is, it’s sort of just a fancy toy, isn’t it? I know it’s great for video and music and e-reading and the Internet, but really, can you WRITE with the darn thing?

Turns out, you can - sort of. Good article: Writing with an iPad - six month review

[speaking of writing. Sneaking in a lightning fast ROW80 update here. Got some SERIOUS revising done this weekend. And 1500 new words.]

My laptop is 9 years old (it's actually my mom's old computer - mine died a tragic death last year). I’ve been saving my pennies for a new one. I can’t afford to buy both a laptop and an iPad.

But… that sleek tablet sure is tempting… especially since you can just slip it into your purse and take it with you EVERYWHERE. And then there's the cool factor. I could care less about cool cars, cool clothes, cool cell-phones, but somehow the tablet coolness caught me.

I’ve talked about this dilemma - laptop vs. tablet - with everyone at work (I work at a shelter for addicted computer geeks). (Well, not really, but it feels that way sometimes). Then on Friday, 5 minutes before 5 pm, our system administrator knocks on my office door and announces. “I’ve found the perfect solution for you.” He directs me to the Dell website, and here is what I found:

The Inspiron Duo - converts between a laptop and a tablet.

A laptop AND a tablet. You have the keyboard you need for serious writing and editing; but you have the tablet you can pop out that switches over to a touch screen for when you feel like going light.
I felt instant connection. This was the sign I’d been waiting for.

This was love at first sight.

While I’m waiting for my new laptop/tablet hybrid to arrive, I am going to stop drooling on my poor long-suffering laptop – it must last just a little longer – and take a moment to thank  a friend for passing on the One Lovely Blog award to me.

A little blurb about Akoss - she's a fellow crusader, one my favoriati commenters (sorry, favorite was just so plain, I had to jazz it up a little), and also one of my crit partners. Here's her blurb: "I do Graphic Design, I love to draw and can actually lose myself into it. However I also like to write and have been seriously crafting my skills since 2009. I write all things fantasy, but love urban fantasy, paranormal, and (newly) steampunk, for YA readers and MG."  She has a wonderful book review blog called the Fantasy Pen and a writing journey blog at Nye Louwon - My Spirit.

She lives in Arizona now, but this is so cool - she was born in and raised Togo! Have you ever met anyone from Togo before? Okay I know not everyone is a geography geek like me - Togo is a country on the west coast of Africa. Ah, the stories I can't wait to read from her! (Akoss this a request: tell us more about Togo, please.)

(I can't help myself. Tell us if Togo has any mythical creatures?)

Passing the award on to some other wonderful commenters who claim to enjoy my recent blathering about online persona and all the oniony layers of me I had to tell everyone about - thank you wonderful people for your support (and patience with my overly loooooooooooooooooooong blog posts).

Sophia Richardson at My Fleet-Footed Self
Saumya at Left and Right Brained
Ghenet Mrythil at All About Them Words
Robin McCormack at My Two Blessings
Sangu Mandanna at Echoes of a Wayward Mind

Tell me what you're saving your pennies for! iPad? Kindle? Laptop? Scrivener? (that's next on my list) ......Ferrari? (we can dream, can't we?!)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Layers of you: are you onion or cake?

Donkey: Oh, you both have LAYERS. Oh. You know, not everybody like onions. What about cake? Everybody loves cake!

Shrek: I don't care what everyone else likes! Ogres are not like cakes.

In my world, the more layers to dig into, the better. Cakes are generally limited to two or three layers. Onion layers go very deep. And they make you cry. On the other hand, cakes are sweet, with even sweeter frosting layered in between....

I'm probably losing you at this point.

So last week I started working through this amazing Online Persona Workshop via the Shrinking Violets Promotions blog  -
which is a happy place for introverts.  I visit there quite often.

I got all excited about this concept of developing an online persona instead of an online platform, since platform seems much scarier to me. And the analogy relating "persona" to a writer's "voice" totally hooked me.

Week 1 helped me identify why I want to be on-line. Primarily to connect with other people - and not just an occasional "hey how are you?" but to really connect.

Like, "come over to my blog and have a cup of tea with me while we chat over life and encourage each other" kind of connection (oh, you say you didn't know about virtual tea parties?) And "next week we'll savor coffee and books and writing craft over at your place." (ah, virtual coffee houses!)

So now I'm reporting on Week 2, which is entitled the Many Layers of You.

Which is how I got distracted talking about onion layers versus cake layers.
Sorry about that.

So anyway, I created this list of all the roles I play (work, family, hobbies, etc), things I care about, and personality traits. In order to "explore all those different facets of ourselves and look for fertile ground from which to create our online persona."

Next step: Go back over your list and look for "traits or layers that feel unique and fresh to you, something that you haven’t seen someone else do already, AND that gets a little flutter of interest or passion moving when you think about it."

Okay, that was hard. I wasn't seeing anything unique on my list.
But I did get a few passionate flutters:

From my list of things I'm intrigued about:
mythical creatures (My regular readers will not be surprised about that one)

From my list of favorite things to do:
Having "soul-talks" with friends over tea (or coffee. Or virtual chocolate. Which is the best kind because it has no calories. Well... "best" might be up to debate.)
"Soul-talks"? you ask. You know, conversations that go beyond the weather or the cute things our kids did last week (not that I don't love kid stories! don't get me wrong!). But I also like to go a little deeper... what we've learned, from our kids. Or from that great book we just read. What we're still trying to learn. Awful things that have happened. Wonderful things that occurred because of the awful things. Realizing that something just changed our perception of how we see the world, or some small part of the world.

From my list of work-related things:
I'm a software trainer and university lecturer (GIS and geography). I'm always looking for ways to engage students - helping them see how to apply  geographic concepts and GIS tools to their own work or research needs.

From my list of personality traits:
"Introvert" was too obvious, so I picked "slave to my moods". Yeah. That explains the chocolate addiction. And also the "I can't deal with life right now; let me escape to my corner with a book for a while" attitude.

With your highlighted items, the Workshop says to look for connections:

A Shrinking Violet's list includes.... unintentional collector of clutter, research geek, writing craft junkie, poor housekeeper. However, looking over that shorter list I also know that there are a TON of other writing oriented blogs out there already, so I would probably cross that one off. I would also suspect there are other blogs out there about being a poor housekeeper, but is there one that combines that with being a writer? IS there a way to do that?
Unfortunately, I didn't get very far with online personas like:

 Margo's Moods,

or  Margo's Inspiring Geographic Analogies,

or Margo's Soul Talks, A little scary, don't you think?

or Margo's Mythical Creatures?  Oh wait a minute, I'm already writing a novel about that and don't want to give it all away too soon (grin).

But then, THEN! I started working on Week Three! And there were Discoveries! Revelations! Fascinating Connections Were Made! All to be revealed in next week's installment.

Since I've already violated my 500 word blog post limit by, like, 267 words and counting - I have one last thing that's be on my mind to mention.

Elizabeth Taylor. The passing of a legend. She was always a memorable character in my life because my father often referred to my mother as "his very own Elizabeth Taylor." 
 I'm happy to say that my mother is still in great health and full of life, and this picture reminds me a bit of a down-home sort of Liz:

Which layer analogy do you like better, onion or cake or...?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Why you MUST read the Fire in Fiction

But first, the second round of Round of Words in 80 days (ROW80) is getting started and I'm joining (it runs from April 4 to June 23).

I accomplished my writing goals in January and February by coercing people into keeping me accountable (e.g. giveaways!) In March, I slacked off (though I did get a lot of planning/plot tightening done). So ROW80 is perfect timing to get motivated again. The link above gives the deets, but the gist is you set your own goals and then check in with your fellow ROW80 goal-setters.

My Jan/Feb goal was to get to 75k on my WIP. I've since realized, my WIP being YA historical fantasy (thank you more-knowledgeable-commenters and sharers-of-awesome links) that because of the world-building it's okay to go higher on the word count so I'm aiming for 90k.

So my goal for the 80 days:

1. Write another 15k or whatever I need to get the dang thing FINISHED! (by end of April)

2. AND AND AND AND!!! - the first revision (by June 23th, the 80th day)

You know what really motivates me? Hearing other writer's goals. I mean, I'm not competitive (except during word wars or when I have a bet going with my hubs). I just really love to read goals 'cause they get me going with my own.

So, what goals do you have? As a writer? Or maybe as a reader? Or life in general (so yeah, how is that new year's rez going for you after the first quarter?) (insert evil laugh)

And now. If you are a writer - why you MUST read the Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass.

My favorite writing book is Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, but now Birdy will have to share the #1 spot. Bird by Bird and the Fire in Fiction are both about writing but cover completely different things. Bird is about the writing life, getting your first draft down, how to keep your butt in the chair, why you should aways keep paper and pen in your back pocket.

Fire is about specifics. You've got your first draft done. Even your second or third draft. But it's still not getting interest. The Fire in Fiction skips the basics, such as hook and point of view. It goes much deeper. It teaches you how to keep your readers reading after the hook.

Want to make your protagonist more memorable? Even harder, want to make your secondary characters more memorable? "Special-ness comes not from a character but from their impact on the protagonist. What are the details that measure their impact? How specific can you make them?"

The books that cover the basics teach you that your book is built on scenes and all scenes worth their weight need conflict and must move the plot forward. This book digs deeper and talks about inner and outer turning points in each scene. Maass uses the analogy about how action scenes in movies are planned and shot in detailed frames. He shows you how to rewind and fast-forward through the scenes and how to use oblique angles to heighten effect (and we are talking writing here, not just camera work).

Oh and the tornado effect - that's a powerful device. Sorry you'll have to read the book to find out what it is. Or bribe me with chocolate. I like Dove Bars. Or Reeses. Or, well, any chocolate will work.

The book provides excellent exercises, broken down step-by-step, for how to accomplish things like:

- Strip down dialogue to heighten conflict.
- Make setting become its own character.
- How to link details and emotions.
- Develop a character's voice. Experiment with narrative voice.
- The extra steps you can take (you MUST take) to make a real antagonist.
- Three different techniques to help your reader suspend disbelief (if you are writing fantasy, SF or thrillers).
- There's even a chapter on developing humor and satire

What you won't find: plot structure - the excellent three act structure or hero's journey structure. Save the Cat by Blake Snyder is next on my list for that. (I also recommend the Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler for this).

Here's an example of a step in an exercise that I just picked at random:
"Create three hints in this scene that your protagonist or point-of-view character will get what he wants. Build three reasons to believe that he won't get what he wants."

The last two chapters are the very best of all. What's the secret to unstoppable page turning? It's NOT action. What? No really. It's micro-tension. Don't know what that is exactly? Maybe you can guess what it is, and are curious about how to implement it? This is a MUST READ.

And the last chapter, simply titled "The fire in fiction". All the chapters give you fuel for a good hot fire, but this last chapter is the fire itself. This one blew me away. I'd love to tell you, but then I'd have to kill you.

It's that good.

Now tell me your goal(s)! (or why you'd like to kill ME after this way-too-long post. Will I never learn good blogging etiquette?)

Friday, April 1, 2011

April fools and forgetfulness

Here's an April Fool's joke you can play on the resident writer in your family: Open the document containing their WIP and do a global find/replace to change the MC's name to Ghadafi. No permanent damage, mind you; just a little fun! (A global replacement of "he" to "she" could turn out some fun results, but it would be much harder to fix.)

Don't tell my kid this, because I'm sure they could get even more creative. And certainly not my husband, because he's been the victim of a few too many variations of my favorite prank:

He walks in the door to our home after work, in complete innocence, and I come rushing out of the kitchen wielding some sort of utensil, confronting him with "How dare you! I can't believe you did that! How could you DO that to me?" The look of shock and bewilderment in his face is priceless. He starts to stammer - "Whaddya talking about?" I start laughing. "Gotcha." He can't decide whether to look relieved or po'd.

As long as I don't over-do this prank he falls for it every time. I'd like to think you couldn't fool me more than once with the same thing, but I'm not so sure. I hate how forgetful I am. For instance, I learned this great bit of writing wisdom at a conference last summer. And promptly forgot all about it.

Okay, hold on to that thought because I'm working toward a point here... but in my usual round-about scenic-route way. (Drives my husband crazy: "that route will take us at least an extra hour to drive!" Me: "but we've never gone that way before. There'll be new scenery!")

Last week I participated in Brenda Drake's Show Me the Voice blogfest and shared my first 250 words and read everyone else's 250 words - what a great experience! Literary agent Natalie Fischer says of voice: "don’t be afraid to let parts of yourself shine through into your characters; those voices become the most real. Explain your character through your unique view of the world, and you can’t go wrong."

So I wrote four different versions of my first page, playing with voice, throwing things at my MC and seeing how'd she react, putting a little bit of myself into her reactions. I had a crit partner read them over and pick out her favorite parts. I picked my strongest version and posted it, and then tweaked it based on some more great feedback during the blogfest (THANKS, commenters!)

I was pretty happy with the results. I still am. BUTTTT... I was blown away by the twenty finalists and especially the three winners. They showed their voices, oh yes. They say this business is subjective, but it was still clear to me that the three winners had something special that stood out. I started picking them apart, trying to figure out what made them so compelling. Then I realized one thing the three winners had in common. That THING I'd learned about last summer and promptly forgot.

Character-driven action. All the characters were doing something (not just reacting). None of the characters actually said anything out loud, though they gave us great voice through their thoughts (and nothing wrong with dialogue in the first 250, of course, lots of the finalists had it). But they also gave us their voice through their actions.

One character visits a graveyard to pine over her loss, and starts her visit by kicking the gravestone.
Another smokes secretly in a bathroom to deal with grief because hugs don't do the trick for her.

"Explain your character through your unique view of the world, and you can’t go wrong." Hmmmnnn...need to remember that one, along with the once-forgotten character-driven action tip.

I'm going to write to Microsoft (and Scrivener) and tell them to add a new feature to their software: random messages that pop up as you're writing to help you remember important tips!

What would you have your document software help you remember? And what's your favorite April Fool's prank?
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