Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A bordello turned into a bookstore

Really, that's the story behind the Second Story, a wonderful independent bookstore in my hometown of Laramie, Wyoming.  Built in 1889, the building was originally a public hall, later converted into a hotel, which then (because of its location next to the train tracks and red-light district) turned into a bordello. It remained a "hotel" with a reputation until the 1950's, and was renovated into a bookstore in 1992.

Lisa and Laura (LiLa) are hosting the We Heart Indies fest today, where everyone is encouraged to brag about their favorite independent (indie) bookstore. The Second Story is my favorite because I love its colorful history, and it's layout. The bookstore has a big main room (originally the public hall) surrounded by a bunch of adorable little book-nooks that were the ladies' rooms at one point! Each book-nook is decorated according to its own theme (e.g. travel, children's, cooking, etc).

I also love this bookstore because it's overall theme is Personally Recommended Books. Their wesbite says "we welcome recommendations from readers. We put a bookmark in the book with the name of the person recommending it, along with any comments they wish to make."  Isn't that cool? Now that isn't a feature Barnes & Nobles offers, that's for sure!

And on to my Round of Words in 80 days progress: revising my way merrily along. During the Write Hope auction for Japan, I bid for (and bid again, multiple times, I really wanted to win this!) a chance to win a critique from all the ladies at Will Write for Cake and this week I got their comments back. Overall, I was very encouraged - these writers did a wonderful job of pointing out both the weakness and my strengths of my first 20 pages (love that sandwich critique method. If you don't know what that is, google it now. It's very important.)

A nice bonus: even though I got a total of 7 critiques, I didn't get any conflicting advice! They all pretty much zeroed on the same things that needed work. So I've been busy at work. Only problem is, I'm back to working on the first three chapters instead of pushing toward my goal to have all thirty chapters revised by June 23rd.

So I'm having to readjust my goals. My goal is now to have the entire book revised by the end of August, in time for the Rocky Mountain Writers Fiction Writer's Colorado Gold Conference in early September. Best way to achieve goals: a DEADLINE!!! And wonderful ROW80 support from fellow writers, such as:

Susan Kaye Quinn, who is in danger of burning her fingers from typing so fast; she wonders if anyone else is a "burst writer"! (yes, waves hand).

Sheri Larsen, who has COMPLETED her rewrite! Way to go cheers (covering up jealous mutters)! No, really, there's no time or reason to be jealous in this world. Eespecially since she shared her awesome rewriting strategies (she's on step 3 this week. Very helpful. Go check it out).

C. Lee McKenzie, who is determined to find the top of her desk, don an interesting pair of jeans (now there is a story I'm going to have to read about) and work both on a short story and her novel.

What favorite book would you want to leave a bookmark in, for browsers at a bookstore? And what would you say?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Writing to the extreme edge

In your writing, do you have a character that does something you'd never do? Something so extreme that it's just not plausible in the ordinary world? Or maybe your character is the playing-it-safe type, but something outrageously extreme happens to him or her.

Not every best-seller has this extreme element. But as I glanced over the books so far I've read in the past few years, all the ones that really stood out to me are the ones that go to the extreme edge.

I'll start with Twilight as an example, because we're all pretty much familiar with that one.

Bella masquerades as an ordinary girl that millions of girls and even older women can relate to. But she goes to the extreme edge by falling in love with a blood-sucker, and everything about their relationship is extreme, too - stalkerish, obsessive - and with every book it gets weirder, from vampire police to vampire wars and then finally vampire-human babies. You either love these books or you think that they are insane and the author has a twisted sick imagination. (I'm still not sure which camp I'm in). Or maybe, to be fair, we sense we too have a bit of this twisted imagination inside of us, and we admire Meyers for being brave enough to let it out in public and have fun with it.

The Hunger Games is another example. Talk about extreme - teenagers sent to fight each other to the death in the most horrific reality show ever. And I'm not just talking an extreme premise - what the characters do and what happens to them is unrelentingly intense and almost holocaust kind of "how could that HAPPEN?"

Across the Universe, by Beth Revis: being frozen for hundreds of years to colonize a planet no one really knows is livable or not. Extreme. Not to mention the living conditions on that space ship. Oh my.

Possession, by Elana Johnson: teenagers going up against a government that uses mind-control.

Falling Under, by Gwen Hayes: taking a voluntary trip to hell.

And it's not just dystopia and paranormal. I just finished reading The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, which is as real-world as it gets, about two black maids in the south in the 1960's and an idealistic white girl who wants to write their stories. What the three of them go through is EXTREME.

The author is not afraid to go out on a limb. I mean, what kind of guts does it take for a white woman to write a book in the point of view of two black women, in a time period before she was born? Can you imagine how every black person who reads this is going to be critically evaluating her attempt? Think about it. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, was still written from a white girl's perspective. This book is a white author giving voice to black women. Putting her own words into their mouths. Now that's risky. AMAZING book, by the way.

Does this bring to mind any books you've read that have an extreme element? Would you be willing to take your writing to an extreme even if it means potentially millions of people will be questioning what's going on in your head that you came up this stuff?  Writing is a scary business, isn't it?

p.s. My ROW80 friend C. Lee McKenzie passed an award on to me - thank you!(Make sure you stop by her blog, she's posted a video of her interview on CBS!)  Now that I've got this extreme business off my mind, in my next post I'll be passing along her award plus some others I'm way overdue to say thanks for, from Sophia Richardson, Girl Friday,  and Tanya Reimer.

p.p.s. And a big thank you to my other ROW80 fellow writers,  Susan Kaye Quinn (sharing her progress through the "middle muddles") and Sheri Larsen (sharing more helpful advice on rewriting). And thank you, Ghenet, for always stopping by to check on my progress too! I had a great writing week. I got a first cut done on an eight-page synopsis. Anyone else think that eight pages of synopsis is as much work as at least twice or three times the amount of regular writing? But what a great way to make sure all the necessary plot points and character motivations are in place! (Here's a great one-page cheatsheet pdf for writing a successful synopsis).

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

When writing gets stale

So I'm in the process of re-writing my WiP to incorporate a new plot element and tighten up the plot overall. The first act of the book required re-writing almost from scratch. When I got to the second act, I thought I could sit back and relax. It still needed a lot of work, but there were big chunks of it I thought I could recycle.

Problem is when I started stitching the chapter back together around those recycled paragraphs, the result felt stale.

Not sure why "stale" is the adjective that came to mind, but I figured I could still make dressing out of it, like you make delicious turkey dressing out of stale bread.  Just needed a few more ingredients...

Anybody else ever run into this problem with stitching recycled writing back into your story?  Anybody have any suggestions? Maybe I'm just not putting it in the right place. Maybe my character has changed too much. Maybe I'm trying to hang onto to funny little snippets of scenes I'm too attached to, and I need to let them go. I'm hoping my CPs will have some advice, if I can't figure it out.

So that's my Round of Words in 80 days progress from this past week. I'm in a slump of staleness and not sure what ingredients I need to proceed.  By the way, here's a really awesome post over at the ROW80 blog about training yourself to meet regular goals.

My ROW80 partner Sheri Larsen is also re-writing, and has been sharing her insights on re-writing over at her blog (both this week and last week).  Another partner, Susan Kaye Quinn, is in the first draft stage but struggling with the itch to go back and revise. I promise a chuckle if you head over to her page to find out what she's done to her inner editor. And C. Lee Mckenzie meanwhile has reached the half-way point in her first draft, cheers!

A couple more links I wanted to share: if you haven't yet heard of Ali Cross's Ninja writers, head over and check it out! She's got a fun way of "ranking" your progress as a writer. I figured out that I'm a blue-belt writer Ninja with two stripes (white belts are those who have just started writing, and black belts are those who have not only reached publication, but are actively giving back to the writing community). There are also linkies for a first-drafting group and for a revising/rewriting group.

Last but not least, Carolina Valdez Miller is giving away a signed copy of Divergent, by Veronica Roth (the new YA dystopia release that is climbing the best-seller lists.) I've read the first chapter online, and it's powerful stuff - reminds me of the Hunger Games, without being a copycat.

So my writerly friends, tell me your re-writing/revising woes, and what you did to get past them...

Monday, May 9, 2011

Five stories you'd like to write someday

We are being taught to be ashamed of not being 'outgoing'. But a writer's job is ingoing ~ Ursula K. LeGuin

This is a really interesting exercise: think about five stories you'd like to write someday. Do they have any themes in common? Then look at five stories you've already written (novels or shorts). Look for connections between them, and then for connections with what you'd like to write in the future. My results surprised me when I did this! (and yet, it all made sense). More about connections and themes in a moment...

Progress update for Round of Words in 80 days: I had another good week toward my goal to revise my YA novel. Two chapters re-written (about 5000 words). I  also did searches on those be-careful-you-don't-overuse words and happily discovered I'm no longer overusing "just" and "feel/felt" so much. But  "was" "it" and "had" - my goodness those three little words breed like rabbits! And they can be really, really hard to replace.

I spent HOURS re-writing sentences from passive verbs to active verbs and trying to come up with ways to reduce "it". Why is it the shorter the word, the more troublesome it is? (Look, two more "it" words cropped up in that last sentence. Arrgggghhh. I challenge you to re-write that sentence without using "it".)

I have to give Sheri Larsen, Susan Kaye Quinn, and C. Lee McKenzie a lot of credit for keeping me motivated with my rewriting - they are awesome ROW80 buddies here in my comments and on Twitter. Stop by and give them an encouraging word, too, if you have a chance.

Now, more about finding connections and common themes in your stories.

This was the third exercise from the Online Persona Workshop, at the wonderful blog for introverts and writers, Shrinking Violets Promotions.

I started this workshop with the idea of getting my blog a little more focused. Right now the only thing in common in my posts is that I try to link them to writing or storytelling some way. That's pretty broad - but for now it's just staying that way folks. Maybe someday I'll find my online niche, but for now I'm happiest just being my somewhat random self here, and connecting with other folks that love writing and reading, or mythical creatures, or virtual teas parties, or deep discussions/soul talks.

Instead of helping me with a focus on blog topics, the workshop took me off in another direction as it challenged me to look at all my different layers. It's really helped me distill the theme of the story I'm working on right now, plus it's been a fascinating inward journey for me. (I won't bore you with the details. They are better presented in story form in my fiction.) I still really, really recommend the Workshop though and I plan to continue it...I've only done 3 out 8 exercises, and what a journey it's been so far.

Okay, so I just said I wouldn't bore you with the details, but I may bore you with the conclusions. So I take no offense if you skip the next part.

More for my sake than anything else, I'm recording three of the interesting connections I discovered between my present, past and future writing, and also in my work and favorite recreational activities.

The first connection I noticed has to do with seeing something about the world in a new or unusual way. I love stories/movies that have some mind-bending twist in them that gets you to look at the world (real or fantasy or SF) in a new way. Robin Bradley posted this amazing video that's a great example of this (the beginning is a little slow: you might skip the first 30 seconds. Our time is valuable but really this is a neat story!)

Leave Me from Ryan Dunlap on Vimeo.

The second connection I noticed was how I am a "slave of my moods." (chocolate, anyone?) A theme I'm exploring in my writing (and my life) is recognizing the lies our own minds tells us (via how we've been raised, or culture, or other experiences), and how our minds are so talented at rationalizing and justifying. How the truth is often concealed or only revealed through testing/trials.

The third connection I noticed is looking deeper at people, places, things, events to see beyond initial impressions/prejudices. At work, I am a GIS analyst. Geographic Information Systems combines maps to help you see new spatial patterns and relationships you wouldn't have seen, just looking at things individually. I see a strong parallel in life. Putting things together and learning to see things in a new way. It's fascinating to see how this plays out in so many stories and sometimes in people's real lives, too.

What was REALLY super cool about these three things is when I distilled each of them down to a few words, they are all about seeing in a new way. That's my theme, folks.

So, do any of you have an overarching theme(s) that permeate your writing? Or even your life?

And because I've already crammed way too much into this post, I can't help but share another amazing video that I found via Erica and Christy's blog. It isn't a story, but it's still about seeing in a new way.

The Mountain from TSO Photography on Vimeo.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Near Witch

The Near Witch, by Victoria Schwab, is a very "elemental" story. It makes you feel so close to the earth and to the wind that you could almost disappear in them, just like you disappear into the strange village of Near in the book.

The main character is the teenager Lexi, who has inherited her father's ability to track and hunt. The rest of the villagers are bent on keeping her at home and under wraps, especially when children begin disappearing from the village at night.

You have to admire Lexi's determination to keep sneaking out at night, trying to track down what has happened to the children, even when the nights get spookier and spookier, and nothing is quite like it seems, even the crows.

The moor is a character itself in this story, surrounding the village like the ocean surrounds an island. It leaves you wondering if the rest of the world even still exists. The moor is also spooky in a lyrical, tingling way:
The moor always seems to be eating things. Half digested rocks and logs jut out from the sloping hillsides.
My favorite characters were the old witch sisters, Magda and Dreska. Like everything else on the seam between the village and the moor, you are never sure exactly what their motives are. 
They look as old as dirt. I imagine I see small pieces crumbling off them, but when I look again, they are still all there.
Then there is the Near Witch - even more ambiguous than the sisters.
She was very old and very young, depending on which way she turned her head, for no one knows the age of witches.
There is also this interesting development:
I hold out my hand, let my fingers brush against the cyclone wall. And then another set of fingers slices through the wind, touches mine, intertwines with mine.
But to say too much about this character (except that yes, there is definitely a romantic development!), or the Near Witch, would spoil the story, especially as each page slowly builds tension after mysterious tension into a pounding crescendo of spookiness.

I loved how prejudice is handled in this story - it's real and it's frightening. But the author does an amazing job handling it. That was what impressed me most about this book. It's like a sophisticated fable about prejudice, all wrapped inside a ghost story with the ribbon of a love story winding around it.

What's your favorite book about overcoming prejudice? Mine will always be To Kill a Mockingbird, but the Near Witch is on my list now, too.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A bit of writing wisdom from Elana Johnson

The winner of the Possession ARC is Jill Hathaway! And I noticed she's having a giveaway right now for a another new release book, so head on over there.

More about Elana Johnson's writing wisdom here in a minute, but first, here's my Round of Words in 80 days progress report. I'm picking up momentum, finally. It's day 32 out of 80, or 40% of the way. I sure wish I was 40% of the way done with revisions on my novel (only about 10%), but my re-writes did total over 5000 words this week, and I'm famous for hunkering down on the keyboard and getting the work done when deadlines start breathing down my neck. So give me some heavy-duty breathing, okay?

Here's progress reports from my ROW80 friends, Susan Kaye Quinn, Sheri Larsen and C. Lee McKenzie.

Just a reminder: I'm on a blogging break for the month of May - except for my Tuesday progress reports - so ya'll can keep me accountable to my writing goals. I am really missing all my regular blog stops, but you guys know I'll BE BACK (said in my best Terminator voice).

Okay, on to the good stuff. I couldn't help but gush to Elana (on her blog) when I received the ARC of her beautiful book in the mail. I told her I would be doing a giveaway, and did she have anything to share? And of course she did - because she's Elana. #elanalove. Here it is:

5 most important things I've learned on the road to publication:

1. Patience is absolutely necessary.

2. There are some things you can't control. Give it up already. You'll be happier.

3. Find people you can confide in. Use them regularly.

4. Writing for publication is a lot different than just writing.

5. Be grateful for every step. Once you take it, you can't take it again.

I love how she mentions control in tip #2. Since her book is all about control issues, ya know.
She also shared her motto. It's from Galaxy Quest.
Never give up, never surrender.
My motto these days is from Finding Nemo - slightly modified:
Just keep writing. Just keep writing.
What's your motto?
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