Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Summer Eats

Out for this post? Blogging about writing.
In for this post? Blogging about food.

My husband and I recently ran away. Okay, so we ran away to a business conference, but still. Someone else cleaned my room and made my bed and gave me fresh towels. And someone else cooked my meals.

To be honest, it really woke up my taste buds. I think I'd fallen into a rut of, "Oh, look, there's a freezer burned chimichanga, and a couple turkey hot dogs, and some three day old mac and cheese - looks like I won't have to cook! It's leftover night, everyone!" - Again.

So, since coming back, I've been at least somewhat trying to recapture a smidgen of the spirit of cooking. (My family has been overwhelmingly grateful). I thought today I'd share a few of the summer recipes that have gotten the thumbs up. Oh, and in case you don't notice, is my friend.

Summer Salads

Asian Chicken Salad - Okay, so this is really just Asian Salad. When we were trying to come up with a mock Applebees Asian Chicken Salad, this was the only recipe with lots of good reviews. It doesn't really taste like Applebees, but my family rates it delicious on its own merits. To add the 'chicken' to the Asian Salad, we use whatever is on hand, leftover grilled chicken (great), canned chicken (a little soggy), or even cut up chicken nuggets (surprisingly alright). Oh, and sometimes we use less oil and more soy sauce, otherwise it can be a little greasy.

Mandarin Chicken Pasta Salad - A new favorite along the lines of the one above, but a little more refined. I added more sugar than it calls for because - sugar addict, yeah.

Strawberry Spinach Salad - You really can't have summer without this one, can you?

Main Dishes

Carne Asada Tacos - Oh, yes. Let the meat marinate a nice, long time. Why not try some of these, while you're at it.

Spicy Garlic Lime Chicken - YUM.

Low Country Boil - if you haven't tried this yet, then you're missing out on one of my favorite Southern traditions. Make sure you invite a crowd. Good times, good times.


Buster Bar Ice Cream Dessert - Not for the faint of heart, calorie-wise, this really does taste just like the Dairy Queen treat.

Microwave Carmel Popcorn - Everything you're supposed to avoid - sugar, corn syrup and margarine! This is a great treat any time of year. It's made in a brown paper bag, of all things, so clean up is a snap. Make sure you use margarine, even if you're a butter purist, because butter just won't work as well.

Anything you love in the summertime?


Monday, July 29, 2013

What I've Learned Since Publishing my Book

Or what I'd do differently if I were to do it all over again.

This is me holding the first copy of my first book.
Yes, I do look a little shell shocked...
but not shell shocked enough.
Dear Me of six months ago,

You're about to change your life, and the entire way you think about writing. 

You know that invisible shiny editor who's approval you so desperately wanted? She's busy, and she isn't the person whose opinion matters. I know that's difficult to swallow, but it's true. An editor finally accepting your work isn't what will make your dream have meaning. I heard the other writers too. I've heard the words you've thought. I know you're just trying to be the kind of writer that an editor wants.

You're wrong.

 Editors are only looking for one thing, a book that readers will like. Your readers are the most important people to impress. Your job is to learn what your readers want, and figure out how to make it for them. And that's the amazing thing. That's really, really, simple.

See, not everyone who reads your book will be one of your readers, but you'll know them when you see them. Your readers will be people you know, and people you haven't met yet, who get the way you think. They are beautiful, supportive, amazing people, and your life will be better for having found them.  Trust them. Trust yourself and the way you tell stories, because YOUR readers will love YOUR stories. You know this, because you have writers who write the way you think.

You need to say goodbye to that editor in your head who is standing in your way, and just go find your readers. When you do that, you'll remember how much you love writing. Words will be magic again. Characters will be real, and you won't be writing to impress anyone, but your work will get better. You will, in fact, impress yourself. And once you've done that say no to yourself, and rewrite it until it's better than you would have been satisfied with before. Be your own invisible shiny editor, and keep improving. Never be satisfied until it feels right, until you can walk away and not think about it anymore.

You need to stop half-dreaming and get to work. If I could talk to you earlier, I'd have you have finish all those half-finished stories in your laptop. Get six finished books done so that I can release one every two months. Choose who you want to be as an author, and don't waste time on stories that are off brand. Tell people on facebook earlier, and build up a following before you launch a book. Join twitter. Use goodreads. Kiss my children's faces and tuck them in, living in that magic moment with them, and not be half a fictional world away. Make work time just for work, and leave the half writing for half writers.

Look around and smile. Take days off and watch Pretty Little Liars, and binge on Netflix just cause you can. Learn that whole tense shifting issue of ours cold, so I don't have to worry about it now when every word counts.

There's something magical about not being published yet, about being able to write anything you'd like, about only having one story in your head at a time. But you will love being published. Even though it means your heart is out there, and people won't always love it, and that every once in a while you'll be kicked around or ignored, it's all worth it. You don't know this yet, but there is an eight year-old girl out there who will look at you in pride and pull you aside and tell you she wants to write books just like you did. You don't know this yet, but there will be teenage girls who will think you are cool.

Yes, you. You in the minivan.

There's a day that is coming that will make you shake your head in awe. You will read good reviews that make you stay up late as you memorize every word. There will be bad reviews that you will shake your fists at, and that will keep you up late as you try to un-memorize them. You will stalk people on goodreads just because there's a 'currently reading' status next to their name. You won't hide that you are a writer anymore, in fact there will be times when you walk up to someone reading a completely different book just to tell them you're an author too. Your ego will grow, and shrink, and be kicked in the gonads. You will cry of joy, and cry of grief, anger, and frustration... in fact, just invest in Kleenex now. It's hard. You won't know what to do, which is the most difficult part of being self-published; sometimes it feels like you're in this on your own.

But you're not. The main thing I'd tell you is that most self-published authors are kinder than they need to be. They know what to do, and how lost it feels to be on your own, so don't hesitate to ask questions, and join forums and groups, and be kind to others. Give your time away. Give your book away. I mean, for reals, learn what rafflecopter is, and soon.

Writing is such a lonely business. Publishing, however, isn't lonely. Publishing is inviting every person in the world to live inside your head, and then ask their opinions of the setting.

So enjoy the alone time now. Sooner than you know, you'll be me.

Meet you then.

Sheena Boekweg is the author of Funny Tragic Crazy Magic, and the coauthor of Alchemy (launches October 11). You can find her on facebookgoodreads, and twitter.

Thursday, July 25, 2013


By now, regular Proser readers* know that Melanie, Sheena, and I are publishing the novel we wrote together, because we’re crazy like that. We’re now at the point where we’ve shipped the novel out to beta readers. After that comes revisions, and then… the dreaded copyediting.  By far, the main complaint I hear about self-published novels isn’t the plot or the characters or the overall story. It’s about the grammar and the copyediting.

Why is copyediting so dreaded? One, because grammar is a pain, and two, have you looked up the rates for copyeditors? Some sites quote forty dollars an hour for minor edits. Forty dollars! Have we mentioned that our novel is over 100,000 words long (at the moment?).

So, guess who volunteered to do the copyediting.

It’s actually not so far off of an idea. I write and copyedit regulatory documents for a living. And let me tell you, I don’t get paid forty dollars an hour. Not even close. And I actually kind of enjoy messing with grammar. It’s almost… soothing. I mean, in a way, writing is all about the right side of your brain, creativity and chaos and art. And grammar is the opposite – all form and rules. As a naturally anxious person, rules can help calm me down. In other words, that paragraph above about copyediting rates wasn't shock. It was more like jealousy.

For the past few months, I’ve felt pretty confident about this whole thing. But now that the time approaches, I’ve started looking up copyediting tips.

It didn’t take long for me to get nervous.

I mean, I might do this for work, but fiction is much more stringent. And I might like grammar, but I'm not perfect. I mean, I’m never clear when I should be using ‘that’ or ‘who.’ Between and among are difficult as well, given that I just learned this week that the "between can only refer to two things" rule apparently isn’t quite correct. Why can I never keep straight the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs? And don’t even get me started on my confusion with lay/lie/laid. And while we’re on the subject, is copyedit one word or two??? (Word doesn't tag it as misspelled, Blogger does).

::takes many deep breaths::

All right, now I need to look at some owlet pictures in order to calm down:
Courtesy of Wikmedia Commons

 Courtesy of Wikmedia Commons

 Courtesy of Wikmedia Commons

Much better!  Well, it’s too late now to back out, so I better study up and be prepared for the challenge. I brought home my personal copy of Strunk and White. I’m going to check out a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style from the library. And I also found these helpful links:

And soon enough, Sheena and Melanie will be hearing delightful grammar questions from me, such as: serial commas, yes or no?

Wish us luck.

* Preaders? Rosers? Prosathons? Prozacs?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Bad Girl

There is this idea that most girls prefer a bad boy.  This seems to be supported by literature where so many of the heroes in paranormal romances and romances in general seem to fit the (rather loose) definition of a bad boy.  Personally, I like all kinds of heroes, but if I’m honest, I do have a preference for the more morally grey heroes (in stories, not in real life), but it’s not that they are more sexy or appealing than the more upright heroes, but that they tend to be more complex and bring more conflict to the story.  I think I would be just as happy with a good boy and a bad girl combo, but I just don’t see those very often (maybe I’m just reading the wrong books).

I’ve been re-watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel (the series) on Netflix recently, and I’ve decided that I prefer Faith to Buffy.  Faith is the far more interesting character.  I have to admit that I’m a real sucker for the redemption story arc, and Faith has a great one.   Her whole character arc is deconstructed here which is a really fascinating read. 

So really quick cause I got to go to bed.  Five reasons why Faith is awesome.

 1. Faith has all those characteristics that are usually given to male characters.  She is cocky, rebellious, charismatic, unrestrained, promiscuous, and care-free.  All those characteristics that are typically seen the bad boy love interest.   She wears them well, and it is refreshing to see that girls can be and in real life sometimes are this way too.

 2.  But underneath it all there is an undeniable vulnerability.  Every character needs to have weaknesses, and Faith has a lot of them.  Despite her charismatic personality, she has a hard time really connecting with people.  She doesn’t have strong ties to family or friends like Buffy did and this causes her to be very jealous of Buffy which develops into an inferiority complex.  The fact that Buffy’s gang never takes to her along with the brutal murder of her watcher that she couldn’t stop and Gwendolyn Post using her all contributes to her downward spiral.  What turns Faith to the wrong side is feeling as if she had no one to count on when things get really bad.

 3.  Even when she’s bad, she’s awesome.  Next to evil Angel, Faith is my favorite Buffy villain.  She’s tough and smart and hits Buffy where it really hurts (emotionally).  But mostly I liked her relationship with the Mayor.  He gave her what she needed most.  Someone that believed in her, who she could count on.  That made her betrayal real.  She got from him what she wasn’t getting from Buffy and her friends.  The father/daughter relationship between them was well-developed and humanized both of them, adding depths to their characters which is always good.

 4.  She does it all alone.  Faith’s redemption takes place on Angel, but it starts on Buffy when Faith and Buffy swap bodies.  During the swap, Faith experiences Buffy’s humanity, and takes the first step to redemption, feeling grief for the murderers she committed.  She can’t live with the guilt, so she starts up a fight with Angel to get him to kill her, but he doesn’t.  Angel tries to help her.  He’s the only one who never gave up on her.  But he doesn’t love her.  He empathizes with her and relates to her, but he doesn't really love her.  She isn’t redeemed by love like Willow was, and she isn't surrounded by support as she goes towards her redemption.  She chooses that path on her own for herself and no one else, and once again, she is all alone with no one to count on, but this time she accepts it and stays on the right path.  All by herself.

 5.  She’s five by five.  I have no idea what this means, but I think it is one of the most awesome catch phrases ever.

So those are the reasons I love Faith.  I would have loved to see her become the big hero and save the world not at Buffy’s side but on her own and have a real love interest story line.  I think Buffy should have stayed dead after season five, which really was a great death, and a newly reformed Faith could’ve stepped in as the slayer in another spin off series.  It had to have been better than season 6 and 7 which really didn’t have the caliber of the earlier seasons (especially 2 and 3 which were amazing). 

I think that bad girls have a lot to offer as protagonists, but most of the time, girls are placed in the moral role while the male characters have more freedom to be morally ambiguous.   Even though the character is basically a killer, Buffy isn’t allowed to stray far from what is morally acceptable.  But Faith is, and that is what makes her more interesting to me. 

So tell me, who are your favorite bad girls?


Friday, July 19, 2013

Excuses, Excuses

It has been a crazy week at my house. After the coolest summer I can ever remember, Maine has suddenly decided to join the heat wave party, but no one told my air conditioner. That should really be the only excuse I need, but never fear--I've got more!

My oldest daughter got her wisdom teeth out, there was an unexpected meeting at my part time job, I was writing to a super important deadline with a super awesome last minute change. Pile all those things on top of an already crazy schedule, and hopefully you can understand why not only is my house a disaster of epic proportions, but somehow today's Proser post got lost in the tornado that once was my brain.

So here is today's writing tip: If you want your writing to shine, sometimes you need to take a break. Yesterday, I was planted in this chair all day long, and the stuff flowing from my brain to my fingers was insanely bad. In spite of a looming deadline, I finally had to stand up, grab an icepack for my aching fingers and watch Psych.

I LOVE what I wrote when I came back.

Yeah, I know this isn't Psych. 

Take a break. Your writing will thank you.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Interview with Author Aurora Smith -"My Stupid Girl"

No, that's not an insult.

I've discovered something awesome. If you offer to review a book you get to read books for FREE. That means I'm open to book reviews, and that I'll never recover from my book addiction.

That's how I recently read one of my new favorite books, My Stupid Girl.

My Stupid GirlMy Stupid Girl is one smart book. It's a love story told from the point of view of teenage goth David. I LOVED David.  At first I thought he was a girl, he was so concerned about his makeup, and how other people thought of him that I wondered how the author was going to convince me he was a boy. But that's where the intelligence of this book comes in. 

This author is one to watch. She slowly got me to fall behind, and then in love with David. He's imperfect, and broken. His past is littered with everything the author could throw at him, yet he somehow finds the way to escape his own wallowing to save this popular girl, Lucy, from crashing through a frozen pond. 

That inciting decision changes the course of David's life. It changes him for the better. Loving Lucy changes him. I love a good love story, especially one that ignites change. Lucy and David change by falling in love, David for the better, and Lucy for the worse. I love that this story is also about how love can hurt you, about how even falling in love with the right person can be hard, and hurt. I adored Lucy by the end, and I admire so much how the author trusted Lucy enough to make her imperfect. Love saves her too, just not for a while.

The thing I like the best about My Stupid Girl is David's voice. He's a bit of an artist, and he see's everything with a ton and a half of visual description, so the world of the story is really clear. There are moments of funny and moments of sad, and not a single moment where I wouldn't let a teenage girl read this book. 
It's not a perfect book, the prom scene was a bit confusing for me, and there were times that I wondered on the character's motivations, but it's a moving powerful little book that broke my heart and made me happy and neglect my home and family for a little while. Read it or I'll punch you.


I was so excited to interview the author, Aurora Smith.

 Tell me about My Stupid Girl. 

 My Stupid Girl is really fun and deals a good dose of butt kicking if you let it. 
How many books did you write before publishing My Stupid Girl.  

 I've written a dozen books but felt MSG was the only one so far worthy of sharing with people. 

 How long did it take you to write it, and get it it's published state?

 If you can believe it 2.5 years!  I'm not a microwave author.  I take time to write quality and I hope that shows. 

 Why did you choose the indie publishing route? Did you consider going traditional?

 I did consider going traditional but when it came down to it I realized that I just liked the control.  

. What's been the best moment for you since publishing?

 The moment TTorest (Author of Remember When and Remember When 2) ask if she could put a link to my book in the back of her book because she liked it so much.  It was a fan girl squeal heard around the world. 

 What are some of the difficulties you've faced in publishing My Stupid Girl?

 I haven't really had many difficulties, it's been really fun! 

Why did YOU have to write My Stupid Girl?

I had a dream one night (if you read chapter 19 of my book you'll discover the dream) When I woke up I knew that I needed to write about the boy in my dream.  Before I knew it my fingers were typing in his perspective.  David's story had to be told and I was the only one who knew it!

What would you have done differently if you were to publish your book for the first time again?

 I would have advertised before it came out.  Everyone said to do it and like a ninny I didn't listen. 

What would you say to someone who has a completed novel in hand and is considering self publishing?

 Get it professionally edited, get a kicking cover and most of all be kind to all authors!  Don't be jealous of others success or put anyone down.  You'll be rewarded 10 fold! 

Thanks SO much Aurora. Here's Aurora's amazon link, goodreadsfacebook, and her website,

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Interchangeable Characters

Like many writers, my TBR list is a seemingly unconquerable list of highly recommended books from friends and literary critics, fascinating concept novels, and the occasional compelling nonfiction book. Why is it, then, that whenever I go to the library, I find myself browsing the library shelves, adding random uncertain books to my pile? Isn't my list already long enough? Besides, you really can't judge a book by its cover or its blurb, and most of this random shelf-surfing has ended in tears (don't talk to me about clones, futuristic weavers, or poorly-developed steampunk worlds and the wooden characters that inhabit them*). 

I did, however, recently have one enjoyable acquisition: Soulbound, by Heather Brewer.

Description from Amazon: "Tril is a world where Barrons and Healers are Bound to each other: Barrons fight and Healers cure their Barrons' wounds in the ongoing war with the evil Graplar King. Seventeen-year-old Kaya was born a Healer, but she wants to fight. In Tril, and at Shadow Academy, where she is sent to learn to heal, it is against Protocol for Healers to fight. So Kaya must learn in secret. Enter two young men: One charming, rule-following Barron who becomes Bound to Kaya and whose life she must protect at all costs. And one with a mysterious past who seems bent on making Kaya's life as difficult as possible. Kaya asks both to train her, but only one will, and the consequences will change their lives forever."

The book does have a few gaping plot holes, but nonetheless, I had a good time reading it, and I'll get the sequel when it comes out. But there was, however, one problem with the main character that lead me to write this post.

Kaya is a great, strong female character. She has all the hallmarks: she's stubborn, intelligent, brave, and distrustful of authority - and learns to fight in an improbable amount of time. But that's also kind of the problem - she's too much like every other strong heroine out there. So much so, that I think you could pull her out of the book and put her in any other world, and she'd fit in just fine.

And thus, in a very roundabout way, we've arrived at my main point: an often overlooked aspect of character development is setting. It's a little hard to explain, but I think that for secondary world fantasy, the characters need to be firmly grounded in their world in order to be truly well-rounded. Think of Jedi knights - their personalities are so aligned with the Jedi philosophy, that if you moved them to any other setting, they'd stick out like a sore thumb.** 

Normally, at this point in the post, I would offer observations on how to fix the problem I've identified. But this time... it's hard to say. So I'm asking all of you out there: how do you make your characters fit into your world? Is it philosophy, like in those sci-fi staples Star Wars and Star Trek? If your setting is historical, how do you portray historically accurate cultural attitudes without offending 90 percent of the planet? How do you make a female character align to modern notions of strength but not be totally anachronistic?

The future characters of the world thank you for your input.

*Not wooden in the literal sense... though that would be cool. "In a world of steel, she's the only natural thing left..."
With quality ideas like these, it's shocking how I'm not world-famous yet.

**These aren't the characters you're looking for.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Should Unpublished Writers Offer Advice

Picture from wikimedia
 I’m borrowing a topic from Hatrack River Workshop, as I frequently do.  A discussion that started out as writing research turned into a heated debate on whether unpublished aspiring writers should give and get critiques/writing advice from each other.  I understand the arguments against trusting advice from unpublished writers.  They have no credentials or proof that they know what they are doing, and there is some concern of the blind leading the blind.  It is hard to determine if someone really knows what they are talking about when they don’t have anything to back them up.   But it’s not any easier sorting through all of the professional advice from editors and published writers either.  There is so much writing advice out there and so much of it contradicts each other.  So even if an aspiring writer only sought out writing advice from published writers and legitimate editors, he/she could still be going in circles.

The problem with writing stories is that there is no right way of doing things.  There are as many paths as there are writers, and every single path will be viable for someone.  And while I do believe we should study the craft and soak up as much information as we can, the truth is that we kind of have to figure out most of it on our own.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that we have to reinvent the wheel.  But someone can give us the tools and tell us how to make a wheel, even draw a diagram, but the only real way to learn how to do it is to do it.

I think that sorting through the writing advice is a lot like sorting through all the parenting advice out there (I’ve touched on this on an early post, but I’m going to go into more depth here).

When I had my first baby, I read about four books on parenting and a ton of articles and blog posts on the internet, all written by professionals with impressive credentials.  So much of it was contradictory.  Put your baby on a schedule vs. follow your baby’s lead.  Baby should sleep with the parents vs. get the baby out of your bed or he/she will stay until he/she goes away to college, etc.  I had to pick and choose the advice that made the most sense to me, that fit my personality and the baby’s.

But sorting through the advice was so much easier than implementing it.  No matter how many fabulous examples the books gave, none of them fit my situation perfectly.  I was constantly tweaking and adapting the advice to fit my unique situation.  It was hard and involved failing at times, but no one can really tell you how to parent any more than anyone can tell you how to write.  It all comes from trial and error.

I realize that none of this directly addresses unpublished writers giving advice, so let’s get to that.  In keeping with parenting theme, I see unpublished writers as other new parents.  Having some good, solid friends who are in the same place as you in writing or parenting is like gold.  A lot of it is support, but sometimes just talking through your problems with them can help you see what you need to do.  And sometimes they can give you the best advice because they are right there with you and can understand where you are coming from better than any seasoned professional.   

Since you have to use your brain to sort through all that professional writing advice, I don’t see why you can’t also sort through the advice given by unpublished writers.   And who knows how many of those unpublished writers are on the verge of being published. 

Of course we shouldn’t blindly follow them, but then I believe we shouldn’t blindly follow anyone.  Each of us is unique, and we all have to find our own path.


Friday, July 5, 2013

How To Co-Author A Novel--the Less Glamorous Version

Pencils textureIt's not every day that I wake up to find myself a topic for discussion on the internet, so it was really cool to open Sheena's blog and find a post in which I was featured rather prominently. 

Incredibly, Sheena Sabrina and I have been creating our "letter games" story for over a year now. It was in March of 2012 that Sabrina wrote the post thatstarted it all , and by August of 2012 I felt I knew enough to write a post about how to begin a successful writing collaboration.  I still think it is solid advice, but so far removed from where we are now that I'm glad I wrote it when I had the chance.

We're nearing the finish line--almost ready to send the completed work out to the beta readers. We finally came up with a title we all like and are chomping at the bit to begin working on the sequel.

It has not all been a bed of roses. But mostly, I find myself looking around at the beautiful thing we've created and thinking to myself, "Wow. That was a lot easier than it could have been." In spite of the naïve and haphazard way we all stumbled into this project, everyone has been professional and hardworking, our vision has remained unified, no one has morphed into a prima donna, and we've all managed to stay enthusiastic. The fabulousness of what we've done blows me away.

That said, here are 
5 things I've learned since the last time 
I wrote about collaborating:

1. Bureaucracies move more slowly than dictatorships.
one step 1
This wasn't immediately apparent. Of course, there were the inevitable times when someone was too busy to write or got writer's block, but still, the course of writing that first draft ran pretty smoothly. Editing is a different beast altogether. Major edits often require major discussion. I'm a digging-my-heels-in-the-sand kind of person. Especially here in the last third of the book, I don't want to change things that are going to cause ripples through the whole story. Sheena is a transformative kind of person. She's not afraid of experimenting with changes that might force us to start over. She wants this book to be the best it can be. Often, after causing my heart rate to skyrocket, she decides that our original idea was the best anyway, and I breathe a sigh of relief. Or we all realize the idea is amazing, and then the work to add it in doesn't seem quite so tedious. Writing with Sheena has taught me that turning everything on its ear can be awesome.

2. How to use each other's characters.
In our first draft, we really didn't use each other's characters. It ended up being an exaggerated form of "telling, not showing". It is pretty natural to shy away from using a character we didn't own and that we didn't know extremely well yet. We've completely fixed that in this second version, and the results are breath-taking. I think it is pretty rare to find three such distinct voices in one book. But we've had to learn to accept ownership of the character we've created, and to not be afraid to ask each other to change something that doesn't fit. Sabrina is fearless about this, and I mean that as a total compliment. She knows Juliette, inside and out, and whenever Sheena or I use Juliette in a scene, she tells us how Juliette would actually have reacted, and we fix it. I'm thinking of one scene in particular where someone wants to wipe Juliette's face tenderly. But Juliette wouldn't cry. She wouldn't fall into the fountain. If she had blood dripping down her face, she wouldn't sit at the fountain, she'd go get medical services, it hasn't been suggested, but I doubt she forgot to wipe her milk mustache...We'll find a reason to get that face wiped eventually, but it takes time. When Sabrina writes one of our characters into a scene, she asks us in advance how they would react. In the beginning, sometimes I didn't know. But I know Ana now, and I'm getting nearly as careful about it as Sabrina is.

It's pretty cool. I think when I write a new novel, that kind of back and forth scene creation is going to help me so much. Remembering that every character is the star of their own story and looking at each scene with that perspective in mind is going to enrich my writing permanently.

3. Characters can be quirky.
In her blog post, Sheena calls Ana an "Every Girl" sort of character, and that struck me. That's the kind of character I enjoy writing. As far as I can remember, every main character I've ever created has fit that pattern. I probably won't change. It's who I am, and there is nothing wrong with it. But I have been amazed at how much I've come to love Sam and Juliette. When I first read their character sketches, I remember being worried about it. Juliette, for example, is grumpy, and I was afraid that might make her unlikeable. Not at all! Her glow shines forth all that much more brightly against the backdrop of that character flaw. And Sam...well, Sam has a way with the ladies that I thought might make it hard to respect him. Again, I was so wrong. He's super-duper respect worthy. In the future I hope I am less afraid to let my characters be flawed.

4. Writing in a group is hard.
When writing multiple characters, timelines can be as complicated as advanced calculus.
For example, in our first draft, sometimes I would write to a spot well beyond where Sabrina (who wrote after me) needed to be, and so she would have to backtrack to tell her story. And in the beginning, Ana went first. But in the second draft, Sam goes first. As we work to clean up these timeline glitches, and as we add other subplots (that inevitably mix events up), scenes we really like don't match up any more, and it causes me untold stress. Sabrina and Sheena are calmer about it, promise me that it will all match up before we send it out, and I believe them, but it is hard to let it go.

5. Writing in a group is awesome.
For me, the best part has been always having two other people to chat with about what I'm writing. Writing is usually a lonely endeavor, and writers have to be careful about how much they talk to other people about it, even when those other people are interested. But Sheena and Sabrina are as heavily invested in this book as I am. I can pop them off an e-mail and get an incredibly knowledgeable, thoughtful and interested reply back. We can debate the finer points of how magic works, where it came from or what the cost is and they have different perspectives that broaden mine. I sometimes worry about having writing be a solitary journey again someday. But for now, I'm counting my blessings.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Plotting and Plotting Again

This past school year my daughter spent a lot of blood sweat and tears learning her multiplication tables. She was so proud when she'd finally got them down. The funny thing is, I know that come September, she'll do it all over again. And the next year, too. Each time it will be a little easier, and she'll go a little faster until she'll wonder why they keep having her practice this 'baby stuff.'

I've come to think that writing is like that, too. We start out feeling like we expend a lot of blood sweat and tears learning the basics of plot and dialogue and enough description (but not too much). We go along for a while, pretty proud of ourselves for finally having got it.

And then we realize that we're still a little wobbly. Maybe the basics just don't come as easily as we'd like. Maybe we can see what our stories could be, but trying to get there seems beyond our current abilities.

I feel like that's what I'm facing in the area of plotting. And so I started going through the basics again. As I've read and studied (much of it stuff I'd already read before), I've realized that I'm able to build on what I already know and understand things in a deeper way. Hopefully it will translate into better - and more decisive - writing.

So, I thought I'd share two things that have helped me immensely this go around and how I morphed them in my own special and diabolical way :)

First the 9 box plot method. The easiest place to find this is on Cynjay's website. But it actually originated as a post by Chasing My Tail on the Verla Kay Blueboards (scroll down to Feb 6, 2009).

You really ought to try this out. Stories are visually plotted using a paper broken into 9 boxes (like a tic tac toe game). The connecting boxes help you see how the different parts of the story relate to one another - go ahead, give it a try. It's pretty neat.

Second is a website I stumbled upon that really spoke to me. Alexandra Sokoloff has a huge series on writing. She comes from a screenwriter's background and so she emphasizes pacing and specific events taking place in each act of the story.

Okay, and here's my own special take on it all.
  • My goal was to use the 9 box plot method on a board big enough to hold my whole story. 
  • I wanted to be able to remember all the specific advice from both the 9 box method and Alexandra's posts. 
  • I wanted to use sticky notes so I could rearrange to my heart's content.  (Somehow it gets muddled if I try to plot on the computer - that, or I get sucked into endlessly watching Youtube videos.)
  • And, I wanted the whole thing to be portable and not embarrassing to work on in public (nothing like hauling around a giant cork board wherever I go). 

Impossible you say? Not so fast.

Here's how I worked it out.

First, cut nine 7x7 inch squares from file folders. Tape them together so that they can fold along the seams.

The tape doesn't really look that shiny in real life.

Second, print off a synopsis of events for each of the Nine boxes. Paste these along the bottom of each corresponding square.
Third, paraphrase other pertinent info (I got mine from Alexandra's posts). Print and glue it to the left and/or right sides of each corresponding square. 
Fourth, cut sticky notes into fourths so you have long, 3/4 inch strips. Each square holds up to 16 strips without overlapping, so hopefully there's lots of room to tell your story.

See how easy it is to tell where I'm having problems - aargh boxes 7 &8

Best of all, it folds up so that you can work on just one row or even one square at a time.

And when you're on the go, the whole thing folds up to a seven inch square. It fits nicely in a folder with any notes or other stuff you might have.

Now you have a reusable plotter. Whether the story is long or short, you can (hopefully) tell if you're hitting all the right notes.


Monday, July 1, 2013

How to Take Care of Books

I have a few friends who've said they want to keep their signed copy of FUNNY TRAGIC CRAZY MAGIC on a shelf to keep it looking perfect so that it'll be worth a ton of money one day.

While flattering, that's just crazy sauce, friends of mine. I'd like to have written, or one day write, the kind of book that people all over the world buy that will one day be worth more than the initial purchase price. I want to be able to ask people what their favorite rune is, or when did they get it, and people to understand what I'm talking about.

 Mostly, I'd like that, because the more people who share a book, the larger the world of the story gets, and the more real the world gets. There really is a platform 9 and 3/4 in London.  The idea went from one person's imagination, to an actual place.

academic,blank books,communications,pages,papersThat's magic. But those few first edition "Philosopher's Stone" book that's worth a pretty pound would be still sitting on a shelf somewhere if the millions of copies of that same book hadn't been beloved and lived in.

To me, that perfect book, isn't nearly as special, as those first edition copies that those first few people loved, lived in, and told their friends.

Pristine books keep their worth, but they don't hold magic. Books on a shelf haven't been lived in. I want my book to be lugged around in a purse next to fruit snack wrappers, and lost car keys. I want my books to have dirt in the binding from people who bring it into the top of trees to read. I want my books to be highlighted, doodled on, and marked with the original owner so that it'll eventually find it's way back home after being loaned to one neighbor after another. I want my books to be dog eared, and accidentally dropped in a bathtub. I want my books to look homeless, because they've been lived in.

I didn't write my book so it'd look pretty sitting on a shelf. (Although in my opinion it's a very pretty book). I wrote my book, because my characters were looking for friends, and I was the only path they'd find to get out there.

So friends of mine, and friends of my characters,  read my books like you want to live within them.

Or better yet, buy two. :)

Funny Tragic Crazy Magic is also available as a pristine ebook that doesn't collect crumbs.
It's still live-in-able, just don't drop your phone/ereader in the bathtub.*
*spoken from experience.