Friday, September 27, 2013

You keep using that word...

As family, friends and Prosers can attest, over the past several months (well, years really, if you count Hidden Magic) I have worn out their trust and enthusiasm over and over again by proudly proclaiming these words:

I'm done.

I'm done with the rough draft, and now I just have to clean it up. 

I'm done with cleaning it up. It's a finished manuscript. Now I just have to send it out to the betas.  (Right here I can get stuck on an endless loop...eventually cleaning it up doesn't actually make it any cleaner or shinier. It's called stalling.)

I've fixed everything the betas thought was wrong and cleaned it up even more. Now it shines! I'm done. I'm sending it to the copy editor. 

I've cleaned up everything the copy editor showed me. I'm done. I'm just going to read it one more time to make sure.

You should see my gorgeous cover. Now it feels really finished. I'm done.

Holy cats. How did I let that plot hole slide through? But I cleaned it up. I'm done. It's being formatted as we speak. 

I've spent the last couple of days checking up on the formatting. Found lots of stuff and changed my author bio at least twice. But now I'm done. 

I just got the ARC from the printer.

OK. Let's say that one more time, just for emphasis. I just got the ARC from the printer. I've just got to go through it one more time...

Yep. It's done. Really and truly done. I've just got to fix one more thing. 

Note to self: This whole publishing thing is a LONG process. In the future, just tell people your book is "in progress" until the moment you hold it in your hands. Not the ARC. The real, finished book. Trust me on this one. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Deja Vu

Ever get that feeling?
Well, I hope you'll forgive me if you do tonight.
It's late, I'm cranky.
So, what are you going to get from me?
From the archives, a golden-oldie rerun post:

Plot Bunnies and Holy Hand Grenades

From the Urban Dictionary:

Plot Bunny - "An idea for a story that gnaws at the brain until written."

Plot bunnies are soooo irresistible - those story ideas that come to you in all their lop-eared, cotton-tailed, twitterpated goodness. Their big, shiny eyes promise untold adventure, wealth, and fame if you just give this one, Best Ever, idea a shot. Their ever so fluffy fur is almost hypnotically soothing - everything will work out this time, the story's practically written itself in your head already, it'll be easy as pie to put it down on paper. You'll be hailed as a literary genius (and seal the deal on the movie rights) by the end of the month.

Who could resist them? I can't. Plot bunnies scamper around my feet as I blearily pack school lunches in the morning. They run errands with me in the car. And, although I don't have cats like Sarah, plot bunnies have been known to sit on my face and wake me, breathless, with The Idea in the wee hours of the morning.

I love plot bunnies.

In the beginning, at least.

But my bunnies have a dark side. If I give in and pick one up and stare into those limpid eyes, that wascally wabbit mutates. What seemed like such a perfect, bouncy idea begins to contort. My plot grows fangs. And claws. It misbehaves. I know what kind of story the plot bunny should turn into, but it doesn't cooperate. I have the nose of the story, and I have the tail, but everything gets lost and muddled somewhere in all that middle fluffiness.

My bunny turns from this:

To the rabbit in Monty Python.

And that's when I know it's time to bring out the Holy Hand Grenade:

So here are five - no three, sir - er, three posts I've recently found helpful in subduing evil plot bunnies (with big pointy teeth).

My Favorite Outliner:

Okay, everyone has some sort of outline thingy that works for them - hero's journey, 3 point plot, 5 point plot. Well, mine's got them all beat. It's got seventeen points - yeah, baby! Go ahead, click on the link, I'll wait. For me this way of plotting from Helene Boudreau totally works. I added in a B (and C and D) plot sequence and suddenly there's hardly enough space to write all the things I want to pack into that middle of the story. The plot just hums along. AND, if you really wanna see something interesting, line those 17 plot points up to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (I'll give you a hint - perfect match).

The Nuts and Bolts of Plotting:

I liked the way Rachel Aaron explained her creative process in this blog post, "How I Plot a Novel in Five Steps." Her candor and insight are great. I especially appreciate that someone who is a multiple times published author is willing to admit that she gets stuck, too (whew, you mean all those published guys are like...human?).

Hare Writing:

No, not as in harebrained, or harried - but like the tortoise and the hare. Once again, I found inspiration in a Rachel Aaron post. This time, how she was able to bump her writing speed and quality up from 2k per day (already amazing) to 10K !!! a day. Way cool. And her writing trifecta (knowledge, time, and enthusiasm) is applicable in almost any creative endeavor. Kudos to Rachel for using such scientific objectivity to figure things out.

So, when those cute, cuddly plot bunnies turn on you like non-sexy vampires in the night, take heart and calmly pull the pin.

What plotting tools and ideas have you found to be indispensable?


Monday, September 23, 2013

The Importance of Wizard's Chess

Alchemy (Prophecy Breakers: Book 1)Lately, I've been reading through the final draft of Alchemy over and over again, checking for missed edits and strange formatting. It has taught me something invaluable. One, that my writing partners are brilliant, and two, the importance of wizard's chess.

In Alchemy, Sabrina and Melanie both wrote scenes where the characters sit around and play dominoes,or cards. I remember after they wrote them thinking that was kind of weird. I mean, what was the point? Those scenes don't advance to plot. Bad guys aren't attacking, romance isn't developing. Which just shows you how much I learned doing this collaboration, and also how much I had to learn.

But reading through Alchemy now, I get it.

I see the value in character's sitting around the great room in front of a roaring fire playing chess. No, it's not stopping Voldemort. No, it's not advancing the plot, but more important than that, it is giving the reader a reason to care if the good guys win. It's about giving the relationships and friendships time to breath, time to grow, and time to become real. It's about creating a world of a story that is pleasant to live in.

I'm a big fan of dread. I'm a big fan of creepy bad guys with predatory interests. I'm a big fan of danger, and car chases, and fire shooting out of people's hands. But those big moments only matter when you have time to care whether the characters live or die.

Great relationships, be that friendship or romance, need time and quiet moments to make them real. They need conversations while walking through the woods. They need scenes where the characters make quiche just for fun, they need moments of silence, and a smile at the right time. They need wizard's chess, and Christmas. They need moments of what the Happy Ever After will look like, so that after the story is over, the reader will know what life looks like. Moments of wizard's chess, makes a character live forever.

There's a balance, of course. Too much happy, and the story is over. Too much dread and actions, then the readers might put the book down. You have to paint with light and dark colors. Paintings are often better that way. Clearer at the very least.

Just remember that your readers will have to live in this world you're creating. Make it a pleasant place...sometimes. Or make it the darkest dankest hole you can imagine, and have your characters sit around and play chess. Give the reader a chance to rest inside a book. Give the reader a chance to recover.

And then beat them the heck up.

Sheena is the author of Funny Tragic Crazy Magic (99 cents yo, for a short time) and the coauthor of Alchemy which launches in two weeks.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Writing Workshops to Consider

Hands-down some of my best experiences in learning how to be a writer, be it craft-level tips on how to structure and write short stories, or business-level tips of how to compose a killer pitch letter, all were learned in the context of a Writer’s Workshop. I have attended two in-person workshops and one virtual one. One of the unanticipated side benefits to these workshops has been connecting with other writers who are in a similar place in their careers – ability, intensity, pursuit of specific goals. I have gained many insights from just talking with other writers who are struggling with the same things I am – whether or how to independently publish, doubts about abilities, frustrations with rejections. Don’t underestimate the value of a peer group.

A beautiful Oregon coast sunset (time enough for sunset walks at this workshop, at least!)

This list is by no means complete, but I’ve been working on it for a little while, asking writer friends what workshops they’ve attended, which ones they think have the best return for their investment. Workshops are an investment. Most will set you back $1000-1500 between workshop fees and travel expenses (some do offer scholarships and are worth pursuing.) If you haven’t started treating your writing like a business (instead of just a hobby) it may be difficult to imagine spending that much, but if you are committed to selling your work, finding readers who love the kinds of words you write, you can consider this a business investment in your future.

Have I missed any important ones? I’ll edit this list if I find I’ve overlooked something big, so please post a link in the comments!

Viable Paradise - This is my dream workshop because I love this part of the east coast but have never been to Martha's Vineyard. It's specifically for Science Fiction and Fantasy writers (my genres!) and takes place in October. This year Elizabeth Bear is among the illustrious instructors!

Superstars of Writing - This workshop is focused on the business of being a writer. If you're ready to take the next step and begin actively marketing and selling your work, this is the top workshop for you. Several writer friends have attended this workshop in the past and highly recommend it. It's on my short list. Next workshop is in Feb, 2014 and Dave Farland, Kevin Anderson, Brandon Sanderson, Rebecca Moesta are among the many fantastic instructors.

Orson Scott Card runs a Literary Boot Camp from time to time, though no current dates are easily available (my google-fu is failing me this morning.) New York Times Bestselling author Jamie Ford attended this boot camp in the past and credits it with jump-starting his career. His latest book, Songs of the Willow Frost entered the NYT bestseller list at #11.

Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop is another on my short list of cool workshops I want to attend. This one is specifically focused on teaching astronomy science to writers (so their science fiction is accurate AND entertaining.) It's in Laramie, Wyoming during the summer. They open for applications usually around the first of the year, with application deadlines in the March-April timeframe. I have applied and been rejected before, maybe 2014 will be my year? 

Clarion and Clarion West are two very well regarded 6 week residential writing workshops that take place in the summer. It's never been possible for me to even consider taking 6 weeks away from family to attend a program like this, but these programs are considered among the best in the industry.

For those with even more time, or anyone looking to pursue an advanced degree that would support them in their writing efforts, the 2 year Writer's Workshop at The University of Iowa culminates with the awarding of a Masters of Fine Arts degree. It is also a little less genre-focused, as I understand, compared to the others I've linked thus far. 

Writers Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch offer both in-person and online writing workshops. The in-person workshops take place in Lincoln City, Oregon. The term city is used loosely, this is a small beachside town on the coast about 2 hours west/south of Portland. It is a beautiful location. I've attended two workshops here, in part because I find the area inspirational. Their workshops are focused on the aspiring professional writer, not the beginner, and emphasize the business aspects of writing.

I have previously attended an online workshop called Writing on the Fast Track given by Mary Robinette Kowal. I highly recommend this workshop, but it looks like her remaining dates for 2013 are sold out. She and several other writers are offering an in-person writing retreat in June of 2014 that is worth considering, called Writing the Other.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Yet more evidence that collaborations are amazing

By now, you've probably heard that Sheena, Melanie, and I have a book coming out. You're probably tired of hearing us talk about it at this point. Oh, what's that? You're probably just saying that to be nice, but I'm going to take advantage of your niceness. Look at our cover again!

Fun game for new authors: walk down a busy street and "accidentally" drop your book*. When some kind stranger picks it up and tries to give it back to you, you can be all, "Why thank you, kind sir/ma'am! This is a very important book - look there, that's my name on the cover! It's a very excellent book available at all major retailers!"

My personal issues aside, the other thing you might be tired of hearing us talk about is collaboration. We've blogged about it once or twice. But now, only three weeks away from the publication of Alchemy, I couldn't help but share this post about a wonderfully inventive and imaginative collaboration (h/t to The Bloggess for the link):.

Collaborating with a four-year-old

Now,  if you do nothing else today, at least go read that link. Seriously, if you're low on time, ignore the rest of my post and at least go look at the pictures that the mom and her four-year-old created. They're beyond amazing and wonderful, and I sincerely hope the mom does go forward with her plan to create a story with all those creatures.

I think their end product, and the post the mother wrote illustrate some of the most important tips for creating a successful collaborative project.

1. The more different the collaborators, the more amazing the finished product can be.

2. Don't let preconceived expectations of where you think the project should go stifle creativity. Be flexible and open to new ideas.

3. Every once and a while, say yes to an unusual idea. It's very hard to give up full creative control, but it can be worth it.**

What are your favorite unusual or unexpected collaborations?

*Not recommended with e-readers.
**I'm still working on this. It really is hard!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Disney Channel and Body Images

We all know how TV and movies and even books usually feature thin, beautiful heroines, and we all know what kind of messages this inadvertently sends us.  I think most women have felt at some point in their lives that their worth measured by society is tied to their physical appearance.

 These messages come through loud and clear without explicitly being stated.  I know I have been affected by it, and the importance of beauty is embedded so deeply in me that I don’t think I will ever stop feeling inadequate in some ways for not measuring up to society’s narrow and unattainable view of beauty. 

 So Disney Channel, there is no need for you to send direct messages to our young, impressionable daughters that beauty is the only thing that is important.  Please stop doing that.

 My oldest daughter is moving away from cartoons to Disney live action tween shows.  She started with Good Luck Charlie which from what I've seen is pretty cute, and I have no problems with her watching it, but lately she’s moved on to two shows which I feel a little less comfortable with for many reasons beyond body image, but I’m only going to address body image here.

Quick run-down:  Jesse is a Texan girl who goes to New York to make it in the entertainment business (acting or singing not sure which) and ends up being a nanny.

I really don’t like this show for so many reason, but a big part of it is the many, many jokes about how some characters look and dress.  The worst being the very ugly rival nanny named Agatha, who’s rather mean-spirited, in contrast to the main girl Jesse who’s very beautiful and supposedly very sweet.  However, when Agatha and Jesse take jabs at each other, Jesse always puts down Agatha’s appearance rather than calling Agatha out on her bad behavior.  The heroine, Jesse, takes the low road to cheap laughs by making fun of Agatha’s snaggle tooth, calling her the beast in Beauty and the Beast, etc. (not exactly as “sweet” thing to do).  This constant focus on Agatha’s appearance (which she has no choice over) rather than her actions (which she does) is sending a direct message to our kids (especially girls).  That what we do isn’t as important as how we look, and if you are pretty, you are good and if you are ugly, you are bad. 

Not good.

Quick run-down:  Two teenage girls become dancers on a TV show called Shake It Up Chicago.
My daughter just started this one, but I haven’t seen as many problems as I’ve seen with Jesse (although that could change), but this one episode really aggravated me.  The two main girls imagine their future without each other, and each of them ended up as fat in their nightmarish futures.  Of course there were other issues of not having a great job or a husband (maybe, I can’t really remember), but the jokes that carried through the rest of the episode all focused on them being fat, like the worst possible future these girls could imagine was being a little overweight.  What kind of message is that sending to our daughters?  How does it make those girls who are a little overweight feel? 

I know these are just television shows, but when what is implied on TV is reinforced in real life, our impressionable, young children will internalize it.  I know, Disney Channel, you’re not the only one who is sending these messages to our daughters, but if you put a little more thought into your programming and stopped going for the cheap laugh, you could be that one bright spot on the television that does it right.  Think about it.


Monday, September 16, 2013

Cover Reveal- ALCHEMY by Sheena Boekweg, Melanie Crouse, and Sabrina West

"Do you want me to be dangerous?" he asked, his voice husky and low.
I gulped, and for a moment I was incapable of speech. But he was quiet, waiting. "No. I don't."
"Then I'm not dangerous at all," he murmured. His gaze moved from my eyes to my mouth. "You've never been safer than you are at this moment." I shivered as his breath tickled my skin. Our lips were mere millimeters apart when the sky shattered in a kaleidoscope of colored light. 

We didn’t know how much we had to lose until we were infected with magic. Sam was in love, Juliette was the main caretaker for her siblings, and Ana and her dad planned the best parties in New York. But we lost it all when we were shipped to Chebeague, an exclusive school for newly infected mages.

Everyone knows about the mages, those who survive the infection and end up with magical abilities. We’ve seen the power of magic, the high-paying jobs, and the world fame. But we never saw the cost. We didn’t know we’d be forced to give up everything: sanity, family, even the right to talk on the phone.

We didn’t know mage was just another word for prisoner.

Cover design by Boekweg Books

Add to goodreads!

Friday, September 13, 2013

How To Write A Book Review (for Beginners)

Reading StatueEvery now and then, I decide that my real purpose in life is to review books. I love books. Adore them. I can get so lost in their pages that it takes a supreme effort to drag myself back to reality. But a funny thing happens when I finally turn the last page--I don't know what to say about it. Other than "I loved it, loved it, loved it!" or "Bleh. It was OK."

Even if I find I have something of value to say, a quick trip to amazon or goodreads proves to me that everything of value has already been said by someone much more eloquent than I. By people who eat symbolism and thematic elements for breakfast. People who take the time to deeply inhabit the worlds of their books and yet still manage to read twice as many novels as I do.


It is enough to make a girl crawl back to her computer to churn out another novel, which suddenly seems easier by comparison. And yet, my dear friends, a review does not need to be a twenty page treatise on the class structure in Wuthering Heights in order to be valuable. It doesn’t need .gifs of Inigo Montoya from the Princess Bride in order to be accessible.


I'm telling you this for a very important reason. Less than one month from now, my first novel is being published. I hope you read it. I hope you love it. And I hope you review it. I need you to review it. Word of mouth and reviews are an indie author's most important marketing tools. There is no way for a novel to do well without it.


I suspect that most people just peruse book reviews anyway. They are looking for keywords that will tell them if this book will be a good fit for them. So--in case you get as freaked out by writing book reviews as I do, may I introduce Book Reviews 101. This is the simple version. If you figure out you love it and want to go the extra mile, there are definitely resources out there for you. But this is the way to show your support for your new favorite authors without it taking too much time.



How To Write A Book Review


The two main sites where I check for book reviews are amazon and goodreads. Both sites make reviewing a book fairly simple. Since amazon has one extra step (the title) I will use it as the example.

Step 1: 

It will ask you to give the book 1-5 stars. There is no option for zero stars, so 1 is as low as it gets.  This is the easiest part, but it is the most important. Many people look at the cover, read the blurb and look at these star ratings when deciding whether to buy a book.

1 star=I hated it, didn't finish it or wish I hadn't read it.

2 stars=I didn't like it.

3 stars=It is OK

4 stars=I liked it.

5 stars=I loved it!


Step 2 

Write a title for your review. Blerg. I have a hard enough time writing titles for my books, let alone for every single review. But don't let this get to you. Skip to the review, write it, and then pick out the best sentence to be your title. Or use some generic ones, like these:


1 star:

I couldn't finish it.

It was like watching a train wreck. Except boring.

*Except never say this, because it is rude. Always be polite. 


2 stars:

Not my cup of tea.



3 stars:

A good read.

I'm glad I read this.


4 stars:


A great book!

I'm hooked.


5 stars:

Can't wait for the sequel.

I couldn't put it down!

A new favorite.

Good stuff.

Not just for teenagers!


Step 3: 

Write the review

For amazon, the review needs to be at least 20 words. So don't get scared. Just think about what you would want to say to the author, or to another friend who recently read the book. Like:


"Did you finish it? You did! Oh my gosh..." The very next sentence that would come out of your mouth is what you want to write about in your review--minus the spoilers. Instead of "Could you believe it when Jace..." you could write:

"Jace is absolutely the sexiest character ever written. Pain-filled and funny. Isolated but loveable. A hero and yet vulnerable. Swoon."




"I wish I could go to Hogwarts."




"It was pretty lucky that they were the only people on the WHOLE PLANET who thought of going to the grocery store to stock up on food and medical supplies. This finally got so unbelievable I had to give up. I couldn't finish this book."


If you still don't know what to say, write about one of these things:

The characters. Who was your favorite character? Why? 
The setting. 
The imagery. The descriptions. 
The pacing of the plot. Was it so action packed that you couldn't put it down? Was it slow but enjoyable? 
The believability. When did you forget these characters weren't real? Or when did you roll your eyes and think "Oh, for crying out loud"?
How it reminded you of real life. Did it trigger memories for you? Did it take you back to your first kiss or the day you were bullied by that fifth grader? 
Your emotions. Did you laugh? Did you cry? Did you throw the book? Did you forget to pick up your kids? Did you set the book down and forget about it for weeks? 
The next book. Will you rush out and get it? Don't really care? Join the throngs of people waiting for its release? Wish there was going to be a next book? 

If all else fails, read some other reviews and see if they trigger an idea. Give writing your review a shot before you do this though. Your opinion matters, and so do your words.


When you are finished, click "preview your review". It will show you what it looks like. Reread it to check for mistakes and then click "Publish." That's all there is to it. 

You have done a valuable service for mankind. You have helped readers decide whether or not they will enjoy a book. You may have helped them to steer clear of something that would be a waste of their time and money. But hopefully, you have helped pump up your favorite author's sales so they can continue writing. 

Thank you for that.






Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Well Read

I love Melanie's reading lists. Nathan Bransford has recently been posting lists of books, too. He has one on the best selling fiction books of the last hundred years, and the best selling non-fiction books.

The list that caught my eye, though, was the one about the Gilmore Girls. I used to watch that show on and off, but somehow never realized that Rory Gilmore had read her way through over 300 books during the series.  Here's the list, just to see how you compare.

So, how many have you read? It opened my eyes up a bit to realize that I hadn't immersed myself in many of the classics (except Jane Austen, of course) since high school. It may be time to expand my repertoire.

And that got me thinking of some other lists that might be fun to read through:

The Newberry Medals - begun in 1922 to honor distinguished writing for children.

The Caldecott Medals - recognizes the best in art for children's books. I love so many of these books. One of my favorites is Tuesday, which I bought before I even had children because I knew someday, someday I'd love sharing it with my munchkins.

The Printz Awards - only around since 2000, this newcomer celebrates excellence in YA lit. Did you notice that Code Name Verity got an Honor this year? (Melanie, you're going to love, love, love it!)

The Authors Deck - and last, but closest to my heart, is the game, Authors. Have you played it? I used to think everyone knew this more complicated (and literary) version of go-fish, but came to find out that most had never even heard of it. My sister and I played this so much when we were little. I've read most of the books, but not all. Maybe this is the list I should start with.

Is there a method to your madness in the books you pick to read?


Monday, September 9, 2013

Starting Something New

Alchemy is done. There are still lines to dot, formatting and tenses to be considered, but all in all the book is done. And while we were taking a brief break after working full time on the story, I decided to play with another story.

I'm now 20,000 words in.

And I'm in love.

So I thought I'd share my...

 World Building/ Novel Jump Survival Parachute.

Or how I go from an idea to a first draft.

1. Join Pinterest.

Yes, in a way, this could be the biggest antiproductivity website since facebook, but when used for the forces of creativity, this is an awesome place to put your ideas, and hunt for inspiration. There are pictures in my waxling file that lead to moments, characters, and plot points in the text. There is beauty and creativity that wouldn't exist without me randomly pinning something a friend posted. This new book wouldn't exist without Pinterest. It's a great way to dive in, especially if you are planning on writing quick.

If you plan on doing nano this year, now might be a good idea to search for random inspiring pictures. Make an inspiration board, and then go to it whenever you're feeling blocked. Here's my waxling board. It's inspired the crap out of me, and I hope it adds to your creativity too.

2. Music. 

Working on Alchemy taught me the most helpful writing skill that I've ever learned. That is simply, how to write while listening to music. I was never able to do that before, but now, NOTHING shuts out my life, or my inner editor like my Spotify playlist. It is a constantly evolving thing and I'm not sure how to share it through blogger.( If you know, tell me in comments)

 But there's one song that starts out every writing day for me, and it's Counting Stars by One Republic. I listen to this song, look over my pinterest board, and write like the wind.

Go ahead and try to not be inspired. (it's safe for work, or young children)

3. Read poetry. 

For reals, yo. I've been really working on adding beauty to my prose, and nothing says beauty like poetry. I've been carrying around my grandmother's poetry book for the last few days, and whenever I have a bored moment, I pull it out and read something by Milton, Marvelli, or Shakespeare. Inspiring little magic moments.

It's magic in a different way too. My grandma is a poet, and her book has little notes written in pencil. Little tips, and study notes, and underlined words directly from her. I've been working on adding poetry to my prose by choosing a few of her underlined words. They are inspiring and beautiful and rare. Using them in my descriptions has made my writing beautiful.
My Grandma's work.

 Spiderwebs, haunted hallways, cacophony, symphony, illuminate, waxwork, have all found their places in my story.

4. Tell a love story without limits.

 Sabrina and Melanie can attest to this, but the hardest and most amazing part about working on Alchemy for me, was that I couldn't control all aspects of the love story I wanted to tell. Maybe it's just that restriction, but telling this love story has been extra fun.

I think sometimes we writers put limits on a love story. I know I have, and sometimes those limits are necessary, or else they'll make out and the story is over.

This story I'm telling has a love story that makes me smile. I think there's nothing wrong with writing love as hope. I've never really done that before. Usually I use love as a curse, at least until they find a happy ending, but in this one, love makes the darkness better. Love makes this story one I can't wait to dive back into.

I'm not saying you can't write dark dismal depressing love stories. You can. There's something so beautiful about that.

What I'm saying, is that I can't write darkness today. I wrote the first kissing scene in the book today, and it made my whole day curl it's toes.

Why not use the first draft to add joy? You can always add in more darkness later.

5. Forget perfection...

...and jump with your eyes closed.

It's a first draft, so no matter what I do, or how much I prepare, it isn't going to be anywhere near perfect.

But there's something so amazing about diving into a new story. There's something so freeing about knowing your writing can be fixed later, and right now you just have to tell a story, and meet new friends, and fall in love for the first time, all over again.

Happy diving.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

On Marketing and Matching the Message to the Story

Ender’s Game is one of my all-time favorite books. So you can imagine my excitement about the upcoming movie. I’ve been watching the process since the production company was doing open calls for battle school classmates of Ender back in the spring of 2012. I vaguely considered driving my battle-school aged son down to New Orleans just so he could have a chance to be part of this exciting work.

(image from I.F. Sentinal website - the official website for the Ender's Game movie.)
If you haven’t read Ender’s Game, warning: there will be spoilers. Sorry! The book’s been out since the 1980s, if you haven’t read it yet, what have you been doing? Read Ender's Game. Then read this.

Intense is the word for Ender's Game. Aliens have attacked Earth twice and almost destroyed the human species. To make sure humans win the next encounter, the world government has taken to breeding military geniuses -- and then training them in the arts of war... The early training, not surprisingly, takes the form of 'games'... Ender Wiggin is a genius among geniuses; he wins all the games... He is smart enough to know that time is running out. But is he smart enough to save the planet?

So you get the premise? Kid goes to Battle School, where, no big deal bro – we just want you to save the planet. This message unfolds to Ender as the book goes on. At first he is just really good at the games. He doesn’t understand how much the Powers That Be are pinning their hopes on him and him alone. How much they are manipulating things behind the scenes to shape him into the kind of fighter they need. How much he is a pawn.

Okay, you with me so far?

The movie previews I’ve seen (which you can find here) are excellent. Harrison Ford as one of the Powers that Be, amazing, right? The look is stunning, the young actor who plays Ender is convincing.

But the facebook marketing campaign? Oof. (They use the same content on Google+ if you prefer.)

It seems to me some marketing executive who has NEVER READ THE BOOK is writing marketing copy to accompany images from the film. And it’s killing me. One tagline reads: “From battle room to battlefield, he’s an underdog who finds a way to win.”

First, that smacks of something a freshman-level high school writing class may turn up. Second, underdog? The idea of an underdog is that it’s someone you want to root for, someone you want to see succeed. The really wild and tricksy part about Ender’s Game as a work of fiction is the way Orson Scott Card manages to get you, the reader, to a place where you’re wishing for Ender to FAIL, because you want him to not be manipulated anymore. You want him to break free of all the expectations and crap he’s been put through.

This tagline accompanies a new video preview on Instagram: “He'll risk everything to keep us safe.”

Look, I’m thrilled to see mainstream media embracing today’s social media tools like Instagram, but couldn’t they at least try to get the messaging right? Ender isn’t in this because he wants to risk everything. He’s been manipulated and shaped into a kind of killing monster, something which plagues him throughout this book and into other books in this series. He’ll risk everything because he wants to keep his sister, Valentine, safe. She’s all he’s fighting for. Which is a perfectly compelling and exciting element of the plot. Where is that messaging in the ad campaign?

To take this from the lala land of Hollywood to our own writing, here’s a fair point. We need to be aware of the kinds of messages our fiction carries. The important themes.

For some of us <ahem> discovery writers (aka “seat of the pants” writers), we don’t always know or recognize the themes and messaging of our stories until we’re done. And even then sometimes we need to take a step back or talk with others who have read the story to fully understand what people take away. But we need to do that, and we need to strongly consider these overarching messages when we’re building our own marketing materials or even just pitching our novels to agents, publishers, writing the blurb for the back of the book, etc.

We need to be clear on what the work is trying to accomplish, even if we have to reverse-engineer it and come up with this after the fact. What mismatches between what a book or movie is actually about and the marketing campaign that accompanies the work?

I know I, for one, will never again cavalierly write marketing copy without closely considering the theme and message of the work I'm writing copy for. After all. I'm the only hope I've got.