Saturday, January 31, 2009

Are You Judging Me?

The other day I was talking to a friend who received the results from a contest she had entered. Much to her surprise, the manuscript that had been named a finalist in one contest, scored near the bottom in another. How could this be?

I've thought about this a lot in the last few days and I think I have come up with a couple of reasons. Sometimes it is a matter of where you enter the contest. Several of the comments she received reflected the judge's unfamiliarity with occurences that were routine in the area where the story was written but a rarity in other locations. Finally, all judges bring their personal tastes to the table.

As the first phase of the Linda Howard Award of Excellence comes to a close, I would caution each entrant to review their comments with these two things in mind but also look further than your initial gut reaction. I now have two reads on the comments from the first contest that I entered. Immediately after reading the comments from my disappointing results I vowed to never return to a Southern Magic meeting--let alone enter another contest. Now, a year later, I've gone back to my critiques. I still take exception to the personal bias comments but I find that I must grudgingly admit that the comments about too much back story, and not enough dialogue in the opening were dead on accurate.

Don't let one contest's results stop you from entering another. Read the comments you receive, then put the critique away for a couple of weeks. When you read them later, look past the things that make your blood pressure raise and honestly look at your writing. I have, and now I think that it's time for me to enter another contest.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Facing the Giant

Many of us know the story of a young David facing the giant, Goliath with only three things in his arsenal: a slingshot, a stone and faith. And before he stepped out on that field of battle he said something very important: He'd killed the bear and the lion, surely he would have victory over this giant!

As writers we face our giants every day. They wear different names and faces. Fear. Discipline. Failure. Success. But, they all seem to be bigger and more powerful than us. Their very presense seems to taunt us , paralyzing our actions and thoughts, undermining our beliefs. Our giants become like that monster in the closet of our childhood. Soon, we're not even able to approach it without a pounding heart and a dry mouth. Simply put, they are terrifying.

But, as I've been told, courage isn't the absence of fear, but the resolve to do what you're afraid to do. I can't believe that David didn't experience at least some trepidation when he stood across from Goliath. He was human. But, David had a confidence born of faith. And he rehearsed it. He'd defeated the bear. He'd defeated the lion. He would have victory over this giant.

It's the same for us. I may fear rejection as I submit my manuscript to an editor. But, I can look back and declare with confidence that I've labored over my work with diligance. I've submitted to contests, blogs and newsletters. I'm not stating the editor will offer me a contract, but what I am saying is I faced my giant. I conquered the fear of rejection by not allowing it to hold me back from trying and pursuing a dream. A published author may have a fear of being a one-hit wonder. But, she too, can rehearse what she knows. She's submitted a manuscript to an editor. She's sold a book! Surely, she can submit another manuscript and sell again. And again. By acting in spite of her fear, she already has the victory regardless of the outcome.

Whether it's with a slingshot or a pen, the common element is faith. Faith will not only help you face your giant, but it will leave you the last one standing on your field of battle, your fist raised in victory.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Spice of a Story

Writing is like cooking.

You have the recipe (the plot) you throw in the characters (the main ingredients) and then you add the spices (action, emotion, and setting). The process of simmering is writing, then you adjust the spices as you rewrite.

What kind of spices do you use? Do you like the spicy ones like anger, suspense, danger, sex? Or do you use the sweet ones like humor, happiness, joy, and wonder? Maybe you prefer the odd flavors like the paranormal, quirky mysteries, odd adventures, or fantasy? Then there are the mild ones of setting, yearning, boredom, and confusion. (Note: you may look at these 'spices' differently, but you know what I am getting at)

What happens if you get characters that are always angry? It's hot and after awhile you just need to cool off-and you put it down. If you sweeten it too much, readers will also walk away. As we write, we adjust. The trick is to balance it, so the reader keeps reading and you keep writing!

I find I like my stories to be spicy, with dark undercurrents (much like a fine wine with a zesty meal).

Lately, I've been re-reading a favorite author of mine that provides the right type of story I like, Anne Bishop and her "Jewels of the Blood" series. Very nice! Other authors that come to mind are Charlaine Harris, J.R. Ward, Susan Sizemore......I could go on.

What kind of "Spice" do you like and what author do you read that provides it?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Inspire me

I admit it. I didn’t realize I was supposed to talk today.

Since I had nothing prepared, let’s talk movies again. Last time, I wrote about the movie, Once. This is a story about two people who share the love of music. Okay, so they don’t end up happily ever after (maybe a little too realistic for those of us who want to see them get the dream AND the girl/boy!)

We write about romance and love because we love those satisfying endings. I also love the inspiring stories like Cinderella Man, where the hero (in this case), with the support of his loved ones, is able to attain his dream against the most insane obstacles. I’m addicted to these inspiring stories.

Cinderella Man, the story about boxer Jim Braddock (Russell Crowe rocks in this role!) is easily one of the best movies I’ve seen. And it’s about boxing! Go figure! To see the amazing things people are capable of doing when backed against a wall, I can’t help but be inspired. Ultimately, stories like these keep me going on my trek toward publication. With perseverance and support, anything is possible.

What keeps you going?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Taming of The Shrew

Like most writers I enjoy a hot alpha hero with a bad reputation and a badder attitude. But there’s a new boy in town. He’s the "good" boy that's gone wrong. He's a new type (or resurgence like some prefer to say) alpha hero popping up in books lately. He does all the right things, have parents who love each other, go to the right schools, have the right jobs and make some righteous money.

But along comes the new evolved alpha heroine. Yeah, you heard me. ALPHA HEROINE. She didn't have great parents, or go to the right schools. She might or might not sleep around. If she does, she chooses the guy and the time. Most times she has no need for a steady man and when one catches her eye, he has to own a bigger brass pair than she does. Some might call her a bitch but it's because she knows her mind and others don't know how to take her. She’s successful on her own terms.

When you have a good ol’ boy and the bad ol’ girl get-together, fireworks are certain. It’s a bit like the Taming of the Shrew. (Love that story – the most recent version is my favorite teen flick, Ten Things I Hate About You.)

Yeah, it’s a different world out there and we love writing all about it.

What are some of your favorite twists on character types?

And now for one of my favorite scenes from the movie and in remembrance of the man, we lost him a year ago today...


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Query This

There's been quite a bit of discussion on a couple of agent blogs recently about whether it's okay to have someone else write your query letter. (You can check it out here.)

I have mixed feelings about this.

On the one hand...
1. How could someone else possibly pitch a book if they haven't read it?
2. What if the editor/agent on the receiving end passes? Will the novel author blame the query author?
3. We're all told that your query letter should represent your voice and the character of your novel. How can that happen if someone else writes your letter?

And the other hand...
1. A successful query letter requires a completely different kind of writing from that used in novels. If you know someone who excels at this, wouldn't it be smart on your part to elist their aid?
2. The editor/agent does not want to buy a query letter; he/she wants to buy a book. So why should it matter if someone different wrote the query?

As with most things, I'm going to slide right down the middle on this. I think it's important to write my own query letters. But if I knew someone who was a query-letter-writing genius, I'd be a fool not to tap into that resource.

Thoughts?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Why I'll Stick To Mr. Hunk

Friday, January 16, 2009

Creatures of Habit

It seems like the New Year brings on moments when we become introspective. Many of our blogs lately have been about self awareness and self improvement. This blog, indirectly, is one of the same.

Have you ever noticed that we tend to return to the same seat each month when we attend a Southern Magic meeting? In fact, when I go somewhere in a car or bus with other people I always return to the same seat. What's up with that? The answer is easy. We are creatures of habit. We take comfort in knowing that we are in "our" seat. It is familiar, we know how the rest of the room looks from this vantage point, and lo and behold the same people that sat next to us last month are probably sitting there this month. It feels good, it feels normal and we're comfortable. When someone inadvertently takes my "place" I feel momentarily uncomfortable.

Now, this is where the self improvement comes in. If, I apply the same principal to writing for the same amount of time each day, then this should become routine too. It seems simple. I will be more ten times more productive because, after all, I am a creature of habit. What do you think?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Looking Through the Glass Darkly

I discovered something about myself recently.

I like to be liked.

Now this may seem really simple and you’re probably having a “Duh, so what?” moment, but it’s really not as simple as it sounds. Yes, I like to be liked. But, it’s a little deeper than that. I like to be accepted by people. I’ve looked towards others for my validation and I tend to take what I perceive as rejection very personal. Am I getting too naked, yet?

You might want to close your eyes then, ‘cause I’m really stripping now!

I’ve left jobs, given up on relationships, even stopped going to church for a while because of the reasons above. For someone who isn’t a lover of change, you wouldn’t believe it from looking at my past and seeing all the changes I’ve been through! And why? As painful as it is to admit, it’s because I believed the people weren’t nice or I wasn’t accepted or appreciated. While one or two of those changes were valid, most were because of my hurt feelings.

As a Christian, I believe that my identity is rooted in Christ and I should be a perfect reflection of Him. If so, then why have I based who I am and my value on other’s opinions, moods and views? It’s not easy for me to admit this, but it’s true. But, I’ve—no pun intended—identified the issue. So, once again, I’ve made up my mind to…change. Not a resolution for the new year, but a renewing of my mind regarding who I am and how I see myself.

I decided to blog about this for two reasons. First, accountability. I’ve put myself out there, so it’s harder to backslide when others know. And two, I had to consider writing, or more specifically, becoming a published author. How will I handle rejection, revisions, reviews and even insults if how I view my worth is rooted in other’s opinions? I’d drive myself insane trying to conform! Or better yet, will I see a constructive revision and criticism as a personal rejection? Why do they want to change my work? Do they not like my voice or my writing style? Do they not like me? Or what happens—because it’s inevitable— when I fail or don’t final in a contest or am rejected? I would be utterly crushed before I even shot out of the starting gate. My work could be Terry McMillan-brilliant, but if my foundation, my self-image, my identity is grounded in something as fickle as an opinion, I’ll sabotage myself. When (and I’m so confidently stating when) the goal to publication is achieved, I want sweet success that has no sorrow added to it. But, first, I have to have a renewing of the mind and heart as painful and naked as that may be. As you may have guessed by now, this isn’t a blog where I have all the answers by the end, because I don’t. I’m a work in process. And that’s okay.

The key words there are “in process”.

Monday, January 12, 2009

All the Parts Make a Whole

Synergy

I love this word.

Synergy is many parts working together to make something stronger or better.

As a writer, the basic task of putting it down on paper is a solitary one. No one does it for you. Only I can write my story. Only you can write yours.

Still, writing involves the use of many parts, many people. Some of them are fellow writers, but others are friends, family, and even the reader you never meet. All of these things work together to make you a stronger writer, to make you who you are.

There are many roles of these other 'parts' and they include:
  • Listeners. They are very important because they hear the whole process, the idea, and the beginning of your plotting. They endure your rants at the moments you get stuck in the story. They tolerate the fact that the first time you told the story and what you write is completely different.
  • Planners. They help you plot. They point out loop holes and talk you through what kind of motivations your characters have. They point out that maybe, just maybe, that killing someone by extreme boredom is not the most riveting of plot points for your story.
  • Readers. These are your trusted people. They read that horrible first draft, then the second, and every single one you change. They tell you if the story confuses them, or if it even bores them (again, they must be very trusted). They also tell you if they like it (and not just because they know you and like or love you!)
  • Commiserates. These are the ones that celebrate with you, the good (you got a request), the bad (you got rejected for the 50Th time), the ugly, (you forgot to save the crucial chapter 10, when your computer crashes and you lose it...forever).
  • Task Masters. They hold you accountable, they ask you if you've done your word count (Hopefully, not on a day from hell, when your kids are sick, your car blows a tire, and the bill you thought you paid last month, never got mailed). On the flip side, you are their task master too.

There are more people that are involved in your writing, but all of them (even if they don't know each other) all work together to create --you, as a better writer. It is their interest, encouragement, tactful criticism (hopefully), and friendship that gets you through those moments you want to give up.

It is this synergy, that makes me, a writer.

Do you agree with this? What do you think makes you a better writer?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Once

I’ve decided to start analyzing other creative works since I’m sick of looking at my own. There’s a movie that’s been out for sometime entitled, Once. Has anyone else watched this movie? Not only does it have great music (won an award, I believe), but it’s very uniquely done. I loved it. My husband and I talked about it after watching it and decided the movie’s point revolves around the title. “Once” can describe numerous things about this wonderful piece of work, depending on your perspective. It’s a story about creativity and passion (for music mostly) and I love how the main characters have such extraordinary gifts when it comes to music but both have the most mundane jobs possible.
For those who have watched this movie, let me know what you think. Did you like it? Hate it? If you haven’t watched it, I recommend you do. Then come back over to the blog and tell me what you think. Three stars? Five?

Thursday, January 08, 2009

A Man Ahead of His Time - History Tidbit


When I get lazy and don't want to think up some interesting blog, and not the bland stuff I place on my own blog, this is what I'll do. This is one of my history tidbits I did in 2004. Hope you'll enjoy it.

Your older brother "encouraged" you to leave Normandy and claim your right to the estates and earldom of Leicester. The nobles cried foul when you secretly married into the royal family. Your brother-in-law appointed you to be the seneschal of Gascony, then called you traitor when you proved you were too good at your job.

You are?

Simon de Montfort (1208?-1265) led the English barons against his brother-in-law, Henry III. He established a council comprised of knights and burgesses to advise the king. This was the groundwork of what later will become the modern day Parliament.

Simon’s wife was, Eleanor, the beautiful and youngest sister to Henry III. Their marriage was considered to be a love match.

During the 1200s, silks, satins, and velours were imported for the first time from the East.
For those that enjoyed A KNIGHT’S TALE movie may recognize the name Ulrich von Lichtenstein. The actual person lived in 1200s and was a poet and well-known jouster. If his opponent broke three lances on him, he would award them with a gold ring. He gave away 271 rings.

Though I love this period in history, I'm so glad I didn't live then. Wouldn't mind visiting, but not living there. Do you have a favorite time in history?

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Who Gets The Big Buck In The Publishing World

I read an article in The Wall Street Journal this weekend that talked about how the major publisher are paying big bucks and taking big risks even in these economically hard times. At first, I was excited to see a headline that said publishers are still stepping up then I read the article.

To sum it up, it basically said that the publishing industry is taking a hit and sales are down. The bright side of the article was not a bright side to me. The writer went on to say that publisher are taking risk with huge multi million dollar deals on some first time writers in the hopes that they would be the next blockbuster or Harry Potter epidemic. However, I noticed the first time writers mentioned were ALL celebrities.

Now don't get me wrong, I never imagined I would sign a multi-million dollar deal with my first book. Hey, I just want to get published. What bothered me about the article is that it made me really stop and question if a publisher or agent is going to want to gamble on little unknown me when money is scarce and book buyers are scarcer. It was already hard enough to break into the world of the elite published before the economy started its descent, but now I wonder if it will be even harder.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Is Time Changing?

Although it is a New Year it isn't daylight savings time yet--or at least I don't think it is already here; but I may be wrong.

It seems, that I have somehow lost track of time. When I was a child, it seemed like it was an eternity between Halloween and Christmas. I patiently watched the calendar, willing the holidays to come. It was never quick enough. Now, I am holding on to Thanksgiving, pleading for a few more days in November, before sliding headfirst into the New Year, with barely a nod at Christmas.

Where did the year go? It seems like it was just Easter. Now, it is a new year and a whole new opportunity to start all over again.

I'll not bore you with my resolutions. I'll try my best to keep them, but suspect that the 20 lbs following me around will still be there next year at this time. Still, I do have one goal that will enable me to fulfill all my others. I WILL TRY TO LIVE IN THE MOMENT.

I am resolved to live each day to its fullest, avoiding distractions and savoring what each hour brings. Like a child, I will live in the NOW. This is my promise to myself this year. If I am successful, if I am not distracted, and if I can concentrate on what is happening at any given moment, I should be able to accomplish many things.

I am hopeful about what this year will bring. I will not look beyond what I am doing at the present, looking forward to something down the road and ignoring what's happening today. I will savor the experiences at hand like a fine wine meant for sipping.

I think I will find, by doing this, that time doesn't speed by without my notice. It merely moves along at the same rate all through the year. Perhaps, I will even find myself impatiently waiting, during the time after Halloween, for Christmas to appear, just like I did as a child.