Thursday, November 12, 2009

Tipping the Balance: Writing the Query Letter

For the aspiring writer seeking representation, there's never been a more information-rich environment than now. Blogging agents post exactly what they're looking for, provide examples of query letters, and tweet about their pet peeves. For some writers, this is glorious. For others, overwhelming.

I am not here to provide tips or examples of query letters. Better women than I have done so for you. Sites that I have found particularly helpful include the following: Peruse them, study them, examine them. And, of course, feel free to add more sites or links or advice in the comment section.
  • Kristen Nelson: the rest of the examples are on right-hand side column under Agent Kristin's Queries: An Inside Scoop
  • Lynn Flewelling's query letter on the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America site.
  • Both Janet Reid's blog and her Query Shark site, which includes the following advice.
    • Just so you know: a query MUST contain:
    • 1. Who is the protagonist?
    • 2. What choice does s/he face?
    • 3. What are the consequences of the choice?
  • Charlotte Dillon's website contains samples as well
What I would like to do, however, is pass on some advice I garnered from a talk that Catherine Fowler gave at a conference this past year. Although the Redwood Agency is looking for "for high-quality, nonfiction works created for the general consumer market," literary agent Catherine Fowler provides invaluable advice for any author looking for representation.
  • Do your research: know similar titles and prove that there is a market for your work. If you haven't read anything recently, do an Amazon search, then skedaddle to the nearest library. You really do need to know what's going on out there. Don't forget Donne: No man is an island.
  • Read acknowledgements in similar titles and add to your notes on possible agents or contacts. You might also then reference the book in your query. (Well, unless it's Harry Potter or Twilight or something too obvious.) Agents work hard to get books published, and they don't take on work unless they really believe in it.
  • Reference recent New York Times "hot topic" articles and write, "As evidenced by a recent article..." This lends credence to you and proves you're willing to do the extra work, be informed, and actually care about what's going on in the "real world." Why is this important? Well, as you already know, the writing world is chock full of writing prima donas who insist their novel is "art" and should be taken for what it is: inspiration.
  • Compare & contrast: Yes, you want to prove that there are similar books out there, but you don't want to leave it at that. Twist it around and show what's unique and different. Explain how your Novel Y is like Novel Z, but then elaborate on how it is different.

Best of luck with your query letter writing endeavors. And do let me know if you've been successful. I'm always up for posting Query Letters that Hurdled the Gate!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

About those Layers...

With references to Hurst's "The Scarlet Ibis", Golding's Lord of the Flies, and even Adam Sandler's Waterboy (1998), I manage to discuss structure, depth, symbolism, and oxygen -- all without breaking a sweat.

Join me over at the Adventures in Writing blog today and check out my post on Looking Past the Surface: Depth Beckons. In an entirely accidental post, I even give you lines like, "...and now if an oriole sings in the elm, its song seems to die up in the leaves, a silvery dust" (Hurst 1).

Ooooh. *shiver* I do love that line.

I meant to write about structure for all the NaNoWriMos out there, but depth beckoned...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Mentored Writing


We live in a strange new world where the concept of mentor belongs only in Vogler's book or in the body and spirit of Obi Wan. It's part mystery, part mystical, and we don't tend to ask many questions regarding its place in our lives. Why would we? It's only in books, yes?

But the idea of apprenticeship has been around a long, long time -- and even today there are fields of work where one becomes an understudy or an apprentice or an intern. My father, who is a union electrician, had to be an apprentice for five years in order to earn the title journeyman.

Growth is dependent upon many variables: attitude, awareness, motivation, and, most importantly, exposure to excellence. After all, the great Vince Lombardi once said that practice doesn't make perfect -- only "perfect practice makes perfect." Unless we study, mimic, practice, fail, try again, all on repeat, we never learn to walk. Why would writing be any different?

Acquiring a Mentor: I'm probably preaching to the choir here, but I whole-heartedly believe that mentorship is a vital part of becoming a better writer. It's important to find someone who is more skilled or experienced since the entire point is growth. (Caveat: Choosing someone who is leaps and bounds ahead of you will only frustrate you. Just as a beginning chess player wouldn't sit down to a match with Bobby Fischer, I wouldn't sit down with Lois McMaster Bujold. I'd probably just quiver uncontrollably as synapses starting shorting.) The paths to finding a mentor are many and varied, and I don't think there is only one way. Below are but a few options.
  • Select authors you admire and study their work.
  • Get recommendations from other writers, editors, and agents regarding books on writing.
  • Involve yourself with an on-line writing community and immerse yourself in the dialogue.
  • Join or start a f2f writing group: "as iron sharpens iron"
  • Peruse the blog/website of an author who's just been published; they're often willing to share what they've experienced on their own journey.
Becoming a Mentor: (It's a two-way street, baby.) This is probably the less accepted half of the whole mentorship cookie, but I endorse it passionately. It's a widely held belief in the education world that you don't truly learn something until you've had to explain it to someone else. Even more than that, however, I believe that within the act of mentoring lies a world of opportunity for everyone involved. Not only are you putting karma chips in your karma piggy bank, but you are learning and growing and developing through the process as well. I know it sounds paradoxical, but it's true. As you mentor, your own ideas, thoughts, and beliefs begin to solidify in a way that defies comprehension. You discover examples that stand as evidence to your knowledge and experience and journey. You also discover your weaknesses and areas of murky understanding. It's powerful.

Mentoring starts most often with friendship. And you don't announce that you're the mentor or that you're looking for someone to mentor. That's arrogant and cheesy. Often someone will seek you out. That's what happened in the teaching field for me.
  • On-line social networking: within the same network where you found your mentor, it's like that you can find someone looking for a mentor.
  • On-line and Face-to-Face writing groups: there are undoubtedly varying degrees of experience and skill within your own writing group.
  • Blogs: it's easy to find aspiring writers and their blogs. Um. Hello. Did anyone find me yet?
I'm sure there are many more ways that mentors or mentees can be found. Any ideas?

To give credit where credit is due, I came across this concept of having and becoming a mentor in my devotions years ago. For those of you familiar with the New Testament, the idea was to find a Paul and a Timothy. The idea stuck with me because it's a powerful one, one that can and should be applied to many areas of our lives. For example, I have certainly chosen a mentor and have chosen to mentor within the education world. It's only made me a better teacher.

What is your experience? Do you have a mentor? Do you mentor others?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Tuesday's Post: Same but Different II

Don't forget that on Tuesdays you can find me over at Adventures in Writing. Today I write about that ever elusive "same but different" concept.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Meet Linda Weaver Clarke: An Interview

Book Give-Away!

[Author's Note: Linda is graciously offering the first book of this series to one of my blog readers! An award-winning novel and a semi-finalist for the Reviewers Choice Award, this is the perfect book for this occasion. In order to be selected, make sure your comment or question for Linda is thought-provoking, pithy, or amusing. I will select the comment or question on October 1st.]

Interview with Linda Weaver Clarke:

I am delighted to announce this special interview with author Linda Weaver Clarke! Not only does she provide a look into the research aspect of writing, but she encourages us all to ground our work in the details of life, those experiences unique to us and our circumstances. Thank you, Linda, for taking the time to join us today for this interview.

Give us a brief overview of your journey as writer into the world of publishing. When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? How long did it take to finally commit to the dream? How did you eventually get published?

It all started with writing my own ancestors’ biographies. Their experiences were so intriguing that I turned them into a variety of interesting stories for my children to read. After I finished that job, I couldn’t stop writing so I turned to historical fiction. Since my ancestors’ stories were still vivid in my mind, I couldn’t help but add a few of their experiences to my fictional characters. After completing a five-book family saga, I decided to become brave and find a publisher. It took me a year to find one. I was told that was a miracle because it usually takes longer than that for many authors. After signing the contract, I realized my new adventures were just beginning.

David and the Bear Lake Monster is your fourth book, I believe. What was the first tickling inspiration for the plot? How long did it take from first impression to final product?

Each of my stories surround the Roberts’ family but I always like to add a bit of Idaho history. When I found out about the Bear Lake Monster, I did some digging and found that it was the most interesting part of Bear Lake history. In my research, I found that people really believe in this legend. The mystery of the Bear Lake Monster has been an exciting part of Idaho history ever since the early pioneers. Some people claimed to have seen it and gave descriptions of it. The monster’s eyes were flaming red and its ears stuck out from the sides of its skinny head. Its body was long, resembling a gigantic alligator, and it could swim faster than a galloping horse. Of course, it only came out in the evening or at dusk. Throughout the years, no one has ever disproved the Bear Lake Monster. A bunch of scientists tried to discredit the monster and said it was a huge codfish that was shipped in from the East but could not prove this theory.

In 1868, a man by the name of S. M. Johnson was riding his horse alongside the shoreline when he saw an object floating in the water. He figured it must have been a tree until it opened a gigantic mouth and blew water from its mouth and nose. Some time later, a group of twenty people spotted the monster and among these were prominent men of the community. Does the Bear Lake Monster exist? Whatever conclusion is drawn, this Indian legend still lives on and brings a great deal of mystery and excitement to the community.

It only took about three months to write. I already knew what my story was about but just needed some Idaho history. That was when I decided to add the Bear Lake Monster. Does David believe in the monster? Of course not! That’s why he’s bound and determined to prove that it doesn’t exist.

What is the synopsis of the book?

Deep-rooted legends, long family traditions, and a few mysterious events! While visiting the Roberts family, David finds himself entranced with one very special lady and ends up defending her honor several times. Sarah isn’t like the average woman. This beautiful and dainty lady has a disability that no one seems to notice. He finds out that Sarah has gone through more trials than the average person. She teaches him the importance of not dwelling on the past and how to love life. After a few teases, tricks, and mischievous deeds, David begins to overcome his troubles, but will it be too late? Will he lose the one woman he adores? And how about the Bear Lake Monster? Does it really exist?

What aspect of David and the Bear Lake Monster are you the proudest of?

My research! It was a blast. My great grandmother, Sarah Eckersley Robinson, was my inspiration. I wanted to use her experiences for my heroine to bring some reality into my story. As a child, she lost her hearing but she never let her deafness stop her from living life. I took a lot of her experiences from her biography and gave them to my heroine to bring some reality into my story. Once an intruder hid in her bedroom under her bed, thinking he could take advantage of her since she was deaf. He must have thought she was an easy victim but was sadly mistaken. She swatted him out from under her bed with a broom, and all the way out of the house, and down the street for a couple blocks, whacking him as she ran. What a courageous woman! Because of my admiration for my great grandmother, I named my character “Sarah.”

In my research about the “hearing impaired,” and talking to a dear friend who became deaf in her youth, I became educated about the struggles they have to bear. It was a surprise to find out that some struggle with the fear of darkness. I didn’t realize that concentrating on reading lips for long periods of time could be such a strain, resulting in a splitting headache. After all my research, I found that I had even more respect for my great grandmother and her disability. What a courageous woman!

In your talks and reflections, you have stressed the importance of creating conflict and emotion in writing: What strategies can you offer my readers on these key ingredients to a great plot?

Emotion is the secret of holding a reader. When you feel the emotion inside, so will your readers. By giving descriptions of emotion, it helps the reader feel part of the story as if he were actually there himself. But remember: Show, don’t tell. If a villain challenged your character and he didn’t have a weapon, how did he feel deep down inside? If he were faced with an angry grizzly bear in the wild, how did he react? These are questions that you must research. Read about other people’s accounts, so you can adequately describe your character’s feelings during a situation.

Here’s an example. When I was writing Jenny’s Dream, I added Old Ephraim, a ten-foot grizzly bear from Idaho history. He was also known as Old Three Toes because of a deformity on one foot. He was a ferocious beast. He wreaked havoc wherever he went, slaughtering sheep and calves, and scaring sheepherders so badly that they actually quit their jobs. With one blow of his paw, he could break the back of a cow. He bit a thirteen-foot log, twelve inches in diameter, into eleven lengths as though they had been chopped. He also bit off a six-inch aspen limb in just one bite, which was nine feet and eleven inches above the ground. I found that he was the smartest bear that ever roamed the Rocky Mountains. No one could catch him. Every bear trap they set was tossed many yards away from where they had put it, and the ones that weren’t tripped had Old Three Toes tracks all around it. He was too smart to be caught. It took one man that could outsmart this bear: Frank Clark from Malad, Idaho! In this story, I included every detail about this bear and his deeds. Since my story is historical fiction and my hero is Gilbert Roberts, I renamed this grizzly “Old Half Paw,” in honor of “Old Three Toes.” Since I have never been in this situation before, I had to do some research. I learned what it was like to be approached by an angry grizzly by reading people’s accounts, including Frank Clark’s. Conflict makes an interesting story and is hard to put down. The reader wants the hero to win.

What writing quirk of yours makes your family smile?

I didn’t know the answer to this question so I called my daughter Alaina and asked her. She said, “In all your stories, you have female independence. They don’t take guff from anyone.” My daughter Serena said, “You tend to base your characters on family members and their personality.”

How has your family background and/or childhood flavored your writing?

My background has flavored my stories a lot. I was raised on a farm, so adding bits and pieces about farm life was easy for me as I wrote about the Roberts’ family. I could see Jenny dancing in the meadow near her parent’s home, feeling free and unfettered from life’s problems. Since I had done it myself as a child, I could picture Jenny doing this, too. Also, having six daughters has really flavored my stories. I tend to add family experiences to my stories. My daughter Felicia wanted to go fishing with us one day so we took her along. After watching her dad catch one fish after another, she became worried and asked her father to let them go because they were suffering and wanted to be with their family. She even asked me, “How would you feel if you couldn’t see your family ever again?” Then she begged, “Please tell daddy to let them go.” The story was so precious that I added it to my book, “Melinda and the Wild West.” Another time Felicia had tied some pans to her feet and was clomping around the house. The noise was unbearable so my husband said, “Seize and desist from all this noise!” She finally took them off but I just had to add it to my book. Yes, a person’s life does tend to flavor your writing.

What advice do you have for published authors who need more exposure or PR assistance?

Interviews on radio stations, TV stations, or even on blogs is great. People get to know you as a person and what you write. Let libraries know that your books are available or even give them a book. That’s important because people will read your books at libraries. If they’re interested enough, they’ll buy them. Getting out in the public’s eyes and giving lectures is very important, too. Thank you, Alex. I really enjoyed this interview.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tackling Eliahna

Thank you, everyone, for your brilliant advice regarding the tedious Eliahna. Not only have I (hopefully) resolved this character issue, but I've written about the process (& your help) over on the Adventures in Writing blog.

Just a reminder that every Tuesday you can find me there -- but don't just visit on Tuesdays. Every day is a treat since each is filled by a different delightful and skilled writer.

Here's to you, dear ones. Many, many thanks.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Ennui: Writer Style

Okay, so I don't talk about my WIP so much, but I do want to ask a question of all the lovely writers meandering through this blog on occasion:

Do you ever tire of a character?

See, I've a highly organized WIP, which means I've been planning and strategizing and outlining (while still leaving room for creativity, I assure you) for great deal of time. When I finally started writing the novel, it poured forth. It's still pouring forth. (*Knock on wood*) Life is good; no complaints.

Except for Eliahna. She is vital to the plot. But every time I write a scene with her in it, I feel careless, bored, like I don't want to write. Every other scene writes itself. Scenes with the dear girl plod along -- I can barely make a thousand words in a sitting.

Have you ever experienced something like this? What did you do? Did you plow through or throw her out? Any suggestions?

In the meantime, I think I'm going to beat her up rather badly so that I at least feel sorry for her...

Friday, September 11, 2009

I Am a First Responder

In pace leones, in proelio cervi.
In peace, they are lions; in battle, deer.

I fell in love with today's Latin proverb (provided by the ever-gracious Laura Gibbs). I tried to put a positive spin on the pithy thought [peace time brings the regal bearing; battle reveals the deft speed], but in reviewing Gibbs' post on the subject, gravity prevailed. Deer are proverbially cowardly.

If you know anything about deer (in the forest; not those populating your lawn, nibbling your begonias, or whatever they do in (sub)urban areas), you know they're skittish beyond belief. They'll blow and dart away --> if they're bucks -- those great regal creatures with the curving, pointed antlers -- they blow once, maybe twice, and then scram for the next county. Maybe even the next state. If they're does, they'll blow a dozen times, run, stop, turn around, and blow some more, before running off for the hinter lands.

This is such typical human behavior. Oh, I pray it's not mine. Makes me think, though. And you? Do you know anyone like this? All bluster, no blow? Can't walk the talk? When push comes to shove, they skedaddle?

I don't want to be a writer like this. I don't want to be a human like this. I guess I want to walk softly always, stand strong when duty calls, bend with willow-strength when required.

On this day, especially, strength and valor and heroism seem so important, so worthy a goal, so difficult to attain. On this day, especially, I remember those who refused the easy way out, those who did the right thing, the hard thing, the thing which required their all.

Anthony is right: the only way to honor such sacrifice is to be a first responder.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Query Inspiration Strikes

I haven't got a bloody clue, but somehow inspiration struck with a vengeance last week. I've nearly completed my new query letter and I am 100% (or more) happier with the results.

It occurred to me -- amidst your many and varied and encouraging comments -- that my query said nothing, whatsoever, about the actual plot.

In fact, it read like any young adult fantasy; nothing set it apart. Truly. Curses, ghostly figures, talking cats, magical potions -- all things currently littering the YA fantasy world. Ad nauseum.

But I didn't mention the historical angle at all: the Mongolian intrigue; the Papal letters; the explorers who never returned from the Silk Road. I didn't mention my own creations: the Sylvan, a shape-shifting creature who mind-melds with humans, taking on their personalities and characteristics, or Xavier, a renegade priest who discovers the secret of eternal life, sentencing his followers to centuries of service. I didn't even refer to the Lady of the Lake, who makes a brief appearance and is somehow romantically linked to Maryn, the talking cat -- who isn't at all what he seems (who among us are?) and has more to hide than young Kalen can discover.

No. I didn't mention any of this. I simply talked about the ho-hum and the known, leaving what makes my story unique a complete and total mystery. And I wondered why no one snapped up my query? Yikes.

So, I'm not blue. I'm furiously composing. And I will soon be taking the agent-world by storm. Once moore. : )

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Query Letter Blues

Confession Time: I've come to the conclusion that my query letter sucks.

As detailed in an earlier post, Elizabeth Lyon holds to the 30% rule: if you don't net a 30% return on your queries, re-write the dang thang. After all, it's your query letter that stinks, not your novel...

So, I've sent out 10 queries, and I've received four polite, kind, and professional rejections so far. The good news is that the turn-around time was pretty swift. The other good news is that I haven't yet received the full 10. And the final good news is that when I've received that eighth rejection, I'll know that I need to re-write my query.

In the mean-time, I'm contemplating posting my query here and asking for your professional opinions. On the other hand, I'm not certain how that would be perceived in the publishing world -- and although I am a newbie, I don't want to act like an amateur...especially if there are negative consequences for such openness.
What to do?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Short Cut Dangers

[Author's Note: This post addresses not only my writerly view but also my world view. As in, a belief that informs my daily life.]

Today it occurred to me that there ought to be a warning sign for aspiring writers: Do not take the short cut.

It's not that short cuts do not exist. They do. In fact, there are many, it seems, who can attest to this fact. And it's not that short cuts in and of themselves are bad. They're not; they simply exist. And it's not that in a fit of mad querying I've turned slightly green at those who've found the short cut, bypassing the long line of weary travelers, and attained the golden crown of publishing. I haven't; at least not yet.

It's just that I believe in the power and energy of the long way, the narrow path, the school of hard knocks, the lesson of the journey over the destination.

That deduction could be a cop-out. Or an excuse. Or justification for yet another rejected query.

But it's not.

In a Literary Lab post on Pain, Gain, and Avoiding Both, Scott G.F. Bailey writes,

"...the longer-term benefit is that we become better writers when we struggle and suffer and fix our mistakes. Usually, we learn enough to not make that particular mistake ever again, which saves time and effort the next time we sit down to write."

Of course, to take his quote out of context, not only does the struggle improve the writer-in-training but it also improves the character-in-training. As in the character of a man or woman's soul. And how noble is that? (After all, for what other purpose do we wander here on planet Earth?)

What prompts this introspective contemplation? A look backwards, actually. Where was I a year ago? Two years ago?
  • A comparison between my first (two-page, single-spaced) query letter and today's (three paragraph) leaner, tighter, meaner version.
  • A comparison between my first tedious and meandering synopsis and today's streamlined and focused version.
  • A comparison between my first big-on-idea, short-on-connecting-threads novel and today's completed (60,000 word YA urban fantasy) novel.

Does it mean I've arrived? Heavens no! I'm still on this journey. But when I realize the amount of knowledge I've gained, the skills I've acquired, and the mental synthesizing of great gobs of publishing voodoo, I'm -- quite frankly -- moved to amazement.

Thus, I have to say that I'm thankful for the journey. And gratified beyond belief that I didn't find the short cut. After all, it would be so bloody embarrassing if that first attempt at spinning YA brilliance had been published.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Resolution Resolve

It's time for the mid-year check-up. Nope, I'm not talking vision or dental or even blood pressure. I'm not talking about taking your car in for an oil change. (Hmmm...that reminds me...) I'm talking about New Year's Resolutions.

What? in August?

Hear me out :)

Every January, whether formally or informally, written in ink and signed in blood or off-the-cuff, wink-wink, here's-what-I'm-thinking brain clouds, most of us resolve to be better people. Some of us are even serious about it. Although cliched and hyped, the truth is simple: reflecting upon where we've been and where we are and where we want to be helps us to achieve our goals.

So where are you? Come January, many writers resolve to be better writers. Or send out 100 queries. Or land a book deal. Or pound out 1000 words a week. And you? What was your New Year's Resolution?

I, on the other hand, made no writerly goal. At least not one I put into print. Instead, I decided that I wanted a six-pack.

Sadly, I must publicly admit that I will not be posting my own abs this coming January, as previously indicated. Looking on the bright side, I am maintaining a decent exercise program and spending a great deal of time hiking or in the gym. Life is good.

But Why do Resolutions Fail? Here are some of my thoughts.

1. We don't set realistic goals: Actually, it's not the goal that's the problem. It's the fact that often we don't set up a series of mini-goals that lead to the ultimate goal. Creating a series of steps allows us to have regular victories, each one ensuring that we're one step closer to the goal. I didn't really do that: I simply created a work-out schedule that would lead me where I wanted to go -- but I didn't pre-determine any mini-goals or time limits.

2. We don't check in: Unless we set up regular and scheduled check points, assessing our growth and course of action, it's easy to get distracted. Formal or informal, it doesn't matter -- all that matters is that we consciously ask ourselves, Where am I in relation to my goal? What do I need to do in order to get back on the path or make the next mini-goal milestone? When I caught the flu last winter, I took two weeks off the gym and rested up. Although I got back into the gym afterwards, I wasn't as focused or as clear about my goal. I began to lose sight of why I had created the goal in the first place.

3. We self-destruct: Creating and maintaining a six-pack is hard work. Although I'm active and love the outdoors, I hate core work. And what did I do? I chose a resolution that would challenge everything I knew about myself. When the going got tough during those first few months, I'd give myself pep talks. But after awhile, and after the bout of flu, I started talking to myself like this: why do you want a six-pack? Who will even see it? After all, you don't wear revealing clothing. Why are you torturing yourself? You hate ab work. Hubby is so not worth a six-pack. I forgot why I wanted a six-pack and I convinced myself that it wasn't worth the time or effort. My work out mantra went something like: I hate this, i hate this, ihatethis, ihatethis. Not particularly effective self-talk, if you get my drift.

4. We are sabotaged: Either intentionally or unintentionally, our biggest fans are sometimes our biggest roadblocks. Ask anyone who's trying to lose weight: family, friends, and co-workers bring in snacks and always say, "Oh it's not going to make a difference. Take a bite." In the writerly world? "Oh come on, let's go to the movies: you can write later." Or, like my dear husband: A Six-Pack? *incredulous look* Wow, honey. That's a lot of hard work. Do you think you can accomplish that in a year? And, respecting my weight-lifter, totally hunky husband, I began to doubt myself and and my goal. Please understand: I do not lay blame at his feet; I simply think that it's important to be aware of possible but loving saboteurs...and then continue on our way.

So where are you? If you created New Year's Resolutions, how close are you to fulfilling them? Are you on schedule? Off the track? Thinking, "What Resolutions?"

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

WIP: To Discuss or Not to Discuss

[Author's Note: This post does not refer to pitching agents, practicing your pitch with fellow pitchers, or working out a complicated plot issue with a trusted colleague. It's really about yapping on, ad nauseum, about one's WIP. Seriously.]

Ever notice how two people in love just shimmer with it? They're completely attuned to one another; every thought, every caressing glance, every breath -- all ions, in fact -- reach toward their core of love. Even separated, their bodies turn toward each other, photosynthesis on steroids.

And when separated, the only conversation worth having revolves around the beauty or amazingness or dipped-in-AwesomeSauce-specialness of this Love.

I imagine each of us is equally in love with our WIPs. Or obsessed, as the case may be. It calls to us when we're driving down the street or washing dishes or playing Scrabble. Characters whisper sweet dialogue into our writer's ear. Plots thicken like grandma's gravy.

So just as lovers often do, we're tempted to talk about our passion.

And I'm reminded of my father telling me once that what is beautiful to one person is sordid to another. I think it was his attempt to cover that birds & the bees thing without getting too specific. But what sticks with me is this concept: just because I'm enamored with doesn't mean anyone else wants to hear about it.

When Douglas posted on our team blog about discussing one's WIP, I realized that when it comes down to it, I choose not to talk. Even when pressed, I tend to deflect the questions or change the conversation. I do this for several reasons, none of which are necessarily right -- just right for me.

Why I Don't Discuss My WIP

1. It's Unprofessional: I first heard this at a conference, but it rings true for me. If you run into an oft-published author, she won't rattle on about the intricacies of her latest plot. Why would she? She wants you to buy the dang book. And, frankly, it's boring trying to follow someone's retelling of a story. Contrary to what you may have heard, I have little desire to bore those I meet. Talking about the craft of writing, on the other hand, is a time-honored tradition. Chat away.

2. It May Jinx My Work: I don't tend to be superstitious, but I have noticed that once I discuss something plot-related, my energy fizzles. I've already told the story, so why take the time to write it down? It may seem a bit amateurish, but it's the truth. I don't like talking because then the magic is gone.

3. It's Freaky: I've met writers who freak me out. They talk about their characters as if they're real people, like they've just sat down to dinner with them. Some even talk about how demanding their characters are and how they know the story is finished because so-and-so isn't visiting anymore. Alrighty then. It's all well and good to get into the work; it's an entirely different thing to require psychiatric care. My philosophy? If writing is your therapy, great. Just don't share it.

So those are my rules. What works for you? What doesn't?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Structure Redux


Water stagnates. That's why it must be refreshed by an incoming source, and often, relieved through an outlet. Check out your local mud puddle or pond or size-challenged lake. Scum floats, slimy clogs of muck grow up from the bottom, and the water is clouded, full of silt and algae and general yuck.

By contrast, add movement or a brisk water source, and you are rewarded with fresh, clear water, good for drinking or irrigating or fishing or meditating.

I'm not sure how far I can carry this analogy, but my point is this: the writing community -- the writer's mind -- must continually be renewed. There are many ways, all of which have undoubtedly been discussed a million different times by various bloggers far more talented than I. My favorite renewal is via discussion and contemplation of those topics nearest and dearest a writer's heart.

So I just want to reach out to Lady Glamis and thank her for stirring the waters a bit in her latest post. My writerly self has succumbed to summer temptations and obligations, but this post on structure started me thinking things through again...reminded me why I was thinking the things I was thinking and where I wanted to go with those thoughts. If you haven't checked out her blog or this particular post, trot on over. It's well worth your time.

Special Bonus: I am excited and delighted to say that Brian McDonald dropped by her blog and commented a couple of times on the post! You'll have to mull over his additional insight and examples; he really is a master at this whole storytelling thing.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Writing Perks -- Complete Your Draft Contest

This morning, I opened an email from the winner of Cindy Pon's ARC, Lesley. Thanks to her, I now know about the "First Annual Complete Your Draft Contest." You can be a newbie, be published, be aspiring -- it doesn't matter. The only requirement is that you write :)

Curious? Head on over to Anne Marie's blog and sign up -- if you desire -- for a chance to earn prizes while you finish your WIP draft this June. You can be at any stage with your novel, it doesn't matter: the point is to get the words in!! There are gift cards and book prizes to be won as well as a query critique from NYT best selling author Angie Fox of The Accidental Demon Slayer and The Dangeous Book for Demon Slayers fame.

Not only do you get a little nudge for completing your book, but you could win a prize for doing so! Consider spreading the word on your own blogs. After all, the more the merrier!

Hop on over -- check out the rules and regs, prizes and kudos. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Synopsis Redux

If you haven't already checked out my post on writing the synopsis over at our team blog, Adventures in Writing, stop by.

It's not the post that's so fascinating, it's the dialogue in the comments section that you might find interesting, even helpful. And, truthfully? I'm looking forward to whatever further thoughts or insights you might add.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Why Do You Storytell?

Why do you write? No, really. I'm not talking about your need or your addiction. I'm talking about storytelling. Why do people tell stories? and why do we listen to or read them?

There are many reasons, it seems: the passing down of traditions, getting a message or lesson across, entertainment, even the act of helping a reader heal.

Brian McDonald, filmmaker and storyteller extraordinaire, maintains that we navigate our world via narrative. Without stories, we wouldn't know what to do, how to react, what to say. According to McDonald, we tell stories, essentially, for two reasons: survival and medicinal.

Stories that have survival information will replicate, spread like wildfire even, because buried within them are the key ingredients to our world navigation.

Medicinal stories send the message that you are not alone, you will get through this, and here, let me tell you how. Okay, so it's actually a survival message, as well, only a slight variation.

So really, most of our initial "reasons" could fit under the category of survival or medicinal. And entertainment? McDonald says that entertainment is merely the "taste" -- the true nutrients lie tucked within the depths of a survival story. The stories that continue to live are the ones that somehow teach us.

What about you? What do your stories tell or teach? What bits of survival information have you tucked into your plot? Do you show us how to navigate junior high lunch duty? survive basketball tryouts? persevere through vampiric nibbles? Do tell!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Last Sentence I Just Wrote

Jess Walter, author of Citizen Vince among other novels, spoke at the Write on the River keynote. He made us laugh and cry and think and consider our own definitions of success. And he encouraged to set our own standard and to live up to it, ignoring the world's version of "making it." Uppington has a great post on his thoughts and tips for writers here.

I looked Citizen Vince up on Google, intending to only read the first several pages. It sucked me right in, the voice gritty and hoarse from too many cigarettes but tinged with freshness, like this layer of oblivious innocence had sorta settled over the top of it.

And I read about "solitary figures beneath thought bubbles of warm breath and cigarette smoke" on page 6, and then "Vince looks up to the bar, where Beth is staring at him; she gives him a half smile, then looks to the ceiling, as if she's just let go of a nice thought and is watching it float away like a kid's balloon" on page 11 and I'm thinking, Wow. that is beautiful. simple. and beautiful.

And then I'm reminded of something he said on Saturday that was equal parts simple and beautiful, profound and quirky. He said, "I tend to like the last sentence I just wrote."

And it clicked for me. You have to love this vocation, but you also have to pour yourself into it, scratch out the imagery and carve out the sensory impressions and sift through thoughts for the perfect word or phrase or syllable. There's more to writing than simply telling a good story. There's a way of writing, a style, a slant that is completely your own, chock full of literary goodness, that must be written. We have to remain true to what sounds right. And smells right. And feels right. Maybe Patrick's right: maybe we call it Litstream.

Note: Citizen Vince is not only written in present tense, of all things, but it also won a 2005 Edgar Award for best novel. Go figure. :)

Splendid People

I'm a solitary person by nature. I think a lot of writers are --> we observe, ruminate, critique, consider, write. And write. And write. And write. (Unless you're a meta-dork, as recently unveiled in Anthony Pacheco's latest team blog post.)

But I thoroughly enjoyed meeting up with Uppington, Patrick, Dave, and unblogged John at Wenatchee's Write on the River Conference this past weekend.

I've lost five minutes of time just sitting here thinking about the conversations and laughs and dinner we shared. And, of course, the critical levels of insight...

I have no deep thoughts to offer you today (not that I do any day, now that I think about it) -- just a shout out to awesome and talented people. I'm a better person for meeting each of you. Thank you for that.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Certain Slant of Loss

It's funny how we often define ourselves externally. I watch my students parade by, all looking exactly like the friend behind and beside. These same students are the ones who claim they want to express themselves and be unique and pierce this or tattoo that or wear these rags or those name brands. And they claim they want to do it in order to be different. I think we are many times responsible for creating the box others place us in.

I am no different, I suppose. I am conscious about the name brands I don't buy. I choose fashions that are more timeless in nature so that I don't have to shop for new clothes until the old ones are bare thin. I gravitate toward earth or jewel tones and seek modest lengths and cuts. I wear fabrics I love to run my hands along. And my hair is long. Very long.

Or was.

It's funny how we often define ourselves externally. The graceful sweep of amber-burnt mahogany created a mask of sorts. The sedate lines hid my more exuberant self; the uncut, unbanged, unlayered edges hid the more modern straight-edge parts. I liked the person people thought they saw because it always reflected their innermost thoughts. I learned more about how they thought in how they chose to see me: hippy or traditionalist, tree-hugging liberal or cowed fundamentalist -- it didn't really matter, because I was a mirror instead of a painting. As a writer, I've always been more interested in how people think, what they see, how they perceive the world around them. Observation is key to capturing details.

Fourteen inches to Locks of Love. But my stylist didn't stop there. She clipped and snipped, razored and scissored. When she finished, I didn't know how to turn my head anymore. Or wash my hair. Or style it. My head felt foreign, a different shore I'd only landed on, my newly shorn locks an exotic species I didn't have a language for. I've never had short hair before.

It's been a month. More than just a loss of hair, I feel a loss of identity or continuity or nuances of self. I'm not sure -- I can't quite place the emotion. I'm still the same, but I feel differently, like I'm trying to catch the scent of home. Like I'm trying to recognize the reflection in the mirror.

Monday, May 11, 2009

USPS Adventure: Must Read Books Arrive


I'm partially convinced that the hinterlands of Hades are simply a series of waiting lines. From stoplights to bathroom queues to waiting on hold, cellphone in hand, serpentine files of the those who fell short & remained short wind around molten pools, down glowing steps, and over sizzling crags. The finer points of Time are all lost on those who spend an eternity waiting.

Today, I caught yet another glimpse.

So, I was at the Post Office, eagerly awaiting my box from Amazon, which, of course, held my brand new copies of all three New Books You Must Buy. I cannot even describe to you the time it took. (And there were only three people in the line in front of me!)

Hoping to distract myself, I started skimming through the Useless Fact collection I keep tucked away in the half of the brain I rarely use. It was thus that I remembered that the USPS had solved the long waits in lines by having all clocks removed last March. I glanced around, surreptitiously checking. And wouldn't you know: There on the wall behind me was a round circle of lesser fading. The clock was missing!

Oddly enough, it did not feel at all like less time had passed.

My box, on the other hand, held snippets of heaven. And now I'm sitting here, three books in hand, and I'm salivating and trembling and joyous and I don't even know which one to start with. Eeny, meeny, miny, moe...

The Three to Choose From:



3. Aprilynne Pike, author of Wings.


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Moon Statue Threatens Brilliant Story Plot


Drat it! Just when I thought I had penned the latest, greatest, never-before-thought-of plot with the most delightful twists and curiosity-ticklers, an actual 10-inch, 200,000 year old angel statue was found on the moon.

I really thought that whole "nothing new under the sun" bit only referred to ideas or items found on earth...and now I have to worry about the moon? Will wonders never cease?

Okay: I'm teasing. But I do think it's delightful that the creative fiction world doesn't limit itself to kindles & novels, tabloids & cartoons. Um...before you start sending me hate mail, explain to me why this didn't come out back in 1969. And no, I don't buy the "this will create worldwide pandemonium" line.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Wings ARC Winner Announced


I wanted to give Aprilynne the joy and pleasure of announcing the Wings ARC winner, but she was just getting ready to leave on her tour when I asked. How awesome is that? You can't give away your own book because you're. going. on. tour. I'm just giddy for her...

So, you're stuck with me. Without further ado, congratulations to the lucky -- and drawn completely at random -- winner, shelburns! (Please get in touch w/ me since I'll need your mailing information...)

And if you didn't win, don't despair. Pout not! Just trot down to the bookstore and pick up your very own copy :) Or, even more sneakily and requiring less caloric burning, order on-line.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Aprilynne Pike Interview - Secrets Revealed

The day is finally here -- I am finally able to post my interview with Aprilynne Pike. Now, you have to understand that this interview has been in the works since January 25th...so excitement on my part is to be understood. And those of you who've had the opportunity to "meet" Pike (via her writing or other interviews) can understand why I am so thrilled to have this interview.

Another reason I'm giddy is the fact that you have a chance to win a free ARC of Wings. All you have to do is leave a comment, question, thought, or kudos for Pike in the comment section and you'll be entered into the giveaway. Ahhh, you lucky ducks!

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

I've always written here or there, and I remember inklings of wanting to be an author scattered throughout my childhood. I even have a degree in creative writing! But I think the point at which I really knew I wanted to be a writer was right after my daughter was born and I sat down to write a book, almost on a lark, and I came up with a story that I just adored. And for the first time ever, I realized I actually had enough story to write a whole book! I think the moment that I had that realization is when I truly wanted to be a writer.

How long did it take to finally commit to the dream?

It took about two years after that. Life got busy and about 100 pages into my first novel, I let it fall by the wayside. But I really committed to writing as a business about two years later when I came up with an idea for another book. I wrote it, edited it, and then sent queries out. That, to me, was the moment of commitment, even though that wasn't the book that I eventually sold. I was committed to making it happen!

What aspect of Wings are you the proudest of?

I am proudest of the fact that I can honestly tell people that they have never seen faeries like my faeries. My faerie mythos came first with this series. I didn't even have a plot when I sat down to start writing WINGS. (I learned very quickly that I needed a plot, but when I started, I just had the mythos.) It's something I worked really hard on and did a ton of research for and ultimately, it is the part of the story that is always the most difficult to write. Keeping things consistent, coming up with new challenges for Laurel, thinking about ways in which the kind of faerie she is affects her daily life.It's a constant challenge and I am so proud of it!

What do you feel is your top writing strength?

Dialogue. My editor is always asking for more scenery more description, more character, but she generally loves my dialogue.

What writing quirk of yours makes your family laugh?

I always come up with my best idea in the shower or tub. So I'll be soaping up, get this great idea, and as soon as I can wrap a towel around me, I am out of the tub, dripping wet, running to my husband or mom, depending on where I am, and expounding my brilliant, if soggy, idea.

You write a lot about your husband, Kenny, on your blog and how he makes your writing better. Can you talk a bit about the importance of an editor versus a rah-rah cheerleader?

Honestly, I think it's really important to have both. But for me, I really need someone who lives with me and can hash things out face to face, who can be my critique partner. Kenny never lets me get away with "good enough." It *always* has to be the very best I can do. This summer, for example, I wrote my sequel too fast. I was concentrating more on my word count than my plot/pacing/etc. So in the end I had a mess that I was totally ready to send to my agent (which would have been a horrible mistake!) Instead, Kenny read it, sat down with me, and told me it wasn't good enough. Not nearly good enough. And then he made about a zillion notes on the manuscript for me and helped me come up with an outline so I wouldn't get so off track again. It took me longer to do my edits from Kenny than it took me to write the entire book to begin with. But it was so much better. Unbelievably better. When I wrote it originally, I was too excited and wrapped up with WINGS to notice that I was screwing up the sequel. I needed him to pull me out of the clouds. A cheerleader puts you up in the clouds, which is really great! But it takes a true critic to pull you back down and make your work shine.

How has being a mother influenced Wings?

Wow! No one has ever asked me that before! And I actually do have an answer. I have a great relationship with my mother. I have the kind of relationship that I hope to have with my kids someday. And ultimately, I don't think I am the exception. I think most teenagers have pretty good relationships with their parents. Because of that, I feel like the tendency toward parents being either dead or completely absent in YA books is a little strange, and sometimes off-putting. It's not normal. So I consciously set out to write a book in which the main character has a real relationship with her parents. They are involved in her every day life.

That doesn't mean she doesn't lie to them like a politician.;) But they are there. I wanted them to be there. Because I wanted to show that having a good relationship with you parents is normal. I want MY daughter to read it someday and feel like the relationship she (hopefully!) has with me is not weird.

Plus, Laurel's parents are quirky and fun!:)

What advice do you have for authors seeking representation?

Two things. First, through the web, authors are more accessible than ever. You can email them and get responses and even become friends! How cool! Don't squander this opportunity by dropping their name when you haven't been given permission. Agents and editors check back on that and if they find out you have used a name without permission, it is an auto-rejection. I'm not saying you can't say, "I'm a fan of So'n'so's work who you represent/edit." But don't say "Famous Author recommended me!" when they didn't. You will get yourself black-balled and lose the author as a friend. You don't need an in, you just need a great story.

Secondly, (and anyone whose query I have critiqued is going to think this is directed at them, but it's not! I see it happen all the time which is why I am pointing it out.:)) learn how to describe your book using details instead of meaningless dramatic words. I can't tell you how many queries I see that have some permutation of this. "A heart-wrenching saga of love, magic, and adventure!" How many books can you think of that THAT describes? Cuz I can come up with twenty of the top of my head. Phrases like that sound dramatic, but they don't mean anything. No agent is going to steal your plot, so let them have it! Share details! Share twists! Share bad guys! That is what will make an agent ask for more!

And when you do send that partial or full, please spell check. :)

=-=-=-=-

Many thanks to Aprilynne Pike for an awesome interview! Make sure you leave your comment so that you'll be entered into that free giveaway...

Friday, April 24, 2009

HarperCollins Video Interview with Pike

Although this is not the interview I've been talking about (you'll get that next week, as promised), I wanted to slip in this live interview from HarperCollins for a treat.


Don't you just love it when an author is so genuine and down-to-earth? When I watched this (combined with all of my email interactions w/ Pike arranging excerpts and interviews), I just felt giddy inside: I am thrilled when someone like this "makes it" -- it just feels good!



Thursday, April 23, 2009

Catch Pike in Wings: Continued

You guessed it: The rest of Chapter One is now unveiled for your perusal. (If you didn't catch the first half, check out yesterday's post.) Even better -- if that's humanly possible -- Aprilynne Pike will be stopping by next week for an Interview. And I've titillating news for all of you urban fantasy fans: not only can you get a sneak peak here of Pike's Chapter One...not only do you get a tasty snippet of the author herself via The Interview next week...BUT you will also get a chance at winning an ARC of the book itself, Wings!! Make sure you swing by and post a comment after the interview next week, so that you'll be entered into the drawing.

Wings
By Aprilynne Pike
Chapter One
continued
Laurel threw her backpack onto the counter and slumped onto a barstool. Her mom glanced up from the bread she was kneading. “How was school?”

“It sucked.”

Her hands stopped. “Language, Laurel.”

“Well, it did. And there’s not a better word to describe it.”

“You have to give it some time, hon.”

“Everyone stares at me like I’m a freak.”

“They stare at you because you’re new.”

“I don’t look like everyone else.”

Her mom grinned. “Would you want to?”

Laurel rolled her eyes but had to admit her mother had scored a point. She might be home schooled and a little sheltered, but she knew she looked a lot like the teens in magazines and on television.

And she liked it.

Adolescence had been kind to her. Her almost translucent white skin hadn’t suffered the effects of acne and her blond hair had never been greasy. She was a small, lithe fifteen-year-old with a perfectly oval face and light green eyes. She’d always been thin, but not too thin, and had even developed some curves in the last few years. Her limbs were long and willowy and she walked with a dancer’s grace, despite having never taken lessons.

“I meant I dress differently.”

“You could dress like everyone else if you wanted to.”

“Yeah, but they all wear clunky shoes and tight jeans and like three shirts all layered on top of each other.”

“So?”

“I don’t like tight clothes. They’re scratchy and make me feel awkward. And really, who could possibly want to wear clunky shoes? Yuck.”

“So wear what you want. If your clothes are enough to drive would-be friends away they’re not the kind of friends you want.”

Typical mother advice. Sweet, honest, and completely useless. “It’s loud there.”

Her mom stopped kneading and brushed her bangs out of her face, leaving a floury streak on her brow. “Sweetheart, you can hardly expect an entire high school to be as quiet as the two of us all alone. Be reasonable.”

“I am reasonable. I’m not talking about necessary noise; they run around like wild monkeys. They shriek and laugh and whine at the top of their lungs. And they make out at their lockers.”

Her mom rested her hand on her hip. “Anything else?”

“Yes. The halls are dark.”

“They are not dark,” her mom said, her tone slightly scolding. “I toured that entire school with you last week and all the walls are white.”

“But there are no windows, just those awful fluorescent lights. They’re so fake and they don’t bring any real light to the hallways. They’re just . . . dark. I miss Orick.”

Her mom began shaping the dough into loaves. “Tell me something good about today. I mean it.”
Laurel wandered over to the fridge.

“No,” her mom said, putting up one hand to stop her. “Something good first.”

“Um . . . I met a nice guy,” she said, stepping around her mom’s arm and grabbing a soda. “David . . . David something.”

It was her mom’s turn to roll her eyes. “Of course. We move to a new town and I start you in a brand-new school and the first person you latch onto is a guy.”

“It’s not like that.”

“I’m kidding.”

Laurel stood silently, listening to the slap of bread dough on the counter.

“Mom?”

“Yeah?”

Laurel drew in a deep breath. “Do I really have to keep going?”

Her mom rubbed her temples. “Laurel, we’ve been through this already.”

“But—”

“No. We’re not going to argue about it again.” She leaned on the counter, her face close to Laurel’s. “I don’t feel qualified to home school you anymore. Truth be told, I probably should have put you in middle school. It was just such a long drive from Orick and your dad was commuting already and . . . anyway. It’s time.”

“But you could order one of those home schooling programs. I looked them up online,” Laurel said hurriedly when her mom started to speak. “You don’t actually have to do the teaching. The material covers everything.”

“And how much does it cost?” her mom asked, her voice quiet, but with one eyebrow raised pointedly.

Laurel was silent.

“Listen,” her mom said, after a pause, “in a few months that’s something we can consider if you still hate school. But until our property in Orick sells, we don’t have the money for anything extra. You know that.”

Laurel looked down at the counter, her shoulders slumped.

The main reason they’d moved to Crescent City in the first place was because her dad bought a bookstore down on Washington Street. Early in the year, he had been driving through and saw a For Sale sign on a bookstore going out of business. Laurel remembered listening to her parents talk for weeks about what they could do to buy the store—a shared dream since they’d first gotten married—but the numbers never added up.

Then, in late April, a guy named Jeremiah Barnes approached Laurel’s dad at his job in Eureka with interest in their property in Orick. Her dad had come home practically bouncing with excitement. The rest happened in such a whirlwind Laurel could hardly remember what happened first. Her parents spent several days at the bank in Brookings and by early May the bookstore was theirs and they were moving from their small cabin in Orick to an even smaller house in Crescent City.

But the months crept by and still things weren’t finalized with Mr. Barnes. Until they were, money was tight, her dad worked long hours at the store, and Laurel was stuck in high school.

Her mom laid one hand over hers, warm and comforting. “Laurel, aside from the cost, you also need to learn to conquer new things. This will be so good for you. Next year you can take AP classes and you could join a team or a club. Those all look really good on college applications.”

“I know. But—”

“I’m the mom,” she said with a grin that softened her firm tone. “And I say school.”

Laurel humphed and began tracing her finger along the grout between the tiles on the countertops.

The clock ticked loudly as Laurel’s mom slid the pans into the oven and set the timer.

“Mom, do we have any of your canned peaches? I’m hungry.”

Her mom stared at Laurel. “You’re hungry?”

Laurel traced swirls through the condensation on the soda can with her finger, avoiding her mom’s gaze. “I got hungry this afternoon. In last period.”

Her mom was trying not to make a big deal of this, but they both knew it was out of the ordinary. Laurel rarely felt hungry. Her parents had bugged Laurel about her weird eating habits for years. She ate at each meal to satisfy them, but it wasn’t something she felt she needed, much less enjoyed.

That’s why her mom finally agreed to keep the fridge stocked with Sprite. She railed against the as-yet-undocumented detriments of carbonation; but she couldn’t argue with the 140 calories per can. That was 140 more than water. At least this way she knew Laurel was getting more calories in her system, even if they were “empty.”

Her mom hurried to the pantry to grab a bottle of peaches, probably afraid Laurel would change her mind. The unfamiliar twisting in Laurel’s stomach had begun during Spanish class, twenty minutes before the last bell. It had faded a little on the walk home, but hadn’t gone away.

“Here you go,” she said, setting a bowl in front of Laurel. Then she turned her back, giving Laurel a modicum of privacy. Laurel looked down at the dish. Her mom had played it safe—one peach half and about half a cup of juice.

She ate the peach in small bites, staring at her mother’s back, waiting for her to turn around and peek. But her mom busied herself with the dishes and didn’t look once. Still, Laurel felt like she’d lost some imaginary battle, so when she was finished, she slid her backpack from the counter and tiptoed out of the kitchen before her mom could turn around.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

WINGS, Chapter One

And finally, the day you've all been waiting for: The third and final new & upcoming author selected for showcasing on the Alex Moore blog! For those of you who have just joined the blog, here's the diabolical plan in a nutshell: I rid my bookshelves of three undesirables and began the adventure of selecting three new authors to read & support. First, there was Cindy Pon. Then R. J. Anderson. And now, I am pleased to present to you Aprilyne Pike!

Read on for a sneak peek at Chapter One of her first book, Wings, coming out April 28th. Come back tomorrow for the rest of Chapter One -- and then hop on to Amazon to pre-order the book!

Wings
Chapter One
By Aprilynne Pike


Laurel’s shoes flipped a cheerful rhythm that defied her dark mood. As she walked through the halls of Del Norte High, people watched her pass with curious eyes.

After double-checking her schedule, Laurel found the biology lab and hurried to claim a seat by the windows. If she had to be indoors, she wanted to at least see the outside. The rest of the class filed in slowly. One boy smiled in her direction as he walked to the front of the classroom and she tried to muster one in return. She hoped he didn’t think it was a grimace.

A tall, thin man introduced himself as Mr. James and began passing out textbooks. Laurel immediately started flipping through hers. The beginning of the book seemed fairly standard—classifications of plants and animals, she knew those—then it started to move into basic human anatomy. Around page eighty the text started to resemble a foreign language. Laurel grumbled under her breath. This was going to be a long semester.

As Mr. James called out the roll Laurel recognized a few names from her first two classes that morning, but it was going to be a long time before she matched even half of them to the faces that surrounded her. She felt lost amid the sea of unfamiliar people.

Her mom had assured her that every sophomore would feel the same—after all, it was their first day in high school too—but no one else looked lost or scared. Maybe being lost and scared was something you got used to after years of public school.

Homeschooling had worked just fine for Laurel over the last ten years; she didn’t see any reason for that to change. But her parents were determined to do everything right for their only child. When she was five that meant being homeschooled in a tiny town. Apparently, now that she was fifteen, it meant public school in a slightly less tiny town.

The room grew quiet and Laurel snapped to attention when the teacher repeated her name. “Here,” she said quickly.

She squirmed as Mr. James studied her over the rim of his glasses then finally moved on to the next name.

Laurel released the breath she’d been holding and pulled out her notebook, trying to draw as little attention to herself as possible.

As the teacher explained the semester’s curriculum, her eyes kept straying to the boy who had smiled at her earlier. She had to stifle a grin when she noticed him sneaking glances at her too.
When Mr. James released them for lunch Laurel gratefully slid her book into her bag.

“Hey.”

She looked up. It was the boy who had been watching her. His eyes caught her attention first. They were a bright blue that contrasted with the olive tone of his skin. The color looked out of place, but not in a bad way. Kind of exotic. His slightly wavy light-brown hair, on the longish side, slipped across his forehead in a soft arc.

“You’re Laurel, right?” Below the eyes was a warm but casual smile with very straight teeth. Braces probably, Laurel thought as her tongue unconsciously ran over her own teeth, also quite straight. Lucky for her, naturally straight.

“Yeah.” Her voice caught in her throat and she coughed, feeling stupid.

“I’m David. David Lawson. I—I wanted to say hi. And welcome to Crescent City, I guess.”

Laurel forced a small smile. “Thanks,” she said.

“Want to sit with me and my friends for lunch?”

“Where,” Laurel asked.

David looked at her strangely. “In . . . the cafeteria?”

He seemed nice, but she was tired of being cooped up inside. “Actually, I’m going to go find a place outside.” She paused. “Thank you, though.”

“Outside sounds good to me. Want some company?”

“Really?”

“Sure. I’ve got my lunch in my backpack, so I’m all set. Besides,” he said, hefting his bag onto one shoulder, “you shouldn’t sit alone your first day.”

“Thanks,” she said after a tiny hesitation. “I’d like that.”

They walked out to the back lawn together and found a grassy spot that wasn’t too damp. Laurel spread her jacket on the ground and sat on it; David kept his on. “Aren’t you cold?” he asked, looking skeptically at her jean shorts and tank top.

She slipped out of her shoes and dug her toes into the thick grass. “I don’t get cold very often—at least not here. If we go somewhere with snow I’m miserable. But this weather’s perfect for me.” She smiled awkwardly. “My mom jokes that I’m cold-blooded.”

“Lucky you. I moved here from L.A. about five years ago and I’m still not used to the temperature.”

“It’s not that cold.”

“Sure,” David said with a grin, “but it’s not that warm either. After our first year here I looked up the weather records; did you know that the difference between the average temperature in July and December is only fourteen degrees? Now that is messed up.”

They fell silent as David ate his sandwich and Laurel poked at a salad with a fork.

“My mom packed me an extra cupcake,” David said, breaking the silence. “Want it?” He held out a pretty cupcake with blue frosting. “It’s homemade.”

“No, thanks.”

David looked at her salad, doubtfully, then back at the cupcake.
Laurel realized what David was thinking and sighed. Why was that the first conclusion everyone always jumped to? Surely she wasn’t the only person in the world who just really liked vegetables. Laurel tapped one fingernail against her can of Sprite. “It’s not diet.”

“I didn’t mean—”

“I’m vegan,” Laurel interrupted. “Pretty strict, actually.”

Oh, yeah?”
She nodded then laughed stiffly. “Can’t have too many veggies, right?”

“I guess not.”

David cleared his throat and asked, “So when did you move here?”

“In May. I’ve been working for my dad a lot. He owns the bookstore down town.”

“Really?” David asked. “I went in there last week. It’s a great store. I don’t remember seeing you though.”

“That’s my mom’s fault. She dragged me around shopping for school supplies all week. This is the first year I haven’t been home schooled and my mom’s convinced I don’t have enough supplies.”

“Homeschooled?”

“Yeah. They’re forcing me to go public this year.”

He grinned, his tone teasing, but with a serious edge. “Well, I’m glad they did.” He looked down at his sandwich for a few seconds before asking, “Do you miss your old town?”

“Sometimes.” She smiled softly. “But it’s nice here. My old town, Orick is seriously small. Like five hundred people small.”

“Wow.” He chuckled. “L.A.’s just a little bigger than that.”

She laughed, and coughed on her soda.

David looked like he was ready to ask something else, but the bell sounded and he smiled instead. “Can we do this again tomorrow?” He hesitated for a second then added, “With my friends, maybe?”

Laurel’s first instinct was to say no, but she’d enjoyed David’s company. Besides, socializing more was yet another reason her mom had insisted on public school this year. “Sure,” she said before she could lose her nerve. “That’d be fun.”

“Awesome.” He stood and offered her his hand. He pulled her to her feet and grinned lopsidedly for a minute. “Well, I’ll . . . see you around, I guess.”

She watched him walk away. His jacket and loose-fitting jeans looked more or less like everyone else’s, but there was a sureness in his walk that set him apart from the crowd. Laurel was envious of that confident stride.

Maybe someday.

...to be continued. Don't forget to check back tomorrow for the second half of Chapter One!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Dragon in Chains

Birds of a feather: I'm going to take a bold stand here and say that we all love to love books. I imagine that most of us even love to find books we love reading. But it's a special occasion when we find the book that we -- by turns -- love and hate. You know the kind I'm talking about: the ones that nibble at our soul, picking away at sores, teasing at scabs. The ones that kidnap our attention while we're at work with odd little thoughts that send pings of panic rippling through our stomachs. The ones we can't put down even as we're muttering our disdain or irritation or discomfort.

Case in point: Partner-in-crime and team player at the Adventures in Writing blog, D.M. McReynolds (Dave to the blogging world), recommended that I pick up Dragon in Chains by Daniel Fox. I did. I jumped online & ordered it from Amazon. I trust him that much.

It was one of those books.

Dave was right. The language is delicate, like silvery fish darting through opaque waters, or glimmers of sunlight flashing white against clouds of silt sifting to the bottom of a bay. Even the texture of words hang heavy with meaning and scent and color and sound.

"Han saw that noose drawn tight, snaring his master's beard as it went, tugging the long hairs back beneath his chin so that he looked ridiculously unlike himself as he mouthed fish-like at air he couldn't reach, as his fingers scrabbled for a thong sunk too deep into his wattles" (6).

The rhythm, too, is lyrical, drawing you forward and inward -- at times rushing you headlong into a fight or a rape or an escape, at others slowing you down, allowing your fingers to caress the sleek brilliance of the emperor's jade or jar with the clunk of hammer against metal.

"The headache had ebbed but not departed altogether, it lay like a threat on his horizon; his skin was cold and sticky yet, he wanted to rub it. Actually, he wanted to rub jade-dust into it, but Guangli was watching him" (253).

Dragon in Chains is equal parts fragile spider web and crushing rock slide, however. The complete disregard for human life, for females, for personal freedom grates against my psyche, pulverizing hope or joy. This is not an indictment against the book or Fox or even the setting: I understand that his rendition is no doubt more realistic than not. But it's certainly not uplifting.

Perhaps it's because of Fox's adherence to cultural and historical "truths" that I find a few of the characters weak and uncompelling. Instead of focusing on one or two protagonists, fleshing them out, and following him or her through thick and thin, Fox details the adventures of five or six, sometimes minor characters. At times, I found myself thinking that I only cared about Han -- and sometimes Mei Feng. The others were a distraction, prompting me to set the book down.

But the language and imagery, sometimes disturbing but always haunting, drew me back. It was one of those books.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Tuesdays with Alex


On Tuesdays, you'll find me posting at our team blog, Adventures in Writing. I hope you'll dash over and check us out...AND tell me what you think about it.

And since I posted today about blogging format, content, and white space, I'm truly curious about what you have to say.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Back Home


Update: It was only a five hour drive home. I splashed through puddles, neatly avoided hydroplaning, and zoomed around several vehicles mortally afraid of corners. On the home stretch, I encountered a blizzard, but managed to outdrive it, dropping safely into the valley before too much had accumulated on the road. I'm thankful I still had my snow tires on.

I am happy to be home: I had a delightful visit with my dear friend, and I wish we lived closer together. It felt good and right and divine, however, to simply be home. Home is a beautiful thing.

I have a bajillion blogs and posts and friends to catch up on. If I haven't visited your blog in awhile, never fear: I am heading your way soon!

In the meantime, check out Aerin's Random Complexity Writing Challenge. All you need to do is commit to penning 1000 words a month. That's like four type-written pages, double-spaced! Do this in the comfort of your own home with the added benefit of a warm and responsive community! And Aerin? Sign me up!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Just a Reminder

We've launched! Don't forget to head over the the Adventures in Writing blog and check out Anthony Pacheco's post on The Writing Hand. You're not only in for a treat but also a thought-provoking bit that will have you contemplating life, luck, and perspective.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

AWOL

Spring Break beckons and I'm actually doing a break: I'm headed into the vastness where I will probably not have any Internet connection. I know. The thought truly boggles.

On the bright side, I get to spend the week with my very best friend and mentor and compadre in various nefarious crimes. (As she is some 45 years older than I am, I try to spend as much time as possible with her since Time is not on our side. Neither is the distance factor. But friendship IS, which is what counts, you know.)

Write on, friends. I'll be checking in with you all when I get back.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Compose a Couplet

If you waxed poetic with the Day in a Sentence fun, then you're in for a treat! Dogtrax is sponsoring a Day in a Couplet over at his site.

All you have to do is dice up your day into a skillet, sizzle over medium heat, and sprinkle some writerly mojo on it. Concoct a couplet. Post it. It's that simple!
See you there!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Check Out the New Team Blog!


Several writerly friends and I are launching a team blog on April 1st. Ahem. No, it's not meant to be a huge April Fool's Joke. Seriously!

[On the other hand, Anthony Pacheco: Hack Writer is also a member, so maybe... who knows, really!]

Do sneak in for a pre-launch peek -- we're just hanging out, introducing ourselves, and taking requests. Well, Anthony is :)

Official Story:
The Adventures in Creative Writing Blog is a place where aspiring writers can come for inspiration, resources, an inside look from the trenches, and success stories. Because it is a focused team endeavor, we will do our best to offer both the published and the aspiring writer something useful, something fun, something worth writing home about.
Well, not everything, but
collaboration is cool!