Friday, February 26, 2010

It's Friday and I'm in the Mood for some Laughs

Mark Parisi has a great website: If you have some time to kill or just need to tickle you're funny bone, then check it out.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Bad Auditions and Confidence

We've all seen it (or heard about it) the bad auditions for American Idol:

And then Simon inevitably asks "Who told you could sing?" The answers are usually the same: "my parents" or "my friends" or "my family." And then you wonder how on earth someone could tell them they could really sing?!? Were they just trying to be nice? Are they tone deaf?

When I'm having a hard writing day, when my confidence is shot, I find myself thinking "who told me I could even write?" And, ironically, my answers are the same: "my parents, my friends, and my family."

Uh-oh. Because I always think of those bad auditions and wonder.....

It's a daily struggle for writers to keep their confidence up. We pour our hearts onto paper only have them torn apart by critiquers (yeah, I know, it's called editing, but sometimes it feels more like blood letting!). Is it really worth it? Do we really have writing skills? Or did we fall victim to the compliments by someone who just really didn't want to hurt our feelings? And with each question our confidence sinks a bit lower.

We then may look at the other writers around us and imagine they never struggle with confidence issues. So why is it just us? Well, that's the good news. It's not just us. Everyone who shares the work they've created risks having their work (and themselves) criticized. It's part of the profession. It is part of the process that helps us to grow and develop our talent (necessary evil though it is!).

So when it feels like our mom/spouse/best friend may be the only one who actually thinks we write well, then take that support and keep slogging forward. You'll get there. The only true failure is when you quit. Writing-- actually putting pen on paper or fingers on keyboard-- is a success. Celebrate those little successes and you'll find your confidence level start to perk up.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Historical Fiction: How Historical Do You Need To Get?

by Scott Rhoades

It's a little later than I usually post on my days, but it's still today, plus there was a great bonus post earlier.

I have a question for all of you: How historical do you need to be in historical fiction? How historical is historical?

I love reading and writing stories that are based in a particular time and place, and I try to be as historical as possible when I write historical stories. But how much do readers expect.

Let's use a common example: the Middle Ages. The Middle Ages are a popular period for historicals, whether in fantasy, romance, or plain old historical fiction. It's also a period that I know a little about, as a lifelong student of medieval literature, especially from the Germanic areas. It's also one where people get things wrong. The reason is simple. The period we call the Middle Ages lasted more than a thousand years. There's not just a medieval period where people lived in castles and ran around in armor rescuing fair damsels from castles.

So, when I read a book set in the Middle Ages, I want to know when. The 13th Century seems popular in my readings, both in print and on Authonomy. So seeing things like plate armor, words like "mayhap" and "sire," and other things not authentic to a specific century or even half century, especially when they're stereotypes, make me distrust the author's research. I recently read a manuscript where Vikings were attacking a massive stone castle in England.

There are ways around it, of course. A fantasy set in a world based on medieval Europe can use whatever rules it wants, as long as it's consistent within itself. A romance set in an unspecified medieval period (suddenly, I'm thinking of Bill & Ted: "Dude! We're in Medieval!") is probably acceptable because, most likely, the reader wants the romance and likes the romanticized period of Medieval, and doesn't really care about the actual history. A book that purports to be a historical novel in a specified time with historical characters--well, I'll be pickier about that one.

It's not that I want to get all weird about it. It's just that, if I'm reading a book set in any historical period, it's because I want to feel how it was to live at that time. I trust the author to give me that experience, especially if I don't know the period very well.

Am I nitpicking? What do you think? How do you feel when an author of a historical novel gets the history wrong? How picky should we be?

Picture Book Marathon

I've made it more than halfway through the Picture Book Marathon. It's been a lot more fun than I thought it would be. It's also been a lot tougher. Thankfully, so far I haven't written anything that I've thought "Boy, that's trash!!" Some stories are better than others, and some may never see the light of the laptop monitor, but they are my stories. I created them, thought them up, gave them a life on paper. It's a rewarding feeling.

In the beginning I worried about not having enough inspiration of what to write. That hasn't been a problem at all. My biggest struggle has been feeling "not in the mood" to write. I usually wait to the end of the day to write my stories down and by then I'm normally exhausted. But I still write! That's what is amazing about pushing myself in a writing marathon-- I learn I can write under terrible circumstances. I wrote through the cataclysmic meltdowns of two very close friends a few weeks ago. I am still writing through my husband's last (and worst) writing stretch of his dissertation. And as of today, I'm writing through having a toddler with RSV.

But I'm writing. For three years, I had lots of excuses why I couldn't write. Looking back, I can honestly say they were all lame (super lame!) Last year's NaNoWriMo got me out of a long writing funk. This Picture Book Marathon is helping me to keep the momentum going. I'm always on the look out for more "marathons" to join. It's about time I used the talent I had instead of letting waste away while I make excuses about the children being too needy or not having an adequate writing area or....

Thursday, February 18, 2010

March Writing Marathon

From the Fabulous Blog "Throwing Up Words" (be sure to follow the blog so you can learn more about the marathon in the next few weeks-- and really, you should be following it anyways because it's fabulous-- I think I mentioned that already!)

So here’s the proposal.

1. Three days in the blustery month of March (days will be announced soon). A month when nothing really happens.

2. We will decide the time to start and stop.

3. Write as many words–for your work-in-progress–as you can.

4. Two GRAND GRAND prize winners

a) most words written in during the marathon.

b) most people who joined the marathon/blog because of you (we want this to be a record breaking marathon. Like the Boston. So we can build our community and have more discussions and support. Tell your writing or non-but-wish-they-were-writing friends and have them mention you when we have the formal post/sign up).

5. A group prize for everyone who reaches the set goal word count (to be determined soon).

6. GRAND PRIZES (and these are HUGE baby): Books and a five page critique.

7. Group prize will be determined by the group. Or the individual. We can discuss this further. Like if we reach our word count, we could all go out and buy our most beloved candy bar or decadent treat and take a picture of our enjoyment of the prize (because we know that food is the best and most healthy motivator. Pictures will be posted on the blog). OR we can pick prizes other than food. A pedicure. A babysitter so we can go sit at Barnes and Noble and read all by ourselves. A massage. A piano lesson. A day at the beach. A new pony. You get the idea. OR everyone who meets the goal gets to send their favorite book to someone else who met their goal. Then we all get favorite books in the mail. But maybe we should do that anyway someday. Hmmm. We will have to decide.

8. We will post periodic prompts and encouragement throughout the marathon so none of us will be alone. Because that’s important right?

9. What do you think? Are you excited? This will be the big push. Get prepared it’s going to be fantabulous!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What Inspires You to Write?

I'm having a bad case of the February blahs...and I'm badly needing some inspiration from all those wonderful writers out there.

What inspires you to write? How do you get unstuck? When you get halfway through a book and feel like it might be your worst work yet, what helps you wade through the muck? Most importantly, when you're out there querying and getting more than a few rejections, how do you not throw your novel away?

So far, the most rewarding part of writing for me has been becoming a part of this quirky, supportive writing community. You can meet a total stranger, discover that they have a writing hobby and feel instantly connected. You know they've gone through the same wonderment in discovering new characters, discouragement when the book isn't perfect, nervousness at sending out queries, and euphoria at getting positive feedback as you have.

Drop us a comment. Inspire us! Help us turn around the armpit month and make it the best writing month of the year.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Man! I wish I wrote that!

I just started reading the Fire series by Chris D'Lacey. I'm almost through "The Fire Within" and am loving it! I can tell I'll buy the book series-- provided they don't take a weird turn like the "Pure Dead Magic" series.

I keep finding myself thinking "I wish I had thought of that!" "What a great idea!" "Can I use that idea without copying it fraudulently? (lol)"

Do you ever feel that way? For what books? And not just for books because you wish you were making the millions of dollars that say.... Stephanie Meyer is. But because it's a fantastic idea?

Leave your comments below!

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Glimpse at the Slush Pile

by Scott Rhoades

Greetings from lovely San Francisco. I grew up near here, so it's always fun to "have" to take a business trip back. I'm getting some good work done, and catching up with friends I haven't seen in far too long, and this weekend I'll see family and at least one more friend before heading back for Utah County. Orem's not a bad place to live, but I always hate leaving California.

But that's not what I came to tell you about. I came to talk about the draft. (I'm sure somebody will get the reference...)

What I mean is, this week I wanted to write about a way to get a glimpse into the slush pile.

Some of you might remember that a while ago I wrote about my adventures on, a place to review manuscripts by other writers, sponsored by The U.K. arm of HarperCollins. One of the things I mentioned was that it gives us a chance to look at what other writers are writing and submitting. This is important. It's a rare look at our competition, and to learn what they are doing right or wrong. It's as close as most of will ever come to looking over an agent or editor's shoulder as they slog through their submissions. And you don't even have to sign up to be able to read what people are writing.

Here are a few lessons I've learned.

Wake-Up Call
I've read on a few blogs that agents don't like to see books that open with a character waking up. I understand why. In one recent stretch of about fifteen manuscripts, I saw six that started with a character waking up. About half of those characters woke up with hangovers or other effects from a hard night of drinking, partying, or getting beaten up after drinking and partying. Two of the remaining three were awoken by loud noises. The last one was kind of interesting. The character woke up, but then there was a series of things the writer said the character didn't do, written in an interesting way that actually kind of worked. But if you're starting with your character waking up, chances are pretty good you're not this last guy. If you want to catch an agent's eye (or a reader's), probably the worst thing you can do is start with an unoriginal opening that makes the agent doubt that the rest of your story will be any better. Oh, and don't trade your wake-up opening for the weather. That's just as common, and is probably even worse because there's not even a character involved. Being woken up in the gutter by rain while sleeping off a night of drinking...not a good idea.

Too Good For This World
Every once in a while, probably a couple times a week, I come across a book that is written in a strange, unusual way. Usually, the author thinks he or she (but it seems to usually be a he, for some reason) is writing something of high literary value. When commenters mention rules of writing, such as using standard punctuation or capitalization, or making the story actually make sense, these authors reply indignantly that they are creating High Art(tm, patent pending) and that the conventional rules don't apply, and if the commenter had a brain, they would recognize this fact. This is just plain juvenile. It reminds me of the "deep" poetry written in high school and college English classes that doesn't make any sense but would if the reader understood the poet's sensitive soul. Don't do this. I have nothing against literary writing, or even experimental writing. I was an English major, and a good portion of my reading is classics, even now, long after my school days. Oh, and it's surprising how many people who do this are attempting to write literary Sci-Fi. More on that in a minute. Unless you're James Joyce, don't write like this. And I can pretty much guarantee you're not James Joyce. I suspect that these are the same people who reply to rejections with nasty notes telling the agents or editors that they wouldn't know a good book if it bit them in the a--ah, hold on while I get the phone.

I'm back. Where was I? I forget. Might as well go on to the next point.

Know Who Thou Art
When a writer posts their work on Authonomy, they label it with the genre. It surprises me (and probably shouldn't) how many people list their books as both literary fiction and science fiction or literary fiction and fantasy or literary fiction and romance or--you get the idea. If you do this in a query or submission, I can almost guarantee that it will mark you as an amateur. Know your genre. There's no reason why genre fiction can't be literary (look at Ray Bradbury's best work); in fact, it will have a better chance if it has some literary value and is well written. But that doesn't make it literary fiction. If an agent reps literary fiction only, do not send him your literary science fiction. In the publishing world, genre fiction is not literary fiction. They are different animals.

The Font of Knowledge
Non-standard fonts are hard to read. It's not clever to submit your manuscript in a crazy-looking script font, in a deep red of course, because your story is told as the journal of an insane ax murderer. Medieval fantasies do not have to be told with a medieval font. Readers want to be able to read the thing. If a publisher likes your work and wants to do something interesting with the fonts, they'll know how to do it so the book can still be read. Unusual fonts do not make you creative. They make you unread.

Strunk & What?
Before you put your work out there, whether submitting or giving the public access to it on Authonomy, check for errors. Check again. Have a knowledgeable friend check. Then check again. Yes, it's true that several blogging agents have said that they don't get too upset if there's a typo or two in a manuscript, or a couple missed commas, or whatever. That doesn't mean you can put your work out there packed with errors and expect an agent or editor to recognize your genius and help you fix it after signing you. If you were too busy playing with the gum stuck to the bottom of your desk in school, it's not too late to start learning the mechanics now. It's expected of a professional writer.

I could go on forever (and some of you might think I already have). I've seen a lot on Authonomy. Still, my total reading on that site doesn't equal what many agents see in a day, which means they see these problems far more often than I have. But don't take my word for it. Whether you participate in the Authonomy site or not, there's a lot to be learned from browsing it.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Little Trick I Learned

Years ago I read a book by George Durrant called "My Best Day So Far." From reading it, I've learned a little trick I've used for my life and am now teaching my kids. Every time I do something I tell myself "Well, that was the best I've done with that."

When my daughter, who takes after my hubby & I with her perfectionism, gets frustrated her craft projects turn out poorly (according to her high standards), I ask her "Have you ever done it before?" The answer is always "No." "So," I tell her, "then it's the best you've ever done." Slowly she's getting the idea to celebrate her attempts rather them condemn them.

Whether or not it's your first write or your third rewrite, if you look at the facts, it IS the best you've ever done simply because you've never done it before.

Sometimes you may need to get a bit creative: "This is my best picture book today/this afternoon" or "This is the best story I've written on South American dragons." When you narrow your focus, you can honestly pat yourself on the back for doing the best you could. Will it be the best you can ever do? Who knows?!? That forward focusing viewpoint can only lead to frustration.

Today is the day you are living in and your current project is what you are focusing on and since this is all you have truly in your control, it is the best you have ever done!

So when those doubts come creeping in and you can't help but think of someone else, stop yourself and acknowledge the success of what you are doing, right here, right now.

And feel free to apply it to all areas of your life. Heaven knows you need more acceptance and approval and less criticism! Enjoy it!