Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

I’m all about some young adult fiction, but I like to read outside my genre too. Been through my Dean Koontz phase, John Grisham graced my bedside table for many years, and I have a perpetual passion for anything James Patterson. Guess you could say I’m a bit of a thriller girl. So when I heard everyone and their great aunt on their second cousin’s side rave about the Stieg Larsson Millenium trilogy, I thought… Cool—I love a good thriller.

Why not?

Then I read the first twenty pages and asked myself…

Why, why, why?

Fortunately for the fabulous Mr. Larsson, I’m a reader. I don’t put a book down after the first five, ten, even fifty pages. Gosh… Twilight (one of my absolute favs) I couldn’t get into that baby until I hit the triple digits. And thank my need-for-a-page-turner-thriller mindset, I persisted past the technical mumbo jumbo (PS- absolutely necessary) of the first twenty some pages of Larsson’s book… cause after that temporary migraine, it was smooth sailing… well, more like full speed ahead. After page twenty-something, Larsson soars you down the choppiest currents of the wackiest wild river rapids.

Soooo-thriller woman? What’s so good about it, you ask?

Ah… let me enlighten you.

First—the premise.

Originally (and appropriately) titled Men Who Hate Women, the book combines murder mystery, family saga, love story, and financial intrigue with one unifying theme: women victimized by men.

Mikael Blomkvist, a once-respected financial journalist, loses a debatable libel suit and faces jail (gaol) time and the potential demise of his magazine, The Millenium. Enter Henrik Vanger, octogenarian and one of the eldest remaining members of one of the most prominent and wealthy families in Sweden, with a proposition: he wishes for Blomkvist to “re-open” a hacked-to-death forty-year old cold case—dig up the dirt surrounding the mysterious disappearance of his beloved great-niece Harriet. Under the guise of researching the family for a future novel, Blomkvist accepts the offer, moves to Hedeby Island, and soon becomes acquainted with five generations of the Vanger family—all with diverse personalities, and all with varying degrees of tolerance for his presence on the island.

He accepts and enlists the help of twenty-four year old research assistant Lisbeth Salander—tattoo-ridden antisocial misfit with a prowess for computer-hacking and a hard-earned wisdom of someone twice her age. When they connect Harriet to a series of murders from the 1950s and ‘60s and as they delve deeper into the Vanger past, they realize they may not be working on a cold-case after all.

Second—I thrive on a good page-turner. With all the plot twists and turns and the skillfully intertwined storylines, I just did not want to put this book down, even after the katrillion new words I learned in the first twenty pages. Even when Blomkvist interviewed yet another Vanger family member, Larsson would throw in another twist and I was hooked, hooked, hooked!


The plot’s incredibly compelling, but ultimately what drew me in… the characters… for many reasons. Blomkvist—I just liked him. Why? He’s a middle-aged journalist faced with losing his reputable magazine publication. He knows fighting against his misguided conviction would only worsen matters so he leaves The Millenium in the capable hands of his long-time partner and takes himself out of the picture to save the business. He makes choices I know I’d never have the guts to make. And just when I think I have him all figured out, he does something to totally surprise me—in a completely good way.

And Salander(book namesake)—I’m intrigued by her from the onset. Readers will want to initially hate her but Larsson creates these characters who may affront everyone else, but he takes you past their walls and you fall in love with them. And the people who seem most upright, sometimes turn out to be the most iniquitous of all.

His book confirms everything I believe about a good read. Yeah, there’s got to be a compelling premise, solid writing, and page-turning moments, but it’s the characters the reader invests in, it’s the characters that keep the reader reading. I’ve read some supposedly fabulous novels that were beautifully written and had this phenom storyline, but I just couldn’t get into it… because I couldn’t connect with the characters.

And not everyone connects with the same thing, but trust me… with the myriad of characters in Dragon Tattoo (uh,… there’s like two hundred… seriously) you’re sure to connect with someone.

Pick it up. Read it. Test your endurance through the first twenty pages. Trust me—there’s no looking back after that.

Oh—and PS—I looove a book that keeps me yearning for more. And thankfully, before Larsson met an unexpected death in 2004, he finished the trilogy. Can you guess what graces my nightstand now?

Friday, August 27, 2010

My Blog Award

Just the other day, I received this most fabulous award from my tweet peep Lisa M Potts over at Pursuing Love, Happiness, and My Elusive Muse.

She had awarded me the One Lovely Blog Award.


Here's how it works:

Accept the award, post it on your blog together with the name of the person who has granted the award and his or her blog link.

Pay it forward to fifteen other blogs you have newly discovered.

Contact those blog owners and let them know they've been chosen.

Here are the fifteen wonderful blogs I have chosen in no particular order:

My Daytime Drama

The MisAdventures in Candyland

What I do when… I should be Writing

Pursuing Love Happiness and My Elusive Muse

(W)ords and (W)ardances

Marice Kraal

A Little of This and That

Babbling Flow

The Michelle Show

Sparks from the Wheel

Season Ticket

Fiction City

The Trials and Tribulations of Tinkerbell

Wanda's World

The Writing Cave

Go ahead... visit and spread the love!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Ins, the Ows, and the Wows

My life has taken a tumultuous spin in the past week (aka work, school—enough said) so I must say that the blog posts will see a decrease in frequency… at least for a little while. But I thought I’d provide you random updates on this funky little writer’s life of mine…

What’s IN?

My critique! Finally slashed that synopsis down, re-edited my first 30 pages (um—again) of my fantabulu YA Paranormal, packaged it off and sent it IN to the South Carolina Writers Workshop Conference. It will be critiqued by a super wonderful agent and then she will sit down with me for twenty-ish minutes and hash over the good and bad of it (hopefully more good than bad). Two awesome things about that—someone in the biz will give me first-hand insight as to what works and doesn’t with my manuscript AND I connect with said someone in the biz (networking—good stuff!). And maybe (fingers crossed TIGHT), just maybe—she’ll want to see MORE.

What else is in? School. But that’s an OW, so I’ll go there next.

What’s OW?

Okay—school really isn’t OW. I love seeing my kids again after summer break, love catching up with my teacher peeps, and uh… I totally heart MATH! So the teaching aspect—def not an OW. The OW comes from the time suck I experience from August to June. From six in the morning until nine-thirty at night, it’s get my kids off to school, teach, teach, teach, tutor, chauffeur children to whatever practice, fix dinner, do homework, read, put kids to bed… and get up the next morning and do it all over again. And as tired as you just got reading that, I really truly love the busy hectic craziness (well, most days). So what’s so OW-ful about that?

Well… when do I write?


Yep. The alarm clock is currently set for 4 AM.

Another OW. My age. I mean, I know I act like the biggest kid in the world, but with all this craziness, I’m starting to feel more achy than usual. Ugh. My heart and mind really want to be eight. But my sore elliptical-burnt out legs are trying to tell me I’m, like, eighty-five.

And does this happen to you? I am soooo used to my laptop, I can’t type on a desktop keyboard anymore. Like it takes me ten minutes to type a sentence. The keys just feel weird. And when I try to type “It wzs a darl and srormu biught” (It was a dark and stormy night), I stare at the monitor and scream “What is wrong with me?” So—an OW to my ego.

PS—the above line is not in any of my books—works well in A Wrinkle in Time. Not so much for my stuff.

What’s WOW?

Um, this awesome book I just read. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. It’s the first in the Millenium trilogy by Stieg Larsson. Oh. My. Gosh.

If you can get past the technical but necessary wordage of the first twenty pages, dude. You will seriously want to divorce yourself from reality to finish it. It is one of the most amazing thrillers I’ve read in a long time. Must read the next two. NOW. Oh—and I plan to do this super-uber book review on it this weekend and post to my writers group… I’ll share with my fabulous blog readers too.

I outlined some of my new novel the other day—EX-CI-TING! My plan is to start writing on it September 1, but I may just have to start before then. Part of it will be from a male POV—good thing there’s a high amount of testosterone in my classes this year. Research, baby! My eyes and ears will be tuned.

What else is WOW?

A bed… calling my name. Sleep… here I come. At least for a little while.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Art of the Query and Other Bits of the Biz

The S-Word

Since I’ve crafted a writing blog, I will sporadically post on guru tips I’ve picked up from conferences, networks, or other blogs and websites. And today, I shall spout from my filthy writer’s mouth on a should-be taboo word.

As a teacher, a mom, and a Christian, I try to keep my potty mouth at bay. My kids grow up thinking “stupid” is a bad word. When I say “neato nifty” or “gosh golly gee”, my students look at me like I just stepped out a screening of Pleasantville. In fact, my inability to sully my books with anything more than “freaking” and “crap” will probably be one of my downfalls in trying to get my novels published.

But there are certain things that make me want to cuss like a sailor. And while writing has become a fire that fuels my existence, I definitely have a few choice words that I’d prefer to not use in daily speech. The R-word (uh, rejection) and today’s topic—the S-word.

In the past five weeks, I’ve boiled a two-page synopsis down to one and now am repeating such a heinous act with another. And in trying to encapsulate my 74,000 word in one page, I seriously think I’ve invented a new math I’m calling suck-i-ometry. Maybe bored-ebra. Ugh.

Here’s why s-word writing carries such a fabulous weight with me: everyone varies on what they want. Some want a two-pager. Some allow five. I’m so lucky as to be reducing my was two, currently one and a half, into one page.

So in procrastinating synopsis-hacking just one more day, I re-scoped some of my fav gurus on their synop opinions and here’s what I’ve come up with:

Most of the experts concur that…

1) A synopsis covers the most important points—events that move the story forward in a major way. Strive for bare-bones. It’s a narrative summary of your book—with feeling. Some say in the same style of your book.

2) It’s written in the present tense

3) It’s written in the third person

4) When you introduce major (and only major, not bit) characters, put them in all-caps the first time (and don’t refer to them as anything else)

5) Include a conclusion aka how the story ends.

What varies…

1) Length (see above rant)

2) Spacing—single or double. Most books will conclude on double—easier to read. Makes sense, right? But I’ve also been told and read your lovely synopsis can be single-spaced

One of my fav blogs to visit is the Guide to Literary Agents Blog and creator Chuck Sambuchino recommends having two versions (or in my case three) of your synopsis—one short, one long. He also provides a lot of excellent step-by-step instructions on formatting and reiterates above advice about what to include.

Fiction Writer’s Connection details what a synopsis is and even provides a synopsis check-list.

Need a more detailed sketch as to what each paragraph in a synopsis should include? Check out Five Steps to a Synopsis

And if synopsis is your arch nemesis, Sheila Kelly’s Writing the Novel Synopsis Workshop arms you with secret weapons such as “Create catch-phrases and buzz words – present ideas in short form as much as possible. Example: ‘She was raised by nuns until she came of age to inherit her family fortune’ can be converted into ‘convent-schooled heiress.’”

Some other cool sites for synopsis writing: Patricia Dodd offers a very detailed look at synopses.

Crime writer Beth Anderson gives advice on writing a tight synopsis.

Nathan Bransford simply reinforces above-I just like his blog.

And some of the best advice I ever received on writing synopses came at the hands (or words) of agent Joanna Stampfel Volpe of Nancy Coffey Literary. At a conference I attended she actually took us through writing a synopsis of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. She analogized synopsis creating to writing a book report (well, yeah) and that the most common mistakes she encounters is that they are too long and include waaaay too much info. Just the pertinent facts, ma’am. A skeleton.

Of course, I cringed when she knocked the Dursleys and Quidditch out of our way too long list of what we as a group deemed important. Is it really important to know that Harry plays Quidditch? (YES!!!—uh, that was me) Does it carry the story forward? Okay, well… alright… cut. Whatever.

She said they are more a tool for the agent and editor.

A tool, huh?

According to Marg Gilks on Writing World, “editors and agents like having this distillation; not only will it pique their interest, but it's something they can use when presenting the novel to the buying board. It's also something you can use, the next time someone politely asks you, ‘What's your novel about?’"

And as I postponed honing my own synopsis-chopping just one more hour, I’ve arrived at some surefire conclusions.

1) Synopsis writing is a necessity for creating a vital marketing tool (and a must-have for many submission purposes)

2) It helps me hone my own writing skills

3) It’s a tool for me too

4) And… it’s really not so, so bad.

Okay—I’m done now. And I just did a word count on my S-word. I may be washing my mouth out with soap for days.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Time for Everything

Soooo—I started back to work today and with it came a tornado of pandemonium. And to let you in on my chaotic bliss, I steal from the book of Ecclesiastes or the Byrds’ song or wherever you remember last hearing THIS:

To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose during the school year…

A time to play Legos and a time to put on SpongeBob while I fix dinner

A time to drive an hour to grad school and a time to hash out that murky part of my novel while driving

A time to hang out with my husband and a time to praise Ducks(his hangout after a soccer game) so I have a night to write

A time to exercise and a time to take the kids to Dairy Queen

A time to praise God for my mother—totally would be a full-time SAHM without her

A time to fervently study for my night class and time to just “baffle them with BS”

A time to thank God for eve-ry-thing and a time to implore Him for an agent

A time for Friday Night Football and a time to write chapter 22 on the way to the game

A time to do laundry and a time to ignore the dust-bunnies and let my house be condemned

A time to submerge myself in the Twitter-verse and the Blog-o-sphere and a time to turn off the Internet and play with my imaginary friends

A time for just one more school-oriented meeting and a time for me to outline the next five chapters during said meetings (SHHHH)

A time to Facebook while sitting in my son’s doorway—waiting for him to go to sleep

A time to grade papers and a time to procrastinate them just one more day

A time to write and write and write (even if the clock’s struck two-ish) and a time to hit the sheets before midnight because you have to teach all day and then drive an hour for class

A time to fret about my daughter being in middle school and a time to play Barbies because if I blink she might just have graduated high school

A time to have a beer. Or two. Or eight. (Haha—just kidding. Maybe.)

A time to plan a fabulous new activity for Geometry and a time to scrap it when your ninety minutes gets shortened to sixty for an impromptu fire drill and surprise survey

A time to watch my husband’s soccer team play and a time to get caught up with old friends

A time to take my children to soccer or dance or whatever and a time to edit as many chapters as I can squeeze into that hour

A time to read to my children and a time for us to all sit in the same room—engaged in our own silent reading

A time to wait in the orthodontist office and a time to plan next week’s lessons

A time for IEPs and PEPs and NCLB and a time to say screw it and let me just teach

A time to have a date night with my husband—because he definitely deserves my time too

A time to struggle teaching my son to tie his shoes and a time to just put them away and relish in the fact that he’s not totally grown

A time to indulge in tap-u-topia and a time to skip my dance class because I haven’t seen my family in three days

A time for teaching and meetings and tutoring and fundraisers and a time to just ignore everything and close the door on the tanning bed for ten mind-numbing minutes

And a time to write. I don’t care if I have to down five cans of Red Bull, there will always be a time to write.

SOOOO - what do you make time for?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

They're Just Not That Into Us

Recently I was having a chat with my friend who I’ll call Gigi (PS—I really do call her that). She’d just gotten dumped by some stupid head boy she’d been dating because he was “too busy” for their relationship.

Too busy? Really? Why not just say “I’m returning to my digs in Tunisia” or “I just got bit by a rabid alien and will be in intensive care for the next century.”

Too busy? Come on, we all know what he really wanted to say.

“I’m just not that into you.”

If you haven’t seen aforementioned fabulouso movie, I think I just summed up the premise. Woman (Gigi) imagines every man she meets is Prince Charming yet shifts through countless jerks while trying to figure out the rules to the dating game. She befriends a committed bachelor bartender (Alex) and he helps her interpret the signals. Like when the guy who asked for her phone number doesn’t call after a week and she tries to reason every excuse in the book as to why he hasn’t. Why she renews a relationship with the same guy every Monday, accepting the fact that he breaks up with her every Friday just so he can have his weekends free. Or—you know—the guy who breaks it off because he’s “too busy”.

Alex quickly translates each and every scenario as “He’s just not that into you.”

He tries to impress upon Gigi that she is not the EXCEPTION. She is the RULE. She is not the girl who will run into the guy a year after he blew her off after a first date and they'll reconnect and live happily ever after.

She has to be the RULE.

I’ve had my share of Gigi moments in my funky writing adventures. Like Gigi, I tend to overanalyze eve-ry-thing. And so naturally, I over-analyzed every form rejection I’d receive. When someone would say a polite “no, thank you” to my EXCEPTION book with the pleasant tag “Your work deserves energetic and passionate representation”, I’d think, awwww, they really liked me. Or when I received the rejection on my partial that raved about my beautiful writing, my heart did a silent squee until my friend received a verbatim rejection on her partial. Rejection after rejection, I’d think maybe if I just tweaked this or… or maybe they’ll want to read it again if I cut a few more thousand words.

The reality: They just weren’t that into me. Not everybody will be. Heck, JK Rowling was rejected by, like, everybody.

At a YA Panel at one of my faboo writers conferences, agents fielded questions on a variety of topics including word count and “what grabs you”. One agent explained that Harry Potter and Twilight are the exceptions, not the rule. If you’re writing YA, keep your word count under 80K and hook the reader within the first few pages – ensure whatever’s going to happen to your protag happens right away and let the conflict fly from there.

And there I sat with my 160,000 word YA novel with a slow albeit enigmatic beginning—so not the RULE.

Be the RULE.

I get it. We live in a video-game society with a repressed economy. Publishers just aren’t going to take many chances on debut authors who write Harry Potter-esque stories that rival the length of Twilight.

So I came back from that conference determined I was going to write THE RULE. And I did. And six months later, I banged out a 74K paranormal thriller that takes off like a rocket from page one.

Currently, I’m parading though revisions on my RULE, writing the synopsis and the query. Within the next three months the RULE will see its share of critiques and additional revisions.

And in November, I shall query the RULE.

While still secretly hoping my other novel can be the next EXCEPTION.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Complete Package

There are plenty of people out there who will claim how essential it is to attend at least one writer’s conference a year. I originally balked at this idea, now I embrace it. If I could afford it, I would seriously attend, like, fifty - a year.

Why? A writer’s conference provides tremendous opportunities for any writer at any step of the game. Whether you’re a newbie toying with a book idea, or you’ve written one and are submersed in revisions, or perhaps you’ve got that baby polished and you are ready to dazzle agents with your writing brilliance. Well, a writer’s conference is a fabulous learning adventure.

First, the workshops—usually a wealth of options. At the South Carolina Writers Workshop Conference last October, I attended sessions on query letters, writing synopses, dialogue tagging, and marketing. I hit a slush fest, learned what works in writing middle grade, and attended a YA panel where I could ask questions of industry gurus. In a nutshell—I learned—a lot.

At the Backspace Agent-Author Seminar in New York, I hashed out my query letter and first pages—with agents critiquing. And listened to their advice on the queries of others in my group. Can we say insightful? On top of that fabulosity, I attended panels on voice, what agents are looking for, the road to getting published. SO much. Still sparking from that electric encounter.

The writeoncon conference just finished up and it would seriously take the next fifteen blog posts to recap all I took from that. PS—won’t do that to you, but I will highlight it’s fabulousness on occasion.

So, yeah. Writers conferences are great learning experiences.

Another faboo aspect of the writers conference—you can get your work critiqued! By people that know what they’re talking about! I’m attending one in Myrtle Beach in October and am utterly stoked that an agent will critique my query and my first thirty pages of my book! Yes—I’m paying for this, but you can’t get better feedback than from the people you want to represent your work.

Speakers? Dude. Steve Berry (best-selling author) freaking rocked it when he served as keynote speaker in South Carolina. He didn’t get picked up until his fifth book and said that if he would’ve quit, he wouldn’t be standing where he was today. Empowered much? He was a-maz-ing.

And the networking opportunities. Aaaahhhh! Wowzers! Oh—and just so you know—networking for me gets lumped in the same category as shooing wasps out of my house and teaching rational expressions in Algebra II. I HATE introducing myself to people (seriously voted “shyest person in my high school class”) and to have to talk about my wonderfulness on top of it—ugh.

BUT—I forced myself to talk to agents, editors, authors and other writers in the past year and have gotten soooo much out of it. And honestly, my best experiences came from my networking with other writers. Whether it's crying about that total flub up with an agent over drinks or laughing over your ghetto business cards, hanging out with other writers is probably the best thing I took from my conferences.

As a result of one conference, I met one of my closest friends and uber-beta (the fabulous Ricki Schultz—check out her amazing blog). Backspace gave me a whole new family of critique partners, and well, let's just say I have an amazing writers group due to befriending other writers. I've even found a family of writers in former students and former classmates. Being able to connect in such a wonderful way with so many other people going through the same thing - so totally cool. Writers - we’re a distinct family who totally get each other, support each other, celebrate with one another. Okay—moving on cause I’m getting all teary-eyed.

If you’re a writer—at whatever stage—try to go to a writers conference. Google them. Google them with your genre. Find one. NOW. I am counting the days to my next one. And I’m sure there’s a fantabulous experience out there waiting for you too.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Quick Math on

Editors + authors + agents + other writers + vlogs + chats + door prizes
= A-mazing!

As an aspiring author, one of the most pro-active events I can involve myself with is a writers’ conference. Sadly, those buggers are annoyingly expensive, but soooo worth it. And this week, I have the super-duper pleasure of attending one for free.

Yep—you heard me.


For three fantabulous days I’m logging on to and learning SO MUCH! There are inspiring speeches, Q&A sessions, Mythbusters on the publishing process, and LIVE CHATS—with industry-related people! Can we say awesome?

And it’s free!

PS—if you’re a kidlit author, why are you still reading? Log on. Click here. NOW.

Anyway—I just thought I’d share a little of the fabulousness I garnered from yesterday…

JS Lewis, author of the Grey Griffin series, had a wealth of advice on writing middle grade. Here’s just a tidbit of his brilliance: “If you get lucky enough to have a kid pick up and open your book to the first page, you better start off with a bang! You have to grab them and never let go. If your story starts to lull, your reader is going to put it down and he or she won’t come back – not just to that book, but most likely any book you write in the future.”

He gives pointers for accomplishing the near-impossible: lose the adjectives and adverbs, “keep ‘em guessing”, and cliffhangers – give your reader a reason to keep reading and say “just one more chapter”.

Up-and-coming YA author (and fellow member of Shenandoah Writers Online!), Jodi Meadows offered some faboo advice on writing a query letter. Jodi’s read many a query, having read slush for a literary agency. She has a three-paragraph approach she starts with and broke down the paragraphs sentence-by-sentence as to what each paragraph should entail. Considering I’ll be writing a query letter in the next month or so, I benefited greatly from Jodi’s guru-ness. Click here to read more of her query wisdom.

Agent Holly Root and editors Molly O’Neill and Martha Mihalick performed a Mythbusters video to quash some of the misconstrued theories out there about the publishing industry. One thing that hit home for me: the fact that kids are the best lie detectors—one of the reasons I let some of high school students read my stuff. After all, they’re my audience AND they’ll be my harshest critics.

I have a new book read thanks to writeoncon! Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins. She discussed “Bringing the Funny” to your writing and included, like, not even two sentences from her book that had me rolling! Hilarious! Must. Buy. Book. TODAY!

There was mucho advice and opportunities to ask questions, but my fav post from the day: Give Yourself Permission by editor Molly O’Neill. She states that as writers, we are the “boss and worker and teacher and student and coach and cheerleader all rolled up in one writerly self” What kind of permission do we need to make ourselves better writers and to make our stories become all that they can be?

She included this light-bulb list, things we should give ourselves permission to do. I checked off, like, all of them and felt an immense alleviation for the guilt I feel as a writer ALL THE TIME. Here are just a, uh... few that pertain to moi:

• Permission to call yourself a writer. (YES!!!)

• Permission to start writing something new—totally, gloriously new—even if the thought terrifies you. Especially if the thought terrifies you.

• Permission to admit that a story you’ve been trying to write isn’t working, or isn’t actually something that you love writing anymore, and to liberate yourself from it. And then, to start something new. (See above!)

• Permission to stray from your outline. (DO IT ALL THE TIME!)

• Permission to keep writing, even if it feels like you may never “get there.”

• Permission to let a character become someone totally different than you originally expected him/her to be.

• Permission to kill a character. (And to cry a little when you do so.) (And I have)

• Permission to hire a babysitter, or to blow off some homework, or to order dinner in, or whatever it takes, to give yourself a little more space in your life for writing.

• Permission to write a scene or story that might make certain people who love you shocked and surprised. (um... yep - did it)

• Permission to submit something.

• Permission to fail, maybe more than once. (Because you can’t fail unless you’ve tried.)

• Permission to feel things deeply as a writer—disappointment, grief, doubt, jealousy. But then to balance those negative emotions with more positive ones: ambition, determination, persistence, hope. (hellooooo, rollercoaster)

• Permission to be where you are in your path as a writer. Right now. Even if you think you should be farther along.

• Permission to write in the oddest of places. (you know - soccer practice, the beach, a school workshop (SHHHHH))

• Permission to be inspired by EVERYTHING.

• Permission to be uninspired…but to try to write through it anyway.

• Permission to mess up. Possibly many times. Every day.

• Permission to do what you need to protect yourself as a writer—to turn off the internet, or to stop reading blogs for awhile, or to avoid Twitter—and enable yourself to do that thing which writers must do—TO WRITE.

• Permission to think of your characters as real people (and to perhaps actually like them better than some real-life people you know) (yep - there are some of those)

• Permission to delete.

• Permission to write things that perhaps no one but you will ever see.

• Permission to write things that perhaps many people will see.

Okay—it really was longer than this, but it was just all so important!
And if you’re not a writer, I bet you could delete that “writer” part and insert your passion. And I’m sure several will apply to you.

Def inspired! And now I’m off for another day of fabulousness!


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Total Eclipse of the Heart

Six reasons why you should definitely see Eclipse
(over and over and over again):

1) Fight scenes that define the epic of epic epicness

2) Well-executed history of Jasper, Rosalie, and the Quileutes

3) Fabulously delivered lines (“I kissed Bella... And she broke her hand... Punching my face")

4) Edward

5) Edward

6) Edward

I mean, the way he looks at Bella—like he’d “take a bullet” for her, says things like “I promise to love you every moment of forever”, and well, he freaking sparkles. And it’s Robert Pattinson, for gosh sakes! How can you not like Edward?!

PS – if you’re Team He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, you may want to stop reading… uh, now.

Okay – drool factor in check, there are seriously a whole bunch more reasons you should see Eclipse. And knowing the general public, you’ve probably already seen it twenty times and perhaps concur with me on why you should indulge viewing number twenty-one.

I saw the movie with one of my besties who deems me (and rightfully so) a “book snob”. Yes—I’m that girl. The one who reads all the books and finds everything wrong with the movie. Twilight totally reflected the pathetic amount of money spent on making the film. I read every Nicholas Sparks book the day they hit the bookstores, but A Walk to Remember ruined me from seeing any of his movies ever again. (I heard they're better, but whatev) And as much as I heart Ron Weasley, at the end of The Goblet of Fire I screamed at my television, “How could you not put in SPEW?!”

I’ve always convinced myself that movies based on books suck because seriously? How can they possibly squeeze eight hundred pages of fabulousness into a two and a half hour movie? And then they tried to squeeze four Traveling Pants into two?! Really? Really?

Yet as I watched the third installment of the Twilight saga, an emphatic epiphany eclipsed my “snobbishness”. Maybe it was the suspenseful Riley conversion opening the movie, maybe it was the fact that I haven’t read Eclipse in well over a year, maybe it was because Edward appeared in this one a whole lot more than in New Moon, or maybe it was because Kristen Stewart’s acting improves a half-notch with each film. I don’t know, but the movie shredded any preconceived negative expectations. Yeah, it has its flaws. There were parts they left out, the whole Bree Tanner cameo makes a lot more sense if you read Meyers’ novella, Edward’s not shirtless, and the new Victoria—who casted her?

But I truly believe what sold me on this movie—in 124 minutes, director David Slade and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg capture the essence of Eclipse. The movie covered all major plot points and sprinkled in minor stuff with pure brilliance. Shoot. I didn’t even care that Eric didn’t get the limelight as valedictorian. Jessica’s speech was hi-lar-i-ous! And when Edward addressed He-Who-Shall-Not-be-Named’s half-nakedness with “Doesn’t he own a shirt?” I snorted and added another notch to top fifteen hundred reasons why Edward will always be my man.

Fact: through fantastically executed action scenes, brilliantly weaved scripting, and well-quipped dialogue, the Eclipse movie did what, in my opinion, many book-made-movies fail to do. It stayed true to the story and brought the book to life in such a way that I want to see it fifty times over. Eclipse totally overshadowed my formerly hardened heart.

PS—I refused to squander my money on the first two, but will I buy this movie once it hits the DVD racks?


Right now, I’m currently working on one of the few things I don’t particularly care for in my writing journey—the dreaded S-word—my synopsis. Unlike a query letter, a synopsis tells beginning, middle, end. It highlights major characters and delves into biggie plot points. Length? Good question. Every agent and publisher differs on what they want, but most accept a two-pager. Great. I have that. Until someone wants me to boil down the gist of my novel into one page.

One page.

A 440-page novel reduced to one page.

Well. Sucks to be me.

To me (and this is why I have a problem with books becoming movies) everything’s important. Everything. So how do I tell you everything about my book in one page?!

But as I think about Eclipse, I realize I don’t need to. I don’t need to chronicle everything. Through carefully-crafted wording, explosive verbs, and ohmygosh I must know what happens next sentences, in one page I can hopefully convey the essence of my story in a way that makes people want to read my book, like, RIGHT NOW.

I’m inspired. Renewed.

And I’m going to condense that synopsis TODAY into something totally wow-ful.

Hmmm. It looks like Twilight 3 eclipsed my hardened heart twice.

A five-star for sure.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

My Writer's Seat on Expedition Everest

Ever been to the Happiest Place on Earth? I’m lucky enough to go to Disney World every year (yeah—go ahead and hate me) as a chaperone for a hundred some eighteen year-olds as part of their senior trip (jealous now?).

The whole four-day zombie affair is totally fantabulous. And the best part—I get to visit Animal Kingdom where they have the super coolest roller coaster ever. Expedition Everest.

Spoiler alert—just FYI.

Expedition Everest whips you through the Himalayas, soars you up and down treacherous mountain paths as you avoid the Abominable Snowman. The roller-coaster train starts you up a steep slope, then into a dark, spooky cave (ooooh). The train propels you forward, through many a nail-biting hairpin turn, until—gasp—there’s no more track.

Oh no! The Yeti’s torn it apart.

Back you go. Yes—I really did just say “back”. You travel backwards, the ride spinning you through more turns, not knowing what drops lie… uh… behind you.

Finally, you stop your backward trek, the nefarious Yeti looming just above you. You whoosh forward and out of the mountain, zooming down an exhilarating, breath-taking 80-foot drop. Bottoming out to face more crazed turns, until finally you halt abruptly, and sail back to where you started.

Okay—this is so the story of my life.

Here's a not so banner day in the Miller house-hold (PS—yesterday): my son sucker-punched me in the nose(total accident, but—ouch—still hurts). I went to the beach and an hour later, rain forced me home. I spent the majority of the evening not figuring out what I want to do with the beginning of my book (uh, IMPORTANT!) Oh—and my laptop froze, like, a katrillion times.

Then today, I ride the high of IHOP and Minionade with my children. I pay my bills and feel like I might make it through the month. I get my hair done and feel like a new woman. I edit my stories and reconnect with my characters (bliss!) And bonus—I win a thirty-page critique with a YA author!

And stepping out of the drama mama role for two seconds, I’m sure you all experience the highs and lows of life, the roller coaster thrills of being whipped this way and that. The anticipation of the upward climb, the exhilaration of the drop, and the let-down when it’s all said and done.

My writing life is a thrill a minute too.

In writing a new novel, there’s the thrill of finally pouring out all the ideas that have spiraled in my head for months. I climb upward, sometimes at a glacier pace, but the anticipation of reaching that one point in my script propels me forward. Once I start, the murky middle of my book throws many a hair-pin turn my way, some thrilling, others knocking my head from left to right and I’m left with a migraine for days. At times, my book heralds me backwards. Sometimes I look back and can see the path ahead. Other times I just don’t. Know where. I’m going.

And after months of nail-biting yet exhilarating work, I finally reach that climax I’ve yearned for. I spiral towards the ending, clearing up every loose end along the way.

And then I’m done. It was FUN! But, I’m done. Gosh, that's great, but, again - I'm done.

And that kinda sucks.

But you know what? Just as I’m certain my super-duper happy moment of today will end too, I also know this.

I’ll be jumping right back in line to ride this crazy writing ride again and again and again.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Importance of Being a Beta. And Having One Too.

Almost two years ago, when I surfed through various writing websites, I stumbled upon the term “beta”.

Beta? In the writing world?

I’m a math teacher. My thoughts instantly went to teaching trigonometry and “What’s the formula for the cosine of alpha + beta?! I thought about teaching my daughter the Greek alphabet to the tune of Jingle Bells so she can be a big nerd like her mom. And pledging sororities when I had to memorize it myself.

So what exactly is a beta?

Wellll, a beta is the

• second letter of the Greek alphabet
• second highest grade or mark
• second position from a designated carbon atom in an organic molecule at which an atom or a radical may be substituted (in chemistry – thanks Free Dictionary!)
• second in order of importance

Okay—you get it—a beta, while denoting other things, pretty much means “second”.

In the computer software world, a “beta version” is often test ready; whereas, an “alpha” (ahem—the first letter of the Greek alphabet) involves software at an earlier stage.

And in writing—the alpha is the writer; the beta, the reader. A beta’s a person who reads a piece of work with a critical eye—whether it be for grammar, context, fact-checking, analysis of continuity, plot holes, and consistency. Yep—the beta serves a most important role in the writing process.

I have had—oh, I don’t know—a katrillion betas for my novels. Being a teacher, I am blessed to be surrounded by a plethora of gurus in every area imaginable. Three English teachers have had read portions or entire manuscripts. My husband’s a history teacher slash soccer coach so I have an instant fact-checker when I try to talk “upper-ninety” or “Andrew Johnson”. Somehow I can’t seem to steer myself from science-y elements so I practically lived in my fav chemistry teacher’s classroom last year. Even a most discerning art teacher reads my novels with a most critical eye.

And since I write YA, this year I finally cracked open my rib cage and exposed my heart to three of my high school students. Considering they’re my audience, their feedback proved amazingly insightful.

My critique partners, people who are in the biz or are at a similar stage in their writing - whoa. These people are essential. Find them, relish them. They’re out there, playing the same game I am, and they often bring that insider’s scoop as to what agents are looking for. Two of my writing betas are freelancers who are top-notch at the editing process—helping me make those cuts I can’t bear to make myself.

And of course—people who I will always, always relish as betas—are those that read just because they love me and will shower praise on me no matter how much my story sucks. Like my mother. And my endearing eleven-year old daughter.

I totally heart all my betas and value e-ve-ry thing they bring to the table. It took a lot of sorting the wheat from the chaff to find my good betas and I’m always on the lookout for one more writing beta, but I have gleaned so much from the people who’ve helped me (PS—willingly) and will seriously have an acknowledgment list three pages long when I do eventually publish a book.

And while having betas, and good betas at that, is an essential part of the writing process, I have also discovered that being a beta can be just as important.

WHAT?! Are you kidding me? I’m a full-time teacher, a mom, a grad school student, and I write! When do I have time to read somebody else’s stuff?!

But I do it. I read other people’s WIPs (ahem—Work In Progress). I edit articles. I practically beg my seniors to let me red ink their research papers. Why?

a) I looove to read. And shoot—I read someone else’s work—I get to read FOR FREE.

b) The more I edit, the more of a critical eye I have for my own work. When I tell my seniors to quit using so much passive voice, guess what? I engage in more active voice in my own stories. When I edit redundancy in someone else’s work, I’m less redundant in mine.

So—hopefully you get it. The more I critique someone else’s work, the more technical I get with my own writing.

A win-win situation all around.