Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Writing Process Blog Tour: More Fun Than It Sounds, I Promise

The beautiful and talented Jenny Kaczorowski (I like to suck up to people who are nice to me; she's also the author of fun YA Contemporary The Art of Falling) tagged me for the Writing Process Blog Tour, which sounds rather clinical and not very fun, but I enjoyed reading her post, so it's obviously much more fun than it sounds (as per my title).

This is me.
Once upon a time, I took a whole series of weird photos and am using them for my blog.
They entertain me, and I like to think others mildly enjoy them as well.
Please, don't disillusion me.

1) What am I working on?

I'm writing the first(ish) draft of a YA sci-fi that I am desperately trying to pull back from the Dystopian pitfall (b/c I love Dystopian and there's something very fascinating about a society on the verge of collapse, but as Authoress pointed out, they're a hard sell in publishing these days. So I figure anything I can do to make my novel a little different will help it in the long run.)

(Photo credit to Don)

It's setting is a sort of sci-fi Narnia with robotic talking animals and mutant type forest dwellers. Although right now most of the action takes place in the military run city (which is modeled on the Dredd-esque mega cities).

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

(Photo credit to Andreas Levers)

Ugh. I hate comparing my work to others. Plus, it's really hard because you always have some commonalities (you know, like things that make you part of a genre) but somewhere deep down you want to think of your own work as uniquely yours.

This is also the hardest part of a query letter for me. I write desperate emails to my CP's asking what on earth they think I can compare my work to (without sounding like a pretentious little twerp.)

I like to think my works are different because I consciously use a variety of influences, include diversity, and avoid stereotypes (at least those are my goals).

(Photo credit to Antonio Cinotti)

Some of my influences include older sci-fi books. For example, in a MG book I wrote, one character's powers were based on the Reverend Mothers of Dune.

And did you know that people make "movies" that record the entire storyline of video games? Here's Bioshock Infinite - if you wanna spend 3.5 hrs. I was watching some of these before starting work on my latest book.

I try to keep my influences varied to make something that's just a little bit different.

3) Why do I write what I do?

I write YA (and MG) partially because it's what I love to read. And, like Jenny said, the teenage years (and childhood years) play a huge role in determining the adult you will become. You make a lot of choices and learn a lot in those years, and because of that, characters of the YA/MG age are just fascinating to write about.

(Photo credit to cishore)

Honestly, typical adults are boring. Kids are the ones with the active imaginations who believe that anything is possible.

And I write fantasy/sci-fi because in those worlds, anything truly is possible. If I can imagine it, I can write it.

4) How does my writing process work?

Lately it's been a pain in the butt!

For some reason, with brain storming, I like the act of physically writing stuff down. My house has pieces of paper filled with my writing scattered throughout it (I'm not the neatest person). I write down ideas I have about the characters and the world and the plot.

Once I've gotten enough ideas gathered together, I start outlining something. My outlining skills aren't the greatest because for the last two books, I wrote a half a first draft (say 30,000 words). At that point, I thought to myself, "This is kinda boring. I'm not doing my ideas any justice." Then I abandoned the project. A few months later, with the idea still nagging at my brain, I wrote a new (and much better) outline and then I started writing the book again from scratch.

This is not a very efficient way of writing, but it does help pare things down to essential plot.

The Tagging Part

Now I'm supposed to tag other writers to take part in this blog tour, but I'm limited in writerly friends, and the ones I have are rather busy, so I make no promises. But here are thevery enjoyable blogs of two of these writerly types:

Jillian Karger - Her Blog is titled "Velocirapter Hands" which is pretty darn cool. And perhaps a little frightening if you're XKCD. (He actually has a large number of Velociraptor-fearing comics, but I linked to a nice, simple starter point). And now for her bio:

Jillian Karger majored in English and minored in Dramatic Literature: a silly and wonderful mishmash of acting, film, and theater history. She once wrote a persuasive essay about the fact (yes, fact) that Fight Club is the best movie in all existence. Jillian has been writing novels since she was fourteen and is sure she'll keep doing it whether someone pays her for them or not. But the money part would be nice.

This is Abe Lincoln on a Velociraptor!
(Photo credit to Andrew Becraft)

Miriam Joy - a multi-talented British writer, who also happens to actually fit into the YA demographic due to age (not that this has stopped any of the rest of us from reading YA)

She's actually from London, where I would like to visit one day.
(Photo credit to Doug Wheller)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Mockingjay: A Review of Sorts

I think my subtitle for this post ought to be:

Building Character By Killing Off Other Characters

This gorgeous photo was from Teri Orda.

I came late to the Hunger Games phenomenon.

I was early to the Harry Potter craze. I worked at a library in high school and always scoped out the new kids' books (especially fantasy) as they were coming in. Harry caught my eye, and I really enjoyed it, but I had absolutely no idea what it would turn into. I watched it unfold, and, honestly, I was amazed. But I always had that un-influenced first opinion to know I enjoyed the book without all the hype. I mean I would have enjoyed them no matter what, but that fact made me happy (because deep down I'm obviously some sort of annoyingly smug Hipster).

By the time I finally picked up the first Hunger Games book, the movie was about to come out, and I'd been hearing about it for ages. I thought, "A book about kids who kill each other? No thanks." But eventually I realized I couldn't escape it, and I really ought to give it a try. With all the hype surrounding it, I figured that it wouldn't live up to expectation. And there was the whole "kids who kill each other" thing.

Well, I loved it.

So I decided to try something new: read each book in the year its movie was coming out. By the time a movie comes out, if I'm interested in the series, I've usually read it all years before the movies and I either don’t remember any of the book's details or that book has blurred in with the subsequent books and I can't remember what actually happened in which book.

I read one book per year. The Hunger Games two years ago and Catching Fire last year. Watching each movie after only reading its book and not beyond was a fun experience. I appreciated each movie without the slightest clue of what would happen after the film ended. There's something weirdly fun about that.

Last week, I finally picked up Mockingjay, read it through, closed the book, and thought, "This lady is a genius."

Warning: Spoilers will ensue!

Photo by Kendra Miller.

What really struck me was how incredibly well Collins used her characters. She played us along, getting us attached, and when the moment was right, picked off exactly the right character to tug at our heartstrings. And, just as importantly, she kept the right characters alive.

First, obviously, came Rue. Rue's death showed what it really meant to be in a world with the Hunger Games. Rue set the precedent. (To be honest, Rue made me cry.)

In Mockingjay, there was a war going on. People die in war. I was glad Collins didn't kill off Haymitch just because we'd grown attached to him, but I will say that Finnick's death was the one death that seemed a little pointless. Somewhat logical given the war, and I could see him wanting to be an active participant, but it was the one death that was sad but didn't really tug at me, so it felt a little wasted. Plus I felt really sad for crazy Annie, especially because I'd think this would turn her crazy again.

But everything else was brilliant. It all came back to Prim for Katniss. Prim's name being called was what set her on the Mockingjay path, and Prim's death was the one that could break her.


Prim's death made the entire ending come together. Thanks to that death, Alma Coin had to be taken out and our fledgeling democracy got a better president (although I did think Peeta might end up being president for a while). Thanks to that death, the love triangle was resolved in a completely believable way. Without it, I don't see how Katniss could have chosen so that her choice wouldn’t have felt like some sort of pity prize. I was also glad that Collins didn't take the easy way out and kill off one of the love interests. That would have felt a little lacking in resolution too.

It's funny. Despite all the bloodshed, there was really only one important death per book: Rue's, Cinna's, and Prim's. While I really liked Cinna, I will say that his death felt the least pivotal of the three, and his book felt the weakest as well (although it was necessary to further the plot).

Anyway, I closed my book and realized just how brilliantly Collins had played all of the characters at her disposal (or perhaps referring to them as chess pieces would seem more accurate).

I'm glad I finally gave in and read them all.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Peachiest Pairings. According to Me.

I spent a little while asking around about people's favorite couples. I wanted to sit down and look at a list so that I could analyze what made these pairs work because I want to write couples who people really enjoy. I did a few Google searches, and I wracked my brains. I did not limit myself to romantic pairings. Among other things, there's a sibling set on this list, and it's not a Game of Thrones set of siblings. Get your minds out of the gutters, people.

For me, I've realized that a history together and a sense of humor are two key factors. I've also noticed I have a thing for contentious couples.

There was an incredibly sweet and personal Reddit post about how you feel about the person you love. It's worth a read. It was written in response to a woman who doesn't feel like she's attractive, and the poster explains that how no matter how she sees herself, the person who loves her will see her differently (better).

I also happen to have an undying paranoia about copyright violation, which is why each pair is represented by my very own stick figures rather than by famous images of the couples in question. Sorry if the image isn't always the best, but, hey, at least they're my very own. Also, both my scanner and my camera died, so ingenuity was used and quality was sacrificed.

Best Couples of All Time: A List by Sarah Hipple

One of the most famous couples of all time. Ms. Sass and Mr. Stick-up-the-ass:
Lizzie Bennet and Mr. Darcy are a predictable favorite of mine. I’m among the millions who can’t resist them. Sadly, my eraser created a bit of a gray smudge that I couldn't get rid of. Fortunately, Lizzie's too busy stomping off to notice.

A man known for his sweaters. A woman known for her smarts:
Heathcliff and Claire Huxtable. With their sense of humor and crazy family, the Huxtables are incredibly endearing. They're great parents too. Oh, and in case you were wondering, those blue and green squiggles are meant to be a Cosby Sweater. Squint your eyes. You might see it.

That Blue Hair. That Yellow Skin.
Homer and Marge Simpson. I saw them on someone else’s list, and that’s when it struck me: their family is occasionally dysfunctional, but this couple really cares about each other even after years of marriage and three kids. That's amazing.

Whistle, Click. Worry, worry.
R2-D2 and C-3PO. A friend mentioned this pair, and, you know, despite the fact that one’s a paranoid worrier and the other one doesn’t speak English, I love them.

The Liar and the Saint:
Olivia Carsington and the Earle of Lisle are from Last Night’s Scandal by Loretta Chase. Yep, an out and out romance novel (and not of the classic variety). Some people scorn the things, but I’m addicted to couples who’ve known each other for years, and this one was perfect for me. Not for the kiddies, though.

Mischief and Magic:
Fred and George Weasley are two of my husband’s favorite characters of all time. I’m pretty certain my husband would classify the death of Fred Weasley as one of the most tragic events of the last century. My husband deals with it by living in denial. I believe I once mentioned that the book in our house claims that it was a little known Weasley brother named “Sam” who died. I've got to admit, they are pretty darn awesome.

Imagination and Tuna:
Calvin and Hobbes are another pair included b/c of my husband's love for them, and I can’t blame him. This cartoon is genius, and these two are the best of friends, even if one is imaginary.

Song and Dance:
I have a weak spot for the adorable Kurt and Blaine. I may not follow Glee these days, but this couple was really sweet. And would break out into song for little to no reason. I'm still not completely sure if that's a pro or a con.

Class and Cary
Tracy Lord and C.K. Dexter Haven. Cary Grant is gorgeous and funny. So is Katherine Hepburn. It's been ages since I've had a chance to watch The Philadelphia Story, so I hope I'm not misremembering how great they were together. As for the plot: this is another pair who've known each other forever. They even went through a divorce. Watch the movie.

Sarah and Nigel (I'm reading; Nigel's on the computer:)
This list is highly personalized and subjective, so you know what? I'm including me and my husband because we are my own personal favorite couple. I'd hope that everybody's relationship is their own favorite relationship. Plus, that rounds out the list to 10 couples. Perfect harmony is achieved.

Let me know who your favorite couples are. I'm sure they're different from mine. Within Harry Potter alone, I had three different couples mentioned, and I only asked four people!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Presto-Chango of SFF

Don't really remember what I was thinking.
Can't explain myself.
Too lazy to come up with something better.

I'm writing a new book, and I spent some time trying to plot everything out a few weeks ago. I was poring over basic plot arc guides (I really like the ones Jami Gold mentions here), and I was studying the plots of some of my favorite books and generally wracking my brain to come up with a plot that is awesome, action packed, and at least a little bit original.

That was when I noticed: Every single fantasy or sci fi book starts in one location and then suddenly transfers to another location for the majority of the action.

Just for example:

  • The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe: Starts in England, moves to Narnia (Ahhhh, Narnia. I would so like to visit some day.)
  • Ender's Game: Starts on earth at Ender Wiggin's home, moves to the Battlestation.
  • Sabriel: Starts in a boarding school in a mostly non-magical land, moves to the Old Kingdom (full of formerly dead things, a talking cat, and, in general, a ton of things that want to kill Sabriel. Don't worry. She gets through it.)
  • The Coldest Girl in Coldtown: Starts in a house full of dead bodies, sucked dry by vampires, and leads to a road trip for a girl, a boy who wants to suck her blood (but isn't quite a vampire yet), and an mentally insane, powerful vampire.
  • Dune: Starts on the beautiful, lush planet of Caladan, moves to the hostile, bone-dry planet of Arrakis.
  • Harry Potter: Starts off with those deadly dull Dursleys in their perfect little suburban haven and moves to the awesomeness of Hogwarts.

You might be thinking to yourself, "Well, that's just a coincidence. She's just picking the wrong books." But, seriously, EVERY SINGLE SFF book I could think of started in one place and then pretty quickly moved to another. I got up and started looking through the books on my bookshelf, and I couldn't find an exception.

I will admit that I did come up with one exception, but it honestly took me DAYS to come up with this (spoilers lie ahead):

  • Cinder: a Cinderella retelling of an outcast, cyborg Cinderella and her fight against the evil, mind-controlling Queen from the moon.
And I'm not even positive Cinder counts. Cinder takes place in the capital city of New Beijing. At first Cinder's at home, getting used and abused as a maid or whatever. Then she gets booted out of the house (setting change!) and trapped in a lab where she's to be used as a guinea pig. But then she gets back home by the second half of the book, so I'd say Cinder's living at home for the majority of the plot/action. So, technically, it doesn't fit my original premise of the majority of the action taking place somewhere other than the starting location, but it still has an important setting change.

And seriously, guys, that was it!

Oh, okay. I did have one friend come up with: 1984 and Farenheit 451. I remember 1984 has a few different settings, but I suppose the majority of the book takes place in the MC's normal city life. And, anyway, both of those books are just horribly depressing. That has nothing to do with setting. It's merely an observation that for some inexplicable reason makes me discount all observations about the books. I mean, I have no desire to write a super-depressing book, and apparently that's what a lack of setting change gets you. (Nope. Don't bring logic into it. I don't want to hear it.)

And yet, I don't think I'm going to have any major setting changes in the new book. So wish me luck. Apparently I'll need it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Multi-POV Challenge

Took a million of these weird photos back when I started my blog.
By this point, it's too late to figure out something better, so you're stuck with them.
Plus, I'm lazy.
And apparently weird.

I've started plotting my "new" book. Okay, so it's actually my old book from back in November (NaNoWriMo), but since I pretty much scrapped the stuff I'd written in November, I'm going to go ahead and call this a new book.

I've even got a title for it: Steel Heart (subject to change, as the commercials say).

It's about two 16 year olds in a futuristic city where the military rules. One is from the poor section and the other is from the military elite. My favorite part is the world around the city. In the forests surrounding the city I've created a sort of sci fi Narnia with robotic talking animals and humans who mutated themselves to use chlorophyll to supplement their food energy intake (aka Dryads).

This story is told from two different point of views (POVs), and plotting it out was making my head spin. I could not wrap my brain around all the moving parts and get it all to mesh together.

So after I'd written page after page of useless notes trying to get my plot to work, I was struck by inspiration: plot what happens in the lives of the three main antagonists first. Then work out the two protagonists' stories.

The antagonists, not being the focus of the story, have much shorter arcs, but they're the ones who dictate much of the beginning action, so what they're doing is really important.

Once I had the antagonists' stories written down, it was much easier to weave their attacks and plots into the beginning stories of my two protagonists and work out the heros' reactions and how they'd try to overcome all the obstacles the antagonists threw at them.

And then once I had each individual story written out, I wove them all together into a master plot outline that's six pages long (single spaced), and I'm really quite proud of it.

Now we'll just have to see how well I actually follow it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Captured by an Idea

It's kind of funny how contrary our brains can be. I've read others write about it over and over. They're in the middle of a manuscript. Maybe they have a deadline. Maybe they just really want to plow through that first draft. They're well on their way when all of a sudden an idea gets a hold of them and won't let go. Instead of finishing the manuscript that it would make the most sense to finish first, they just cannot get this idea out of their heads. It nags at them and pokes at them and will not let them be.

Well, it's finally happened to me. Before I went back to do another massive overhaul on Dragon Bait, I was about 35k into a Contemporary YA manuscript. I liked the characters. I liked the idea. I was well on my way. I even started making revision notes and re-familiarizing myself with the story so that I could start writing again.

But then I read Holly Black's The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, and I didn't want to write a boring old Contemporary any more. (To be fair to Contemporaries, I don't really think they're boring. But imagining a whole new world is really fun.) I wanted to write about a world all my own. I wanted to go back and work on my NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) novel.

I managed to "win" NaNo (aka write 50k words) during the month of Novemember with a YA sci fi. It was a fun(ish) experience. A lot of writing and not too much of doing else (other than go to work). I was quite proud of myself. But after I'd finished writing my 50k, I started to feel like the whole idea kinda needed an overhaul. The antagonist just wasn't enough of a problem for the heros. The cool world I'd envisioned wasn't used to its full potential. And while I still liked a lot about it, I felt like I'd pretty much need to scrap those 50k words and start all over again. Very daunting.

As you can imagine, I wasn't too keen to get to work on this novel when I had a perfectly good novel half finished. But my brain got the better of me. It was quite insistent. Robotic animals and teenaged leaders in a grim futuristic world called to me. So off I go.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Shakespeare and the Invention of the Elbow

Yup. Still going strong with the "Glove on Head" photo series.

I'm waiting on query responses and sending out queries and it's a rather disheartening process, so I'm going to write about something completely different.

Reddit: The Backstory

I may have mentioned (quite a few times) that I'm a bit of a Reddit addict. I waste far too much of my life on that site. But sometimes I learn cool stuff and see awesome pictures. I'm pretty that Reddit was where I saw a video about words that Shakespeare invented. The invented word that stuck out the most for me: elbow.
(I considered putting in a terrible pun about an elbow jabbing me right here, but I refrained. Please go ahead an admire my fortitude.)

Funny Elbows

My husband's commentary was, "What did they call it before Shakespeare? The bendy bit on the arm? No, not the wrist, the other bendy bit!"

Sorry. My husband has deluded me into thinking he's clever. He makes me laugh, and that's really what counts, right?

The Actual Shakespeare Resource

My somewhat random but still writerly-related link for the day is this site:

The site has Shakespeare's complete works, like, yanno, his plays. Which are, of course, out of copyright and quite legal.

And then there's their nifty list of words Shakespeare invented. If you're anything of a word nerd, this unreal, majestic list will cause utter amazement, even from the most obscenely jaded. (Oh, just go read the list for yourself.)