Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A YA Rant

Chepstow by Stewart Black

Good Writing Advice

Some of the best writing advice that I've seen is: Read within your genre. (Which is not to say it's the only thing you should read.)

For me, this means YA and MG sci-fi and fantasy. That's not hard for me. I've had to make more of a point to read MG because I do prefer YA, so I have my writing to thank for the wonderful MG books I've discovered in the past few years (including a personal favorite - Suzanne Collins' Underland Chronicles).

Crown by Jason Train

YA Rants

I have noticed that YA is far more likely to send me ranting to my husband, mostly for one of three reasons:


  1. The protagonist is a whiner. A certain amount of whining is warranted in the sorts of situations YA protagonists typically find themselves in. But if you scale too high on my carefully allotted whin-o-meter, I will go whining to my husband (Oh, the irony).
  2. Love triangles. Sometimes they work. Other times I can overlook them. But overall, I just wish there were less of them.
  3. This one's a little harder to explain, but it boils down to this: if any of major plot points hinge on one of the characters being madly in love with someone they barely know, I will be annoyed. Very annoyed.

In case you can't tell, number three was what set me off recently. I stopped reading a book at the 82% mark because a major plan hinged on the assumption that a male character who had been trained to defend his kingdom wouldn't bother to do so because he was "in love." Talk about a poor plan! I mean, multiple people - some of them adults! - buy into this terrible plan. To me this is just poor plotting (both in the plotting against a kingdom sense and in the plotting  a book sense). At that point I could suspend my disbelief no longer. Plus I was utterly disgusted with these characters. I gave up on them and then came onto my blog to rant a little more.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Prometheus: My Masterpiece

I made this!

Paper Mache, Styrofoam, and Spray Paint

I am leaving my current job and wanted a great gift for my mentor/boss. He likes Greek mythology, and likes to think of himself as bringing knowledge down to the people - such as Prometheus brought fire down from Mount Olympus to the humans.

It so happens that Rockefeller Center has a very iconic statue of Prometheus:

Photo by Sharon Mollerus

And so a gift idea was born.

All it took was WAYYYYYY too many hours with my hands in some very cold flour-water paste, and a LOT of tiny chunks of styrofoam all over the kitchen floor.

Initial Conception

That flat styrofoam bit in the middle is the beginnings of Prometheus' head, left arm, body, and left leg.

A lot of glue, tape, styrofoam shaving, trimmed shish kabob sticks, and even some thread went into this body transformation.

Oh, and yarn! Yarn made the face and hair possible.


That bowl is helping to shape the circular bit that goes around the base of the mountain. I'm not really sure what that bit of the statue is all about. Maybe I shoulda found out.


I had to show off the finished product one more time: Back and Front.

Hopefully you can tell - I gave him styrofoam abs!

Seriously, you have no idea how many hours this took. 
Hint: SOOOOOOOOO many!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

My Writing Process

I've got my YA sci fi with a great critique partner.

I'm waiting on query feedback from a webinar for my MG fantasy.

So. What to do with my writing brain? I decided to come up with a brand new idea!

My Writing Process

Mapping out a new idea takes a while. I'm not awesome at outlining. I've found that my process is:

  • Idea!
  • Research and Brainstorm
  • Initial outline
  • Write about 20k-60k of the first draft
  • Re-outline with much better plot
  • Write "first" draft, discarding pretty much all of that initial 20k-60k
  • Edit
  • Critique partner feedback
  • Edit
  • New critique partner feedback
  • Edit
  • Husband's feedback
  • Edit
  • Query some. Fail.
  • Edit

Brainstorming

That's as close as I come to a writing process, but right now I'm in the develop the idea, research, and brainstorm section. This is always a fun part.

I've been listening to Writing Excuses (a how-to-write podcast), Brandon Sanderson's Youtube BYU classes, and a screenwriting YouTube channel.

I've also been watching movies and history podcasts that deal with the time and place that I want to set this particular book: 1950s in the U.K.

I'm writing background, plot ideas, character ideas, etc. as I think of them.

It's an all over the place sort of brainstorming, but it's one of the most fun parts of writing. A lot of fun "What ifs?" where I get to let my imagination fly free.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

What I'm Reading

I've found I'm reading some odd stuff ever since I started writing, and it's rather fun. Right now I'm the midst of the following:

Photo by Vinoth Chandar
  • Man of Honor by Joseph Bonanno - Bonanno was born in Sicily and moved to New York when he was a young man. He went on to found one of the Five Families - the five mafia families that ruled New York City's criminal enterprises (and beyond). It's very interesting hearing what he's got to say for himself, although you've got to almost remind yourself every other page what exactly he's talking about because he doesn't think he did a single thing wrong.

Photo by mjtmail (tiggy)
  • Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard - a YA SFF that's quite fun, although it does have the requisite slew of young men in love with our protagonist. But at least she's got some cool powers, and there's a much bigger picture of a country and world at war and the fact that there's really not great solutions when one's in such a situation.

Photo of Johannesburg by Andrew Moore
  • Born a Crime by Trevor Noah - I'm not usually so immersed in the world of non-fiction, but this sounded too interesting to pass up. Trevor Noah took over the Daily Show from Jon Stewart, but this story is about the fact that he was born to a white man and black woman in apartheid-ruled South Africa where it was literally a crime for him to be created. I heard an interview with him, where he said that he started out writing this story thinking he was the hero of his own life, but as he was writing he realized his mother was the true hero, and he was just the scrappy sidekick.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Why Diversity?

Photo by Jon Bunting

A Rural Upbringing

In my writing, I tend to include people of different cultures and skin colors. This is important to some people. Others don't see the value in it. I will explain, based on my experiences, why I do this. I'll admit this was  kind of a hard post to write.

Just before third grade, my family moved to a white, rural community with a lot of people whose families had lived in the same area for generations. I don't remember much from before that other than a few friends and experiences. My true memory of childhood is from age seven onward in this rural community.

Photo by Rafael Sato


Being Different

The other kids at elementary school taught me something: Different is Weird and Weird is Bad. Perhaps "showed" is more accurate because this was never anything that needed to be said aloud.

Different could mean any number of things. For example:

  • Poverty - the poorest kid smelled funny and had bad clothes and was teased. A lot.
  • Outsiders - I was new to the school and liked weird things like books. I was pretty quiet and never fully accepted at my elementary school. (By junior high when the schools merged, it was just my awkwardness that held me back.)
  • Religion - there was small, religious minority in my area (none of the ones that immediately come to mind). They dressed differently, had weird hair, and were vegetarian. My family was friends with one of these families, and when I was a kid, I was embarrassed to be seen with them.
  • Skin color - this one's harder because I don't remember meeting a single kid with a skin color different from mine until junior high. When I saw this kid in the hall, I remember trying not to stare. I only had stereotypes and movies to tell me who this kid was, where he came from. By this point, I knew he wasn't likely to come from some inner city or whip a gun out in the middle of junior high. I wasn't completely out of touch. But there was an underlying sense of wariness that felt instinctive.


Exposure


That wariness came from a complete lack of exposure to people who didn't look like me. I was raised in a monolith, so there was a whole lot in this world that was weird to me.

My goal in writing diverse characters is to help kids feel like people who are different from them are their friends (or maybe enemies, depending on the character). But that these are real people who could be the person right next to them. I think that's important.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Oh My!

I'm late, I'm late, I'm late for this very important date.

And so what you get today is one of my favorite little works of art that I painted several years ago: 
Because everybody needs a little dragony goodness in their day.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Thank you, Hillary. Sincerely.

Why:

I typically try to avoid waxing political on my social media. But this election has affected me more than I thought it would.

I thought Stephen Colbert's very a-political send-off on election night was quite beautiful and encouraging, and I realized there's not been enough positive in this election cycle, so I wanted to add something positive too.

I'd like to note I did not vote for Hillary because she was a woman. If that was my motivation, I wouldn't have voted for a man in the primaries. I voted for her because, of the two candidates, she better represented the direction I wish my country to take. But, as a woman, I appreciate what Hillary has been to us. And I think history will too.

So, today, I am going to thank Hillary Clinton.

Photo by Alan C.

With all my Heart:

Hillary, thank you for helping to pave the way for women in American politics.

Thank you for being our first major party contender for President.

Thank you for never giving up, no matter how much vitriol was thrown at you, no matter how many people commented on your looks, your clothes, your hair. No matter how much some people doubted a woman could do the job.

Thank you for being steadfast, for being you in the face of all that doubt.

Thank you for being gracious and smart and stubborn as hell.

Thank you for the work you've done for America's kids.

Thank you for pushing past all of the critics who thought you should be a dutiful wife and nothing more.

Thank you for sharing your story, for living your life. For showing us what it was like to be a female law student in the '70s.

Thank you for giving little girls a woman who they could point to and say, "I want to be like her," even if that statement does end with, "But I want to win." Because, Hillary, you have helped make that possible.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Christmas Pumpkin

Jackolanterns

I know I'd mentioned a photo-story about Nigel and a stick, but that'll have to wait for another day because this weekend Nigel and I carved our pumpkins, and new is always more fun to show off than old.

carved christmas pumpkin

Since Halloween is over and done with, I chose to make a Christmas Pumpkin. In case there is any confusion, the thing off to the left is a fireplace with two stocking and a candle on the mantelpiece. Apparently one of Nigel's coworkers (who obviously has a rather morbid imagination), thought it was a Nativity on fire.

I think it looks more like an oddly unhappy Halloween face (with the stockings as eyes), but such is the way of art - people will see what they want to see.

one-eyed monster

Nigel went for the more traditional Halloween pumpkin - the one-eyed monster. I thought it looked a bit like Mike Wazowski from Monsters, Inc, but apparently that wasn't quite what Nigel was going for. He could see it, though.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

An Autumnal Adventure

Autumnal Nigel, Leaf shirt
While we hiked, Nigel spent a good 5-10 minutes trying to pin this leaf to his shirt.
He stuck the stem through a threat in his shirt.

Next week, I intend to tell a tale of Nigel and his friend, The Stick - if I'm feeling ambitious and if my pictures of the Stick Rescue came out okay. This week, however, is devoted to the pretty pictures I took at World's End State Park. Because those pictures deserve their own blog post.

We started the day bright and early.
Neither of us could sleep.
The views on the way there might have been the best of the trip.
Nigel took photos as I drove.

Note: we did have the camera set to "vivid" or something of that nature, so perhaps some of the colors are a little out there, but they're still quite representative of this park on a bright, Fall day.

Autumnal town
A town along the way.

Fall in the mountains
I feel a little silly with all these driving photos, but this doesn't even do the view justice.

red backpack, fall forest
I took this photo!
It's a Nigel.

World's End State Park, fall, forest
Alright, the views from our hike were quite pretty too.

World's End State Park, Autumn
Approaching one of the park's two, big views.

World's End State Park, Autumn, Mountains, View
The view itself.

World's End State Park, Autumn, forest, rock
One final, foresty photo.

Hope you enjoyed the photographic journey to World's End State Park. It's a nice place. I am busy with my writing, but there's not really much to say about it right now, so I'm sticking to the photos because they're funner.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Fall Foliage: World's End State Park

I've been editing a bit, keeping busy. But the truly noteworthy event of the last week was my husband and I's trip to World's End State Park. And this photo:

autumn mountains, World's End State Park, PA

And that photo is quite enough for one week. I'll share more next week, but this was the best.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

In the Thick of Things

Banff National Park
I took this photo in Canada - somewhere in Banff Nat'l Park.
I don't quite remember where exactly.

My post this week will be short and sweet. Or just short.

I have yet another new query that I entered into a contest hosted by Michelle Hauck and others. I'm actually rather excited about this query. It's more lively than many of the others and helps point out what's unique about my book. I find out on Thursday if I got into the contest or not. (This contest is to help me polish my query and then put it in front of a few agents Michelle lined up.)

Banff National Park, Canadian Rockies, cold
My husband being cold on a Canadian hike.
I have the name of the place written down somewhere.
Not here, though.
This is from a few years ago.

I'm back into editing. I've set an ambitious goal of editing five chapters a week (which I failed to meet for the first week b/c I spent half of it rewriting my query letter). Now I'm in the midst of editing my YA scifi, which will keep me busy for quite a while.

So. That's what's up in my writing life. And that's about all I've got to say this week. Have a good one!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

YouTube: A Writing Education

bicycle and screen door
Photos for this post shall be random photos I took that I like.


Making Your Own Education

For those of us without a formal writing education, there are lots of amazing resources online (and elsewhere I'm sure). Lately I've been watching Brandon Sanderson's lectures at BYU (here's a link to the first one.)


cracked door frame
Actually, the photos aren't that random.
They're of a house my parents fixed up.


Sanderson's BYU Lectures

By this point I've read plenty of recommended books, blog posts, and listened to lectures on plotting, character development, etc. So it's not like all this stuff is new, but there are a few things I particularly like about Sanderson's lectures:

  • He's a NYT Bestselling writer, so he's got the credentials to be giving advice.
  • He acknowledges that his way isn't the only way. In fact, he tries to mention as many different methods of writing as he can because he knows different methods help different types of writers.
  • He writes SFF. I haven't gotten to the world building lecture yet, but I'm definitely looking forward to it.
  • These lectures are from a well-known writing school (BYU), and he has experience teaching this class, and I think it shows.
  • He seems like a nice, funny guy. This might not matter to everyone, but if you're going to listen to someone for hours out of your life, it helps if you're smiling rather than grimacing as you listen.

shadows, abandoned house
It's a pretty cool house. It looks way more liveable now.
But it looked kinda cool all beat up.


Other Resources: Podcasts, Books, and Blogs

In other posts, I've linked to this two minute clip from Trey Parker and Matt Stone. They talk about how they plot out South Park, and it's a fun insight.

Sanderson recommends one of his fellow writer's YouTube posts, Dan Wells on Story Structure.

Sanderson also has a podcast with several fellow writers called Writing Excuses. It's not as structured or pared down as his BYU lectures, but it's a fun listen, and eleven seasons (and counting) gives them way more time to delve into issues. I'll admit that podcasts just aren't my thing, so I've only listened to a few here or there.

Then, of course, there are the books I hear recommended over and over again. The three I think I hear mentioned most are: Story Engineering by Larry Brooks, Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, and Stephen King's On Writing. The first two books are all about structure and tricks to improve your book. On Writing is more of an entertaining memoir with some solid writing advice thrown in (it's actually a really fun read whether you write or not).

There are a TON of great writing blogs out there. In fact, Writer's Digest puts out a list of the 101 best websites for writers every year. I personally like Jane Friedman, formerly of Writer's Digest, for some good all-round advice. Best selling author Chuck Wendig veers off track more often than not, but almost always in entertaining ways (if he's your style), and there are some nuggets of excellent writing advice thrown in. I still use Nathan Bransford as a reference when I want to remind myself, for example, how to write a pitch. I don't think he's posting as much any more, but he's a literary agent turned MG writer, so he knows his stuff. And I've personally found some good advice in C.S. Lakin's blog.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Writing from Two Main Character POVs

Nigel and I, several year ago
Badlands National Park (I think)

Well, it happened. I missed a week of blogging. This weekend I began to suspect what I'd done, but I wasn't quite sure until I just checked the dates of my posts because sometimes the weeks start to blur together.

Oh well. I'm back!

I picked a picture of both Nigel and I for my top photo because, first of all, we look super cool in this photo. And second because my draft that I finished back in August (mentioned here) has a dual point of view. So I picked a picture of the two of us!

Get it? Two people = two points of view.

Maybe I shouldn't take any more weeks off from writing these posts. I feel like this one's going poorly.

In an unusual YA twist of events, I haven't actually decided whether the two main characters (Zander and Mara) will be love interests or not. They're telling about a futuristic sci fi governmental collapse from two different perspectives.


One MC's plot, written out in detail.

Plotting

Plotting this novel was really difficult. I have a lot of subplots and characters that needed to come together. I actually started off by plotting out the villains' perspectives because, as it turns out, villains are pretty good at keeping the plot moving.

Once I knew my major events, I started plotting out each individual MC's full story arc. I'd actually already written a draft of this book (which I don't quite consider my first draft, for some reason) or else I'd have had no idea what the full plot for each character would involve. Those early ideas gave me a lot to work with, but I did make a number of plot-related changes.

Each MC had approximately one page of plotting like the one you see in the image above.


Nigel's Magic cards were taking over our table, infringing on my outlining.
And apparently I've got my blanket on the floor.
What can I say? We're a mess.

Intertwining the Two Plots

Once I knew the plots for each MC, I typed the two different plots up with bullet points for each plot point (and I annotated if it was Zander's or Mara's on each bullet point).

Then I cut apart each bullet point and started weaving together the two stories. There were a few points at which the stories HAD to meet up. But sometimes a few bullet points got grouped together into one chapter. I think I may also have cut one bullet point up into two different chapters.

Then I copied and pasted the two word docs with the two MC's plots together to match up to my new, whole-book outline.

I'm sure other people write dual POV books in other (probably better) ways, but this was how I wrote mine so that the two stories wove together just right.

And now I have to start editing it all ....... ugh. It'd better not mess up my plot structure.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Social Media's Selling Teens Old Books

cute old couple reading
These two aren't in the age range I'm talking about below.
But they are quite adorable. And reading.
Photo by zorilla.

An Article From a Bookseller

This weekend, between learning far more than I ever wished to know about Days of Inventory and the cash-to-cash cycle, I read this article with the very click-batey title "I Liked Hurting Girls: A Bookseller on Diary of an Oxygen Thief, Milk and Honey, Young People and the Internet."

The woman who wrote this article owns a book shop, and she noticed a few unusual trends in teens coming in to ask about specific books that weren't actually new or popular at the time. One of those books happened to start with the line, "I liked hurting girls ..."

Juneau, Alaska, gorgeous mountains
Juneau, Alaska (see below for semi-relevance).
Really chosen for my obsession with mountains.
Photo by Ian D. Keating

This Just in: Teens Like Social Media

However, others books she mentions include Looking for Alaska, which become popular after John Green's YouTube channel took off, and Milk and Honey, which is apparently an illustrated book of poems that deals with topics ranging from abuse to survival to sex. She describes the book as "explicit, emotional and very social media friendly."

cool bookstore
Photo by Per Gosche.

In other Breaking News: Teens Won't Explain Themselves

It was also rather entertaining to me that every time this bookseller asked her teen customer what made them want to purchase this book, they'd answer, "I don't know. I it's really good," rather than actually explain to an adult where they'd heard about the book.

And it is really interesting how social media can help people rediscover books. We tend to think of books in two categories: new books and classic books, or at least that's how it seems to me. I'm glad that sometimes books that are neither of these two things get brought back into the light and "re-discovered" by a new audience.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Travel Wistfulness

new zealand mountains

Just like I predicted, these classes have me hopping. I forgot to post this morning.

new zealand, icy mountains
Photo by Mazzali

Have I mentioned that I really want to go back to New Zealand? Because I've been thinking about it a lot lately. I put it down to escapism, but boy was that place gorgeous.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Writing Update plus Cool Chapels

little Greek chapel
A chapel on Mykonos
Photo by Jaume Escofet

For today's images, I went to the Creative Commons and put in the word "chapel". I'm not particularly religious, but people do create some amazing, religious spaces. We all get our inspiration from somewhere, and sometimes its fun to appreciate others' artistic endeavors wherever they are.

chapel interior, Tower of London
Chapel at the Tower of London
Photo by Lachlan O'Dea

A Book Nearing Retirement

I got a little over thirty rejections on my MG fantasy The Storm Summoner. After I didn't make it into Pitch Wars, I was considering retiring the book and moving onto the next contender. I've been querying for almost a year, and I thought it might be time.

However, one of my critique partners read the latest version of my book and re-energized me. I re-wrote my second chapter, streamlined my third chapter and took yet another wack at revising my query letter. The funny thing is that I think the query is finally getting pretty good. . . if only it'd been this good when I actually started querying.

I'm also set to attend a small literary conference this upcoming Saturday where I might get a query critique.

Once I've got everything polished yet again, I am going to send out a few more query letters. I might retire the book soon, but I do want to give it another shot.


chapel, nunhead cemetery, London
Chapel at Nunhead Cemetery, London
Photo by Richard Fisher

A Book Coming Into Being

I always try to do it this way. When I'm getting incredibly sad that I need to give up on yet another book, I try to have something new to look forward to. A New Hope, if you will. I have a finished first draft of my YA sci fi. It needs some serious editing, so I won't be ready to query it for quite some time, but it's nice to get a break from querying.

And it's fun to be back into this stage - the stage where I'm still imagining a new world and big changes (re-writes) can happen. With my MG, I've been in the polishing phase for a while now. Some of those changes felt big, but the world's pretty solidly in place. In my new book, it's still a world in flux. (For example, I'm thinking about adding a mob undercurrent to the book.)

So, that's where I am right now.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Gorgeous Sedona

columbine flowers, sedona
We went on a very oddly green hike in these (typically) dry, red hills.
Here's Nigel, all flowery.

I suspect my posts are going to get short and maybe even forgotten. I signed up for a few online classes this semester, and I really, really like to get good grades (it's actually a bit of an obession). So I suspect that I'll be focused on that in upcoming months. (Actually, for the next year). So just a heads up. I still love you guys. I'm just a wee bit crazy about classwork.

sedona, AZ, red rocks
Nigel surveys his domain.
Or not, as the case may be.

Sedona was our last big stop on the road trip that I've been playing out in blog posts for approximately forever.

(On my writing front: I'm resting my recently finished WIP, and going to start revising soon-ish.)

sedona, red rocks, cactus flower
Cactus flowers and red rocks.

By this point, we were beat, and Nigel'd booked us into a very fancy, shmancy hotel. We did more relaxing by the pool than hiking here. Which is why I have way less photos.


stormy driving
Stormy trip home.

This last photo isn't even Sedona. I was driving, and there was all sorts of lightning up ahead. I was honestly a bit scared about what we were driving into. And also sad that I didn't managed to get a photo of the lightning. (Nigel yelled at me for trying to photograph lightning as I was driving and took the camera away from me. I mean, he was right and all, but still, it would have been a cool photo.)

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Vegas, Hoover Dam: Some Road Trip Leftovers

on Hoover Dam
Nigel hanging out on top of Hoover Dam

I strongly suspect I was not selected for Pitch Wars, which is not terribly surprising. From the looks of it, a lot of the mentors had over 100 applicants each. However, I am currently focusing on the positive, which is the last of my cool photos from my road trip to the Grand Canyon and beyond. (Actually, as this post got a little long, I decided to string this out one more post worth for Sedona, AZ).

I sure have managed to milk these suckers.

Because Nigel and I were running a bit ahead of schedule, and it was so very nearby, we decided to stop off in Las Vegas.

Las Vegas Strip
Lit Lady Liberty

We did not gamble, but we saw some of the spectacle that was the Vegas Strip. Those casinos get pretty crazy. Our fav was The Venetian. Inside, the ceiling was painted like sky, there was a bright blue canal that ran through the shopping area, and all the shops had fronts that were done up like cool old Italian buildings.

Nigel said, "It's like being in Venice, only cleaner!"

We had an amazing, relaxed Italian dinner, which was freaking delicious and then we headed off to see the ginormous ~5 min music video at the Fremont Street Experience:

Fremont Street Experience, Las Vegas
This is an outdoor street with this enormous TV screen covering it.
There's also a zip line that goes from one end of the street to the other.
There were also a lot of people wearing very . . . interesting outfits.

Like, I said, we didn't do the normal Vegas stuff, but we did really enjoy our visit.

Next stop: Hoover Dam

We got there around noon and had to wait until 3 if we wanted the full Dam Tour (there were a lot of cheesy jokes about damn dam tours; we laughed).

I made Nigel wait around for the full tour. He even admitted I was right afterwards.

Hoover Dam Intake Tower
One of the intake towers that pulls in water for the generators.

Hoover Dam Turbines
The Generators!

inside Hoover Dam
A view of the river from inside the Dam itself.

The heat was melt-your-face-off hot, but we mostly stayed inside and went through the Hoover Dam museum while we waited. We did take a little stroll out over the Dam itself. It's surprisingly gorgeous.

Timeline wise, we actually did this before we hit the Grand Canyon, but I did think I was going to fit all my non-national park stops into one post. Turns out I've got more to say than I thought.

Next week: Sedona, AZ