Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Plant That Wouldn't Die

Christmas Cactus close up
Ain't she pretty, folks?

Hopefully it hasn't been showing, but I've been struggling to figure out what to write for these blog posts lately. I think I'm just in a bit of a lull, but I keep pushing through. I've been writing this blog for almost four years now (which seems like a crazy amount of time to me. The internet is a fleeting thing, after all.), and I refuse to quit now!

I try to stick to stuff that entertains me - whether it's writing-related or not. This week, hopefully my weird enthusiasm for my Christmas Cactus makes for a fun read.

Here's the deal: I kill plants.
I don't mean to.
I've nothing against plants.
I'm even mildly fond of them.
I just tend to get wrapped up in other things, forget about the plants that my mom's foisted off on me, and, well . . . let's just say the results aren't pretty - especially if you are the plant in question.

Christmas Cactus bloom
In the background is my husband's Lego Millenium Falcon.
 See how happy and healthy my beautiful plant is?

I even killed an aloe plant Mom gave me. That was sad. You'd think I could remember to water a cactus in time to keep it alive. But . . . not so much.

My Christmas Cactus nearly suffered the same fate. At one point in time, I thought I'd killed her. I felt terrible and redoubled my effort to water her regularly, so when she started putting out blooms, I knew she'd finally forgiven me (and she was healthy again!). So I took a million photos to commemorate the event!

shriveled bit on Christmas Cactus

The bit above never quite recovered from my neglect. It's very weird - the base of that bit is still a little green and a little bit alive, but the end bits are truly dead.

I took a million photos, but I'm only going to subject you to one more. This photo was taken a little later, after the blooms started to die, but I like it. I think she's looking out at her view and realizing she has something to live for after all.

plant, window

You go, little planty! Keep on keeping on!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Reading Rather Than Writing

To distract myself from tearing my query to pieces after every rejection (which is not a smart thing to do anyway), I've been focusing on reading more than writing for the past month or so.

Reading is awesome because:

  1. It's fun.
  2. You get to see what's out in the market.
  3. You can study how others write.
  4. You can decide what works (and what does not) from their writing.
  5. You can return to old friends.
  6. Other reasons, I'm sure.
Image by Patrick Bouquet

Middle Grade Magic

  • The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas - full on fantasy that takes place in a semi-medieval city that's dying due to disappearing magic. There was a pretty interesting take on the mechanics of working magic.
  • The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud - very basic concept: Junior Ghostbusters. In an altered world where the dead are, well, deadly to the living, only kids can see these ghosts to put them back to rest. I couldn't quite tell the timeframe for this world - maybe a sort of 1950s (there were phones, but no cell phones). For me, this book started off slow because Stroud was weaving together a bunch of plot strings. When they all started to come together, the book was un-put-downable.
  • The Case of the Left-Handed Lady by Nancy Springer - I was quite annoyed with myself. This is Book #2 about Enola Holmes, little sister of Sherlock Holmes. No, I hadn't read #1, but, honestly, Nancy Springer made it work, so thank you, Ms. Springer. This mystery takes place in Victorian times, and has a bit of an older feel to it. Well-written, but not exactly my cup of tea.
Image by Nick Kenrick

Patricia C. Wrede, My Queen

Patricia C. Wrede is one of my favorite authors. I re-read The Magician's Ward from my bookshelf (I love that book), and bought some of her earliest books Shadows over Lyra (a 3-in-1 trilogy set in the land of Lyra). To be completely honest, it was sort of interesting to read Ms. Wrede before she really found her groove. The first of the trilogy was a good read, but it was a bit of a formulaic, Tolkien-esque fantasy. The others I enjoyed less. And from these beginnings, she went on to write some of my favorite books ever.

Image by Hembo Pagi

Awesome YA

  • Gone by Michael Grant - This was really good! A Contemporary YA in which everyone over age 14 disappeared from a small California town, and some of the kids left started getting mutant powers. The kids are trapped in this town, and you get a sort of Lord of the Flies vibe - but in a more fun sort of way.
  • Inherit the Stars by Tessa Elwood - I'd actually exchanged a little material with this author before she got published when we were both looking for critique partners. We didn't end up working together long term, but I was really curious to see how this book came out. It's a futuristic YA sci-fi in which a girl chooses to marry a stranger to save her sister - which turns out ... oddly well. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Snowy Night

It snowed again. This time not quite so much, thank goodness. I stood out on the front porch tonight, and it was silent and white and beautiful. Snow almost has a glow to it. You can tell how white it is, even if it's dark out.

My flash caught a few snowflakes as they fell.

I tried to take a photos, but they didn't come out that well. They definitely didn't capture the snowy mountains I could see off in the distance.

The one above captures the serenity of the night a bit better, but it really doesn't do the scene justice.

I've been reading and re-reading my query letter, and making all sorts of minute adjustments in an attempt to better capture the spirit of my book, so I could use a little serenity. I think I'm driving myself crazy, which means it's probably time to just throw a few query letters at the wall and see if they stick.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Querying Quesadilla

I recently featured my fav flower photos & was sad my crocuses didn't make the cut.
And all this stinking snow has make me look forward to spring.
This is an action shot! It's got a bee.

Quesadillas, or Lack Thereof

Sorry. This title is misleading. There will be no quesadillas in this post. And no cheese of any type. Which is really a pity because cheese makes most anything better - unless you're lactose intolerant, in which case I feel sad for you because cheese and milk chocolate make up some of my favorite foods. I like dark chocolate too, but, as I recently found (when looking for a friend), getting lactose-free dark chocolate chips can be quite difficult. I think I had success with Wegman's brand chocolate chips, in case you are curious.

Now that the epicure portion of the post is out of the way, on to queries.

Mine is not working.

A rather battered crocus with a focus on the snowdrops in the background. And vice versa.

Querying Questions

I think that Naomi helped me with some great query-writing advice, which I distilled into the following bullet points. I tried to keep it in mind when revamping my query:

  • Make the Main Character likable: What makes the Main Character unique?
  • Focus on tension: What makes you want to keep reading?
  • Make the World interesting: What makes the World unique? (Rather similar to the first point, but not something to overlook in a fantasy.)
  • Use Voice! Bad: Does this query sound dry and uninviting? Good: How can I bring my main character's Voice into the query?
  • Cut generic phrases. This works better as an example than a question. Look for phrases that could be using in almost any query, such as "Eric knew he needed to take action!" or "Eric had had enough!" And either cut or rewrite them.

Here my backyard almost looks like a professional shoot.


Basically, I rewrote my query trying to make Eric feel more like Eric (he's my main character, in case you were curious). I tried to build a little more sympathy for him. I cut out some plot in favor of more world-relevant specifics.

And one of my critique partners said that the old query described the book but was a bit boring, and my new query made her want to read the book. Which is the whole point. So, good luck to me.