Sunday, October 9, 2011


This morning, I woke from a dream. One that I'd had quite often (leaving my husband), except this time there was a future, one that held new love, appreciation for life, tragedy, then rebirth. It. Was. Powerful. I woke in tears. As I laid there with my eyes squeezed shut, the emotions swirled like a kaleidoscope, blending with my own. I could see the characters and scenes clearly: gentle looks, dishes smashing, a child's casket... A full-length novel played itself out right in front of me. Then the strangest thing happened. A title popped into my head. An amazing literary title that would have taken me days to come up with. I needed to write this down.

Throwing back the covers, I got to my feet, then rushed to my laptop. My fingers flew across the keyboard as I drained the thoughts from my head into print. The story was so beautiful and came so naturally to me, by the end of my summary I could no longer see the screen through my veil of tears.

When my son came up to me and placed a tiny monarch butterfly sticker on my shirt, I knew. I knew this will be the story that will capture a thousand hearts. It will twist and grind them before slowly letting go.

And I have to wait to write it. :( I'm 190 pages through my paranormal romance rewrite and I can't stop now.

Where have you received your most powerful inspiration? Has the entire story ever come to you at once? Or has it come to you in bits and pieces?

Thursday, October 6, 2011


A couple of months ago, I wrote about social networking and how it affects the budding author. You can read that post here

One of my complaints with platforms such as Facebook and Twitter was the inability to separate writing from normal life without having two separate identities. For instance, if you want to post a writing milestone or your word count, do you really want Aunt Ruth or that high school friend to know about it? Or if your three-year old just washed his hands in the toilet, do you want to make that information available to agents, publishers, or whoever else accepted your friend request in the writing community? Up until a week ago I had to use Facebook for friends and family and Twitter for my writing connections. But now I’ve found something that can completely replace both networks quite smoothly: Google+.

You’ve got to love Google. It’s a smart company. They wait in the wings while others push their “new” services then swoop in later and offer the best of everything their competitors do, but without the bad. I’ve seen them do this with email, phones, and now with social networking. Here is why I LOVE Google+. It’s basically a mixture of Twitter and Facebook, but with customization options that make a writer’s life much easier. The stream is set up like Facebook as opposed to Twitter. Why is this good? Um, because I hate Twitter’s feed. Besides the hashtag annoyances, the retweets, the cryptic names, and the limited characters, you read miscellaneous comments, which when taken out of context, make absolutely no sense. It’s like I’m reading parts of conversations here and there that mean nothing to me; a bunch of gobbly goop. With Facebook, you see the main comment, then all the responding comments lined up nice and orderly beneath so you can get a complete sense of the “conversation.” Thank you, Google, for choosing this format. *forehead swipe*

The next part, though, is a huge improvement on both Twitter and Facebook. It’s the concept of “circles.” Circles are basically categories which you assign people to. There’s family, friends, and acquaintances. Before you post a comment, you have to select which of these circles you want to see your comment. WOW! What a great idea! So you mean if I don’t want Nathan Bransford to read about my toilet dunking son, but I think Aunt Ruth will get a kick out of it, I can just assign my “family” circle to read it? And if I don’t want Aunt Ruth to see that I’ve written 48,986 words on my MS, but I want my writer friends to, I can assign it to “acquaintances?” Yes siree! No more identity crisis for us writers. I can be Julie the mom, sister, and friend, and Julie the writer all using the same account.

But that’s not all. (I feel like an infomercial here) Google+ also allows you to “follow” people without having them accept your friend request. You just do a search for them, add them to your circle and voila! You can now read their stream. Okay, I know what you’re thinking. How can you read their stream if you’re personally not in their circles? Well, because besides family, friends, and acquaintances, there’s also a “public” option when posting comments. Anything you post under public (which the majority of agents and publishers do) can be read by anyone as soon as they follow them – Twitter-style. As I've noticed recently, you can also read the public streams of any commenters by clicking on their names. You don't even have to add them to a circle. So if I notice someone makes a particularly clever comment on something Nathan Branford says, and I want to read a bit more about that person, I can simply click on their name and read anything they've put out publicly.

And there’s a neat little feature that utilizes your GPS. You can actually connect with people right in your own neighborhood using the “Nearby” screen. Oh, and did I mention how easy the Google+ site is to get to? If you have a gmail account, you’ll notice in the top left-hand corner of the screen it says “You+” (mine says Julie+). You just click it and you’re there – no signing in required. How handy is that? And the IM feature is simply Gtalk, which many of us are familiar with.

There you have it. The best of both worlds, wrapped up in one social networking site. So, when are you coming over? :)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Why Multiple Betas Are Important

The other day, I was chatting with my writing partner and she mentioned that another beta reader found some issues with her chapter she had to work on still. The gears in my mind instantly started turning. What was the issue? How big was it? How come I didn’t notice it? Does that make me an unobservant beta? Maybe I’m letting down other writers too? And of course, these questions were followed by a short-lasting depression.

But then I thought about my own manuscript. I currently have two alpha readers. When I receive back their comments the only similar change is their corrections to my punctuation. Everything else is different. One might question the realism of certain actions or dialogue. The other doesn’t notice anything about the realism and instead has issues with telling instead of showing. One may zero in on extraneous words and the other combats clichés. It made me realize this: although we’d love to think we can be everything to everyone, we simply cannot. As writers ourselves, we naturally focus on our own problem areas when beta reading. Or the opposite - our strong points. It’s those areas in between that may go unnoticed. Honestly, there’s just too much to look for. Besides what I mentioned above, there’s back story dumps, “to-do lists” (as I call step-by-step action with no internal thought/dialogue breaks), adverbs, grammar…the list goes on. Then there’s the issues that aren’t noticeable until after you’ve finished the entire book like character development, plot holes, and loose threads. I read a piece once where the story came full circle with no growth in the MC or change in circumstances. Sure there was lots of action and the writing sucked me in, but when all was said and done I felt cheated. The story almost seemed pointless, but I would have never known that until I got to the end.

Just imagine all the hidden issues that could be missed in your manuscript with just one beta readthrough. This is why it is so important to have several readers, consisting of alphas: to keep you motivated and fine tune your draft as you go, and betas: to catch anything your alphas haven’t, and to review for pacing, etc.

So how many betas do you use, and what has been your experience with similar/different catches?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Happy people get what they want. Wait. That’s not true? No, I suppose you’re right. But let’s look at this idea more closely. If happy people don’t get what they want, then why are they happy? It’s because they’ve learned to make lemonade when handed sour lemons…they just need a bit of sugar to sweeten it up. Another way of saying it? They look for the silver lining. (Yes, how many clichés can I fit in here?) Instead of whining about what they don't have, they're appreciative of what they do have. Anyone can be happy, even in dire circumstances. It’s all about attitude. And people are naturally drawn to positive people. Really, why wouldn’t you be? Who wants to be around an Eeyore-type who can never be satisfied, can only see the worst in every situation? I have a couple co-workers like that and I steer right clear of them. Bad juju isn’t healthy…

However, even positive people will always be faced with challenges that test their attitude. Rejections are one of them. Dieting is another. Yes, I said dieting. Dieting is much like trying to get published. It’s a long, twisty road with ups and downs and no instant gratifiers. If you put in the effort, you see results. Plain and simple. If you cut corners (eating that cookie before bed or skipping a final edit on your MS), you’re only hurting yourself, and it will take you that much longer to reach your goal.

I’m currently in the diet cycle and am cataloguing my experiences each day on my mommy blog. You’ll notice no link is attached and that’s because I’m saving you the torture of my “before” pictures. After seeing those, you’d be feeling around the floor for what’s left of your eyeballs, Velma-style. Anyway, I’m on Day 19 of the Shakeology diet. If you were to read my blog entries back to back you’d think I was bi-polar. My attitude has been insanely erratic and entirely controlled by the numbers I see on the scale. (*grumble* stupid invention…) It seems my weight is the challenge that's constantly testing my attitude. Without instant gratification, my positive attitude heads south. We've all been there. So how can we fix it once we're in the slump? Easy. If there’s absolutely nothing positive coming out of your efforts, then we have to change something in what we're doing. It’s just not working. This is where naivete needs to be taken into consideration. There are naively positive people out there – like Cat on Victorious (gotta love her - except her laugh is right up there on the obnoxious scale with SpongeBob's). At some point though, you have to be honest with yourself. If you’ve sent out fifty query letters and have gotten fifty rejections, you shouldn’t just sit back and say, “Well, the next one’s going to be the one!” Obviously, your letter needs some help. So change it and resend it, all the while keeping a positive attitude. If your weight keeps going up every day for a week even if you’ve cut back the calories, you can’t think, “Tomorrow it’s going to go down. I just know it.” It’s probably not. Try exercising.

So what’s my point in all this rambling? I’m not sure. I just had to get it off my chest. Ha ha. But I guess it’s to try to find the bright side, even in dark situations. And if something’s not working, find a way to make it work!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Acknowledgement Pages

Claire, I hope you don't mind, but you have to know I couldn't keep this news to myself! Claire Gillian, writer of smart dialogue and touching scenes, is having her first full-length novel, The PURE, published this Spring. What's super special about this is The PURE was my very first beta read.

I remember spending my time "unformalizing" her dialogue and writing "what does this word even mean?" in the margins. (Her vocabulary is on par with a genius, I swear. I think I'm going to start calling her Dictionary Claire - DC for short. :)) But now, she's all grown up and getting published! *cough* Although she's much, much older than me. Tee hee.

It's like I've come full circle and I was so excited when she asked me how I'd like my name to appear on her acknowledgement page. What? She wanted to include me? It'd been two years since I read The PURE, but of course I was all like gushing and blushing and doing happy dances. It meant a lot that she found my comments helpful enough to thank me in her book.

You know, if I don't ever get published, seeing my friends get published is most certainly the next best thing. Recently, I received another friend, Michelle Davidson Argyle's, book, Monarch, and I've proudly displayed it on my bookshelf. I tell everyone who comes over, "My friend wrote that!" :) When The PURE comes out, you betcha I'll be adding that one as well. And it won't just be because my name's in there. Hee hee.

Have you thought about who you plan to include on your acknowledgement page? Would you just include people who gave input on that particular book or those that also helped shape your writing in general? And what if you've been writing your book for years with dozens of betas? Where do you draw the line? I'm sure this is not on the front burner of most writers' minds, but it's something to at least keep simmering in the back. :)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Show Don't Tell

"Show don't tell" is that elusive factor that separates an okay writer from a good writer. Showing doesn't come natural for most. Writers envision their scene in their heads, thinking it translates to paper...but oftentimes it doesn't. Showing is also the more difficult path to choose. In my writing, I sometimes take the easy route, using generic words like "embarrassed or scared." Then one of my writing partners so kindly comments in the margin, "I know you can do better than this. I've seen you do better than this. You're selling yourself short." It's that kick in the butt I need to create beauty out of something glamorless.

Here's an example from this morning. I'd sent over my "audition scene" and she flagged the following sections:

Worry, fear, and excitement hit her all at once.


Embarrassment flooded through her body.

Most definitely telling, right? So I went back and expanded the scene to show instead of tell, and this is what I've come up with so far. (I italicized the sections where the above passages were located.

As Katie searched for the song, Quinn wiggled her feet into her ballet slippers. Four years had passed since she last danced. A tight ball formed in her stomach and her limbs grew numb. She wished she’d choreographed something or at least practiced. Who goes to an audition, not having danced in years, with zero preparation? Apparently, she did.

Or maybe deep inside, she was hoping she’d fail.

The music started and her fear dissipated from the first pointed toe as everything fell into place. Using the entire floor as her personal stage, Quinn performed pirouettes and jetés with ease. The world melted away until it was just her and the music. No chaos. No worries. No stress. Just pure elation. She was uninhibited, boundless, like a firefly being released from a child’s hands, flying higher and higher until it sparkled in the sky like another star.

The minutes passed like seconds, and before Quinn knew it the song had ended. She bent over, her breath coming in short pants. As her heartbeat slowed, the adrenaline slowly worked its way out of her system. That. Was. Amazing. How could she have forgotten what it felt like to dance? Happy tears sprang to her eyes and she quickly wiped them away, not wanting Katie to see. Breathing in through her nose, she faced the girl for her judgment.

Katie applauded, nodding her head. “Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. You’re hired.”

Quinn’s shoulders relaxed. It was over. She pulled her loose hair up, and fanned at the beads of sweat on her neck with her hand. “Thank you. I can’t believe I’ve waited this long.”

Katie raised her eyebrows.

“To dance again. My career kind of took me in another direction.”

“Well, I don’t know what your career is, but it’s obvious you enjoy doing this. You had a giant smile on your face the entire time.” She leaned in close and placed a cupped hand over her mouth. “Don’t look now...but you also have an admirer.”

Quinn glanced toward the doorway and locked eyes with Julian. Oh, my God, he’d seen her dance. She dropped her hair and turned away, wrapping her arms around herself in attempts to cover her skimpy leotard. She imagined herself an armadillo, curling into a little ball, her leathery armor shielding her underbelly. Peeking out of the corner of her eye again, he was gone, and she focused on slowing her breaths.


I hope this helps show you (no pun intended) the difference between show and tell. Telling uses words like happy, sad, tired, etc. Showing uses the character's actions or dialogue to relay these same emotions without outright saying it. And of course, there's the writers (raises hand) who do both because they're uncertain if their showing has done enough (i.e., She rubbed her eyes and yawned, her bed seducing her with its fluffy pillows and soft sheets. She was so tired.) Duh. You totally don't need that second sentence. Readers aren't stupid. So there you have it. Show don't tell. Got it? Now go search through your manuscript for the words happy, sad, worried, etc. and replace them with some descriptive actions!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Outlines Quelch Creativity

Before anyone starts pounding down my door, carrying pitchforks and lit torches, let me explain. We all know there are two camps to the outline debate: those that outline and those that go with the flow. I've tried both ways, and from my experience, my BEST ideas come while I'm writing my story, not while I'm creating organized index cards or a timeline in Excel before even setting pen to paper.

I remember reading writers' blogs when I was just starting out and they'd say things like "But my characters took me in another direction" or "My characters had other ideas for the plot." I'd be like "Huh? Since when can figments of our imagination take control of the reins and tell us what to do? Someone call The Twilight Zone!" But then it happened to me. Over and over and over. I kept making outlines and never following them. Through character dialogue, I'd completely take a one eighty and then it would avalanche, taking my pre-planned strings down with it, and creating new ones. So you know what? I said forget it. Outlining is wasted effort.

The problem with strict outlines, is writers don't allow themselves creative wiggle room. It's impossible to know all the P's and Q's of a story up front unless you've got your muse under lock and key. Ideas can be inspired from random thoughts in the shower to something you see on TV to your commute to work. They can come from anywhere, and you need the flexibility to take advantage of them.

Obviously, I don't recommend flying by the seat of your pants for the entire length of the novel. That'll just give you a disorganized mess. You have to know a general idea of the theme, plot, main conflict, and resolution. But all the tiny twists in between can be filled in as you go. Let your characters tell you what they want to do. They will, you know! They're very particular about their lives. (Although, to be completely honest with myself, it's my moods that affect change in dialogue. Tee hee. And I can be quite moody, thus the reason outlines don't work so well for me.)

How do you go about outlining? Strict? Loose? None at all? If you use a strict outline, what happens if you think of something better than what you'd planned? Do you stick with the outline or embrace the change? And do your moods change your story as you write like mine do?