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?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Lost in a Jane Austen Fog

A lot of writers write in the same genre they love to read. If they read Sci-fi, they write Sci-fi. If they read YA, they write YA. This isn’t the case with me. You see, I’m petrified to even attempt to write what I love to read. Historical romances. I think this genre has got to be the most difficult genre to write in. First off, not only do you need to know the language of the time, and keep it consistent throughout, but you have to contort it in clever ways via flirtatious banter between the hero and heroine. On top of that, you have to know what they ate, how they dressed, how they traveled, and even the local news of the time period, most times in a completely different country. Talk about research, research, research! I am absolutely in awe of these authors and I just know if I attempted to write a historical romance I’d botch it up to no end. I imagine these people eat, sleep, and breathe in the era they’re writing.

This is the mode I’m in currently, albeit mine is through watching movies. I know, so lame. Over the past week, I’ve discovered that Netflix has a full selection of historical romances to choose from, most based on Jane Austen’s books. I’ve watched Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Lost in Austen, and next on queue is Mansfield Park. What’d you say? You’ve never heard of Lost in Austen? Well, then you’re truly missing out. This has now become my favorite movie. I love love love love love it! Anyone who adores Pride and Prejudice NEEDS to see this movie. Like seriously. If you have Netflix, it’s currently in the romance titles. Or, I think you can watch it online too.

The move is about a woman in modern-day London who is dissatisfied with her life. Her ratty copy of Pride and Prejudice has been read more times than she can count (since the age of 12), and she compares every man in her life to Mr. Darcy. They’re just not good enough. Obviously. *swoon* A portal of sorts opens in her shower and she and Elizabeth Bennett switch places (she enters as Elizabeth’s out-town-friend). When she arrives, it’s as if the story of Pride and Prejudice is starting fresh from the beginning and she is in awe over meeting and interacting with the characters and visiting the locations. Her goal from start to finish is to make the characters perform the way they do in the book. But nothing goes the way it should, and she finds herself falling in love with someone she shouldn’t. In short, it’s a bit like fan fiction in that the story is completely switched around, but the characters remain the same. The writers even take liberties with twisting what you think you know about a character (i.e. Wickham).

But what I love most about the movie is two-fold. First, this is not a cheesy remake. It’s really good quality movie making. The characters are EXACTLY as I imagined them from their appearance to their mannerisms. It’s just perfect. But because the plot takes a turn, it’s almost like you have a “backstage pass” to the story. You get to spend even more time with the characters you love and learn different things about them. Most importantly, it brings a dream many of us have probably had to life. What is this dream? Well, that you wake up one day in a Jane Austen novel. Okay, so maybe that’s just one of my dreams. But the fact that this actually happens (in movie land) to a woman just like me brings it that much closer to reality. Does that make sense or do I sound like a loon?

Here's a clip from the movie I found online, which is actually cut out of the Netflix version.

I always go overboard when it comes to historical romances. One time, I ate nothing but scones with jam and Earl Gray tea for breakfast just so I could feel closer to the characters. Please tell me someone else has done this? I just love history so much. Did you ever feel like you were born in the wrong time period? I feel like that all the time. I want to wear petticoats and dresses and button-up shoes. I want servants bustling about me in white caps and gray gowns. I want to ride a horse across the misty moors and to go to outlandish balls. I want to eat and read by candlelight and live in a house full of twists and turns. The problem is…I can’t and I never will. And when I get into what I call a Jane Austen fog, I wander around modern society like a lost puppy, with visions of horse drawn buggies where cars are honking or visions of Mr. Darcy where my husband stands. And then as the day wears on, and technology has invaded my senses, the fog dissipates, quite sadly, and I cannot wait to go back in again.

Is there any genre that does this to you? Just gets underneath your skin and you can’t let go? Like you’d give up reality in an instant to be able to jump in?

I haven't given up completely on writing historical romance. It plays a role in my current series, but in a small way. My main character has dreams of past lives and in those dreams I get to pretend I know what I'm doing. Here's one of my attempts. :)

She fingered the brocade curtain, smooth between her fingertips, and looked out the leaded-pane window. Lush green lawns rolled into the horizon, a circular garden brimmed with roses of every shade, and a cement lion spouted water from its mouth. An estate fit for a princess, but even after living there a full six months, it still didn't feel like home. She felt like an intruder, an annoyance, a thorn in her Uncle's side.

Female voices drifted in from the hall. Hearing her name, she hid behind the curtain, afraid of being accused of eavesdropping. She held her breath, her muscles tense.

"They say she's unmarriable."

"Tsk. Her poor mother."

"I know! Can you imagine? Three seasons and not one offer of marriage. It's unheard of."

"What do you suppose is wrong with her? She's pretty enough and I hear she can play the harpsichord beautifully."

There was a pause and she glanced at her ring-less hand gripping the curtain. Her ears strained to hear the other woman's response.

Bark, Bark, Bark

Quinn opened her eyes. No, she had to find out what was wrong with her! She closed her eyes again, trying to get back to that warm, hazy spot in her dream.

Bark, Bark

Growling, she shoved back the covers and sat up, peeking through her veil of bangs. What the hell was that dog barking at? "George! What is your issue?" She glanced at the alarm clock. It was seven thirty-four. Ugh. She didn't like to get up any earlier than nine on Sundays.


Okay, I can't help myself. I had to include this scene. Just know it's a major spoiler alert if you intend to watch the movie. God, he's so yummy!

Friday, September 9, 2011

You're Only Ready When You're READY

I figured it was time to get back to talking about writing. Can I tell you how happy I am with how my MS is turning out? The conflicts and plot are more believable than my first attempt and the scenes are overall “fuller.” What does fuller mean? There’s more depth, emotion, internal thought, description – everything I’ve lacked in the past. And I owe this to many aspects and people in my life. Writers (including myself) come out of the gate thinking they’re ready to churn out a masterpiece. They’ve read more books than taken showers, they’ve aced all their creative writing classes, and their imagination is so full it’s on the verge of spilling out their ears. To quote Spongebob: “I’m ready! I’m ready! I’m ready!” (A quick aside, punbop was my youngest son’s first word. *rolls eyes*) Well, guess what? They may think they’re ready, but they’re not. By my layman’s calculations, it takes about three years before a writer is truly ready to publish their first novel. Give or take a couple days, of course. ;)

For me, my three years is almost up and in my heart, I know I’ve reached Spongebob status. I’m ready. I’m finally ready. I have an amazing story with great characters, twists and turns, mystery, and conflict up the ying-yang. I can’t WAIT to share it with the world. And that is what’s driving me to keep going; to improve my writing skills and output level. I want people to know my characters and the world I’ve created. And I have a good feeling this time.

So who do I have to thank for this newfound confidence? Geez, where to start. Well, I guess at the beginning. The Absolute Write forum and Karen Junker, in particular. She helped me understand the secret to making first chapters pop and have the reader begging for more. Then there’s Claire Gillian, who forged through my manuscript with a weedwacker, and showed me how to cut non-essential drizzle, which had nothing to do with my plot, and she also kept things logically sound (How can she talk to her neighbor through a closed window?). And the agent, Scott Eagan, who took the time in his rejection to point out my issue with telling instead of showing. Next came my old writing partner, Lindsay Currie, who showed me how much beauty a scene could contain if you took your time with it. And Sarah Fine, who after many strikethroughs, finally drilled it into my head when to italicize internal thought and when not to. And as of late, I have a trio of wonderful betas, who not only encourage me every step of the way, but have taught me about true friendship.

Michelle Davidson Argyle has walked the same path I’m currently traveling and is a fountain of advice and experience. She’s caring, humble, and a huge supporter of my writing. Her first full-length novel, Monarch, came out last month, and my fingers are itching to get a copy of it. Any day now I’ll be holding the beautiful butterfly-covered thriller in my hands. (By the way, I have never seen such gorgeous covers come out of a small publishing house. Kudos to Rhemalda!)

Michelle Louis is my current writing partner and in the same boat as me. Together, we’re navigating the waters of cleaning up our first manuscript and a day doesn’t pass when we’re not IM’ing each other. To have that every day contact with another writer is so important I can’t even stress it enough. It’s like that little voice in the back of your head, saying, “Get that chapter done yet?” except it’s in your face with an added, “Come on! I need to see what happens next! Hurry up!” Michelle certainly keeps me on task! And her talent for description constantly challenges me to create scenes a reader could step in to like she so effortlessly does herself.

Carmen Fox is my cliché buster and ego builder. She seeks out any clichés in my writing and destroys them on sight. Imagine a Brit holding an oozi. And as you can see from my blog, I, uh, tend to use clichés quite often. Hee hee. But Carmen also pinpoints my strengths and her observations fill me with pride and confidence. Coming from her, it means a lot. Of course, she’ll tell you she has to write in a linear fashion, approaching her MS quite mathematically, but I think that’s a bunch of hooey. She’s a natural writer and a natural beta reader. I’m sure it took her years to get to the point she’s at right now, perhaps starting in an “insert slot A into slot B” type of style, but not anymore. She's another Spongebob. She's ready. And next week she’s querying so fingers crossed!

There have been so many other people who have helped get me to the point I’m at now and I can’t possibly list them all so I apologize if you were missed. Just know I’m thankful and your input was much appreciated. Wow, this is sounding like I just won a Grammy...not exactly how I'd initially intended it to go. But you can see how thankful I am!

Also, my writing skills didn't improve just from people telling me what I was doing wrong, but from beta reading for others.

Here's a handy line graph that shows my personal progress, but I think it could be applied to any writer. I think as readers and literary people in general, we start out as pretty good betas. Yes, some people have very distinct pet peeves and can be opinionated, but I’d like to think we all have talent when it comes to editing other people’s work. In my case, my beta skills were better than my writing skills when I first started. Obviously, as I started to understand and implement “show don’t tell” and non-essential dialogue, and backstory dumps, not only did my writing improve, but also my beta reading. But what the graph shows most is how much my writing improved as a result of beta reading. It quadrupled! (okay, that might not be the right word as math is not my specialty) But basically, it went up a heck of a lot!

If I could give any advice to a new writer just starting out, it’s this: Don’t rush your path to publication. Get dirty in the trenches for a couple of years; really hone your craft. Three years in a lifetime of writing is a drop in the bucket (cliché alert!) and the experience and friends you’ll gain is unmatched. If you put in the time and effort, publication will happen for you...but only when you’re truly ready.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Now a tornado?

Okay, seriously? I think God wants to wipe my town off the map completely. I can now check off the third natural disaster from my bucket list. Earthquake? Check. Hurricane with massive flooding? Check. Tornado? Check! Oh, and did I mention all of these occured within a 2-week period?

This was my latest adventure. Yes, we're alright. Thankfully!

(It comes in at about 6 mins.)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What Irene Took From Me

I sometimes feel like I live in a bubble, protected from the outside world and natural diasters alike. I live in the Northeast where the only weather system I have to worry about are Nor'easters. There are no tornadoes, hurricanes, or earthquakes. Last week, however, we got two out of the three; an earthquake and a hurricane.

The earthquake did little damage but shake me in my chair. The hurricane did much more than I could have ever imagined. It arrived on Sunday, having rained since Saturday night. The wind was mild compared to what you see on TV and I have to admit, I was actually disappointed. Like, that's all you've got? But little did I know it wasn't the wind that would snake it's way into my bubble, bursting it, but the rain. Sunday night, I thought we were in the clear. We didn't have any trees down and we still had power. But then the Facebook posts started coming in from friends and family. The river was rising. Yes, my town is nestled right along the Mohawk river. On my little hill on the north side of town I hadn't realized the looming danger. And by Monday morning things went from bad to worse. Historic flooding that was ripping our historic landmarks to shreds.

As the pictures came in, and memories rushed forward, the tears began to flow. The gas station I worked at for four years during college is ruined and the owner, a woman who taught me how to be business savvy and gave me confidence, is now homeless. The furniture store I used to ride my bike to and play hide and seek in is ruined. My friend's childhood home where we used to have X-files parties and drool over David Duchovny is ruined. The ice cream stand where I'd "just" been to last week with my children is ruined.

Then the news came in last night. A family friend drove through a blockade to check out his corn fields. He misjudged the water running past and was swept away. It happened so fast, the troopers couldn't get to him in time. He was found miles down the river, dead in his truck.

I feel like screaming at someone, anyone! How can this type of destruction come to MY town and take away MY childhood memories and destroy the lives of MY family, friends, and neighbors? My bubble has officially been burst. And it sucks.

American Red Cross Donations

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


I've had an eraser on my desk for about a year now. I look at it every now and then, not always "thinking" about it. But today I did. It has a picture of this goofy guy's head (Ned) with the following words written on it:

N Never give up
E Encourage others
D Do your best

My son received the eraser at school at an assembly and I don't exactly know how it ended up on my desk at work, but it somehow did. I'm glad. The words are few but they pack a punch and should be everyone's mantra in life.

Never give up. As writers it's easy to give up. Sometimes we abandon projects because we can't get them right. Sometimes we take long hiatus' because we're full of self-doubt. One bad review can sink our conviction, our confidence. We just need to overcome those feelings and remember we're doing this for ourselves, not anyone else. Never give up.

Encourage others. By encouraging other writers, we not only build up their self-esteem, but we build connections, and form friendships. As I've learned in the past couple months, beta reading is not just helpful to the writer, but the beta reader as well. Personally, I gain inspiration from all my beta reads. One of my friends writes lyrical, beautifully descriptive sentences that flow off the page like silk. After I read her work, all of a sudden my own manuscript is infused with description I hadn't thought myself possible of. Another friend of mine has quirky, humorous charcters in her manuscripts. After doing a beta read for her, my own characters start making clever and witty quips. Beta reading allows you to grow as a well-rounded writer and helps bring out the shine in others' writing. Encourage others.

Do your best. To me, this is a no-brainer. If we didn't do our best, what's the point in doing it at all? Yes, everyone has weaknesses and everyone has room to grow. But doing your best is not just excelling in what you do well, but learning and improving on what you don't do well. Do your best.

If you keep NED in the back of your head, you'll go far like a shooting star. Hey I made a rhyme! :)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Everything Happens for a Reason

I'm a true believer that everything happens for a reason. Sometimes, when in the middle of a particularly hairy situation, I'll thumb my nose at it, but eventually, I'll come to realize why it happened and that I'm better off for it. Today, something amazing happened. Well, at least I think it's amazing. :) I was having a boring day at work being that my 6-month long hair-pulling, teeth grinding project is now completed, and I was perusing a writer's forum, Absolute Write. I came upon a post that caught my eye. Why? Because I saw myself in the writer. She was doubting her ability because someone somewhere along her writing journey (out of who knows how many betas) told her her writing was "clunky." Like any normal person, she zeroed right in on that comment and hasn't been able to let go of it. It's even been holding her back from writing her second book. I know how that feels.

So I PM'd this writer and offered her a completely honest opinion on whether I felt her writing was "clunky" or not. I may not be the best writer in the world but I feel like I can recognize whether a writer has what it takes or needs more work. She took me up on my offer and sent me her first three chapters.

Can I tell you, her voice and writing skills are AMAZING. Yes, I put it in caps because it deserves to be in caps. And to think she may have stopped writing because of someone's preference for a different writing style. It boggles my mind but in reality, it happens to every one of us. We keep that doubt locked away in our head, taking it out and carressing it every time we're stuck or receive a rejection. We need to stop treating doubt like our most prized possession and instead smash it into little pieces, then stomp on it for good measure.

Of course, me finding her isn't the basis for my post today. That would be a bit of an ego-stroke for me. Hee Hee. The amazing thing that happened occurred when I was talking to my writing partner about this woman. I mentioned that she had a predicament...a vampire predicament. She didn't think she could query agents with her MS because it was an Urban Fantasy about vampires. (Oh, and by the way, she came up with this book before Twilight came on the scene.) So anyhow my friend tells me how a new agent introduced himself on Absolute Write today, saying he's looking to build his client list and wants vampire stories. Shazaam! Oh, to be a fairy godmother right now. "Cool new agent meet awesome vampire author." I wave my magic wand and they live happily ever after with bestsellers clogging up the NY Times List.

The timing is completely off the wall and I've offered to help her get her MS in shape for querying before his clients start piling up.

And you know I can't leave without at least a little ego-stroking. It's like speed for writers! Check out these compliments she gave me. :)

"This is fantastic. In these three chapters you have been more useful to me than all my previous beta-readers put together!!!" and "What you've done is awesome. I'd love to have you do the rest for me. Hell, I'd pay you to do it (no, seriously)."

Tee hee. I'm not making her pay me. :) But yes, everything happens for a reason. I just hope the stars align for her like she deserves.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Can You Be My Friend?

You know a book is engaging and the characters realistc when you find yourself wanting to jump into the story as another friend, or at the very least, a third cousin. I'm beta reading a YA right now from the multi-talented Claire Gillian, and I keep thinking of her characters long after I stop reading. I want to be their friend. It's so odd to think that and a little embarrassing to say it aloud. But I do. I want them to cry on my shoulder, to confide in me, and fetch me an apple (Claire, you'll get this when you read my comments. LOL).

Does anyone else ever get this feeling? Like you wish you could be friends with the characters? Or that they were real people you could invite over your house to just hang out? And it doesn't even have to be just book characters. A few years ago, I so wished I could be one of the "P" sisters in Charmed.

Come on, I can't be the only one. 'Fess up. :)

Friday, July 29, 2011

Flattery Will Get You Everywhere

You see that little blurb in the "About Me" section? A writer struggling to find her self-confidence? Yup, that was me six months ago. But that butterfly is now spreading her wings wider each day and soon she'll be able to fly. It didn't take an agent noticing me to give me confidence or a big book deal. It took writing friends, in particular, people I've beta'd for. In a past blog entry I put out an invititation to help others by beta reading for them. You can read about that here. Since then, I've beta'd for quite a few projects and am now being referred to other writers. Do you know what a good feeling that is? I'm glowing over here. In fact, I've turned into a nerd and saved all my emails that pump up my writing ego with quotes like:

"You're my favorite beta reader ever!"

"I'm thrilled to have found you."

And most recently, "You're a freakin genius."

Yes, if you saw me right now, I'd be puffing out my chest like a penguin. I'm actually beginning to believe in myself and my writing abilities and I owe it all to my fellow betas. I love you guys! And just like the title says - flattery will get you everywhere. Tee hee. And I like care packages too. :)

Have you saved any special emails that pump up your ego in order to look at later when you're feeling down? Do you have a favorite compliment to share?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Role of Social Media

It's been a while since I blogged. Sorry about that. It seems like once you fall out of a groove it's easy to get used to it. But it's not like I've been just sitting around sipping lemonade. I've been writing and beta reading...while sipping lemonade. ;) Today, I was thinking about my blog and all the areas of communication it seems we, as writers, need to keep up in order to be present and accounted for in the writing community.

Personal Blog
Blog comments
Writer Forums (Absolute Write)
Gtalk (AIM)

This takes a lot of time and effort! And it also comes with a lot of pressure to "perform" or put on your "writer face." For me, because social media networking is practically a pre-requisite for being a published author, it's taken the fun out of it, making it more work than enjoyment. It's not like it used to be when I kept a good ol' fashioned mommy blog where I could be myself, write about kid stuff, and not worry about the possiblity of future agents and publishers reading it.

What complicates things even more is that some social media is not only used for writing relationships, but friends and family as well. A good example: Facebook. I leave my writing off Facebook altogether. I have only two writer friends and the rest are. H.S. buddies and current family and friends. And there's no way I'm talking about writing with them! That would just bring on the ignorant comments no writer needs to see fill up their inbox. However, I do see some writers that use Facebook to network with other writers. Is it possible they maintain two separate accounts? Sure, but to me that's just adding another social media outlet I'd feel required to make an appearance on.

So how do you separate family and friends from writer friends? Do you not use Facebook for writing relationships? Or maybe you don't accept friend requests from the cute boys you had a crushes on in H.S.? Of course, if you're married, you probably shouldn't anyway. No matter how hard you try, those feelings just don't go away. I think I'll forever be a teenager inside. :)

What are your thoughts on the role of social media in an author's life? Is the time spent on self-promotion tipping the scales over the time spent writing? I'm curious to know how much time you guys spend on blogging, tweeting, and emailing vs. working on your MS. For me, I'd say it's about 1/4 social media and 3/4 writing and that seems to be a good blend for me. Although that could also be why I only have 6 followers. ;)

Friday, July 1, 2011

Like Pulling Teeth...

Everyone's heard of the phrase, "It's like pulling teeth." I use this most when I'm referring to the homework wars I have to endure every night with my ADHD son. But lately, my writing has earned this phrase as well. It takes me two hours to write half a page. Part of the reason for this is I'm laboring over each and every word. My sentences just don't read right. It's truly like pulling teeth. I think I've gone over my first three chapters twenty times now. But you know what? This last time through, it read like silk. I'm very pleased with it...finally!

One thing I've noticed is that when writing becomes labored is when you do your best work. I remember my writing partner sending me something with the disclaimer, "I had a tough time with this section. It took me forever." And when I read it, it was the best I've ever seen her write. Another friend of mine recently told me she's having a difficult time making progress on her book, but when I read her latest excerpt, I was truly blown away.

So I wonder then, although painful to go through, perhaps writer's block is not so bad after all. My advice is this. When you feel like you're pulling teeth with your manuscript, keep pulling. Put your feet up on the chair for leverage if you have to! But don't give up. Because when you finally get that tooth out, it's going to be all shiny and smooth.

Do you find that your writing quality is better when your muse is in overdrive and your fingers are flying on the keyboard or when it's on strike, and it takes you longer than normal to get down a scene?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Ally McBeal, Fireworks, and Self-Esteem

Ally McBeal is my all-time favorite TV show of all-time. Did I say all-time? Its characters were quirky, exaggerated, and tossed political correctness out the window. I hate political correctness - one reason I left the teaching field (What do you mean we can't say "Merry Christmas" anymore?). I think the only comparable show on TV nowadays would be Glee.

If you remember Ally McBeal, then you'll remember John Cage. He was one of the partners who'd summon up a Barry White song in his head whenever he needed to find courage.

John Cage Barry White Dance

And although I'm going off on a tangent here, the unisex bathroom was just too funny. I seriously, SERIOUSLY couldn't imagine one at my workplace.

Unisex Bathroom

But back to John and the Barry White theme song. As of Friday, I've joined the ranks of odd little men dancing in bathrooms. Ha! Not exactly, but do I have my own theme song now! It's funny because I'm famous for hearing songs over and over again, even singing along, but never "listening" to them. Friday, I was in a cleaning frenzy in preparation for my son's birthday party the next day. To help motivate me I turned on the radio LOUD. I tell you if you ever don't want to clean, turn on some upbeat music really loud and soon you'll be a groovin' Cinderella! Anyway, Katy Perry's song, Firework, came on. I've heard this a thousand times, but unfortunately for me, I'd never paid attention to what she was actually singing. By the song's close I had to swallow the lump in my throat. You see, unlike John Cage, it's not courage I need, but to love and believe in myself. I struggle with this on a daily basis. After listening to that song (and watching the cool video below), I felt like my self-esteem got a little kickstart. I almost wish I could upload that song into my head and every time a spark of doubt or low self-worth pops into my mind, the song would blare, extinguishing it.

I think as writers we all have self-doubt to a degree. So I'm officially nominating Firework as our general theme song!

Firework by Katy Perry

Do you have a song that pumps you up or fills you with hope? Or even a mantra that helps you? I'd love to hear!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Negative Feedback is Actually Good For You!

"Take a teaspoon of criticism and call me next year. Your writing will be healthier for it." Wouldn't it be nice if agents just outright told you this in their rejection letters? I think when we receive rejections, we take them the wrong way. We personalize them and throw up our defenses. "What do you mean my characters are flat? I think they're so three dimensional they're jumping off the page!" But if we looked at rejections and feedback differently, our writing could dramatically improve. Let me hit you with another analogy. One that shows how positive feedback is actually not so good.

Positive feedback is like the sun. You look outside on a beautiful day and feel a sense of worth, a sense of purpose. You can't wait to get outside and bask in the sunlight. Without a cloud in the sky, you run out the door and spend hours in nothing but brilliant sunshine. As the sweat drips off you, you grow warm and tired, then become lazy and unmotivated. The heat of the sun slows down your momentum.

Like the sun, a positive review on the surface is exciting. It rejuvinates you and gives you that sense of validation we all crave. But that's where it should stop. A quick bout in the sunshine, then back inside again. If you bask in that positive review too long, you become complacent. "Well, this person says my writing is awesome! Why should I change anything about it then?" The truth is we're constantly learning and growing. Even the most seasoned writers improve the more they work at their craft. Don't get me wrong, positive reviews are great in small doses, but it's really the negative ones that make us better writers.

I think about where I'd be if it weren't for the many critiques I've gotten over the past two years. Let's see, I'd still be starting my first chapters with my MC waking up, and she'd definitely be looking in the mirror and describing what she saw. (Hey, I thought I was quite clever to have thought of that!) I'd also have a bunch of talking heads and everything would be "told" to the reader. Just imagine if someone had said right off the bat that my writing was freakin' awesome. To not change a thing! I'm glad that didn't happen. In fact, my very first beta read the first three chapters of my manuscript and refused to read any further. She said very truthfully, "Listen. I love the premise for this book. But I just can't continue reading because it's lacking in so many areas. It's supposed to be a romance but I'm 50 pages into the book and you haven't introduced the hero yet! All I can think about is what I would do with the story if I was writing it." Now that was a splash of cold water in the face. And you bet your fanny I stared at the email with my jaw dropped in complete and utter disbelief. But guess what? The first thing I did the next day was bring in the hero in chapter one.

Critiques may sting, but they're the best possible thing in improving your writing. So go take your medicine and get out of that blazing sun already!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Puzzle Pieces

WARNING: I'm feeling philosophical today.

Ever since I read Animal Farm in 9th grade I've been a lover of analogies. The idea of having a story within a story is both abstract and efficient. I often find myself creating analogies for tough situations in my life or for life in general. I think it's my brain's way to cope with difficulty, to try to make sense of something non-sensical. I have a favorite analogy I'll share with you. (Okay, so I just made it up this morning while drying my hair, but it has quickly become a favorite.)

Our life is one giant puzzle that we build piece by piece. You're given just a couple puzzle pieces at birth - your family members. They are the corners that act as a base for what will eventually become a beautiful portrait of your life. As you grow older, form relationships, and start careers, you obtain more puzzle pieces. Some will fit perfectly like your childhood best friend who can finish your sentences for you. Others may seem like they fit but when you take a closer look, the end is just a tad smaller than the hole. This is akin to the friend who talks behind your back or a job that doesn't turn out the way you'd thought it would. You then discard the puzzle piece and try another.

Then there's the torn puzzle pieces. They fit in the spot perfectly and you only have one of them but they don't look too pretty. This could be the black sheep in your family or a child with a disability. In my life, my oldest son is my torn puzzle piece. He has ADHD with emotional issues. It's not like I could say "Sorry, we want to give him back and get a newer piece." You only get one and you have to deal with it. But as you gaze at your puzzle, you begin to get used to the torn piece. You notice the beauty in its uniqueness and how it stands out from the rest of the pieces. It makes your puzzle authentic and real. Without it, you realize, it would be almost too perfect. Life is never perfect.

There's also the puzzle pieces that don't fit right on the first try like a rocky marriage or a writing dream. It looks like it should fit, but it doesn't. Instead of discarding the piece completely and throwing your dreams of happiness out the window, you can try rotating it, or trying something different.

And of course, as always happens with puzzles, the kids may get into it and take it apart or someone could bump the table, sending the pieces clattering to the floor. This is equivalent to tragic life events - illness, divorce, job loss, death. In these crises, you feel like your world has crumbled. Hopelessness sets in and you're overwhelmed, just as if the puzzle you'd spent a week working on lies in pieces on the floor. The only thing to do is to pick up the pieces one by one as you get your life back in order. Now when you hear someone's "picking up the pieces" you can visualize it literally!

If you could imagine the puzzle that is your life, how do you think it would look right now? Have you taken advantage of every opportunity and relationship brought to you to help build your puzzle? Have you rotated your pieces before discarding them? And do you have any torn pieces that you've discovered the beauty in? :)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Writing on the Go (a.k.a. The Pocketbook Post)

You know how when you go to a craft show you tend to buy things you wouldn't normally buy? The item just seems to stand out amongst the rest of the booths and you just HAVE to have it? This happened to me last summer and I begged my mom to buy it for me. (Yes, I still mooch off my mother.) The item was a $35 pocketbook. Now, I know pocketbooks can go for like $300 and some of you may buy them at that price. Me though? I usually buy $15 pocketbooks from Wal-Mart. So I left the craft fair with this purchase I just had to have and it's sat in my closet for an entire year. It seemed to lose it's glimmer and glow when I got it home. Hey, it happens.

Yesterday, the pocketbook made it's the hospital. My husband went in for knee surgery and I had all that waiting time I didn't want to waste when I could be writing. I looked at my netbook and I had a hunch. Would it fit in my had-to-have pocketbook?

Yes, that is an actual pair of jeans shaped into a pocketbook. And what do you know, it fit like perfectly!

And what was even cooler was when I set up my netbook on my lap, the pocketbook base offered a backrest of sorts so it didn't slip down.

If you're interested in getting your own netbook pocketbook, I've included a picture of the tag below. I know she does a lot of sports themed ones, and I think you can special order too. I assure you, with this dangling from your arm, you are bound to get a lot of doubletakes. ;)


Monday, June 6, 2011

My Writing Cheat Sheet

I’m moving through an important phase in my writing right now. I’m attempting to morph from a good writer into a great writer. Ha! Aren’t we all? Historically, the feedback I’ve received was that I could write, but it just wasn’t there yet. I’d heard this from betas and agents alike. Of course, how helpful is that? Not very. But then I met an awesome writer, Michelle Davidson Argyle. She not only gave me a detailed critique on what I was missing, but how I could actually fix it with solid, concrete examples! I think I understand now what separates good writers from great writers. And being the very organized person that I am, I’ve created a cheat sheet I can refer to while writing. The first 4 on the list are no-brainers. These qualities can make up a story just fine. However, if you want to be a great writer and draw your reader into your characters and the world you’ve created, you need to move on to the remaining 5.

Have I included what my MC is:
1. Seeing? (description)
2. Saying? (dialogue)
3. Doing? (action)
4. Thinking? (internal thought)
5. Smelling? (4 other senses)
6. Tasting?
7. Touching?
8. Hearing?
9. Remembering! (back story)

Why did I put an explanation point on Remembering? Because this was probably the most lacking part of my writing. I was so freaking afraid of back story dumps that I relied solely on dialogue to bring out the past. But what I’ve learned recently is that memories can be your friend. Memories can help the reader connect to your character; to understand them better and have compassion for them. Here’s an example:

“Ooh, ooh, guess what?” asked Jenna, bouncing in her seat. “I found the perfect flower for the bouquets. Hydrangeas!”

Quinn gulped and forced a smile. Hydrangeas were her mother’s favorite flower. She thought of her mother bent over her garden, wearing a large sun hat, her hands covered in dirt. Quinn had planted hydrangeas at her grave just last week. She could still feel the cool earth shifting beneath her fingers. Her throat tightened as the hurt returned like a reopened wound. She stood up, the chair legs squeaking against the floor. “Where’s the restroom?”

By bringing in her memories, not only has it explained her odd behavior, but it has let the reader into her mind, and also added much needed back story that her mother is dead and she’s still hurting from it.

Another good use of the cheat sheet above is to get past writer’s block. So many times I’ve gone out on a limb and had my character see or hear something and it’s taken me on a completely different path (hopefully better!) than where I was originally heading. A good example of this is in my MG where Migizi is lying on the couch with the cat curled up on his lap and the silence of the night is shattered by glass breaking. From there, my story just flew from not knowing what the heck I was going to say next to vandalism and a rebellious band targeting his grandfather. All because in my MC’s head I “heard” glass shattering. So the next time you’re unsure of which direction to take, run through the 9 rules of my cheat sheet and see where it takes you!

Do you have any tricks you use when writing to make sure you’re drawing in the reader? Is there anything you would add to my cheat sheet?

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Challenge with Critiques

Yesterday, I started the tedious task of revisiting my first completed manuscript, an adult paranormal romance. After rewriting the first 4 pages (and spending 15 mins. alone on the first paragraph!) I realized this is going to call for a complete rewrite. I’m not talking words here and there, rounding out characters, or plugging up plot holes. I’m talking about major changes. It was amazing to see how my writing has improved over the past 2 years, and as a friend pointed out, the fact that I can see it. I can’t take all the credit though. I truly believe my improvement has come from co-writing, beta reading, and just reading in general. I’m very excited to sink my teeth into this manuscript, rip it to shreds, and put it back together again piece by piece. Although I’m a little scared too.

Now, along with rewrites, come critiques. One of my writing friends says she likes a “cheerleader” during first drafts. Just someone to keep her motivated and fuel her excitement in her project. I’m not sure if that works for me in this instance, just because it is a rewrite. I may need someone to be honest with me and outright tell me if it’s not working for them. This is always hard to hear, but unfortunately, necessary. One person I can always count on to do this is my mother. Ah, my mother. A woman who doesn’t need to say a word and you can read what she’s thinking all over her face. She makes what I call a “stinkface” when she doesn’t like something. It’s where she wrinkles her nose and scrunches up her face as if she’s just smelled something putrid. A beautiful sight I assure you.

Last night, I got the stinkface. Mind you, I don’t, I mean DON’T, let her read my stuff just for that reason alone. One look at that wrinkled up face and my confidence sinks into the floor. But when she came back from tutoring my son, I was in the middle of sending off the first 4 pages to my critique partner. And she saw it.

“You’re working on that one again, huh?” she says.

*Internally groaning* “Yes.”

Her eyes pass over the first paragraph at lightning speed and she says, “Why is the bar so packed? I’ve gone to lots of bars where it’s quiet and a couple people are just shooting darts.”

My heart accelerates. She couldn’t even get past the first paragraph!

“Is there a band? Bands usually pack bars with people.”

A band? No, there’s no freakin’ band in my story. “No, Mom, there’s no band.” I minimize my email before she does any more “damage” to my beloved words. Then grudgingly, I realize she has a point. Why was it so packed? And on a Wednesday, no less. I store the issue in the back of my mind to reflect on later.

This morning, as I was blow drying my hair (when I get lots of my inspiration), it hit me. A band! Yes! I could totally have a band, and not only that, but the hero could be the lead singer! I’m practically jumping up and down at this point. Because you see, I’ve always thought my plot was a little weak. Hero and heroine (Best Man and Maid of Honor) have to plan a Jack and Jill bridal shower when they can’t stand each other. But what if it’s not planning a bridal shower, but singing the song for the first dance at the wedding? Talk about conflict. Who can sing a love song with someone they hate? And the practices? Can’t you just imagine the tension I could create?

This isn’t the first time my mom has led me into other directions with my work. The last time all she did was watch my book trailer and I got the stinkface. The story involved a poor family, trying to survive after the father dies.

“They collect cans to make money? That’s silly,” she says. “Don’t you remember Katie who lived up the street from us in the trailer?”

I nodded, slightly remembering the waif thin blonde who could be a little annoying at times.

“She used to go door to door, asking to do yard work. She’d rake leaves for money. You should have your character do that instead.”

My guard instantly went up and I was like, I don’t want to change it! But after she left I realized she was right. Collecting cans alone was a little silly. So the yard work was added.

Do you have a beta in your life who just always seems to be right even though it stings at first? How do you sort through critiques and determine what’s a keeper and what’s a dumper?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What Inspired You?

Let's talk about what inspired you to write. I mean, not just write, but take writing seriously. For me, writing has been in my blood since I can remember, but I didn't always act on it. After college, I pushed my love of writing to the back of my mind, started a career, got married, had children, and basically lived the rat race like so many people in this world. Of course, I never gave up writing completely. Somewhere in there I took an online children's book writing course. I wrote poetry. And I even wrote the first 50 pages of a novel. But nothing concrete. To give you an idea, I had no clue what a query letter was. For 10 years, writing was just something I did sporadically and, pardon my language, half-assed.

But then my inspiration came. Something that made me sit up and ask, "What the heck am I doing with my life?" I have these God-given gifts, an immeasurable imagination, and I'm wasting them by working a 9-5 office job while my talents are rotting in dust.

My inspiration was simply a song on the radio. It was two years ago this July I first heard it. The song is called "The Motions" by Matthew West.

By the time the song had ended, I was in tears. You can take the song to mean many things, but for me it meant I was wasting my life - just going through the motions. I was at a low point, unhappy with my job, and I came to the realization I wasn't doing what I was born to do. And so I started writing...seriously writing. I honestly don't think I'd be where I am now if it weren't for that song. And every time I hear it, it motivates me to try harder, to not give up.

If you've taken a break from writing, or just picked it up for the first time, what has been your inspiration?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Your Last Day on Earth

I'm sure all of you have heard that tomorrow, May 21, 2011, is purposed to be "Judgment Day." The day the lucky few will move up to heaven and the rest will stay down here, dying a slow and painful death in purgatory. At least that's what I heard. Currently, Facebook is flooded with talk about how people are spending their last day on earth. I've seen some say they're taking their family to the amusement park. Others have said they're lazying around in their pjs, watching TV all day. And yet others have said they're treating it like any other day. What am I doing? Well, I haven't really thought about it. My husband has a dental cleaning and my son has soccer practice. Beyond that, I have no idea. No plans, nothing.

What I have thought about, probably deeper than I should, is a reflection of my life. Would I be one of the few to move up to heaven? Hmm, quite possibly not. You know why? Because while the past 8 years, I've been living for my children, for the most part I've still been living for myself. I've been doing everything I can to keep my family afloat, to gain success in the publishing business, and in my career. And you may say I'm entitled to that. That if it weren't for me, my family would crumble. I mean, really, things are pretty crappy at the moment and I'm the one string holding it together. But when you take a step back it's not as bad as it could be. We don't have a child in the hospital having a liver transplant. We haven't lost a family member in a tornado or our house in a flood. We're healthy, have food on the table, clothes on our back, and a roof over our heads. We're actually much better off than the majority of people in this world. And I could be doing so much more for others than I'm doing now. I think my priorities need a reboot.

As writers we all want the brass ring. The agent, the publisher, the best seller list. But does all that really matter when you consider that our life on earth is just a miniscule dot in our eternity? Not really.

I think when we're called to judgement, God's not going to say, "Okay, how successful have you been in life? Agented? Check. Sold tons of books? Check. Made gobs of money? Check. You're in!" It's going to be more, "What acts of kindness have you done? What types of relationships have you formed? Who have you helped to succeed?" He's going to be looking at your heart, not your accomplishments. (Yes, this is me trying to make myself feel better for not having an agent, but it doesn't make it any less true!)

I'm going to share a life learning lesson my father-in-law, Dave, told me. When my husband and his brothers were growing up, Dave ran a family farm. He worked, and worked, and worked. He left the entire child-rearing up to his wife. His children never knew him except to say "Hi," and "Bye." Then one day, the farm split up. A messy court battle that lasted 4 years. Dave was left empty-handed. A life's work down the drain, and three sons he barely knew. Only now, years later, has he built a relationship with his adult children. Life isn't about being successful as it can be taken away from you when you least expect it. It's about forming relationships, opening your heart, and helping others. My father-in-law learned the hard way. And now he's trying to make up for lost time, lost chances at happiness. But I have to say, he's the best grandfather I could ever hope for for my kids! It's never too late to change.

So in the spirit of our last day on earth, I'm putting myself out there to help others succeed in the best way I know how - as a beta tester and all around cheerleader. Just know my critiquing comes from logic and gut reaction. Personally, I trust my gut. I love my gut. You may not. But if you'd like to try me and my gut out I'd be honored to read for you. :) My email is julieloden"at" (Spam bots stay away!)

So do you have any plans for your "last day on earth?"

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Teaser Thursday?

I'm currently at home, working on my WIP. Yay! Remember how a couple days ago I was at a stalemate, unsure of which direction to take, or how to slow down the pace? An idea came to me. One that I'd actually advised another writer do I'd beta'd for. I figured I'd take my own advice. I switched up the persepctive. See, here's the thing. Cam has a cool storyline. The whole mystery of the cuts, the bullying, the bracelet... It's all pretty awesome. But her best friend has a cool storyline too. He's a Chippewa, but wants nothing to do with his heritage. His grandfather is forcing him to go on a spirit quest, which is where he has to survive in the wilderness for 2-3 days with only water and a few odds and ends like blankets. It's about fasting, doing a lot of soul searching, and supposedly seeing a vision, which will direct you on your path in life. So, how terrible would it be to completely miss out on this spirit quest because the book is told in Cam's perspective? It would totally be terrible. Plus, honestly, the whole cut thing is interesting, but don't you think it would get old after a couple chapters. It'd be like "Oh, look at that, another cut."

So here's my plan. The first few chapters are in Cam's perspective. Then a few will be in Migizi's, and back and forth. This allows the reader to have the opportunity to see Cam through someone else's eyes (which I think is always cool!) And you get a couple storylines going at once from different angles. Obviously, I'll need to tie them together at the end and I've got a pretty good idea how I'm going to do that.

Here's the introduction to Migizi's chapter. Let me know what you think about changing perspectives. Too confusing for middle grade? Or do you think they'll be able to catch on okay?


I watched the second-hand tick tick tick, like the thumping of my heart. It was two am and I couldn’t sleep. Not with Cam mad at me. She hadn’t returned any of my calls. The last time she gave me the silent treatment was when I told Kyle Nolan she liked him...and that lasted for almost two weeks. The girl acts like a waaboos, but when she’s mad she can be spiteful as heck.

Anyway, why was she mad at me? It wasn’t like I pulled the prank on her. I bit my tongue, remembering the hurt look on her face. But I had encouraged her to go up there.

The sound of gasping for air cut through my thoughts. Grandpa was snoring again. The walls were so thin he might as well be in bed with me. I growled and tugged the covers off, feeling the cool air kiss my skin. I shivered and wrapped my arms around myself.

Tiptoeing down the hall in my bare feet, I dropped into a heap on the couch and dangled my legs over the arm. Ginger took the opportunity to jump onto my lap. The orange ball of fluff kneaded my stomach for five minutes, finally settling into a position on my belly button.

SMASH. I jolted upright, sending the cat flying. She looked at me as if offended, her ears pulled back and eyes wide. “Sorry,” I said.

I looked around for the source of the noise but all was still. Not even Grandpa’s snoring could be heard. SMASH. The sound of broken glass echoed through the silent house. It was coming from outside.

My heart racing in a beatbox rhythm, I padded to the front window and peeked out the curtain. Two figures dressed head to toe in black were running from our driveway. Shattered glass lay beneath Grandpa’s truck, the moonlight’s reflection making it look like diamonds.

“It’s just a window,” said a gruff voice behind me. I turned, startled to see Grandpa standing there.

“But it’s your truck.”

The man shrugged. “They think they can break my spirit by breaking my window. They can’t. Nothing is changed.”

“You know who did this?”

“Yes.” Grandpa squeezed my shoulder. “It is nothing for you to worry about. Go to bed now. It’s late.”

I watched him glide down the hall, confusion swirling in my mind. It was always the secrets. Did he not trust me? Did he think I was just a kid still? That I couldn’t handle it? Even with Cam’s bracelet, he wouldn’t say a word about it no matter how much I prodded. All he said was to stay away from her. That there was nothing I could do.

Well, I couldn’t just stand and watch from the sidelines. She was my best friend. And I kind of felt like her protector. I guess ever since that day in first grade when I caught her before she could smash her face on the hopscotch court. The shocked look on her face as she gazed at me in wonderment had made me feel like a super hero.

The memory caused a warm tingling sensation to form in the pit of my stomach. I was unique to her and it wasn’t because I was Native American or lived on a reservation. It was just because I was me.

My throat tightened as I remembered she was mad at me. Honestly, I was only trying to help her. She’s an awesome girl but too afraid to let others see her like I see her. It bothered me she didn’t stick up for herself.

Ginger weaved around my ankles, rubbing her face against my skin. “Okay, okay, I’m going back to bed.” I stole one more glance at the glittery diamonds scattered across the driveway then picked up the cat and resumed my position on the couch.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Stop and Smell the Roses

I just finished reading Cinders from the wonderful writer, Michelle Davidson Argyle. The natural beauty she portrays with her prose and description had me thinking about my own description, or lack thereof. I find myself to be an impatient writer. Just a few days ago I complained that my story was moving too quickly. Part of this is because I'm not stopping to smell the roses. I want action after action after action, but in the process I'm losing the description, and thus losing the reader. If a reader can't hear, smell, taste, feel and see what the main character does, they'll never be able to connect to the story.

I thought a little deeper as to why I'm like this with my writing. Simply put, it's how I am in life. I'm an introvert who's bent on efficiency. When I send emails or make phone calls I don't dawdle with small talk. I don't ask "How are you?" or say, "Wonderful weather we're having." If I have something to say, I say it. If I have nothing to say, I don't. Small talk is not one of strongpoints, nor is it something I find necessary in my life. Thankfully, my family and friends know this about me and accept it. Strangers not so well. But to get to the point, my writing suffers because of it. I don't stop to smell the roses. I get right to the point, forgetting that readers aren't "mind readers." Just because I'm imagining tension between characters with full-on clenched jaws and balled up fists doesn't mean it's going to translate on paper. Dialogue can't do it alone. You need to paint a clear picture.

Michelle does this in Cinders. She's the kind of writer I strive to be like. Although unlike her, my analogies come out cliche and corny (even my blog title is cliche!) But I guess practice makes perfect and read, read, read!

Is there a writer you strive to be like? Or an area of your writing you wish you could improve upon?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Jump Start

I think my writer's brain needs a jump start. It seems like I've been working on my MG for ages, but yet I'm only on page 36. I'm not even a quarter of the way through it and I'm already stuck. This is a first for me, believe it or not. Usually, ideas flow to me freely and I have an active outline in my mind. This time around my outline is a bit sketchy. I know how I want the story to end and I know the conflicts, but I just can't get the middle parts right. I feel like the plot is moving too fast and I'm not sure how to slow it down. Today, I sent the whole whopping 36 pages over to one of my betas and hopefully, she'll have an idea for me. And that might be the key. To step back and let someone else have a shot at it. It's what I used to enjoy so much about co-authoring. Writing alone makes it much more difficult to get past these road blocks.

What do you do when your story needs to be re-evaluated. Do you put it in a drawer for a couple weeks? Do you ask others for their opinions? Or do you just force yourself to write through it, assuming it'll work out in the end?

Monday, May 2, 2011

I'm In Love With a Query Letter!

...and alas, it is not my own. I was fishing around on Janet Reid's Query Shark site (no pun intended) and found a query that blew my mind with its straightforwardness and simplicity. It's the kind of query that makes me wish I were a literary agent so that I may see such a gem come into my inbox.

Dear QueryShark:

One week ago, Claire's cousin, Dinah, slit her wrists.

Five days ago, Claire found Dinah's diary and discovered why.

Three days ago, Claire stopped crying and came up with a plan.

Two days ago, she ditched her piercings and bleached the black dye from her hair.

Yesterday, knee socks and uniform plaid became a predator's camouflage.

Today, she'll find the boy who broke Dinah.

By tomorrow, he'll wish he was dead.

Premeditated is a 60,000 word contemporary YA novel. Chapters or a synopsis are available on request.


This person broke all the rules and managed to come up with the best query I've ever read. Heck, she has the language for her book trailer already done! I think the problem a lot of people have when writing queries is not knowing how much "backstory" to include. My answer: Just enough. You've got to tempt agents with the most interesting (and hopefully, main) parts of your novel. The actual meat of the book - not the dressings. Keep it minimal, yet spike their curiosity. I know after reading this kicka@@ query, I want to know what this MC has in store for the boy and what he did to Dinah to make her commit suicide in the first place. No, scratch that, I need to know! So if you happen to be the writer of this awesome query letter, leave a comment. You're my query hero. :)

Does anyone else have query tips they'd like to share?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Reconnecting With Your Inner Teen

As adult YA writers we struggle with getting teenage voice, logic, and emotion just right. Obviously, we're not teens anymore. Personally, I'm in my mid-30s. (I really didn't like typing that.) Our days are spent changing diapers, taxi-ing around kids, and helping with homework. Responsibility takes all the fun out of life, doesn't it? And it makes it near impossible to remember what it was like before careers, kids, and bills got in the way. I found a way though, quite by accident.

We have a brand new local radio station that plays 90's music. If you're in my age range, then the 90s was your glory decade. A decade you looked hot, felt great, and thought you ruled the world. The teenage years. For me, I graduated H.S. in '94 so 90s music really captured everything from my early uncomfortable years as a Freshman all the way up through college and to my wedding in '99. An awesome decade! Anyway, I turned the station on, looking to reminisce a bit, and BAM! Memories flooded my head I hadn't thought about in years. But it wasn't only memories. It was smells, tastes, touch, emotions! A pure goldmine for the YA writer.

A song would come on, bringing me back to a night when I lied in bed next to my friend at a sleepover. She couldn't sleep without the radio on and I couldn't sleep with it on. We'd compromised and kept it low. I remember holding the chunky cordless phone close to my ear as I talked to Brandon, a boy I had a major crush on and who'd shown interest in me that afternoon. We talked the entire night as I stared at the glow-in-the-dark stars on my friend's ceiling and the low murmur of the radio filled in any awkward silences. Even writing this I can feel the lightness in my heart and excitement in my gut that I'd felt that night. And then the next morning, trudging through the mall with sand in my eyes because I'd pulled an all-nighter. (Little did I know it was a glimpse into what it's like having a newborn!)

Anyway, as each song came on, it was like a chisel breaking away the rock and revealing the gold. The gold that is my very own teenage years, and all the wonderful emotions and drama that come with them. All the tools we need to create realistic teenage emotion is right inside us. We just have to break through all the responsiblity rock we've built around it over the years.

I don't know if music can help release your inner teen. But it's definitely worth a try. If you don't have a 90s station in your listening area, mine has online streaming. Have a listen and see what gold you can find inside!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tuesday Teaser

Now that my early chapter book is in the query pool, I began work again on my MG paranormal, THE BRACELET'S CALL.  So I figured I'd share what I'm doing with it right now.  You'll notice that besides the paranormal aspect, there's also some multicultural tension brought in with the MC's best friend, Migizi.

“Uh, your grandfather knows I’m coming, right?” I asked, jumping off the last step to the slush below.
“Nope.”  Migizi gave me a sly smile.  I swear he loved putting me in uncomfortable situations just to see me squirm.  He’d argue he was helping build my backbone. 
“You love me.”
I felt a nervous giggle rise up, but held it back, instead focusing on tiptoeing around the slushpuddles.  Migizi trudged right through, obviously not caring if his feet got wet.
Before entering the house, I wiped my shoes on the ominous Go Away mat his grandfather left out to scare away Jehovah’s Witness people.  According to Migizi, it worked.
A strong smell of pine trees and mouthwash met my nose as I walked into empty low-ceilinged living room.  “Where’s your grandfather?”
Migizi sniffed the air.  “Most likely in the sweat lodge.  He wasn’t feeling well this morning.”
The “sweat lodge” was a tin shed behind the house.  I glanced at the eagle shaped clock in the kitchen.  It was four-seventeen.  “How long’s he gonna be?  My mom’s picking me up at five.”
Migizi shrugged.  “Depends what time he went out.  Do you want to go check?”
I pulled my face back.  “Huh?  As if!”  Like I’d ever want to see his grandfather shirtless.
“Kidding!” he said, patting me on the shoulder.  “I’ll be right back.”
Migizi disappeared down a narrow hallway, leaving me alone in the living room.  I turned a full circle, observing the clutter around me.  A bookcase sat against one wall, its shelves packed with worn, hardcover books, and bright colored throws lay haphazard on the furniture.  The blankets looked soft but I knew from experience how rough they were.  The centerpiece of the room was a feathered headdress set over the top of the couch.  Migizi said it’d been passed down in his family for generations.   
Nothing had changed in all the years of coming here.  I took a step forward, my foot bumping into a pile of magazines.  I picked up the top copy of Tribal Tribune, and thumbed through the pages.  It was mostly boring articles on politics.  I tossed the magazine back down on the pile and wrapped my arms around myself.  How did Migizi live in a place like this?  His grandfather seemed obsessed with keeping their heritage alive and Migizi was so...not.
I tried to imagine living in a house surrounded by pilgrim artifacts.  Miniature Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria ship figurines and pictures of people dressed in funny hats and shoes.  It was kind of silly, really.  Migizi was right.  Why couldn’t his grandfather just get over it and be American?
I heard the back door open and Migizi popped his head around the corner, followed by his tall-as-a-building grandfather.  I don’t know if it was the man’s height, his piercing black eyes, or the perpetual scowl on his face that scared me more.  And Migizi thought I needed a backbone.  I was here, wasn’t I?  That took guts of steel.
Migizi glided over to me and lifted my wrist to show his grandfather.  “And I saw it light up with my own eyes,” he said.  “Like magic almost.”
The old man brushed a finger over the symbol embroidered into the beadwork.  A startled expression entered his eyes and he choked out, “Where did you find this?”
“A-at school,” I stammered.
“Have you seen it before, Grandpa?”
He didn’t speak for a moment and Migizi and I exchanged glances.  Before I could blink, the man’s large hands were on my shoulders, pushing me toward the door.  “Your friend must leave this house at once and never return.” 
“Her mom’s not here yet,” argued Migizi.  “She can’t stand out in the cold!”
The man ignored his pleas and kept shoving me forward.  Soon the door slammed behind me and I was left standing on the Go Away mat, the unwelcoming wind slapping me in the face.
I could hear arguing from inside and my heartbeat throbbed in my ears.  I hadn’t expected that reaction.  Geez, it was like Migizi’s grandfather thought I was cursed or something.  I gulped as the possibility entered my head.  Cursed?