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?