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.)