Monday, September 1, 2014

We're closed for Labor Day!

Stephanie here. Today is Labor Day in America. I bet it's a rare American who can tell you what Labor Day is actually about. I finally looked it up last year because I was tired of saying that I didn't know. And then I promptly forgot about it because I had to look it up again this year:

Labor Day is a United States federal holiday observed on the first Monday in September, that celebrates the economic and social contributions of workers. It was first nationally recognized in 1894 to placate unionists following the Pullman Strike. With the decline in union membership, the holiday is generally viewed as a time for barbeques and the end of summer vacations.

My daughter started back to school a few weeks ago, but for Connor today is, indeed, the last day of summer vacation. We'll be enjoying the pool one last time, grilling hot dogs, and wearing all our white before the fashion police come after us tomorrow.

Go Teen Writers will be open again tomorrow!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Authors Wear Many Hats---and my gift to you!

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

Authors wear many hats.

Too many.

I mean, it's fun sometimes, learning to do all the different things I need to do to help my books have the best chance of success. Other times, it's not so much fun at all.

Traditionally published authors wear quite a few hats, but if you self-publish, you wear so many more. In the past few weeks, I wore the following hats:

typesetter for print books
ebook designer
information technician
graphic designer
web designer
virtual assistant
personal assistant

I think that's all of them. The I.T. hat was the most difficult for me.

Why was I messing around with computers to such a degree, you might ask? Well, I'll tell you. I was trying to create an ebook sampler to give away at Comic Con next weekend. This required me to first learn how to create an ebook using Scrivener. This I needed to do anyway to release the Storyworld First ebook, which I've done. (Yay!) So I created my ebook sampler, no problem. (That's a bit of an over-exaggeration. It took me a full week to learn to create an ebook in Scrivener, but now that I know how, it's a lot faster.)

The problem came when I tried to upload my ebooks to my website so that people could download them. My Wordpress site would not accept the files. They were too big. And also, there was something vague about Wordpress not supporting .mobi and .epub file formats. Maybe it was both. Who knows?

After a few hours of frustrated Googling, a tip from John Otte panned out. I used Filezilla to upload the large files to my server. Then I added the links to the download page. Done! Right?


Um . . . nope.

When John tried to download them, a password box popped up wanting my login information. I certainly wasn't going to post that online!

So I had to call my hosting provider for help, and they saved the day.

But then it turned out that they actually didn't, and I had to call again.


But the second guy was a superhero genius and saved the day for real.

To celebrate, I wanted to give you all access to the ebook sampler and ask your help. If you want it, please download it and share your experience in the comments. Just a simple, "It worked" or "I can't download it" will help me. I know this method of posting the sampler on my website isn't perfect, but if there are consistent problems, I'd like to fix them before Comic Con. Thanks so much for your help!

Here is a little bit about the sampler:

The 5-6-7 eBook Sampler is the ultimate introduction to the writings of Jill Williamson. Five chapters each from six books and a seventh complete short story. 
Includes excerpts from: By Darkness Hid, Captives, The New Recruit, Replication, Go Teen Writers, and Storyworld First. Plus a complete short story called The Senet Box. If you like fantasy, dystopian, mystery, adventure, science fiction, and books on writing, check out this sampler. 

Click here to download your copy. Enjoy!

What hats beside "author" have you worn this week?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Louis L'Amour on Writing

by Jill Williamson

There have been so many days lately that I've found it difficult to write. It's the end of summer. So much is going on. The kids are home. I'm trying to plan for two book releases---one book I created myself. Comic Con is coming, along with ACFW, where I'm doing critiques this year. More, more, more! And when I sit down to write . . . blah.

But I make myself sit there. I have a book to write, so I absolutely must sit there. I have no choice. And I've found that the more I make myself write---while those first few paragraphs are painful and might take me an hour---eventually, the words start flowing. Faster and faster. But I have to struggle through those first few paragraphs first.

If writing is hard for you lately, don't give up. Keep on writing. At some point, the words will flow.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What is a Logline and How Do You Write One?

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

Last week we talked about how to come up with a high concept for your novel.

A high concept pitch is not the same as a logline. A high concept is an intriguing idea that can be stated in a few words and is easily understood by all. A logline is a one- two-sentence description of a story that tells us what it is.

Here are the ingredients I use to create a logline:

1. Inciting incident
2. Character + adjective
3. The hero's (primal) story goal
4. What's at stake

The sentence might look something like this:

When ____1____ happens to ____2____ he must ____3____ before ____4____ happens.

Or this:

A(n) ____2____ does/experiences ____1____ and must ____3____ before ____4____ happens.

If you're not writing a high concept, you should still try to craft a logline that meets the high concept elements of being universal, unique, and having a hero dealing with a BIG problem. Also, the logline doesn't always include the inciding incident. As long as you have a WHO, a GOAL, and an OBSTACLE, you're in good shape.

For example:

An outcast teen (2) finds therapy writing her enemies into her story (3), but when her novel is published (1), she must face the consequences of using her pen as her sword (3). The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet by Stephanie Morrill.

Let’s try it with one of my ideas. And let me just say, it's not easy to get a 180k epic fantasy idea down to once sentence. I totally understand how difficult this is.

I started off with: When the ocean swallows their homeland(1), the survivors of two enemy kingdoms(2) take to the ocean to look for new land(3), but their common plight isn’t enough to stop the war between them(4).

I’ve got the #2 WHO (survivors), the #3 GOAL (finding new land), and the #4 OBSTACLE (they’re at war).

But it’s not great, either. Why?

-33 words is way too long. I like to shoot for 25.
-My WHO is no good. I need a single main character for the logline, even if the book has multiple POVs.
-I used the word “ocean” twice.
-It’s wordy and can be condensed.

So… I’ll try again.

When his homeland is destroyed, a prince(2) leads a fleet of ships in search of new land(3), but an enemy gives chase, bent on war(4).

-25 words
-I like focusing on the prince. It makes the story feel more personal.
-And saying the enemy is chasing them adds a sense of urgency.
-All in all, it's a descent logline.

Going back to last week's high concept, is there an easier way to say this? What comparisons can I draw for a displaced kingdom? Searching for a new homeland? The threat of an ongoing war? Can I get these ideas into a single high concept?

Nope. I couldn't. I spent months on it and totally gave up. But my agent spoiled me when she came up with this:

Fantasy Battlestar Galactica at sea.

This is much better! It’s a “TV show in a new setting” high concept and it’s only five words long. When you read it, you have a pretty good guess about the kinds of things that will happen in the plot. And the fantasy setting and “at sea” aspect gives the “people searching for a home” concept” a unique twist.

Your turn! Let's focus on the logline today. Can you summarize your concept in a sentence of 25 words or less? Be sure to give a WHO, a GOAL, and an OBSTACLE or try one of my two fill-in-the-blank sentences. You might have to play with the words and rearrange a little. And that's okay.

Paring your idea down to a few words forces you to focus on what your story is about and keeps you on track as you write. Loglines are the way agents and editors sell your idea. And when you make it simple to remember, you make it simple for them to pitch. Give it a try. And then help someone else with their idea.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Winners Quit All The Time.

by Stephanie Morrill

I've quit a lot of things in my life. Soccer, dance, cheerleading. I quit a school play one time. (That one actually makes me cringe, because I'm pretty sure I didn't even tell my director.) I've quit watching TV shows that stopped being entertaining to me or reading books that were boring.

I quit a lot, andwith the exception of flaking out on that middle school playI do it so that my time can be focused on the best things. The things that only I can do.

That list is short. It includes being a good wife to my husband, a good mother to my kids, and, of course, writing.

So when my parents loaned me The Dip by Seth Godin, a book about quitting, this quote jumped out at me:

"Winners quit all the time. They just quit the right stuff at the right time." Seth Godin, The Dip
As my kids start back to school, I find myself reassessing my schedule, and maybe now is a good time for you to do the same. What do I need to quit so that I can free myself up to excel at something else?

Monday, August 25, 2014

How Having No Talent Can Actually Be A Good Thing

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the Ellie Sweet books (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.

Some of you have heard me say this in interviews, but I decided when I was six that when I grew up, I wanted to write books. In first grade, we had writing time everyday. For fifteen minutes (or maybe more, I don't know) we got out our writing folders and wrote stories about whatever we wanted.

When we were done with a story, we took it down to this closet of a room at the school to have it "published." We picked our cover and the stickers or art work. We picked the color of the binding. And then we left our handwritten story there to be typed up for us. (This was 1990, so it's  not like there was an abundance of computers floating around Willow Glen Elementary.)

Several days later, our books would be returned to us to illustrate. Once we were done illustrating, we read our story to the class. And then the whole process started over.

My mother saved mine, and I'm so glad.

I keep the books in my office to remind myself that I wasn't talented. At all.

I wouldn't even say I was talented "for a first grader." There isn't a drop of brilliance in my prose that hints I would grow up to be an author. I'll prove it:

Yep. The first book I wrote is called "Stephanie." That's how creative of a child I was. And wow, that clashes with my orange office.

"Dedicated to my Mommy, Daddy, and my dog.
Once upon a time there was a little girl."

"Her name was Stephanie." (Which I indicated with these flowers...?)

"She had a little dog." (And apparently only one color of crayon.)

"The dog's name was Toby."

"The little dog said 'Arf, arf.'"

"Stephanie pet her dog."

I promise you that the nice woman who typed this up for me was not thinking, "Wow. I might be typing up a story for a girl who will sometime be a real author!"

No, I had no talent. But a lack of inherent talent can be overcome by enthusiasm and tenacity, and if you had been observing my enthusiastic and tenacious first grade self, then you might have guessed writing stories was in my future. Because I loved writing stories. I was one of the most enthusiastic students when it was story writing time. And I didn't just write at school, I wrote at home without being asked. (Mostly about horses and meeting Joey McIntyre from New Kids on the Block.)

As I've grown up, I've noticed that people who rely more on their talent than they do hard work seem to fall into the trap of laziness and eventually slip into mediocrity. Being born without a shred of talent means I had to work hard to be any good at all.

So if you're not feeling very talented at the moment, don't worry about that. When Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympic swimmer of all, was asked about why he's done so well, he said he "stayed in the pool longer." You could argue that he was also born with a healthy body and all that, but I love the answer he gave because it's something I can do too. I can't make myself more talented or poetic, but I can work hard and write longer.

What are your writing plans today?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Do you need help with your storyworld?

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the Ellie Sweet books (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.

I helped Jill proofread her newest release, Storyworld First: Creating a Unique Fantasy World for Your Novel, and it was so much fun.

I'm not a fantasy writer, but I was fascinated by the process for creating a whole world to tell a story in. If you're a fantasy writer, you need this book, and here's why:

1. Jill breaks down the process in such a clear way. She starts with an overview of the components of world building, and then she delves deeper into each one.

2. Jill has written award-winning fantasy and sci-fi books, so the girl knows what she's talking about.

3. Jill encourages writers to write their heart and write their story, but she also pushes writers to be unique and to work hard. The effect of this feels like being given a warm hug and then a pep talk.

4. Jill talks about her own mistakes. This is such a rare trait in a professional artist, and it makes it so much easier to learn from her.

5. Jill doesn't just talk about how to create unique beasts for your world, how to integrate your map into your plot, or how to develop interesting magic. She walks you through it with the same worksheets and helpful lists that she uses when working on her storyworlds.

Storyworld First is available in both paperback and ebook forms, and should totally be on your wish list, if not your buy-right-now-because-I-must-have-it list.

I'm giving away an e-copy of Storyworld First to one lucky person. This giveaway is open to residents of all countries.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

As a non-fantasy writer, I'm curious to hear from you fantasy writers. What part of worldbuilding is your favorite? With what do you struggle the most?