Thursday, September 30, 2010

What are your favorite books and why?

A writer e-mailed me to ask, "What are your favorite books and why?"

Holy cow, what a huge question.

Since I don't have time to spend hours writing this blog post, and since you probably don't care to read my entire answer, I'm going to talk about my three current faves as succinctly as I can:

My three current faves:

My general fiction pick is The Passion of Mary-Margaret by Lisa Samson. This book challenged me not only as a Christian, but as a writer. For starters, the story is unique - Mary-Margaret is a girl dreaming of being a religious sister, and then Jesus asks her to marry a diseased male prostitute. And a story like this in the hands of someone as skilled as Lisa Samson ... the results are breathtaking. I adore this book.

My YA pick is This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen

Oh my gosh, I could read this book a thousand times. The narrator is delightful. Remy's a mess of a girl who thinks she can control everything, even who she falls in love with. And Dexter, her boyfriend, just leaps off the page. Dessen has released four or five books since This Lullaby, but this remains my favorite. An excellent study in what "quiet" YA fiction can be.

My classic pick is (no surprise here) Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. We didn't read P&P in my high school, which is a little weird. My English teacher preferred the Bronte sisters, so we studied them instead. I "discovered" Miss Austen several years after I'd graduated. I picked up P&P at a book sale for 25-cents. Some of the best money I ever spent. Miss Austen is a master of complex plots and beautiful, witty dialogue. P&P is my favorite, then Sense and Sensibility, Emma, and Mansfield Park are all tied for second.

So. What are your favorite books and why?

Got a question to ask? Shoot me an e-mail.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Achieving the dream

On my author blog, I'm hosting 10 authors (who are generously giving away their books to those who comment on the posts) in the next 5 weeks.


Because I love being able to spread the word about available reading material.

Because so many bloggers hosted me for interviews and giveaways, and it's nice to be able to do the same for others.

And because I'm hoping to write 50k words in October, and there's only so much a girl can cram into her schedule.

Each author is going to be answering one question, and that question is, "What's one thing you did that helped you achieve your dream of publishing a book?"

I wrote this question with you guys in mind, so I hope you'll take the time to stop by my author blog on Mondays and Thursdays, see what these authors have to say, and maybe pick yourself up a free book or two.

Yesterday Cara Putman was on there.

Thursday it will be P.A. Baines.

Please come over and see what gems they have for you guys.

And if you don't want to miss out on all the advice and giveaways, but think you might forget to check in on my author site, you can subscribe to my blog via e-mail and have it delivered directly to your inbox. Pretty, sweet, huh?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Let her throw up

My husband and I have been watching the show Mad Men. We're woefully behind - just now on season two. A couple nights ago, we reached an episode that had the best ever moment in the whole series. And I'd say it's even one of the best moments I've seen on TV.

Here's a quick synopsis of the episode.

The main character, Don Draper, spends half the episode debating buying a Cadillac. At first he decides no, but then he gets a salary bump at work and returns to the dealership. He brings the car home (those were the days, right guys? When you didn't have to run everything by your wife.) and takes his wife, Betty, and two kids out for a picnic. Before they get back in the car, he makes sure everyone goes to the bathroom and that all their hands are clean.

Meanwhile, there's a big party that Don and Betty have been invited to. They get all dressed up and take the Cadillac. While they're there, Betty learns that Don has been cheating on her. And, separately, Don is confronted by the husband of the woman he was cheating with. Here's a picture of Don and Betty as they leave the party:

Happy couple, right?

The next scene is them sitting in the Cadillac absolutely silent. There's maybe 30 or so seconds of silence, and you just know that any second now, Betty's going to say something to Don about what she learned.

She opens her mouth, and then...

She pukes.

The camera cuts to Don making a disgusted/horrified face, and the episode ends.

I burst out laughing because it caught me completely by surprise. Here I was sitting on my couch expecting the same ol' plot line - wife finds out husband is cheating, wife confronts him as soon as they get a moment of privacy. I did not expect her to throw up in her husband's brand new, very expensive car.

I've been thinking about that scene for days.

Would I still be thinking about it if Betty had confronted Don? Maybe. Maybe there would have been some good emotion, some good one-liners that made it memorable. But not as memorable.

This has inspired me to jot a note and hang it on the bulletin board next to my desk: Let her throw up.

What that means to me is, don't go for the obvious scene. I want to push myself to write the surprise, to write the unexpected.

Because you know what readers hate? Predictable.

So let her throw up.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A tip on turning off your internal editor

Mary Q. of Kansas City, MO wrote to me with the following writing tip. She says it's helped her to turn off her internal editor.

Mary says:

This quarter I'm writing a poem, so for my assignment Ms. Hodge assigned me an exercise of writing non-stop for ten minutes, or for a certain length on a page. (I'm writing a whole page each time.) After I'm done writing I can't read what I wrote, I have to stuff it in a drawer, till my exercise - which lasts ten days - is over. The weird thing is, not being able to read what I wrote is killing me, and the actual writing part is helping a ton! I sometimes have to force myself to stop writing, and then the next page is done even quicker!

So for those of you who struggle with turning off your internal editor (and don't we all?) give Mary's trick a try and see if it works for you.

Have a tip you'd like to pass along? Send me an e-mail, and be sure to include your name and location.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

3 things to ask yourself before submitting your manuscripts

The subject of submitting manuscripts to publishers/literary agents has come up on the comments section on here pretty often. Which is awesome. I love seeing so many motivated writers!

I can't read everybody's work. I really, really wish I could because I love chatting with you guys about your projects and dreams. (If I didn't, I wouldn't run this blog.)

Since I can't edit for everybody, I thought I'd throw out some general things I might say to any of you who are thinking the time has come for you to throw your baby to the wolves:

1. Have you thoroughly edited your manuscript? If you're not sure, or you're just looking for ways to know, check out my three-part series "I Love Editing."

2. Have you researched the querying process? We've got a three-part series on that as well. The first post is "What I Didn't Know - and What You Should - Before Querying Agents" I then talked about query letters and book proposals.

3. Can you handle criticism? Because even an agent or editor who adores your story and voice is going to have things they don't like. So if you still get bent out of shape about criticism from your friends, you might not be ready yet to submit. And there's nothing wrong with that. We're all ready at different stages of life. On the other hand, there's a learning curve for managing criticism, and the way to get used to it is to receive more of it. So if you're prepared for that, by all means, send out those query letters.

Seasoned writers, is there anything you would add to this list?

And those just embarking on the submission process, what kinds of questions do you have?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What does your writing routine look like?

A writer e-mailed me to ask, "What does your writing routine look like?"

I talked about my writing process last Thursday, so in answering today's question, I'll focus on my time allotment.

And actually, I'll split it into two sections:

Routine pre-kids and pre-publication (baby and book contract came within 6 months of each other - yikes!)

1. Breakfast/Shower/Etc.
2. Sit down at desk around 9am.
3. Check e-mail, respond to some. Usually about 45 minutes.
4. Write until 12ish.
5. Eat lunch.
6. Write until 4:30ish.

People used to say to me, "Wow, that's a lot of writing. Don't you get bored?"

NO. I look at this schedule now and salivate.

Routine with kids and published books:

On the two days I have babysitters, my day looks like this:
Write/Schedule blogs
20 minutes e-mail (Because otherwise I would spend 2 hours on e-mail)
5 minutes social networking (See above parenthetical comment)
Update tax records
Read handful of blogs I follow
Spend 2 hours marketing/researching/responding to interviews/reading a craft book/etc.

On the three days I don't have babysitters, my day looks like this:
20 minutes e-mail
5 minutes social networking
Pop into 2 blogs - On the Write Path and Writing Roseanna

So there you have it - my glamorous schedule, which gets crammed between dirty diapers and drinking lots of coffee.

Have a writing question? E-mail me.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

When Enough is Enough

I'm a list girl. I love being able to check something off my list, marking it as DONE.

Something I asked a lot as I wrote my first couple manuscripts was, "When do I get to be done?" Because the process can feel never ending, can't it? Especially when you're constantly growing as a writer, learning new techniques and rules.

For me, being done has sometimes been as simple as saying, "This is the best I can do at this time and place. That will have to be good enough." Several of my early manuscripts fall into that category still. I took them as far as I could at the time, started on new projects, and they're still sitting around waiting for me to clean them up.

If you're not writing stuff that's publishable yet, don't despair. You're learning every time you sit down to write. There's nothing wrong with this being a process. Nobody is perfect at their profession fresh out of the gate, right? My husband is a mechanical engineer. He spent 4 years getting his undergrad, 2 years getting his masters, and there was still a lot to learn when he started working. Why should writing be any different?

Here's what my process looks like from conception to completion:

1. I come up with an idea big enough for a novel. I talk about it with my crit girl, Roseanna. Sometimes she offers suggestions, and sometimes she says, "Sounds great. Can't wait to read it."

2. I write a sucky first draft.

3. I revise and make it less sucky.

4. I revise again and make it good enough that I won't feel embarrassed to have Roseanna (and often my husband) read it.

5. Roseanna reads it wickedly fast and offers her feedback.

6. I input all her feedback, write scenes she suggests, etc.

7. I go through the manuscript one more time and give it a good polish.

8. It gets sent to my editor. She makes suggestions, and I input those.

9. It goes to a copy editor. She checks for continuity/typos/etc. I make all those changes.

10. My publishing house mails me a hard copy of typeset proofs. I'm only allowed to change stuff that HAS to be changed at this point. (Like typos or major errors.) I read through the manuscript and make necessary changes.

11. Then, because I'm paranoid, I do one last read through. I send my copy editor the list of changes I made and declare the manuscript, "DONE."

And, no, I never read my books in book form. I'm terrified I'll find a typo and won't be able to change it.

How about you? When do you decide you've done enough editing?

Have a writing question? E-mail me.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Living, Breathing Main Character

I don't normally post on here on Wednesdays, but an article of mine about main characters went live yesterday on Novel Journey.

Also, Novel Journey has been listed on Writer's Digest's 101 Most Valuable Websites, so it's a good one to bookmark. Lots of good stuff on there.

See y'all tomorrow!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

What's life like as a published author?

A writer wrote to me and asked, "Is it really that difficult to be a published author? Do you have to pay for printing and such? What does being a published author entail exactly, and what sort of stuff do you have to do besides write what your agent wants or whatever?"

There are some definite perks to being a published author - like being a published author. I still get such a kick out of telling people that I'm a "Novelist," when they ask me what I do for a living.

If it were up to me, my entire job would be writing novels, reading, moderating Go Teen Writers, and replying to loads and loads of fan mail.

Here's a list of non-writing stuff that takes up my time:
Blogging - I blog 2 days a week here, 3 days a week on my author blog, and then I contribute to a third blog. There are days where I write three to four blog posts. Makes me cranky.
Social Networking - Yes, I'm serious. Facebook and Twitter are part of my job. I enjoy them (well, FB anyway. I still don't feel like I "get" Twitter) but they take up time.
Tax stuff - Being a novelist = owning my own business. Whether I like it or not.
Keeping up to date with the market - Which I do by visiting several industry blogs and monitoring new releases.
Critiquing for writer friends - (No laughing, Roseanna!) I'm a horrendous critique partner these days, but there are seasons where this takes up a significant chunk of time. Totally worth it though when you work with the right people.
Interviews/Guest Blogs/Articles - This is exactly what it sounds like. Especially when I've arranged a blog tour or when a book of mine is getting ready to release or has just released (which has been the case for about 18 months now), I'm constantly giving interviews, writing guest blogs, and writing articles.
School visits/Teaching - Which I enjoy, but it can really freak me out. I'm not a fan of being the center of attention.
Email - I respond to everybody who e-mails me. Totally worth it, but time consuming. (If you've e-mailed me and I haven't responded, it's because I didn't get it, or because your e-mail address was invalid or your server rejected me.)
Managing my web site
Visiting area bookstores
Book signings

And then there are two big things I have to do, that all novelists have to do, that I would ax from my job description in a heartbeat:

My own marketing

All publishing houses are different, of course, but it's pretty well understood that you are in charge of your own marketing. Yes, there's a marketing department. For debut authors, they have a small budget and pretty standard ideas. I don't mean that as criticism, it's just the way things are. My publishing house ran ads in a couple magazines, sent out books to bloggers, and mailed me bookmarks and postcards for me to pass out at school visits/book signings.

And even when the marketing department has something special they want to do to promote your book, there's usually a role for you to play as well. (Advertising a contest, compiling a list of names, answering interview questions for a website, and so forth.) And I'm learning that you should always follow up on what they say they'll do to keep from falling through the cracks. I've really tried to be easy to work with, and while I still feel that's a good attitude, there's a time and place for being a squeaky wheel.

Bottom line - If your sales suck, the execs in the house aren't looking at the marketing department saying, "What happened, guys?" Instead, they cut the author loose.

My own publicity

Marketing is stuff you pay for (bookmarks, ads, etc.) Publicity is free stuff. Like when you're on TV or in the newspaper. I've done both, plus given a couple radio interviews. These weren't the result of my publishing house setting them up, they were the result of my publicist's work. My publicist who gets paid by me.

So while my publishing house pays for printing and distribution and all that jazz, basically everything else falls to me. Since becoming a novelist, I've fallen in love with writing even more. I think it's because absence makes the heart grow fonder, and writing is often absent from my regular routine.

Like any job, there are things I don't like and never will. Would I trade my job? No. Would I unload some unpleasantries if I could? Totally.

Does that answer your questions?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The internal and the external of books

Last Thursday, we talked about the internal and external of scenes. (Click here to see that post.)

While each scene needs internal and external action, so does the overall story. The way to successfully do this is to examine your main character and give them an outer problem and an inner problem at the start of the novel. Like this:

Marin's outer problem- To figure out what to do about the new guy in her life, whom she's fallen in love with, despite feeling like things could never work between them.

Marin's inner problem - To accept that she can't control every aspect of her life.

Your character will see the outer problem. This is the big one they're working to solve throughout the novel. Almost all your scenes will have something to do with the outer problem, either moving your character closer to or further away from solving it.

The inner problem, however, might be something your character doesn't even recognize needs solving. Maybe it isn't even until the last 1/4 of the book that he or she will realize they've got this whole other issue that needs solving. Often they're forced to face it during the "dark moment" of the book, the moment where all feels lost.

But even though your character doesn't realize there's a problem that needs solving, in your crafty writer way, you still need to be nudging him or her towards the solution. Whether it's through comments that other characters make, or just finally giving a name to what it is your character's going through. Like in Marin's case, it might not say anywhere, "Marin has control issues," but we can see it in the way she interacts with her friends, family, etc.

Both problems need to be solved at the end of the novel. Otherwise, why on earth did we just spend our precious time reading those 75,000 words?

Is this making sense? I'm writing this at the end of a long day with two kids, so I don't exactly trust my brain right now. Only half of it is thinking about writing. The other half is thinking about Reese's Pieces.