Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Birthday Giveaway

Today's my birthday.

I'm 27, which my brother-in-law reminds me, is getting pretty darn close to 30. I love him and all, but sometimes I'm not sure why.

Oh, that's right. Because he's a nice guy. (Hands off, ladies. He's taken. And with the sweet talk mentioned above, can't you see why?)

My birthday has become a time that I think about how lucky I am. I was born into a wonderful family, and then had the good fortune of marrying into another wonderful one. (Brother-in-law excluded.)

I'm married to a total fox.

I have two healthy, beautiful kids.

And I have...

...a book series. (And, yes, I also have kind of a weird love for giraffes.)

Over the last couple years, I've had time to wrap my mind around being an author. But every once in awhile, on a day like today, I get stunned all over again. Those are REAL books in that picture. And MY name is on the cover. Somehow - and I'm still pretty fuzzy on all the details - I convinced somebody that they should pay me to write those books.

I started this blog because of how much I love interacting with teens who want to be writers. Because not so long ago (contrary to my brother-in-laws feelings), I was a teen writer. I had no idea what I was doing, yet I somehow ended up here:

And it made me wonder, what if I could help the next generation of teen writers? What if I could impart what little knowledge I have? What if I could keep them from making the mistakes I did?

So today, I'm also grateful for you guys. I'm grateful that I get to hang out with you, and grateful that you put up with my writing rants. Grateful enough that I'd love to mail each and every one of you a set of the Skylar Hoyt books.

Unfortunately, budget only allows for me to send them to one of you. And (please don't hate me!) it needs to be someone in the US or Canada.

Here's how to get entered.

Step 1: If you aren't already one, become a follower.

Step 2: Tell me something you'd like me to talk more about on here. That's the best present you can possibly give me because it helps me plan better, and to more fully know my audience.

Step 3: Leave your e-mail address so I can let you know you won. And protect yourself from those stupid spam thingies. Leave it like this: Stephanie at StephanieMorrillBooks dot com.

In my house, we celebrate birthdays for a week, so I'll shut down this contest a week from today - November 4th.

Have a great day everybody!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Covering time

A writer e-mailed me to ask, "Is it OK that my book covers only like a month in the entire novel, and that I don't skip too many days?"

This is a great question! I'm amazed by the things you guys think to ask.

In short, yes. Books can cover any kind of time span. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet spans several generations. Sarah Dessen's books are often set in the summer. The books in Meg Cabot's Princess Diaries series usually cover a month. I'm trying to think of a book that only covers a day or week but I'm only coming up with movies. Orange County (which is one of my faves, being a writer) all takes place within 24 hours, I'm pretty sure. I have a fantasy about writing a book that takes place within 24 hours, but so far the right story hasn't presented itself.

There really is no ideal of "a book should cover this amount of passing time." You just do what the story needs.

Does that answer your question sufficiently?

Have a writing question? Email me!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Blooming where you're planted

This month, I committed to writing 50,000 words. Kind of my own personal NaNo, since NaNo takes place in November and that so doesn't work for me.

I decided to work on the manuscript my agent was currently pitching, called Something Borrowed.

Between October 1st and the 14th, I wrote about 15,000 words. I had the document open and was typing my little heart out when my agent called.

"I've been on the phone with your editor for the last hour," she said.

Pardon the cliché, but my heart started to race. "Bad or good?"

"Excellent, actually. Except she's lukewarm on Something Borrowed. She has something else in mind. You have a few minutes?"

I looked at my open word document, sighed within, and closed it. "Okay. What's the new project?"

This is life as an author. Sometimes you have the privilege of picking your projects. Of presenting an idea of your own and it being embraced and bought.

Other times, you're selected for an idea, and it's your job to make it work. To make it yours.

I heard bestselling author Kristin Billerbeck use the phrase, "bloom where you're planted" in regards to situations like this. I love that. It's as important in writing as it is life.

You might have dreams of writing literary fiction or poetry or a memoir or something else that simply isn't selling well. Sometimes lightning will strike, and your risky story will somehow make it through the pub-committee. But for most, you gotta pay your dues. I'm not talking about lowering your standards, but about taking a different path in getting there. I'm talking about seizing writing opportunities that come your way and finding a way to bloom.

My editor's idea totally threw me at first. I called my writing friend, Roseanna, completely panicked. "How are we going to make this work?"

Within a couple hours, we'd come up with something I'm excited about, something I think is fabulous. And my editor's idea ended up fitting into a manuscript of mine like a missing piece.

Hopefully when she sees it, she'll feel the same way.

Have a great weekend, everybody!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

An exercise for amping up your dialogue

Last Thursday, I wrote a very frustrated post about flat, whiny characters. In it, I also briefly ranted about characters who won't just OPEN THEIR MOUTHS AND TALK TO EACH OTHER.

Okay, I'm done yelling. Sorry. It's a touchy subject for me because dialogue is the best part of the story, and my favorite part to write. So let's talk some about crafting killer dialogue. I've done a quick overview before (which can be read here), but let's talk about an actual exercise for amping things up.

This one I read in James Scott Bell's Plot and Structure but he apparently took it from a Jack Bickham book.

The idea is to assign roles to your characters in a scene. They can be the parent, adult, or child.

The parent is the one with the power, the authority. What he says goes.

The adult is the most objective one. The rational, even-tempered one who sees things the way they really are.

And the child is the one behaving with zero rationale. He wants what he wants, when he wants it.

The fun thing is that you get to switch up who plays what. Like your main character might primarily be in the "adult" role in conversations, but see what kind of conflict happens when you make him or her the parent or child.

Because when your characters are all in agreement on something, it kills your dialogue. What's there to talk about? There's zero conflict.

I've pulled two examples of this from a manuscript of mine. Here's my main character, Gabby, in a typical conversation. She tends to be in the "Adult" role.

“We missed you at lunch, Gabs,” Rachel says brightly as I sit in front of her. “Did you finish your homework?”

It takes me a second to realize “homework” had been my excuse for hanging around campus during lunch. “Yeah.”

Palmer flicks a pen and sends it spinning across his desk. “Chase help you?”

Wow, a sentence. “No.”

Rachel blinks at him, then looks at me, clearly confused. “Were you hanging out with Chase?”

“No. Of course not.”

She shakes her head, confused but apparently willing to let it go. “Whatever. Anyway. You know what we decided over lunch, Gabs? We’re going to April’s lake house for Halloween. We’re gonna build a bon fire and have all kinds of crazy fun. You have to come.”

“I can’t. I have—”

“Homework,” she finishes with a roll of her eyes. “Come on, you’ve gotta come. December’s gonna be here before you know it, and I’ve hardly seen you recently. We’re driving up tomorrow after school and staying overnight.”

“My parents would never let me do an overnight.”

What a bummer.

Rachel winks. “You leave that to me.”

But another character, Chase, tends to demote Gabby to child. Here she is talking to him:

“I’m not like them. You know I’m not.”

He flicks the end of a pencil, sending it spinning. “I don’t know you at all, really.”

Although he knew something about me that I hadn’t shared with anyone. And he’d turned my embarrassing secret into a stunt to get attention for himself.

“Well, from what I know about you, I’d say that’s just fine with me.” I hope my look is as cold as my voice. “What’s with that stunt in Algebra yesterday?”

Chase appears not to notice I’m doing my best to intimidate him. He stays silent and smiling. He’s beyond irritating.

“Why’d you do it?”

Chase shrugs, lazy-like. “Why not?”

I grit my teeth. “Because you embarrassed me. Because it’s not true.”

Chase snorts.

“I want an apology,” I say through a locked jaw.

“No way.”

Give it a try with your characters and let me know how it goes!

Have a writing question? E-mail me.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Enough with the whining


Please, please, please.

Everyone get out your manuscripts right now. Please make sure your main character is doing something to solve their problems. I don't care whether or not they're going about it in a good way. All I care about is that they're not just sitting around whining and feeling sorry for themselves.

And if you have a romance thread ... double check to be sure that the problem can't be solved by a mere conversation. Your reader should not be sitting there thinking, "Okay, if you two could sit for just five minutes and talk, we could be done with this."

Let's all agree to be better than that. Let's agree to craft proactive main characters who can't solve their love problems with a five minute conversation.

That's all.


Stephanie, who forced herself to read three sucky chapters of a book before closing it in disgust over the above two issues

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sarah Sundin giveaway

Okay, everybody should go over to my author blog today and sign up to win Sarah Sundin's latest A Memory Between Us. She's a crazy good writer.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

How do you handle self-doubt?

A writer e-mailed me to ask, "How do you handle self-doubt and make yourself write?"

Some days I don't. Um, particularly in 2007 when it was rejection after rejection. Followed by more rejection. And then rejection that came completely out of the blue from another writer. Oh, and then some more rejection on top of that.

I've said this elsewhere, maybe on the post where I talk about how I got published, but there were days where I would just lay on my apartment floor and ask myself why I was doing this. What made me think I had anything unique to say?

And sadly, those insecurities don't vanish when you sign the book contract. Or when you see your book on the shelf at Barnes and Noble. Insecurity is part of being human. But the joy of being a writer is you can put it to work for you and use it in character crafting. (Once you get over your insecurities long enough to actually put words on the page, that is.)

So while I, sadly, have no magical cure for self-doubt, I have found a few things that help me:

Because sometimes my doubts are from me over-thinking the situation. Sometimes it's as simple as telling myself, "You're going to sit yourself down in that chair, and you're not checking e-mail, stalking the Pioneer Woman, or even peeing until you write 500 words."

Writing in a Community
I didn't know how badly I needed writing friends until I actually made some. I love being able to send them stuff and say, "Does this suck as bad as I think it does?" In fact, I have a manuscript that I felt tremendously insecure about, that I cringed as I clicked the "Send" button, but my crit partner, Roseanna, says it's the best thing I've written.

And even when something does suck as bad as I think it does, my writing friends are often able to say, "Here's the problem."

Writing friends can give you much-needed perspective.

Having That Person
It might be your best friend or your dad or your aunt. It's that one person who's always willing to give you pep talks, and who knows how to make things right. I'm fortunate enough to have lots of people supporting me and my writing, but the one who gets to deal with all my junk is my husband. (Lucky him, right?) He's there to tell me how dumb a particular reviewer is, or to remind me that my agent didn't take me on out of pure pity (I still think maybe partial pity), and so on.

The self doubt will never completely go away. But I think the best advice is in the second part of the question - make yourself write. There's definite therapy in it.

Have a question? E-mail me.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Win a copy of Me, Just Different

If you're still wanting to read Me, Just Different, I was interviewed on A Girl of Many Colors and she's giving away a signed copy of the book. Click here to get entered.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Melanie Dickerson Giveaway

Back in July, the lovely and talented Melanie Dickerson was on the blog talking about rejection.

Right now, she's giving away a copy of The Healer's Apprentice on my author's blog, as well as answering the question, "What's something you did to achieve your dream of being published?" Check out Melanie's advice, and maybe score a free copy of her book.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Perseverance is key

On my author blog this month, I'm asking authors how they achieved their dream of being published. Everyone so far has said some form of "perseverance." And I'm guessing if we polled 100 authors, they'd say the same thing.

People who get published are the ones who want it bad enough to stick with it.

Who want it bad enough to open themselves up to criticism because they know they won't improve without it.

Or to sink a grand or more into attending a quality writer's conference.

Or to turn down party invitations, turn off the TV, or get up early so they can write.

There's nothing wrong with not "wanting it enough" while you're still in high school or college. (Really, there's nothing wrong if you never "want it enough," but that's another topic for another time.) As cliché as it is, you're only young once. I went through phases in high school - sometimes I wanted to be published so bad I didn't mind giving up time with friends or the Gilmore girls, but other times I did. Other times writing felt like the last thing I wanted to do. That's okay.

A few of you have come to me and said some variation of, "Wow, it took you 4 years to get Me, Just Different published? I don't know if I have that kind of patience."

But you can have it. And if you want to be an author bad enough, you'll find it.

Many of those who are published didn't get that way by being extra talented, having loads of free time, or leaning on special connections with agents and editors. And they didn't have crowds of people standing around them cheering every time they chose to write. No. They became authors by putting their butt in the chair and writing day after day.

Which is what I'm going to go do now because I would like to stay published. Keep at it, my friends.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Unreliable Main Characters

In response to a post of mine about main characters, a writer asked me, "How do you make an unreliable main character reliable enough for the reader to trust ... without losing what makes the character who she is?"

Yes, very tricky stuff.

I was in an argument with someone a couple nights ago. Well, less of an argument and more of a freeze out. When I expressed that I was "not pleased," and shared my reasons for why, this person said, "You're right. And I regret that." And even thought I'd spent the last few hours internally fuming over the situation, I was over it within ten minutes. All it took was them agreeing with me and expressing the same sentiment I felt.

Try it with your character. Have your MC recognize their unreliable tendencies and dislike them just as much as the other characters. Maybe show them trying to change. That can go a long way with a reader.

I used to meet with a group of women every Wednesday morning. And every Wednesday my friend Amy was late. And during our study time, her cell phone often rang because she forgot to turn it off. With a person I didn't like, these things would've driven me crazy. But I loved Amy, so they became funny little pieces of her character.

So something else you can do is make your character extra lovable. So lovable your reader doesn't want to be mad at them for being unreliable.

Hope this helps.

Have a writing question? E-mail me.