Friday, October 30, 2015

The Writing Cave

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a love of all things literary. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days with her husband, Matt, imagining things unseen and chasing their two children around their home in Northern California. To connect with Shan, check out her website, FB, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

I wrote the following post during the flurry of blog tours and deadlines and trembling words that wrapped up my Angel Eyes trilogy. The words are just as true today and I hope they'll bring some encouragement to you all as we dive together into National Novel Writing Month.
Writers are an interesting breed. Not only do we spend much of our time trapped inside our own heads, but we can grow so accustomed to it that social endeavors begin to feel awkward. Oh, not social networking, but the actual go-outside-see-the-people kind of social. And you would think, truly think that in our writing caves we would find solace, security. Inspiration even. 

But I find my writing cave to be a most terrifying place. Why? Because that’s where the dragons are. The fire-breathing inadequacies that tell me I’m not good enough. That tell me I can’t actually write another novel. That I have nothing left to say.

They hide out in my cave. And when I get there, I have to somehow silence them so that the characters who have been talking to me all day can have a say. I have to try to capture what I see in my mind and transfer it to the page, all the while the flames are licking at my back reminding me that I just don’t have it in me. In my writing cave I am confronted with my own lack, while just outside the door my family waits, wondering what the heck I’m doing shut away with a candle and a keyboard.

Why would I ever, EVER, lock myself away like that? Why would I willingly march into a place where fear and doubt crouch in the shadows ready to pounce? And while those are very good, very logical questions, the answer is a simple one.

A story begs to be told.

The plot and the characters are always hidden just behind my own anxieties and so I go into my cave, not only to escape the busyness of the world around me, but to face my deepest, darkest fears.

Every time I sit down to write, I win.

My writing cave is not a safe place. In it, I am tested. It’s there that I succeed or fail. It’s not my sales that determine that. Not my Amazon ranking. It’s whether or not I can shove past the darkness, light the candle, and put pen to the page. If I can do that, I cut down another enemy. And while fighting dragons can be exhausting, their presence reminds me that what I’m doing matters. That there’s a reason for the insanity.

We all have monsters to hunt and insecurities that chew at us. I say face them head on, keep swinging that sword, and celebrate the victories as they come.

And if you’re up for the fight, I promise, they will bring it.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Dozen Ways To Pitch Your Book


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.

You're a writer, so people will always be asking you: “What’s your book about?”

Most of us cannot answer that quickly. We tend to start talking about it, then follow rabbit trails in our plot, and before we realize what happened, we’ve been talking for ten minutes and we really haven’t gotten to the good part yet!

If you’ve done this, don’t worry. We all have done this! Today we're going to go over some ways to avoid doing this.

Why does it matter?

Short and sweet is always best. It's memorable. If you're at a writer's conference and are pitching to an editor or agent, time flies in those 5-15 minute appointments. You have a very short time period to communicate your story idea and need to make every second count. Plus, if you can explain your story in a way that the editor or agent can remember it, they just might remember it all the way back to their office and ask you to send them more.

There is no right way to do this.

I went to a big writers conference in California. My book was complete. I had rewritten it a few times. I was feeling really good. This might be the year I sell my book! I did my homework and knew which agents were interested in a book like mine. And the first night of the conference, I went to a pitch lab in which the instructor encouraged us to memorize our blurb to pitch.

Do not do this. I'm serious.

But I did. And the next day as I wandered across the conference campus, I saw one of the two agents I needed to talk to sitting alone on a bench. I balked. I freaked. But I knew I had to face my fears and do this. I went up to her. Asked if I could give her my pitch. She said sure. And I started rambling out my memorized story blurb. Halfway through my mind went totally blank. I couldn't remember a thing. I just stood there, staring at this agent, saying something like, "Uhhhh... ahhhhh... Well, then he, uhhhhh..."

She stopped me. Said, "Sit down." Patted the bench beside her until I obeyed. Said, "Breathe. We don't bite. Go ahead and start again."

And I did. And that time I got through it. (So embarrassed.) And she was very kind. Asked me a few questions as to genre, length, if the story was complete. Then she gave me her card and asked for the first three chapters.

I danced away, thrilled that I had done the dreaded deed and lived to tell the tale.

But there was still one more agent on my list. I sat at her table at dinner. Somehow ended up right next to her. I was hoping she'd do that thing where she goes around the table and gives everyone a chance to pitch one at a time. She did not. She ate her dinner, quietly. So I ate mine. We made casual comments to one another about the speaker, who gave a bunch of announcements. The time passed. I kept telling myself, "Jill! You've got to pitch! This is your chance!"

But I couldn't. I was still recovering from the first time. I just didn't want to put myself through that again.

Suddenly dinner was over. The agent started gathering up her things. So I gathered up mine. Then she asked me, "What do you write, anyway?"

My chance! She was giving me a chance! I said, "My story is a Christian Agent Cody Banks."

And that's all I said.

She perked up. "Interesting. Do you have sample chapters on you?"

Yes, I did!

All this to say, there is no right way to pitch. Both my methods worked in the end. One was far more stressful for me. The other short and sweet. Which is why I always recommend the latter, to start, anyway. But ultimately, you need to do what works best for you.

The purpose of a pitch is to effectively communicate:


• type of story: genre/subgenre and length
• (for fiction) the story is finished
• story elements: setting, hero, goal, obstacle
• what makes it special or unique
• how it fits with the publisher/agent, if you know that it does
• showcase your platform (for nonfiction) and any marketing hooks you might have

So how do you do that? Read on. Here are 12 Ways to Pitch Your Book.



Fiction Pitches

1) The high concept phrase: A ditsy blonde goes to Harvard Law School. (Legally Blonde) /  A love story between two terminal teenagers. (The Fault in Our Stars by John Green)  /  Die Hard on a bus. (Speed). Read more about high concepts in this post.

2) The logline: A one-sentence description of the story with certain important ingredients. Read more about loglines in this post.

When ____(inciting incident)____ happens to ____( adj. + hero)____ s/he struggles to ____(story goal)____ before ____(what’s at stake obstacle)____ happens.

Ex: When residents of his seaside town are killed, a land lubber sheriff fights to kill a giant shark to keep his family and others from getting eaten. (JAWS by Peter Benchley)

Or this:

A(n) ____(adj. + hero)____ does/experiences ____(inciting incident)____ and must face ____(story goal)____ before ____( what’s at stake obstacle)____ happens.

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

Tips to help your logline:
1. Your character description adverb should help show how your character is flawed in the worst way to face the obstacle before him.
2. Choose active verbs that depict conflict: battles, clashes, contends, crusades, duels, feuds, fights, grapples, jousts, opposes, quarrels, scraps, scuffles, spars, struggles, takes on, wages war against, wrestles, etc.
3. The obstacle/antagonist should feel insurmountable. The problem should be BIG.
4. The goal should have high stakes.
5. You don’t have to stick with these formulas or sentence arrangements. As long as you have a HERO, a GOAL, and an OBSTACLE, you're in good shape.

3) The “Who . . . wants what . . . why . . . and why not?” method, which looks like this:

Adjective + Who: a fugitive doctor wrongly convicted of killing his wife 
Wants: to prove his innocence
Why does (s)he want it: to find out who killed his wife
Why can’t (s)he have it: because he is being pursued by a relentless US Marshall

Put it all together: A fugitive doctor wrongly convicted of killing his wife struggles to prove his innocence and find the real killer while being pursued by a relentless US Marshall. (The Fugitive)

4) Ask a question: This can be a “What if … ?” question. Ex: What if Peter Pan grew up?  (Hook)  /  What if there was a farm that grew people?  (Replication) /  What if a boy was raised by wild animals? (The Jungle Book)

This can also be a theme question: Are angels real?  /  Is beauty in the eye of the beholder?

5) ______ meets ______ Compare two unrelated things --or-- Blend the familiar with the strange: Murder and mayhem meets prom  (Carrie) /  Boot camp for children (Ender's Game)  /  A doctor who becomes an assassin (The Way of Kings)  /  Cowboys & Aliens

6) The set up teaser: In a world where women no longer give birth, one women becomes pregnant.  /  After a hit and run killed his wife and children, a man becomes the foster dad to three children removed from the home of an alcoholic.

7) Tagline: This is a form of marketing copy that might go on the book jacket or on a movie poster. Keep in mind, though, not all taglines work as pitches. Here's a good example: The dream is the scene of the crime. (Inception)  And here is an example that doesn't make a good pitch: Don’t go near the water. (JAWS) The former gives the listener an intriguing concept to hook their attention, while the latter is vague and confusing as is.

Nonfiction Pitches

8) The felt need: Share why readers will pay money and spend a weekend reading your book. What existing need in their life does your book answer? What do they want that you can give them? Think of the needs we all share. "I want to save money"  /  "I want to lose weight"  /  "I want to feel closer to God"  /  "I want to worry less"  /  “I want to stop fighting with my spouse.”

9) Nonfiction logline: Title + subtitle. The title should be catchy. The subtitle should explain the title. Ex:
BEYOND THE BLUES: A Workbook to Help Teens Overcome Depression 
THE TOTAL MONEY MAKEOVER: A proven plan for Financial Fitness
PRICELESS: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures
I AM A CHURCH MEMBER: Discovering the Attitude that Makes the Difference
THE FIVE LOVE LANGUAGES: The Secret to Love that Lasts
AN INVISIBLE THREAD: The True Story of an 11-Year-Old Panhandler, a Busy Sales Executive, and an Unlikely Meeting with Destiny

10) ______ meets ______: It’s The Tipping Point meets The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”  /  It’s How to Win Friends and Influence People meets The Love Dare.  /  Or even one title with a different audience, like “It’s Creativity Inc. for families.”

11) Your platform: This only works if you have an existing platform. “I give X talks each year to Y people.”  /  "I am the creator of Goodreads." *grin*

12) Your story: This only applies if it gives credence to the story you are pitching. If you were on Dr. Kent Brantly’s medical team in Liberia when the ebola outbreak happened and that fact relates to your book, sharing that information can be your pitch. If you’re writing a book about the poor culture vs. the poverty culture and you grew up in either, you can start out with that information, or with a story from your childhood.

The point is to use what will bring about the biggest—and most relevant—wow.

Let's try it out in the comments. Give your target audience, genre, pick one of the above methods, and give us your pitch.

Monday, October 26, 2015

An Interview with Embers Author Ronie Kendig

Ronie Kendig is a bestselling, award-winning author who grew up an Army brat. After twenty-plus years of marriage, she and her hunky hero husband have a full life with their children, a Maltese Menace, and a retired military working dog in Northern Virginia. She can be found at: www.roniekendig.comFacebook, TwitterGoodreadsPinterest, and Instagram. 

Jill here. I'm really excited about our guest today. Ronie Kendig writes wonderful stories. I really enjoy her books (especially her Discarded Heroes series). I had the privilege of endorsing her first fantasy novel Embers, which is amazing. Here's what I thought: 
"Embers is a splendid fantasy tale, full of magic, intrigue, sacrifice, betrayal, and a fresh good-versus-evil story that I haven’t seen before. Readers will be thrilled to have found their next favorite teen fantasy adventure in this book and its sequels."
And I meant every word! 

Without any more rambling from me, let's get to the interview! Hi, Ronie. Can you tell us about your new novel, Embers?

​Embers was borne out of watching the BBC TV series, Merlin. I was so frustrated with the "foster" sister of Prince Arthur, Morgana, who was pretending to do something noble and heroic to save the kingdom, when she was in fact the villain. But it got me wondering...what if a sister, a princess, truly did do something noble and heroic--yet devastating to herself--to save the kingdom? I scurried into my office after I put the pumpkin bread in the oven and crafted the first chapter of what is now Embers.​

Here is the official blurb for the story:

HE'S COMING FOR THEM. AND THE KINGDOM.
Haegan and Kaelyria Celahar are royal heirs of the Nine Kingdoms, but Haegan is physically crippled. What chance does he have against Poired Dyrth, the greatest enemy the kingdom has ever faced, who wields fire with a power none can match?
Their only hope is forbidden: Kaelyria must transfer her fire-harnessing abilities to Haegan. When she does it comes with a terrible price: Haegan's disability is healed, but only by being transferred to Kaelyria. This act unleashes their father-king's wrath.

Haegan must flee the kingdom alone with two impossible tasks: Find a cure for Kaelyria and stop the coming war with the omnipotent Poired Dyrth.



It's SO GOOD! (Guys, seriously. It really is.) Ronie, can you share a little bit of your journey to publication?

​I started actively seeking publication around 2002, but I went to my first writing conference in 2004. Back then, I was pretty naive and didn't even know there were writer's conferences! I met Steve Laube at my very first writer's conference, and I knew I wanted him to be my agent. It took three rejections over the course of the next three years, and on the fourth submission, he offered representation. But back then, speculative fiction didn't have open doors. A rare few got in with traditional publishers, but the advice back then was to prove yourself in a more traditional genre, then you'd have street cred to branch out. Unfortunately, in the timeframe I was establishing myself in the suspense genre, the industry changed rapidly. By the time I had that street cred, there were few publishers and few slots for authors. Thank goodness Marcher Lord Press came along...and then was bought by Steve and developed in Enclave. And voila! Embers was born! ​


I, too, am thankful for Marcher Lord Press, which became Enclave. It's where I started. How many books did you write before your first book was published?

I had close to twenty books started, but I had only completed about nine or ten of them before my first book was published. ​

Do you have any tips on storyworld building for the fantasy authors in our group?

​When I first started working toward publication, I really just kind of winged it. I only put in what was important to the story and characters. But as I've stepped into the publishing waters, I've learned that everything has "rules." In Embers, my characters can wield heat/fire, so there are rules (both physical and societal) to what they can and can't do. It's important to understand those little things so they can rub against and possibly cause friction in the story. If the author doesn't know his/her storyworld, the reader won't know it. But if you create something unique in the world of your characters, make sure it has a point. There's so much already happening that's new and exciting in a storyworld, you don't want to distract your readers with pointless elements. ​

What advice would you give teen writers? Or a word of encouragement for them?

​I guess it would be a two-part encouragement: 1.) Know the rules of good storycrafting​, master those rules, but don't get strangled (or let your story get strangled) by those rules, and 2.) KNOW that you are a writer; never let anyone tell you any different. If it's in you, it's in you.

That's great advice, Ronie. So, what's next for you? Is Embers a stand-alone novel or is there a book two? If so, how long will readers have to wait?

​The Abiassa's Fire series is a three-book series, and over the next two months, I will be making a big dent in the word count on the second novel, Accelerant. ​Unfortunately, I am also a suspense writer, so I am dividing my writing year between a speculative novel and a suspense novel. Accelerant will release October 2017.

Gah! I totally understand how tough it is to write multiple series at once. I shall try to be patient as I wait to see what happens next. Readers are going to be lining up for Accelerant. Thanks so much for talking with us, Ronie!

​THANK YOU so much for having me over!! It's an honor! ​

Guys, I'm giving away a paperback copy of Embers. Enter on the Rafflecopter form below. But let's also shower some love down on Ronie today by following her on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, and Instagram

And if you don't win this book, go BUY IT. 1) Because it's awesome. And 2) To support Ronie, the genre, and the industry as a whole. 


It's a great book. You will NOT regret it.



Friday, October 23, 2015

National Novel Writing Month

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a love of all things literary. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days with her husband, Matt, imagining things unseen and chasing their two children around their home in Northern California. To connect with Shan, check out her website, FB, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

November is JUST around the corner, friends, and you know what that means? National Novel Writing Month!

National Novel Writing Month is not something that originated here at Go Teen Writers but was created in 1999 by a guy named Chris Baty. Since then, all over the world people dedicate the month of November to novelling. It's a crazy, amazing thing and YES, you can be a part. 

There's all sorts of easy-to-read info about the event here, but the gist is this: Every single day in November you write 1,667 words and come midnight on November 30th, you will have written just over 50k words, which is about the length of a short novel. Some folks write more each day and some write less. Sometimes you have to skip a day because LIFE and so you have to play catch-up later, but the idea is to write, write, write and--even if you don't actually pen the ending--get a huge chunk of your story pounded out. 

I've done NaNoWriMo (silly, shortened name that slides right off the tongue) a few times--twice officially and once on my own. So, I thought, perhaps I could give you a little encouragement and maybe some tips. First, 

Give it a go. Not only is it a fabulous excuse to dust off your hermit tendencies and put them to good use, but it's actually a lot of fun. Just knowing that oodles of writers around the world are participating alongside you turns a very solitary endeavor into something you can share. November is the least lonely time to pen a novel.

Prepare. This is huge, you guys. Me, a girl who writes by the seat of her pants, telling YOU to plan a bit, but hear me out. Here's what usually happens. The first week or so is FAB. You have ideas and the words are amazeballs, but come day eight or so, you start to wonder if you really have enough steam to keep rolling. A little preparation will help. So, while you'll never, EVER hear me tell you to plan out your entire novel, I will say that jotting down some notes--story problem, possible scenes, character motivations, possible climax, setting ideas--will provide you with content when you seem to have run out of words. You have a little over a week to scribble out some thoughts in whatever way works best for you. That's more than enough time, friends. I promise.

Keep going. There will come a day when you stare at your manuscript and think, THESE CHARACTERS ARE HORRIBLE. They won't do anything. I can't write. I'm the worst. This is a waste of time. I could be eating turkey RIGHT NOW. 

When this inevitable day rolls around, promise me you'll write through it. And here's why: Eventually, maybe around week three, your characters actually get interesting again. They start doing things on their own, making decisions without you, and the writing gets easier. It's a bizarre, wonderful moment and you should give yourself the privilege of experiencing it.   

That said, WINNING IS NOT THE END GOAL. The first (official) time I did NaNoWriMo was after I completed Angel Eyes, but before I landed a publishing contract. I used the month of November to hash out the draft of book two in the series. And I did it! I won! I wrote just over 50k, but you know what? I didn't use a single one of those words in the final version of the book. And still, it was an important time for me. I learned which words weren't going to work and I learned that writing every single day is possible. 

My second official attempt was two years ago and while I did not, in fact, WIN (read: write all 50k words), most of the 30k words I did write appear in a manuscript I completed and am currently working with my agent to place.

Both experiences changed my writing and I'm glad I gave it a go when I did.

The goal of National Novel Writing Month is to get you writing. And yes, the brains behind the event would love you to write all 50k words, but, from my heart to yours, the real goal here is to prove to yourself that you really can do this. You can be a writer who writes consistently. And while November is a horrid month to do it (HELLO THANKSGIVING and FAMILY and TRAVEL), it's also very like real life. There is never, ever a good time to commit. Life is always too busy. Why not give it a go now?

This year, because I'll be without computer access for a decent portion of the month, I'll be doing my own modified version of NaNoWriMo and, as such, I wanted to make sure you all knew about the Young Writers Program. The folks at NaNoWriMo realize that 50k might be too much for younger writers and they've created a program that allows the fresh faces out there to set their own word count goal for the month. This is an excellent way to ease into NaNoWriMo. Be sure to check it out!

Now, tell me, anyone else out there participated in NaNoWriMo before? Did you enjoy the experience? Who's giving it a go this year?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

11 Things To Do In Your Writing Group


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.

We've talked about critique groups before on the blog, but mostly from an online group perspective. Today I want to throw out some ideas for what you can do with an in-person writing group.

First, it's always a good idea to see what people want from the group. Define expectations from the start so that everyone is on the same page. Perhaps the members all want to read and critique each other's chapters and that's it. If that's the type of group you're looking to set up, and you need tips on how to give a critique, how to receive a critique, or how to be a good critique partner, click on each link respectively. But if you're looking for some other ideas, there are a lot of neat things you can do with an in-person group. Let's look at a few.

Brainstorming
If someone is stuck in their novel, often the best way to help them through it is to let them talk it out with a group of people who know the right questions to ask. You might even schedule brainstorming days where you each take a turn getting ideas for your work-in-progress, or working out a new idea that's been stewing.

Guest Lecturers
The longer you're an author, the more authors you'll get to know. If you live in a good-sized city, odds are high that there are a couple local authors your writing group could get to know. Invite one to speak at your group. You could suggest a teaching topic for them or let them choose their own. You might even be able to Skype an author in to your group.

Another idea is to let each member take a turn teaching on a topic or leading a discussion on said topic. If you're not sure how to go about it, you could find a good blog post on the topic and have everyone read it, or if it's short, read it out loud to the group. Then discuss.

Book Club
You could get everyone to read the same book. This could be fiction or nonfiction. Or you could alternate. First everyone reads the same fiction book, then next time everyone reads a nonfiction writing craft book. Either way, the discussions can help you study different aspects of the craft of writing.

Writing Prompts
Share a writing prompt and let each member write something. It can be a lot of fun to see how very different everyone's pieces will be from the same prompt. You might also try throwing away your story at the end. Some people might cringe at this idea, but doing this can help you realize that you don't need to hold onto your words so dearly. You wrote them, and you can write them again because you're a writer, and that's what writers do. That way, next time your computer crashes and you lose 10k, you might not also lose too much of your mind.

Practicing Craft
Write up a schedule and choose a different craft topic to work on each week and discuss, like dialogue, action tags, punctuation, description, characterization, plot, etc.





Road Trip
Keep your eyes peeled for awesome events that you can drive to. Go as a group to a writer's conference, a book signing of an author you all respect, or a comic con-like event where you can attend panels and try to meet famous authors.

Book Party
Have a book party where you all dress up as characters from a famous story and read a chapter or two out loud, each reading your part in character. A friend of mine did this with Harry Potter. She put character names into a sorting hat, had a box of costume items ready, and each guest drew a name. The person who drew Hagrid put on a bushy fake beard, the person who drew Harry wore a pair of broken glasses, Hermione put on a curly wig, etc. Then you find a fun chapter to read out loud that has most all of the characters in it, and each person has to read in the voice of their character. It's pretty fun. (Check out my author picture today of me cosplaying as Éowyn.)

Support Group
Sometimes you just need to vent about things. Rejection, maybe. Frustration over writer's block. Discussions over major career decisions. Let each other share what they're struggling with and be there for each other. Listen. It's awesome to be with people who "get it."

Word Wars
Challenging each other to word wars is a great way to get a lot of writing done in a short period of time.

Writing Retreat
Writing retreats are another way to get a lot of writing done in a couple days. Plus, being with other writers adds camaraderie to the aspect of setting and reaching writing goals. Everyone is working towards something and encouraging each other to succeed.

In-person writing groups are really just about hanging out with other writers, so have fun. Also, don't stress if some people quit and new members join up. Writers are different and are looking for specific things. Some might like a more regimented, fast-paced, let's-get-our-novels-written-and-critiqued-and-sold-asap type of group, while other seek something more casual. We each need to be in a group that meets our needs. One group can't do that for every person.

Are you part of an in-person writing group? If so, how often does your group meet and what types of activities do you do? Share in the comments.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Art of Subtlety


Katie Clark started reading fantastical stories in grade school and her love for books never died. Today she reads in all genres; her only requirement is an awesome story! She writes young adult speculative fiction, including her upcoming YA supernatural, Shadowed Eden. You can connect with her at her website, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

Subtle: (adj.) fine or delicate in meaning or intent
One of the first hard lessons many writers face is that of not being too preachy. Don’t harp against mean girls. Don’t bash us over the head with the virtues of being kind. And in a children’s book, for heaven’s sake, please don’t have a well-meaning grown up tell the main character how important it is for children to obey their parents!
In other words, we as writers must learn to be more subtle in our messages. We need to draw them out delicately. Finely. Letting our meaning or intent speak quietly and naturally throughout the happenings of the story.
Think it’s easy? Think again. While I’ve been criticized by a small handful of readers for being too preachy in my YA dystopian trilogy, The Enslaved Series, the majority of readers have seemed satisfied with my handling of the messages throughout the books. This pleases me to no end, but I never really set out to make it that way. This got me to thinking. How did I accomplish whatever level of subtlety I pulled off? I boiled it down to a couple different areas, and with any luck they can help you be more subtle, too.
Utilize the spiritual journey. 
Many writers are aware that our characters need an inner journey as well as an outer journey. However, just as important is the spiritual journey, or the emotional journey. In Shadowed Eden, my upcoming YA supernatural novel, my main character Avery has the outer journey of escaping a strange garden oasis. She has the inner journey of proving to her peers and to herself that she isn’t worthless. But she also has the spiritual journey of learning for herself what it means to be there for others, as others had been there for her all along. This was key to the spiritual journey of the book, which grew naturally out of the circumstances surrounding the other two plot points. If you can pinpoint your characters’ inner and outer journeys, you can create a natural spiritual journey that evolves from these.
Learn from the mystery genre. 
In a mystery we must follow the clues. They don’t bash us over the head. If they did, we would solve the mystery too soon and put the book down. If you bash your readers over the head with your moral truths, they too will put the book down. Our moral clues must be subtle in that they come sparingly and cleverly, at just the right moment. Then, sometime near the climax, all the clues come together and your characters will fully realize the moral truths you have weaved into your story.
Keep up the tension; keep up the pace. 
In one of the early drafts of Vanquished, book one in my dystopian trilogy, I had an entire scene devoted to “the moral” of my story. One of my beta readers told me I had a great pace going…until I got to that particular scene. She pointed out that the tension fled. The pace slowed to a crawl. Basically, she wanted to skip the entire scene. No! This isn’t what we want at all, right?! I had to go back to the drawing board for that scene. I broke it up so that other tension-filled moments were happening throughout the scene. I had to use short, snappy sentences. I needed to keep up the tension, and keep up the pace. In the end, that scene came out a bit shorter but a lot better.
When push comes to shove, you must choose how subtle (or not) you wish to be with any given message. But we all know the old saying, “Less is more.” Keeping these areas in mind will surely help you when pruning your manuscript to perfection.
Now it’s your turn! Do you prefer your stories a little on the obvious side, or do you like your fiction with a slice of subtlety?

About Shadowed Eden:

High school senior, Avery Miles, is attending one last mission trip with the church youth before she moves across country to attend college in the fall. The trip through Iraq takes a wrong turn when the sandstorm of the century hits the area and blows the group’s entourage off course. After the dust settles, they find themselves in an unimaginable and inexplicable garden oasis. Along with an abundant supply of luscious fruit and crystal clear springs, the mysterious garden is home to poisonous snakes, hidden sink holes, and a lingering confusion that no one can shake—not to mention the natives, who are almost unearthly. 
 
As the days progress, the group begins to realize they have a very real problem—no matter which way they trek, they can’t seem to leave. Avery puts the clues together and begins to suspect their location is much more than a simple garden oasis, but just as a rescue plan forms, Avery discovers her father is working with a more sinister presence, one that wants to keep them trapped permanently. 

Watch the book trailer here!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Writing to Win

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a love of all things literary. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days with her husband, Matt, imagining things unseen and chasing their two children around their home in Northern California. To connect with Shan, check out her website, FB, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

I read a quote last week--a quote that had absolutely nothing to do with writing--and it won't leave me alone. It crawled under my skin and set me itching until finally I let myself think on the words and their implications, and while it unsettled me, at first, I've come to appreciate the sentiment.

Now, don't laugh, my writer friends. But the quote came from ESPN reporter, Seth Wickersham. I'm a die-hard football fan and I stumbled across this thought on Seth's Twitter page. Here's what he said:


Without going into all the reasons this quote bothered me (said the 49ers fan), it's those two little words "mitigate risk" that dug their claws in and refused to let go. It's uncomfortable to imagine any professional sports team sitting around (oversimplification, I know) formulating a game plan simply to avoid screwing up. Cause that's what risk mitigation is: reducing exposure to risky things.

But what can we say about a coach who won't risk an interception for the very possibility of a big play? What is a football game if the team on the field isn't giving it everything they've got? It's boring. It's a losing season. It's a frustrated fan base and a locker room full of disgruntled athletes.

And the more I started thinking about this, the more I realized how right this Seth guy was. And not just about coaching philosophies.

In our lives, in our writing, are we playing to win or are we simply trying not to screw up?

It's worth stewing on, I think. Because the truth is, if you're not committed to a little risk in the things that matter, if you're just playing it safe, you may never establish yourself as an elite anything. If you're just trying not to tip the boat, you're never, ever going to get anywhere.

In my own writing, I've been standing at a crossroads. Do I go right or do I go left? Do I focus on this audience or that one? One direction is full of familiarity and comfort and the other direction, while stocked with opportunity, has me shaking in my slippers. It's unknowable. It's risky. Once I toss the ball up there, I have no idea where it'll land. And so, for ages, I've stood. Looking first down this road and then down that one. Terrified to make the wrong choice. Terrified to screw up.

Going nowhere.

And that is no way to live. It's certainly no way to write. There are enough obstacles along the way to frustrate an author. The last thing each of us need is to be fighting against the fear of failure.

Whatcha think? You want to join me in the fearless pursuit of elite status?

Okay, truth? We may never reach elite status, but we should always, always play (read: write) like we're elite. We should trust our voice and hone our craft. We should write without fear of what others will say when we're done. We should commit ourselves to writing through the risk because here's another truth: failure will come regardless. Even the elite of the elite fall flat on their faces sometimes. And so will we. It's how we handle those moments that will define our careers and flavor our stories.

So, from an optimistic 49ers fan to all of you, write to win today. Be true to the story trying to grow wings in your heart. And if the road is risky? If the journey scares you a little bit?

Throw it out there anyway. You never know where your story will land until you've given it everything you've got.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Rejected Again? What Are You Doing Wrong?


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.

I want to encourage those of you who've received rejections recently and are feeling discouraged. I'm going to start by showing you the adventure I went on this past weekend. Bear with me. I'll get to the rejection part eventually.

How have you dealt with rejection in the past?

My husband loves Astoria, Oregon. This is a seaside town on the northwestern corner of Oregon at the mouth of the Columbia River. Many movies were filmed here such as Goonies, Kindergarten Cop, Short Circuit, and Free Willy. We have been to Astoria many times. We have done everything there is to do---some of it multiple times. My husband loves the old houses built on the hillside, the Astoria Column, the Flavel House Museum, the Maritime Museum, the Bowpicker fish and chips boat (so good), the trolley, the Oregon Film Museum (which is in the old jail house that was used in the Goonies), and above all, my husband loves the bridge.




The Astoria-Megler Bridge stretches 4.1 miles across the mouth of the Columbia River from Astoria, Oregon to Point Ellice near Megler, Washington. When Brad heard that there was a 10K run that went over this bridge, he wanted in. And so he and I downloaded a 10K app onto our iPhones some seventeen weeks ago, and we trained for the big day.

The big day was last Sunday.




We awoke early the morning of the race and ate some breakfast to keep us energized for the long trek ahead.





The route.




I heard there were some 3500 people running or walking in the Great Columbia Crossing. They shuttled us across the bridge in Astoria Oregon School District buses and dropped us at Dismal Nitch, Washington. There we waited an hour and a half for the start. Brad said goodbye (because he's faster than me), and off we went. The picture doesn't do justice to the experience. There were so many runners, so much color, and it had rained the previous night. That with all the trees made a wonderfully fresh smell through this first part of the race.




Approaching the bridge.




Entering the first span on the northern end of the bridge.




Behind me.




Whoa. A long way to go.




Fast-walkers. I followed these ladies for quite a while, then they just got too far ahead. That's right. They were fast-walking faster than my slow run! I was impressed with their endurance.




Entertainment along the way. These guys rocked!




And potty breaks too! I love the line that had already formed when I passed by. LOL! Not for me, thanks. My goal was to run the whole way without stopping.




Going up. Finally. The view behind me.




Getting closer to the highest part.




On the high cantilever-span.




Above me.




Off the bridge now, and a view looking back. Hey! I just ran over that. Nice.




On solid ground again.





Almost there...




Finished!




We did it!





And they gave us snacks! Well done, race coordinators. I inhaled a banana, mozzarella stick, and a juice box in less than sixty seconds.




They haven't posted the results for the 2015 race yet, but I know my time. I did the 6.2 miles in 1:26:01 and came in 931th place. I probably would have gone a little faster if I hadn't been taking so many pictures. But I was running for the experience of it, not a fast time. I heard the fastest person did the 6.2 miles in about 35 minutes! Impressive. Most impressive.




So what's the point, Jill?

I have two. Here's the first: Publishing is a marathon, not a sprint.

We live in a world of instant gratification, and it's messing with creativity! Too many writers just want to get published and hold their book in their hands or see it for sale on Amazon.com. I get that. Totally. And you can achieve that goal by sprinting ahead. But that type of behavior doesn't tend to produce quality. If you want to be successful, you need to train.

There is no way Brad and I could have ran 6.2 miles without stopping if we hadn't been training for seventeen weeks. During those first few weeks of training, we couldn't even run fifteen minutes without stopping. That's how out of shape we were. (I do sit in a chair all day long...)

The same analogy applies to a piano player who has a natural talent and can sit down and play just about anything by ear. That's awesome and it sounds pretty good. But it's not going to produce the same level of skill as a concert pianist who's been practicing for decades. The amateur piano player can't fill Radio City Music Hall with an audience of eager listeners like the concert pianist can.

Which do you want to be? Amateur or professional? Both are fine goals. But you need to choose. You can't put in little-to-no effort and expect the rewards of someone who's been hard at work on his craft for years. That's just unfair. Respect your dream, man, and do the thing right.

Jeff Goins said, "Patience is a writer’s most important virtue."


Guys, we need to calm down and train for the long haul! It's important to our craft. It takes time to become an expert at anything. And even then there is no guarantee that anyone will notice us. There are a lot of talented people out there who haven't been published. And there are a lot of amazing published novels out there that never got discovered. 

So, what do we do when we experience these types of rejections? We keep at it. We submit again. We get another opinion. We learn. We practice. We write a new book. We continue to create, which brings me to my second point:

Do it for you.

Writing is subjective. Publishing is a business. Junk sometimes sells better than literary genius. Hard work does not necessarily equal success. While hard work increases your chance of success, it's not a guarantee. Life isn't fair. 

Not very uplifting, I know, but I'm trying to point out that you can't control your success. There is no checklist to the top. You might do everything right and still face rejection. And that stinks. And it's discouraging. That's why you've got to write because you love it. Because it thrills you. Because it puts a smile on your face. Because it teaches you about the world and yourself and makes you a better person. Because it gives you a voice, even if it's a small voice.

If you submitted a green (sprint-worthy) manuscript to a publisher, ignored submission guidelines, or stalked an editor into the bathroom until she gave you her card, perhaps you deserve to be rejected. But you might not be doing anything "wrong." The rejection might not be about you or your story at all. It might be that the agent or publisher tried a book like that, it failed, and they aren't willing to take the same risk again. It might be that your book is in a saturated genre. Or perhaps the publishing house used up its full budget for the year.

The truth is, real writers get rejected. A lot. It's part of the job. So you might as well decide not that you're not going to let the thing destroy you.

If you've been rejected:
-Grieve. It's okay to grieve the dream, especially when you've built it up in your head for so long. Take a few days off and just be. Ponder. Remind yourself why you write.
-Read. This helps me. I read certain types of books for fun. If I'm at a low writing point, entertaining myself is a must. And eating chocolate.
-If you're published, you might pull up some old fan mail or look at some of your positive book reviews online as a reminder that you're not a complete failure. This isn't to give you a big head, but to get that head of yours in the right place. You can't please everyone and should not try to.
-If the editor or agent gave you a reason for the rejection, consider it carefully. Hey, it's your book. You can do whatever you want. But sometimes the critic is right and you'd be wise to at least consider that information and ask yourself if there is something you can learn through this.
-Make a new goal. Maybe you're going to rewrite the manuscript. Maybe you're going to submit it elsewhere. Or maybe you're going to work on a different story. Goals are good. They give you a place to work towards.
Remember: Writing is a marathon, not a sprint. Enjoy the run.



How have you dealt with rejection in the past? In what part of your writing process could you use more patience? Do you need to set a new goal right now? And if you've ever done a long-distance run, where is the most interesting place you've run a race?

Monday, October 12, 2015

How an Unemotional Writer Writes Emotions



Roseanna M. White pens her novels beneath her Betsy Ross flag, with her Jane Austen action figure watching over her. When not writing fiction, she’s homeschooling her two children, editing and designing, and pretending her house will clean itself. The Lost Heiress is Roseanna’s tenth published book. Her novels range from biblical fiction to American-set romances to her new British series. She lives with her family in West Virginia. Learn more at www.RoseannaMWhite.com


~*~

I can't tell you how many times I've heard authors say, "Oh, I just bawled while I was writing that scene!" Or even, "If I don't cry when I'm writing my black moment, then I know I haven't written it right." So many authors will say they laugh at their characters' jokes. Or they get angry at the villains.


So many writers write from an emotional place. So that's their gauge--if their scenes evoke their emotions, then they'll evoke the readers'.

But...what about those of us who don't cry at all, much less over our stories?



Let me tell you a little about me. When I was a kid, I was super-sensitive. I would cry over anything. Including if someone laughed at something I did. I would cry when I was embarrassed--and as a clumsy child who tripped over her own feet regularly, that was a lot. Then one day, when I was about 10, I decided I was sick of it. I wasn't going to act that way anymore.

And I didn't. I got a hold of my emotions...and then I wouldn't...let them...go.

When my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer, the rest of my family cried--and I went back to my room and wrote a poem.

When all my friends and my sister and my mom cried over a story or movie, I noted what made it effective and determined to try it.

When everyone else was getting their first crushes, I was wondering what in the world they were wasting their time for and how I would ever know it if I fell in love, because seriously. Did I just not feel things like they did? (Let it be noted I fell in love quite young and have been married to my high school sweetheart for nearly 15 years now.)

I really did start to wonder if I'd just shut those emotions off fully . . . but eventually I realized that, no, they were there--I'd just learned to channel them into my writing rather than wearing them on my sleeve.

But then, how could I gauge if I were writing with enough emotion, when it wasn't something I expressed as I was writing? When I didn't laugh or cry? If I used the litmus test of some of those aforementioned writers, then none of my emotional scenes would have passed muster. They have never once made me cry--so were they emotional fails?

Apparently not, given feedback I've received from readers. I've succeeded in making plenty of them cry, LOL. So my litmus test? It's pretty simple:

Make it hurt.

Still emotional, see? It just doesn't show itself in tears or laughter. But if I'm pushing myself, tearing those emotions out and putting them on the page, it's going to hurt. It's going to have a level of difficulty, even if the words are flowing smoothly. If I'm not working at it, digging deep to try to understand the motivation and fears and hopes of my characters, if I'm taking the easy way out and letting them glide through the scene, then chances are good my readers aren't going to connect.

Case in point--I just turned in the final book of my Ladies of the Manor series, whose heroine's personality (eternally optimistic) is very much like mine. Writing Ella was easy. Too easy, I think, because one of the editors said she didn't connect as completely with her as she did with my other characters (who were nothing like me, and who therefore made me work to understand them).

The takeaway here was clear--if it's easy for me, it's not digging deep enough. I'm not ever going to cry for them, but I should still have to work at it. It should still hurt. Because in peeling back the layers on their hearts, I have to peel back the ones of my own. I just then express it solely through words, rather than through tears.

As the hero in that novel I just mentioned says, "The easy thing is seldom the right thing." It's true in life, and it's true in writing too. Yes, it's awesome when the scenes and chapters are flowing from our fingers--but it should still contain an element of work to it. We should still suffer, the unemotional perhaps even more than the emotion. Because sharing our hearts hurts--and that's what a good novel does.