Newbie Mistake #1.79

Often when I finish a long work of fiction, I’ll spend some time working on short stuff, sort of like a brain cleanser while I research or cogitate on the details of the next big project. Early in my career, writing magazine stories also helped me obtain publishing credits for that I’m-the-real-deal paragraph in my query letter.

Contests are another great way to pump up that last query letter paragraph. I’ve tried many times to win the Highlights For Children contest. I’d brainstorm a list of ten ideas and write ten magazine stories, quickly. I’d work on the best ones and submit them to the contest. While I never won, I did end up with pieces I could submit to other children’s magazines. Some of those have been published.

So far, so good. But here’s where the mistake occurs:

In 2003, once again, I failed to win the Highlights contest. No biggie. I popped the piece into the mail again.

Magazine #1 said, no.
Magazine #2 said, no.
Magazine #3 said, maybe this should be a picture book?
Me: YAY!!!! I’ve written a picture book!!!! (I immediately popped it back into the mail.)
Book Editors #1-#6 said, NO!!!!

So I filed the manuscript and moved on to other things. No lesson learned. Yet.

A couple of weeks ago, I came across a book publisher looking for just the kind of story that’s been sitting in my file cabinet for the last decade. YAY!!! I rushed to the file, ready to submit my picture book.

But I hadn’t written a picture book, I’d written a magazine story. No wonder all those publishers said, no. Magazine stories have a few spot illustrations, but the description in the text provides most of the details. Picture book text leaves much more to the illustrator–and it needs a dose of magic to inspire reading over and over again. That kind magazine editor wasn’t telling me that I had a picture book manuscript, only that I had an idea that could be developed into a picture book.

The thing about me in 2003? I wasn’t fond of revision. I wanted to be published NOW, NOW, NOW!

Thus, Newbie Mistake #1.79: Not taking time to revise (always mistake #1, combined with not knowing the difference between two writing genres .7, plus rushing the process and sending stuff out too soon, .09).

I have now scrapped everything but the idea, and, wow, writing picture books is hard. Maybe that’s why I write short stuff–it makes me really excited to delve into something long again!

A Post In Which I Incidentally Reveal That I Watch Bad TV

So a strange thing happened while I was doodling and making notes about my favorite American Idol performances–I found myself writing down one of judge Harry Connick Jr’s comments, “Work on the things that are hard. Work on the things that make you uncomfortable and you will improve.”

I love that advice.

What is hard for me? What makes me uncomfortable? Poetry.

No form of writing makes me feel more stupid than poetry. I still vividly remember one of my high school teachers quoting a poem in which the narrator feels “big as a house.”
My teacher: “Of course that means she’s pregnant.”
Me: What the huh? I thought she was fat. Man, am I stupid.

Poetry plagued me in college, too. Those fat Norton anthologies contained stumps of partial stories (who wants to read part of a story?!?!?) packed between poems, poems, poems, and more poems.

I would never want to be married to a guy who wrote poems for me. Just watching contestants on the Bachelor read poems makes me squeamish.

About a year ago, I decided to tackle my poetry problem. Poetry might make me feel stupid, but fearing an entire literary genre is stupid. I bought Sage Cohen’s Writing The Life Poetic: An Invitation To Read & Write Poetry.

Slowly I’ve read through each chapter and worked through most of the writing exercises. I’ve written a lot of bad poetry in my writing practice notebook. But I’m determined to shape a few of those messes into something worth reading. Although I did scrawl a note next to one verse-y passage, “maybe a better short story?” No. I will make it a poem first.

I can’t say that I’m comfortable with poetry yet, but I have been reading poetry before bed. I started with the accessible Billy Collins and now I can say that I’m actually enjoying Polish poet, Wislawa Szymborska’s collected work. I vow to continue reading poetry–just a few poems a day. I can’t say that I understand all that I’m reading, but every now and then I feel a spark of joy when a poem speaks to me. I get it! I get it! Yes!


I’m going to continue to write poetry, even though I really do suck at it. Even though it scares me more than spiders and snakes. I do think that my study of poetry has helped me think about word choice, description, and unique phrasing in my fiction writing. Harry Connick Jr. is right: work on what’s hard, work on what’s uncomfortable and you will improve.

Advice & Giveaway with Debbie Rigaud

Another fun short story collection! Here’s contributor Debbie Rigaud’s writing advice. Leave a comment to win a copy of Open Mic.

What’s your best advice for fellow writers?

I’m still learning the ropes myself, but I’d advise fellow writers to not only continue developing their creative side, but to sharpen their business sense as well. What we do is creative, yes, but it’s also profession. Even though it may not come naturally to some of us (*raising my hand*), we have to learn to use both sides of our brains and have a healthy understanding about things like publishing contracts, e-book vs. print royalties, agent fees, and other small print information in the book of industry dealings.

What popular writing advice do you never follow?
I’ve heard of many writers who write reams and reams of very detailed back stories and character profiles before they start working on their manuscripts. Writers say it adds more layers to their writing and gives characters more depth. I can definitely see how developing back story can achieve all this, but it’s not something I incorporate in my writing process. Instead, I write a detailed plot summary and I work through the back stories while I’m working on my manuscript.
Where do you do most of your writing?
Over the past five-plus years while living in Bermuda, I did most of my writing on my dining room table. I regularly got together with Sylvia May, another author on the island and we’d host writing sessions at each other’s homes. I miss those days now that I’ve just moved back to the States, but I’m glad here I can work at local coffee shops. I’m at my most productive in these public settings.

What is the best book you’ve read lately on the craft of writing?
I always go back to the same popular writer’s guide, Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird.” It’s like Anne knows all of my creative struggles and understands what kind of tough love I need to stop procrastinating and start writing.

About OPEN MIC
Listen in as ten YA authors use their own brand of humor to share their stories about growing up between cultures. Edited by acclaimed author and speaker Mitali Perkins, this collection of fiction and nonfiction embraces a mix of styles as diverse as their authors, from laugh-out-loud funny to wry, ironic, or poignant, in prose, poetry and comic form.

About “Voila”
Thanks to overprotective parenting, Simone’s elderly great aunt Ma Tante has more of a social life than she does. But one afternoon, Ma Tante’s social scene awkwardly intersects with Simone’s in the unlikeliest of places.

About Debbie Rigaud
Debbie Rigaud began her writing career covering news and entertainment for popular magazines. Her YA fiction debut, HALLWAY DIARIES/Kimani Tru was followed by the fish-out-of-water romantic comedy PERFECT SHOT/Simon Pulse. Since then, Debbie’s non-fiction essays have been published in anthologies IT’S ALL LOVE/Broadway Books and DEAR BULLY/HarperTeen. Her short story “Voila!” is featured in OPEN MIC/Candlewick Press, and TURFQUAKE, her first YA e-book will be released late 2013. 
 www.debbierigaud.com

Leave a comment to win a copy! 


Advice & Giveaway with Diana Rodriguez Wallach

I’ve been reading a lot of short stories lately, so I’m excited to host Diana Rodriguez Wallach author of a collection of stories based on mythology. Leave a comment to win a copy!

What’s your best advice for fellow writers?
The road to publication is a long one. If you want to be an author—I mean, really want it—then you need to be prepared to settle in for the long haul. Everyone gets rejected—some spend years trying to find an agent, others years trying to find an editor, other years trying to create a fan base. Love the acting of writing so much that it makes everything worth it.
 
What popular writing advice do you never follow?
Not to write sentence fragments. See what I did there? I love sentence fragments, and I use them often.
 
Where do you do most of your writing? 
I live in a new construction development in Center City, Philadelphia, and the community has a shared space with books, TVs, a pool table, etc. It’s usually empty, and quiet, on weekdays, so that’s where I work. I’ve attached a photo. Incidentally, I also hosted my daughter’s first birthday party there. It’s a very versatile “office.”
However, I wrote Reflecting Emmy, the first short story in the Mirror, Mirror trilogyin less than two hours while sitting in a coffee shop in Philly listening to ‘80s music. So, you never know. Inspiration can hit anywhere.
 


What’s the best book you’ve read lately on the craft of writing? 
I’m a fan of Steven King’s On Writing. It’s an oldie, but a goodie, and it helped me a lot when I was writing my first novel.

About The Book

Diana Rodriguez Wallach, author of the award-winning YA series Amor and Summer Secrets, has created a modern take on the myths of Narcissus and Nemesis in a contemporary teen setting.
Her Mirror, Mirror trilogy debuts September 3rd with “Reflecting Emmy,” followed by “Nara Gazing” in October, and “Shattering GiGi” in November. Each title will be a $0.99 short story sold in digital ebook format for Kindle, nook, and kobo. The titles will be combined to create the complete Mirror, Mirror trilogy, along with bonus materials and a prequel short story, in December 2013.
In early 2014, Diana’s Mirror, Mirror trilogy will be combined with the works of YA authors Jammie Kern and Magda Knight to create the Mythology High anthology, available in ebook and paperback through Buzz Books.
Cover Copy
Eighteen-year-old Emmy is in the family business-trapping vapid narcissistic souls into her silver compact mirror for all eternity. It’s what the Rhamnusia family has been doing for thousands of years, all under the direction of Great Grandmother. Only Emmy’s latest assignment, Nara, is about to prove more challenging than she ever expected.
Gorgeous and self-absorbed, Nara is unflinchingly cruel to her classmates. Even her boyfriend, Luke, can no longer tolerate her actions–much to Emmy’s relief since she finds Luke a little more than intriguing. But when Emmy tricks Nara into gazing into her mystical mirror, what she finds there is not what she’s expecting.

About The Author
Diana Rodriguez Wallach is the author of Mirror, Mirror, a short-story collection based on the Narcissus myth, that includes Reflecting Emmy, Nara Gazing, and Shattering GiGi (Buzz Books 2013). She is also the author of three award-winning YA novels: Amor and Summer Secrets, Amigas and School Scandals, and Adios to All The Drama (Kensington Books).
In 2011, she published a highly regarded essay in Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories (HarperCollins), and in 2013, she will be featured in the anthology Latina Authors and Their Muses (Twilight Times Books). In 2010 Diana was named one of the Top Ten New Latino Authors to Watch by LatinoStories.com, and she placed second in the International Latino Book Awards. She hold a B.S. in Journalism from Boston University, and currently lives in Philadelphia with her husband and daughter. Website: www.dianarodriguezwallach.com
Please leave a comment to win a copy! 

Advice & Giveaway with Amanda Ashby

Please welcome Amanda Ashby & leave a comment to win a copy of her new book, Demonosity.

What’s your best advice for fellow writers?

My best advice is to not listen to me. I don’t have a clue what I’m doing it and just make it up as I go along! Plus, everyone’s publishing experience is so different that the best thing they can do is trust their own instincts.
 
What popular writing advice do you never follow?
 
I think if you ask my copyeditor they will assure that I don’t follow any writing advice, especially when it comes to grammar! I also adore prologues (I have one in Demonosity) and am absolutely, completely in love with adjectives. In fact, the only advice that I ever follow is that I try and write a great story and I would rather break a hundred rules than something that bores me.
 
Where do you do most of your writing? 
 
I have a study! I say that with glee because for years I spent all of my time at the kitchen table or chasing the sun around the house like a cat. However, I can now leave things in the knowledge that they will be there when I come back the following day!
 
What’s the best book you’ve read lately on the craft of writing? 
 
Given my lack of rule following it’s probably no surprise that my favorite craft books are by screenwriters because their advice is normally about the story rather than what words we use to create the story! I love The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler and Screenwriting Tricks for Authors by Alexandra Sokoloff (which is a very reasonably priced Kindle book) and my all time favorite is Save the Cat by Blake Snyder because he used language that made total sense to me.



About The Book


The Black Rose–a powerful ancient force–has been let loose and has taken up residence in Celeste Gibson, popular girl at Cassidy Carter-Lewis’ high school. Thomas Delacroix is the spirit of a fourteenth-century knight who is devoted to protecting the Black Rose, but he needs a contemporary living being to take on the challenge. That’s where Cassidy comes in.
She’s a quirky high school junior who just wants to dress in her vintage clothes, hang out with her best friend, and take care of her father, who is recovering from surgery. She’s the last person who would ever volunteer for such a task, but no one actually asked her.  Now, like it or not, she finds herself training before dawn and battling demons at parties, the mall, and even at school. But hey, no one ever said high school was going to be easy.

About The Author


Amanda Ashby was born in Australia and after spending the last sixteen years dividing her time between England and New Zealand, she’s finally returned home for some sunshine. When she’s not moving country, she likes to write books (okay, she also likes to eat chocolate, watch television and sit around doing not much, but let’s just keep that amongst ourselves, shall we?)

She has a degree in English and Journalism from the University of Queensland and is married with two children. Her debut book, You Had Me at Halo was nominated for a Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice award. Zombie Queen of Newbury High was listed by the New York Public Library’s Stuff for the Teen Age 2010. Fairy Bad Day was selected by Voya as one of their Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers 2012 and was a SCBWI Crystal Kite Award finalist for the Australia/NZ region.

Please leave a comment to win a copy of the book! 


Advice & Giveaway with Jessica Brody

Please welcome Jessica Brody! I’ll be giving away a copy of her new release UnRemembered to one lucky blog commenter. 
What’s your best advice for fellow writers?
Don’t be afraid to write badly. Every first draft is crappy. But you can’t know what needs to be revised until you finish that crappy first draft. So don’t let “fear of being bad” stop you from writing. Just write. You can always fix it up and make it pretty later.
What popular writing advice do you never follow?
The other day I saw a piece of writing advice from Stephen King that said, “Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.”
Well, apparently there are exceptions to this rule because I use the thesaurus all the time. It’s my very best friend when I write. Mostly because my brain is mush and I can never remember the word I’m trying to think of. So I think of a similar word and thesaurus search until I find it.
Where do you do most of your writing? 
I find that I have a really hard time writing at home (too many distractions!) so I have a few coffee shops/tea houses that I rotate through and I write there.
What’s the best book you’ve read lately on the craft of writing? 
It wasn’t recently that I read it but it’s by far my favorite book: Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. It saved my career! I actually teach the method now to fellow novelists.
About The Book
The only thing worse than forgetting her past…is remembering it.
When Freedom Airlines flight 121 went down over the Pacific Ocean, no one ever expected to find a single survivor; which is why the sixteen-year-old girl discovered floating amid the wreckage—alive—is making headlines across the globe. She has no memories of boarding the plane. She has no memories of her life before the crash. She has no memories…period. As she struggles to piece together her forgotten past and discover who she really is, every clue raises more questions. Her only hope is a strangely alluring boy who claims to know her. Who claims they were in love. But can she really trust him? And will he be able to protect her from the people who have been making her forget?
Set in a world where science knows no boundaries and memories are manipulated UNREMEMBEREDby Jessica Brody is the first novel in a compelling, romantic, and suspenseful new sci-fi trilogy for teens.


About The Author
Jessica Brody knew from a young age that she wanted to be a writer. She started self “publishing” her own books when she was seven years old, binding the pages together with cardboard, wallpaper samples and electrical tape. She is the author of 52 Reasons to Hate My Father, My Life Undecided, The Karma Club, and now, Unremembered. Her books have been translated and published in over 15 countries. She currently splits her time between California and Colorado. www.jessicabrody.com
Please leave a comment to win a copy of the book! 

Procrastinating?

I’m two-and-a-half chapters from the end of my novel–so close–yet I’m dragging my heels. I could spend hours analyzing my reasons procrastination, but I really, really, really just need to finish the darn story! 

Two strategies I’ve used to prevent procrastination:
1. Trap myself with my laptop–outside my usual workspace–for a limited amount of time. For me this means driving both ways for soccer carpool on Fridays. After I drop the girls off, I drive over to a fancy-schmancy market, buy a big peppermint tea & write at a table overlooking the store.
The other parents are incredibly grateful, the soccer players love the fresh-baked cookies I buy, and I usually manage to write about 900 words in 90 minutes, plus I get my grocery shopping done! 
2. Write with others. Sometimes it’s hard to put down a good book, turn of the radio, or stay offline when I know I’m going to be alone with that blank page. About once a week I meet with friends to write. We chat, write furiously, chat, write a little more, eat lunch, and chat some more, sometimes writing a bit more too. Despite all the talking–which I crave–I manage to get a lot of words down when I’m typing with friends. 
This week I combined #1 with #2, meeting fellow writers, Anne Bowen and Wendy Toliver, at the Snowbasin ski resort lodge. Beautiful views, great food, fantastic conversation, and another 1,000 words. 
I will finish this thing!!! 

Advice & Giveaway with Lauren Bjorkman

Please welcome Lauren Bjorkman, author of My Invented Life and Miss Fortune Cookie. Leave a comment to win a copy of her new book! 

What’s your best advice for fellow writers?
Write all the time. The more you write the better you get. Which brings me to the obvious follow up question: How does a person keep one’s butt in the chair (without resorting to adhesives)?
  • Write what you want to write. Forget about the market.
  • Think about your story while doing other things—driving the car, cleaning the kitchen, showering, etc. When you finally get to sit down to write, you’ll be ready to go.
  • Describe your story to others. When I try to summarize my WIP, it gets me excited about the story, again, and often gives me new ideas.
  • Set goals. Give yourself rewards for reaching them. Whenever Franz Kafka reached his writing goal, he would treat himself to a pineapple upside down cake. Be like Franz.
  • Join a critique group.
  • Read a truly amazing book (Jealousy is an awesome motivator).

What popular writing advice do you never follow?
Write what you know. It is much more interesting to write about things I’m ignorant about. Research is fun and inspiring.
Where do you do most of your writing? 
I used to write in bed on a laptop. My cats would keep me company. It all started with living on a sailboat and having to complete 3rd, 5th, and 6th grade from my bunk. I continued working in bed through HS and college.
Unfortunately, for the past two years a tweak in my upper back has forced me to sit in an ergonomic chair at a desk. My office measures almost 7 by 9 feet, which sounds spacious until you shoehorn in a desk with drawers, a filing cabinet, a dresser, two bookcases, and an exercise machine. The door is my favorite feature. I surround myself with inspiring photos and objects while I work. I have a special cushion for my bare feet, plus a radiant heater under my desk to stay cozy in the winter.
What’s the best book you’ve read lately on the craft of writing? 
Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller by John Truby. When I applied his exercises to a half-finished novel, they helped me organize the plot, clarify the role of my characters, and expand conflict to make key scenes more powerful. I spent two weeks revamping taking notes, which made writing the second half easier. Note: Easier easy.
Find out more about Lauren & her books at: http://laurenbjorkman.com
Please leave a comment to win a copy of Miss Fortune Cookie by Lauren Bjorkman!


Advice & Giveaway with Lucienne Diver

Today Lucienne Diver is back with writing advice–plus you can win a copy of her new book Fangtabulous! Just leave a comment.

What’s your best advice for fellow writers?

Keep the faith. Seriously, it can be very difficult to keep writing in the face of rejections or a bad review. The important thing to remember is that nothing, not even the cutest kitten or puppy dog in the world, is universally loved. There will be detractors. That won’t change no matter how successful you become. You just have to stay true to yourself and your ambitions and, as Dory from Finding Nemo would say, “Just keep swimming.”

If anyone’s interested in reading about a particular subject, here’s a full list of articles and blogs I’ve done that address various aspects of writing and publishing http://luciennediver.wordpress.com/articles-guest-blogs/with a cut-out leading to this list of blogs for Magical Words http://varkat.livejournal.com/218703.html.

What popular writing advice do you never follow?

I don’t know that I listen to popular advice or “truisms.”  There’s too much misdirection out there, like the suggestion that you have to do things this wayor you’re wrong, wrong, wrong. The truth is that there’s no one-size fits all in publishing, no “one true path.” You have to find your way, and the path you choose will depend a lot on your end goals. 

Where do you do most of your writing?

In the warm weather, I like to take a pen and notebook (I freehand everything before typing it onto the computer) up to the pool or dock at our lodge. In the cooler weather lately though I’ve been writing in our Florida room. Our dogs like to keep me company, one laying on each side of my lap while I attempt to write over them.  For example, here’s a picture of them in our papasan chair with Ginger, the littler one, occupying my spot. The other is Micky-doodle.



What’s the best book you’ve read lately on the craft of writing? 

I actually don’t read books on the writing craft. I’ve learned through reading fiction and analyzing what works and doesn’t work in the books I’ve loved and how authors do what they do. I’ve also learned a lot through trial and error—writing, workshopping and learning about my strengths and weaknesses from people who can see them more clearly.

About The Book:

Gina Covello and her band of federal fugitives are on the run after taking down a secret (and sinister) government facility. Strapped without cash or credit cards—a fate worse than death for Gina—the rebels must find a place to lay low. They roll into Salem, Massachusetts, the most haunted town in America and the only place they have friends flying under the radar. But within a day, Gina and her gang are embroiled in a murder mystery of the supernatural kind.

Someone—or something—is strangling young women, and it’s rumored to be the ghost of Sheriff Corwin, late of the Salem Witch trials.  Is it the ghostly Sheriff or is someone on this side of the veil using the famous story as a cover up? Gina is determined to get to the bottom of this mystery, and she needs to do it before a paranormal reporter on the scene exposes them for what they are…fanged federal fugitives.  


About The Author:

Lucienne Diver writes the humorous, suspenseful Vamped series of young adult vampire novels for Flux Books, including Vamped, Revamped, Fangtastic and the most recent, Fangtabulous.  Her short stories have been included in the Strip-Mauledand Fangs for the Mammaries anthologies edited by Esther Friesner (Baen Books), and her essay on abuse is included in the anthology Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories (HarperTeen).  She also writes the Latter-Day Olympians urban fantasy series for Samhain (Bad Blood, Crazy in the Blood and the forthcoming Rise of the Blood). www.luciennediver.com


Please leave a comment to win your own copy!



Info Dumping

Aah, chapter 40, now chapter 38, once 5 pages, now only half a page in-progress…

All through this story, I’ve been trying to squeeze in a particular subplot–not because it works organically with my story, but because it’s such a cool idea, and it makes me feel clever. So I’ve been adding lines here and there–lines that might as well be typed in red font because they flash like warning signs. Warning, warning–this doesn’t belong!

Did I delete those lines? No. I added more. I padded sentences and plot lines, building little nests around this subplot. Later in the story I dedicate two entire chapters to the subplot. I might as well run outside, yank down the stop sign on the corner and shove it into my manuscript.

What convinced me that I truly needed to abandon my ever-so-clever subplot? The huge info dump on pages 153-158. A minor character who only exists to service said subplot appears out of nowhere and says, “let me explain X to you.” And I let him talk for paragraphs. Oh, sure, I break up the dialogue with some lovely actions, etc. But I’m still doing an info dump–because the subplot simply doesn’t fit, naturally, organically, compellingly, or anything-ly into my story.

So today I’m finally deleting it. No more random lines here and there. No more minor character with no other purpose. Knock. Knock. I’m here to stop the flow of your story. No more extra chapters. And no more info dump!

Things that belong in stories have a way of weaving through the various plots with ease. Characters automatically want to talk about them, great action results from them, consequences flow easily from them… Watch those info dumps. Usually something more than poor writing is going on.