Friday, January 30, 2009

Finishing Up Critique Week

Tip of the Day: Some people think message boards are a waste of time. I've met some great people through them and it's how I've found critique partners at various times. Get to know people who write work similar to yours and you may find someone you can exchange work with!

I have a lot of experience critiquing. I’ve been in and out of formal groups for the past seven years plus I did some critiques at the Oregon SCBWI conference last year. I’m not in a formal group now as I just don’t have the time. Instead I have a few trusted writing friends I can go to when I need some feedback, and they know they can come to me as well.

I think as a critiquer, my job is really to just get the writer thinking, as well as to give some concrete ways to improve the manuscript if suggestions come to me. I think it can be a fine line because sometimes we might tell a story a different way, or even tell a different story, but DIFFERENT doesn’t necessarily mean BETTER.

When a story clearly isn’t working for me, I mostly try to ask questions to get the writer thinking. Things like - “Is there a way to make this more believable?” or “Do you think she would really say this?” If an idea comes to me on how to change something, I’ll suggest it, because I like it when critiquers do that for me. Suggestions get the writer thinking, even if she doesn’t use that exact one, it can lead to something else, which I think is helpful.

Anyway, here is a short summary of how I approach a critique:

First – I read through and make comments about what I’m reading as I go along. These might be language suggestions, question marks if something isn’t clear, spelling/grammatical issues, and notes about things I love or places where I laugh. I think it’s just as important to point out the brilliant places as it is to point out the places that need some work. It can be disheartening getting a critique back that doesn’t have anything positive in it.

Next – If a certain chapter or scene leaves me with some thoughts or questions, I’ll make some longer comments at the end of it.

Last – When I’m done reading, I do an overall summary of what I thought, what I think needs the most work, and why. And of course I make sure to tell her what I loved too.

I’m big on caring about the main character, believability, pacing, and realistic dialogue. I’m perhaps not as strong on plot (ironing out troubled spots ) and how much detail is enough. I also lean toward being more of a cheerleader than a critical eye. I think maybe I’m simply a more forgiving reader, and some things don’t bother me the way they bother other people. This doesn't mean I don't try to find the troubled spots and point them out, because I do. But when something is already good, it's often hard for me to figure out how to make it great. I guess that means I probably wouldn't be a very good editor.

~Lisa, Miss Crafting a Career

Thursday, January 29, 2009

How I Critique…hmm

Tip of the Day: Need a critique partner? Make sure you find someone who is writing in your genre (so no, you don’t want to pair up with the poet or non fiction writer if you’re doing YA). Visit a message board like Verla’s and post that you’re looking for a critique partner.

This is tough for me. It’s another case of I never think about what I’m doing, I just do it. Em had that beautiful list on Tuesday that anyone can probably take and apply when doing their critiques. And Kate’s was so thoughtful and honest in her post. I’m feeling the pressure here guys! :-) I guess I’ll break it down into two groups. What I do and what I like.

What I Do:

The first thing I do is see if the beginning grabs my interest right away. I’m really big on the beginnings of stories knocking me over. So if I get a book from one of my Critique Partners (CPs) and the beginning is just eh, then I’ll suggest they cut some stuff or suggest another way to open. Then I just read for things like flow and consistency and realism. I know I shouldn’t, but I always pick up on grammar errors too. I guess that’s from years of teaching and countless hours of grading. But funny thing? My grammar usually sucks (really, ask my CPs or my editor!) so that must be something that I just turn off internally when I’m writing. I like to comment in places that strike me really funny or make me go AWWW!! Or just touch me in some way. I just think it’s good to show the writer where they are really hitting home. And I also like a good main character. If I’m not feeling the MC I’ll let you know. Finally, I like to share ideas and the writer can totally take them or leave them. But if I think of something that I feel would be a really cool twist I’ll let my CP know and they might use it or it might spark another idea for them. I LOVE when CPs do this for me too. Which leads me into my next section…

What I Like:

I like having a number of CPs who all look at my book differently. I like that one of them will always point out my terrible grammar or tell me to cut out the 500 smiles. And that one will tell me, What about the Dad? The Dad should totally be in this scene! And that another one will have endless patience with me and say show not tell here. And here. And here. I also like the notes where something is good. Then I can look back at that as a reference. And I love when a CP tells me where I’ve strayed off. Like, umm, would your MC really think this? Or do that? Finally, I just like when a CP is honest. If something is really not working, let me know. I’ve heard someone say before that you can’t be friends with your CPs because then they are too nice to you (no really, that shirt looks so good on you! :-) ) but luckily my CPs are friends and still let me know when things are le sucky and need to change. They are the best!

Kristina, Miss Delighted to Debut

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Gossip Day

Tip of the Day: Looking for a little writing inspiration? Plan a vacation for somewhere warm!!

Since Deena (Miss Subbing for Pubbing) is still in Cancun have a wonderful vacation (we hope!) we thought we’d do what all girls do when a friend is out of the room.

Talk about her! :-)

Well, her teaser from last week that is. Remember?

Since we’re talking about how we critique this week we are each going to do a mini-critique of Deena’s teaser. Here it is again to refresh your memory and then our critiques:


Love: I love the internal dialogue. You’ve given us a moral dilemma to think through along with your main character. I can totally empathize with why she’d want to break the law now.

Thoughts on improvements: Russ touches her back twice. What does he want from her? I expected your thoughtful MC to have more of a reaction to it. Is she disgusted or comforted by it?


Love: The idea of this whole novel: a girl saving her boyfriend from going to war. Such powerful stuff. The seriousness of this piece comes through really well for me too. I love that it takes place at a parade. The juxtaposition of making this huge decision while the clown cars are speeding through and then people yelling at the vets is great.

Thoughts on improvements: Some of this might be in the previous scene, but I'd still like to see more description of Russ's actions and general behavior. Point out the unusual to further show how shady he and his family are. Also I'd love more internal dialogue on how the MC feels directly after Russ asks her if she wants to get her boyfriend out. Maybe say more how it's illegal, the government would hunt her, or something else to up the stakes and give a more visual picture of what could happen to her if she agreed to what Russ was saying.


Love: The whole thing. It’s really good. I love the parade details and that she’s meeting this guy who is going to help her out and how it’s sandwiched between something as simple as him going to get cokes. Awesome.

Thoughts on improvements: I know this situation is hard for your MC. She wants to save her boyfriend before he goes off to Vietnam. And it’s awkward talking to this guy and doing something shady. I think some extra sensory details here would really help. Specifically, how is this affecting her? Like, do the hairs on the back of her neck stand up? Does she feel a bead of sweat on her forehead? Does her pulse race?


Love: Wow, this is such a great idea for an historical novel, Deena. As far as this scene, I really love how you intersperse what's happening in the parade with the situation for your MC at hand. It works really well, because she's thinking of her brother and that one of those guys being yelled at could be him.

Thoughts on improvements: When she talks of her parents making her come to the parade year after year, and being annoyed by that, I thought, I bet she liked it when she was younger. Has it always annoyed her, or is there something this year that really bothers her about it? I think that could tell us a lot about her actually. Maybe suddenly, with everything going on, she feels more grown up. Too old for the honking clowns. The other thing that stood out for me are the people watching Russ. I didn't really get that. And why would they want his Cokes? He doesn't even have them yet, right? I think you're trying to get across that he's a shady character, I just wonder if there's something else she could notice that would tell us that.

Hopefully Deena will find our comments helpful! What does everyone else think? Did we miss the mark anywhere? Do you have any notes for Deena?

-The Misses

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Critique Week continues

Tip of the Day: If you haven’t done so already, you might want to browse over some of the American Library Association award winners here.

I can’t speak enough about the value of having someone critique your work before submitting to agents or publishers. Not only to get valuable feedback on improving your book, but also in the often over looked value of opening yourself up for criticism.

Writing a novel is such a personal act, and it’s so easy to guard your work and passion with your life. But the second you are willing to have someone else point out ways to improve the book, I think it speaks volumes of your willingness to grow as a writer and learn the craft.

When critiquing someone else work, there are several things I look for:

1.) The positive: I can be a pretty harsh critiquer, but only if I know the person can take it. If I’m taking my time to read someone else’s work, I what it to actually be beneficial for them. Otherwise what’s the point? So no sugar coated, “it’s great,” despite the fact I’m thinking 20 ways it didn’t work for me. In giving them concrete suggestion on things to improve, I’ve found it’s just as important to point out what worked as it is to point out what might need changed.

2.) General feeling (i.e. gut reaction): just the general overview or feel I get from the novel. Obviously, my opinion could be very different than someone elses, which is why multiple critique partners is helpful. If more than one person has an issue with a character, plot, chapter, or something else, than you probably need to revisit the issue in length. But it’s pretty easy to give a general feeling of what does and doesn’t work for you personally when looking at someone else’s work. I almost always start with a “General Overview” of my feelings, much like an editorial letter. And then I’ll give specific thoughts and comments in the text itself.

3.) Likability of characters: since I’ve had issues with this in my own work, I’m more in tune to looking for it’s effectiveness in my critique partner’s books. And I’ve found it’s far easier to make suggestions for someone else to improve the likeability of their characters than it is to change the ones you are attached to in your own books.

4.) Importance of secondary characters: characters are my biggest weakness, so it’s something already on my radar. If a character feels flat, like it’s just coming into the scene to serve a purpose and then abruptly leave, I’m probably going to point it out.

5.) Pacing: this is a big thing for me. I have a short attention span, which is one of the reasons I like YA writing. It’s often tighter, more conscious, and stays on point. As a result, I’m super big on proper pacing. If I’m not seeing the importance of a chapter I’m going to point it out. It doesn’t mean it needs to be removed completely, but maybe the important aspects of the chapter could be combined with another. Or the chapter could be expanded upon to include vital character info, a plot twist, or something more than it currently has.

6.) Plot: I don’t see this as much anymore, since my critique partners now are amazingly talented writers. But in the past when reading some people’s work, I’ve noticed a distinct lack of plot all together. If something doesn’t have a point, then it’s going to be an issue. Even if a plot exists, it still needs to make sense, so if a plot feels flat, involves too many sub-plots, or doesn’t fit together, I’ll try to point it out. A lot of this is opinion, but again if five people tell you a plot twist didn’t make sense, maybe expanding and foreshadowing more are needed.

7.) Consistency: everything needs to flow together. If names, cities, locations changed mid-way through. Dates don’t line up, that sort of thing. It’s usually something I noticed.

8.) Over-used words: after several books, I now have a list of overused words I need to eliminate. I try to help others with the same and point out words I keep feeling have been used in excess.

9.) And last, I try to make sure I’m not making suggestions merely because it is what I’d do to a book, but general things that might help improve the authors take on things. Which is almost always why my suggestions start with: “Maybe you could…or…do this…” Variety is key, and might trigger a much better idea for my critique partners. Because ultimately they often know what will and won’t work in the book better than anyone else.

What I don’t look for in critiques: grammar, spelling, or punctuation. I’ll notice big things, but I’m not really a copy editor with critiques. I’m incredibly grateful for my critique partners that help me with these aspects of my own work. Because goodness knows I need this. In my own work, I’m so focused on characters, plot, pacing, action, and other stuff that I forget about the words themselves, until I set it down and come back to it later. Hopefully one day, I’ll get it to all come together in the appropriate amounts, but this is one reason why critique partners are so amazing. All of them bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table. So thank you to my critique partners who are awesome!!!!

--Emily, Miss Querylicious

Monday, January 26, 2009

Critiquing: Can You Take It and Can You Dish It Out?

Tip of the Day: You know what? Writing is hard work. When was the last time you rewarded yourself for the sweat you've put into it? If you find yourself procrastinating, try positive reinforcement. Like ordering out for dinner instead of cooking!

Part of being a writer is opening yourself up to constructive criticism and learning to give it. Critiquing and writing go together like tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. As I learn to be a better writer, part of my process is learning to be a better critiquer. And then the magic part will be applying the good critique skills to my own work. But honestly, how do I know I'm any good at critiquing? Other than working on the assumption that none of my crit partners have tried to throw heavy objects at me. I mean, we have our crit partners and we critique each other's writing, but we don't critique each other's critiques. (If you have a group where you critique each other's critiques, I'd love to hear how that works for you!)

Well, what kind of critiques do I want? The ones that are the most useful to me are the critiques that tell me where I can cut scenes that run long or where I haven't explained things well enough. I tend to explain my character's situation and motivation too much and then cut it back, but often I cut too much or too little. Also, I tend to think I have a really tense scene, and then a critiquer might point out how my main character could be even more stressed. Those are the types of critiques I love, so those are the types of critiques I try to give to others.

But then there are the critiques that make me discouraged. You know. The ones that make me doubt I have any talent for writing. I'm talking about the critiques that make me wonder where my instinct was.

Because sometimes I'll write something and submit it for critique knowing there are issues. I'll think, OK, I don't know how that character got to the gym without being spotted but let's see if I can get away with it. And when my critiquers say "Um, wouldn't someone have seen your character enter the gym?" then I might not be happy that I have more work to do, but my instincts are somewhat validated. I suspected there was a problem and I was right.

But other times I have no idea there's a problem. Basically, I like my characters or I wouldn't spend time writing about them. So that might be the hardest critique to hear: "I didn't have sympathy for your main character." I think we all hate that one because it implies that our instincts are off. "What are the stakes here?" is another hard one to hear. If my characters fails to accomplish what she tries to accomplish in a scene, she'll be miserable. Things are going wrong for her! Aren't those enough stakes? No? There needs to be more? How about if I spell out that she's miserable, type "I was miserable" into the manuscript right here? That won't fix it, huh? But ... but I need this scene for the rest of the plot to make sense. Are you ... are you saying it's not interesting? That you've come to dread reading my submissions? Should I just give up writing now? Or am I overreacting to your single question mark in the margin?

I don't want to make my critique partners feel discouraged. I love their writing and I worry that I haven't communicated well enough or often enough how talented I think they are. But I also want them to get some meat out of my critiques, make it worth our mutual time spent. I want them to think "This critique gives me great ideas for revising my manuscript and gives me the confidence to tackle the work!" And then I want to look at my own writing and get great ideas for revising and the confidence to tackle the work.

Frankly, just writing this blog post has made me think about how I critique and how I want to critique. Wow, this is so cathartic ... critters, I love you guys ... sniff sniff. Even on the days you realize my instincts were totally off and I'm all "Ow, ow, my spirit hurts." And on the days I've poked at your tender spots, in the past and the days to come, just remember that I'm sorry ... and I'm expecting to see my name in your Acknowledgment pages.

-- Kate, Miss Perfecting the Pages

Friday, January 23, 2009

Teaser Friday

Tip of the Day: If you love looking at cupcakes, go here. Mmmmmm...

I’ve been working on two projects, both under contract. One of the projects will be my third book for Pulse, a novel in verse about a boy and a girl who are brought together because of the ghosts who haunt them, tentatively titled CHASING BROOKLYN. And the other is my first mid-grade novel titled IT’S RAINING CUPCAKES, about a girl who dreams of traveling but is stuck in Willow, Oregon helping her mother get a cupcake shop off the ground.

I had a teaser ready to go from the cupcake book and then I thought, maybe I shouldn't be doing this!? I mean, I don't really know what the rules are. The book is a long way from being out. I've posted a teaser from a book to give a little taste right before it's due to hit the shelves. But I don't know about a book I'm still doing revisions on.

So, since it's always better to be safe than sorry, here's a snippet from a book I finished and came close with agents a couple of times, but haven't done anything with since. I think about resurrecting it every once in awhile, and giving it a good overhaul. It's a mid-grade, and the title is SHINE BRIGHTLY about a girl and what happens when a traveling acrobat show comes to town that she's bound and determined to see despite the fact that her father can't afford to buy tickets for the show.

Chapter 1

Sales Tip #1 - Always greet your customer with a smile and firm handshake

“You know, my daddy is still married to Caroline McDonald,” I said after Daddy introduced me to his new lady friend, Violet, my voice quivering as I said it. When I’m upset about something, I can’t seem to talk without that stupid quiver. But Daddy may not have told her about Mama, and she needed to know the truth.

“Yes, I understand that, dear,” Violet said, trying to sound sweet as banana cream pie. “Your father has explained the situation to me. I’m sorry for your loss.”

Good gravy, did he tell her she was dead?

“Brightly,” Daddy said, “you know that is not how we greet a person we’ve never met before. Now, do it the proper way.”

My daddy and his used car salesman ways. Because he greets every customer on the car lot with a hand shake, he expects me to greet people I meet the same way. But I didn’t want to smile and shake hands with this woman. So I just stood there.

Daddy looked at me and said through gritted teeth, “Brightly, I said, do it the proper way!”

I held out my hand, like he taught me. Violet looked at it for a second, like this wasn’t what she expected. Then she grabbed my pointer finger. Yep, just one finger. And she squeezed it.
It was the sorriest hand shake I ever did see.

“Pleased to meet you, Brightly,” she said, with a wink. Or maybe it wasn’t a wink. One of her fake eyelashes was flapping around like a shingle in a wind storm. She must’ve seen me staring at it, ‘cause she reached up and tried to pat it into place. While she worked on her eyelash, I continued looking her over. She was tall and skinny. Her dress was so tight, I wondered how she could possibly breathe in the thing. She wore tiny barrettes with diamonds and pearls in her blonde, wavy hair. She was pretty. But not as pretty as Mama.

Okay, back to work for me! 

~Lisa, Miss Crafting a Career

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Ten Days Tease

Tip of the Day: You think your job is hard? Try being a shrink to a bunch of zombies! Check out Stacey Jay’s, You Are So Undead to Me, released today!

The snippet I’m going to share is from one of my current WIPs (I’m balancing three. Hard to decide on one!) TEN DAYS TO PLAN THE PERFECT FIRST KISS. The main character, Gabby, is a laid back kind of girl, more of a dreamer. Her best friend since birth (her birthday is one day before) Zoe is more of a high maintenance chick. It’s a Sunday afternoon and the girls are watching the old Drew Barrymore movie Never Been Kissed, right at the scene where Drew is on the baseball mound waiting for the guy to show up and kiss her. Gabby is into the movie and Zoe is breaking up with her latest boyfriend via text but then pays attention at the magic moment of the kiss. And Zoe comments:

“It does look like a good kiss. And did you ever notice that when there is a big movie kiss the lighting is always awesome and just the right song is playing in the background and a camera always does a full circle around the guy and girl kissing? Like the kiss has the power to spin them all around. It’s so perfect.”

A short while after Zoe looks at a calendar and realizes she’s turning 17 in just eleven days. Ok, here we go with the real snippet:
Zoe, without missing a beat, returns to her rant. “I’m serious Gabby.” She dramatically places her hands on her hips. “I’ve passed that whole sweet 16 and never been kissed thing. I’m going to be 17. This can’t happen.”

“So kiss someone then Zo. It’s not like you can’t find a line of guys at any given time willing to kiss you.” Zoe is absolutely gorgeous. Hence the endless string of boyfriends and dates. She’s 5’9”, slim, with jet black hair cut in a really cute longer style, and huge doe eyes. People hit on her everywhere we go. Not that I don’t occasionally get hit on myself. I’m considered “cute” and “sweet”. At least that is what people are always telling me. But I don’t think teenage guys are so into cute and sweet. At least not when she’s standing next to hot and glamorous.

“I don’t want any old line of guys though Gabby,” she protests. “And I always get what I want. I have Hillary Duff’s hairstyle, Paris Hilton’s sunglasses, and Lindsay Lohan’s bag. I deserve the perfect movie magic kiss in the perfect setting with the perfect guy. And it has to be before I turn 17.”

“Well, good luck with that,” I say, trying to keep the snark out of my tone. Zoe’s been out with so many guys and still hasn’t found “the one”. I’m not sure how she thinks she’ll find him in the next eleven days.

“No, Gabby, you have to help me. We have to devise a plan.”

I rub my forehead and wonder what on earth she thinks I can do to help her get the perfect first kiss.

“You’re lucky we’re best friends,” I say.

Kristina, Miss Delighted to Debut

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Wednesday WIP (or Please Be Gentle -- It's a First Fast Draft!)

Tip of the Day: When you see gas prices drop, check out flight prices -- they've probably dropped, too -- and head south while the winter world around you is in single digit degrees!

JanNoWriMo word count as of Monday, Jan. 19: 22,582

Right now I am South. On a beach. In Mexico. Soaking in the sun. Ahhhhhh. Yes, the vitamin D is jump-starting my brain and hopefully getting the creativity juices sparked.

I am writing while here, crafting quick scenes in a notebook with old fashioned pen and paper while laying on the beach or sitting in the airport. It's a really good trick, simple as it seems. For some reason I feel less pressured writing with pen and paper than typing directly into my document. Then when I DO move my words to the doc, I am impressed with how much I wrote, so I keep writing. It is a TRUE jump start to my word count.

To prove that I am fast drafting my Vietnam/Mafia YA this month, I am sharing a snippet below. Please note that the reason this is proof is because it is clearly in an unpolished, unedited state. How else could I have written something this First Drafty if I hadn't been Fast Drafting all month? Point proven. Enjoy!

Working title: A Walk From Vietnam

Stella, the MC, just ran into Russell, a man she met at the diner, while following someone who she thought was her boyfriend at the town's Fourth of July Parade.

A dozen clowns in tiny cars honked. Each horn blow rattled my skull. The parade was so annoying. How had I let my parents talk me into coming here year after year?

Russ lightly rubbed my back. “They have the right papers to get him discharged.”

Eyes bored into the back of my neck. From the ice cream shop, two faces watched Russell, watched me. His family. They wanted their Cokes. Or they wanted to know what he was up to. Who were these guys?

“I…I don’t know,” I said.

“He doesn’t want to be involved though, does he?” Russ asked.

I shook my head. No. He was a runner. A son. A boyfriend. A college entrant. Not a killer.

“You could help him for a small price,” Russ said.

A solo snare drum rapped a soldier’s marching beat.

It was illegal, what Russ was offering. He didn’t name the price and I didn’t want to know. “I…I can’t,” I whispered. He may not have heard me.

Ranks of boys and men in camos and army uniforms led the drummer through the streets. Watchers clapped and cheered.

And some booed.

“Go back to ‘Nam!”


“Get out of town!”

Russ’s hand froze on my back. My breath caught in my throat. Lots of these men had been sent to Vietnam against their wishes – how dare others judge them and yell at them in public!

“Go kill some more civilians!”

“Child murderers!”

The voices came from everywhere. I couldn’t pinpoint who was targeting the vets, some of who, as they got closer, revealed a missing hand, a prosthetic foot, a pronounced limp. Who knew how much hidden shrapnel lay buried in their skin. Beneath their caps, many of these boys were too young to be injured like that. The horrible memories and visions from their service were hidden from us all. It wasn’t fair to torment them.

Nothing about it was fair.

Grant would come back to the U.S. after a stint in Vietnam, and be like these men: tortured inside and out. He was such a good guy. Such a sweet boyfriend. He didn’t deserve to be treated that way.

But I could get him out. Maybe even have him sent home before he stepped on Vietnamese soil. Spare him the torture that was to come. He wasn’t like my brother, obnoxious and blood-thirsty. People like Danny deserved to be taunted in public, during their heroes' walk. Good guys like Grant did not.

The vets marched out of sight and the calls drifted off with them.

Russ patted my back before reaching into his pocket and jingling his change. “We can get him out.” Then he turned to the vendor and ordered Cokes for his family. As easy as that.


How's everyone else doing on their January Drafts?

Deena, Miss Subbing for Pubbing

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Stunt Princess Teaser

Tip of the Day: If you write romantic elements of any kind, there’s an interesting discussion going on over at Fangs, Fur, Fey on what works and doesn’t.

Following along with our Teaser Week, I’m going to share a scene from the book I’m working on for Fast Draft January. Along with Kate, I’m incredibly nervous to share. Seeing as this is my first public post of any of my work. But getting over fears is the only way to get published, right?

This scene is from a book currently titled STUNT PRINCESS (or Stunt Camp Drama depending on what day you ask) about a fifteen-year old girl whose father owns a Hollywood Stunt Camp.

No normal person should have to be strong every second of the day. Or switch from being a punching bag for thirty screaming nine year olds to demonstrating proper rope repelling techniques, and then fighting off a mob of foreign bank thieves all before noon.

So was it too much to ask that after having my entire world crushed that people would let me be a girl for one minute?

“Do you mind if you have your melt down later?” my best friend Mitchell asked, while attached to a safety harness suspended off the side of the set building. He faced the building façade and switched from holding on with one hand to doing push ups into the open window. “If you don’t jump soon both my arms will fall off.”

Mitchell was completely oblivious—as usual—to how the bomb shell my dad had just dropped was affecting me. Having a guy for a best friend came in handy in numerous situations, but acting as a shoulder to cry on was not one of them.

Trying to wipe my tears away proved useless. My mascara ran down my face, sticking to the caked on foundation. No matter how I tried, I could never get used to all the makeup the director made me wear just in case a piece of my cheek bone got in the picture. Luckily today wasn’t an Injury Shot Day. Because the fake blood would have been a pain to get off if it blended with my salty tears.

“Katie,” Andrew spoke into the megaphone for the second time. “I said action.”

Andrew expected me to fly threw the air with ease. On a normal day it would have been a breeze to jump up and over Mitchell from thirty feet above the ground and land on a yellow X that looked the size of Halley Chaplin’s thighs from this high up. But thinking about that right now was the last thing I wanted to do.

“How could my own father do this to me?”

Walking back down the metal construction stairs was not an option. The set designer stood halfway up blocking my escape exit. He had a roll of duct tape in his hand and patched the flimsy made contraption posing as a building that I stood on.

Seeing that should have made me want to jump, but it didn’t.

“Are you crying,” Mitchell asked, finally looking at me. His breath grew in sharp making his words mumbled as he started to pant. “Kates, I haven’t seen you cry since you took that blow to the head from the two-by-four during our season opener last year. It’s not that bad.”

“Not that bad?” The structure shook with the sharp twist of my entire body in Mitchell’s direction. Before words came out I lost it. My crying turned to huffs filled with anger. Fearing the crew might hear, I fell to the floor and cradled my head in between my knees. The grates from the jump platform dug into my butt, but in a strange way the pitches of pain felt comforting. “He wants me to train Halley Chaplin, Miss New Face of It Girl Cosmetics. To. Take. Over. My. Job.”

Here’s a brief summary of the novel:
Fifteen-year old Katie Markman doesn’t think anything could get worse then being forced to train her archenemy A-list actress Halley Chaplin to take over her job doing stunts on the hit TV show Jr. Super Agents. But when the one person she hates even worse than Halley shows up at Markman Stunt Training Camp her desire to have a quite, drama-free summer is shattered in an instant. Eternal bad-goy Ethan Reynolds brings more to camp than a sulky attitude, tortured family life, and a one kiss fling with Katie last summer. He might just have a few secrets of his own that are ready to bring Katie’s entire world crashing down on her faster than she can say, “action.”

--Emily, Miss Querylicious

Monday, January 19, 2009

Teaser Tuesday All Week Long!

Tip of the Day: Thank you so much everyone for participating in my poll last week! Thanks to your votes, I'm going to start posting book reviews to my LiveJournal. Friend me at

This week at Author2Author, we're posting snippets of our works in progress. On LiveJournal, there's a tradition called Teaser Tuesday where authors post teaser clips of their manuscripts. We're doing Teaser Tuesday all week long. And some of it are a little nervous about it. Well, I'm a little nervous about it.

When I post a little piece of my work, I always feel like people read it and cringe. I want to say, "No, it's better in context!" And then I think, hey, that doesn't count. If a paragraph can't look good out of context, it must suck. So I've never been a Teaser Tuesday type of person.

However, right now I'm working on a graphic novel script and I really did want to show you all what I'm struggling with in terms of panelling and scripting. So ... Teaser Tuesday. On Monday.

Anyway, I'm using the Dark Horse Comics script submission guidelines. They call for 4-5 panels per page, which seems like too few to me based on what I see in print. But I can't draw myself and I have to start with panelling somewhere. My premise is alternative history. It's 1908 and my setting is Wardenclyffe, Long Island, where Nikola Tesla built an enormous tower to generate worldwide wireless electricity. As the outlets in your house prove, his idea didn't work (or get funded), but in my universe, it did work. Inventors are rushing electric devices to the market to take advantage of the free electricity. In this clip, my main character, Mark Macher, arrives in town with his father, who has been commissioned by Tesla from Thomas Edison for a secret project.

Panel 4:

Next page:
Panel 1.
Mark is loading the trunk of a Model T like car with his family’s suitcases while the adults watch. The car is pulled up alongside the concrete station platform and waits in the dirt. There is no road. The door of the car is emblazoned with FS in a circle (actually a tire) with lightning bolts emerging from either side of the tire. This is the Farrelschmidt logo.

Panel 2.

Panel 3.

Panel 4:
Mark is on his knees peering under the car. A thick cable leads from the undercarriage into a small concrete gully built into the dirt. His eyes are wide.

Next page:
Panel 1:
Smitty has Mark by the collar. Smitty is standing straight and shaking Mark, whose feet dangle a couple inches off the ground. Mark is holding onto his hat so it doesn’t get shaken off.

Panel 2.
Unseen by the others, Mark is making a rude hand gesture to Smitty behind his back, or perhaps to his father, or perhaps to both.

Panel 3:
The family is in the car now—Mrs. Macher in the front passenger seat and Mark and Mr. Macher perched on the higher back bench seat—and Smitty is flipping a large switch on the dashboard from the driver’s seat.

As you can see, I am now an expert at working the caps lock button! That clip didn't have a captioned panel but at least I worked in a thought balloon for you.

Stay tuned all week for more Teasers and see what we're all cooking up in our secret word labs!

-- Kate, Miss Perfecting the Pages

Friday, January 16, 2009

Please think good book signing thoughts!

Tip of the day: You can read an interview with my fantastic editor from Simon Pulse, Michael del Rosario, HERE.
Wow, it’s the middle of January already. And that means it’s almost January 17th, the day of my book signing at Powell’s books. You may recall I also did a book signing last year on the third weekend of January. Here's a picture of that event:

So how’s it feel to be doing it again a year later? Still exciting and yes, still scary. I’m sure it will be fine. I’ve prepared a little talk to do before I actually sign, so I’m not worried about that. The hardest thing about signings, I think, is that you just so desperately want people to SHOW UP. And by people I mean people other than your immediate family and best friends. 

I’ve been to Powell’s when the room is packed to see a speaker, and it’s so wonderful to see all of those people there to hear an author talk. I’ll be happy if five people come who aren’t there because I twisted their arm.

Since I don’t do many book signings, simply because I don’t have a lot of time with the day job, I tried to get the word out as best I could for this one. Here are some of the things I did:

~ I made up a flyer and sent it via e-mail, as an attachment, to teachers, librarians and other people I know, and asked them to forward to any people they know who might be interested, or to post it if they thought their students might be interested.

~ I sent a less formal e-mail to my book club friends and asked them to forward to any teens or teachers/parents/librarians of teens.

~ I sent postcards I have with my two book covers on the front and put the book signing info on the back and sent it to some Language Arts teachers in town.

~ I also took some postcards and bookmarks to my son’s high school, along with a book I donated. She let me put the postcards and bookmarks on a little table right next to the front door of the library.

~ I put a status update on my facebook page.

~ I sent out a notice to the Oregon SCBWI listserve.

~ I contacted the local newspaper and asked them to list the event. I know the larger Portland Oregonian also put the event in their Sunday living section.

So, with all of that, it’ll be interesting to see how many people show up. Want to guess? Then I’ll tell you next week who was closest.

~Lisa, Miss Crafting a Career

Thursday, January 15, 2009

What Makes a Cool YA Author Web site?

Tip of the Day: The 12 Months of Debsmas starts today! What's this you ask? Well, each month on the year on the 15th, the 2009 Debutantes are giving away a gift bag full of 30 "treats, delights, novelties and oddities donated by the authors of Debut 2009!" So cool, you must check it out!

So lately I’ve been obsessing about my Web site. Translation: nagging my dear husband to make me a New! Cool! Fun! Web site.

It’s not that my Web site is bad or anything. You can look at it— It’s just I keep seeing other cooler YA author Web sites and I want mine cooler too (I’m such a follower huh?)

Like, have you seen Cheryl Renee Herbsman, or Stephanie Hale? Or one of my all-time favs, Simone Elkeles? So freaking cute. I would LOVE a site like theirs but maybe I should start with something simpler until I have more books?

I do like the idea of a site where your recent blog posts generate to the front page Like Meg Cabot has, cuz she’s my hero you know. And it provides new content all the time on your page. I noticed Mandy Hubbard’s cute site does this too if you hover over her blog titles. My site has my blog too but it shows too many. Maybe I’ll keep that feature but modify it a bit.

Or maybe I need a cool, beautiful site like Carrie Ryan’s? Though, my books are more light/fun so this might not work.

Ugh. This is hard!

I need something that says cute but isn’t necessarily tied into my book cover or anything. Especially since, I don’t know what my book cover looks like again. Oh yeah, about that. My pub has decided to come up with a brand new cover. Let’s all cross our fingers for super cuteness! But back to web design. Sometimes I think it should tie my main site in with coffee anyway or a café or something. Just because I’m such a coffee freak. But I don’t know. Should I stay away and do something just generically cute?

So anyway, we are still just at the discussion stage of the new site—anyone want to pipe in with some ideas for me?

Kristina, Miss Delighted to Debut

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I <3 SCBWI (or Am I the only one who doesn't pronounce it "skwee-bee"?)

Tip of the Day: If you fall off the JanNo wagon, don't give up! You're free to change your goal to something you can attain! It's all about getting further than you would have on your project than if you hadn't pushed yourself however much for a month. Current word count: 16,697

The wonderful Amy Emm put together another fantastic SCBWI Central/Western NY conference this past Saturday. I must take the time to highlight certain aspects.

1) Bowen Press editor Molly O'Neil talked about craft and specifically setting, which tied in perfectly to our How I Write series from last week so I was very into it. She had us do an exercise that reminded me of the board game Taboo: we were to write a scene of two friends traveling in the summer in Paris, but couldn't use certain words like cities in France, French terms, "cafe", "baguette", or some other "obvious" terms. We were forced to think out of the box for descriptions of the setting. I loved this exercise and might make myself use it for my future projects. ***Setting used in a first page can establish a character and place for a whole novel. ***Setting can rub against or compliment an MC to show their emotions/personality.

She also said of her imprint that they are still discovering themselves so Bowen Press is open to a wide range of projects. Molly herself is not that into sports stories.

2) London Ladd is a Syracuse illustrator who had an inspiring story. It took him 15 years to get his Bachelor's degree in illustration, and once he did he went back to SU to take a children's PB class which he didn't know anything about -- and then just happened to at that time get an offer to illustrate a PB about Martin Luther King, Jr. He was talented, humble, funny, and a great artist and persenter. ***Don't give up! Take all opportunities that arise!

3) Eileen M. Crane is a Blueboarder and the author of the YA SKIN DEEP. She was warm and friendly and we chatted. I love having the BB connection with authors! She told us about her writing process and about how she won the Delacorte Contest. Some thoughts she shared that stuck with me: ***She writes "unpublishable poetry" to get into the emotions of her characters. ***She equates the elements of fiction with the questions that a reporter has to ask: Who/Character, What/Plot, When/Time Period, Where/Setting, Why/Why Am I Writing This [and I inserted my own thought about Why: Character Motivations], and How/Specific detals that move the plot forward. She said if you don't have a strong WHY [why are you writing this?], it will show in your writing.

4) The First Pages session with Molly was informative. She was blunt but not harsh and she said she'd read on from my first page. Woo hoo! :) A repetitive comment she made for the PBs was that they needed to fill 32 pages, and needed to have enough illustration possibilities to warrant PB status. A repetitive comment she had for the novels was that they needed to start with less description and more action.

As usual, a great conference where I got to chat with a number of people from the Novel Revision Retreat I went to this past fall. So cool to catch up with them and see how their novels are coming along!

Deena, Miss Subbing for Pubbing

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Storytelling and Sleep

Tip of the Day: If you haven’t seen them already there’s a lot of interesting blog posts from agents this past week about their opinions on writing your own queries. You can check some of them out: here, here, here, and here.

Sometimes when I’m in the middle of writing a book, it becomes all consuming that it makes other tasks such as cleaning, working, watching TV, and even sleeping hard.

It’s during these times I hone my Super Power of zoning out and can actually miss entire conversations because I’m somewhere deep in thought about one of my characters or that pesky plot problem on page 2. My husband tends to hate these times, because he’ll have to repeat himself fifty times when asking the simplest questions such as “can you believe what they just said on the radio?” or even “hello, do you know your name?” Then I start to feel guilty that I’m not paying attention. It’s a vicious cycle.

As annoying as missing conversations is one of the most annoying things about intense writing periods is that is affects my sleep significantly. During this fast draft January, I think more than half the days this month I’ve been up “thinking” (no of course not writing that would be too productive) about my story into the wee hours of the morning. And many days I’m still up when the sun’s rising or even when alarms go off in the morning, which can cause problems when you have to wake up in an hour to go to work.

But hey, that’s the price of writing right?

Usually I’m not too frustrated because a lot of things also affect my sleeping (hello, how many of us have read an un-put-downable book through the night and paid for it the next day?—which has also been a culprit several days this month.)

But this particular writing conundrum is starting to annoy me enough that I decided to compile a list of ways to sleep even when your brain won’t shut up with thinking about the minute details of your story. And I doubted I was the only one in this situation, so I figured I’d share the list with you temporary writing insomniacs out there.

Tips on Getting Sleep During Writing Craziness:

  • Try to do something else non-writing related before bed. Such as enjoying a TV show, music, or something else relaxing.
  • Give yourself permission to stop thinking about your story. Sometimes people (meaning me) get intimidated when thinking of all the amazing people writing out there that they feel like they have to be working, working, working all the time just to turn out something decent. But give yourself permission to take a break. Even if it’s just for a night.
  • Sometimes getting up and writing down what you are thinking will save you lots of time and energy. I discovered this when I was in high school and found if I gave into the writing urge, I could actually sleep. Now I always keep a notebook on my nightstand and usually keep my computer on at night, so it takes less time to power up when I get a particular thought that I have to write down. Because I’ve found if I obsess over mnemonic devices on ways to try to remember this brilliant idea (that never seems to be as brilliant when you read it over the next day, but that’s another story) it takes more time than actually writing it down.
  • That Mountain Dew I had last night was probably a bad idea. ::slaps hand::
  • And finally, I’ve decided I’m going to get a copy of Lisa’s Baby Can’t Sleep book. Which I’ve been a horrible friend and have not read yet (sorry Lisa, will you forgive me?). But it looks like it has fun counting sheep in it and the insomniac sites say that it’s good to have imagery you keep in your head every night that’s the same, so that eventually when you get to a certain image or thought you naturally fall asleep (although, I must not be doing that right, because this has never worked for me). But if I do finally figure it out, funny sheep sound much more fun to think about then boring old numbered sheep.

I’m not sure what it says that I’m making this list at 5:30 in the morning, since I can’t sleep. But my new goal this week is to try the above tips and see if they work. And if you have any other, please leave them for all of us in this situation.

--Emily, Miss Querylicious

Fast Draft January Word Count (which you think would be much higher this week due to the above mentioned problem, but sadly is not)

15640 / 50000 words. 31% done!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Cybils Roundup, Complete with Great Reading

Tip of the Day: If you started out 2009 as saddened as I was by the news of Donald Westlake's death, plan with me to read more of his books this year. There's a great reading list and tribute at

So my responsibility as a Young Adult Cybil panelist has come to an end. I worked with six phenomenal panelist readers to come up with seven books to pass onto the final judges. They'll select one of these seven books as the 2009 Young Adult Cybil winner. Our list of seven finalists is ...

AUDREY WAIT by Robin Benway
I KNOW IT'S OVER by C.K. Kelly Martin
JELLICOE ROAD by Melina Marchetta
TEN CENTS A DANCE by Christine Fletcher
THAW by Monica Roe

Awesome list, isn't it? I'd love to know what you think of those novels while we wait for the winner to be announced. There were over 130 novels nominated this year, and although I personally did not get to read all of them, I read a lot of fantastic books. Narrowing it down to such a short list was a very tough job.

So I'd like to get the word out about the novels I loved that didn't make the short list. I have all sorts of opinions and I'm wondering if there isn't a way for me to share them. And we all enjoy pushing radio buttons, don't we? So here's my poll on how you think I should spread the word about the great books I've read.

What should Kate do with her book reviews?
Post reviews to her LiveJournal.
Find a way to post reviews to Facebook.
Write up a few blog posts with a few books each.
Post reviews to Amazon.
Other (add a comment please). free polls

Let me tell you, I feel totally in-the-loop with what's on the market now and it feels great! I resolve this year to keep reading. It's so inspiring to me how many different kinds of books are published with such varying voices, paces, structures and themes. There is an audience for your book too!

Best of all, I have a fun way to discover new books. I'm following the blogs of my fellow panelists. Here's my first recommended reading--check out these blogs for reviews, giveaways, reading challenges and more:

A Patchwork of Books at
Abby the Librarian at
Becky's Book Reviews at
Bookshelves of Doom at
Teen Book Review at
The YA YA YAs at

-- Kate, Miss Perfecting the Pages

Friday, January 9, 2009

How Lisa Writes Settings

Tip of the day: When you are revising, go through and use a different colored highlighter every time you use one of the senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, etc.). If you hardly have any smells, for example, you’ll be able to visually see it that way.

I really love books where the setting becomes like another character. I can think of a couple of books off the top of my head that were like that for me. One of them is THE OPPOSITE OF INVISIBLE by Liz Gallagher. She did a beautiful job capturing the feel of Seattle in her book. Another is THE COMEBACK SEASON by Jennifer E. Smith, where Chicago, the Cubs, and Wrigley Stadium all play an important role in the book.

Is my strength setting? No, not at all. But when I read books where setting is done really well, I realize how much I love it. So here’s a bit of my process when it comes to setting.

First I ask – in what way is the setting important to the story? For example, in FAR FROM YOU, I knew the characters were going to take a road trip at one point in the story, and it needed to be far enough to drive, but not so far that it was ridiculous, since there’s a 6-week old infant along for the ride. I ended up setting part of the story in Seattle and part of the story in rural southern Oregon. But I do think the first question you have to ask is what role is the setting going to play? Sometimes it will be a major role and sometimes very minor.

Like others have mentioned, it’s much easier to set it in a place that’s familiar. My new mid-grade book, IT’S RAINING CUPCAKES (out 2010) is set in a made-up town in Oregon, called Willow. Oregon is where I live and it was much easier to write having at least one thing familiar to me, even if everything else in the book wasn’t.

Next I ask – What places within that setting are going to be important? Probably the main character’s home, but what other places? School? A favorite hang-out? A restaurant? And then I decide what details I want to bring out that will make those places seem real and interesting to the reader. I heard Cecil Castelluci talk one time and she said that every character probably has a place that helps define who that character is, like Superman has the phone booth, right?

Finally I ask – What details will be important to make the setting come alive for the reader? And this is the hardest for me. I mean, you could go on forever describing a place. So what’s really IMPORTANT? And why? Is there something the character doesn’t particularly like about a place? Or something she loves? Narrowing down what should be shared with the reader is difficult, but necessary. Sometimes I don’t know what to describe and I don’t describe much of anything, and come back later and fill in the holes. In a first draft, that’s okay. And maybe as you write, you’ll figure out what needs to be described and why, as you learn more about your character.

Hope you’ve found this week helpful! Happy writing!!

~Lisa, Miss Crafting a Career

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Let Me Set Here Awhile

Tip of the Day: Enter the Simon Pulse Spring Fling Contest for your chance to win a signed copy of Far From You, Fade, and Something, Maybe plus a call from your choice of the authors of those books.

What an awesome topic!! I don't know about you guys but I'm loving this how we write settings week. Truthfully, I never really thought about it before. I just did it. The setting was just wherever the story and the characters wanted to go. I never even thought about certain places being cliche like Deena mentioned yesterday with the locker convos (those were some of my deepest convos btw. It was there that all the HUGE MAJOR CATASTROPHIC things that just happened in the previous class were whispered franctically before the next bell).

But I'm so glad that we decided to do this topic because it gave me the chance to really evaluate what I'm doing and I've discovered that I almost always use places that I've been to. If I'm writing a scene that takes place in a school I tend to use my old high school or junior high or even my son's school. If I'm writing about a park it's one of the parks I've spent a lot of time at-- like one in the town I grew up in. And if I need A LOT of detail then sometimes I just put myself in that setting. Literally. Like with THE ESPRESSOLOGIST, I based the setting of my fictional cafe (Wired Joe's) on two specific Starbucks. One, this Starbucks in Chicago that was on the ground floor of the university I was teaching at. Here I watched how people were, how fast orders came up, how they were served etc. And two, the Starbucks in my town. Here I got the nitty gritty-- like there would be times I was hanging over the counter to study the complexities of the giant espresso machine. I actually wrote the entire book from the same table at my Starbucks. It was great--this was probably the book where I had the easiest time writing setting.

But, unfortuntately, we can't always just plop down and write in the middle of our desired setting so we need to try other ways to get those extra details. Like with my middle grade NIGHT AT CLAIRE'S. The whole book takes place at a Claire's Accessories in the mall. This called for a family field trip (Well, I guess I could have gone alone but the kids were a good cover). We went to the Claire's at my local mall and I spent a lot of time studying how everything was set up. And taking pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. And then I looked through those pictures over and over and over again as I wrote the book. They were invaluable.

So that's pretty much what I do with setting. I'll leave off with a question-- is there anything unusual (or quirky) you notice about your settings? For example, I just realized as I'm writing this that my Brooke from BOY SWAP, Ari from REVENGE QUEEN, and Gabby from TEN DAYS all have similar bedroom configurations. I don't know why I did that. I gave them different bed spread colors, decor etc. but the basic layout of the rooms/furniture is the same. Weird.

Kristina, Miss Delighted to Debut

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

How I Write...Setting (or Think about the place where you live, wonder why you haven't before*)

*With apologies to REM

Tip of the Day: To get your JanNoWriMo count up, don't let yourself have a caffeine break til you reach 500 more words. My current JanNoWriMo count: 10000 words

Welcome to Day 3 of How I Write...SETTING! After pondering this for some time, I can say this about my procedure and thought process...

1. I wonder what kind of place would make my MC act the way she does,

2. Then I picture myself in that place almost like I'm following the character around her world. [Note: More often than not, this place is very similar to the city I currently live in or he small town I grew up in. Varying up my settings is something I'm working on.]

3. Next I pick out which details of the MC's world are unique and interesting,

4. And as I start writing, I integrate these details into the characters' actions to avoid info-dumping of setting details. [Note: Sometimes I don't give as many details as my reader wants. Adding the right amount of setting details is something I'm working on.]

5. I also try to switch up the settings of each chapter to keep things interesting (move the MC from her house to the diner to the bus)

6. And to keep cliched/tired settings almost completely out of the book (convos in front of lockers are OK for a very brief period only).

7. As I revise, I keep an eye out for places where my MC is "floating in space"

8. And as I get feedback from my CPs, I make sure to address the areas that they say need some more setting details.

That's about it! Here's a sample from my MG, SOMETHING STRANGE ON STAFF ROAD that has a quality bit of setting for your perusal:

The house was freshly painted white. In fact, all eight houses were bright white, like rows of teeth pushing out of the bright green grass. I’d asked Dad if we could repaint our whole house pink, and he said no, Dr. Meyer had made it clear that there were to be no changes to our houses or yards. They were all to look the same.

To be honest, setting is not one of my strong points -- though I didn't know that til about 18 months ago. Yeah, I thought I was putting the right details and cues on paper without bogging the reader down with mundane details that didn't move the story forward. I mean, I could see the setting SO CLEARLY in my head as I wrote, of COURSE I was conveying it perfectly on the page.

Then I had a fantastic 15-minute critique session with the fantastic Laurie Halse Anderson at an SCBWI conference last fall. She'd read the first chapter or so of this MG novel and said that while she could tell that I knew the setting exactly in my head, she wasn't seeing it in hers.


To make it more clear to me, she put notes in my pages indicating places where she wanted to see/smell/hear/touch more of what was around the MC. Again, not a big info-dump of a description, but just a few more gems sprinkled throughout to give the whole chapter a more tangible feel.

Oh. OH!

The revision I did of my MG after that critique helped me land my agent and I know LHA's wise words helped me out. (She also pointed it out to me in the most gracious of ways. Thank you, Laurie!)

Setting is something I'm hyper-aware of now -- if not during my first drafts than definitely during revisions -- and I'm glad! I love losing myself in the worlds created in others' work and want people to do the same when reading mine. So I will continue to add more details than I find necessary in the hopes that they will be just enough to satisfy my readers.

Deena, Miss Subbing for Pubbing

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

How Emily Writes Settings

Tip of the Day: For those that are fast drafting sometimes it’s okay to give yourself permission to think about setting last. But just don’t forget to add it in eventually!

Kate talking more about the overall setting of the book yesterday, but today I’d like to talk about writing the setting for each individual scene.

For some people setting might come naturally. They might instantly write down descriptions like: the moss colored tree echoed in the moon light with a bird perched on the hallow branch ready to break with one peck.

But setting doesn’t come to me naturally (as I’m sure you can tell by the sentence above).

My novels tend to come in what I liked to call Around the Corner Movie Form. In that I can often hear them and see the scene blurred in the distance, but I can’t make out the setting until I listen first.

So in writing a book I almost always start each chapter with a series of dialogue exchanges. Most of it is rubbish and doesn’t make sense, but it allows me to play out the scene as I’m hearing it in my head.

After it’s out, I can make sense of it and then find a location that fits the book to place it.

Often once I’ve figure out the setting the entire dialogue no longer is usable and needs changed. Adding in the description to the setting is really hard for me. I have to take it one line at a time and think about what would be happening at this exact dialogue exchange. And even then I have to do some field work with the setting before I can picture it enough to describe it in book form.

This step involves some fieldwork and one of my favorite parts where I get to pretend I’m a police investigator, journalist, or archivist and searching through dusty old microfilms to find just the right clue (Don’t you guys love those scenes in movies? Or is that just me?) At this stage, I borrow a ton of books from the library. Stuff on the city, location, state, or a certain scene (such as a theme park, camp, etc). I also go through images online (Wikipedia is my BFF), in magazines, and then combine images to form the one I want, until I get an idea of what things look like.

After I have an image only then can I add in description, almost like adding setting cues to a screenplay.

And unfortunately I’m still not quite done. This is the stage where I curse the writing gods for not blessing me with the ability to combine setting, dialogue, and characters into something more cohesive in a first draft.

Not until I do another draft does the setting cues and dialogue really shape into Book Form, when I take out all the Stage Cues (as Deena likes to call them and has to remind me constantly to take out even when the draft is to a stage I feel critique partners can look at) of I did A, then B, then C, then D (which hello, she is correct that’s really boring). So after that I fix and try to make the setting flow more naturally instead of feeling as if it’s a scrapbook project gone wrong with bits and pieces pasted in crooked and upside down.

So as you can see setting really is not easy for me. So I advise you listen to the other A2A Misses for much better advice.

But if you are like me and trying to find a way to work, I guess the layered version works for me. And with each book I write, I find I’m better and better at writing setting and description into the first draft. So I guess practice really does make it easier.

Additional Setting Tips:
  • Try to incorporate setting into the dialogue. Don’t make it obvious it’s for the reader, but incorporating the setting into the dialogue helps to show it with more impact and in with the action, which in turn makes it come alive more.
  • I once read a quote that said something like back in the 1800s books had to have a lot of descriptions because people didn’t travel much and didn’t know a lot about the places outside where they lived and wanted details. But now a days, a few carefully, placed descriptions will give your readers all they need to know. I love to think about that when doing settings.

--Emily, Miss Querylicious

JaNoWriMo Writing Challenge:

10423 / 50000 words. 21% done!

Monday, January 5, 2009

A2A Presents How I Write

Tip of the Day: My computer's in the shop and my thumb drives are saving my (writing) life. Have you made a New Year's Resolution to keep up with your backups? And if you're doing January Fast Draft with us, stop by the comments and share your word counts and other JFD experiences.

Today I'm unveiling a new Author2Author feature we call "How I Write." During a "How I Write" week, the five of us agree on a writing topic and we each blog about how we approach it. This week the topic is Setting. Let us know what you think of our newest feature!

So ... how do I write Setting? Well, I'm one of those "on the ground" people. I have a hard time writing about places I've never been. I mean, sure, every book has settings where the author has never been, and I've written lots of scenes that take place somewhere unfamiliar to me, like the basement of an abandoned house or an icy rooftop. But for the location of an entire book, I need familiarity.

My first novel took place in California and even though I've actually been to California and seen it with my own eyes, I still had problems. What kind of trees grow in people's yards? Do they have squirrels? I was losing sleep over the squirrel question. Finally I emailed a librarian in Central California and asked. (I got a prompt answer too. Librarians rock!)

After this experience, I decided that my next novel would take place in my home state of New York, where I don't have to worry about what kinds of trees there are. I don't even have to think about it. It's not just trees, of course. How long do summer storms last, for example? Something like that is crucial to plot. What does hail sound like? Here's a piece of something I'm working on that really draws on the local scene:

Eddie ran into the living room. Migs and T.J. were already staring out the picture window at the hail. It hit Eddie’s father’s car in the driveway with loud pocka pocka noises; it fell against the window like gravel. Eddie followed Migs’s gaze up to the ridge, where his father had recently installed expensive hail netting. They couldn’t see the gauzy nets from here to know whether the hail was being caught by them. Eddie took in the view of the cultivated land around the hills. Most farms couldn’t afford netting, and small, doll-like figures spread all over the vineyards and orchards, heaving tarps over stakes.

I actually had to do a little research to find out what vineyard and orchard farmers do when it hails, but as an Upstate New Yorker, at least I knew it was something to be researched and written about.

Now if I were writing about a moon colony, I probably wouldn't feel this lack of confidence. I could make things up as I went along. But you know, I understand people actually live in Central California. I couldn't screw up the details and it caused me a lot of stress. But someday maybe I'll have the confidence as a writer to write about Mexico or London or India. Still, when writers say they have to travel abroad to complete their novels ... yeah, I totally get it.

What about you? Do you have to have that everyday familiarity with a place in order to write about it, or are you able to overlook the details and fill them in later?

-- Kate, Miss Perfecting the Pages

Friday, January 2, 2009

2009 - Don't worry, be happy!

Tip of the day: I am going to spend most of my weekend working on revisions for a book under contract. Please tell me I can do it. Send me all the confidence you can find, because I seriously need it!!

I had a busy 2008 writing-wise. And I'm still busy. Extremely busy for the next few months, as a matter of fact. Which is good, I suppose, although also tiring.

I have one book to revise and another book to finish and submit, at which point I'll then have to revise that one as well. But listing those things as goals isn't really fair because I *have* to do them. I mean, I'm under contract to do them. 

So what do I want to accomplish? I want to dig deep and make those books the best they can be. I want to make my words sing, dance, and leap off the page. I'm talking lots of blood, sweat and tears, people.  

Next, I want to stop worrying about things I can't control. Things like reviews that aren't the greatest. Sales numbers. Amazon rankings. This is a big one, and it's going to be hard. But it's also the most important. I want to write without worrying about it all. I want to be a joyful author, to revel in the good stuff, and just let the rest roll off my back. 

Finally, I want to go to New York. I want to meet my agent and editors and all the other wonderful people in Please Publish Me Land. It will cost time and money to do this, neither of which I have a lot of. But I really want to try and make it happen somehow. We'll see!

Happy new year one and all! 

~Lisa, Miss Crafting a Career (ohhh, the pressure!)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy 2009!!

Tip of the Day: Have a super happy and relaxing New Year's Day!!

First, I'd like to re-introduce myself. I'm MISS DELIGHTED TO DEBUT now. I like it. It's cute. I just have to get used to typing it. And it really sums up this new year for me-- the year my first book comes out! I'm so freaking excited it's hard to sit still! But there are still 8-9 months so I'll have to sit sometimes.

On to the 2009 goals!

Goal 1: Celebrate my book coming out. I'm not sure what I'll do exactly but I must do something. Being a mom, and maybe just being female in general, I tend to always do stuff for other people and skip over me. But not this time! :-)

Goal 2: Work on all that marketing stuff that goes along with a book release. I think I should have started by now but it's not too late. I'm not sure what this entails yet exactly but that's ok. I'll figure it out!

Goal 3: Edit Book 2. I'll know shortly for sure what my Book 2 is. Once it is decided I'll be doing the whole editing process again. Unless of course I need to write a new Book 2. Then editing would get pushed back a bit.

Goal 4: Be faster with my critiques for my wonderful critique partners!

Goal 5: Read tons more YA (I already do, but even more) and buy lots of books to support fellow authors this year.

Goal 6: Finish the Middle Grade proposal I'm currently working on and complete two more YA proposals I've been thinking about.

Goal 7: Write at least one full YA book. I'd like to say write three but I don't want to overwhelm myself. And if I end up writing two or more then next year I can be all braggy and say look how I kicked Goal 7's butt!

Goal 8: Sell more books. I'd like to sell at least one this year. Of course, I'd be thrilled to sell more but let's start with one. :-)

That's it for me! I think I can manage most of my list and I have this crazy awesome feeling that 2009 is going to be a REALLY good year!


Kristina, Miss Delighted to Debut