I Can’t Believe it’s Been a Year Already

Wow, remember this post? Back when I was still young and green and full of hope? My how the time flies. But guess what. DFWcon starts in three days! *Head explodes from excitement*

But in all honesty I am so very grateful and excited to be attending DFWcon two years in a row. This year marks the 10th anniversary, so I know it will be something special. Last year was such an eye-opening experience, not only by what I learned but by who I met. It is as if my life is split into two, pre-DFWcon and post-DFWcon.

Without this convention, I never would have had the courage to attend the Writer’s Digest Convention in New York, never would have written my third (and fourth!) novels both in under a year (well, I may have, but they would have been as shoddy and haphazard as the first two), never would have had the confidence and resolve to continue to push on despite the lack of interest from agents and I never would have met such a wonderful group of friends who now make up a majority of my writing life (writer friends are the best because we’re all introverts, lol. Well, most of us).

I can’t even imagine where I would be without this show. So not only am I incredibly excited about departing for Dallas in two days, I am so very grateful for everything his show helped me accomplish and pushed me to become. Because without this first domino, none of the others would have fallen into place.

I can’t wait to see what this year will bring.

It’s That Time of Year Again

It snuck up on me! The Writer Conference season is here and it’s coming up quick! Last year my experience began with DFWcon in Fort Worth, Texas. Unfortunately this year I thought I wouldn’t be able to go due to other commitments, but last week my schedule opened up! Texas here I come!

This has also put me into something of a scramble to get everything ready, but I already feel much more prepared since I know what to expect. I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of familiar faces as well as a few new ones and honestly I cannot wait. This year the show is in Dallas, which I only got a taste of last year and I hope I carve out some time to do a little exploring. All in all, I expect it to be a great show.

Oh yeah, and there’s the Gong Show and a bunch of Agents there or something but who wants to hear about that 😉

New Year, New Stories

You know, I wanted to do an obligatory New Year’s post, but I just couldn’t bring myself to write one. I’m not a big fan of new year’s resolutions as a rule; I tend to believe if you want to change something in your life, you shouldn’t wait until the new year to do it. So that being said, nothing has really changed for me 😀

I’m still charging forward with all the writing I can manage, and just a few days ago finished my fourth novel (rough draft only). This is the one I alluded to in my last post (see: Lightning Has Struck My Brain) and I was pretty pleased with how it turned out. I did more prep for this one than any other book I’ve written and I feel like it definitely helped. I was able to finish the rough in approximately six and a half weeks, and I more or less stuck to my initial outline, with only a few major changes.

This was also the first time I followed a true structure in terms of beats for the book, incorporating things like: Point of No Return, Re-dedication, and Darkest Night. Incorporating these elements has really made a difference in how I structure the story, and I believe it makes for an overall stronger presentation. I will definitely be using these in the future.

So now it is back to editing for a while and preparing for Conference Season. It looks like I may only make it to one out-of-town con this year, but you never know. If there is one thing I’ve learned, it is never try to predict the future.

Lightning…Has just Struck My Brain

Do you remember this iconic quote via the imbecilic Smee in 1991’s Hook? It has always stuck with me, the moment when Smee is trying to imitate his Captain which leads to dire consequences for Peter Pan’s son.

Movies do this to me a lot. A scene or a bit of dialogue, or even just an action will stick with me for years and years, and come up at the strangest times. So today (well, actually a few days ago) I am like Mr. Smee where I feel like I’ve struck gold.

Coming upon a new story for a novel is a strange process, especially because I am so new at it. I keep a list of ideas (as I’mrip-robin-williams-hook-tumblr_n4wx5bzofk1qg4aloo1_500 sure many of us do) from which I plant seedlings of ideas occasionally when something strikes me. And now, while I have one book out for editing and other off to Beta Readers I am finding myself in something that amounts to downtime. So I was perusing my list of ideas and nothing really stood out at me. Nothing “spoke” to me and that was fine. I was content to play video games or build something out of Legos instead.

But then…I was complaining to a fellow writer (love ya, KLE) about having to read a book my mother gave me about life as a nurse–my mother is a nurse–and how much I did not want to read it. Then, from out of nowhere, the idea hit me. An idea that I can’t get out of my head; an idea for which I have already put close to 5k words to paper about just on backstory alone. I know this will be my next book, and I am so freaking excited about it. The story is there, calling to me, and it is that pull we writers feel, the desire to transform this story from its place in the ether to the page where it can be shared with everyone, that drives me.

Not only that, but I’m scared. This is a little outside my norm and I have no idea if I know what I’m doing, but I’ve heard that if you aren’t a little scared then you have no business doing it. Nothing great ever came from being comfortable. So with that, I am officially working on novel number four. And I couldn’t be more excited.

I’ve Never Actually Been Nominated for Anything Before

Well, that’s not 100% true. I was nominated any time there were extra chores to be done (only child = primary target) or sometimes emails tell me I’m nominated for at least $250,000 but I think there’s something fishy about them. But to be nominated for something substantive and I actually appreciate-that is a rarity!

The irascible SoloRein (haha, jk, I’ve been looking for an opportunity to use that word) has so eloquently nominated me for a Sunshine Blogger award. I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Sol (@SolHom) at DFWCON this year and I look forward to seeing her yet again next year. She’s become a valuable Beta Reader for me and I hope I at least provide a little of that value back to her. So on to what this is all about! From her site:

“The Sunshine Blogger Award is given to those who are inspiring and bring sunshine into the lives of their readers and fellow bloggers through their blogspace and/or their social media.”

And while I have no doubt someone vastly more qualified than I will win (is there a winner? Who knows, doesn’t matter), I thought it would be fun to participate, after all, this is what it’s all about. Here’s how it works:

  • Name drop and link to the blog of the person who nominated you.
  • Answer the eleven questions from the blogger who nominated you.
  • Nominate up to eleven wonderful bloggers and write (or borrow/steal) eleven questions for them to answer.

So here we go (who doesn’t love talking about themselves? Me! So this is gonna be weird!):

1. What do you snack on while you’re writing?

Anything I can find. I like Doritos but they’re dangerous. If I were to eat them while I wrote I’d go through a bag a day, so I reserve them for weekends only. Sometimes I will eat peanuts, sometimes whatever is left over in the fridge. More often than not, I have nothing to snack on at all.

2. What’s your favorite location for maximum creativity and productivity? How often are you able to visit this setting?

My desk, in my house. It is here I have nick-nacks to play with when I need to think, it is also pretty quiet. I can’t work in public, even with headphones. There is too much going on and too many people moving/walking around. I work best in my own environment at home. Here I can write for 8-10 hours if I need to.

3. What is that one weird trick you can do? You know, the one you’d kind of like to forget, but your friends always bring up at parties after a couple of drinks?

I can name every Transformer released from 1984 until 1988 if I’m asked (it never happens) or I can recite the entire script of the 1986 Transformers Animated Movie if asked (also never happens). Though I’m not sure if these apply because no one ever asks me to do it and I don’t think I’d like to forget it. Other than that, I don’t really have many “tricks” per se. However, if you get a couple drinks in me I’ll start throwing out financial advice like its no one’s business. I don’t really know why.

4. Tell us about the project you’re most proud of completing.

Well, I am quite proud I’ve written three books despite the fact they haven’t been published yet. Other than that, I guess I’d have to say I’m most proud of the Transformers convention I created from scratch and hosted back in 2013. (Jeez, again with the Transformers!) We had nearly 1000 attendees, and I am proud to say everyone had a wonderful time and congratulated me on such a successful show. Unfortunately I didn’t want to devote my life to holding conventions, so it was a one time thing, but something I am very happy to have done.

5. Which clique did you hang out with in high school? If you could go back, would you hang out with the same crowd or choose different friends?

Hehehehe. I didn’t have a clique, I had three so-so friends. My graduating High School class consisted of 24 people, we weren’t large enough to form cliques, everyone interacted with everyone else on a daily basis. And if I could go back I would vehemently refuse, I am happy to leave High School in the past. Every time I start wishing time machines existed I think about High School and realize that, nope, I’m happy living in a world where time moves in a fixed line (probably).

6. How have you improved the world during your lifetime?

I’m not sure I have, that is a big part of why I write. I no longer want to be merely a consumer of culture, I want to add to it, no matter how small my contribution. Other than that, I rescued a dog, he lives here now, he’s very happy. So that’s something.

7. Teleportation. Would you do it? Why or why not?

All day long. I would own the teleportation company cause I’d be using it so much. I love traveling, but I hate driving…so yeah, puts me in a weird place. I guess I’m impatient.

8. What is your favorite stupid joke?

Two men walk into a bar, the third ducks.

9. What charitable organization do you think more people should support?

Animal rescues and animal shelters. They are at the mercy of our society and it is our job to ensure our own selfishness doesn’t destroy the lives of innocent animals and wildlife.

10. What is one topic you would never be able to write about? Why?

This is going to get a little gross, but a woman going through her menstrual period for the first time. Not only do I not want to write about it, but I have absolutely no way to understand what that is like. Not to mention doing any sort of research on the subject would probably land me in prison. Everything else in our world I could probably stand to cover if I really needed to.

11. Name three things that are always in your fridge.

Vegetables

Soy Sauce

Monster Ultra Energy Drinks (gotta stay awake to write!)

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And that’s it! A big thanks to Sol for nominating me! Here comes the part where I list my own eleven questions. Urge…to….steal….growing….must….resist…

  1. What is your most embarrassing secret? Haha, no, kidding. If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing with your life?
  2. Do you use any special tricks in your writing? Anything you’ve figured out over the years that helps in some way?
  3. What does your ideal writer’s space look like?
  4. Do you enjoy killing off your characters if the mood or circumstance requires? Why or why not?
  5. Do you have a routine or something you do when you get writer’s block or get stuck somewhere?
  6. What is your favorite type of book to read? Doesn’t necessarily have to be genre, just something about a book that will always draw you in, no matter what.
  7. If someone were to ask you: “Should I become a writer?” what do you tell them? Why?
  8. How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
  9. What is your favorite “non-writing” activity?
  10. It is 10,000 years in the future. Humanity is a burning husk. Somehow your work has survived and aliens have translated it so they can read it, but they only have enough power to translate one story. Which story would you choose to survive humanity for another civilization to read?
  11. Hollywood wants to turn your book into a movie, BUT in the process they want the right to rewrite it as they see fit for the screen without your input. What do you do?

Now for the fun part, I get to nominate others. I am glad I can nominate as few people as I like because I don’t know that many writer-bloggers (yet)!

First I’ll nominate Katherine L. Evans over at KLE. We had the opportunity to meet at DFWCON (seeing a trend?) and I can absolutely say my life is better for knowing her. Sometimes you find people who just get you, and she has been an invaluable friend in the few months I’ve known her. She’s also a very talented and prolific writer!

Second will be Katherine’s sister, Asher Lee, another DFWCON buddy and very talented author not to mention all around awesome person. Not only is she uncommonly generous, she holds what seems like an unending stream of stories.

Rounding out this holy (or is it hellish?) trinity will be Becki Fornwalt AKA Novelarnia. Guess where we met???? Becki is such an upbeat and confident person, I wish I could get an IV of her infectious energy every day. She and I have tossed ideas back and forth for a couple of months now and I can’t wait to see what her next project looks like.

Fourth up for nomination is my pseudo-mentor: Jay Requard. I met Jay through our local Writer’s Group back when he was the head organizer. Jay has a passion for this work like I’ve never seen and he now works for an Independent Press while still managing to find the time to write (note: I DID NOT meet Jay at DFWCON, but yeah he was there anyway :/)

Fifth….hmmm. This is where I would normally nominate Sol herself. Can’t do that though, but it still counts in my list! Consider yourself re-nominated!

Number Six will be Laura Maisano! Come on down! I’ll give you three guesses where I met her…Laura has her shit together let me tell you. Check out her website for more info, but…yeah. Very inspiring. 🙂

Nomination number Seven goes to Nicole Wilson. I had the opportunity to meet her (where else!) in Texas but I found out she will also be attending the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC this year as well, so I look forward to reconnecting again.

Number Eight is Misty Mikes. I wish I’d had more time to get to know her during the conference, but at least I manage (or try) to keep up on Twitter.

Nine is going to be Kimmie Easley, who is someone I would describe as a good soul. Along with her partner-in-crime Sarah Bale (you need a blog Sarah!) she was one of the first people I met at DFW due to their awesome intro-social. A great person and fantastic author!

My final nomination (I think 10 is a good, round number) will be Theresa Glover. Someone who, like Jay, I met through our local Writer’s Group, she has recently joined the organizing committee and puts out some truly amazing work.

Wow, okay so I got more than I planned on! Great. If only 10% of the people nominated respond, it will be interesting regardless because these are all very awesome people! Also, not all of these sites are exactly blogs, but I only know so many people! (Technically this site isn’t a “blog” either, but I like writing random thoughts every now and again).

Cheers!

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Writing a Proper Character – as explained by David Mitchell

I think there is a lot of value to be found in reading books while one attempts to write. They can help our imaginations stretch out after a long day of typing, or they can provide a much-needed reprieve if we’ve hit a wall. Ever since I started writing again I’ve become a much more active reader and sometimes I fall on gems like this.bone-clocks

I’m currently reading The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, and looking at it from a writer’s perspective I have never seen characters written so well. This man is a master, from the young and brash Holly Sykes to the despicable yet honorable Hugo Lamb, he’s got his thumb on the pulse of what makes us human. What is funny is Mr. Mitchell even tells us how he does it in a later chapter of the book where a writer is explaining an assignment to his students:

“Your characters’ plotted life histories. Whom or what your characters love and despise. Details on education, employment, finances, political affiliations, social class. Fears. Skeletons in cupboards. Addictions. Biggest regret; believer, agnostic or atheist. How afraid of dying are they? . . . Have they ever seen a corpse? A ghost? Sexuality. Glass half empty, glass half full, glass too small? Snazzy or scruffy dressers? It’s a letter, so consider their use of language. Would they say ‘mellifluous’ or ‘a sharp talker’? Foul-mouthed or profanity-averse? Record the phrases they unknowingly overuse. When did they last cry? Can they see another person’s point of view?”

-David Mitchell, The Bone Clocks

I firmly believe he is outlining his own thinking process here, allowing us to glimpse into his mind, how he structures his characters. As someone who struggles with this, these words are so valuable to me because they help me figure out how to flesh out a character myself. And while this only scratches the surface, it provides me with a much needed jumping-off point for creativity. Thank you for that Mr. Mitchell (I’m buying all your books).

Back from Another ‘Con

Yep, as I said before, conference fever has struck. But don’t worry! This one was local, so no hotel rooms, car rentals or airplane tickets. But in the end it turned out to be invaluable for me. How do you ask? Read on and find out.

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Also they have a T.A.R.D.I.S.

This past weekend I had the enumerable fortune of attending ConCarolinas for a second year in a row. Last year I attended for only a few hours on Saturday, but this year I felt much more “in the groove” so to say and spent nearly the entire weekend going to panels, listening to speakers, cowering through workshops and having an amazing time. ConCarolinas isn’t specifically a writer’s convention, it tends to run the gamut of interests, from Star Trek and Star Wars, to Warcraft and Doctor Who. Writing is only one small part, yet they have a robust writer’s track.

One of my primary goals while attending was to participate in the “Live Action Slush” which is just another name for the Gong Show, but on a smaller scale. All of the panelists were editors at Publishing houses instead of agents but the idea is the same. And because it was a smaller venue there was a much more likely chance everyone’s page would be read. And because my page wasn’t read at the Gong Show, I wanted to give it another go. And it turned out great! None of the editors raised their hands signaling they would stop during the reading of my page and seemed intrigued by my story. And this was the unedited first draft! That gave me warm fuzzies for the next few hours. That was…until four o’clock.

Four o’clock. The second of the two workshops I wished to attend. This one was entitled: “Face to Face with the Slushmaster” It worked similar to the Slush, except in this case, students who’d had nothing but form rejections (especially in the sci-fi or fantasy genres) were invited to present their Query Letters, Synopsis and first five pages of their manuscript for scrutiny. The idea was the editor would take a look and provide individualized feedback on what was going wrong.

Naturally, this was right up my alley. I hadn’t had a chance to revise my synopsis since DFWcon, but my pages and QL were ready, and thus I presented. And what I received in return was probably the most informative feedback I’ve had to-date on my very first manuscript: Forecast. It is the only one I’ve been querying so far and I received 28 rejections before I stopped and decided to rework it. That was six months ago. And while I believe the MS is improved considerably, it is clear it still needs more work. I won’t lie, I came out of that workshop a little deflated; I’d thought I’d finally fixed this one but hearing someone read it out loud made it clear I had not. I’ll spare the details, but it was difficult to listen to. It is hard to watch someone read your baby then look you in the eye and say “no”, but at least now I have an idea why, and that is more valuable to me than anything, especially ignorance. The only way I can improve is if I know where my weaknesses are, and today I have a better idea than I did four days ago.

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And someone brought their pug.

So now the question is: in preparation for New York, do I attempt to fix Forecast, or spend the time finishing and polishing my third work, which I’ve tentatively titled Singular? After some great feedback on my second: Empowered, it has become clear that one needs a lot of work that will completely restructure the book, and I’m not sure I can do that in two months, even if I had nothing else to do, so I think that one is out for now. It is the bane of a writer’s existence, too much writing and too little time.

In the end, it was an amazing experience where I felt like I finally got some real, tangible feedback from an industry professional that I can use to improve my works. I can’t wait for next year.

 

The Grind

Nope, not the 90’s Hip Hop Dance show that was AWESOME! No, I’m referring to the grind of taking time out to sit down for a few hours every day and write with conviction.

My first two works were a little odd. On my very first, I had little to no idea what I was doing as I was just starting and so I went along writing a little here, a little there and eventually I ended up with a finished manuscript (don’t ask me how I don’t know.) The second I started the very same day I finished the first one, didn’t even give myself a break of any kind. And that turned out to be a mistake. About six weeks and 20,000 words in I took a break to start editing my first and I completely lost all enthusiasm for the second. It was a bear to finish which didn’t end up happening until almost six months later.

So last Thursday I started on what I am tentatively calling THREE. Only because it is my third, it doesn’t relate to the first two in the slightest. But this time I am also still editing and querying my first, and also my second which is in Beta reading now. Looks like I need to get good at juggling quick.

I haven’t written continuously (with the exception of edits, some of which are extensive) since last October when I finished Two. I wanted to sit down and prepare for this one, get an outline set, flesh out the characters and details and all the little things so that when I began, I could plow through it. And that’s what I did, I took a little break, did all my prep work, focused on improving my craft and set up a schedule. Which began last Thursday.

My goal is approximately 2500 words per day. For an 80,000 word project that puts me right at a month’s time before finishing. My first took five months. My second almost nine. I am determined not to let that happen again. I want to stay in this headspace and get the work done, grind it out so to say. And for the first week, things have been going swimmingly. I’m at a little over 13,000 words already which is fantastic. But there is always a plot twist.

Unfortunately my characters have decided they have minds of their own and have deviated from the outline I so painstakingly crafted. Road bump. And while I like where my characters are going, I can’t keep up that sort of speed without the map, so it is back to the drawing board.

I guess I should budget for two months.

I Don’t Wanna Work, I Wanna Bang on the Gong All Day

During my time in Fort Worth I had the unique opportunity to watch the infamous “Gong Show” the convention puts on every year. My buddy Novelarnia has already posted about this, check out her page to get a slightly different perspective. But for those that don’t know, the Gong Show is a showcase where all of the invited Agents sit up at a long table in front of the crowd and critique Query Letters or First Pages as they are picked out of a pile and read. When an Agent thinks they would stop reading, they bang the gong. If three Agents Gong, the reading stops and the Agents explain why they would have rejected the piece.

Here are 10 things I learned not to do on the First Page of your Manuscript:

  1. Ask a Question
    1. Asking a question anywhere during the first page is typically an automatic rejection. Agents don’t want to be asked, they want to be enthralled. Don’t take them out of the story by posing a rhetorical question.
  2. Cliché after Cliché
    1. Agents hate clichés. You’ll be lucky if you get away with one. More than one and you’re doomed. Don’t give them a reason to reject you, come up with something new.
  3. Info-dumps
    1. An info-dump can pull the reader out of the story with too much information. Sprinkle it in, especially in the first page. Take a look at how the page looks, if it is nothing more than a solid block of text, you may want to rethink it.
  4. Not enough information on the Character – Too Vague
    1. Your reader needs to connect with your character early, otherwise they are going to lose interest. Give the reader something to grab on to, don’t beat around the bush.
  5. Words did not Flow
    1. Watch your sentence structure and your grammar. Keep in mind your manuscript should be “show ready” by the time it is sent off to an Agent. Get a couple of opinions of your fellow writers before you send it to make sure you’re not missing the basics.
  6. Purple Prose
    1. This goes back to Vagueness. If you are focused on flowery language and too many small details, you are going to lose the reader early on –unless you are a Pulitzer Prize Winning Author. They can get away with it, and once you have a couple of bestsellers, you can too.
  7. Back Cover Reading, not a 1st Page
    1. Don’t make your first page sound like your Query Letter or Synopsis. The reader needs an introduction to the story, not a summary.
  8. Repetitive, Not Enough Info
    1. Once you’ve provided information to the reader, don’t keep providing it over and over again in different ways. Or if you’re not giving the reader enough to go on, they won’t be able to follow what you are trying to convey.
  9. Wooden Character, Contrived, One-dimensional
    1. This goes to clichés again. Don’t make your MC a Harry Potter or Jason Bourne, make sure they are different enough to make them unique, and make them complex.
  10. It was Perfect
    1. Despite everything you do, even if you avoid all these pitfalls and manage to craft a perfect first page, there is a chance the Agent just may not like it. There’s nothing you can do but take your punches and move on, but at least you’ve done your best.

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