Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Year's Writing Goals

Ahoy there!

So what are your writing goals for 2011? Got plans to attend workshops and conferences? Will you be trying something new with your craft? Are there new books to begin or old ones to revise, or both? Lay your plans out on the table so we can all cheer you on as you go for it!

This year I'm planning to attend my local SCBWI conference, to get the book I started last summer drafted, revised, and ready for submission, to read at least one book a week and review the ones I like on my book review blog (posted a new review today!) and to start saving up to take myself and the cabin girl to the 2012 Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Workshop.

So how about you?

Oh, and if you're going to kick off the new year with some submissions, I came across these amusing Submission Guidelines from author David Lubar.

Pass-Along Descriptions: Suprise

Posted by Jonene Ficklin

I am in a writer’s group with some wonderfully talented writers, one of which is Leisha Maw. We meet once a week to critique each other’s work.

Now, when I write, I tend to use some words over and over, not even knowing it. They are my Jonene-isms. I often catch them when I proof-read, but just as often, I don’t. Thank heavens for my awesome critique partners. They know me and my ‘isms’ and can spot them quicker than a freeway cop outside the Indy 500.

And then there are my physical descriptions for an emotional response. I don’t even mean to, but say, when someone is surprised, my first description is always the same one: pounding heart and sweating palms. I have to keep changing it up, and am always looking for another, better way to explain it.

So, during our writer’s group, we came up with the idea to turn this into a pass-along-author-help-dictionary of physical descriptions.

Do you want to play?

Here’s how it goes. Every once in a while, Leisha and I (and anyone else is welcome to do the same) will put out an emotion, or situation. What we’d like from you are fresh physical and mental descriptions – the more descriptions from more people, the better. These descriptions are open to any and all to take, steal, copy and otherwise overuse in their own stories.

So, if you’re okay with that, let’s get started. Today, I’d like to start with your description of SURPRISE.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays!

A Merry Christmas to all crewmates and them that be tied up at our dock! Here's to bloggin' with ye in the new year.

LDS Publisher Christmas Story Contest

Hi all,

Figured I'd post the link here, since many of us are in the LDS community (though you don't have to be to vote in this contest.) Every year, LDS Publisher, an anonymous member of the LDS publishing community, runs a Christmas story contest. Details on how to vote are here:

I have not entered this, but one talented writer friend of mine has. Have any of you entered? Even if you haven't, it's worth going to peruse the stories and cast a vote. Just another way to support other aspiring writers!

I apologize for posting this on the last day of voting. I've been in the hospital for a week, but I got a healthy baby boy out of the deal so I'm happy :-).

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Hello, Shiny New Idea! You are so purty ...

I want to write a new novel.

Go ahead, laugh. Never mind that I just completed Draft3 of my YA paranormal novel, which will require substantial revisions in the new year before it is ready for querying. Ignore that I have another MG novel that probably needs to have the first 10k completely rewritten before I query further with that one.

The shiny New MG novel beckons to me. My kids don't help either. "Mom, when are you writing the Evil Fairy book??"

Questions for you lovely ladies:

1) Has anyone tried Scrivener? How about the beta version of Scrivener for Windows? I'm a PC girl, but if I'm going to start a new novel, it's a good time to consider a software change.

2) Who has a process for outlining that they would suggest? Sure, I have a process. But with this novel, I promised myself I would outline in earnest. I highly value pantsing, but I'm trying to bring a little more backbone to my creative pantsing routine. There are pros and cons to the Snowflake method. The Three Act Structure has always been hopelessly vague to me, eventhough my stories usually end up fitting nicely into that pattern. I'm going to dig into this 49 page free PDF from Jordan McCollum on plotting as well, but I thought I'd ask the lovely Cove members what is your favorite method (if you have one)?

And a Merry Christmas to everyone!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Yes—You. Submit.

Posted by Jonene Ficklin

This week, I called a good friend of mine who is a wonderful writer. She answered the phone, screaming bloody murder.

Several thoughts shot through my mind:

Her house is on fire.
Her house is flooding.
Someone is dying.

Instead, she told me she’d just barely received her first full-manuscript request from a great literary agent.

It was time to celebrate! I asked her to e-mail over the request, because this is writer’s gold. She did. I read and reread it, smiling, imagining my friend doing the same.

Then I read the first ten pages she submitted. I had been through them several times before as her book morphed from beginning to now. She’s been working very hard not only on the story, but on refining her craft. This piece was polished, catchy, funny, hinting at romance and many dark adventures to come. I am a bit biased because I know her, but this was impressive. It was dang good! The best part is I’ve read the rest of the book. She’s ready in every way to submit.

What is most impressive is that she actually did. And someone else recognized her talent.

This summer, at several writer’s conferences and workshops, the panels of agents, editors and publishers all said the same thing. At each convention, they request anywhere from twenty to forty manuscripts. Usually they get two to three.

Why is that? Are we scared that someone will see through us and find out we’re actually frauds pretending to be writers? Are we in the middle of our fourteenth revision and realizing that our story needs at least five or ten more before it’s ready? Are we sure that that particular agent, editor, or publisher will turn us down?

I guess there comes a time when we should just submit. We must.

Yes, the work should be polished. No, we shouldn’t send in our first draft. But if so many of us aren’t submitting, that’s not a good thing. The world needs to meet the literary geniuses hiding behind word processors and mounds of old manuscripts.

So, to my friend, thanks for being brave! You’ve given me a much needed boost. And yes, my ear drums are fine now. And I’m hoping to return the honor.

Monday, December 13, 2010

What to do With an Advance?

In the olden days, when I first began to write, I used to dream of what I'd do when I got my first advance. I know we're not supposed to think about things like that. We're in this for the love of writing, not for money.

But a little money would be nice. A lot of money would be even nicer.

At first I thought I'd buy myself a new harp. I love the little harps I make myself, but I could use a bigger one. A modest Lyon and Healy would look lovely in my living room.

Then I read on the internet that an author should sink the first advance into ADVERTISING THE BOOK! Oh, gosh, could that be true? Oh no! There goes my harp.

A year or so later, I went to my first writing workshop and asked my teacher, "How much money did you spend on advertising your first book?"

"Not a penny," He said. When I told him what I'd read about using the advance to promote the book he chuckled and said that the average advance would be utterly inadequate to fund an advertising campaign. It would be like throwing the money away.

Phew! That was a relief.

But I didn't go back to thinking I'd buy myself a harp. No, I have decided to invest my first advance in my writing career another way.

I'm going to use it as travel and tuition money so I can go to more conferences and workshops!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Story # 1

Posted by: The one and only cabin girl!!! You haven't forgotten about me, have you?

I had no idea what I was in for that morning.

I didn't think I wanted to be a writer. When I was a little kid, I wanted to be a farmer. Then I wanted to be a singer. Then a teacher. I tried to write stories, but I could never get very far. Well, until two years ago.

It was a normal Wednesday morning. We were watching Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. At the part where the woodsman failed miserably in killing Snow White, I wondered out loud what happened to him. Does the queen lock him in her dungeon? Does she kill him? My brothers and I came up with a solution while the queen was making the poisoned apple. It wasn't particularly ingenious, but it tied in well with the story, and somehow, it got me started thinking...

For the rest of the movie, I didn't pay much attention, and when the movie was over, I went upstairs to the computer in the library, sat down, and started typing. I didn't even know how to do quotation marks, and I used commas three times a sentence. But once the words started coming, they didn't stop.

They poured out. My main characters grew up, made mistakes, learned, and lived. The princess's evil aunt ordered the death of her own sister, and finally the death of her neice. My other main character refused to kill the princess, and instead, warned her that her aunt was after her and told her to run away into the forest. In revenge, the evil queen turned him into a crow. Seven dwarves took the princess in and made a pet of her (literally), the evil aunt came to kill her neice and my other main character came to the rescue in a flurry of black feathers just before the princess took a bite of the poisoned apple.

I had always loved to read, but it was nothing like the roller coaster that writing took me on. I wrote all day, stopping only when I absolutely had to, and then wrote into the night. (My mom, for some strange reason, didn't even tell me to go to bed. She just told me to go ahead and write.)

I finished the story just before midnight. I printed it out, clicked the save button several times (just in case), and went to bed. The next morning, I gave my story to my mom. It might just be me, but I thought she seemed impressed by it. After that, I knew I was going to write. It was the most amazing thing I had ever done, and I intended to do it again... and again.

After that, I was in. And here I am, two years later, well, two and a half, and I'm still writing, and still loving it!

And I don't think I'm ever going to stop. Scary, huh?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Like Being Struck by Lightning

posted by Rebecca J. Carlson

A friend of mine told me about her first experience at a writer's conference. With her eyes wide and a laugh in her voice, she said, "I had no idea how hard it is to break in. They made it sound like getting published is like being struck by lightning!"

Yes, very true. It is not something inevitable. Not something you can make happen.

But there are ways to increase your chances:

1. Become a storm chaser.
Go where the lightning strikes. Attend conferences and workshops, especially ones that invite the sort of editors and agents you'd like to work with.

2. Climb to the top of the hill.
Perfect your craft. Work your hardest. Learn to present yourself well.  Invest in your education as a writer. Be the best you can be.

3. Bring your lightning rod.
An electrifying manuscript will definitely improve your chances.

4. Wait.
This may take a bit. Bring a lawn chair. While you wait, you can start working on your next book. And your next book. And your next book...

Good Luck!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Power in a Word

Posted by Jonene Ficklin

Elbow. Windowsill. Pickle relish. Cinderella. (If you're into old Cinderella movies, you may remember that line.) Don't you just love the way those words roll off your tongue?

Words have a lot of power. Not only do they tickle our senses by the way they feel and sound, but they trigger a picture or a memory.

Take pickle relish for instance. The minute I hear it, I'm back by a campfire, toasting a hot dog on a stick, giggling with fellow campers over horrible scary stories. It's a silly word, yes, but most people instantly associate it with something memorable.

And when we write, those are the kind of words we're always searching for. The great thing about living now is we have easy access to master-word-turners, J.K. Rowling and Dr. Seuss for instance. Dumbledore, Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs with Ham, Hermione. (Did you take forever to learn how to pronounce it properly like I did?)

So I'm on the search for more powerful words. What's your secret? Do you have a particular word that tickles your funny bone?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Acts of Creation

posted by Rebecca J. Carlson

A couple days ago I skipped my writing time for a jam session with a bluegrass guitarist, the father of a friend of mine who had come to visit Hawaii for Thanksgiving. After we'd tried for a while to find the place where Celtic Harp meets Mountain Music, he and his wife harmonized this song for me. I listened with tears streaming down my face. I'd like to dedicate this to all my writing friends:

Acts of Creation
Lyrics and melody ©1993 by Catherine Faber:

You can tell it on the mountain, in the valley far below,
But you needn't tell the craftsmen what they already know,
From the author at her keyboard, to the woodwright at his lathe
Every act of creation is an act of faith!

From the rancher mending fences with the wire she has found,
To the farmer on his tractor putting seed-corn in the ground,
In this world of hate and anger, when it's easy to destroy,
Every act of creation is an act of joy!

So we work on art and music, though we know it will be flawed.
Yet in striving to do better, we are reaching out to God.
We are reaching for perfection, and it's not beyond our scope:
Every act of creation is an act of hope.

Though you work with words or music, living things, or stone or glass,
If you don't love what you're making, it will never come to pass.
From the paintings of a child, to the works of God above,
Every act of creation is an act of love.

Success Comes to those who Don't Quit

My wonderful friend and critique partner Sherrie Petersen just landed an agent! Right when she was ready to quit.

It's a great story - here's my post about her, and her post about getting her agent.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Facing Down The Morning

By Leisha Maw

Do you ever have one of those mornings? You know the kind that make you wish Mondays came every day because they are so much easier to deal with that the morning you just had. Well, today was my Kid C's morning.

What made it so bad? Well, to start off with he had to get up. Harsh I know. It was like this:

Me: Good morning!

Kid C groaning and hiding in his covers.

Me coaxing him out: Where's my Bug Man?

Kid C growling at me like a rabid dog.

Me dressing Kid C like an overly large rabid dog/doll and helping/dragging him upstairs.

Kid C flopping on the ground like a dead man getting over rabies.

Me rolling my eyes and setting his breakfast on the table: Dead people get hungry. Are you sure you don't want to eat?

Kid C growling at me. Again.

Yup, it's been one of those. What's he doing right now? He's still playing dead.

What does this have to do with writing? Well for starters, I've been feeling a little bit like Kid C when it comes to writing lately. I growl and mutter at the computer and want to play dead. Why? Because I know I have to make some changes to the end of my WIP, and I don't want to face that. Again.

Funny thing is Kid C just got up and went to school. As he walked out the door with a biscuit in his mouth he smiled. Sigh. I guess the only way to beat this thing is to fortify myself with food and get to work.

What stalls you out your writing projects and how do you beat it? Do you shove a biscuit in your mouth and face it head on, or do you hide under the covers and growl? Or both like me?

Now, where is that last biscuit?

Leisha Maw

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Just 2 Things . . .!

There are two things I've learned from a course that I'm taking to help cut down on information dumping, back story, extra words, phrases, scenes or even chapters (or whatever else you can include in this list).

Ask yourself this as you edit:

1. Does it strengthen the character?

2. Does it pull the story forward?

What's in your toolbox?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Research Trip!

One day, many years ago, my characters got stuck in an elevator. They were on the run, in terrible danger, and had to escape fast. But I couldn't help them. They were stuck because I didn't know what the inside of the elevator looked like. I had no idea what their escape options were.

So I packed my three-year-old and my new baby into the car and went elevator hunting.

I drove to the nearest multi-story building I knew of--a satellite campus of the local community college. As I parked I told my three-year-old that we were going riding in an elevator. He was thrilled.

With baby in the stroller and pre-schooler in tow, I breezed in through the front doors like I belonged there. I found an elevator, let my son push the button, and waited.

Fortunately, no one else wanted the elevator at the moment.

We rode up to the top story and back down again. Plenty of time for me to memorize the inside of the elevator, and even try putting my foot on the handrail to give myself a boost up to the emergency hatch on the ceiling. Back on the ground floor, I wheeled the stroller out to the car, buckled everyone in, then drove home to finish writing the scene.

What's the craziest thing you've done for a research trip?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Getting a True Response

Posted by Jonene Ficklin

You know how you want to be a fly on the wall when someone’s reading (or in our case, listening to) your story?

Well, nothing beats the honesty of young children. Everyone knows that. If they’re bored, they don’t politely yawn and pat their mouth and look at their watches. No, they moan, roll their eyes and collapse over something.

On the flip side, when they’re entertained, they laugh, they giggle, they can’t hold still. They actually cheer and do jigs – well ‘jigging’ is a bit old-fashioned – it’s more like munchkin break-dancing. Anyway, it’s exciting when the reason for so much excitement comes from the product of minds and hands you know.

Yesterday, that happened to a friend and I got to be there. It was awesome! A fellow writer and I went into a fourth grade class. My friend has written several children’s books, one of which I’d illustrated. She read her story with a great aplomb, giving each character voices and accents. (Watch out Jim Dale, you have competition.) I held up the illustrations and watched the children’s reactions.

I wish my friend could have seen how they responded to her story (she saw bits, but had to look at the pages she read), because it was delightful.

They laughed, frowned, and gasped in all the right places. I actually saw a jaw drop and hands clapped over a mouth. One boy’s feet started going ninety miles an hour under his desk.


It was true entertainment – at least to me, because I really admire this friend and love to see her story being truly appreciated by her target audience. And I can’t wait to do it again.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Recommended Reading

Posted by Susan Kaye Quinn

What writing books would you recommend?

Rebecca recommended Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace to me a while ago, and I still recommend it to others that want to boost their craft. I recently purchased Ursula K. LeGuin's Steering the Craft, based on a recommendation from a talented author/speaker at a conference. Sadly, I've purchased many books on writing that weren't worth the money, or the time. I find recommended books from talented authors I respect tend to be the best.

Which is where you come in!

I'll take any recommendations and add them to my TBR, but in particular, I'm looking for books that talk about plotting or storytelling.

Thanks, me hearties!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

What's in a First Draft?

posted by Rebecca J. Carlson

It's NaNoWriMo, that festive time of year when folks send the internal editor on a long vacation and try to get as many words on the page as fast as they can. There's something wonderful and free about charging headlong into a writing project. Who cares if its 50,000 words of slush?

Actually, I do care, because I'm going to want to revise that slush.

I know I'm not supposed to think about it too much while I'm drafting, but there's got to be something of merit happening somewhere to make all those words WORTH revising.

What do you focus on when you write a first draft?

For me, the first thing that comes is the dialog. I hear the characters talking to each other. Then I put the scene around them, where they are, how they look, what's happening. My husband says I should be a screenplay writer because my first drafts are all dialog and stage directions.

But this time I'm trying something new. I'm focusing hard on how my pov character feels and what he thinks. So far, I like the results.

I don't draft at 1000 words an hour. More like 600. That's because I like to stop and draw floor plans, scour the internet for the perfect name for a walk-on character, research how my characters might make gunpowder from scratch, stand up and act out a scene so I get the blocking right, meditate on the most apt metaphor, or simply dream myself further into the setting. In other words, I have more fun if my fingers don't have to be flying every second.

So what do you do when you first draft?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Rejected and Dejected?

Please watch this:

Our biggest failure is giving up. How do you cope with rejection?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

How to Talk to Your Readers

posted by Rebecca J. Carlson

It took me some time to learn how to take feedback from test readers.

The very first time someone (other than my mother or my husband) read a manuscript I'd written I couldn't wait to talk with her about it. I had a chance to drive her to the airport, and was so excited to have her to myself for forty-five minutes. Once we got in the car I launched into what I thought she wanted to know--the entire history of where I'd gotten every brilliant idea and how I'd developed every charming character. She listened patiently, and when at last I wound down she offered, "Do you really have to start the story with someone making photocopies?"

Oh. That. Yes, maybe I should have thought of a more compelling opening scene.

Many drafts and many readers later, I had learned to keep my mouth shut and listen to what the reader had to say about the work. But I noticed something interesting about their comments. Often, a reader would point out something wrong and make a suggestion of how I should fix it. After I got over my bitter disappointment that my manuscript wasn't perfect yet and went back to take a look, the reader would be right about there being something wrong, but often it wasn't what they told me. There would be some other thing, some underlying thing that only I could see, only I knew how to fix.

This has come to guide both my response to critique and my giving of critiques. I no longer try to tell another writer what's wrong or what I think should be done to repair it. I say vague things like, "I didn't buy that." and "This confused me." I only go into more detail if asked. I also like to heap on the praise when good stuff is happening, because that's what I want to see! More good stuff!

And when someone tries to tell me what's wrong with my manuscript I listen carefully, knowing that my reader has probably detected a flaw even if my reader can't quite pin down what the flaw is. We all know that feeling, when reading a book, that something isn't working. I can be blind to that in my own work, just like my own children look beautiful to me even when they have tangles in their hair and watermelon smeared on their faces.

So thanks to everyone, everywhere, who has ever helped me comb the tangles out of a manuscript! I've learned so much from you, and I look forward to working together again.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Wise readers, where do you find them?

By Emily Mah

I'm to the point in my latest novel where I've sent it out to my usual wise readers - different people have different names for these, if they have them at all. The term "wise reader" comes from Orson Scott Card, as far as I'm aware (he may have borrowed it from elsewhere), but in any case it refers to readers who know you well enough to be willing to read your draft work but are also invested enough in your career to give you honest feedback, even when it hurts. They don't so much tell you how to fix your writing, but rather give you a blow by blow of what they felt when they read it, i.e. "This part dragged" "I really don't like this character" "I don't understand what happened here" "This part was nice! Can you do more of that?" You then need to figure out why they had the reaction they did and thus be able to retune your manuscript accordingly.

It's taken me ten years to get a stable of wise readers. They include people from my Clarion West class, other writers I've met through conventions, my husband, and by far the most miraculous, a former housemate. Said housemate became my housemate when I didn't really know her very well, but her living situation and mine were compatible, timing-wise, so we moved into the same house. I soon learned that when she was a teen, she read in one of her favorite author's books a thank you to a best friend who read all of the author's rough drafts, and she really wanted to someday be that best friend to an author. She also has a degree in English. I forewarned her that I was probably not the author for her, since my stuff was still far from publishable, but she's stuck with me all these years and pesters me when I don't have anything for her. You'll always find her at the top of my acknowledgements. She must like me if she's been so devoted, but at the same time, she'll send me blunt, straightforward, honest comments. People like her are rarer than diamonds.

Where do you guys get your wise readers? I assume many of you have each other, but does anyone else have any quirky stories of unexpected helpers found along the way?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Rejection Confessions

By Jonene Ficklin

It would be interesting to see a psychological study done on writers. Yesterday, I got one of those letters. The ones that send the angel and demon on my shoulders into a conniption fit. Here’s a snipet of their conversation:

Me (staring at my rejection letter): Oh booger.

Demon (laughing): Another one? Get a clue! Do me a favor and grab all those worthless manuscripts in your closet, and turn them into a bonfire. Your writing stinks. You stink.

Angel (patting my back): Don’t listen. It’s okay, just part of the writing adventure. Add it to your, well, impressive stack, and keep going. Remember, you love this.

Demon: Are you kidding me? Get a life! Right now, you’re missing an excellent re-run of The Simpsons.

Me (banging head on my manuscript): I don’t want to watch the Simpsons.

Demon: Gah! You’re missing all the fun. You know you want to give up.

Angel (folding arms and glaring at Demon): Quitters Never Win and This IS fun.

Me (sighing and adding the letter to my impressive stack): This is so much fun.

Yup, and since yesterday, I’ve hit all five levels of the mourning process:

Denial (Hey, it’s a mistake.)

Anger (This stinks. The world stinks. My undone laundry stinks.)

Bargaining (If I just rewrite the beginning, middle and end, maybe they’ll reconsider.)

Depression (I’m never going to write again.)

Acceptance (All right, at least I have Nano. I’ll write a fun book just for the joy of it. And I really do love writing.)

Well, okay, I’m still wallowing a little.

You know what’d make me feel better? Fess up. What’s the real story on how you react (first day) to rejection? How long does it take you to bounce back? Any secret solutions (like chocolate or bubble baths)?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Book Signing!

posted by Rebecca J. Carlson

The cap'n is mighty proud today to announce that one of our jolly crew will be holding a book signing for her debut novel! Yes, one week from now, Susan Quinn will sign copies of Life, Liberty, and Pursuit at a couple of her local book stores in Illinois. You can see more details here.

So all come round and give Quinn a hearty thump on the back! Hip-hip-hooray! We're pleased to celebrate this landmark on your voyage with ye. And we look forward to a full report next week.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Danger! Drafting Zone!

Watch out! I'm in drafting mode again. Get your hard hat on.

Drafting takes focus. I rope off several hours a day and put up a big sign: This is a no e-mail, no blogging, no phone call area.  Then I get in my backhoe and start digging.

DANGER! KEEP OUT! NO TRESPASSING! Deep pits, piles of dirt, stacks of re-bar, cinder blocks and lumber, pipes and wires snaking everywhere, it's not a pretty sight. But no one else is going to look at it. Ever. Except for me.

As for my internal editor, I've sent her on an expedition to hunt for polar bears in Antarctica. She can come back when the first draft is done.

See you later! I'm off to do some more drafting.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


Posted by Jonene Ficklin

I’ve never done Nano (National Writing Month) before. I wasn’t going to. A very good friend convinced me otherwise and I’m oh, so grateful.

This is my first time and it’s been interesting. You learn a lot about yourself as a writer.

I learned that my internal editor is a slave-driver, and it’s liberating to shut if off and just write for the joy of it.

I learned it takes approximately two uninterrupted hours to write 2,000 words.

I learned just how many excuses (99%) I can safely throw into the sea and watch float away without any remorse whatsoever.

And I’m excited. Writing 50,000 words in a month is possible, is reasonable, and for me at least, a great lesson I’m eager to relearn. (I wrote my first novel in six weeks. It stunk. But it was sure fun to write.)

So, I have a question for you. If this is your first Nano, what have you learned about writing and/or about yourself this week? And if you’ve done it before, what is the best thing you learned?

Rethinking the Query--What's Between the Lines?

Posted by Rebecca J. Carlson

Three years ago when I began to venture into the world of book publishing, the query process seemed so unfair. How could an agent judge anything about my manuscript by a few paragraphs on a single sheet of paper? And after all that work of drafting a novel, revising, drafting again, rewriting the ending three times, revising some more, NOW I had this--this HOMEWORK assignment! Write a query letter? Bah.

Now I have a different attitude. What can an agent tell about my manuscript from my query letter? More than I thought at first. But equally important is what the agent can tell about me.

When you  meet someone it doesn't take long to get an impression of who they are. A query letter is the same way. It's a first impression, and it can be very revealing.

Here's a few things I'd be looking for if I were an agent:

1. Is this writer competent enough to draft a good business letter? This includes conventions like grammar, spelling, and formatting. Writers who can produce great novels but who can't write a decent business letter may exist, but they've got to be extremely rare.

2. Can the writer explain the story clearly in a paragraph or two, and make it sound exciting? If the writer can't do this then I'm certainly not going to be able to do it. How will I get an editor interested? How will we sell this book to the public?

3. Do I like this writing style? Is it engaging? Could I read a whole book in this writing style?

What are some other things agents can glean from a query letter? I'd like to see some comments.

When it comes to a query letter, what's between the lines can be just as important as what's on the surface. It's a first impression, and I intend to make it count.

Rewriting the Opening. Again.

Posted by Susan Kaye Quinn

How does your novel open?

My YA Paranormal novel opens in the hallway of a High School. Unfortunately, this is apparently a cliche, right up there with getting ready for school in the bedroom/bathroom, having a car crash, dream sequence, waking up, regaining consciousness, or weather of any kind.

An argument commenced in my head about how my cliche was different from other cliches and that my cliche was necessary and truly the only and best way to open the story. After all, it had all the other correct elements:

Except for one ...

  • Start your character in a setting that defines who they are

The argumentative side of me, the part that doesn't like to be wrong, continued to lobby for the hallway: But it does define who she is, she's a high school student after all.

Yeah. Right. If that was her major characteristic, we'd be writing a whole different kind of story (my arguing side and myself).

So I went and looked at the opening scenes of novels I had recently read (and admired) and one I didn't (admire).

Behemoth: Starts with a fencing duel between the two MC's, who continue to duel (figuratively) throughout the story

The White Cat: Starts in mortal danger on the top of a roof, which presages the danger his abilities cause him

Paranormalcy: Starts with her killing a vampire, because she's sort of a Buffy-the-Vampire slayer type. But in pink.

Uglies: Starts with her creeping through the bushes to illegally break into Pretty Town.

AND THE ONE I DIDN'T LIKE: Starts in the High School hallway.

Gah! I hate being wrong.

So, the opening is going to have to change. And I'm slowly, grumblingly, adverbly deciding that it's a good thing. It is forcing me to stretch to define who my character is, what my story is, and how can that all be artfully captured in an opening scene that will intrigue and pull in the reader?

Note that none of the examples above starts with the main conflict, but they all reflect an aspect of the main conflict, which is revealed later on. I think that's important, because I think there is too much advice out there about openings that say Start with the conflict! Throw your character in media res! I think we need to know who our character is before the main conflict, else we won't give a switch how much trouble they're in when it arrives. But starting with some conflict, one that hints at the true conflict, is artful indeed. As Richard Peck says, "The first chapter is the last chapter in disguise."

So, yeah. I can do this. But it may make my brain hurt for a little while.

How do you decide how to start your novel?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Another Pass A-Long Story

Muahahahaha! >)

I really enjoy doing these things for 3 reasons:

1. It indulges the writers in us

2. It creates a sense of friendship in sharing

3. It's so much FUN to see how it ends up (imagine the many genres we can come up with?)

So, without further a-squabblin' here be me start:

He's watching me.

Terror claws my spine and I try my best to keep it from showing.

your turn! ;)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Querying: Is there a right or wrong time?

I'm a master at making plans.

Calendars, goals, objectives, step-by-step plans: I love these tools for controlling the universe.

I am an engineer, after all.

But I also understand the randomness that there is in the industry (especially in the query process), and I'm clinging to my Zen attitude while my step-by-step plans get stepped on and my calendars become hen-scratched with delayed goals.


I had planned to finish most of my querying before the holiday season (Thanksgiving-to-New Years) was upon us, but I can now see that is unlikely to happen. I've heard that querying in the holiday time is not a good idea, simply because agents are frenetically busy just like everyone else, and may be less inclined to request pages.

What say you? Should I suspend my querying during that time?

p.s. I just sent off another round, figuring the holiday season hasn't started yet. But the vast Christmas tree display at the Walgreens argues otherwise.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Hello from London!

Hello Scribblers, my name is... well, er... let's see. Legally, my name is Emily Mah Tippetts. Literarily I am Emily Mah when it comes to science fiction and fantasy (and other ancillary pursuits like jewelry design) and E.M. Tippetts when it comes to romance and women's fiction. Just Emily is what I normally go by and I am STUNNED that I am the only Emily in the list of contributors. It's so rare for me to be unique in that respect, given the world seems flooded with Emilies these days.

I'm very excited to be a part of the Cove, and will try really hard not to post anything redundant (I obviously have a lot of reading of past posts to do). I also post this right before I'm likely to disappear for a couple of months, which I know doesn't seem very enthusiastic of me, but I am expecting a new baby soon, and really don't think you want to hear whatever randomness is rattling around in my head at 3am when I haven't slept for 20 hours. Two months is usually how long it takes me to readjust from whatever Major Life Change I've inflicted upon myself. We'll see how I do this time. 

As far as my background goes, I grew up in New Mexico, then at 17 (exactly half my life ago) I went to Wales to finish high school, then went to England for undergrad. Following that, I went to Los Angeles for law school, then back to New Mexico to practice law. I converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when I was in LA, met my husband in New Mexico, got married there, and had my first child there. This year we moved to London so that my husband could work on his PhD. We'll be here at least two more years, maybe more, depending on where he takes his next job. 

Emily Mah has published a bunch of short stories in various markets and a jewelry article. E.M. Tippetts has published a novel with a small press. Ten years ago I went to the Clarion West Workshop for Science Fiction and Fantasy, and about three years ago I went to Viable Paradise. For ten years I was a member of the Critical Mass Writers Group in northern New Mexico. During that time I was also an attorney who did real estate, estate planning, and contracts and towards the end of my time practicing law, I did a fair amount of literary estate planning.

Nowadays, I'm a stay at home mommy and I run a jewelry store and a digital scrapbooking store on Etsy. And I write. I am really looking forward to meeting all of you!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Breaking Up Patterns

Posted by Jonene Ficklin

You never know what you’re going to get on Halloween. Well, yes, you’ll probably get trick-or-treaters, but there’s always one in the bunch that you remember.

This year it was an adorable four year old dressed as Woody from Toy Story. His two older sisters nudged him forward. Then he lifted the brim of his hat and said, “Merry Christmas.”

I held it in, but his sisters erupted in peals of laughter, and of course, taught him the traditional blurting of : “Trick-or-Treat.” I think we were his first house, or at least the first one where he spoke.

It's two hours later and I can’t stop laughing. Why? Because it’s different. He’s refreshing.

And keeping it different is what makes writing fresh. A wise instructor told us to look over our writing and watch for patterns, whether in repeated words (we all have our pariahs), beginnings of sentences, beats in phrases, sentence size and structure, etc. Break them up.

So I’ve got a pattern problem tonight. I keep passing by the lovely bowl of Halloween chocolate in my front room. I might just need to break things up and eat one. Or two. It’s not a pattern until you eat three, right?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Submission or Bust

posted by Rebecca J. Carlson

I want to be blissfully drafting my next book.

Instead, I am meticulously checking the punctuation on every line of dialog in my previous book.

(sound of forehead striking keyboard repeatedly)

hyg trf tgfg trf vh iol

P.S. GREAT pass-along story, Leisha! I loved that opening. Fabulous job everyone. Thanks for the laughs. I needed them.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Pass-along Story

By Leisha Maw

Today I thought it would be fun to do a pass-along story. You know the kind where each person writes one paragraph and passes it along to the next adventurer to add a bit. In the spirit of Halloween, here it goes. (Just remember, we’re a family friendly site. *Wink*)

Rachel dug through her bag. “Wooden spike, Zombie-be-gone spray, garlic lipstick, Mummy-off, cell phone, fluffy slippers, and sweet pea hand sanitizer.” She zipped the pouch shut and grabbed her keys. “Mom, I’m ready for my date.”

Okay, your turn. Let's see where this story goes.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wanted: Heroes

The cabin girl and I had a little chat the other day. She'd been reading a book, but decided to stop in the middle and not finish.

As a writer, I can't think of a worse insult.

"So what was the problem? Why did you stop?" I asked.

"The main character did something stupid. He gave in to his," she rolled her eyes, "tragic flaw."

"Maybe later in the story he'll get a chance to redeem himself," I said.

"But mom, he's already totally lost my respect. I can't look up to him anymore because he gave in!"

"People in real life give in all the time," I said. I think I'd done it myself a few times already that day.

"But this isn't real life, it's a story. When I read a story I want characters that I can look up to, that are better than people in real life. Sure people give in, but I don't want a story about that. I read for characters that give me a good example to follow."

That made me think back to when I was my daughter's age, searching through the school library for a female protagonist I could look up to, emulate, become. I never found her. At the time, I decided it would be up to me to write her.

I'd forgotten.

My daughter continued, "I don't think characters have to be perfect. They should have weaknesses. And minor characters can give in and betray you, but I don't want the story to be about them. The main character can even have given in to their weakness in the past, but I want a story about not giving in anymore. I want a character that makes the right choice, no matter what."

She went on to say that when she's in pain or facing a hard choice, she often remembers her heroes from books and finds strength in their examples. As a writer, I can't think of a higher honor.

Do young people need story heroes to look up to? What kind of heroes are you giving them?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hi, I'm a Cave-Dwelling Writer

Ahoy mateys!

Ever git that creepin' feelin' that ye can't speak as well as ye write?

I do. All the time.

I can write a beautiful scene. I can write natural dialogue. I can write believable characters.

But when it comes to talking to others in real life, I feel the odd fish out. It's not so surprising. I'm around 4 kids all day long--but for when they are at school (and it's then that I write). A few hours at church, but even at that, I'm with kids, too!!

How is it like for you?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Free ebooks - Are they on to something?

By Kevin

Before I write my post, let me introduce myself!

My name is Kevin Smith. And I'm a writer. I know, sounds somewhat like the introduction to a WA meeting. (writer's anonymous?) This is my first post in the Cove. But worry not, there will be many more! Yay! (I hope I hear the sounds of celebrating... either that or indigestion.)

I'm currently working on a mid-grade sci-fi novel. And... it's almost done! micro-edits! Of course I did just have another idea to add in. Hmm... may take more than a micro-edit...

Ahem. ebooks. Free.

My phone is a Droid X. I love it. It has games, an 8 megapixel camera, 720p HD video recording, and apps. Apps and apps! And one of the best apps? Kindle!

Now I know some of you are thinking to yourself "ugh, give me a nice paper book any day!" I would have agreed but... I can read anywhere, anytime. And do I need to remember to bring my book to do so? Or lug around a large hardback book? (I love hardbacks. However, they tend to be a bit on the large side.) No...

I just need to have my phone with me! I carry my phone everywhere. I'm one of those people who twitch violently when I can't answer my phone to see who it is. I know, kinda silly. Growing up it was like this: The phone rings. All children in the house rush to be the one to answer it, tripping over each other and otherwise causing bruises and beatings. I know there are other homes where all the children stare at each other. "You get it." "No, you, I did last time!"

I twitch then too.

So amazon offers some free books. Many of them are classics, which is fabulous. I now have Frankenstein on my phone! But others are books that are, for whatever reason, discounted to free. Some of them even have 4 1/2 stars! I've come across a few that are the first book in a series. So I do what every free-loving person would do.

I download them all.

I still have a bunch to reach, but have, so far, read approximately 3 of them. And I'm finding myself looking up the rest of the series in the hope that they are free. However, sadly, they are not. But after having read a good first book, how can I not read the rest?

I think more authors should consider this type of advertisement. It is another way to get their series into the hands of those that might otherwise not read it.

Of course, I only see this from my point of view.

What think ye?

Follow me on Twitter! @kevinmichsmith

*Cough* I Lost My Voice

By Rebecca Carlson

A few days ago I came storming out of the cove and flopped myself down on the couch next to my husband. "This paragraph is TERRIBLE!" I said. "Help me figure out what to do with this terrible paragraph."

We picked up our pace and came into the valley just as the sun reached the top of the sky. A black wall of smoke rose from the grasslands, maybe only a mile northeast of the settlement. At the base of the smoke a red streak of flame crawled through the grass. People both on horseback and on foot had spread out along the fire line. It didn’t look like they were fighting the fire, only keeping an eye on it.

"It's a news report. A list of details," my husband said.

"You're right!" I jumped up. Any random objective observer could have said that. It didn't sound like someone who actually cared about what was going on. The point-of-view character isn't a news reporter covering someone else's problems. He's involved! He's invested! He's just come over the mountain and seen that there's a brush fire near his home!

But he's a shy and quiet sort of person. I have to coax him out. "Come on, Nathan, buddy, talk to me. How do you feel about this? What do you think?" I murmured as I went back to my computer.

We picked up our pace and came into the valley just as the sun reached the top of the sky. I relaxed a little when I saw that the black wall of smoke rising from the grasslands wasn’t too close to the settlement. People both on horseback and on foot had spread out along the fire line, shadows in front of the heat shimmer where the red flames crawled through the grass. I couldn’t figure out why they weren’t fighting the fire. It looked like they were only keeping an eye on it.

Yeah, that's a little better. What do you think?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Drafting: The Evolution of a Novel

My writing process continues to evolve, but I'm working on my third novel (one published, one querying, and my WiP) and here's my overall thoughts about the drafting process.

Draft 1: JOY Enamored with my shiny new idea, I'm off to the races: outlining, researching, and quickly sitting down to write. I write until I run into a plot barricade, then stop for a quick pit stop of research and more outlining, and then off on another no-holds-barred sprint of drafting. There's also character and voice development, but the first draft is primarily about PLOT. What happens in this story? And a mad head-long rush to THE END. Each week, I'll polish up one or more chapters to send to my awesome crit group. They keep me hyped and moving forward, as well as pointing out pitfalls along the way.

Draft 2: PAIN Starting over, I rewrite the beginning, usually dramatically. The ending usually needs a serious rewrite as well. The story has evolved as I've written it, so I painstakingly march through the entire MS, finding craft, plot, and character issues. Sometimes entire sections have to be rewritten or cut. Sometimes a character is deleted, or a new one added. I'm shaping and molding the story as a whole. I fold in all the crits from my crit group, as well as various other crits I've collected along the way. Then I send it off for a whole novel critique (or two) from a trusted crit partner.

Interlude: WAIT Research something else. Draft something else. Remove the WiP completely from my brain for a month. Maybe two.

Draft 3: GOING DEEPER Hopefully I'll have feedback which will help point out some basic flaws in story or characters. I'll incorporate those, and then look in-depth at several key aspects of the novel to see if I can take the story to a higher level. For my current WiP, this includes things like:

  • does my MC's internal and external conflicts get resolved in a satisfying way?
  • do my secondary characters all have meaningful stories of their own that deepen their characters?
  • does the story tension keep rising throughout, or are there places where the story sags?
  • are the stakes high enough? Do my characters have high human worth?
  • have I plumbed the depths of the world I've created, to make it rich in detail and movement through history?
  • do my characters interact with the setting in a way that shows their development through the story?
At this point I will read a couple books that are similar to my WiP and try to draw lessons from them that can be applied to my own work. I may get a couple more crits along the way.

Draft 4: POLISH
  • Add/remove slang, cliches, descriptive phrases
  • Check chapter beginnings and endings for drama and clarity
  • Check overall voice
  • Tighten up the beginning some more
  • Check high frequency words
At this point I will read through the MS once or twice very quickly, maybe reading aloud to catch typos and missing words, or read silently for a quick overall check of plot holes and missing information.

Although these are labeled DRAFTS they are more accurately STAGES. A DRAFT is not a simple once-through the manuscript, but more a stage in the evolution of the novel. It took me a long time, and many revisions, before I was finally ready for Draft 4 on the MS I am now querying. I'm still in Draft 2 for the current novel, but I can see the stages ahead, waiting for me. 

What does your process look like?

Being too nice to both characters and cockroaches

Posted by: Cabin Girl Amber Carlson

Now, I'm going to tell you two stories. Please note the similarities between them.

Cockroach Gets a Free Ride

Today, at the end of science, I reached down to pick up my backpack and happened to notice the cockroach that scuttled under it. "Ok," I said, "But don't expect to be able to hide under that for long."

Yes, I actually said that. No, I'm not insane. I just talk to cockroaches.

When I picked up the backpack, the cockroach was gone. I shrugged, put my backpack on and walked to my next class.

The next time I opened my backpack I was surprised to see the cockroach sitting smugly on my folder. Of course, the moment it saw me, it scrambled deeper into the backpack. Once again, I shrugged, turning back to the teacher.

By the time I got home, the cockroach was gone. Oh, well, I thought. I hope it didn't get stepped on. If you think my worry about the cockroach was strange, you aren't alone. I told a friend about the cockroach on the bus home from school. She pretended to call the insane asylum.

Anyway, the moral of this story is don't be nice to bugs or people will put you in insane asylums. Just kidding.

Character Gets a Free Ride

I was writing a story. It was going well. The main character was going on an epic quest or something like that and my plot was looking fine. Then this other character popped randomly into a minor plot I was writing between the chapters. She completely took my story over. I just let her do it. She saved her kingdom, overthrew a corrupt ruler, and then turned back to me. "Ok, your turn."

Let's just say the rest of the story didn't pull itself back up to where it ought to have been.

I don't know what exactly I'm trying to say with this. One thing I know is that I tend to give things a free ride. And that's not always a good thing. I like cockroaches, and I like my character that took over, but there are places they belong, and places they don't. Neither belongs in my backpack. And neither ought to be messing up my story.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Alligators and Imagination

Posted by Jonene Ficklin

“Mom! Mom! Come here quick. There’s an alligator in my egg.”

Okay, what's your first impression when you read that? (You get invisible bonus points if you write it down in the comment box : )

So here’s what really happened:

My eleven-year-old son came home from scouts and announced that he had to cook three meals all by himself. Also, they had to be things that he would eat if he were camping. Now he can make a killer PB&J, but that’s the limit of his cooking expertise. So we start with the basics. Fried eggs. A camping favorite.

I stay in the kitchen, but keep a safe distance, ready to save the day if he starts a fire or something.

He’s happy as a clam over at the stove, cracking eggs onto our big camp griddle. And then he says the alligator thing.

What??? I’m four steps away and he’s blocking the view.

Have you ever noticed how the curious mind – not satisfied with waiting to see – goes right to work? It builds wild and crazy explanations in an effort to make sense where there is none.

So as I’m crossing the room, the ideas begin flowing:

Hypothesis 1: Somehow an alligator egg got mixed into my egg carton and I’m going to find its sizzling embryo curled up on the stove.

Hypothesis 2: My son said the wrong word. What might he have meant? Elevator? Calculator?

Hypothesis 3: The egg is spoiled and green.

Hypothesis 4: I have no idea what he means and these are the longest four steps I’ve taken since he was two and ran out in front of a car. (He didn’t get hit. I was the only one traumatized).

By this time, I reach him and look. As it so happens, it was none of the above. Here is a photo we took. I’m sure you can see the alligator on the left side, trying to eat the egg on the right.

Now it makes perfect sense. But my imagination is on fire and tingling. It’s awesome! I can’t help thinking about my new story. (I haven’t written a word yet. I’m not letting myself until I finish the final polishing of my current WIP, which is mere days away.)

Still, I’m neck deep in the thinking stages, and it’s marvelous! I love the rush of the initial idea, the clip of story ready to blossom into something big. I love getting to meet and then know the heroes and villains, envision the adventures, concoct the heartbreaks, the big reveals, the glorious, perfect (I hope) ending.

And if I don’t like it, I can change it . . . just like that. (Evil laugh here.) There’s an awful lot of power involved in the thinking process. I can barely wait to get to work.

And if I get writer’s block, I know just what to do to get the ideas flowing. I’ll let my son cook again. But this time, I’ll stay SIX steps away.

Snoozing Your Writing

By Leisha Maw

This morning I woke up to a cat fight. Again. I then lay in bed for forty-five minutes avoiding the day. The alarm started going off. I snoozed it. It went off for thirty minutes. I snoozed it every three minutes. Pathetic? Yup.

As I lay there--arms crossed, frown marring my face--I had a thought. Now, to those of you who know me this in and of it self may be quite surprising, but yes I had a thought, and it turned into a conversation with me.

Me 1: I do this with my writing!

Me 2: Do what?

Me1: Snooze it.

Me 2: Say what? You need more sleep. Turn off the alarm. Again.

Me 1: No. Listen to me. I've been snoozing my writing all week. It's Friday, and I haven't made any progress.

Me 2: You deserved a break.

Me 1: For a week?

Me 2: Sure.

Me 1: Pshha! Whatever. Get out of bed right now and get to work! Don't make me make you!

Me 2: All right. Sheesh. Get ornery and everything.

Anywho, after I finished arguing with myself, I did get up, and I'd like to think it was more than slipping out from under the covers and trudging downstairs to get kids ready for school. I think it was a wake-up call for my writing. I didn't consciously realise how I'd been snoozing it. I found other things that seemed important. Now, some were honest things and did need my attention, like my family and breathing, but I don't think I really needed to watch Superhumans last night. Or NCIS, or check my email 8,000 times. I don't think I even needed to run those extra virus scans. I just wanted distractions to make me feel like I was working, when I was snoozing my writing.

So, I vow to kill the snooze button. I will write. And after I write, I just might take a nap. *Grumbles under breath about cat.*

What do you do to snooze your writing?

Leisha Maw

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Revisions, Why Art Thou So Hard?

Posted by Susan Kaye Quinn.

I'm working on Draft 2 of the WiP, and just realized that a whole section of my plot is, shall we say, weak.

I'm staring at the character motivation, sequence of events, and general logic of about 10k of prose and thinking, You know, that really doesn't make any sense at all.


I know this is what revisions are for. I also know I'm capable of plotting a better story between word 25,000 and word 35,000 - especially since that's a critical launching off point for the rest of the book. All it will take is time, effort, and possibly a few bad words. I'm even considering hauling out a giant piece of butcher paper and outlining the darn thing. Which I've never done (my outlines are always digital), so you know it's bad.

But first, I'm going to have a cup of tea and think a bit about it.

What's your approach when facing a rewrite that's a lot more than tracking down errant adverbs or getting rid of cliches?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Life After the Phone Call

by Rebecca J. Carlson

We're all waiting for it, like a lookout in the crow's nest a yearnin' to sight land. Someday that phone will ring and someone will say, "I want to be your agent."

Today I've invited my good friend and upcoming debut author Beth Revis to tell you a little bit about what it's like once that happens.

Beth, you found your literary agent nearly a year ago, and your first book will be coming out next January. Go ahead, rant a while about how thrilled you are.

DUDE. It is so AWESOME. Last November, I was at the point where I was almost ready to give up writing. This November, I'm already thinking about how long my prayer will be at Thanksgiving. My turkey is going to get cold, I've got so much to be thankful for! 

What was it like to get an offer of representation?

Nerve-wracking. Not the answer you'd expect, huh? I thought it would be joyous, jumping-up-and-down excited, but I was so worried about everything--was I making the right choice, was this really going to be it, what if she changed her mind and doesn't want me anymore...?

Once the actual paper contract came, though, it finally hit me: this is real. *That's* when the joyous, jumping-up-and-down excitement came!

Do you spend more time on writing now than you did a year ago?

Yes, absolutely. Well, partly this is because my book deal enabled me to quit my job of being a teacher. I *loved* teaching, but teaching absorbs your life, you know? If you're a teacher, you can't quit being a teacher at 3:30--you carry the job home with you, you think about it constantly. The problem was, you do that with writing, too--if you're focused on your writing, you constantly think about it, new scenes, new characters, new plots. I couldn't focus on both. My mind isn't big enough for that! So, quitting the teaching job enabled me to focus more on my writing. 

What’s something that surprised you, something you didn’t expect, about being an upcoming debut author?

I always felt that being published would mean that I was suddenly validated. I think a lot of us are looking for validation. We need a reason to excuse the hours of time we neglect our families to write, a valid purpose for the money we spend on books or conferences or writing memberships, an excuse for how much we pour into something that potentially has no reward. I'd been writing for ten years--*ten years*--before I signed with my agent. And I was starting to feel as if there was no point. Here I was, giving away my time, my energy, my health (that's my excuse for not exercising), and had nothing to show for it except piles of paper that no one wanted to read. So, I always thought that publication = validation. But honestly? Now that I'm on this side of the fence, I feel no different from before. Which means, of course, that my validation lay in all those piles of paper. The creation of a written work is as much a validation as publication. This isn't something I thought would be true, but it is. 

Is there anything you’d like to go back one year and tell yourself?

Probably just that: to take pride in the creation of written work, not regret the lack of publication.

When did you make the switch in your mind to looking at yourself as a professional author?

That's another thing--I thought as soon as I signed with an agent, I'd feel like a professional. Then I thought as soon as I signed a book contract. Then I thought as soon as I saw my ARC. But you know what? I've quit waiting to feel like a professional. Because I realized, I'd been treating writing as a profession for a long time. I was a professional long before the contract because I'd been treating writing like my profession. Professional authorship is an attitude, not a contract.

Is there anything you miss about the pre-agented stage of the writing game?

No deadlines! Before, I could spend as long as I wanted on a work, tweak it to death, slowly meander through revisions. But now I don't have that luxury--I've *got* to write on a certain schedule, there are people relying on me to finish my next work on time. It's like the difference between reading JANE EYRE because you love it, or reading it for a class assignment.

What’s the most fun and exciting moment SINCE you got word that your book would be published? Was it seeing the cover for the first time?

Oh, seeing the cover was brilliant. And getting the ARCs in the mail. But actually, I think it's been seeing the response people have had to the book online. People are emailing me and tweeting me and facebooking me about how much they want the book, or, if they have an ARC, how much they liked it. It means more than I can say that there are people in the world who want to read (or re-read) my book! And some of the responses have been very creative, like this one!

Got plans for launch parties, book signings, etcetera?

Oh, YES. Yesyesyes. Of course! It's a celebration of ten years of work, all rolled into one event! A lot of things are still up in the air right now about it, but one thing that's going to happen is a book party at the school where I used to work. The students and my fellow teachers have been planning the event since they found out about my book deal!

THANK YOU so much, Beth. We’ll let you get back to working on your next book.

Beth's science fiction debut, Across the Universe, will launch on 1-11-11. Visit Beth's website to learn more.

Spaceship Illustration by Manning Leonard Krull

Monday, October 18, 2010

Contest Winners announced!

Thanks to all for entering our first contest here at the Scribbler's Cove! Rebecca's super smart husband did some complicated spreadsheet, since he's a smart mathemetician like that, so this contest would have total randomness. And now for the winners

[drum roll please]

1st place Elizabeth Mueller
2nd place K. Marie Criddle
3rd place Shannon O'Donnell
4th place Kristina Barnes

Congrats!! We also decided to add an extra prize for the First Place winner and so we signed her on as part of the crew! [Welcome Elizabeth!]

All winners: Please email your address to so we can send you your prize!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Woman Overboard!

My kind captain, Rebecca, has taken so kindly in rescuing me hide from a-drowning.
Now I be part of The Scribblers Cove. It be a grand paradise here doing nothing more than sipping coconut milk and counting them screamin’ gulls.
Well, nearly akin to it. I’m thrilled to be a part of such a dynamic group of wonderful friend writers—my kinda people.
Hi, my name is Elizabeth Mueller, I am an award-winning aspiring author and I love to write.
I write clean reads in the high fantasy, contemporary, paranormal and historical genres. My target audience is young adults with a potential crossover for adults. I’ve also written children’s picture books. All unpublished, but for a few poems.
I’ve started writing poetry in 4th grade, short stories in 6th, and both in high school. It wasn’t until I was 17 that I started and completed my first epic fantasy novel ten years later.
I’ve finished 7 more novels since and am currently working on Rock Star edits like crazy (I’ll post on that another time). I’m on chapter 8. It’s slow-going with my 4 kidlets running amuck, but I manage while they are in school and in bed.
Rock star Moggie suffers a tragic loss and falls in love with Beth who is dying of cancer, but she feels love with him isn’t possible and pushes him away.
That’s my elevator spiel for now. I know it’ll get better once I put more thought into it.
What are you working on—can you sum it up in one sentence?
P.S. It’s nice meeting you!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

This is My Writing Career

Yes, there it is. That's it. My writing career.

I planted the seeds a long time ago, in a nice pot with good soil. I water them nearly every day.

And I wait.

Sometimes I want to give up. Sometimes I want to scream "WELL GROW ALREADY!!!" And sometimes I'm so tempted to dig up the seeds and see if they are doing anything.

But I don't. I keep watering.

Someday, something marvelous is going to grow in this pot. I may need to put in new seeds, I may need to wait a long time, but something beautiful is coming. I know it.

Just wait and see.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Please Vote for Me!

Posted by Susan Kaye Quinn:
Here's a summary of my WIP, a young adult paranormal novel called OPEN MINDS:

Although everyone now reads minds, sixteen-year-old Kira Moore can't and never will. When she almost kills her best friend by accident, she discovers she can control the minds of others and is torn between passing for normal and exposing the hidden pushers of her world.

I've submitted OPEN MINDS to a query contest on YAlitchat (a great gathering place for YA writers). Voting is open to the public and will determine who makes it to the Top 10 round to be judged by agents and editors. The winners will receive critiques, manuscript submissions, and agent consults.

Those prizes are like gold! But I need votes to get into the Top 10!

Please Vote Here for my entry by clicking the VOTE tab for OPEN MINDS!

You don't have to be a member of YAlitchat to vote - you can just click on the VOTE tab by OPEN MINDS and you're done! Voting ends October 31st, but unlike Chicago politics, you are only allowed to vote once!

Thanks so much!!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

How To Write a Book or More a Year

At a recent writing conference, a prolific writer offered her advice on how to get a book written in a scandalously short amount of time.

And here’s the magic answer.

Know your weaknesses.

Do you accidentally surf the net? Go shopping? Polish the hardware? Check out the software?

What is it that stops and sidetracks you? Well stop THAT and take notes on your weaknesses. Make a plan to counteract each one. Make a plan that works to keep YOU writing. (Everyone will have a different plan.)

I like that. I know my problem now. I’m actually sidetracking because Scribbler’s Cove is one of my weaknesses.

My plan? Post this and get back to work. See you when I’ve met my writing goals!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Perfect Climax

As I hash out the outline for my next project, I'm struggling to come up with the perfect climax.

My favorite climax in a book, ever, has to be from "Ella Enchanted." It was so good that as soon as I got to the last page I turned back a couple chapters to read it again.

See, Ella has three problems. She has this curse that forces her to do whatever someone tells her to do. And she has a prince she's madly in love with who wants to marry her, but if she says yes then she knows someone will figure out how to use her curse to hurt him. This brings us to the third problem - the whole kingdom will be in danger if their new queen has this curse on her.

And then, the prince says, "Ella, say you'll marry me."

I won't tell you what happens next, but all these problems, the internal conflict, the interpersonal conflict, and the great big epic conflict come together and BAM! We have an amazing climax.

Something similar happens in Lord of the Rings. Frodo has three main problems. He's got this internal struggle against the Ring that is trying to turn him to evil. Then he's got Gollum after him. And then he's got the problem that if he fails the whole world is going to go down in flames.

At the climax, it looks like the first two problems get the better of Frodo, and we fear the third is soon to follow. But then chance steps in, Gollum goes over the cliff, and the world is saved.

I liked Ella's climax better. In that one, she does all her own fighting.

There's any number of ways these layers of conflict can play off each other at a climax. Sometimes one gets resolved earlier in the story, sometimes there's mixed wins and losses. But I think my favorite kind of climax requires a character to overcome an internal conflict, which in turn allows the character to overcome the interpersonal conflict and the broader conflict.

I know this is only one of many ways to look at a climax. What are your favorite ways to look at it? How do you create the perfect bang at the peak of your plot?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

How NOT To Pitch To An Editor

Hey everyone, our contest it still going. Click here to see the details about winning awesome prizes including free books, amazing art, and a Barnes and Nobel gift certificate. Now on to the post.

I just woke up from one of the scariest dreams I've ever had--and that's saying a lot. I've lived through gruesome explosions, backed over my own child, and killed my best friend with my bare hands. (I may be a little disturbed, just saying.) But this dream was one of the worst. It went something like this.

I drove to the office of a famous editor to pitch my book. Why? because that is so how it's done, right? You just decide to drop by and tell them about your amazing story. Yeah, sure. Anywho, I sauntered into the office and stared at the mountains of slush piled everywhere. It was like I had stumbled onto the set of Hoarders, but worse somehow, because these manuscripts weren't empty pizza boxes, they were the life-time works of wanna-be writers. They were people's souls trapped in slush piles. (And yes, I can be dramatic, it's a dream.)

So, as I stood there, lost amidst the slush, the editor walked out and saw me. At fist she thought I worked for the post office. At least she did until I introduced myself and the purpose behind my visit, then she acted surprised. Weird, huh? But being a professional, she called her assistant and asked him to find my submission.

Now, this surprised me, because I hadn't submitted anything. I was going to pitch in person and make an awesome first impression. Right? Wrong. Oh so very wrong.

The assistant came out in about five seconds carrying a folder with my name on it. My name. I got excited. Somehow they knew about me! This was good right? You guessed it, wrong. Again. Are you sensing a pattern here? I am.

The editor opened the folder, and there, nestled inside, lay my submission. I stared. I think I even started to cry. Why? Was it my finished novel all professional and beautiful...and finished? No. It was my torn and battered first brainstorming notes ripped from a spiral notebook with the little hanging chad things flapping in the breeze from the air conditioning vents.

If it's possible to die in a dream and have it kill you in real life this would have done it. I stammered, then I stammered again. Then she started to read--out loud--from my "novel". I figuratively died again. It was bad. Oh so very, very bad. And the whole time, I just stood there and thought, How did you get this? How did my notes fall into your evil hands?

Then she turned the page and showed me the drawings. Little sketches of big scenes in the book. It was like some demented kindergarten teacher reading the world's freakiest horror book, because it was the death of my future. I knew deep inside that this one submission had blackballed me in the writing world. They all knew who I was. I looked down and saw, written beside my name on the folder tab, LEISHA MAW--THE CRAZY ONE.

I tried to leave, but my family showed up--all the kids, the hubby, the cats. They all came to tell the editor how much they loved my book, and that's why they'd sent in a copy without telling me. Only they sent the wrong one. Ha ha. Funny joke.

The editor sicked her dog on us. We tried to flee, but the stacks of slush toppled on us and buried us alive.

So, when you pitch to an editor, don't do that, and don't die. That's about all the wisdom I can share with you. Use it wisely.

Leisha Maw--The Crazy One.

Monday, October 4, 2010

A Snoring Imagination

During this morning’s frenzy to get the kids up and off to school, I happened to see my son sprawled on the couch, arm folded over his eyes, snoring. As in ‘sawing a log’. He had some volume going there. Pretty impressive.

Now this might not seem abnormal, except for the fact that not ten seconds earlier, he was bouncing around like a super-ball on Red Bull. This kid was NOT asleep.

So, intelligent mother that I am, I asked, “What are you doing?”

He sat up grinning and said, “I just wanted to know what it felt like to snore.”

That cracked me up.

And then I stopped and thought about it. You know what? I don’t know what it feels like either. I don’t think any of us really know.

Yes, we may snore. Yes, we may live in the same house with some one who snores (or if you’re lucky enough – multiple some ones), but we really don’t know what it feels like. After all, the second you wake up, the snoring is over.

Is it a belly tingling rumble that shakes walls? An ear piercing mosquito whine? A painful, racking buzz? A sputtering death rattle? What does that feel like?

All right, all right. I know I’m going waaaaaaaaay out in left field here, but that’s what writers do. We try to imagine everything—snoring included—and then translate the sights, sounds, sensations and smells into the written word.

So, I have a question for you. Do you REALLY know what it feels like to snore?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Contest Ahoy!

It's contest time here at The Scribbler's Cove. So how do you enter? Simple: leave a comment below!

Want extra entries?
+1 for each time you tweet about the contest [Limit 5 times for a total of +5 points]*
+2 Put The Scribbler's Cove on your sidebar
+2 if blog about the contest [Limit of 2 for a total of +4 points]*
+2 Share it on Facebook [Limit of 3 times for a total of +6 points]*
+2 [for each friend] Get a friend to follow and leave a comment with who sent them [here there be no limit]
+2 If you are a New Follower
+1 add up your total

*These extra entries will only count one extra entry in that category per day.

Here be the rules (not merely the guidelines): 
Please tab up your own score and update the total for us at the top of your comment. We'll even give you +1 entry if you do that for us! Also, make sure you give us links to verify, or put @chersti in your tweets.

Contest starts NOW and ends Friday, October 15 pacific standard time.

We will draw four lucky winners -- here's the booty to be won: 

[1st prize] A signature stamped copy of Mockingjay, the final book of the wildly popular Hunger Games series. Suzanne Collins will be coming to Susan's hometown on Monday, so she will get a signed copy and send it to the lucky winner.

[2nd prize] An 8 x 10 giclee print of Macaw parrots by Jonene Ficklin, entitled "Soaring through Paradise"

[3rd prize] $15 gift certificate to Barnes and Noble

[runner up] The Gardener by S.A. Bodine  and a pirate eyepatch

 **Sorry, mateys, but this here contest is only open to U.S. and Canada residents**

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ban This Book (It Will Really Boost Sales)!

Another post celebrating Banned Book Week

In high school one of my friends had his own garage band, and my favorite song they did was called, "Ban This Record (It Will Really Boost Sales)." As teens we were well aware of the irony that banning something marked it as controversial, and therefore interesting, especially to anyone who wanted to seem free-thinking or rebellious.

Controversial is one thing, toxic is another.

Over the summer I attended a writer's workshop where our teacher told us that the film industry has made a science of manipulating people. They know where to put the humor, the drama, the violence, the sensuality, the horror, etc., in order to extract the most money from the wallets of the audience. As I listened to this, my eyes got bigger and bigger and finally I raised my hand to say, "You make it sound like this is all about making money. I believe that entertainment has the power to help people or to hurt people. Is there anyone out there who cares about that?"

"There's a lot of pirates and gangsters out there," he said, "But there are a few who care about making good art."

That's not what I asked. I want to know, do they care what it does to people?

In the past year, two of my dear friends had their marriages destroyed by pornography. I've seen up close what a sexual addiction can do to a man's personality. The people who sell that stuff don't care that they're hurting others, no more than the people who sell crack or meth care. Some things are too dangerous to play around with. Some things shouldn't be left out where anyone can find them and get into trouble.

Some books should be banned. I would like to trust the human race enough to say that no one would write a book that would hurt other people, but whether out of hate or lust or greed or ignorance, toxic words are published.

Question is, where to draw the line?

When my daughter was five, her best friend came over to our house one day, looked up at our prized collection of Harry Potter hard-covers, and said, "I thought you were Christians."

"We are," I said, wondering where this was coming from.

"Then why do you like Harry Potter? It's about witches and evil."

Oh. "Your parents told you that?" She nodded. "Have they read it?" She shook her head. "I want you to respect what your parents tell you, but I've read Harry Potter, and the magic in it is silly magic, like in Cinderella. You've watched Cinderella, right?" she nodded. "The magic in Harry Potter is bibbity-bobbity boo magic. Make-believe. When they talk about witches in the Bible they mean something entirely different."

There's a whole spectrum of toxicity out there, and in my opinion, Harry Potter falls at the "mostly harmless" end of it. I've only read the first of the "Twilight" books, and as a mother I didn't like the way Bella broke some fundamental safety rules of dating and got away with it, but I told my daughter she could read it if she wanted to, and then we'd discuss it afterward.

There are other books that I have banned at my house. "Captain Underpants," for example.

Which brings me to another point. What does it mean if a book is banned? It means that we, as a society, or a school district, or a library, or a parent, DO NOT APPROVE OF THIS MATERIAL. It sends a message, helps define the boundaries. I think boundaries are good, but they should not be posted ignorantly.

There's a difference between being offended and being harmed.

Some of the books I was assigned to read in high school English class made me uncomfortable, and so I would ask for alternate reading assignments. I'm very sensitive to foul language--it makes me feel like someone is blowing craters in my brain--so I traded "Of Mice and Men" for "Lord of the Flies," and loved it. One of my friends couldn't believe I did that, because in her mind "Lord of the Flies" was a horrible disgusting violent book and "Of Mice and Men" was great literature.

One book had offended me, the other had offended my friend. That was a huge eye-opener for me. Someone I liked and respected had a completely different reaction to the same two books. I don't think either book should have been banned simply because certain people found them offensive. It was good for my friend and I to be able to make choices about what we wanted to and didn't want to read.

But when does offensive become harmful? Harmful enough to take a book off the shelf?

This discussion will never be over. Should all offensive things be banned? No. Should all offensive things be allowed? No! This discussion will never be over.

So let's discuss it.