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.

Worldbuilding versus Geometry Homework

A few days ago, my little brother gave me a good idea for a story.

And yes, I kind of stole it. I'm a pirate after all, right?

But anyway, I immediately recognized that some of the characters I made up years ago fit perfectly into the plot for this story. And then I realized I didn't have a setting. So I sat down at my desk at 1:30 to do a little bit of worldbuilding. I drew a small map on an index card, then made up a whole bunch of fantasy-sounding names. Then I drew the outline for a larger map in my nice sketchbook.

I looked at the clock. It was 3:45. Time for me to go to a choir rehearsal thing. When I got back at 6:00, I sat back down to do some more, but my dad called us to the table for dinner. After dinner, I drew a medium-sized map with mountains and rivers as well as the names for all the mountains and rivers. It's now 8:00. And I realize I have geometry homework to do.

Being in high school can be hard. I have a major test coming up this week and an essay to write. Not to mention that geometry. And that's not all. I have to do fifty note cards on the Salem Witch Trials by Thursday! And here I am, trying to plan for a book as well.

There's a very delicate balance between what we can do and what we can't do. And sometimes we have to either walk that line, or make sacrifices to stay on the 'can do' side. I can't do my geometry and still have time for worldbuilding. I have school tomorrow! I have to get to bed on time. And my world is laying itself out so well for me right now. That might not be the case later. So, I have to choose.

Of course, I know that I should do my geometry homework. That's not the point I'm trying to make. The point is that we have to decide how much we're going to sacrifice for writing. If I do my worldbuilding tonight, my grade will drop. I'll have had more fun, and possibly gotten closer to my eventual goal of getting published, but what's more important? School or writing?

Writing is important. It's important to writers. It's important to readers. But what we need to realize is that there are things more important than writing. And we need to be careful not to miss great experiences because we would rather be writing.

The other day, there was a kite festival. Me and my mom and some of my little brothers decided we'd go, but we also had plans to go see a movie so we were going to leave early. One of my brothers stayed home and I almost stayed with him. But I like flying kites so I went. My brothers went home only about half an hour after we got there, but I stayed, flying my mom's amazing boat kite. My mom came back and we kept flying our kites. When it came time to leave, we called my dad and said that we'd like to stay just a little longer. So, they came to pick us up in the car. Well, the way it worked out, we missed the movie and had to go to a later showing. But it was worth it. Completely, 100% worth it. I didn't mind missing the movie at all.

I got to spend time with my mom and my little brothers. In the end, that's probably the most important thing of all. More important than reading or writing, or school, or pretty much anything else.

And if you'll excuse me, I have some unfinished geometry homework to see to.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Speak Loudly: Banned Book Week

Banned Book Week is here . . . and the NY TIMES put out a list of 10 ways to celebrate the week. And what were last year's ten top challenged books? Here's the list:

1. ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
Reasons: drugs, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
2. And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
Reasons: homosexuality
3. The Perks of Being A Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: anti-family, drugs, homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited to age group
4. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Reasons: offensive language, racism, unsuited to age group
5. Twilight (series) by Stephenie Meyer
Reasons: religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
6. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
7. My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult
Reasons: homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence
8. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler
Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
9. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
10. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
Reasons: nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group  
So in honor of Banned Book Week, here are some great posts out there in the webosphere.

Shannon Hale, author: "The purpose of literature is not to represent perfect characters, an ideal world, where everyone acts kindly and appropriately. There's no benefit to reading that story, there's no learning, no questioning, no growing for the reader."

Sarah LaPolla's view: "Banned books not only spark conversation and debate, but they are also the ones that usually go down in history labeled "classics.""

S. Jae-Jones, Editorial Assistant: Book Challengers are well-meaning, but clueless

Aprilynne Pike, author: is there a better way?

Dan Wells, author: "Restricting access to words and ideas because they are different from your own is the act of a tyrant and a coward."

And of course, read what the author's whose books have been challenged have to say:
Laurie Halse Anderson -- SPEAK

So what are your thoughts on book banning?

Status: finished! (for now at least)

Recently, I finished the longest story I've ever written. It's 69,479 words.

I wrote my first real story two years ago. It seems longer than that, though. I've written three more short stories since and two longer stories. And now I've finally written one that's actually long enough to be a novel.

I started writing this story about seven or eight months ago.

The setting was sparked from a story I had written for school in fifth grade. It needed work, though, so I spent a few days world-building.

Then, I wrote three chapters and got stuck. Figuring this was just another dud story, I saved it, made a hard copy, and forgot about it.

Then one of my friends found it, read it, and demanded that I write the rest.

So I re-read it, figured out what was wrong with it, fixed it, and wrote another chapter. Then I dropped it again.

But I picked it up this summer and wrote until it was about 35,000 words. In the past few weeks, I wrote the other 35,000.

Writing this story was an enormous step towards writing publishable manuscripts. Towards the beginning, I was still sloppy and inexperienced, but by the end, I definitely show some more skill. I'm not there yet, but I'm getting closer.

And some day, you're going to see my books on the shelves.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Character Conflict

I learned something dramatic about character conflict by watching the pilot of Lone Star, a new fall TV series.

I normally don't watch straight dramas, and I'm not sure why I recorded this one. But it ended up being a lesson in creating a character that you can't look away from.

In Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maass talks about creating characters that have internal conflict. He opines that a character who is fundamentally in conflict with himself will keep viewers/readers glued to the screen/page to see what this troubled character will do next. Will the good side win out? Will he spiral down into the depths of his own bad choices? We can't wait to see. It's instant, automatic tension that pulls us right in.

I witnessed the creation of that character on Lone Star.

The show starts with a good-looking young man who obviously leads a double life. He's got a girlfriend he loves up in one town, then flies home, switches IDs and sweeps his lovely wife off to the bedroom.


I'm ready to hit the delete button.

It gets worse. Now it seems not only is he lying his way through his love affairs, but he's swindling grandma out of her investments by selling phony oil shares.

Cad and a thief.

I say out loud to my husband, "Am I supposed to like this guy? Cuz I really don't," with my finger poised over the delete button.

Then they show him meeting his father, the con man progenitor. Seems Dad's in on the deal, and is using his son to grease his way to the "easy life." In fact, it's all part of the Big Con, wherein the son is supposed to take his wife's family business for all it's worth. The only problem is the son wants out. He's tired of having everything be fake in his life, and he thinks he might actually love the girlfriend.

Ok, the finger eases back from the delete button. I want to see where they're going with this.

Next, the son bails out another boy who was put in an impossible position by his dad (Soft Heart), and he turns down the hot lady hitting on him in the hotel lobby (Maybe Not a Cad). Then he tells his Dad off, says he's done with the Con and he's staying with his girlfriend, who he's going to ask to marry him (Ah, True Love Wins!).

But then he changes his mind in the middle of the night, knowing that if he stays, his girlfriend will be buried in the investment scandal when it unravels. He goes back to his wife, determined to make THAT lie into a reality. When he barely escapes being exposed as a fraud there, he decides that he has to make it all right - he's going to borrow the money from his wife's family, and pay back the investors in the girlfriend's town. But to do that, he has to stay with both women, to keep from having everything come undone.

Now I'm completely riveted. He's a cad, but his dad made him that way. He's determined not to lie, cheat, and steal anymore, but he has to lie, cheat, and steal to get out of the mess he's made of his life.

How can this possibly work??

This post is epic (in size), but here's the upshot: Create a character with massive internal conflict. Marry the internal conflict to external conflict with heinous consequences. Your readers won't be able to look away.

I'm not saying it's easy. But I do think it works!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Magic of Reading and Writing

“Ah. I know. You’re wondering . . . what’s a place like me doing in a girl like this?”

I love that line from the movie, The Mummy (1999, with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz).

That’s the year I really got serious about writing. And that line sums up what goes on in a writer’s head like no other.

It’s absolutely awesome when an idea takes root and the fun begins. For a time, you have complete control. You can become anything and anyone. You can go anywhere.

But the journey to becoming a writer starts with reading. When asked, usually we can pinpoint a particular book we read in our youth that stood out – WAY out – with a story that transfixed us.

Don’t laugh, (because I was eleven and trying to impress my brother) but for me it was Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs. After reading Annie Oakley, Nancy Drew and Pippi Longstocking, this was a slight change. I think I was more surprised than anyone that I loved it.

I worked my way through the series, cursing the school hours that kept me from the next adventure. My daydreams were of deepest darkest Africa, of safaris and wild escapades where the hero always saves the day. (And yes, I wished my name was Jane.)

When I finished all 26 books, I learned that the author died in 1950. There were no more. This was a real problem.

I tried others but they never quite measured up.

So I started writing my own. I’d written little tales before, but now I wanted to do something real, something grand. Soon I was spinning epic adventures in exotic places with the perfect (for me anyway) heroes and heroines. The stories all stunk, but who cares? Writing them was heaven.

And whenever I was forced back into the normal world where normal kids go to normal schools—and have to pay attention—I’d slump in my desk and ask myself the proverbial question phrased so well in The Mummy: “What’s a place like me doing in a girl like this?”

And now, many years later, I know. It's simple. I love writing. I love reading. There's so many lovely books. Isn’t it awesome?

So how about you? Was there a particular book? A moment that changed everything? What was it that made you become a writer?

Put the Camera Down!

When my little princess was 5, she took a ballet class. I remember well her spring recital--her sparkly gold leotard, the black and red floral print wrap-around skirt, and a luscious red silk blossom crowning her perfectly gelled bun. They did a cha-cha to Michael Buble's "Save the Last Dance." She was adorable. I had a video camera trained on the stage the whole time. About half-way through the number, though, I had a wake-up moment. Something warned me that if I didn't peel my eyes away from that small digital screen to look at my real-life little girl up there, then all I would ever have was a blurry 800x600 film. I needed to be in the moment, see it with my own eyes and live it to love it, not just to document it.

As a story-teller, I fear that many times in my life I find myself living behind a proverbial camera. I view situations merely for their resale value: how would I tell this story to someone else? Would this make a good magazine article? or a good short story? When I learn about other peoples and cultures and time periods, I too often think, this might make good research material for a story. As great as it is to glean information from the world around us, I have to remind myself to LIVE. This holds especially true when it comes to my family. I don't want my children to ever feel like they are tabloid celebrities and I'm the paparazzi, exploiting their significant life changing moments for the sake of a good story.

I still use a camera, but ever since that first recital, I have a habit now of always looking over it. The scene may not end up framed perfectly in the film, but my memories of the moment have no borders, and I can truly say, I was THERE.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Typing THE END

It's really just the beginning, I know, but typing THE END gives me a high like no other. It's just the rough draft, but it's finally there in black and white with all its glory, plot turns, warts, bad craft and all.

I told the second graders, during my class visit, that they had to go over their work five times - that it takes five drafts to make a book. (I didn't add what I was thinking: if you're lucky)

And this is only Draft One.

But it feels so good.

Draft Two starts on Monday (actually, draft two has been in progress on other parts of the novel already, but whatever!). Until then, I'm going to enjoy this floaty feeling that comes from typing those two small words.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Bookstore Inspiration

Sometimes writers need a little inspiration, a kick to propel them forward. When I feel like my writing time becomes sluggish and I lack motivation, I head to the bookstore. It doesn’t matter which one, even the library works, as long as there are scads of books, that’s where I gravitate.

Once there, I head to the YA section. Why? Because I like YA, I read YA, but more importantly, I write YA. Then, I look for books written by my friends, and I stare at the shelf, imprinting the image of their book sitting there in the wild, waiting to be claimed by some hungry reader. And then I imagine mine perched on the shelf, shiny and full of promise. Let’s call it tangible hope—the kind you can wrap your hands around and smell. And that’s just what I do. I pick up their amazing creations, crack the covers and inhale hope.

I’ve spent hours this way, roaming from one book to the other, and then I leave, stuffed with optimism and hungry, too. Hungry for my day when my books will stand next to these others, ready to fill someone’s cravings, or maybe even bring them hope in the form of bookstore inspiration.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Thank You, Synopsis!

Okay, I admit it. I have not yet written a synopsis for the book I'm trying to sell right now.

On my list of agents to query, only a third of them ask for a synopsis. Yesterday I stared at that list and thought, "Maybe I should just skip those ones."

But at the last writer's workshop I went to I learned that a synopsis isn't just some irritating assignment. A synopsis is the way I'm going to sell my agent or editor on my next planned project. I've got to learn to write a good one, one that makes my next book sound so awesome they can't say no.

As I walked to campus yesterday on my way to teach a class, I began to compose the dreaded synopsis in my head. I like to do my pre-drafting while my feet are moving, you know? Half-way down the block I got to a place in the story that didn't seem to make sense. While trying to figure out how to make it sound better I realized there was no making it sound better. It just plain didn't make sense.

But there was a way to fix it. An easy, obvious change that would make the whole story so much stronger.

How long have I been working on this book? Two years? And I never saw that before?

Not until I'd cleared everything else away and got down to the bare plot did I see it. And now things are going to be so much better.

Thank you, synopsis!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Genre Hunting

Okay, so writing my first novel was awesome. It was a rush. After three months of wonderful key-pounding, I cradled the manuscript pages like a proud new mama.

Little did I know it was just like when I brought my firstborn home from the hospital. Now the real work began. My manuscript wasn’t finished. There were many, many revisions to be made – buffing and polishing to be done.

Then came the summary and query letter. I needed to know what genre my story was.

That’s easy. It’s fiction, right? How many genres could there be? As I looked into it, the horror crept in. (Yes, that’s a genre, but not mine.)

According to Wikipedia, genre may be determined by: literary technique, tone, content, or even length. Cultural movements (think Twilight) create new genres. Did you know there’s even a Robinsonian genre for Robinson Crusoe-style books? Neither did I.


There are impressive and intimidating lists of genres and subgenres. Here are a few good sites:

You should also know and follow the guidelines for your genre, such as word count. Here’s a site that’s a great help:,-Subgenres,-and-Guidelines-For-Getting-Your-Book-Published&id=2545501

Once you think you’ve got your genre and subgenre pinned down, here comes the fun part. Go find and read books in your genre. Read lots of them. That’s how I figured out that my book was NOT what I thought it was. I got to do more research and read some more great books. Then I figured it out.

Now, here we are, four books later. I actually like revising, polishing and genre hunting. I have to be honest and say that writing the query still stinks, but it’s getting easier.

So go forth, visit some great sites, read some fun books, and happy genre hunting!

The Tao of Querying

In the middle of compiling my agent list for my next round of submissions, Susan posted this lovely link to The Tao of Publishing. It made me rethink my querying strategy.

And then my computer crashed.

Unhappy experience in the past has taught me to triple back-up my writing every day, but I'd never lost a list of literary agents before. I only had one copy of my query spreadsheet.

I had to start over.

But this time, thanks to reading the Tao of Publishing, I no longer have this idea that I can pick out the very most perfect agent for me by combing through the deal lists on Publisher's Marketplace and studying agent websites and blogs. This time, I embrace the randomness of the universe.

That doesn't mean I'm querying randomly. I hate wasting people's time, so I carefully research each agent that catches my eye. If the agent says something like, "I don't like science fiction" or if the agent has sold only one MG manuscript in the past ten years, I quietly move on.

But I am casting my net wider this time. I began with Publisher's Marketplace, and looked at the top sellers in MG. From that list, I picked a batch of agents who might consider something post-apocalyptic. Then I went to the list of recent MG deals and found another batch of agents who had sold something dystopian or post-apocalyptic in the past year. And then I have my "little bird told me" agents, people who were personally recommended to me by fellow writers.

And instead of trying to predict who will be my perfect agent, which used to take hours of squinting at blog posts and on-line interviews, I say, "I won't know the answer unless I ask the question."

What's your querying strategy?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Struggling to Write? READ THIS

I've struggled a bit with the writing this week. 

Now, bear in mind that I've written a lot, by which I mean several rough draft chapters and a whole lotta awesome backstory research. 

I don't struggle to have motivation to write: I'm always motivated. If you lack motivation, READ THIS, and then tell me you don't want to sit down immediately and start typing. (p.s. Scalzi is awesome)

So, if I've been writing and I've been motivated, what's the problem?

I'm not always exactly sure where my story wants to go. That's the only thing that can keep me from accomplishing forward movement on an MS. And basically, it's my personal tell that I need to step back and do some more research/thinking. Or simply sit down and see what comes out on the keyboard. Just because I fancy myself a plotter doesn't mean I'm not really a pantser (I am, actually).

What are your writing struggles? And what do you do to overcome them?


What do New Adults Read?

I hear another age bracket is emerging in fiction for the late teen-early twenty set. It's called New Adult, which you can abbreviate as NA. At first I thought that NA was an apt designation because as much as I love to read, this fiction category was Not Applicable to me. When I was a new adult, I didn't have time to read for fun.

Oh, I read, of course. I read tons. I read my textbooks. Over the summer when I was working at Los Alamos National Lab I read instruction manuals and scientific articles. During those years I tried re-reading "Lord of the Rings" and barely got out of the Shire before I threw up my hands and said, "I haven't got time for ten pages of description!"

But someone seems to think that new adults are reading enough that books targeted to them will be profitable.

I teach college algebra, a general education course that sees a good variety of students in different majors. Just to see what the new adults are reading, I made the fourth question on my daily quiz, "What is the title of the last book you have read?"

Want to know what the answers were? Well, apparently there's some rules against publishing results of a study done on human subjects at the school without going through the school's review board, but I think I can say I'm jealous of my student who just read Mockingjay. I haven't gotten my hands on a copy yet.

I can tell you that among the classics, the texts, and the religious books, I found some YA and even a smattering of MG fiction! Come to think of it, when college got too stressful I'd sneak off to the juvenile fiction section of the library, grab something off a shelf, and disappear into another world for a while.

So write away for the new adults! They need fiction too.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Talk Like a Pirate Day

So September is an amazing month, because not only does it have my birthday, it has INTERNATIONAL TALK LIKE A PIRATE DAY on September 19th.  

So pull out your cutlass, shine your boots and pick out your biggest pirate hat.

You can find out more about this happy occasion at their official website, where you can learn pirate lingo and even some pick-up lines! You can also check out pictures here. And for anyone celebrating this year, feel free to send us pictures to post or comment on any funny stories you may have here!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How to Feed the Starving Artist

I am a starving artist.

I mean that literally, because I am visiting my family's house on a personal writing retreat. Only I have food allergies and didn't think to pack food (the whole packing thing was a mess, since I managed to pack a dozen skirts and only two shirts *sigh*). And despite what a great time I'm having here, and the vast amount of writing I've gotten done, my stomach is constantly grumbling.

Which makes me think: What ways are we "starving artists" in our own lives? Seriously, as a writer we have to ingest certain things in order to maintain healthy writing. So here's a quiz. Go through and count up your points to see if you are a starving artist!

[1] How often do I read?
a.) I read 2+ books a week
b.) I read 1 book a week
c.) I read 1 book a month
d.) I only read a book because my brother bribes me with a crisp $5 bill

[2] What types of books do I read?
a.) I read books in or near my genre to keep up to date on what's trending in the market
b.) I read books in my age range, even if they aren't necessarily in my genre
c.) I read, but rarely in my genre or age range

[3] While I read...
a.) If the book is good, I evaluate how the author did it so I can learn
b.) I rarely ever read good books, I think about what I would do to avoid the same mistakes
c.) I forcibly turn off my internal editor and just enjoy the books I read
d.) I poke myself with a fork in the leg

[4] Critiques
a.) I have a critique group or multiple critique partners (who write both in the genre and in other genres)
b.) I have a couple of critique partners and we exchange our writing every now and then
c.) I only have a bunch of beta readers
d.) I don't let anyone read my writing. Ever. In fact, my last novel I buried in a hole in my backyard next to my dead cat.

[5] I keep up-to-date on the writing community by...
a.) reading Publisher's Weekly / SCBWI announcements
b.) reading agent or editor blog or following said people on twitter
c.) local writer's gossip
d.) taunting editors and agents on twitter until I become the latest news in the writing community

[6] If I choose to read blogs, I look at...
a.) agents and editors blogs (along with any of the following)
b.) published authors (along with any of the following)
c.) unpublished authors
d.) friends or family only. And then, only out of guilt because I know they'll bug me if I don't.

[7] When it comes to writing conferences...
a.) I try to attend at least one a year, and more if I can afford it
b.) While I can't make it to conferences, I've done a few local day workshops
c.) I don't make it to conferences or workshops, but I do some networking at local events such as book signings or blog parties
d.) I restrain myself from stalking the editors in the bathroom. Instead, I posted my first page in every stall.

a.) +5 points
b.) +4 points
c.) +2 points
d.) -2 points

So how do you score? 

35 points: You are perfectly nourished -- go you!

32 - 34 points: You are a healthy individual, and though not quite perfect, you have a grasp on what you need to ingest in order to spew out good writing.

20 - 31 points: You my friend are in need of better nutrients. Maybe look at one or two things you can do that will give you better nourishment so you don't become a starving artist!

19 and under: You are not only a starving artist, but you are anorexic to the writing world. Look at answers A or B so you can get some meat on those bones!

Yeah, I know this quiz was pretty easy. But what I wanted was for you to be able to evaluate yourself based on your own goals and where you spend your time. While these are all nourishing to the writer's diet, I feel that the time spent on these activities shouldn't take away from your writing time. And for all those concerned readers, I am on my way out to the store right now to grab some food for my tummy.

So how did you score?? Or where can you improve??

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Pirate's Life for Me

Hello to me! The newest writer of the blog. [Chersti -- pronounced share - stee]

[insert cheering crowd]

*waves* Well, let's start off with a little about me. I just graduated with my BA in English, and am now embarking into the world of writing full time. It's been amazing and hard, but finally I have the 8 hours a day I want to write, and not just the hour here and there. (We can all understand that one, right?) I'm such an eclectic writer, which also reflects my reading tastes. I've finished a picture book, a chapter book, and a few YA novels in varying genres. I am currently querying my latest project: a YA dystopian novel that you can read more about here

I am a Broadway fanatic, and love to travel to pretty much anywhere. And some day I want to own a dog. [Not that I want random dogs dropped off on my doorstep.] And the last thing you should know about me is that I have been enthralled with pirates since I was young, so I was elated to join the amazing writers on this blog!

Meet Jack. He is my writing mascot, and whispers all sorts of devlish ideas into my brain while I type. He was once kidnapped and held for ransom, and my writing suffered much for that short time in my life. But that is over and done with, and he is now happy to hang in my writing office. 

And, like any real pirate, I have a treasure chest.

[I just want to point out that all of these things were given to me as presents. I was easy to shop for.]

So that's a little about me. I am actually curious about the followers of this blog -- what do you guys read and write?? Also, what questions do you have about the writing world that you would like to see posts on?

Remodeling and Writing

I spent the summer remodeling my basement--and my WIP. I got frustrated with both. Hard to believe, I know, but there you have it. I wanted it all to be done. Fast.

Here are some lessons I've learned from remodeling that I'm using in my writing.

1: You need a plan, and it helps to write it down.
This one seems obvious, but sometimes I slack on the outlining. I just write and then wonder why my scene didn't accomplish everything it needed to. Yup, I'm that kind of brilliant.

2: It takes time.
Again this seems so obvious, but who wouldn't want both the remodeling and the writing to be done like so much magic? Poof.

3: You have to do things in layers. What kind of layers? Well, there is the layer no on ever sees, you know the stuff that goes behind the walls, 2x4s, wires, pipes, and insulation and stuff. Writing has this, too. Gobs of it. Back history, research, characterization, hours and hours of work that no one ever sees when they read your book. It's all behind the scenes, but it makes the book work like plumbing and wires.

Then there is the dry wall layer with all it's mudding and tapping. Even that is done in layers. Several of them. You mud, then let it dry. Then you sand. Then you clean up. Then you mud, and let it dry, and sand, and repeat several times until all the flaws are gone. It's messy, and detail oriented, and my least favorite part. But just like in remodeling, you have to do the rewrites and the edits. All of them, until the flaws are gone. If you don't, those flaws will show through later, and that's what people will see.

The next layer is paint. It's my favorite. You take this ugly mess that's starting to look like a room and you add color and personality. It's like you put a permanent polish on the room. Paint protects, it adds life, and it means you're almost done. In writing this is like the final polish draft, and it makes your work shine like hi-gloss enamel. Yup, my favorite.

Then you add carpet, trim, and hardware-all the finishing touches, even pictures and furniture. To me, this is the part in writing I haven't experienced yet. This is the publishing part. The part where you dress it all up and present it to the world in a shiny jacket with cool cover art. Yup, I'm still dreaming of this one, but just like with remodeling, I'm putting in the time, so hopefully it will pay off.

And 4: It helps if you work with professionals. They know what they're doing. You can do it all yourself, but if you don't know anything about electricity, you might get burned.

Same thing with your writing.

Anywho, I think I'll go work on my layers. Time to mud and tape some scenes together.


Monday, September 13, 2010

It's not a comic book, it's a Graphic Novel

We've been going to the library every week ever since we got home from our summer trip. I feel like a really good mommy, my posterity's budding young minds growing, expanding, exploring... But my daughter has been irresistibly drawn to the section of graphic novels. What is this strange and unnatural genre doing on the shelves of my neighborhood library? These are picture books. She was supposed to outgrow picture books at least a year ago. Where is the fine literature she is supposed to be delving into, drinking in the pages of beautiful little lines of 10-12 point serifed print? No, I tell her. NO graphic novels. She begs. Alright, ONE graphic novel, but the other book has to be a chapter book. It takes us another 30 minutes to find a chapter book she is actually willing to read. I feel a little less like a good mommy.

But wait a minute. I'm an illustrator. I've got a handful of novel ideas that I don't know if I'll ever write in full because I just haven't got the experience as a writer, or the robust vocabulary it requires. But if I illustrated them... If I made them into graphic novels... I feel like such a traitor! For a long time now, I've frowned at this rising wave of neatly packaged illiteracy-in-the-making, feeling that it's a poor excuse for reading material. And yet, it would be a perfect medium for me to tell my stories.

Graphic novels seem to be a very popular literary form these days, but is it valid? Sound off, please, ship-mates, because I'm feeling confused!

PS If anyone besides Rebecca laughed at the title, welcome to the MST3 club.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Pitching to an Agent or Editor

Today, a good friend and I visited a different writers' group than ours. They specialize in pitching (summarizing your book in person to an editor or agent). And they are amazing!

Here are some helpful tips that I learned as you go into the interview:

Tame those nerves.

1. Sit down, take a deep breath and settle down. Relax your shoulders. Smile.
2. Don't hold your breath.
3. Talk conversationally.
4. Think about what an agent or editor will want to know.

Okay, you're ready to begin your pitch. Here is an easy formula. (Thanks, Clancy!)

1. Introduce yourself and shake their hand. Tell them your genre, word count, target audience and whether the project is complete. (Such as: I have a completed 40,000 word YA fantasy.)

2. Tell them your hook/tag line. (This should sound natural and not contrived. A hook/tag line is one sentence about your story, containing 25 words or less. It should be exciting. It should incite curiousity or shock and/or emotion. Think Jaws: "Just when you thought it was safe to get back in the water."

3. Quickly tell about the opening scene - if it's a great scene.

4. Give the basics of the hero and/or heroine, what's in it for them, their main conflicts and goals, and their character arc (how they change). Make your characters very relatable. Your goal is to make your interviewer want to know more. (A good way to come up with this - in a condensed version - is to write your book jacket cover blurb, which is usually 7 - 9 sentences. You can get ideas on how to do this by reading other jacket covers in your genre.)

Now the hardest part is not reading your pitch from a paper. And you don't want to conform to a memorized script so tightly that you come across stilted. Be natural - conversational. And watch your interviewer for signs that they want to ask a question, so you can stop, answer, then move on.

Next: practice, practice, practice! The more people you practice your pitch on, the smoother and more natural it will become. Have them ask questions. You'll find out which parts are important and exciting.

Another great tip is to do research on your interviewer beforehand. Check out their company, website, blog/s and twitter accounts. Have some questions for them. It will make you stand out and adds a personal touch.

If you have any more tips, I'd love to hear them! I'm pitching in four weeks.

I wish you the best of luck and happy pitching!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Admiration, Imitation, and Self-Invention

I love to discover a new artist that really inspires me. I happen upon other artists in all sorts of ways: browsing the children’s library, the scholastic catalog, or somewhere online. When I find one I really like, I scour the Internet for their website, and anything else I can dig up. I love to flip through their online portfolios and drink in all I can of their work. It’s usually really great color and lighting that catches my attention first, and of course there’s that ever elusive and sought-after element: style. Yes, style. Some folks have it, others, well…

After absorbing all I can about my latest art-crush, I usually enter a phase where I daydream of painting just like them. I try to think in terms of ideas that would be appropriate for their style. I think about what medium I would use. Am I familiar with it? How do they achieve “the look”? Can I replicate it? Sometimes I actually go through with the experiment. The usual result is disappointing. Why? Well, for one thing, I’m not an expert at someone else’s expertise. The other reason: it’s just mine. That moment of discovery is lost. I never have that turn-the-page reveal experience, that “love-at-first-sight”. I’ve lived with this painting. I’ve seen its bed-head hair and smelled its morning breath. And no, it doesn’t throw its socks in the hamper, either.

So then I go through the sour grapes phase, where I tell myself, I don’t want to be a copycat anyway. That artist can paint like that artist. I’m going to paint like ME! But what is “like me”? Then comes the identity crisis. Who am I as an artist? What is “my” style?

All my teachers told us not to worry about developing a “style”. Style, they said, is something that just happens as you develop, as you continue to do what you love. A big part of that development actually does involve trying to imitate work that we admire. My husband is a Musical Thater Actor. He started off by simply singing along with Colm Wilkinson, Michael Crawford, and Anthony Warlow. Sometimes I hear their influence in his voice, especially when he sings songs they have sung, but there is also something all his own, and the more he sings, the more it is his own. We are the product of what we surround ourselves with. Soak up all you can of things that inspire you. Live with that “sense of wonder” Rachel Carson talks about. Every once in a while, do a study from something you love and try to replicate it. It will all become a part of your collective style and enhance the richness of who you are as an artist.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Intentional Reading

I read as much as I can, but it never seems like I have enough time. My TBR list on Goodreads stands at an impossible 150 books! But I've recently taken a slightly different approach to my precious reading time, and it's paying benefits for my writing.

First of all, my TBR list is crazy big because whenever I hear someone suggest a good book, I throw it on there. Then I classify it with a "shelf" description: I have 37 different shelves, ranging from "writing" to "young adult-paranormal-werewolves." Before you write me off as hopelessly OCD, these shelves have been fantastically helpful for intentional reading. This is what I call looking for a book with a specific purpose in mind - either a new MG book to review for my blog, a new writing book to bump up my craft, or books similar to my current WIP.

For the manuscript I just launched, Byrne Risk, I intentionally read three different books (Hunger Games, Dark Life, Inkheart) and analyzed them before launching into my final draft revisions. I read each of these books with a specific purpose in mind. Hunger Games has a similar "rebellion fiction" theme to my novel; Dark Life is a recently published dystopian SF MG novel, also similar to Byrne Risk; and Inkheart has multiple POVs, including an adult POV, again similar to my novel. I read these books with writerly intent, looking for lessons I could learn and apply to my manuscript.

It worked so well, I'm trying it again, this time for my young adult paranormal WIP. I'm reading White Cat, Evermore, and Paranormalcy - books culled from my expansive TBR list (under "ya-paranormal-powers") and relevant to my WIP. I'm only 40 pages into White Cat, but I'm already gleaning lessons on characterization (Holly Black is an amazing writer!).

How do you use reading to juice your writing?

Monday, September 6, 2010

What Do You Love About Your Genre?

I came across a writing exercise today, suggested by David Farland. He said we should write down five things that we like best about the genre we write in, then write down five things that might hinder us from achieving those in our work. Then share our list with our writing buddies.

I started with Science Fiction. Here's my five things:

1. Asking the question "what if?" and exploring the effect on society and individual daily lives when something about the world changes.
2. Good solid science.
3. Prophecy--seeing what the world might look like in the future.
4. Realism.
5. Exploring deep questions of human identity. What are we? What should we be? What can we be?

And here's what could stop me:

1. Not thinking things through enough to get to the surprising details, not knowing enough about the world to arrive at a solid answer to the question, "what if?"
2. Not doing the math, not doing the research, assuming I know.
3. Not inventing unexpected things. Extrapolating rather than coming up with something no one else has ever envisioned.
4. Cheating for the sake of plot.
5. Shying away from the deep questions, staying on the surface because it is easier.

I took this list to my husband. He said it was good, but my five reasons that I love science fiction were not the reasons he loved science fiction AS A BOY. So I asked him for his childhood list of things he loved best in science fiction. Here it is:

1. Real science.
2. What if?
3. Strange new things
4. Characters to identify with (kids who were smart and curious).
5. Exploration and adventure.

So if I want to appeal to librarians (and literary agents and editors), I should delve deeper into questions about human identity in my manuscript. But if I want the kids to like it, I should add more strange new things, do more exploring, crank up the adventure.

After we were done talking about science fiction, I thought I'd come up with a list of what I liked about fantasy when I was a kid. I know what I like about fantasy now. I like epic storytelling, deep moral questions, high adventure, fascinating systems of magic, and freedom from the ordinary rules of reality. But it was different when I was a kid. I had to rewind several decades in my mind... 
"Oh, I remember! Here's what I liked about fantasy when I was a kid!
1. Dragons
2. Swords
3. Horses
4. Castles
5. Magic."

My husband laughed.
"What are you laughing about?"
"That's just what I didn't like about fantasy when I was a kid."
Oh well.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Plunging Back In

I haven't looked at this manuscript for nine months.

I sit, turned away from my desk, green pencil in hand, taking shallow breaths and staring out the window. The fresh print-out on my lap--what will I find there? How many mistakes? How much work does it still need? Do I really have to do this?


Throat tight, stomach clenched, I force my eyes to read the first line.

That wasn't so bad. On to the next. That sentence could use some work. Mark it, go on. Next paragraph. Ooooh, that was nice! I forgot I put that in there. Hey, that's good too. Hee hee. I love this book! Aha! Another error! Green pencil, take it away! I could change this, make it even better...

And before I know it, I'm on page twenty.

I do enjoy revising, once I get into it.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Ninja Wordle Skillz

If you want to be a Ninja as well as a Pirate, come check out my post on Ninja Wordle Skills for Improving Your Writing over at Ink Spells!

Pirate Love,

Thursday, September 2, 2010

How do Pirates say AWESOME?

I looked up a Pirate-English dictionary online, trying to find out how to say "AWESOME" in Pirate. No luck. They don't have a word for it. Scurvy bilge rats! Can't they ever think POSITIVE?

I'm a scribbler, not a pirate, but I wanted to apply some pirate epithets this morning as I worked on the outline for my new novel. Outlining gives me a HEADACHE! But I want my story to be awesome, so I'm haulin' away at it.

If I had only a few things to think about, like eating, sleeping, and writing, I could get by without an outline. In my early days, when my children were small, I had nearly no time to write and plenty of time to think. I would work out stories in my head, memorize the prose just the way I wanted it, and then sit down at the computer and pour it all out.

Now my brain is too busy for that. I've got two teenagers, three elementary school kids, and twenty-odd college algebra students to take care of. When a thought comes into my brain I have to put it down on paper or it goes flying out the window.

That's why I've got this big tack board in the cove half-covered with note cards. Those are all the thoughts I've pinned down so they don't fly away. I'll fill up the board, then arrange the cards in quasi-logical order and use them to create my best book ever.

At least that's the plan.

And there's one thing I've discovered about outlining that I never suspected. The first time I write an outline it goes on and on, a long grocery-list of character realizations, important events, red herrings, decision points, and thrilling scenes I've dreamed up just for the fun of it. But then when I sit down to write the book, that long string of tiny pieces begins to twist and loop together, sort of like a protein strand curling up as it comes off the ribosome assembly line, and I see where I can put realizations, events, and decision points together ALL IN THE SAME THRILLING SCENE! Hoo hoo! This does wonders for my pacing, and it doesn't happen unless I outline first.

So viva la outline!

Work Them Bones!

Every creation begins with bones of some sort. In this way, writing is a lot like drawing.

You’ve heard the saying “Line upon line”. That’s exactly how you build a work of art – one little line at a time, stacked up against each other. You start with a framework, ‘bones’, and keep adding to it, stopping to correct errors, going on to add detail.

Sometimes you get excited about a particular area of your drawing and skip ahead, adding loads of detail, spending hours. It’s a moment of horror when you realize that, due to some grievous error in another part of the drawing, you have to erase all your hard work, and start over.

The same is true of writing. I don’t know anyone who gets it all right in the first draft.

However, if I’ve learned anything with art, it’s that there are tools and techniques that eliminate 90% of the problems.

This year, I discovered a tool that will do the same thing for writing and I’m very excited about it.

Now be ye warned, I’m going to blatantly advertize a product. I wouldn’t do this unless I was 999% sold on it. I am. (Why not 1000%? Because I don’t believe in exaggerating.)

So what is it? It’s called “The Snowflake Method”. You can check it out at: It’s a program that helps you create the bones of your story.

If you are a seat-of-the-pants writer, or an OCD outliner, this is right in the middle. But, you know all those niggly details you have to go back and search your manuscript for, such as eye-color, date of birth, names? This program has great places to store and easily retrieve them (step 9, scene notes, or step 7, characteristics).

IT ALSO WRITES THE BONES FOR YOUR QUERY LETTER!!!! This is actually what sold me in the first place. I had a finished product and was eager to start my next idea.

Knowing I needed to do that wicked query letter was giving me hives. I’ve done query letters before and I wish I’d done what Rebecca recommended in her post on August 18th (How to Write a Query Letter), and wrote it along with my WIP. Sadly, here I was, slowly dying of query-induced-stress-syndrome, or QISS. Yeah, I know. It was the QISS of death . . . almost.

Then I heard about the many functions of the Snowflake Method, and that was one of them.

It’s great for finished manuscripts, as well as planning out your next project.

I can hear you screaming, “So how’s it work???!” All right, ye lubbers!

Basically, you start with a one sentence statement about your story (step 1). You take that sentence and expand it into a paragraph, with each sentence having a particular assignment (step 2):

• The first sentence tells the backdrop and story setup.
• The second sentence explains the beginning up to the first disaster.
• The third sentence describes the first half of the middle, up to the second disaster.
• The fourth sentence describes the second half of the middle, up to the third disaster.
• The fifth sentence explains the ending.

Step 3 is: Defining your character, with rough descriptions about their ambitions, goals, conflicts and epiphanies.

Step 4 is: Taking your one paragraph summary from step 2 and expanding each sentence into a paragraph. This makes your one page summary.

Step 5 is: Character synopsis (adding onto step 3).

Step 6 is: Taking your one page summary from step 4, and turning it into a full synopsis.

Step 7 is: Character charts (adding onto steps 3 and 5).

Step 8 is: Listing the scenes (this also gives you an approximate word count for your entire manuscript).

Step 9: Notes and ideas for your scenes.

Step 10: There is no step 10. But there is this wonderful, amazing and hive-eradicating last step called (drum-roll please . . . . . .) PROPOSAL! This step takes what you’ve plugged in before and creates a LONG SYNOPSIS, which is easy to pare down into a SHORT SYNOPSIS, which is even easier to pare down into a QUERY.

Now, it only took me 2 days to plug in details from my finished manuscript. It took me another day to tighten the proposal down into a query. Mind you, it wasn’t perfect, but by going through the Snowflake steps, I came up with some killer lines. Okay, most were lame, but all I needed was one – a hook! I got it! I even did a jig most pirates could admire. My query came along magnificently.

Then, I took my next book idea (without waiting for the paint to dry on my previous Snowflaked manuscript) and hurried to try the process on it. Two days later, I had beautiful bones! (Not to be misconstrued with “The Lovely Bones”.)

So, there you have it. You can take it or leave it, but if you choose to check it out, here’s some details. The program costs $100, BUT, if you buy his book, “Writing Fiction for Dummies” (great book by the way), which is about $10-$12 online, you can get the program for $50.00.

And the program creator, Randy Ingermansen, is a really, really nice guy. I like supporting nice people.

So, whether the Snowflake is what you want or not, Work Them Bones! It’s great exercise.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Driver’s Ed and Writing

My daughter is taking driver’s Education. It’s been a long process full of jangled nerves, near accidents, and just a dose of terror. In our state, parents are required to spend forty hours accompanying their child while they drive before they ever take driver’s ed. or get their license. See what I mean? Terror.

But now, she’s moved on to driving with her teacher, and I can relax. Well, at least I can pretend to relax.

The other day as my daughter drove with her instructor, they practiced pulling off to the side of the road. They stopped and sat there. After a moment or two he told her to get back on the road and pick up her speed. The man is a genius. Not because of driver’s ed., but because he gives great writing advice. Get back on the road and pick up your speed.

That sentence just about sums up writing. Writing will not happen if you aren’t in the driver’s seat (parked in front of your computer). It doesn’t happen unless you put in your time. And it doesn’t happen if you never pull away from the curb and pick up speed.

I’m in the driver’s seat. I’ve put in a fair amount of time—several long years. Now, I need to pull away from the curb and pick up speed. At some point you have to stop practicing and just take the darn test. And the test for a writer is submitting. And then submitting. And then submitting. Repeated until you die or go blind from staring at your computer screen.

So, here is my goal: finish my current rewrite and submit, submit, submit.
The only thing is, the driver’s ed. instructor never told my daughter what to do if she had an accident. Hmm. Let’s just hope I don’t crash and burn. *Grin*


Why must the conference always end?

It’s well known that sailors love their ale. A dirty habit, getting drunk and causing all manner of ugly. Well, here at scribbler’s cove, I’ve discovered the rum, and it’s very addictive.

It’s writer’s conferences!

Sad, but true. We’re lonely sorts (by choice of course) and we long for the companionship of that bottle of writerly love. That feeling that we’re not alone, that we’re not crazy – or at least, that others are crazy like us.

We drink that conference ale down and we feel bolder, cleverer; the world is our black pearl! We ride that high all week (or, for the Odyssey folks, a binge of three straight fortnights)!

And then, we come home and suffer through the withdrawal. The worst part for this sailor. I get the proverbial shakes and can’t write a thing for a month. I’m depressed. I wallow in the emptiness of the bottle – why must the conference always end? I cry.

I’ve been on four conference benders now, once per annum. At my first one, other writers asked me, “Is this your first conference?” to which I peered down my nose at them* and said haughtily “I’m just tasting the rum (you drunken sot, you!)”

But as the next summer loomed, I found myself craving another indulgence. Of writerly companionship, of inspiration, of... of... legitimacy. When at a conference, I feel justified in telling my lies. Even pious! The world needs me, I shall save it from a dreaded draught of good literature. I shall send the creative rain down into every thirsty mouth!

So again and again I have caved into the cravings. But no more. After this year’s Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers workshop, I’ve decided it’s high time to get dry. It’s time to write with a clear head. To take all I’ve learned in my exploration of self, and truly write with the door closed.

Until next year, of course.

Write on, sailors!

* which is a real trick when you’re five-foot-two.

The Tao of Publishing

While we be pirates here at The Cove, I've been pondering the correct philosophy behind successful writing, by which I mean sales of books and cold hard cash.

We're pirates, are we not?

Seriously, as I embark upon my first querying adventure, I feel the desire to develop a philosophy to battle the crazies that come with repeated rounds of form rejections, partial requests, and other potential teases.

Should I query fast and furious, with the philosophy that finding the elusive "perfect match" with an agent is really a numbers game? After all the numbers are stark: hundreds of agents, thousand of writers, even more manuscripts, and only a few matches made each year. Right?


Should I query in rounds, using the feedback (or not) to improve my query/partial/full, with the philosophy that an agent search can be your best source of professional feedback for improving your work? After all, these agents only bother to give feedback if you've interested them, and they have gobs of industry insight. Right?


Or perhaps my philosophy needs to be not one of fighting the randomness with strategy, but rather with patience.

"When the spring comes, the grass grows by itself." - Tao Te Ching

Chinese character for Tao, or The Way

I ran across this article on the Tao of Publishing. It's a couple of years old (eons in the publishing world) but still makes a lot of sense. Much of the publishing world is capricious at best and utterly random at worst. What makes one published novel a bestseller, while another languishes on the shelves? Why does one beautifully crafted manuscript get passed over, while another is auctioned off because mermaids are hot, hot, hot this year? Why is middle grade boy fiction the rage today, but not last year . . . or next? Did the middle grade boys disappear? Maybe they discovered that time portal after all!

The article posits that it's human nature to strive to find patterns and reason, even when there is only randomness. And the harder we strive to contain the randomness into a well reasoned box, the further we get from being successful.

This reminds me of the Wall Street Journal's dartboard theory, which is that throwing darts at the WSJ pages for stock picks will beat the professional managers every time (and they almost always do). The idea being that by not over-thinking your stock picks, you capture the long term upward trend toward success that buying (and holding) your investments will bring.

This is going with the flow of the universe, a Tao of Investing.

While I'm far too fond of free will to believe in fate, I do believe that it's possible to mess things up by over-thinking and trying to rationalize random processes. Also: this leads to a madness of sorts, where you are paralyzed by the impossible.  I firmly believe the only people who ever succeed at the "impossible" are those who have an open heart and keep trying.

1) Have an open heart: by which I mean be open to critiques, changes in the industry, and improving your craft. All of these things put you on The Way to writing success.

2) Keep trying: by which I mean do all the things that are necessary but not sufficient for success: write and write well; query wide and long; write more and better; try again.

In the meantime, enjoy the parrots, the company of your fellow pirates, and the process that allows you to bring stories into the world. Because in the end, there's no better job.