Saturday, April 30, 2011

Getting Better

I've heard it said many ways.

Your first five books are junk. You have to write a million words of garbage before you write anything good. It takes five years to learn to plot a novel. Learning to become an author requires as much time and effort as learning to become a brain surgeon.

So I put in the time and effort. But am I getting better?

I've been writing stories since third grade, but I wasn't serious about it until eleven years ago. To see if I really wanted to become a writer I took a year off writing any kind of fiction. It nearly killed me! I was counting the days until the ban was up. And then I sat down and wrote something.

It was terrible. I was so out of practice.

I learned two things. Yes, I want to do this, and constant practice counts!

For the next several years I tried to figure out how to do it on my own. I got better, but not much. Not until I started going to the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Workshop. Yes, practice counts, but so does training. Being a self-taught writer got me far enough that I could sell a short story or two, but I had a lot to learn if I wanted to be a novelist. Going to an excellent workshop gave me the momentum and the skills to start scaling the cliffs of publishing.

So, practice and training are good, but now that I'm revising my fourth full manuscript I'm wondering if I've really improved as a writer. My first drafts still stink in the same ways they always have. They're confusing. I use a lot of passive voice. I never say a thing about how the characters are feeling. Act two always opens with a long meandering stretch of utter boredom. Maybe that's the way it will always be.

What's different now? I've learned how to look at the raw material that bubbles up from my brain and make it better. I hope I'm more able to divide the slush from the sparkle, clear away the bad and add more good.

And all I have to do to convince myself that I'm improving is to go back and read something I wrote a few years ago. Oh gar, did I really write that? Yes, thankfully, I am getting better.

What's helped you get better as a writer?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Preparing for a Writers Conference

I’m excited for the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference in June. (See for more details) In preparation, I’ve been madly working on a new YA story.

I’ll be taking a class by the fabulous Martine Leavitt. (She wrote Keturah and Lord Death, Heck Superhero, Dollmage, and many other award winning books.)

Each of the 13 members in her class will be submitting their first 20 pages in a few weeks. These pages will be critiqued in class, both by the teacher and class members. Martine was kind enough to give us a heads-up of what they’ll be looking for:

- Do we identify with the viewpoint character? Do we care about him or her?

- Is the reader allowed deep enough into the viewpoint character to know him or her?

- Do the secondary characters rise above stereotypes?

- Is the point of view consistent? Does the form fit the content?

- Is the setting well established?

- Is there a satisfactory balance between dialogue and narrative?

- Do we find figurative language? A distinct voice?

- Does the opening hook the reader?

- Do we know what the main character wants? Is there a plot trajectory?

- Is the conflict clear? Is it a conflict that matters?

- Does each scene advance the plot of reveal character?

As I've gone back and reworked (and reworked, and reworked) my first 20 pages, this has been a huge help. I basically have to take one question at a time. Also, my critiquing group has been amazing.

I can't wait for the conference to come, and I know there's so much to learn.

How have you prepared for a conference? Which teachers have been your favorites and why?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Crit Groups, Beta Readers, Critique Partners - What's Your Flavor?

I've had a range of critiquing experiences, everything from winning a full MS critique by a published author to forming my own online critique group. I've found that different strokes work for different folks, and I was wondering what works for the members of the Cove?

Here's (some) of what I've done:

Online Critique Group: An evolving group of 4-7 writers of different genres and experience levels. Every week, or whenever we have something to post, we submit a chapter or two (4-6k words), and each member posts their critique within a week (mostly).
Pros: Weekly feedback to spur you on; long-term relationships mean you're familiar with the author and their work; three or four perspectives on every chapter.
Cons: Only small chunks of an MS can be critiqued at a time. Not everyone can critique or submit every week. Writers out-of-genre might have a hard time critiquing each other.

Critique Partners: A one-on-one swap of anything from first chapters to partials to full MS. Often I'll critique someone's full MS, and they will critique mine months later (or vice versa), whenever each of us is ready (and in need of a critique).
Pros: Thorough feedback of a complete MS; the commitment to critique often builds long-term relationships.
Cons: Only one perspective; sometimes you don't know if the author is a good match before critiquing.

Face-to-Face Critique Group: On the third Wednesday each month, my local SCBWI group meets face to face. Anywhere from 9-13 people show up, each with a dozen copies of 5 pages of their WiP (beginning, middle, or end). We read our pages aloud, or split the pages among five others, who read aloud for us. Everyone makes notes on their copies, and there's about 5 minutes for verbal feedback after the reading.
Pros: Instant feedback from a dozen different people; verbal feedback during a read (Oohs! Aahs! Ha!) can help you judge the timing of your work; works well for openings (the first 5 pages), less so for subsequent pages, where more background is necessary.
Cons: Only critique very short pieces of work; sometimes a group will reverberate off itself, with independent (conflicting) perspectives not as easily drawn out; only meet once a month.
 In truth, I highly value all these different forms of crits, each in their own way helping me grow as an author, and enabling me to help other authors grow as well.

What crit forms have you used? And what do you see as the pros and cons?

I've been Picked up!

Hey there mateys and buccaneers o this fine vessel, I have news for ye!

TreasureLine Publishers had found me and took me in and are calling me their own!

Here be the signing! Pardon the television in the background--that be my old man.

I'm so excited, I can just dance! :D

Darkspell, YA paranormal romance, coming soon!

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Versatile Blogger Award!

Ahoy, mateys. We've received this award from Fi. Catch her wonderful blog at:

Thank you, Fi, and thanks to all the amazing writers here at Scribbler's Cove!

According to the code - uh, I mean rules - of the award, we need to do several things, the first being to mention, thank and link to the award giver.

Next, we share 7 things about ourselves.

With Rebecca as captain, our crew here at Scribblers Cove includes these fine writers: Rebecca, Susan, Rachel, Leisha, Amber, Chersti, Elizabeth, and Emily, who I hope will post their seven things as well. (Feel free to add it into this post, or put it in the comments and I'll add them.) I look forward to learning more about my fine shipmates!

So, here are our seven things:

1)I'm a stay-at-home mom, but I call myself a writer;

2)In my pre-kids life, I worked for NASA and studied global warming;

3) I love chocolate in any form;

4) Ditto tea;

5) At the end of this month, I am retiring from 4 years as an elected official (School Board), deciding to concentrate on writing rather than seeking re-election;

6)My three boys (7,10,12) are as different as they can be, but they're somehow all related to me;

7)Someday I want to retire to the Rocky Mountains.

1. I love to illustrate, especially things that have a great story: funny, touching, thought-provoking. One of my favorite games as a child was drawing curious scenes for which I had no specific story in mind, handing it to my sister, Rebecca, and letting her put the word bubbles on the characters. (Good times!)

2. I love to cook! Didn’t used to, but since marrying a man with great taste in food, I discovered little pleases me more than making something he loves. It’s my new creative outlet since I have so little time for art.

3. I am the mother of 4 very smart, very creative, very busy, very precocious, very amazing kids, ages 1-9. They keep me on my toes, and constantly remind me of what’s wrong with myself (in a very gentle way) and what’s right with the world (in a loud, joyful way!). The four of them could rule the universe someday, so look out!

4. My husband was a musical theater actor who has toured with two Broadway National companies, and has even played THE Phantom of the Opera (yes, the title role) about a dozen times. Practically every time he went on stage he got fan mail a from die-hard fan of the show who said he was the best Phantom they had ever seen. But he’s giving it all up to become a full time religious educator. And I love and admire him more for that than I ever loved him for being so amazing on the stage (and that’s saying something!)

5. My sister and I had an imaginary fantasy world called Cecilon when we were kids, which was the central spot for all our story writing. Rebecca has moved on, but I secretly keep copies of the old maps and notes on peoples and cultures. I’m either a hopeless pack-rat, or I have secret plans to do something with it someday. I’ll let you decide which is the real reason.

6. While I love art, I also secretly wish I could publish a novel of my own someday. The level of commitment this would require is beyond what I will ever be willing or able to make, so it’s a rather lame dream. On the other hand, I have several ideas for children’s books, which I am certain I will have time to do eventually.

7. I’m a lousy housekeeper, but that is gradually changing.

1. ARGH! Sorry for me  long absence, mateys! I've been haulin' all me goods from one port to another these past two weeks. Yes, item number one is, I just moved for the second time in nine months. Gar!But I still live in Hawaii, so that's good.
2. I build Irish harps, and I play with a Celtic folk ensemble, South Wind.
3. I have five children.
4. Rachel is my sister, and if she thinks I've moved on from the fantasy world of our tween-age days, she should read my latest manuscript.
5. How to Train Your Dragon is my absolute favorite movie ever.
6. My husband and I used to teach ballroom dance.
7. I got a Hawaii Business Tax ID number for Author Rebecca J. Carlson on April 1st (no fooling), and I got to use it today, April 18th, when I sent in the invoice for a magazine story sale. I know that by now this should feel more routine to me, but I still screamed out my upstairs window to my entire new neighborhood, "I'M GETTING PUBLISHED!"

1. I'm writing a pirate book right now, so I'm happily hunkered down in a fine little corner of Scribbler's Cove.

2. My writing life began because of an enormous lie I told as a child. Details here:

3. Being surrounded by great writers is always inspiring, so I love the writers here at Scribblers Cove, and the wonderful, amazing gals in my writers group: Leisha, Angela, and Kathy.

4. Not much beats a great book. My all-time favorite is THE CAY, by Theodore Taylor.

5. I'm a very happy wife and mom.

6. I love art - both seeing it and doing it.

7. I know how to do poi balls. Not very well, mind you, just enough to make some pretty impressive bruises.

The final rule to this award is to pass it on. Here goes:

Congratulations! And, Fi, thanks again!

Friday, April 8, 2011


I don't think I know a single person that has time anymore. Actually, I take that back. Babies have all the time in the world.

But for the rest of us - especially moms - it's a challenge fitting anything extra between cooking, sleeping, driving, taking care of the kids, helping them with homework, working, taking care of everyone else, cleaning, sneaking in a shower and applying make-up, opening the mail, and checking the weather.


Now my family is super important to me. I love giving them my time.

Art is also important. I go through withdrawal symptoms if I don't do it often.

My problem lies in having a third obsession - a very awesome one. Writing. I love it. It loves me. It makes me happy, just like my family, my friends, and art do. It's just plain fun.

So how on earth is a normal mom to find time to write on a regular basis?

I started asking authors at writers conferences. I ended up with some creative, interesting, painful, and downright scary answers:

- One gave up TV.

- Another called her family in and informed them that writing was now her #1 priority. (I don't recommend this. You'll want someone still there to dedicate your book to when it's published.)

- Another doesn't sleep. And another starts writing at 9:00 p.m. and ends sometime in the middle of the night when her eyelids no longer stay open without toothpick props. (I don't recommend this either.)

- And another gets up at 5:00 a.m., writes to 7:00 a.m., then gets her children ready for school, then gets herself off to school where she teaches all day.

I'm sure you get the picture. It isn't always easy.

Me? Well, I didn't go that far. When my last child was born, I began writing my first novel. I didn't have a schedule - just wrote whenever I could. My goal, newborn and all, was to write for 15 minutes a day. Many days my 15 minutes went quite a bit longer. It was a great surprise when I actually had pages accumulating by the end of the week.

Over the years, my writing goals have changed many times, all custom-suited to my current circumstances. I've had set times, set word counts, set days of the week. I've even tried some kinda drastic things.

Two years ago I gave up most TV (I'm not that good.) And voila, I found more time.

Last year during NaNoWriMo, I tried the 5:00 to 7:00 a.m. thingy. Just for a month. Guess what? There were no interruptions. AT ALL. It was nuts. I got so much done. I also walked around with huge dark circles under my eyes. But, by golly, at the end of November, I had a 50,000 word manuscript, all written in one month (still in need of many, many revisions.) But it felt pretty darn good!

So, long story short, there are all kinds of ways to find time to write - IF you really want to.

Now I'd love to hear how other real people with real lives find their time.

How and when do you do it?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

An Interview With Kathleen Duey

Hey everyone, I have a fun interview, complements of WIFYR with Kathleen Duey over at my blog.

Kathleen is the author of Skin Hunger, Sacred Scars, and a bunch more books.

WIFYR is the Writing and Illustrating For Young Readers conference held in Salt Lake City Utah every June. If you're looking for a fabulous conference to hone your skills, this is the one. There are still openings for some of the morning classes and lots of afternoon spots. Head on over there and check it out.

Leisha Maw

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

the Blogging Challenge

Hidee ho and away I go!

Well, I've gone off and joined this crazy lil thing called the A-Z April Blogging Challenge where you post a letter of the alphabet for each day this this month but Sundays.

So far, it's been crazy fun--meeting and visiting new friends everyday!

If you're interested in my writing tips or thoughts, you're welcome to drop by my blog and read it. My posts are super short and fun!

Happy April!

♥.•*¨ Elizabeth ¨*•.♥

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Kat, Incorrigible Jewelry Giveaway!

Hi everyone! Today is the day that Stephanie Burgis is giving away one of the pendants I designed. It's the Magick Book from Kat, Incorrigible. Head on over to her blog,, to enter. And then, late next week, it will be for sale in my Etsy shop.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Story Threads

Draft two is done, and now it's time for one of my favorite editing tools-

The Story Thread Chart

I came up with this technique for my last book. Several readers told me the ending left too many things hanging. What were they talking about? To find out, I jotted down all the little pieces of the story I could think of, and then tracked them chapter by chapter. Turns out I dropped nearly half of my story threads somewhere along the way. See those pink scribbles? Those are loose ends. No wonder the ending felt unsatisfactory!

After my next draft, when I made sure each story thread had some kind of resolution, readers told me the ending was everything they had hoped for.

To make a story thread chart, take a piece of poster board or a large sheet of paper. Down the long side, list chapter numbers. Across the top, list major story elements. Since Sue has been analyzing The Hunger Games I'll use that book as an example. For Hunger Games, you might list The Games, The Capitol, Katniss' District, Gale, Prim, Peeta, Haymitch, Careers, Other Contestants, Food and Supplies, The Arena, Training, Sponsors, and Rue. You could pick out more if you want a more detailed chart, or fewer if you want to focus only on the major story lines.

Next I use something I learned from Robert McKee's Story, and assign each of these elements a pair of conflicting values. For The Games, it's life/death. For the Capitol, freedom/slavery. For Haymitch, well, let's say helpful/useless. For Peeta, ally/enemy and friend/lover. These values can flip from one to the other multiple times throughout each story thread. At first Haymitch seems utterly useless, but then later he is the key to Katniss and Peeta's survival. The life/death struggle to get food and supplies begins on page one and goes on throughout the book. And even though the Capitol has Katniss enslaved for the whole book, at the end she asserts her freedom by refusing to play by their rules. 

After setting up the chart, skim through each chapter and make notes in the column under each story thread. Track where each thread begins and ends, how it develops, and how the values change. Step back and take a look at the big picture, see everything picked apart and spread out.

And then the fun begins.

At this point I get out some colored markers and pretty soon my chart looks like a complicated football play. Move this here, change that there. Should this story thread start sooner? End later? Does it need another twist? Here's a slow spot, what story thread can bring in more tension? How can I draw more story threads into play at my climax?

When I'm done, I have a plan for structural changes in my next draft. The chart is also a handy reference when I mark up my manuscript for revision. If I want to go through and only mark changes on a single story thread I know what chapters I'll find it in.

I'm not saying this method is any better than a bubble map or a plot line chart or any other graphic representation you might make of your story. But it works well for me. The way I see it, trying a new way to look at a story, and spending time thinking about it, can only make it stronger.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Log Line Fest

Sue's first post on Hunger Games got me thinking about log lines. A log line is a great thing to have, especially when someone finds out you're a writer and they ask, "So tell me about your book." Especially, especially if that someone is an editor or an agent.

But even more important, it focuses the story in your own mind.

So let's have a log line fest! Put your log line in the comments.

I'll start off with a log line for my current project, MG fantasy:

Steven Fisher dreams of joining his parents in the Society of Peregrines, an undercover force that fights evil in thousands of worlds, but when the Peregrines accuse Steven's mom of selling secrets to their enemies, he'll risk everything to find the real culprit and save his mom from banishment.

Your turn!