Thursday, May 28, 2009

Medal of Honor Tactics

Calling all rule-followers!

As the Rule Following Master Champion I want to share a breakthrough I had today. My husband was talking about people who win the Medal of Honor and laid out a very simple truth: they are all rule-breakers.

People who follow orders don't get Medals of Honor.

It's the people who know what needs to be done and take the risks, who become great, and are honored.

I think you might see where I'm going where this applies to writing. We hear so many rules each and every day about how to start a novel, how to write a proper sentence, how to do fill-in-the-blank.

And a lot of us obsess about it, which is good to a point. My epiphany today is that you need to learn the rules in order to separate yourself from the masses. If you know what you're doing, and what's expected to be competent, you're already ahead of the curve.

The next step after you know the rules?

Break them.

A lot of great novels start with a dream sequence or a crazy prologue that happened 500 years in the past. A lot of authors begin sentences with "And," or use dashes instead of semi-colons.

They take risks, they do the unexpected, within the framework of skilled writing.

Those who do find themselves rewarded, time and time again.

What do you guys think? Are you a rule-breaker or a rule-follower?

What are your successes with either?

How might doing the other help?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Outlining a Novel

Hi, guys!

Sorry I've been strangely absent so far this week. Yesterday I was attacked by killer clam sauce (I found out I was allergic to shellfish yet neglected to realize that Chinese food = clam sauce = death) and was too high on benedryl to type coherently.

Yet I have recovered, and hope to shed some light on the topic of Outlining today.

People fear the Outline, but are drawn to its elusive promises of "being better organized."

As an outliner, I'm here to tell you, it's not just a myth. It really helps (me, that is).

Here's how I do it:

1) I always start with the basic idea, whatever it is, and then think "How will this novel end?" It always starts with the end. How can you get where you're going if you don't know where you want to go?

Let's say my idea is about Flying Zombies. Where's the story there? Flying zombies change their lives for love and become lawyers with creepy skeletal wings. Good stuff!

2) Now that I've got my ending, I start mulling over whose story this is. I think about characters: who they are they and why are they going to end up the way that they are?
I like to write down a list of facts about the characters so I can keep them straight as I go along.

Ned was a nerdy high school student on his way to Harvard when he was bitten by a monkey and became Undead. Bummer. Ned has brown hair, is 6'3", and likes water polo.

3) Now that I know a little about my characters, I have to figure out how they get from the start to the end that I've created. This is the fun part for me, because I get to figure out how to toture my characters and put in lots of delicous conflict.

Ned meets Stacy while trying to bite her on the face in the subway.

She sues him, and he goes to jail where he is picked on for being Undead.

The government experiments on him while he's there, giving him skeleton wings.

He finds his way out, only to shamble into Stacy again in a bakery.

He wants revenge.

They fight.

They fall in love.

She gets hit by a bus.

He goes to law school to honor her memory.

He is discriminated against, since he's Undead, and devours the dean.

He passes the bar with "flying" colors.

The end.

4) Chill out. Yes, the last and most overlooked step to outlining is TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT. It's just a place to start. Everything is negotiable! Like Captain Barbosa said, they're more like "guidelines" than rules.

If you think of the Outline as a way to get started and keep yourself on track, it won't drag you down. Remember that you can cross out and add all you want along the way.

Zombie in prison not working for you? BAM! Ned the Zombie is kidnapped by neo-nazis instead.

Easy as that.

I have always seen an outline as a way for me to write from the hip but not get completely lost as I go.

So what do you think? Are you an outliner? Do you write solely from the hip?

I'd love to hear your ideas and tips!

Friday, May 22, 2009

We're Gonna Be Okay

I wanted to share some comforting things I read this week from my favorite blogging agents, Janet Reid (the Query Shark) and Nathan Bransford.

Janet posted that she thinks blogging agents have terrified the wrong half of the aspiring writers out there:

Nathan followed this up in his "This week in publishing," confirming that, yes, they want to reach out to the writers who don't know what they're doing, but those writers... you guessed it... don't read agent blogs:

This is comforting to me because these articles made me think "Hey, maybe I'm not as clueless as I feel sometimes." Apparently we who read agent blogs are ahead of at least half of those querying out there. Now, doesn't that make you feel better?

Let me tell you, I've been very nervous that I'm not doing "it" correctly. I breathed a large and cathartic sigh of relief upon reading these posts.

How about you? Do you feel terrified about the query process? Do you feel better knowing it's not necessary directed at you?

Happy Memorial Day Weekend, and happy querying to everyone out there!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Work In Progress Wednesday!

This week my goal was to finish my rewrites on Legacy of the Empress, and I'm happy to say I DID IT. Booyah!

Tonight I fixed the last bit of my ending, and did the dreaded Ctrl + F to fix all the times I wrote "seemed to" in my novel. Passive voice--prepare to die!

I feel very good about where I am right now, which is very exciting. I'm sending it out to a couple more beta readers, and then after some more polish, it's Query Time.

Although it was rough realizing that my whole ending needed to be revamped, I feel like this process has only made me stronger as a writer. Plus, hearing "yeah, your plot needs work" from your husband and your mom does a lot to thicken the old skin ;), which is never a bad thing in this industry.

So, how are you guys doing? I'd love to hear what you're working on, how you're doing, and if you need any encouragement.

We writers have to stick together, after all.

As Albert Camus said, "The purpose of a writer is to keep civilizaton from destroying itself."

So, you know... no pressure.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Tonight, I was checking out my new WIP and got to wondering, how do you guys come up with the ideas for your writing, be it novel-length or otherwise?

Mine, of course, come from Cthulu sending nightmare images straight into my mind while I sleep. (Just kidding. Thank God...)

However, I do get a lot of awesome ideas right as I'm drifting off to sleep and my brain is all sleepy and (debatably) crazy. I also keep a tiny notebook in my purse and write down random thoughts, and odd or funny things people say throughout the week. When I'm really feeling stuck, I talk things out with my wonderful and creative husband. He's almost as sick as I am :).

I want to know, how do you guys do it? This is the part of writing that I find the most baffling.

How does this happen for you? Where do you get the thoughts that lead to "Hey, I can make this into 95,000 words. Woo hoo!"

Are we all just nuts? Should we blame Cthulu after all?

I'd love to know how you guys tick!

Monday, May 18, 2009

QueryTracker Carnival: Contests Galore!

Come one, come all, to the QueryTracker 2nd Anniversary Carnival!

All this week there will be fun contests and the opportunity to win fabulous prizes over at

Follow this link for more details and to play along:

Also, to get an entry to the AWESOME GRAND PRIZE (a free website design), email Elana J, or comment on to get your name in that drawing.

Best of luck to you guys, and HAPPY 2ND ANNIVERSARY, QT!

It's my favorite website for writers and where I get the best support from my peers.

Go hang out, have fun, and good luck in the contests! :)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Book Review: SILVER PHOENIX by Cindy Pon

I was going to post this yesterday, but instead I played hooky and went and watched the new STAR TREK! Needless to say, I was spasming with waves of geek pleasure as the credits were rolling, so please go see it if you remotely like Star Trek. IT ROCKS!

ANYWAY, now that my tangent is over, I wanted to tell you about this highly enjoyable book I read: SILVER PHOENIX by Cindy Pon :).

Here is the book trailer (it's gorgeous!):

This book is a sweeping epic fantasy set in a China-like world. A young girl goes in search of her missing father at the imperial palace, but faces dozens of monsters and demons along the way, trying to stop her. As the mystery unfolds, we learn things are definitely not what they seem, and the threat is very real for our heroine, Ai Ling.

Apparently, Cindy Pon originally wrote this novel for adults and then it becamse YA during the publishing process. This means that even though it's YA there are some risque and dark moments, which I really enjoyed. It has one of the most messed-up monsters I've ever read about (which is saying something!), and breaks the mold of the usual suspects in fantasy novels. The monsters are rooted in Chinese mythology, which makes everything fascinating and new for those of us who are used to more British-inspired fantasy. Yes, there was a dragon, but even this was made new because it was an awesome serpent-like blue-and-green sea dragon, like you see in old silk paintings.

Also, the main hero, Chen Yong, is smokin' hot and sexy, and doesn't even know it, which, of course, makes him all the more delightful. The book ends well, and I felt myself pretty emotional on the last page, absolutely desperate for more. If you can hear me, Cindy, there better be a sequel!

There was an odd moment in the middle of the book where we learned the "real" conflict where I sat up in my bubble bath and went "Wait, what?" However, even though the twist may seem out of place in the moment, it resolves itself into a truly enjoyable read. After the first few chapters, I couldn't put it down.

My favorite part, I'm ashamed to admit, were Cindy's descriptions of the food. Ai Ling is like me in that she loves a good meal, and by the end I was desperate for some Chinese food like you wouldn't believe. I grabbed my husband and told him that I needed some noodles and buns with pork filling STAT. So yes, I'm sure this book will be responsible for me eating out a lot in the near future.

I definitely recommend this book, so go to Amazon and help support a debut author!

Have any of you read it? I'd love to know what you thought.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

WIP Wednesday: Dialogue Only!

My brain is fried right now when it comes to revising my manuscript, and my lovely friends over at QueryTracker suggested writing something else...anything else to get the juices flowing again.

So I decided to take part in Elana J's Dialogue Smackdown Extreme Scene Challeeeeenge! (as said by the "let's get ready to RUMBLE!" guy). Woo hoo!

On her blog Tuesday Elana threw down the Gauntlet o' Gab and challenged us to write a scene using all (or mostly) dialogue.

Well, BOOYAH GRANDMA! I'm up to the challenge!

Here is my entry below, touchingly entitled "You've Stolen my Heart, and it's Still Beating."


“Me want braaaaaaaaaaaaains,” said Ted, lifting a flaking hand up to paw at the struggling man beneath his knees.

“Me also want braaaaains,” said Nancy. Their whitened eyes met over the accountant’s sweating forehead.

“You… you like brains, too?”

“Yes. Yes me also like brains great deaaaaal.”

If Ted had a pulse, it would have quickened.

“You come to here ofteeeen?”

“Braaaaaaaains here. Just found place. Blood smell from fat man goooood.”

Ted nodded, shaking his dangling ear loose. It hit the accountant in the face and he screeched.

“Fat man taste better.”

“Yes, fat goooood.”

“You eat first braaaaains.” Ted cracked a winning smile, a trickle of blood glistening on his purple lips.
“Ohhhhhh, no. No, you eat brains. You hold him down first. Brains for youuu.”

“Um, excuse me,” the accountant said. “Um, would you two like to be alone?”

“You eat braaaaains. I insiiiiist.”

“You sweet. Sweet like braaaaaaains.” Nancy touched his hand, her yellowing nails scratching him lightly.

“You smell nice. Nicer than fat man.”

They leaned forward, crushing the accountant in a shambling embrace.

Awwww... Zombie Love! Is there any greater force in the universe?

So, now I'd like to see yours if you're wo/man enough to try it! ;)


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Book? What is this... "book" you speak of?

I found this comic today, and I had to share:

What do you guys think about the new Kindle coming out, and all of the hoopla in the publishing world over e-books?

The end of publishing as we know it?

Or a brave new world, where you put your e-reader in a ziploc baggy to read in the tub?

Monday, May 11, 2009

I'm Back!

Hi, All,

I'm sorry I've been strangely absent both from this blog, and from QueryTracker lately. The husband and I have been busting some ass this past week on getting our house ship-shape for an appraisal and.... whew... yeah. Instead of blogging I crawled into bed each night panting and clutching my heart. (Okay, it wasn't all that bad, but I hate housework ;)... and there was LOTS of it.)

Anyway, I was back today, reading blogs and getting caught up in InternetLand, and came across this great post by Nathan Bransford, agent extraodinarre:

I know I've heard a lot of my fellow queriers getting discouraged or disgruntled because of all the so-called "hoops" we have to jump through, so I want to know:

What do you guys think?

Are the "hoops" a necessary evil, or helpful hints on how to get noticed?

I'm a rule follower by nature. I like plans laid out before me that say "if you do X and Y you will be noticed because of your hard work." I like working hard, and I like having clear cut guidelines.

However, I've recently come to realize I may be a freak.

Is there anyone else out there that says "Yay, guidelines! I'm going to kick some ass!" or do you think "Damn hoops! Why do we have to do these things?"

I can see both sides, and I'd love to know :).

Hoops or hints?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Teaser Tuesday!

Well, since everyone else has a Teaser Tuesday, I thought it was time I went for it. After all, who doesn't love a good bandwagon? Am I right? ;)

So, without further ado, here is a sample from Legacy of the Empress. Enjoy!

The nightmares had been coming more and more frequently since the moon's turn, each more vivid than the last. Astrid's hair was sticky with sweat when she put a hand to her brow. Images of a torn silk dress lingered on the edge of her mind as she smoothed the sheets down over her linen shift. She shook her head, the last remnants of the dream, whatever it was, leaving as quickly as they came. I've stayed too long. Tomorrow I will finally be free. Sleep did not find her again.

The morning started the same way all Astrid's days started since her father died. The wards outside the tower door thrummed as the servant bringing her food approached. A pocket opened in the darkness before the door and allowed the castle servant access to the rectangular sliding panel, just large enough for a tray to be passed through. Her eyes were bright as she watched the trembling hand pass the food through and then snatch itself back to the safety of the hallway.

"I suppose Mother told you all I was mad ages ago," she said to no one in particular. Anything so they would fear opening the door for me. Astrid turned her head away.

After the servant scurried off, she listened at the door to make sure no one was near, then pried up the loose stone in the floor. She carefully removed the book and the lock of hair beneath it and spent the rest of the afternoon reading and pacing her tower room.

That night was different from all the rest. The air seemed to crackle with anticipation, as if the stars themselves were waiting for something to happen. Astrid felt the hair on her arms stand up as she opened the book on her lap. Her hands ran down the ancient leather binding and then over the first page, and she rejoiced in the familiar warmth beneath her fingers. My old friend. The side of her mouth curled up in a smile. At first the pages remained blank, but then slowly, as she stroked them, letters began to form, drawn up through the page by her touch. Here we go…

All of her hope lay in this moment. She'd found the book hidden under one of the stones of the tower's floor in the first year of her imprisonment. I toyed with the idea of prying up the floor one stone at a time, finally dropping down to the stairway below and making my escape through the castle. She smiled grimly at the thought. I was a child then, and anything seemed possible. Prying up the stones with the handle of her spoon, she discovered a secret cache. In the hole lay a small bit of silk, a lock of yellow hair, and the book.

I remember the first night I held it in my hands; it was as if a voice was whispering in my mind. She was only nine years old at the time but was already a voracious reader. As the princess of this kingdom of Taleria, she had studied with the best tutors gold could buy. Fascinated by history and the lives of the previous kings and queens, she would stay up long nights with her father, talking about the older days when magic had been more prevalent. In those days, he told her, the True Magic had been an art many admired and sought after. He once even hinted that his own mother had studied the magics before she died.

“Your mother would be very angry if she knew we were talking about this, you know,” he’d warned her. “She doesn’t want us to have anything to do with the magics. She thinks all this is just superstition for the folk in the cities. You would have loved my mother, though. An extraordinary woman. You could almost feel the magic coming off her sometimes,” he touched her chin, his eyes crinkling in a smile. “When I was a lad, she told me that the magics were what kept this kingdom beautiful, what kept the darkness from closing in. She used to set wards up around us at night, keeping the castle hedged in by a cage of light. It was as if she wove a pattern in the sky. It was breathtaking.”

Astrid had looked at the stars and wondered what kinds of patterns she could weave, if only she knew the way.

The stars. Astrid began to speak gently, almost inaudibly, and the stars outside the tower window began to flicker, slowly at first, then faster and faster until the night sky shimmered. She stopped, taken aback. Slowly, she began again, eyes fastened on the night sky. As she watched, small lines seemed to draw themselves out, connecting the shining bodies, knitting them together into a net of pure light. A voice inside her cried out in shock. It is working!

I hope you guys enjoyed this bit of my book :).

Thanks for sharing all of your awesome teasers with me, and have a great night!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Dare to Say What Others Can't

Today, I read a fascinating article on my favorite fitness blog,, that got me thinking.

It basically said that telling others the things you are ashamed of, or that are difficult for you to deal with, gives you power over those those same things.

Shame thrives on being kept secret. When you talk about the dark moments, you suddenly realize that you're not alone, and that others share them, too.
This made me think about writing because one of my favorite writing quotes is "The role of a writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say." --Anais Nin

We have the freedom in our stories to talk about the shameful thoughts we all have, or relive experiences that are difficult to deal with in real life. I feel like this is freeing for both myself and the reader.

I heard a woman read from her book (I, of course, forget who) and relay a story of dropping soup she made for a church function into a gutter, and for a single moment, thinking about scooping it back into the tourine. No one would know, right?

Well, when she read that passage we all laughed because we got it. We've all experienced those same awful inner moments where we realize that maybe we're not good people. When we read about it, we're free to admit it, and realize it's not so different after all.

We're all just human, and these things are part of the experience.

What do you guys think? As writers, or readers, do you find it helpful to throw light onto those darker moments?

Friday, May 1, 2009

Blog Chain: Short Story Time!

Elana J threw down today and challenged us to write some short stories based on flowers (hooray for May Day!).

Elana's blog & story:

I happen to love a challenge, so here we go! Enjoy, my party people:

Plant Life

As Gabby shook coffee grounds into the filter, she noticed that the air smelled different. Moist. Like a storm is coming. The hairs on her arms stood up as she flicked the switch on her Mr. Coffee. She shuddered.

A sound caught her attention, at the edge of her hearing; a slow rip rip, rip rip from outside the window. She pulled aside the yellow curtains and gasped. Her smiley-face coffee mug dropped from her hand and shattered on the tile.

“What? Oh… my…”

Her hand leapt to her mouth. Outside, vines were creeping, wrapping around the drain spout, climbing the shingles like snakes. The lawn was a sea of twitching, seething green; the car a featureless mound of foliage. The kiddie pool lay burst and leaking, vines puncturing and ripping at its seams.

Trembling, she backed away, crunching through the shards of porcelain in her slippers. This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening. Wake up, Gabby! A crash sounded from the living room, the sound of glass breaking.

She rushed through the hallway and screamed as a vines burst through another window, pelting her with glass shards. They were inside now, snaking across the carpet, overturning the coffee and end tables, wrapping around lamps with greedy tendrils. She screamed again as one brushed her ankle.

I need something. Anything. What do you do when your house is being overtaken by plants? A knife glinted from the block. Good for burglars, bad for vines. Not enough to stop them. The oven. Fire! Perfect. I’ll scare them off with a little fire…

She lit the pilot as the kitchen window burst, green fingers groping, shredding the curtains to ribbons. A rolled up Victoria Secret catalog caught her eye, and she thrust it into the flame. Brandishing it like a torch she approached the vines creeping slowly down her sink and over the cupboard.

“ Back!” she said, waving the flame in a wide arch. “Get back! Back to the yard, damn you!”

The vines slowed, then stopped in their tracks, drooping onto the floor at her feet. Gabby let out a sharp laugh that was half a sob. Nothing stirred. She prodded it with her toe. Nothing. All was still.

She sighed, wiping her hand over her brow, and stamped the magazine out. Before she could move, a vine rose like a genie from the bottle and unfurled a pink flower as large as a dinner plate. It looks almost like that fluffy dress I wore to the prom, she thought, and giggled nervously. It inched toward her, leaning in. With a puff like angel’s breath, it misted venom into her open mouth.

When Gabby woke, the light was different, slanting across the floor. The floor was different. It was a writhing mass of green ropes and tendrils twisting up the walls, obscuring everything from view. She realized she couldn’t feel her legs, and looked down. Her body was enshrouded in plant life, coiling around her like a lover’s embrace, squeezing her to numbness. A tendril curled up to wrap gently around her throat, looping and swirling at the edge of her vision.

As pink spots danced before her eyes, she thought of the empty bag in the garage and her best laid plans for her spring garden.

I knew I used too much Miracle Gro. She fell backward into darkness and knew no more.

So.... what YOU got? Please link to your blog if you're participating :). I'd love to read your stories!

Happy Friday!