Friday, January 31, 2014

Reading Your Work Outloud

There are two things I find very valuable on the ywriter software. (A lot like Scrivener, but free.)
I love the continuous word count feature, and this week I'm loving how I can use it to read my WIP to me.

Okay, so you must put up with the weird computer voice. But there's something about hearing your words out loud that makes you rethink things.

As I'm doing this, my word count is going down, down, down as I cut, cut, cut.

Who knew I repeated myself so much?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Entering Contests

I love writing contests!

When I first started submitting my work, the only way to get an "in" with an agent or an editor was to attend a conference.

Now there are tons of contests run on blogs around the internet by authors trying to help other writers connect with publishing professionals.

It's awesome.

I love the high of "winning" and getting a request.  I love getting feedback on my pages and query. I love meeting and connecting with other writers.

That said, I'm being a bit more choosey about which contests I enter this year. Partly because I don't want my first page/query posted over and over again. Partly because I want to make sure even if I don't win, I still get something out of the contest.

So I devised a point system to help me decide whether to enter a contest or not:

3 pt.  Feedback from other writers.

5 pt.  Feedback from publishing professionals (agents or editors) on my work whether or not I win. A good example of a contest like this is Secret Agent or Agent's Inbox.

3 pt. Opportunity to garner a request from an agent or an editor.

So if a contest has all three options (for a total of 11!), I'm in.
Because even if I don't get a request, I've still learned something.

That's not to say I won't ever enter a contest where I don't get feedback, but I'm making those a top priority now.

What about you? How do you decide to enter a contest?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

To Use Foreign Words (Or Not)

How do you feel when an author uses foreign words in a story?

I've been thinking about this lately. I enjoy the flavor of foreign words, but if not done right, they can kick me out of the story.

Here's a few things I've noticed in my reading and writing:

  1. Use idioms instead of foreign words. For instance, my Russian roommate used to always say in English, “My mind is boiling.” If you can capture an idiom like that, it gives your character a strong voice and flavors your prose, but doesn’t bog down your readers with words they don’t understand.
  2. Use sentence structure rather than dialect to convey accents.  Apostrophes and contractions  are confusing and hard to read. But a judicious use of slang or sentence structure conveys a lot. Ex: “You want to go to the party, no?”
  3. Foreign words used as endearment, greeting, or dialogue tick. I don’t think you’d need to translate these, unless they wouldn’t be understood my most readers. Ex: “That’s my purse, ma chère.”
  4. Use foreign words to confuse your readers. I love this idea from Gail CarsonLevine. If you’re going to use a foreign phrase and not translate it, then use it to your advantage. Make the reader feel in the dark along with your main character.
  5. If you use foreign words, make it clear what the word means from context.  “Pass the blinis, Sasha,” she said, eyeing the pancakes.
Another option is not to explain what the words mean, but provide a glossary at the end.

How do you use dialect or foreign words in your writing?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Marvelous Glory Be

Happy Martin Luther King Day!

It's not often that I read a book in 24 hours, even kidlit, but that's what I did with Glory Be by Augusta Scattergood.

From Amazon:
As much as Gloriana June Hemphill, or Glory as everyone knows her, wants to turn twelve, there are times when Glory wishes she could turn back the clock a year. Jesslyn, her sister and former confidante, no longer has the time of day for her now that she’ll be entering high school. Then there’s her best friend, Frankie. Things have always been so easy with Frankie, and now suddenly they aren’t. Maybe it’s the new girl from the North that’s got everyone out of sorts. Or maybe it’s the debate about whether or not the town should keep the segregated public pool open.

There were so many things I loved about this book:

--The voice and setting. Scattergood captured the diction and feel of the south. Glory had a great voice that made me want to stay with her awhile.

--The characters. Glory was one of the most interesting characters I've read in awhile. Impulsive, loyal, and caring. I really was rooting for her, especially as she took on the racist elements in her town.

--The heart. This book had heart in spades. I was not surprised to learn that much of it was based on the author's own experiences in the south. Her passion seeped through the pages.

This book reminded me a little of The Help but for kids.

Have you read any marvelous middle grades lately?

For more middle grade suggestions, see Shannon Messenger's blog.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Jane, the fox & me

I still remember when I first discovered Jane Eyre. I had to read it for sophomore English. I thought the beginning was so boring, I wondered how I would ever finish it.

But then I got to the middle: Thornfield, the mysterious Mr. Rochester, the strange sounds from the attic.

I was hooked.

So I was so excited to hear about Jane, the fox & me by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault.

It's a graphic novel about Hélène, who feels like an outcast, but finds solace in reading Jane Eyre. This is one of the most beautiful books I've read. Everyone at my house is clambering to read it.

I can imagine if I read this as a tween, I would have breezed through those "boring parts" of Jane Eyre. 

Have you read any good graphic novels lately?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Hands on Research

They say children learn best if they can touch and handle what they are learning, if they are given real experiences.

That seems to apply to us writers too.

I love writing historical fiction because I love research. (Hey, my first job out of college was a as a research assistant. I got paid to go to the library!)

But the best kind of research is the kind you can't find in books.

Here's a couple of things I did this summer in order to get a better feel for my novel, set in Russia in 1812.

Although it was not possible for me to travel to Russia to see a reenactment, I attended a Civil War reenactment nearby my house, just so I could talk about wartime medicine with some experts.

Tools use for amputations
I conveniently brought my 8 year old son as a foil and asked lots of questions. Their answers changed a quite a few details in my book.

I also have a falcon in my book, so thanks to some advice from Oregon writer, Emily Whitman, I went to my local Audubon society
and met Finnegan:

Finnegan the Peregrine

Asking lots of questions again was key. I took movies with my camera to refer to later.
My kids enjoyed going on a "field trip for Mom."

What has been the most memorable research you have done?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Two Contests

I love pitch contests! It's a great way to connect with other writers and get your work in front of agents.

Here's two contests taking submissions next week that I'm looking forward to:

January Secret Agent: I entered this last year and got some great feedback on my first page and as a runner-up, a request! This is only for the first page (250 words) of a completed manuscript and your manuscript must be historical fiction, historical romance or YA. Contest submissions open on Monday, January 13, 9:00 EDT.

Sun vs. Snow: This is put on by Michelle Hauck and Amy Trueblood. The official submission information will be posted on January 13, and the submission window is January 18th 12:00 pm EDT-8:00 pm EDT January 19th. You submit your query and first 250 words of a completed adult, MG, YA, and NA manuscript. Michelle and Amy will each pick 15 writers to be on their team. Mentors will give feedback to the winners online before an agent round on February 1st.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

What I've Learned From Downton

Since the Downton Abbey Season 4 premier was this weekend, I thought I’d post some thoughts on what I’ve learned from the show.  Writerly things, that is.

    1. Character arc, character arc.  
    This is something Downton does really well. Even minor characters show growth. Evil O’Brien grew just a tad last season. Mary's and Matthew's character growth is what made their story so compelling. Lesson: Don't make your main character all good so he/she has nothing to grow into.          
    2. Subplots. This is another area where Downton shines. I love how the stories below stairs and above stairs intersect. No character is too minor to have a story.
    Lesson: Don’t be afraid of adding subplots. They can add a lot of interest to your story and give the reader someone besides the main character to root for.           
    3. Pull the rug out from under your characters—again and again and again.  This is something I love and hate about this show. Surprise is good—you always want to keep your readers or viewers on their toes--but often the surprises on Downton come out of nowhere.  
    Lesson: If you’re going to surprise your readers, make sure it’s organic to the story, believable, and consistent.
    4. Just because something could really happen, if it's not believable in the world of your story, it’s not believable. There are so many plot points that been too easy: Matthew's recovery, Lavinia's sickness, Matthew's letter in Season 4.  
    Lesson: If you are going to include an extraordinary event in your story, make sure you set it up earlier in the story, otherwise it just seems convenient.
What have you learned from watching Downton?

Saturday, January 4, 2014

2014 Goals

Hello and welcome to my blog!

I’ve always had a thing about even numbers. I love it when my age is even, and I’ve always thought even years were lucky.

So here’s to the fortuitous even year of 2014! (I’m also an even number right now, so good things are in store.)

I’m not one for resolutions, but here are some goals I have for 2014:

      1. Keep submitting my writing.  I    
      will not let discouragement stop me. If I
      want a yes, I must put my work out there.

   2. Try new things. I have a new project I’m just starting that’s vastly different from anything I’ve ever written. I know I only grow as a writer when I “do the hard thing.” 

  3. Write or read every day. I got this idea from Faith Hough.It’s a rare week when I write every day, but I can write or read every day. With a crazy busy life, achievable goals are best.

What are you goals or dreams for 2014?