Monday, December 17, 2012

We Interrupt This Program bring you a special bulletin.

Well, not really. Just a quick announcement that the Evil League of Evil Writers is taking something of a holiday hiatus starting today. This will probably be a yearly thing (unless, you know, the world ends on the 21st like people seem to believe the Mayan calendar says - which is total bullshit, btw, but you knew that, right?) as the holidays are always a busy time for everyone.

There might be the occasional post of an evil Bob Cratchit member, toiling away over the holidays, but there won't be any regular/consistent/scheduled posts for the next couple weeks.

Whatever holiday you celebrate (or not), we here at the ELEW wish you a happy!

The Sithmas Tree of our Gothic Goddess Dina James represents the ELEW holiday spirit!

We'll see you in January. The Bitchstress Dreamkiller will open the New Evil Year (2013! THE YEAR OF EVILTRY!) with her post on January 7.

Happy Birthday, Lieutenant Quillstabber!

Today the Evil League of Evil Writers celebrates the anniversary of the birth of our beloved Lieutenant Quillstabber, Skye Forbes!

Skye really is the lieutenant around here. She is beyond amazing, and much of what the ELEW does is made possible by her. Our beloved Lieutenant has been with us since our inception, through thick and thin, good times and bad, sickness and get it. Skye is the epitome of "the loyal lieutenant," and we would not be the evil organization we are without her.

Happy Birthday, Skye! May your day be filled with eviltry, cupcakes, much spoilage and doting, massages, and cabana boys bearing mai-tais.

Much evil love and hugs,

Monday, December 10, 2012

Baby Evil Writers 101: Queries over the Holidays

Baby Evil Writers 101: Queries over the Holidays
Julie Butcher

No. Just no.

Reason One
Literary agents and editors are people, too. They have families. They celebrate holidays. Nowadays everyone has their work email on their phone. Dinner preparation, presents, cleaning, and running about are stressful for everyone. Would you want your job calling you thirty times during your Christmas dinner? So that would be a no.

Reason Two
The holidays are just after NANOWRIMO. If you’re unfamiliar with November as a writing month you should check it out here.  Everyone in the publishing industry is way too familiar with this phenomenon. Tons of writers dash out fifty thousand words in November, slap on an ending, and immediately query agents and editors. You do not want to be one of these people. I’m not saying that Nanowrimo is bad because it gets people in the habit of writing everyday—which is a good thing. The stinky part is that some of these people don’t think they need editing before they woosh their freaking first draft into the world. You don’t want to flush years of effort down the toilet, so—no.
Seriously guys, no.

Reason Three
Most literary agencies and publishing houses are closed for the holidays. When they return, the email is exploding. Even if you’re possibly the next Nobel Prize winner, you’ll drown in the flood. Your chances of having your email lost or deleted have to be a hundred times what they are on a normal day. So, no. Don’t do it.

Reason Four
People remember negative easier than positive. Of all the holidays you remember, the one where someone brought their sick kid to dinner (and they barfed at the table) stands out like mold on bread. Publishing people are smart, guys. They read and everything. They remember who was rude and interrupted their family time. Do you really think they’ll want to work with the person who ruined Christmas?
I know, you think one little email won’t bother anyone. BUT, if your query chimes in and the turkey burns because of it, you’re toast—so no. Seriously, no.

Reason Five
Holidays are for families. Take that time to enjoy your own loved ones. They deserve your entire attention. They love you whether you’re published or not. Seriously, guys, someday they won’t be there and you’ll regret not taking a few days to show them you love them.

I wish you a safe and lovely holiday season filled with all of the good life has to offer.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Happy Birthday Sarah-Jane!

It is a busy birthday month at the ELEW.

Today we celebrate the birth of our Sinister Mashall of Corrections, Sarah-Jane!

May you have many evil cupcakes and booze and hopefully cats that let you sleep in!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Baby Evil Writers 101: Tags and Traits

Baby Evil Writers 101: Tags and Traits
Julie Butcher

Tags are word that you try to use only for one particular character. When making your character sheet (see my last Baby Evil Writers 101 post) you need descriptive terms that apply only to one person.  When that person is introduced into a scene, you use one of the tags in the description.

Here is our character sheet from the last lesson.

Gregor (Poppi) Romanoff
Age: 67
Height: 6’
Nationality: Gipsy
Accent: Russian
Married to: Maria (Baba) Romanoff for forty years
Voice sounds like a gravel road
Plays the Violin for gipsy dancers
Lives in an Airstream trailer
Phrases: Devochka as an endearment
Favorite thing: To find news under the message stone

Now we need to make descriptive tags to hang on Poppi. (Whiskers, piercing gaze, tanned, white hair, determined)

The first time Poppi is introduced in the story it reads,
 *The spotlight lit up Poppi’s white hair as he trilled the opening notes.*  Since Poppi is a supporting character, whenever he pops into a scene after an absence from the story line, he’ll have a tag. This is purely to give the reader a mental nudge to form a picture in their mind. I’ll try very hard not to use Poppi’s tags anywhere else in the story.

Next, we need to give Poppi traits. Traits are like tags except they describe either an item the character owns or keeps with them, a characteristic physical movement, or his responsibilities/job.
(Violin, hex bag, pocket watch, sword)

The next time Poppi comes into the picture it reads,
*“Stacia, when you’ve changed, fold the outside chairs and put them in the trailer. We’re meeting up with a carnival in Boise tonight.” He closed and snapped his violin case. “There’s a State Fair, and we’ll run for a month, you’ll like that.”*

Have tags and traits for each character
Use them when a character enters a scene.
Don’t use those words for another character or description if possible. (A it’s lazy and B your job as a writer is to know more than one word for white.)

Monday, December 3, 2012

Knowing Is Half The Battle

I live on the West Coast. More specifically, the Oregon Coast. My town was a popular film location in the 1980s, and one of those films was a kid's movie called "The Goonies." Now, I didn't grow up on the coast, but this movie had an impact on me. I watched it constantly when I was a kid, and when it came time to look at colleges, Oregon was one of the states I looked at, and I only did it because of that movie. (I ended up moving here by sheer happenstance, but that's a story for another time.)

Awhile back, I put the movie on to see all the things and locations I was now intimately familiar with, seeing as I now live in "The Goondocks." Rewatching the movie as an adult, I was horrified that my parents let me watch it over and over. It's full of crude jokes and language they wouldn't have wanted me using and all sorts of things I'd never want a child exposed to at the age at which I watched it.

But the thing is, I never noticed them.

It wasn't until I watched the movie again as an adult that I heard all the inappropriate language and so on. It was like watching an entirely different film. Not only do they make a 30-mile drive into a quick bike ride, I finally got the little in-jokes and pop-culture references they made. It was really like watching something I'd never seen before, even though I knew the story.

I know we've all had experiences like that. You read a book and see something you've never seen before, even though you've read the book a hundred times. You finally get a phrase that you never understood before, even though you've read that line over and over. Perception is limited, and the things you notice or don't vary from person to person. 

It's amazing what stays in your brain, and from what source. Example: here in the United States we had a cartoon called "Duck Tales." It was all about Scrooge McDuck and Donald Duck's nephews and their various adventures. I learned what a "status symbol" was from Scrooge McDuck. They had a whole episode about it, and that's the only one I remember. GI Joe always had some kind of moral to their episodes, and at the end of it before the credits they'd always have a little public service announcement-type clip about it.

He-Man, She-Ra, Thundercats…all those cartoons had some kind of message in them. Most of them were forgettable, but some, like Scrooge McDuck and the status symbols, stayed.

The same is true for everything you write. Your book will be someone's favorite book. Go ahead, roll your eyes, but it's true. Someone will read your work over and over and over again. I can't remember at the moment who said it or where I might have read it (I think it was a writer's workshop, but I'm not sure), but someone once said something to the effect of, "what you believe will end up in your writing, so find out what that is."

Words have a great deal more power than writers think about sometimes. Truth be told, we can't think about how much power they have or we'd never write anything. You can't let fear of how your work will be read and interpreted stop you from writing whatever story you have to tell. Like the movie I watched as a kid, some things will get through, others won't. Some things you intend to have an impact won't, while completely random things you never intended to have meaning will have a vast one.

So write your story and don't get caught up in what it might mean to and for other people. They're going to take meaning from it or not without any help from you, and that meaning might not be the one you intended. So what? Don't be offended if people don't "get" your work. You're not responsible for what they get out of your story.

You're just responsible for actually writing it. So get on that.

I second what Skye said in her blog post about NaNoWriMo, though. If you've just finished NaNoWriMo, DO NOT SUBMIT THAT WORK TO AN AGENT IMMEDIATELY. Agents far and wide are ducking for cover at the moment, because they know an influx of half-finished, poorly-written, unedited crap is incoming. Don't add to that. Put that novel in a drawer and sit on it for at least three months, if not more. Then drag it out, polish it up and see if it shines.

Now you know, and knowing is half the battle. (Say it with me! "GEEEE-EYE JOEEEEEE!")

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Happy Birthday Dina!

Today is a very special indeed: we celebrate the birthday of the Gothic Goddess herself, the ever-evil Dina James.

Dina is my other half here at the ELEW, ensuring shit gets done and I don't give up and throw in the towel. She always helps me get back up when I've been (sometimes by myself) knocked down and reminds me to dust myself off and keep going because she will not suffer a whiner, and in case you haven't guessed, she is utterly terrifying. Dina effortlessly, unknowingly inspires people to be their best, and we are all better people for knowing her.

Happy birthday, Dina. You're a Ferrari and always my favourite.
Have a wonderful day.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Can you believe it's almost December?

Woah. I can barely grasp the concept that it's fall, much less that tomorrow will be December. This year has flown by. I have a few things to chat about today:

First, it's the last day of NaNoWriMo - how did everyone do? I just finished my 50,000 with just a few hours to spare. I'd like to blame getting sick in the last couple of days for being so right up against the deadline, but really, I didn't get too far from the daily word count to ever really pull ahead of the game this year. Anyone else power through it and come out a winner? If not, don't worry too much. There's always next November. Or April, if you want to do a screenplay!

Second, were you aware of the fact that our very own Gothic Goddess, Dina James, is turning 35 this weekend? I already sent her a present, but if you want to get in on the fun, go to her online birthday party. Skyla's bringing cute boys. Okay, just one, but that's enough, right?  For details, go here:  #evilcake35

Third, I'm sick. I think I mentioned that already, but with my brain slowly dribbling out my nose, it's hard to be sure what's' real and what's a weird fever dream. I always have the weirdest dreams when I'm sick. I'd like to think illness could be excellent fodder for my writing, but in reality, I often dream about work stuff and wake up stressed out that the family trust is going to accidentally disinherit a child and oh my god... Yeah, my brain sucks. Give it some free time and instead of brainstorming, it makes me dream horrible dreams about my lawyer job. BORING!

Fourth, it's almost December!  I know I said I can't believe it's almost here, but it's true. I can't. That doesn't mean I'm not excited! This year was kind of crappy (remember my whole husband-has-cancer thing? yeah, that blew. but he's better now!) and I'm ready for a fresh start. Also, I love cold weather and theoretically, winter is the time to bring that. Unfortunately, I live in the central coast of California, so winter here often looks like mid-70s weather. Bring on the snow!

And finally, fifth. Something about writing. Oh yes, I remember. Now that you've plunked down your 50,000 hard-won words for NaNoWriMo, please, please, PLEASE, do not start submitting those words willy-nilly to editors and agents. Make December National Novel Editing Month and they'll love you that much more. Editors and agents really don't want your semi-coherent, very short novel in their inboxes started December 1. Trust me.

So take your time, read through your new novel. Get someone else to read it. Edit it. Read it again. Edit it again. And then, only then, should you consider submitting it.

Congratulations to all those who won NaNoWriMo and congratulations to all those who tried and didn't make it. For the rest of you, congratulations on making it to December!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Relationships: Don't be an ass

Let me start this post with a disclaimer. I have been incredibly fortunate in my publishing journey. I have had a truly fantastic experience with my editors, publishers, and authors I’ve encountered. Even my critique partners take my comments without throwing on some war paint and screaming for my blood. I’m like a goddamn unicorn.

Okay, now that the disclaimer is aside, let’s get this shit started.

We’ve all heard that writing (and publishing) is a business. We’ve hopefully all figured that out and aren’t currently acting like Speshul Snowflake asshats.

What we don’t often talk about is that publishing your writing is like a goddamn relationship. Yep, you heard right. A relationship. Guess what, darlings? Relationships take a whole lot of work. And you know what else? It takes two (or more, you freaky-freak, you!).

We’ve all heard the horror stories. Publishers who treat their authors like shit and then wonder why said authors go elsewhere. Editors who don’t respond to email after email. The list goes on and on. But it’s not just those big bad publishing houses who drop the ball.

Quite frankly, you don’t have a damn bit of control if they do or not. It’s like the cute boy who you think is so damn awesome and gives you butterflies at first, and then…suddenly you realize you really hate the way he disappears for days on end and leaves his dirty socks in the living room.

Now, in the face of this, it’d be easy to wail and gnash your teeth and basically just throw up your hands in despair.

I call bullshit. That work that goes into relationships? It goes both ways. There are countless authors who habitually miss deadlines. Authors who half ass it on their edits. Authors who say, “That’s good enough.”

You can’t expect your editor/publisher/etc. to bust ass for you if you’re not going to put in the work on your side of things. That’s the equivalent of saying, “Woman, you’re hot. You don’t have to be on time to your dates, or be polite, or considerate, and basically you can act like an asshole… but it’s okay, because you’re PRETTY.”

Well, darlings. Pretty is as pretty does, and there’s no excuse to act like a Speshul Snowflake inside ANY relationship. Be considerate. Bust your ass. You’ll benefit from it in the long (and short) run.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

NaNo Then Versus Now

by: Seleste deLaney

I did my first NaNoWriMo in 2007 (aka--very pre-published). I started with a bang, finished with a whimper, then took the next 10+ months to finish the draft. NaNo 2008 (still pre-published) was more of a slow and steady thing. Finished, won, completed the draft in December (I did eventually sell this one as well, under my other pen-name). NaNo 2009 (still pre-published) was like chewing off body parts to finish. I loved the idea, hated the manuscript, but I won anyway. Shelved the manuscript for a few months, then completely re-wrote it and sold it in early 2010. (It was Badlands, for those who care about such things.)

I went into NaNo 2010 as a published author, but at the time I only had one short story (Of Course I Try) out. I had a couple other holidays shorts coming in December and Badlands in February, but I wasn't on deadlines and didn't have a ton of things going. (Badlands was done on my end, and the others were short enough that edits weren't killer.) This year, my NaNoNovel soared and finished up pretty quickly. Granted, I took a year to tweak it and sub it, but that's when Kiss of Death happened.

By NaNo 2011, I had a backlist, I'd won a couple little awards. I was starting to think I was a big deal. So I took that year to write a book that I loved but I knew might be unpublishable because of the plot. (I've let it sit for a year, but I do plan to go back to it and look again.) But once again, I wasn't on deadlines. Everything was easy.

Now, in 2012, I feel like I'm finally doing NaNo as a published author. The lead up to November involved releases in August and September. I have another holiday short coming out in December. And I had a submission due in the middle of November... that I didn't have drafted until the end of October. Uh... this is when the panic-heavy music should be cued. Because of all that, I barely had an outline for Kiss of Life when November 1 hit.

I do not advise doing NaNo this way (published or not)--especially when dealing with a sequel. However, I digress...

I wrote on Kiss of Life for the first week of November and really floundered. I mean hard-core, thought I was going to drown in the suckitude. Then the second week, I took the book I finished in October and spent a week revising it. Once it was subbed, I looked at Kiss of Life and actually groaned. I'd had such a hard time staying on target the first week, the I couldn't fathom how I was possibly going to catch up from missing a week.

Then I remembered how last year Skyla abandoned her first NaNo project half-way through the month and started another one...and finished it. And it hit me--that's how a real author behaves. Writing is our passion, but it's also our job. We get up, dust off our whiny pants, and do the job. So, I sucked in a deep breath, choked on my fear, and remembered that I love these characters and their story. As of 8pm on Tuesday, I have just over 9,000 words left to write to win NaNo. I'll get at least 2,000 of those before I go to bed, hopefully more. That means unless something horrible happens, I'll win NaNo. By the skin of my teeth, but I still did it (or will).

It's weird how I have a bunch of contracts for books sitting in the filing cabinet next to me, but this makes me feel like a real author. The pressure, the deadlines, more than one of them... and busting ass to make sure they happen.

Am I certain this version of Kiss of Life is worth the time I put in? Nope. But that's what I have my awesome beta reader, Janelle, for. She's volunteered to look at the early draft and kick me if I'm way off-base. That means come December 1, I'm sending her what I have and taking a much-needed (and recently ordered) break. Said break doesn't mean I won't be writing, but I'm going to write something for me for a week or so while I wait on Janelle's feedback. Because that's the other thing this year's NaNoWriMo has taught me--that sometimes an author has to write what they want rather than what they should.

Because that, my friends, is what makes it fun and magical and keeps me coming back for more. It's time to re-discover the magic, if only for a little while.

Then it's back to work, because I have the best damn job in the whole world. <3

Monday, November 26, 2012

Editing 101 with Mama Bitchstress: Punctuation and Dialogue

So the last post was theory, and what you should be keeping in mind when revising and editing. This one is practical and it's more of a baby writer lesson.

When I worked slush, it was one of those basic, writing 101 one things that would make me close the doc immediately as it screamed "newbie": incorrect punctuation used within dialogue.

Right: "I once shot a man in Reno just to watch him die," she said.

Wrong: "I once shot a man in Reno just to watch him die." She said.

If you're following up dialogue with a speech tag, you end with a comma, close quote, and not with a period; your tag then is a continuation of the sentence and doesn't start with a capital.

Note I said speech tag and not body language. Speech tags include: said, asked, replied, told, screamed, whispered, etc.

Generally speaking, it's not a particularly good idea to use superfluous tags--anything beyond "said" or "asked"--but that's a post for another day.

This is different from body language.

Right: "I once shot a man in Reno just to watch him die." She grinned.

Wrong: "I once shot a man in Reno just to watch him die," she grinned.

You don't grin words, folks, you say them. On occasion I see laughed and sighed used in this way; if you chose to, at most it should be a one word kind of thing as it's very difficult to sigh or laugh an entire line of dialogue; I personally always treat those as body language and not a speech tag for the sake of clarity.

You can, however, interrupt dialogue with body language, and in that case you treat it as once sentence.

Right: "I once shot a man in Reno," she gazed at the gun, "just to watch him die."

Wrong: "I once shot a man in Reno," she gazed at the gun. "Just to watch him die."

What about other punctuation?

Question marks and exclamation points are treated thusly...

Right: "Have you ever shot a man in Reno just to watch him die?" he asked.

Right: "Have you ever shot a man in Reno just to watch him die?" He eyed the gun.

Same rule with exclamation marks, but for now, take them out of your book--you have too many, I promise. You don't need them. I'm not giving them back to you until later. We'll discuss it after supper.

If you want to go further, in most instances you can get rid of your speech tags all together; body language will suffice.  But we can talk about that in detail another time.


photo credit: Alex Abian (Also on via photopin cc

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Baby Evil Writers 101: Character Sheets

Baby Evil Writers 101: Character Sheets
Julie Butcher

One of the biggest mistakes new writers make is to dive into a manuscript without planning the characters. Names aren’t enough. What do they look like? What’s their favorite food? How old are they and when is their birthday? What’s their favorite curse when they’re angry?
Having a hazy idea of what your character looks like shows in your writing. I’ve found that having a character sheet on hand (I pin them on the wall in my writer clubhouse) makes my descriptions crisp and rounds the character into a real person.

Gregor (Poppi) Romanoff

Age: 62
Height: 6’
Nationality: Gipsy
Accent: Russian
Married to: Maria (Baba) Romanoff for 40 years
Voice sounds like a gravel road
Plays the Violin for gipsy dancers
Lives in an Airstream trailer
Phrases: Devochka as an endearment
Favorite thing: To find news under the message stone

When you have an actual picture, it is easier to describe the flow of their hair and the way their ears stick out—just a little. You need a character sheet for each person you put in your book. You can use live people, but chances are that if you would use someone in your own house, someone you know well, by the time you’d need to write a sequel, they would be several years older than when you began their story. Then what would you do?
This is the start of a character sheet. Next time we’ll add tags and traits.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Keep It Simple, Stupid!

KISS--sucktastic band, and also my favourite idiom. Why? Because it works in so many situations. Take this one for example:
When I was a kid, I was super duper skinny. So skinny people thought I had an eating disorder. I could eat absolutely anything I wanted. And I did. Which meant I had piss poor eating habits and when my family's chub genetics kicked in while I was in my twenties, I ballooned. Now, I'm having to learn how to eat properly and even more important, exercise. Ick. Blech. Ew.
In my weaker moments, I troll the internet for get slim quick tricks. And guess what? There are millions of them. Do they work? Hell no. Don't waste money on fad diets and skinny scams. Keep it simple, stupid. Healthy eating and exercise is the only proven method of getting into shape.
Same goes for writing. Don't waste time looking for the trick that will make writing a novel a breeze. The only way to to write. And it's damned hard work. You need to exercise your brain the same way you exercise your other muscles. Get a routine that works for you, and stick to it best you can. Sure, you'll have days when you slack off, and that's okay. As long as you keep trying.
Eventually, writing becomes a habit. You won't even have to think about it anymore. It'll just be a part of your day. It will be simple. You write. The end.  

Friday, November 16, 2012

No plot? Kind of a problem

Uh, these words count for NaNoWriMo, yes?  Thought so.

So the theory behind NaNoWriMo is that it's a motivation to get you writing. There's even a book called "No Plot? No Problem!" But I have been working away on my novel and I don't really  have a plot. And it's kind of starting to be a problem.

I should probably disclose at this point in time that I've never actually read the "No Plot? No Problem!" book and therefore have no idea whether or not this relates to my post.  :) I've never let a little thing like lack of knowledge stand in my way of talking about something.

I've reached the midway point for NaNoWriMo, so I am actually on track to finish, which is good. But I'm struggling more and more everyday because I'm just not sure what the book is about. I've got a couple characters and a great setup for a situation, but once I put them in the situation I'm struggling with where to go from here. I mean, I can resolve the situation, but then the book would be over and I'd have to write The End about 12,000 times to finish NaNoWriMo.

I hope it won't come down to that, but at this point my brilliant idea is seeming more like a brilliant novella idea than a full blown novel.

So that's what I'm struggling with. How's it going for you guys?  We're supposed to be about halfway through now... are you keeping up?

I was actually ahead for a bit, which was tremendously exciting, so I promptly got sick to celebrate and wasted my lead. I should really re-think that approach.

Happy Friday, everyone!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Kill it with fire!

There’s one thing that about being a writer that really sucks sometimes.

That delightful little bitch of an internal editor? You can’t make her shut up. She’s always in your head—even when you’re reading OTHER PEOPLE’S WORK. Which, quite frankly, blows.

Books that you loved reading over and over again growing up are now the same books you can barely get through because OMG THE HEAD HOPPING!!!! [I’m looking at you, WAYFARER REDEMPTION] It doesn’t mean the book is bad, or anything less than it was back when it made you stay up all night reading, but suddenly there are things that offend your OCD on an almost-personal level. Yes, I’m neurotic. I’m totally okay with this.

Will the mean you’ll never enjoy reading a book again?

Not in the least. What it means is that when you find those precious unicorn books that suck you in and keep you there until the last page, you’ll appreciate it for the gem it is. You hold it close and re-read it and cuddle it because it’s the greatest thing in the world.

And, if you’re like me, you’ll be on twitter fangirling all over the place and embarrassing yourself.

Or you know, just kill your internal editor with fire. She totally deserves it. Just saying.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

If You Stretch It Far Enough, It Breaks

by: Seleste deLaney

The time from early October until the end of the year is inevitably crazy for me. It starts with Halloween decorating and costume-making. Then there is the birthday party for my son and the visit from the in-laws. Christmas shopping, decorating, card-sending, baking, chocolate-making, crafting, wrapping... Oh, and NaNo.

This was the "before I got published" crazy. (I've been doing NaNoWriMo since 2007.) Over the last few years though, the insanity has ramped up. Now I'm throwing in extra blogging, revisions, edits, deadlines, and the sometimes ridiculous favors people ask of authors.

It's a good thing I like the crazy, right?

The only problem is (whether the outside world sees it or not), I've been going at full-speed for a long time now, since way before the month of editing madness that was August. It's a pace that is, quite frankly, unsustainable. And here I am with looming deadlines and promises of manuscript delivery.

I've driven myself right over the edge of crazy and am plunging into the abyss where I will free fall until I crash at the bottom and shatter into a million pieces.

Pretty image, right?

Even from where I'm sitting, it's hard to have much sympathy though because I did this to myself. I've known since about July that I needed a break, but there was always a project that needed working on. Or a shiny opportunity I couldn't afford to pass up. Or a...

You get the point. The road that led right over that cliff was paved with shinies.

So, here I am, stuck in free-fall and trying to make a parachute out of the picnic blanket I had stashed in the backseat. I'm hoping it slows me down enough that the pieces are all big enough to be found after I crash.

Why am I telling all of you this? Because it could happen to you too.

One of the things about being an author, especially in the digital realm, is steady output is important. One book a year generally won't cut it. That means those shinies are a big deal. When you get your first contract, the thought that comes on the heels of "WOOHOO! I GOT A CONTRACT!" tend to be of the "Oh shit, what do I do now?" variety.

It won't take long before you too are on the road of shinies that will take you right to that cliff. So, I brought you here to offer a bit of advice. You ready?

Take the road. Yep, you read that right. Take it. Look at the shinies. Pick up the ones you can. And keep driving. But that speed limit sign? The one with the number that seems way too low? Ignore it at your own peril. It's going to be really tempting to go faster and pick up as many shiny bits as you can. Problem is when you do that, sometimes they slip out of your fingers as you're scooping them up from the road. So, keep close to the posted speed limit. Get your ass out of the car when you see a shiny worth having. Take your time to examine it closely. Then get back in the car and do it again.

Why? Because if you're going at that speed, not only will you see the cliff coming... you'll be able to stop or turn in time.

And you might end up collecting more shiny opportunities on the way than you would have by speeding past.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have this pretty rock that needs some buffing and a spit-shine.

... Because the ground is getting awfully close.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Editing 101 with Mama Bitchstress: Scribe vs Messenger

As I said (warned?) last post, I'm going to do a collection of editing-related posts since editing's part of my day job and it's kinda important and stuff for writers to know. Some posts will be practical, nuts and bolts type things. Some will be theory.

This is the latter. In fact, it's the principle behind all of editing, IMO.

One of the things I most hear writers say (myself included) is how characters run away with the story; I personally have described my writing process as excavation more than creation. When you're delivering that first draft in particular, it's natural--normal, I think--to feel you are a reporter or a scribe, following the characters wherever they lead, barely seeing ahead of you like the headlights of a car unable to permeate the dark, foggy road on which you drive.

The problem comes afterward when this is used as an excuse for any criticism: "That's just the way my characters are/I didn't control where the story went/etc."

It is fine to be a scribe for the first draft, but afterward your role shifts to that of messenger.

Before you can revise, before you can get critiques or edits, you need to know what you are trying to convey.

You need to know what motivations drive all characters, not just your POV ones. You need to know how you want your reader to feel about the world, the people who populate it, and the things they go through, and this is true for all aspects of the story. Your job is to communicate with the reader.

This is why grammar and spelling are important: following the "rules" doesn't make you less of an artist, it makes you more effective at communicating. Giving your work structure doesn't lessen the artistic merit of the work, it makes the story more palatable for the reader. Ensuring your heroine's sympathetic qualities are clear on the page isn't changing your character, it's making the reader root for her the way you do. Cutting (or adding) scenes for pacing isn't murdering your baby, it's to keep the reader engaged.

I can't tell you how many times over the years I have seen writers refuse changes requested for clarity's sake because they insist the characters are just behaving the way they do and they don't really know why, and that scene must stay there although it advances nothing, because they are ARTISTES! DAMN IT! Like somehow delving in and knowing what it is you're trying to communicate lessens the magic of storytelling.

Sometimes it's laziness, but other times I genuinely think writers believe this: that crafting, during revision, and taking things apart to ensure they're put together right kills the soul of the work. But it does quite the opposite, and while you can certainly over-revise (more another day), what normal revision does is allows the reader to see the soul as you do.

Otherwise this story that you have worked so damn hard on is just a big, shapeless lump that isn't pretty and that people can't understand--you have to speak for it, and you have to do it effectively.

Like the Log Lady in Twin Peaks.

Because that is your job when you're in it for publication. Readers pay your bills; readers drive the industry. And they don't live in your head, they don't know what you know, and your ability to communicate with them is just as important as the story you are telling.

So your first step with whatever your revising is to break it down scene by scene, character arc by character arc, sentence by sentence, word by word, and ask yourself, "What am I trying to communicate here?"

If you don't know, I'd suggest taking a long walk just thinking about the story or talking it out with someone because you can't go any further.

If you do the real work starts.


photo credit: hippydream [is busy] via photopin cc

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Baby Evil Writers 101: Conflict, Resolution, Setback

Baby Evil Writers 101: Conflict, Resolution, Setback
Julie Butcher

Everyone knows how Mondays go. You wake up like it is any other day that ends with a Y. And then, an evil Monday problem jumps out at you from behind the door. OH NOES!

You stub your toe on the way to the coffee pot. While hopping on one foot (because your toe thinks it’s dying) you knock the sugar bowl off the counter. It crashes to the floor and the glass shatters. Before you have time to blink your child runs into the kitchen on bare feet
Because you are a mother, you snatch up the child, stepping into the mess to do so. You scream as glass stabs into your surviving foot, and adds blood to the sticky mess. You plop the child safely on a chair and leave bloody footprints on the way to the broom cupboard. Simultaneously you pour cereal into your child’s bowl, sweep the floor, and run water to mop up the blood
Finally, you have the mess cleaned up, and the children fed, and have acquired both coffee and bandages. Now all you need to manage are clothes. Whew. Double whew. Your neck muscles relax and your jaw untenses from the clenched position. You are Super Mom!

You stretch, and the clock on the microwave catches your eye. SWEET MINIONS OF EVIL IT IS BLINKING! The power must have gone out last night. You run for your phone and discover that YOU ARE LATE!

Every chapter in your book is a Monday morning.

CONFLICT: Your hero has a terrible problem. OH NOES!
RESOLUTION: Your hero fixes the problem. OH YAY!
SETBACK:  Here comes another problem and it is worse than the first problem. OH HOLY CRAP!

If you have a scene without these three elements, delete it. You don’t write chapters to drop information or to set up the reader for what is going to happen later. Information is like sprinkles on ice cream. You don’t eat a whole bowl of sprinkles. (You might want to but it isn't how it is supposed to be.)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Full of it

I'm not so much Sarah as I am Snuffleupagus. My dad visited and left me a loverly head cold as a parting gift. I have done nothing this week but curl up on the couch and watch Dexter on Netflix. (Cool show, btw)

So because my head is fuzzed out, I offer you this video instead. Listen, learn, live.

Monday, November 5, 2012

It's Not Personal, It's Business

Dina here.

I'm going to expand on my previous post and talk about rejection.

It happens to EVERY WRITER. Every single writer gets a rejection letter for something at some point. Your favorite author? Rejected. Someone you know whose work is utterly brilliant and you can't in a million years see how they could ever be rejected? Yep, them too.

Even people who are already repped get rejections for some of their new ideas, so don't go thinking that once you're accepted by an agent everything is going to be fine and dandy and you'll never have to deal with rejection again. From bestselling novelists to not-yet-pubbed writers, rejection happens to everyone.

And you know what? To paraphrase The Godfather, "it's not personal, it's business."

The vast majority (and I'm talking like 99.8% here) of rejection letters aren't personal. Again, if you've made a complete ass out of yourself or are known to be a complete stalker jerkwad, there might be a bit of "personal" thrown into your rejection, but that's on you. You earned that. The rest of the time, though?

Strictly business. (We're not going to talk here about shit that should have been rejected outright/never have seen the light of day and was accepted instead of your shit. That's a blog post for another time.)

It's hard not to take it personally. Believe me, I know the feeling well. It's hard not to get discouraged. But take a long, hard look at your letter(s). If they're anything like "thank you but it's not right for me/my catalogue/etc." or "I don't believe I'm the best person to represent this" or "I didn't fall in love with this" or "I have to be very careful about the projects I take on and this just doesn't fit," here's a hint. These are FORM REJECTIONS.

Now, if your letter says something specific like, "I couldn't connect with the main character" or "I didn't understand _______" or "I love your voice and your concept but _______," these are generally personalized rejections. Now, "personalized" does not mean the rejection is personal. It means it was written specifically FOR you, not ABOUT you. That's the difference here.

A rejection letter is rejecting your WORK, not you as a person, and that's really what you have to keep in mind. I've read several blog posts lately from wannabe writers crying (angrily in some cases!) about how they've been rejected so many times and no one loves them and and and….

As I said before, if you've gotten more than 10 rejections, you might want to look to a few things. You don't just keep querying with your work thinking all is well. READ your rejections carefully. Form rejection? Okay. Suck, but okay. Try someone else until you hit double-digits. Once you hit double-digits, try revamping things. Your query letter, your work, your choice of agent…there's lots of things you can tinker with. Quick refresher from my previous post:

a)      the letter itself – it may not be effectively communicating your premise
b)     the project  - it may not be suitable for the house/agent you're querying
c)      your approach – there are reasons for submission guidelines. Follow them.

If it's a personalized rejection, PAY ATTENTION to what they say. If they say your voice needs work, study up and revise. If they say your pacing is slow, revise. If they say your concept is played out, revise (or trunk, or resub to someone else).

Upon rejection, allow yourself a day to mourn. It's a traumatic experience, form rejection or no. Do NOT post an angry rant NAMING THE AGENT on your blog. Do NOT upload your opus angrily to Createspace in an effort to "show them" (hint: they're not going to notice or care, I promise you).

Notice the part about anger up there. Yeah, rejection sucks. It always hurts no matter how gently it's done, and it's hard not to be angry about that. But SUCK IT UP and TRY HARDER. Try again.

Or don't. I mean, the less you try, the bigger chance someone else has to be accepted.

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