Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Move On Or Hang Tough

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Every writer wants to see their work published, one way or another. But what happens when you finish your novel and it just won't let go. Move on or hang tough?

It's a difficult decision, especially if the novels you've written don't fall into a popular genre at the moment. My young adult fantasy, THE WALKER AND THE WITCH, is complete at 76,000 words. It's sequel, THE SENEX, is complete at 93,000 words, a third (untitled) is nearing completion with a word count that will fall near 80,000. The fourth and final novel in what has become a series is fully worked out and simply needs to be put to paper. However, the story is told from a witch's point of view, and it contains supernatural elements. Unfortunately, editors and literary agents are not interested in the supernatural at this time.

What do you do? I began writing a young adult contemporary thriller that's long overdue. It's a work of fiction with real-experiences in the mix. A story I owe to someone I lost at a very young age. Contemporary thrillers are popular with literary agents right now. But do you write it simply because it's a popular genre? After struggling through the first thousand words and with the help of my wonderful critique partners (and my imaginary friends from The Walker and The Witch), I realized now isn't the time. As hard as I tried to focus on the new story, my mind continued to wander back to The Walker and The Witch. So, do you write for publication or for love? If you write solely for publication, your work will suffer. Your story will seem forced and readers will pick up on that.

I thought I was simply having a hard time letting go, or putting The Walker and The Witch away in a safe place and continuing on. However, that's not the case at all. The story isn't finished, I know that, and so do my characters. One of my critique partners told me: "There's nothing wrong with continuing to work on The Walker and The Witch. Anything you do to make it better is going to pay off, either for this story or your next. And you have to be passionate about something to write it, you know? If you're still passionate about this one, keep your focus on it." I knew that, but for some reason I needed to be told. Words of wisdom! Passionate, that's the key word. If you're no longer writing for the love of the craft, it becomes a job. No fun!

I want to write the thriller. I want to tell the story. However, my focus is on The Walker and The Witch at the moment. That's where my passion lies. Am I supposed to put it away because it's not a "popular" genre? No. I love the story. I love the characters, and Willow isn't finished telling her story yet. The popularity of Young Adult Fantasy will come back around. All great trends do.

Everything happens for a reason. Maybe that's why you can't focus on the next task. So if you're experiences are similar, re-edit, re-write, revise. Make your story the very best it can be. Don't ever give up! Your turn is coming!


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Writer's Block

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When a writer loses the ability to produce new work. Writer's block has several causes. A writer may run out of inspiration, or be distracted by other events.

I tend to fall under the "distracted" category, namely social media. My day begins with checking email, which leads to Twitter, Facebook, and my Google profile page. Before I know it, an hour has passed--an hour that could have been used writing.

So what to do to move beyond it?

Freewrite/Brainstorm: Put the computer down. Pull out a tablet of paper and a pen, and just write. Jot down whatever comes to mind about your topic. Try adding questions. Questions will make you think. Your creative mind will want the answers.

Go for a walk or a drive: Explore new places. You'll be surprised what you can find, and what your imagination can turn it into.

Start in the middle or at the end: The first chapter is always the hardest. The first page seems impossible. So, don't start at the beginning. If you know what's going to happen half-way through, then begin there. You can add the beginning later. If you know how your story ends, begin there and work your way back. There isn't a rule that you must begin at the beginning.

Shut off the Self-Critic: Don't stress over grammar and punctuation, just write. There's a time and a place for the critiquing, it's called editing.

Set a writing schedule: And stick with it! If you're a morning person, take an hour or two in the morning. If your brain doesn't begin to fully function until later, use that time. The amount of time you set aside doesn't matter--ten minutes, twenty, an hour. Make this your writing time. Shut off the self-critic, and write. If your better with numbers, set a word count. Write 500 words, a thousand, or more. However you decide to do it, the goal is to write.

Carry a notebook: Just like a nurse carries her stethoscope--one of her tools of the trade. Never leave home without your notebook. You never know when an idea will hit you.

Edit a previous manuscript: Sometimes re-editing previous work does wonders, especially if that self-critic is hard at work. I can't do this. I have nothing to say. Yes you do! Look what you've already crafted!

Take a break: If you've just finished a project, take some time off. Give your creative juices time to start flowing again. Take some time for you. Read a book!

Think about what you're writing and why: Keep it fun! If you love to write in particular genre, then write in it. Don't try to write a story in a genre that's trending right now, your work will suffer. It will begin to feel like a job, rather than enjoyment. The best books always come from authors who are at play. Writing is too hard to do for anything other than love.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

H.M. Jones: An Interview

Today, I have the awesome opportunity to share an interview with the wonderfully talented author H.M. Jones.

H.M. Jones the author of the new adult, dark fantasy, Monochrome, awarded the B.R.A.G Medallion in 2014. She has also authored a series of poetry books, the Attempting to Define poetry collection, and is writing the first book in her soon to be released young adult series, The Old Wood Trilogy
Jones is kept very busy mothering her two preschoolers and teaching college writing and literature. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her two children, her husband and her very fat cat, Pepper. Besides the critical (or hungry?) meows from her cat, her work is being highly praised for its honesty, introspection and creativity. She moderates the Indie review site Elite Indie Reads (http://www.eliteindiereads.weebly.com) when she is not writing, teaching or mothering. 
H.M. Jones' novel, Monochrome, is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and most, if not all, e-book distributors. Visit her website at http://www.hmjoneswrites.net where there are also a few trailers for her books, Monochrome and her soon to be released YA book, Lexis.
Monochrome is a wonderful read! Merely touching the surface, I've included a few of the several positive reviews, Monochrome has received.
5 star rating: Beauty, Magic, and Betrayal: This story was amazing!
5 star rating: Unique and satisfying storytelling: This is a well-crafted story that makes an unlikely journey believable and thought provoking.
5 star rating: A journey of discovery: Ms. Jones has written a dark, Alice in Wonderland styled story that will touch your heart with the characters plight and perhaps, if you're like me, have you start your own journey of introspection.
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
I wanted to grow up to be a recluse with a large library, and I wanted to write. I have not changed my goals much, though I have added a family to them. 
What do you do when you're not writing?
Alas, I spend most of my time not writing. I only get a few hours in the day to create, since I'm a full-time mother. So, generally, I am chasing after kids. But I also like to work out, draw, read (a lot), garden and teach.
Do you have a day job?
My day job is being a full-time mom, but I also snag a few moments here and there in which to write (nap time is perfect for this). However, I do teach afternoons at the Northwest Indian College, as an English instructor, and I love it. All this should tell you that I don't make a lot of money, but I have tons of fun.
What inspired you to write your first book?
Monochrome just came to me, in large bits and pieces. I had severe postpartum depression after having my first child and was devastated by it. I talked to some close friends and family about it and learned that many of them had some form of depression after they had babies, too, some of them as severe as my own, but they were embarrassed to talk about it. It's a taboo discussion, really. I wanted to fix that. Had I not been so embarrassed, I would have got help sooner. 

So, it's about depression, not just postpartum depression, but about the darkness that can overcome someone, that can disable them. Some readers were looking for a "how to" when they found out that my book was about depression, but it's not a guide. It is, simply, a book that is honest, sometimes hard to read, often sad, but open. I made it a fantasy because I feel that when one lives in depression, they are living in an empty, dark place. The world, Monochrome, is the physical representation of the depressed mind, and I always knew what it would look like, having lived there, on and off, throughout my life. 

Don't let this description fool you, though.  Monochrome is about how one protagonist finds the beauty in her life, and shares it with others. It is a very hopeful book, actually. It's about fighting against the darkness that feels overwhelming. It's also a bit romantic, so, if you like that sort of thing, pick it up.
How long does it take you to write a book?
Depends on the book. I started seriously writing books after my children were born, though I've always written poetry, stories and musings here and there. Being a mother to two tiny ones means, of course, that it takes me a lot longer to get my work out there. I don't have a full day to sit and write, so I write during nap time and at the end of the day, when the kids are sleeping. I'm also pretty picky with the end result, so I revise my work several times before allowing anyone else to read it. Then, I revise again, with beta reader suggestions. It took three years for Monochrome to be ready, and I'm still finding things I wish I'd done better. I've been working on Lexis, my unfinished YA novel, for about a year, and it's still in early revision stages. 
What was the hardest part about writing Monochrome? 
Putting my character through hard times. I mean, if the protagonist does not face difficulty, you have no book. But I love my characters, so I have a hard time making them suffer. Also, I'm not a fan of marketing. I have to learn to sell my product better because it's worth it, but I don't come by it naturally. That's not really 'writing,' but it is very much related for an indie author. 
Do you have an interesting writing quirk?
I often think of important plot points while I run. I don't listen to music when I run, so my mind is open and clear to get it all out there. Most of my really great reveries have come from run-writing. I also tend to write a book from beginning to end, without a guide of any sort. I free write until I hit an ending, then I revise. 
When did you first start writing and when did you finish your book?
I first started writing Monochrome in 2010. I finally published it in 2013. My poetry books were all pieces composed from poems that were pretty much finished (a life's worth of poetry), so it was easier to get them out. I simply had to format the ebooks and the covers and content. I released them all in about 2013/2014 because they were all fairly polished before I put them into their respective poetry books.
How did you choose the genre you write in?
I'm a huge fantasy fan, both contemporary and high fantasy, so most of my books come out fantastical in some way, though I tend towards contemporary/modern fantasy. I'm going to branch out, in the future, but fantasy is my go-to genre. I blame Tamora Pierce, J.K. Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkien. They woke something dormant in me with their fantasies, and it made me want to be a writer who made fantasy relatable, like they do.
How did you come up with the title for Monochrome?
Monochrome is just so catchy. It stuck right away. My world is all steely blue, navy blue, black-blue. It's as dark as the mind of a person about to give up on life. So the meaning of the word and how it ties into the story, and the very heavy sound of it when it rolls off the tongue just made it the perfect title. 
Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way, either as a child or an adult?
There are too many to list. As an English M.A., it would be disingenuous of me to say that I created something uninspired. My work is creative, it is my own, but it has hints, brushes and flourishes that will remind readers of other books they've read. As such, I will be more than happy if a reader is reminded of this or that author when reading my work. Some of my favorite authors are Tamora Pierce, Hawthorne, Dickens, Poe, Austen, Alexie, Rowling, Avi, Lowry, Chaucer, Malory, Suzanne Collins, Sharon Olds, Aphra Behn, Donne, Neruda, and Tolkien, among others. So, yeah, I've been influenced a plenty. 
Is anything in Monochrome based on real life experience or purely all imagination?
Monochrome is heavily based on my life experience, but it's not my life in a nut shell. Abigail is not me, though she shares some of my traits and my depression. Many events were completely made up, some altered beyond recognition. It's a work of fiction, mostly, because my life is not as interesting as my writing, thank goodness! I would not want to have to deal with all the stuff Abigail has to deal with, or Ishmael, for that matter. But many events that triggered my depression are mirrored in Monochrome because it helped me to generate the feelings I needed to make the book feel real. 
Can you tell us about your upcoming book?
Lexis is a lot different than Monochrome. It's a contemporary fantasy, too, but for a much younger audience. It's about first love, about gender identification, about growing up and finding oneself. I wanted to write something that would speak to the generation that's up and coming now, those who will be changing the world. Lexis is a fantasy that is about much more than a magical world and secret ancestry, but it's very unfinished, so that's all I can say for now. Visit my website for a little sneak peek, and to watch the trailer. I have not decided whether I will self publish it or seek an agent or publisher. 

I'm also writing a short story for a sci-fi compilation that has yet to be announced. So, sadly, I cannot give you much more on that, either, except to say that I was actually asked to write something by the publisher because they loved Monochrome, which made me pretty darn happy.
What book(s) are you reading now?
I'm currently beta reading a book for an indie author friend, T.L. Searle. It's the book that follows her book Aquila: From the Darkness. It's going to be great when she releases it. I'm also reading Zeitoun by Dave Eggers, which is amazing!
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Write all the time. If you want to be a writer, live it. And get people to read your work, give you advice, before you release it or present it to an agent or publisher. Your work will say a lot about you, and you want what is said to be positive. 
Is there anything specific you'd like to say to your readers?
I love you! Honestly. Especially you readers who read and review, even if you don't give me glowing reviews. I love that my book spoke to you, that you gave my words time and importance. I love that you suspended disbelief and walked into my world. What I do, I do for those who love to read. It's my gift to you, and you are a gift to me. 
H.M. Jones is the wonderfully talented author of Monochrome. She also wrote a series of poetry books, the Attempting To Define poetry collection, and is currently writing the first in a series of soon to be released young adult novels, Lexis: book one of The Old Wood Trilogy.
Thank you, H.M. Jones, for the awesome interview and sharing your wonderful writing talent with the world.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Edit, Edit, Edit

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Some things I learned during the editing process:

Every word counts! There is a basic word count guideline for each literary genre. Failing to follow this guideline, chances a rejection over a request for further material. Take the Fantasy genre for example. The word count guideline suggests your manuscript contain 80,000 to 100,000 words. If you query with a word count of 200,000, chances are an agent won't even give it a second look, if they read your query letter at all.

I found during the editing process, cutting unnecessary words, dialogue and eliminating redundancies cut my manuscript from 86,000 words to 73,000. That's 13,000 words! Simply by cutting one word at a time. It tightened my sentences and made my manuscript flow better.

Some words I found, more than not, to be unnecessary:
the (believe it or not)
that (I bet I deleted "that" 500 times)
had (almost always unnecessary)
just (almost always unnecessary)

The list could go on and on! But these are the most common. Researching editing and continuing on with my manuscript I learned that almost every word that ends in "ly" is unnecessary. They also fall under the redundancy list more times than not. An easy way to look for these words is to "find". Under "find what" type ly. I believe I have one word in my entire 73,000 word manuscript that ends in "ly" now.

Some I've found are:
slightly (deleted so many)
literally (get rid of all)

The other problem with these words: If you find them in your manuscript, chances are you're telling vs. showing and that's a deal breaker! When you find an "ly" word, try to re-write the sentence to show action rather than tell. Another fateful word is "felt"! If FELT is in your sentence, you are telling rather than showing.

Some other things I found:

Don't use a name in every sentence of dialogue. No one talks like that. Example:
"Dad, what are you doing?"
"I'm going for a drive, Emma."
"Why are you doing that, Dad?"
"Because, Emma."

Use contractions:
People do not talk so formal. Your sentences will flow better.

Don't search for other words to say "said". Said disappears in the sentence for the reader. They don't even realize it's there. Therefore, it doesn't interrupt the flow of your sentences. Always put the speaker before "said". Joseph said vs. said Joseph. Most of the time, you can "show" with an action vs. "tell" who is speaking. Example: Joseph slammed his hand down on the table. "You are not going!" You just eliminated the need to use "said" at all. I'm not saying don't ever use it, just use it sparingly. Also, using other words for "said" is absolutely acceptable but use them sparingly. As my wonderful critique partner told me: Think of them as only for "special occasions".

Asked: When your character asks a question it is punctuated with a "?" Therefore, you don't always need to say: Joseph asked. Instead try using a sentence to "show" who is asking the question.

Don't repeat dialogue. Example: "Dad, what you doing?" "What am I doing? I'm going for a drive." Unnecessary dialogue! Also, I read somewhere that it's a red flag to agents, and screams inexperienced, new author!

Try to eliminate redundancies. If you use whispered, don't say softly or quietly, you're repeating yourself and taking up valuable word count space. Whispering is soft and quiet.
Brushed her cheek gently. Brushing something is gentle.
He crept slowly. Normally if you crept, it's slowly.
He ran swiftly. Running is swift.
Caressed tenderly. A caress is tender.
He rose up. Rising is up.
He sat down. Sat is down.
He shrugged his shoulders. What else is he going to shrug.
It was 7 p.m. at night. P.M. signifies that it's night.
The hairy gorilla. Gorilla's are hairy.
The dress was blue in color. Blue is a color.

I hope this helps with your editing endeavors. If you have examples of your own, or further suggestions, please feel free to comment!


Friday, October 3, 2014

The Obvious Next Step

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I began a new book yesterday. It's been bouncing around in my head for awhile (for more years than I'm willing to admit). It's a tale I owe to someone, but that's another story.

My first manuscript, The Walker And The Witch, poured out of me like water from a spigot. I'm not saying it was a simple task, but my characters were relentless. They had a story to tell and they weren't about to let me forget it; constantly knocking on my mind's door. They were there when I went to bed, when I woke up, when I went on a walk (I started carrying a tape recorder), and through every other part of my day. As with most writers, my characters became real. They became my imaginary friends. I cried with them, laughed with them, shared their anger, fear, courage, failures and triumphs. Their story is in black and white, and waiting patiently for an interested agent.

While waiting, the obvious next step is to begin a new story. Staring at a blank computer screen, or typing and erasing filled my days for two weeks. The first page is always the hardest, but this was ridiculous. I kept telling myself, I had to let go of Willow, James, Mags, and the rest of my characters/friends from the previous project. I felt like I was betraying them; turning my back on them. I couldn't even come up with my "new" main character's name. It raised a wall in my mind. Yes, the dreaded writer's block!

I put my computer away and read a book by a wonderfully helpful author. GMC: Goal, Motivation & Conflict by Debra Dixon. I recommend it to all aspiring authors. By the time I was finished reading, I had the beginning, middle, and end all worked out in my mind. I was excited to begin! So, I stared at a blank computer screen again. I still felt like a traitor. I even tweeted about it on Twitter: "I began a new story yesterday. It's slow going. Can't let go of the first one." A lovely lady commented on my post. She said not to look at it as "letting go". Simply that it's in a safe place.

A short little post that had a monumental effect. In "real" life we don't discard a friend simply because we found another. We add them to our circle. Willow Young meet Abby Woods! We're all going to be great friends.

Writer's block affects all authors in some form or another. The way it affected me may seem silly in your mind. I know there are authors out there who whip through manuscript after manuscript, creating new worlds and whole list of new characters. It's such a simple feat for some. However, I don't think I'm alone in my "crazy" little world of make-believe. I have to believe there are other aspiring authors out there who struggle in the ways I do.

What walls have you hit? And how did you break through them?


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Maria Vicente - Finding Hope

Maria Vicente - P.S. Literary Agency

I've never written a post about a literary agent before, and I hope she doesn't mind the mention. While researching some content for another post, I came across Ms. Vicente's website. It is very informative and I recommend all aspiring authors check it out!

The research I was doing was directly related to my post, "What Literary Agents Don't Want". I couldn't let hope die without a fight, without exhausting all my search options. Maria Vicente is one of the exception I spoke of in What Literary Agents Don't Want.

My search today entailed: Literary agents seeking witches, vampires, shape-shifters, and so on. MariaVicente.com popped up! I followed the link and began reading the content on her website, as I said, very informative. This is what I found under her "Representation" tab: (I copy/pasted as not to miss a single word)

Literary Representation

I am an associate literary agent at P.S. Literary Agency. Below is an overview of categories I represent as well as my current “wish list” items. I will consider manuscripts in the following categories even if your story doesn’t fit with the contents of my wish list. I’m always looking for a unique manuscript or book proposal. Surprise me with something new and exciting!
If you’d like to send me a query for potential representation, please take a look at P.S. Literary Agency’s Submission Guidelines and send your query letter to query@psliterary.com.

LITERARY FICTIONI am interested in realistic adult literary fiction or literary fiction with a touch of genre (horror, science fiction, fantasy), but I’m not currently looking for genre-focused manuscripts (something you’d find in the speculative fiction section of your local bookstore). I love magical realism. I’m looking for excellent writing combined with a high concept plot.
Literary Fiction Wish List:
  • Magical realism. Example: Of Bees & Mist.
  • Contemporary literary fiction. 
  • Contemporary twist on classic detective fiction. Great mystery, a femme fatale character, etc. Example: an updated The Big Sleep.
  • Modern historical fiction (novels set in the early 20th century; 1910-1960).
  • Realistic stories with a touch of horror/thriller or fantasy. Examples: Night FilmThe Golem and the Jinni, The Night Circus.
  • A serial killer story. Introduce me to the next Dexter.
  • Manuscripts that play with narrative structure and/or incorporate different mediums (art, photography, illustrations, etc.).
YOUNG ADULTI am interested in a variety of YA genres: contemporary, horror, thriller, science fiction, fantasy, and magical realism. I enjoy literary prose and a strong, unique voice.

Young Adult Wish List:
  • Psychological horror. The creepier, the better!
  • Contemporary with an incredible main character who has interesting quirks and hobbies. Example: Fangirl.
  • The novel version of a teenage TV drama like Dawson’s Creek or The OC (in-depth character development for an ensemble cast, complex friendships and relationships, clever dialogue, and relatively over-the-top plot).
  • Magical realism. Ex: The Strange & Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender.
  • Science fiction with a tone similar to Fringe (creepy) or Firefly (comedy). A female lead character like Olivia Dunham would be a nice bonus. 
  • Contemporary with a focus on friendship rather than romance.
  • A break-up story. Either a relationship or friendship break-up, filled with drama and honest emotion.
  • Contemporary with LGBTQ characters. Not necessarily an “issue” book. I like stories that involve identity politics and characters who go against gender norms.
  • A story from a witch’s point of view. I love villains.
  • Fairytale retelling with macabre sensibilities.
  • Manuscripts that play with narrative structure and/or incorporate different mediums (art, photography, illustrations, etc.).
MIDDLE GRADE & CHAPTER BOOKS I am interested in contemporary, magical realism, fantasy, and horror for middle grade projects. Chapter book submissions need to be never-before-published topics and have series potential, so something that won’t grow tiresome after one or two books.
Middle Grade Wish List:
  • Realistic with a quirky plot. The perfect mix of commercial and literary.
  • Graphic novel.
  • Short story collection. Ideally every chapter should be its own story, but connect through one common theme or setting. Example: Wayside School series.
  • Animal story with a classic feel. My all-time favourites are Watership Down and Silverwing.
  • Contemporary Sweet Valley Twins series. This doesn’t need to focus on twins — friends or sisters would be just fine. Contemporary stories about real-life issues for younger readers, featuring likeable characters they can relate to.
  • Cute chapter book series for young readers. I’d love something featuring dinosaurs or unicorns.

PICTURE BOOKSPicture book submissions should be high concept and character-driven (nothing too didactic). I like whimsical and eccentric characters with a fun story to tell. Author/illustrators are preferred.

NONFICTION I’m interested in nonfiction that covers the following categories: pop culture, geek culture, pop psychology, design, and lifestyle. I love online and pop culture, particularly television and its many fandoms, so I’m always willing to look at projects with that angle. I’d love to see lifestyle and design books like cookbooks, DIY guides, fashion or art themed projects, etc. I also welcome blog-to-book proposals. I expect any nonfiction book proposal to offer a new perspective on an entertaining topic.

If you look closely at her Young Adult Wish List, you will find a short entry stating: "A story from a witch's point of view. I love villains." This is what promptly caught my attention. The main character of my manuscript, Willow Young, is a witch! However, she's not a villain. But, she's a witch! I also found in her Fall 2014 Manuscript Wish List: "I’ve always loved witches. I want one to call my own for the rest of forever. I’m looking for an excellent YA told from a witch’s point of view. I have no other specifics; I’ll know it when I see it." My excitement took over and I immediately sent Ms. Vicente a query letter!

I'm not saying I expect representation simply on the fact that she loves witches. What I am saying is: There are still Literary Agents out there looking for submissions with paranormal elements. If you review Ms. Vicente's wish list you'll find that she's currently seeking manuscripts that other literary agent's "don't want". She is absolutely one of the exceptions, and I found hope.