Monday, October 31, 2011

Contest Monday! Happy Halloween!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN! I assume most of you aren't in a sugar coma yet, so here are a few Halloween(ish) giveaways I found around the blogosphere. 

Our sister Valerie is having TWO giveaways this week! Check out her blog (click the links) to see enter to win the fun middle grade novel THE WHITE ASSASSIN by Hilary Wagner AND the latest House of Night book DESTINED by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast! Both contests end Thursday, November 3rd.

To celebrate all she's thankful for, Beth Revis is giving away 19 signed books to one lucky winner! Details.

Young Adult Books blog is giving away 5 copies of the YA paranormal, THE MEPHISTO COVENANT. Ends Nov. 11th. Details.

Bells has a great interview with author Shona Husk, and she is giving away 2 copies of Shona's adult book THE GOBLIN KING. Ends Nov. 7th. Details.

Today is the last day to enter to win this awesome "witchy-boo" charm bracelet at On The Broomstick.

Play this fun Halloween quiz and be entered to win a signed copy of MONSTERS in the MOVIES.

Hope you all have a safe and happy Halloween! And if you have any contests or giveaway, seasonal or not, please share them in the comments! 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday Book Rec: THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater

From Goodreads:
It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die.

At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.

Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.

Why you should read this book: Well, first of all, it's written by Maggie Stiefvater, and if you've read anything by her, you know this book will be amazing. I had the opportunity to read this book several months ago, and I still can't get it out of my brain. It's gorgeous, moving, exciting, and not like anything else out there right now. Really. THE SCORPIO RACES belongs in a category all to itself. It's just a fabulous read. Just read it. You won't be disappointed!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

My NaNoWriMo Necessities

It's almost that time again, can you believe it? NaNoWriMo starts November first. And after taking last year off, I've decided I have a goal I want to meet, and NaNo is going to help me do it. I'm just getting started with my prepping (well, sort of), so I thought I'd share my process.

Here's what I personally need in order to have a successful NaNoWriMo experience:

- A Notebook (I like Mead 5-star college ruled, because I'm particular like that.)
- SCRIVENER (They have a 30 day free trial! Perfect for NaNo.)
- Write Or Die (I have the desktop edition, but you can also use it for free online.)
- A set block of writing time each day.

And of course, none of this is even remotely helpful without an idea. Which I have.

So, how do I use these things? I've found that NaNo only works for me when I know exactly what I'm writing. (And by "exactly" I mean, I know what my story is about, the basic plot, and usually the beginning and end - all of which may change once I actually start writing.)

I am not an outliner, but what I do is in the months leading up to NaNo, I fill a notebook with plot ideas, scene ideas, and character info. It's a lot of rambling, but it is SO helpful. And I find that handwriting this, rather than typing it, helps in a couple of ways. One, it feels very free. I'm just playing around. I'm not officially attempting to write a book, which is of course, scary, and difficult. Two, I find that when hand writing, I remember things better, and I tend to sort of ask and answer questions, which helps to flesh out my idea.

Once I've done that, if there's still space in that notebook, I write down a brief description of every scene I know is going to go into the book. If there's not room, I start with a brand new one, because brand new notebooks make me happy. I use this list as my jumping off point for NaNo. I find that if I have a chunk of things that I know I'm going to write, it feels much less scary getting started. Usually these scenes skip over many events I haven't figured out yet and sitting down to write them helps me figure out the rest. (Once I'm on a roll though, I try to save any pre-planned scenes for those days when I feel like I can't possibly write at all.) Also, I find it satisfying to open up that notebook each day and see whch scenes I've already written, and how far I've come. When I get new scene ideas I will also jot them down in the notebook just so that I have them and can cross them off when they're written.

And that means that yes, I'm one of those crazy people that sometimes writes out of order. This is where Scrivener comes in! With Scrivener I can organize as I go. I make each scene I write a separate file in Scrivener which makes dragging them around in index card mode (or just regular binder view) very simple. I also make notes on each scene in the "Documents Notes" section that let me know what information I haven't figured out yet, or what effect this scene has on what I've already written.

So how do I get those scenes written? I like Write Or Die. (Write Or Die is a writing app that you type in. It counts your words and prompts you with flashing colors and awful sounds, and even deleting your text if you're brave enough to use kamikaze, whenever you stop typing and start staring into space.) I usually set it at 40 minutes and 1000 words on "Normal". I find if I have a general idea of the scene I'm writing, I can keep writing all the way through, and often I will go over the 1k, or I will write more than one scene to reach that 1k with time to spare. When I'm less certain about what I'm writing, I'll do 500 words and 20-25 minutes. The prompting from Write Or Die is usually enough to kick me back into writing. I find that I can get more done by not stopping and trying to find the absolute perfect word. And a lot of times I discover that by having to write something, I end up figuring things out I would've spent hours pondering.

And that brings me to my final necessity. Time. I have to set up a specific time each day where I do this writing. I like first thing in the morning. I will sit down at the computer with my coffee, and my ideas fresh from sleep and just type those 1666 words until I'm done. I don't go over what I wrote the day before first, although usually I'll wake up with thoughts on what to do next fresh on my mind. And I find if I address those first, I'm more focused than if I've checked my email, and read blogs, and seen what's going on on twitter. I'm not normally this disciplined, but it's something about the idea that it's just for one month, that allows me to do this.

And that's my approach to NaNoWriMo. How do you NaNo? Do you find it easier to focus during that month than other times of the year?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Retreat Rehash

I think I've finally recovered from my exhausting, amazing, and inspiring week in Breckenridge at the Writing Away Retreat hosted by this fab lady: CICILY JANUS
(NOTE: All photos in this post were taken by the lovely and talented Maureen Benes, a fellow writer at the retreat who knows her way around a camera way better than I do). Here's the link to more of her beautiful photography.

Cicily and Sue Ellen cooked their way through the whole week, and I haven't eaten that well in a really long time. After having amazing meals prepared for 5 1/2 days, it was really hard to get my butt back in the kitchen when I got home.  

This was the view from our front porch, and it was even better when we went hiking in the mountains:

And this was the last of the beverages on the final day of the retreat....

 The wine, vodka, rum, etc. were long gone at this point. CONFESSION: my roommate and I alone finished a case of Diet Pepsi--cuz we're wild and crazy like that.

The writing time was incredible. Those of you with jobs, kids, etc. can understand the joy of uninterrupted writing time. Aside from the occasional (okay, frequent) Diet Pepsi run, I wrote all day long. The 1:1's with staff were more helpful than any conference I've ever attended. Seriously. It was more than worth the money just to have those critique sessions. Plus, they were a captive audience as we all shared the same house. They were always happy to answer questions about the publishing industry or just talk about life, kids, etc. I couldn't have picked more amazing editors to spend my week with than Abby Ranger, Kevin Doughten, and Katie Gilligan. Also, don't tell anyone, but Kevin can sing (and dance).  

I have so many great memories: karaoke night, Maritess' magic show, Folio agent Scott Hoffman's rendition of Bon Jovi's "Dead or Alive", Lee Ann's Southern-tinged stories, laughing with my roommate until 5am when we finally fell asleep, and Chris' amazing take on "Kiss" by Prince. Also, did I mention the hot tub? My first night there, the moon was full and we watched the snow-capped mountain peaks glow from the hot tub. The hot tub was a relaxing way to end the day, and my roommate and partner-in-crime, Sue, spent a lot of time there with me...I'm still waiting for that meteor shower.

Overall, bonding with other writers was the highlight of my week. It was a truly magical experience, and I'm already saving up for next time. If you've ever considered a retreat, I can't recommend this one highly enough.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Friday Book Recommendation--BLISS by Lauren Myracle

I'd already planned on recommending this one by Lauren Myracle in October because it makes for a good creepy, Halloween read:

As I was basically was under a rock for the past week (e.g. no internet), I didn't hear all the kerfluffle over her book SHINE until yesterday. The fact that she handled the incident with such grace and professionalism makes me want to recommend any book of hers even more. I plan on reading SHINE ASAP, and hope you enjoy BLISS as much as I did.

From Goodreads:
Lauren Myracle brings her keen understanding of teen dynamics to a hypnotic horror story of twisted friendship:
When Bliss’s hippie parents leave the commune and dump her at the home of her aloof grandmother in a tony Atlanta neighborhood, it’s like being set down on an alien planet. The only guide naïve Bliss has to her new environment is what she’s seen on The Andy Griffith Show. But Mayberry is poor preparation for Crestview Academy, an elite school where the tensions of the present and the dark secrets of the past threaten to simmer into violence. Openhearted, naïve Bliss is happy to be friends with anyone. That’s not the way it has ever worked at Crestview, and soon Bliss is at the center of a struggle for power between three girls—two living and one long dead.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I *Heart* School.

My Tiny Human started school in September this year. She and I went from being together 24/7 for all four years of her life, to being apart for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week. Now. This is where I could tell you that I cried the day I dropped her off and I've missed her and she had terrible separation anxiety. But I'd be lying.

It is GREAT! She loves school, her teacher is fantastic, and I have 6 hours to exercise, write, read, whatever I need to do. I told myself that my revisions would be done so fast and my house would never be cleaner, but yeah, that hasn't really happened. Still, this extra quiet time has done wonders for my mental health (and physical health, since I've had time to exercise).

But the downside to having school aged children, is remembering all the special dates. Good golly. And I volunteer for things, so I need to remember those dates, times and places as well. Oy!

I've been asked to come in and do a school visit next week with her class and talk about writing, so I will definitely let you know how that goes!

Anybody else with Tiny Humans that started school this year? how are you spending that time? Writing, I hope!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Staying Focused?

So I've been going through some house drama. My bathroom essentially fell apart while I was in Amsterdam and since then I've had it ripped apart, my house filled with potentially hazardous dust, and have not been able to stay there. FOR THE LAST MONTH. It is extremely frustrating. Especially since where I've been staying doesn't have wi-fi and my macbook won't connect to the modem using the wire. Which means I have to go to my house, and attempt to accomplish things online while workers are stomping through my house, making all kinds of noise and I'm choking on dust. It is... not fun.

Top it off with the fact that I had a pretty important deadline looming, and my nights were filled with anxiety dreams of floods and toxic mold. It's been difficult, and I know my writing has suffered from it. I've been trying all kinds of things to help me focus, such as focus brainwave audio, which is basically the sound of waves crashing on the shore while underneath it tones that stimulates gamma or alpha waves play. I have to say that I was surprised that they sort of seemed to work. I don't know if it was just the fact that it was white noise, or if the brainwave thing was actually happening, but I did find myself able to focus more despite what was going on around me.

What kinds of things do you do to stay focused? I am sort of desperate for more tips. I tried the library, but they don't really have any "quiet" spaces there (plus they're doing construction, hello!) and I'm not so good in coffee shops where there's so much going on. Is there anything special that works for you?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Retreat Fatigue

Next week, I'll be posting all the details (and hopefully pics) of the best writing-related thing I've done in my life. Due to averaging 4 hours of sleep for the past 5 nights, then being snowed in at the retreat yesterday and getting home later than expected, I'm way too tired to write coherently at the moment. I can say that the other writers and editors/agents I spent 6 days with are some of the coolest people in the universe. If you ever get the chance to go to a retreat, I highly recommend this one, hosted by Cicily Janus. Okay, off to drink more coffee and/or try to talk my kids into playing Sleeping Beauty--I can sleep while they try to wake "the princess." Think it will work? 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Second Draft = First Draft - 10%

This is a formula learned by Stephen King back in his early years of multiple (multiple!) rejection slips. Like Mr. King, I find my writing style to be the opposite. I write a fast paced, skimpy first draft, and then add the meat later. But I'm just now figuring out what that really means.

I'd worry about themes, and character arcs and motivations, all of the things a good writer should be worried about. But I'm realizing now that I think I worried about them at the wrong time. I don't outline. I don't plot my first draft. I can't. I've tried, and it kills my creativity. Just...*bang*. Dead. I start with something--a situation, a character, a first line--and I go with the flow from there. Granted, I would probably save myself some revision time if I thought ahead, but that's just not how I work. I'm noticing now as I'm on draft # (I care not to mention the number) that I DO have themes! Or at least, snipits of things that I can make resonate, things I can flesh out and bring to the foreground and make thematic! OMG! And I have symbolism! What!? For real. It's all there. And I didn't even try.

I wish I'd come to this revelation sooner, and had I finished this amazing book called On Writing a little sooner, I probably would have. But I'm not one to dwell on shoulda, coulda, woulda.

I'm not saying every story needs themes or symbolism nestled in there. I don't think they all do, but if you find it, go with it. Why not, right?

Another question we tend to stress over is the "what's it all about?". What was my book all about? What was I trying to say with it? Why did I spend so many hours hunched over my keyboard, forgetting to eat, or shower, or wear suitable clothing? This is another question best saved for draft #2, not the first draft. At least, in my case. I can't speak for the rest of you.

During the first draft stage, you might keep this one tucked away in the back of your mind, I try to. But I personally can't decide what I want to say until it's done. You don't want to sit down before you write and think to yourself, "Well, I'm just going to teach these kids that doing drugs is a bad idea." Because then your manuscript of going to reek of morality. And if you want to write an honest work of fiction, you don't want to do that. I mean, unless that the sort of book you want to write. I don't want to step on any toes or anything.

So that's basically it. Often bringing these things to light in what you've already written takes a great deal of cutting (killing those pretty little darlings) and moving, shaping, rewriting. But when you sit back and read what you've written, and it actually resembles a real story, it's so worth it.

Does anyone here follow this formula? Start of with a whopper and file it down to the good stuff? Please share!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Smart Chicks Kick It Tour Recap

Last week I went to the the Smart Chicks Kick It Tour at Schuler's Books in Lansing, Michigan. It was awesome. This was the biggest signing I've ever been to. There were 7 YA authors!

Kelley Armstrong
Melissa Marr
Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Rachel Caine
Melissa De La Cruz
Simone Elkeles
Carrie Ryan

It was so much fun. They gave away tons of goodies, one lucky winner even won an ARC of Jennifer Lyn Barnes' new book Every Other Day! (I was SO jealous, that book looks awesome.)

They answered a ton of questions, some serious, about writing, and some fun, like which character of theirs would they have had a crush on in high school. (Okay, that was my question.)

We also learned lots of info that we're not supposed to share online, such as release dates of upcoming books, and new projects. (Wait til you see the cover of Jennifer Lynn Barnes' next Raised By Wolves book, Taken By Storm!)

One of the coolest things was seeing so many people (there were over 100 there) with massive bags of books to be signed. I could barely carry mine! (And yes, I got some signed for a very special giveaway I'll be doing soon!)

I love seeing YA authors and hearing them talk about their work and their books, but what I love even more about signings is seeing old friends and making new ones. Writing is so solitary, even with the internet, it's always great to see people in the flesh who are doing what you're doing, and understand what it is to love YA. I was especially excited to see Carrie Ryan, who I had not seen since we were snowed in in Branson back in February (and who is made of awesome). I also had a great time getting to know Kristi (The Story Siren).

Below are some pics from the event. I didn't get a picture this time, but I wanted to give a shout out to the very awesome DJ DeSmyter whose first book HUNTED was published by Pendrell Press this summer, and who is still in high school!

Me and the Smart Chicks Authors
(Simone Elkeles, Kelly Armstrong, Me, Carrie Ryan, Melissa De La Cruz, Rachel Caine, Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Melissa Marr)

Signing stock.

Me and Carrie Ryan

Me and Kristi aka The Story Siren

Unfortunately (for you, not me) Michigan was the very last stop on the Smart Chicks tour this year. But they're considering possibly doing another one next year.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Internal versus External Motivation

No, I'm not talking about character arcs, which is an entire post in itself. I'm talking about your own motivations as a writer, be they external (e.g. editor deadlines) or internal (e.g. desire to hit the NYT Bestseller list). I've always responded really well to deadlines, whether self-imposed or other-imposed. I knew I needed to finish revising (okay, re-writing) the second half of my book for a writing retreat I'm attending this week. I finished yesterday with two days to spare, but as excited as I am about the retreat (my external deadline), that wasn't the only motivation behind my late nights this week. 

Last week, I mentioned my obsession with Shiny New Idea. I was so motivated to start it, but wouldn't let myself until I finished my "old" manuscript. Last night, I literally hit the "compile" button in Scrivener (coolest program EVER) for my old document, then opened up a new one and wrote the first chapter of SNI. The internal motivation to get my new idea on paper is what helped push me through the torture of a bazillionth revision (only a slight exaggeration) of my last ms. I get so geeked out over first drafts that I'm going to enjoy this time while it lasts...after all, I know that first revision is just around the corner.

What about you? Are you motivated more by external or internal factors?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Contest Monday: The Lazy Holiday Edition

Our Scribe Sister, Valerie, is giving away a copy of My Life Undecided by Jessica Brody at her blog! Ends Oct. 13th.

The early info for October's Secret Agent contest is up at the Authoress blog! This is not the call for submissions, that opens next Monday, October 17th. This is just the info, so get that manuscript ready!

And because today is a holiday (whether or not it really should be a holiday is totally debatable, but it is) I really don't have much else in the way of contests for you. Hopefully most of you are still snuggled up in your beds. I would be if my Tiny Human wasn't such an early riser.

Enjoy your day off! But not too much. You have work to do.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Living In The Now

I'm in one of those moods this morning--the sun is shining, the air is crisp, there's a crow out my window--where everything feels a bit euphoric, I suppose. And I've been thinking.

Don't be scared.

I've been thinking about life and creativity and spontaneity. In my last post, I mentioned I'd hit a wall and I asked you all for advice on how to jump over it, or smash through it. You offered great suggestions! But for some reason they weren't working for me this time. This time, I was allowing non-creative thoughts to consume my mind, especially when I sat down in the quiet to write.

I'll skip the long story on how I came to this realization, and get right to it. Most people replay the same thoughts over and over in our minds (total "bag-lady moment", as Dean Winchester might say). Rarely do we stop thinking and just enjoy what we're doing in that moment. Think about something you really like to do, like read a book, watch a movie, or listen to music, or for most of us, write. When you're doing that thing, you're immersed in it. You're not thinking about anything but that thing you're doing, right now.

Unfortunately, when we're down to draft #25 or so, really enjoying writing can be difficult.

I'm finding that creativity comes easier when I stop thinking those obsessive thoughts over and over, and just live in the moment no matter what that moment is. For example, I'm drinking a cup of coffee. I am enjoying that coffee and I'm not thinking about getting an oil change, or washing the dishes, or buying laundry soap. I'm just drinking coffee. I go for a walk, I listen to the birds and look at the trees and again, push those nagging thoughts and concerns aside.

Of course, we can't do that ALL the time. We'd all be a bunch of care-free vagrants (which is great, if you want to be that). But I think it's healthy to just let go and live in the now.

And now that I sound like a hippie, I'm going to go write.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Fight Your Way Through

I love what Ira Glass has to say in this video about that feeling of disappointment we can sometimes get when the vision we have for our work is not what we manage to create, and how the only way to make it what we want is to fight our way through that disappointment, and keep on writing.

Ira Glass on Storytelling from David Shiyang Liu on Vimeo.

This backs up something I truly believe, even as I struggle with it. And that's that if you can dream it, you can do it. If you can imagine a book, full of amazing plot twists, and gut-wrenching emotion, and all the things you love in a book, YOU CAN WRITE THAT BOOK. It might feel like you can't. It might feel scary, and hard, and impossible, but trust me. That book is already inside you. It's already written. You just have to sit down and spit it out.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

When to Ignore Your Muse

You'd think it would be great to have a Shiny New Idea (SNI) fall into your lap, but it's not always a good thing. Don't get me wrong--I'm super excited about SNI and the hubby thinks it's a really cool premise. But...I haven't finished revising my current manuscript. The same ms I'm bringing to a writing retreat next week in order get feedback on it from editors/agents/etc. Yet the lure of this pretty, new thing is so tempting. I'm one of those writers who loves first drafts, and er, intensely dislikes tenth drafts. First drafts are fun for me, and all the drafts after it are more like work. I know some writers love the revision part of the process, and while I do love watching my book evolve and become better, I've discovered I have a slight problem with impatience.

I'm solving this problem by jotting down notes on SNI...and occasionally obsessing about it in the shower. But  for now it's back to work on revision number gazillion of my current ms. I guess there's something to be said for having motivation to finish it, so I can move on to the next thing.

Anyone else struggle with this issue, or does everyone love revisions more than I do?  

Monday, October 3, 2011

Contest Monday

Agent Mary Kole is giving away Writing and Selling the YA Novel by K.L. Going on her blog today. Contest ends Wednesday, October 5th, so hurry over and enter!

Also, Miss Snark's First Victim is taking entrants for this year's BAKER'S DOZEN AGENT AUCTION, she just posted the list of participating agents today, and it's VERY impressive! There are still two more chances to enter, the first is tomorrow, October 4th and the final is next Tuesday, October 11. Get all the details about the BAKER'S DOZEN AGENT AUCTION on her blog. Good luck to those of you entering! Last year was a great success and ended with, I believe, three signings!
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