Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Resolutions

Happy New Year, everyone! A new year brings new opportunities to move your career and life forward, to improve those areas that need improvement, to try something new. So, start making your new year's resolutions, but keep them realistic. Set goals you have a chance of achieving with hard work and persistence. Don't set so many goals that you get overwhelmed. Resolutions within reason are much more successful and fulfilling than resolutions you'll drop before February.

I wish everyone a happy, healthy, and successful 2008. See you in the new year!

Thursday, December 27, 2007


Christmas is past and New Year's is just around the corner. This means free time to write! Unfortunately, my free time coincides with everyone else taking a vacation. Which means I have to wait until the middle of next week to contact anyone I need to talk to about one thing or another. The writing continues, but I won't know if I need to create my own lyrics for a scene in a book for a while. I'll just have to write the scene with the lyrics I'd like to use, then see if I can get permission to use them in the finished product. If not, I'll have to pretend to be a lyricist and come up with something that will work just as well.

I'm pretty much spending the week in a holding pattern of sorts. Querying anyone this week would be a bad idea. The people I need to talk to about requesting permission to use those lyrics are out of the office until next Wednesday. I need to get in contact with a couple of people about possible jobs, but not until after the first of the year. I need to try to get guidelines for a magazine, but not this week. This is probably the worst week of the year to do anything business-related.


This is what I get for having vacation time at the same time as everyone else. After a few days of family, too much sugar, and ignoring the proposal I need to work on, I'm ready to face the business side of writing again. While I wait for the people I need to contact to get back from their vacations, I have plenty to do. There's still that proposal to work on, a book I need to finish critiquing, and some writing that's calling my name.

You gotta love this business. Even when things slow down, there's still something you can do.

Monday, December 24, 2007

YA Novel Trends

In the process of writing a book proposal, I read a ton of descriptions of young adult novels. I came across three or four with male main characters who can fly, as many or more with female main characters who talk to their dead mothers as they try to deal with life, and countless books that involve the characters having sex with boyfriends/girlfriends/random people. Then there were the books about suicidal characters, a few told from the perspectives of characters in mental hospitals, and a couple of books with main characters in search of family members they may or may not have met.

Needless to say, I no longer worry about my books being too much like other books. I've been hearing for years that there are no new ideas, only new ways to present them. That has become more evident than ever by researching YA novels. The one thing I didn't find were the books I needed to compare mine to. I must be looking in the wrong places, but I'm not sure where to look. I don't have time to read the entire YA section at the local library, so I've been reading descriptions on Amazon. Wow. I'm amazed that so many things that should be in books for people who are at least thirty get published in YA novels. I admit, I'm conservative. But some of the things teens are exposed to in books are just plain disturbing.

So many people talk about the huge number of problems teens have and the things they face every day. Yet the literature produced for these kids is enough to cause problems. Instead of making it so realistic it exacerbates the problem, authors should write fiction that encourages and uplifts and shows that not all teens are on drugs, suicidal, incapable of getting along with their families, or sleeping around. That's not to say we need books full of perfect people who never have any problems. Realistically flawed characters that the reader can identify with are essential. The other essential (at least in my mind) is giving the characters hope. Show their lives improving. Let teens see that they can change their lives. If we give them a reason to hope, they might handle life better and not have as many problems.

The other thing to keep in mind is that not all teens are messed up. There are a lot of well-adjusted, happy teenagers in this world. Unfortunately, that's not reflected in fiction. Teens look for a way to identify with the characters in books they read. If all they read are messed up characters but they themselves aren't messed up, it's possible they'll begin to think there's something wrong with them. There's nothing wrong with being happy and well-adjusted. That's actually the ideal. Talking to parents and having a good relationship is what I consider normal. My sister and I have always had a good relationship with our mother, unlike the characters in the books we read. We talk to her about nearly everything, and when we have a problem we know we can go to her to get good advice. We can go to our father as well. It was that way even when we were teens. Our friends had the same kind of experience with their own parents. Novels should reflect that, since they supposedly reflect real life.

Writing for teens is a big responsibility, one that shouldn't be taken lightly. The words we write can have a profound effect on the readers. As YA authors, we need to take care to ensure that effect is a good one. Instead of writing only about the less savory side of life, write about the good side as well.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Back to the rewrite....

I'm in the middle of revisions and drawing a complete blank on any topics of interest. I could go on and on about the difficulties of taking a "telling" paragraph and turning it into a "showing" scene. I could discuss the proper use of dialogue indicators and when it's okay not to use them. I could even write about avoiding repetitive use of words and phrases (like "I could"). But I'll be nice and not bore anyone with the tedious details of my rewrite process.

I'll try to have a more interesting post Monday. Everyone have a wonderful weekend and enjoy the Christmas cookies.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Queries and Rejection

For the longest time I wondered how to tell what was getting my work rejected. I had a sneaking suspicion it was my query letter, but no way to know for sure. After 3 versions of the query for one novel and fifteen rejections from agents, I decided to rework the query again. I sent out another round of the newest incarnation of the query (personalized for each agent, of course) and the two I've heard back from have been requests for chapters. I think it was definitely my query killing my chances. If I knew what worked and what didn't for query letters, I'd definitely share it here. All I know is that keeping your plot summary exciting and succinct, trimming all excess from the letter, and being professional worked for me. Of course, all of that is subjective. I thought my first three versions of the query met those requirements. Apparently, I was wrong. The fourth version is my best yet and seems to be working since I'm getting requests instead of form rejections.

About those rejections... Yes, it's disappointing to hear time and again that an agent doesn't want to represent your work. It's unbelievably frustrating to have no clue why. But form rejections are a way of life for a writer, and perfectly understandable. Agents and editors are busy people and don't have time to write personal rejections every time. A lot of times, the agent or editor never even sees the query. Assistants and interns are the first line of defense, guarding their employer's time and rejecting what they think the agent or editor wouldn't like. With form letters, it's impossible to know if the person you sent the query to ever actually saw it. The best bet with form rejections is to not read anything into them. They just mean "no." If you get a lot of them, reevaluate what you've been submitting. Maybe your query needs a little tweaking or you first chapters could use improvement. Maybe you've just been sending to places that aren't quite the right fit. Once you've done everything you can to insure success (including researching the markets), try querying again.

Personal rejections are a little different. If they give you a reason why your work was rejected, give it some serious thought. If they give you suggestions for improving the manuscript, give it serious consideration. Keep in mind that even these suggestions can be subjective. I've come across writers who received conflicting advice in personal rejections. If several people tell you the same thing, that's a good indication you should listen. If only one person says it, keep it in mind; maybe it's useful to you, maybe it's not. But unless the suggestion makes absolutely no sense at all, it's best not to completely disregard it.

Now, I'm off to critique. Happy writing!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I'm beginning to understand how crazy the life of a beginning writer can be. Between submissions, requesting guidelines, sending out queries, researching markets, and the actual writing it quickly turns into a full-time job. Since I belong to critique groups, I also get to practice my editing skills. That's a very good thing since I'm looking for paying editing/proofreading work. Job-seeking just adds to the chaos of my life right now. Add in the normal craziness of the holiday season, and I'm happily busy. It's so great to feel like my career is moving forward! It's slow progress with many obstacles along the way, but it is progress.

Those who think the life of a writer is a laid-back easy one should try to become a successful writer. The point I'm at now has taken seven years of trial and error, countless rejections that helped me develop a thick skin, reading a ton of information on writing and editing, and learning where to look for markets. I've had days when I thought the idea of freelancing was an unreachable goal. I've even had days that I considered giving up writing completely. But writing is a huge part of who I am. I can't give it up any more that I could give up my right arm (I'm right-handed). I always come back, occasionally wondering if I'm insane for putting myself through the grueling ordeal of trying to get published. I'm still working on that one, but I do have a short story getting published in late March, and I'm coming up with more ideas for work to send out to magazines and online publications. Within the last week, I've come across two leads on editing jobs that I'm actually qualified for. It's very frustrating to know you can do the work, yet get told you're not qualified because you don't have a college degree. These two job leads, however, leave me believing I really can find an editing job.

Rays of sunlight are shining through the clouds. Life is good, and hopefully will only get better.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Crazy Days

Wow, this has been quite a week and it's only Monday. Er, make that Tuesday, since it's after midnight. As of last Friday, I was waiting to hear from an agent, a literary journal, a contest, and a publisher (about a job). By shortly after lunch today, I was down to waiting on the literary journal and the contest. The publisher wants me to contact them again in January after things settle down a little from the holidays and the agent rejected my partial. It was a very nice rejection, but still disappointing. Of course, me being the writer seeking publication that I am, I sent off queries to three more agents this afternoon. So I'm back to waiting. And waiting. I think half my life is spent waiting. Don't worry, I use the time constructively (most days, anyway). I critiqued a few chapters for a fellow writer today and I plan to get the rest of the chapters done tomorrow. I did a little work on my own writing. And yes, I followed the advice of many people: I ate some chocolate. Boy, does that help when you're in a nerve-wracking holding pattern like I am at the moment.

The good news in all of this is that I'm getting a great lesson in patience. Not the easiest thing in the world to learn, but necessary. I'm also getting creative about crafty-type items since Christmas is coming. I have to come up with presents somehow, and homemade is great since I'm still trying to find that elusive paying writing gig.

Have a great week, everyone, and check back in a day or two. There'll be a new post to entertain you.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Write What You Know?

One of the most popular pieces of advice given to writers is: Write what you know.

My question to you is this: Are we supposed to take this advice literally?

I seriously doubt it. If we only wrote what we already know, we’d have very limited options for characters and plots. We’d never grow as writers (or people) because we’d never step outside our knowledge base to learn new things to write in new areas. In my case, I’d have some very strange characters and, quite possibly, some strange stories as well. My knowledge of people and the world is colored by autism. Everything I know has been processed through an autistic brain and there’s a good chance the initial perceptions would be considered weird by a “normal” person. I know this affects my writing. I’ve been known to give characters inappropriate responses to situations; dialogue that sounds perfectly natural to me sounds stilted or formal to others; and I’ve asked many times how people would react in a certain situation because I have no clue.

If I only wrote what I already know, my writing wouldn’t be nearly as interesting as the instructions on a box of toothpicks (yes, there is such a thing). My characters would fall flat because the emotional response wouldn’t be what most people expect; the dialogue wouldn’t always make sense to anyone else, though another autistic might get it; and there would be huge, seemingly random leaps in logic. It would be an editor’s nightmare.

So I research, I ask questions, I make up what sounds like a normal person. But I don’t already know these things when I start. I’ve written two autistic main characters based on what I know. It’s freeing to write an autistic and the way they perceive the world because it shows others how I perceive it. Unfortunately, to make it comprehensible for the non-autistic world, I have to tone down the autism during the rewrite.

Back to the original question: Should you literally write what you know?

Yes, by all means use the knowledge and experiences stored in your brain. But don’t limit yourself to that. Instead of just writing what you already know, try to follow this piece of advice: Write what you can learn.

Monday, December 3, 2007


This has been a really long four days, but I managed to revise my YA manuscript (which turned out to need more work than I thought). Now I just need an agent and a publisher. Someday, I'll make it to publication with a novel! I'm too determined to see my work in print to give up. Of course, I'll keep improving my writing as I seek publication. I don't think a writer ever gets to the point where there's nothing left for them to learn or improve. But that's half the fun. The other half is the writing. Oh, how I miss the creative process of working on something new! But I go through that every time I'm working on revisions. Tomorrow, I'll be creative. For now, I plan to chill out and relax after revising an entire novel in a weekend. I don't recommend an adventure like that for the faint of heart. Trust me, I didn't think I've ever get it done.

On to the difficult (haha) task of relaxing!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Bits and Pieces

I'm officially in my standard nail-biting, nerve-wracking waiting period. I mailed out two novel excerpts yesterday for a contest. Now, I get the joy of waiting as patiently as possible to hear the results. I have plenty to keep me busy in the meantime. In addition to my never-ending search for paying proofreading/editing work, I've decided to renew my effort to find an agent. I think I identified the problem in my query letter and spent the morning revising it. Now, I just have to update my list of agents I want to query, make sure the letter is individualized for each of them, and start sending. Then, while I wait for responses, I'll look over my revised manuscript and make sure it's absolutely perfect (or as close as I can possibly get it).

Of course, if I get tired of that manuscript, I still have one waiting for me to finish rewriting it. I keep getting bogged down in it, but I'm trying to get through it. I want to get it done so I can let it sit for a while, then read through it to look for anything that could be better. Basically, the same thing I do with everything I write.

That's all of the exciting news I have for the moment. I'm off to prepare and send queries now. Wish me luck!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Queen of Procrastination

Anyone who's known me for long has heard me refer to myself as the queen of procrastination. I've almost perfected it as an art form. I have a manuscript I'm rewriting. I was supposed to have chapter 9 done a week or so ago. I still haven't gotten to it, because I constantly find something else that needs my attention. Like my two novel excerpts for a contest. The deadline is November 30. I've known this since September or October. I've known almost as long which manuscripts I wanted to use for my excerpts. Here it is, November 26, and I only have one of the excerpts revised to my liking. I started on the other one this morning, but I needed to check my email (which I hadn't done since sometime Friday). In addition to the twenty-page excerpts, I also have to make sure my one-page synopses to go with them are perfect...well, as perfect as I can get any synopsis.

Now, you'll notice that instead of working on the remaining excerpt and the synopses, or even chapter 9 of my rewrite, I'm writing a post on procrastination. Ah, there's nothing like the internet for a procrastinator. There's always something to keep you from what you're trying to avoid.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Black Friday

The day after Thanksgiving, at the end of a busy week of preparations, means it's time to get back to the business of writing. Taking a few days off was a good thing, and since it involved celebrating a holiday, it gave me some ideas for my writing. Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends, the rushed atmosphere in the kitchen as last minute touches are put on that dinner, the conversation after the meal, leftovers for the next couple of days... All of this is inspiring to me.

What inspires you? Think about it, and let your writing flow like a clear mountain stream. Or if your brain is still on vacation, let your writing flow like a muddy trickle. You can always revise it later. :)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Random Thoughts and a Question for You

This is most likely the lamest post I will ever write. When I come up with an even lamer one a few months from now, please forget that I said this one would be the lamest.

Between rewriting one novel, revising another, and going through a third for a writing buddy, I'm drawing a complete blank on interesting topics to blog on. All my brain power is taken up with actual writing work. One thing I can mention that I learned the other day affects all of us writers looking for someone to publish our work: apparently, the two spaces between sentences format is as obsolete as a typewriter. Back when I started writing in high school, I used one space between sentences and was informed that was wrong. I had to use two spaces. Over the course of the next couple of months, I trained myself to double-tap the space bar after a sentence, and everyone was happy. Now, I'm hearing that this is wrong. Brian A. Klems wrote about it on his Questions & Quandaries blog over at Writer's Digest. Click here to read what he has to say about it. So, on top of all my rewriting, revising, and reading, I'm trying to retrain myself to only put one space between sentences and replacing double spaces in my writings with single spaces.

And people think writing isn't real work. Ha! They should try writing sixty to eighty thousand words, then revise it all repeatedly while learning about things like using one space instead of two. For me, the creation of the work is easy compared to the revision/rewrite process. Nearly everyone I've talked to (other than writers) think writing the first draft is the hard part. Nope, getting the story down is simple. Changing entire sections to make them exciting, tighten up the writing, and improve the wording is the hard part. Though that's not entirely accurate. It's not so much difficult as it is tedious. Don't get me wrong, there are times when I'm ready to bang my head against the wall in frustration when I can't find the perfect way to say what I want. But the hardest part is seeing what's actually on the page, and not what I remember from the last six times I read through it. That's why letting the manuscript sit for a while between revisions is so important. It gives you a chance to get away from the story so that when you come back to it, you're more likely to catch things you missed the last time through. Getting someone else to read your manuscript is a great way to see how others will react to your story, and they'll also find things you're blind to because you're close to the story (it's your baby, after all!).

Looking back over this post, I guess I did have something to say. Ignore the fact that I called this a lame blog post. The thoughts in it may be completely random and not really connected to each other, but hopefully you wonderful readers will get something out of it. Even if all you do is get a laugh out of it, I've done my job. Entertaining and informing are two of the main reasons I write. Give me enough time and I'm sure I can come up with a few more. In the meantime, what are some of the reasons you write? And it doesn't have to be a novel or even a short story. If you're commenting on here, you likely have a blog. What caused you to start it? I'm always curious to know why people do things. I look forward to seeing what everyone has to say.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Reptitive Words

Every writer has, at some point, discovered a word or phrase they use often. For me, it's for a moment, in a moment, after a while, and various other forms of the same theme. Then there's the word smile. I'm currently revising a YA manuscript and I'm trying to cut down on the occurrence of smile, smiled, and smiling. The Find feature in Microsoft Word is my best friend. I search for smil, then highlight every place a form of smile appears. In one twelve-page chapter, I highlight twenty-five instances. Twenty-five! Talk about over usage. The good news is that I recognize it as a problem, and I'm taking steps to correct it. The bad news is that I still have a long way to go before the bad habit of repetitive word usage is broken. Every time I think I've done it, I start seeing a trend in my word choice that leaves me cringing. Someday, I hope to get past repeating the same word over and over and over. Until then, I'll get plenty of practice at rewriting the repetitive bits.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Teen Sex, Romance, and Writing Responsibly

One of the most difficult things about writing for young adults is handling relationships. Teens have emotions just as strong as adults, and possibly stronger. As YA authors, we don’t dare come across as trivializing their emotions, feelings, and thoughts. Unfortunately, realism in your novel can bring about the necessity of dealing with uncomfortable topics such as sex and teen pregnancy. How do you handle these subjects without coming across as preaching or worse, disregarding the difficult realities of what teens face?

This is something I think about every time I look at my YA works. Did this character act in a realistic manner? Is this too preachy and will cause the reader to lose interest? Can teens identify with my characters thoughts and emotions in a meaningful way? Yes, I’m writing to entertain, but I also know that my writing will have some influence on the reader. Whether good or bad, big or small, my writing will have an effect on the reader. That’s where the responsibility comes in. It would be so easy to say, “I wrote it, but it’s not my problem what the reader takes away from it.” Actually, by writing it and putting it out there for teens to read, it is my problem. Yes, there will be unintended reactions. I can’t predict what everyone will get from my book. But I can be responsible in how I write and do my best to keep from influencing the reader in a bad way. My goal as an author is to uplift the reader. Sometimes I do that with bad things happening to good characters and the characters coming through changed but still good; other times, bad characters are influenced by good characters and becoming good characters themselves by the end of the story. Either way, the point is to show the reader that regardless of what happens there is hope.

One trend I’ve noticed in YA novels is sex. Whether it’s the main character being promiscuous or making the decision to have sex for the first time, or another character in the same situation that gets the MC thinking about sex and relationships, it’s a subject that permeates the genre. I recently read a fairly long thread on a message board for YA writers about teen sex. What troubled me was that the writers all seemed to think that it’s a necessary topic to cover in their books, but not one of them mentioned abstinence as a legitimate way to handle the subject. They were more concerned with showing the characters having safe sex, dealing with the consequences if they didn’t, what kind of emotional impact teen sex has on a girl, etc. That got me thinking about two things: Is a secular YA novel with characters who abstain from sex marketable? And what does teen sex do to a guy’s perceptions of women?

The first question is one I’m sure I’ll learn through my own journey to publication. Abstinence opens up a whole world of possibilities for conflict, both internal and external. There is a lot of pressure for teens to “fit in” and a lot of them feel that having sex is the only way to be popular. I want to show them that abstinence gains respect from others and can actually make a girl more valued by the guys. There are some who would disagree, but from my own experiences as a teen, and what I’ve observed since then, girls who won’t let a guy sleep with them tend to be more respected than the girls who will do anything a guy asks.

The answer to my second question is a little more difficult and complex. I’m not sure there is any one answer for it. The best I can come up with at the moment is that it could teach guys to objectify women, to see them as being on the planet for the guy’s personal pleasure. I’m sure that’s not the case for all males who engage in teen sex, but it is one possibility. This is a subject I’ll have to do more research on before I can say anything with certainty.

All of this ties into another theme that is involved in my YA writings: romance. A lot of teenage girls are romantics to some degree. But do they understand that romance and sex are two completely different things? You can have romance without sex, and sex without romance. I want to show girls what romance is; sweet, innocent romance that makes girls value themselves as much as any guy they date should value them. Holding hands for the first time, the tension leading up to the first kiss, a guy giving a girl a single rose…these are the things we should be showing teens. These are the things that are romantic and meaningful in young relationships. I believe that we as writers should show kids being kids, not encouraging them to engage in adult relationships while they’re still teens. Let them enjoy innocence as long as they can, and show them that innocence is something to value.

Our writing influences our readers, whether we want to admit it or not. Will your writing have a good influence on them or a bad one? Teen romances rarely last long, but the choices made during those brief interludes can affect the teen for the rest of their lives. Write responsibly, and be aware that your words could be the only mentor a teen has.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Business Side of Writing

As any author can tell you, there's more to getting a book published and into the hands of readers than just putting words on paper. Once the story is written, it's time for revision. Then more revision, and more revision, and even more revision. There might be a rewrite or two somewhere in there as well. Then, when your manuscript is perfect, it's time to submit to agents or editors. Or is it? You have an awesome manuscript, but what about a query letter? a synopsis? a clue as to where to send the thing?

Now you're getting into the hard stuff. Trying to describe an entire 300-page book in one to three pages is a daunting task, especially when you have to make it attention-grabbing. Writing the synopsis is something I put off until the last possible moment because I dread it so much. Writing and revising a novel is nothing compared to trying to make that novel sound interesting in a very limited amount of space.

The query letter is also intimidating. How much information about the plot should you put in? Which words best describe the book? How do you get around having next-to-nothing to say about yourself that might convince the agent/editor that you really do know how to write? The letters I send out are always the third, fifth, or twentieth version. The originals are great starting places, and usually include a great lesson on editing for interest and clarity. Never would I submit those to even my most trusted critiquing buddies. They get anywhere from the second draft to the tenth. And by the time they're done with it, I have a much better letter than I could have come up with on my own.

Where to send the perfect submission package of query letter, first chapter, and synopsis can be almost as difficult as writing the letter. The only way to find an agent or a publisher is to research, research, research. Once you've found what you think is the perfect match for your book, research some more. I once found who I thought was the perfect agent for me. She was interested in the kind of things I wrote, she worked for a well-known agency, she just seemed like the right match. Then I did a little more research and discovered she was the audio rights agent. I need a literary agent and a publisher before I need to worry about audio rights. Sigh. I went on to query another agent in the same agency who seemed like a good fit (I got a very nice form rejection).

After many submissions to agents, I've learned a very important lesson. Never give up. I've received many form rejections, one personal rejection that let me know my story has potential, but was quite right for that agent, and one query that got lost in cyberspace. From all of this, I was able to see that my "perfect" manuscript wasn't quite as perfect as I'd thought. I'm revising it again and will hopefully send out a submission package to a publisher this week. I still have to read that first chapter one more time, go over the letter for what seems like the millionth time, and make sure my synopsis is as exciting as the book. And while I'm waiting for a response, I'll be looking at the rest of the manuscript to make sure it's as perfect as I can get it just in case the publisher asks for more.

Ah, the joys of writing for publication.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Writing Emotion, and Critique Groups

As persnickety as proper comma placement can be, writing realistic emotions can be even worse. As an autistic, what I think sounds like good emotion for my characters and what others see as good emotion can be two very different things. I've noticed many places in my writing where I've told the reader what the character is feeling rather than showing it. Many more places have been pointed out to me through critiques by fellow writers. I'm learning to recognize places where I could show emotion rather than telling, but it's difficult to know exactly how to show it. That's where the autism gets me. I don't usually get a lot out of body language and subtle expressions, which makes writing realistic reactions difficult. Thanks to reading a ton of books and studying people in real life, TV shows, and movies, I'm getting better at it. But nothing can replace the impartial eyes of a critique for catching my errors.

I firmly believe every writer should join a writers group where they can receive honest feedback on what works and what doesn't in their writing. It can be a group that meets in person or an online group. The point is sharing your writing with people who can help you make it even better. One very important thing to remember when giving critiques is to provide constructive criticism in a kind way. There's nothing worse than receiving harsh comments and unkind words about the story you worked so hard on. Even stories that need a lot of work can be critiqued in a way that doesn't destroy the dreams of the author. I've received critiques that hurt, but because the comments were made in a kind way, it left me hopeful that I could improve the chapter. It can be hard sometimes to accept even the kindest criticism of your writing. Just remember that a good critique group can help you grow as a writer in ways you never imagined possible. Giving critiques helps improve your own writing as well, because you learn what to look for and how to analyze a piece for clarity, proper word usage, and many other things.

Be open to suggestions for improving your writing. Not all suggestions in a given critique will fit your style, and it's okay to not use all of them. The ones on proper grammar and punctuation should be used, however. We want our writing to follow the rules of the English language. I know some people advocate breaking the rules you feel stifle creativity, but I have a different view. Once you know the rules (and can use them properly), then it's okay to break or better yet bend one very rarely in a book. Too many broken rules leads to an indecipherable mess that might not even fit the definition of experimental writing. Having your work critiqued is an excellent way to make sure someone other than you knows what you meant your story to say. And sometimes it takes a little rewriting (or maybe two or three rewrites) to make things clear. I've run into that often enough with my own writing, and I can't thank my fellow critiquers enough for their help.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Importance of Research

No one can deny the amount of research required to write non-fiction. Fiction sometimes takes just as much research. Yes, there's such a thing as artistic license, but without research the realism necessary for a good book just won't be there. I regularly do research for my writing, since I tend to write about what interests me rather than what I'm knowledgeable about. I love to learn new things and doing research for a story gives me a good excuse to learn about a subject I might not otherwise come across. Like citizenship and naturalization. I have a teenage character who is adopted by an American family. I've been looking through various resources to find the exact procedure for her to become American. During the course of that research, I realized I had two other characters affected by citizenship laws, including dual citizenship. I'm always amazed by the way one piece of research leads to another and eventually I have a usable knowledge of the subject. Occasionally, I've been able to answer the question of another writer because of something I learned for my own work.

There are many ways to do research, from library books to the internet to talking to experts in the field. I usually start with the internet since I'm already at the computer for my writing. Depending on what I find, a book may be my next step or my critique group. The members of my critique group come from diverse backgrounds and have been invaluable in helping me improve my writing and get things right. Especially when it comes to the military. Two men in particular, one who was in the Air Force and one who is in the Army Reserves, have helped me with a book that has several interactions with military personnel. I still have things to fix that sounded realistic to me but turned out to be flawed, but thanks to these two writers I have some idea of how to fix the errors.

Another reason for research is inspiration. Sometimes I'll start learning about something out of curiosity, and during the course of the research come up with a plot idea or the vague beginning of a character. This leads to more research on specific areas of the subject as well as a lot of thinking about the plot and characters.

Just thinking about all this research reminds me of something. I still have more learning to do about citizenship laws.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The curse, er, BLESSING of technology

Technology is a wonderful thing, allowing us access to people, places, and information we never would have been able to reach before the age of the internet. It can also be one of the biggest headaches known to man.

The modem in our computer died Wednesday evening, leaving me wondering how I was going to get any work done. I spend a lot of time online in the course of writing and submitting. Our computer was sadly obsolete (the poor thing had Windows ME), so replacing it made more sense than trying to help it limp along a little longer. We bought a new computer yesterday evening, one with Windows Vista. Talk about technology culture shock! I'm so used to being able to figure things out quickly, since I commonly use Windows 98, ME, and 2000, which are all similar. Vista is completely different. I'm still trying to get it figured out, though I'm getting over the shock now and discovering some nifty features of Vista, including one of the most awesome screensavers I've ever seen.

This experience got me thinking. If I'm this intimidated by a new operating system, how must an immigrant feel coming to a new country? Or a person going from a tiny backwoods community where no one has a cell phone to a big city? I've written a couple of novels dealing with culture shock, because the way people adapt fascinates me. I know that getting a new computer can't really compare to living in an unfamiliar society, but it did get me thinking. And thinking is always a good think when you're a writer.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Reality and Fiction: Kings of Mimicry

We all know that fiction imitates reality. As a fiction writer, I constantly look for ways to make my characters, and the situations they’re in, more realistic. And yet, real people constantly imitate what they read in books and see on television and in movies. So where does the line between fiction and reality stop blurring and become clear again?
It doesn’t. Fiction is a major part of popular culture and popular culture is a major part of fiction. Advertisers and marketing firms go a long way toward dictating what reality should be, but authors wield the same power. We can either continue to perpetuate what the media tells us is real or we can use our words to change the real world for the better.
Think about where you live. If it’s anything like my town, there’s prejudice based on ignorance. Why not combat that prejudice by using novels to teach? With just a few well-developed characters in a realistic setting, opinion can be swayed and people informed about cultural differences. Once they understand the differences and look past them to the people, that’s what they’ll see: people. Not skin color, religion, or country of origin; just people like everyone else.
There have been a flurry of reports in recent weeks concerning the low self-esteem of teen and pre-teen girls. They’ve traced this epidemic back to the media kids are exposed to. Why not write a book with a well-adjusted size twelve girl as the main character instead of a size four who’s worried about getting fat? With enough characters who are comfortable in their own skin and not concerned with looking like the airbrushed models in magazines, there’s a good chance girls will start seeing themselves as valuable regardless of their looks.
A lot of fiction has a habit of perpetuating the myth that you have to look and be perfect to be happy and successful. It also perpetuates stereotypes. If authors used the power of their pens (or keyboards in this age of computers) to combat stereotypes and fight back against what Hollywood tells us we should be, we could change the reality of the country. It won’t be a fast change. Most likely it will take years. But if we change the face of fiction in the publishing industry, filmmakers and musicians will follow our lead. When that happens, popular culture will metamorphose into a better thing.
Fiction imitates reality but to a lesser degree than reality imitates fiction. Walk into any middle or high school and you’ll see kids imitating their favorite movie or television character. Change the face of the big and small screens, and you’ll change the face of the country. Since many movies are based on books, and television series based on books are becoming more popular, the change needs to start in the fiction section of the bookstore.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Inspriation comes in all sizes

I occasionally wonder where the inspiration for my writing comes from. Sometimes the idea comes from a dream; other times I'm inspired by something I see on TV, in a movie, or in a book (no, I'm not talking about stealing a plot. Just being struck by an idea or comment and taking it in an entirely different direction.). I've been inspired by conversations with friends and family, and occasionally I'll have no idea where the story came from. It was just there and demanded to be written.

Today I got stuck working on a young adult novel. I decided to talk to my dad and see if he had any suggestions that would spark my imagination. As we sat on the front porch, enjoying the beautiful (if windy) weather, and my younger brother came out with a guitar. He was playing around with it and suddenly I had the inspiration I needed for my story. Instead of the direction I'd been going, I switched gears and used the guitar I'd mentioned earlier in the story. The ideas are still coming, thanks to that little bit of inspiration.

I've heard it said that everything is fodder for a writer. The longer I write, the more I learn just how true that saying is. An expression on a stranger passing by, the atmosphere of a family dinner, the evening news... All of it can be used in my writing, though it's rarely (if ever) identifiable in its fictional from as coming from a particular place. One of the most important things I've learned about writing is to observe everything. You never know when you'll remember the tiniest, seemingly unimportant thing at just the right time for your story.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Synopses and Me

I can write articles, short stories, and novels without batting an eye. But when it comes to writing a synopsis, I can feel my stress levels going through the roof. I'm sure there are a ton of writers out there who have the same problem. If anyone knows of a cure for synopsis anxiety, please share it with writers everywhere! I know I could use it.
I'm currently trying to write a one-page synopsis for a 58,000 word book. How on earth do you take 58,000 words and condense the story to one page in such a way that everyone wants to read it? Good question. I'm on my sixth version of the synopsis and it still runs onto a second page. I have someone helping me with it, and we're both stumped on how to shorten the thing. Complex plots make great novels, but they're a nightmare for a short synopsis. Of course, if I wrote from an outline, that might help. But I start with a vague idea and usually have no clue where the story's going until it gets there. The main problem I run into is figuring out what counts as the main plot. I learned through critique groups that I'm too close to my writing to look at it objectively, which is why someone who's never read the book is the perfect person to help me with the synopsis. They're able to look at it and say, "This doesn't need to be here." When I see the things they suggest taking out, I'm able to see that the points really don't need to be in the synopsis. Without that objective eye, though, I'd have a fifteen-page synopsis that's filled with unnecessary things.
I've read many resources on synopsis writing, asked other writers a ton of questions, and studied sample synopses. All of that has taught me a lot about what a synopsis should look like, but the main thing I've learned is that the synopsis will always be the bane of my writerly existence.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


Welcome to my new blog! I've finally decided to take the plunge and create a blog. I only sort of know what I'm doing, so please bear with me while I learn about blogging through trial and error. To keep you entertained in the meantime, here's an opinion piece I wrote back in August.

We Support the Troops…Or Do We?
We support the troops. This is the familiar cry of politicians and farmers alike. But do these just empty words? It seems to me that a mixed message is being sent. We support you, but not your mission. We support the troops, but this isn’t our war any longer and we should bring all of our troops home. We need to get out of a war we can’t win. To me, that sounds like, “We pretend to support you because it sounds good, but we don’t believe in what you’re doing and think you going to fail. Come home now so we can forget this nasty little incident ever happened and we can continue to feel good because we say we support you.”
How can anyone truly support the troops, but not support them in what they’re doing? Yes, the war in Iraq is a terrible thing, but all war is terrible. The news media keep calling it an unpopular war. Isn’t all war unpopular because it disrupts and destroys so many lives? Yes, thousands of our men and women have died in Iraq, but a study of history shows that number is remarkably small to the number of casualties in past wars. Each life lost is devastating to the family and friends, but in my mind, those men and women are heroes. They paid the ultimate sacrifice to protect my freedom. It makes me proud to say I’m American when I think of their willingness to put their lives on the line to help secure the freedom of another country.
I support the troops. I believe they’re going to win this war and help stop terrorism. I believe in the good they’re doing in a war-torn country on the other side of the world. I also believe we could change the tide of public opinion if the media would show more of the good being done in Iraq and less of the bad. Instead of just giving us the number of people who died, show the school that was opened; the neighborhood that didn’t get bombed because of our troops’ protection; the children playing outside, secure in knowing someone is nearby to keep away the bad guys.
The politicians need to do their job of running the country and let the military do its job of running the war. General Petraeus knows firsthand what’s happening on the ground in Iraq and still believes we have a chance to succeed. The people on Capitol Hill need to listen, truly listen, to him and the other commanders before deciding that the troops should be brought home immediately. By continuing on their current path of insisting on a timeline for troop withdrawal and fostering discontent among the American people, they’re giving the terrorists plenty of propaganda to gain support for their evil cause. If the politicians would begin to speak out in favor of the military and the job they’re doing, and truly support the troops instead of just spouting empty words, I believe the tide of this war could turn.
One phrase comes to mind, one that should be given serious consideration by every American: United we stand, divided we fall. Right now, we’re a pretty divided nation. If we unite together in the cause of stopping terrorism and succeeding in Iraq, I believe we can achieve both of those goals. If we remain divided, our nation loses its strength and we’re at greater risk for more terrorist attacks on our own soil.
Let’s show the world that we’re “one nation, under God, indivisible” like it says in our Pledge of Allegiance, and truly support our troops and the mission we gave them. Let the generals run the war, not the suits in Washington.