Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Sometimes, Deadlines are nice

I posted this on my own blog, but thought that it was worthy of ADR3NALIN3--enjoy!

Hello, my name is Jamie, and I'm a Procrastinator.

Whew. There, I said it.

Tis true, I am a procrastinator. Ask anyone who knows me, and they'll tell you that I put things off (mowing the lawn, washing the car, doing the dishes) till the last final minute. I've always been this way, as far back as I can remember. 

Growing up, I used to put off homework and chores until I was on the verge of getting in trouble. Which sounds like a crazy thing, I know--letting yourself get in trouble for not doing something you've had plenty of time to do. But, that was me. If I could let it wait, I let it wait.

Now, several years later (yes, I'm old), I find that I still procrastinate. I've also found that I actually like it.

Don't get me wrong. I've since learned that putting off things like the lawn and the car and the dishes makes for much more tedious and time-consuming chores, so I tend to bite the bullet and get right to those (don't we all just love doing the dishes? lol). But for my writing, sometimes being under a deadline actually helps me. Let me explain.

We all have things in our lives that get in our way, right? Whether its family drama, financial issues, TV shows (hey, don't judge me!)...We can't stop life from stepping in front of home plate and blocking our Grand Slam. And if you happen to be a writer, you know exactly how easy the daily ins and outs of our lives can create a debilitating form of Writer's Block. Something as simple as a family member having a run of bad luck can bitch-slap your muse and send her running for cover, leaving you with a blank slate on the creative front. Then you're left sitting in front of a computer (or notebook) frustrated as hell, begging the words to come.

I've found that the one thing that helps me bring out those words, no matter what, is a deadline. When you have a deadline (whether it's a personal one, or one set by an agent/editor/publisher), you realize one thing rather quickly: You don't have a choice but to write. You have to block out those daily stresses--turn off the TV, leave your cell phone in another room (on silent mode!), try not to dwell on that family member's drama--and focus solely on your characters, your plot, the world you've created. You have to let all that other stuff go, at least for now, and get those ideas in your head onto the screen or paper. They're still there, those ideas. They haven't gone anywhere; they're just waiting patiently for you to get to them. A deadline speeds up that process.

Another thing I've found out about myself? I tend to turn out some pretty decent work when a deadline looms over my head.

Don't get me wrong, I turn out some pretty bad stuff, too. But some of it is really good. Whether it's an entire chapter, a scene, or even a single line of dialogue--there are gems hidden in the muck that I am proud to say I wrote. And that's a great feeling.

This realization about myself was a sudden one--sort of. I just figured it all out about two weeks ago, when my deadline for the "final" draft (before going to the final editor, who will undoubtedly be sending it back for yet another round of edits) of BLOOD AWAKENING (book 2 in The Blood Prophecy trilogy) was due. The last week of my deadline, I was under some severe personal stress and just could not focus. I know that if you are a writer, you've experienced this at least once. It's a crushing feeling, knowing that not only are you letting down those waiting on you (an editor, an agent, a publisher, a critique partner), but you're letting yourself down as well. And that crushing feeling only adds to the stress you were already under, compounding your problem. Such a viscous circle!

My final deadline week nearly over, I did the only thing I could--I asked my publisher for more time. It's not something you want to do, but sometimes it's unavoidable.  I'm lucky in that my publisher understands the process of creating, and how fickle and unpredictable it can be. She allowed me time (within reason, of course) to get through my edits and make my ms as great as I could. It was nice knowing that I could take as much time as I needed to push through, but I also knew that if I took, say, an extra month, I would just put it off and put it off until, thirty days later, I'd be in the same boat. 

So I asked for an extra week. That's all, one week. My publisher obliged, and I got my butt to work. 

And that week was just what I needed. 

I suddenly figured out the solutions to some of the bigger problems in my ms. I was able to pull some things out that needed to be cut, and add in things that were missing. I fixed some plot holes, added in some tension, and helped smooth out the overall tone of the story. It was a great week. Not only because I finished my edits, but also because I was able to take a step back from some of the personal issues I was stressing over, which allowed my brain to figure out how to deal with/fix them. That extra week was a fruitful one.

This all means that I have discovered I am one of those people who actually thrive on deadlines. I will put things off till the last minute, then buckle down and super-focus until it's done. 

And I'm okay with this--happy about it, actually.

So I've decided that even though I have deadlines set by my publisher (we've already mapped out when drafts of my next few books are due), I'm going to take it one step further and set my own deadlines. I'm going to do my best to set a deadline for each process of writing a book (outlining, plotting, characterizations, etc.). I'm also going to do my best to stick to them. 

Because now I know that deadlines are what I need.

What about you guys? Do deadlines make you cower with fear? Or do you tend to face them head-on?

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Great Reveal

by Michelle Gagnon

Lately, there's been a lot of "reveals" in Young Adult fiction. One of my favorites was what they did for bestselling author Cassandra Clare's next release, CLOCKWORK PRINCESS. They let fans control the cover reveal; initially the cover was hidden behind a "veil" that only tweeting readers could remove.
And it was a huge success. Within two hours, over 30,000 tweets resulted in a full display of the cover. But it didn't end there: #ClockworkPrincess trended worldwide that day, and the tweet tally rapidly approached and passed the 150,000 mark.
Which was astonishing, and definitely eye-opening for a lot of publishers. There's always a question as to how social networks can be used to promote a book, and this was a clear success story.

My publisher has decided to try to do something similar with my YA debut DON'T TURN AROUND. Starting today, clicking on this link will reveal book chapters on Facebook: the more "Likes" the page gets, the more of the book will be "unlocked." By the end, if all goes as planned, the first five chapters of the book will have been made available (which is a fairly significant chunk of it!) I think it's a cool idea, and an interesting way to get people engaged with the story early.

We'll also be debuting the book trailer on Entertainment Weekly's "Books" page in a few weeks - I haven't seen it yet myself, and am excited to check it out!

So what do you all think? Is this too gimmicky for you, or do you like the idea of fan participation being part of a reveal?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

ARC Giveaway! Win! Win! Win!

by Michelle Gagnon

Hi folks! I'll have a full post tomorrow (on really cool new Cover Reveals, so be sure to tune in for that!) But I wanted to hijack this space today to share a way that you can win a FREE BOOK! That's right: absolutely, 100% free with no further obligation, spam, or other strange requirements/hassles (learned this one the hard way myself- NEVER click on a link for a free iPad! I'm still digging my way out of a stack of unwanted magazine & dvd subscriptions and cosmetics).

HarperTeen is giving away TONS of copies of my upcoming release DON'T TURN AROUND, which has received starred reviews from Kirkus and Voya, and was just chosen for the Autumn 2012 Kids' Indie Next List - "Inspired Recommmendations for Kids from Indie Booksellers." 

And it's super easy to enter! Just RT this on Twitter:

@EpicReads Off the grid. On the run. DON'T TURN AROUND by @michelle_gagnon http://vsb.li/zJ3A8c RT for a chance to win!

And/or on Goodreads, Click here to enter.

Good luck! 

And with that, I release this post [runs away laughing evilly...]

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

To Pin or not to Pin

by A.G. Howard

I'd like to start off by saying that I LOVE my pinterest account.

I'm crazy visual, so when I first jumped onto  the pin-it bandwagon, I was in eye-candy heaven. It didn't take me long to start building up my boards. At first, it was mainly for character inspiration:

Then it evolved to include things that interested or fascinated me:

I now have 19 boards and almost 2,000 pictures pinned. If you've never had a chance to check my boards out, you'll want to do so within the next couple of weeks, because I'm about to delete most of them.

In lieu of some posts and articles that have recently come to my attention, I'm now second-guessing if it's worth the possibility of getting sued just for fun and some extra PR. One post that really scared me points out that we should also be very wary of the pictures we use on our blogs.

Roni Loren, a romance writer, was actually sued by an artist, even after she complied and took his artwork down. Here's the link to that post, if you're interested. If it could happen on a blog, it can happen on pinterest.

The possibility is so real that several businesses are jumping the pinterest ship. For example, The Boston Business Journal abandoned their account after rereading the pinterest user agreement and  realizing that pinterest literally reserves the right to sell images any users might upload. Which means if you upload anything that isn't yours without permission, pinterest will be protected, but you could be sued for copyright infringement. Here's that article online.

Sure, you might be thinking that only people who upload images have to worry. Not people who link to the picture online, leading the viewers back to the original, and thus attributing the artist of said image. But, how can you be sure that's the original artist? Unless you take the time to investigate every single image you pin, you can't be.

I've heard the other side of this issue, too. That pinterest is doing everything they can to address the copyright concerns. In May, they added a flickr attribution to the pin buttons.

But again, that was two months ago, and still murmurings and threats abound. I think what worries me the most is that pinterest's terms of use clearly states that each pinner is responsible for getting permission for everything.

Do we honestly all do that? Wouldn't that take up an inordinate amount of time? Most of us pin for a hobby or fun. Not a full time job. Also, and most importantly, how do we know the pins we're repinning off of other boards have followed the proper protocol? We really don't. We really can't.

This article here, written by a lawyer, reiterates that fact by breaking down the pinterest user agreement in no uncertain terms. Of course, it's just her opinion, colored by her profession, but over the last few days, this has been such a concern to me I actually emailed my agent for her thoughts. I was surprised to hear that she took all her boards down just recently after hearing Roni Loren's story. Better safe than sorry, she said. And I agree. I'm even going through old blog posts to take down any pictures there that have questionable origins.

So, as much as it breaks my heart to take down my pinterest boards (GAH! all those gorgeous pictures!), I feel it's the safest route for me right now. I plan to go back to pasting any inspirational images I find into private documents instead of having it all displayed online.

This isn't goodbye forever. I still think pinterest is an incredible concept. But until they get all the legal/ethical kinks worked out, I'm laying low. I'll keep my account sparse for now. I'm only going to have a board with my favorite book covers on it, and maybe my Etsy favorites. I think I can get by with that. ;) 

Once the litigation waters get less choppy, I'll hop back in again with both feet, because eye candy is right up my alley.

What about you? If you pinterest, do threats of law suits concern you at all? Or have you grown so attached to your boards you can't even consider taking them down (which I totally understand--sniff)?


**Special thanks to Bethany Crandell and Mindy McGinnis for bringing Roni Loren's post to my attention; to Bethany Taylor for pointing out the Shiny Shiny article; and to Katherine Ernst for the link to the lawyer's insights. You ladies ROCK!**

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Happy Birthday to Circle of Silence!

Happy Birthday to… Circle of Silence! Yes, today the book is officially launched into the world and I am officially a very proud author. That means that at last, anyone can go into a brick and mortar book store or to one of the many online bookstores and buy/order a copy! So many hours of writing and rewriting by the aforementioned author, (AKA Carol Tanzman), reading and giving notes by my Harlequin Teen editor (the awesome T.S. Ferguson), as well as the incredibly talented design team, the marketing team, the publicity team…a lot of hard work, and time, were lavished on this beautiful book! I do hope that not only do you enjoy reading it, but that this YA Contemporary Thriller keeps you on the edge of your seat--and turning those pages.

Yes, there is a blog tour! The grand prize is a Nook GlowLight but there are copies of the book to be won at each stop! So, check out the tour schedule below, read the fun posts, reviews of the book by the tour hosts, and find out ways to win! Make sure to comment on the day’s blog. I am going to read and respond before the next stop's post.

So feel free to tweet, post on facebook and climb onto the bus as we head off! Ah, the places we'll go!

Mon, July 23 Alice Marvel's
Tues., July 25 Book B'day - Evie Bookish
Wed., July 25thThe Book Cellar  - 
Fri., July 27th Kindle Fever -
Mon., July 30th - Xpresso Reads
Wed., August 1st - Reading Angel
Fri., August 3rd - Harlequin Blog
Mon., August 6th- Letter's Inside Out
Wed., August 8th - Chapter by Chapter
Fri, Aug.10 - 
I Just Wanna Sit here and Read

Monday, July 23, 2012

When The Monsters Come Out to Play

About a month or so ago, I was on a panel devoted to horror fiction, and the question of horror's appeal came up.  A bunch of people talked about "understanding" horror and the horrible; others mentioned reassurance (better you than me; walking out of the movie theater into the sunshine; closing the book and having a chocolate cone).  But then someone made the observation of how much less powerful a story can be when you get the monster's perspective; some of the mystery bleeds away and a nasty, horrible person can seem quite banal.  (Been there, done that; you don't know banality until the guy who just shot his wife tells you he got pissed because she burned his meat loaf.)

But it occurred to me that what we're really interested in when it comes to horror--or rather, the emotion with which horror shares so many qualities--is the feeling of awe.  

Think about it a second.  Some of the most frightening visions in all religions begin with fear and shade to horror before giving way to awe (or both at the same time).  People crave the mystical, the psychedelic, because what is so frightening is so awesome. The face of God is awesome because you have to cover your face to protect yourself against the majestic horror of it all.  I'm no Bush-apologist, but he had it right when he talked about destruction evoking shock and awe: things so horrible you can't bear to look away--and leave you wanting even more, hungry to re-experience this most powerful and visceral of emotions.

I'm particularly mindful of this right now in the wake of the Colorado shootings. Whenever something like this happens, eventually someone will ask me what I think, my theories, why this kind of thing happens. Being a shrink, you get used to the questions, and I guess people want to feel reassured that someone understands what the heck’s going on.(Just because I can put a label to something, though, don't mean I understand.  It means I can fit behaviors into a syndrome.  I have ideas about why.  But understanding is a truly different animal.)  So no surprise that I’ve been asked a couple of times in the last day or so about the Colorado shootings. Now, I claim no special knowledge; I’ve not been following the news that closely. People will advance all kinds of theories, some of them sound and others pablum--but people are intensely interested.  What I found fascinating was one guy I know who decided that the shooter must be an extreme sociopath of some flavor: someone so monstrous he just couldn't relate at all.  When I suggested that, in fact, the guy might have been mightily depressed--and depressed men and boy are frequently preoccupied with and act on very, very violent fantasies--my friend was a little . . . perturbed.  In fact, he said, "Well, I guess that explains what was going on when I was a kid."

Which makes you wonder.

For some people, believing the horrific to be alien is a comforting fiction.  It feels better to imagine monsters as being incomprehensible, something you've got about as much in common with as a paramecium.  Yet that doesn't mean we don't find the horrible and horrific--the monstrous--completely enthralling, or that monsters don't have a home in your mind.  I'm only being a little facetious when I say that everyone loves a good (fictional) psychopath just as people enjoy a good scare (or a great cry).  (Meeting one in the flesh . . . well, not so much.) It's why people flock to things like Batman movies and Hannibal Lector's entered the popular lexicon; why folks ride killer roller coasters, read horror, or are mesmerized by terrible crimes.  Keep in mind that the words "awful" and "awesome" are both derived from "awe," from the Old English "ege," meaning fear and dread.  The Word Detective has a lovely write-up on this, by the way. To say that people want to reassured that the monsters will stay put is only stating the obvious.

While I'd like to think differently, I probably find the monsters--my monsters and their potential--just as fascinating.  Not that I'm suggesting I'm so very special; no, what I'm saying is that, as a shrink who's used to navel-gazing and really getting into the muck and slime--and as a writer who wants to put words to emotions so horribly awesome you don't want them loose in the light of day--letting the monsters out to play is crucial.  Being as brutally honest about the horror of which I am surely capable is vital to making a story--my stories--credible just as it is imperative for me to feel as if I've got a handle on them.  I can let them out for a little while, but then I know how to put them back.  (This is a problem actors have, by the way; more than one's mentioned that when you play a thoroughly despicable and evil person seven days a week and twice on Saturdays . . . it takes a toll.  Truman Capote discovered this to his ruin.  On a more shrinkly note, Robert Keppel, who hunted Ted Bundy and the Green River Killer, has written very compellingly about the emotional toll, and a very fine film made about Keppel and Bundy, The Riverman, explicitly deals with this.)

In a way, I am no different than a kid who enjoys a good shoot-'em-up computer game, one where you blast the monsters to bits.  It's all about mastery, enjoying horror for the awe it engenders, putting it back in its place when you're done.

This is not to trivialize tragedy.  There are plenty of examples of novels delayed because they're too close to reality (think King's Rage).  Our gun laws are insane, and I actually like guns.  But I do think it's worthwhile to take a step back and think about what it is about violence on the screen or in a book that we crave--and why it's so awe-filled when the monsters come out to play.

Friday, July 20, 2012

5 TIPS on World Building from Scratch

By Jordan Dane

World building is a huge topic. I will only cover a fraction of it, but it’s a topic that’s been on my mind lately. Writing crime fiction thrillers, I mainly thought of world building as creating a setting that readers can relate to using all their senses. It can also be a world that can be its own obstacle for the characters I turn loose in it.

My brand slogan is “Take a front row seat to suspense,” which is a saying I felt related to the style of my “up close and personal” writing. But writing for the young adult thriller market has broadened my thoughts on world building. It’s stretched me. I’m working on a new YA proposal for a thriller series that will be set in the future, something I never thought I would do. Sci-Fi? Really? I’m faced with creating a world that doesn’t exist and I would imagine fantasy writers do this all the time. It truly amazes me, but now I’m testing myself too. I thrive on a challenge and this new idea has my juices flowing. I wanted to share my thoughts.

When developing a world that exists only in the future or in a paranormal fantasy realm, this is not the time to shy away from “over the top” thinking. The best tool in your author arsenal is actually a question - “What if…?”

Five Tips on World Building

1.) Take the familiar and give it a twist. A reader can more easily imagine the world you are trying to convey if you make them believe they have seen elements of this world before. Take known calamities, myths, or fairy tales and give them a new spin. Or use real hazards in our world and time—project them into the future with dire outcomes—and see how they might turn out. A dark Alice and Wonderland twist (Splintered by Anita Grace Howard, Jan 2013), for example. What if the world has taken a downward spiral from global warming or what if money is no longer a physical commodity? What replaces the power of money?

2.) Add a Heavy Dose of Human Nature. Basic human nature can transcend time and reality. Determine what matters most in the world you are trying to reinvent or create—and apply a human story at the crux of it all. That is good drama and readers will relate to a well told story with good solid conflict. A great example of a near future world is ASHES by Ilsa Bick. A teenaged girl, dealing with a fatal brain tumor, must survive a post-apocalyptic nightmare alone.

3.) Take a look back to see ahead. If your world is in the near future, say in 2025, you might take a look back at the same span of years (13 years) to see how much has changed and in what areas. (Compare 1999 to now. What’s changed most?) Or if you are creating a fantasy world, man’s history or mythologies can give you ideas on what to bring into that world. What if there is civil unrest in your world? Who are the players and why? What if a magical mythical creature exists in your world? What would it be and what are its powers?

4.) Paint a world by highlighting the elements that enhance your story most. As an author you might know every aspect of the world you want to portray, but are these details important to your story? It can be tedious to demonstrate your world building skills at the expense of pace. Make your key elements conflict with your protagonist’s goals or become an obstacle to challenge them. Think of your setting and world as a character and place as much importance on setting up a solid framework where your characters can thrive. Your world may have to survive a series.

5.) Color Your World. Every world has its own dialect, slang, food, clothes, and customs. “Borrowing” from fables, myths, and history can be a starting point, but don’t be afraid to develop something on your own. Invent a few words that will play a prominent role in your new world or perhaps take a risk by combining a known world with a fantasy/paranormal one. A reader will feel grounded in the world you are creating, yet feel you are bringing something new to the table. A good example of this is the old Sci-Fi TV show FARSCAPE. A present day astronaut gets caught in a wormhole and transported to another universe where he is the only human. Remember the word, “Frak!” Yep, another four-letter word starting with F.

For the sake of discussion—by the year 2025—what do you think would change most? What would be cool to have? What bad things do you think are looming if we don’t change our ways? Will we still use real money? Are we headed for a global society, rather than individual countries? Exercise your writer brain and throw out anything that comes to mind. In brainstorming a new world, you need to cut loose, think over the top, and have fun.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

bad blogger...or, how my muse moved in with me

Yes, I have been a Bad Blogger as of late. My personal blog (writers write, right?, which you can totally check out here) has been severely neglected for...a few weeks (ugh, I know, horrible), and for that, I must apologize. I promise to do my best to keep a better eye on it. 

As for my posts here at ADR3NALIN3, I have miraculously managed to post every time I have been scheduled. Perhaps that is because I am only scheduled to post every other Tuesday? Hmm, I may be on to something there. ;-)

But I do have a good excuse for my blogging tardiness. You see, my Muse called several days ago. She was traveling across the United States on her way to Arizona to help a certain vampire author (see photo to the right) pen her next Worldwide Phenomenon and needed a place to crash for the night.

I was giddy with excitement at her call, but then immediately switched to worry when I remembered what happened last time she made that call: She showed up for one day and then was gone, leaving me with a really good premise and nothing else. I cursed her for weeks after that. So needless to say I was a bit apprehensive (well, after the initial elation wore off), but I finally agreed to let her spend the night with me, deciding to not put much into anything she might say or offer up throughout the night. I fully expected to find a quick little note saying "Thanks for the nap!" stuck to my fridge and all my milk gone.

Well, imagine my surprise when I found my Muse nestled right next to me when I woke the next morning. I stayed in bed an extra 20 minutes, unmoving for fear of sending her on her way. But she stayed! Yes folks, she stayed. We got up, had a very nice breakfast, and she immediately went to work.

And she hasn't stopped.

She has basically moved in with me. She's taking showers at my house, washing her clothes, eating up all my food...and filling me with so many wonderful ideas that I can't get them down fast enough. And even though I've had to make extra trips to buy milk (boy does she love her milk), I'm loving it. The walks we take, the hours-long talks that spawn major plot points and character developments...agh!

So as you can see, even though I've been hugely neglecting my blogger duties, my reason is a worthy one: A new house guest! And it's the good kind of house guest--the kind that gives something in return for your hospitality--not the kind that eats dinner at your place every night without offering to cook first.

So please forgive me everyone. If you've by chance been missing seeing posts from writers write, right? on your blog roll, don't blame me. 

Blame my muse (she can handle it).

What about you guys? Has your muse inspired you lately? Has she offered up any ideas? Has she moved in for a while? Or has she bypassed your place entirely and taken the red-eye straight to Arizona to inspire that other writer?

Monday, July 16, 2012

And Now for Something Different...

By Dan Haring

Sorry for the late post. I just barely remembered it was my day today. I've been a little out of sorts lately, because in less than two weeks I'm moving my family from California to Connecticut. So with all the packing and scheduling and everything it's been a bit hectic. But here's the deal: We're driving out there, and although I've been to a lot of the states along the way already, I've mainly only driven through them. I've never stopped to actually explore too many of the places. So below is a map of the general route we're taking. Do you know of anything exciting/cool/peculiar/one of a kind along the way? If so, let me know, and we'll try to check it out. Next time I write it'll be from the East Coast. Crazy. Talk to you then!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Authors Are Rockstars Virtual Tour!

For deets, click HERE!

Phenom book bloggers Fiktshun & Two Chicks on Books are hosting an amazing virtual book tour during the month of August that will feature OVER 30 YA authors. Bloggers who want to participate can sign up on July 15th. Click on the link above for the deets. This will be a real celebration of YA books.

Just when summer gets hottest, Fiktshun & Two Chicks on Books really know how to heat things up with more great summer YA reads. Jordan Dane will be featured on August 8th with book giveaways from Harlequin Teen PLUS something special to be announced. Stay tuned!

Join in the fun every day in August. Loads of fun posts and giveaways from your fav YA authors.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Serve me up another cockroach … I feel the munchies coming on.

by A.G. Howard

Mmmm. Tasty.

*Shudders* Okay, so I’m not really into eating bugs, although I've heard rumor they're high in protein.

The subject title is referring to my fear of writing action scenes, fight scenes in particular. In the earliest draft of my adult vampire fantasy (a book I wrote a couple of years ago), I skimmed through the biggest fight scene of the book, writing it in the narrative with the heroine looking back on it.

My writing group called me on the mat and said, “Write out that sucker, you lazy bum.” Okay, not in so many words, but they did subtly denote that I was above cutting corners at this point in my writing. The scene is toward the climax of the book, and truly, the reader deserves to see it played out.

For me, it wasn’t so much about being lazy as being FEARFUL. I am terrified of writing any kind of action scene, but fight scenes trump them all. Something about blending the movement and emotion of the characters—wanting to keep them real without feeling mapped out, wooden, or staged—really stokes my paranoia to a full fiery flame.

It’s like being on an episode of Fear Factor for writers. Remember this show?

 One of the most popular stunts was to make contestants eat live insects, like this lovely cave spider from Africa:

Yes, folks. Those are indeed claws. Imagine trying to swallow this fellow down while he's hanging onto your tonsils for dear life... *insert horrified scream here*

In my writer's worst nightmare, instead of handing me a plateful of cockroaches and earthworms to nibble on, the host hands me a blank piece of paper, a pen, and a prompt with the words: write a fight scene between a sisterhood clan of halfling vampires teamed up with a priest and their vampire enemies to defeat a rogue band of vampire super-beings; be sure to incorporate both martial arts and street fighting tactics, because the bad guys ain't gonna play nice.   

Eeps. I think I’d rather munch on a plate full of creepy crawler slaw. At least then, the only one who will be sick as a result of my stunt is me.

I was just curious, for the other writers out there, what's your Fear Factor episode? Is there any particular kind of scene that makes you curl up inside your shell, afraid to stick your head out? And how do you psyche yourself up to write it without resorting to the amateur “tell don’t show” tactic?

And for the readers, what are some of the best written fight scenes you've ever read? I'd love to have some good pointers for a fight scene I have coming up in my current work in progress. Or maybe I’ll just munch on some grilled crickets and call it a day. ;)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Comforted by F. Scott Fitzgerald!

Carol Tanzman checking in!

I recently read a post on the Letters of Note site (via the awesome Alice Marvels—if you don’t receive her e-newsletter on just about everything YA, you should), showing the very first correspondence exchanges between F. Scott Fitzgerald and his editor Maxwell Perkins regarding his new novel The Great Gatsby.

I loved reading the back and forth between the two of them. Catching a glimpse into their process. Just before Fitzgerald closes the first letter, in which he tell Perkins that he’s sending him his new manuscript under separate cover, he writes,

“Naturally I won't get a nights sleep until I hear from you…”

Sound familiar, writers? The question that haunts us all: in spite of all our hard work, is this manuscript any good?

In the next letter, Fitzgerald writes, “There are things in it I'm not satisfied with in the middle of the book—Chapters 6 & 7.”

Perkins writes back after reading the manuscript twice. He makes sure to give Fitzgerald very effusive, and deserved, praise, before he says, “I think you are right in feeling a certain slight sagging in chapters six and seven, and I don't know how to suggest a remedy.”

I can almost see Fitzgerald taking a puff of his cigarette or downing a shot of whiskey: “Damn, I was hoping he’d tell me it was fine.” Because this means Fitzgerald must rewrite, of course. I imagine him trying all sorts of things to find that remedy himself: long walks, drinking extra booze, staying up late, waking up earlier, thinking about the problem, NOT thinking about the problem, working on another note…

Except for the cigarette-smoking, I’m actually projecting a bit of what happened after I read a few of my editor’s notes for the upcoming Circle of Silence. The acknowledgment that, yes, something’s not quite right in a certain section. The awareness that, oops, I’m not quite sure what to do about it. There has to be a way to solve the problem, I think, and I go through all those steps until, at last, the “Aha” moment appears.

 “I know how to fix this!” I think.

Lo and behold, in Fitzgerald’s very next letter to Perkins, he makes this list:

“(b) Chapters VI & VII I know how to fix” (emphasis mine). I hear Fitzgerald’s quiet triumph, his palpable relief that he can finally make those chapters work.

“(c) Gatsby's business affairs
I can fix. I get your point about them.” (Again, the quiet nod—you’re right about this, Perkins old chap and I will make it better.)

“(d) His vagueness I can repair by making more pointed—this doesn't sound good but wait and see. It'll make him clear.

LOL! “This doesn’t sound good but wait and see…”  I just love that. How many times have I said something similar to an editor? Since I am not F. Scott Fitzgerald, however, I always add, “If you don't think it works, I’ll cut/change/rewrite.”

Reading these exchanges made me inordinately happy. Through the wonders of the Internet, I'm able to cross time and space and meet F. Scott Fitzgerald in the place all writers wish to find: the magical ground that allows us to make every book the best we can.

For the full Letters of Note post, click here

For more information on Circle of Silence, which will be published by Harlequin Teen in exactly two weeks (7/24/12), click here.

Monday, July 9, 2012

It's the Story, Stupid

The New York Times excels in hand-wringing about non-issues.  That's not a slam; it's just how I see things.  Doesn't stop me from reading, but sometimes you just gotta shake your head.  One recent eye-roller focused on the "power" of YA lit, an exercise in silliness  that tried to answer the question: how come so many adults seem to be reading YA lit?  (Although I did get a chuckle out of the guy who declared that adults should read adult books, you slackers.)

Frankly, I think all this navel-gazing goes back to the uneasiness many adults felt when they were captivated by Harry Potter.  Remember how they had different covers for adults so they could read in public and not be embarrassed?  (And, yes, they put all the books in plain brown paper bags, like bottles of booze.)  This whole thing about adults reading YA is one of those non-issue hand-wringers that have people moaning over cocktails: Why aren't we reading Ulysses?  (Really, they ought to be saying: But I just don't get it.  What the hell's Joyce talking about?  Say, remember when reading used to be fun and it was all about the story?)  

Still, adults reading YA is an interesting question.  Yet, in some ways, who cares?  I don't recall anyone getting all hot and bothered that adults might have liked, say, Watership Down (all those cute, furry, warlike little bunnies out to find females) or Lord of the Flies or . . . well, you get my drift.   If adults like YA, more power to ya, that's what I say.  If you pick up one of my books, I'd be ecstatic.

But I'm not convinced that SO MANY adults are turning to YA lit.  Rather, I think that certain YA books succeed is telling a story many or only certain  adults like (more on that in a sec), and that those few books are both marketed quite cannily and turned into media events (as, for example, the recent Hunger Games movie and campaign; really some interesting reading there on the power of marketing to generate buzz where none might have existed).

YA lit may also be appealing to some adults for other reasons, too.  Most YA books are frequently much easier reads than more highly self-conscious, literary fiction which calls so much attention to the crafting of each sentence (and don't just take my word for it; this has been pointed out before).  Although I know I'm going to get a lot of howling about that because there is just as much beautifully written literary YA, too.  Believe me, I know that; in fact, I'd like to think that, every now and again, I manage to pull that off myself.  But the reality is that YA lit is a tad easier; the action is much more direct; the pacing faster (closer to thriller pacing, frequently); POV is frequently limited to first-person which means that identification with the primary protagonist is much more rapid.  It's easier to slip into the story--and story-telling is the primary focus.  A lot of YA is out to tell a great story.

Really, it's not that YA lit is so much more powerful.  I mean, honestly, do you really think a ton of adults are all that interested in reading about kids fretting over the various indignities you suffer in high school?  (Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt.)  Or what happens when your boyfriend goes off to summer camp and you have to stay home?  I'm not making fun; I'm really not; what I'm suggesting is that the "power" of YA lit is a specious argument just as what constitutes a YA novel is pretty tough to define.  I'll bet there are YA books you've read that made you take a step back and think, "Whoa, that's not YA."  The book may be marketed as YA, but it's not.  Just because a protagonist is supposed to be 16 or 17, for example, doesn't mean that the story feels authentic as a teenage/YA voice or narrative.  (I remember a few where I was . . . huh?  I don't think so . . . )  But because YA is so hot--a genre that seems to be highly marketable and attractive to tons of cross-over authors--I can see the temptation in marketing a book as YA when it isn't, and you know it when you read it.  You just do.

So what I do think we're talking about here are a) a few stories that captivate adult audiences because the story's got enough complexity to reach beyond teenage concerns and b) readers--and predominantly young women--for whom a very, very large number of YA books focus on things that still concern them even when they've left high school and moved off into college and beyond: namely, relationships.  Love.  Romance.

Don't believe me?  Think about it a second.  Go to any bookstore.  Go to this FANTASTIC blog post on various YA covers and take a long look; then go over to the adult romance section and compare. Go on; I dare you.  Think about the YA stories out there.  Yes, yes, there are all types and subgenres; I'm not arguing that.  But I think we can all agree that a high number focus on romance and love relationships.  This isn't anything to be ashamed about; love and sex and relationships are things adolescents think about, a lot.  But many of the more successful YA books incorporate romance as central to the plot, and I think that only goes to show that the demographic toward whom the vast majority of YA lit is pitched is still concerned with that well into adulthood.  Women read more than men; women also read more romance; romance still makes up the largest market share of the reading public and romance e-books are big sellers, no matter which way you slice that pie.   So the idea that the same girls grow into the women who will still pick up a YA novel that's heavy on the romance--and we all know which books we're talking about here--isn't so much an indication of YA's power as much as it speaks to YA's ability to continue to tap into the same concerns these girls carry into adulthood.

Please don't misunderstand me.  I love writing YA; it's hard work for me and I think I deal with some pretty heavy things.  I anguish over every single sentence, and I'm not kidding.  I'm not demeaning YA or suggesting that it's somehow a "lesser" literature.  Far from it; what I take issue with is the idea that YA is more "powerful."  I don't even know what that means, frankly, unless "power" is a synonym for "some YA books are bestsellers for adults and kids."

Really, what it comes down to?  It's the story.  YA or not, if the story sucks, people won't read it.  If the story is great and just happens to be YA, people will.

End of story.

Friday, July 6, 2012

A Checklist for Indie Authors – E-Book Retailers (Post 2)

To get my e-book into the hands of readers, I had decisions to make. Should I upload my book through a Distributor/Aggregator with bundled services for multiple retailers or load them directly onto the sites of individual retailers? If you have a number of titles from your backlist, this could seem daunting, but bear with me. Some retailers are easy to upload into directly, regardless of the number of titles you have, while others restrict authors who don’t have enough offerings to meet their initial minimum requirements.

As I stated in my first post on this series, if you upload to Amazon and B&N, you’ve covered 60-70% of e-books sold today. That’s a good place to start. I could have formatted my own books to save money, but I went through a service provider to do this as I continued writing my contracted books. My formatters created my e-book files for Sex, Death and Moist Towelettes & Dark Kiss through Amazon (Mobi), B&N (ePub), and Smashwords (.doc), plus my e-book and pdf file for my Print-on-Demand (POD) non-fiction book with a cover design for the front, spine, and back of One Author’s Aha Moments.

To optimize an indie author’s outreach and distribution efforts, I’m listing other options beyond Amazon and B&N in this blog series. Stay tuned for more in the weeks to come when I post about Distributors & Library Sales, Retailers with Volume Restrictions, and I draw some conclusions from all this in my final post on the indie author topic. I plan to launch a page on my Fringe Dweller blog where I will list indie resources and maintain them.

Below are the e-book retailers that allow anyone to upload content, no matter how many offerings you have or your publisher status. (Kobo will be mentioned in the next post, but there are many interesting changes happening that will put them on this list soon.) Please be aware that each of these sites operates under different formats and you should get familiar with their guidelines.

Amazon’s Kindle Digital Publishing (KDP) - Amazon’s primary e-book format is Mobipocket (Mobi) files, with or without DRM. Amazon currently dominates the market on e-book retail sales. Authors and publishers have access to an effective online retail outlet. Their royalty percentages are split by price point. Currently, that is 70% if your e-book is priced between $2.99 & $9.99, or 35% for all other price points. There is a small delivery charge based on size of file and royalties are paid monthly.

Barnes & Noble - B&N's upload service is called PubIt!. PubIt! is similar to the Amazon KDP and gives indie authors the ability to upload a higher quality of ePub file that will not be lost through an automated conversion process where standards might be lower. The system also accepts Word, HTML, RTF, and TXT documents, which will be auto-converted to the ePub format.

Apple's iBookstore - Apple's iBookstore is open for authors and publishers to upload their own content. You must have a Mac computer to use the iTunes Producer program to upload the files. The signup process may seem intimidating, but an indie author can earn a higher royalty percentage by going direct and not through a distributor/aggregator. If you are unable to use Apple's system because of limitations, the iBookstore provides a link of Approved Aggregators you can go through.

Google - Google's e-book store allows readers to purchase PDF and ePub versions of your book, protected by the Adobe DRM. (Digital Rights Management is a term for any security measures designed to inhibit piracy.) The Google e-book store is part of the Google Books Partner Program. HERE is a link on their system requirements.

Lulu - Lulu uses ePub, PDF, and Microsoft Reader (LIT) formats, with and without DRM. Lulu is well-known for its Print-on-Demand (POD) services and an indie author can sell e-books through them. Lulu takes a cut of sales and there could be an additional fee to use the DRM option. Lulu is an Apple-approved aggregator for the iBookstore.

ebookMall - A $19.95 submission fee is waived until June 30, 2012. ebookMall uses ePub and PDF file types. Lightning Source could be an alternate source into this retailer.

Scribd - Scribd uses PDF files only and cannot sell other formats.

Smashwords - Smashwords works off a specific Word document style (HERE) that must be in accordance with the Smashwords Style Guide. That Word doc is auto-converted into 9 different formats at the author's option. In addition to selling books at its own online store with the lowest fee of any retailer listed here (15%), the Smashwords Premium Catalog offers authors and small publishers a way to distribute their titles across a variety of retailers, including Apple's iBookstore, the Sony eBook Store, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and others.

In my next post, I will go into more detail on the various issues with a middleman distributor. Be aware that an indie author can have format issues by going through the conversion process and this can translate into downstream retailers taking issue with e-book quality from that distributor and YOU. Bottom line is, uploading directly to a retailer with relative ease might be your best option. You’ll see why in my next post when we talk about issues beyond formatting, like cumbersome and untimely price changes when going through a third party.

Some of this sounds daunting, but remember, if you’ve got your book onto Amazon and Barnes & Noble, you have your digital baby with the largest e-book retailers. Fine tuning your retailer outreach can be done as you have time. It doesn’t have to be done all at once. Many of these sites will take time away from your writing, so weigh the benefits against the time it takes for you to focus on this, but once you see how things go, you can fine tune where you will focus your retail and promotional efforts.

If you’re an indie author, please share your experiences with the retailers I mentioned and what has worked for you. If you are exploring the idea of self-publishing, do posts like this help you or intimidate you?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Drain Sludge

by Jennifer Archer

I wrote the following article for a writing organization's newsletter many years ago before my first book was published. I recently ran across it and was sent back in time to experience again all of the  emotions that go along with the struggle to publish. The realities of publishing are quite different today. You can put an ebook up online and call yourself a published author. But for those of you still trying to publish traditionally, and struggling, I hope reading my old article helps you to put it all into perspective. While you're reading, glance now and then at the covers I've posted of my book BODY AND SOUL. The first book I ever wrote that I speak about in this article never sold, but the second one did -- and BODY AND SOUL is it! The original cover is the one with the fortune cookie on it. The cover with the picture of two women is the current re-release in ebook format.

DRAIN SLUDGE by Jennifer Archer

Since receiving another rejection on my novel, I've been thinking about drain sludge -- that disgusting conglomeration of hair, soap scum, and who-knows-what-else that clogs up plumbing. I once heard drain sludge compared to a writer's early work: "You have to get it out of your system so the good stuff can flow."

Can I deal with the fact that my first novel might be slime? That my long-toiled-over manuscript may never reside between the cover of a book? I never presumed I'd written The Great American Novel. I didn't expect a Pulitzer Prize. But...drain sludge? After much thought and a little sulking, I've reached a conclusion: If need be, I'll lay my manuscript to rest without weeping. Negative thinking? I choose to call it realism, because as I scan my quickly-dwindling market list of prospective publishers, I must be realistic.

Daphne Clair de Jong, author for Harlequin Mills & Boon and Silhouette wrote: "...there are many, many more people out there who want to write romances than there are spaces for on the bookstore racks. And the cold hard truth is that lots -- lots -- of them are never going to be published." Initially Ms. de Jong's comments depressed me. But then I read this in Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott: "Almost every single thing you hope publication will do for you is a fantasy, a hologram -- it's the eagle on your credit card that only seems to soar. What's real is that if you do your scales every day, if you slowly try harder and harder pieces, if you listen to great musicians play music you love, you'll get better....And so if one of your heart's deepest longings is to write, there are ways to get your work done, and a number of reasons why it is important to do so."

A number of reasons to write other than publication? I thought publication was THE goal?

Maybe I've been looking at this all wrong. Maybe my focus should be on becoming the best writer I can be rather than becoming a published writer. Afterall, the words I put down are all I control. I can't control an editor's opinion or the buying public's taste.

Not long ago, my son asked, "What if your book never gets published? Think how much time you will have wasted." When I consider the hours I worked on my novel and the possibility it might never sell, I don't regret one minute spent. By struggling through those pages, I learned about the craft of writing and about myself. I gained priceless insight into plotting, characterization and more -- insight I couldn't derive from a textbook. By attempting the process rather than simply reading about it, I experienced the difficulties, confronted them, worked my way around them. Perhaps not always skillfully, but I did it, nonetheless. Completing and submitting the book to publishers taught me I could finish a project and that, through a well-written query letter, I could entice editors to request my manuscript. Most important, I learned that while rejection is unpleasant, it isn't fatal. And if I'm lucky enough to receive an editor's feedback, I can often use it to make my story even stronger.

And what did I learn about myself? I've been right about one thing all my life -- a writer is what I want to be when I grow up. Also, I'm tougher than I thought, and more persistent. I can read my work aloud to a group without suffering a nervous breakdown. I can accept constructive criticism graciously, even be thankful for it. Best of all, I learned I can write simply for the love of it and experience satisfaction. I won't lie -- it stings to admit my early work might be drain sludge. Because, good or bad, I'm fond of my first novel, as you should be of your first attempts at writing. And though we may have needed to "get it out of our system so the good stuff can flow," I believe our early work and drain sludge have nothing else in common. Sludge has no redeeming qualities. Writing a first novel, short story or article, on the other hand, is an unforgettable experience. Like kissing, falling in love, swimming in the ocean or flying in an airplane, there's no other time quite like the first one.

Enough brooding. Time to go back to work on Book #2. The plumber is leaving and, with any luck, it might finally be safe for me to turn on the faucet.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

I bought my own book!...or, what I learned during revisions

I know that title is probably a tad confusing, so allow me to explain. The whole "I bought my own book" thing simply means that, well, I bought my own book (haha!). Sorry. Ahem. What I mean is that I decided to put my "book" on one of those fancy-schmancy book-printing websites and create a cover and format all my pages to their standards and pay a tiny bit of money and wait anxiously by the mailbox and grab my book from said mailbox and rip open the box and ogle the finished product. author's note: I promise I don't write run-on sentences like this in real life.

"What does that mean?" I hear you all asking. Which leads to the second part of the title, "or, what I learned during revisions". After I completed the first draft of my MS, I shelved it for a few days before opening it back up and printing out a copy to tackle revisions. To say that the entire idea of revising what I had spent so much time writing was a bit overwhelming is a major understatement. Was I seriously going to delete words or paragraphs or *gulp* pages from my story? I couldn't imagine doing it. No way.

But I knew it had to be done, so I dove in and revised. And after that first round of revisions, I of course felt that the story was better. Not perfect by any means, but better. So I shelved it again and let the original ideas marinate with the revised ideas to see what I could come up with to change next. What?!! More revisions? NO!! Absolutely not!
I'm sure we all know what comes next, right? Yep, more revisions. So, I printed out yet another copy of my MS (my apologies to the trees harmed during my revision process) and started doing what I could. author's note: I'm horrible at revisions, so "doing what I could" isn't really that much. After making a second pass, I once again put the story away for a little while, mainly so my over-worked brain could have a break. Once again, though, that pesky Revision Bug started gnawing at me, and this time I didn't even bother to protest. I gave in and opened my document, ready to print out yet another copy.

But this time, an idea struck me.

I said, "Hey, what about printing an actual book copy of your MS?"
"You mean, like a real book?" I asked myself.
"Yep. Like a real book."

And so, I hopped on the internet to see where I could buy a nice, bound copy of my MS. It didn't take long to find several websites offering this service, so I picked one and went from there. And that website was Lulu.com. And the result was rewarding in so many ways.

Not only did I get an actual book with my name on it and my hard work inside (okay, I know it's not technically a book since it wasn't technically published, but I can dream), but I also got what I think is one of the best tools for revising out there: your work, in book form, for you to read...like a real book!

Sounds simple, right? We all love to read (if you don't, then what are you doing here?), and we all know how easy it is to get lost in a book and not come up for air until we turn that last page. So what better way to find out how good your own writing is than to read it like a book?

I had thought when I printed my MS on my own printer (on those large, garish, white pages) that it would make revising much easier than staring at the computer screen. And it did. But trying to read them that way wasn't so easy. And since nothing beats reading a book, I thought maybe nothing would beat revising a book that way, too.

So when I opened to the first page of my "book" and started reading, the entire story played out in my head, just like it does when I read any book. It was amazing. I could see my characters come to life like a movie, and I could hear their dialogue and I could feel what my MC was feeling...I loved it! And, just like I had suspected, I could see where my story needed work.

Big and loud and slapping me in the face, the problems in my MS -- from misspelled words I thought I had fixed to lagging plot points and flat dialogue -- were so much clearer. But now I had a much better grasp on which areas needed work and which ones were pretty good. So all I had to do was open up my word document and get to work. And if I ran into a problem that I couldn't figure out, I could always go back and re-read my book!

Tell me what you guys think about having your MS in book form. Think it would help you in revising? No? Discuss!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Back It Up!

By Dan Haring

Is there anything worse than pouring your blood, sweat and tears into something you created, only to have it disappear?

Oh, well sure, there's THAT.

But I'm talking about non-life-threatening things.

More specifically, your manuscript. You know, that thing you've been slaving over in the hopes that someday the world will read? What would happen if it got deleted?

I'm sure there would be a fair amount of this.

But that's not going to get your book back, is it?

Trust me, it won't. And you'll just feel ashamed for, A. losing your work and, B. doing the ugly cry.

This actually happened to me with my last post on this blog. I posted it and everything was fine, then I went in to edit it and *poof* it was gone. Luckily I had a backup, and I can't stress how important it is to do the same with your work.

How? You might ask. 

There are plenty of ways, but I'll list a couple that I know about.

When I told Jordan about my problem, she suggested something called Windows Live Writer. I haven't looked into it too much, but it looks like a good option.

But let's say your computer pulls one of these:

Your files are just gone forever, just like Sarah Jessica Parker, right? Not if you're smart.

The first option is the external hard drive. These are great and for like a hundred bucks you can get a 2 terabyte drive.

For those non-techspeak people, 1 terabyte will hold a couple million pages of text files. So grab one of those drives and you should be set for life, even if every book you write is longer than Ulysses.

Unless you accidentally knock the hard drive over.

A friend of mine in animation school had all his files on an external drive and he accidentally kicked it, and he totally did the Dawson cry.

So if you're going to get an external drive, I'd recommend a solid state one. They're more expensive, but also more durable.

But what if you're travelling when your computer spontaneously combusts and you don't have access to your external drive?

There are a number of online options for file backup. I've used MediaFire.com and Dropbox.com. You can get a free account with a couple gigs of storage space or pay some money and get a bigger storage limit. Be warned though. I just got an email from Mediafire saying they might delete some of my files because I hadn't accessed them recently. (It's probably been about a year) I'm not sure, but Dropbox may have a similar time limit.If you're accessing it regularly you should be fine.

But my favorite method is free, easy, and allows me to have access to my document wherever I have internet access. It's called....Gmail.

That's right. My email account. I actually wrote my first book, all 76,000 words of it, in an email that I saved in my drafts. That way I had easy access to it wherever I had internet, and it would have been very hard to delete.

I'm still a little paranoid about losing my work, so on my recent manuscript, which I wrote in Word, in addition to cutting and pasting the text into an email and saving it, I would periodically email the Word document to myself. Easy enough, right? That way my computer could get nuked and I wouldn't have lost a word of my work, because I could just download it from Gmail whenever I wanted. It ensures I don't lose my work, and it keeps my keyboard free from those bitter tears that might otherwise fall.

So that's what works for me. What about you?