Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Let Me Pick Your Brains... but, you know, not in the Zombie way...

Okay, normally I don’t do this, but I want to talk a bit about my current WIP. Mostly because I want some opinions, discussions, verbal lashings if needed – and who better to get them from than the peoples who people my blog? So, if you’re a writer, editor, reader, or just unbelievably opinionated, I’d love to hear what you think:

So, here’s the dealie – I’m currently breaking a cardinal rule. Okay, it might not be a cardinal rule but it’s definitely something YA writers are admonished NOT to do. I’ve set my wip in the early 90’s... yes, yes, that also happens to be the same time period that I was the age of my characters... go ahead, make fun.

Here’s the thing, it’s actually harder for me to write it in that time period than it would be to make it current. The admonishment is generally directed at writers who set YA during their own childhood to make it easier for them, so they don’t have to immerse themselves in current trends, languages, etc. I’m actually better immersed in today’s YA world than I am in the one I grew up in. For the time period I’m writing in, I’ve had to do a lot of research, because, honestly, I didn’t remember when what fad took over. Speech is another thing that’s hard to master, because in your memory, all of those catchy little teenage phrases blend together.

I’ve been batting this back and forth since starting this wip. My feeling is that it needs to be set in that time period. That’s where these characters and their neighborhood’s story take place. The other thing is that we need to see where these characters end up, as adults. We need to see the impact of these events on their whole life – what paths did they choose, and how did the choices they made during the heart of the story impact them? That’s the whole scope of the story, to me, the larger repercussions and the impact on the whole. Without knowing the entire plot and characters, this might sound kind of convoluted. But that’s another reason I want it set back aways – the meat of the story takes place in the past, but the end of the novel is current day.

I suppose I could write the meat of the novel current day and still end it that way, staying away from too much heavy description of the time period for their future selves. And I’ve had that in mind ever since starting, that I might have to go back and rewrite, pulling them out of that time-period and into the current one.

But I’m kind of leaning toward breaking the rules. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard great agents and editors say not to set your YA in the 80’s (close enough). So that I know, when it comes time to query, I may already have a mark against me.

So, what do you guys think? Is it ever okay to break that type of a rule? Am I just giving myself excuses to keep it in the timeframe I want it in? Or does it all hinge on the execution? I know there are examples of this working – Stephen King’s The Body, which became Stand By Me was set in the 60’s but written in the 80’s. BUT he was already Stephen KING!!! I don’t want to set up even more roadblocks for myself. At the same time, I really love this story and I don’t want to dilute it for the sake of a sale, either.

So what’s your take? Have you ever broken a rule that improved your work? Have you ever broken a rule out of sheer stubbornness that on retrospect hurt your work? Am I just obsessing over silliness when I should be pushing out pages? (Yeah, yeah, I’m getting back to work right now.)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Kid Lit Contest - January 2010

Mary Kole of Andrea Brown Literary Agency is holding a contest at her awesome Kid Lit Blog. She’s very specific with the requirements for your entry to be considered eligible, so if you’re interested in playing, you should really check out the submission guidelines.

She’s asking for the first 500 words to a finished middle grade or young adult novel. No picture books or adult fiction, but if you already have a finished and polished manuscript in mg or ya, it might be a great opportunity for you. All submissions are due by January 31st, so if you’re planning to play, you better get cracking.

Let me know if you enter... and for those of you participating in the Koala Challenge, it counts as a submissions... mwa-ha-ha.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Koala Challenge – Show Me, Show Me, Show Me How You Do that Trick

...the one that makes me scream, she said... the one that makes me laugh, she said... threw her arms around my head... show me how you do it... and I promise you, I promise that I’ll run away with you... (sorry, I was singing to Realmy)

This year, I’ve entered the Koala Challenge 2010

Isn’t that a cool little sinister Koala? JJ Debenedictis designed the awesome little badges that signify your progress for the month, and if you’re interested in playing, you can see all of the badges on her blog post, here. Even if you’re not interested in playing, it’s worth the trip just to ogle JJ’s artwork.

The basic idea is that each bit of writing equals a point in the system... but they’re not small bits of writing. It has to be a submission, for 1 point, for long fiction it’s 1 point per 4,000 words. That sinister badge up there equals 3 points, or 12,000 words if you’re only doing long fiction, and really the goal is to get the happy happy Koala, which is 9 points. You can go visit either McKoala’s or JJ’s posts linked above to get all the rules and see who else is playing.

“Okay, so what’s with the song at the top?” one might wonder. Around January, all of us writer types start discussing our goals for the year, our plans for what we’re going to do. I’m no exception. I wrote an entire, and entirely too long, post called, The Year of No Excuses on this topic. I got to the end and realized something – it wasn’t for you. It was for me. It was a way for me to work out what I was doing wrong and fix it for fuck’s sake. But you don’t need to know what I plan to do, or want to do, or what my goals are...so I printed it for me, but I never posted it.

There’s an old saying that I’ve loved for most of my life – “Don’t talk to me about what you’re going to do, show me what you did.” There’s a time and a place for dreaming and planning and plotting out your future – and it’s not meant to be shared. Okay, addendum, when you’re planning a joint future with someone you should probably key them in to your plans. But otherwise, you don’t need to know why I haven’t done what I haven’t done. You don’t need to know what I plan to do.

Giving out a detailed goal list for the month or year, just makes me feel like I have to make excuses for why I fell short. So, new tact. You’ll find my Koala Badge on the right hand sidebar on the last day of the month. So the last month’s progress will be visible until I change it to reflect the newest month. The motivator for me is that I hold myself publicly accountable. There is no hiding from my lapses and no shirking my workload. At the same time, though, it feels better to me to say at the end of the month – this is what I accomplished. I like the camaraderie of a group, too and the fact that other challengers can stop here and congratulate or give me shit about it.

Your turn – what have you accomplished lately that you’re proud of? And do you prefer to show or tell – or a little of both?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

My Top Ten Reasons Why Writing Fiction Rocks

Today’s a great day to do an uplifting post. The last one I wrote was a rant, which actually felt really good and cathartic. But I thought it might be a good idea to remind myself why we would crawl through glass rather than give up this very hard profession.

So, for your reading amusement:

My Top Ten Reasons Why Writing Fiction Rocks

10. The only numbers you have to worry about are page numbers and word count – and MS Word takes care of that for you.

9. When one of your characters pisses you off, you can get even with him in all sorts of diabolical ways – try that with your coworkers.

8. Seriously, when else will you get to plot a bank heist and not wind up arrested?

7. In normal society, when you sit around talking to yourself, they call you crazy. When you tell them you’re a writer, you become, ‘creative’.

6. You can strike fear in the hearts of friends and acquaintances by hinting that they’ll be included in your novel. (They all think they’ll be included either way, of course).

5. A writer’s daily adventure is only limited by his or her imagination. Pirate play, anyone?

4. You can wade waist deep in books and information on any topic that catches your passion – and it’s called research!!! Come on, how much cooler does it get?

3. You can populate your story with the most colorful, loyal, witty, amazing people you’ll ever meet – and then you get to hang out with them and call it work!

2. There is no dress code for writing fiction.

1. Writing gives you a chance to make sense of the story. It doesn’t replace life, but it makes the experience of living more powerful.

What reasons make your list? And have you done any writing today?

Friday, January 08, 2010

Irked - A New Rant for the New Year

2+ years of fiction writing courses

10 + years writing / studying and learning craft

5 + years studying the publishing industry, learning how to write query / dreaded synopsis, and untold hours of studying agents / editors / houses, etc. etc. etc.

2 finished novels (one sucked so bad we’ll just call it education by stupidity and one hasn’t found an agent at this point, but still - lots of work)

3 + partially written novels, attempted and discarded between sucky book number 1 and completed book number 2

1 – Work In Progress, which has been written, completely scrapped, and started over from scratch

Untold number of online writing exercises, fiction writing classes, editing classes, and critique circles for to slash me to pieces and make me improve.

Untold number of bright and shiny ideas that have been partially plotted, character sketches, and miscellaneous files of work that may or may not be worth salvaging at some point in life.

Untold number of short story and flash fiction pieces, which I know is really not my forte but I have steadily been trying to get a handle on anyway because I feel that it will tighten my writing and improve my craft.

Rejections – don’t even get me started.

I should probably include reading on this list, but I almost feel bad including it because I’d be doing it whether or not I ever wanted to write... I love it... but then, I also love writing and I’ve included an awful lot of that on this list. I’d have to say about 30 years... but only about 20 of those since deciding I might like to write, and really 5 where I’ve been reading with a writer’s eye.

So there, as it stands to date, is my Fiction Writing Resume. It goes without saying that most of this has been squeezed in every crevice of time that wasn’t used for running my household, raising my children, volunteering my time, and producing the freelance writing that actually comes with a paycheck.

I know non-writers don’t really understand this whole thing. They don’t get that I’ve put in this time to improve and learn because I love this, without a paycheck, without any guarantee, without knowing for sure whether I’ll wind up at the end of years and years of hard work with nothing but failure to show for it. Hell, I’m doing it and sometimes I don’t fucking get it.

And, when you get down to it, I suppose I shouldn’t really care or bother with what anyone else thinks. But sometimes it takes a toll - all the people who’ve written me off as either lazy or stupid for not having a ‘real’ job. Every once in a while that gets really irritating. So, for the record:

I am not sitting around ‘playing’ on the computer.

I am not working for no pay because I’m incompetent.

Asking when I’m going to get a real job outside the house and pointing out that my children are old enough is not helpful. (Youngest is 7 – I don’t know what kennel raised you but I’m fairly sure my kids still need childcare of some sort)

This is not a hobby and even if it was, mine would be more productive than sitting at the bar, bowling for doughnuts, watching the ballgame, vegging in front of the TV, gambling the mortgage money, knitting, bingo, or Parcheesi... and far less expensive if you don’t count the ink cartridges.

Okay, fine, knitting might be more productive... I can’t make one myself, but I do enjoy a nice sweater.

Placating smiles and rolling your eyes behind my back are not appreciated (and yes, I can see you – pay attention to where the bar mirrors are, genius).

And for anyone guilty of any of the above mentioned behaviors, let this serve as notice: When my first novel hits the shelves, you are not allowed to say any variation of, “I knew you could do it,” or I will be forced to bitch slap you with said book - and you better hope to God it's not hardcover.

Okay, I’m done. Carry on.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Quencher - My Interview with Betsy Dornbusch

Let’s start this new year with a bang – pun intended.

When our very own Betsy Dornbusch announced that she had a novella coming out, I was elated for her! I was even more elated when she scheduled a bit of time to answer a few interview questions for the blog (but I’m selfish that way...) You may know her as Sex Scenes At Starbucks, or Betsy, and her newer fans will know her as Ainsley. The new novella is called Quencher, and it just released on January 1st, 2010:

Isn’t it gorgeous?

You can pick up your own copy at Whiskey Creek Press, I just downloaded mine today. Here’s a bit about the book to whet your appetite:

At Quench Dating Services, you can experience a sensual night with a match that looks like the celebrity of your dreams—guaranteed, no fee, no gimmicks.

They only ask that you give blood.

Chere Richardson fantasizes about women. After her boyfriend proposes, she feels compelled to divulge her bisexual tendencies thus shocking him into breakup. Frustrated and lonely, Chere meets with her best friend, Adrianna, who is secretly a vampire. To help Chere realize her desires, Adrianna arranges a date for her through Quench. The date backlashes when scandalous photographs of Chere surface, igniting a firestorm of blackmail, jealousy, and investigations that could expose the truth about Quench. And the vampires behind the dating service will kill, not only a mortal like Chere, but even one of their own, to keep from being discovered.

On to the interview:

Merry - Congratulations on the release of Quencher! It looks fantastic and the cover is gorgeous! Having been a longtime reader of your blog, I was surprised with the genre (in a good way, I always love seeing new facets to writers I know). Was it difficult jumping to a completely new genre? What was the most challenging aspect and what was the most fun?

Betsy - Thank you! We were thrilled with the cover and Whiskey Creek Press has been great. I've had a ton of people emailing me in the past few days and sales have gotten off to a great start, so it's an exciting time.

The erotica/romance genre is a complete departure for me, though I've written stories about vampires before. Getting the sex scenes right was definitely the most challenging part for me, and my partner revised them significantly. They're like fight or horror/suspense scenes. I'm used to creating emotions within my readers, but erotica is about making them leap to a physical reaction. It's really hard to nail down the emotional/physical charge without weighing it with too much choreography (though let's face it, erotica readers like choreography).

I also had to admit to myself that my Midwestern/US upbringing made a mental block. I'm cognizant that there's still a deep bias against erotica in readers and some writers, especially here in the States, just as there's a deep bias against sex in the general public, especially the homosexual variety. I like to think of myself as pretty liberal socially, and this particular novella was a good way to make myself walk the walk. Just deciding to casually market it under my own name was a major decision, though I'm glad I have! Ironically, one of my most serious, controversial stories, a SF called "To Stop a War", just came out in Big Pulp. I keep finding myself directing readers there, lest they think I'm all about frivolous sex as a writer.

The other scenes flowed easily, and while sex is a major component of the plot, it's not the entire story. It helped that my partner and I nailed down the plot pretty well, though I surprised him with a major subplot. That was fun! In the end, though, writing is writing is writing. I applied the same techniques I've learned from writing commercial fiction and it seemed to work well for me.

Merry - Quencher is co-authored - is this your first writing collaboration? Tell us a bit about how the idea came about, and your process working together. Were you long-time writing friends prior to Quencher?

Betsy - Yeah, this is my first collaboration. My partner, E. Cameron Stacy, and I serve on the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers board together. We first started talking about working together the night we met, actually. We were at an open mic night and I read from a forthcoming vampire story. He liked my style and was looking for someone to partner with because of a backlog of projects. I'd been looking to expand my sales goals and erotica is a rapidly growing market, so our mutual needs fit.

The project is part of a three novella series, and he had ideas for all of them. He sent me a synopsis, which together we nailed down into a scene-by-scene plot, though as I said, I added to it during my drafting. I sent him the finished draft and he went through and cleaned stuff up. We talked it through nearly scene by scene. I reread, revised, and that draft sold. The whole thing took maybe three or four months, and that was mostly due to me having to fit in drafting QUENCHER amid other projects.

I think that we're more business partners than friends helps a great deal. We're also both frank people with thick skins, so there isn't any pussyfooting around. You don't get that with everyone.

I'm contracted to draft the last book in the series: QUENCHED, and I'm learning it's important to build a backlist in the genre, so Ainsley isn't finished yet. I'm also plotting a SF novella for that pseudonym. I plan on writing it later in the year when QUENCHED and my SF thriller novel THE SILVER SCAR are finished.

Merry - What would you say are the major differences in working with a partner as opposed to solitary writing?

Betsy - The first thing to go is all sense of "preciousness" about writing. I'm not precious about it anyway, since I'm in a great critique group, I've worked with editors, and I'm somewhat of a brutal editor myself. We had to be up front about what worked and what didn't, and we were on a tight schedule, so there wasn't much time to lick wounds.

Some writers would really hate to write to someone else's idea (though I had a lot of say - it truly was collaboration). I didn't find that to be the case. Plotting is the toughest aspect of writing for me and I'd say it's my partner's strength, so in a sense, collaborating was a relief.

The most difficult part was words or phrases getting changed (often to create a lighter, more genre-specific voice), but I had to let it go. I think my experience in doing interior design and commission painting for clients really helped me to immediately recognize that it's his book, too. I'm very pleased with the final product.

Merry - Without giving too much away, can you give us a little taste of your favorite scene, or tell us a bit about your favorite character from the novella?

Betsy - I've long been a proponent of LGBT rights, and the idea of writing about a woman struggling between her attractions for women and her love for a particular man really appealed to me. I also really like the main character's best friend, Adrianna. She's a newly turned vampires struggling with her own life changes and insecurities. Her subplot echoes Chere's journey, and my favorite scene is when it all comes together for her.

Thanks so much for having me! I hope you enjoy QUENCHER!

Betsy will be stopping in here and there, feel free to ask any questions in the comments section. I’d love to hear from any readers, too, so if you’ve already started on Quencher, let us know what you think.