Friday, July 29, 2011

My humps, my lovely lady humps. Check it out.

OK, so that headline is a BIT of a stretch. But as long as you're tapping along the beat I've had stuck in my head for an hour, we're starting off in the same place.

I've hit a writing hump, and I'm not sure what to do about it: When is it really time to let go of a chapter and move on?

I'm working on a new book, which is totally exciting seeing as how I've finished three and still find myself with more stories to tell. (Isn't that always a big fear – thinking that you might not have any more stories left in you? ... Well, it is for me.) Anyway, I spent weeks outlining the first few chapters, detailing the characters and the multiple plots, and drawing out my clues, romances and philosophies.

And, I'm happy to say that it's paid off. It's about an awesome female anthropologist, Alana Wendall, who can see ghosts, told from the 3rd perspectives of the her, the ghosts and the ghosts when they were human. It's roughly based on a story I was told when I was a child about how my great-great-grandmother came over to the US from Austria when she was a young woman. And, it's SO FUN in the creepy, mysterious way! This particular story, my fourth full-length and third adult-ish novel (because I can see my 114/15-year-old self reading them happily) is two chapters in and shaping up REALLY nicely.

...Except that I'm becoming my own worst enemy. Now that I know what's coming (based on all my studious pre-work work), I've found myself content for the past 2 WEEKS going over ... and over ... and over that second chapter until I pretty much can't tell what I love about it and what I hate about it anymore.

The struggles of being an editor trying to be a writer hasn't always been this difficult. In fact, I ROCK at my revisions. Normally, I write a long passage in a short burst, spend a few days fixing it, then move on and repeat the process. I have gotten stuck like this before – a damaged DVD stuck in pause while I relive the same set of scenes until my eyes blur up and I shut the document in frustration – but this time I'm really struggling to move on.

The beginning is so often the hardest part of the story to write. So many choices are open to us in those first few chapters. Should I introduce this character now, or later? Maybe a hint will do? Should I reveal the romantic inclinations or let it burst on the scene in a few chapters? How much it too much with teasing dialogue before the reader slams the book shut with an exasperated 'OK, sheesh! I get the point!'

There's so much story to tell at the beginning that we often dump it all out there as quickly as we can, figuring we'll sort it all out later on. No, the reader has to know the background. They need to know how much thought I've put into this. Right?

The only solace I'm taking is that every pass through makes this chapter stronger and more defined. But, is this foundation more important that moving forward? Perhaps the strength of the base will lead to stronger chapters later on?

The last issue: I'm not even done writing the chapter yet. GRRR.

I think it's time to forego Fergie and her toe-tapping beats, and set aside some quiet time for myself. Does anyone have any tips on how to move past my humps?

Does anyone have any tips for me?

PS-- Searching for 'my humps' on Bing for a good image = a bad idea.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Your Weekly Editing Tips

The cat's outta the bag. It's only in this writing lark that I moonlight, occasionally query and lose myself in my own worlds.

In the real world, I'm an editor. Not a book editor – a copy, line-by-line, find-your-voice-and-work-it editor who's passion it is to make other people look fabulous. Professionally, I have years of experience working in print and online media for newspapers, magazines, web sites – even elevators. I've (for real) been dubbed the tsarina of style and the queen of commas.

I won't compliment-sandwich you because I know that you need to hear the bad before you can really appreciate the good. This can make me a real pain-in-the-ass to write for, but at least I tell you what's wrong in a helpful way (if not tone) – give an agent/publisher a dirty manuscript and they just won't write you back at all.

...But I'm not that annoying kind of editor who sits back with a red pen (though I do unabashedly use a red pen) and dictates how things should and shouldn't be based on a set of arbitrary rules. I'm the kind who revels in letting the writer find his/her own voice. I love getting into the prose and writing suggestions with 'Is this what you meant to say?' and smiley faces. I love teaching people how to be better within the parameters of their own talent.

I've re-found this purpose recently with Deana's GUTGAA Blogfest (see side panel). Amist worry that I'd run out of constructive things to say with 30+ participating authors with their own ideas – or worse, making enemies with my honest critiques – I found bliss. And redundancy. And some very vibrant writing by very talented authors who simply need to find a willing, dust-free bookshelf.

Thus, I came up with a few tips that I seemed to write on every critique. Enjoy :)

Adverbs aren't always terrible. I love a well-placed adverb. Constantly trying to replace them is just not a great use of your time. But, if you think you have TOO MANY, I found a blog recently that had a great idea on how to erase them while also making your writing more full: Angie's Adverb Charades. I’m totally going to use this trick myself.

Be consistent. Want to use a series comma? Fine by me (even though it hurts my head), just make sure you always do it. If you're going to spell something oddly, then the least you can do is *always* spell it that way. You can make your MC totally annoying, and it'll always be OK as long as you do it consistently.

Know grammar rules. Try to learn a new one every week. Here are a few just to break it down:

     -Capitalize the first letter of every sentence, the proper name of someone and, only when referring to them in dialogue, Mom and Dad. Otherwise, 'my mom and dad' stays lowercased.
     -Repeat after me: COMMAS ARE NOT PAUSES. Do not inject them into sentences because you need a mental pause.
     -Never EVER separate the subject and the verb of a sentence by a comma. You can, though, separate them with non-essential clauses, which are always set off by commas: 'Jack, who never liked fishing, dreaded the annual trip with his dad.
     -Put a comma before the word ‘but.’ Always. Just do it.
     -Finally, properly used commas are like good editors: When you use them, you won’t even notice they’re there. That’s the way they should be – unobtrusive yet completely fulfilling their roles as punctuation marks.

Make sure your lists are concise, necessary and properly formed. One of the biggest issues I see with writers is that they don't understand the rules of lists. You can only group 'like' things: nouns go with nouns; verbs go with verbs.
     Example: For breakfast, I ate eggs, ham, and toasted a bagel. WRONG-O.
You should be able to take each individual item and refer it back to the start of the sentence: I ate eggs. I ate ham. I ate toasted a bagel. See how that doesn't work? When you're writing a list – even one with only two items – make sure everything matches up.

Be concise. If you can say something in fewer words, you should.

Show off your talent with your writing, not your words. I very recently gave this advice to someone. Writers often get caught up in the romance of writing. We all know it’s very exciting, but you don’t have to use huge, flowery words and descriptions to explain something that, in its essence, is simple. I call this ‘literary writing’ – and it’s a NO NO. You should be trying to impress us with the quality of the story, not the words you use to tell it.

Hopefully this was helpful  :) I think I might make this a weekly thing, where I share some of my previous week's finds with you all! Please feel free to add your own, offer up ideas I may have missed or even ask me a question. I really, REALLY love helping. If you'd rather, you can email me straight at and I'll answer it offline.

Monday, July 25, 2011

BlogFest Week4: First 200 words

OK :) In the final week of the 'Gearing Up To Get An Agent Blogfest,' I'm going to post the first 200 words of 'MANAS.' It's a completely bad-ass YA spy/sci-fi adventure, and I'm fiercely proud of it. It's all packaged and ready to sell, I just need an agent willing to take a chance.

Name: Amber Plante
Title: MANAS
Genre: YA sci-fi adventure
Length: 77,000

Here's the pitch:

'Zellie, a prodigy spy with pink hair and a penchant for knitting, is sent to London to acquire Oliver, a smooth hacker with geeky good looks and access to genetics firm Pyxis. Zellie’s link to the ‘Project Manas’ data, hidden within the Pyxis mainframe, sends the pair on a speeding adventure through the bowels of London’s punk underground to romantic Paris streets and murky Venice canals. Can Zellie uncover the missing pieces of ‘Project Manas’ before a rogue agent with murderous intentions catches up?'

Here are the first 200 words. (247, actually -- I didn't want to break up a graph.) (I'm really nervous about this, btw.)

“Any time you’re ready,” I whispered into my headset. “I’m a go on your signal. Of course, I’m comfortable where I am, too, if you’d like to continue taking your sweet-ass time.”

Fifty stories below me, Trey grunted. “Keep your pants on, little one. You’ll get your shot. This isn’t as easy as it looks.”

Through our camtacts – nanobot technology built into contacts – I watched Trey lunge again at the metal backdoor in the subway station. My viewer, attached to my wrist, showed four quadrants with different locations. Each contained a direct link to the rest of my team – Trey, Jace, Marienne and Emerson. Altogether, a deadly quintet.

The reception on Trey’s quadrant fuzzed as he made contact with the rusted metal. “Have you even broken a sweat?” he asked, most of his attention focused on busting down the back door into the building to use as our escape route.

“I am a sniper, not a strong-armed brute,” I said sweetly. I was teasing him, but part of me wanted action, which I wouldn’t get unless something went wrong. Such is the role of the mission lead – boring.

“Never send a woman to do a man’s job.”

“Will you two shut up? You’re interfering with my feed,” Marienne snapped. Our resident hacker, she sat in the cafĂ© across the street. Through the camtacts, I watched her orange fingernails click across the laptop’s keyboard. “OK, I’m waiting at the gates of the system mainframe. Your word and I’ll get the door.”

Thoughts, critiques, wildly enthusiastic compliments? :) Thank you in advance for every single one (even the mean ones). See you all on the other side of this contest! Good luck, and keep on writing ...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

BlogFest Week 3: Query Critique Contest -- PART 2

Hey everyone! Thank you so much for your attention to detail and suggestions! I definitely took them under serious consideration, as you can (hopefully) see below. Here's the latest copy:

Dear [Agent],


After having visited your site, I see that you are looking for paranormal romance and adventures, and I’d like to show you GLOW, complete at 80,000 words.

Sundae has accepted her high-society life as a publishing exec, living out her father's dreams while giving up her artistic ambitions. Until, that is, she meets Brendan, a superhero-ish bartender who makes her question her choices. He’s statuesque, strong and confident – and could quite possibly be the first real man Sundae has ever dated.

But he’s not a real man at all. Brendan is an alien sent from another realm to adjudicate whether Earth is worth saving from a dark entity taking over the universe – and that's just the cherry on top. Beneath his human guise, Brendan and his crew must decide whether to allocate the Council’s protective powers – but, in order for Sundae to convince him her world is worth the risk, she must first convince herself.

With a dollop of humor, a drizzle of danger and a sprinkle of sweet-and-salty supporting characters, GLOW is a paranormal romance with depth, adventure and intrigue sure to satiate readers’ appetite for a unique voice and a compelling page-turner.

In addition to years of professional magazine, newspaper and online editing with Gannett-owned Captivate (those cool elevator screens), the Pulitzer-Prize-winning Eagle Tribune Newspaper in Mass., and multi-media technology company TechTarget, I have also published writing in both traditional print and online media.

Attached below is [requested materials], as per your request. I would be honored if you would consider representing GLOW.

Thank you for your consideration and attention,
Amber Plante

As you'll see, I left some things from the original, ditched others and embellished the teaser.
Reasons: I do think it's polite to not only show you did research on the agent by looking at his/her site before shooting off an email, but to also thank them for spending the time reading the query. Agents' time and attention are valuable, and not acknowledging their effort seems rude. Also, I like starting with an introduction – again, it's a polite factor – even though I know it's not standard.
I'm really hung up on the hook, though. I've never used one before, and I'm not really sure 1.) that I need one with the expanded description and 2.) that I want to be redundant. ... Any suggestions?

Thank you all so much, and good luck with your own queries! :) There's room on bookshelves for us all, and I can't think of nicer people to share them with one day!

Monday, July 18, 2011

BlogFest Week 3: Query Critique Contest

Hi to all my new followers! Let me just take a minute to thank you all -- I don't get many visitors out here on the outskirts of Blogging Land, so your support and attention is much appreciated! I had fun participating in Week 2 festivities!

Moving on, it's Week 3 -- and I'm joining in on the Query Critique contest. Below is a query letter for my 80,000-word adult(-ish) paranormal romance titled GLOW. Please, share your scathing comments -- every mean, honest thing helps get me closer to the perfect query! ... Niceness, though, is always smiled upon :)

Dear [Agent],

After having visited your site, I see that you are looking for paranormal romance and adventures, and I’d like to show you GLOW, complete at 80,000 words.

Sundae is content with her boring life as a publishing exec, living out her father's dreams while her artistic ambitions are all but forgotten. Until, that is, she meets Brendan, a superhero-ish bartender who makes her see her world differently. ... That he's an alien sent from another realm to adjudicate whether Earth is worth saving from a dark entity taking over the universe – well, that's just the cherry on top. Can Brendan make Sundae honor herself in a world so full of hate? Can Sundae convince him that Earth is worth saving?

In addition to years of professional editing, I have extensive experience writing professionally in both traditional print and online media.

Attached below is [requested materials], as per your request. I would be honored if you would consider representing GLOW.

Thank you for your consideration and attention,
Amber Plante

....SO? Thoughts? Comments, feedback? The book is a spectacular romp with surprisingly deep emotions and lots of humor -- and a cast of characters that I really want to be friends with in real life. I've always said (to myself) that this is the best novel I've ever written -- so hopefully I conveyed enough to make an agent want to read it, too!
In advance, I love all of you for your help -- it's truly invaluable.
PS_- Lora Rivera is a rock star. Whoever wins this prize -- well, you're damn lucky.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Rocky Tale of Dio Franklin ( part...)

OK, Web visitors from far and wide, here is my section of the Dio story:

Assignment: Have the MC understand something they didn't before – using the words: Texas, flip flop, argue

Want to see where I pick up the story? Click over to Christina's Writing Buzz.

"What have you done to me?" Roddern asked, his smirk making her cheeks burn. Slowly, the markings on his chest faded. "It's just another trick of the forest. Faeries and Space Leapers don't often get along, so they make sure I'm marked in their territory. C'mon, give me the torch – we have to keep moving."

Dappled moonlight lit a faint path ahead as the pair walked in silence, their breath making little puffs of white though the air was warm.

Something was wriggling in her mind, and it took the better part of a silent hour for it to burst free. When it did, Dio's feet kept moving but her mind came to a screeching halt – the resultant crash sent her flip flops sailing in different directions and left a bloody scrape down her shin.

Too late, a fluffy yellow pillow manifested by her side. "Very funny, Roddern," she muttered as she pushed up from her belly onto her shaky feet. Neither the late gift nor the injury could shake this idea flashing in her mind like a billboard on a Texas turnpike.

Her hands sought the neckline of her shirt. Under the frayed pink cotton spattered with sweat, Dio found the chain of her necklace – the same one she'd worn forever. The silver was cheap, and the setting wasn't exactly pretty, but the real treasure had always been the penny-sized green stone. In sunlight, her namesake crystal glinted like a faceted emerald, but now, under the moonlight, the familiar multi-hued dioptase winked ominously.

As if it were keeping a secret.

Her mother had always said the necklace was special. "Whisper your most precious wishes into it, and the stone will keep them safe until you're ready to make them come true." It had been a sweet lullaby for a precocious little girl who didn't like bedtime, but now Dio wasn't sure.

Had her mother been preparing her for something special? Certainly her silly necklace couldn't be the key to reversing all that had gone so very wrong? ... Could it?

Without arguing the point aloud, Dio knew. She now felt armed against whatever waited for them in the depths of the faerie forest with this – her most secret weapon.

She tucked the pendant back under her shirt. Leaving the fluffy yellow pillow on the forest floor, she gave Roddern a coy smile and began walking again, her barefeet smacking the dirt and her mind set on the task ahead.

Continue the story thread on Jamie Ayers blog.

Want to start from the beginning? Here's Deana Barnhart's list of blogs and assignments – and you can skip formalities and start reading at this chain's first link: Zero At Heart

(PS – Sorry I made this so long. It kinda just took off on me.)

(PPS – I'm on Twitter if you are. @KnitOneWriteToo)

Friday, July 8, 2011

Project: Gearin' Up to Get an Agent

I've recently join a chain of blogs for an event that is geared to help other writers out.

I know, it feels OOC for me, too. Normally, I like to keep to myself (a brief stint at a writer's group notwithstanding). And, it's not that I don't play well with others – far from it, actually – but that I am an editor by trade. It's *my job* to critique others' writing every day ... not to mention the rigors I put myself through when re-reading my latest chapters.

And, while I highly enjoy offering up my services to other authors – helping writers become the best they can be is so rewarding – it's not something I do often for two reasons: 1.) I don't get paid for it and my life is much busier now; and 2.) Well ... as an editor, I don't mince words.

A while ago, I beta-read for a very popular fan fiction site on which I helped would-be authors develop their own voice and point of view ... Of course, this was back before I became an author myself. Being on the receiving end of my own critiques these days, I can't *exactly* say I'm a nice editor. Actually, I'm downright harsh at times. But, I am good. ... At least, that's what I tell myself as I delete 5-page scenes from books I previously cared for with the tenderness of a gardener pruning her prized roses.

Anyway, it's with slightly trepidatious delight that I announce I will be using this blog for a bit to participate in an event with other writers who, like me, want to make themselves better. We really are a community of creative minds who need other creative minds to foster our own success.

Included in the pack? My ex-agent and current friend ... who I've made up with since my last post where I (possibly, unwittingly, underhandedly) wished she'd get squirted in the face with lemon juice. Uh, just kidding, Lora! :) You're a true inspiration and very talented editor, yourself, and I'll always cherish your input!

Check back here for updates, and feel free to also check out the original blog written by Deana Barnhart here.