Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Getting to Know Me!

I'm a big fan of Deanna Barnhart's 'Gearing Up To Get An Agent Blogfest' – GUTGAA, for short.
For those of you not familiar with it, it's a contest set up by Ms. Barnhart in which you can submit a few paragraphs or a cover letter into the contest and have your stuff read and critiqued by your peers in the blogging community (super helpful).
One year ago, I entered into a similar contest not really knowing what I was doing, but excited all the same. I came in SECOND, and an annonymous agent critiquer requested the first three chapters of my book. Well, long story short, she's now my brilliant agent extradinaire :) So, real life success stories really do come out of these kinds of contests!  
Here's a link to my interview on how the whole thing went down, if you're interested!
Meanwhile, GUTGAA is, well, gearing up right now, and I thought It would be great to participate in the site's 'Meet and Greet' where you all come around to different blogs and we all get to know each other – another great idea :)
Here are my answers.
-Where do you write?

I write first in my head, and I scrawl out my ideas into a notebook – a nice one from the Barnes and Noble journal aisle. Then, I sit on front of my computer in my work-from-home office and type it all out into a word doc.

-Quick. Go to your writing space, sit down and look to your left. What is the first thing you see?

HAH -- my fantasy football line-up, full of the cutest palyers I could draft. Also, my autographed copy of Mindy Kaling's book, and my Concise Oxford English Dictionary.
-Favorite time to write?

Just after lunch. It's such a quiet time, after all my morning work is done and before the afternoon truly begins.

-Drink of choice while writing?

Either scalding mint tea with a little honey, or one of those hard plastic cups that looks like a starbucks iced-to-go container filled with water+lemon+cucumber slices.

-When writing , do you listen to music or do you need complete silence?

Complete silence. That includes the darling voices of my children ... hence the best writing being while they're at school :) The only noises I can stand are the occasional bloody battles from my husbad's video games at night or on a Saturday afternoon.

-What was your inspiration for your latest manuscript and where did you find it?

For the book I'm revising now, I got my inspiration from a very famous female character who is weak and lets her feelings for a guy cloud who she is. I wanted to write a badass female who didn't need someone else to help her define who she is. Thus, Zellie was born :)

For the book I'm in the middle of, I wanted t owrite a ghost story that redefined the idea of why ghosts stick around. It's about a psychic girl who doesn't want her gift, but decides to use it to help two teenaged ghosts from the 1800s discover thier past. Inspirations: archeology, 'Midsummer Night's Dream,' and paranormal TV shows.

-What's your most valuable writing tip?

Just do it. The only way you're going to write something is if you do it. The only way to get better and gain experience is to do it. Try to make a little progress each day -- one word, or even one re-read, is progress.

Friday, June 1, 2012

'Hi ... Have We Met?'

People, I am on a bridesmaid-dress-saving diet for the next 6 weeks, I got up at the crack this morning just to have my equally unenthused running partner cancel, and my arms are tanned two different colors.

... I think I need a break from my first-world problems, please. Thus, I have created something wonderful to help me dive into my self-created realities – and to share with all of you!

(First, you have to imagine me talking like one of those elixer salesmen from the 1800s who pop up in dusty towns with little carts and ear horns, then dissapear overnight.) (Not that I'm one of those – my stuff actually works.)

Dialogue not working for you? Your characters getting muddled together? Want to throw a drink at that bubbly writer who keeps saying, 'I swear, sometimes they just write themselves!' ??

Look no farther! I offer you:
Amber Plante's 'Hi ... Have We Met?'
character development sheet!

I've scoured the Internet's best sources – acting coaches, English professors, even my own experience – and created the perfect personality profile for discovering who your characters really are in relation to the story you've created. I didn't re-invent the wheel here, folks. It's just a good alternative – or starting-off point – if you are looking to really get to know, remember and quickly recall who your characters are as you're writing. At least, it's really helped me.

The idea is simple: Other character sheets are, at their best, a list of questions. How boring and easily forgetable. Mine, however, is a printer-friendly (set yours to landscape, please) three-page packet that you can easily reference in the middle of a particularly difficult chapter where you desperately need some reminding who – and what – the hell you're actually writing.

And, the best part: It's completely free. Take it – distribute it – please! If it helps one person as much as it's helped me, then I've gained all that karma back from making fun of an Olsen twin for dating a 42-year-old Frenchman with a huge nose (I mean, come on now, girl) and maybe enough to stop wishing Beyonce would show a lipo scar.

Anyway, this character development packet includes detailed physical descriptors, adjective prompts, fun questions, emotional triggers, character arcs and fill-in-the-blank flow-type diagrams – and even an image space to paste or draw in a picture of exactly who you are writing, lest you lose track.

Wait, why the picture part? Because my muses (as explained here) are not to be triffled with. They come on hard, strong and vivid. Why should I (or you) deny it if that half-nekked lead with pants so low he needs to shave is Ian Somerhalder? Or if your heroine has long dark hair and bangs like Zooey Deschanel? Don't worry – I pretend I'm casting them in a film version of my book, and we all get along perfectly.

So please: download, print, peruse and enjoy. The only thing I'll ask is that you please tell me if it's helped you at all. And, if you have any suggestions, leave them in the comments!

Trust the process, writers. The universe knows.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

YA vs. Adult: Cupcake, anyone?

I love a good book – one that I can enjoy equally in a bathrobe on my couch as in my heels during lunch breaks. I want to dig my fingers in and not be able to let go just as often as I want a casual read that's easy to slip back into after a few weeks.

My tastes vary from adventure to love, erotic to chaste (let's be honest where I lean here), and horror to mystery. I love a humorous Jen Lancaster memoir just as much as my DC Cupcakes cookbook.

It never really occurred to me to categorize the books I do and don't deign read based on their target age group, though. That's why this NY Times column by Joel Stein really rubbed me the wrong way. Go ahead and read it – since you're on my blog, you probably won't like it either.

I was an early reader. At five, I downed "The Little Prince" and never looked back. Like most voracious readers I know, I moved on to larger, more entertaining fare fast: pretty much anything by RL Stine and Christopher Pike, every one of the Babysitters' Club books and their "special" editions, Judy Bloom, Meg Cabot... If it was in the YA section in the 90s, I read it. Not one of these can be construed as "adult" in nature – and yet I still grew into a very accomplished editor and almost-published fiction author.

My skills with the written word most certainly did not come from reading adult fiction (since I didn't), but that doesn't mean you can discount any of my accomplishments. So why, oh why, does Mr Stein insist that I – and by extension, we – need to grow up and stop entertaining ourselves with books below our age group and, presumptively, below our intelligence level?

Right now, I'm reading a beautiful memoir about French cooking, marriage and the cultural differences between living in Paris vs. living in NYC. It's dense, sweet and full of big words on decidedly deep topics. Do I feel smarter for it? Sure, maybe. I also just finished my third read-through of "The Hunger Games," with its themes on politics, trust and oppression. Do I feel smarter for it? Hell yes. The commentary on the probable future of our reality is palpable and, in all truth, scary.

But "YA vs. Adult" isn't the real argument here, is it? This all stems from the idea of "Peter Pan" childhoods – those adults who are refusing to grow up. Not in the serious psychological or social sense, of course – just in the playful idea that you don't have to be so serious all the time. Examples: Those like my husband, who has vintage Transformers proudly displayed above his expensive software-engineering desktop for all to see. Those like me, whose movie shelves are filled with Pixar films, sappy chick flicks and superhero movies. The idea: It's still just as fun to watch "Dr. Who" and "Vampire Diaries" with my family as it was to watch "Dawson's Creek" with my college roommates.

And, on that note, I for damned sure don't want my two little boys knowing a world full of cynics like Mr. Stein, who clearly grew up too early into that cantankerous old man down the street with 100 lost baseballs in his fenced-in backyard.

I'll take my Cinderella engagement stories, my sparkly vampires, my boy-wizards and my dystopic heroines, thank you very much – and I won't be made to feel guilty about it for a second, especially by a mean-spirited narcissist who's forgotten how to have fun.

Now, grab a delicious cupcake (extra frosting, please), a cup of honeyed tea and a classical music CD, and join me on the couch to read whatever the heck you want to read. This is a no-judge zone.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Tag, you're it!

Hey everyone -- who doesn't love a "getting to know you" chain letter? Don't lie, you know you do.

I've been "tagged" by the lovely Lora Riveria over at -- she and I have a storied history, and how could I say "No!" to one of the most influential ladies my writing has ever had? Simply, I couldn't and wouldn't want to because, as stated before, I <3 these things! :)

Read and enjoy, internet friends!

1. What is the best meal you've ever eaten - what, when, and where?

I was with my husband (who was my fiance at the time) celebrating my 21st birthday in Las Vegas. Instead of drinking (because he doesn't drink), we went to one of Emeril Lagasse's restuarants and had the Tasting Menu. It was about a thousand courses of teeny portions of delicious foods -- toward the end it was mostly just sport to see how much of the next dish we could get down. Absolutely delicious. Another great meal: coffee and beignets at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans, last April for my 31st birthday. A dream come true. Food was good too :)

2. What is your earliest memory?

I remember running up the stairs with my dad to our tiny apartment in Euclid, Ohio. My mom was working the late shift at the hospital, and we were a little late for settling onto the couch to watch MASH. The stairway was yellow, and I was holding Dad's hand while he ran us up. Since we moved to Mass. when I was 2, I was somewhere between 12 and 24 months old. (Yeah, I didn't crawl; I walked when I was 9 months old.)

3. If given your choice of a secret rendezvous with any fictional hottie - who would you choose?

Ohhh good one. I have a three-way dead heat (lordy, what I would give...): bad-boy Damon Salvatore from the TV version of 'Vampire Diaries' (right), the demon Azazeal from the BBCA series 'HEX' (above, right), and hero Robin Hood from the BBCA series 'Robin Hood' (above, left)-- i.e. Ian Somerhalder, Michael Fassbender and Jonas Armstrong, respectively. Those men have been on my list for YEARS. Ahem, my muse loves them, too.

4. What is your favorite joke?

Q: If you're Russian to get into the bathroom, and you're American when you leave the bathroom, what are you when you're in the bathroom?

A: European! HAHAHAA (you might need to say this one outloud a few times, slowly.)

5. Pick three words to describe yourself (one is just too hard!)

Stubborn. Strong. Smart.

And now to tag my own victims!

1. Angela Cothran
2. Laura Barnes
3. Sarah La Polla

Tag! You're it!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

No pressure ... but what's up?

Hello, strangers! It's been forever since I've written anything, but I promise it's for good reasons. I've had a busy few months tweaking and editing and rewriting and editing and cutting and finally holding my breath ... but I trust that the process works.

(BTW, this is the actual tea mug I use every day. Positive reinforcement works!)

In doing all these gut-wrenching-yet-ultimately-satisfying revisions, I discovered a few revising tips I wanted to share:

Read your book aloud. Pretend you are Lorelei King (currently my favorite reader) and really get into the story. Do the voices. Pay attention to the pacing. Feel the conflict. If you get bored, chances are your readers will, too. Does that line sound ridiculous coming out of that character's mouth? Are you left hanging and need another scene to keep the flow steady? It's a great way to catch those ridiculous typos that normal eyes don't see. I do this when I'm by myself in the house and have a hot cup of honey mint tea.

Short sentences are (nearly always) better. I love writing long, complex sentences. It stems simply from an egotistical desire to impress readers with my talent – which is the very honest way of saying that I like to show off. I'm not shy; I know my way around verb agreement, and I know how to undangle my participles and work some serious punctuation. Give me pen, paper and ruler and I could diagram every sentence on this blog. Alas, readers don't like this. Especially teenage readers. I blame Sesame Street.

When you're going through your revisions, look out for words like 'and,' 'but' and 'as.' Break up your sentences there and see how your flow is affected. Hopefully, you'll find that you really didn't need that extra prepositional phrase at all – it was implied.

Rethink minor characters. Be honest: Does that security guard really need to have a name and back story? It's great if you, as an author, have a vague idea. But trust me, the reader doesn't give a you-know-what. Unnecessary minor characters are a sloppy way to move the plot along. Can another character act out their conflict instead? Can anyone else ask that important question? If you took him/her out, would it really make a difference? Taking time to rethink someone slightly random might save you a rejection in the future.

That said, I chose to keep in the minor character of Odin in my story. But, I'm also confident that, if asked, I can defend my decision. Can you?

Don't be afraid to cut what you love. My agent recently told me to shorten a 16-page scene down to 2 pages. I delayed, cried, stamped my feet ... but she was right. Scenes that you loved writing aren't always the best vehicles to move your plot ahead.

Doesn't mean you can't keep them for something else (a sequel?). However, I'll bet you anything that, when all is said and done, you fondly look back on these as writing exercises – bridges that got you from Scene A to Scene B. You may not have needed them in the final draft, but you needed them to get to the final draft, which is, if anything, more important. Never, ever feel that your writing is being wasted on the cutting room floor.

In the end, did I shorten that passage by 14 pages? Well, honestly ... no, I didn't. But, I did cut 6 pages of excess that no one – not even me – will ever miss. The 10 remaining pages are much more succinct, smart and understandable. They fit the characters, the setting and the conflict, and they give all the necessary info without distracting tangents.

Have other revision conundrums? Ask away in the comments and maybe I can help! :)