Monday, October 31, 2011

Picture time - sunrises & sunsets

Last week, we got tropical pictures. This week, it's beautiful ocean sunrises and sunsets.

Again, if you'd like a copy for inspiration or a desktop photo, let me know. If you want to use one for commercial purposes, also let me know (we'll talk.)

Friday, October 28, 2011

NaNoWriMo? A Plot Possibility

I've been planning for NaNoWriMo this year. I have a terrific idea that I was planning on using, but haven't had too much time to develop it between edits on my existing works. Then, one day, I had a little downtime.

Instead of planning, I began writing. Not the story I was planning. This was just a stray thought that came into my head, and I started writing it for the fun of it.

I liked it.

And I wanted to know more about the world. What are the Tides? What happened to all the people? How does she make her ability work? Why is it important that her brother is a famous singer? What are the Powers - what can they do? What's with the rhythms? You do know I'm not in the least bit musical, right? Couldn't keep a beat if my life depended on it?

So, I think I am shelving the first idea I had to work on this new one. Which will be interesting, because I still don't have the answers to all of the above questions. I don't know how long the story will be, and I don't really know where it's going. But I'm working on it - scribbling some plans on a pad of paper, making up the characters as I go.

This is what happens when a character makes her author interested. She gets written.

It's all about the characters.

Sorry, Cleo, you'll have to wait your turn. You just weren't interesting enough. Go work on your backstory, girl, and then we'll talk.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Quote of the Week: Hosea Ballou, on Happiness

Real happiness is cheap enough, yet how dearly we pay for its counterfeit.
-Hosea Ballou


Wednesday Writing Exercise
Write a short backstory (<300 words) for a character who has counterfeit happiness, and doesn't realize it yet.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Picture Time!

I recently went on a cruise. It was fantastic.

Now I'm going to share some of the pictures with you. But not the ones that most interest me... These will be the pictures of tropical places, for that tropical tale you're dying to add some realism to.

Notes: Monkeys are not actually native to Isla Roatan - all the ones on the island are kept in Gumbalimba Park, and are escaped pets.

Iguanas, on the other hand, are pretty much everywhere in all the Caribbean and Central American locations. They're like squirrels.

If you want any of the pictures to help you write, let me know & I'll send them for non-commercial use. If you'd like to use them for commercial use, contact me & we'll talk.

Here we go!
Miami, FL

Isla Roatan, Caribbean Island

Isla Roatan, Caribbean Island

Isla Roatan, Caribbean island

Isla Roatan, Caribbean island


Sacred Mayan cave, Belize


Cozumel, Mexico

Miami, FL

Ruins at Tulum (Mexico, Yucatan Penninsula)

Isla Roatan (Caribbean island)

Tulum (Mexico, Yucatan Penninsula)

Serenity Deck on cuise ship

Sacred Mayan cave, Belize

Gumbalimba Park, Isla Roatan (Caribbean island)

Isla Roatan, Caribbean Island

Isla Roatan, Caribbean Island

Isla Roatan, Caribbean Island

Isla Roatan, Caribbean Island

Isla Roatan, Caribbean Island

Cozumel, Mexico

Miami, FL

Isla Roatan, Caribbean island

Grand Cayman Island

Isla Roatan, Caribbean Island

Friday, October 21, 2011

Publishing News

Another round of recent blogs worth reading! There seems to be a theme this week of things you shouldn't say.

Jessica Faust at BookEnds mentions the importance of words in her post on writers and self-confidence. Don't say "just" ("I'm just getting touch") because it implies that the e-mail isn't important. Don't say "if you're still interested," because it implies that maybe she wouldn't be. Be confident - talking to your prospective agent really isn't the place for modesty.

She also points out that you DO need to read your contract. Really? Really? I thought that was covered in Basic Life Intelligence 101. In case you missed the class, read your contracts before signing them! Even if you've got someone else reading them for you!

Rachelle Gardner advises writers not to mention how long they've been writing in their query letter - even if their author bio is scarce. "I've been writing since I was five" is not the thing to fill it with. Why? Well, think about all the award-winning writers who didn't begin writing until they were adults. It's just not useful information.

PsyBlog talks about why you shouldn't announce your writing goals, since it actually reduces your productivity, contrary to popular belief. Who knew?

Querytracker tells us to stop being nice to our characters. No, really. Being mean is what makes the story interesting. Stop trying to help them, and make their lives harder.

Nathan Bransford offers a first-page critique that I think most writers will find useful. It features problems that many writers face: zooming from limited to omniscient POV, and not giving the stakes soon enough.

ProBlogger mentions that the key to making a good blog great is to simply stop doubting yourself.

Querytracker also tells us some time-saving fixes and mistakes not to make before you start writing. These are things I definitely wish I'd known, when I first started writing.

And BIG news for you published authors out there: According to the New York Times, Perseus Books Group has a new deal for authors seeking to self-publish old works whose rights have reverted back to them, or self-publish things they've written that haven't been published before. This includes a 70% cut going to the author - and since publishers typically give an e-publishing cut of 25%, that's a big deal.

I wonder if this has something to do with Amazon's dealing directly with the authors? According to the New York Times, publishers are getting scared of being cut out of the picture entirely. Not a happy world, if you're a publishing company. But read the fine print if you do sign with Amazon - a lot of publishers may be unhappy with you, especially if you have a previous contract with them, and Amazon has different rules than the traditional publishers. For one author, "Her contract has a clause that forbids her from discussing the details, which is not traditional in publishing. The publicity plans for the book are also secret" (page two of the article).

And on Nathan Bransford's forums, a reader asks a question that many people have: "So when you have a dialogue with two people, and one's response is non-verbal, does it still need to be set in its own paragraph?" The answer is pretty good - yes and no.
What interesting links have you found these past couple of weeks?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Quote of the Week: St. Francis, on Sunbeams

A single sunbeam is enough to drive away many shadows.
-St. Francis of Assisi


Wednesday Writing Exercise
Write a short scene (<300 words) based on this quote. You can:
  • describe a setting
  • describe character interaction
  • introduce a new character

Monday, October 17, 2011

Brainstorming: New Ideas

I've recently been to a writing conference (Moonlight & Magnolias 2011, hosted by the Georgia Romance Writers in Decatur, GA) and to a writing workshop (Cherry Adair's all-day workshop, co-hosted by the Heart of Carolina Romance Writers and the Carolina Romance Writers in Raleigh, NC). And, in case you're not aware, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month - November!) is fast approaching! My friend Scribe has participated in NaNoWriMo several times in the past, and I've been reading over her blog posts as she gears up for this next one.

Between all these sources, I've collected a number of writing ideas, and thought I'd share 3 from each.

From M&M:
  • Write your characters' backgrounds. What do they do? This will effect what they notice. When writing from their point of view, make sure to include details that they'd notice. Writing a botanist? If he's walking through the woods, refer to a couple of plants by their proper names. Writing an editor? If she's reading a story, point out the errors she notices. This will help separate your points of view, making your story more realistic if you have multiple POVs.
  • Trying to come up with a character, but have no idea? Get a picture (if you can, don't use a model) of a random person. Look at the backgrounds, what they're wearing, where they are, how old they are, what their flaws are... Use these details to create a background for this character.
  • Be thorough in your world-building - even if you're not writing in another world. What curses do your characters use? What is their town like? How does this affect them? A good setting should help write the story.

From Cherry Adair:
  • Stuck on character creation? Choose a random date (without looking at a calendar or taking any time at all to think about it.) This is now your character's birthday (Sorry, no take-backs!) Grab an astrology book, look up their sign, and see what it says about them. (Adair recommends the book Sun Signs.) Doesn't match what you're looking for? Hey, look - Figure out how they went from that original personality type to what you think they are now, and you've got a great backstory!
  • Working on characterization? Choose 4 main character traits for each of your main characters. In every scene they're in, they must be demonstrating at least one of these traits. 
  • Every scene should have a point. Ask yourself, "What is the point of this scene?" What is it contributing to the story; what is it showing? If you can't think of a point for the scene, delete it. Immediately. (Or, you know, throw it in that "clippings" folder of things you don't actually want to get rid of. Who knows, maybe you can reuse bits of it later.)

From Scribe's Blog:
  • For each character, write a primary desire - the main thing that they want. Then write a (or a couple of) secondary desire - something else they want. These can conflict, but they don't have to. Beside each desire, write something that is keeping them from what they want. Conflict! Wheee!
  • Make a list of the things you need to reveal throughout your story before you begin writing. Then mark out exactly where you will reveal them. Scribe puts them on notecards, which allows them to be moved around as she sees fit. (Note: This will really, really help avoid the "first-30-page syndrome," when you put forth all your information in the first 30 pages and thus bore the heck out of your reader. Agents hate the "first-30" syndrome.)
  • Write a one-sentence description of your story that includes your main character's motivation, the conflict, the antagonist's motivation, the action (or the journey the character undertakes), and the consequences if the main character doesn't succeed. It doesn't have to be (and probably won't be) a very good sentence, but it will help in boiling your story down to the basics and keeping on track.

You can't attend already-gone-by conferences or workshops, but you can still read Scribe's posts. Here are her NaNoWriMo posts so far:
NaNoWriMo Outlining Workshop Part I: the Groundwork
NaNoWriMo Outlining Workshop Part II: Plot, Subplots, & Scenes
NaNoWriMo Outlining Workshop Part III: Finishing the Frame

Are you planning in participating in NaNoWriMo? Have you ever participated in the past? Did it help your writing?

Friday, October 14, 2011

From M&M: Writing Between the Sexes

One of the most helpful seminars for me was the last, a 3-hour presentation on Writing Between the Sexes, given by Leigh Michaels. In this seminar, the presenter talked about how to write convincing male and female characters. Best five hints (all of which are generalizations for the purposes of writing, because we all know there are exceptions):

Hint #1: If you're writing a guy who suddenly starts talking about his feelings without being forced to (at emotional or literal gunpoint, at that), you're not writing a convincing male.

Hint #2: If you're writing a woman who looks into the mirror, decides she likes what she sees and mentions the size of her breasts, you're not writing a convincing female.

Hint #3: Describing clothing, including brand name? You're probably looking through the eyes of a female. Describing activity without spending words on scenery and background? You're probably looking through the eyes of a male. Men and women notice different things. Females tend to be detail-oriented; males tend to be big-picture oriented.

Hint #4: Women talk in questions, qualifiers, and euphemisms. Men don't. Women explain their thoughts. Men don't.
Ex: "The clock as stopped; it needs a new battery. -> female
       "The clock needs a new battery." -> male
       "We're out of orange juice. Would you please pick some more up when you go to the store?" -> female
       "When you go to the store, pick up some more orange juice." -> male

Hint #5: Women talk for socializing and relaxation; men talk to prove and maintain their status. Therefore, home is where women feel safe to talk, but home is also where men feel safe to not talk.

Final thought for the road: the reasons that men and women talk are different. Sometimes, this creates conflicts, because men and women don't always understand where the other is coming from. Think about it.

Sharing time: Think of a conversation you've had with a member of the opposite gender. Which of these hints did you observe in action?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Quote of the Week: Hugh Black, on Happiness

"It is the paradox of life that the way to miss pleasure is to seek it first. The very first condition of lasting happiness is that a life should be full of purpose, aiming at something outside self. As a matter of experience, we find that true happiness comes in seeking other things, in the manifold activities of life, in the healthful outgoing of all human powers."
-Hugh Black


Wednesday Writing Exercise
In less than 300 words:
What do you seek that brings you happiness?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Posting Schedule

I have discovered that, like most people, I can only rarely manipulate time to my will.

You may have noticed that I try to keep up with regular posting. However, sometimes I run out of things to say, time in which to say them, or both. To ensure relevant posts, I am changing my schedule: I will still be trying to post something Mon-Wed-Fri at 10am, but Wednesday posts will now be a quote instead of something original. I'd rather have good quality posts than high quantity.

Edit: Make that a writing prompt to exercise the writing 'muscles.'

I think I'll start with a short series on happiness. Why? Because I like happiness.

Don't worry, vacation pictures and stories will eventually make their way up...

Friday, October 7, 2011

Quote of the Week: Jorge Luis Borges, on Paradise

I had always imagined paradise as a kind of library.
-Jorge Luis Borges


Wednesday Writing Exercise
In less than 300 words:
How do you imagine paradise?

Review: Moonlight & Magnolias Conference

I was told by several members of my chapter that Moonlight and Magnolias, a conference held near Atlanta, GA, was a great first romance writers' conference to attend.

I have to say, I whole-heartedly agree.

The Georgia Romance Writers (GRW) subchapter of the Romance Writers of America (RWA) hosts the Moonlight and Magnolias conference every year. This year, the conference was held in the Decatur Hotel and Conference Center in Decatur, GA (a suburb of Atlanta, pronounced "Deck-ae-tur"). If romance is not your genre, I would skip it, because it is targeted for romance writers. Many of the workshops would still be applicable for other genres, but you wouldn't get the full benefit.

The conference offered a number of writing panels, such as Writing Between the Genders for writing convincing characters of either sex, Killer Romance: Creating Romantic Thrillers for dissecting the elements of a romantic thriller, and Worldbuilding for your Werewolf, Duke, or smalltown Doctor for creating in-depth worlds appropriate to various characters. There were also craft panels, such as a Pitch Workshop to help writers hone their pitches before pitching to an agent, a first-five-page critique for writers to critique each others' first five pages, Software Programs for Writers, and a couple of marketing panels for both self-published and self-marketing authors.

Also attending the conference were several agents and editors from various agencies and publishing houses. These agents and editors come in part for the purpose of recruitment: writers can sign up for the chance to pitch a work to them, and have seven minutes to describe their story and catch the agent's interest. Both published and unpublished writers will sign up for these sessions. (It's not uncommon for an agent to not sell every genre a writer writes, or for a writer to seek a new agent if she doesn't mesh well with her current one.)

When registering, you have the option to indicate on your badge whether or not this is your first time attending Moonlight and Magnolias. I highly recommend doing so if it is your first. Everyone in the GRW is very friendly, and they make sure to welcome you and to be extra helpful if they notice that it's your first. And I mean 'nice' in the "incredibly helpful, ask if you're enjoying yourself, give directions at the drop of a hat, know what they're doing and are more than willing to help' form of 'nice.'

I heard mention that the Moonlight and Magnolias conference was also one of the agents' and editors' favorites, and given the number of lead agents, I believe it. This year, in attendance  were the distinguished agents Nancy Knight (Sullivan-Maxx Literary Agency and member of GRW), Diedre Knight (the Knight Agency), Michelle Grajkowski (3 Seas Literary Agency), Laura Bradford (the Bradford Literary Agency), and Jessica Faust (Bookends, LLC - she's currently closed to unsolicited submissions, too, so pitching in person or getting a direct reference are pretty much the only ways to query her). In the editor side of things were Holly Blanck (St. Martin's Press), Victoria Curran (Harlequin), Leah Hultenschmidt (Sourcebooks, Inc.), Wendy McCurdy (Executive Editor at Berkley Publishing, Penguin Group), and Charlene Patterson (Bethany House Publishers). If you've been researching any of these agencies or publishers - well, let's just say that's quite a powerhouse to have in residence.

This being my first time to pitch in person to a real, live agent, I was relieved to find that they were much less terrifying than I'd imagined. (Note: I have pitched to several imaginary agents for practice, but I have never yet pitched to a dead agent. I'm sure that needed clarifying.) None of them asked to eat my brains, and they smiled, were honest, and seemed very much like friendly and normal people. They did seem to appreciate professionalism, but were forgiving of things like stammering and inexperience.  (Not so forgiving of stalking, rudeness, or contagious undeath, though, except as part of the book being pitched. Some things are just better read than experienced.)

We also attended the Maggie Awards, in full fancy regalia. This is one of the red-carpet events of writers, and as such, most of us took advantage of the chance to dress up in our when-else-will-I-ever-wear-this dresses and then danced the night away after the awards were handed out. (Three days later, I am still sore. Totally worth it.)

Of course, there was a book signing. You don't become a writer without first being addicted to reading. I spent much more than I probably should have (again, worth it), and now have several more signed books for my collection (also, much less shelf space. I need a new bookshelf.) Part of the profits from the book signing went to a charity (Literacy something-or-another). There was also a raffle for some very nice gift baskets, and I was excited to win not one, but two! 0.0 (I got some signed books, a beautiful acorn-patterned quilt in a matching tote bag, and some jam.)  I also entered a drawing for a critique, since some agencies and editors were offering critiques as prizes.

As a side note, this was the hotel's last conference before closing to let new management renovate it (really, they were locking the doors the moment the last of us walked out the door!) Most of the staff had been laid off, to the point that our breakfast servers were also serving us dinner. The hotel had also ceased purchasing items (like new towels), so there was a lot of things they were short on. They were quite thrifty with what they had, and tried their best to keep everyone supplied. Considering their limited resources, they did an amazing job, so kudos to the hotel staff for hanging in there.

Grade for Romance writers (including other genres with romantic elements): A++  The conference was terrific, everyone I met had a great attitude, I really benefited from a couple of the workshops, and there were some big-name agents present.
Grade for non-Romance writers: B-.  Some of the workshops and panels are still very helpful for any genre, but just as many are romance-targeted, and most of the networking wouldn't be as helpful.

Please note that I am not differentiating between self-published and traditionally published writers. There were several classes open for self-publishing crowd, and a fair representation of the writers present had gone that route at some point or another (some have done both traditional and self-publishing, the latter for harder-to-sell genres.) I believe both traditional and self-published writers would benefit significantly from this conference.

Storytime: Tell me about your M&M adventure! Or, if you've never been, do a little time-travel and tell me about the time I pitch to a dead agent instead of a real, live one. Do I need to take zombie repellent with me?