Christmas Bliss, or Why the Nook Color is an Awesome E-Reader

Dec 28, 2010

For Christmas, I asked for about twelve different books on my TBR list. On Christmas morning, I got a gift card to Barnes and Noble.

Oh, and this.
I didn't ask for a Nook, let alone a Nook Color. But I've been talking my husband's ear off about e-readers for the last six months, and I guess he figured I'd like it. And boy, do I.

Here's what I love about it:

1. Not only have I narrowed down my TBR list without even leaving my house, but I have loads of free classics on it too from Project Gutenberg.
2. I have a bunch of free children's books on it, too, for my son. I love that the Nook color shows all the pictures.
3. I can upload my own pictures, songs, and videos. Not that I plan on using it for that much, but it'll be nice to keep my son entertained.
4. I can upload my own Word documents and PDF files, so I can read my crit group submissions-- and my own writing-- on it when I'm on the go.
5. I can go anywhere on the internet as long as I'm connected to the WiFi.
6. I can highlight and make notes on any book I read.
7. The touch screen is awesome-- it's so easy to navigate.
8. I love that I can download samples from Barnes and Noble to decide if I want to buy the book-- just how I read the first few pages of a paper book in the store before I buy it.

Here's what I don't like as much:

1. I can't highlight or make notes on Word and PDF files, only on the ePub files.
2. I really like the e-ink format, and the Nook Color screen is LCD (although, this hasn't actually bothered me, and doesn't make it hard to read).
3. The battery life is only about 8 hours (not connected to WiFi), as opposed to an e-ink reader's several days.
4. Um...I can't think of anything else.

I was hesitant to get an e-reader because I love paper books so much. But so far, I'm loving it. Besides, paper books and e-books aren't mutually exclusive. In fact, I'm reading Jennifer Connelly's Revolution and loving it so much, I'm considering buying the paper version too.

So, my friends, how was your Christmas? Filled with books? Filled with fun? Filled with family? I hope it was lovely!

Awards, Fun Facts, and Merry Christmas

Dec 20, 2010

So I've been sitting on these awards for a while, and figured I should finally pass them on! Margo Kelly gave me the From Me to You award, and Alexia Chamberlynn gave me the Honest Scrap award. Thanks so much, ladies!

Here are a few random facts about me to go along with the awards:

1. I once hitchhiked in Africa in a truck full of guys. Not my smartest moment, but I ended up alive and with a few new friends.

2. I have double-jointed ankles-- I can actually flip my feet backwards so my heels are pointing forward.

3. In college, I took a road trip that involved spinning a bottle and traveling the direction it pointed. We had no destination, and just stopped at all the places that had signs like "Historic Rock Formation." There was also an orangutan involved. I never knew Idaho could be so cool.

4. My favorite Disney character is Eeyore, because I just want to give him a hug.

5. I got hit by a car in college as I roller-bladed to work. I was in the crosswalk and the person turning left wasn't watching, and...bam. I'd always thought it would be cool to ride in an ambulance. It's not.

And the awards go to (take your pick of either one!):

And lastly but not leastly, Merry Christmas, all you wonderful folks! I'll be off the blog until after the holiday, and I hope you all have as much joy as I'm anticipating.

How to Write Humor That's Actually Funny

Dec 15, 2010

There's a character in Devolutionaries that's given me trouble from the beginning. I love him-- he's goofy and funny and knows how to lighten dark situations. In some ways, he reminds me of my husband. But that makes him a tough character to write, because that goofy, joking person is not me.

It's not that I don't have a good sense of humor. I just have a different sense of humor than Lucas, my character. In my first draft, sometimes I had to write "[insert funny line here]" in place of Lucas's dialogue. My husband helped me make him funnier in subsequent drafts, and I also thought a lot about some notes I took in a class on being humorous from funny-man Howard Tayler. Here are a few tips from Howard (with a little Shallee-extrapolation) on writing humor that's actually funny.

1. There are five elements to being funny (He said six, but I apparently missed one. Sorry.):

Be recognizable- if the audience doesn't know what you're talking about, it's not funny. Be sure to introduce context early on.
Be clever- This can be a hard one, but it doesn't necessarily mean to come up with something brand new. Find a little twist on something old. Think about your audience's expectations, and bend them.
Be bizarre- Pull something out of your hat that doesn't just bend expectations, it completely takes your reader by surprise.
Be cruel- Just a little. Make your humor wry and just a bit biting.
Be cute- Or sweet, or silly, or goofy. Slapstick is still funny as long as it's not the only type of humor you rely on.

The key is to try to hit as many of those as you can-- even within the same joke. Layered humor has a much stronger effect on your reader.

2. Leverage the audience's imagination. Let them tell themselves the punchline-- the more you explain the joke, the less funny it is. This makes the audience find humor from inside themselves that you might not have even intended.

3. Context is the most important thing to humor. Introduce the context of a joke early on, so the audience knows what to expect. Lucas's very first line makes the reader realize he's a goof, so they know what's coming every time they see him.

4. Point of view can change the type of humor you use. Something can be funnier depending on whose head you’re in. If you have multiple viewpoint characters, you may want to tell a certain scene from one point of view to change the humorous effect it has. In Devs, Lucas isn't a witty character, or a sarcastic one. He's just a goofball. Some of his quips are genuinely funny, and some are silly-- but they're made funny by his goofy personality. In setting up his character and point of view, I can make even stupid things funny through him.

So, my friends, any tips to share on how you write humor? Or any tips on what you find humorous when you read? What are some of your favorite books or movies-- comedy or not-- that have humorous moments you can learn from? Please share!

Conquering the Fear of the First Draft

Dec 10, 2010

I finally got started on the actual writing of BaB yesterday. It took me a while to dredge up the courage, actually.

Yes, courage. Starting in on a new first draft terrified me. Why? Because I'm horribly afraid it's going to suck.

Newsflash to me: Of course it's going to suck. It's a first draft.

But I still don't have a clear idea of what my protag wants, or what my antag wants. My outline and character sketches are crap. I can't start writing until I figure all that out!

Second newsflash to me: Remember how you're a pantser and it took you 20,000 words to figure that out in Devolutionaries?

Oh. Right. Deep breath.

It's funny how I'm somehow expecting myself to write the first draft of BaB to be as good as Devs is after 3 drafts. I just try to keep reminding myself that it's okay if this draft sucks. It's supposed to suck. And when it does and I'm done with it, I get the joy of creating something awesome out of the first 70,000 words of sludge.

So, my friends, what scares the daylights out of you when you write? First drafts? Final drafts? Queries? Characters? Pacing? Please share!

Novel Planning Tools Even Pantsers Will Love

Dec 6, 2010

I've been buried in the planning stages of my new WIP this week, love it. Not the WIP (although I do love that), but the planning. I call myself a pantser, but I'm sort of a hybrid pantser-plotter. I have to have several things in place before I can start a draft (or get very far into it): basic character sketches, a basic plot outline, and a basic setting.

And I'm here to tell you, it can actually be fun! Even you die-hard pantsers out there would have fun with some of these tools:

Polyvore - Create a character's fashion. Honestly, I thought this was silly when I first heard about it. Then I tried it. Do you have any idea how much fashion can tell you about a person? You can design sets that include outfits, jewelry, shoes,'s awesome. Check out my protag Vaea's fashion sense. It's a little telling, no?
MyWebFace - My crit buddy Chersti put me onto this one. I always have a basic idea of what my characters look like, but it's hard finding pictures on Google that match (I even signed up for one of those matchmaking sites so I could browse pictures of people!). On this site, you can design your own character how you want them. It's not exact, and it is a cartoon, but it's pretty fun. Here's Vaea. [PLEASE NOTE: Since writing this, I've learned MyWebFace is infamous for attaching spyware/malware to the required download. I had to remove it and the associated bad content from my own computer, so I regret to say I no longer recommend this!]
And, on the character note, I use the personality color code and the Meyers-Briggs personality types to help me get some of my first basic ideas for who my characters are. They give a very good basis to start a more detailed character sketch.

Freemind - This is the plotting tool for pantsers (and plotters, too!). It's a mind map software that author Simon Haynes uses to plot his books. If you check out his post, you can even see the base mind map he uses over and over. I use this base for every story, because you can be as detailed or as sparse as you want. I've even included such incredible outline points like "more bad stuff happens." I am, after all, somewhat of a pantser. But even so, it helps to get a linear look at my storyline.

I haven't found anything cool for designing a setting out there, so if any of you know of any sweet map creation software or something, feel free to share in the comments! I'm a big fan of Google images to get some ideas for my settings.

And...the new WIP does actually have a title now! For the moment, it's being designated Black and Blue (BaB), and it's a YA sci fi. Woot! I love starting a new book.

So, my friends, any planning tools or tips to share? What's your progress on your own WIPs?

Create a Stronger Story-- Be Intentional About Viewpoint

Dec 2, 2010

One of the things that always gives me pause when I start a new book is viewpoint. I don't have a favorite, so it usually takes me a little bit to decide whether first or third person is the way to go.

Viewpoint is something that doesn't seem like it should be that important, right? It's just first or third, past or present, whatever floats your boat. Um...sorry. No. Viewpoint is the lens through which the reader sees your story. That makes it pretty darn important!

You should always be INTENTIONAL, not accidental with your viewpoint.

Here's a quick look at the differences between different viewpoints, and what the advantages and disadvantages are.

Third person - This viewpoint is good for when you can't tell the story through one narrator. I've used it before in stories where the reader needs to know things the main character just wouldn't know. It's also good for deeper characterization of more than one protagonist (or even antagonist).

Third person limited-- where you are telling the story strictly through one character's head at a time-- generally gives you a stronger story than third person omniscient (where you view everything from "above" the story). It's stronger because the reader is more closely connected to the character. Third person omniscient disconnects the reader from the characters, though if that's what you're going for, it might be a good choice.

First person - In this viewpoint, you have the ability to characterize one person really, really well. It creates a character your reader immediately identifies with. This viewpoint is popular in YA for just that reason. It doesn't lend itself as easily to viewpoint switches, however, and it can be limiting to tell things only from one person's head.

Tense - While past tense is the generally used form in literature, present tense is becoming popular (a la The Hunger Games). Be very careful if you choose present tense; it's difficult to manage. It gives the feeling of immediacy, but that can backfire if you don't keep your narrative flowing with your character's situation. I'm going to go out on a limb and say by and large, past tense should be your default unless you have a really good reason to write in present tense.

Viewpoint is an excellent way to ensure strong characterization. When you color EVERYTHING through your character's eyes-- whether in first, third, past, or present-- your reader gets to know the character. The way they look down the street can tell us mountains about them. Are they looking for a specific person? Are they studying the artsy window displays? Are they calculating the ratio of colored cars to black and white ones? Are they unconsciously judging the people walking past by their clothing?

So be conscious about your viewpoint-- when you pick it, and throughout your story. Polish that lens until the reader sees exactly what you want them to, and in the manner you want them to see it.

So, my friends, do you have a favorite viewpoint? Why? What makes you choose one over the other?

Combining All Your Great Ideas to Make One Great Story

Nov 29, 2010

I'm letting Devs sit for a while so I can revise again with better perspective. Meanwhile, I've started on a new book. I've had two ideas vying for my attention lately, so I started developing both to see which one would get more interesting to me at the moment.

Whenever I'm trying to flesh out a basic idea, I do what I call an "idea dump" document. I write down the idea, and any others that come to me while brainstorming. I also write down all the questions I have-- like "why," and "how," and "so what" and try to answer them. As I did this for one of my ideas, I had a sudden stroke of genius.

What if I combined this idea with the other idea? And then combined it with an older idea from an unused story?

My wheels began to turn, and the ideas clicked into place. I went from one interesting but possibly unoriginal idea to a story combining three of the greatest ideas I've had yet. And it's going to make one awesome story.

If you've ever listened to Writing Excuses, this is actually a method they advocate for creating an original story-- combining two or more ideas that seem different into one story. If you used one of those ideas, you might have a neat story. But if you use them both in the same story, it goes from pretty good to pretty amazing.

But you might be crying, "Wait! I don't want to use all my ideas in one story! I won't have ideas left for another one!" Lest you forget, you are a writer. A storymaker. Someone who can take a line from a movie or a picture on a wall and ask a "what if." You will have more ideas.

So, my friends, take a look at the stories and ideas floating around in your head. Can you combine any of them? Have you combined ideas before, making your story more complex and unique?


Nov 23, 2010

I finished draft 3 of Devolutionaries! I'm excited, even though I still have to overhaul one character completely and de-nebulate my antagonist (because it/he is in a state of great nebulosity at the moment. Get it? Sigh...yes, I did fry my brain getting through this draft so fast.).

Still, I'm calling it a completed draft. As a reward, I finally bought Paranormalcy today.

And there's a gigantic blizzard predicted for tonight.

And I have hot chocolate, curry, candles, and fuzzy socks.

It's gonna be a celebration of blizzard-ic proportions!

So, my friends, what do you do to reward yourself for finishing any part of your WIP?

P.S. Happy Thanksgiving!

In the Home Stretch

Nov 19, 2010

Good news: I am within ten chapters of having my third draft of Devolutionaries finished. Woot!

Bad news: I only have a little over a week to finish those ten chapters in time for the full novel critique my crit group is doing. And hopefully still have time to enjoy Thanksgiving.

Ergo: I will be sparse on the blog for the next week as I gleefully hack out the bad and add the better to Devs.

So, my friends, how are your wips going? Are you NaNoers on track? What's your planned progress over the holiday week?

5 Tips for Writing Memorable Romantic Scenes

Nov 16, 2010

I have a confession to make: I do not like most chick flics.

It's not that I'm unromantic-- it's actually the opposite. I feel like so many romantic movies are so full of tropes and stock characters that they kill the romance. This actually makes me extremely wary writing my own romantic scenes. I'm always terrified I'm going to fall into the sappy trap, and squash the real romance.

One of my favorite romantic scenes in any book or movie is in the movie The Village. You've got your painfully shy Lucius and your outspoken Ivy, who are in love but haven't admitted it to each other yet. There's just been a dangerous and frightening moment in the village, and Ivy wakes up to find Lucius on her porch. They sit and talk, but it's not particularly poetic-- they don't even touch. Then, Ivy, being her outspoken self, asks Lucius about their future wedding, which shocks him into finally saying what he's never been able to-- that he loves her.

Go watch the scene. I'm not kidding, you'll swoon over it. And why? Let's take a look at some things this scene did right.

The setting is unique
It's not a bedroom. It's not raining. It's not on a bridge. It's freezing cold, it's night, and it's on an uncomfortable front porch. Okay, so maybe it's a little cliche. But the fact that Lucius is sitting there, despite the potential danger from the "creatures," to protect Ivy-- well, that's romantic. And it's not the type of scene you'd expect to be romantic, but it is for just that reason.

The characters do not act outside their character
In fact, they act decidedly within their character. The unique blend and contrast of Lucius and Ivy's characters and how they interact makes this scene memorable. Lucius doesn't suddenly break out into poetic confessions of love. Which brings us to point three.

The characters don't break into poetic confessions of love
Okay, well, Lucius does actually make a confession of love. And I suppose you could even call it poetic. BUT. Let's look at what he didn't say. "I have loved you since before I could remember." "I can't take one more minute without telling you how much I love you." In fact, he didn't even use the words "I love you." In fact, the very thing that makes his words romantic is the fact that they are his. Even their delivery-- his frustration and agitation behind his love-- makes them better. Which brings us to the next point.

There are more emotions at work than just romance
Lucius and Ivy aren't wrapped in a rapturous romantic moment. There are a myriad of other emotions here. There's the fear of the attack that happened earlier that night, and Lucius's frustration and even irritation. There's Ivy's surprise when Lucius begins talking. And all of these emotions are inspired in the audience-- that's the key. In fact, the audience even feels an additional emotion-- amusement. Maybe it's just me, but I found Ivy's "will you dance with me on our wedding night" very funny. All of these additional emotions add realism, and even enhance the romance.

There is more focus on the relationship, and less on physical love
Now, don't get me wrong with this one. I'm not saying your characters shouldn't kiss or hold hands or even touch. They should do those things! But not every romantic scene needs to focus on them. Romantic tension is built in the scene from The Village precisely because the characters aren't touching-- but they want to. The scene is about the characters focusing on their relationship, which includes physical love but isn't limited to it.

So, my friends, now I want to know. What are some of your favorite romantic scenes in books or movies? What are some things you do to make your romantic scenes unique and memorable?

How to Strengthen your Writing by Not Writing

Nov 12, 2010

The last week has been very "meh" around my neck of the woods. A cold plus a bad back made sure that all writing went out the window. However, I still managed to make some good progress on my third draft of Devs.

Wait, no writing but still progress? How does that work? Well, I spent the week redefining all the background "things."

Before I ever start writing a draft, I do basic character sketches, world-building, and a (very) loose outline. By the time I'm done with the first draft, those are all woefully out of date. I already redefined my outline before I started the second draft of Devs, but my world-building and characters needed a ton of work. I did some more research (which I love) to build up and add details to my world, re-sketched my characters (oh, how I LOVE the clarity the 3-2-5 method brings!), and then, did something totally cool that I've never done before.

I outlined each of my plotlines individually.

Now, my overall outline is fairly complete at this point. Still, I knew my plot needed tightening--one subplot managed to fall entirely by the wayside in my second draft. So I pulled out each storyline and did a mini-outline for it, detailing what happened in which chapters. And it was amazing.

In the process of looking individually at all my plots and subplots, I found the weak spots. I picked out where one needed more conflict, where another completely fell off the map, and where two of them came together, sort of mirroring each other. All of you mega-outliners are probably laughing and saying, "how can you NOT do that?" But it sure was a revelation to me!

Even though I did little to no actual writing this week, my wip has gotten stronger. And I can't wait to actually write all those little changes in.

So, my friends, what do you do to strengthen your story when you're not actually writing? What specific behind-the-scenes tricks or tips can you share that you've found create a stronger story?

How to Make Your Writing Stand Out in a Crowd

Nov 8, 2010

So last week I blogged about stealing ideas and still being original with them. It got me thinking about the idea of being original. Don't we all dread being just like somebody else? We want to write something new and unique, something that stands out. But how, exactly, do we do that?

One of my crit group buddies said something to me last week that made something click in my brain. I'm submitting chapters of my rewrite of Devs, and as we left, my buddy said something along these lines: "Your first draft felt so similar to a lot of things out there, but all the details in this draft are making it stand out."

And there it is! That's what makes your book original, even when you follow the three-act structure or use one of the seven basic plots. The details. That's what makes your book yours, what makes it stand out from everything in the slush. Details like these:

Character details. We hear it all the time: make your characters real/flawed/unique. Behind all of that, I think what we really want is to make our characters memorable. We want a character that sticks out in someone's mind. It's all in the details! Why do we remember Katniss from The Hunger Games? She poaches food from the woods to survive. She kicks butt with a bow and arrow. Her dad was killed in a mine explosion. It's those kinds of details that make your character stand out in a readers mind. For more on developing this kind of character, check out this post.

Setting details. Your setting/world should NOT be ignored! It's one of the biggest ways to differentiate your book. The thing is, you can have a totally fascinating world, but nobody's going to care unless you bring out fascinating details. Think of the book Uglies, and all the details brought out about the world. Everyone has interface rings that are basically tracking devices. The pretties have crazy things like "safety fireworks" to play with. Tally eats bucketloads of reconstituted food like Spagbol. Bring out those details in your setting! What small things will make it stick in the reader's mind? For more on setting, check out this post.

Plot details. This can be a tough one. The story is the most critical element-- it's what we do, right? We're storytellers. So how do you keep your plot original, something that readers won't expect? Again, it's in the details. Look at the small (and big) turning points in your story. Usually, it hinges on the character taking some kind of action. But what action? If your character does the first thing you think of, I can just about guarantee it's unoriginal. So think of two or three or six different decisions your character could make. Which one will turn the reader's expectations on their head? The tiny moments of the plot-- the details-- can be great places to make your story stand out.

So, friends, go forth and be original! And please share-- what do you do to make your writing stand out? How do you create uniqueness in your writing?

The God of Ideas-- Where does yours live?

Nov 3, 2010

I'm fairly convinced that the God of Ideas lives in my bathroom.

I've had an idea for a new book rolling around inside my head for a few weeks. It came to me while I gave Gooser a bath. It's a good one, but still vague, and I've had a hard time turning it from an idea into an actual story.

But as I was doing my hair the other day, it came to me. My brain whirled and clicked as bits of the story began to gather. It still has a long way to go, but it's a lot better than the almost nothing I had before.

That's one reason I don't (always) grumble about doing mindless daily chores. While my hands are occupied with dishes or a mop or a comb, my brain is free to run wild. And for me, for some reason, the bathroom is the best place for my brain to do that. I guess it really is like my husband says: things make more sense in the shower.

So, my friends, where do you get your best ideas? What activity, time of day, or place brings out the God of Ideas in your life?

Happy Halloween...

Oct 30, 2010

...from the McArthur Pirate Clan! Argh!

Writers-- Are we all just a bunch of thieves?

Oct 29, 2010

There is some debate in the world over whether there are truly any unique stories anymore. People talk about things like the seven basic plots, and how all of us writers just recycle and steal from each other. And really? Who am I to say otherwise? After all, I did steal my idea for Devolutionaries from an episode of Fringe.

BUT. Who says that throws originality out the window? Maybe most stories really do follow the seven basic plots, but that doesn't mean we're all writing the exact same story. Even if twelve of us had one idea, we'd come up with twelve different stories with different characters, settings, themes, and probably even genres.

Besides, Shakespeare himself stole his ideas from other writers. And if the Bard can do it, I'd say that sort of gives the rest of us permission.

So, my friends, now I'm curious. Where have you "stolen" your writing ideas from?

And now, just for fun, here's the Reduced Shakespeare Company's hilarious take on Shakespeare's theivery in his comedies.

Remembering the Storyteller

Oct 27, 2010

In the crazy-competitive, market-yourself, write-the-breakout-novel-or-fail world of becoming an author, it's easy to forget why the heck you're doing this in the first place. But the other day, a little memory from my first volunteer trip to Ghana popped into my head, and I remembered why I work so hard in my writing.

I sat on a plastic chair under a mango tree, watching fishing boats sail the Gulf of Guinea. My four-year-old host sister dragged a chair across the yard and placed it right next to mine.

"Sistah Shallee," she said, climbing into the chair, "come, I will tell you a story."

"Okay, Nananua," I said. "Tell me a story."

"Once upon a time..." she paused, looking at me expectantly. When I didn't say anything, she said, "Sistah Shallee, when I say once upon a time, you must say 'time, time.' Okay? Once upon a time..."

I sat back in my chair and smiled. "Time, time."

"...there was a very, very, very, very, very bad boy..."

She went on to tell me of this boy and how he disobeyed his mother by wandering into the forest, where he was cursed by a witch. There were quite a few "very, very's," and sometimes the boy was momentarily a girl instead, but I clapped for her when it was over.

It made me smile as I remembered her brown eyes getting wider with excitement as she told her tale. She had created a wonderful story, and she wanted to share it.

That, I remembered, is exactly what I do. I imagine a story, or take one from my life, and it's wonderful enough to make my eyes go wide. Wonderful enough that I have to write it. Like Nananua, I am a storyteller at heart, and what is a storyteller if she doesn't share her stories?

That, I remembered, is why I write and rewrite and blog and research agents, striving for publication. Because I am a storyteller.

So, my friends, now I'm curious. What makes you do what you do? What gives you your passion?

Sci Fi-- It's not just for nerds anymore

Oct 25, 2010

First, to read my entry for the Cliffhanger Blogfest, click here!

AND, today I'm a guest of the wonderful Bekah! If you're interested on how the world of science fiction is evolving, here's a teaser of my post up at Bekah's Stories:

"Now, lest I be snubbed by the sci fi nerds of the world, let me start off by saying this: I am one of you. Growing up, I had my own lightsaber and I crushed on Wesley Crusher. One of my favorite books is Ender’s Game, and my idol is Fox Mulder.

But before I loose the rest of the non-nerd audience, let me also say this: we are evolving. The nerds, I mean. And the best part? You’re becoming one of us."


So, I know I said I don't usually do blogfests...but a cliffhanger fest was too irresistible to pass up! Check out the other entries here, and here is the 500-words-or-less cliffhanger for Devolutionaries, chapter 1!

Grandad closed his eyes a minute, like he was listening for something. “They’ve come for me.”

“Who?” My throat tightened in panic, and my voice came out in a quiet screech. I already knew who. “What are we going to do?”

“Listen. They’re not going to kill me, okay?”

But there wasn’t another option. Unless… “They’re going to Disappear you? How do you know that?”

“I just know.”

What was that supposed to mean? Nobody knew exactly why the Government Disappeared anybody, just that somebody would suddenly be gone. None of their things missing, no hint about what had happened. No sign of a struggle.

“How can you—“

“Doesn’t matter,” Grandad said. “You just have to know they’re going to keep me alive. And you have to stay that way if you want to help. Now, I want you to stay here, behind the door. There’s only one of them. He’ll come for me, and when he does, run. Somewhere with lots of people. Go to the arcade. Then find Jay.”

I glared at him. “I’m not taking off on you like Wes. If there’s only one, I can attack him when he goes for you.”

“No!” His voice was sharp. “There’s only one because they only need one. He’ll kill you if you try that. You run. Find Jay.”

Suddenly, he stood up straighter. Then he strode across the room and stood over the boiling pot. “Do it, kiddo.”

He smiled at me, and I felt a sharp pain in my throat.

The door flew open and I threw my hand up to keep it from hitting my nose. Footsteps, then a clanging noise, a splash, a stranger’s yell. In my panic, a hysterical giggle rose up. There’d be signs of struggle after they Disappeared Grandad. Something crashed, and wood splintered. A sharp pfft echoed through the room, followed by a dull thump.

The room went silent, raising the hairs on my arm. Had he shot Grandad after all? I risked a peek around the door. The agent was kneeling next to Grandad, pulling the needle of a tranq bullet from a blue-stained spot on Grandad’s shoulder. He was alive. I started breathing again.

The agent’s back was still to me. It was now or never. I swung the door forward and dashed around it. My heart didn’t seem to beat to a normal rhythm, and I ran wildly through the night. I tripped over pavement cracks, darted into side streets, and skirted the corners where the military police clutched their guns. My feet pounded forward, and I grabbed at the pain growing in my side.

I stopped a few blocks from the arcade. Sucking in big gulps of air, I sank to the ground. I dropped my head between my knees. My mind buzzed, and thoughts didn’t stay long enough to register. Only two things made sense, and they pounded in my head with every gasping breath. Grandad. Disappeared.

Some people said Disappeared was worse than dead.

Aspiring Author Interview!

Oct 22, 2010

My friend and awesome crit partner Michelle is doing a weekly feature called Aspiring Author Interviews! And I was lucky enough to be her first interviewee. This is a great way to get to know your fellow aspiring authors. So go check out my interview and Michelle's awesome blog!

Double Book Review: I Am Not a Serial Killer and Mr. Monster

Oct 21, 2010

I recently mentioned reading Mr. Monster by Dan Wells, and I thought maybe I should do an actual book review since I loved it so much. But since it is a sequel, I thought I should review the first book, I Am Not a Serial Killer, as well. So here's two for the price of one!

Here's the synopsis for IANASK:

I Am Not a Serial Killer is the story of John Cleaver, a 15-year-old sociopath who works in a mortuary, dreams about death, and thinks he might be turning into a serial killer. He sets strict rules to keep himself “good” and “normal,” but when a real monster shows up in his town he has to let his dark side out in order to stop it–but without his rules to keep him in check, he might be more dangerous than the monster he’s trying to kill.

When I read this book, I did it in one day. It was driving, and impossible to put down. I loved the premise, and the execution was brilliant. I can't even imagine the difficulty of creating a likable protagonist out of a sociopath, but Dan does it brilliantly. I love John Cleaver. I feel sorry for him. I rooted for him to win. I was terrified for him. This book took me through such a range of emotions, I was both exhilarated and exhausted when I finished.

The book is technically shelved as horror, and it has elements of horror in it, but I wouldn't classify it that way myself. The horror elements were brought in so flawlessly, they didn't even seem out of place in John's world. Even for people who don't like horror, this is a must-read.

Now, to Mr. Monster.

John Wayne Cleaver has always known he has a dark side but he’s fought hard to oppress it and live a normal life – separating John from Mr Monster to survive. But after confronting and destroying the vicious killer that was terrorizing his town, his inner monster is getting stronger and harder to contain. And now more bodies are being discovered...

With the police failing to catch Clayton County’s second serial killer John is going to have to use his secret knowledge of the first demon-killer to trap the second...but will he be able to avoid suspicion falling on him, and, in the face of extreme horrors, will he be able to restrain Mr Monster?

Mr. Monster is what John calls his dark side-- the side that wants him to kill and maim and destroy. Because he had to let Mr. Monster out in the previous book, John now struggles even more to keep him under control. Again, I finished this book in one night. It was even more gripping than the last book, because you can sense how desperate John is to keep Mr. Monster locked away. The situations John is placed in all but yank Mr. Monster out, raising the stakes even higher than the last book.

John's character is, if possible, even more expertly executed in this book than in the last. You can feel the subtle changes in him. Again, I went through an astonishing range of emotions with John (which is amazing, considering he's a sociopath). This is one of those sequels where I might actually like it better than the first book.

So, my friends, go. Buy. Read. You won't regret it.

What's Your Writing Routine?

Oct 19, 2010

I don't write at a desk.

This is not because of some "free the poet within" sort of philosophy, or some bizarre quirk that makes it easier for me to write while sitting in an empty bathtub. It's because I'm poor (ish).

Luckily, a laptop can go anywhere, and with a $20 TV tray, I've got sort of a little nook set up. The Muse-fish keeps me company, and I can settle into the comfy couch and write for hours. So really, I don't mourn the lack of a desk at all.

Every writer has some kind of routine (which for me includes my space). And I'm a very routine kind of girl. Of course, my little Gooser makes it a little tough to keep that routine, but being a mom has helped me learn to roll with the punches.

I try to write every day, and I usually hit that goal. Most mornings, I put Gooser to bed around ten and get a glorious two hours to write. Sometimes, I get another hour or two at night (depending on if I got any work done that day-- I do contract editing from home). I do my blogging and networking sporadically throughout the day, but I try to squeeze it into one big chunk if Gooser takes an afternoon nap as well.

And all from my cozy little nook!

So, my friends, I'm curious. What does your writing routine look like? Where do you write? Share away!

Thanks and Awards

Oct 18, 2010

Thanks to Janet Johnson and Jenn Hoffine for the Creative Blogger and Cherry on Top Awards! You ladies rock. :)

I'm passing these on to David King (who blogs enthusiastically about fantasy writing), Tamara Heiner (whose debut novel comes out next month), Michelle Teacress (whose posts never fails to make me smile), and Michelle Merrill (my awesome crit buddy who lives and breathes YA fiction). Take your pick of the awards, they're floating around on my sidebar!

Devolutionaries-- First 250 Words Blogfest

Oct 16, 2010

Here's the first 250 words of Devolutionaries. Please feel free to give any thoughts you have! I have a thick skin. :)

Name: Shallee McArthur
Title: Devolutionaries
Genre: YA dystopian

Grandad lied to me a lot. I’d known that for a long time. But standing at the counter at the Distribution Center, I decided everybody lied.

“You only gave me four potatoes,” I said.

“Well, you only gave me four Produce coupons.” The clerk tossed her braid behind her shoulder. She smiled, making her pox scars wrinkle across her face. Was she flirting with me while she cheated me?

I ignored the smile. My eyes went to the shelves that stretched behind the counter, piled high with tin cans and semi-fresh produce. Including two more potatoes that should be mine.

“I gave you six coupons.” I glared at her through the damp brown hair hanging in my eyes. The ceiling fans circled above me, totally useless.

Her smile faded. “Maybe you dropped some. I only counted four.”

“Look, my boss doesn’t give me enough—“ I clamped my mouth shut.

Working in Kessler’s bike repair shop should have given me more coupons than it did, but Scavengers had an unspoken rule. We didn’t rat each other out to the Government. I didn’t want Kessler’s death on my head.

I glanced toward one of the military policemen in his blue uniform. He scanned the silent line of people that trailed out the door and bounced the butt of his automatic rifle in his pox-scarred hands like he was bored. Nobody made a sound under his watch. Most of them stared at the scuffed tile floor.

I turned back to the girl, who'd gone pale.

First 250 Words Blogfest on Saturday!

Oct 14, 2010

So a few weeks back, I entered my first line in a blog contest for an agent critique. I was picked as a finalist, and posted my first 250 words for the next part of the contest.

And as soon as I did, I realized that my first 250 words were not at all what I wanted them to be. Luckily, I'm in revisions! Even though I didn't win the contest, I feel like I sort of did anyway because of what I learned about my wip.

AND, because Elle Strauss is awesome, she's holding a blogfest on Saturday for everyone to share their first 250 words! I don't usually do blogfests, but this one really got me thinking about my wip. I'd encourage everybody to go sign up! It's amazing what you can learn about your wip just by pulling out your first 250 words and taking a hard look at them.

Beauty in Layers: Writing Powerful Scenes

Oct 13, 2010

I've been thinking a lot about powerful moments in my life, and what made them powerful. And of course, I've been thinking about how to put this into my writing. This morning, I thought about the summer I was on a crew team (rowing), and something clicked. It was something small, but something that changed me. It was powerful for me. Let's take a look at why.
In college, a friend of mine had hooked up with a crew team, and said it was a blast. The catch? We had to be up at 4:30 am. On a Saturday. But I was curious, so I said yes.

I had no idea how crewing worked. I had never met anyone else on the team. I stood, bleary-eyed, on the shore of the Great Salt Lake that Saturday morning, wondering if this was a good idea. The captain eyed me.

"You're short," he said.

I sighed. Was my 5 foot 1 stature going to get in the way? It wouldn't be the first time.

"Short's good."

I blinked. "It is?"

"Yeah. We need a cox, and you're perfect."

Well. Never before had my shortness been labeled perfect. I would cox til my arms popped off for perfect.

Cox was short for coxswain, and it meant I was in charge of navigation, steering, and giving general orders to the eight-person team. Cox's are generally preferred to be small and lightweight, because they don't contribute by sweeping, or rowing. I was a perfect cox.

After a little training, we rowed out into the lake. Using the "cox box," (basically a mic and a speaker system), I relayed the captain's orders, keeping strokes smooth and navigating in the right direction. We were the only people on the lake. The sun was just coming up, and the seagulls swooped around, calling to each other. The world was wrapped in cold shades of blue. Soft splashes sounded as the oars cut cleanly into the water, perfectly synchronized.

We flew across the lake, our rhythm dictating our speed, and the salty breeze chilled my cheeks. Out there, we were a team, moving as one to achieve our common goal. And I had a part in it-- a part that I filled perfectly because of what I had so long considered a defect.

Is it any wonder I continued to turn out at 4:30 every Saturday morning that summer?

It was powerful to me because of its beauty, and because of the layers of the beauty. So how does this apply to writing? Think of the most powerful scenes you've read recently. Whether they are tragic, happy, horrible, or incredible, there are aspects of beauty in them.

There is physical beauty. Of course, this doesn't mean that every powerful scene takes place in Eden. Even desolation can be hauntingly beautiful. When writing your powerful scene, make it take place somewhere distinctive. Somewhere that echoes the tone you want to create. And be descriptive, using all five senses. I found crewing beautiful because of the colors, the cold, the salty air, and the swishing of the water.

There is emotional beauty. Crewing was powerful for me because it took my weakness and turned it into a strength. It touched me on an emotional level, and changed the way I saw myself. It also turned me into part of a team, giving me relationships with other people. For a scene to be truly powerful, it must have emotional implications for a character-- and therefore a reader.

There is the beauty of the language. The scene must be written beautifully to be powerful. There's just no way around it. I think of it like the rhythm of the rowing. There is a specific knack to rowing, to make sure your oar doesn't get caught in the water. It must be done in perfect synchronization for the boat to move at its fastest. When perfect rowing happens, the cadence and flow of the boat is beautiful and swift. Make your language like that. Precise, but evocative.

It's difficult to create layered beauty in writing. But when it's done right, it can have a powerful effect on the reader. Good luck, my friends, and may all your writing be beautiful!

How to Tell When a Scene Isn't Working

Oct 11, 2010

So, first off, I wanted to clarify something from the last post-- be sure to read I Am Not a Serial Killer before you read Mr. Monster. It's a series, and the first book is just as riveting as Mr. Monster!

Also on the last post, I got an interesting comment from Michelle. She asked how you know if you've made a scene better or worse when you're rewriting it. I've been pondering this all weekend.

With the scene I rewrote, I didn't necessarily make it worse. I just found another way to write it that didn't work. So the question, I think, is really about what makes a scene work or not work. This is going to sound vague and possibly useless, but for me, it starts with a feeling. Whether I'm first-drafting or rewriting, sometimes a scene just plain doesn't feel right.

Of course, there's usually a reason it doesn't feel right. With the scene I mentioned in the last post, after I looked at it, it didn't work for a lot of reasons. There was too much exposition and backstory. It took too long to get to the point. It started with a flashback that didn't flow smoothly into the rest of the scene.

There are other reasons I've found that my scenes don't work. I tossed one in the first draft because I had a character do something he'd never actually do. I have a whole section in the middle that I'm going to have to completely rewrite because nobody does anything but SIT AROUND and talk. (Snore!) And often, I first know these scenes won't work because they just don't feel right.

Sometimes, though, I don't get that feeling and the scene still doesn't work. That's what critique groups are for. And sometimes, I moan about how horrible a scene is, only to find it's actually pretty good. The key is to look at the scene analytically and find out WHY you think it doesn't work (or why you think it does).

So, my friends, after all that vagueness of "feelings" on my part, I want to hear your part. How can you tell if a scene isn't working in your writing?

Good and Bad

Oct 7, 2010

So, there's good and bad on the writing front this week.

The bad: The rewriting. Blech. Okay, the rewriting itself isn't so bad. What's bad is I rewrote my first scene...and made it worse. Groan. Starting over on that one.

The good: I went to Dan Wells' signing for Mr. Monster (which, by the way, is just as brilliant as the first book in the series, I Am Not a Serial Killer). He asked how my writing was going, and when I said I'd finished my first draft and was headed to revisions, I got a high five and a free magnet with John Cleaver's Rules. :)

Nothing like encouragement to make a bad day of rewriting better! really should check out this book. I read it in one day. It was that good.

Getting Ready for Rewrites

Oct 4, 2010

I'm starting my rewrite of Devolutionaries today, and ideas are practically exploding out of me. I have a full novel critique coming up at the end of November, so I'm on a bit of a deadline, but I couldn't be more excited.

In the week since I finished the first draft, I've been thinking a lot about rewriting in general. I thought I'd share some of the things that have helped me get ready for mine.

1. First drafts suck. Rejoice in it. As Lynn Price says, first drafts are where you are telling yourself the story. Which is awesome! You just told yourself a wandering, weak-charactered, flabby-middled, lame-dialogued story from your own brilliant brain. Applaud yourself! Ask for applause from others, even! Not a lot of people can even get any kind of story from brain to paper. Therefore, you rock. Rejoice in it.

2. Let it wallow in suckiness. It's okay. Your first draft can stay sucky for a week. Even two, if you can manage it. I've said it before, I'm a big fan of letting your work sit. It provides an amazing amount of clarity once you go back to it. The last week as Devs has wallowed, I've had insights into what areas are really bad, and how to make them better. Write those ideas down, but let that draft sit!

3. Read something non-sucky. Go re-read your favorite book during your break. Or read a new book that you've been dying to open, but haven't had time for. Remind yourself what non-sucky writing is like. Also read Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. Or any other writing how-to book. It'll remind you how to do those things you know you can!

4. Do something amazing with your life. That kind of sounds like a tall order, but you don't have to circumnavigate the globe while you're waiting to rewrite. Go do something fun. Something you love to do. Something you've never done. Just SOMETHING that involves you being away from your computer and involved with life. Remind yourself what life is about! You can write better about life if you're actually living it.

5. Crack those knuckles, baby. It's time! You've let it suck, let it sit, and reminded yourself what good literature and good life are all about. You're ready to tackle that draft with a billion brilliant ideas bursting from your brain. You can now take that sucky first draft you should be so proud of and turn it into something decidedly non-sucky that you can be even MORE proud of.

So wish me luck, my friends, I'm cracking my knuckles! I wish luck right back at you, whether on your rewrites or first draft!

Hundred Awesome Followers Winners!

Thanks to, we have our Hundred Awesome Followers Giveaway winners!

The Forest of Hands and Teeth goes to: Sandy Shin!

The Gardener goes to: Abby Annis!

Congrats, you two! You should be getting an email from me soon. And thanks to everyone who entered, and thanks again for following.

Also, a big thanks to Lynda R. Young and A. L. Sonnichsen for the new awards floating around on my sidebar!

P.S. Today I start my rewrite! Here's a few tips for getting ready for one.

Last Day!

Oct 1, 2010

Just a reminder, today's the last day to enter the Hundred Awesome Followers Contest! Followers just need to leave a comment on the contest post, and you're entered-- but only until midnight tonight!

Banned Books Week Review: The Handmaid's Tale

Sep 30, 2010

Don't forget to enter the Hundred Awesome Followers Giveaway for your chance at awesome books-- plus free critiques!

So I'm assuming by now pretty much the entire writer blogging world knows that it's Banned Book Week. And I think it's also safe to assume we all think banning books is backwards and horrible. If you don't want to read something (or don't want your children to), fine. Don't read it. But don't prevent me from making the choice for myself!

Tahereh, who's sponsoring a banned book review fest, reviewed The Giver, which was my first choice for a review. Like her, I was shocked to find this book on the banned list. That was the first book that really changed my view on how the world could work. It was my first introduction to dystopian literature, a genre that has captured me completely.

However, I'll be reviewing another dystopia, The Handmaid's Tale by Margret Atwood.

"In the Republic of Gilead, formerly the United States, far-right Schlafly/Falwell-type ideals have been carried to extremes in the monotheocratic government. The resulting society is a feminist's nightmare: women are strictly controlled, unable to have jobs or money and assigned to various classes: the chaste, childless Wives; the housekeeping Marthas; and the reproductive Handmaids, who turn their offspring over to the "morally fit" Wives. The tale is told by Offred (read: "of Fred"), a Handmaid who recalls the past and tells how the chilling society came to be. "

This book is fascinating, horrifying, and eerily realistic. I was drawn into Offred's world, putting the pieces of it together and seeing how it came about. I loved it and hated it, but I could not forget it.

Now, here's the thing. This book is told from the point of view of a woman who's basically kept as a breeder. So, naturally, there is some sexual content. In fact, a woman's sexual role is in fact a large focus of the book, because it's a large focus of the society. If my child were assigned to read this in junior high or high school, I might not want them to read this. It would depend on their age and their maturity, and of course we would talk about it.

But that's the thing with banned books. I have a right to decide with my own child if this book is right for them at their age. That is my prerogative as the parent. It is not my prerogative to make that decision for every other child at a school. Or for everyone in my town who might not be able to find it at the library if it's banned.

Books should not be banned. Period. Make your own reading choices. Let everyone else make theirs. Three cheers for banning banned books!

Contest Extension!

Sep 29, 2010

Hey folks! I'm going to extend the critique part of the contest until Friday at midnight. Go ahead and keep submitting your stuff if you'd like!

The Hundred Awesome Followers Giveaway!

Sep 27, 2010

Hurray! It's the Hundred Awesome Followers Giveaway! To say thanks to all of you people made of awesome who follow my blog, I've got a two part giveaway-- and the best news? Everybody can win in part two!

Part I

The Prizes:

Two lucky winners will receive one of the following:

#2: an ARC copy of S.A. Bodeen's The Gardener

The rules:

You must be a follower and comment on this post to enter. That's it! The contest ends Friday, Oct. 1st at 11:59 pm EST. Winners will be announced Monday, Oct. 3rd. Open to U.S. and Canada residents only.

Part II

Everybody wins! I'll do a critique of

1) Your query letter OR
2) The first 250 words of your novel/short story/whatever

for EVERYBODY who wants one and is a follower of the blog!

(Um...yes, I might be a little crazy.)

The rules:

You must be a follower.

Simply email your query or 250 words to shallee.mcarthur [at] gmail [dot] com.

It must be IN THE BODY OF THE EMAIL. (No attachments) I'll accept them through TOMORROW, Tuesday Sept. 28th at 11:59 pm EST. (Now extended to Friday, Oct. 1st at 11:59 EST!) I'll send your critique back to you as soon as possible, and no later than the end of October.

Of course, I'm no industry expert, but I can offer the honest eye of a fellow writer.

You don't have to Tweet, Facebook, or blog to get any of this, but if you want to spread the word, I'd be very happy. :)

So get entering and emailing! And THANK YOU for your awesomeness!


Sep 25, 2010

Today, my friends. Today is the day.

The day I finished the first draft of Devolutionaries! Bwah ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!

Think of me jumping in crazed wild circles around the house. Even though I'm not 'cause it'll wake Gooser (the baby).

Okay. Breathing. I'm a little excited. Boone (my hubs) even gave me a round of applause.

And really? I totally deserve it! Even though I already know at least twelve places where it sucks, the completion of the first draft is utterly applause-worthy.

P.S. You all rock. Contest of 100 awesome followers begins on Monday, so stay tuned!

Thank You!

Wow, I'm blown away by the responses from yesterday's Great Blogging Experiment!

I just wanted to say thanks to everyone, and welcome to my new followers!

And...I'm only two followers away from 100, which means I'm two followers away from hosting an awesome Giveaway!

And...just a hint...every follower can win something. It's going to be that awesome. Because you're that awesome.

Creating Compelling Characters: The 3-2-5 Rule

Sep 24, 2010

When I took Brandon Sanderson's Awesomest Writing Class Ever, I learned that I sucked at creating characters.

I thought back through my previous books and stories, and saw flat, boring, uncomplicated, and uncompelling characters. I reread my notes from that particular class multiple times, and distilled the character section down to what I'm going to call the 3-2-5 rule of characters. Basically, it's a simple formula for creating forceful, convincing characters that demand investment from a reader.

There are 3 things you need to think about when creating your characters:

Who are they, who are they becoming, and what stands in their way?

This is the vital first step; you can't have a character at all, let alone a compelling one, without it. It can be as simple as a few sentences.

Let's use Harry Potter as an example. Harry is a beaten-down, skinny orphan who will become a powerful, confident wizard-- if Voldemort doesn't kill him first.

There are 2 ways characters should connect with a reader:

1. We are like them. We can identify with this character. We get something about them. I think most people can identify with Harry's unfortunate circumstance of being picked on by somebody bigger than him.
2. We want to be like them. They have some quirk, power, or characteristic we admire and would like to have. Harry's a freakin' wizard. If I'd been younger when the books came out, I'd have sneaked down to my room and concocted fake potions and waved around a twig yelling Expelliarmus!

There are 5 things every character should have:

1. Flaws- A flaw is something that is wrong with the character that is THEIR FAULT that prevents them from reaching their goal. Think of Harry Potter: he doesn't tend to plan ahead very well (Goblet of Fire, anyone?).
2. Handicaps- A handicap is something that ISN'T the character's fault that prevents them from reaching their goal. Harry has a connection to Voldemort because of Voldemort's attempt to kill him that actually helps bring a more powerful Voldemort back to life.
3. Strengths- Basically, things the character rocks at. Harry has an amazing knack for defense against the dark arts (quite a necessary skill for him!) and Quidditch.
4. Quirks- This doesn't mean your character has to be a Looney Lovegood. A quirk is a unique way your character sees the world, or something particularly distinctive about them. Harry's scar is a "quirk"-- something unique to him that stands out.
5. Motivation- Your character has to WANT SOMETHING. They have to be driven to achieve their goal. This motivation makes your character get up and do things instead of just sitting around, getting on with life. Harry wants to avenge his parents-- and prevent Voldemort from killing Harry and his friends.

So, my friends, that is the 3-2-5 Rule of Characters. If you want even more awesome advice on creating compelling characters, go check out all the other entries in the Great Blogging Experiment!

Polygamous Writing

Sep 23, 2010

Normally, I'm a faithful, one-story kinda girl. I get an idea, I develop it, I write it, I revise, then I write the next one. Of course, I usually have a few other ideas percolating while I write, which enables me to jump into the next story when I'm done with the first.

Something's different with the current percolation.

I've been working hard on Devs the last few weeks, trying to finish the first draft. And during those last few weeks, a new little idea has exploded into a big, I-can't-stop-thinking-about-this idea. So occasionally, I've taken some of my writing time and started world-building this new idea.

It's weird for me. I've become a polygamous writer.

Luckily, I'm very much in love with both of my stories, so I'm not ignoring Devs. It still gets the majority of my writing time. And in a way, it's good that I'm getting this new idea ready to go, because I plan on taking time off from Devs for a few weeks before I start in on revisions. I'm glad I'll have something else to work on.

So, my friends, now I'm wondering. Are you a polygamous writer, or a monogamous one? How many stories/ideas do you have going at once?

The Authors that Influenced Me

Sep 20, 2010

There are a lot of books in this world that have influenced me in one way or another-- in my writing, in my perceptions of the world, etc. But there are two particular authors who have influenced my writing, and not just through their books.

And I was lucky enough to go meet them both again at a book signing on Saturday.

Brandon Sanderson is an author I have loved since I read his first book, Elantris. Last Christmas, my husband bought me his most recent book-- and it was signed, which always makes me happy. In addition to the signing, my husband told me Brandon was teaching a class at BYU the next semester, and anyone was invited. Thrilled at the prospect, I went. And it was one of the best thing's I've ever done for my writing.

Not only did I get some of the best writing advice from Brandon, but I learned about the publishing industry. I was motivated to write more than I had in years, and rediscovered my love of it. And I decided I was going to seriously pursue this dream of becoming a published author.

The other writer who influenced me that I saw on Saturday is Dan Wells, author of the amazing I am Not a Serial Killer. Last April, I attended the Storymaker's Conference and signed up for a hardcore early-morning bootcamp critique group. Each group was led by a published author, and Dan was my group leader. Thanks to him (and the great group members like Angie!), I learned a great deal about my strengths and weaknesses as a writer. It was another pivotal moment in my writing.

To my surprise, Dan remembered me at the signing. Apparently, I asked him the most interesting question he's ever gotten in a critique group-- I asked if a character with red hair was a cliche. Like my MC in the work we were critiquing. We decided that the hair was fine, but if she was "spunky" or if it was just used as her single defining trait, it was definitely cliche.

The things I learned from my experiences with these two authors helped shape my writing. So, friends, what about you? What authors, experiences, or books have shaped you as a writer?

P.S. Many thanks to Madeleine from Scribble and Edit for the Creative Blogger Award!
I'm passing this on to A.L. Sonnichsen, Jenn Hoffine, Taffy, Naomi, and Chersti. Go check out their blogs, they're wonderful.

Spacing Out: Weird Habits of a Writer

Sep 18, 2010

I'm sort of a space case.

Just ask my husband. We'll be in the middle of something normal (dinner, taking a walk, playing with the baby), and suddenly, I'll tune out. My eyes get big, and I stare off into the distance. I don't actually notice when I'm doing this, because inside, I'm thinking the following:

Ooh, wouldn't it be interesting if the real reason Ash and Quinn don't like each other is...


Hey, I know how to fix that scene! Maybe they could...


Wouldn't a cool story be if...

Eventually, I'll come back to the world, and get teased by my husband (who's kind enough to let me space out when I need to without interruption).

So, my friends, do you have any odd/interesting/funny habits as a writer? Do share!

How a Minor Character can Make or Break your Plot

Sep 15, 2010

I'm getting so close to completing the first draft of Devs. Like, within 15,000 words-ish. Last week, I was sure I'd have it done by the end of this week. And then, something happened. You know when you're writing a scene you know is crap, but you just don't know what else to write? Yeah, that's what happened.

So I stopped for a few days, trying to figure out what wasn't working in that scene. I realized it actually wasn't that scene that was the problem-- it was one in the previous chapter. One where a minor character suddenly became incredibly important without me even realizing it. His actions would drive a good deal of what happened next, and his actions in that scene were...well...stupid.

After a while, I figured out what the core of the problem was: I had no idea who this character was.

He was a minor character, so I hadn't bothered to do much in the way of characterization. I usually fill out a big long document about my characters before I start writing, so I have an idea of who they are. This guy had no dossier. And while he's a minor character, he's a very important minor character. So I went in, figured out everything about him, and was shocked. He was a heck of a lot cooler than I'd realized!

Then I went in and pack-ratted two whole scenes. Out they went, and that problem scene got rewritten. Because now I knew who this guy was. I knew what he would do. And it causes major problems for my protagonist. Which is awesome, because now I know how the book is going to end!

So, my friends, the question is: have you had situations where a problem with a character created a problem in your plot? How did you fix it? Let's discuss!

Book Review: The Scorch Trials

Sep 13, 2010

Okay, folks, here's my long-promised review of James Dashner's The Scorch Trials! (Here's a link to my review of the first book in this series, The Maze Runner.) Here's the cover copy:

Solving the Maze was supposed to be the end. No more puzzles. No more variables. And no more running. Thomas was sure that escape meant he and the Gladers would get their lives back. But no one really knew what sort of life they were going back to.

In the Maze, life was easy. They had food, and shelter, and safety . . . until Teresa triggered the end. In the world outside the Maze, however, the end was triggered long ago.

Burned by sun flares and baked by a new, brutal climate, the earth is a wasteland. Government has disintegrated—and with it, order—and now Cranks, people covered in festering wounds and driven to murderous insanity by the infectious disease known as the Flare, roam the crumbling cities hunting for their next victim . . . and meal.

The Gladers are far from finished with running. Instead of freedom, they find themselves faced with another trial. They must cross the Scorch, the most burned-out section of the world, and arrive at a safe haven in two weeks. And WICKED has made sure to adjust the variables and stack the odds against them.

Thomas can only wonder—does he hold the secret of freedom somewhere in his mind? Or will he forever be at the mercy of WICKED?

So. I loved The Maze Runner. It was exciting and fast-paced, and I expected more of the same in The Scorch Trials.

And boy-howdy, did Dashner deliver.

From the first page, the book doesn't slow down. I was riveted the entire book. What made it even more riveting was how much more Thomas, the main character, became real to me. The stakes are so personal to Thomas, yet still give the impression of affecting the world at large. Things build and build and just keep getting worse. Dashner is the king of "what's the worst I could possibly put my character through." I actually teared up at the climax! Poor Thomas...

I loved the new characters that came into this story as well, and I loved the continued characterization of the boys from the Maze. The world, again, was something unique and fascinating, and so well drawn I have a firm picture in my mind of what I think the Scorch looks like.

Overall, this middle book of the series did what few middle books manage to do: it stands on its own. And it does that while still being a perfect continuation of the first book, and leaving you on the edge of your seat for the last book. That's one problem with getting an ARC, I realized-- I have to wait that much longer for The Death Cure to come out!

I would highly recommend this to anyone looking for post-apocalyptic reading, or anyone who is just looking for a highly engaging and fast-paced ride. It's being released October 12.

Contest: Full Manuscript Critique!

Sep 7, 2010

Okay, I'm already ignoring my last post, but hey, the little guy's sleeping.

Anyway, how'd you like to win a FULL MANUSCRIPT CRITIQUE (up to 100,000 words) from C.A. Marshall, writer, editor, and agent intern?

Yes. She's that awesome.

Go check it out, my friends!

Life Changes

As of today, I have officially gone from a working mama to a stay-at-home mama. I couldn't be happier! I'm thrilled to be home with my son all day now. While I'm still doing some contract work from home, it will be from home.

And, much as I love the new changes, they're going to take some adjustments. So this week, you can expect not a lot of blogging from me as I wrangle a new schedule into place. I will put up my review for The Scorch Trials, though.

Otherwise, you'll probably find me with my boy at the park. Or the library. Or the front yard. get the idea. :)

Write what you believe

Sep 1, 2010

Karen over at Typing with My Toes brought up an interesting question on her blog today-- how do you give your writing meaning without pushing an agenda? Nobody wants to be preached at, but a lot of people want to find meaning in a book. And as a writer, I want to write a book that has more than entertainment value.

My first creative writing professor in college gave me some of the best writing advice I've ever gotten on this subject. He said that rather than "write what you know," you should "write what you believe." That doesn't mean you have to write about religion or a political angle. People have strong beliefs about all sorts of ideas-- think of the book Feed. It had some very strong points to make about consumerism, but I never felt like I was being beat over the head with a moral.

Writing what you believe can be scary sometimes-- for me, the things I believe strongly are things that I'm afraid to write about. I'm putting out into the world something that means a great deal to me. What if people don't like it? What if they disagree? According to my professor, if you're afraid to write something, that's exactly what you need to write. It will have the most power. And you, as a writer, just have to have the courage to put it out there.

One thing I love about writing through the lens of my beliefs is that I don't tend to push an agenda when I write this way. That seems almost contradictory. The strange thing is, when I begin working on a story I feel strongly about, I don't focus on the beliefs. I'm focused on the story that has a background in those beliefs. Yet, those beliefs still come out-- in a non-pushy way.

So, friends, what's your take on this? How do you write the things you believe while not being didactic? How do you overcome your fears in order to do this?

Shallee McArthur © 2013 | Designed by Bubble Shooter, in collaboration with Reseller Hosting , Forum Jual Beli and Business Solutions