Five for Five

Jun 28, 2010

What have you spent five dollars on lately?

I've spent it on a new book. A lunch salad from Bajio's. The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles DVD.

I shell out five dollars or more quite regularly for the things I want. I'm lucky to have that five dollars to spend. Sometimes I feel incredibly poor, like the months when we barely make rent. It's the life of a student family, I suppose. But I still spend that five dollars at least once a week without thinking, because it's really not that much to me.

I'm guessing it's really not that much to you either.

To five kids I love from Ghana, five dollars can pull them out of slavery. The slavery of poverty, of a life where they can earn five dollars in a whole week. The education that will give them freedom only costs about $5,000. If a thousand people gave five dollars, that's all we'd need.
Five dollars isn't that much. And a thousand people is less than the number of kids that went to my high school.
Can you give $5, and make a sandwich for lunch tomorrow instead of going to McDonald's? Can you be one of one thousand? Can you tweet or Facebook your friends to add to that one thousand?

Wherever you're at in life, I bet you make more than $5 a week. I bet you could do those things.
Five dollars for five kids. It's really not that much. Make a tax-deductible donation now through our raffle, and you can even have a shot at getting something out of it.

What will you spend five bucks on today?

Why YA?

Jun 23, 2010

As of tonight, the first draft of my current WiP, Devolutionaries, is approximately one quarter finished. Can I get a whoop, whoop?

Devs, as I lovingly refer to it, is sci fi, of course-- but it's sort of soft sci fi. It fits more into the "speculative" realm. It's also post-apocalyptic, though not quite dystopian (the world's a little too obviously bad to be pretending to be a utopia). And it's super fun to write. I love my characters. I love the concept and the way the story is unfolding. I love the way my MC is jumping off the page and becoming real to me. Of course, it's my story so I can say that. Once my crit group gets their hands on it, they may well send me home in tears over its horribleness.

Another thing Devs is: young adult fiction. This year's hottest commodity.

I knew YA was big right now. But it wrinkled my brow a bit when I stopped over at the Gatekeeper's blog and found a poll that said 54% of people surveyed were writing YA. Fifty-four percent!

This is not a bad thing. It was just a surprising thing (to me). Was this like the vampire trend? Was I just trying to cash in on the same thing everyone else is because it's popular? Immediately, I examined my own genre choice. Do I really want to write YA if everybody's doing it?

Answer: yes.

I've explored genres. Memoir, adult sci fi, fantasy, lit fic. I always come back to my true love of sci fi/post-apocalyptic. And that sub-genre is doing very well in YA right now.

But the market isn't the main reason I finally decided on YA after all my genre hopping. I realized I loved it. My favorite books? The Giver. Ender's Game (technically not YA, but also not technically not YA). The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. Uglies. Mistborn (again, technically not YA, but the MC is YA age).

And not only do I love reading YA, I love writing for the YA audience. Teens still haven't quite got the cynicism adults have-- most of them, anyway. They've still got one (sometimes reluctant) foot in the realm of childhood and imagination, so they're all about that whole "willing suspension of disbelief" thing that fiction requires. And when they're not giggling insanely, I really enjoy teenagers.

Besides, just because the genre is popular right now doesn't make it bad. In fact, it's a good thing because it means that many more fabulous YA books out there. So I'm sticking with it. With the muse-fish's approval, of course.

So what about you? Why do you write the genre you write?

World Cup Fever

Jun 19, 2010

I have never been a soccer person. I mean, I played bunch ball like any other American six-year-old (along with t-ball, of course), but my love with soccer ended the very next year when the city league began to enforce the rules. Off-sides? Positions? What did this mean? Nobody bothered to explain, so I spent that year getting called out a LOT.

So I stopped playing, all the way until I turned twenty. I was in Ghana, and boy howdy do they love soccer. One day as I was playing with the orphanage kids at a local pitch, a boy from the village was kind enough to teach me a few tricks. For example, a good way to get the ball is to scream in your opponent's face and steal the ball when he's startled. Helpful, that.

And somehow, my four months in Ghana transformed me into an avid soccer fan. Or at least, and avid World Cup fan. When Ghana plays. It was pretty bad last World Cup when Ghana played the U.S. Call me unpatriotic, but I cheered for Ghana. And when they won and I pranced around my college campus in a Ghana jersey, I got a lot of flack.

But this year I can cheer for both teams (at least for the moment). And the second half of the Ghana v Australia game just kicked off. So excuse me as I go scream myself hoarse.

Go Ghana!

(And don't forget, you can enter the raffle to get cool Ghanaian stuff AND help Ghanaian kids get an education here!)

Why you should REALLY listen when they say Show, Don't Tell

Jun 17, 2010

It's hammered into from the day you announce to the world you want to be a writer.

Show, Don't Tell.

Three words, the mantra of writing instructors everywhere. They've almost become cliche, and you'll probably find three bazillion blog posts out there about how to do it. It's said so often, I kind of brush it aside with a "yeah, yeah, I know."

And then I read a book last week that broke this rule, particularly in reference to characters. And it was amazing at how much it affected my enjoyment of the book. I couldn't get into the characters because I was being told "this is how this person is." Their actions didn't show it, there were no flashbacks or back stories. The author just jumped out of the page and told me.

It didn't happen all the time. But it happened enough that it did several things for me as a reader: weakened the character's motivations, undermined character relationships, and dampened the suspense. I just wasn't invested in what happened to the characters, and I didn't believe they were real. Who knew that a few missteps on one tiny rule could be so damaging to a reader's enjoyment of a book?

And after all, that's what we're aiming for when we write. To craft a story that reader's will enjoy and connect with. To paint a setting that readers are immersed in. To create characters that will live in reader's imaginations. That, my friends, is what show, don't tell really means-- and why we should all pay attention to it.

Readers Are Not Stupid

Jun 14, 2010

When I was a kid, like eight or so, I was an avid rock collector. I had so many marvelous pieces of geology, I wouldn't even notice when my mom sneaked into my room and threw away one rock-filled yogurt container a day. Then one day, I found a truly amazing rock.

It was big. It was flat on the bottom and round on the top. It looked exactly like a turtle shell.

So I took it home, whipped out the green construction paper, and made myself a pet turtle. I filled a shoe box with grass, stuck the turtle inside, and happily carried my turtle everywhere. One day, at my sister's soccer game, Turtle and I were playing at the park. Two Big Girls-- at least 14-- asked what was in the box. When I showed them Turtle, they oohed and ahhed over how cute he was, asked what he liked to eat, and pet his construction paper shell.

I just stared at them, confused. Couldn't they tell he wasn't a real turtle? Were they drunk? Were they stupid? Or was I just that good at making a rock look like a turtle?

Herein lies a valuable lesson: Kids aren't stupid.

I think it's some kind of innate human trait to treat those younger than us as though they're stupider than us. I think it's a natural tendency for some YA and MG writers-- you're writing for people younger than you, so dumb it down! Writing for your audience is one thing; being condescending toward them is another. I've done this a few times in my current wip unconsciously, and had to go back and correct things.

In fact, it's not even unique to YA and MG. I've occasionally read things-- and written them-- for adults that treat the reader like they're too dumb to notice subtle hints. It drives me nuts, and is something I try to be careful of in my writing.

So what about you, fellow writers? Is this something you struggle with? How do you decide what to spell out versus what not to at the risk of treating your readers like idiots?

You Can Promote Literacy in Africa-- AND Win Prizes!

Jun 8, 2010

When I was 20, I ditched college and took off for Africa.

I thought it would be the adventure of a lifetime, and it was. But it ended up being so much more than that. For four months, I taught the children at New Life International Orphanage and learned more about patience and love than I had in the last twenty years of my life combined. I made friends and learned to live in a different world. Most importantly, I realized that it was real life for the people in Ghana-- not the amazing adventure I'd come for.

One particular boy I got close to was Michael. On my last day in Ghana, he quietly asked me as we walked down the dusty road if I would remember him. I have never forgotten him; I have prayed for him, sent letters to him, and visited him again in 2008. And now I have the chance to do more-- help him continue his education. In Ghana, high school isn't compulsory, and it isn't free. Michael and four of his friends have passed their exams to go, they just don't have the money to get there.
Here's the cool thing: you can help-- and you can have a chance to get some really cool Ghanaian stuff in the process.

Over at Reach for the Stars, we're holding a raffle to raise money for the kids. For as little as five bucks and spreading the word, you can get up to five entries for some amazing handmade Ghanaian prizes.

Please help Michael and these other kids that I know and love raise the money they need to break out of their poverty!

Packrat or Purger?

This week, I finally got to the actual writing of my newest wip. For the last several weeks, I’ve been plotting, character sketching, and worldbuilding, which has been fun. But I’ve missed actually writing. In fact, I missed it so much I went ahead and wrote the first scene before I’d finished any of the planning. I couldn’t wait to delve in and begin writing this story. I reread my first scene, tweaked it to fit the final outline, and wrote the second. 3,000 words.

And they all sucked.

Okay, they didn’t all suck. Just most of them. The second scene in particular was completely cliché. It was 11:30 at night by this point, and though I desperately wanted to fix things, hubby convinced me being overtired was probably part of the reason it sucked in the first place. While I moaned sleepily about how I was going to fix it, he said, “Just delete it and start over if it sucks so bad.”

Oh. Right. Sometimes it takes a non-writer to remind a writer what the proper course of action needs to be.

So the next night, after much reflection on how to make things not suck (it necessitated a complete direction change in the first scene), I gleefully hacked 2,500 words out. The 2,000 I replaced it with are exponentially better. But I have a confession to make: I’m a packrat. I can’t just purge those words I’ve written right away. What if I need it someday? screams the voice in my head. I know I probably won’t, but to appease that voice, I never completely throw anything away.

Instead, I have a document in every story file titled “Cut Scenes.” I cut and paste all of my horrible stuff over there, where I can still draw on the tiny bits left inside that might be worth using later. By the end of the novel, I’m usually able to let that file go, and delete it completely. If someday I’m dead and famous, I don’t want anybody dredging up that awfulness for an ebook reprint with deleted scenes as a special feature.

So what about you? Are you a packrat or a purger?

Image credits

Kill Your Darlings, A+. Kill Your Buddies, Epic Fail.

Jun 4, 2010

My six-year-old Tasmanian devil of a nephew has one great love in life: Halo. To him, this game is the absolute coolest thing on the planet, and it’s hilarious to watch him play. He’s a good sport (after falling off a walkway when playing with my husband, he cheerfully said, “So long, Uncle D, I died!”), and he’s surprisingly good at it. His favorite part of the game, however, is not blasting alien scum to pieces.

He likes to kill his buddies.

It’s a little disturbing, really, to see him gleefully turn the Master Chief against the Marines who are righteously killing aliens right alongside him. His “buddies,” he calls them as he maniacally guns them down one by one. Funnily enough, his computer-directed buddies don’t like being shot by their leader, and will actually turn around and kill him.

All this got me thinking. Writers often hear the phrase “kill your darlings” in reference to scratching out those beloved but out-of-place pieces of our story that hold it back. “Kill your buddies” has a whole different writing connotation. I like to see it in these terms: when you take a character (aka the Master Chief) and have them do something they would never do (like shoot their buddies), you’ve just hit EPIC FAIL status.

It’s not all that difficult of a trap to fall into. I did it as I was outlining my current wip. “Gee, wouldn’t it be a totally awesome plot twist to have THIS happen!” Uh, okay, but usually plot action is determined by character action—and this twist was something this particular character would NEVER do. Readers are smart. They’ll see through this immediately and your book will be tied to a stake and burned, never to be read again.

Of course, you want your characters to be surprising. Maybe your character really would do X because of some deep, hidden, conflict-ridden motivation. Awesome. But hint at it beforehand. Foreshadow. Make the reader hit that point and shriek, “NO FREAKIN’ WAY! Why didn’t I see that coming?”

So go on. Be surprising. Bring in that twist, that OMG moment. Just don’t kill your buddies.

Still on the mend...

Jun 3, 2010

...but just had to post an awesome link. Angie Smibert from the League of Extraordinary Writers has put up a Random Dystopian World Generator.

Of all the awesomness in the world, I think this definitely ranks among the highest of the high!

P.S. The League currently has some great posts on creating a dystopic world, too.

Happy linking!

Contest Part Deux

Jun 1, 2010

Yes, I will soon write an actual post. In the meantime, however, I'm recuperating from being a sick mom to a sick baby, so I'll just leave you with this awesome contest!


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