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! And...you 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 random.org, 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!

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