Milking Goats and Buried Treasure

Mar 27, 2012

I have no exciting/intelligent blog post for today, mostly due to the fact that I was out late on a date with my hubby last night-- yay for dates! On that note, check out the movie John Carter. It's actually a lot of fun.

So, since I rarely put much personal stuff up, I thought I'd finally do something about the tags I received from Ruth Josse and Laura Josephsen. I'm going to cheat, though, and just pick a few questions from each of them to answer.

1. Have you ever milked a cow?
No. But I did once milk a goat at the state fair. I think I was like eight, and the farmer told me I was the best goat-milker he'd ever seen, and I had a job at his farm whenever I wanted it. So I guess if this writing thing doesn't pan out, I've got a career in goat-milking on standby.

2. Who is the biggest influence in your life right now?
This might be cheesy, but my husband. Not only is he incredibly supportive of me in everything I do, he's also a great example to me of hard work. He also reminds me that it's okay to play, and he helps me keep my perspective in life. I'd take him over Edward Cullen six million times.

3. Where would you bury treasure if you found some?
Ha! Like I'm going to tell you. ;) I did, however, once take a plastic bucket and create a time capsule with a friend. We made sure to label things like candles, in case future archaeologists needed a bit of help. That time capsule is still buried in the side yard of my childhood home. I've considered knocking on the door and asking the current residents if I can dig it up, but they might find that a little weird.

4. Are you a cat or a dog or a monkey person?
Dog person, for sure. I've had a dog ever since I was 9 months old (except now that dogs are not allowed in my apartment). Though I did claim a stray cat in Ghana that frequented the beach-side cafe I went to often. She came up to me every day to play and eat biscuits (cookies).

So, my friends, that's a bit of fun about me. Now what about you? Have you milked a cow? Do you prefer cats, dogs, monkeys, or other? Who's the biggest influence in your life? And where is your treasure buried?

Finding Your Author Voice

Mar 22, 2012

Especially in YA, there's a lot of talk about writing a good character voice. And it's incredibly important to do that. There's another type of voice that's important, though-- your own voice as an author.

To me, your author voice is a combination of several things. It takes in everything from your sentence-level writing (do you write long, flowing sentences, or short punchy ones; is your writing clear-cut and straightforward, or more descriptive and literary?), to how you structure chapters and the story as a whole (short and cinematic like Dan Brown, or long and complex like Robert Jordan?), to the type of stories you focus on (funny and light, or deep and dark?).

Obviously these things can change from book to book, but in general, each of us tends to develop a certain "style" as we write. It's something that helps readers identify with us from book to book-- it's why we love certain authors even when they write a different book.

It can take lots of practice to find your own author voice. It takes experimenting with different styles and stories, and reading different types of styles and stories, and examining your writing to find the strengths you want to emphasize.

It took me years. I wrote short stories and novellas all through high school, and they covered everything from a murder-mystery, ghost stories, alien abductions, fun contemporary love stories, apocalyptic adventures...lots of different types of stories with lots of different types of writing. It wasn't until freshman year of college that I found the most important parts of my author voice.

For my creative writing class, I wrote story after story with grandiose literary language and melodramatic plots. Then I had a new idea. And it was creepy. And I was afraid to write it. But it was COOL. So I wrote a short story about a sociopath who signed up to watch a prison execution, and ended up escalating into a serial killer. It was from the killer's point of view, and I was terrified to show it to anyone. They'd all think I was horrible for writing such a story, especially my teacher at the conservative, religious college I attended.

However, my teacher gave me the highest score and most positive comments on that story of any I'd written that year. My dad, who read all my stuff, told me that it was the best thing I'd ever written (granted, yes, he's biased). But I learned something about myself. I wrote better when I wrote short and to the point. I wrote better when I wrote about difficult concepts-- addressing the complexities of complex situations that don't always have happy endings.

That "aha" moment changed my writing as I focused on my strengths. It helped me find my voice as an author.

So, my friends, what are some of the characteristics that make up your writing voice? What are your strengths as a writer? How did you find, or how are you finding, your own author voice?


The Name Game-- Keeping Character Names Consistent in Your Novel

Mar 15, 2012

I've been thinking a lot about names lately. We've been trying to come up with a name for our baby girl, and I spent weeks scouring name lists for the perfect name. Not too popular, not too weird, goes well with our last name, has a good meaning to was a long process. Happily, we finally found one we love.

I do something similar when naming my characters. However, naming characters can be even more complicated. Names are a part of culture, which technically means that you're building your world when you name anything in your story-- the main character, her friends, her parents, the town they live in. Even before the internet, certain styles of names were common across a culture. There may even be rules to it, like how in Ghana, everyone receives a name according to the day or the week they're born.

Here are a few quick tips to not just name your characters, but to make sure the names fit the world you're trying to build.

1. Keep the names consistent in structure.
Certain naming trends will be consistent across your culture. Maybe "A" names are popular, or names ending in an "en" sound. Maybe short names are popular, or longer ones. You obviously don't have to be completely rigid in naming characters to these trends, but keep in mind that unless you give a good reason, you don't want names too far from each other. Having a character named Kenna and another named Filomena is going to be a little odd. Though if you want it that way on purpose, go for it! After all, many people purposely choose to name outside of trends.

2. Be careful of associations with other things.
I originally named the town in TUGL Concord. It was a desert town with a unique culture and history, but my critique group kept getting confused. Concord, Massachusetts kept coming to their minds, and contradicted the setting I was attempting to create. If readers associate a name with a certain thing (like a popular celebrity), it might ruin the image you're trying to create.

3. Keep cultural differences in mind.
I have a character in TUGL who grew up away from the town-- in fact, grew up in another country. In addition, she's Muslim. I had to keep those things in mind when naming her. Her name wouldn't follow the general system of the rest of the characters. If different cultures mingle in your novel, that will show in their names. Think The Hunger Games. Different districts with different cultures focused on different things in their names (Glimmer vs. Katniss). Even different generations will have differences in their names.

4. Meaning is important-- and so is fun.
J.K. Rowling is a great example of naming with important meaning. Voldemort's name means "flight from death" in French-- rather perfect for him. But also remember to have fun. Don't get so regimented that your names all feel too similar and mechanical. Have fun playing with them!

So, my friends, how do you name your characters? What are your current favorites among your character names? 

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The Ever-Helpful, Horror-Inducing Deadline

Mar 13, 2012

I'm a deadline kinda gal. You may (or mostly likely not) have noticed my lack of presence in the blogosphere over the last week again, but this time it's due to deadlines, not sickness.

Deadlines? you may ask. You're an unpublished writer, what kind of deadlines do you have?

Well, self-inflicted ones, of course. But I'm pretty darn serious about them.

Right now, I'm actually behind on my deadline to finish my rewrites on TUGL. I was supposed to be done by March 1, but with all three of us at my house getting sick, it did not happen. So my new deadline is March 15, and I should hit that without a problem. You see, I have another deadline of May 4 for this story, and it's actually an outside deadline.

I'm pitching to an agent at the conference I'm going to. Eeeps!

I still have to send this baby out to beta readers and try to incorporate their changes before then. It's going to be a tight schedule, and I've fully accepted I may have to go to the conference with some tweaks still not made.

Deadlines are something that cause some people panic attacks, and something some people ignore. Self-given deadlines are even harder to hit. I'm usually pretty dedicated about my deadlines, but there are times (like with this one) that I'm glad mine are still flexible. But in general, why the dedication to my own arbitrary deadlines?

Because deadlines are the best tool I've found to give me discipline. If I want to be serious about this writing/author thing, I have to BE SERIOUS about it. I have to write even when I'm tired, or not feeling "the muse." Most days, it's not a problem to sit my butt down and write because I sincerely enjoy it, but for those days when I'm not feeling it, it's the deadlines that keep me on task. And I've been grateful for them, because in the last two years, I've written two novels because of self-set deadlines.

So, my friends, I'm curious about your thoughts on deadlines. Do you find them to be helpful motivation, or just joy-killers? Do you use them? How well do you stick to them if you do? Do you use an alternate form of inducing discipline and motivation? 

And hey, anyone interested in being a beta reader for me? You can find a description of TUGL here. I'm willing to swap, either right away or whenever your manuscript is ready. :)

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Book Reviews for Writers: Partials by Dan Wells and Standing Out from the Pack

Mar 6, 2012

One thing I love about living in Utah is that there are oodles of fabulous writers around the area, having oodles of fabulous events. For example, last week I got to hang out with my crit group at Dan Wells' signing of his new YA sci fi, Partials.

Why, yes, that is me face bombing while my crit group member Kevin gets his book signed by Dan.

Dan's books (the I Am Not a Serial Killer series) are some of my favorites, and I was excited for Partials to see what he was going to do with it. I was also excited's sci fi! And I read sci fi! And write sci fi! And from what I'd heard, there was actual sci in this fi! I couldn't wait.

I tell you, my friends, this book did NOT disappoint!

In the talk before the signing, Dan mentioned that this book was actually "commissioned." An editor at Balzer and Bray called his agent because they wanted a good dystopia for the blossoming market. Dan said they wanted another Hunger Games, with a nice love triangle and a bunch of other typical YA tropes. "Can you write that?" they asked him.

"Nope," he said. "I've already read that book. But here's what I could write for you."

And they told him to go for it. And it's one of the things I loved most about this book.

It does have the hint of a love triangle, true. It does have crazy action and a dystopian setting a la The Hunger Games. But it is something that, to me, stood out from the pack. The worldbuilding especially was BRILLIANT. There are a lot of dystopians lately that I've loved, but this one felt real, like we could wake up tomorrow and that could be our world. The main character, Kira, was intelligent, sensitive, and fiery. The science-- oh, the science!-- was well thought out and easy to understand, and was an important part of the well-paced and twisty-turny plot.

LOVED this book, my friends. LOVED.

The lesson for us writers? You can write a brilliant, "new" book even in the midst of a popular trend. Know what the trends and tropes are, and when you use them, do it purposely-- and push them beyond the usual. Then, delve even deeper. Find what's been missing, the element that you can add, and don't be afraid to add it. Be brave. Be smart. Be different.

So, my friends, read this book! I hope this doesn't sound like I think all dystopian books lately are boring parts of a trend. I've loved many of them. This one just stood out for me, and now I'm curious. What's a book that has stood out from the pack to you lately? Something that went above and beyond what you expected? How do you make your own writing stand out from the crowd?

P.S. Thanks to my crit buddy and friend Chersti for sharing her pictures of the event! She's jumped back into the blogging world with some great posts-- and a great giveaway with lots of books! Ya'll should go say hi. :)

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