Friday, January 27, 2012

Okay, So I Lied

I promised myself that I'd be ready to submit after draft 10, but I should have known better. In draft 6 I extracted a 20,000-word subplot. It takes some time to recover from that kind of major surgery.

But I did achieve something in draft 10. I got the story right where I wanted it.

This is my favorite, favorite part of writing a book. All the tears, pain, and frustration are behind me, and there's nothing left to do but polish the prose. Shine every sentence. So I'm sharpening up my blue pencil and reading each word aloud.

No, I am not stalling. Yes, I will submit soon.

But first, I get to spend some quality time with my manuscript.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Writers Club Wednesday: Pitches

Today at our Laie Young Writers meeting, we'll be talking about pitches. This will be the first in a series that covers two vital weapons in an author's arsenal, the pitch and the synopsis.

A pitch is a few short paragraphs that are meant to leave an agent or editor dying to read your book. The pitch doesn't contain the whole plot, but should take the most fascinating elements of your book and put them on display for all to see. It's like a shop window, meant to lure prospective buyers inside. You'll use a pitch to interest an agent, and then if that agent represents you, she will probably use that pitch to hook an editor, and the editor will need that pitch to convince the editorial department to take a chance on your book. So a good pitch can go a long way.

But how to write one?

It isn't easy. A good pitch is like poetry. Every word counts. And how can you boil down an entire novel to less than half a page? But this is what makes the pitch such a great writing tool. It forces you to decide what's most important about your story. In fact, I like to write my pitch before I begin drafting a new book. It keeps me on track as I go.

According to Elana Johnson's excellent guide, From the Query to the Call, a pitch needs four things:

1. Hook
2. Set-up
3. Conflict
4. Consequence

This afternoon we'll take a look at a successful pitch, analyze it, and then try writing our own.

From the Query to the Call is free for download from Elana Johnson's website. Those of you who are serious about publishing should definitely read it for yourselves.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Where Are You People?

I co-mentor a teen writing club with one of my neighbors. One phenomena associated with this venture is the excessive amount of e-mail all these verbose teenagers pack into my inbox. Sometimes they have six or seven e-mail conversations going at once.

But today, there weren't any e-mail messages. None at all. Very strange.

It worried my daughter, so she wrote this poem:

Where are you people?

This morning I got up early
And checked my email, because
I knew that I would surely
Have fifteen messages

But to my shock
To my surprise
I'd an empty inbox
Where are you guys?

Ok, I thought
No need for alarm
They've probably not
Come to any harm

But I checked again
At a quarter to ten

And to my shock
And to my surprise
I'd an empty inbox
Where are you guys?

My face went pale
My heart filled with dread
If they're not sending emails
They must be DEAD!

Ever since the day
We started this
Not a single hour
Have I missed
Without getting an email
Or two or three
But now there's nothing
Where can you be?

It's four forty-eight
And getting late
And I'm getting worried
Oh cruel, cruel fate!

Could I be the last living
Writer's club member?
Of the dying fire
Am I the last ember?

Are you all dead
Are you all gone?
Where are you my friends?
What's changed? What's gone wrong?

Did your characters come alive
Like we joked they would?
Did they kill you all
Did they poison your food? (because that would rhyme with would... ish)

I just checked my email
And to my surprise
I've an empty inbox

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Between Drafts

When I write, I write hard. So what to do with all that energy when I finish a revision and need to wait for the dust to settle in my brain? I put the passion into a project! Or two... or maybe three.
This time I'm going to:
1. Clean the living room carpet (by hand)

Isn't it lovely?
2. Clear ground for a little vegetable garden in the back yard (also by hand)

Almost done!
 3. Read a lot of books:
-A Million Suns by Beth Revis
-The Rex Zero series by Tim Wynne-Jones
-Fly by Night by Frances Hardinge
-Revision by David Michael Kaplan
-Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson
-From the Query to the Call (again) by Elana Johnson

4. Write a few random scenes from other books I'm thinking about, plus a chapter of a group story I'm writing with my daughter's teen writing club
5. Outline my next book
6. Work on my query letter
7. Sew the patches on my new Cub Scout Committee Chair uniform. Did you know that Robert Baden-Powell was a British spy? So awesome.

Proudly wearing the Aloha Council patch
8. Arrange a harp duet with my daughter (she's already written her part) so we can perform it together in March.

There, by then I should have forgotten everything about my last draft and be ready to read it with an objective eye.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

More Discoveries

I recently posted about my top eleven discoveries of last year. Now I'd like to add a few things I've discovered since January 1st. If this keeps up, it's going to be a big year for discoveries.

Bread Flour

I love to bake bread, but in the past I've always used all-purpose flour. Why buy a sack of flour that's only for baking bread? Here's why - when I use bread flour, the bread isn't crumbly. It can hold up in a school lunchbox all morning. So now, since I've started baking with bread flour, the kids all want my home-made bread for their lunches.

The Piano Guys

I didn't even know electric cellos existed! These Piano Guys have made a lot of music videos, and they're perfectly addicting. And whatever video editing software they use--I want it.


In this case, M&N stands for Maltomeal and Nutella. Take a regular, boring old bowl of Maltomeal and add a tablespoon of Nutella. Amazing creamy, nutty, chocolate goodness. You want some now. Breakfast will never be the same.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

A Story for English

"I have to write a short story for English," my son told me. "But I can't think of anything. I don't do stories."

This would not have been a problem for me when I was in high school. I had a notebook full of short stories that no one had asked me to write. I could have taken my pick and turned one in.

It was a problem for me to figure out how to help. How do you get a story out of someone who doesn't like to think them up?

"Lets start with a setting," I said. "Where do you want your story to take place?"

Blank look.

"In a house? On the beach? In a car? On a school bus?"

Slight raise of one eyebrow.

"On the moon? In a banana tree?"

"A banana tree," my son said. "We could have two ants talking to each other."

It wasn't working.

"So maybe you could take a story you already know and change the characters," I suggested. "Like The Three Little Pigs, or Goldilocks."

"Mom, I can't do that!" he said. "I have to make it up myself."

Later, at the dinner table, I noticed how my son kept us all laughing with one clever joke after another. "You should write a funny short story," I told him. "You're good at funny."

"But I don't know what to write about!"

I reached deep in my mind, trying to find the essence of story. Where does a story come from? A story is a person in a place with a problem, right? I decided to try it. "A story needs a main character. Who do you want it to be?"

"I don't know."

"Boy or girl?"


"How old?"

"I don't know!"

"Older, younger, or the same age as you?"


"Good. Now where does he live?"


"City or country?" my husband asked.


"Good," I said. "Now, what does he want?"

"Candy!" my younger son giggled.

"Okay, candy," said my high school student with the writing assignment.

"And what is keeping him from getting what he wants?" I asked.

My son grinned. His eyes gleamed. The gears had begun to turn. "His mom."

In the next few minutes, a hilarious story took shape. My son got up from the table and went to the computer to get it down. And so a story is born.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Draft 9 R.I.P.

It was back to work today, which meant the start of draft 10, which is really and truly my final draft I mean it.

This time I'm working on one chapter at a time, getting everything just the way I want it, and printing it out before moving on to the next chapter. The previous draft goes into this box, bit by bit.

And then what am I going to do? I'm going to read my book on my son's new Kindle! Because that way it will look like a real book to my brain (which by then will have already read several other real books on the Kindle). My senses can tell the difference between a computer print-out of a manuscript in a 3-ring binder and a paperback-bound book. But I'm going to completely fool myself this time.

Maybe then I'll be able to see the book for what it is.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Writers Club Wednesday: Revising

Today we'll be talking about what to do when your story stinks. You could shove it in a drawer and forget about it, but chances are, there is something in that story that makes it worth saving. In fact, I once heard Brandon Sanderson say that any manuscript can be made publishable. The question is -- how much work is it going to take to get it there?

Our lesson will be a brief overview of the revising process, including rereading, redrafting, revising, and line editing. Also a word of caution - yes, revising can make your story WORSE. So always proceed gently and with caution. Continue to trust your imagination, trust your heart, and trust your ear. If you do that, you can make your story as awesome as you dreamed it would be before you wrote the first word.