Friday, December 28, 2012

Young Adult vs. New Adult

As recently as a month ago I had never heard the term “New Adult”, but now it seems to be cropping up everywhere. As a writer trying to finish a couple of YA novels the new designation intrigues me. And after I read New York Times columnist Leslie Kaufman’s article “Beyond Wizards And Vampires,To Sex” (December 22, 2012) I realized I needed to do some serious critical thinking about my WIPs.

For the one person left in the universe who has not yet heard of this new term, New Adult is a category aimed at 18 to 25 year olds. The characters are older, and apparently have a lot of sex. Parents also tend to be much less visible. While there has long been a cross-over appeal to YA books, with older adults also buying YA books, publishers are seeing greater cross-over numbers with the New Adult books.

As with other current publishing trends, New Adult got a foothold with self-published books. According to Kaufman’s article this is, in no small part, due to the fact that brick and mortar bookstores haven’t had a place to shelve New Adult. That concern isn’t a problem online and especially not with ebooks, with which the targeted audience is very comfortable.

When Kaufman mentions that some authors and publishers are now publishing two versions of books, one for the YA crowd (less graphic sex) and another for the NC-17 group (more sex), I sat up and paid attention. The WIP I am currently focusing on would lend itself well to this treatment. As I mentioned in my last post, When Ignorance WAS Bliss, I may choose to self-publish this particular novel. There is a fade to black scene when the female protagonist loses her virginity to the male protagonist who is a redeemed ne’er-do-well boy with a lot of sexual experience. I could keep the fade to black version for the YA market, and include a more graphic version of the scene for the New Adult market. There is another pivotal scene in which the redeemed protagonist is seduced by a demon straight from hell, which could also be given this treatment. Doing so would be rather simple and wouldn’t change the story at all. But it could open the book up to a larger market.

I know it is hard enough for experienced authors to keep up with the fast changing trends in publishing, but for the fledgling writer it can be a bit overwhelming and daunting. I think, though, that this is one trend I’m going to have to keep my eye on.

Happy writing! And Happy New Year!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Ignorance WAS Bliss

Every writer has experienced the moment when a heretofore unheard of, unknown character has appeared from the creative ether fully formed, fully voiced. These moments usually occur in those quiet in between times when our brains are uncluttered and open to the voices of characters, both known and new. (For me it is in the shower.) Sometimes the voice may be a gentle whisper introducing itself, other times it is loud and nagging: “Write my story! Write my story!” We ignore them at our own peril. Angie introduced herself to me loudly and insistently.

I put aside my WIP, and set to taking dictation from the seventeen year old who seemed to believe her story was unique and the true path to finding an agent. Yes, I believed this was the one. This was the story that would put me on the Young Adult map. Novel, original, Angie’s story would certainly lead to that coveted agent contract. And it was going to be so much fun to write.

Fast forward about 25,000 words. I’m perusing the YA section of a local bookstore and my eyes light on an attractive book cover that seems to be rather evocative of Angie’s story. My hands are shaking as I take it off the shelf and read the inside flap. Stomach flops. I flip to the first page. Yes, this book has eerie similarities to Angie, though there is plenty that is different, I tell myself. Ten minutes later I see another book with a similar theme. Gulp. This bookstore visit is no longer any fun and I turn and leave.

Shaken, but undaunted, I continue to plod away on Angie. Day job and life keep me from writing at the pace I’d like, but forward progress is made.

Fast forward another 20,000 words. I follow the blogs and tweets of several agents who represent children/YA writers. I open the blog of one especially prestigious agent to read that if she sees one more manuscript with the XXXXXXX theme (Angie’s story!) she will go crazy. She, and every other agent in the world, receives at least five such manuscripts daily. Oh dear. Oh dear. I had no idea. Truly, though I read YA, I had never read anything like my book. How and when and why had this happened?

And what to do now? Abandon the story I’ve enjoyed writing? Continue on just because? Continue on and self publish, since obviously there’s a reason these books are being written and catch that wave while I can?

Any long time reader of this humble blog knows by now I don’t easily give up. So I chose to finish the first draft of Angie, and am now working on the first rewrite. I’m not sure what I’ll do when I finish, but at least I will have finished another book. I’ll make my decision when that time comes. And if you have any advice, please leave a comment. I welcome any suggestions.

By the way, I know I disappeared from the radar for an unprecedented length of time. Between the day job and a long and nasty bout of pneumonia I fell behind on everything in my life. But I’m back and ready to forge on.

Happy writing!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

On Reading Stephen King's On Writing

Dear Mr. King,

Okay, so first off I should probably tell you I’ve never been a big fan of yours—I am sorry. It isn’t so much you, as it is your genre. I read Carrie as a teenager and it scared the living bejezzus out of me, so I never read anything else. Everyone I know loves your books, so this is really all about me, and not about you. I know you are a very talented and imaginative writer; your work simply gives me nightmares.

So, when I finally started writing after a lifetime of saying “one day”, everyone recommended I read your book on the craft, On Writing. I kept putting it off, because, well, sorry again, you wrote it and it might scare me, and give me writing nightmares, where pens and paper and computers come after me wielding axes and are covered in blood. Ewww.

But I finally decided to bite the bullet and read it. What a fabulous surprise when I could not put it down! The memoir half is riveting and one thing in particular became obvious to me as I read that section: I sadly did not live a painful enough childhood to render me a talented writer. Like Frank McCourt in Angela’s Ashes, you suffered some fairly grueling experiences and were not a robust, healthy lad. I had scarlet fever as a very young child—does that count for anything? I still remember the hallucinations, all these decades later—surely that should count for something!

But of course the reason for reading your marvelous book is for the insights into the craft. I’ve read numerous books written on the subject, but yours is the most helpful, straight forward, and most  enjoyable to read. If it is alright with you Mr. King I would like to share with my readers some of the wisdom I’ve learned from your book.

Oh, and I’ve decided to give a book or two of yours a try. But if they give me nightmares you’ll be hearing from me again. Oh yes…you’ll be hearing from me…

Monica Knightley

Some of the stand-out bits of Stephen King’s wisdom, as in ON WRITING: A MEMOIR OF THE CRAFT:
    1. “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” This is my favorite, because I’ve been doing this all my life. Easy. He adds, “Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life.”

    1. King isn’t a plotter. He puts characters in a situation and begins to narrate, allowing the characters to do things THEIR way. I’m not sure if this can work for all of us, after all he’s brilliant and can pull it off. I would love to write like this, and maybe someday I will be able to, but I’m not there yet.

    1. Dust off that copy of Strunk and White’s ELEMENTS OF STYLE! (Strunk and White would tell you there is an error in that sentence- let’s see if you can find it.)

    1. “Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.” Writers must be vigilant against overdescribing and underdescribing. I’m working hard to master this one.

    1. Use passive tense verbs sparingly. Active verbs are king.

    1. “The adverb is not your friend.” And “…the road to hell is paved with adverbs.” I know this. I’ve read this so many times. So I want to know this: Why am I teaching adverbs to my second graders?

    1. Avoid dialogue attribution whenever possible, and never, ever use adverbs in those evil attributions. “…while to write adverbs is human, to write he said or she said is divine.” So simple, so clear.

    1. When you rewrite you’re taking out all the things that are not the story. I’m posting this in my writing space. (see 9)

    1. A writer needs a writing space and it needs a door the writer is willing to shut, thus telling the world you mean business. Most important, this space should contain nothing that can distract the writer. He obviously (adverb alert!) wrote this book before the dawn of social media.

    1. “Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference.” Thank you Dear Husband for believing in me!

    Happy Writing!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Inception to Rejection or The Education of a Fledgling Writer

Long time readers of this humble blog know that once upon a time I had a great idea for a young adult historical novel that was going to require a substantial amount of research. Not wanting to wait to begin writing something and thus practice my craft I began writing what would become known as The Practice Novel while I worked on the research for the other. It turned out that writing TPN was great fun. I quickly finished the first draft and started working on the rewrites, because after all, this was to be a Learning Experience. Many rewrites later the editing began. When I finally had a finished, polished manuscript the next obvious lesson for me would the query process. As I shared in recent posts, I learned how to write the dreaded synopsis and query letter, picked three publishers to send this package off to, and with shaking hand pressed the SEND button. I had almost accomplished the full Learning Experience. Only one experience was left to be checked off the list, and I was looking forward to it: the rejection letter. I had queried with the goal being a nice form rejection letter. Then I could consider myself a real writer. But the great writing gods had different plans, and their sense of humor is quite twisted.

Four days after I hit that send button I received a request for a partial. Surprised and delighted I sent it off, knowing that the rejection was that much closer. How thrilling. I wouldn’t allow myself to get too excited about it because after all this was all being done in the name of education. My education as a writer. Just another step along the way. When the kind editor emailed me a week later to tell me she had enjoyed the first 50 pages and asked for the full manuscript I had a significantly harder time staying in my Happy Place of ‘this is all nothing more than a learning experience.’ I foolishly allowed myself to begin thinking that maybe, just maybe, The Practice Novel had a chance.

Of course the inevitable rejection arrived less than two weeks later. However, it wasn’t a form rejection, but a nice, long email explaining exactly where I had gone wrong. I learned a lot from that email, and I will treasure it always. Sure it smarted a bit for a day or two. Yes, I Googled ‘famous rejection letters’ and found great solace in reading rejections of what are now considered classics. (And you really have to feel awful for those twelve publishers who turned down Harry Potter.) But it is pretty exciting to be in such great company!

I’ve been rejected! I’m a writer! 


Monday, August 13, 2012

Fabulous Futuristic Query Letter!

A week away from home, chores, errands, and weeds that keep screaming at me…ahhh I can rest, recreate, and write, write, write. Or so the plan goes. I’m hoping to find lots of lovely, uninterrupted writing time while Dear Husband and I enjoy our week here in gorgeous Sunriver, Oregon.

Last week I ran the red, hot query letter that landed Cathryn Cade her first book deal, and today I’m posting Kylie Wolfe’s successful query. Though Kylie eventually won her book deal with publisher Lyrical Press through a contest, (Yay Kylie!!!), this query letter resulted in two requests for full manuscripts, making it quite successful by any measure. Her debut novel has a tentative release date of December 2012, and she tells me she is currently spending every spare moment working on the edits her editor loves to send her. I can’t wait for your book Kylie! Thank you so much for sharing your letter with us.
Here’s that successful query letter:

Dear Submissions Editor,

I have attached a synopsis and the first three chapters of my 80,000 word futuristic romance, Rayven's Keep, for your consideration.  It is the first book in a series of stand alone stories that follow four men who survived the devastating war that destroyed their home world.  Below is a brief summary of the story requested in your submission guidelines.  

All Tru Creighton wants is to be taken seriously by her wealthy and powerful family.  Restless and determined to prove herself she makes a bold move.  Thinking she is investigating a possible embezzlement of company funds and shipments that have mysteriously vanished, she unwittingly uncovers something darker and much more sinister.  It isn’t until it is too late that she realizes she has put herself in serious danger. Desperate for help she turns to the one man she hopes can rescue her.

Nick Rayven knows all about survival.  A former soldier, a refugee from a world destroyed by war, he has seen the dark side of human nature.  Trying to put his shattered life back together his focus is solely on carving a new place for himself and his growing business. Emotionally numb, the last thing he wants is to find his life again in turmoil. 

Running from an unknown enemy, tasked with protecting Tru, Nick discovers keeping her safe is anything but simple.  His hard won, ordered life is turned upside down by murder, drugs and an interplanetary conspiracy neither expected.  To complicate matters more, her very presence awakens emotions and feelings he long thought suppressed. 

Nick’s strong sense of duty prevents him from acting on the growing attraction between them, but Tru doesn’t have the same qualms.  She willingly follows where her heart leads and it is set on the enigmatic, honorable man fighting to keep her safe. 

I am an active member of RWA and was recently accepted for PRO status.  I also belong to both Rose City Romance Writers and Greater Seattle Romance Writer's chapters.  This manuscript is currently entered into the RCRW Golden Rose contest.

Thank you for your time and consideration.  I look forward to the opportunity to share the entire manuscript with you.
Kylie Wolfe

And finally on a personal note, though I am loathe to jinx things, (I’ve suddenly become VERY superstitious-I’m knocking wood as I write this), a week after I sent out my first queries I received a request for a partial! I’m trying to stay very rational, remembering that this first novel was always meant to be a learning experience. And what a learning curve I’ve been on throughout this query process!

Thank you again Kylie, not only for sharing your letter, but also for being so supportive as I’ve been going through the scary query/partial request adventure.

Happy Writing! 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Red, Hot Query Letter!

When last we met I was experiencing great angst over writing a query letter. Well, that letter was written and sent out this past week! I immediately felt sheer terror and a lot of nausea. On the other hand, finishing final edits on my first novel, writing the required synopses of varying lengths as well as the query letter, were all must-dos on my summer task list and I’m thrilled to be able to make those check marks next to them. For the two weeks that remain of my summer break I’m turning my attention to my half-finished YA paranormal and am enjoying the company of my main characters, Angela and Aaron.

My last post also included a request for writers who would volunteer to share their successful query letters with my readers. Two brave souls came forward with query letters! This week I’m sharing Cathryn Cade’s first, last, and only query letter she’s ever written. Yes, she has been so successful for Samhain Publishing that she’s never needed to write another query. She writes red, hot romance in both her Orion Series as well as her new Hawaiian Heroes Series. The two Hawaiian Heroes books, Walking In Fire, and Rolling In The Deep are sexy paranormals set in the beauty of Hawaii. (All of Cathryn’s books are available at Samhain, Amazon, and and you can visit her website at Thank you so much Cathryn for sharing this query letter!

Cathryn Cade
Her address

August 1, 2007

Christina M. Brashear, Publisher
Samhain Publishing, Ltd.

Dear Ms. Brashear,

I am seeking publication of my novella in your upcoming anthology, On the Prowl.
My story, ‘Tyger, Tyger, Burning Bryght’ is attached, complete at 25, 900 words. Attached also is the synopsis.

Tyger takes place in the future, in the far reaches of outer space. That is where the Tyger shape-shifters of planet Bryght exist. It is a sensual romance, set against a backdrop of adventure and intrigue. The space ship Orion is one of a fleet of huge cargo and passenger carriers that ply space between the galaxies. The crew is from such far flung planets as Earth, Indigo, Pangaea, Serpentea, and Bryght. This is the first of a series of stories about the Orion’s crew, and their sensual trials and triumphs.

Tryon Jag is a virile, successful Tygean, even owns his own firm, offering the prized services of his Tyger navigators to ships that wish to bring their goods to the remote planet of Bryght. He is returning home on the Orion when he is caught off planet at moon rise. This is when the males and females of Bryght go through their yearly mating shift. Jag is now a risk to himself and others on the Orion as he shifts into a dangerous, if gorgeous and sexy, half-man, half-cat, with the sexual needs of both raging in him. He needs a mate, to calm and soothe him so he can do his job, and get the Orion safely to port. Unless a female Tygean, preferably a young, and relatively innocent one, can be found among the crew and passengers to close herself into the ship’s jungle-like arboretum with him, the Orion may well be destroyed in the dangerous asteroid belt that surrounds Bryght. The fact that some eco-terrorists have smuggled a bio-bomb on board, intending to destroy the ships navigation system entirely unless their demands are met, only adds to the tension.

Calla Fellura, a lovely young crew member who secretly admires Jag, agrees to mate with him, and finds herself swept into a heated jungle of sensuality that she could never have imagined. Calla must surrender to triumph, and she does both.

I have been writing fiction for years, but only recently discovered the joys of reading and writing novellas – the perfect length of story for me, as I am also a busy elementary school librarian. I hope you will read Tyger, and consider it for your anthology.

Cathryn Cade

As a post script I should add that Cathryn is now such a successful writer she has recently retired from teaching and is able to be a full time writer. Sigh…

Next week I’ll be sharing a query letter from Kylie Wolfe, whose debut novel will be released this fall.

Thank you again Cathryn!

Happy Writing everyone!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Query Angst

There is so much going on in the world right now. Last Saturday we celebrated a wonderful, joyous family event. Yay!! The Olympics Opening Ceremonies are tonight. London feels like my second city so I’m especially excited about this one. Kristen Stewart cheated on Robert Pattinson. The list goes on. But at this moment the only thing I can feel is angst about the Query Letter.

Workable first drafts of the synopses are finished, and with all of the out of town family gone I can no longer put off the inevitable task. When last we met here in Blog-land I was crying about writing the synopsis, and now that I’m working on the query I’m looking back on that other task rather fondly.

 I was so blissfully naïve when I first started writing last summer. Aww. I had a couple of ideas for books, and how fun it would be to write them! I knew little or nothing about synopses, queries, platforms, marketing, et al. My romantic notions of what it is to be a writer were dashed when I first encountered these terms. But as I’ve said in the past, I’m not one to let a challenge deter me. So it’s been a few days of searching books and looking online for information on, and examples of excellent query letters. But, as in the case of the synopses, no two sources agree with one another. What’s a fledgling writer to do?

At the moment it looks like I will take the best of several sources and be true to my own voice. I think I’m beginning to see a way through. But I have a favor to ask my readers. I would love to run a few successful query letters here in my blog, perhaps one a week or so. If you would be willing to share your successful query letter please email me:  Of course you will get plenty of mentions of your book and where to purchase it! And you would have the wonderful feeling of knowing you’ve helped the newbie writers out there.

Thank you, and happy writing!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Writing the Damned Synopsis

Ah, it’s summer vacation! The classroom is packed up, the children are enjoying time away from school, and their teacher finally gets some writing time. It should be bliss. Except that first on my list of writing to-dos is “write the damned synopsis.” I’ve put it off as long as possible, but the time has come. (Cue music that indicates doom and gloom)

In doing my research on synopsis writing I’ve come across plenty of mentions that this is the one task almost universally dreaded by authors. That makes a fledgling writer feel a little bit better, but it still doesn’t help get the task done. When I decided I should go ahead and submit my first novel, (previously known in this blog as my “practice” novel, but now that I’m planning on submitting I’ve decided it should have a better appellation), I knew the most daunting tasks weren’t the rewrites, but the query letter and synopsis. So this past week, I put butt in chair and started working on the synopsis. Something quite passable came out of the task. I did my happy dance. But, wait, what’s this? Every publisher has a different page requirement for synopses? And they don’t tell you anything about required formatting such as line spacing? And one publisher doesn’t want pages, it wants less than 200 words? Come on! (Cue more doom and gloom music- make it gloomier this time!)

I was so pleased with myself that I was able to condense my 74,000 word novel into a two page synopsis. Well, I was able to make it two pages when I changed the line spacing from 2 to 1.5 on the recommendations of several agents’ blog posts on the subject. But I wanted to cry, and maybe I did just a little, when I saw that one of the publishers to whom I plan to submit requires a synopsis of only 200 words, or less. How to do that? Or better yet, how to do that and make it sound like something more than a blurb? Shouldn’t it, at the very least, convey the conflict, beginning, middle, and end? I set out to see what I could do. I must have at least ten different versions saved on my computer. None of them is perfect. But one, with a bit of tweaking, might do. I call it the ‘supermarket line version’—the way I’d explain my story to someone standing next to me in line at the supermarket.

If I learned only one thing about synopsis writing that I would share with another novice it would be the supermarket line method. But I would recommend that a writer BEGIN by writing the short, short version first, and distill the story down to its very most basic essence. THEN, move on to the fleshed out versions, be they two pages, or ten. If nothing else, writing the 200 word synopsis was an excellent exercise for me.

Now, that query letter… (This requires nothing less than a Bach fugue written in a minor key)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Fifty Shades of...Red

It wasn’t until some recent furtive staff room discussions on the Fifty Shades books that I learned I still, at this advanced age, blush. The joke began that I can turn Fifty Shades of Red. And after my Fifty Shades of Green post last week I found out I am not the only writer out there who gets nervous about the idea of writing erotica, or even just erotic scenes. I received several blog comments and was part of quite a few discussions on the topic of what I now call The Mother Factor.

Writing erotica is one thing. Making it available for the public to read is another. But the thought of having one’s mother read it, well, that is quite another thing altogether. The thought seems to be almost universally cringe-worthy. But you don’t even have to put it to the mother test, some of us don’t have mothers anymore, any person you know well can serve as the ‘mother’ in this scenario: a sister, grown child, co-worker, and most horrifying of all, a boss. For me, having it read by a co-worker or my boss wouldn’t only be embarrassing, it would result in the loss of my day job.

So that brings me to the point made by one commenter. How could I ever promote erotica? I would have to be under such deep cover, with a pen name no one could ever connect to me, that all but the most anonymous promotions would be out of the question. And as we know, no author can have a book published without committing to a lot of promotional activities, many of which are not anonymous.

I admit it. I am a nervous Nellie. My hat is off to the wonderful Cathryn Cade who was kind enough to leave a comment on last week’s post. She does it all with such aplomb. She is confident and comfortable with all her writing, including the erotic bits. And boy, I have to tell you, she does those well! But most impressive of all is the fact that she can talk about writing erotic WITHOUT turning Fifty Shades of Red. Even on the evening news. Wow!

Maybe in my next life I will be able to do that too. But for now I am doomed to turning Fifty Shades of Red.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Fifty Shades of...Green?

Before I turn my attention to the report cards awaiting my marks, I thought I’d spend a little time discussing erotica. I figure, why not?

Regardless of what you think about the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, one thing cannot be disputed: the trilogy has lifted the taboo against women reading/admitting to reading/discussing erotica. If my school’s staff room and my circle of friends (ages 25 to 60+) are any indication, women of all ages and from all walks of life have either read one or more of the books, are currently reading one, or are seriously contemplating reading the books. Curious what all the hubbub was about, I downloaded the first one onto my Nook, as well as another unrelated book, also labeled ‘erotica’, for comparison’s sake. I’ve now read the first two Fifty books, and as a mere fledgling writer it isn’t my place to judge their quality, but I will say the writer can really create a steamy scene. I’ve read a little of the other unrelated book as well, and it too is plenty steamy. Okay, I’ll admit it: reading erotica is fun.

And it’s the new hot book genre. I’m sure we will be seeing many more erotica titles showing up on bestseller lists this summer and fall. There are people in my writers’ group who write erotica, and had been long before this new craze started by Fifty. They are way ahead of the game; writers who want in on this game have some catching up to do. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve asked myself if I want in on it. Can I write erotica?

I don’t think so. I can write, in fact I have written, steamy. Plenty steamy. But the level of graphic detail required by erotica is out of my comfort zone. I have a couple of great titles for erotic books, but I don’t think I could ever go beyond that. Those titles will just have to find their way to other stories.

So am I fifty shades of green…with envy… that this author turned what was once a fan fiction story into a global bestseller? Sure I am. But I seriously doubt that I’ll be jumping onto this bandwagon. I might, however, secretly hope that other writers will!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Staying the Course

April and May are always exceptionally busy months for me. A lot goes on at my school and in my classroom during these months. I have many personally important dates on the April and May calendars. Throw in the occasional extra event or obligation, and you have a couple of packed months. Add to all of this a resolve to work out every day after work. Now you have months (or more!) that make all good intentions to write on a regular basis fly right out the window into the pollen laden spring air. How to find the time and energy to write?

I’ve now been writing long enough, (though the time can still be counted in months), to know that all writers have moments of self doubt, and that I am not unique in that way. But recently I hit a new low. I was on the brink of abandoning my still new avocation. For many reasons. And my inability to find the time and energy to write was not an insignificant component of that low. Dear Husband and I sat down, discussed my dilemma, and after some brainstorming may have come up with a plan that has a chance of working. He knows how important this is to me, and we were both willing to think a little outside the box. It’s still in its infancy, so I’ll let you know in a few weeks how it’s working out for me. But, here it is, Tuesday evening, and I’m writing a first draft of a blog post I hope to post this coming weekend. And I worked on one of my projects last night, and hopefully will tonight as well.

It’s too early for me to chicken out of this new adventure. I’ve never been a quitter, and I don’t plan to start now. No, I’m going to do whatever is necessary to stay the course. And I would love to hear from others who have faced this dilemma, and found a workable solution!

Keep writing!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Life in 140 Characters or Less

Watch out Twittersphere, I’ve joined you! I have no idea what I’m going to share with you, but I’m sure it will be salient, thought-provoking, and terribly witty. And all in 140 characters or less.

I’ve long known this day was coming, but I had been fighting it, kicking and screaming, hanging on for dear life before being thrown into the abyss. One infinitesimal step for social media, one giant leap for Monica. When I told my techie friend Chris that I had joined the masses and that I was sure I would most likely blow up the Twittersphere, since I have no idea what I’m doing, he was very kind and reassured me that that scenario was rather unlikely. This coming from a man who knows very well the damage I can do to anything technology related. So here I am, tweeting and following, and trying to figure out what a damn Timeline is. (With a capital T.)

I hope to see you in Twitter Land! (If you scroll down a bit, you will find my Twitter feed in the right hand column.)


Monday, April 16, 2012

Confessions of a Fangurl

It had been happening so slowly, so stealthily, that I had failed to notice it until I was fully in the throes of the obsession. I had become a fangurl, with a u, yes. The object of my obsession? The brilliant YA author Maggie Stiefvater. And while I LOVE and adore her Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy, I believe I fell into obsession after numerous readings of her entertaining and educational and insightful blog. Ms. Stiefvater (I dare not call her Maggie!) is not only a very talented writer, one who obviously has the soul of a poet, but she also is a musician, composer, and award-winning artist. (What’s the matter Ms. S., no time to find a cure for cancer? Cole St. Clair would have!!) Though I’m older than she is, I want to grow up to be Maggie Stiefvater!

Yes, it came on slowly. Interestingly, I was fortunate enough to see her and hear her speak at last October’s Wordstock before I knew who she was! Had I known what I know now, I hate to think how I might have humiliated myself. A few months later I started working on a YA supernatural, and was concerned about the format I was using, going back and forth between the two main characters’ points of view. But lo and behold, I started to read SHIVER and what was Ms. S. doing, but that very thing! That was encouraging, especially by the time I’d finished SHIVER and fallen in love with it. If it worked for Ms. S., it might, possibly, maybe, work for me, the lowly fledgling writer.

But then there was the blog. Oh my, the blog. I love her blog. She is so amusing. So intelligent. So knowledgeable. So willing to share her knowledge with her readers. Coming late to this party, I’m still working my way through past posts, but each and every one is a jewel. Her posts on the craft of writing are inspiring and extremely helpful. My iPad always has tabs open to one or more of her writing posts.
And Ms. Stiefvater posts frequently. Excellent posts. And she writes excellent books. Lots of them, thankfully…I have a lot more reading ahead of me. And she plays musical instruments, plural, and composes music. And draws. And is married with a family. When do you sleep Maggie?

If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of knowing Maggie Stiefvater’s work, check her out here.
P.S. I just went back to my blog post archive, and noticed that I first mentioned Maggie Stiefvater in my January 29th post. How fun to read that! I was so obviously in that early, new blush of growing obsession. How quaint. Sigh.

Monday, April 9, 2012

C'est Paris!

Paris est magnifique!

A delightful week, sunny and warm, spent soaking up all Paris has to offer, and finding writing inspiration around every corner. What more could I ask for?

While we saw all the regular tourist sights, and a few lesser known as well, the highlight of the week was a walking tour of a small section of the 6th arrondissement, (left bank) with the author of a book we read prior to our trip. (The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris is a memoir of the author’s years in Paris.) Originally from Australia, John Baxter is a friendly and engaging tour guide and storyteller, and we saw everything from the courtyard where Gigi was filmed to where Hemingway lived with his second wife, to the flat where the guillotine was invented, and the gutter that carried all the sheeps’ blood from the inventor’s trials and errors during the inventing process. The tour was followed by a wonderful afternoon spent sipping wine and eating fromage in his terrace apartment with its view of Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur, talking about writing and cinema, and all things French. (He has a backlist of 40 books, many of which are biographies of people like Woody Allen, Robert De Niro, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas etc.) Our other tour mate was a fascinating man from Australia, Lebanese by birth, who in his spare time is a playwright. So our afternoon turned into a wonderful ‘salon’ experience. Quite appropriate as Sylvia Beach used to live in the building, and Hemingway and Fitzgerald were often there to visit her! I kept having to pinch myself!

Of course the literary part of my trip wasn’t going to be complete without a café crème at Hemingway’s old haunt, Les Deux Magots, on Boulevard St. Germain. He would write all morning in the café, all the while nursing ONE café crème.

In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway writes about spending hours looking at a Cezanne painting and gathering inspiration from it. Enjoying all the magnificent artwork in the many museums in Paris, it was hard NOT to be inspired. In fact, two sculptures in particular have become sources of inspiration for one of the YA books I’m writing. And of course, inspiration could be found in the very charming city itself!

A perfect trip. A beautiful city that begs for another visit. Someday. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Hook 'Em

[T minus six days until Paris!]

One year ago this week I decided to begin a long put off writing career. I had a story in mind, one that would require a lot of preliminary research, but the bug had bitten, and there was no turning back. Of course the actual writing did not begin until my summer vacation, but the plotting and planning were in full swing.

So what I have learned during the past year? This morning I asked myself: if I had to pick the one most important lesson I’ve learned out of all the many daunting aspects of this craft, what would it be? The answer came to me quickly. Write a compelling and hook filled beginning. Hook the reader. Make them want to keep reading. And it is easier said than done.

For most of my reading years, I have happily read books which required a degree of patience from the reader. I knew that effort had to be put forth at the beginning of the book where everything was set up, before I could reap the joys of the more interesting middle and end. But today’s reader requires a faster start, and that has been a challenge for me. If they aren’t interested right from the start, they won’t stick with the book.

This is more important now than ever before. Last weekend I had the opportunity to hear the delightful literary agent April Eberhardt speak on the topic of today’s publishing trends. With the rising popularity of the e-book, writers must catch the reader’s interest faster than ever. A prospective e-book buyer can download a free sample of the book and decide within the first 1,000 words whether or not they want to continue reading and pay for that pleasure. There is no time to leisurely set up the story; the writer must plunge in quickly.

Speaking of books with great hook filled beginnings, I am finally reading Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. Probably the last person on the face of the earth to read it, but better late to the party than never. Wow, talk about a book that grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go! There’s a writer who really knows how to hook ‘em!

Next time I’m sure I’ll be full of stories of Paris! Till then…

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Lessons From Hemingway

As I prepare for my first ever trip to Paris at the end of this month, I’m reading Ernest Hemingway’s ode to the city and the life of writing, A Moveable Feast, just finished my third viewing of Midnight in Paris, and am about to begin the current bestseller, The Paris Wife. I prepare for trips in a slightly different way from the normal traveler. While the art and history are always enormous draws, I always seek out the literary history of the place as well. Our favorite London hotel is right around the corner from one of Virginia Woolf’s homes. I’ve sat in Charles Dickens’ favorite seat, the ACTUAL seat, as in same bench, at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub. (Rebuilt following the fire of ’66, that is 1666 of course!) And no trip to England is complete without the requisite pilgrimages related to Jane Austen, most recently to her grave. So, it is a given that part of my precious little time in Paris will be spent finding the haunts of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stein, et al. To prepare, some reading/rereading is in order. Hence, A Moveable Feast.

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know,” Hemingway advises us. Of course this lesson is told in the spare, unadorned language that is so Hemingway. I never cared much for his writing when I was forced to read it in high school and college. Too spare. Like baroque music, it lacks the flourishes and emotion of the romantics like Shubert. But now that I am trying my hand at his art, I read him with a different sensitivity. And this quote about the true sentence has been haunting me for days now. What is a true sentence?
Knowing Hemingway, the true sentence probably shows rather than tells. It uses active verbs, and very few if any ‘to be’ verbs. I doubt there would be a place for those dreaded adverbs. It would be full of sensory information though. The reader would know what those oysters taste like, what the rain sounds like, what the crowded bar smells like. It would be true.

I’m adding the ‘true sentence’ to my toolbox. And I’m excited for Paris: the art, the history, and the literary tradition. Bon jour!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Confused Fledgling Writer

Confused: unable to think or reason clearly.

Whenever I have begun a new undertaking, I’ve spent time and effort researching and learning as much as possible about the topic. For the first ten years of my teaching career I read innumerable books, took grad classes, and attended workshops to make me the best teacher I could be. While I still do some of the aforementioned activities, much of my teaching ability is now at a cellular level, deep within me. When I first took up gardening I researched and read everything I could get my hands on. Traveling to a new place? There aren’t enough guidebooks and websites to satisfy my need to know everything about the locale before I arrive. My latest undertaking is no different. As I begin my writing avocation I’m reading numerous books on the craft. Some, like Jerry Cleaver’s Immediate Fiction, have become my bible. Others are there as excellent references. Still others are being slowly read and digested. I’ve attended workshops, subscribed to Writer’s Digest, joined a national writers organization. I recognize and affirm my need to improve my craft. But as I read and learn more, I discover that not everyone agrees on the rules. This lack of agreement is confusing this fledgling writer. And then this morning I read something that made me to throw my hands in the air in exasperation.

Every Saturday morning I look forward to reading a favorite column on the craft of writing: Word Craft in the Review section of The Wall Street Journal. I’m not a WSJ reader, but one Saturday a few months ago I happened upon it, and now I never miss it. Written by a different author each week, it addresses topics from using setting as character, to market trends, to genre writing. Today, the novelist Lisa Lutz begins her column: The first rule of writing is that there are no rules. This is enough to make a fledgling writer’s brain implode. She goes on to say that if there is a rule, it is “don’t bore your audience.” That seems like all around good advice. I’m sure Jerry Cleaver would agree with that. I can certainly live with that one.

So I look at my bookshelves of books on writing. Rules, or no rules? I’m a believer in the old adage ‘don’t break the rules until you know the rules.’ Lisa Lutz knows the rules. I’m going to continue learning the rules, applying the rules, and working the rules until they are in me at a cellular level. Then I might begin to break them.

But in the meantime, I will try to remember to never bore my audience.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Reading and Writing YA

On Friday night I had the opportunity to attend a reading that was given by two YA (Young Adult) debut authors. Marissa Meyer (Cinder) and Megan Miranda (Fracture) not only read from their books, but discussed the writing process, and their individual roads to publication. It was enlightening, as well as inspiring. As two of the books I’m working on are YA I was excited to get to attend the reading and hear what they had to say. But as I was leaving the bookstore I reflected on something each woman had said: they both read a lot of YA, almost exclusively. I asked myself: am I reading YA? Or perhaps more to the point, am I reading ENOUGH YA? I headed home and worried about this. Barely through the door, I went online and started Googling YA booklists. One in particular, I think it was the Goodreads list, popped up on my screen and I saw book after book that I have indeed read. In actuality, a fairly large proportion of my reading time has been dedicated to YA novels for the past several years. But over those years, the line between YA and mainstream adult has blurred for me, as I’ve gravitated to what interested me, and time and time again what intrigued me was YA literature. Whew!!

Still, I wasn’t entirely satisfied that I was doing my due diligence as a fledgling YA author. I felt I needed to read more…now. I should interject at this point, that I am currently reading no fewer than nine books. Really not a great idea to add another to the pile. But for some reason audiobooks don’t seem to add to this feeling of being overwhelmed; I can listen to them as I do chores! So I loaded Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver (The Wolves of Mercy Falls #1) onto my ipod. This is my first Stiefvater book. Last fall at Wordstock I got to hear her speak on the topic of YA writing, and was very impressed by her. I’d been intending to read her work ever since, but, well, that enormous pile of books on my nightstand! And an hour ago I found her blog, and what can I say but WOW! What a talented writer. I’ve only just started Shiver and am already in awe of her writing.

So I was doubly thrilled when I discovered one particular post on her blog. Maggie has graciously put what amounts to a lesson from a master’s class on the craft of writing on her blog. She dissects a rough draft of a chapter from her book The Scorpio Races and shows, step by step, the evolution it went through from rough draft to published chapter. It is a very detailed and educational post. Every Fledgling Writer should check it out.

And it gets even better! She invited several other YA authors to do the same with something they had written, so there are many excellent lessons on rewriting, revising, fleshing out, as well as the dreaded ‘hitting the delete’ key.

Happy Writing!

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Highs and Lows of Writing

            That title should more appropriately read: The highs and lows of a FLEDGLING writer. While I’m sure every writer experiences them, I believe these wild swings are much more common in those of us who are just beginning our writing career. My past three days are an excellent example.

            On Saturday I was thrilled to be able to mark off New Year’s Resolution number 6, when I attended my first meeting of the writers group I’ve been considering joining for the past several months. I was delighted when no lightning bolts struck me because I’m actually a fraud. (Though I did keep one eye to the sky.) Everyone was kind and welcoming. And I loved it! Best of all: I wasn’t the only first time attendee. In fact, when I mentioned my pen name to the friendly woman sitting next to me, also a newbie, she said that she had read my blog! I wanted to ask her how long she’s been living in Russia, since most of my non-family and friend page views seem to come from Russia.(Spammers!) The group felt like a comfortable fit for me, and I look forward to a long association with them. This would be a HIGH.

            Being a three day weekend, I had time to write! I’m especially excited by the progress I’m making on my YA supernatural. While I haven’t written much about it in this space, I think this may be the one that will one day have a chance of being published. It has a strong, inventive storyline, interesting, complex characters, a very clear voice, and is a joy to write. I also made headway on the latest rewrite of The Vampire Gabriel. I had been struggling with the beginning, and with getting the reader straight into the story, and I think I may have solved part of the problem today. This would be a real HIGH.

            I was so excited by the Gabriel rewrite progress that I began wondering if I should go ahead someday in the not too distant future, and submit it to a few of the publishers that accept non-agented manuscripts. So I allowed myself a few minutes of fantasy, pulled out the book on writing query letters, checked the submission guidelines for one publisher, and had a fast, and miserable crash to the depths of LOW. While I was happy that much of the query letter is already written in my head, or on my Vampire Gabriel blog, I had forgotten about the all important paragraph where you detail your past successes, be they previously published books or articles, contests won, etc. I’m a fledgling writer. I have none of these. How do I query without them? This would be a deep, deep LOW.

            But, I’m nothing if not resilient. And my next chore will be learning how to get around that difficult bit of the query process.
            I’m looking forward to moving on to the next HIGH!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Adverbs Revisited

Recently I have been anxiously reading through my manuscripts, looking carefully and thoroughly for dreaded adverbs. Fretfully scanning page after page I have sadly found more than I like to admit. When one of the offensive adverbs is found, I forcefully and soundly hit the delete key. Surely, there are better ways to express myself, than to lean pathetically on weak adverbs. Apparently, using adverbs heavily is a sign of an immature writer.

Oh dear. In truth, not just in parody paragraphs, I do indeed use adverbs. Probably too many.  But then, I am an immature, FLEDGLING writer. As I continue to improve my craft I am trying to weed out some of my bad habits. But adverbs are just so handy.

Last night I was reading the chapter on the evils of adverbs in Roy Peter Clark’s excellent book, Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies For Every Writer.  After reprimanding the reader he added a disclaimer: the wealthiest writer in the world today uses adverbs in her highly popular books. Lots of them. Look through any one of those Harry Potter books on your bookshelf, and you will discover J.K. Rowling’s affinity for the dreaded adverb. God bless you Ms. Rowling! I love a good adverb too!

But I’m still going to work to find more direct, and interesting ways to write that “he whispered softly in her ear.” That attribution is a perfect example of why adverbs are usually superfluous. If he whispered something then it was by definition in a soft voice. But when an adverb is used to modify a verb in a new and interesting, and unexpected way, it can be used with impunity. Clark uses the example of “Killing Me Softly”. You don’t expect the word ‘softly’ to be used to describe ‘killing’. So it works, and the adverb has earned its place in that phrase. It would have been overkill (excuse the pun) to say “Killing Me Fiercely” as killing is most usually a fierce act.

So, I continue to hunt for adverbs. However, like those that can be found in a Harry Potter book, a few just may be allowed to stick around.