Friday, November 08, 2013

Doubt 2.0

“Our doubts are traitors,
and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”  Shakespeare

“Doubt … is an illness that comes from knowledge and leads to madness.” 
 Gustave Flaubert, Memoirs of a Madman

It is strange that when certain signs come together to exclaim that we are on the right track and so very close to victory, some of us choose the perverse path to self-doubt instead of celebration and momentum. That is all me. Then again, I have been so close to the carrot that I could taste every molecule, and then it still slipped away from me, leaving me hungry and despondent. The novel that I eventually signed with my agent first languished with a "dream" editor for a year before it was rejected, then made a short run of submissions only to be stuck in the drawer as a backup for the next "big thing." I had thought I was on my way, than <> it was gone.

Three years later, here I stand with the SCBWI Work-in-Progress Grant in hand, an incredible Highlights Foundation workshop under my belt, fabulous feedback and support from my Montreat Gals, and I'm terrified I'm just a fraud. Or that I will screw up what I started. Is this a common disease among writers? 

I think the answer is probably "yes." (Either way, I'll take comfort in the possibility that I'm not alone.)

Perhaps my biggest problem isn't doubt, but the insane pursuit of perfection. I tend to have a hard time turning off the internal editor as I write. The upside is that when I decided to send in my WIP for the grant competition, it was already in decent shape (though far from perfect). The down side is that it takes me FOREVER to get the whole draft done and I my bleed a million words for ever ten that end up on the page.  I get stuck in the mire of research and plot and character perfection that sometimes brings the whole process to a halt. 

I'll never stop writing, no matter how many tumbles I take down the rejection hole. There are days, however, when I want to run screaming from the planet and say "I quit!" The pressure to prove myself has always haunted me. Whether that comes my tumultuous childhood or it's in my DNA, I couldn't say. I just know that I learn to let myself off the hook a little. So, here is my pledge:

I solemnly vow to allow myself to thoroughly suck it up, 
  •  That I will bind my internal editor with twine and throw her in a dark corner until I have pounded out a full draft, 
  • That I may delete entire chapters when I'm done and love it, 
  • That I will have faith that I can write a beautiful, creepy, haunting scene and back it up with action,
  • That I will not judge myself (at least until I've done at least 3 major revisions),
  • That I will not think about time or feel pressured to beat the rush (whatever that is),
  • That I will love my suckage and call myself WRITER.

In the spirit of NaNoWriMo, I'm off to crank up the word kind and embrace the craptastic first draft experience as I never have before.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Retreat that keeps on Treating...

Last week I shared a bit of our Mountain Writers' Retreat, and now you can have a little slice of the magic for your very own. Just pop on over to the talented Jen McConnel's Blog for her run-down of events and a giveaway! Nothing like a little swag to keep the creative juices flowing. Be sure to follow this dynamic crew on Twitter and become an honorary killer...of superfluous words, that is.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Ms. Brown's Not-So-Vicious Circle

In a bear-proof house tucked into the mountains of North Carolina, eight women gathered around a kitchen table to talk about writing, life, and anything else that came to mind. A little wine and chocolate greased the wheels, as my fabulous weekend retreat in Montreat began.

There were war stories of agents and editors and rejections and triumphs, but the cream was the writing, itself, and the amazing women with such distinct voices and talent. Somewhere between the Zinfandel and the chocolate-covered peanut butter pretzels, I realized that we were creating one of those circles. Not a vicious circle like Dorothy Parker's or some bohemian movement like the beat poets of Ginsberg's generation, but our own little salon of YA/MG writers.

We spent our days writing and swapping bits of prose and advice as we nourished the friendships that had been planted online and now blossomed in our mountain hide-away. At night, we shared pieces of our YA stories, pieces of our souls. @Jen_McConnel led us through the Scottish Highlands with a selection from her upcoming release The Secret of Isobel Key. @laurenspeiller touched us with a beautiful piece of historical fiction set in Hawaii. @julianalbrandt danced us through creation with beautiful myths from her work-in-progress. @kiperoo moved us with her lyrical, lovely tribute to the poetry of Rilke. @PatEsden took us from the auction house to the darkest and creepiest place beneath the porch in her newest YA thriller. @RConstantine14 made us laugh and remember what it is to be a teenager in love with her wonderful upcoming release The Promise of Amazing. And our fearless leader who organized the whole shebang, @JayeRobinBrown, made us laugh and cry with selections from her upcoming release No Place to Fall as well as her newly polished work, Popsicle. If you haven't already, follow these amazing writers and twitter and in the bookstore.

Writing is a solitary business. It takes us to strange places that we often never show others, let alone ourselves. Having a circle of friends who understand your journey can light up the dark in ways that not only keep you sane, but make you a better writer. So many distinct voices. So much passion and creativity.

Thank you, my fabulous, not-so-vicious circle of YA geniuses. We shall kill many darlings in the days to come, but believe me—it's justifiable homicide with a freaking rainbow at the end.

Friday, September 06, 2013

To Young Writers

As an adult writer of fiction for young readers, I have sailed the high seas of rejection, weathering the tumultuous storms of writing one manuscript after another and querying for representation and publication. Too often I've been tempted to park my boat in dry dock and just forget it, but something always pulls me back. Perhaps its the love of writing. Or maybe my never-ending admiration for what it means to be a teenager. Or even the inescapable voice that just refuses to quit whispering stories to my tired old brain. Whatever it is, I have learned to listen and follow my bliss, no matter how hard it gets. The old adage is true: nothing truly worth having comes easily.

Along the way, I have met young people who love to write, maybe even live to write. Some of them have scarcely been on the planet as long as I've been writing YA fiction, but even they can feel defeated and frustrated by the process and by what feels like an almost impossible dream—future publication.

To you amazing young writers, I offer a few lifelines:

  • Never stifle that inner voice — If you feel like writing it, write it. Don't judge yourself before you even start and decide it's stupid. You never know where one little idea or word or turn of a phrase can lead you. And don't be afraid to make a mistake. Every writer has that secret drawer of crap that turned out to be too purple or lame or just a dead-end idea. You won't know until you throw it out there and see if it floats.
  • Build yourself a support network — You don't have to write alone anymore. Gone are the days when a writer lived in some squalid, isolated shack to suffer under the weight of his art alone. Social media and the interwebs have connected writers in the most amazing ways. Check out  Write On for some great chat boards and general information. Teen Ink also has a forum dedicated to teen writers as well as author interviews, reviews, and other cool topics. For a jaunt down under, check out the Teen Writers Club. The point is, you don't have to do this alone. Writers love to commiserate and share their battle scars as well as their successes. You'll find a lot of writes just need to connect with someone who can relate.
  • READ, READ, READ — If you're writing, odds are you love stories. (Duh!) Sometimes we get so caught up in trying to create our own masterpiece, though, that we forget to feed our creative soul. Take time to read. You'll be amazed at how much your own writing is rejuvenated and even improved by a little contact with the works of writers like John Green, Laurie Halse Anderson, Maureen Johnson, or Neil Gaiman. Whether you love graphic novels, mysteries, sweeping romance, hard-hitting realism, or silly fun, read it.
  • Visit your favorite writer —Well, don't stalk him or anything, but find his website and do a little exploring. Troll for information. You might be surprised at how many authors have writing contests, blogs, or advice pages or other kinds of interactions with their fans and young writers. Meg Cabot has a Fiction Club forum where you can share your experiences and have fun with her books. You can learn a lot by talking about other people's work. Veronica Roth answers a lot of burning questions on the FAQ page of her site. And don't be shy. If you're a fan, contact your favorite author.
  • Publishing isn't everything...yet — Don't worry about publication at this point. If you are interested, some of the sites mentioned above offer opportunities to publish your work, and there are some traditional options with magazines and other outlets as well. That said, sharing your work can teach you a lot, even if it isn't published and paid for. Consider submitting your work to your school literary magazine (if you have one) or the newspaper. If you know other people who are interested, start a critique group. A lot of adult writers, published and unpublished, are part of a critique group or writing club. While criticism can be hard to take sometimes, it is a necessary evil that will help you grow. And if you are serious about being published anywhere, you have to learn to take criticism and rejection. It's a fact of the writing life. 
  • Find a mentor — Even established writers have that one person who can guide them and encourage them in their journey. If you ever get a chance to meet a published writer, take it. If your library or school has a writer visit, sit up front, ask questions, and if there is time and opportunity, chat with her. You can also connect with writers online, often through some of the chat boards listed above.
  • Give yourself permission to suck —You will have those days when every word you spill onto the page truly, deeply sucks. (At least you think it does.) Some writers will use that as an excuse to quit. Even crappy writing is writing. You can throw it away later. For now, just get it out there. If you are really stuck, take a little time to read instead of write. You will often find a new sense of perspective when you come back to writing.

Above all...KEEP WRITING. 

So hop in your little boat, batten down those life-lines, and let the tide roll. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

When it Really, Really Happens...

Warning: This post littered with excessive exclamation marks and potential gibberish. 

Pinch me! Pinch me again! Yes, it's real! I actually won the SCBWI 2013 Work-in-Progress Grant! 

The official announcement was made on September 30th, but I was notified a week earlier. I'm sure Chelsea thought I had blown more than a few brain cells at the other end of the phone, but I never imagined I could actually win, especially considering some of the amazingly talented people I was up against.

Here's the scenerio...

I'm cooking dinner, ramen broccoli soup for my pescetarian/vegetarian daughter, when the phone rings. The caller ID says Los Angeles, CA and I think, Who do I know in L.A.? (The grammarian in me would correct that to whom, but I'm not going to quibble at this moment.) I put the ladle down and answer the phone.

"Is this Mary Ann Scott?"
"Yes, it is."
"This is Chelsea Mooser from SCBWI."
"You are the winner of the 2013 Work in Progress Grant."

Just at the moment my husband walks in and wants to know who is on the phone. Of course, I can't talk. I can hardly breath! Meanwhile, I'm hearing warm congratulations in my ear and the name of my humble little work-in-progress, soon-to-become-a-real-book spoken by a stranger who actually knew what it was.

After a few instructions about staying mum on the social networks, etc., she offered further congratulations and said goodbye. I hung up and stared at my hubby, trying to force a bit of air into my lungs so I could speak again. Here's the extra cool part. When I told him what had just happened, he totally got it and cried and celebrated right along with me. He knew exactly what this meant.

A week later, SCBWI announced the official results, and I was finally free to blab all over FaceBook and Twitter and everywhere else.  I was already on my yearly holiday with Ghost Son in North Carolina so I wasn't there to pluck that precious envelope from the mailbox, but something awesome would be waiting for me when I got home.

And now...the bulk of those 2000 simoleans is already spent on airfare and the Highlights Foundation More Room to Create Workshop!  October is going to be an awesome month!

Now, I just have to finish the book (without screwing it all up) and get that book deal. I don't know...I might actually pass out cold when that happens!

Monday, July 08, 2013

Kinesthetic Plotting...

The writing journey is precarious at the moment. I'm balancing anticipation and fear for my finished MS while trying to get a handle on the new WIP and move forward, and I haven't had much success with managing either. Today, I decided to dive into a different approach and see where I land. As you can see, I think I'm hitting every end of the, notecards, and old-school journaling.

I ADORE Scrivener.  I have laid out so much amazing information and research using electronic notecards and such. However, this is the first time the plot of a WIP has really eluded me. I know where I am starting and I pretty much know where I want to end up, but all that glorious stuff in the middle is just a giant puff of smoke and funhouse mirrors. Everywhere I turn, I smack my face into something else but I can't even tell what it is.

Thus begins the odyssey through notecards. With a purple sharpie in hand, I decided to brainstorm some plot elements and slap them down on those little rectangles of doom so I can shuffle them, order them, shred them to bits, or plaster them on the wall—whatever it takes. I just needed to be able to feel those pieces in my hands, to believe that I had some control over them. After a handful of purple-spattered cards hit my blotter, I realized I needed to talk to one of my main characters in more depth.

Out comes the journal. I journal through every book I write. Sometimes it's my own thoughts about the process or pieces of research or little epiphanies. Journaling helps me process my feelings about the work as well as the work itself. Now I've found myself in a sort of psychoanalysis/case history session with this girl and wow! I did not see that coming! Another epiphany lights up the night and a few more notecards hit the desk.

Soon I'll be ready to lay my cards on the table, literally and figuratively, and flesh out the basic gist of this book. I just needed to go hands on in a more substantial way, I guess. To feel something both hard and fragile in my grasp. You might argue that manipulating a mouse our tapping on a keyboard is just as hands on, but trust me. It's different.  There is just something primal about bleeding ink on card stock and sound of tearing paper or the sensation of 90-lb pressed cotton between your fingertips.

Thanks to this little excursion, I've just picked up some major character motivation and development, a strong motif, and some direction. There may not be any words on the ticker at the end of this day, but there is progress. Definitely progress.

Monday, June 24, 2013

YA Saves...

Today, on one of the rare Georgia summer days that hasn't broken 90º by noon, I decided to take my lunch to River Front Park and read. I parked myself on a swinging bench in the shade, unpacked my sandwich, and opened Ender's Game to where I had left off. I had just settled in when a young man (maybe 18 or so) parked himself in the swing across from me.

At first, I wasn't sure how to read him. This is in the middle of the city and all kinds of people congregate at the park. His clothes were a bit worn, but clean. He had neat dreds/braids and a small backpack. He stretched himself out on the swing and lay back to enjoy a little peace.

After a bit, he asked me what I was reading. When I told him, he asked what it was about. I described the book to him, and he made an interesting assessment: "I doesn't sound too far into the future." After another bit of silence, he remarked on the idea that a child would save the day. Then he asked me if it was the kind of book he could find in the library. I smiled and said, "Absolutely!"

We sat in silence a bit longer. Then he said that this book sounded a little like a series he had read earlier—Artemis Fowl. Again, I smiled and said I had read some of those too.

It would have been very easy to assume this kid was a thug or a drifter simply based on his appearance. But there was such an honesty in his expression. I have no idea what his daily life is like, but I'm certain it has not resemblance to my own or that of my kids. No matter what else is going on in this kid's life, he loves books. Good books. He seemed to hunger for another one and welcomed a suggestion, a bit of direction that would lead him straight to the library with a purpose.

Obviously, there is a lot more to his own story that I could never guess, but I couldn't help but hear a certain phrase banging around in my head as I left. YA Saves.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013


Like many writers, I have watched with interest as the whole epublication/self-publishing model has exploded over the last few years. Plenty of friends who take me seriously as a writer have asked, "Why don't you just publish it yourself?" Of course, I have a long list of reasons why I would prefer NOT to do that, but John Green summed it up so eloquently in his ABA Indie Champion Award acceptance speech (embedded below).

Books are about ideas, and frankly, writers spend a buttload of time in their own heads. Too much time to see how self-indulgent or purple their writing gets sometimes or where the structure runs awry in the name of some really cool idea that just doesn't work when you actually read the book as a book. We can lose sight of the reader and what their relationship to our precious bundle of blather will be. Editors, publishers, booksellers—they keep us honest. The connect us to our readers by helping us write better books.

Which leads me to another, perhaps even more salient point...books are about connections. Isn't that why we write? To connect our experience to others who might share the same emotions or need the release, the catharsis, or see our vision so we know we are not alone in our insanity?

Already, my agent has helped me craft my stories into something more than a nice idea. She could see when I was shambling through the furniture in my head, unable to find the right path, and then she would feng shui the hell out of it so that I could invite others to the party who might actually have a good time without banging their knees and tripping over ridiculous prose.

Legendary editor Patti Gauch gave me the permission I needed to go big or stay home. She reminded me that I do have a voice and I shouldn't be afraid to use it and more importantly, that I have an audience who wants to hear it.

I want those middlemen in my life. I need them to help me build this amazing thing because it matters. It's not just a sale or a blip on the screen or an icon on my bookshelf app. It's something real. I can't wait to see my books in print and launch my first book signing in a shiny little book shop stuffed with eager readers. I can't wait to talk to the booksellers about what they liked and didn't like about my work.

Thank you, John Green, for getting it so right. These amazing middlemen—they are the brick and mortar of good storytelling, no matter what our egos tried to persuade us to believe. We must build it together.

Monday, April 29, 2013

April #WIPMADNESS — Final Check-in

Sorry for the late check-in. I've been under the weather and as it turns out, I might even have Strep. Perfect! ((cue the sigh and swoon))

So, I am a few chapters short of my goal, but I am thrilled that I have revised 17 chapters and converted those poor souls from 3rd person to 1st person. From the looks of it so far, it just might be working. By the end of the week, I hope to have it ready for my agent to take a peek.

How have the rest of you finished this month of madness?

Now it's time to set some goals for May.  Are you ready to keep it going?

Big THANKS to Deb for volunteering to host in May.  Everyone check in on her BLOG next week.

And we have more THANKS to Kim who will be hosting in June and Angelina who will be hosting in July.


Monday, April 22, 2013

April #WIPMADNESS Week 4 Check-in

I have no great wisdom, no huge milestone today, just hope and perseverance. Last week was difficult in so many ways. My personal battle with RA had me wanting to stay in bed all week, but I fought through and managed to revise a few more chapters while working the day job.

That seems so microscopic compared to what our country went through last week. The bombings, the manhunt, the explosion in West Texas, and other violence around the country. I'm proud of our first responders and our police and FBI agents who followed the bombers to the end, of the brave firefighters and medics who rushed to help the victims of the fertilizer plant explosion, and all the citizens who stood strong.

I can't help but recall last summer's YA SAVES campaign and the whole argument over whether YA literature has gotten too dark. I think of all the young people affected by the events of last week, whether physically wounded or emotionally damaged by it all. No matter how scary or dark this world gets at times, they can always find catharsis and company in a book. As long as we keep writing, they will never be alone.

How have you all weathered this storm?

Monday, April 15, 2013

April #WIPMADNESS Week 3 Check-In: Legacies

I've had my head buried in the day job and in some serious revisions all month, but I came out of the hole this weekend long enough to enjoy a little Native American culture. At times, I get so frustrated with this crazy passion that has me bleeding in pixels and slaughtering my darlings on a daily basis. Nevertheless, I cannot keep myself from it. I must write. And occasionally, I must find inspiration in diversion.

As I arrived at the festival Saturday morning, a Cherokee man was telling one of the great stories of his tribe. Lessons of compassion and violence and justice and tradition. A little while later, a family raised in the Aztec tradition danced a welcome to the day. Among them, two little girls who shook their rattles and blew the wind whistle right along with their parents.

As the young father spoke his invocation and taught us about the significance of the dance, he also spoke of raising his children in the Aztec culture and keeping their traditions alive through the generations. The most beautiful moment came as he referred to his two young daughters and how he wanted to teach them the ways of their ancestors, a task which required a lot of patience from the whole family. Then, with the youngest fussing a bit behind him, needing something at that moment, he calming explained, "She is instructing us now...."

Perfect. We often forget that children teach us. If we listen, if we watch closely, we can learn volumes from them. As a writer of fiction for young readers, I often struggle to remember what it felt like at their age. I try to draw on my own experiences and relive those tangled emotions. At best, success comes sporadically. If I watch my son and daughter, however, I read the emotions in every word, every little gesture, every exasperated sigh and crazy riff of laughter. Even those moments of conflict can teach us if we remember to look at with the eye of a student rather than a dictator.

We often think they just don't get the world as it is. This is just a phase that will pass and we all just have to survive it.

It is so much more. I hope that I am awake enough and thoughtful enough to keep learning from them, to see the world as they see it. To see the world as it is and give them what they need.

So how about it, Wipsters? How are your April goals going? Any epiphanies or fabulous diversions that got you back on the writing track this week?

Monday, April 08, 2013

April #Wipmadness Check-in Week 2

After splitting some spring break time and frying myself and Ghost Daughter on the beaches of Panama City, I'm ready to dive into some serious madness. I got the feedback I needed, and I'm filled with fresh motivation and determination to whip this MS into shape and get it out there in the next month. It won't be easy and I expect some ugly days ahead.

April always seems like such a short month. I don't know why, but it does. Even so, I'm hunkering down and doing some killer revisions all month long. I guess that sort of shoots last week's goal statement right in the face, huh?

How is it going for you, wipsters? Do you have your second wind?

Monday, April 01, 2013

Out of Control — April WIPMADNESS CHECK-IN #1

Welcome back, Wipsters! I hope March Madness launched your WIPs and writing goals onto a speedy path of enlightenment and publication dreams. A huge thanks to Denise and all the hosts and participants who inspired us all month long.

If you did not quite make your goals, don't despair. You are not alone. And this is the place to check in every Monday in April for a little motivation and commiseration.  I had a rough go last month primarily because of circumstances beyond my control. I hate that feeling. Just like this poor sot with the lawn mower. You have a plan and the best of intentions, but some unexpected force drags you in another direction. My mistake last month was pinning my goals to the actions of a 3rd party. It's not her fault she didn't get to it as quickly as I would have liked and I knew I was taking a risk, but I was full of hope.

Now it's time to shake off the road grit and patch my pants as I launch into my WIP for another month of madness. My goal is to get at least 3 chapters done. That is the only goal I am setting this time around. If my big benchmark from last month decides to put in its bid, I'll honor it in whatever way I can. Until then, I'm taking charge of this lawnmower and I'm gonna rock it!

What are your goals for April?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

March Madness Day 28 Check-In: What's in a Name?

With Spring Break in full swing for me, I've been bogged down with cleaning, re-organizing, building shelves, running errands...everything but writing. Putting words to paper, that is. I've continued to compose and deconstruct in my brain no matter what the rest of my body is doing.  But let's start with another March Madness winner:

Charlie Holmberg

YAY! You can check out the list of prizes HERE and then email Denise at d(at)denisejaden(dot)com

Now, back to the madness. A quick bit of musing over that ever elusive piece of perfection—naming your characters. I have written mostly historical fiction, so I often research popular names of the era in which I am writing to keep it authentic. There also has to be a certain rhythm and sense to the name. It must carry a kind of affective quality that elicits the right emotion or sense of connection.

I don't go the Charles Dickens route and choose names that literally sound like some quality of the character—Mr. Bounderby from Hard Times comes to mind—but I do look for that little something that reflects the overall reaction I would like my readers to have. You know, that gut reaction that leaves a certain taste in your mouth, especially when it comes to the antagonist. I recently tweeted a question for my writing tweeps and got some great feedback on a potential nickname for a character in my current book. I shared some description of the character and his interests and got some excellent, thanks all of those who offered some help! Candiflyte Candi, I'm using one of yours :-).

My question for all you wipsters today is, how do you choose your character names?

By the way..."Marty is a nice name!"

Thursday, March 21, 2013

March Madness Check-in Day 21 — The Devil's Reject?

Wow, Wipsters! We have already hit the official start of spring and we're 9 days from the end of this month's madness. Are you patting yourself on the back yet?  Well, let's start with a prize, then.

Today's winner is:

Congratulations! You can choose from the fabulous list of prizes HERE. Then email Denise at d(at)denisejaden(dot)com and let her know your choice. 

Okay. So, I just can't help myself. I have to continue with our Back to the Future theme and share this little gem—the rejected pitch:

We get a little taste of rejection and the hell that is summing up your story in a way that sells it just enough but not too much. Some of you may have been subjected to my recent rants on the evil synopsis as I banged out my application for the SCBWI WIP Grant. It does seem a little psychotic to write the synopsis before I finish the story...or does it? I have to say that every time I put myself through this hell, I do end up with a better understanding of where my story could go and how it might be interpreted.

I say could because the WIP synopsis and the MS synopsis are two completely different critters. One you write because you are a masochist...okay, maybe you write it so you can win a grant or something..., the other you write so you can get a book contract.  Usually the second looks almost nothing like the first by the time you emerge from the flames.

When it comes to the evil synopsis, I usually commit one of two sins. 1) I spend all of my time creating atmosphere and emotional arcs, or 2) I summarize too many details of the plot.  So what is the magic formula? Like everything else in writing, it's about balance and honesty. Easier said than done, right?

In my google mania, I found a few sources that had some good advice to offer:

  • Where the Map Ends offers a great preamble about what a synopsis is NOT and then clarifies what it is. Jeff tends to be more script oriented, but it is a good sketch of things in general and he describes a few different kinds of story structures.
  • Writer's Digest's Chuck Sambuchino offers a fabulous list of sample synopses from films.
  • Cristy Burne gives us more general advice and a sample of her own process.
  • Glen Strathy lists the basic elements and suggests a notecard approach that allows you to organize your pieces in a hands-on way before you even start the draft.

But if you want a really no nonsense guide to writing your synopsis, check out Cynthea Liu's Anatomy of a Synopsis. She really takes the "dreaded" out of "synopsis" and boils it down to the basics.

One bonus to writing the synopsis before I finish the book is the string of epiphanies that line up as I force myself to put the pieces together. There they are...little nuggets of revelation that have got to make a better book. And a trail of blood to the finish!

Wherever you are in the process, just remember to look for the breadcrumbs (aka drops of blood) that might reveal a brave new path for your book. Speaking of GPS locations (wink, wink) is the madness today, wipsters?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

March Madness Check-in Day 14 — Are you a Control Freak?

A huge congratulations to our fearless leader Denise Jaden on her fabulous triumvirate! Read all about it and don't forget to check in at her blog tomorrow for more madness!

And another winner for some March Madness Swag:

Melissa Grey
Go to the Prize Post to select your prize from that fabulous list of goodies and email Denise at  d(at)denisejaden(dot)com with your choice. Keep rocking the madness!

Speaking of madness, this business is a tough place for those who like to be in control of their own destiny. To carry the Back to the Future metaphor a little further, I feel like George McFly sometimes, waiting for something to come to me and always questioning whether I'm worthy of it. Do I have the guts to get out there and claim my "density?"

I guess I do have the guts, since I'm on my 4th novel and I've survived the Everest of rejection that is my filing cabinet. But how do you handle that unbearable anticipation? What do you do with the emotion once you have subbed your baby to an agent or editor or even your crit partners?

Many of you have already described what you DO with your time while you are waiting, like working on a new project, cleaning the house, digging a ditch to bury the bodies in... (ahem, that's just me). But what is your emotional journey really like? Can you pack it away in a drawer and forget about it until it comes and finds you?

I obsess. Can you imagine? Me? No! Yes...

Once that baby leaves my outbox, the clock in my head starts ticking like a rabid beetle. My mind wanders between delusions of grand success and visions of abject failure. I see the book deals racking up on PubLunch and note that not one of them is mine. I feel the walls closing in as if I will smother from lack of oxygen that can come only from a response, no matter what the news.

I can be in the middle of a project or working my day job and suddenly my stomach tightens around those spastic little butterflies and I hear the ticking again just because a random thought about my submission crept into my consciousness. It takes huge restraint not to air my blow-by-blow lament on social media or compose raving emails to any possible target. At least the mailman is safe from that potential retribution.

Of course, waiting is only one part of the control issue. One of these days, I'll meet my "density" and then I'll have to battle for control with an editor, a marketing department, and who knows what else. But you know what? I can handle that...

Thursday, March 07, 2013

March Madness Check-in Day 7: Nice to Meet You

For those of you who are new, WELCOME TO THE MADNESS! If you are just joining this crazy wagon, pop over to Denise Jaden's blog to share your list of goals for the month, no matter how big or small, dark or daffy.  There will be prizes and lots of cheering as we head through a month of madness and write our socks off!

To follow up on my latest quandary, I'm exploring new introductions to a completed ms. Not to the story, but to my characters. Has your main character ever played hard-to-get? You think you know her, but she's keeping you at arms length and you can't quite figure out why? Never mind liking her, I think in some ways, I'm a little intimidated by mine.

To be fair, my main character is a historical figure, so it's kind of like walking up to the most popular kid in school and saying, "Hey! Will you be my friend?" Meanwhile, I'm dressed in hand-me-downs and a bad haircut that scream NERD. "Oh yeah, and I really want to break into your diary and share every last detail with a million people."

Okay. So there it is. I am just not cool enough to hang with my main character. I'm a walking adolescent cliché!

Hang on...maybe that's not it. Maybe it's the "Oh yeah, and I really want to break into your diary and share every last detail with a million people" part.

And why would that be a problem? Because those are my secrets. My insecurities. Every character we write has something of ourselves in them, right? Why is this one so different?

I'm not sure if I can answer that, but I think I might be putting too much pressure on her to be perfect. Poor girl. I always say every character needs her flaws, but perhaps I'm holding this ragged teen to an unreasonable standard. She holds the weight of my world on her tiny, fictional shoulders and I'm scared to let her stumble. So what do I do? Avert my eyes and hold my breath and toss her out there to fend for herself with nothing more than a cardboard shield.

My goal for this month is to get to know her and let her really tell her story. That might mean changing an entire 3rd person novel to a 1st person novel, but if that's what she needs to tell her story...

How are you getting along with your MC?

Don't forget to check in on Denise Jaden's blog tomorrow for the next leap into March Madness!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Can I Get a Little Perspective?

Who says only 1st person narrators are unreliable? I'm a little frustrated with my 3rd person narrator, but I would really like to give her a chance to do her thing. The problem is, she's holding back. It just might be time to let someone else tell the story.

I recently revised my latest manuscript and really built a much more solid plot and characters who sometimes do what they want no matter what I try to offer, but something still seems to be lacking. My beta reader approves of the overhaul in terms of plot and structure but finds it a little difficult to relate to the main character for reasons unknown to her. Something was still coming between the MC and the audience, and neither of us can put a finger on it. Could it be my attempts to keep the narrative historically authentic? Could it be that I not delving deep enough? I honestly don't know.

Working the line between an authentic voice and accessibility in a YA historical can be a difficult task, and I find that no matter how much I want to hold on to the nuanced observations a 3rd person POV can offer, I have to question her reliability. Frankly, I don't think she's giving me the whole truth. In the end, I might just need to hear it all from the horse's mouth, so-to-speak.

Sparked by the challenge and never willing to settle, I have spent the last several days playing with yet another revision. I have taken the first 3 chapters and let my MC tell her own story.  The first chapter wasn't too bad. She mostly gabs about herself, anyway. The second chapter got a bit more challenging when she had to bring her sisters and a pair of ghosts into things. The third chapter, however, brought a man into it, and oh, what fresh hell was wrought? Isn't that always the way of it? Of course, the MC hasn't quite figure out men, anyway, so this whole business could just make or break the experiment.

My 3rd person narrator tried to warn her. She tried to explain the subtleties that tend to elude a 17-year-old girl, but the MC didn't seem to be listening anyway. No matter how much the narrator tried to explain the subcranial workings of resolute but lost man, my MC could not be reached. So now my dear MC gets to try it on her own. On the bright side, I get to see her perspective a little more sharply, which might force me to do more than just narrate. On the down side, more than a few of my treasured darlings will end up on the chopping block...or remodeled into something unrecognizable. (Of course, that might be a positive as well.)

How many other writers out there are playing with POV? Has it made you crazy or offered an epiphany? I'm holding out hope for a startling revelation and the answer to a prayer...

And don't forget:  MARCH MADNESS IS ALMOST HERE! Be sure you check in over at Denise Jaden's blog for the big launch on Friday, and check in here every Thursday!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

An Interview with RATGIRL

Today, we have a guest on our blog. YA author Gayle C. Krause has stopped by with a new friend from her upcoming release Ratgirl: Song of the Viper.  Let's listen in as Gayle interviews her fascinating lead character along with a few other interesting friends...

“I’d like to thank Ghost Girl for having my characters and me, as guests on her blog today to discussRATGIRL: Song of the Viper, released in February 2015 from Noble Romance-Young Adult.
My name is Gayle C. Krause and this is Jax Stone, aka RATGIRL.”
Jax nods. “Hi.”
“So, Jax, I’m sure the readers would like to know more about you and RATGIRL: Song of the Viper story. Could you tell us something about yourself?”
“Well, when the story starts, the only thing I hate more than my life is the rats. They’ve taken over the streets and buildings, and they’re even in my bed. I guess it’s to be expected since I live in an abandoned city sewer. But they make my job raising Andy even harder. At five, my brother can’t take care of himself yet, not in this hellhole.”
“So your life circumstance is not ideal.”
Jax shakes her head and sighs. “Not by a long shot. Global warming has practically devastated the earth, and the sun’s deadly rays make it impossible for us to spend more than two hours on the surface. And, there’s not enough food, thanks to him.” Jax tilts her head toward the last chair on the stage.
Culpepper, the tyrannical mayor, leans forward in his seat, his beady eyes narrowed.
“Let’s not exaggerate the facts, girl. The sniveling crybabies left in my city make me sick. They act like they’re the only ones who have suffered from the sun’s attack on the Earth. If they had any gumption they’d pick themselves up and start working to make a better life for themselves. I did.”
Jax answers. “I tried, but you made it difficult. Thanks to Nonna’s teachings, I’m the only one in Metro City who forages for wild edibles, while others starve.  We eat our main meal in the morning, just before sun-up. Once it rises we descend into our hidey-holes, until it’s safe to come out again in the evening.
Bah! I should have known you were one of those insufferable ECOS.”
“Next to Jax, is the most heart-stopping, swoonworthy male character in YA novels, today. He’s got a body like the statue of David, and a heart filled with love, not only for Jax, but for all mankind. He’s a true ECO.”
Jax clasps his hand and a crimson haze blossoms on his cheeks.
“You’re embarrassing me, Gayle. I just workout and eat right.”
Jax grins. “Easy for you, since you live in Antarctica in 2511. It’s the only sustainable continent left on earth. Jax’s cheeks blush, too. I’m only kidding. I’m sure the readers would love to know him as well as I do. His name is Colt. Colt Conrad.”
 “Colt, what do you have to say? You’re seated between these two. Is that on purpose?”
“Yes. Syl, here, employed me, and my Air Caravan to bring food to Metro City, but he took it all for himself and his cronies. The 
homeless only got what The Altar Boys could smuggle to them. Every time I pulled into the old station I noticed Jax observing me bartering with the desperate people, who traded whatever family heirlooms they had left, for food. Eventually our paths crossed, 
and the rest is history.”
“Bah! History! I’m the one who had a plan to return Metro City to its glory days, with my new underground city.  But first, I needed 
to rid the city of the vile rodents that killed my wife and son. “
Jax bolts to her feet.
“But you couldn’t do that without my help. And once I rid the city of rats, you reneged on our agreement.
“You did that all alone? Can you tell us more?”
“My one goal was to get Andy to the New Continent, where he could live a normal life but when Culpepper kidnapped him, along 
with the city’s homeless children, it made my goal a daunting one. Desperate to get Andy back I formulated a plan and used my 
hypnotic singing voice to carry it out. He left me no choice. I took all the children of the dying city to safety. But I couldn’t do it 
without my friends and Colt.
“Thanks Jax. Colt, I remember something about the secret tattoo on your bicep. Could you tell us a bit about the ECO’s?”
“Sure. The ECOS were a group of environmentalists, who tried to preserve the Earth’s resources when severe global warming first started to affect our lives. They imported trees that would survive in warmer temperatures, and moved to the country to grow their 
own root vegetables. Their numbers included scientists, agriculturists, horticulturists and anyone environmentally minded. Jax’s grandmother and my grandfather were two of the founders. They passed their knowledge of sustainable living on to us.”
 So Sylvanis Culpepper, you’ve taken on the role of villain. How are you?”
His gruff and selfish nature pours out with his words. “That depends on whether you’re at the beginning of the book or the end.

“I can still see the tumult in your relationships, even now that the story is over. So can you tell Ghost Girl’s readers where they can 
find RATGIRL: Song of the Viper to read your story for themselves?”
It’s available as a paperback and as e-book for Kindles, Nooks and all other e-readers.
Thanks so much for having me.

Thank you for joining us today, and we wish you the best of luck. Does anyone have any questions for our feisty guests? 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Living Past the Angst

The last months of 2012 brought a host of trials to the Ghost Clan. Some will pass into the ether as if they never existed while others will haunt us until we can reconcile our own failures or forgive ourselves for bad decisions. One thing that hit this writer hard, however, was the depth and the visceral reality of what it means to be a teenager.

As I watched my child struggle with the pressures of making decisions at the age of 15 that could forever change his life path, I thought, “My god! How did I ever survive it?” I’ve always said that there wasn’t enough money in the world to entice me to relive my childhood, especially my adolescence, but living it through my son gave that sentiment a whole new meaning. We tend to romanticize teenage “angst” and talk about it with a sense of nostalgia or condescension, but there is nothing romantic about what my kid is going through.

It’s insane! We stuff their heads full of what we think is important information and ask that they “learn it” in the most ridiculous ways, test them using the most ludicrous methods and demand that they perform because their life and the funding life of the school depends on it, then ask them to decide what they plan to do with their entire life, eternally punishing them for mistakes or minor lapses in judgement, all while their brains are swimming in hormones and growing new synapse connections at the rate of a rocket breaking through the atmosphere. How does anyone survive that?

So far, my little Ghost Clan has managed to hack our way through it, but it ain’t pretty. As I struggle with my current WIP, I realize that I can’t rely on my own memory of an angsty adolescence as a point of reference because time has warped my sense of urgency and, surprisingly, healed some of the insecurity that is essential to that experience. So I write these characters with a fresh look at their hell. Determined to get to the “real” heart of it, I mark my son’s experience and learn from him what my soul struggles to remember because it has worked so hard to forget. 

What kind of “wake-up” have you had recently that is influencing your writing?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Running with a Coyote

Anyone who knows me gets why my handle is Ghost Girl. I believe that there is a connection between this world and the world beyond and sometimes, those we have loved slip through the veil to remind us that we are never truly alone.

Over the weekend, a friend shared with me a beautiful spiritual story that inspired him to create a stunning picture book.  Lee Harper's  COYOTE takes us on a journey with a boy through the lonely, lovely paths of his world as he rides his bike past all the landmarks that have become home to him.  Late in his trek, he meets a mysterious coyote who runs with him and becomes a part of his world for one breathtaking moment.

Lee Harper's illustrations are magical and warm and his tale moving. Inspired by the death of his own brother and his own journey through that loss, COYOTE will surely be a friend that will run with young readers everywhere.

For Lee, the book was a labor of love and healing. He finished the illustrations about a week before the Sandy Hook tragedy. Though he had intended to take this book through the traditional publishing process, the Newtown events have left such a devastating sense of loss that Lee and his wife, Krista, thought COYOTE might have something more to give. They decided to publish this book on their own and are offering it through Amazon. 100% of the profits from this book will go to help the families affected by the Sandy Hook tragedy.

As another famous writer once wrote, "Those who love us never really leave us." May we all have that moment to run with a coyote...

Lee Harper is the author/illustrator of THE EMPEROR'S COOL CLOTHES and SNOW, SNOW SNOW. He is also the illustrator WOOLBUR by Leslie Helakoski, TURKEY TROUBLE and TURKEY CLAUS by Wendi Silvano.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Expiration Date

As I watched the tribute to Jody Foster last night at the Golden Globe awards, I couldn't help but feel like the amazing shrinking woman again. She is barely two years older than I am, and we are celebrating a life-time achievement award for her career while my career has yet to begin—at least in any official capacity. Watching all those accomplished people in their glittering gowns and perfect hair as they live their dream was both inspiring and nauseating.

I can't help but feel somehow it's too late to get it right. I wonder if I should have started chasing this dream earlier or even if that would have made a difference.  I was a very different person at 20 than I was at 36.  While I feel guilty every time I get that twinge of resentment, I have to admit that watching 20-somethings break into the business with a bang sort of stabs me in the gut. Wunderkinds abound and here I sit feeling sorry for my 48-year-old self who has yet to get that big book contract.

Don't get me wrong. I have no intention of giving up (not today, anyway), but I sometimes wonder whether 48 is too old to ever conceive of a writing career. Is there an expiration date on a writing career?

According to one blog, the average age of a first time published author is equal to the meaning of life: 42.  Apparently I've reached beyond such metaphysical enlightenment and am on my way to oblivion.

After a little more checking, however, I found a few encouraging nuggets of information.

  • Raymond Chandler launched his career at 51 with The Big Sleep.
  • Sue Monk Kidd set things abuzz (sorry, I couldn't resist) at 54 with The Secret Life of Bees.
  • Alex Haley hit it big with Roots at the age of 55.
  • The beloved Laura Ingalls Wilder was in her 60s when she found her place in the annals of literature.

I'm not looking for awards or wide acclaim (though I would take them if they were thrust upon me), but I am hoping to write for an audience who will actually read my books and want to read more. I want to say something worth hearing, share something intimate that might inspire someone or jar a reader's creativity. I want to know that what I write is actually worth something more than 255k on my laptop. Is it too late?

I'm going to say NO and keep working on my craft.

And I must give Ghost Hunk big snaps for sensing my doubts and encouraging me last if he could read my mind. With a word from me, he just gets it.

In her acceptance speech, Jody Foster alluded to the fact that she is beginning something new now. That 50 isn't the end and that she is eager to break new ground. I'll bet dollars to donuts that come this time next year, there will be a shiny new kids' book on the shelves with her name on it.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Stymied by the Invisible Audience

I've decided it is time to professionalize myself one step further and finally build my website. The problem is I cannot decide on a target audience. YA readers? Other writers? Industry people? Who would visit silly old me online anyway?

I have looked at the sites of several authors I admire and found a variety of approaches. John Green's pithy, nerdfighting site seems to be aimed at savvy YA readers who love his books (and most likely are crushing on him in a big way—who can blame them?). Of course, I don't have even 1/8 his wit, so I'm not sure how I would frame my content.

Maureen Johnson has a little something for both readers and writers. Her clever bio takes you through her journey to publication, hitting each book as a signpost. Her blog is directed at writers and offers entertaining insight into the business of writing.

Sadly, Libba Bray's site has been marked by our administrator (yes, I'm writing this post at work) as a potential malware menace and has been blocked. Curses!

Meg Cabot has such a wide array of publications and her website focuses on her reading audience, including contests and discussion boards.

All these examples are people who have already hit huge success, celebrity status even. I'm at the beginning of my journey, so what do I focus on?  I don't have any FAQ's yet or any published titles other than a magazine article.  But I need to build something.

I've also looked at some great sites from writing buddies—Kimberly Sabatini, Joyce Moyer Hostetter, Marissa Doyle—all at different points in the journey.

I guess what it comes down to is a battle with my lack of confidence. Writing is a world of constant rejection, self-doubt, and crazy ideas that could be brilliant or could be crap. It is hard to feel I have anything more than my finally published manuscript (whenever that happens) and then to whom do I offer it? What should my website intend? I guess it's just another existential crisis. (That's why I write YA!)

If anyone is out there and actually reading this blog post, do you have any ideas? Suggestions? List of no-no's? List of must-haves?