Of blogging breaks and scavenger hunts.

It's that time again, ladies and gentleman! As of this month, the Dancing with Dragons blog is three years old!

found at wfmu.org
*cheers*
*wild applause*

As longtime readers know, I go on a blog/Internet hiatus every July. I've been putting it off because there are so many things to talk about this month (contracts! writing strengths! cute animals!), but it's time. So I'm taking a break from blogging for the next week.

But don't despair! I have something AWESOME for you to do on Monday, instead of coming here. Colleen Houck, author of the Tiger series, is organizing a YA scavenger hunt! The hunt will be Monday only and is going to be huge.

Here's the full scoop from Colleen's blog: (I wasn't able to find links for everyone here, but they'll be links in the scavenger hunt.)


Join authors Josephine Angelini, Angela Corbett, Andrea Cremer, Kady Cross, Heather Davis, Bree Despain, Clare Dunkle, Marley Gibson, Abbi Glines, Colleen Houck, Tara Hudson, Elana Johnson, Alexandra Monir, Lisa Nowak, Gregg Olsen, Amy Plum, Beth Revis, Lisa and Laura Roecker, Inara Scott, Sophie Jordan, Lani Woodland and many more on August 1st for a YA Scavenger hunt. Fabulous surprises wait around every corner. Don't miss out on exclusive access to bonus chapters, news on upcoming books, cover reveals, and much much more! 

Your special all access pass is good for one day only. All the bonus material heads back into the vault on Aug 2nd so circle the date on your calendars and join us as we celebrate what's new in YA fiction! To join the hunt simply select one of the above authors and start at their homepage, then follow the links provided.


Considering all of these people have awesome books and blogs, exploring them should keep you busy for at least a week.

See you in a week! Go forth and scavenge!

A call for happy things...

Recently I feel like the whole world is angry. People are fighting about politics, fighting about religion, fighting about the state of publishing...everywhere I turn these days, it seems like someone is pissed off.

And being a non-confrontational sort, this makes me very tense and grumpy.

I try looking at pictures of cute baby animals...




pictures found at zooborns.com

It doesn't always help.

I know life is not just sadness and tragedy and angry people, but sometimes it's hard to remember the good parts.  So I putting out a call for happy things. Good stories, great books, cute pictures or anything that makes you laugh.

What makes YOU smile?

EDIT: What makes me smile is my awesome blog readers. THANK YOU for the happy, all. You made my week. :)

Identifying Your Writing Strengths, step 3.

Happy Monday everyone!

After a brief detour to squeal over my contract, we return to the last step for identifying your writing strengths.

(For those of you just joining us, we've been trying to identify writing strengths by figuring out what we love in a good book. The idea, which I stole from Chris Baty's book No Plot? No Problem!  is that if you love something, than you understand it and will probably be able to do it well. )

In step one, we listed books we love.

In step two, we figured out what those books have in common

Now in step three, it's time to get specific.

First, zero in on what exactly you like about the things on your list. If one of the things on your list is "great characters," then ask WHY these characters? What is it that you love about them? Is it because they're funny? Confident? Messed-up? Do you like characters that are romantics? Characters that can kick ass?



Lizzie Bennett or Katniss Everdeen?


In the examples I've been using from my own list, Mercedes Lackey and Tamora Pierce both have excellent worldbuilding. But there are a lot of ways to worldbuild.

So I asked myself why. Why did I like this worldbuilding so very, very much?

The answer surprised me. I like both author's worlds because of their incredible diversity. Both Lackey and Pierce put all kinds of different cultures into their worlds, and one of the most engaging things about the books for me is watching all those different cultures and points-of-view play off of each other.

Once you have narrowed down your list, look at your own stories. Are those themes and characters showing up in your books too?

As I said before, I like diverse worlds, worlds where every group does things differently, and where cultures can clash. Which is kind of hilarious because House of a Thousand Dolls is about a place where your destiny is determined by what House you train in. Almost everyone in the book has a completely different idea of what's important in life, and that can cause...problems.

If the themes and characters you love are showing up in your writing, then congratulations! You've definitely found a writing strength.

found at thechangeblog.com

What if there are things on your list that you haven't written? Try them on for size. Maybe you won't be as good at them as you want to be, at least at first. But if it's something you love to read, then maybe it will be something you love to write.

And if YOU love to write it, the chances are we'll love to read it.

Happy writing!

OMG A CONTRACT!

So, I thought I was done sqeeing over this book deal. And then I got this.



It's real. Like real paper. That says HarperCollins on it. And has my NAME.

I lost it. Danced around all day, told everyone I saw, petted it, etc. I even bought shiny new signing pens!




And I took pictures! This is me signing the contract.



And this is me looking dreamily off into space.



I can't stop grinning. But I don't want to do the happy dance just for myself, so tell me...

What are YOU happy about today?

Identifying Your Writing Strengths, step 2.

(If you haven't read Monday's post on Identifying Your Writing Strengths, step 1, go give it a quick look. This next part will make much more sense if you do.)

Okay, everyone got their books in mind, the ones you LOVE?

Now it's time to get analytical. Identify in one or two words what you love about each book. Write it down, make a list if you want. (it might help later.)

Go with your gut on this one. I told someone once that I loved Mercedes Lackey because of the worldbuilding, only to have them say they thought her worldbuilding was awful. (Psshh! What nonsense!)

Remember, we aren't talking about what everyone thinks these writers are good at, or what they're famous for. We're talking about what YOU love about them. There are no wrong answers here, and you will not be graded.



If you can't figure out what draws you to a book, then list what you feel the book does well. For example, Tamora Pierce is excellent at worldbuilding and great female characters. In fact, Kel, the MC of the Protector of the Small quartet is one of a very few heroines I can think of who's...well...ordinary. She has no magic, no special talent for fighting. Kel just works really hard to be a good knight. We care about her because she's so determined, and because she's intensely protective of the weak and helpless. But she is very much an Everyman character.

Now once you have identified possible things you love about each book, look at the list. Do certain themes come up again and again? (Like worldbuilding does for me, for example.)

Put those on the list of things you love and start looking at how you handle those things in your own writing.

Sometimes you'll have more than one obsession. For example, in addition to my longtime love affair with great worldbuilding, I adore (and will reread) lots of Alistair Maclean. Maclean does suspense, and his worldbuilding is NOT what draws me in.

Instead, Maclean does something else very well, he draws on my love of Super-Competent Characters and good plot twists. I ADORE a good super-competent MC, and I love it when a character you thought was in a fix suddenly turns out to have been in control all along.

So, look at the books you love and list why you love them, or what they do well and you'll be well on your way to discovering your writing strengths. We'll do some more analysis this weekend but until then...

What did you come up with?

Identifying Your Writing Strengths, step 1.

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about what makes a person unique as a writer. I'm trying to figure out what I'm passionate about, but I'm also trying to identify the things I put in my stories that are uniquely ME. What aspects of storytelling am I good at? And more importantly, why?

As I have done since I was a little kid, I turned to my books for answers.

see the larger version here

In his book No Plot? No Problem! Chris Baty talks about making a "wish list" of all thing things you love to see in books. The rational behind the wish list is that what you love, you also understand. And what you understand, you will be able to do well.

(For example, I HATE books where people fall in love on the basis of nothing but ferocious physical attraction. I find that sort of thing wildly unbelievable, and so if you asked me to write a love-at-first-sight story, I would suck at it. Other people do not suck at it, in fact a lot of successful romance authors make a living selling well-written stories in just that line. I will never be one of them. And I'm okay with that.)

So when I started doing all this thinking about passions and what makes a unique storyteller, I started taking a good hard look at the books I love.

And I mean the ones I LOVE. The comfort reads. The books I get lost in, no matter how many times I've read them. The ones I can read over and over again and still reach for when nothing else is making me happy. The ones that get shabby from living in purses and backpacks, the ones that get wrinkled from bathwater steam.

You know. Those books.

This weekend, those books were some of the Valdemar books by Mercedes Lackey and a whole mess of Tamora Pierce.

So that's step one, identify the books you love. We'll talk about step two on Wednesday, but until then what do YOU love?

Which books are those books for you?

Home again, home again...

Just got back from my trip to Boise where I didn't touch a computer all weekend. (I know, it's shocking.)

It was a good trip, but now I just want to sleep. So please enjoy these tired tiger cubs.

found at zooborns.com

See you later!

Conversations only writers have...

(Some background: I just completed a very rough draft of my new middle-grade project. The book is set on the island of Hawaii in the late 1700s, and at the end, my heroes have to complete three challenges to save the day.)


ME: I did it! I finished the first draft of Green as Water, Gray as Stone!

HUSBAND: Awesome!

ME: Yeah, I got stuck at the end though. I couldn't think of anything dangerous for my main character to do as his third task.

HUSBAND: Really? Why not?

ME: Because there's nothing dangerous around that area. No poisonous snakes, no big predators, nothing. I mean, there are huge centipedes, but that's about it. The whole book leads up to this final challenge, and when I got there I realized I had nothing for him to do.

HUSBAND: What about sharks? Or volcanoes?

ME: But there are already two shark scares in the book! And the volcanoes are too far away.

HUSBAND: You should use a volcano anyway.

ME: There's no time to get them all the way up the mountain. It's the end of the book. Besides it's all right, I figured it out.

HUSBAND: Really, what did you do?

ME: I threw him off a cliff...


And that, children, is how books get written. 

First draft crazies and self-imposed deadlines

Hi all! Sorry the blog's a bit late today, but I've been getting ready to go to Boise for a wedding. I leave on Wednesday, and I've had to do all the usual stuff.

Work

Laundry

Packing

Write the last 15k words of my new middle grade in the space of four days...



Yeah.

Here's the sad thing. I do not HAVE to finish this project before I leave. It's a new book and it's a companion (sort of) to a book I've already written. And we're not submitting again until the publishing process for House of a Thousand Dolls is well under way.

Basically? No one cares if the first draft of this book is done by tomorrow night. It will do nothing but make me feel better.

BUT I WILL FEEL SO MUCH BETTER YOU GUYS.

I hate first drafts. I mean, there are some good moments, but mostly it's endless pages of slushy writing and hastily marked notes. "Finish this metaphor with something interesting!" "That sentence is awkward!" etc.

And with historical fantasy (which is what this one is) it's even worse. I do a LOT of research before I start, trying to get a sense of the time period and the culture, but I always have to go back and fill in appropriate details. At some point I abandon all pretense of trying to get it right and enter the no man's land of "make crap up and fix it later."

Actually, make crap up and fix it later is pretty much my first draft motto, and this always makes me feel vaguely guilty. I don't like the feeling of making things up about another culture, even though I leave careful notes and always do several research passes afterwards.

But there's always that little voice in the back of my head that says OMG if anyone sees this mess, not only  will they think I'm an awful writer, but they'll think I'm a horrible historian because all these details are WRONG. AHHHHH!!!!!



And that's why I'm sitting here. My house is a disaster, I'm only half-packed and I haven't showered in *cough* way too long, but if I can crank out 5k words tomorrow, I'll be done. The draft will go on my hard drive to age properly, the nagging voices will shut up, and I can go to Boise with a clear head.

And then come back and start first-drafting the sequel to House of a Thousand Dolls.

Sigh.

Me and the BBC: Human Planet

Every now and then something comes along that is so fascinating that you can't stop talking about it. Lately that thing for me has been the BBC's documentary series, Human Planet.

Guys, this is writer gold.



Let me give you some examples of the kind of stories that show up in this show.

In the Rivers episode, the Khasi of Northeast India have a unique solution to the problem of too much rain and overflowing rivers. They grow LIVING BRIDGES from tree roots. (Doesn't this seem like something elves would do?)


found at Human Planet Explorer 

In the Deserts episode, a Tubu woman teaches her ten-year-old-daughter how to navigate the shifting sands of the Sahara in order to find the only oasis for miles around. Only women and children make this particular journey, because the Tubu believe that only women have the necessary navigation skills. *grin*

found at digiguide.tv

And in the Mountains episode, a sixteen-year-old Kazakh boy named Berik takes his first steps to becoming a hunter, include catching and training a golden eagle as a hunting partner. It MIGHT be the most epic thing I've ever seen. (Either that, or I'm a sucker for men in furry hats.)

found at Human Planet Explorer 

As a fantasy writer and an obsessive worldbuilder, watching this series was like opening a magical toolbox full of  new ways of looking at the world. I found these stories spellbinding, especially since a  number of them were about kids. Mostly though, Human Planet fed into my love of people and all the ways we find to survive and thrive, no matter what the circumstances.

How about you? Found any fascinating stories lately?

Questions and Answers, part 2

Welcome to part two of me answering questions! For those of you who don't care about questions, I have brought you a puppy kissing a sheep.

found at Cysations

Natalie and Josiphine  both had similar questions, so I'm going to combine them for better answers.

When did you start writing? How did you get into it?

As I said in my last post, I didn't write much as a kid. But I did read. A LOT. And I would tell myself stories at night about the books I read. I would daydream myself into the stories and  go on adventures. But I didn't ever think of writing them down.

Until I got a computer game called Heroes of Might and Magic III.

Heroes of Might and Magic was your standard strategy PC game. You built castles, assembled armies, fought roving monsters and other players, that sort of thing. Not really my speed at all. I'm not big on competitive computer games.

But Heroes III had one thing I couldn't stay away from. A map editor. You could lay down any terrain you wanted, scatter monsters, castles, whatever struck your fancy.

You could build worlds.

found at nohomers.net

It was amazing. And before long, I started writing stories about the worlds I was building. Those stories turned into a novel, which I worked on all through high school. And before I knew it, I was hooked.


What sort of things did you write when you were younger?

Everything I've ever finished turns out to be fantasy or magical realism. I've played around with other ideas, but nothing else has stuck yet.


 Why do you write fantasy?

This is a tough one. *takes deep breath* The short answer is, I write fantasy because I love it.

The long answer is a little harder to put into words, but it has something to do with the idea that so much of life is wondrous and magical if you only look at it the right way. In real life the magic is often hidden, and the struggle between light and dark is tangled and hard to see. But in fantasy, the magic is RIGHT THERE.

Plus in fantasy, anything is possible. And I love that.


Were people supportive of your writing?

I've been incredibly blessed to have supportive people in every stage of my journey. My family knew I was going to be a writer long before I did. I had teachers who encouraged me to write and friends who read my stuff. (Sometimes I did hit periods where I couldn't find anyone to give me feedback, and that was discouraging. But no one ever told me it was a stupid idea.)

My husband is far and away the most important support I have. The first year we were married, he worked full-time so I could have a part-time job and work on my writing. He's great at editing too, which doesn't hurt. :)
__________

I think that's everything. Thank you everyone for your great questions!

And have another puppy.

Questions and Answers, part 1

Hope everyone is having a lovely Monday/July 4th!

For those of you just tuning in, I'm answering some reader questions this week. If you have a question, you can leave it here and I'll try to tackle it.  I'm answering them in no particular order, since some are longer answers then others, so if one of your questions isn't here, it'll be in Wednesday's post.

And here we go!
__________

Diane (who happens to be a family friend) asked two questions:

Just why did you get into your mother's fingernail polish when you were three? 

*sputters* It was in the little-kid contract! Get into lipstick and/or fingernail polish by age three, cut your own hair by age five. It was TODDLER LAW!

from Rants, Raves and Random Thoughts.
(My nephew preferred Crisco to fingernail polish, but the same principle applies.)

Really...Who inspired you most to write?

I came to writing slowly, over years and years of trying to do other things instead. But I can pinpoint a few people who really made an impact.

1. My dad

My father is primarily responsible for my love of stories. Mostly because he actively encouraged me to read, read and discussed books with me my whole life and never took a book out of my hands once I was reading it.

2. My high-school English teacher, Mrs. Mallery

We did a LOT of short story writing in Mrs. Mallery's class, and when she saw how much I enjoyed it, she helped me start a writer's group at my school. She was the one who taught me you could actually BE a writer, that it wasn't some impossible, mythic task only special people did.

3. Really awesome authors

Every time I read a great book, a lose-yourself-in-it, put-it-down-with-a-sigh book, I'm inspired to write. To go back to my keyboard and create a world that's THAT AWESOME. Every time I pick up a book like that, I'm reminded of the power of storytelling, how it can open up the world, change and heal people. And I fall in love with stories and writing all over again.
__________

Helen asked:

How did you come up with the name for your book?

The concept came first actually. I was reading a lot about geishas at the time, and I was also reading a novel about the early life of Guinevere, who was being "groomed for" King Arthur, though she didn't know it. And I started to think, what if there was a whole organization/estate dedicated to "grooming" girls, raising them to be all kinds of different things?  What would such an place be called?

Eventually I came up with The House of a Thousand Dolls, and it was such a delightfully rich and creepy name that I used it as the title too.
__________

Josiphine asked:

Did you write as a young child? Did your friends write?

The answer to the first question is, surprisingly, no. Not really. I wasn't that into writing as a little kid. I was into reading, anything and everything I could get my hands on. I enjoyed writing assignments at school, and when I was seven I did write a book for my little sister's birthday. (It was about a princess and a hollow dragon.) And I told myself stories all the time, especially at night when I went to bed. But I never really wrote.

I don't remember if any of my (few) childhood friends wrote. I don't think so. I put together a writer's group in high school and most of those people were friends. But I seem to remember they were primarily into poetry.  And I was the only person I knew of back then who was actually writing a book.
__________

Thanks for the questions, folks! I'll tackle the rest on Wednesday.

Enjoy your week!

On internet access and answer delays.

1. Originally I was planning to start answering questions today, but the questions I got (Thank you Natalie and Diane!) were fairly deep ones--more than I could do justice to in a one post. So I'm spreading them out over the next week so that I can go into more depth.  Come back on Monday to see who inspired me to write!

(Also, if you have a question, feel free to leave it here. The question can be anything; serious, silly, snarky. Bring it on. *grin*)


2. My Internet access has been patchy over the last week, ever since I surrendered my borrowed laptop back to the lovely and generous friend who loaned it to me. Now my husband and I are sharing the computer, which meant I had to re-set up my own profile and get all my passwords and bookmarks back and....

Anyway, it was complicated. On the plus side, I can comment on blogs again! Yay! On the negative side, I'll probably still be a bit slow on answering comments, since I have to battle my husband for computer time. 




3. It's a nice, long holiday weekend here in the States. For all of my U.S readers, Happy 4th of July! 


found at flickr.com


For everyone else: Happy Summer!

found at zooborns.com

See you on Monday!
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Fabric art in the header by Carol Riggs.