What do YOU want to talk about?

Happy ALMOST NOVEMBER!!!

November is always a weird month for blogging around here, since I usually do National Novel Writing Month. And this year I'm finishing up edits first, so it's even more intense.



However, there are some amazing things coming down the pipe, including a whole bunch of contests and perhaps a guest post or two.

In the meantimes, what would you all like to talk about this month? Writing? Television? The fact that I saw  the episode list for Sherlock season two and I'm practically spinning in circles from excitement?

(Hound of the Baskervilles! Irene Adler! AHHHH!)



Sorry, what was I saying?

Oh yeah. What would you like to talk about this month?

Contests, editing and spam hilarity

Happy Wednesday all!

Just some quick updates for you.

Editing: Yes, despite finishing the end, I'm still working on the edits. I have some new patches of info dump to smooth out and some characters to strengthen. But I can see the light at the end of the tunnel! I can see it!



Contests: The ASHES contest is still open, and at the moment your odds are pretty good. (Just saying.) I'm  closing the contest at midnight on Halloween, so be sure and enter before then!

Speaking of contests, I have declared that November shall be CONTEST MONTH here at Ye Olde Blog. I have several awesome contests planned--all for multiple book packs--and hope to do one at least once a week.

One of the best contests though, is going to be the National Book Award contest. To show support for the authors affected by the recent award kerfuffle, I'm giving away a prize pack of all five finalists AND Lauren Myracle's Shine.  The catch is, I won't do it until I hit three hundred followers.

*looks at follower count*

*waits*

Anyway...

I've been getting a lot of really hilarious spam lately, mostly from very polite people who call me "Dear." (This is an improvement over the Russian spam I got a few months ago invinting me to be a prostiute in Kiev.)

However, some of them are seriously abusing the caps lock. This one was the worst.

HELLO MY DEAR.NICE MEETING YOU.
HOW ARE YOU OVER THERE IN YOUR COUNTRY HOPE FINE.GLORY BE TO GOD.
MY NAME IS MISS JEANNIFER.
I SAW YOUR POST WHEN I WAS BROWSING AT (website I've never heard of) AND I AM INTERESTED IN MAKING FRIEND WITH YOU.FOR MORE INTRODUCTION PLEASE REPLY ME THROUGH MY EMAIL ADDRESS (redacted) AND I WILL SEND YOU MY PICTURE FOR YOU TO KNOW
HOW I LOOK LIKE. HOPE TO HEAR FROM YOU WITH LOTS OF LOVE.

*covers eyes* *winces*

This one showed up in my inbox with the heading CAN I TRUST YOU?

Good day my good Friend

INVESTMENT PROPOSAL.

How are you today? Hope all is well with you and your family? I know that this letter will certainly come to you as a surprise as we dont know ourselves before, but be rest assured that it is real and a genuine business. I am Dr. M, from London .

I am an account officer to Mr. Rafik , I was Born in Bangladesh in 1965, but nationalized in United Kingdom the late Rafik was a Lebanese self-made billionaire and business tycoon, and was a five time Prime Minister of Lebanon. You can view this site for confirmation.

http://www.rhariri.com/general.aspx?pagecontent=biography

I got your mail through my private search and out of Desperation I decided to reach you through this medium. Mr. Rafik deposited Twenty Nine Million Great British Pounds (�29, 000,000.00 GBP) in a bank here in London and I want to invest this money in your country and under your care.

The need to move out this money arose when the Prime Minister David Cameron said that some of the money held in dormant accounts would be used for youth and community projects. You can confirm this in the website below.

www.cameron-raids-dormant-u-k-accounts-while-minister-attacks-rip-off-banks.html

I am in a sincere desire of your humble assistance in this regard. Now permit me to ask these few questions:-

(1) Can I completely trust you?

(2) I am ready to offer you 35% of this (�29,000.000.00 GBP) I hope it is acceptable by you?

Please, consider this and get back to me as soon as possible for more details, via my personal Email: (redacted)

Thanks and regards.
Dr. M

 Dear sir,

I regret to inform you that you cannot trust me. I will take your nonexistant money and run for the hills. However, I salute you for your creative use of public websites to make yourself seem credible.

Thanks and regards,
Me

Am I the only person who gets hilarious spam like this?

First round edits, part 6: Rewriting the ending.

For those of you who don't know, I'm in the middle of first-round edits for The House of a Thousand Dolls, and I'm blogging about the process. Feel free to chime in with questions, suggestions or general awesomeness.

A couple of editing posts ago I talked about the big picture pass I did. Well that pass took a LONG time, and the main reason that it took a long time was that I decided (all on my own) to completely rewrite the ending.



Step 6: Rewriting the Ending.

Early on in the brainstorming process, Sarah made a suggestion. It was a very simple one, about the sort of scene she felt would really add to the book. The original suggestion wasn't even about the end, it was just  a "hey, this would be a great scene to put somewhere in the book" sort of thing.

To say that her suggestion had an impact on me would be like saying that the lightning bolt had an impact on Ben Franklin's kite.

found at americaslibrary.gov

It electrified me. I suddenly knew that using the suggestion at the end of the book would fix a lot of the book's problems and make it far more epic.  But there was one small catch. It would mean rewriting the last third of the book.

At this point, I was still fixing easy things and combining characters. I was full of energy and optimism and rewriting the ending felt totally doable.

Little did I know.

Since I'm a systematic sort of person, I developed a plan.

Step 1: Fix everything else

Step 2: Do the big picture pass up to the part where I would have to start changing the ending.

Step 3: Polish up the first two-thirds and make sure all the threads were in place so I knew what (and who) had to be in the end.

Step 4: Write the end.

And the plan worked! By the time I got to step four, I had a very clear idea of what had to happen in the end. I still wasn't sure how my main character would get out of the mess I was about to put her in, but I knew I could figure it out when I got there.

There was only one snag. I was TIRED. I had been editing for several weeks by this time, and since I'm naturally obsessive, I had been pushing myself pretty hard. Plus the coffee shop had been really hectic lately, and I wasn't getting enough sleep.

It didn't help that there were so many new words to be written. In fact, by the time I was well into the end, the stupid thing felt much more like a first draft than a rewrite. And I HATE first drafts. I have to write them fast and messy because I know if I take my time, I'll get frustrated and throw my computer into the wall.

But fast and messy wasn't really an option for this book. I had to sit down and write the new words carefully, making sure everything wrapped up and all the threads came together.

Somehow, I did it. And I was right; the new end is amazing. But to be honest, I don't remember much about writing it. And once it was done, I shoved the whole thing into a virtual drawer, slept for twelve hours straight and took a week off.

found at innocentenglish.com

Have you ever had a project that totally fried you?

Shoes, sharks and other things that bring people to my blog.

So I have at least one more editing post to put up, but it's going to have to wait until Monday because my brain is broken. Instead let's play a round of Search Term Bingo.*

Like most bloggers I know, I like looking up what kind of search terms bring people to my site. And lately there have been some strange ones.


"house of a thousand dolls" plot ending

I WILL NEVER TELL! BWAHAHAHAHAHA!

(Given that there is an old Vincent Price movie called The House of a 1000 Dolls, I'm pretty sure they weren't looking for me. But I'm still not telling.)


biggest shark in the universe

is this one

found at badassoftheweek.com

Also since I have a deep and abiding fear of both sharks and the deep ocean, I'm not sure why this term leads to my blog. *shudders*


air conditioner broken songs

Are these songs about broken air conditioners? Or broken songs about air conditioners? Oh the mystery! *ponders*


burning the heretic art painting

Again I am foiled by the lack of punctuation! Are we burning HERETIC ART PAINTINGS? Or simply looking for paintings of people burning heretics?  I vote for the first one. All heretic art paintings should be burned!

Wait, what's a heretic art painting?


edward cullen kissing jacob

No. Just...no.

(Although, now that I think about  it, I could get behind an alternate Twilight ending where Jacob and Edward realize their undying love and Bella goes off to college and becomes an architect. That would be kind of awesome.)


how to promote your shoes

Like this:


LOOK AT MY SHOES!!! LOOK AT THEM!!



Any odd terms lead people to your blog lately? Or have you used an odd search term yourself?


*Search Term Bingo is a term I stole from Chuck Wendig, who is a master at it.

Spooky October giveaway and a copy of ASHES!

Well, it's the middle of October which means that all around my neighborhood pumpkins are being carved, spooky decorations are being set out, and all the thrift stores have costume sections.



It also means it's time for me to give away a VERY SCARY BOOK. A book that you should only read with the lights on. A book written by one of my agent-mates, who is a lovely woman in person, but has a terrifying mind.

That book is Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick.




Is the story as creepy as the cover? Well..

Alex has run away and is hiking through the wilderness with her dead parents' ashes, about to say goodbye to the life she no longer wants to live. But then the world suddenly changes. An electromagnetic pulse sweeps through the sky zapping every electronic device and killing the vast majority of adults. 
For those spared, it's a question of who can be trusted and who has changed...

Everyone still alive has turned - some for the better (those who acquired a superhuman sense) while others for the worse (those who acquired a taste for human flesh). Desperate to find out what happened and to avoid the zombies that are on the hunt, Alex meets up with Tom - an Army veteran who escaped one war only to find something worse at home - and Ellie, a young girl whose grandfather was killed by the electromagnetic pulse.

This improvised family will have to use every ounce of courage they have just to find food, shelter, while fighting off the 'Changed' and those desperate to stay alive. A tense and involving adventure with shocks and sudden plot twists that will keep teen and adult readers gripped.

I was lucky enough to get an ARC of this from Awesome Agent Jenn, and I read it while perched on the edge of my couch and biting my fingernails the whole way. (The ARC was a loan, THIS is the actual hardback.)  If you want something deliciously scary to close out October with, you can't do better than this.

As usual, all you have to do to enter is

1. Follow my blog

and...

2. Leave a comment

You also get an extra entry every time you facebook, tweet, blog or do an interpretive dance about the contest. All I need is a link in the comment section. International entries are welcome. And since this is a SPOOKY giveaway, I'm not closing the contest until midnight on Halloween.

And in the meantime... what scares YOU the most?

Monday's almost over...

And I'm still trying to get my brain to engage.

I've got some last minute refinements to make on these edits this week, some scenes to expand and a few things to double-check, but my brain WILL. NOT. WORK.

Sigh.

So instead of talking about me, let's play a game of Laugh, Cry, Debate. You can click one link or all of them, depending on what you're in the mood for.

Laugh

Cry

Debate

(Also, if some of you brilliant writer types want to wander over to Saturday's post and leave some advice for Abby, it would be greatly appreciated.)

Hope you all had a good Monday!

PS. On Wednesday I'm having another contest! A veeery scary one... *giggle*

First round edits: The Cliffs of Despair

 For those of you who don't know, I'm in the middle of first-round edits for The House of a Thousand Dolls, and I'm blogging about the process. Feel free to chime in with questions, suggestions or general awesomeness.

I was planning this particular post for next week, but then Abby (aka The Director) asked me this in the comments section of Monday's post:

Have you ever had writer angst that nothing you write is plausible or believable? Because I have been knee-deep in I-write-nothing-that-actually-works angst for months...... and if you knew how to help with that I would be forever in your debt.....

Have I ever had angst about my writing? Have I ever felt everything I wrote was crap? Well...


YES. 
____________

Writing, Editing and The Cliffs of Despair.

At some point during the past few weeks, I hit a wall. I couldn't tell if what I was writing was any good or not. Every word that landed on the page seemed flat and stale and dull. I was absolutely convinced that I was making the book worse, and that I was never going to finish.

It's not the first time this has happened. It usually happens in the middle of first drafts too, a certain point where I'm ready to throw up my hands and say "This sucks. I suck." So I'm not a stranger to the angst.

But first drafts are supposed to be bad, at least mine are. And there's a world of difference between writing a first draft you'll have lots of time to fix and feeling like the book you're editing (under contract, remember) is just getting worse.

Welcome to the Cliffs of Despair.

found at flixster.com

(EDIT: One of my lovely commenters pointed out that in the movie these are actually called the Cliffs of Insanity, and Wesley is tortured in the Pit of Despair. An editing/writing slump is a lot like both those things, though, so I'm keeping the name. *grin*)

Fortunately, there are some things you can do when you find yourself clinging to the Cliffs. (Note: this is what works for me. As always, your mileage may vary.)


1. Use your beta readers.

The Cliffs of Despair happen when you've lost all ability to be objective about your own work. So when you can't trust your own eyes, trust someone else's. The key here is to use people who've actually read this work before.

Normally, I'd recommend using different people for different editing rounds to get a fresh perspective, but this is an exception. You're not asking for feedback to make the book better, you simply want to know if what you're doing is making the story worse or not. And the best person to tell you that is someone who's read the prior version.

2. Recharge your brain.

You know how when you stare at a single color for a while, your eyes lose the ability to see that color? Your vision kind of goes fuzzy and dark. Well, that's basically what happens when you stare at a story for too long.  You lose your ability to see it properly.

So back away from the writing for a little while. Read a good book, the kind that takes you somewhere else. Go for a walk. Go to a social event and talk to people. (I know, that's crazy talk. But sometimes it works!) Make sure you're getting plenty of sleep. Do some exercise. Watch an amazing movie or knit or color or sit in a box for a while. Do whatever helps to disengage from your story.

3. Keep climbing.

And then come back to it. Don't wait until you feel "inspired." Don't start another story that seems shinier and easier. Finish what you started. Get to the top.  And sometimes that will mean sitting down and banging out words that you think are crap.

Your inner critic is always most horrible when you're trying to finish something. Mine looks like this:



But when you finish, when you've gotten it done and let it sit and come back to it, you'll usually find that the words you wrote aren't as bad as you thought they were. And the condemning voices in your head will probably quiet down.

Until the next project, that is. *grin*

How do YOU cope with the Cliffs of Despair?

Contest Winner!

(This should have gone up yesterday. My apologies.)




Thanks everyone for entering! The winner of the signed copy of THE NEAR WITCH is...


DIANE!


Diane, if you'll email me your info, I'll send that right out to you.

And for those of you who didn't win, never fear! I'm having another awesome contest very soon.

*laughs mysteriously*

First round edits, part 5: Big picture pass (and plot development)

Sorry about the late post all! For those of you who don't know, I'm in the middle of first-round edits for The House of a Thousand Dolls, and I'm blogging about the process. Feel free to chime in with questions, suggestions or general awesomeness.

At this point, I'd been working on the edits for about a week-and-a-half. I had gone through both the edit letter and the marked up manuscript and made notes for each. I had reorganized my characters, reordered my scenes. and figured out how I was going to fix some of the larger problems.  My book was in pieces.

It was time to start stitching it back together.




Step 5: The Big Picture Pass.

For this one, I sat down with my notes and manuscript in one hand and my coffee in the other and I started at the beginning.  I went through the entire book verrrrry slowly. (At least it felt slow.)  I did a lot on this pass, including smoothing out rough transitions, cleaning up the mess from the Great Character Massacre and fixing the specific trouble spots that Sarah had noted.

But the main thing I worked on in the big picture pass was plot development. There were three main arcs that needed to be strengthened and I kept each in mind as I went through the story.

Mystery:  Though my book is primarily a fantasy, it's structured like a murder mystery. Unfortunately, about two-thirds of the way through, the mystery started to sag. There weren't enough suspects, and the ones I did weren't as believable as they should be. So I started looking for opportunities for other people to act suspicious, and reasons why they could be guilty and wove those into the narrative.

Tension and Emotional Stakes: I tend to be very understated in my writing as far as emotions go. I'd rather tell you what's happening and have you imagine what the character is feeling then go into detail on it myself. But the flip side of that is, if you don't show enough of your character's internal arc, they don't feel realistic.

If something awful happens to your MC--and a lot of awful things happen in this book--and they don't react with the proper degree of shock, horror, sadness, etc, then your audience won't connect with them very well.  It's a fine balance, and not one I'm naturally good at. So while I was putting the book back together, I made sure to amp up the emotions involved.

Romance: My tendency to under-write my character's emotions was very obvious here. Not only am I not naturally good at emotional scenes, I have a history of avoiding flat-out romantic ones. My preference when writing romance is to hint and flirt and develop a slow and deep emotional connection before anything even happens.

Unfortunately--or fortunately-- for me, my main character starts out the book in a fully developed romantic relationship. This pretty much forced me to write exactly the kind of scenes I've always avoided. *sigh* But I still needed more. In the revision, I looked for ways to make the relationship even tighter. (Also I added a make-out scene. Or two.)

The big picture pass was by far the longest and most labor-intensive part of the process. (At least so far. I just finished it.) But when it was done, I had more than just a collection of notes and scrambled-up scenes.

I had a book again. And it felt great.

What do you look for in a big picture pass?

The party you have called is not available at this time...

...she's deep inside her editing cave.



Sorry all, I'm trying to get this new ending knocked out and it's taking a lot longer than I thought. But I will be back on Monday. In the meantime, please enjoy the cutest cat cartoon EVER.


First round edits, part 4: Combining and cutting characters

For those of you who don't know, I'm in the middle of first-round edits for The House of a Thousand Dolls, and I'm blogging about the process. Feel free to chime in with questions, suggestions or general awesomeness.

As I said last week, one of the things my editor encouraged me to do was trim a lot of the good ideas that I had stuffed into my book. That way the ideas that remained could be stronger and better developed. Nowhere was that more necessary--or more difficult--than when it came to my characters.




Step 4: Combining and Cutting Characters.

There are few things in life that frustrate a writer more than being told there are too many characters in her book. In my head every person in my book was a fully developed individual, and they were all wildly different from one another.  There was no way I could combine them.

(Notice I said that's the way it was in my head. Turns out, that wasn't the way it was playing out in my story. The distance between what the writer is trying to write and what actually happens on the page is almost inevitable.)

As much as I didn't want to admit it, it only took a few reads of Sarah's letter to realize that she was right. My abundance of characters was not only confusing, it slowed down the story. But who should stay and who should go?

To answer that, I made a list.

Actually, I made a lot of lists. First I listed every character in the book, no matter how minor.  Then I grouped them by different categories, depending on what they did in the book.  People inside the city, people outside the city, suspects, victims, etc.

Then I made a safe list and started figuring out which characters were necessary. I had several criteria

1. My main character was safe, of course, as were her potential love interests.

2. I kept as many suspects as possible, since one of the things I had to do later was amp up the mystery.

3. I used the rule of three a lot. For example, my victim list had four people on it. By cutting it back to three, I increased the emotional impact, and improved the rhythm of the story. The same went for my main character's closest friends. Originally there were three characters who served as her "family", but by cutting one of them, I created a triangle with my character and the other two. That made the interrelationships much easier to explore.

By listing out every character, and sorting them, I was able to figure out which characters I wanted to combine, which to cut, and which to leave alone.

Then I went through my manuscript and started hacking.  I ended up with a lot of rough bits and loose ends, but I knew I was going to go back and smooth it out later, so that was okay. And when the dust finally settled, I had gotten rid of six characters.

And added one. *cough* But hey, five isn't bad, right?

Have you ever had to trim your cast of characters? How do you go about it?

Win a signed copy of THE NEAR WITCH!

I feel like I haven't done a giveaway in far too long, but this makes up for it. I went to Victoria Schwab's book-signing at Rediscovered Books in Boise this weekend and picked you up something fabulous.

A signed copy of THE NEAR WITCH.




Here's the cover description:
The Near Witch is only an old story told to frighten children.

If the wind calls at night, you must not listen. The wind is lonely, and always looking for company.

And there are no strangers in the town of Near.

These are the truths that Lexi has heard all her life.

But when an actual stranger—a boy who seems to fade like smoke—appears outside her home on the moor at night, she knows that at least one of these sayings is no longer true.

The next night, the children of Near start disappearing from their beds, and the mysterious boy falls under suspicion. Still, he insists on helping Lexi search for them. Something tells her she can trust him.

As the hunt for the children intensifies, so does Lexi’s need to know—about the witch that just might be more than a bedtime story, about the wind that seems to speak through the walls at night, and about the history of this nameless boy.

Part fairy tale, part love story, Victoria Schwab’s debut novel is entirely original yet achingly familiar: a song you heard long ago, a whisper carried by the wind, and a dream you won’t soon forget.

Isn't that awesome and shivery? This is a gorgeously written book, and a very creepy fairytale. And if you want to win it, all you have to do is

1. Follow my blog

and...

2. Leave a comment

Contest runs until midnight, Monday the 9th.  You also get an extra entry every time you facebook or tweet about the contest. Just leave the link in the comments section!

(EDIT: Goodness, I totally forgot to tell you. This is an international contest, so enter away!)

Happy October!  What's your favorite thing about fall?

Sometimes the best thing you can do for your edits...

Is take a break.

This weekend I went to Boise. Without my computer. Without my edits. It was fabulous. I saw old friends and new friends and went to a book signing and read on airplanes.

And on top of that, I canme home with a signed copy of THIS:



The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab!

A copy which I am giving away TOMORROW! To you!  (And then on Wendsday, we'll go back to talking about edits.)

What's your favorite way to take a break?
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Fabric art in the header by Carol Riggs.