On writerly weaknesses and multiple story personalities.

I think every writer has a weakness, something they have to work hard to get past. And lack of scene and character development is mine. But it's not entirely my fault.

Allow me to explain.
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It is a truth universally acknowledged that a writer's style and content are directly influenced by what they read, especially the books that they read and loved as a kid.

It makes sense, after all most of us end up writing the stories we want to read. And that's great, right?

Sometimes though...it's not that easy.

When I was younger I had two loves, two very different book passions: fantasy and mystery. In fantasy I loved huge, imaginative worlds, Robert Jordan and Piers Anthony and Brian Jacques and Anne McCaffrey.  I wanted dragons and super-intelligent animals and magic and swordplay and adventure.

But I also adored mystery and suspense, and my taste in those were very different: Agatha Christie and Alistair Maclean  and Arthur Conan Doyle. Books where the plot was the thing, books with pared down writing, that drew characters in broad strokes and always came up with a killer twist.

Two very different genres. I loved them both. I devoured them both.  Great, right?

Maybe.

Fast forward a couple of decades. I finally stop trying to do something else with my life and admit that what everyone has been telling me since high school is true: I'm a writer. And a writer writes. So I do.

But at some point, I hit a snag. I have this book that I think is awesome, that other people have told me is awesome, but the consistent criticism I'm getting is that the characters aren't developed enough, that the world isn't drawn in enough detail. So I work on it, on and off, for a few years. I write more books in between. I try to get better so I can understand how to fix this book that everyone responds to so well.

Finally, it happens. I get an agent, then an editor, wonderful people who love my book. And I get edits: real, honest to goodness, in-depth professional edits. And they are awesome. But once again, the same problem kept popping up.

EDITORIAL NOTE: Scene is awesome, but too short! Dig in and really develop it! 
ME: *in genuine confusion* Whaaa.... Develop how? The scene has everything it needs to move the story. What else would I put in? 

And that's when it hit me. I have multiple story personalities. I build worlds like the ones I loved as a kid, with complex interactions and adventure and magic. But my writing style is much more like the early mysteries, where things are hinted at rather than explained and plot is more important than character development.

My imagination is J.R.R. Tolkien but my writing is Agatha Christie.

Oops.



Fortunately one of the wonderful things about writing is that the better you get, the easier it is for you to learn to do something new. It took several tries, and lots of conversation with my beta-reader husband, but I actually did manage to dig into those scenes.

Still, I have a feeling that "not developed enough, dig in more" is going to be a conversation that I have over and over in my writing career.*  And since it's a problem that stems from reading too many awesome books as a kid, I'm okay with that.

Do you have a writer weakness?


*On the plus side, if I can pull off this whole mystery/fantasy mashup, the book will be pretty amazing. :)

In which I update you and sigh a lot

1. I ate TOO MUCH FOOD this weekend. Urg. In related news, my diet-and-exercise-resolution-list for the New Year is getting really long.

*sigh*

2. I'm currently in our local Ford dealership waiting to hear the diagnosis on our van. Apparently going over 45mph without jerking and shuddering is too much to ask. Either that or our van is turning into a giant toddler.

ME: Come on van, you're our only transportation! Please work.

VAN: I don't waaaannna! *jerks* *stutters* I DON'T WANNA DRIVE! *throws self on floor* *has tantrum*

ME: *sigh*

3. This is the most comfy dealership I've ever been in. Soft chairs, coffee, wifi. The only downer is that whenever I log onto Facebook, this is what I get.



It's very ironic.

4. It's ironic because I am way behind on where I wanted to be for Nano this month. Like... still under 30k words and I haven't written for a week. On the plus side, I have done really good work on this sequal and figured out a lot of things about the plot and character arcs. On the negative side... a really low word count.

*sigh*

5. But there are good things around too! Like contests! Today is the last day to enter my Steampunk and Airships Giveaway, and the Super-mega National Book Award Giveaway, doesn't end until Nov. 30th.

Go forth and enter! And if you need me, I'll be here at the car place...waiting.

*sigh*

The weekend post was eaten...

by my turkey-pie-and-leftovers induced coma.

Have a baby animal instead.




This is a sitatunga, a marsh-dwelling antelope, courtesy of zooborns.com.

Kona says "Happy Thanksgiving!"


*darts by*

Or at least he would if I could get him to STAND STILL.

I'm headed up north to spend some quality turkey-eating time with my family, followed by the traditional quality food-coma time.


Mmmm...food coma....

 I hope those of you who are celebrating have a safe and happy break. And that your cats are not obsessed with electrical cords like mine.


What cords? I see no cords here.

See you Saturday!

Monday contest: Steampunk and airships.

For those of you who haven't read Kenneth Oppel's Airborn/Matt Cruse series, it's pretty freaking amazing. And since I gave away a bunch of paranormal girl books last week, I thought this time we'd do something with a guy MC, and something with less magical powers and more mechanical awesome.

One lucky winner will get all three Matt Cruse books: Airborn, Skybreaker and Starclimber.




Once again, all you have to do is:

1. Leave a comment

and 

2. Follow this blog


You can get extra entries by Tweeting, Facebook or blogging about the contest, and international entries are welcome. Contest will close Monday the 28th, at midnight.

(Some entries will go into the Intensedebate comment thread and some will go into blogger, so if you come back and the Intensedebate thread is gone, rest assured, I still have it and you're still entered.)

So tell me, what's YOUR favorite steampunk story?

Also, don't forget about the National Book Award Contest! It closes on Nov. 30th.  

Winner of the Paranormal girls pack! (And how it feels to be a writer at a party.)

Sorry for the late post everyone. I went to an all-night Nanowrimo write-in in Spokane last night and got home at around 8:30ish this morning. Then I slept until five this evening, and my husband took me to a last-minute party for one of his friends.

(All in all, a very adventurous weekend for this antisocial introvert.)

It is an interesting thing to be a writer at a party full of professional adults. I'm trying to own my work more, so I had this conversation several times tonight.

POLITE STRANGER: So what do you do? 
ME: Work mostly. I serve coffee and I write books. 
POLITE STRANGER: You what? 
ME: I serve coffee and write books.  
POLITE STRANGER: You write books? 
ME: Yes. 
POLITE STRANGER: That's...interesting. 
*awkward pause* 
POLITE STRANGER: So where do you serve coffee at? 
ME: *sigh*

And then I would go sit on the couch and sneakily check my Twitter. I'm a very bad socialite.

*cough*

Hey look at that, it's time to announce the winner of the Paranormal Girls Pack!

*drum roll*



Ashley, email me your address and I will get that right out to you.

And stay tuned on Monday for another contest!

Guest Post: Travis Erwin talks about tips for memoirs

It's been far too long since I had a guest post up, and this one is especially exciting. Travis was one of the first people I connected with when I started blogging in 2008 (it helped that his blog consistently made me giggle), and he recently released his first book, The Feedstore Chronicles.  


EDIT: I forgot to say, he also blogs at One Word, One Rung, One Day, and Lettuce is the Devil. Both blogs are hilarious.

To celebrate, I invited him over to the blog to talk about that trickiest of writing genres: the memoir.
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Memoirs. The hybrid genre that dwells in the shadowy land between fact and fiction. Stick too close to the facts ma’am, only the facts and you end up with something drier and more dull than Dr. Phil. But stray too far from reality, and you get freyed alive in Oprah’s chair.

Like all writing, you can get away with most anything in a memoir if you do it well enough, but here are a five basic tips that served me well while creating my recently published memoir, THE FEEDSTORE CHRONICLES.

1)Stoke That Smoldering Ego Until It’s A Roaring Fire.

Writing, at least with publication in mind is an egotistical act. I didn’t want to think so, and for years I denied this fact but you can’t expect a reader to invest hours of time, not to mention hard earned money, by reading 50, 60, or a 100K words that came straight from your mind without a bit of ego. And if you are the central character driving that story then you can’t even hide behind the screen of fiction. You are standing out in the spotlight saying, no screaming, “I AM A PERSON WORTH GETTING TO KNOW! I HAVE A STORY TO TELL AND EVERYONE SHOULD HEAR IT!”

There is no room for … who would wanna read about me … or my story is nothing special train of thoughts in memoir writing. Because guess what. If you are unsure you can bet your sweet bippy potential readers will be as well.

2)Find That Unique Angle, Seize Upon It, and Build From There.

THE FEEDSTORE CHRONICLES is a coming-of-age tale about a teenage boy. That fact alone wouldn’t be enough to get even my momma to read it. Heck, every man alive was once a teenage boy that eventually grew up and matured. But not every man worked in a dusty Texas feedstore for the world’s most morally corrupt boss. I dare there is no single person on earth that has fought an angry emu, failed at feeding the chickens-Candy Bailloux style, and been arrested over a quarter inch of backwashed fuzzy naval. It was my environment, combined with my perspective that created the story.

Grab hold of the unique experiences of your past. Examine them, twist them, look closely from several different angles and consider what someone from the outside looking in would find interesting about your stories. Then maximize those elements. You are the only person in the world to have your set of experiences so that alone makes your story unique. If you present it that way.

3)Write Like Yo Momma Is Dead

A writing mentor gave me this advice early on and it’s a rock solid theory. No one ever wants their mom to read the sex scene they’ve written but trust me when you are an active participant in that sex scene that trepidation is multiplied. By the time I sat down and started writing THE FEEDSTORE CHRONICLES I had already penned four novels and one other creative non-fiction project of book length. None of which were published. So it was easier to convince myself, to go ahead write what I wanted. It’s not like anybody else will ever read it anyway, I thought.

I’m now proud to say I lied to myself with all those false reassurance, but the manuscript and now book is better for them. Leaving things out of a story for fear of what others will think is the literary equivalent of leaving eggs out of your cake recipe because they once fell out of a chicken’s arse. So go ahead, crack open the nasty things and dump ‘em in there. They add texture.

4)The Common Denominator

You’ve found that unique angle and started building your world around it. That’s a good thing, but now you have to find some common ground. Readers want to relate to your story and character so you must give them things they can understand. You must find ways for them to sympathize, commiserate, and/or bond with you as the narrator.

Not every teenage boy has been trapped in a tiny room while a good-looking middle-aged vet masturbates a well endowed bulldog. Yes, that is a scene from Chapter 1 of THE FEEDSTORE CHRONICLES. But everyone has been embarrassed teenager at some point. An effective author paints the embarrassment in such away the reader can feel their own cheeks reddening as they read the story. Human emotions are the same regardless of the environment that spawned them. A story without emotion is indeed a soulless tale.

5)Grab That Shovel

Chances are your memoir is going to be written about a time from your not too near past. And memories can be tricky things. So to help refresh your mind you may need a few reminders. Listen to the music you listened to in the time period set. Watch a few movies from that timeframe. If possible visit the places you are writing about. Talk to old friends.

As the little things start to add up, forgotten truths begin to materialize. Names, experiences and feeling begin to trickle back into your consciousness and with them comes flavor your memoir will need.
__________

My memoir was released by TAG Publishing on November 1st. Here is a shot of the cover and the back cover blurb.

Most coming-of-age stories are fraught with symbolism, hidden metaphors, and a heaping mound of other literary devices. Not this one. Not mine. You see, I came of age while working at a dusty Texas feedstore. A place where To Kill a Mockingbird involved a twelve-year-old and a BB gun. Of Mice and Men was a problem easily solved with rat poison. And David Copperfield was nothing more than a dude that made shit disappear.  
In the spring of 1989, I went to work at Pearl's Feed and Seed for a man named Doyle Suggs. On the surface Doyle and I had little in common: I was a rosy-cheeked boy of sixteen; he was a twice-divorced, thirty-year-old high school dropout. I had yet to go on my first date; he was trading sex for horse feed in the back room. Sure, Doyle was a lout, a liar, and a lecherous derelict. To this day, he remains the most morally bankrupt man I've ever met, yet my life wouldn't be half as blessed, had I missed out on his misguided education. The Feedstore Chronicles is a mostly true account of those days and when murderous ex-wives, well-hung bulldogs, and feed room fornication were all part of a normal day at Pearl's.

The book is available via Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and many other book retailers.
__________

Thank you Travis!

Travis will be in and out all day to answer questions, so if you want to know more about memoirs, feedstores or coming of age stories, leave a comment!

Magic Number 300 and a National Book Award giveaway!

This has been a week of confetti throwing and random celebration.

- I turned in my edits. (Finally!)

- Husband and I got a new kitty

- AND I hit my 300 follower mark this week! 

*cheers* *applause*

And as promised, I'm having an EPIC giveaway to celebrate. (Seriously, I think I'm more excited about this contest than I have been about anything else I've done all year.)

So without further ado....
__________

As many of you know, the National Book Award is a Very Big Deal. I don't know any writer that wouldn't sell their left leg to get nominated. It's a wonderful thing that happens to wonderful books and for many writers it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Well... this year the National Book Award went from being a Very Big Deal to a Very Big Mess. And in the process, all these amazing books have been kind of shoved to the side. And their authors have had the sad experience of seeing their achievement turned into something bittersweet.

So to support those authors (all six of them), I bought their books. And now I'm giving them to you.

One lucky grand prize winner will receive all six of the orignal National Book award nominees. 





Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt,
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai,
My Name Is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson,
Chime by Franny Billingsley,
Shine by Lauren Myracle,
And Flesh and Blood So Cheap: the Triangle Fire and Its Legacy by Albert Marrin.

Because this contest is so full of epicness, I didn't feel right about just having one winner. So to remind us all of the amazing books the National Book Award has highlighted in the past, I bought two more prizes.



What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell and...
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.

(You want these books, trust me. They are fabulous.)

The first place winner will get the book of their choice, and the second place winner will get the other.


All you have to do to enter is 

1. Leave a comment

and 

2. Be a follower of my blog

That's it. Of course if you want to help spread the word by Facebook, Twitter or whatever, that would be awesome. Just let me know in the comment section and I'll give you an extra entry for each thing you do. International entries are welcome and the contest closes at midnight, November 30th.

Any questions? Go forth and enter!

(P.S. There's still almost a full day to enter the Paranormal Girls giveaway from last week as well.)

(PPS. I had to turn off the Intense Debate comments for this post for technical reasons. But all comments on the intense debate thread are still entered. Sorry for the inconvenience. *frowns at Blogger*)

This is what happened to my weekend...

I had a LOT of things I was going to get done this weekend, but I got a little sidetracked.

BY MY NEW CAT!  *does happy dance*






He's a four-month-old shelter cat we picked up on Saturday, and he's AWESOME. So awesome, in fact, that we haven't settled on the perfect name for him yet.

Any suggestions?

Word Count Wednesday!

So I'm doing National Novel Writing Month again this year, but I'm sort of doing it between edits. And that is definitely reflected in my word count.

It's been nine days. I SHOULD be at about fifteen thousand words.

Where am I?

5797




One reason for this (other than edits) is that I'm having a hard time switching between editor brain and first-draft brain. When I'm in editing brain, all my new words have to be good ones. There's a lot of backspacing and rewriting.

But that does not work at all in Nanowrimo. And it took me a long time to get used to letting sentences just be. Now I'm slowly finding the first draft groove again....just in time for another bout of editing.

*sigh*

Is anyone else doing Nano? How's your word count?

Paranormal girls giveaway!

I promised you contests, didn't I? And as a special bonus, this one comes with links.

There's been a lot of talk in my corner of the Internet this fall about female characters, specifically the use of the term "Mary Sue."  Like a lot of people I was clued into the conversation when I read ZoĆ« Marriott's excellent post: You can stuff your Mary-Sue where the sun don't shine.


(Zoe also has an excellent follow-up post here.)

I played with the idea of writing a post about this myself, but as you can see by the links above, wiser and more thoughtful souls than myself have broken down the issue very well. 

Besides, contests are more fun!

So to celebrate our flawsome female heroines, I'm giving away a trifecta of books, each with its own supernaturally gifted, totally amazing heroine.





One winner will receive all three books, and as usual, entering is easy.

1. Follow my blog

and...

2. Leave a comment

You also get an extra entry every time you tweet, facebook, send up smoke signals, or blog about the contest. All I need is a link in the comment section. International entries are welcome. The contest closes at midnight, Monday the 14th.  The contest is closed! Winner will be announced on Saturday.

What do YOU think of the term "Mary-Sue?" How do you react to female characters you don't like?

ASHES winner!

I have the winner of the copy of ASHES by Ilsa J. Bick!




And, via number generator, the winner is...

JOY PUTNEY!


Email me your contact info, Joy, and I'll get that book right to you. As for everyone else, never fear. There are contests galore coming your way!

Why editing is like moving



I hate moving.

I hate everything about moving, the search for boxes, the endless sorting, the losing of things you need and the finding of things you don't want. Packing, unpacking, I hate it all. But there's one phase of moving that I hate more than anything else.

The fiddly-bits part.

You know the fiddly-bits part. You're almost done Your house is starting to empty, all your boxes are neatly packed and sorted, with labels so you know what room they belong in and what's in them. (Because you're obsessive like that.) You're feeling pretty good, pretty accomplished.

And then you look around. And surrounding you, scattered over your house, is all this...stuff. Things that didn't fit into a neat category, so you left them for last. Small things that were under couches and chairs. Papers you can't throw away, but don't know what to do with. Random fondue sets.

Okay, I might be alone on the fondue set. But the point is, all the big stuff is done. You can see the end. But between you and the end is all this little stuff. And--as if you were the punchline in some great cosmic joke--dealing with the little stuff takes SEVENTEEN TIMES LONGER than the rest of the move.

Editing is like that.



I don't hate edits, in fact I love them. Doing this intensive first round has been like taking a master class in storytelling. Working out these problems has taught me more about the kind of writer I am than almost anything else I've ever done.

But now I'm in the fiddly-bits part. All the little notes I've been making to myself through this process  (check the timeline, expand this dialogue, describe this more, etc) are coming back to haunt me. I have three more characters clamoring for better scenes and a couple of transitions to smooth out. I'm so close to done I can see it.

Which of course means this part is taking forever. But that's okay, because sometimes writing is like that. Sometimes there is no big motivation, no big inspiration, there's just you, in the chair, doing one little thing at a time. Getting it done.

Of course, like this comic from Jim C. Hines, you could find other motivation....



Anyway, it's better than moving, right?
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Fabric art in the header by Carol Riggs.