Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Why Crit Partners Need to Be Honest

Go to fullsize imageThe short answer? Because you're not doing anyone a favor if you're pumping up writing you know can be better.

It's the reason our moms can't be our crit partners. Crit is something you need to give AND receive with an open mind, and you're probably not going to get it from someone who's afraid to step on your toes, just a little.  Just a little being the operative phrase.  There is no need for mean in crit work.

Having said that, take my first draft of my finished ms, for example.

My very first beta reader, Aleeza Rauf, was very honest in telling me that, while she loved the characters and the story, the first half moved too slowly, and that an integral character needed to be introduced much sooner.  I knew she was right, but I had already trimmed over 10,000 words, and had no idea where I'd be able to snip more.  I thought I could trim another 1000 at most.

Know how many words went on the chopping block?  Six. Thousand.  And I don't miss a single, superfluous one.  And that pivotal scene? I moved it up two whole chapters, along with a bit of other re-arrangements throughout the novel.

By the time I sent it off for another beta read, I was very proud of the changes.  Changes, which, if Aleeza hadn't been honest, might not have been made.

My second beta reader, Heidi Windmiller, is basically a genius.  Don't bother to argue, Heidi, because you are. I was floored by her ability to see both minor details, individual story arcs, and the big picture, all at once.  She pointed out spots where my pacing could be picked up or even slowed down, where action or dialogue felt repetetive, or even diction too similar between the two main characters.  And at the same time, she told me how my characters made her laugh, how engrossed she was in the plot. 

More changes for the better ensued, thanks to honest, fair, constructive crit. 

It's probably why my third crit partner, Leigh Ann Kopans, wound up being my biggest cheerleader -because she got to read the best draft yet.  Even so, she helped me make one of the hugest realizations to date: my love triangle was never really a love triangle. I was so biased toward The Boy Who Wins Her Heart, I'd completely written off the other as a viable option.  Ironically enough, she'd done the same in her novel, and we both had our huzzah moment while e-mailing back and forth rallying for The Other Boy in each other's stories.  Furious re-writes, e-mail exchanges, new kissing scenes, and hilarity ensued. 

In case you were wondering, said "kissing scenes" = freaking awesome. Mine AND hers.  You haven't lived until someone asks you exactly how much tongue action went down in a kiss.  But that's a blog post for another day.

So, I think you get the point.  You have to be able to showcase the pros in someone's work while also pointing out the cons, or you're robbing them of the chance to improve.  Telling someone they're "there" when they're not defeats the whole purpose of a critique.  The satisfaction of TRULYgetting "there" will last a peson a lot longer than any hot air you might pump them with.

But enough of the heavy stuff.  To read Leigh Ann's hilarious take on my critique of her novel, (and echoing my sentiments) go here and here.

Happy Critiquing and Revising!

Monday, July 25, 2011

If You're Boring and You Know It... Go Back to the Revision Cave

I hope I'm not the only one who has these moments: the ones where you're re-reading your painstaking work, and find yourself thinking, God, that sentence is so bland!  Or, geez, if that was supposed to be funny, holy epic fail.

What I want to know is, how does it happen?  Why does the first draft always sound so good in my head, until I read it a second time?  After all the years I've been writing, shouldn't it be sort of... effortless?

I'd really like to be immune to sucking.  I think I've earned it.

Unfortunately, the only thing worse than being UNhappy with your own writing, is being pretty happy with it, and then having someone tell you it's "almost there" instead of "there."

I had the good fortune to receive a critique of my first ten pages from an agent recently.  And while she didn't request more material, she told me she loved the concept and the challenge and that she'd welcome my query once I'd made some revisions.  Specifically, she loved my character's voice, but wanted it more consistent, and more of it.  Dripping with it, as she put it.  I'd actually been afraid this character's voice was a little over the top, and this agent actually wanted it moreso.  Color me baffled. 

I thought I'd wittled away anything that screamed "I'M BORING!" or "GINA IS AN AMATEUR!", but in reality, I'd only almost done it.  And we all know how well almost cuts it.  It doesn't.

So, while I know no one's world is going to collapse if my blog posting gets a little spotty over the next couple weeks, I just wanted to put it out there that I"ll be retreating to my revision cave. Feel free to throw me a pity party when I tell you that the cave is a tiny room on the top floor of a split level with no airconditioning :(  

Go to fullsize imageMy ms is officially a No-Boredom Zone.  Wish me luck!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Magic Beyond Words: The J.K. Rowling Story

Poppy Montgomery stars as J.K. Rowling in the new Lifetime movie 'Magic Beyond Words.'It's very rare that my husband can convince me to watch TV with him for any length of time, but he's no fool.  Offering to watch the J.K. Rowling biopic with me is the same as offering me a free book.  I'm putty in your hand.

While the movie itself was predictably on the cheesy side, the story of J.K.'s success was beyond inspiring.

As writers, we all know what it's like to be told our dream isn't practical.  To be reminded, over and over, that the odds of being published are astronomical, and that even if you do see your name in print, the monetary gains are insignificant.  We know we're supposed to have "real jobs", and treat writing as a hobby until we prove our worth.  Except that "real jobs" and "real life" then have a way of taking over everything, until your dream is begging for attention somewhere between a desk job and the 4th load of laundry for the week.  It starts to feel like a silly waste of time.

I will never think that way again.

Through the devastating loss of her mother, an abusive relationship that left her a single mother, and coming very close to being homeless, the one thing J.K. Rowling never stopped doing was writing.

What if she had?

What if she'd listened when she heard words like "impractical?"  What if she'd cared when her own agent told her she'd never make money on a children's book?  And worse- what if no one had given Harry Potter a chance, just because it didn't fit the mould of a typical children's book?

We all would have missed out on one of the best series of this generation, that's what.

So don't ever let anyone tell you that writing- the thing we all love - is a waste of time.  Moments spent doing something that makes you happy are never moments wasted.  And who knows... it could lead to the best moment of all, where you finally get to whoop with joy like J.K. did at the knowledge that her dream would soon be a dream come true.

Oh yeah, and Harry Potter rules.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2

Monday, July 18, 2011

Publishing Wishes and Book Cover Dreams

I had a moment this weekend where I realized just how badly I want to be published. 

As authors, we all try to imagine covers for our darlings.  What I never expected was to find someone who loves my story enough (almost as much as me, I think) to not only dream up a cover, but go out and find an incarnation of it.

Behold, the thoughful creativity of my awesome critique partner, Leigh Ann:

Ok, so I added the title, but she sent me the picture and it was love at first sight.  Those of you who read my entry in the Love All Year Round contest will know the signifigance, and agree this is perfect. 

It made me realize how badly I want other people to love the story I've written.  How I want people to be affected by my characters, and think about them even when they're not reading. 

And most of all, it gave me a much needed glimmer of hope that it *could* actually happen someday.  Thanks Leigh Ann.  You rock.  *And so do my other CP's! My ms is worlds better because of all of you!*

Monday, July 11, 2011

Amazing Book Alert: Unearthly by Cynthia Hand

Unearthly (Unearthly, #1)
I am in love with this book.  Like, madly, swooning, thinking-up-songs-for-the-soundtrack in love.

Let me get the synopsis out of the the way and then I'll tell you why.

Clara Gardner has recently learned that she's part angel. Having angel blood run through her veins not only makes her smarter, stronger, and faster than humans (a word, she realizes, that no longer applies to her), but it means she has a purpose, something she was put on this earth to do. Figuring out what that is, though, isn't easy.

Her visions of a raging forest fire and an alluring stranger lead her to a new school in a new town. When she meets Christian, who turns out to be the boy of her dreams (literally), everything seems to fall into place—and out of place at the same time. Because there's another guy, Tucker, who appeals to Clara's less angelic side.

As Clara tries to find her way in a world she no longer understands, she encounters unseen dangers and choices she never thought she'd have to make—between honesty and deceit, love and duty, good and evil. When the fire from her vision finally ignites, will Clara be ready to face her destiny?

Six pages in, there was a passage that made me laugh out loud, stop reading, and immediately run up to my computer room and stalk Cynthia Hand's blog and Twitter.  Six pages was all it took to make me a fangirl.  So what was the passage?
And then I almost crash into a cheerleader.
"Watch it, dorkina!" she says.
I stagger to one side to let her pass.  Breathing hard, I lean against the folded-up bleachers and try to get the vision back. But it's like trying to return to a dream after you're fully awake.  It's gone.
Crap.  No one's ever called me a dorkina before.  Derivative of dork.  Not good.
Not to mention that on the very next page, she's eating a pint of Ben & Jerry's Chubby Hubby ice cream.  So not only is Clara funny, she has excellent taste in ice cream.
And men.
Christian, the boy from her visions, is tall, dark, and handsome.  And then there's Tucker.  Siiiiiigh, Tucker. Blonde, dimpled, blue-eyed, outdoorsy Tucker, who made me fall head over heels in love with him.
If two hotties aren't enough, the setting for this novel is absolutely gorgeous.  It takes place amidst the mountains (and lakes and rivers and sandbars and ski resorts) of Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  I've never been there, but after reading this novel, I want to go.  The descriptions of the scenery are breathtaking.  If I could pull off "glory" like Clara and her mother, I'd be all glowy too, from the beauty of it all.
Or, the kissing might do it.  I won't say who Clara kisses because I don't want to give anything away, but if I'd read this book before I did my Hottest Kiss post, this one would have made the list for sure.  It was the point where "Everything" by Lifehouse blared through my head, in case you were wondering about the soundtrack.  YOU'RE ALL I WANT, YOU'RE ALL I NEED, YOU'RE EVERYTHAAANG... Ahem.  Sorry. And if I'm willing to share Clark and Lana's song with another couple, you know they're worth it.
If you're looking for a fun, well-told, intriguing story, go get this book.  And don't be fooled by the prologue - while it's beautiful, I read it and was afraid the book might be too "fancy" for my taste, poetic to the point of distraction.  But it's not.  It's funny, romantic, engrossing, and all-around beautiful.  I am salivating for the sequel!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Summer Lovin' - Choose the Hottest Kiss!

Go to fullsize imageIt's summer!  It's hot!  What better time to talk about hot kisses? (And seriously, who's hotter than John Travolta minus 30+ years?)

A couple posts ago I talked about first kisses, and most of you agreed Evie's was the more realistic of the two.

Today, we're paying no attention to realism.  Today, we're voting for the YA kisses that straight up cloud your monitor with steam.  Yeah, my cheese-o-meter just went off the charts.

Anyhow, I've compiled some of my favorite literary smooches from Nightshade, The Body Finder, Shiver, Catching Fire, and Before I Fall (and yes I'm posting the actual scene, so avert your eyes if you don't want them spoiled for you!)

In no particular order, here comes the hotness!

Violet and Jay, The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting
"What was that all ab--"
But before she could even finish her sentence, Jay had taken two long, ground-eating strides and gathered her up into his arms as his mouth covered hers possessively.
The kiss was hungry and passionate and Violet was swept up immediately, wanting more... demanding more.  He eased her down, just enough so that she was standing on her tiptoes, as she pressed herself against him, straining to get closer as her hands wound around his waist and pulled the back of his shirt toward her.  She felt dizzy, in a good way - in the best way - and she let herself go with it, enjoying every moment, every enticing stroke of his tongue against hers.

That kiss turns into a full-on makeout session, but you get the point. Yowza. Next:

Grace and Sam, Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
I kissed her.  Just the barest brush of my lips against hers, nothing animal....
Grace smiled at me.  Her words were taunting, but her voice was gentle. "Is that all you've got?" I touched my lips to hers again, and this time it was a very different sort of kiss. It was six years' worth of kissing, her lips coming to life under mine, tasting of orange and desire. Her fingers ran through my sideburns and into my hair before linking around my neck, alive and cool and warm on my skin.  I was wild and tame and pulled into shreds and crushed into being all at once.... And then I opened my eyes and it was just Grace and me - nothing anywhere but Grace and me - she pressing her lips together as though she were keeping my kiss inside her, and me, holding this moment that was as fragile as bird in my hands.

Um, gorgeous.  That is all I can say about the way this woman writes.  I bow to her.

Katniss and Peeta, Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
I realize only one person will be damaged beyond repair if Peeta dies.  Me.
"I do," I say.  "I need you." He looks upset, takes a deep breath as if to begin a long argument, and that's no good, no good at all, because he'll start going on about Prim and my mother and everything and I'll just get confused.  So before he can talk, I stop his lips with a kiss.
I feel that thing again.  The thing I felt only once before.  I kissed Peeta about a thousand times during those Games and after. But there was only one kiss that made me feel something stir deep inside. Only one that made me want more....
This time, there is nothing but us to interrupt us. And after a few attempts, Peeta gives up talking. The sensation inside me grows warmer and spreads out from my chest, down through my body, out along my arms and legs, to the tips of my being. Instead of satisfying me, the kisses have the opposite effect, of making my need greater. I thought I was something of an expert on hunger, but this is an entirely new kind.

Oh, snap.  The I-had-no-idea-I-wanted-him kiss.  Loved it, loved, loved it.

Calla and Shay, Nightshade by Andrea Cremer
I could feel every contour of his chest, the press of his thighs against my hips. I lifted my chin and his lips were on mine. The light touch speared my body and exploded deep within me.  I shuddered and took his lower lip between my teeth, biting gently.  He groaned, digging his fingers into my back. His lips parted mine, exploring, lingering.

I know I said this was too skilled for a first kiss, but hot is hot.  And that was freakin' hot.  And last but certainly not least:

Samantha and Kent, Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
"Because?" I prompt him, surprised I can still speak.
"Because I'm sorry, but I can't help it, and I really need to kiss you right now."
He puts one hand behind my neck and pulls me toward him.  And then we're kissing.  His lips are soft and leave mine tingling.  I close my eyes, and in the darkness behind them I see beautiful blooming things, flowers spinning like snowflakes and hummingbirds beating the same rhythm as my heart.... His other hand pushes my hair from my face, and I can feel the impression of his fingers everywhere they touch, and I think of stars streaking through the sky and leaving burning trails behind them, and in that moment - however long it lasts, seconds, minutes, days, - while he's saying my name into my mouth and I'm breathing into him, I realize this, right here, is the first and only time I've ever been kissed in my life.

Amazing.  Tell me it's not amazing.  You'd be wrong.  It is.  Everyone deserves at least one kiss that amazing in their lifetime.

So which kiss encompasses all the heat of summer? Feel free to pick your favorite from among mine, or share yours in the comments!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Look What I Got! (AKA Why Brodi Ashton Rocks!)

I've been following Brodi Ashton's blog ever since I happened upon her guest post on Nathan Bransford's a while back.

Those of you who follow Brodi know visiting her blog is like hanging out with a hilarious old friend.  If you haven't seen the post where she doctored up her author photo, go now and prepare to laugh.  In addition to being hysterically funny, she's also open and honest, touching on more serious topics like her dad's fight with pancreatic cancer.  All reasons her blog is one of my most-frequented favorites.

So naturally, I am psyched that such an awesome gal is making her publishing debut, and when she revealed the cover of her book, Everneath, last week, I ooohed and ahhhed and swooned over it's total gorgeousness along with everyone else.  There was a contest going on to win an ARC, and when I commented on how much I'd love one, Brodi did something that suprised me.  She didn't direct me to the contest page and encourage me to enter - she said she'd send me one.

I gave her my info, thinking she meant she'd put me on a list with all the other fangirls who must be stalking her blog on a weekly basis.  I honestly didn't think I'd ever see it.  But when my husband got the mail today, he said, "You have a package from Harper Collins."

To which my reaction was "Huh?"  Seconds later, sheer glee followed.  Here's why:

Squeeee!!!  Told you it was gorgeous! 
You rock, Brodi!  I know once everyone else discovers how awesome you are, it may not be as easy to give fans and followers the personal attention you do. So before your book becomes ginormous (because it will) I want to make sure you know how much I appreciate this!

Off to read!  Have a good weekend and a Happy 4th, everyone!