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Oct 31, 2012

Why Do NaNoWriMo?

I’ll be doing some posts on NaNoWriMo.

There are a million ways to write a book, a million ways to start, a million ways to slog through, a million ways to finish. These will be my personal tips for NaNoWriMo. They may not work for you. They may not even work for me. It helps me to write them down, and if it helps you too, awesome.

My advice will be a little different than the official NaNo handbook. I'm big on outlining at the moment, so I won't be using a seat-of-the-pants approach. That’s not to say, however, that there is a place for the kind of break-neck, no-inner-critic writing NaNo is famous for. But I think that too works best when you have some idea where you’re going.

This may depend on how experienced you are at writing. NaNo and its methods are strongly geared toward pushing first-timers into the arms of their virgin book. What I have in mind may be of more use for writers who already have a few under the belt.

My friend Michelle Davidson Argyle has questioned whether NaNo is at all useful for seasoned writers
I don't see the attraction for seasoned writers to sit down during a holiday month (at least in the U.S.) to pound out 50,000 words, when during the rest of the year, and many years prior, they've worked at a fine, steady pace for something they consider a career (that's part of what I consider seasoned). 
...So, I wonder how many seasoned writers do NaNo to actually prove to themselves that they can write a specific amount of words in a short amount of time? Do they do it just for fun? Because so many of them ignore family and housecleaning, etc. for the entire month just to complete NaNo. That seems like a huge sacrifice for something that's just for fun. For me, it's not so much fun. I'm a girl who doesn't care much for following crowds, and doing NaNo feels too much like a trend or following a crowd, so I think that's part of why it turns me completely off. I know I can write a book in a certain amount of time, if needed. It's my job now. I don't need NaNo to prove that to myself. I already proved it to myself twice this year. A large portion of my friends (many of them I consider seasoned) are participating in NaNo this year. I'm definitely cheering them on, but I'll be revising this month instead of typing new words on a novel.
I agree with this completely. There's been many a year that NaNo has fallen during a period when I needed to do something else than writing a revision.

This year, I will do it, but I've set some ground rules for myself. First off, I'm doing it on my own terms.   (And why not? The exercise exists for us not the other way around.) I'll be aiming less at wordcount than at a useable rich outline. I think it’s better to start with an outline than just a word flood. In fact, in my opinion, you’d be better off if you ended NaNo with a 20,000 word tightly plotted rich outline than with 50,000 words of a sloppy draft with huge plot holes. That's my own goal. And I plan ride the wave of NaNo enthusiasm as I do so.

Oct 30, 2012

NaNoWritMo Schedule

Here's the schedule for NaNoWriMo, which you can also find on their site (I assume) and in the emails:

November 1: Write your first 1,667 and feel great about embarking on this wild, wordy adventure. Tell your inner editor to take a hike for the next 30 days, or else. Watch him/her/it skedaddle, and heave a sigh of relief.

November 2: Check your NaNoMail early and often for pep talks from staff and published authors, messages from your fellow Wrimos, and updates from your regional Municipal Liaison (AKA magical ninja heroes of noveling goodness). To stay extra-informed about everything happening in NaNoLand, you can also like our Facebook page, follow us on Twitter, and keep up with our daily blog posts.

November 3: Take some time this weekend to stockpile writerly rewards. When you reach a word-count goal, you'll have a treat at the ready to reinforce your admirable dedication to this project.

November 5: You hit your weekend target of 6,668 words (or not—that's okay, too, so long as you keep writing!). Now save your novel-in-progress to a USB drive, or email a copy to yourself or a trusted friend, as part of the first "Back Up Your Novel" Day. These occur every Monday throughout the month, and will ensure that your novel is soundly saved in multiple locations to prevent loss, theft, or destruction.

November 6: If you're in the US, vote! And keep writing. In whichever order you choose.

November 9: Your goal by the end of the second weekend should be to write at least 18,000 words. Plan to use Saturday and Sunday to catch up (or get ahead) in preparation for Week 2.

November 12: You are entering Week 2, a time when encouragement is key. Be sure to read up on the pep talks from staff and guest authors in your NaNoMail, and peruse all past writerly encouragement in our Pep Talk Archive!

November 14: It's Donation Day, a public-radio-style fundraiser running from 6 AM to midnight Pacific time. If NaNoWriMo is rocking your creative writing world, please consider making a tax-free contribution to fuel our engines of inspiration for kids, teens, and adults around the globe. And today alone, you'll be eligible to receive great hourly bonus prizes for making a donation.

November 16: On this ML Appreciation Day, be sure to thank your ML(s) for all they do. Send them a NaNoMail message, high-five them in person, or bring them a bouquet of plush porpoises. Trust me, it'll be a hit.

November 18: By land, sea, and sky, NaNo-novelists travel from around the world to congregate in San Francisco for the Night of Writing Dangerously Write-a-thon. It's an extravaganza of noir and noveling: fast-and-furious typing, costumes, raffle prizes, a candy bar, oratories, fabulous food, and more inspired writers than you can shake a gold-tipped cane at! Sound like the most fun you'll ever have? Find out how you can attend!

November 19: Have you been backing up your novel? No?!?! Well thank goodness it's "Back up Your Novel Yet Again" Day. Do it. Future You will thank Present You profusely.

November 21: Do a happy dance that you're three-quarters of the way through the month and still trucking on your novel. Are you not still trucking on your novel? There's time yet! Visit YWP's Dare Machine to get your novel restarted.

November 22: NaNo HQ is closed in observation of Thanksgiving. We will raise a goblet of gratitude for Wrimos everywhere; wonderful, wordy novels; and delicious, carb-filled holiday foodstuffs.

November 25: Winning begins! Between now and 11:59:59 PM on November 30, you can cut and paste your 50,000-word novel into the website's Word Count Validator to be declared an officially official NaNoWriMo Winner!

November 25, later that day: Winner Shirts are back on sale, as the perfect complement to your officially official win. Visit our online store to get yours today, or whenever you cross the finish line!

November 26: Plan out your word-count goals for the final five days of noveling to ensure that you do indeed reach 50,000 words by the end of the month. Deploy emergency measures as necessary.

November 28: Take a quick break from writing like the wind to mark down the date of your region's TGIO party.

November 30: Write, write, write! You're in it to win it!

December 1: Validated, won, and done; you're sleeping like a baby. As you should be. Sleep on, Winner! 

I'll be joining NaNoWriMo this year. We'll see how that goes. I'm bummed because I planned to go to the kick-off party on the 28th, and then missed it.

I have one big grief with NaNo, and it's that the choice of November was clearly not made by a mom with three kids hyped up on a month's supply of Halloween candy to watch during a week of half-days and a festive holiday feast to cook for and a bigger festive holiday to shop and plan for in the very next month. November--really? That was the best you could do?

Because November is the third worst possible month for this (after December and September), I always regretfully decide I can't do it this year, but then as the month goes on, I get caught up in NaNo fever and join late, with predictably futile results. So this year, I'm going to treat myself, and just go for broke. There's a project I've wanted to try for a while, so I'll work on that. I need a breather after finishing Book 5 on The Unfinished Song, and I'm hoping that this will revive the creative juices. 

Most likely, I'll spend most of November chasing sugar-crazed toddlers and burning turkey, but I can dream.

Oct 29, 2012

10 Spooky Books for Halloween

Neil Gaiman has a brilliant idea: why not make it a tradition to read spooky books on Halloween? It's like telling ghost stories, in print. Headsmack, right? Why didn't we all think of that?

Anyway, I'm all for any excuse to read books. And I've been gobbling up some great ghosties for Halloween. Here's my recommendations for all ages, starting with the book I wrote for my own tots (but of course!) and moving on up the Scary Scale.

Title:  My First Book About Halloween
Author: Tara Maya
Age: 6 months - 3 years
Blurb: It's a cute book with simple words and fun pictures. My 2 year old and 3 year old love it and my 6 year old can read it (with just a little help). It's 20 pages illustrated, and normally $2.99 but it will be FREE on Halloween itself, on Amazon. If you want it as a pdf, you can email me and I'll send it to you free.
Scary Level: Cute. The scariest part is the monster lurking in the haunted house...who turns out to be a mouse!
Preview it on my blog here.

Title: A Ghost Went Trick or Treating
Author: A.J. Cosmo
Age: 4-8 year olds
Blurb: This is a more substantial story than the short collection above, and it's more than a picture book. I read it to my toddlers as well, but it's also suitable for elementary kids. A "ghost" goes trick or treating. Secretly, he's a real monster! Some trick-or-treaters are nice but some are bullies... and everyone gets their just desert.  ;) 
Scary Level: Spooky Cute. A little scary, in that there are bullies. This book re-enforced my first-graders opinion that teenagers belong in the same category as vampires, zombies and other monsters to avoid.

Title: The Goblin Brothers Adventures
Author: Lindsay Buroker
Age: 7-12 (Middle Grade)
Blurb: I wanted to include something for every age group, and for Middle Grade, I adore this collection of connected stories about the inexplicably heroic goblin brothers, Gortok and Malagach. Lindsay Buroker is better known for her awesome Emperor's Edge series, which is also well worth reading. Her humor shines through in both series.
Scary Level: Spooky Funny

Title:  Haunted: Ten Tales of Ghosts
Editor: Rayne Hall
Age: Adult (but okay for Young Adult too)
Blurb: In assembling her anthologies, Rayne leaves no stone unturned searching for tales which are alike in quality but different in tone, theme and plot. These stories are all well-written and original, frightening but not gory, and a great read to curl up with on Halloween. Plus, it's free or a dollar, depending on the promotion, so you can't beat the price. The proceeds of these collections all go to charity.
Scary Level: Frightful but not Gory

Title: The Devil Eats Here
Editor: Rayne Hall
Age: Adult (but okay for Young Adult too)
Blurb: Another creepy collection of devilish tales edited by Rayne Hall. In fact, you could read almost anything of hers on Halloween and not go wrong. She's also got collections about witches, vampires and just downright scary stories This one is free, so honestly, if you have any interest at all in stories where folks confront the Big Baddie, give this one a try.
Scary Level:  Frightful but not Gory

Title: Anna Dressed in Blood
Author: Kendare Blake
Age: Young Adult (but okay for Adults too)
Blurb: The set up is absolutely classic: haunted house, ghost, ghost hunter. Toss in a witch or two (some good some terrifying). Voodoo? Why not. A murdered father to avenge? Sure. A doomed love between the ghost hunter and the ghost? Don't make me say, "Oooooooh!" And high school? Okay, now you're scaring me. Mix it all up, and this is a story which feels like vintage Halloween, with true creeps and gore, and yet fresh YA paranormal and a sweet romance at the same time. There's also a worthy sequel, The Girl of Nightmares.
Scary Level: Frightful with a Slice of Gore

Title: By Darkness Revealed
Author: Kevin O. McLaughlin
Age: Young Adult (but okay for Adults too)
Blurb: A young man at a military boarding school has to deal with a monstrous darkness released a fellow student. This truly demonic creature reminded me of the "monster" in Forbidden Planet. It's never clearly seen, except outlined in shadow. It's known best by the bloody havoc in its wake. An equally formless, yet some adorable "kitty spirit" helps the hero in his quest to lock the evil back into its prison.
Scary Level: Frightful with a Slice of Gore

Title: The Name of the Star
Author: Maureen Johnson
Age: Young Adult (but okay for Adults too)
Blurb: It's not fair for any book to be so scary and so hilarious at the same time. The subtitle of this book is The Shades of London, implying there may be more to come in a new paranormal series. Let it be so! The heroine is wry and snarky (but not mean) American from Louisiana who attends a boarding school in London--just in time to be haunted by the ghost of Jack the Ripper. By a freak coincidence, which makes perfect sense as explained by the book, she's one of the few people who can see him. Special invite to an elite ghost-hunting police squad follows. Isn't that a cool concept--ghost hunting police? There's even a rational reason why they are all young adults. And did I mention how funny this book is?
Scary Level: Suspenseful but Funny

Title: My Life as a White Trash Zombie
Author: Diana Rowland
Age: Adult
Blurb: What's worse than a drug habit? A brain habit! Especially when some schmuck is decapitating all the bodies in the morgue where you dine work. Where would Halloween be without zombies? This is a great way to get your zombie fix. There's a sequel Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues. Oh, and Diana Rowland's other series Blood of the Demon is good too.
Scary Level: Gory but Funny

Title: The Hallowed Hunt
Author: Lois McMaster Bujold
Age: Adult
Blurb: I really wanted to add a story to the list that was specifically about or set during Halloween, but I haven't read any. This book is a second world epic fantasy, so no Halloween per se, but its definitely autumnal. You also won't find anything so prosaic as werewolves or ghosts, but you will find something crazy awesome mindblowing that is like the mother of all werewolves and ghosts, along with gods and magic and romance and mystery.
Scary Level: Suspenseful and Epic

Oct 25, 2012

15 Greatest Avengers Quotes

"Aren't the stars and stripes a little... old fashioned?"

Tony Stark: The Avengers. It's what we call ourselves, sort of like a team. "Earth's Mighiest Heroes" type thing.

Steve Rogers: When I went under, the world was at war. I wake up, they say we won. They didn't say what we lost.

Tony Stark: Dr. Banner, your work is unparalleled. And I'm a huge fan of the way you lose control and turn into an enormous green rage monster.
Bruce Banner: Thanks.

Steve Rogers: Is everything a joke to you?
Tony Stark: Funny things are.

Steve Rogers: How can you not trust Fury?
Tony Stark: He's a spy, he's THE spy. His secrets have secrets. 

Thor: We on Asgard pretend that we are more advanced, but we, we come here battling like Bilgesnipe.

Steve Rogers: Stark, we need a plan of attack!
Tony Stark: I have a plan: attack!

Loki: I am Loki, of Asgard and I am burdened with glorious purpose. 

Bruce Banner: I don't think we should be focusing on Loki. That guy's brain is a bag full of cats. You can smell crazy on him.
Thor: Have a care how you speak! Loki is beyond reason, but he is of Asgard and he is my brother!
Natasha Romanoff: He killed eighty people in two days.
Thor: He's adopted.

Natasha Romanoff: [watching the aliens come toward them] This is just like Budapest all over again.
Clint Barton: You and I remember Budapest very differently. 

Bruce Banner: Are you here to kill me, Miss Romanoff? Because that's not gonna work out for everyone. 

Steve Rogers: We have orders, we should follow them.
Tony Stark: Following's not really my style.
Steve Rogers: And you're all about style, aren't you?
Tony Stark: Of the people in this room, which one is A - wearing a spangly outfit and B - not of use?

World Security Council: Director Fury, the council has made a decision.
Nick Fury: I recognise the council has made a decision, but given that it's a stupid-ass decision, I've elected to ignore it.

Nick Fury: I still believe in heroes.

Loki: Enough! You are, all of you are beneath me! I am a god, you dull creature, and I shall not be bullied by...
[Hulk flattens Loki with repeated smashes into the floor]
The Hulk: [leaving] Puny god.

Got any more to add?

Oct 24, 2012

WiP Wednesday - Excerpt from Blood - Autumn Pixies!

It's tricky to find excerpts from Blood I can share with you that don't contain too many spoilers! This is a nice scene for October, since the autumn pixies show up to pester Dindi....

"The slender girls wore crunchy skirts of fall leaves..." (Art by Anne Stokes)

At night’s tail, just before dawn, pixies jumped up and down on Dindi’s head until she had a headache, and kept jumping, until she woke up to shoo them off.

“You have got to be kidding me,” she groaned. “What is wrong with you fae? Have you never heard of sleep?”

 She rubbed her eyes, fighting déjà vu. Hadn’t she just been poked awake by pixies a few hours ago? 

Once again finger-sized pixies thronged around her sleeping mat, but this time instead of flori, they were all foli, autumnal pixies, mostly Orange, Yellow and Red. The slender girls wore crunchy skirts of fall leaves, and the boys caps and shields made from acorn tops and walnut shells. Kinnaras, bird-winged sprites, feathered like robins, jays, cardinals, tanagers and finches fluttered nearby as well.

“We want to sleep too,” complained the foli. “It’s coming on our nap season. But the Orange Lady has altered the song, and the music is calling us back to the trees. We already painted the leaves in gold and scarlet this year—are we to do so twice in one turn?”

“And we,” said the kinnaras, “have been preparing to arrange eggs in nests, but the song has been altered, and we see no eggs in the music now.”

“And I suppose the Aelfae have gone somewhere without me,” Dindi grumbled.

Tremendous snores suggested otherwise. When she sat up she saw the other Aelfae were all asleep—Hest was the source of the bear-like rumblings—except Vessia, who was already gowned and half way out the door. Dindi hastened after her.

Dawn on the mountaintop shuddered under bitter winds. Nothing of the usual vistas could be seen due to a skirt of cloud which had encircled the slopes. Rhythmic thumps indicated the slave women were pounding potatoes, unseen in their huts, but otherwise few people were awake. Some men had passed out drunk around the bonfires the night before and snored on mats arranged around the embers. 

Dindi trailed Vessia for a number of steps before the Aelfae acknowledged her, albeit without turning around.

“You? Again?”

“Did you hear what the foli and kinnaras said?”

“Of course. You think they did not approach me as well?” Vessia sniffed. “You will learn that the Lower Fae panic easily and complain frequently. It’s best not to overreact.”

Oct 21, 2012

Pancake Sunday Advice on Novel Writing

It's pancake Sunday and we've got the whole gang, kids and cousins, here to chow, so this will be a sweet stack with some bacon on the side! And what the heck does that mean?

Moving on to writing rules...  Rules?! We don't need no stinkin' rules! But I love 'em anyway. As we approach NaNo, it's time to start scouring the new and the bookshelf for the best advice out there. Here's some insights I thought were spot on (the numbering is off). Visit the blog to read the whole thing:
  1. I outline, but my outlines vary; I’ve written novels of 90K words where the outline was 30K in itself. I’ve written novels with 500 word outlines that have come in at 120K. The purpose of the outline is to map the journey in my opinion, but it is not the law.

Oh, outlines? Hello, YES. I mentioned a while ago I was experimenting with a "rich outline" that's almost more like a draft for Book 6. How has that been working out? Extremely well, as it happens. It's no panacea. I was a little worried that writing such a detailed outline, which was almost a draft, would just make me feel like I'd finished that part (see below for my problem with this) and like I didn't want to revisit the material.

I did suffer a bit of that, but you know what? I revisit material all the time, and I had to revisit it a lot more with my other method, to the point where I'd become so sick of it I couldn't work on the novel anymore. So far... this is better.

  1. A hard and fast rule for ‘scenes-per-chapter’ is outside my purview. Rather, I approach chapters with an eye towards “what must be accomplished here?” This applies to character as well as plot/story. Each chapter is a brick in the road, in this sense. Not knowing the purpose of a chapter, in my opinion, leads to a bad chapter that you end up deleting later.
  2. If you’re looking for some very literal advice, I would make a point of setting a word-count/day - something you can meet, but something that will test you. Then write that much each day. Not less, sometimes more.

    And don’t stop your day’s work at the end of a chapter, or the end of a scene, or even, if you can help it, at the end of a sentence. Leave yourself hanging. To mix metaphors, the element of the unresolved chord will bring you back into the work that much faster, especially if you’ve begun your work by rereading your previous day’s writing.
I'll be honest, this last one doesn't enthuse me, but I've heard it before, so it's probably one of those things that depend on your personality. I'm not sure it would be a good idea for me. My worst habit is to leave things a little undone at the end but treat it as though it were finished, so I suspect that if I left a chapter dangling... it would continue to dangle as I just raced past it the next day. In fact, I know that would happen, because, due to completely unreasonable demands of my family, like dinner. (Seriously, what's up with dinner having to happen every day? Wouldn't every other day be fine?)

  1. Final piece of advice? Scare yourself - not in the sense of writing something that gives you the creeps, but in the sense of pushing your boundaries; if you can write something that makes your own heart race or ache, the odds are you can give that same emotion to the reader. Don’t go easy - not on yourself, and never on your characters.
Ironically, stretching yourself as a writer can get harder once you're published. You suddenly feel like every time you change clothes, you're doing it in the middle of a crowd. So it's tempting to just wear the same thing rather than risk public nakedness. As soon as I figure out how to combat that, I'll let you know. Meanwhile, if you're not published yet, and you fear that no one will ever read the book you're writing, cherish that. Just think how freeing it is. No one need ever read the book you're writing! You can write whatever you want.

Oct 20, 2012

Should Writers Blog About Writing?

Here's the problem with writers who blog. What should we blog about? It seems like we're always being told what NOT to blog about. To wit, you may be have received advice like this:

1.) Don't write about yourself. No one wants to hear about what you had for breakfast, or your cat's vet appointment.

2.) Don't write about writing. That appeals to other writers--not to your readers.

3.) Don't write about politics or other incendiary topics. That will alienate half or more of your audience.
If you take this advice seriously, the first thing you'll notice is that most other writers don't.

There are highly successful writers (who are also highly successful bloggers), like David Brin and John Scalzi, who blog about whatever stuff they want, including politics. There are gobs of other great bloggers, like Michelle Davidson Argyle, Lindsey Buroker and Joe Konrath, who write about writing. There are others who blog on specialty interests which have nothing to do with the books. Deb Harkness had a wine blog; Jodi Meadows blogs about knitting. Davin Malasaran blogs about the important question What's Davin Eating? (It often includes updates about what his dog Peanut is eating too--sometimes the answer is books. See? Related to books after all.)

So, as usual the advice is only half right. Don't be too quick to dismiss that half, however. I think a good rule of thumb for blogs is the same as for novels: begin as you mean to go on. If you feel like having a blog about your breakfast, just remember, you have to maintain that. If you're going to talk about politics, you better have something insightful, not just something inciteful, to say. And do it regularly.

What doesn't work well is to have a blog about cooking and then randomly thrown a post in about writing, and then another post about the presidential debate. Your regular readers will be wondering, What is this crap?  Consistency of topic is more important than what the topic is.

There's only one thing more important than consistency, and that's passion. Duh, right? It's great to do your research into the perfect blog that will attract 20,000 readers per day, but if you have no actual passion for that topic, you'll end up burning out quickly. And guess what? It's better to have a blog on a specialty topic that you post to frequently than a blog on a super-popular topic that... has no posts.

Finally, for fiction writers, we need to remember that blogging is not our main form of writing. My novels come first. If I have to neglect my blog for a week, a month or a year, to finish a novel, I'm not going to apologize for it. (We have all been there, right? "Sorry I haven't blogged in a while...")

So here are my three "rules" for a fun blog:

1.) Blog about something you love.

2.) Begin as you mean to go on. Pick a main topic, plus a few related things you're willing to branch out to sometimes, and stick with that.

3.) Don't let your blog writing overshadow or squeeze out the time you spend on your other writing.
What actually happens for me is that when I'm going strong on my novel, I'm also usually more interested writing posts for my blog too. When I'm too depressed to write my novel, I'm usually too depressed to write  anything. Or do anything. (It's not pretty.) When I'm excited about writing, I want to not only write scenes but write about writing scenes.

And that's why I write about writing. I know a lot of my readers aren't interested in the scaffolding behind the scenes, and I have no problem with that. But I don't see my blog as just a big advertisement for my books. Sure, it's part of the whole "doing social media" blah blah blah that writers, and everyone these days, is "supposed" to do. But if that were it's only purpose, I couldn't keep it up. I'm not much good at doing what I'm supposed to do. (This is one thing Dindi and I have in common.) I write about issues that are actually interesting to me. I give "writing advice" not because I think I'm such an expert (oh, I should have warned you about that) but because I am learning about it myself. As I figure something out (or think I have) I like to write about my process of discovery.  Then you'll see some post about first chapters or subtext in dialogue pop up on my blog.  ;)

Also, readers of mine who do read this blog... be happy if you see a lot of posts. It means I'm going strong on the next book....

Oct 19, 2012

Why Does Your First Chapter Suck?

When all else fails, add pixie dust.
The first chapter is the door to the rest of the book. The first chapter is a fist of firsts: first sentence, first hook, first introduction to the cast of characters, first goal, first twist, first turn, and first cliffhanger.

Newbie writers know this, and try to stuff everything into the first chapter.

And it sucks big time.

So what went wrong?

The newbie scratches her head, and re-reads one or two famous books in her genre and discovers … HEY! What the heck? Mr. Famous Writer didn’t put in any of that stuff about Theme and Setting and Backstory That Makes You Love The Character, and so on. What’s going on?

There are four possibilities.
1. Mr. Famous Writer has banked on previous successes but made a hash of it this time, out of laziness.
2. Mr. Famous Writer’s book succeeded despite, not because of, the first chapter.
3. Mr. Famous Writer knows how to break the rules in a way that still works—and in a way that Newbie Writers would be better off not trying yet.
4. Mr. Famous Writer did in fact follow all (or most) the rules of a good first chapter and simply did it so well that one doesn’t notice.
Newbie Writers always want to believe (1) or (2). Sometimes, they’ll grudgingly grant (3). But almost always, the Correct Answer is (4). The first chapter of the famous book in fact does do exactly what a first chapter should, but so smoothly and subtly – or so blatantly and obviously – that somehow the Newbie Writer can’t believe it.

When I say, “Newbie Writer,” I mean, “Guilty as Charged.” I’ve been there, done that, and I’m trying to learn better. With that in mind, I’m going to be looking at the first chapters of several well-known books in my genre (fantasy), to see what the author did, and why it worked. It’s quite possible, in fact, inevitable, that not everything in the first chapter (or book) worked for every reader. It’s easy, but stupid, to be dismissive when something obviously did capture thousands, even millions of readers.

What works? What makes a first chapter into the kind of door that invites the reader further into the book?

I'd say there are five "Firsts" that must be introduced -- and must be awesome -- to add up to a great first chapter:

1. The First Sentence
2. The First Hook
3. The First Character
4. The First Exposition
5. The First Twist

How those five things are handled will determine (or, at any rate, should determine) the tone and structure of the rest of the book.

Oct 18, 2012

The Goddess of Dance

Today I'm thrilled to join Anna Kashina's blog tour for her newest novel, The Goddess of Dance

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To pursue her love, the princess must fight the impossible odds. On one hand, mysterious god-like powers are after her for what she has done. On the other -- her father, the sultan, is forcing her to fulfill her duty to her country by marrying a neighboring prince she does not care for. And, on top of that, she is haunted by mysterious dreams of a girl learning the powerful ancient art of the sacred dance.

In the novel, the princess will go though many deadly trials in her impossible quest to be reunited with the man she loves.

THE GODDESS OF DANCE is book 2 in a series, isn't it? Do the readers need to start with book 1?

It is book 2, but the story is a stand-alone and I hope the readers can enjoy it without any knowledge of the previous events. Book 1, THE PRINCESS OF DHAGABAD, is more of a coming of age story, where the princess's love for her djinn grows slowly as she emerges from a 12-year-old girl into a woman of seventeen. In THE GODDESS OF DANCE she starts off as a woman and embarks on adventures of her own to learn magic and take her destiny into her own hands.

Where can the readers learn more about you and your books?

I am on Facebook and Twitter, and always welcome new fans and followers! You can also visit my blog at A gorgeous trailer for The Goddess of Dance is up on YouTube.

And, of course, the buying links for my book on Amazon

Incidentally, my publisher is now running a special on the e-version of The Princess of Dhagabad, so please check it out.

Which is the Trickiest Book in a Trilogy?

Which is the trickiest book in a trilogy to write?

Probably the second book. During the first book, you're still on that adrenaline rush. The third book (if you've planned your ending at least) is the big climax, so it's just a small matter (ha ha ha ha) of tying of loose strings.

But, oh, that second book. That dread middle!

Elana Johnson has a great post on this:
I think Book Two is the hardest. Let's just get that out in the open up front. The author has the challenge of living up to Book One, and the characters aren't new. The world isn't new. The problems aren't new. We got to see all of those things in the first book, so Book Two usually suffers from Little Sister Syndrome. In fact, in my exploration of trilogies, I read many (MANY) a second book that I felt was exactly like the first. I felt like I'd read the same book twice.
If your first book has already been published and found some fans, you're problem is worse. Now you have the added pressure of pleasing your fans as you sit and write. Argh. This can feel like you have a crowd peering over you shoulder as you type, and there's no faster way to hit writer's block. Mike Mullin discusses this in an interview with Lissa Price:
LISSA PRICE: Mike, your first book, ASHFALL, had tremendous awards and honors. You were one of NPR’s top 5 YA novels, and Kirkus had you on a Best Teen Book List as well as a starred review. There were many more honors. How did any of this affect you as you wrote the sequel, ASHEN WINTER? 
MIKE MULLIN: It has certainly increased my writerly anxiety. The question is always hovering just out of sight behind my left shoulder: Can I write anything as good as the first book? Answering that question will be up to my readers, of course. I'm not the only one who thinks so either.
A trilogy is the three act structure divided into novels. The second act is like the second line of a joke...the repetition of a pattern that will finally be broken in the third act. There is some repetition, therefore, inherent in the structure. While you don't want to simply repeat everything that happened in
Book 1, you have to repeat some elements. How can you maintain this balance?

Here's a quick and dirty list of seven tricks to get through the second book. Not all are necessary, of course (except the first, higher stakes--stakes should rise continually throughout a series).

1. The stakes are higher.
2. The protagonist is more powerful now than in the first book.
3. The protagonist loses a major ally.
4. The protagonist must make an unexpected alliance.
5. The love interest loses out (temporarily) to a rival.
6. A (false) victory for the hero. The reader knows it's not over, but not the hero.
7. A (false) victory for the villain--a dark night of the soul--in which the villain seemingly prevails.

Oct 17, 2012

WiP Wendesday - Excerpt from Blood

They swam away too quickly for her to follow.

“She’s not a bird,” Yastara laughed.

Lothlo grinned. “Let’s see if she’s a fish."

Before Dindi knew the rules of this new torment, they shoved her off the snowy outcrop, straight below into the ice cold water of the glacial lake. They jumped in after her, changing to fish. She floundered. Though she could swim, the water was so cold, it drove her to panic, and the choppy water didn’t help. The fae fish batted her around with their tails, bit her clothes and dragged her down.

Dindi fought off drowning. She struggled to push the water back under her rather than over her. She broke the surface, but only when they deigned to release her.

They were merfolk now, with fishy tails but their own faces and torsos, laughing at their joke. 

They swam away too quickly for her to follow. They had left her in the deep of the lake, no minor swim to shore. She forced her tired arms to swim. Exhaustion and hyperthermia almost defeated her, but she was damned if she would let these stupid, petty fae kill her. Just keep going, she urged herself. Just keep swimming.

The Aelfae were dancing on the shore when she arrived at last. She felt near dead from cold; their clothes were already dry. They danced around her, drying her clothes instantly, and warming her core. Probably they saved her life, but she felt only resentment. They had made their morning all about playing with her, to make her feel helpless and humiliated. Well, she’d been on that path before with human children, she didn’t plan to walk it a second time with fae who behaved like children.

“What’s next?” she demanded. “You could at least let me know.”

“Don’t be so sour,” laughed Yastara. “We were just having fun.”

That’s what makes it offensive, you selfish, thoughtless bi….

She didn’t have time to even complete the thought.

The mud exploded.

A monster of mud, squirming with worms, rotten with fetid leaves, stinking, foul, ghastly and oozing, burst out of the earth.

The gruesome thing … it was female. It was human… not human.

It was Aelfae.

“Gaya!” gasped Yastara. “Gaya Earthdancer! I haven’t seen you in ages…”

The taste of the darkness made Dindi want to retch. She recognized the uncleanness, the uncanny power. The same kind of penumbral knots animated this mud monster as had animated the bog mummy she had fought with Umbral.

“This isn’t who you think it is!” warned Dindi.

“This can’t be Gaya! The true Gaya was Cursed!” agreed Lothlo. 

We were dead too!” said Yastara. “She’s come back to life…”

Yastara ran toward the undead thing.

“No!” shouted Dindi.

It struck instantly. It lashed out its unnaturally long arms like whips of darkness. The mud monster snapped out one tentacle of darkness to strangle Yastara. The monster curled another rope of shadow around Lothlo’s waist and dragged him toward its rotting maw of a mouth, as if for an obscene kiss.

“Gaya… what are… you doing?” wheezed Yastara, trying to pry the black, oozing hand from her throat.

The thing latched jaws onto Yastara and began to suck the light from her.

Yastara screamed. Pain, shock, agony and disbelief mixed into the howl, which made Dindi’s back crawl with fear. Anything that could make an Aelfae scream…

Oct 16, 2012

Why Do Authors Make Readers Wait?

One of the rules--proved upon the soiled reputations of authors who have dared break it--is that authors should never respond to reviews. This is good advice, and I've never strayed.

Until now.

In an Amazon review, one person commented:

The only thing I hate about this series is that since they have all already "been written" according to the author, why am I waiting? I think that is nothing but cruelty.


If there are readers out there who indeed imagine that I have the entire series, perfect and polished, lurking on my hard-drive, and that I have been withholding this product from readers for no reason except to toy with my fans, as some sort of cruel fae might ... I feel obligated to demure. The opposite is true. I bring you the books as fast as I can; indeed, given that I rush my editor and typos slip through, perhaps faster than I should.

I am of course to blame for the delay, but this is a fault in my abilities, not in my intentions.

I have a terrible tendency to see a thing as complete once it is complete in my mind. I do have a "finished" draft of the entire story arc...with just a few blank spots...and the end more or less complete.... And so I naively thought it would not take me more than a month or two to trim the sails on each of the twelve volumes and send them sailing into the ocean of readers. And then I foolishly compounded the error by boasting about it, because I thought, well, then I'll have to keep my word or be most embarrassed.

And here I am, most embarrassed.

Here's what happened. As I took the draft of the first book, Initiate, I changed a few things from the draft. Not a lot, just improved it in some ways in response to comments by beta readers, and so on. Then in Book 2, Taboo, I had to change a few more things to keep it consistent with Initiate, and then in Book 3, Sacrifice, even more changes were needed to be consistent with the first three books... And Book 4, Root, had even more changes required, and things were getting more complicated, and then I came to Wing, and so many things needed to be changed, and the whole rest of the series drafts, as I had written them ages ago, were now out of date, that I felt as though everything was falling apart.

I had to go back to the outlining stage. It's counter-intuitive, but fixing a faulty draft is harder than outlining an unwritten book from scratch. If you have a draft, there are many scenes and plot-lines that you struggle to save, even though it might be easier to just toss them away. For instance, I knew for a long time that Umbral would kidnap Dindi, but when exactly did this occur?

When I write, I feel more like a detective than a puppeteer. I don't want to pull strings and yank my characters around. I want to discover what "really" happened. It's particularly tricky in Faearth, since everyone sees the world in different colors. When someone knows something is as important as what they know. The past erupts constantly into the present in Visions, but these Visions are always incomplete, and what import they carry is often changed by who sees them, and what else has happened since.

I admit a particular fondness for Wing. Maybe I lingered over it because I enjoyed writing it so much. But also, I simply couldn't bear it to be less than perfect. I can't tell you how many times I rewrote scenes, changed the order of things, wrestled with timelines, looking for the perfect "reveal."

And then there were the weeks when I despaired of making it right, and I fell into a despond, and wrote nothing day after day, and my unopened laptop followed me around the house like a accusation.

The day came when I opened the laptop again. I started writing again. I kept the scenes I loved most, and tossed out the scenes which had been dragging the book down. I re-wrote from scratch what needed re-writing and I finished a "rich outline" of both Book 5 and Book 6. (About 30,000 words for each book). Then I worked as fast as I could, to make up for all those months, to bring you Wing.

But I also promised myself that I would only release Wing once it was as good as I could make it. Even if I missed another deadline, even it took another year, another ten years. The hardest part after that was to be honest with myself, to admit when I had reached the limit of my ability, and the book was done.

Here is the truth about writers: we teeter between the burning drive to finish this work and the freezing despair that this work falls short. There's a part of me that would still be working on Wing right now, if I could, because it still needs improving in a thousand ways, and yet I know that it's as good as I can make it. That's the terrible thing, that a book can be as good as you (talentless wretch) can make it, but not as good as it should be.

There is one consolation. That is the next book. Ooooh, I am having such fun with Blood! It's 50,000 words complete, but I expect it to be at least twice that wordcount by the end--we shall see. But, oh, what fun. New villains rear up (well, they were always in the background before, but now they are right there, menacing Dindi in person), old friends return (but I won't say who!), Finnadro and Umbral get better acquainted, there's the small matter of saving the world, and we finally find out the answer to the question... is Kavio dead?

And I promise you, I will get Blood to you as soon as I can once it s as good as I can make it.

How To Write A Series - 03 - Expanse

A story requires a certain heft or breath or extension to justify a series -- what I'll call expanse. But it also needs a degree of cohesion to link the volumes of the series. This tension between expanse and cohesion is what makes for a good series.

Expanse can apply to one or more categories:

1. Length

Length is the first obvious test of a series. Some series are essentially one long story, split into separate volumes mostly for convenience. Possibly, as digital books replace paper books, the rational behind splitting the books up will not be a strong. We might see some authors publishing 500,000 or 1,000,000 word "novels." But I suspect even in that case, the story would be subdivided into sections of some sort. The cohesion of a long story is easy to see if it has the same protagonists, antagonists, theme and story arc.

2. Cast 

Cast is the number of major players involved in the story. The basic rule of thumb is that the more major characters there are -- usually this means they are PoV characters at some point -- the longer the story needs to be. Add enough characters and you almost have to have a series to do them all justice. The obvious question to ask is whether these characters' stories connect enough to justify inclusion in the same series. Perhaps their stories would be better told separately. The stories of the various characters must interact and influence each other enough to cohere as a series. In certain kinds of series, the link may indeed be tenuous. It's possible follow the successive stories of seven princes, three brothers, or successive generations, or employees at the same shadowy paranormal agency.

3. Duration

The duration of time covered in the story also impacts whether it makes sense as a series. If you're following a child through several years of school (Harry Potter) or a naval officer through his career (Horatio Hornblower), this expanse of time is well suited to a series. The cohesion comes from following the same character despite the long period of time covered.

4. Cases

Any story that follows a protagonist or multi-player cast through repeated episodes, incidents or cases of a similar type is well-suited to a series. This is why almost all detective and police procedural stories are natural series. The police or detectives take case after case, a new one (or more than one) in each book (or television episode). The same principle applies to any repeated case. Doctor / nurse / hospital stories easily fall into this pattern, as do spy stories. Buffy the Vampire Slayer weekly battled vamps and other demonic foes in Sunnydale. Tarzan repeatedly stumbled across blonde queens ruling lost cities in the middle of Africa. A key to a cohesive series is that the cases are all of a type. It wouldn't make sense, usually, to have a murder investigation in one episode, cure a sick man in another, and find a lost city in the third -- unless there was some other obvious connection (and these storylines were subplots). On the sf series Stargate, for instance, the team might do all of those things in different episodes, but all within the frame of visiting a new world through the Stargate.

5. Space

Finally, some worlds are so large that they need exploring. The journey or journeys to cross the world and explore the many nooks and crannies or subcultures requires a series. The space may be a cultural space: the subterranean criminal culture of gangsters (Sopranos) or prison inmates (The Wire) or 60s advertisement writers (Mad Men). It could be a world war or a civil war. Much epic fantasy not only has a large cast and long story arc, it also  showcases a unique magical world with its own distinct rules and cultures. The same is true for much space opera. Cohesion in such stories is provided by the protagonist/s as they traverse the various climes and demesnes of the world.

In general, the greater the expanse included in the story, the more likely it requires a series to explore fully. There is, however, a caveat; this must never be at the cost of the cohesion of the story. James Michener's novel The Source uses the frame of an archeological dig to glimpse into separate stories that cover thousands of years. The linking motif comes from objects dug up by the archeologists. These disparate stories, so far apart in time and cast, are joined into a believable unity by Michener's clever frame and by the fact that they all occur over the length of one novel. If Michener had tried to write a separate book for each time period, it would have been much harder to keep the story cohesive.

Oct 15, 2012

Awesome Shows With Paranormal / Dystopian Hotties

Have you seen the hotties on the new slew of paranormal and dystopian shows? Yuuuuummy. I salute my new faves. SPOILERS ALERT!!!


Genre: Dystopia

Premise: Despite the fact that nation states long preceded electricity, enduring thousands of years in much the same borders, and often with much the same form of governance, a sudden lack of iPhones able to play Angry Birds leads to the instant destruction of the United States. Everyone resorts to crossbows and thuggery.

Hotties To Watch Out For: Charlie is a badass heroine, who goes looking for her uncle--who turns out to be pretty badass himself. But the romance to keep your eye on is between Charlie and arrow-wielding Nate, who turns up to rescue her from some thugs and accompanies her on her journey.

What Keeps Them Apart: [SPOILER!] Nate works for the Bad Guy...he's been spying on the heroine the whole journey. Youch!

Tracy Spiridakos as Charlie Matheson flourishes her crossbow in "Revolution."

In the future, there's no guilt about taking freeways--they're strictly green.

Without cell phones, George Washington would not have been able to enforce the Constitution either.
JD Pardo as Nate. He made those arrows himself, sucka. And wove that skintight microfiber shirt on a hand-loom.


Genre: Super Hero

Premise: Billionaire hottie and good-time boy Oliver Queen was stranded on island for five years, all alone except for the martial arts school stranded with him.

Hotties To Watch Out For: [SPOILER!] Green Arrow is smokin'. With a name like Oliver Queen, and the nickname "Ollie," you can bet he got into a LOT of fights during his prep school days to prove his manhood. And it shows. But don't brush off his love interest. She might have some super chops of her own...

What Keeps Them Apart: [SPOILER!] Ollie's loyal, good-time boy bff... is the unexpected isosceles of this love triangle. I was hoping for Batman, but ok.

Fortunately, I never get tired of a man with a bow. Yummmmmm.

Awwww. None of these colors appears in the actual palette of the show.

Stephen Amell as the abs...I mean, Green Arrow. Hell yeah!

Beauty and the Beast:

Genre: Urban Paranormal Police Procedural

Premise: [SPOILER!] Law-Student-turned-Kickass-Cop-Detective heroine Cat is stalked by a mysterious rescuer, Doctor-turned-War Hero-turned-Presumed Dead Vet-Monster. Sadly, he's not a strange leonine magical were-beast but just a government-super-soldier from a project that lost funding (yawn). Also, his monster make-up is as weak as that premise. However, his winsome, heart-felt looks make up for everything.

Hotties To Watch Out For: Cat and Vince. Oh, the longing. Oh, the sexual tension. This is gonna be fun.

What Keeps Them Apart: [Don't worry, so predictable, not at all a spoiler.] Paraphrasing: "I'm a monster! I don't want to hurt you."

Brooding. Check.

Jay Ryan (“Terra Nova”) now back from fighting dinosaurs.

Catherine “Cat” Chandler (Kristin Kreuk) dines with monster Vincent Keller (Jay Ryan). "So... Do you want to eat me?"