Saturday, April 30, 2011

Zoinks! It's Ze End





It's April 30 - last day of A-Z. I've had a great month of challenging myself, meeting amazing new people, and just getting my thoughts out there.




But it's over. I'm relieved. I'm sad. I'm sorry I didn't get to as many blogs as I wanted. But I'm also pretty stoked about some of the ones I found - ones I will definitely be visiting A LOT in the future.

And as crazed as I was this month just trying to stay on top of this (and everything else!), I would do it all over again. Um, just not next month. I kinda need a break.

If you did the A-Z, how about YOU? How was your April blogging experience? And if you didn't, what challenges did YOU take on this April?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Y is for YA and Why I Write It

The other day I posted on why I write. Today I thought I’d share why I write YA (Young Adult) Fiction.

It doesn’t make sense, really. I mean, I’m around teenagers ALL DAY LONG. I teach YA. I tutor YA. I raise YA. I read YA. You’d think I’d be sick of it.

But I’m not.

Maybe it’s because I never grew up. Perhaps it's because I LOVE my kids. But I read a ton of YA. I write a lot of YA. And I can’t freaking change that. I get it. I get them. And I love being immersed in their worlds.

I think once you start writing, you begin to find your niche. I’ve tried my hand at romance. I don’t think I could ever do Sci Fi. Never non-fiction. I don't know. I can’t imagine writing anything but YA.

So . . . there you have it - I'm a glutton for teen angst.

Oh—and in other news. That YAtopia Pitch Contest I blogged about on N-day. Well, um . . . I won. Yeah—I was shocked too. In fact, I’m still registering it. I’m surprised I’m not typing this

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Totally gihugic. Totally validating. I wish every one could wake up to news like that.

Just in case you're curious - here’s the two-line pitch and opening sentence that secured me a chance to send sample pages to super fab agent Natalie Fischer.

Two-line pitch: Seventeen-year old Becky’s best friend kills himself without leaving a note. No call. Not even a farewell text. Yet as memories of that fateful night emerge from her subconscious, she suspects she may have had something to do with his death.

First sentence: Mookie's suicide hit like a sledgehammer to my chest.

Maybe someday my story will actually be in print. Some day.

Anyway—thought I’d share my good news. Not really announcing to toot my horn. Just feel like I need as many positive-o thoughts and prayers as possible.

Soooo - any good news YOUR way? What do YOU write? And why?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

X Marks The Spot





Easter Egg hunts, Goonies commercials, Dora the Explorer, and the story I want to write this summer have me in a one-track state of mind: Treasure hunts.




I looooove treasure hunts. It’s why I will watch Raiders of the Lost Ark until my eyes glaze over (well, the hunt AND Harrison Ford). It’s why I enjoy mystery and adventure books. Why I used to send my students on wild math goose chases.

But you don’t always need a map or a grand adventure to find your X-Marks-The-Spot, do you?

Nope.

Here are some small-ish treasures I enjoy uncovering in my sheltered little life:

1) My son’s smile when he sleeps

2) A two-hour delay

3) An email from my daughter’s teacher—telling me she’s won an art award

4) A 95 from the student who worked really hard to get it

5) Surprise gift card from my husband

6) Write-ins with amazing writing friends

7) A wall post from a former student when I’m having, like, the worst day ever.

8) A request in the midst of rejections

9) Sitting in the backyard with my husband—in comfy silence

10) Watching twenty first-graders scramble for Easter Eggs

11) A surprise York Peppermint Patty on my desk

12) A clean house after a long day at work

13) Reading with my children

And there are so many more, but these are a few things I like to “dig up.” How about YOU? What are your favorite treasures?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Why I Write

There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t ask myself this question. I spend (literally) most of my spare time doing something writing related. My family gets ignored way too often. My body’s flabbier than it was three years ago. I awake most days around 4:30 and average (maybe) five hours of sleep a night. And my self-confidence level has had more vertical drops on the emotional rollercoaster than it did during my teenage years.

So, why? Why do I keep writing?

1) Writing, for me, is like exercise. At times I’m ready to jump in and overexert myself so that I can’t possibly do anything for the next three days. Other times, I’m mucho averse to getting started. I productively procrastinate—do EVERYTHING else on my to-do list before I sit in the chair, turn on the netbook, and peck away. But once I do start typing, I begin to find my groove. I get into a rhythm. And it feels so, so good. The roads aren’t always smooth. I hit a few bumps along the way. But I endure. And, several hours later, I close out my document with an overwhelming sense of satisfaction and pride. Like, OMG, I WROTE THAT. Wow.

2) When I write, I get immersed in the “zone.” I know exactly (okay—maybe not EXACTLY) why my boys love their football, why they miss it so much when they leave high school. There’s a lot of pre-work for their glory. There’s a lot of researching and outlining for mine. But when they take the field, they are completely THERE. Totally, completely focused. In. The. Zone.

The zone is the most glorious place to be. I’m in a different world of my own creation, with people (my imaginary friends) I LOVE to be with. We trudge through the muck together, experience each other’s pain, and celebrate our victories.

And when it’s time to power down, I can’t wait to boot up for more.

PS—I very much love my own reality, but I love to go to my “happy place” too.

3) Finally, because I love it. Despite the vulnerability, the rejection. The permanent prescription to Prozac (just kidding). I love to write. I can’t exactly explain why I love to write. It’d be like me trying to figure out why someone LIKES to sew. Or why someone would teach middle school. Those things are not for me. And I’m sure those people who do those things could tick off a long list of reasons why they do them. It wouldn’t sell me on it. EVER. But I can understand love.

PS—one of my super-duper writer friends posted this amazeballs blog the other day on how writing makes you like an insane bird. (If you or your loved one is a writer, you should totally check it out here. Trust me.)

Anyhoo, she compared writing to a robin’s inane choice to thrust itself into her sliding glass door every morning. It’s totally me. In fact, I’ve adopted Robin as my new nickname. Now all I need is a trusty Batman and together we’ll conquer the writing world.

So—I write because I love to write. Or I’m completely nutso. Like this guy




What do YOU love to do?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

V is for Vulnerable

Crack open rib cage; expose heart.

That’s how I feel when I hand off my work to someone. Leaves me with this amazing sense of vulnerability. I write some fairly edgy stuff, sometimes sappy love scenes, other times I’m a complete NERD. What if people say, “I can’t believe she wrote this.” Or what if they think I completely suck. I feel the same way with my blog—it takes me FOREVER to hit Publish Post.


Just the thought of other people’s reactions brings this image to mind




*shivers*

But sharing my work is an essential part of the process. Exposing my work heart to people who can help me grow as a writer, who can give me insights on plot holes or reality checks on how teenagers really operate. I beast my bout with vulnerability, and I just do it. I share my work. And I thicken my skin for the reactions. Some people love my stuff. Others don’t. Believe it or not, not everyone’s a Twilight fan. There are some people who weren’t totally enthralled by Harry Potter (gasp). It’s okay if someone doesn’t care for my story (sniff). It’s the feedback that matters.

Oh—PS—it’s totally okay to share with people I know will love, love, love my story—no matter how suck-worthy it is. These are my die hard fans. And I need their constant encouragement.

So here’s my heart, peeps.



Try not to burn it . . . too bad.

What's YOUR V-spot? Anything you have trouble sharing with others?

Monday, April 25, 2011

U is for Urban Dictionary

We all have our resources. Since I teach teens and write YA, one of my biggest informers is urban dictionary. Yeah, it's a little gross, sometimes majorly TMI. Quite often I hit a series of definitions and find myself ROFL.

But when I'm trying to figure out exactly what my kids are really saying or if I need one more synonym for gihugic or junk, I'll do a quick UDCU (Urban Dictionary Cover Up). And sometimes while I'm "researching," I stumble across a phrase that elicits an "oh . . . OH."

Yeah - that's what she said.

Just FYI - here are some interesting new words I found this morning:

ear worm

productive procrastination (I do this ALL the time!)

arch douche

boregasm

whoredrobe

uberific (I just really wanted to see if it was in there)

Ha. I can totally see some of those words finding their way into a novel.

So - urban dictionary. Sometimes vomit-worthy, often informative, always entertaining.

What are some of YOUR favorite resources?

Friday, April 22, 2011

S is for Spring Break/T is for Thank God


I’m officially on spring break (delayed much?). Here are my big plans for the week:

1) Sleep
2) Go to the beach
3) Sleep at the beach

Haha – kidding. Well, I plan to do those things, but there are a few more, like spend time with the family I hardly ever see, read, catch up on critiquing, and uh, RELAX (not sure if that’s possible for me, but maybe)

Oh, yeah—and WRITE.

My soul needs serious resurrection as does my WIP. So I’m devoting some major time to it next week.

And I. Cannot. Wait.

Spring break is here. And I am majorly thankful. Here are a few more things/people I’m grateful for: God, family, friends, job (some days), chocolate. Dance. My netbook. You. God has blessed me. Big time.

PS—in case you didn’t notice, I cheated on my S-T blog in a one-two post. I’m taking the weekend off from writing blogs. And catching up on reading them. So until Monday, peeps. Happy Easter.

How about YOU? Anything you’re looking forward to next week?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Rip-Roaring Reads

Here are the book flap sums on some pretty amazing novels I've read recently. You should totally check them out.



Fifteen-year-old Matt Gratton and his two best friends, Coop and Sean, always set themselves a summertime goal. This year's? To see a real-live naked girl for the first time — quite a challenge, given that none of the guys has the nerve to even ask a girl out on a date. But catching a girl in the buff starts to look easy compared to Matt's other summertime aspiration: to swim the 100-yard butterfly (the hardest stroke known to God or man) as a way to impress Kelly West, the hot new girl on the swim team. So what if he can't manage a single lap, let alone four? He's got the whole summer to perfect his technique. What could possibly go wrong?


I've developed an affinity lately for "boy books." Swim the Fly is the FUNNIEST, most amazing one I've ever read. AWESOME.






Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker--his classmate and crush--who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah's voice explains that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he'll find out why.





Two words - emotional powerhouse. It will make you think about EVERY action you take, every word you say. Gripping. Compelling. Gut. Wrenching.



What if you had only one day to live? What would you do? Who would you kiss? And how far would you go to save your own life?

Samantha Kingston has it all: the world's most crush-worthy boyfriend, three amazing best friends, and first pick of everything at Thomas Jefferson High—from the best table in the cafeteria to the choicest parking spot. Friday, February 12, should be just another day in her charmed life.

Instead, it turns out to be her last.

Then she gets a second chance. Seven chances, in fact. Reliving her last day during one miraculous week, she will untangle the mystery surrounding her death—and discover the true value of everything she is in danger of losing.



Think Groundhog Day meets Mean Girls. I'll be honest - initially, I was put off by the main character, the premise. Obviously I didn't give up on it. Obviously I don't feel that way now. This book will make you want to scream. This book will break your heart. It's vivid, packed with emotion, and amazingly REAL.





Seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker, bookworm and band geek, plays second clarinet and spends her time tucked safely and happily in the shadow of her fiery older sister, Bailey. But when Bailey dies abruptly, Lennie is catapulted to center stage of her own life—and, despite her nonexistent history with boys, suddenly finds herself struggling to balance two. Toby was Bailey's boyfriend; his grief mirrors Lennie's own. Joe is the new boy in town, a transplant from Paris whose nearly magical grin is matched only by his musical talent. For Lennie, they're the sun and the moon; one boy takes her out of her sorrow, the other comforts her in it. But just like their celestial counterparts, they can't collide without the whole wide world exploding.



Out of all four of these fantabulous, FANTABULOUS reads, this is the one I'll read over and over and over again. And we all know I DO NOT re-read books. EVERYONE should read this book. EVE-RY-ONE.

Any good reads on YOUR shelf?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Quotes That Keep Me Going

Never tell me the odds! — Han Solo

Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him — Psalm 37:7

It’s all about the climb — Miley Cyrus

Believe in love. Believe in magic. Hell, believe in Santa Claus. Believe in others. Believe in yourself. Believe in your dreams.
If you don't, who will?
- Jon Bon Jovi

I go to seek a great perhaps—Fran├žois Rabelais

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.—Ray Bradbury

The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.—Sylvia Plath

Don’t stop believing—Journey

If I chance to talk a little wild, forgive me. - William Shakespeare

The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack in will. - Vince Lombardi

Write your first draft with your heart. Re-write with your head. - From the movie Finding Forrester

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined. - Henry David Thoreau

You miss 100% of the shots you don't take. - Wayne Gretzky

If you can dream it, you can do it. - Walt Disney


Keep away from people who try to belittle your dreams. Small people always do that, but the really great ones make you feel that you too, can become great. - Mark Twain

Whether you think you can, or think you can't,
you're probably right.
- Henry Ford

Never, never, never, never give up. - Winston Churchill


So? Do YOU have any quotes that "keep you going?"

Pitches and Peeps

Got your pitch ready? You know—that pithy snappy sentence conveying the gist of your 80K story. The “hook” that reels everyone in. The premise that Save the Cat’s Blake Snyder describes as a “dramatic situation that is like an itch you have to scratch.”

The pitch is the one- or two-liner that answers the question:

What’s your book about?

Wait. You’re telling me I have to boil down my 80,000 word novel to a sentence? What?

Daunting task? Yes.

Do-able? Yes, again.

What exactly goes into a pitch?

According to Blake Snyder, your pitch should include irony, a compelling picture, your target audience, and a killer title. Here's an example.

A business man falls in love with a hooker he hires to be his date for the weekend. (Pretty Woman)

Essentially your log line should convey these three things…

1) the main character (who the story’s about)
2) his goal (what he wants)
3) the antagonistic force (what stands in his way)

An archeologist (main character) is hired by the U.S. government to find the Ark of the Covenant (goal) before the Nazis (antagonistic force). (Raiders of the Lost Ark)

And a totally amazing pitch will leave your audience dying to know more.

When do you pitch?

Oh—you know—at that conference, standing in line for the bathroom next to (insert dream agent’s name).

Kidding.

Honestly though. I’ve taken duo elevator rides with agents, stood next to them in the bathroom at the sinks, found myself next to them in line at lunch. Did I make a pitch? No. Not because I’m the biggest wimp and sorriest networker on the planet. I’ve just heard how so many of them hate the elevator pitch. I mean, think about it, would you want to potty dance next to someone who’s going on and on about their super fabulous book that they wrote because of a dream they had and it’s going to be the next big thing—bigger than Twilight—when all you really want to do is pee.

Pitches should be delivered at pitch sessions and slams. After a workshop with super dream agent. (Or during the workshop—depending on the nature of the workshop).

Or in a query letter.

So pitches? Do YOU have a totally amazing one? I'd love to hear!

Oh - and since Peter Cottontail’s hopping down the bunny trail, a shout out to PEEPS.





Yummers. I particularly like the pink ones. And the purple. And the green. Oh, heck—it’s SUGAR. I like them all!

But also a shout out to all my other peeps. My writer peeps, my teacher peeps, my blogger peeps, my former student peeps, my current student peeps, my dance peeps, my family peeps—ALL OF YOU.

I heart you dearly. Without you, I wouldn’t know what total unconditional love and support is. Without you I wouldn’t keep following my dream. Without you I wouldn’t have followers. Or people to read these sappy, nutty blogs. I’m truly thankful for all of you and SO glad to know you.

I LOVE peeps.

Soooo—what’s (who’s) YOUR favorite kind of peep?!

Monday, April 18, 2011

O is for Octopus




I want to be an octopus. No, really I do. To have eight arms—eight! Imagine the possibilities. I could type four novels at the same time. I could pour milk, make breakfast, pack lunches, and tie up the garbage—all at once! I could write an example on the white board, type functions into the calculator, write up that kid texting in the corner—and sign two bathroom passes.



What would be even better—if they were Elasti-girl stretchy arms.




Eight arms would be great, right? Or eight legs. I’d even take eight eyes on the back of my head. Or eight clones—now THAT would be cool.

So, how about YOU? What would you like eight of?

Friday, April 15, 2011

N is for Nerdfighters And New Contest!!!

Gotta love the Green brothers . . .



Hank tells some seriously nerdy jokes. Harry Potter, theoretical physics, Star Trek, Star Wars, Chemistry, Engineering, Philosophy, Math, Computer Science...it's all fair game.


Yep - I'm in love.

In other News, YAtopia is hosting a pitch contest with Natalie Fischer of Bradford Literary! Anyone with a completed, ready-to-pitch manuscript should enter! Hurry! It's only open to the first 150 and ends midnight April 21!

Any news YOUR way?

Menagerie

1) A collection of wild and unusual animals, especially for exhibition.

2) An unusual and varied group of people

I have menageries in my books. Well, not animal menageries. Character menageries. And my favorites definitely fit the mold of “wild and unusual.”

I believe it’s essential to have a menagerie of characters in stories—do they have to be eccentric? No. But they should all be different. With distinguishing quirks, habits, physical traits, and backgrounds. Unless, of course, you write for the Bob Newhart Show, and you have three backwards brothers like Larry, Darryl, and Darryl.




But even if the brothers act the same and two of them talk once in a full moon - gosh. Look at them. They’re physically different. Distinguishable. Unique. They gave the show more character. More dimension. Richness.

And THAT should happen in books too.

In my first project, I wrote out several character analyses. In my head (and I know this is BAD), I had a movie poster of my five main characters—like this




I could picture each one of them because of that image in my head. And they were unique—from hair color to height to skin color. Different. Not only that, but they all had different powers (duh), and they all had extremely unique personalities, diverse backgrounds, and definitely dissimilar quirks.


For me, the menagerie was essential—two of my star players were named Brent and Bender—their names were so close, I had to make them extraordinarily different. But the variations added richness to my story. At times, I didn’t even need dialogue tags, because based on actions or manner of speaking, the speaker was crystal clear.

In my most recent project, I have to work a little harder at creating the menagerie. My mc isn’t a big guy, but his three buds are offensive linemen. They’re all about the same size and enjoy a lot of the same things so I dug a little deeper into their personalities to make them more distinguishable. And multi-dimensional. And frankly, more entertaining.

So menageries—I think it’s important to have them in your stories. They distinguish your players and add richness to the script. And while they may or may not be wild animals, I for one hope to one day see my collection caged up in a book and prominently displayed on many shelves.

How about YOU? Who are some of your favorite wild and unusual characters?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Lessons Learned

Patience is not in a three year old’s vocabulary. It’s not in mine either.

Teenagers don’t enjoy simplifying rational expressions—no matter how fun you try to make it.

Don’t carry four year olds down old wooden steps.

Disney World never loses its magic.

Pulling two all-nighters in a row turns you into a zombie for a month.

Alphabetizing CDs and organizing closets are fabulous ideas—unless you have children.

Band-Aids cannot heal broken hearts. Well, unless it’s a SpongeBob Band-Aid.

Being a big fish in a small pond is great. Until you audition for Hershey Park.

Sorry is not always enough.

An hour meltdown is NOT worth saying “no” to the dollar aisle.

Neither is obsessing over open drawers.

Pick your battles.

Sometimes it really is better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission.

There are some people you CAN’T trust with your work.

And some people you can depend on for EVERYTHING.

Kinston Indians games are extraordinary places to find a soul mate.

Visiting Washington DC is so much better as an adult.

Twilight and Harry Potter are the EXCEPTION.

Silence is bliss.

Ignoring something will not make it disappear.

Sometimes it’s okay to be lazy. Or procrastinate.

Rum is a four letter word.

I cry at the end of every movie. And book. Seriously.

Dance bags and 120 degree stages are not conducive to the health of a skinny eighteen year old.

Slamming doors is not going to remedy a situation. It just shatters glass and leaves you with a big mess to clean up.

Practice really does make better.

Sometimes seventeen year olds act like third graders. Sometimes they act older than you.

Worrying is the biggest time suck. And wrinkle-producer.

You can’t get back your first kiss.

Four month olds don’t understand the importance of sleep.

Make sure if you're going to get an amazeballs tattoo that you double check the spelling.

I can accomplish something if I REALLY want to. Like write two books in seven months. Or lose sixty pounds of Aidan fat.

God always seems to know when I need a lift. Or when I need to be knocked off my pedestal.

And that I absopositively can accomplish NOTHING without Him.

Every day, every moment is truly a learning experience.

FortyTwenty-nine years of living has taught me a lot. A LOT. Some have been harsh lessons. Others profound mind zaps. Some lessons find their way into my stories. To others I say, “Forget you.”


Soooo - what lessons have YOU learned this week?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Killer Titles

*Two K posts today people! Two! Scroll down if you want to see my post on Killer Scars!*


A couple months back I read Save the Cat—it’s a screenwriter’s Bible, but it’s great for any writer. Author Blake Snyder talks about four things every logline should have. One of them is a Killer title. What exactly constitutes a killer title? Well, according to the fabulous Mr. Snyder: “A great title must have irony and tell the tale.”

In other words, you must have a title that's completely selling and telling.

Think about it—if you never saw a preview for a movie or read a book flap. You skip the TV Guide. You ignore the one line pitch. What grabs you? What makes you want to read THAT book? Or see THAT movie? With thousands of movies to see, a katrillion books to read—in today’s ADHD society, you need a killer title to make people stop and go hmmmm.

So, some killer titles?

Here are some of my fave movie and book titles—ones that “had me at hello.”

Legally Blonde
Bruce Almighty
Dead Man Walking
Back to the Future
True Lies
Die Hard


Books?

The DUFF
Paper Towns
Swim the Fly
Maximum Ride
The Lovely Bones
Living Dead Girl



Does every fab novel have a killer title? No, but in an age where a lot of talented people are auditioning their manuscripts for Agent Idol, having a killer title can be the hook that reels you in.

SO –what are some of YOUR favorite titles?

Killer Scars

*Two K posts today people! Two! Scroll up if you want to see my post on Killer Titles!*



Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.


This Week's Topic:

What is the story of your best scar?

Physical Scars? Since you’re reading the Blog of a Wimpy Kid, I don’t have many astounding scar stories. About the best I can offer—when I used my foot as a bike brake and scraped off the front of my big toe. Ouch. I don’t even think childbirth was that painful.

Now emotional? My skin is paper thin so I’ve gotta ton of stories there, but I think the harshest scars on my heart are the ones that involve my children. Being a parent is like being E.T. If they get hurt, I hurt. I internalize their rejection. I feel their pain. Probably the worst—one of my children had to get a shot in the rear. My kids are fighters so it took a couple nurses to hold this one down. I tried to look away. I tried to ignore the screaming. The crying. The sobs that eventually paled to dull whimpers. To watch someone else “hurt” my child, even if it is for the better, shreds my heart. It heals. They heal. But it still leaves my heart with one killer scar.

So how about you, what’s YOUR best scar story?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Jacking Up Your Stories - Brought To You By Jerks, Jekylls, and Jabba the Hutt



Got any Jerks in your novel? How about a Dr. Jekyll? Perhaps a slimy slug like Jabba the Hutt?

I do. And my novel is completely Jacked up (Significantly increased or expanded) because of them.

So - what's so great about these J dudes and how do they give novels a lift?

Jerk? You gotta have the jerk. Like HP’s Draco Malfoy, Gatsby’s Tom Buchanan, or Toy Story’s Sid Phillips. The jerk (aka the big bully) provides the perfect antithesis to your hero. And creates sympathy for the main character and everyone else. And well, your characters can’t all be good guys, right?!

Jekyll? And Hyde? Good guy by day, devil inside. Does your story have to have one? I don’t know, but mine always seem to.

And Jabba the Hutts? Those grotesque, skeevy characters that make your stomach want to turn inside itself. I’m not talking the incongruous grotesque like Beast or The Hunchback of Notre Dame that induce empathy. Or even the Fregleys of books you almost feel sorry for.

I’m talking the ones who make you shudder and slam the book shut the moment they walk onto the page. You know – like Voldemort—ugh—no wonder people don’t want to say his name. Or President Snow(Hunger Games). He STILL sends shivers down my spine.

And sometimes you can have all three J’s in one character—I’ve got one like that. Complete jerk to the girl he shows his Hyde to. Makes me want to shower repeatedly after reading his scenes. Yuck. Still shuddering.

Of course, there are good jerks and Jabbas we eventually come to love. Like The DUFF’s Wesley Rush or Hunger Games’ Haymitch. Shoot. I even have a soft spot for Snape. And the new and reformed Draco.

So how do these repugnant characters jack up your novel? Aside from making your mc look THAT much better, the baddies can provide humorous outakes—especially when fates befall them. Remember Delores Umbridge’s giant encounter? Ever read a book when the school pig/bully wakes up with one less eyebrow or suffers embarrassment from, uh, baring his wares?

Jerks and Jabbas can force your protagonists outside of their comfort zone, make them take chances they wouldn’t ordinarily take. Or, believe it or not, affect your protags lives for the better. The baddies can completely enrich your script—especially when they’re multi-dimensional. And leave your novel completely Jacked up.

Of course there are those that are completely jacked up in a very jacked up sort of way. You see, Jacked up can also mean “messed up.” Reprehensible. Objectionable.

And have I got some way too jacked-up J words for you…





Jersey Shore

Justin Bieber

Jacob Black





Oh wait—did I offend anyone? My bad.

Hee.

So here’s to a totally Jacked up day for you—the good Jacked.

And may the Jerks, Jekylls, and Jabbas out there expand your horizons and enrich your lives.

What about YOU? Who are some of your favorite Jerks in stories?

Monday, April 11, 2011

I is for Ideas



So here’s the dealz, peeps – I have, like, a serious problem. No, really serious. It’s related to Ideas for stories.

And how I have too many of them.



Now, I know what you’re thinking—TOO MANY IDEAS?! I know, I know—it’s a GOOD problem to have. And they’re not just ideas – some are premises, but others are full-blown out plots, running like a movie in my head—characters included. I’m trying to finish up a story and have three dying to be written. Three more wait in the wings, and that’s not counting a sequel and a triquel to one, and then four others floating around in my head with sketchy premises.

Which leads me to my next “I” problem—Impatience. Yep—gotta big problem with that too. Like, I want to write all of them RIGHT NOW.

And if you’re a writer, you know how Important it is to be patient. In every aspect of the craft. Not only in finishing your story, but then allowing yourself distance from it, time for revisions, second revisions, fiftieth revisions. And if and when you do hook an agent, it could be months before you’re ready to go out on submissions, and then possibly more months before you get a publisher. And then a typical eighteen months to two years until your book hits the shelves.

Um, yeah—definitely a need for patience.

I don’t know about you—but I’m willing to wait. I just gotta tame the almighty Impatient bug. And take things one day, one story at a time.

How about YOU? Any I-problems you’re facing today?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

H is for Heart

The letter H is brought to you by Alison's Inner Pep Talks. Hope it helps you too.

Write your first draft with your heart. Re-write with your head.” (Finding Forrester)

Ignore trends. Don't worry about grammar. Tune out your perfectionist evil inner editor.



Instead, listen to your intuition. Trust your ideas. Hear your heart. Write what you love. Write what you know. Write because you want to write.



The rest will eventually fall into place.

What's driving YOUR story today? Is it your head? Or your heart?

Friday, April 8, 2011

G is for Giveaways (and Great Contests)

Thought I'd share a few giveaways and contests I stumbled upon lately.

Jennifer Hoffine used the A-Z blog challenge as a chance to give away all sorts of cool prizes - books, ARCs, and a Barnes and Nobles gift certificate. She calls it the How Many Have You Read/Heard Contest. Each day will feature YA audiobooks she's listened to that have titles starting with that day's letter. All you have to do is stop by her blog and comment on the one's you've read. Neat, huh? She's so clever - I wish I would've thought to do that.

Donea Lee hosts a Caption Contest as part of her A-Z challenge. Check it out. An Amazon gift card could be yours!

Elana Johnson's debut novel Possession hits the shelves in two months and she's having a giveaway to celebrate! Check it all out here.

Any of my book blogger friends interested in attending the BBC in New York? Click here or here for chances at scholarships.

Suzie Townsend of Fine Print Literary offers a chance to win a copy of Invincible Summer. The contest involves writing a one hundred word story so you might want to hurry on that one - the contest ends at midnight tonight.

Don't forget about the Writer's Digest Short Story Competition! You could win cash and a trip to the WD Conference in New York! Click here for more info. Deadline is May 2.

And the Bookanistas are giving back. Click here for an inspiring story, a chance to support an amazing cause, and win all kinds of really cool stuff.

I know there are a whole bunch of other cool giveaways and contests out there. If you're hosting a contest or giveaway, email me at alisonmiller20@gmail.com. If I get several emails about contests, I may post a follow-up early next week.

SO, any contests you're excited about?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Free Ballin', Feel Ups, and Fakin' It

I couldn’t choose, peeps. Actually I could have discussed several other F words—Flirt, Freak, Foreplay—but I thought I’d just drop three F-bombs today.

Haha. Good thing I’m not getting a grade on this post, cause it’s gonna be completely F-ed up.

First up - Free Ballin’

So I started this story back in September about an eighteen-year old recovering manwhore with a, uh, “special ability” to get any girl he wants. I wrote 30K, took a break to revise another project, wrote another 25K before I had to break for revisions again. In a nutshell, the whole project’s swelled into a massive bulge of crazy, and so I’m taking time right now to re-outline, edit scenes, insert a few scenes, and kill others off.

Writing from a guy’s POV—it’s hard work. Sometimes it takes me a long time to get through a scene. Sometime’s the writing’s so stiff I need a tent to cover it up so no one else will see it.

But to be honest - I find I write the best stuff when I'm freeballing. Going commando. Uh-huh. I’m much better off when I let it all hang out.

In ANY piece of writing.

It’s so freeing. Just to write whatever comes to mind, unedited, unrated. And then I just go back and bleep out the bad parts.

So I’m back to writing my guys. I’m taking my daily shot of testosterone, creeping a few walls. Watching Friday Night Lights and reading amazing books like Swim the Fly.

Look out world - I'm strapping some on and lettin' 'em hang loose.

As for Feel Ups

I’m not talking the unwelcome ones you get from airport security or from the perv who just “brushes by” you. Nah. I’m talking the feel-good feel-ups. Like when someone’s unexpected compliment sends your spine into explosive tingles. Or makes your face flush and your heart race at an unfathomable rate.

Okay - so I probably just made up a whole new take on copping a feel, but I think it fits. For me, anyway. And while no one's touching me physically, some people are touching my heart. Lately I’ve received some blog awards, some pats on the back, unexpected thank you presents, and all-around fabulous praise. No, pervs - it's not sexually stimulating, but it does stimulate the writing. And makes me feel like I got one hot project going on.

Soooo - my Thursday feel-good feel up is for my Fantastic Followers. You're all Flippin' Fabulous and I'm so glad to know you. Some of you will be seeing some awards in your future.

Finally - Fakin’ It

I’ve been faking it a lot lately. Faking the smile when I really feel miserable. Faking the confidence when I’m convinced I suck. But as good an actress as I can be, sometimes it’s hard to muster believable excitement.

Somedays, when I'm feeling rather grumpy, I don't put on airs. I just bark at everyone in a mile radius and sulk until my frown's sagging to the floor.

Problem with that - well - no one wants to be around Debbie Downer. No one wants to be around someone who puts themselves down all the time. Most people like to be around people who are happy. And naively optimistic. And besides, sometimes when I feel low and I let myself be miserable, it just leads to more misery. Like I actually feel worse.(as if that could possibly happen)

But honestly, sometimes when you fake it—the grin, the confidence. I don’t know. You start to feel it. Like pretending I’m happy can sometimes make me feel happy.

So if you’re not feeling it, fake it. Chances are, the more you pretend, the more your little masquerade morphs into something real.

So, blog faithfuls, where are YOU today? Are you copping a feel or is someone feeling you up? Are you faking it? Letting yourself be free?

Um—PS—did anyone else have Fun writing their F-post today? I had a ball, or shall I say balls (haha).

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Exercise (and Evil Ellipticals)






Exercise. You know - running, walking, thirty-minute sweat sessions on the elliptical. Yep - my E-post is on exercise.









And how much I love it.

I know, I know - exercise? Really? But before you click off completely - here are three reasons why I absopostively relish the exercise regime in my extraordinarily busy day.

1) As averse as I am to getting my butt on the elliptical, when I finish I have an overwhelming sense of accomplishment - like - Haha fat cells! You're not attacking my body!

2) Gotta keep the girlish figure somehow

3) Most importantly - exercise can be soooo mind-opening.

Yes - mind - OPENING.

Check out a typical Saturday morning.

I down my morning cup cups of coffee sugar, staring at my laptop. I'd made great plans - get up before the kids - hash out that next chapter in my WIP. However, I've typed two sentences in twenty minutes. My 2000 word goal seems impossible. My butt's eating calories from the chair. I'm not making ANY progress. SO I shove my feet into worn Nikes, pop a bud in each ear, and ease on down the road. My legs are moving.

But it's my mind doing the most wandering.

My workouts don't just work my body. They work my mind. Scenes smack me in the head, sometimes the images so vivid I almost race back to the house to jump on my computer. A-ha moments emerge from the subconscious mid-elliptical stride. I have gotten more amazing ideas, answers to characterization or plot questions I drove myself nuts over, even drummed out profound thoughts for future blogs. All because I took thirty minutes to shut the rest of the world off and allow my mind to be free, open to possibilities.

Now, don't get me wrong, there are plenty of times I block out an afternoon for writing, inspiration hits, and I bang out 3000 words. But there's something about stepping away from the computer, ignoring my writer's block, and just allowing the subconscious to fix the problems, add nuances, or even open my mind to a new character that makes me stop mid-walk and go Huh.

Exercise - I loooove it. And I'm evil McGrumpy on the days I don't get any.

And the elliptical? Why is he evil?

Because he's broken. And I know my elliptical did it on purpose - trying to force me to enjoy a walk in the great outdoors. Evil.

So...how about YOU? Love it? Hate it? What's YOUR take on exercise?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

D is for Dinosaurs



I posted this a while back, but I needed the laugh today. Thought maybe you could use one too. Either that or an inspiration for a future book.





Click here for a snorting-good time.


So anything funny YOUR way?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Critique Partners

Good critique partners are hard to come by. I am blessed with four valuable CPs who read my stuff with objective eye and give me amazing insight. They’re out there, playing the same game I am, people who are in the biz or are at a similar stage in their writing. One of my writing betas is a freelancer who is top-notch at the editing process—helping me make those cuts I can’t bear to make myself. Another critique partner gives me the most amazing line edits while two others help with voice and big picture issues.

They help me with all kinds of writing stuff - from formatting my manuscript to making me show and not tell. They call me on my redundancies and inconsistencies. Thanks to one of them, I finally learned how to make an "em" dash. And then I passed the info onto another.

How do you find them? I found most of mine through writing conferences. I know some have found their writing buds on Twitter, through blogging. There are always people out there looking, just ask. Heck. That’s what I did.

What exactly makes a good critiquing relationship? For everyone I’m sure it’s different, but here are a few things that have worked for me…

1) Bringing different strengths to the relationship—aka one might be amazing at descriptions or characterization, while the other specializes in effective dialogue or action.

2) Being tactfully honest. In other words, there are nice ways to tell someone that something's not working. The goal is to improve. Learning to take criticism and to give it constructively are an essential part of an effective critiquing relationship. Treat the work (and the author) with respect. I know sharing my work is a HUGE vulnerability point for me. It takes a lot of courage to let someone else in on your writing.

And - PS - try to keep in mind that when someone does a critique for you, they are not critiquing you. They are critiquing your work. Again - the goal is to improve.

3) Accentuating the positives. There’s ALWAYS something good you can find in a piece of writing. ALWAYS.

4) Letting your critique partner know what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for nitty-gritty line edits or an overall feel from the project, let your CPs know. And expect the same in return. No one’s a mind reader. Well…at least I don’t claim to be.

5) Setting realistic goals—for yourself and your CP. One of my CPs and I try (and we really do try) to trade off a chapter or two a week. Another one likes to work on my projects in small chunks. Another one begs me for the next chapter faster than I can get it to her. (PS – LOVE THAT!) Whatever works—just establish it up front.

And do you always follow every bit of advice? That depends. If you neglect commas in independent clauses on a semi-paragraph basis (ahem…like me), you might want to “make those changes.” But if one CP has a problem with something and the others don’t, then I might pass on that suggestion. That’s why it’s important to have more than one—everyone brings different perspectives to the table.


And while having critiquers, and good critiquers at that, is an essential part of the writing process, I have also discovered that being a good critique partner is equally important.

WHAT?! Are you kidding me? I’m a full-time teacher, a mom, a Facebook addict, and I write! When do I have time to read somebody else’s stuff?!

But I do it. I read other people’s WIPs. I edit articles. I practically beg my seniors to let me red ink their research papers. Why?

a) I looove to read. And shoot—when I read someone else’s work,I get to read FOR FREE.

b) The more I edit, the more critical eye I have for my own work. When I tell my seniors to quit using so much passive voice, guess what? I engage in more active voice in my own stories. When I edit redundancy in someone else’s work, I’m less redundant in mine.

So—hopefully you get it. The more I critique someone else’s work, the more technical I get with my own writing.

Finally, critiquing brings a certain level of intimacy—after all, I’m cracking open my rib cage and exposing my heart to these people. So it’s no wonder one of my CPs has come to be one of my closest friends.

Critique partners - they're essential. Find them, relish them.

I know I absolutely heart mine.

So, fellow bloggers, what do YOU love about your critique partners?!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Book Club

A couple months ago I joined a book club—I know, I know! Like I need something else on my plate! But I figured, I love reading. I love to talk about books. Eh…why not, right?

Holy Beautifully Brilliant Bookanistas

Yep—Book Club really is that fabulous.

Here are seven things I completely heart about Book Club

1) The food—it’s like dinner on the Julia Childs’ show. A mini-meal compliments of Super Chefs-R-US. Desserts rivaling Martha Stewart. Even the wine’s divine. Yeah—my new book club friends are so going to regret letting me in their group when it’s my turn to host.

2) The book discussion—enlightening, informative, engaging. It’s an interactive Good Reads. Love it.

3) Three hours of “me” time. Enough said.

4) The non-book-related tangents. Hi-larious. I think I snort more in those three hours than I do in a month.

5) The ladies—my new book club friends—they’re beautiful, sparkling, vivacious people and I’m so glad to know them.

6) Have I mentioned the food? Mmmmm…

7) And finally…I love book club because it gets me to read books I wouldn’t ordinarily read. And not just any books—prodigiously fantastic books. Normally I read a ton of YA with a sprinkling of James Patterson and Nicholas Sparks. Thanks to Book Club, I’m now a Jodi Picoult fan. And The Help—eve-ry-one should read that book. Probably one of the most well-crafted, beautiful, omg-hilarious stories I’ve ever read.

And this month we’re reading Room—can’t wait!

So there’s my B-post. Book Clubs—everyone should have Book Club Buddies. How about you? Do YOU belong to a Book Club?

Friday, April 1, 2011

A is for Aquariums. And Aidan. And April Fools

Today’s my first post for the April A-Z Challenge, and wouldn’t you know it? I just happened to skip take off work today to chaperone my son Aidan’s field trip to the North Carolina Aquarium. So I thought it’d be the perfect thing to blog about. You know—Aquariums and Aidan. And a little alliteration. Or maybe some April Fools.

Okay – enough of the A kick. Here’s the quick math on my day at the Aquarium:

Aidan + Amazing first graders + Absolutely fabulous chaperones + Abundance of fish and sharks and otters and jellyfish = Awesome afternoon (and morning – just had to get the A in)



That's my baby. Isn't he just so stinkin' cute Adorable?

Anyway- the whole trip was FUN! After learning more about turtles than I know about math, I toured the aquarium with five kids in tow—okay—it’s more like they were five chocolate labs on their first walk. We watched sea otters at play, divers swim with sharks, and saw, like, a katrillion fish. I even managed to sneak a little research in for a future writing project.

I heard TONS of April Fools jokes. And played Simon Says one too many times.

Most importantly, I was reminded all day how much I love being around kids.

Why? Because they're hilarious! First graders say and do the CRAZIEST things. They’ve got more vitality than an Energizer Bunny on crack. Being around them makes me feel young and old at the same time. And I definitely understand their need for naps because I totally zonked on the bus ride home.

So yeah. The Aquarium. Funsville. How about you? Did you do anything FUN lately?

PS—you have an eel on your head.

Did I make you look?)

April Fools.