Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Getting Over The "Paper" Dream

"I have to get my book published before everything goes digital. It just won't be the same not to see it in paper!"

I've seen this sentiment—heck, I've even thought it myself—many times. With the increasing ebook market and everyone saying they'll eventually dominate, it seems as if writers feel like a guillotine is hanging over their dream.

"My book will never be in a bookstore."

"It won't have a cover, pages to turn."

"I won't get to smell it."

I won't pretend that these thoughts don't get me occasionally, too, but today I want to ask: Is that really why you want to publish?

Because if your dream is to see your book on a shelf, there are plenty of print-on-demand websites out there. You can upload your book, design your own cover, and have it shipped to your house. Then you can put it on whatever shelf you want, hug it, smell it, moon over it, build a shrine to it, whatever.

I have a feeling this isn't the most important thing, though. If I had to choose between that tangible paper book or knowing that a couple thousand people would read my words on their ereaders, well, the choice is obvious, isn't it? My goal in trying to be published is to get my story to as many people as possible. I want to share it (and let's be honest, I want a little cash in return).

I guess I'm just saying your dream won't be "dead" if ebooks take over. You don't have to rush yourself based on those fears. I mean, can you imagine some ancient writer freaking out over the invention of the codex (aka: the book)?

"I HAVE to finish this epic poem before people stop reading on scrolls! It's always been my DREAM to see my story unroll on a furlong of parchment! Curse those boxy, new-fangled codices."

Yeah...that doesn't sound silly at all.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Those Little People We Call Children

I've been thinking a lot about how people treat children. And in my thoughts I think I've realized a possible answer to why YA tends to feature parents/adults that aren't present, have problems, etc.

Back in the day—what I like to call "Pre-Baby"—I had this idea that parents could mold their children into whatever they wanted. I mean, all they had to do was discipline properly, provide essential nutrition, and give copious amount of love. How hard was that?

If I saw a child misbehave in public, I rolled my eyes, groaned, scoffed, etc. "What a horrible parent," I'd think. "They can't even control their own child." I think I had this idea that kids were more like dogs than people. Proper training! Train that child and he'll do whatever you want on command. Child rearing shows only enforced this thinking.

More than anything, I was annoyed at these little, loud people invading my life. They were such a nuisance! I'd see a baby on a plane and groan, never thinking of how nervous and stressed that mother probably was. I'd glare at the loud family in the restaurant, wondering why they bothered to take their kids out if they couldn't behave.

It was all about me. Me. Oh, and more me. And I didn't even realize it.

Then I had Dino Boy and Ninja Girl.

I promised I wouldn't be like those other parents. My kids would be perfect. They would sit still in church, never have tantrums, never yell. They would eat everything on their plate, never watch TV, and take commands without question.

Looking back, I laugh at myself. I basically wanted robot babies! What I got were human babies.

And guess what? Dino Boy and Ninja Girl have, like, their own personalities. They have likes and dislikes. They have things that scare them and things they love to do. They have good days and bad ones, times of fatigue and times of infinite energy. They have emotions.

They might be small, but they are people.

This might be a simple realization, but it changed my whole world. Instead of glaring at that little boy screaming in the check-out line, I felt love for him. He wasn't ruining my life—he was just trying to deal with his own problems in the only way he knew how. I wasn't any better than a child; I still have tantrums and bad days and times that I cry because I don't know how else to deal with my life.

This is the ultimate hypocrisy of adulthood—we're really just big kids.

Yet we expect perfect behavior from the little people in our lives, while at the same time allowing ourselves to behave poorly rather often. We forget that children are people, with thoughts and feelings very real to them. We forget that they deserve respect, compassion, and patience as they learn to cope with this thing called life.

But because they are trusting children, they follow our lead. They try to be what we expect them to be, even if we aren't that ourselves.

Then these children turn into teenagers. In my experience, puberty comes fully equipped with the most sensitive BS-o-meter on the planet. Teens usually still get treated like children, and yet they're quickly growing into adults. They're not so trusting anymore, and they're smart. They see that adults aren't any better than they are—that their parents don't live up to their own standards.

This is incredibly frustrating. It doesn't matter how "good" a teen is, they will see this hypocrisy and get upset about it. Heck, I get upset just thinking about the expectations other adults put on my kids. When I hear some comment about "parent fail" or "there's a kid doing insert-annoying-thing here," I have to breathe deep and force myself not to point out that those adults are acting like children.

Because really, they aren't acting like children. They are acting like people. The tantrums may change form (like, uh, this one), the emotions may stay inside more often, but adults are no better than when they were little. We still feel all the same things. We're all still learning how to cope. It's time we stop burying our inner child—our inner self—in this mask we call adulthood.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Recent Adventures in Anime Land

It's no secret I'm a fan of anime, and now that so much is available online I've been trying to catch up. *sigh* It's been wonderful. Today I'll be geeking out about what I've been watching, most of which I'm sure is old news to anime fanatics. Like I said—catching up.

If you follow me on Twitter, you've heard plenty of me mooning over this show. It's everything I love about anime—action + romance (leaning more to action, though), demons and ultimate evil, humor, and feudal Japan. It's also pretty clean, and the translators opted to use tamer words for the "swearing."

I'm a huge fan of action-based anime, and Bleach hits all the right notes. I've enjoyed it immensely, though Season 3 (or there abouts) is, uh, not my favorite. I haven't read the manga, but I have a feeling it's filler. Some people may not be a fan of the bloodiness, but from the anime I've seen it's about middle-of-the-road gory.

Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood:
I saw maybe half of Full Metal Alchemist, the first series, and decided I'd like to see what Brotherhood has to offer. Brotherhood is faithful to the story from the manga, whereas the first series followed its own story. I really enjoyed the first one, and I'm interested to see the differences.

Ah! My Goddess!:
I wanted to watch this series when I was a teen, but moved to Utah RIGHT BEFORE my friends were about to start it. So I missed it, which was very traumatic for 14-year-old me. I bought the first season, and it's totally adorable. It's about a shy, short college boy who can't get a date. He accidentally calls the Goddess hotline and ends up getting wish. He wishes for a Goddess to stay with him.

Vampire Knight:
I just started watching this, and holy crap it made me like vampires again! Anime is a brilliant medium for vampires, since that "otherwordly perfection" can really be achieved. Let's face it, putting white make-up on a human just doesn't quite cut it.

So far, Vampire Knight is juicy, gothic, and creepy. It's alluring and dangerous. It's everything vampires should be.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya:
I bought the first three manga, and I kinda wish I had them all now. Okay, I hate that I don't have more to read RIGHT NOW. It's narrated by a boy named Kyon, but the story is really about this crazy girl named Haruhi, who wants the world to be much more spectacular than it is. I love it.

So...yeah. It might look I'm on a crazy anime binge about now, which would be entirely true. I won't deny it. I'm far too used to people calling me crazy to be swayed by those looks you're giving me. Now, off to start reading Fruits Basket, you know, since I can't edit until my kids are in bed anyway. Wee!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Friday Sketch + Stuff

A drawing! A real live drawing! I'm so sorry it's been a while. I've been so busy, and drawing takes, like, time. But I finally got this done for Dara, who was a winner in my May contest. (Yes, I know July is approaching and I'm freaking slow, shhh.)

This is Naomi, from her Japanese historical WIP. I'm sure you all can guess I'm a Big Fan of this idea. Naomi is about to partake of the last sake in a marriage rite—a marriage rite that's all for show. So thank you, Dara, for giving me something so wonderful to draw. I hope you like it!

In other news, Cindy Pon is having a contest for two books that I WANT. And so here I am announcing it on my blog so I can enter! I mean TWO BOOKS—Bleeding Violet and Brightly Woven. Hi, I want want want them.

Also, I thoroughly enjoyed your comments on The Most Boring YA Story Ever. I purposely left no explanation as to why I wrote the story; I really wanted to see the reactions.

I find it interesting that half of you said something to the effect of "wow, that was so like my teen years." I couldn't tell if you were kidding or not, but the idea of the "normal" fascinated me. My life was kinda like that—minus the boyfriend and everyone liking me at school...okay, and the RISK thing...also the immaculate self-esteem and no one ever dying...

Never mind. Maybe not so much.

But that was one major flaw of the boring story. Stories aren't meant to be exactly like real life. Because, well, real life is boring most of the time. Days and days go by with nothing interesting happening at all. Just small moments of joy, little moments that make up life.

These aren't story moments (unless they're resolutions). Stories happen when the mundane is interrupted, when opposition occurs, which leads right to the other most frequent comment:

"And then insert-catastrophic-thing-here happens!"

I could see the storyteller in you all! You were all DYING for something BAD to happen. Admit it, you wanted to destroy Sarah's perfect little bubble. You wanted something horrible to happen to her. You wanted her whole world to come crashing down.

You meddlers. You evil, evil meddlers. It's're writers or something.

This is the essence of storytelling: conflict. And this is also why there will always be "bad things" in books, why censoring is ultimately flawed. Storytelling is the exploration of bad things happening and how someone overcomes them (or doesn't, if we're going tragedy). The entire medium is built on conflict.

This is why I wrote The Most Boring YA Story Ever, to show that a story isn't a story until conflict is introduced. Bad stuff. Who's to say what "bad stuff" is acceptable and what "bad stuff" isn't? It's ALL BAD STUFF. It's up to the reader (and the writer) to figure out what bad stuff they feel like exploring.

Either that, or we should just ban all books for daring to explore conflict. I'm thinking that sounds stupid, though.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Most Boring YA Story Ever

Sarah always woke up at precisely 6 a.m. to exercise, but she never overdid it because she liked her body just the way it was and had perfect self-esteem. She just also knew it was important to stay healthy, so she did her thirty-minute run with a smile on her face.

After taking a very short shower (since water conservation and general "greeness" was something Sarah believed in), she went upstairs to eat breakfast with her family, who were all awake and smiling too. Her mother and father were her heroes, since they did everything parents should do and more. Her younger sister and brother were her dearest companions, and they adored her as much as she adored them.

In fact, her whole family was like that, and I mean whole because even her great grandparents on both sides were still alive. And all the family pets. If anyone did die—and of course Sarah had only heard of such a thing—they died peacefully in their sleep at one hundred and five, so everyone agreed they lived a full, happy life.

So Sarah and her family ate their pancakes in peace, only talking about the weather. Then she gave both her parents hugs and kisses, because she always wanted to make sure they knew how much she loved them.

"Have a good day, honey," her mom said as she handed her a perfectly packed lunch, complete with sugar cookie.

"I will, Mom." Sarah opened the front door. "I love school."

And she wasn't even lying. Sarah loved all of her teachers and classes. She got perfect grades. She loved every single person at school and they all loved her back. No one ever said a bad thing about her, and of course she would never even dream of gossiping. She could see the beauty in everyone.

"Sarah!" her boyfriend, Tom, called as she neatly stacked her books in her immaculate locker. "Good morning, sweetheart."

Tom was the perfect guy. He never pushed her or looked down on her or did anything particularly interesting at all. And Sarah, of course, never ever fought with him.

She and Tom exchanged a chaste peck, all they had ever done and would ever do. Unless you count the side hugs and occasional hand holding.

"Good morning." She shut her locker. "Let's go. We don't want to be late for class."

During class, Sarah took notes and listened to every word her teachers said. She didn't even glance at Tom though he sat next to her. But he never glanced at her either because they both took their studies seriously. In fact, the whole class was listening because all teens take their studies seriously.

When the lunch bell rang, Sarah ate with her friends, which were basically everyone in the whole school. They all just sat in a big circle around the cafeteria and used a microphone to talk, taking turns speaking. Everyone listened respectfully as they told each other how much they appreciated everyone else.

"See you tomorrow," Tom said after school, this time giving her that token side hug. "Have fun with your homework."

"You too!" She smiled. It had been a very good day at school.

She did all her homework right when she got home, eating a healthy after school snack her mother prepared. She didn't even look in the back of the math book for the answers, because that was cheating and cheaters never prosper.

After another perfect family dinner, they pulled out a board game, since TV was too horrible these days anyway. They chose RISK, and they all played on the same team so no one would have to lose. They just took over the world with no opposition.

Sarah went to bed at exactly 9 p.m. She was excited to wake up and do absolutely nothing interesting at all for the rest of her life. Unless you count Student of the Month.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Books I Love But Get Nervous About Recommending

When people find out I write YA, I get one of two questions, sometimes both.

1. Are you published? (What's your book called? I want to buy it! Etc.)

2. Oh, my son/daughter isn't much of a reader (OR they love to read!), do you have any recommendations?

Both questions make me a little nervous, if I'm being honest, but the second ones puts my stomach in a knot.

See, I live in Utah. Most of my acquaintances have a more conservative view of the world than I do. I've recommended books (and written books) I thought were clean only to have someone be upset about how inappropriate the book was for insert-whatever-reason-here. There are also books I know NOT to recommend because many would find the content questionable, even though I absolutely loved them and thought the messages were powerful.

Today I'm going to gush over these books, because I'm tired of keeping them to myself. Just know that if you're looking for "cleaner" reading experiences, these might not be for you.

Oh my goodness, this book is amazing. It takes a lot for me not to put down a book (I mean, I could put down The Hunger Games), but I could not stop reading The Secret Year. Nick stayed up late and read it in one sitting.

It's an honest look at loss and how ones copes (and often doesn't cope) with it. It's one of my favorite reads this year.

You all know how much I love this book. I've written about it a few times.

Another awesome, raw look at death and loss and the choices we have to make. Mia and Adam are one of my favorite ever couples, and the writing was just gorgeous.

This is one of my favorite books of all time. Junior's voice, his story and humor, was what made me want to try and write a male MC.

Working for the Multicultural Student Services office at BYU, I found this account of reservation life painfully true to what my friends talked about.

I adored this whole series. The style is distinct and reads quick. The story and characters feel so real and honest. It's gritty without being overkill, at least to me. It's paranormal with a contemporary feel.

Okay, so there are my "I want to recommend but worry people will get offended" books. Do you have any books you love, but keep to yourself?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Slow Down There, Sonny

It took me a year and a half to write my first book. I wrote it when I felt like it, stopped when I didn't know what to do next. I was in college, working, and growing/having a baby during that time. Writing was fun and carefree and the thought of publishing was a big dream.

I was not blogging. I didn't even know what a blog was. I had no clue about the business, about agents or publishing houses or query letters.

I'll be honest, sometimes I miss those blissfully naive days.

After I finished that first book, I figured maybe I could try to get it published. I'd heard about Writer's Market in class, but that was about all I knew. So I went online to learn more.

I got completely sucked in.

The blogs! The agent search engines! The author websites! There was so much out there, and it was so exciting I could hardly take it. Every "I have an agent!" and "I sold a book!" announcement filled me with glee. "That could be me," I thought. "I just have to get out there and it'll happen!"

I wrote my next book in six months. Rushed it out. And...nothing. The next in two, the one after that in six weeks, the one after that in 25 days, then 15. I was out of control.

But I kept seeing success stories! Kept craving to be there already, instead of where I was. I had this idea that I just needed that one idea—The One—that would make every agent beg me to be their client. Revising, real revising, could come later, because if I didn't hurry then all the agents would be taken! Or the genre I wrote in would get too full! Or someone would steal my precious idea!

It didn't exactly help that I kept reading about how publishing was suffering. Bookstores closing! Publishers dissolving imprints! Editors being fired! DOOM! APOCALYPSE! If I didn't get published NOW, then it would never, ever happen because books would be dead and my dream would be shattered.

It took some very tough experiences for me to snap out of this, most of which have consisted of working my butt off (I wish literally) and waiting for stuff to happen. And waiting. And then working more. And after that some awesome WAITING.

Slowly, I started to realize that, well, the business has always been like this. I realized that those success stories I kept reading really did have years of hard work and angst behind them. I discovered that publishing is in no way as fast as the internet makes it look.

Shocking, I know.

We hear this a lot, but sometimes I think that we glance over it. In this internet culture, everything seems rather instantaneous. I mean, people whine when they can't get on Twitter for TEN WHOLE MINUTES, as if they've missed a year of life because of the fail whale. We freak when an agent takes months, even weeks, to answer a query. We feel bad if we can't write a book as fast as so and so, edit as quickly as insert-Kiersten-here.

Well, today I'm here to dump a bucket of ice water over your head. *Dumps*

Slow. Down.

Chill. Out.

Enjoy the time it takes to craft a story.

My agent constantly tells me to take my time. It used to bother me. I used to wonder if he was passive agressively telling me I wasn't doing a good job. But I think I've finally figured out what he means.

Take the time you need to write, to edit. Do your best. If your best takes three weeks, okay. If it takes four months, fine. A year? That's fine too. So what if the Apocalypse comes in the meantime—if your book isn't good enough yet, do you really want people reading it anyway? Besides, publishing might be the future life you want, but you have a life right now, too. Living your current life well comes before living your future life.

I know this is all easier said than done. I am certainly guilty of rushing more than I'd like to be. I adore the online writing community, but sometimes I have to take a step back and remember that my life is not the world inside my computer.

There's nothing wrong with slowing down, nothing wrong with missing a few things. In fact, it's the best thing I've done for myself in a long time.

Monday, June 21, 2010

How I Use Crits

I just got crits back from four fabulous, wonderful people (who I will probably do anything for now, so be warned that I could be humiliated somewhere on the net at some point...should be fun). Today I thought it would be appropriate to talk about how I use crits in my editing process.

Once I have all my crits in, the first thing I do is go through and fix all the typos people caught. It's easy, and I want them out of way before I forget them. Besides, these changes don't mess with the story at all.

After that, I read through the more substantial crits. I make note of the ones I agree with, the ones that create that nagging pit in stomach, and those that I'm throwing out (which is usually few). And by "make note," I mean in my head for the most part, though sometimes I write them down if it's a really huge list (like after my first beta round).

Then I think about the "nagging pit" edits. These are usually comments that I don't quite agree with, but I have to figure out why the reader said that. I often try to satisfy the reader on these issues, but not in the way they suggest.

Once I take in all the comments, absorb the general idea, I put them all away and get to work. I do not open them again as I edit, which is probably not how everyone does it but I prefer it. If I look at comments while I edit, I start to worry more about pleasing others than editing for myself. Then I panic and start thinking it'll suck and no one will like it no matter what I do and I'm doomed. DOOMED.

Not the best mentality.

So I edit for myself, solving the problems raised in my own way. When I'm finished, I take a look at the crits again to make sure I've covered the major issues. If I missed something I realize is important, I go back in and tweak.

That's pretty much it. How do you guys tackle feedback?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Little Visual Inspiration

I've never thought much of gathering visual inspiration for a book, which is strange since I'm an artist of sorts. Maybe that's why—the visuals are already in my head. But thanks to Steph Bowe, I decided to try it for Transparent, anything to get my juices flowing on that troublesome project.

So here is a series of pictures that got my heart fluttering all over again for a WIP I've hardly had love for lately:

Well, that was fun. I'm kind of excited to get back to that project soon.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Friday Random

If you're wondering what a free write post looks like, you're about to find out.

So I finished a certain edit on Wednesday, and I sent it off to new readers. New betas sounded like a really good idea in my head. I mean, I've read the book so many times (and so have my crit partners) I'm honestly not sure if I'm clearing up world building issues. Fresh perspective should help, ya?

I forgot how much of a mess I am when I send stuff out. It's been a while! I can't seem to concentrate on anything—not even anime—for more than a few minutes. I keep getting attacks of the "Oh my gosh they're going to HATE it. Why did I send it? Why am I DOING this? Gah."

It's a party up in here.

Also, I have this new idea. It's KILLING me not to run away with it and forget everything else. I feel like I really, really need to work on something brand new and shiny. I also know I have other responsibilities.

But I did write a prologue...and I may have started the first chapter. I'm a ninja like that. I figured I'd share the very short prologue, since it doesn't really give away much:

Probably done. Maybe a little lame. But I'm excited about it. The world building has been a blast (if not a touch morbid). Right now it's all for fun anyway, like Spork.

I've started doing something weird in my reading habits lately. I'm reading more than one book at a time. I'm surprised to find I like this approach. I used to be the "I have to finish this book before starting another" person. But I started reading a YA Contemporary while I was also reading a YA post-apoc, and I liked being able to go back and forth. The stories were so different I never got confused like I thought, and I really like reading according to my current mood.

I just finished Sweethearts by Sara Zarr and absolutely adored it, and before that I finished The Maze Runner by James Dashner. Now I'm working on Incarceron by Catherine Fisher and Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan, with a little Spells by Aprilynne Pike on the side. Loving all.

As for drawing, I'm finding it soooo hard to get a drawing done on Friday! I'm still trying to figure out what to do. I may go back to Saturday Sketch like before, or I might draw over the weekend and post on Monday. Still trying to figure out a good schedule.

In other riveting news (since I'm full of that today), my kids are still cute. Dino boy is currently weidling a sai/light saber combo. Very deadly, that one. Ninja Girl is doing a very good downward facing dog on the yoga mat. Ah, I love those punks.

Also, I would love you forever if you brought me a double cheeseburger, onion rings, and a cherry limeade.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Five Words: Success

So that was probably one of the hardest sets of five words I've ever gotten. Next time I'm gonna tell you to be really mean and maybe I'll get nice words? I'm guessing not...

But I managed to use all five. Whew. I'd forgotten how fun it is to write Kitty. Perhaps I'll muster up the courage to do this again soon.

If you want to catch up:
1.0 When To Forego Suspicions
1.1 A New Task
1.2 Into The Peacock's Den
1.3 Pack Your Bags
1.4 "Vacation"

The Assistant

1.5 Jungle Trouble
Before I can even ask what a jacamar is, Geoff grabs my hand and we disappear. When I land on solid ground, I smack him. “You have to give some kind of warning!”

“Weren’t you the one in a hurry to get Madame’s powers back?” Geoff bends over, rolling up his pant legs. “Miserable rainforest.”

“Where are we anyway?” I look around, realizing I can’t even see the top of the lush green canopy. It makes me feel small, vulnerable. Even the bushes are taller than me.

Geoff starts walking. “Somewhere in South America, close to Noba’s place.”


“If you want good jacamars, you must speak with Noba. He’s the only one who can sneak past the barriers around the nests.”

I sigh. “You realize you’re not making any sense at all, right?”

Geoff glances back at me. “You have much to learn, Kitty. Some jacamar birds have very high magical qualities, and thus can be a great aid in divining. Surely they wouldn’t be easy to acquire.”

My heart starts to pound. So this is when the quest begins. “What do we have to do?”

He levitates over a huge puddle. “We have to steal them. From a hoarder of a Witch Doctor named Steve.”

I stop before the puddle, laughing. “Steve? Does he shrink heads or something, too?”

Geoff waves his hand, and a leafy bridge covers the water. “Among other things.”

Oh, so he was serious.

“Lovely.” I walk over the bridge, wondering if a shrunken head is really worth Madame’s powers.

After we round another bend, I spot a small hut. There’s a man outside, barely clothed, with a giant rat on his shoulder. I shudder. “What’s with the rat?”

“Don’t be rude.” Geoff waves to the man I suppose is Noba. He looks about as I’d imagine a Chihuahua, if it were human, big eyes, pointy ears, and skinny enough to always shake. “It’s technically a nutria, or coypu, depending on regional dialect. And it’s Noba’s dearest friend.”

Sorcerers and their animals.

Noba walks to us, and Geoff explains the situation. I can hardly concentrate, because the giant rat thing keeps picking its nose. I hold in a laugh, wondering if Cal would diagnose it with rhinotillexomania. He loves calling people rhinotillexomaniacs. Then my heart twists. It could be a long time before I have a chance to see him again, to find out how he feels now that he knows Geoff’s not my boyfriend anymore.

All Noba says in reply is, “I see.”

“I have the necessary storage, all I need is your skill.” Geoff pulls something small and golden from his pocket. It grows larger, until I realize it’s one of Madame’s zarfs. She finds coffee mugs far too unrefined. “What do you say?”

Noba takes the zarf. “Yes. Come.”

We follow Noba into the dense jungle. Every noise makes me jump, but I manage to keep quiet. I can’t help thinking I’ll die here, and not from Steve the Witch Doctor but from some creepy poisoned spider or some ferocious man-eating panther. Isn't this where piranhas come from, too? I liked the rainforest better in pictures.

“Here,” Noba says for the gazillionth time. I’m starting to think the man has a serious case of hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia. He stops, and Geoff blocks my path with his hand.

“There’s a barrier here,” he says.

I hold my breath, searching the foliage for any sign of this barrier or its creator. I don’t see a thing.

“Which ones?” Noba asks.

“White-eared, yellow-billed, blue-cheeked, and purplish.”

Noba nods, holding out his hand. Geoff places the zarf in his palm. Then Noba holds it up to his nutria, and the animal grabs the rim with his long front teeth. It hops off his shoulder and scurries forward. Then it disappears behind the barrier.

We wait. It feels like the jungle has gone silent, either that or I can’t hear it over the pounding in my ears. What is taking so long? How many kinds of jacamars can there be?

Noba stiffens. Whispers something.

“Excuse me?” Geoff says. “I didn’t catch that.”

“Run. Hide.” Noba shrinks until he’s the exact replica of his giant rat. Then a man bursts from the barrier—it’s Noba, carrying the golden zarf. “I said run!”

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Side Effects of Rewriting

Yeah, so no Kitty today...but tomorrow! I will have lots of time tomorrow to figure out how to use those mostly horrible words in a story. Remember how I said "nice-ish"? I think we have different ideas of what that means. I'm kinda scared of what I would have gotten if I didn't.

So quick-ish post today, then I'm off to the park with Dino Boy and Ninja Girl. (Yes, I'm taking my laptop in futile hope that I'll get work done.)

I've mentioned before that I've been rewriting a book. Not editing. Not reworking a big chunk. I'm talking open-a-blank-document-and-start-over-from-page-one kind of thing. The kind of "revision" where you are completely rethinking and sometimes even re-imagining the story.

It's been interesting, to say the least.

I've mentioned at one point being a fan of the rewrite. I've also spent a lot of time over the last couple months complaining about the rewrite. And, well, I guess that's the journey of every book. You love/hate it, don't you?

Recently I've stepped back from this project to work on another that needs my immediate attention. In doing so, I've noticed a few side effects of rewriting. Good and bad things.

1. Nothing Seems Too Hard Anymore
After starting completely over, it's amazing how easy everything else seems. Cutting a chapter? Eh, I cut a whole book! Changing a character's motivation? Psh, I've rewritten their whole backstory AND modified their personality accordingly. Creating more tension? Sure. No problem.

And so on and so forth.

On the one hand, this is extremely liberating. I've already had the worst possible editing situation thrown at me! If I can do this—and amazingly I am doing it—I can do anything. Unfortunately, it also leads to:

2. Serious Editing Doubts
Here I was sounding all confident, but the flip side of the "I can survive a rewrite" is you start to wonder if you need to rewrite everything. As I'm editing something else, I can't help but think "Is this enough?"

I mean, I'm not rewriting anything! Is it really okay to just tweak one thing here and two things there? I keep freaking out that the book hasn't changed enough, and thus I'm not editing it well enough.

I'm aware that this is very silly thinking, and yet I can't seem to kick it. And I've finally realized why:

3. Distrust In My Story, And My Writing
(Disclaimer: This might sound depressing, but I am in no way depressed. I promise. I'm working and happy and doing well.)

As a greener writer, I trusted that my stories were coming out mostly right. I didn't realize that I could be taking wrong plot turns without even knowing it. I just assumed the organic unfolding of the story was the most ideal.

Of course, I was wrong.

Stories need structure and craft and careful stringing along to really work. As organic as I write, I've finally learned I need to go in after and put in some support beams, so to speak. Thus, I don't trust my writing anymore. I assume there are problems I don't see, possibly huge ones that'll make the whole thing fall apart.

This is good and bad. Sometimes it's hard to write under this mentality, since I know every word I put down could be deleted later. But it's much easier to edit, since I suspected those words might not be right in the first place.

I'm still getting used to this, figuring out how to write and edit with the side effects of rewriting. But overall, I think it's been a good thing for me. Difficult, but good.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Five Words Game!

Hey, remember when I had that game? You know the one where you guys give me five words and I attempt to write a story using them? I'm sorry it's been so long since there's been an installment of The Assistant. (Of course, maybe you don't even care, heh.) My work has been sucking up all my creative power, but I miss Kitty and Geoff and Cal, even that crazy Madame Beaumont. Let's give them another chapter, shall we?

The Rules: Give me a word—any PG word—and I will incorporate it into a short fiction piece, which will be posted at some point. Only one word per person, and I will take the first five words offered. The story must continue where it left off.

Be nice-ish, pretty please? *gulp*

Monday, June 14, 2010

Plastic Is For Barbies

I'm a girl. This means I have body image issues. I'm not sure if this is a global thing, but I think I can safely say it's at least an American thing. Like I talked about on Friday, girls are constantly being told that what they are isn't enough. It's hard to come away completely unscathed.

Now, my body image issues are definitely not as bad as some. I usually like what I look like, and I'm mostly aware that my appearance should not be top priority, nor should it be a major criteria in summing up my value as a person.

But I have my days, too.

They are the days I wish I wasn't so...flabby, squishy, and all around human. I think to myself, "I wish my tummy didn't squish out when I sit down. I wish my arms didn't jiggle when I wave. I wish my behind wasn't so...epic. Some things should NOT be epic."

These are not unique thoughts, I'm sure, but I've been thinking about them lately. I mean, what I'm wishing for is impossible. I'm basically saying I want to be something other than human flesh. Like plastic, without give. No—I'm serious. I think maybe a lot of people feel the same way, and it's something that has to stop.

Have you ever seen an athlete in slow motion? You know, like when they do the 100 meter dash in the Olympics? They...jiggle. You know they do! They jiggle all over the freaking place! Because they are made of flesh. Sure, muscles are hard when flexed, but they're still soft, even squishy, when not.

I've been doing a lot of yoga lately, and the video series I use has this beautiful, fit woman as an instructor, of course. And guess what? Her tummy pooches out when she folds forward into some poses. Why? Because that's what stomachs DO!

With all the plastic images thrown at us, I wonder sometimes if we think these perfect looking humans have achieved some sort of cellular transformation, in which the composition of their skin has become stone or plastic. I think we forget that humans—even thin ones—are squishy. Flesh is flesh. It's a lovely thing! Even if you drop those 10 pounds you wish you didn't have, you'll still be a human being.

This is a good thing. Being human is cool.

Today I'm embracing my squish, reminding myself that it won't ever go away and that's not such a bad thing. Please feel free to join me.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Impressionable Minds

I don't watch TV, but I'm not so crazy as to ban my kids from it. Mostly we hang out on PBS, since it's one of two kids channels we get. I prefer it not because it's educational, but because it doesn't have commercials.

Dude, commercials are scary.

I never gave it much thought until I had kids. Commercials were mostly stupid—I could see through their little mind tricks and selling tactics no problem. I figured, for the most part, advertising didn't really work that well.

Then one day Dino Boy comes into the kitchen while I'm cooking dinner, and he says, "Mom?"

"Yes, honey?"

He sighs. "I think I need a Pillow Pet."

I stop, realizing he must have seen this on the other kid channel we have—the one riddled with infomercials. "Why do you think you need a Pillow Pet?"

"They are soft to sleep on, and good friends."

My jaw dropped. He was totally convinced! One commercial, and my kid had been brain washed into thinking he needed something he really didn't need at all. Something he'd never actually want. It scared me, how easy it was.

And it didn't stop there.

While Nick was mopping the floor: "Daddy, you need a Shark Steamer! They get all the germs out!"

While I was baking: "Mommy, eggs are hard to crack with your hands. They get all over. You should get an Egg Cracker like on TV."

When we were doing laundry: "We need Wonder Hangers! We need more room in our closet! Wonder Hangers help!"

Now, Dino Boy is only four, but I started wondering when this impressionability would wear off. Or is the human mind always this susceptible to the power of suggestion? I mean, there are lots of advertisements for adults...and it wouldn't be a huge industry if it didn't actually work.

Then I started thinking about my writing. Lots of people say, "I just tell the story, and it's up to the reader to decide what they think." I'm not saying we should all be out there moralizing, but I'm starting to wonder just how much of an impact we have as writers. Words, images, sounds—they are much more powerful than I think we sometimes give them credit for.

And I'm not talking just for kids, either, but even adults. Are we letting the media, advertisements, push us in directions we've been convinced we want, but we don't really? I wonder about myself sometimes. Do I wear mascara because I've been told it makes my eyes prettier? Do I love shoes because I'm told that's what girls love? Which opinions are my own, and which were fabricated by outside forces?

The lines blur more than I want to admit, but it's interesting to think about.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Scatter Brain

(Side Note: For those wondering what sparked my Nerd Bullying post yesterday—nothing in particular, just a slow build up and small things that bugged me. I also happen to be writing a very smart character who doesn't realize how insulting he can be at times.)

I'm starting to wonder if I've covered every possible, interesting topic on writing, because I can never think of stuff to say on the blog these days. Either that, or I have so much to do my brain refuses to use its limited creativity on anything other than my work.

I've been working a lot.

I wish I could talk more about what I'm working on, but the stuff that's not totally boring is classified. Go figure. I guess all I can say is that I'm happy to be working right now! That's a nice thing to say, because it's been a tough couple months.

Also, I'll be cryptic and say I'm shocked to find I'm actually missing Fiona a little! I never thought that would happen. It's a nice reminder that I actually like that book somewhere deep down.

Writing is such a weird thing, I guess. There are big gaps between "exciting things," but in reality those gaps are where all the important stuff goes on. The ideas. The actual writing. The editing. You know, the stuff that makes the "exciting things" happen.

So forgive me for being dull. If you'd like, feel free to suggest blog topics. I will gladly blather on about whatever you'd like.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Nerd Bullying

Yes, you read that right. I'm talking about Nerd Bullying today. Perhaps you think, "Surely nerds, who have historically been bullied, wouldn't do such a thing. They know better." I'd like to think so too, but I've noticed this lately and I wanted to say something.

Back in the day, it could be argued that the weaker the person, the less chance they had for survival. Without technology, strength was a much more important quality. Those without strength were looked down on, made to feel less. Not nice. I think we can all agree that though this happened it wasn't right.

Well, the tables have turned in many ways.

In this internet age, intelligence and other nerd qualities have come into power, and it almost seems as if there's some kind of Revenge of the Nerds going on out there. I mean, the internet is essentially a community created by nerds. It's their place to hang out and be cool. But as it's grown more accessible to "outsiders," I've noticed this kind of "Why are all these STUPID people invading MY space?" thing going on.

It almost seems like people are throwing their intelligence around like a weapon, mocking those with less knowledge, treating them very much like Poindexter might have been treated by the football team in 1950. There are virtual swirlies being given all over the internet.

My heart twists up every time I see some "noob" get made fun of. In publishing. In an online game. On Twitter. Whatever. My stomach turns when I read about the stupidity of people who like certain books or movies or music, as if smarter people are better and you should be ASHAMED to like such inane drivel. It's, well, a touch elitist, isn't it?

As people who probably know what it feels like to be on the outside, I hope we can rise above that impulse to act superior. I hope we can welcome newcomers, instead of making them feel stupid. We all know better, and I hope we can do better.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Drawing! Finally!

You might remember that I postponed Friday Sketch for a few weeks because I was working on something big. Kiersten asked me to do a guest post while she was in Romania, and I decided to do a drawing for her. Of course this drawing had to be spectacular, and I finally get to share it! (click image to zoom)

This is Reth from her upcoming debut book Paranormalcy. Of course you guys know I love this book—how can you not? But I don't love it just because she's my best friend. It's honestly a Good Book. Kiersten has taught me so much about writing. She'd never admit to it, but she's much better than me and I'm privileged to learn and read her stuff.

Sorry, folks, I already claim the title of #1 Fangirl. I have at least three fanart pictures to back me up, and surely more to come. Also, I own this shirt, which she sent to me because she knew I'd hunt her down if she didn't.


Monday, June 7, 2010

The Importance of Hating Your Book

If you've ever done intense edits, you know there's this point where you absolutely, honestly hate everything about your book. From the idea to the characters to the actual words—it's all a load of crap.

No. Worse.

There aren't even words to describe the blob of words you've created. You could spend days coming up with hyperbolic metaphors about the utter crap that is your manuscript (in fact, you might even do just that), and they still wouldn't fully get across how epically your book SUCKS.

This is the point at which you consider scrapping the whole thing, moving on, and pretending you never wrote it in the first place. This is the point where shiny new ideas start to entice you because they'll be much better than this stupid book. This is the point where anything looks better than writing—even cleaning out your refrigerator. And organizing that one closet no one ever opens. Or maybe watching all 15 or so seasons of Top Model back to back...

Most importantly, this is the point where you must keep going at all costs.

When you hate your book, it opens up a new avenue of editing, one where you will be as ruthless as your worst critics. Your book will grow. It will improve. It will become the book you want it to be—a book you can be proud of.

Be warned: this phase is in no way fun. It's actually more like torture. You will feel like a crappy writer, and even knowing you've reached this phase will not help you get past it. The only way to get through is to do the work, as hard and as impossible as it seems. One painful, frustrating step at a time.

But when you're done, somehow the hate subsides. You realize your book is better, and you're proud of what you've accomplished even if there's still more to do.

Hating your book isn't a sign that it's time to move on—it means you're almost there.

Now, back to this $*(&#$ manuscript...


Friday, June 4, 2010

Mini Workshop: Day 4

Last day! It has been so fun reading your work. Thank you, Monica, Adam, and Rivkie for participating, and for all those who offered their comments. Shall we do this again sometime? I'm up for it if you guys are. (Also, Monica has sent me a new draft of her intro, so please go check it out. I should have it up shortly.)

And's my turn to post an excerpt.

I'm pretty nervous about this. It's been a long time since I posted any of my actual writing from my vast array of WIPs. But I wanted to give you guys a chance to do your own full crits on something, and I didn't want to put that on a random person's work.

So, I better stop delaying this...*gulp*

This is from Spork, what Kiersten called "the illegitimate child of fantasy and steampunk." (Which still makes me giggle.)

If we didn’t have the same dark hair, purple eyes, and tan skin, I would have pawned my brother off as a very distant cousin. Maybe an orphan my parents took in. Anything but my older brother. He was supposed to be the responsible one, not the one dreaming of far off lands and fairytales.

“C’mon, Gil, come with me.” Adair sat on the counter in the storage room as I stacked cooling bowls. That was always how it was. Me doing the work—him watching with his permanent smile.


“Why not? Don’t you want to get out of Mont Dupré for once?” He hopped off the counter and grabbed me by the shoulders, like this was some kind of life and death situation. “Think what you could do with Nero. If we found the rebels, you could single-handedly free the country!”

I sighed. Why did he have to be there the first time I tested Nero? The metagun was my best work, but even now as it rested against my chest, I wished I’d never made the thing.

“You know The Guild is neutral, and you know we don’t sell metaguns to the armies. If I use Nero in ally with anyone—rebels included—they’ll revoke our membership,” I said.

Adair stepped back. “Fine. Point taken.”

I resumed my work, and Adair resumed doing nothing. “Besides, Dad would never let you go.”

“Who said I was going to ask?”

“You’re his apprentice—he could put out a warrant for your arrest if you ran.” I caught a flicker of déjà vu. We’d been through this exact conversation every month for the last three or four years.

It was Adair’s turn to sigh. “Mon dieu, I hate sitting around here doing nothing.”

“Then inventory the lightning orbs like you’re supposed to.” I pulled out the bowls Dad wanted stocked.

“No, not that kind of nothing.” He laughed. I wasn’t sure why; I didn’t think it was very funny. After fifteen years, I was sick of the dead weight, of the idea that he would inherit the Metaforge I cared about. “Haven’t you ever wanted to do something more than metaforging? Haven’t you ever wanted to matter?”

“We’re metaforgers—we do matter.” Without us, people couldn’t heat and cool their food without chopping wood and hauling ice. They couldn’t light their houses. The armies wouldn’t get their best weapons.

Adair shook his head, his smile shrinking just slightly. “You don’t get it.”

“Nope, and I don’t care to.”

“I want to change the world, Gil. Not just sit around watching wars break out my whole life.” He finally got off his butt and grabbed a crate of orbs. When he pulled the lid off, the mini bolts of lightning glowed bright white, making the hand blown glass glitter.

I squinted. “The world doesn’t change.”

Adair put a black cloth over an orb, and the room dimmed. Then he did the next, and the next. He was mad at me—he’d be talking otherwise. When he finished that box, he opened the next and the room went white again. “I think it can.”

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Mini Workshop: Day 3

This has been so interesting so far, and I hope you're enjoying it as well. Today we have a piece from Rivkie (which is like the coolest name I've heard in a while). Thanks, Riv, for letting us take a look!

Rules: Please feel free to comment, but be constructive. If you want to know my definition of that, see my post about Critiquing With Class. Of course this is a crit session, but I expect politeness and helpfulness.

The Excerpt:
Becca winced, but didn’t cry out as the whip struck her back . She knew that, by law of Emberhard, this was punishment, but she had been framed. The Emberhard government didn’t take kindly to stealing, as much as they themselves stole the soul and spirit of the people.

(Not a bad beginning, though I personally feel like "they themselves stole the soul and spirit of the people" is a touch heavy handed. The beating already shows their heartlessness plenty. As for line edits, cut "back" since that is usually where people are whipped.)

Although she stood alone, Rebecca Lancedaughter truly believed in Eberheardt. She couldn’t believe that this cold, grey land had no savior and no true, good, identity. Even her mother, Cilia, who had preached the truth of the earth to Becca since she could distinguish between right and wrong, had been on the verge of giving up hope. From the day she could pronounce “Eberheardt”, Becca had refused to call the land by its official name.

(I got a little lost in this paragraph. The place was just barely named "Emberhard," and then you start talking about "Eberheardt" and I wondered if you changed the spelling but it was the same place. Then when I realized you didn't, I was super confused as to the significance of calling it "Emberhard" versus "Eberheardt." Why such a harsh punishment for a small name variation?

As for line edits, you use "grey" and a few other British grammar things [like "learnt" and having the comma outside the quotation mark]. I'm not sure if you're British, since your profile says you live in New York, but if you are then you get a pass. If not, American standard says, "gray," "learned," and commas within quotation marks.

At the age of ten, Becca had been talking to her friend in the marketplace. An officer had overheard the word “Eberheardt” slip from her mouth. He had dragged her away, leaving her friend standing in the middle of the shops, weeping as she watched. Becca shuddered as she remembered the whipping she had received. Three lashes of the whip. But even with that, her lesson was not learnt.

The next day, Becca had returned to the officer, and proclaimed angrily, “This land is Eberheardt, and you can’t deny that!” She had been struck hard, but her spirit could never be vanquished, and she continued, “You can take me out of Eberheardt, but you can’t take Eberheardt out of-” The sentence went unfinished. Becca had been imprisoned beside murderers and thieves for two days. She had huddled in a corner, but never cried. The morning that she was released, the officer had hung the little girl by her wrists with tight ropes, and gave her another two lashes. Becca still had scars, four years later, as she was beaten once again; thinking back to those two days that had started it all.

(This flashback doesn't irk me too much, but I do wonder if it could be shortened to one paragraph instead of two. And I'd still very much like to know why it's such a bad thing to say "Eberheardt."

The dialogue here seems a bit overdone, and I think the flashback could do without it. In particular, "You can take me out of..." sounded a little cliché to me personally.)

Becca was standing, hands bound, as she received a lashing; twenty strokes. In all her life, she had not stolen so much as a rotten pear from a fruit cart. A stupid girl had run past and shoved the loaf of stale bread into her innocent arms. The shopkeeper had accused her, thinking no different. Most children in Emberhard looked the same from behind; dirty hair; ragged pants or skirts; equally tattered shirts; and grimy, bare feet. And, even when clean; her hair was still dark and short, her skin still lightly tanned and rough.

(This, I'll be honest, was a bit of a let down for me as a reader. She was framed for stealing...bread? After all the talk of her rebellious nature and her obvious dislike for whoever is ruling, I expected her to be framed for taking something with more weight and context.

Line edits, I would change "was standing" to "stood." This is one of my personal ticks—the progessive. Most of the time, these can be changed to the single, stronger verb for more impact.

Becca winced as the soldier hitting her struck her with a particularly sharp blow. Of course, she wouldn’t cry over a couple of strikes of the stick. She straightened herself as the next blow came and went. Becca had been going into this same place for the past four years, getting beaten on an assortment of accusations. She had been beaten by this same soldier; he knew all of her weak spots, and showed no mercy. Nineteen, twenty, she thought before turning around to get unchained. As she did, Becca felt a sharp, stinging pain on her cheek as the officer tried to land her some extra blows. She just turned around, obediently. It would do no good to try to stop him; he would just call her stupid and claim she had counted wrong. Becca felt the stick strike her another two times before the officer walked up, key in hand, and unlocked her chains.

(This last paragraph is a little long for my tastes, and I would personally make it two. But that is entirely up to you, since it's really more of a preference.

I'm not sure we need this short flashback to her being here several times—not with the longer flashback as well. In fact, you could probably cut the first and keep this, or keep the first and cut this. We have a clear understanding that she's been through this plenty of times.

Line edits: change to "the soldier struck her," since it's obvious the one hitting her is...the one who would strike her.

There's a bit of over staging in this paragraph, such as "turning around to get unchained." This could easily be "to get unchained." You also have her turning around again a couple sentences after. Then "to try to stop" might be better as "to fight." Then there's the soldier both calling her stupid and claiming she lied—pick one. Also, he could just unlock her without the walking, key in hand. Over staging is a very common issue in drafts. We as writers envision every look, glance, turn, step. The reader doesn't need all these directions; sometimes they even become confusing.)

Overall, I'm interested in this story, and I want to know more. Not a bad thing at all! The writing might be a touch overwritten in places, but nothing that can't be mended. The style, which I think works for this kind of story, might lend a little to overwriting, but it's not bothering me so far.

Becca seems like a very interesting and strong character, and her world is definitely intriguing. I think there's room to solidify the world a little more, and I mentioned my concerns and questions above. Not that you have to go off into an infodump tangent—just a little clarification is in order.

Off to a great start, Riv! Hope this helps!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Mini Workshop: Day 2

Thank you all so much for participating yesterday! And for being so helpful and nice at the same time. You guys are the best, and I hope it's been interesting to see examples of writing/editing to go along with all the advice we always hear/read.

On to Day 2! Adam Heine, one of my favorite people, offered the first 500 words of his WIP. Thanks for letting us all take a look! My comments are below, please leave your own as well.

Rules: Please feel free to comment, but be constructive. If you want to know my definition of that, see my post about Critiquing With Class. Of course this is a crit session, but I expect politeness and helpfulness.

The excerpt:
The mortars came first, but it was the infants’ cries that woke Mah Htawy. Even with her children long dead, or perhaps lost in the jungles of Burma, she still had the instincts of a mother.

(Just so you know, I'm going to be really picky. Mostly because your writing is clean enough that I can be. "Mortars" in this paragraph threw me at first because I wasn't sure of setting and was thinking "bombs or like the mortar between bricks?" But that's a very optional change, since it's quickly cleared up and your target audience may get that and I'm just slow.

Also watch the "was." Perhaps that could be made more active like, "but the crying infant woke Mah." You have a few of these later too.

And the other nit-pick, "jungles of Burma" could be "Burma's jungle" or, uh, "Burmean jungle"? I'm not sure if that's right but you get the picture.)

She grabbed what few belongings she had and waited. The Mae Surin camp had never been attacked before, so there were no bunkers as there had been at Mai Nai Soi. If a mortar shell came through her roof, she was dead. She could only pray until the shelling stopped.

(I'm not sure if Mai Nai Soi is an important location, but if it's not I would replace it with something like "the other refugee camp." There are already a few foreign words, and at the beginning it's good to keep those to as few as possible until we get familiar with the place.

Again a "was" sentence. But maybe you can't avoid that one.)

For the next five or ten minutes, Mah Htawy hugged her knees in the middle of the room. The bamboo floor shook with each explosion. When it stopped, Mah waited, listening. A minute later, the village lit up as though the midday sun had burst into the sky.

(I would cut "For the next five or ten minutes." It's strange, but I've found that mentioning time has the opposite effect of what we normally think. It's doesn't increase tension, it decreases it. The reader often imagines more urgency without it.)

They were coming. She ran.

(I like this use of a one liner, and I think it'll have more impact with the other "were/was" structures gone. Or it could just be "She ran." That might be cool. Or if you want to go more active, perhaps something like "Footsteps trodded closer." Whatever, what you have is fine, too.)

Nobody knew where the soldiers would come from. Her fellow refugees ran in all directions, hiding underneath their houses, in the jungle, in the rice fields. There was shouting. An RPG blew up the house in front of her. Mah Htawy knew the family who lived there. They owned a radio, and on Wednesday nights she would visit and listen to Thai pop songs with them. Their daughter was named Hla Aye, she thought. It didn’t matter now. They were beneath their house when it was hit.

("Come from" in the first line is a little weak, perhaps a stronger verb like "appear." Again there's that short "There was shouting." I'm on the fence with that. Not bad, but I wonder if something like "Shouts rang in her ears." could keep the pace up better. I think you could cut "visit and" and just keep "listen," since visiting is implied there. Also, the name of their daughter may not be necessary.)

Machine guns spat behind her. Karenni refugees fell to either side. Another grenade exploded not two meters away, tossing Mah through the air and into the dirt.

She wasn’t dead, not yet. Dazed by the blast, she lay still while refugees and soldiers ran past. A baby’s muffled crying came from somewhere near her left hand. Mah prayed the soldier’s didn’t stop to look for it.

(Maybe just "cry" instead of "crying." This is also the second time you've used praying as an action. Not that I'm against praying, but for repetition's sake maybe another word to vary things up.)

When all had gone, Mah picked herself up and saw a woman she didn’t know lying dead in a ditch. The crying came from underneath her. Mah should have left. A baby could only slow her down, and its screams would make hiding impossible. But her heart betrayed her. She lifted the dead mother and pulled the baby from the dirt. A girl, only three or four months old.

(For brevity's sake, maybe "unknown woman" instead of "a woman she didn't know.")

With the girl in her arms, she fled to the edge of the village. Luckily she saw no one, not even the Thai soldiers who were supposed to protect them. She followed the road until the sound of a motorbike frightened her, and she leapt into the jungle.

She lay there, too tired to get up. Fortunately the soldiers, or whoever it was, didn’t hear the baby’s crying above the whine of their engine. As her body calmed, so did the baby. Soon the little girl stopped crying and fell asleep.

(I'm not sure about "whine." It doesn't seem like a loud enough verb to cover a baby crying.)

Mah Htawy cursed herself for picking up the child. Doing so had only prolonged its death, and possibly ensured her own. She considered leaving it there, but she was too weary to get up. She would do nothing for now. She would decide what to do in the morning, if the baby lived that long.

(The sentences get a little repetitive at the end here. Some variation might help. One example: "If the baby lived until morning, she'd decide what to do then.")

Overall, I think this is a fabulous start. We get a sense of Mah's character right from the beginning. Her past is eluded to without being overbearing. She takes noble action to save a child she maybe shouldn't save.

The setting is fabulous as well, and I think it could only be improved with maybe a few more sensory details. There is a lot of sight and sound, and perhaps adding others would make it that much better. Of course that's personal taste. I'd just like to see maybe a little more heat of the jungle, from the bombs. Maybe the taste of the smoke. Not anything huge or in depth—I'm not saying to destroy your pacing. Just something to keep in mind.

And, uh...that's it? I'm grasping at straws here. Good job, Adam.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Mini Workshop: Day 1

Yay! Day 1 of this mini workshop thing. I hope this goes well; I'm a little nervous. I will not pretend to be some kind of expert, so please take my advice as you would any other crit—with a grain of salt. I make mistakes all the time. Hello? I'm rewriting a whole book as we speak.

The lovely Monica was the first to send me pages from her WIP, and here we are!

Rules: Please feel free to comment, but be constructive. If you want to know my definition of that, see my post about Critiquing With Class. Of course this is a crit session, but I expect politeness and helpfulness.

Now, on to the excerpt! (My comments are in green. I've provided both line edits and substantial edits.)

New Excerpt:
“Liara,” Pedro said tapping Lia on the shoulder in his passive aggressive way.

(I do like this order you have this in now, but I wonder if you could have some kind of intro paragraph. Starting with dialogue is kind of disorienting, since we have no context. Ground the reader with something.

Also, there are a lot of comma errors throughout, especially with gerund phrases. Here, it should read "Predro said, tapping..." And we could do without "in his passive aggressive way," since it's not really passive aggressive to tap someone's shoulder. That's fairly confrontational.)

“Please don’t call me that, Pedro.”

(Cut "Predro." I used to have characters saying each other's names all the time, but we really don't do that much in real life. I mean, I go days without saying my husband's name or my best friends' names—unless I'm talking about them to others.)

“But it’s your name,” he responded, his tone condescending.

“Pedro, we’ve been over this with Mr. Romano multiple times. If you don’t respect me then don’t expect the same in return.” She took a deep breath, trying to remain as diplomatic as possible.

(Cut his name again.)

Pedro began twisting his mustache between his thumb and finger, a nervous habit that made him more weasely than normal. He rolled his eyes from right to left in an obvious attempt to appear as though he were actually considering what she’d said then he looked her dead in the eyes.

(Change "began twisting" to "twisted." I would also just keep it to "rolled his eyes" instead of the full on sentence.)

“Liara, tights are part of the dress code, not stretch pants,” he said with a sneer.

(With tags, you don't always have to have the "said." This could easily say "'...pants.' He sneered.")

“When you order me a full sized skirt like I asked, one that covers more than my…”

(Since she's being cut off, the ellipses should be a dash.)

His hand flew up and cupped her mouth before she got a chance to finish her statement. His cheeks flushed while he scanned the room to see if anyone had noticed her outburst.

(Cut "her statement." Change "while" to "as." Cut "her outburst.")

Lia ripped his hand away from her mouth and glared at him daring him to touch her again. He stepped back and watched as she turned and stalked through the restaurant and out the back door.

(Cut "from her mouth" and "at him." Add a comma after "glared." You jump into Pedro's pov after that, and it really over staged. Maybe something more like "Then she stalked through the restaurant and out the back door.")

The cool moisture struck her, mixing with the air from the hot kitchen. Lia took a deep breath, holding it in her lungs, letting it cool her hot head. Her cheeks burned but not from the warmth of the kitchen.

(Comma after "burned.")

The door clicked softly behind her and she leaned against the cool metal. She drew in another cleansing breath and began counting stars, a habit she’d picked up after her mother died.

Lia tried to push away the thoughts that invaded her mind. Glancing up at the stars in the cool night air reminded her of the night her father had come into the living room where she was celebrating her tenth birthday with her friends. She’d known the moment she saw him.

(I'd cut the first sentence, since she does think about it despite pushing.)

The paper cup slipped from her hand, bouncing against the wood floor spilling its contents in a splash of red. Her mother hadn’t come home from the grocery store that afternoon. Her father had tried to convince her everything was alright but she’d felt the tension behind his reassuring words. The ashen look that replaced his stoic façade said more than any words could.

(This still needs to be in past perfect, since it's in the past of the past. Cut "bouncing against the wood floor." Comma after "alright." Change "more than any words could" to "everything" to avoid repetition of "words.")

She ran out the opened patio doors. She’d run for hours. It took police dogs and a search party half the night to find her hidden against a tree in a swamp. That was the first time she counted stars to blot out the feelings that were too overwhelming to feel. It let her breath when the emotions felt like they would suffocate her. It was how she dealt with everything now. If there were no stars to count, she’d close her eyes and imagine them, methodically counting them until she felt nothing at all.

(Still in need of past perfect. "She'd run for hours..." etc. If you don't use the proper grammar structure, it sounds as if she's doing it NOW. I'm pretty sure she's not running out the open patio doors now.)

The clatter of the dumpster in front of Lia startled her. Across the alley she saw a large, long haired Siamese cat leap from the dumpster to the street.

I think this is much improved. The flashback isn't as cumbersome now that there's just one. I still find it a little over written, but easily cleaned up. The most important thing now I think is to add some kind of introducing paragraph to ground the reader before jumping into the dialogue.

Great work, Monica!

The cool moisture hit Lia hard (cut "hit" and "hard," replace with stronger verb such as "pummel"), mixing with the air from the hot kitchen. She took a deep breath, holding it in her lungs, letting it cool her hot head. Her cheeks were flushed (cut, too passive) burned, but not from the warmth of the kitchen. Her boss, Pedro was hounding her as usual. He had a way of getting under her skin, as she did his. (I'd personally cut the last two sentences.)

(This opening has some good elements, such as the idea of her being hot but not because of the kitchen. Fun play on the quip "If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen." As a reader, what makes me most leery is the telling of emotions/relationship, instead of showing. I'm not sure we need to be told immediately that Pedro and Lia don't get along. This can be shown through their interaction.)

Tonight was no different. He was on her about the dress code at Romano’s, the restaurant where she was a hostess four nights a week. Lia wasn’t prone to doing what others expected her to and she also had a tendency to speak her mind.

(Again, I'm wondering if we could see this interaction, instead of just the aftermath. That way, the reader could draw their own conclusions without being told how Lia feels.)

She let (cut "She let") The door click softly (cut "softly") behind her, and she leaned against the cool metal. She took in a cleansing breath and looked up at the stars. Counting stars was a habit Lia had picked up after her mother died almost seven years ago. (I personally would combine these into "She took a deep breath and counted the stars, a habit she picked up after her mother died.")

Lia tried to push (away) the thoughts away (cut) that now (cut) invaded her mind. Glancing up at the stars in the cool night air was like déjà vu (cut "was like deja vu). It (cut "it" and the period, combining these sentences) reminded her of the night seven years ago tomorrow (cut "seven years ago tomorrow") when her father had come into the living room where she celebrating her tenth birthday with all her friends. She knew as soon as she looked up and saw that look on his face. (You've gone into the past of the past—thus needing to use past perfect. When writing in past, your flashbacks need to read something like: "She had known as soon as she'd looked...")

(I'm not sure this information is immediately important, and it might not be the most effective to start a story with a flashback. Readers like to move forward, and this is like going in reverse when not much has happened to warrant a look into the past.

Now, I'm sure this information is integral to your story, I'm just questioning its placement. I'm not sure we need to know this now, and I wonder if it would increase tension to hint at issues without spelling them out.)

The paper cup had slipped from her hand, bouncing against the wood floor spilling its contents (cut "spilling its contents") in a splash of red. Her mother hadn’t come home from the grocery store that afternoon. Her father had tried to convince her everything was alright, but she could feel the tension behind his reassuring words. He had been as frightened as her. (This is telling, and I would cut.) The ashen look that replaced his stoic façade said more than any words could. (This is SHOWING his fear, so I would keep this.)

She had turned and (cut "turned and," due to over staging) run out the opened (cut) patio doors. She’d run for hours. It'd took (cut and replace with "taken") police dogs and a search party half the night to find her hidden against a tree in a swamp. That was the first time she counted stars to blot out the feelings that were too overwhelming to feel. It let her breathe when the emotions felt like they would suffocate her. It was how she dealt with everything now. If there were no stars to count, she’d close her eyes and imagine them then methodically count them one by one till she no longer felt whatever emotion was threatening her calm, collectedness. Till she felt nothing. (I would combine these thoughts into something like "If there weren't stars, she'd close her eyes and imagine them, counting them methodically until she felt nothing.")

The clatter of the dumpsters in front of Lia startled her and she jumped (cut "and she jumped" since startled implies that). Looking across the alley, she saw a large cat leap from the dumpster to the street. It looked like a long haired Siamese. (Cut last sentence, unless the fact that the cat is siamese is important to the story and I don't know it yet.)

The distraction freed her from the painful memories and reminded her of why she was out here. She replayed the scene with Pedro in her head.

“Liara,” Pedro said tapping her on the shoulder in his passive aggressive way.

“Please don’t call me that, Pedro.”

“But it’s your name,” he responded, his tone condescending.

Overall, I'm wondering if this intro could be made more active and urgent. I'm not saying you need an explosion or anything like that. But something should at least be in the process of happening by 500 words. I like Lia, though I've only gotten a little of her character, but all she's done so far is stand outside and think about the past.

As a reader, I'm more interested in the argument it looks like you're about to flashback to. Is there a possibility that the story could start there? With her and Pedro arguing, and that argument triggering these hard memories for her? Actually, this IS how your story starts, I think, but it gets skipped over and then looks like flashbacked to. It might be interesting to try the linear approach, just to see.

Although it's only the first 500 words, I feel like there's a chance to provide more action surrounding a central conflict. Currently, this seems a bit scattered. Is it about her problems at work? Her mother? Her father? Something else entirely that's not here?

Also, there's a bit of an issue concerning "telling" and the "infodump," and I've marked those places. Instead of putting Lia in a situation that reveals her character, this reads as if we're just being told how it is. Which is fine, and interesting, but it would be
more interesting if her traits and story were revealed through action.

Of course this is a WIP, but once you get to that line editing phase I pointed out several places where wordiness could be reduced. These issues aren't really as important as increasing the action/conflict, but I wanted to show options for tightening sentences, etc. You don't have to take those suggestions; they're just examples of how I would line edit if this were my WIP.

Okay! There's my feedback—please leave yours for Monica in the comments. Thank you, Monica, for being brave and letting us take a look at your writing so closely. I hope it helps, and if you have revisions you'd also like to share I will post them.