Friday, April 17, 2009

Because Stephanie IS That Awesome

Okay, if you don't know about the incredible Stephanie Perkins, you need to. The girl is unbelievably cool. So cool that I get knots in my stomach trying to be marginally funny when I comment on her hilarious blog. In all honesty, I kinda stalk her, but I'm too afraid I'm not awesome enough to actually hang out with her.

Why? Well, first off, she has blue hair. And, um, that's almost the epitome of awesome already. Second, she has good taste in about everything, from HBMs to cupcakes to books to friends. And third, she's just that funny (and those closest to me know how intimidated I am by funny people).

So you'd think that was all the awesome one cute little person could contain, right? Oh no. It's not. She snagged the uber cool Kate Testerman as her agent earlier this year, which means she's also a great writer. And THEN, guess what? Guess what? She just sealed a TWO BOOK deal with Dutton! SQUEE!!! And with John Green's editor, no less. Congrats, Steph! I bow to your freaking awesomeness!

(The over usage of "awesome" in this post just proves how excited I am. I did it on purpose, I swear.)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Get Thee an Alpha

So I just found out one of my very close writer friends had no alpha readers for her recently finished MS. I literally gasped. I don't know how you no-alpha writers do it! Don't you get discouraged? Don't you worry about the choices you make as a writer? How in the world do you make it 60—100k words without falling into complete despair?

What? Maybe I'm just an insecure person? Sure...that might be a valid point, but let me just toot the Alpha horn for a second.

If you don't know what an Alpha reader is, let me give you a quick definition. An Alpha Reader is a person who reads a writer's rough draft as it is being generated. And they are awesome. Alphas don't have to be writers (though it's helpful), they just have to love you no matter what and be wildly enthusiastic about your desire to write.

The role of the Alpha is not to point out "messy" writing or little things that can be fixed later. That's the Beta's job. The Alpha role is two fold: 1) Point out anything they "don't get" or speak up when/if the story goes "off course." 2) Tell you after every single chapter that they are dying for the next and you're the best writer in the whole entire world and it's a crime you're not published yet (or something like that)!

I have two wonderful, perfect Alpha readers—my husband and my best friend. Getting their feedback as I write keeps me going, reassures me that I'm taking the story the right way, and stops me from making huge blunders right off the bat. I love it every time I get an "OMG that was awesome!" response, but I equally appreciate the "uh, that didn't go quite right...would MC really do that?"

Since I enlisted Alphas, I feel like my first drafts are in much better shape than before. The big plot holes just aren't there—I think more about what I'm writing because I want the Alphas to get the best possible rough draft. Of course, the writing is far from perfect, but still a lot better than if I was going it alone.

Consider finding an Alpha or two, you really won't regret it. Unless you find one who thinks they're a Beta and nitpicks you to death. That wouldn't be good. Make sure they know their role.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Reading & Writing

When I'd just started writing seriously again (around spring 2006), I had this idea that if I read published books while I wrote, their style would somehow leech into my own writing. I also had a much more fragile ego, so I thought reading a great book would make me all depressed.

Then I finished my first book and went in search of information on how I might get it published. (Ah, the greenie days...bright-eyed, hopeful, and so very naive. Good times.) I read a lot of blogs and websites and noticed an excellent piece of advice—know your genre.

I felt a little sheepish because I'd spent a lot of time writing YA, but I hadn't read much in the year and a half it took me to write my first book. I'd always enjoyed reading, but college had replaced my previous "fun" reads with books about semantics and sociolinguistics. I was behind—I really didn't have a good idea of what was out there.

So I started reading. I picked up the books people were talking about, the ones they weren't, and everything in between. I still have a mile-long reading list (which I plan on getting to in a big way once my WIP is done next week), but I feel much more confident about my knowledge of YA.

And guess what happened? Reading my genre made me a better writer. I haven't accidentally stolen ideas or adopted someone else's style, but I've learned how to make my own cleaner and a little bit different from what's out there. I know where I fit on "the shelf," so to speak, and that there's room for me if I can get the right people's attention.

I know it's hard to read and write at the same time, that one often takes over the other, but I highly recommend taking little breaks from your WIPs to pick up a book in your genre and see what's out there. (I'm currently enjoying The Graveyard Book.) You need to know, see for your own eyes, what's selling and what's not. And you better make sure you actually like the genre you're writing in, because you're probably going to be there a while when you do make it. And if none of that is incentive enough, consider it research on which authors would be the best fits to blurb your book;P

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Why English Is Weird

People like to joke around about how weird the English language is. How come we don't pronounce things how they're spelled? How come our grammar is so weird? I personally was so fascinated by the uniqueness of English that I studied just the language in college (no lit analysis for me, baby, mwahaha!).

They say English is the hardest language to learn in the entire world, and I would be willing to agree with that. To start, it has the largest lexicon on the planet. Sure, other languages have more declensions and "rules" and phonemes, but English is so difficult because it constantly breaks rules. There's an exception to everything.

Why is that? Is English just a rebel or something? I wish, wouldn't that be cool? (English rides up on its chopper, clad in leather, wearing aviator shades, sporting some wicked chops. "What you lookin' at, punk?") But that's not the case.

It's all about the history, actually. Yeah, way more boring than a chopper-riding English language. I still find it fascinating though. I'll give you a little run down:

1. Old English
Back in the day, we're talking Beowulf days, English was essentially a Germanic dialect. The Anglo Saxons brought it to the island with them when they took things over. Once there, it differentiated itself from other Germanic languages by taking on a bit of the Celtic (lots of place names and such). Old English is nothing like English today. It had Germanic declensions (conjugations-ish) for nouns and adjectives and stuff like that. The pronunciation was completely different (night would have had that lovely German sound to it [neecht] and was often spelled nixt).

2. Middle English
Enter the Normans in 1066, who were French speakers. They took over the government, and suddenly French became the language of awesomeness. What happened to English? It absorbed a ridiculous amount of French into the vocabulary and grammar. (Think The Canterbury Tales) This is why we have many words for the same thing—beef is the French, cow is the German...porc is the French, pig is the German, etc. What happens when you mix a Germanic and Latin language together? Well, you get something that looks more like the English we know. Except it's still pronounced more like German (wife is still weef, house is still hoos).

3. Early Modern English
Something extraordinary happened from around A.D. 1200-1600—The Great Vowel Shift (I know, the name begs to be made fun of). (Think Shakespeare) Vowels changed in English. The reasons are still kind of unclear, but the theory is that mass migration to the cities of Southern England after the Black Death brought a lot of dialects together. These dialects merged with each other, creating the pronunciations we know today. BUT people kept the old spellings, which is why our spelling makes for the only rigourous National Spelling Bee worthy of ESPN coverage in the world.

4. Modern English
That would be what we're speaking today in all its glorious dialects and flavors. And there's enough there to study for a lifetime. We continue to absorb words and structures from other languages—heck, we're so used to stealing stuff it's just part of the language. If, by some miracle, we don't have a word for it, we have no problem taking one from somewhere else. Think of the incredible Spanish influence in the South, the Asian words slowly filtering in, even Polynesian words like "taboo."

Once you know the history, I think it's easier to see why English is so "messed up." I wouldn't say messed up though, I would say "richly laced with history." All languages are, but I, of course, have a particular love for this language I've studied and spoken all my life.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Love Stories: "Traditional" Love

This series has been so much fun to write. All the squishy, gushy love has put me in a good mood. *Sighs dreamily.* I'm almost sad this is the last day. Now I'll have to go back to having no clue what to post.

"Traditional" Love (another dumb title, sorry)
The Formula: Girl meets guy (or vice versa) and they connect. Then a sequence of butterfly-inducing events happen as she tries to figure out if guy likes her too. Gushy moment of awesomeness when they finally get together. But THEN comes the "deal breaker." Something so catastrophic (okay, at least gut wrenching) that you're not sure if this adorable couple is going to make it. After some tears and soul searching, couple pulls through...or doesn't.

This one has a ton of variants, and is really the skeleton for all the others if you think about it. All the other types can be mixed into this structure or be left out entirely. The freedom of this form is fun. You can do just about anything with it—uh, because it's the romance genre formula. I'll give you some of my favorites for examples.

One of my all time squee chick flicks—Return To Me. What is not to love? Fox Mulder crying, old guys singing Frankie, a sweetheart girl who had a heart transplant, old bicycles, monkeys, an IRISH/ITALIAN PUB! This is a great example of how many twists you can throw into the "traditional love" format. Fox's wife dies—her heart is given to sweetheart girl. They MEET and don't know! They fall in love! OMG! But then sweetheart girl finds the letter she wrote the donor's family—ahhhh. How do you overcome that? Oh, good stuff.

Man, why am I struggling to find a book example? Sad, my brain is going. There are a ton, of course, but it's Friday. I'm going to have to go back to the good ol' Pride & Prejudice again. Jane and Mr. Bingley's story is an adorable "traditional love." They are both immediately attracted to each other, they court, but then they are ripped apart by outside forces. Those meddling friends and family! How dare they! But they still care for each other, miss each other. And in the end they finally get to be together. Aw.

I pretty much use this formula in Relax, I'm a Ninja as well. There is a bit of a forbidden element though. This is also the basis for Sealed, with just a touch of reluctance. It's so easy to pull in bits of the others, and I think that's what makes this one exiting. You can hybrid it with anything. Throw a pinch of reluctance in at the beginning, or perhaps and touch of blindness, maybe an unintentional deception. So much to work with, so many hearts to break.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Love Stories: Deceptive Love

*Yawns* Well, I'm staying up way too late these days. Back in WIP mode—the transition from editing wasn't as hard as I thought it'd be. Hammered is coming together nicely, I think. It's such a different kind of story for me in a lot a ways, though it still has familiar elements as well. Anyway...on with my little series thing.

Deceptive Love (I know, not the best title, but you'll see)
The Formula: Girl (or guy) disguises themselves as someone else. While disguised, girl meets an incredibly cool guy who wants to hang out with her and stuff. Girl knows it's a terrible idea, but agrees to keep meeting the guy because she's so taken by him and doesn't think he'll accept the "true" her. They fall for each other, but inevitably the charade comes to an end. Guy learns girl's true identity and is upset by it. Girl apologizes. Guy either forgives or doesn't.

This one's a classic, isn't it? It's been done and done and done. I mean, how many modern Cinderella tales can the Disney Channel make? And yet...I'll still sit down and watch them from time to time. It's just so cute! Even if you know exactly how it goes. And there's something to be said about the "disguise" thing—characters often learn a lot about themselves by being someone else. The key to this formula is lovable characters (not just likable) and a really fresh/fun premise.

One of my favorite chick flicks ever? Never Been Kissed. Man, am I showing my sappy girly side this week or what? Drew Barrymore is a geek of a reporter assigned her first undercover project—pose as a high school student and learn what kids are really into. She has to become popular. Problem? She was THE nerd back in high school. In her quest to popularity, she falls for one of her teachers, but of course they can't really date and there's all this tension/flirting there. After she wins prom queen, it all comes out. Teacher is freaked. But she finally gets her first kiss. Awww.

I'm picking a modern YA book for this one—I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have To Kill You by Ally Carter. If you haven't read it and you're into YA, you gotta pick it up. Seriously. This is a perfectly done "deceptive love" story. Cammie is a spy—she goes to a secret spy school made to look like a preppy all girls private school. On a practice mission in town, Cammie accidentally meets a "town boy" named Josh—the first boy to ever see her. She pretends to be a homeschooled girl; he wants to see her again. Her spy friends make it happen. Hilarity, mischeif, and heartbreak ensue.

I think this form is especially fun for YA. I mean, every kid struggles with identity. These stories put that at the forefront. Will people like me for who I really am? Am I being more myself when I'm "pretending" because I'm not afraid? Do people even know who I am inside? Would they care? Would they tease me if they knew? Would they like me more? Could anyone really love the real me?

Hey, I just met this really cute love story! *Ninja flies by* Oh my gosh! I think that was my love story! It's a ninja? What? How am I going to deal with this?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Love Stories: Blind Love

Happy April Fool's! Mother Nature's being really funny here—it's snowing. In April. *Shakes fist at sky* Don't believe a word out there on the web (except for these ones). Wow, can't believe it's April. Big day for me: resubmissions. Ack. I'm pretending I'm not a mess. And I'm totally writing this blog post first in attempts to put off the dreaded emails I must send.

Blind Love
The Formula: Boy and Girl know each other—don't know they're perfect for each other (or at least one of them doesn't know). Boy and Girl spend a lot of time trying to date other people, accomplish something in their lives, or overcome something. Audience sits back screaming, "Hello! He's/She's RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF YOU!" Finally, after a life-changing moment, Boy and Girl finally realize they were meant for each other all along.

Oh, this one is a hard one to pull off, I think. But when done right, it can be adorable and fun and heartwarming. Doesn't every single person sometimes think, "What if he or she is right under my nose and I don't even know it?" It's an exciting yet frustrating idea. You don't see this one as often because you have to have that right situation—the right characters who are likable enough for the audience to accept their stupidity and obvious oversight. Or you gotta make it subtle enough that the reader doesn't realize the couple is perfect for each other without heading into "reluctant love" areas.

The first movie that comes to mind: 13 Going On 30. They pull off the blind love in a believable way—in a way that makes you accept the flawed heroine. Jenna is thirteen and just wants to be popular. She doesn't realize that her best friend Matt is in love with her. After a terrible birthday disaster, she gets whisked to the future where she's thirty and has all the things she wanted at thirteen. Her life sucks; she learns lessons; she realizes she loves Matt when she can't have him (he's engaged in the future). When she goes back in time, she throws away her popular crowd aspirations and stops taking Matt for granted. Aw. CUTE.

Of course I have to go back to Austen on this one—Emma is another well done "blind love." Emma is really a rich little brat who's all up in everybody's business, but somehow we get sucked into her story because she learns a whole lot from her pathetic attempts at match making. She grows up. And when she finally realizes that Mr. Knightly is much more than a brother-in-law to her, you're happy. Austen also pulls off that "hidden guy" aspect. You don't really realize Mr. Knightly is "the one" for a while—you discover it with Emma, which is exciting and hard to do. Go Austen.

I haven't dared attempt this one yet, but it may be happening very soon. I'm scared. The idea of blind love is very close to my heart. Why? Because it's my own love story. *Sighs dreamily* I knew Nick for almost a year without a single romantic thought. I had friends telling me we should go on a date, and I'd just say, "Nah, Nick's sweet, but he's just a friend." We were pretty good friends, but my friend also had a crush on him so he was "off limits" anyway. I don't know why I couldn't see it. Okay, maybe I do. I'd just gotten out of an emotionally abusive relationship and wanted nothing to do with guys. Then one day, it was like my blindfold was taken off and it was completely and totally DUH. How had I not seen how perfect we were together? It was magical.

Sigh, blind love. Where have you run off to? Oh, there you are...right in front of me.