Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Look Back at 2014

The past 365 days have absolutely flown by, in large part due to some really amazing things that happened. When January 2013 arrived, I was alone in my publishing journey, with no one but my very closest friends having any idea I'd decided to write a book. I'd never heard of QueryTracker or Critique Partners. I had no idea how very much I had to learn. But let's look at what happened since then.

January: I flew to Mexico to watch my sister get married to someone who suits her in every way. I've never seen her so happy. I also got to spend a couple of days drinking with my family.

February: I discovered for the first time what a critique partner was, and started to make friends in the writing community. I swapped work - and learned so much more.

March: I got my first R&R. I also sent the query that would eventually lead to signing with my agent. I prepared a dance routine I performed in public - ME, a shy little bookworm, doing things I never thought I would be fit or athletic enough to do, actually performing in front of other people. My husband and I also adopted our furry little beasts, and I can't imagine my life without them. Then I spent a lovely weekend in North Carolina, a state I'd never seen before, with friends.

April: Christmas comes in April for me every year, in the form of a board game weekend with my friends. This year, I went to Austin. The airport, shuttle, and hotel were lovely.

May: I received a second R&R that I almost didn't do, but which ultimately was the draft that got picked up by my agent (not the one who requested the R&R). Also was chosen for Query Kombat, where I met my third amazing critique partner and made so many new friends.

June: After many long months of waiting and agonizing, my husband got his green card. This opened up an amazing new world of possibilities for both of us.

July: We spent an amazing week with friends in Boston. When we returned, I got two offers from fantastic agents and signed a contract. Sometimes, I still can't believe it.

August: My husband and I drove to Nova Scotia for a week to see his family. Much of that amazing week found it's way into my current WIP. On top of that, I got to help all three of my critique partners get chosen for PitchWars, and my best friend got married. She and her husband are the most adorable couple in the world.

September: Much of this month was spent deciding where we wanted to live, geographically. It made us take a long look at all the wonderful things around us. I also got to spend a fantastic weekend in Dallas with good friends I don't see nearly often enough. I also started offering editorial services to help other writers who are working to get published.

October: My husband got a new job that he absolutely loves. He's happier every day, and it shows. I'm so excited that he's found something to challenge him.

November: We bought a house, packed, and moved. That more or less overwhelmed the month, but it's ok, because we're so happy where we are now.

December: Still recovering, mostly. Settling into the new house. Learning about wonderful things like how to buy a dishwasher. Also editing my WIP like crazy, because I want to be able to say I wrote two whole books this year (on top of three complete re-writes of the first one).

Whew! A tough year to beat, no question, but there are already some good things on tap for 2015 (Spoiler alert: My sister's having a baby!!) But the most important thing is that I kept working toward my goals, and I didn't give up. I'm dedicated to helping make 2015 even better. I can do it, and so can you.

What was your major accomplishment for 2014?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Said is Boring

There, I've said it. No, I've proclaimed it!
"Using the word said over and over is boring!" She shouted from the rooftops.
"Using said over and over is boring!" She ejaculated. (We should really go back to using this more.)

They say it's OK to break the rules once you know and understand them, and I hope that's true. I think "said" is boring. I hate "said" and frequently avoid using it. I've been told that whatever you want to convey with another verb should be included in the dialogue. Let's look at how that works:
"You went to the store," he said
"You went to the store," he whimpered.
"You went to the store," he accused.
Sure, I suppose I could make the sentences super long and unwieldy. Because, you know, never use a short sentence when you can throw in half a paragraph of backstory.

"You went to the store," he said, "and the store is terrifying. Ever since I was a child and a giant spider attacked me in the dairy case, I've been afraid of the store. Even hearing you mention it will give me nightmares. I am so freaked out right now, but I have to tell you all about why, even though it has little to do with the plot!" can all be summed up in "he whimpered."

"You went to the store," he said, "but you told me you were going to be at work. I can't believe you lied to me! I will never trust you again." works just as well as "he accused." And it's twenty-four words where one would do just fine.

I just want that hypothetical character to stop talking.
Does that mean I'll never use the word said? No. It's in my current MS 146 times. (In case you're wondering, "asked" is in there 36 times.) That's slightly less than once every two pages. Mostly, I avoid dialogue tags entirely - I prefer to just have the dialogue punctuated with the action, or let the conversation flow. But I do not for the life of me understand the war on said (I don't understand the war on adverbs, either, but that's another post for another day.) Is this too much?
"Let's go to the store," he suggested.
"Okay," she agreed. "Then what?"
"We still have to go to the gym," he pointed out. "Maybe we could do that first."
"I don't know," she equivocated. "I'm a bit tired."
"That's okay," he placated. "I can go later."
"No, wait. I'll go change," she declared. 
Yes, absolutely, that's too much.  (It's also bad dialogue - I'm afraid my husband and I don't have the most thrilling conversations on Sunday mornings.) I'm not saying that every word has to be replaced with said. I'm just saying I don't agree that another word can never be used. I understand the rule. I've heard the "said" is white noise argument. I also disagree, and I'm okay with that. I've found a happy medium that works for me.

Next week: I heart adverbs.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas to All, and to All a Good Night

I'm taking a day off from the usual blogging (I might go crazy and take a whole week). I hope you all find some lovely things in store under your tree. May anyone who needs to go to the store on Christmas Eve find parking.

And may you find time to watch the greatest Christmas movie of all time.

If you don't celebrate Christmas, I hope you have an awesome rest of the week and a good weekend.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Women's Fiction vs. Romance

This is a conversation I’ve had with several people over the last few months, including querying writers and my agent. Some people may look at the title of this post and say “Does it matter? My agent can figure it out.” Now, that may or may not be true (my agent is going to want me to explain the book to her, so I still need to know what it is), but you need to know what genre your book fits into before you start sending it out.

When you’re looking for an agent to love your book, you need to know where it fits. If you’ve written a romance and you only query agents who represent women’s fiction, you’ve set yourself up for a lot of heartache and disappointment. Querying involves enough heartache and disappointment on its own - there’s no need to create more for yourself. If you’re self-publishing, people are going to be disappointed if they’re expecting romance and they get women’s fiction, and vice versa. You need to know where to place your book. Don’t set yourself up for negative reviews based on false expectations.

So, how do you tell the difference? Well, if you have something like Erin Emerson’s What Would Oprah Do?, focused on the main character’s journey to find herself with nary a love interest in sight, it’s pretty easy. So is Brighton Walsh’s Caged in Winter, where the entire plot revolves around Winter and Cade’s relationship. But a lot of women’s fiction includes romantic elements, so it is important to know where your focus in so you know how to pitch the book.

There are a couple of easy indicators, like how romance frequently (but not always) has explicit sex scenes where women’s fiction often (but not always) fades to black. Women’s fiction nearly always is told from the point of view of one or more female characters, where romance will often include male point of view.

Romance requires a happy ending. Your main characters don’t have to ride off into the sunset and get married (especially in YA), but they have to be happy for the foreseeable future. The entire focus of the book is on love as the plot, even if there are other things going on. Romance has some very specific things that readers expect to see. (Here are some of the most common tropes.) The focus on the relationship between main characters starts early. There's heightened sexual tension throughout. Every scene is written with romance in mind. It's the driving force behind the main characters' actions.

Women’s fiction, on the other hand, doesn't need to have a happy ending. A happy ending doesn't need to involve love. Women’s fiction also typically has at least one plot that's not about the relationship. For example, in the Shopaholic series, Becky’s relationship with Luke is important, but the main plot is always about Becky - her shopping addiction, her overwhelming debt, meeting her long-lost sister, etc. Those books would still be enjoyable if Luke didn’t exist, although they’re better with him in them. That’s women’s fiction. The driving force is about the main character's journey: she has things that she's trying to achieve, separate from the romance. Subplots may be more focused on the main character's relationship with other characters, rather than the love interest.

If you’re still not sure, ask yourself: What is the main focus of this story? Does the entire thing collapse if you remove the love interest? If not, you’ve probably written women’s fiction. If so, it might be a romance.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

How My Furry Little Beasts Found a Home

I never intended for this to be solely a writing blog, and one of my goals for 2015 is to blog more things of interest to non-writers, too. Last week, in a fit of exhaustion, I created a blog that was nothing but pictures of my kitties - and it got more views/comment than most of my other posts.

This is because my cats are really darn cute. I can't believe that they lived in a rescue for over a year before coming home with us, but they did. Why? Hard to say. Cat2 is a black kitty, and prejudice may have played some part in him staying at the shelter. He's also very, very shy (still, but it was worse when we got him). Cat1 is the most outgoing, sweet, loving cat I've ever met  - now. It's hard to remember the scared, shy kitty who hid behind the washing machine for three days when we got them.

Anyway, they are what the rescue called a "bonded pair." Cat2's mother was hit by a car around the same time that some jerk dropped Cat1 off by the side of the road with her newborn kittens (my poor baby). Cat2 was still an itty-bitty kitty, so the rescue gave him to Cat1, and she took care of him. (She still takes care of him. When we brought them home, she climbed into his carrier with him as soon as I opened the doors. Sat there with him for two or three hours.) The shelter wanted to keep them together, despite Cat1's actual kitten still also living at the rescue, so they were offering a deal: Two cats for the price of one.

THAT'S TWICE AS MANY CATS! Obviously, the idea of two cats at once was very exciting to me, because that's way better than just one.

And now, they sleep together in awkward positions that make me a wee bit uncomfortable.

Here, Cat2 is bathing Cat1, who is saying "Do you mind?"

I'm still not really sure what they're doing here, but that lump behind Cat2 is my leg. This is what I woke up to. I told them to get a room next time.
My little yin-yang kitties.

They are the sweetest, funniest little creatures. If they're not playing, they can usually be found sleeping entwined somewhere. And I can't for the life of me figure out why no one was willing to adopt these wonderful kitties - but I'm glad they were there for my husband to find them and help me bring them home.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Love Letter to My CPs*

To my Critique Partners,

I love you ladies. No, really. I love you. You are worth your weight in chocolate.

You make me laugh until my sides hurt. When I'm down, you pick me up. I don't even have to be down about writing-related stuff. When I'm up, you celebrate with me.

You write beautiful stories that make me laugh. You write such compelling stories that I sit and read for hours at a stretch, even when I'm supposed to be working or cleaning (well, especially when I'm supposed to be cleaning).

It took me a long time to find CPs that worked for me. Like most writers, I started this process with no idea what I was supposed to be doing. I dashed off a query letter for a manuscript no one had read but me. I had a friend read for inconsistencies, but said, "I'll proofread - don't worry about the typos."

I was so, so very naive. When I write something, I get close to it. I know what it's supposed to say. And after the fifteenth reading or so, I can't see the typos anymore. Sure, there are tricks to get around that, like changing the font, or reading from the bottom up (this helps only with actual typographical errors—you won't necessarily notice if you meant to say one thing and said another). There are even programs like AutoCrit that analyze your text for you. I use all of those things. But there is no substitute for a pair of actual, human eyes on your work, with another person telling you what works for them and what doesn't. The more the better.

So, to my critique partners: Thank you, thank you, thank you. I never could've gotten where I am without your hard work and support. I love you all.

* CP stands for "critique partner." If you're a writer, you need one of these. If not, just know that it's someone you swap work with so you can each get someone else's perspective and comments before sending it off to agents or editors.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Where Laura Cops Out on Blogging...

I'm afraid I didn't have time to write a blog post today, so here are some pictures of my cats. Everyone loves cat pictures, right?

When we first got them, kitties were scared of the new house. All our friends said, "We need pictures!!!" They didn't believe I couldn't get a decent shot. So, here's a cat hiding behind the washer/dryer.

Here she is. Three days before she came out. Cat2 lived under the bed for 2 weeks.
My Little Princess, Cat1
Here, she was angry that I refused to feed her raw cookie dough.

Here, they're intentionally playing in horrible light so I can't get a video. Too bad, because it was hilarious.

The Princess does not appreciate when peasants disturb her slumber.

A rare shot of the elusive second cat. He's shy.
Ok, so I promise a real blog post next week. I've got a couple of things planned. But, look! Kitties!

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Dedicated Writing Space

When I was looking for new blog topics, someone suggested I talk about the importance of a writing space. This is a fairly timely and important topic for me right now.

As I may have mentioned roughly 637,000 times on Twitter, my husband and I moved into a new house at the end of November. To make the move easier, we ended up locking the kitties in the spare bedroom - which meant that the space destined to become my office became a sea of spare bedding, bed parts, night tables, and boxes. So many boxes. No space to write.

My office, ladies and gentlemen (and those of you who are neither).
Not even a desk, in fact - when DH and I moved in together, my old, rickety, build-it-yourself desk just couldn't make the trip. Since our apartment had two dining room tables and one kitchen (no dining room), we parked my printer on one of the tables, added a pencil holder, and called it a desk. That table has now been repurposed as my playing board games table, and it's in the basement. It's also still in pieces, because it didn't fit through the door as a table. For now, I've commandeered a corner of the dining room table until we can clear out my office and find a desk I like.

What I've found is that, as long as I have my laptop, I can write anywhere. Much of my writing is done sitting on the couch while my husband plays video games or watches movies that don't interest me. I wrote three chapters sitting on a bed in a hotel room. I've written chapters in a moving car. I write on airline tray tables, in coffee shops, or on my phone hidden under the table at family functions. When I need to write, I write. Some people need dedicated space or a block of time - all I need is my imagination and a way to get the words down.

Now, don't get me wrong: I can't wait to have my office back, so I can close the door when I need to work in peace. But the words will flow wherever I happen to be.

I found this picture somewhere. I like it. Not mine.
What about you? Do you need a dedicated writing space?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

December Pitch Parties

December 'tis the season of many wonderful things... including SFFPit, PitMad, and PitchMas. I don't really have much to say about the holidays (Except that I like sugar cookies and fudge. Please send me some), so let's talk about Twitter pitch parties. I love a good party.

They just got requests from their dream agents.
 First, pitch parties are a great way to get in touch with new writers. You can see what other people are writing, follow them, and make some new friends. That's a bonus for everyone, whether your MS is ready to pitch or not. I actually met one of my closest friends and CPs through retweeting each other constantly during a pitch party last year.

But a pitch party is also about giving agents enough information to make them want to read your work. The biggest problem I see with people noting that they didn't get request is pitches that don't tell the reader anything about the book. If the agent doesn't know what you wrote, they don't want to read it.

For example (I made this up):
Being a dwarf can be so dull. But not if you have superpowers! #PitMad #MG
Sure, it's a great tagline for a movie, right before the trailer that tells you what the plot is. But just reading that, do you want to read the book? I don't know. Another thing I saw a lot of (which I also hear agents don't like) is rhetorical questions.
Duncan is the smallest dwarf in his clan. But when the apocalypse comes, can he save the world? #PitMad #MG
I don't know. Can he? Sounds like he probably can't, and I don't really care. Compare:
Duncan lives a ho-hum dwarf life. When dragons attack, he learns that his ability to fart roses may be key to saving the world. #PitMad #MG
Do you want to read that? Probably not - it's a plot I made up in three seconds without the benefit of coffee. But do you at least see the difference? Some pitches are just a quote from the book or a sentence in the voice of the character, but that doesn't tell agents what they want to know. Agents want to know the character, the plot, and the stakes. Yes, that's a tall order for 140 characters. But it can be done.

Another good tip, for anyone who has been in multiple pitch contests, is to see which tweets were favorited before. Work from those. There's no need to recreate the wheel entirely. And if you didn't get any hits before, ask a friend or CP to review them and help you figure out why. It might be because the stakes weren't clear or the plot didn't shine through. With that said, the same agents tend to stop in at the parties. If you've pitched the same MS at five or more contests, you might not be getting hits because the requesting agents have already seen it.

If you need help with your pitches, I do offer help for $5 with any first page or query critique.

Good luck, everyone! May the favorites be ever in your favor.

Monday, December 1, 2014

A Day of Rest

November was a crazy month. I bought a house, finished edits on a MS, sent it to my agent, prayed she wouldn't hate it, finished a first draft of something new, cheered my friends and CPs on during PitchWars, moved, worked about 75 hours a week, discovered Gilmore Girls on Netflix, negotiated concessions and contracts, learned more than I ever needed to know about washer/dryer shopping, and.... Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Please don't ask me to move for at least three months.
So, December? At least for a couple of days, I'm taking a break (other than unpacking).
  • I'm not editing my finished first draft. I prefer to let it sit anyway, and it's only been about a week. It can sit longer - a month is best. I rarely make it that long.
  • I'm not pushing myself to start writing something new. The well is dry. Exhaustion saps creativity. Don't expect me to write anything more taxing than a blog post anytime soon.
  • I'm not decorating for Christmas (yet). It's not that important.
  • I'm not buying Christmas presents or making plans for the holidays (yet). It can wait a day or two while I collect myself.
  • I'm not obsessively checking my email for news.
What am I doing? Giving myself a break. Maybe I'll read a book, watch more Gilmore Girls, or do a puzzle. I like puzzles. And I've earned some time off. So you have. What do you do to relax? Tell me in the comments.