PitchWars, Writing

YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME Aesthetics

In the days leading up to Pitch Wars, mentees posted various novel aesthetics on Twitter, and I thought it would be fun to compile them all here on my blog.

I’ve mentioned this before, but my idea for this manuscript started with the setting in the middle of the novel. We were on our annual family vacation at the Lake of the Ozarks last summer (2016), and I looked over and spotted this abandoned house. My writer brain started asking all these questions about it, and of course I took pictures. That was my first novel aesthetic for what would become YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME.

I knew I wanted my characters to be siblings, a sister and brother. I had come up with a somewhat sketchy plot, and then in September 2016 I attended a daylong Girl Scout event with my daughter, who was a Daisy at the time. Now, I should mention that I am not a fan of the outdoors, and this event involved all sorts of outdoor activities. So when the next event was canoeing and they said they needed a parent volunteer to stay in the knife safety pavilion while troops came through for the demonstration, I jumped at it. There were two teen Girl Scouts leading the demonstration. I helped out for an hour and was privileged to listen to these girls, both of whom were Girl Scout Ambassadors. I asked them questions in between troops, learning about what it meant to be a teen Girl Scout and how rare it is for girls to stick with it.

My main character, Dora, is modeled after one of these girls, although of course I didn’t take any pictures of her. Instead I searched the internet for a photo to stick in my character file. Then I searched out pictures of the other characters who feature prominently: Dora’s brother, Sam; the love interest, Jay; Dora’s best friend, Wren; and, of course, the babysitter, Marie. I love how her picture looks like a mug shot–or maybe a passport photo since they won’t let you smile anymore.

Dora
Sam
Jay
Wren
Marie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I originally made a novel aesthetic ages ago, I thought about the images that are most associated with YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME, and the two objects that are always mentioned in my pitch are Dora’s fishing knife (the murder weapon) and the downstairs freezer (where they stuff Marie’s body in a panic), so it’s appropriate to include those in any photo representation of my manuscript. But even before those two objects come into play, there’s the matter of an ill-advised text Dora sends.

There was a prompt during the Pitch Wars countdown to show your opening scene. My novel opens with Dora working as a roller-skating carhop at the Cosmic Diner, which is loosely modeled after Sonic. She has an encounter with her ex that involves a blue raspberry slushy and his lap …

 

 

 

 

 

There was also a call for the final scene, but considering my novel has quite a few twists, I’m not willing to give that away :).

Do you have any stories behind your novel aesthetics? I love looking through them. It’s so wonderful to get a glimpse inside everyone’s story world.

Giveaways, Interviews, PitchWars, Review, Young Adult

YA Interview & Giveaway: CATALYST & FORGOTTEN by Kristin Smith

As promised, today I’m featuring an interview with the second of my Pitch Wars mentors, Kristin Smith. Her debut, CATALYST, came out in 2016, followed by the sequel, FORGOTTEN, just last month. I’m thrilled to be giving away e-books of both CATALYST and FORGOTTEN, and Kristin is adding swag–signed bookmarks, a postcard, and a magnet! Here’s the description of the first book to whet your appetite.

Catalyst by Kristin SmithIn a crumbling, futuristic Las Vegas where the wealthy choose the characteristics of their children like ordering off a drive-thru menu, seventeen-year-old Sienna Preston doesn’t fit in. As a normal girl surrounded by genetically modified teens, all of her imperfections are on display. But after the death of her father, everything she’s ever known and loved changes in an instant.

With little skills to help provide for her family, Sienna clings to the two things that come easily—lying and stealing. But not all thief-for-hire assignments go as planned. When a covert exchange of a stolen computer chip is intercepted, she becomes entangled with a corrupt government official who uses her thieving past as leverage, her mother as collateral, and the genetically modified poster boy she’s falling for as bait.

In order to rescue her mother, there may only be one option—joining forces with the Fringe, an extremist group, and their young leader who’s too hot to be bad. Problem is, these revolutionaries aren’t what they seem, and the secrets they’re hiding could be more dangerous than Sienna is prepared for. In the end, she must be willing to risk everything to save the one thing that matters most.

And here are Kristin’s answers to five questions about the five things I loved most–in this case, about both books :).

1. The premise for this series is so cool (and a bit scary)! A society where the rich genetically modify their children? Where did you come up with the idea?

Why, thank you! 🙂 The spark of the idea came in the form of a vivid dream. This idea then led to a lot of what if questions. What if there was a society of people who were matched according to their genetics? Then taking that a step further, what if these people were genetically modified and matched according to their genetics? What would a society like this look like? What might be some challenges for a society like this? And through this, the idea for CATALYST was born.

2. I love how it’s set in a futuristic Las Vegas. The gritty city and surrounding desert, then the new setting of Pacifica (a futuristic L.A.?), are so well drawn. How did you research? How did you decide what to keep from the present and what to change?

I lived for a short time in Las Vegas so I’m very familiar with the area, which really helped when writing CATALYST. And yes, even though it isn’t specifically mentioned, I do picture the Capital of Pacifica (Rubex) as a futuristic L.A. area. I’ve been to L.A. and up and down the Pacific coast, so it wasn’t too hard to draw on personal experience, like how cold the ocean water is no matter what time of year.

I did take some liberties when it came to buildings and structures that may or may not exist in 100-120 years. I think that was the most interesting thing about writing a story set in the near future. I was able to play around with things like architecture and buildings, while staying true to landscape and landforms like mountains, oceans, and deserts that shouldn’t change too much over time. It was a good balance between research and imagination.

3. There are so many twists in these books. Do you have a strategy for planting twists, particularly across a series?  

Um, I wish I could say that I have this magical formula, but the truth is, I really don’t. I generally know the direction the book or series is going, but sometimes I even surprise myself. If there’s a big twist (or several), then during the revision stage, I go through and make sure there have been enough clues sprinkled in so it doesn’t feel too farfetched. I’m a firm believer in the saying that “books are not written, but rewritten.” I do like to keep my reader always guessing.

The other key thing for this series is the backstory, which the reader doesn’t really know much about until the 2nd book, FORGOTTEN. I had to fully flesh out characters we don’t see or know that much about in order to be able to do these twists. I think that’s what made this story such a big undertaking. I couldn’t truly delve into Sienna’s story until I had completely fleshed out her dad’s story, which is what leads the reader to a lot of questions and a lot of twists.

4. The boys! You have two strong love interests with Zane and Trey, and I don’t even know whose team I’m on. I was leaning one way after CATALYST, and FORGOTTEN tipped me the other direction. Did you start writing the series with a clear ending in mind for the love story? Any suggestions on writing an effective love triangle?

Ahh, this is such a great question! When I first started writing the series, there was no question in my mind who Sienna would end up with. But now, I’m not so sure. They are both incredible guys, each with their own strengths, and Sienna loves them both in different ways. And I think that’s the key to an effective love triangle. Each love interest must stand on his own, meaning, each one should offer her something different. Perhaps in one the MC finds adventure and security, but the other provides compassion and companionship.

In addition, a good love triangle should be about more than just the three characters trapped in the triangle. It shouldn’t be a plot in and of itself. But when you can weave it into a story that has bigger stakes, then I think you’re on the road to creating a successful love triangle.

5. In FORGOTTEN, you tell the story from both Sienna and Zane’s viewpoints. What tips do you have for writing from two different POVs?

Don’t screw it up! Lol. No, really, I think it’s all about finding the voice of your characters. It requires you to dig deep and really get to know your characters better. Sienna was easy because I already knew her voice. Zane was a bit trickier because A) I had to tap into a male voice and B) I had to tap into the voice of a guy who has been bred since birth to be this poster child for his father’s genetic modification company. He’s well-bred, well-spoken, and well-rounded.

I would suggest doing character sketches or character interviews to really get a feel for the mind of your character. It may take rewriting chapters if you find your voice drifting. The main thing is to stay true to your character.

Thank you, Kristin!

Now, on to the giveaway! I’m giving away e-books of both CATALYST and FORGOTTEN, and Kristin is adding signed bookmarks, a postcard, and a magnet. United States only, please. To enter, click on the Rafflecopter link. Good luck!

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/ba24b44a19/?

Critiquing, Revising, Writing

6 Reasons You Should Critique for Others While Revising

Did you miss me? I know I threw that four years of querying post out there and then deserted the blog for a couple of weeks. My family went to the Lake of the Ozarks, and then I had a week of craziness catching up with some deadlines. But I’m back!

So, I’m in the midst of revisions yet again, and I’ve also been doing quite a bit of critiquing. I’ve always felt the best time to critique for others is when you’re revising your own work, and I really thought I’d posted on that before, but I couldn’t find it, so here are six reasons you should critique for others while revising yourself.

1. It helps you think more critically.

As one of my current characters would say: Duh! But here’s the thing: when I go a long stretch without reading anyone else’s work for the purpose of offering feedback (reading for fun doesn’t count), I get out of the habit of looking at it objectively. Yes, as I’m reading that published book, I’ll notice a typo and I might notice if I would have commented on a particular plot point or characterization if I’d been that author’s critique partner, but I’m not reading each page looking for ways to improve the book. When I read for someone else, I’m trying to help him/her make that manuscript shine, and that triggers something in my brain that spills over into my own revisions. No matter how much I put myself in a revision mindset–and I love revising!–I always have better ideas when I’ve been critiquing recently.

2. It convicts you when you have the same issue in your own manuscript.

For some reason, seeing your issue in someone else’s manuscript makes it so much clearer in your own, like a spotlight shining on that particular scene or character weakness. For example, I remember reading for someone and spotting a believability issue that suddenly made me realize I had the same problem in my own MS. It wasn’t even something any of my readers had pointed out yet, but I knew I had to fix because eventually someone would notice and I’d have a hole to repair. Something along the lines of: Why didn’t Character A just ask Character C about this? Ha! We all have one of those at some point, don’t we?

3. It reminds you if you’ve skipped a step in your revision process.

If I’m reading someone else’s manuscript and I notice one of my crutch words/phrases or see an issue with inconsistencies, it reminds me to go through my own manuscript to look for those. Or sometimes to read certain sections aloud again to ensure the voice matches the character. These are all steps I take in my own revision process, but often critiquing reminds me I should do them again for my own.

4. It inspires you to new heights.

I mentioned this in my post on What I’ve Learned in Four Years of Querying, but I have the privilege of working with some pretty amazing CPs and writers at this point in my journey. Several of them are agented, a few have book deals, and I’ve even read for other writers who are published. (Not the books that are published but their other projects that hopefully will be!) So when I read for them, I’m often inspired to take my revisions to a whole other level. I’ll see how Writer A used a particular metaphor that was so perfect for her character and think how I need to apply that to my character or read a particular description and realize I should beef up my own descriptions. So, thank you, friends, for inspiring me!

5. It opens you up to other worlds.

I don’t know about you, but I live in my own little world much of the time. Even with the books I read to keep up with the market, I still lean toward a certain kind of story, so critiquing often leads me to read something I might not have otherwise. That’s a good thing! I need to have my world shaken up every once in a while, to experience some other types of characters who might need to enter my characters’ worlds at some point (maybe not if they’re aliens or dragons, although you never know). It’s broadening to get inside another writer’s head for a while.

6. It keeps you from getting too tied up in your own story.

Perhaps others will disagree with me on this one, but then I did work for a PR agency for ten years, where I jumped between a dozen clients in the same day. I think it’s helpful to escape my characters for a bit each day and see what some others are doing. What are those other voices like? It helps me to ensure mine are still unique and staying true to their story.

So, if you’re in the midst of revising and you’re stuck or even if you aren’t, go ask someone else if you can read for them. It’s a great way to focus your own revisions. At least, it works for me!

Anyone else have thoughts on how critiquing helps you revise?

Writing

Capturing the Details

Yesterday my four-year-old daughter discovered my old digital camera sitting on my desk and asked if she could have it. Since we’ve replaced it with a newer camera and our son already has a camera, I said, “Sure.” She immediately went off and started snapping pictures.

What caught my attention wasn’t the fact that she wanted to take pictures. Both of my kids have had a fascination with taking pictures from an early age. It was what she took pictures of: my desk, my hand on the mouse next to the computer screen, Legos, the dog. Then, when we went to pick my son up from the bus stop, she took pictures of flowers, trees, the sewer cover, a red mark on the sidewalk, her boot as she was walking, a neighbor working in her yard, cars driving by, the bus arriving, her brother getting off the bus, and a lion statue at the end of a driveway. When we came home and she’d earned her iPad time, she took about fifteen (very blurry) pictures of the scenes on the iPad. There are now 82 pictures on the camera and only about three are pictures I would have taken. Since I won’t show you pictures of my kids, here are a few of the best ones:

DSCN6115 DSCN6101 DSCN6096

I clicked back through the pictures this morning, and what fascinated me is how close in she got for so many of them, like she really wanted to see the details. (And some things are completely unidentifiable.)

DSCN6158 DSCN6108 DSCN6117

Maybe that’s just the nature of a four-year-old, wanting to explore the world and understand how it’s put together. But as I was driving home this morning after dropping my kids off at daycare and looking around at the gorgeous fall morning, thinking about those pictures she’d taken, I started focusing on details, too. The way the rising sun glinted off the tops of orange and red-tipped leaves. The cloud of fog lifting away over the river in the distance. A single solid gold tree rising from a still-green lawn.

Can you tell I like fall? Well, there were these four years I spent in Texas (college, you know), where I missed fall completely. It happened in Missouri while I was there, and what passed for fall in Texas happened while I was home for winter break. The first year I was back in Missouri for fall, I remember spending an afternoon sitting on my parents’ porch (they live out in the woods) staring at the trees and writing about it in a notebook. I should probably pull that out … The point is, these are the details I notice because they have meaning for me.

DSCN6095And as writers, it’s important for us to capture that wonder in the details. The details are what set our writing apart and give voice to our characters. We probably don’t want to give it the voice of my four-year-old’s boot, but maybe the character would identify with the lion at the end of the neighbor’s driveway. Maybe they have an inner lion just waiting to roar at the world. Who knows? Looking through the character’s eyes is like carrying around a camera and taking snapshots of his/her life. So remember to take note of those details!

Before the Draft, Research, Writing

Before the Draft: Research

It’s always interesting to me to read about other writers’ processes for getting ready to draft. Ever since I participated in NaNoWriMo in 2011, I’m firmly in the fast draft camp. I don’t necessarily finish a draft in a month, but I have set word goals every day, and I don’t revise anything until I’ve typed “The End.” In order to do that, I must have everything I need all lined up before I start drafting. Since I’m in that stage now, I’m going to do a “Before the Draft” series, starting with how I research.

Ah, research. Some people might find it tedious, but I’m fascinated by the things I learn. I start out with an idea, but I usually don’t know how to execute it until I start researching. And the research isn’t always the same. How much and what kind of research depends on the story. I’ll break it down by the novels I’ve completed and then list what I’ve done so far/plan to do for my work-in-progress.

THE MODERN CAVEBOY’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING BATS, BULLIES AND BILLIONAIRES (A boy living in an underground city escapes through caves)

Meramec Caverns
Meramec Caverns
  • Trade magazines – I scoured caving magazines for descriptions of various expeditions to make sure I had the terminology correct, as well as descriptions.
  • YouTube – I viewed countless caving videos to get a feel for what cavers experienced and also to see it.
  • Meramec Caverns – I dragged my family to Meramec Caverns for a first-hand look at some Missouri caves, since the story is set in my home state.
  • Middle grade novels – Since this was my first foray into writing MG, I read numerous books in the category, focusing on boy main characters to gain a sense of the voice.

DUET WITH THE DEVIL’S VIOLIN (A prodigy violinist is sucked into the music)

  • Non-fiction books on prodigies/renowned violinists – Even though I’ve played the violin for 25 years, I was never a prodigy. I didn’t know how a prodigy would feel, what others would expect of her, etc. I needed these resources to ground me in what a prodigy’s life would be like.
  • Fiction – I read a few books featuring prodigies for the same reason as above.
  • Internet searches – The best search I did when researching DUET was on the greatest violinists of all time. It led me to the story of Niccolo Paganini, rumored to have made a deal with the devil to play so well. That story became the basis for my major plot point.
  • YouTube – I just about memorized videos of the musical pieces I included so that I could describe each swell and accent of the music.

    Bates Motel
    The Bates Motel at Universal Studios
  • Universal Studios – Ok, so this wasn’t originally research, but after we went there, I knew it was a perfect fit for Miranda’s trip into the “Psycho” theme. I like to keep trip journals of vacations in case I decide to use a location in a future book. I write down my impressions, descriptions, interesting facts I learn. I don’t always make this happen when the kids are along, but it’s come in useful more than once.
  • Young adult novels – When I decided to age DUET up to YA, I read a number of YA books to immerse myself in the different issues and voice nuances.

THE DEXELON TWINCIDENT (Twin girls–one of them training to be a black belt–separated at birth by alien abduction)

  • Personal interview – I grew up with a mom and brother who did Tae Kwon Do, plus my son has started, so I know a bit about martial arts. I’ve watched classes countless times, but I still needed a personal interview to describe a black belt test. Lucky for me, my mom is a fourth-degree black belt, so I had the perfect source handy.
  • Non-fiction books – I used the text by the founder of Tae Kwon Do, complete with form descriptions and photos of positions.
  • Science fiction novels – I read a number of sci-fi books at all age levels for ideas about the other planet and how things might work between the two worlds.
  • Internet searches – I mainly used the internet for research on twins, and something I came across on a twin site gave me the idea for the title.

Current WIP (secret for now)

  • Trade magazines – Once again I’ve referenced trade magazines, in this case to get a better feel for the setting and what happens there.
  • Promotional videos – I’ve scoured the internet for videos promoting the type of organization my character will get involved in.
  • Documentary – I’ve watched a documentary, again to get a feel for the setting and what might happen there.
  • Existing stories – I’ve read a few novels and plan to study a couple of movies with similar settings to see what’s already been done.
  • Play – I went to see a play that will have a strong influence on the novel.

I’m not finished researching the WIP. I’m sure I’ll end up incorporating some of the other tactics I have in the past. How do you research? Do you tap into any other resources I didn’t mention?

Other posts in this series:
Before the Draft: Procrastination
Before the Draft: Character Development
Before the Draft: Outlining in Scrivener
Character, Reading

Some Stories Never Get Old

Last week I had some down time and decided to check out a phenomenon I’d heard about on Twitter: The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. I was immediately hooked. What an innovative way to retell this timeless story! I totally neglected my reading the past week, instead watching 10-12 episodes every night after my kids went to bed. The creators did an excellent job modernizing the story while keeping its original themes and staying very close to the characters. And it got me thinking …

Some stories just never get old.

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE is one of them. I re-read it for the thousandth time earlier this year and posted about why it stands the test of time. I’ve read a number of books based on P&P, and I watch every adaptation they make, whether it’s a straight interpretation or something more liberal like Bridget Jones’s Diary or Bride and Prejudice (the Bollywood version). It’s surprising it took me so long to watch this, but I’m glad I waited until it was over and could go through the whole series. I can’t wait to see what the producers do next!

So then I started thinking about other stories that get retold over and over without getting old. For me, Cinderella is one of those. I have at least five movie versions, and I’ve read countless books based on the fairytale. Who doesn’t love a story about a girl who rises from the dust and falls in love with a prince? Even better if she does it on her own and just happens to end up with the prince. If you’ve been following my blog, my love for Cinderella stories is no surprise. My favorite middle grade (SEEING CINDERELLA) and young adult (CINDER) novels from last year were both based on it.

Another one that comes to mind is TAMING OF THE SHREW. 10 Things I Hate About You is one of my favorite adaptations, but there are numerous movies, plays and even a musicalShakespeare had such a great understanding of human nature, so it’s no surprise his works are continually remade.

Then there’s the Chosen One story. We know it so well–a character born to save the world, usually requiring the ultimate sacrifice and often a resurrection. Harry Potter, Buffy, Neo, Katniss, and countless others follow the pattern. We love a hero who puts others above him/herself. It’s why THE HOLY BIBLE is the best-selling book of all time. (And just for the record, I’m a Christian, so Jesus is more than a story for me.)

What stories will you read/watch over and over again? Are there any I’ve missed?

Conferences

Missouri SCBWI Conference Recap, Part 1

I attended the Missouri SCBWI conference on Saturday. I drafted a single post with my key takeaways, but it was too long, so I’m splitting it into two. You’ll get Part 1 today and Part 2 tomorrow.

The first keynote speaker was the very entertaining David Harrison, a prolific author who’s been publishing since the ’60s. Here are a couple of quotes that stood out to me.

“What’s the best part about writing? Falling in love with this idea.”

He expanded further on this during his breakout session. He developed a whole book out of noticing he was losing his hair and another after reading a Far Side cartoon. It’s funny how one little thing can be the starting point for a story.

“Six years and 67 rejections later, I sold my first book. It was easy.”

Ha! And he was submitting in a much less glutted publishing marketplace, but what was true then is true today. I’m not at six years yet, but I’ve definitely received more than 67 rejections :).

The second keynote was by editorial consultant Emma Dryden, who spoke about the digital landscape. Ms. Dryden went through an alphabetical list of companies/trends that are affecting the industry. One that stood out to me was the iPad. I’m not sure I got it all exactly the way she said it, but here’s what I wrote down:

“The iPad put the capability of digital reading into the hands of millions of readers who didn’t know they wanted digital reading.”

Think about that for a minute. It really makes sense. The Kindle came out the same year, and it offers the same reading opportunity, but the iPad is different because the e-reader is just one part of the device. I don’t know the statistics, but I’d guess a small percentage of people originally bought it for reading, but a large number of people who bought it for other purposes now use it for reading. I know that’s been the case for my husband.

Ms. Dryden spoke about publishers getting into apps and bookstores figuring out how to stay relevant. Publishers have to re-imagine their business models. Bookstores are no longer the main customer. Publishers also need to go through Apple, Google, and Amazon and even direct to the consumer. Another interesting note was that enhanced ebooks are not as lucrative as publishers expected them to be. She said they’re only worth it if there’s extra value in the enhancements, and that’s not usually the case with fiction.

Thanks to YALSA also happening in St. Louis on Saturday, we had a panel of YA authors do a Q&A during lunch. They included Beth Fehlbaum, Jo Knowles, Deborah Heiligman, Selene Castrovilla, and Shannon Delany.

The first question to the panel was: How do you write about something true? I didn’t keep a good record of who said what, but the basic answer was that it’s a mistake to keep the story too close to what really happened. Instead think about what could have made the situation better. Take yourself out of the story and make it the character’s story instead. Then the story can take flight.

I did take down some other quotes. Most of these are related to how and why the authors incorporate character details and quirks.

“What do we remember about a book? We remember moments. We remember little things.” Selene Castrovilla

“Listen to the characters. Even when we don’t know where they’re going, they do.” Shannon Delany

“The characters that you love most in fiction, you can probably name things about them.” Deborah Heiligman

“You can’t just add quirks. Characters need to have a reason for them. They have to have a purpose.” Jo Knowles

So, I hope those quotes give you something to think about as you’re imagining characters. I’ll definitely keep them in mind.

Check back tomorrow for Part 2 of my recap. If anyone else was at the conference, I’d love to hear your thoughts.