Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The oddest thing you've ever seen

So for the last couple of weeks, I've been asking some personal questions. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, it's a great way to get to know each other, and second, it's part of an exercise that I hope will help your writing. I'll share what this is with you early next week, but for now I have another question.

What is the oddest thing you've ever seen? This can be a person, an animal or event.

I've seen a few things in my time. One of them was a monkey at the zoo in Hawaii. My husband and I came upon the primate exhibit first. We laughed and giggled at their silliness. Silly little monkeys. But then we noticed the lone monkey in the corner. He looked like he was straining himself.

Now if I already had a child, I would've recognized the look. Only when I saw the result of his straining, did I know what he was doing.  Out came the poop.

"Ewww!" everyone said, but then the monkey did something that silenced us all. He scooped up his own poo and popped into his mouth. But the nastiness didn't stop there. The monkey swished it in his mouth, back and forth, back and forth. His cheeks were full with feces until he spit it out into his hand and proceeded to roll it into the dirt coating it like one would a caramel roll in peanuts.

Satisfied with his creation, the monkey sucked it back into his mouth. This went on for several minutes. Just like me and my husband, the crowd remained frozen unable to look away from the nauseating site. And I've never forgotten it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Life of an Author - Real Numbers

I just read this over on Jessica Foust's blog (agent for BookEnds, LLC), http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/,  and thought I'd share. It's from author Ellery Adams: www.elleryadamsmysteries.com. I found the numbers fascinating!

In Ellery's Words:

I’ve received enough emails lately to make me realize that folks are fascinated by what constitutes a writer’s life. I decided to reveal the naked truth from my perspective using the uncompromising language of numbers.

Please keep in mind that these statistics are only a reflection of my work. Me, little ole mid-list cozy mystery author, but I hope they fill in some of the blanks.

Number of books I’ll have published by the end of 2011 — 15

Number of author names I’ve used or will use — 4 (Ellery Adams, J. B. Stanley, Jennifer Stanley, and I’m ½ of Lucy Arlington)

Average page count per book — 300
Average word count per book — 87,000

Number of publishers I’ve written for — 3

Average number of series I’m writing at once – 3

Average advance received from publisher — $6,000 per book
Average amount paid for large print or foreign rights — $500 or $1000

Average amount of advance spent on promotion — 25% of advance

Average money my publishers give me for promotion — 0

Average time it takes me to write a completed draft — 6 months

Average positive emails I receive per week from readers — 6

Average negative emails I receive per week — 1 (These are usually to point out a typo or to complain about a character’s conduct)

Number of personal copies I receive of each title — 50

Time it took me to sign with an agent — 5 months
Time it took my agent (Jessica Faust) to sell my first series — 2 months

Average number of conferences I attend per year — 3

Average number of library talks per year — 2

Average number of times I check my sales ranking on Amazon per day — 5

My writing income based on my 2010 tax return — $18,000

Days per year I work — 360 (This is not an exaggeration. I consider promotion work, and unless I am sick or am forced to be away from a computer, I find time every day to write, edit, promote, or research.)

Age I knew I wanted to become a writer — 7

Number of canceled series — 2 (the Molly Appleby collectible series and the Hope Street Church series)

Number of new series debuting in 2012 – 2 (The Charmed Pie Shoppe mysteries by Ellery Adams and The Novel Idea Literary Agency series by Lucy Arlington)

Series I’m planning to continue as ebooks only — 2

Current income from my sole ebook title (uploaded in March) — $250

Times I’d trade this life for another — Every time one of my books is released and fails to make the NYT list. And then I get over myself and go right back to work.

___________________________________________________

After reading this, do you feel discouraged or do you want to work harder?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Edited My Entry For Contest - better?

I HATE beginnings. I really, really do. Endings are more my thing. I can sum a story like nobody's business, but I always struggle with the beginning.

I won't dwell on this, really I won't, but before I submit this tomorrow I'd love to get everyone's opinion on this second version. I used a lot of your suggestions. Thanks!


                         CONFESSIONS OF A CEREAL MOTHER

It all begins with a dimple, and not just any dimple. One so big and deep, you'd hardly notice the smile next to it. I didn't know that falling in love with that seemingly endless hole in my future husband's cheek would be the cause of all my life's grief and happiness. On any given day I'm either cursing that dimple or kissing it.
My husband Aaron and I are married for three years before we decide to have kids. We think it will be easy and fun, but quickly discover that trying to get pregnant is, as my husband says, like being on a honeymoon with a drill sergeant.
“We have to have sex right now,” I say to my husband when I find him in the garage.
“But I’m working on the car.”
“Same skill set,” I say and remove the screwdriver in his hand. “It’s the sixth of the month, I just had a twinge of pain in my right ovary, and my temperature is up a tenth of a degree. It’s now or never.”
It takes a couple of months, but finally I am late. By ten minutes. So I quickly do my business on my dollar store pregnancy test and wait for those double touchdown lines to appear.
Still waiting. 
Three minutes minutes feel like hours, and I've read the direction so many times that I wonder if the French version might make more sense.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Shelley Watters' Birthday Blowout First Page Contest

Here's a great contest I thought I'd join and promote. Check out the details here: http://shelleywatters.blogspot.com/2011/06/birthday-blowout-first-page-contest.html

The contest is open to YA, middle grade, memoir, pop culture non-fiction, and womens commercial fiction. If I'm going to share my first 250 words, so should you. Hurry! :) And feel free to critique my work. Come on now, I can take it.

Title: CONFESSIONS OF A CEREAL MOTHER
Genre: Humorous Women's Fiction
Word Count: 55,000

It all began with a dimple, and not just any dimple. One so big and deep, you'd hardly notice the smile next to it. I didn't know that falling in love with that seemingly endless hole in my future husband's cheek would be the cause of all my life's grief and happiness. On any given day I'm either cursing that dimple or kissing it.
My husband Aaron and I are married for three years before we decide having kids is a good idea. It takes a few months to get pregnant, but, impatient as I am (future kids cure me of this), I get really sick of waiting for a missed period. I mean, really, just stop already!
Finally I am late. By ten minutes. So I quickly do my business on my dollar store pregnancy test and wait for those double touchdown lines to appear.
Still waiting.
Three minutes feel like hours, and I've read the directions so many times that I wonder if the French version might make more sense. When nothing appears in the magic white window, I think I've wasted another dollar. Angry and disgusted, I toss it into the garbage. 
If only there had been a camera installed in our bathroom (there wouldn't have been--we're not that type), I might've seen my husband visit the toilet shortly after me. While there he finds the pregnancy test and without reading any stupid instructions, discovers I'm pregnant.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Frightening Encounters

In just about every book I've read, the main character experiences a frightening event. Sometimes it's an out of the blue moment, like a car wreck or getting attacked. Other times it's the sudden death of a loved one or the tragedy of war that scares them. Whatever it is the main character is changed by this event whether for better or for worse.

I think of the book The Count of Monte Cristo. Here was a guy who had everything - career, family, hot fiance, but then Wham! He's suddenly thrown into jail for a crime he didn't commit. For years this event effected him negatively, even after he escaped from jail. His lust for revenge was too great. But slowly, over time, he learns to forgive and finds love again (I liked the movie version ending better where he ends up with Mercedes).

Obviously this example is extreme. Most of us don't have life shattering events of this nature, but we do have our terrifying moments. I've had mine, and I like to think I've survived them. They've helped shape who I am for better or for worse, hopefully for better.

On a lighter note, this is making me think of a good friend of mine who went to a late night movie. There was only her and one other person in the whole theater. Towards the end of the movie, the stranger dude sitting three rows behind her starts sharpening a knife. She can hear the metal blade slicing against the sharpener in long strokes. Machete perhaps? This goes on for over thirty minutes, and she's too scared to move. As soon as the movie ends, she bolts. She doesn't even turn around to see who it was or what they were doing.

Why didn't she leave sooner? Fear perhaps, but regardless this was a terrifying event for her. Did it change her life? Not really, but it makes for a great story idea. :)

What are some frightening events that have happened in your life?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Is the fall of Facebook upon us?

Nathan Bransford, literary agent, just blogged about how Facebook lost six million users. See it here: http://blog.nathanbransford.com/

So what do you guys think? Has Facebook peaked? In five years will it be another Myspace? Are you finding yourself spending more or less time on Facebook?

Personally, I don't go on it a lot. I check it out a few times a week, but rarely post. It's been great for me to reconnect with old friends, but if I visit it too often then I begin to feel it's addictive pull.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My Hunger Games (#3) Book Review

Almost a year ago the third Hunger Games came out. My local book club was anxious to get their hands on it as was I. The month after its release our club met to discuss it, but I was unable to attend. Fortunately a good friend said I could write my review and she would read it to the group. Unfortunately this friend forgot but did her best paraphrasing.

This morning I was cleaning out my email folders and ran across it. I thought I would share it because, first, I can't believe how passionate I felt about it (after just finishing it) and second, I'd like to know what you guys thought of this book. My feelings have softened a bit with the passing time, and I'm considering reading it again to see if I still feel the same way.

Anyway, without further adieu here's my review for Mockingjay. As I said then, let the battles begin! :)

The story started out well enough. For the first few pages. Then you quickly discover that Area 13 is just like all the other areas: poor, destitute, little food, angry people, and a crazy leader. A disappointment. But no matter. I continued to read, knowing that any moment the Mockingjay would whip things into shape. Did I say Mockingjay? More like Mocking Do and Say. The accidental hero I fell in love with in the first two books had suddenly disappeared. She was a puppet to everyone, doing and saying whatever they wanted her to do. 

“You want me to stand by while a medical building gets blown up? Okay. You want to bomb a mountain with lots of innocent people in it? Sure! No problem. You want to have another hunger games with kids? Only if I can blow some up, too!” I may be exaggerating. A little. She did complain against the cruelty. A little. My hero was gone and replaced by a depressed teenager.

And then there’s my sweet Peta. Peta who always stood up for what’s right. Peta who loved Katniss no matter how many times she shunned him. Poor, poor Peta. He’s been brainwashed and wants to kill everyone. Huh? He was such a strong character in the first two books and now he’s a mental patient that no one wants around. Hey Peta, Blackfoot South Mental Hospital just called. They want to admit you. However, in the LAST THREE pages of the novel, Peta became loveable again. Great. I’m glad it didn’t take forever.

As for Gale. Never really liked him. Whatever.

Now for the plot. So Katniss pretty much has exploded body parts on her the whole book. And with all her injuries, by the end I’m imagining she looks like elephant man. The book was so violent I often wondered how it could be considered young adult. Don’t get me wrong. I love blood and gore as much as the next person. I mean, who hasn’t slipped on bloody flesh, right? And then in the end when the little children are being herded into a fenced area. The whole time I was thinking, “Don’t go there. Don’t do it.” When the author killed the children, she pretty much lost me.  “But the books realistic!” you might say. You want realistic? This morning I had to clean poo from an exploding diaper. There’s still poo particles wedged in between the cracks of my sons crib. It will be there forever. There’s nothing I can do. Real life sucks. It’s depressing. People we love die. I read YA to get away from this. That being said, I expect main characters to die. But I don’t expect to be told about their death in gory details.

So Prim died. Fine. Sad, yes. What I didn’t like about this is how Katniss’s mom never came to see her.
“Oh, my poor Prim died. She was the perfect daughter!”
“But you have another daughter,” one might tell her.
Mother wipes at her nose. “I do? Whoever could that be?”
“The girl who pretty much changed the world for the better. Remember her?”
“Heaven forbid! I can’t see her!” Mom blows her nose. “I want my Prim!”

Really? The mom just forgets about her other daughter who’s busy trying to kill herself in prison?

Didn’t like that either. The accidental hero I loved would never try to kill herself. That part of the book really bothered me. So did the part where Katniss agreed to have another Hunger Games. I was so angry when she said she wanted it. Sure she MIGHT have just been saying that to get on Coin’s good side, but it wasn’t clear enough. The author should’ve added one more line, hinting at Katniss’s true desires. I wanted Katniss to have some of her qualities I loved from the other books, but I just didn’t feel it.

Overall, the book was well written. Plot, however, wasn’t that great. Characters weren’t the same and the end was rushed. Would I read it again? No. Am I glad I read it? Sure. It gives me something to rant about.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Online writing groups - lame or game?

Hope you all had a great weekend!

So I'm curious, have any of you participated in any online writing groups? For the most part, I've always stuck to my local peeps, but lately I've been thinking about broadening my horizon. Finding the right partners is critical. I say "partners", plural, because where one is weak the other is strong. It's extremely difficult to find just one person who knows it all.

What's been your experience working with total strangers? If you haven't, why aren't you?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Scaredy Cat

"I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."  - Frank Herbert, Dune - Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear

In almost every novel the main character must face and overcome their fears. Whether it's a fear of being caught, a fear of love, intimacy, betrayal, death, or whatever, to complete their journey and grow as an individual this must happen. Why? Because this is what readers want. We are all afraid of something, and when we read about others overcoming their fears it gives us hope for ourselves, and leaves us with a satisfying feeling even if the novel has a sad ending. Always make sure the MC in your novel has this important character development.

So what are your fears?

I'm afraid of heights, but several years ago I convinced myself to go sky diving in an attempt to overcome my fear. My heart was pounding and my pits sweated so bad a fish could've swam in them, but I jumped. (It also helped that I had a guy strapped to my back who was determined to spiral to the ground.) My knees still get shaky whenever I'm high up, but it's not as bad as it used to be.

Monday, June 13, 2011

What is your "Clark Kent"?

Unfortunately, most of us writers don't make enough money to write full time. We still have to earn a living working at a job that hopefully isn't too terrible. We push our papers, shovel our dirt, plan our meetings, yap on the phone, or wrestle with children. We wear our "costume" and perform the duties required of us to get a paycheck (Sorry mom's...there's no money for you. The best you can hope for is a day with no fighting.).

But when our job ends, or the kids are in bed, we shed our costumes and live our destiny. So I'm curious, what is the costume you have to wear throughout the day? Do you love it? Hate it?

I get "huh?" looks whenever someone asks me what I do for a living. "I'm a merchant account provider," I say. When their eyes glaze over I add, "You know credit card terminals - like at the gas station? I sell those." They nod as if interested then ask why I have a big stain on my shoulder. To that I say, "I'm also a mom. My child barfed on me this morning."

Do I love my jobs? Ask me tomorrow.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Contest Winner

And we have a winner!

It was very interesting to see the judges reviews and whose entries they liked the best. We all had our favorites, but there was one entry at the top of each list...

Drum roll please......


Death by High Heels! It was well written, funny, had great tension, and flowed well. The author did a great job and will be richly rewarded with a book of her choice.

As for the other entries, I really was impressed. I didn't think it would be as hard as it was to choose a winner. I've already began returning your pages and will continue to do so throughout the weekend. I hope our comments help you on your writing journey.

Thank you so much for participating!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

What Else Could Go Wrong???

So we've discussed different quirks for our characters and different settings to put them in. Now what can we put our characters through?

While I was at the hospital biding the time with my daughter, we watched many dinosaur movies, her obsession. One of them was Jurassic Park 3 (I know, I know. Not an appropriate movie for a five-year-old, but what can I say? I'm a mom trying to survive four kids.) Anyway, there's a scene where the T-Rex shoves the scientists lab motor home thing-a-ma-jig over a cliff. One of the female scientists lands on the back window and every time she moves it threatens to break and send her to her death a hundred feet below.
Things are bad, real bad. It's already a tense situation but then she notices a backpack hanging by a thread above her. If it falls onto the glass, she'll surely die. The other scientists race to save her, and do just that, but not before the viewing audience has either had a heart attack or peed themselves. I did the latter.

This scene is a perfect example of how to push our characters to the limit. And is it really that far fetched? I can think of numerous times in my life when I thought things couldn't get worse. And then my car exploded. Things can always get worse.

Most recently, the day before we took our daughter to the hospital we found out my husband was accepted into school - in Maine over 2000 miles away and we need to be there in three months. As luck would have it, we found a potential renter for our home and they wanted to see it the day after we returned from the hospital. On top of trying to frantically clean, I was trying to take care of a very sick child.

A couple of hours before we were supposed to show the home, my other daughter decided to cook Ramen Noodles in the microwave...wait for it...without water. It almost started a fire, but instead left this nasty smelling poltergeist. Microwave ruined, we tossed into our garage and lit as many candles as we could. The potential renter probably thought we were Wiccan Folk or something, but whatever. Nothing I could do at that point.

Our lives are stressful, but they can always get worse. What are some events that have happened in your life that have left you in a fetal position sucking your thumb?

Monday, June 6, 2011

What would happen in your town?

I loved reading about everyone's burr's, and I'm sure they were just a drop in the bucket of all the many things that annoy us. Incorporate these annoying habits, or the dislike of them, into the lives of your characters and they will help them become more relateable to your readers.

On to the next question. Think about the town or city you live in--the ambiance, the customs, the people. Your town is about to be the setting for the next great novel. What's the novel going to be about?

In my small town, "Mr. Don Juan DeMarco" returns after being gone for more than ten years. The ladies, and even some men, couldn't be happier. But when dead bodies from the local graveyard start appearing on people's doorsteps, some begin to wonder if Mr. Don Juan isn't Mr. Done One TooMany.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Contest News and Annoying Things

I am back. Finally. We were in the hospital for five days, and I got so sick of the food that all I wanted was a bowl of cold cereal and a peanut butter sandwich. Now that I've returned and had my fill of those goodies, all I want is a cafeteria-style hamburger and fries. But at least my daughter is recovering well. I'm such a whiner.

During the next couple of weeks I will be returning everyone's pages. Because we've covered a lot in the samples given, I won't continue to show more unless I run across something we haven't discussed before. At the end of the two weeks I will post the winner. I must say I've really enjoyed reading everyone's work. You all are so talented!

Moving forward I will continue to post tips on the art of writing mingled with the strange, yet sometimes fascinating aspects of my life. I've discussed a lot about writing, but maybe it's time I share the good, the bad, and the ugly about myself. And perhaps you all could do the same. I'd love to get to know you better. Maybe doing this will help us come up with some cool and original personality quirks for the characters in our books.

First personal question: what do you find annoying? I could name a bunch of things, but one I recently had to deal with was a heavy breather. Not the phone kind, either. That I wouldn't have minded. I was at a business convention and the lady sitting next to me breathed as if her nostrils were pin holes, but they weren't. Believe me, I checked. I couldn't focus on the speaker, or hear him for that matter. All I wanted to do was ask the lady to open her mouth and let some air in before she passed out. But I didn't.

So what's the burr in your saddle?