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Friday, July 29, 2011

Friday Book Review

This book was such a pleasant, amazing surprise. As an author who writes issue-driven fiction, I thought that Gail Giles executed RIGHT BEHIND YOU with perfection.

RIGHT BEHIND YOU is the story of Kip--a teen who, when he was nine, murdered a seven-year-old neighbor. I wondered, when I first picked up the book, how Gail Giles could make Kip a protagonist I could root for, but she does, beautifully. The book follows Kip on his road to wholeness--first as an inmate at a teen correctional facility, and then, as he tries to transition beack into society, and living with his dad and new stepmother. The book is written in first-person narration,and I thought that she captured the voice of a teen boy amazingly well.

I thought that all the references to therapy, his time in the mental institution, and his general awareness of his own inner growth, gave the book an air of authenticity (made me wonder if she is a therapist herself or how much research she did.)I loved that she showed the step-mom as such a positive, supportive person, and I loved the romance thrown in--Sam was the perfect counterpart to Kip/Wade's character.

Recommended for the older teen and adults, especially teachers, mental health professionals, and any parent.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Let's face it. Time flies.

Heeeeeey. So I was walking through our art building, and a particular piece caught my eye. I found it sort of endearing. I believe it was made by an Art & Design student, or at least that's the impression I got.
It has almost nothing to do with anything, but it is SPesque so I'm going to run with it. I apologize for not having time to post more. I'm in the middle of LIFE!

Let's face it. Time flies.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Beta Readers

I have to admit, this is kind of a sticky subject for me. When I first started to write, I couldn’t imagine showing my work to anybody else. What if they rejected it? I kept my writing a secret and didn’t share it with anyone.

Then I joined a critique group, and I realized that there is an amazing, supportive group of people out there who are willing to read your work and offer advice and encouragement. It was amazing to see my critique partners grow and improve with each passing week. Instead of being embarrassed, we saw the value of sharing our work in a supportive environment.

BHH says that people commit self-sabotage sometimes, and I think there is something to be said for that. Maybe I was sabotaging myself by holding onto my writing all of that time and refusing to let it go free, to either sink or swim. Maybe I was afraid of failure. Or that I might actually succeed. Whatever the case, I set myself back that much further. Thank God I found the courage to join that group.

But this was supposed to be about beta readers.

Now that I’m in the querying process, I have gotten braver about sharing my work. I’m still extremely careful about who I give it to, trying to select people who I know read a lot and like mysteries, although that isn’t a must. The most important thing to me is that I know they will actually read what I give them and offer constructive feedback. For the most part, the friends I have trusted with my work have been great, and I have no regrets.

So, I’m curious, do you guys use beta readers? If so, what has your experience been like?

Have a great writing week!

Friday, July 22, 2011

For Meredith

I didn't get a chance to blog today, and I am very sorry. My daughter is in a play, and the driving back and forth to practices and such is rocking my world (and my gas bill, but that is a different matter.)

However, I did come across this very adorable little pug that made me laugh a lot on the inside. I want to live in his world, truly, but as a wonderful second best, I get to hear my niece Meredith read during critique group her steampunk YA, so that for me is the very next best thing, don't you think?

So I am going to imagine that I am this little dog, floating away to magical places, and having lots of adventures. And while he is doing that, I will be writing my new WIP on this lovely Friday evening.

May you all have a wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Carousels can be beautiful, mystical and even a little creepy. The hand-carved wooden sculptures have detail you don't often see in anything nowadays. You can just envision an elderly man with an oversized lense, chiseling away at the curvatures against the neck of the beast. The university I locksmith at had a crisis in their library, where they keep their monthly displays. It just so happened to be featuring pieces from carousels. It struck me that they're very Steampunky, or have the potential to be at least. Pardon the poor photos. They were taken with my outdated Blackberry and in secret because I wasn't sure if I was supposed to be taking pictures. I'm paranoid about that sort of thing. To the left, they just had a little bit of information about the influence of carousels and what cultures they came from. Some of the images are almost grotesque and macabre, which to me, makes it more interesting.

I would love to ride a tiger into the sunset, I don't know about you. I also like the sketch of the dragon. To the right, this is probably my favorite because it looks the most SP. I love the colors used as well as the textures. If I was a kid skipping toward a carousel, I'd like to think I'd choose this guy. I think I'll name him Archibald.

One of my favorite aspects to this inspiring display is definitely the variety of animals saddled. There was a rooster, a dragon, lion, and even a greyhound. In fantasy, animals usually play a key part because we love animals and wish we could interact more with them. Horses are wonderful but how magical would it be to ride a greyhound? I love it.
To the left, it showed how a carousel worked. I think if you jazzed it up with some steam and a few more gears, you may have something "futuristic" as viewed by the mild-mannered Victorian. Maybe throw in some bronze-plated horses like Archibald and wallah. You've got yourself a Steampunk scene either macabre or romantic or BOTH. I think a really nice, dark love scene on a carousel would be interesting, especially if there was a lot of angst involved or perhaps some underlying surface tension with a preceding chase so that the characters are in hiding. I absolutely love the use of the carousel in the movie Sting. That eerie song that's meant to be cheerful and playful adds something mysterious and borderline freaky to the goings on in the foreground.
I've been inspired to put one in by book. I think it will add a little flavor.

Merry writing.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Do What Makes You Scared

Always do what you are afraid to do

Confession time: I've been suffering from a little bout of writer's block. It is really very, very annoying. And the funny thing is, I don't really believe in writer's block, I subscribe to the B.I.C. philosophy of writing, i.e. Butt in Chair concept of just get it done. Put the words on the page and no more sniveling about it, you big cry baby.

But anyway, here I am not writing very much. FINDING PONY is being submitted to editors right now, and in the meantime, my agent and I decided that the next project I should begin on is a companion title, tentatively titled AURORA BEGINS. Aurora is an important character in my first novel and her backstory is so interesting that I just knew it should be the next book. I actually even told my agent, "This will be easy--I already know her character. I can whip this book out really quickly."


Aurora is seventeen years old, a tough Latina girl who grew up in East L.A. Her whole family is somewhat involved in the gang lifestyle and her boyfriend Manuel is the head of their gang. Okay, so...I'm white. And yes, I've been a social worker for some time, I've worked with kids in gangs and a little in L.A. even, and I've been doing research---lots of it--to make sure that my MC's voice will be authentic as it can be, to the best of my ability. I also know that there are so many writers out there who have written their MC's who are different races than they are, different genders, even different sexual orientations, and have done it well, very well.

But it's still scary. Really, really scary. Because, more than anything, I don't want to get it wrong. I want to do justice to my character, and to the people who will eventually read my book.

"Always do what you are afraid to do." This quote shows up on Twitter periodically, mostly I think because it resonates with us writers so much. I know that there can be greatness in doing something that terrifies you with the possibility of failure, but still, there's that niggling part of me, sitting on my shoulder this whole time whispering: it's crap, it's garbage. The cognitive side of me knows that every writer (at least I hope) goes through this--it is something we must all endure.

Here's a couple questions for anyone who may be reading: How much research do you do before you are comfortable writing your story? Are you ever, truly comfortable? Would you feel confident writing a MC with a different race than you? Gender? Sexual orientation?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Who put the punk in Steampunk?

“So what is Steampunk?”
I’m asked that quite frequently nowadays. The standard answer is how the past (predominantly Victorian era) views the future. For instance, we can really only wrap our minds around adding futuristic spins to objects we currently have. Back to the Future made the Delorian a time machine and made it able to fly. In the same way, Victorians could only add garnish to concepts they already knew. Clocks, corset fashion, copper, brass, cogs, steam technology and so on.
So why is it punk?
SP is a fusion, as I’ve said in the past. It’s where science, history and art are allowed to converge in one tangle of awesomeness. But in addition to the classy side, there’s the sultry side. Steampunk is sexy. We take Victorian fashion, which is already sensual as it is, and we put our modern edge on it. There’s something hard and fast about SP, from the leather to the chains to the dark lenses worn by rouge-lipped women in lace.
So that’s it? It’s Victorian…only sluttier?
I’m not satisfied.
If you research the word “punk”, you might find a lot of information about nihilism, anti-establishment mentality and theatrical fashion. After all, punks have often “fought the man” by being theatrical and over the top in music, fashion and political view. Punks go against the grain. Likewise, SP utilizes the worldviews expressed by a time era that has already passed to address issues in the present. (Feminism, racism and so on.)
My main protagonist is rather a feminist, though she doesn’t express herself as such. She just acts based on her own personal goals, not really for any set principle. Likewise, the variety of races in my book encounter prejudice and this issue is addressed as well. SP seems to bring that out in it.
So not only does it combine science, history and art, but also philosophy. Punks are often defined as Nihilists (more specifically, existential nihilism, which is defined as the belief that life has no objective meaning.), and SP can dabble in the depth of these dark worldviews.
SP is not, in as of itself, nihilistic or postmodern, as it’s not inherent in the definition that it must be. That’s author’s choice. However, it does tackle these issues quite often because those who write SP are often interested in many different fields of study, which is what I’ve come to find by reading blogs, Tweets and Facebook posts.
In other words, the punk part doesn’t just mean it’s sexy, edgy and fashion-forward. It means that Steampunk can be deep and reflective of relevant mindsets, which is often true of entertainment that seems like fluff and actually isn’t. I mean, what's the whole point of entertainment? To stimulate the MIND, yes? Your body most assuredly plays a part, but the mind is what makes something last. Steampunk, for instance, is here to stay because it will make a lasting impression on individualism.


Monday, July 11, 2011

I hear voices...

“I had a feeling he didn’t love me anymore, she thought, but this is ridiculous.”

A quote from SKINNY DIP by Carl Hiaasen, which I read this weekend. What makes it especially funny is that the thought goes through the main character’s head after she is tossed overboard from a cruise ship by her no good husband. The book is campy to the extreme, but talk about voice. It was unlike anything else I’d ever read, and laugh out loud funny in several spots.

Voice is something I have been thinking about a lot lately. In the research I’ve been doing during the querying process, it seems to be one of the most important qualities that agents are looking for in a writer’s work. It’s also one of the hardest things to nail. Without a strong voice, the words float on the page like a dead fish.

My main character is on the snarky and funny side, but I honestly cannot remember how she came to be that way. I knew when I sat down to write my book that no shrinking violet would do for me. A feisty lead is way more interesting. But somehow her personality evolved as I kept writing. If I went back and looked at my character letters, I’m sure it would be clear how she evolved to be the character she is. And just how I got to that distinctive voice that is all her own.

So I’m curious, dear readers, how do you come up with the voice in your work—or do you know?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Love Me Violently

Writing YA means a couple of things. One? You gotta have romance. Why? Well to begin with, kids’ hormones are going haywire, and you have to appeal to their coming-of-age with the whole sexuality thing. Besides, all of us have that adolescent inside of us, wanting to meet an interesting new boy/girl who is edgy and misunderstood. Twilight capitalized on this for crying out loud.

I am not a good romance writer, mostly because I have my own androgyny issues to deal with. (See profile picture.) However, I am a romantic at heart and I do like boys a great deal more than girls (even as friends.) So my problem is keying into my fascination with relationships and combining it with my firm belief that friendships blossom into compelling romantic relationships if done the right way. Friends see each other as equals far more than lovers. And you don’t have that messy obsession factor or the problem of adoration, which pretty much irks me to death. At the same time, I personally need to be carful because the characters must be accessible to the teenage mind, therefore making them accessible to adult minds as well. (We’ve all been there.) I remember getting unbelievably excited reading that Harry and Ginny were going to be together. And I was in college then.

As I learned in my critique group with Bonnie Hearn Hill (she’s amazing), the best sexual tension emanates from conflict. The boy and the girl fight and battle. Not to the point where it’s unrealistic that they’d be together, but rather that fascinating dynamic that comes from two people who enjoy locking horns. I mean to capture that. I hope I do.

Happy Writing!


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Happy Friday, everyone!

Insanity is delicious!

Give me one assignment and I WILL mess it up. Wednesdays are my Scriptor Familia designation and I forgot. Lounged around eating graham crackers and peanut butter watching Mystery Science Theater and neglected to make my weekly contribution.
I've heard people say that writers are insane. I've also heard it said that writers live entirely in their own heads, which is often why they're more comfortable with silence and seclusion than the average bear. I fit well into this category, especially the part about insanity and dwelling in my own cerebrum.
I think that's why it's unbelievable that we can all function in the day-to-day world at all. We have entire alternate realities spinning around in our heads. I talk out scenes with my characters in hushed murmurs when I'm doing activities and sometimes forget that other people exist (flesh and blood people) and find talking to yourself offsetting.
I was watching a Giants game where my future husband was pitching. He was up on the mound and his lips were moving. The commentators started making all kinds of excuses for him. "Oh, uh...he's talking to himself...probably saying this or that..." I was sitting there with the neck of a cold beer clasped in my indignant hand. "WHAT? He can talk to himself. I would be. The poor guy can't even talk to himself?!"
No, it's socially unacceptable for your lips to be moving and a blue tooth not hooked over your ear. For this reason, I once had a blue tooth and put it on just so I could get away with talking to myself at a normal tone of voice or in my vehicle. The only problem with that is when you start slipping into a manly British accent and gesticulating madly before lapsing into a feathery, feminine voice that answers the previous voice's questions...the blue tooth doesn't exactly take you as far as you need to go in terms of providing mental credibility.
Which is why it's sometimes advisable to not give a crap what people think. Once and a while, I forget that I'm living on planet Earth and all of these amusing creatures weren't actually created for my amusement alone.
Another example is Duwayne. He is a Chipotle employee who I find infinitely amusing. He's lackadaisical, has a long ponytail and jokes around with people who come through the line. Well, Duwayne stopped coming into Chipotle and we were depressed. This creature we had practically invented had disappeared. So I go in late one night and catch sight of a ponytail through the window. Lo and behold, Duwayne was there! I was so excited that I stood in line with my mouth in an opened grin and my hands out like, "It's you!" Duwayne was salting the rice and he slowly looked up and stared at me. It took me a good 30 seconds to realize that Duwayne and I are not old friends, he doesn't know we have an entire back story made up for him and this entire exchange probably appears bizarre and possibly creepy. Duwayne's name is not Duwayne, he has his own life that I didn't write and any other character qualities I've dreamed up exist in my brain only.
So yes, I agree that writers do have a certain level of insanity. We have to, in order to be creative. We have to view the world in narrative, with the colors just a little brighter and just a little more vivid than the standard 9-5er.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Fourth of July!

I hope all of you out there in writing land will take a break and enjoy some homemade ice cream, hanging with family and friends and of course, fireworks. It’s supposed to be 105 here in Central California today. What? It shouldn’t even get that hot on earth. I will definitely be trying to keep cool.

I was reading a writing sample recently, and it got me to thinking about a problem we have often seen in our critique group. We call it the “getting your motor running” syndrome. Often times, a writer will go on with pages and pages of back story before they finally get to the interesting part, the action, which is where the scene should start. No one is immune, even seasoned writers.

Don’t get me wrong, it is important to know the back story. It’s just so much more interesting and easy on the reader when it is woven in through dialogue and action. If you go on for three pages about how your character grew up in a barn on an island in Alaska, I may lose interest before we get to the part where he is being chased by speed boat through the Pacific Ocean (and I totally made that up, so any resemblance to your characters, living or dead, is purely coincidence.) Working in the details is no easy thing.

Sometimes I will start a chapter and write a few pages that end up on the editing room floor because they are back story. But when I get to writing the scene, I know what I need to work in, and what can be cut. Pacing is a tricky thing, but the pay off is good when done well. Think about some of your favorite writers. They keep you turning the pages, right?

By the way, the picture is a Dodge Charger, a nod to my dad, and a reminder to get your motor running.

Have a great Fourth!


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