Sunday, December 14, 2014

Fun Moments of Language Learning

My toddler daughter has taken to calling everything she doesn't know the word for "this". As we're trying to teach her we cannot read her mind and need more clarification, it's led to some amusing exchanges:

J.T.: (taking one of her toys) Let me see it.
Nene: (bursting into tears) My this! My this!

While Nene will often repeat words, it's not always when we would like it. For example, on J.T.'s birthday:

Me: Happy birthday, J.T.! Nene, say 'happy birthday'!
Nene: (smiles)
Me: Come on, Nene. It's your brother's birthday. Say, 'happy birthday'!
Nene: (smiles)
Me: Can you do it? Can you say, 'happy birthday'?
Nene: (still smiling, and with perfect pronunciation) No!

Scary to think Nene's old enough that I can start posting things she says. Even more scary to think that someday soon, I'll be hearing actual conversations between these two.

Monday, November 17, 2014

NaNoWriMo '14 Progress Report

Okay, NaNoWriMo is just about at the halfway point now (okay, a little over), and it's been full of surprises. I knew I was starting off with only a 25,000-word goal. I just expected that to be focused on a single novel. In fact, I planned to focus on one I was already 25,000 words into so that by the end of November, I've have a nice little complete first draft.

Well, it's NaNoWriMo, and things don't always go as planned. I've been working on the original planned novel, a brand new novel, a short story, and even a fanfiction. As I didn't plan to validate anyway (not hitting the 50k goal and all that), I gave myself a lot of leeway in what would "count" towards my personal goal. And I've enjoyed it a lot. I think lately I've been really focused on trying to get a single project done that I miss the fun part. That part where you just write what you feel like at the time and who cares if it's marketable?

I still don't think I'll have another 10k-word-day anytime soon. But the 2k that I had a few days ago was an awesome feeling, nonetheless.

How about everyone else? Are you tackling NaNoWriMo this year? And if so, how's it coming along?

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Post of Ultimate Writing Advice! (Or not.)

In the 80s film Better Off Dead, a skier is standing at the top of a hill, trying to prepare for a race that's way over his head. A girl points down the slope and gives him the following advice: "Go that way really fast. If something gets in your way, turn." If I am ever in a position where someone thinks I actually have writing advice to give, my reply will be basically that. Because I don't know how to give any other writing advice that doesn't go, "Oh, yes, you can/should totally do XYZ, because I did XYZ, and I [insert list of my accomplishments here]."

Because my success (however I define it) might've had nothing to do with XYZ. Maybe it just happened to be that the editor needed one more story for that "Enchanted Car Washes" issue, and bam! I just happened to send an enchanted car wash fic. Maybe an agent thinks that novels about enchanted car washes are about to become the next big thing, and there, I win again.

I think there's a big tendency in the writing world for us to say our rejections were just a matter of taste or bad luck and our successes were because so we're awesome that no one could resist us. And that feels good as long as the successes keep coming. But I don't think you can hold those two conflicting ideas in your head all the time, especially in the face of a long string of rejections. Either you're going to come to the conclusion that everything is luck or you're going to come to the conclusion that you just don't write well enough. The latter is a great way to shake off Golden Words Syndrome. But there's something horribly demoralizing about seeing self-improvement, getting hit with more rejections, and then getting told by someone that said rejections just mean you're not good enough. Now, I don't think getting published is totally luck-based. I do think putting your manuscript in Times New Roman rather than Wingdings helps your cause. But outside of the basic advice to not be a creepy idiot and to write in competent English, I think just about anything else goes.

All you can do is try stuff and if that doesn't work, try other stuff. Don't discount the improvement you see in your day-to-day writing, even if you're the only one who seems to notice it's there. Go that way really fast. If something gets in your way, turn.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

On Frozen, Superheroes, and What I See in the Toy Aisle

Dear Disney,

If you are going to make such marketing moves as calling a Rapunzel movie "Tangled" and an ice queen movie "Frozen", please be aware that the boys who flocked to the theaters might have actually enjoyed the movie. Yes, the romantic plotline between Hans and Anna goes over my son's head. Yes, if you ask him, he'll tell you that the movie is about how Elsa runs away because she's looking for her glove and then a giant snowman chases them all. But still, he enjoyed it and I think he might be wondering why everything related to a movie that's supposedly for boys and girls is completely bathed in pink.

And on that note, Disney, let talk superheroes.

Did you know girls can be superheroes? Really, it's true. There's these characters called the Sailor Soldiers and these other characters called the Powerpuff Girls and they're actually whole teams of super-heroines! Check them out. But that's not all. Girls and boys can be on the same superhero team! In fact, you may be surprised to know that boys will not be horrified at the idea of a girl pictured with the mostly-male team. So when you go to make something related to Guardians of the Galaxy or the Avengers, can you please stop cutting the few girls on the team out of every single image?*

Seriously, not every little girl dreams of being a princess. Some just want to kick the bad guy's butt.

Sincerely, Me (mommy to one boy and one girl.)

*Of both these issues, I notice the lack of girls on the superhero stuff way more than the deluge of pink in Frozen. And to be honest, the former irks me way more than the latter.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Sneak Peek: The Poisoned City

Well, I've finally gone and done it. I've decided to gather my scattered published stories (along with a few, fresh-off-the-press, unpublished ones) into an e-book. Here's a little sneak peek of the cover:

"The Poisoned City" was my Clarion West acceptance story, but this collection will also include my work from Purpose magazine and Every Day Fiction, for a total of eleven pieces. I expect to release the book in early 2016, but feel free to follow my blog for further updates.

As always, thanks for reading!

Friday, September 5, 2014

5 Ways to Tell if You'll Be Published (and Why They're Wrong)

Let me be clear up front: I am not (nor will I ever be) in a position to tell anyone whether or not they're going to "make it" in the writing business. But I've seen a bunch of blog posts either in the form of a list, a quiz, or just general advice purporting to inform readers whether or not they've got the stuff it takes to nab a book deal. It's usually meant to be encouraging, but honestly, I think it sometimes has the opposite effect. Here's some examples of what I mean:

1. "You'll never be a writer if you give up."
The problem: I'm pretty sure that quite a few published writers out there have, at some point, thrown down their mighty pens in frustration and declared, "I give up!" And meant it, too. Why does it have to be that we're either throwing our all into writing or we're doing nothing? I think we're all allowed to take breaks from the writing and publishing journey without feeling like we fall into that dreaded category of "people who gave up."

2. "You must love writing even if you're not having any success with publication."
There's this idea that we as writers should be totally, completely in love with writing all the time, even in the face of rejection. But we're not. And I don't think that's weird. Some days sitting down in front of the computer to work on the next manuscript when you just got hammered with rejections on the last one is not that fun. And that's okay. "Dealing with rejection" doesn't mean it never affects you.

3. "You'll never be a writer if you don't listen to advice."
The problem: I'd love for this one to be true. There's few things more frustrating than the guy who brags he can do all this awesome stuff and then, dang it, he actually can. But let's face it, some people think they're brilliant writers and turns out, they are. Good for them. But that aside, not all advice is good advice. Not even all advice that comes from an established writer is good advice. I was advised to trunk one of my YA manuscripts by a writer with a fairly successful editing service. It's so far been the manuscript that's gotten the most requests for more material. By an impressive margin. Which brings me to my next point...

4. "Successful writers get better with each manuscript."
I don't know who thought this one up. Seriously. After that manuscript got all those requests, my head was filled images of how my next manuscript was obviously going to "the one." I mean, I could hardly get any closer to landing an agent than I already had without actually having an offer. Only I didn't get offers with the next one. I barely got requests at all. Or the next one. And the infuriating thing was that all my beta readers seemed to think the subsequent manuscripts actually were better than my earlier one. But the number of rejections sure didn't feel like it. I think we have to allow ourselves the chance to write things that aren't as good as before. If we're always supposed to get better, we won't take chances for fear of slipping backwards. And sometimes slipping backwards is the only way to learn something new.

5. "No one who writes this bad will ever make it."
Thankfully, no one's ever said this to me. But I have seen it said (or at least, heavily implied) about others. I think good writers can start at any level. I really do. And I don't think there's any writer or editor out there who can look at a piece of writing like it's some kind of crystal ball and declare, "never." Never is a long time. People can learn a lot during never.

Just as a final disclaimer, this blog post is not intended to dissect or criticize the advice of any one person. It's just some general observations I've made. And if you're like me and feel like maybe what Author X said was true, that you're just not cut out for this, I just want to encourage you. People aren't fortune tellers. If you want to keep trying, keep trying. I'll be right there with you.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Clarion West Write-A-Thon: It's like NaNoWriMo, but better!

So after three years of essentially ignoring NaNoWriMo's existence, I'm jumping back into another writing challenge. As I think most people on this blog aware, in 2009, I had the pleasure of attending Clarion West Writing Workshop, where I spent six weeks writing and critiquing stories while learning from six amazing instructors. I also would have had a difficult time attending if not for the financial aid that I received.

So, this year, for the first time. I'm participating in the Clarion West Write-A-Thon. My goal is complete the first 50 pages of my newest novel, POWER SHIFT (which probably needs a new title by now considering how many times I've re-written the synopsis)

I know Clarion West was an amazing experience for me, and I hope I'm able to help others have that same experience.

UPDATE: ON the Writer's Voice results: my team won, with me contributing two partial requests to our overall success. Go Team Rock Star! On the Write-A-Thon: 263 writers raised over $20,000 together. How awesome is that?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Writer's Voice: Final Round

Wow, the last couple weeks have been a roller coaster for sure. I was chosen to move onto the next round in the Writer's Voice and spent a good chunk of time polishing and re-polishing my opening page and query. And today, after all that nervous waiting, the agents are making requests. I don't know what all will happen, but I'm very grateful. My coaches have been awesome. My first coach, Elizabeth Briggs, has a novel called MORE THAN MUSIC coming out very soon.

My second coach, Krista Van Dolzer, has two books upcoming: THE REGENERATED MAN (G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, Winter 2015) and DUEL/DUET (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, Fall 2015). You can bet the cover art will be here when it arrives. :)

I really hope all my teammates on Team Rock Star get a ton of requests today and lots of time doing stuff besides nervously refreshing e-mail inboxes. ^_^ Here's to an awesome experience that I hope gets repeated for many more years!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Virtual Space (YA Science Fiction)

UPDATE: I had originally posted the query and first page of this novel as part of the Writer's Voice contest under the title My Best Friend Runs Venus. The entry was later chosen for Team Rock Star, where my awesome coaches helped me whip it into shape. Rather than post two versions of the same query and opening page, I've decided to update this post with the finished versions. Hope you enjoy! Query

At 14.2 years old, Kade Walker has never heard of death. Literally. But neither has anyone else he knows. Kade is one of hundreds of teens living across the solar system through the use of robotic avatars while their real bodies sleep in pods on Earth. Nothing can hurt him this way; the adults all said so. They just never said how to survive high school when only one person on the planet will talk to him.

Kade will admit, his obsession with numbers might deter 35.7% of people from hanging out with him. But the bigger issue is his best friend -- Princess Tamika of Venus. So her mom almost let a crazed hacker take over everyone's bodies twelve years ago. The queen is locked away, and Tamika herself is really nice. Kade needs to give her reputation a serious reboot. He starts off simple: an interstellar tour using an old teleportation machine that he's reconstructed. But the machine's not rigged for current use, so when Kade fires it up, he unwittingly kills a major security wall and unleashes the same hacker from twelve years ago. Panic rating: ten times infinity. The hacker shuts off all communications with the adults and begins to take control of the royal avatars. If Kade doesn't want to see his best friend used as a puppet, he needs to stop the hacker fast -- even if that means waking up on Earth to fight with a body he never realized could be hurt.

# # #

First Page

It wasn't the first time Kade had hacked the Venusian maintenance system, but it was one of the best. If he had to put a number on it (and there was little he didn't put a number on), he'd give it a 9.7. The 9.8 and 9.9 scores were reserved for something epic he hadn't thought of yet, and 10.0 was for the day he would finally reprogram how his robotic body looked. Still, assuming he didn't get caught, his skills today would land him on a totally different planet. Maybe that deserved the 9.8 slot after all. If Tamika would hurry and get here, he could ask for her opinion.

Kade straightened against a metal door embedded in a burnt orange mountainside and flicked his left wing. A line of glowing text scrolled across his view: 5:03:34pm. He'd checked the time fifty-three seconds ago, but whenever he wasn't reading data, he felt lost. The adults called it unhealthy. Healthy people could watch a sunset without calculating its luminosity every thirty seconds, but healthy people sounded boring. Besides, the numbers comforted him. Nobody got weirded out by seeing their own hands all the time, did they? His numbers were just that -- an extra set of hands. Or wings. Or whatever.

Kade froze. His sensors detected a deep clunking sound that echoed across Venus's stone-hard surface. Low volume, maybe twenty to thirty decibels. His first thought was that it was a patrol robot, but it was coming too fast, and its steps were too out of rhythm for an AI-controlled machine.

It can't be an adult, can it? They're already off Venus for the night. Kade tensed and scanned the rocky pillars around him. A patrol bot would merely escort him home, no questions asked. But an adult would demand to know why he was hiding in the middle of nowhere.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

He Verbed It!

JT loves art. A lot. We brought home some paintings he did at school the other day and he was adamant about holding one of them in his hands on the ride home (as opposed to his blanket or a toy.) Reluctantly, we let him hold it, expecting it to be in tatters halfway through the ride. Nope, he held it in his hands the whole time and told us all about it. ("My painting. I paint red. I paint yellow. My painting.")

For his 2nd birthday, we got him an art easel. It's got a side to a paint on and a side with a chalkboard. JT has only used chalk once or twice before and was fascinated with the idea that he could make a mark and erase it. He also used his perfect two-year-old logic to put a word to this activity:

Using paint = painting Using the eraser = erasing Using chalk = "chalking"

Yup, he's happily scribbling all over the chalkboard with a mile-wide smile as he declares, "I chalking! I chalking!"

Daddy comes up to him and says, "Did you just verb the word chalk?"

JT grins and answers, "Yeah."

Daddy gives him a high five.