Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Story Anthology of Bozeman-Area Writers

I'm pleased to announce that my young adult short story Jewels is included in an anthology of stories by Bozeman-area authors. The anthology is part of a set of three books - the other two feature authors from Missoula and Billings/Livingston - and will be available in limited numbers beginning in early May.

There will be a book signing of the anthology on May 20 at 7PM. If you're interested in copies, contact Country Bookshelf for details.



Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Blood Moons, Earthquakes, and The Never-Ending Winter

Imagery is often least-discussed stepchild of the writing craft world. That's understandable. Most of us who write novels begin with either plot or character or a combination, and whether you are pantser or plotter, you need to get that ugly first draft out before you really know what the book you're writing is about.

Imagery - or the image system, as Robert McKee calls it - is a reflection of the novel's theme, and the theme is hard to define until the second or third draft. Yet imagery can deepen a novel's layers, attach significance to character behavior, enrich the plot, and produce satisfying connections for readers.

And imagery attaches significance to disparate events that at first blush seem unrelated. In the past several weeks we've experienced earthquakes in Wyoming and Los Angeles, a rare "blood moon" eclipse, and we're all sick of the "never-ending winter" of snowstorms and ice storms that don't want to quit. The ancients would have seen a pattern in these natural events, as portents of something significant.

How can we enrich our imagery and thus enrich our stories? Here are five ways that I find and use imagery in my work:

1. Find patterns. In my current WIP, I created a character who loves math and is practical. Her father repairs clocks as a hobby. After my first draft it became clear that numbers, time, and mechanical objects that take on magical aspects figure throughout the story, and so I played with those ideas, enriching sensory elements - the sound of a chime, the metallic taste of fear, the sharp point of a steel blade. Readers might not even notice my choice of language, but at a subconscious level, it will hopefully resonate.

2. Use repetition with variation. The color green figures prominently in another novel I'm working on. The novel has much to do with plant life; but I use green in other contexts - for a certain kind of light, for the color of someone's eyes.

3. Discover surprise. My novel SIRENS is told in the two alternating points of view of two girls, and is set in the 1920s. Spiritualism was a popular concept in the 1920s. I unearthed references to the popular magic show of Howard Thurston, who had two special acts, one in which a girl levitated and one in which a girl disappeared after being enclosed in a box. My two characters became living representations of those two magic acts, and thus I could surprise the reader with a connection between the spiritual aspects of the novel and a popular magic show of the time.

4. Use the setting. As in my title example, setting and natural elements provide perfect ways to incorporate imagery. Snow can be cold and life-threatening, but it can also conjure images of cozy evenings by the fire and festive holidays. Find ways to express what the snow means to your character and bring a layer of threat or joy to your scene.

5. Don't overdo it. It's easy to make too much of a good thing. Pare back to the essential and make enough connections that the reader doesn't feel knocked over the head by your use of imagery or image systems.


Chime in: how have you used imagery in your writing?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Update: The Treadmill Desk in Month Three

It's been three months with my new treadmill desk, and I thought I'd update my experience.

I really love having the treadmill right behind my actual desk. It's only a couple of feet away, so I merely have to stand up and take a few steps and hop on. This is a big plus if you're thinking about getting one - ease of use and access. And there's always the guilt factor in seeing it, right there in the office, every day.


On the plus side:

  • it's very easy to use. Get on and go. Once I'm walking I hardly know I am. Reading is especially good on the treadmill, and since I tend to read aloud a lot as I work, I am using it. 
  • it's "free" exercise. We've had a real winter here (who hasn't this year?) and often I can't get to the gym because of snow or ice. Now I can hop on the treadmill and crank it up a bit and read while I actually burn some calories, in addition to my slow walks.


On the minus side:

  • it's hard for me to walk and type, even at a slow pace. I can do it, but it's tricky and I tend to make a lot of errors.


That typing/walking issue is the only minus, and since I do a lot of reading of craft books, reading of other writing-related stuff, reading of other books, and reading of my work out loud, I'm really using the treadmill. Maybe not as much as I thought I would, but that's ok. Any walking is better than sitting all day long. And I'm hoping that the more I use it, the more I will.


So far this new desk has been a great addition to my work space and a bonus to my health.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Unraveling

Since taking up knitting, I've done a fair amount of unraveling. For one thing, I'm new enough that sometimes the instructions confuse me, and I only realize I'm wrong after repeating the error over and over. For another, if I get the least distracted during a critical section and lose count, I might cable left when I should cable right, or knit two together in the wrong place.

Three hats
Once I even had the experience of not liking the way a particular yarn worked in a particular pattern, so I unraveled the entire ten inches I'd done and started over, doubling the yarn with another.

Happily, most yarn is forgiving, and can be unraveled and reknitted. And I have a local yarn shop where the patient and knowledgeable staff will sit with me and work me through a tricky spot. I'm there at least once a week.

Knitting is so analogous to writing it's perhaps one reason why so many authors I know are knitters.

I've unraveled more than one book in revision. I've repeated errors over and over (pet phrase, anyone? character tics, everybody?), and gotten distracted by a subplot or character and lost the thread of the main plot. I've had to start over countless times. And I've counted on the genius of my critique partners, beta readers, and agent to work me through a tricky spot.
Partial selfie with cowl

Like yarn, words - and diction and syntax - are forgiving. It's the underlying pattern that counts, coupled with what I bring to it - with every project, there's a bit of difference. Those three hats were knit from the same pattern, but the yarns and how I was feeling during the project made them come out with a unique finish, one knit tight, one knit loose, one stretchier than the others.

It's no wonder that we describe both writing and knitting as crafts. We craft a novel, and when we get it wrong, we can unravel and start again. It won't come out the same way each time but with each effort we draw closer to something we think fully expresses the pattern we want to show to the world.


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Adi Rule and STRANGE SWEET SONG

One of the other participants in my first workshop at Vermont College of Fine Arts – which was also her first workshop – was a young writer, Adi Rule. She brought a piece to workshop that was one of the most stunningly beautiful narratives I’ve ever read. I knew she’d go places, and, yup, she has.

Her debut novel STRANGE SWEET SONG launches today, and I know it will be a gorgeous read. I can’t wait. It’s also a thrill to call her an agency-sister, as she is repped by Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Adi grew up in New Hampshire among cats, ducks, and writers. When she isn't writing, she may be found winning Triple Yahtzee or losing at Upwords against her grandmother. She sings in the chorus of the Boston Symphony Orchestra/Boston Pops, has an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and probably has more vintage memorabilia from Disney's Robin Hood than you.

Congratulations on the publication of your novel, STRANGE SWEET SONG. And - wow! - what a spectacular cover. Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?


The story takes place at a remote, prestigious music conservatory where history is entwined with mythology. The main character, Sing Da Navelli, is both thrilled and terrified to learn that her first audition there will be for the opera Angelique, which was written at the conservatory. While the role of Angelique is one Sing has dreamed of singing since she was a child, it is also the role her mother was performing when she died on stage two years ago. As Sing struggles to find her own voice, she is drawn to the dark forest that surrounds the conservatory, where the great beast from the story of Angelique is rumored to roam. 

I think the story started out with its names, actually. The mythical beast that haunts the forest is called the Felix. She's catlike, with celestial origins. Felix is traditionally a cat's name, but it doesn't actually come from the Latin word for "cat," it comes from the word for "happy," and that was the spark of that character -- a being who embodies happiness, what causes her to fall so far from that state, and what restores her. The main character's name, Sing, is a tribute to her distinguished parentage. But, as she says, it's both a name and a command. I wanted to explore what would happen if a character had both a true, innate love of singing, and a name that almost works against her own psyche.

Can you describe your path to the publication of STRANGE SWEET SONG?
  
My path for this book was fairly traditional. I queried Ammi-Joan Paquette at Erin Murphy Literary Agency about another novel. She liked it, but wanted to see something else, so when I had finished a pretty good draft of what was then called Sing, I sent it along. I was thrilled beyond the moon when she offered to represent me. EMLA is just a warm, fun, fantastic agency to be a part of. (Janet, I know you'll back me up on this! You bet I do!) Joan sold Sing to an enthusiastic editor at St Martin's, and we revised and revised. It's funny, with a big publisher like SMP, I assumed that -- and was okay with -- I would be somewhat lost in all the gears and big machinery. But it hasn't been like that at all; it's been a very friendly place to launch a first book. 

Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

Well, I'll certainly echo the same advice everyone gives, because it's the best -- read a lot and write a lot! And find your support system -- you're going to need feedback from people who have your work's best interest at heart. Learn to accept the label "writer," and remember that it only means, "someone who writes." It doesn't mean someone with a book on Oprah's Book Club; neither does it mean someone who has a great idea for a novel but never writes any words. But it can mean someone who is learning, someone who writes a lousy first draft, someone who writes a piece that just doesn't work, or someone who hammers out and polishes a story into something truly wonderful. 

Also, learn to love revision. Also also, revision does not equal copyediting.

Can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?

One of these days, I'm going to clean the heck out of my apartment. Sunbeams will bathe the floor, my mother will start visiting again, and all the spiders living in my shower will close their multiple eyes and inhale the light scent of pine. That will be a glorious, glorious day.

Hah! Your mother will be happy, I can vouch for that. Do you have any new writing ventures underway?

Yes! :) I have another book coming out from St Martin's (fingers crossed for 2015) called Redwing. It's a bit industrial revolution and a bit mythological. We're in the editing/revising stage right now.

Do you have a website where readers can learn more about STRANGE SWEET SONG?   

I love it when people pop by to say hi on my site or social media! I especially love pictures of cats! Find me here:


Friday, March 7, 2014

Denise Jaden's New Release FAST FICTION Plus Giveaway!

My friend Denise Jaden has a new book out, and I can tell you - it's fabulous. Titled FAST FICTION it is a craft book for those wishing to "fast-draft" a novel. But let me assure you it's more than a how-to-get-it-out guide; FAST FICTION has great summary information on all aspects of the craft. Below is a post Denise wrote for this blog, followed by an incredible opportunity to participate in a giveaway that includes a critique of your first five pages, compliments of Denise's agent, Michelle Humphrey from The Martha Kaplan Agency!

Here's Denise:

Fast-Drafting: But What About Quality?

Whenever I tell writers about my new book, FAST FICTION, they are either very interested, or they dismiss the idea of fast-drafting on the basis of their goal of “quality writing.” I care very much about high quality writing, and I believe in spending the time and effort to discover and bring to life the very best for my stories and characters. I just don’t believe high quality writing should be the main goal of a first draft.

One of my favorite things about fast-drafting is that I can find the story arc of each book very quickly, which helps me discover the path for each of my characters. When drafting new words, my mind is in micro-mode, where I’m focusing day to day on all the small occurrences that are happening in each scene. In that mindset, it’s nearly impossible to see the big picture, so I want to get out of that mindset to a place where I can step away from my finished novel as quickly as possible to properly evaluate it. The first draft, for me, is the part I want to get through quickly, so I can move forward into the real work of a novel—the work that makes it authentically flow and take readers on a journey they won’t forget.

Just because I believe in fast-drafting my first drafts does not mean I don’t believe in deep characters and plotlines either. I do a lot of prep work before drafting to know who my characters are at a gut level. For instance, how do they feel about their mothers and siblings? What’s the worst thing a parent has said or done to them? How do they still carry around some of their most embarrassing moments, and how do these moments still reflect in their day-to-day lives?

Even with this preparation, however, I don’t like to nail anything down in stone until after my first draft. To me, fast-drafting is as much about exploration as it is about finishing a book. Often I’ll get to the end of writing a draft before I truly know what the book should be about. And when I go back to read the draft over, I often hardly recognize many of the scenes or character traits that have shown up. This is the characters at work, showing me who they are, rather than the other way around.

There are a lot of things an author needs to think about when crafting a satisfying novel, but I like to take the fast-drafting phase—only 30 days—and spend that time not thinking. Instead I spend that time simply feeling what is happening with my characters and which directions they want to go, and which directions they’re afraid to go. This quick writing gives very distinct and natural voices to my characters as well.

Fast-drafting goes beyond the conscious mind and lets writers tune into their subconscious, so if we’re talking about quality of writing and depth of characters, fast-drafting is a step that will take you quickly toward both of these goals. Rather than doing a traditional interview-filled blog tour, Denise Jaden is celebrating the release of her new nonfiction writing book, FAST FICTION, by dropping tips about writing quickly at every stop of her blog tour, and offering some awesome prizes for commenting on any of these posts (including this one!)

The more you drop by and comment, the more chances you have to win these great prizes:

Denise's Fast Fiction Tip: Write about something you care deeply about.
It’s no accident that my first two published novels revolve around two sets of sisters. You see, I’ve never had a sister, and I think I’ve always been secretly jealous of people who understand that relationship first hand. I’ve taken that desire and let it fuel me through several novels. The more I start to understand about having a sister, the more complex the relationship seems. That, to me, has always been exciting, and I’ve spent many hours exploring the deep well of the sisterly relationships in my stories. That drive to know more has driven me to be able to write a lot of daily words and pursue finished novels. The more I care about my characters and their relationships, the more I need to tell their complete stories. Think about what it is you care enough about to carry you through an entire novel.

The Prizes:

  • Compliments of New World Library: They will be giving away A BOX of copies of FAST FICTION by Denise Jaden and GET IT DONE by Sam Bennett (US and Canada only):
  • Compliments of Denise Jaden, TWO BOXES of great fiction (US Only). Details on Denise's blog.
  • Audiobook copies of NEVER ENOUGH by Denise Jaden!
  • A critique of your first five pages, compliments of Denise's agent, Michelle Humphrey from The Martha Kaplan Agency!

All you have to do is enter the rafflecopter for a chance to win (at the bottom of this post, I've included links to all of the other blogs where you can comment for more chances to win).

About Fast Fiction:

Writers flock to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) each November because it provides a procrastination-busting deadline. But only a fraction of the participants meet their goal. Denise Jaden was part of that fraction, writing first drafts of her two published young adult novels during NaNoWriMo. In Fast Fiction, she shows other writers how to do what she did, step-by-step, writer to writer. Her process starts with a prep period for thinking through plot, theme, characters, and setting. Then Jaden provides day-by-day coaching for the thirty-day drafting period. Finally, her revision tips help writers turn merely workable drafts into compelling and publishable novels.

A portion of publisher proceeds will be donated to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)



Praise for Fast Fiction:

“Fast Fiction is filled with stellar advice, solid-gold tips, and doable, practical exercises for all writers who want to draft a complete novel.”
— Melissa Walker, author of Violet on the Runway

“Being a ‘pantser’ I have always resisted outlining, but I have to say that Fast Fiction changed my mind! Denise Jaden takes what I find to be a scary process (outlining) and makes it into an easy and, dare I say, enjoyable one. Fast Fiction is a hands-on book that asks the right questions to get your mind and your story flowing. I know I’ll be using Fast Fiction over and over again. Highly recommended for fiction writers!
— Janet Gurtler, author of RITA Award finalist I’m Not Her

“Fast Fiction is full of strategies and insights that will inspire and motivate writers of every experience level — and best of all, it provides them with a solid plan to quickly complete the first draft of their next novel.”
— Mindi Scott, author of Freefall

“Fast Fiction provides writers with the perfect mix of practical guidance and the kick in the pants they need to finish that draft. This book is a must-have for writers of all levels.”
— Eileen Cook, author of The Almost Truth

Practical and down-to-earth, Denise Jaden’s Fast Fiction makes a one-month draft seem doable, even for beginners, any month of the year.”
— Jennifer Echols, author of Endless Summer and Playing Dirty

“One of the greatest challenges any writer faces is getting a great idea out of one’s brain and onto the page. Fast Fiction breaks that process down into concrete, manageable steps, each accompanied by Denise Jaden’s sage advice and enthusiastic encouragement. And anything that helps streamline the drafting process is a-okay by me! Fast Fiction is a great addition to any writer’s toolbox — I’ve got it in mine!”
— Catherine Knutsson, author of Shadows Cast by Stars

“Forget the fact that this resource is directed at those wanting to complete a fast draft — if you’re out to get your novel done, period, Jaden’s Fast Fiction will be the kick in the butt that gets you there, from story plan to ‘The End’. . . and beyond.”
— Judith Graves, author of the Skinned series for young adults

Where you can find Fast Fiction:

Blog Tour Stops:
Comment on any of the following blog posts celebrating Fast Fiction's release to be entered to win prizes galore! 
(All Fast Fiction blog posts should be live by March 9th, or sooner. Contest will be open until March 15th. If any links don't work, stop by http://denisejaden.blogspot.com for updated links.)

GCC Blogs:

Additional Participating Blogs:

Remember, all you have to do is leave comments to get lots of extra entries to win some great prizes. 
Don't know what to comment about? Tell us the name of your favorite writing book!



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