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Happy second week in the trenches!

8579377205_54a29c5cfb_zLook at you, halfway through National Novel Writing Month. You’ve made it this far, you can stick with it for sixteen more days. Don’t worry about being behind. Don’t worry about Thanksgiving robbing you of writing time. Write what you can, when you can. Remember, NaNoWriMo exists to kick you into action. If you need let your NaNo project bleed into December or January or February, let it.

Just don’t give up.

Before we get started, here’s my Week 2 NaNoWriMo 2015 update:

Project #1: edited to page 98

Project #2: 19,299 words written

Not quite where I’d like to be, but further than I was on October 31st. That’s what I love about NaNoWriMo, it gives you a standard to measure against…and it gives you a whole bunch of buddies working toward the same (or similar) goals.

And Margaret needs goals.

In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a planner. A list maker. A tracker. I love writing goals down and checking them off. It’s great. Fools people into thinking I’m far more organized than I am. You whip out a planner, start checking things off, and people who don’t know better assume you have it all together—that you know what you’re doing.

For me, it varies.

Some days, I’m really good about sticking to the list. I write all the words, edit all the pages, and get all the stickers (more on that in a moment). Other days, I write the list, consider it and then decide to burn it. Most days are in between—for various reasons. You know, life intrudes. Other ideas happen. The newest chapter of that fic you’re really into comes out.

Writing down your goals is important–whether they’re goals for the day, the week, the month, or the year. They become tangible. The words make them real. It’s one thing to think, “Hey, I should do NaNoWriMo this year”, but open that planner or that writing journal or even just pull out a piece of paper and write “50,000 words by November 30” and it develops substance.

I’m not really one for five year plans or ten year plans—too much can change too easily for me to get on that train. I’d get all wrapped up in what needs to happen and what’s not happening and end up upset and frustrated (I know this works for some people, I just have a hard time seeing that far ahead). I like to tackle my stuff in less mind-boggling bites. Break it down. I focus on the 4,000 words I need to write today to stay on track, instead of getting caught up in how far behind I am.

While some of my goals stretch out into next (get my own place, be able to run a 5k, attend a writer’s conference next year, survive this season of Once Upon a Time, etc.), I work best with monthly and daily goals.

At the beginning of the month, I figure out what I want/need to accomplish writing-wise over the next four weeks or so. That way I have targets to aim for. For instance, this blog. Currently, I’m aiming for one post a week, with a Saturday deadline. Will my world end if I don’t publish a post every Saturday? Technically, no. But that list with four slots reading “Blog post” is powerful motivation. And it feel good to check off that little box. Just that one action leaves me as satisfied as a good jog does.

Those monthly goals get printed out and glued in the back of my planner (I haven’t always been a consistent planner girl, the blank pages in my current planner attests that I’m still not some weeks). When I plan out my week—writing time is always easier to find when you know what else needs your time—I refer to that list. And I refer to it when I sit down to plan my day. Going back to the blog, I see that blank space next to “11/14” and I plan time to write a blog post—this post, actually.

I do my best to keep my goals specific. “Write today” could mean anything, but “Work on WIP #2” gives me some direction. I don’t stop there though, after all, that leaves so much wiggle room. One sentence technically meets that goal.

So I give myself something to measure against. “Work on WIP #2” becomes “Write 1k words for WIP #2” and now I have something to reach for, something to achieve.

Of course, there’s common sense mixed in there too. After all, if I only have an hour to write, one thousand words is a reasonable goal. It gives me just enough time to warm up and find my writing groove. To try writing three thousand words, though? Even I’m not that delusional. I know my limits.

And now, to impart my most reliable secret to staying on task:


Yes, I know, I sound like a five-year old. (Though, at least I don’t plaster them to every flat surface in the house anymore. You’re welcome, Mom).

Seeing the fruit of my labors is difficult when everything lives on my computer. I don’t get to watch a notebook get all warped as I fill the pages up. Instead, I wait until it’s time to print the draft and start lugging it around. To combat this, I use stickers—which serve as both progress markers and little mini rewards. Each sticker has a value. For every thousand words I write, I get a star. Did I edit five pages? Great, I get a big heart. What if it was only two pages? I get a smaller star. Read a book? I have a sticker for that. Publish a blog? Yep, sticker for that. Finish a draft? Oh, you bet I have a sticker for that. Nice big, shiny, adorable owl stickers.

Every time I earn one of these stickers, I slap that thing into my planner with pride. Especially when I can look back at the stickers I earned the day before (or the lack there of, let me tell you that’s motivation itself). It’s a great way to keep track of what I’ve done and it’s portable, which is important since my office is whatever Starbucks or library I’ve ended up in that day. I can’t claim credit for this idea. I stole it from my friend, Dot, who stole it from author Victoria Schwab (Vicious, A Darker Shade of Magic) who probably stole it from some elementary school teacher. Feel free to steal from me, or come up with your own method. But find a way.

Give yourself something to accomplish and then go after it. Don’t let anything stop you. You can do it.

Question of the Week:

What are some of the writing goals you’d like to accomplish by year’s end?

Image: Inspiring moleskine by cathredfern, CC BY-NC 2.0

9322492135_1814439892_zHappy first week of NaNoWriMo 2015.

If it’s going well for you: Huzzah! Pat yourself on the back.

If you’re struggling: Don’t give up! You may want to throw in the towel, but it’s only November 7th—every word that you write is a word you didn’t have yesterday.

Regardless: KEEP WRITING! You have a whole twenty-three days of NaNo left, think about everything you can accomplish in those twenty-three days.

And because you guys keep me accountable, here’s my NaNo 2015 weekly update:

Project #1: edited to page 77

Project #2: 10,028 words written

I mentioned in my last post that I’m working on two projects this November. (In case you’re wondering, the original plan involved only one project, but I procrastinated with Project #1, so here we are.) Whether or not I should walk around with a “Hi, my name is Overachiever” nametag, only time will tell. No matter my expectations, NaNo motivates me. The hype inspires focus that I often lack. Someday, I hope to be this driven all year long, but for now, I’m going to make the most of the power of NaNo

Project #1 is the one people are used to hearing me gripe about. You know, the one that was kicking my butt in this post. Written last spring, it still needs work, but if Rick Riordan’s first novel (Big Red Tequila) needed fourteen drafts before it was ready to shop around, I can go through at least half as many before I shelve it (or trunk it).

Project #2 is brand new project…sort of. I might have stolen the premise from a (unpublished) fanfic I wrote last March. Before you name me E.L. James 2.0 (don’t…just don’t), you should know that I’ve done more than change the names. By the time I’m done with this, you shouldn’t even be able to tell what fandom inspiried the original story from (Everything but the premise has been scrapped). No, I won’t tell you which fandom. I’m so excited to finally be taking a swing at this idea. You can’t see me grinning, but I’m grinning.

Now that that’s out of the way, time for today’s topic: the first draft. Specifically, NaNoWriMo first drafts. I know people that think NaNo is crazy—churning out fifty thousand words in thirty will only result in trash.

To those people I’d say: All first drafts are trash.

No matter what, your book will need at least one edit. Likely several. The grand picture in your head always gets a little lost in translation. Don’t worry about that now, especially if you’re trying to NaNo. Believe me, I know your fingers itch to pick at the chapter you wrote yesterday, to start hacking it apart and turn it into a piece of fine literature. I used to do that too, but not  anymore. Why? I found that when I pause to backtrack, I lose sight of the story. I used to get stuck going over what I’d already written, leaving the rest of the story to stagnate. There are writers who work this way. Published writers. Published writers who tell you that you have to have every sentence perfect before you move on to the next one.

I’m here to tell you: You don’t have to do it that way.

And if you want to win at NaNo this year, may I suggest that you put that thinking aside. At least for November. You don’t have time to edit. (If you’re like me, you barely have time to write.) The typos will still be there in twenty-four days, the story might not be. Turn down your inner editor. Give yourself permission to get lost in the writing.

What if your main character tells you her eyes are blue instead of brown? Or switches the point of view from a third person past tense to first person present tense Jot down a quick note, maybe fantasize about what you’d do to her if you didn’t need them, and then keep going as though you wrote it that way from the start. Sure, that leaves you with forty thousand words that you have to go back and edit later, but you’ll have finished the story. I cannot stress the importance of finishing enough. Giving up is much easier at forty thousand words than it is at ninety thousand.

Don’t worry about your novel being perfect. It won’t be. Not even after it’s gone through you, your mother, your three best friends, your other writer friends, your agent AND your editor, you will find something you missed. NaNoWriMo isn’t about producing Tolkein level prose (The Lord of the Rings alone took him twelve years), it’s about creating something you can shape. It’s about digging the raw material out of the folds of your brain and so you can sculpt your David.

My challenge to you between today and November 30th is this: Keep your eyes on the road. And if that inner editor of yours tries back seat driving? Stick a sock in their mouth, wrap them in ducktape, and throw them in the back of your car until you reach the end.

Good luck in your NaNoWriMo endeavors this week, I’d love to hear about them, either here or through Twitter or tumblr.

If you need to, please revisit my writing advice disclaimer.

Question of the week:

Outside of November, do you prefer to write straight through your first draft or do you edit as you go?

Image: Don’t Stop Me Now by K.G.Hawes, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

22144212210_be0977d417Tomorrow is November 1st. Tomorrow, National Novel Writing Month begins.

Last week, I gave the non-writers a quick rundown about NaNoWriMo. This week, it’s the writers turn.

If you haven’t committed to NaNoWriMo yet, it’s not too late. We’re barely at the beginning. Yes, fifty thousand words sounds like a lot, but you can do it. This year, thousands of people will reach that goal, just like last year and the year before that. You could be one of them. I can’t guarantee that you’ll reach fifty thousand words this year, but I do know is that if you don’t try, you haven’t got a chance.

This won’t be my first NaNo rodeo (a look at my blog history tells you that much). I go into NaNo in 2012. I didn’t “win”, but I did manage to get very close. My second go around was last year and I managed to pop out the necessary fifty thousand words. This year, I’ll be participating in NaNo again, on top of re-establishing this blog and working through draft four of my other work-in-progress. If that seems ambitious, that’s because it is. But I’m not going into it unprepared and neither should you. Here are seven tips for a NaNoWriMo win in 2015:

  1. Have a plan– Listen to the pansters squirm. Don’t worry, this isn’t a sermon on the virtues of outlining. I’m talking about setting writing goals. You might be planning on a traditional NaNo, but maybe you’re a parent or you have rehearsal for a Christmas production or you work a job that works you extra hard over the holidays. That’s fine. Feel free to tailor your goals to your life (but also, don’t be afraid to challenge yourself a little). Make sure to write those goals down! Whether writing fifty thousand words is your goal or you’re aiming to work through Draft #X of your WIP, write it down. I can’t reference any studies to prove how important this is (though I’m sure they are out there), I just know that writing down specific goals is much more effective than keep an amorphous list in my head.
  2. Break it down– Fifty thousand words looks like a lot because it is a lot, like trying to leap a tall building in a single bound. Outside of Superman, I don’t know anyone capable of jumping over skyscrapers. So take the building one floor at a time. Focus on how much you need to write today. If you’ve read anything about NaNo (or read last week’s post), you know that the “magical” daily number is 1,667. Still a little daunting, but more manageable than 50,000. If you don’t have enough writing time every day to meet that goal, don’t worry. Work with the time you do have. Plan a day or two where you can slam out several thousand words in one sitting. After all, ten five thousand word days gets you to fifty thousand.
  3. Get away– This is a tip I use year round, but it’s crucial during NaNoWriMo. You don’t have to go far. It means spending a couple of hours at the library/Starbucks/Panera/etc. Or maybe heading to your brother’s room to use the desk you two share. The key is removing yourself from the familiar things that distract you: your bed, your laundry, your Netflix subscription…you know all things that sound like a better idea than writing right now. I’ve found that I get far more done when I’m somewhere other than my own room (the closest I have to an office is said brother’s room and sometimes he likes his privacy).
  4. Simplify– Life is crazy. You might be juggling school, job, family, health issues, social life, and more on a regular basis. NaNoWriMo is your excuse to put more focus on your writing. Work deals with your spouse/parents/friends to get a couple of kid free hours during the week. Eat at your desk so you can spend your lunch break writing. Get up a little earlier or stay up a half hour later. Tell your friends you love them and you’ll see them when November ends. Cut out your favorite TV show (there’s plenty of time to get caught up in time to the mid-season break). Be creative as you find ways to trim your schedule and free up the time you’ll need to complete NaNo.
  5. Keep a schedule– The word schedule just gave some of you shivers, but I’m telling you it helps. Even if it’s just for the month of November, get a little planner and use it to keep track of your time. Finding time to write is much easier when you have all the other things you need to do recorded in one place. My most productive writing days are usually the ones I sit down and plan.
  6. Get plugged in– Go to NaNoWriMo’s official page and register and then look to see what’s going on in your region. It’s nice to have other people around you working toward the same goal—especially since they’ll fuss if you get distracted for too long. Find write-ins or other events thrown by your municipal liaison and get to know your fellow WriMos.
  7. Commit to finishing– Even if you can’t do the whole fifty thousand within November—even if you can—commit to finishing the story. Don’t let “losing” or reaching the end of November stop you. Fifty thousand words is a very short novel (Unless you’re writing for middle grade), you may find your story needs another ten or twenty thousand words. Finishing the blasted thing is the important part. Once you’ve finished one novel, finishing the next is that much easier, because you know you can do it. The whole point of NaNo is completion, taking you one step closer to something publishable. This novel may not be it. That’s okay. The next one might be.

And there you have it. That’s the short list of how I’m surviving NaNo 2015. Granted, I don’t have kids, I’m single, and my work hours leave plenty of time for writing, but even though you are probably ten times busier than I will be this month I encourage you to apply some of these tips. Just a little extra effort and planning can make a drastic difference.

Question of the Week:

What challenges will you be facing during NaNoWriMo 2015?

Image: NaNoWriMo 2015 by Rachel K, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

9355090806_80b6faabc7_cIt’s almost that time of year again.

As of this post, Halloween is one week away and a scant twenty-four hours later November descends upon us.

And the madness begins.

“So it begins,” some of you murmur, nodding your heads. You refer to the frantic, cinnamon-infused, fifty-five day explosion known as the Holidays. However, I speak of the much briefer (though no less frantic) span of days known as NaNoWriMo. In English, that translates to National Novel Writing Month. Non-writers call it November.

You may be vaguely aware of NaNoWriMo. You’ve seen your writer friends post about it on Twitter, tumblr, and Facebook. You heard them crying about it last. But for those of you going, “Margaret, I have no idea what you’re talking about”, I will explain:

On November 1st  many ambitious writers commit to writing a 50,000 novel by November 30th. How long is a 50,000 word novel, you ask. Think The Great Gatsby. NaNoWriMo challenges a writer to slam down 1,667 words every day for a month. Do you remember college? And term papers? That’s about how long each day’s work needs to be, or you end up playing catch-up. Some writers find that easy, others don’t. Either way, it’s stressful and more than a few writers spend November ripping their hair out. That’s totally normal (and hyperbolic, if your writer starts ripping their hair out, please intervene).

Now that we’re all on the same page, here are some ways that you—the ever supportive non-writer—can help:

  1. Understand– Writing over a thousand words a day (or several thousand every few days if that’s how your writer works) takes a lot of time. If you know someone who is attempting NaNoWriMo, they will be writing at every opportunity. Writing cuts away from the time your writer has for food, sleep, work, friends, family, personal hygeine, and any other diversions that life offers. Be aware of that. Please understand when they’re more forgetful or messier or less emotionally stable than usual. Know that it’s only for 30 days. Appreciate every moment they give you for the sacrifice it is.
  2. Help them focus– It’s the little things that eat away at writing time. After all, the laundry still needs to be done and you don’t stop loving your kids just because you’re writing a novel. The writer’s brain is easily distracted by all the things we SHOULD be doing, the things that NEED doing. Right now. If you live with a writer, even the smallest gestures help. Like doing the dishes or the laundry or giving them an hour without the kids or making sure they don’t have to worry about dinner on Thursdays.
  3. Encourage them– Writing can often feel like a waste of time—especially for your writer. It feels awkward to call it a job when you’re not getting paid, but you can’t get published (and make money) if you have no book. Remind your writer that it’s not a waste. Cheer them on. Whether or not a NaNo novel gets published isn’t the point. The point is finished the dumb thing.
  4. Treat it seriously– If your writer commits to NaNoWriMo this November, please don’t trivialize that. Under any circumstances, writing to fifty thousand words is a huge undertaking…and a HUGE achievement. Setting out to write that many words in just thirty days straddles completely crazy and definitely daunting. Writers have it hard enough finding time to write, please don’t make it harder by scoffing or dismissing our writing as a hobby. Respect the time your brave writer sets aside for NaNo. Respect their efforts. And do what you can to help them stick to that goal.
  5. Bribe them– If you’re so inclined and in the position to reward your writer for reaching fifty thousand words, go for it. Give them that extra incentive to push towards the goal. You don’t need to be extravagant (although, if you anyone wants to reward me with a trip to see Aladdin on Broadway, I won’t say no). It could be simple: a movie night with their favorite movie, taking them to dinner or ice cream, or promising to buy that book they’ve been ogling on Amazon for weeks.

Writers participate in NaNoWriMo for many reasons. Some writers use it to jump into their newest (or their first) novel. Other writers participate for the comradery. Or a change of pace. Every writer will give you a different answer. Every writer is different, but I’ll stress again, effort is the important thing about NaNo. If that idea stays in your writer’s head, it never gets published. By encouraging your writer (this holds true all year long), you are helping them get one step closer to a finished first draft and a finished first draft is one step closer to a published novel (though it might not be that particular novel).

Question of the week:

How do you encourage your writer? (Writers: How do your family/friends encourage you?)

Disclaimer: This is in no way aimed at anyone in my immediate circle. You are all wonderfully supportive of my writing. Thank you. From the bottom of my heart. I’m blessed to have each and every one of you supporting me.

Image: diary writing by Fredrik Rubensson, CC BY-SA 2.0

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Ages 16 & up

steelheart coverTen years ago, Calamity appeared in the sky and granted ordinary men and women superhuman abilities. For nearly as long, eighteen-year-old David Charleston has devoted his life to one purpose: finding a way to kill Steelheart, the epic that murdered his father. When the Reckoners—an underground group dedicated to taking down epics—finally come to Newcago, David knows this is his chance. He’s spent his whole life studying the epics and their powers and now, with the Reckoners’ support, David thinks he can finally crack the secret of Steelheart’s weakness—David knows he has one because he’s seen Steelheart bleed.

My brother—who happens to be a huge Brandon Sanderson fan—recommended this book (I know, I have excellent taste in siblings). Can’t say that I blame him. From what I’ve read of Sanderson, his world-building is intricate in a way that hasn’t resonated with me since I read Lord of the Rings. He impressed me with The Way of King and didn’t fail in Steelheart or its sequel Firefight, though I found the story more accessible in the last two. The minute my brother gave me Steelheart’s, I knew I had to read it.

Steelheart’s premise combines two of my favorite things: super powers and reversal of expectations. In this book, the super-powered beings are far from virtuous. When Calamity appeared in the sky, it didn’t create a race of benevolent protectors. Power corrupts and all that. Clearly, these epics lacked an Uncle Ben or a Pa Kent to guide them down the right path. Sanderson could have stopped right there and I would have been happy, but of course, this is a young adult novel and in young adult novels we like making people questions things. Towards the end of the book (and through all of the second) we see David question his original “down with all epics” stance—not everything is as it seems. Although it’s clear these powers can bring out the worst in a person, David begins to wonder if some epics could be saved. After all, if the Reckoners are ever going to truly stand up to the epics, they need a few who are able to use their powers without giving into the darkness.

I loved how surprisingly diverse and well-defined Sanderson’s characters are in Steelheart. David’s obsession with metaphors was hilarious—especially considering how bad he is at them—and refreshing, I haven’t seen that character quirk before. But Sanderson doesn’t stop with his point of view character, all of the characters I came across were distinct and I connected with them easily (This is really noticeable in book two, when some of David’s old friends get exchanged for new ones). Among the characters Sanderson trots out we have a female rocket scientist, a former fifth-grade teacher, a teenage assassin, and a Tennessee cop with the vocabulary of his Irish ancestors.

Of course, no book is perfect. While I love Sanderson’s world-building and how seamlessly it enhances the story, I was a bit off-put by some of his replacements for cuss words. His characters favored “sparks” and “calamity” as expletives and while the first wasn’t too distracting, I found myself hating the latter. I understand the thought process behind using the word, but I felt calamity a bad fit for this futuristic, dystopian society. It made it hard to stay in the—often serious—moment. I’m usually all for made up expletives (Big fan of D’Arvit from the Artemis Fowl series), as long as they add rather than take away from the dialogue. Perhaps “calamity” might have worked for me in a different setting, but I found myself wishing the characters had chosen silence instead—or just used a more familiar expletive (I doubt humanity would have moved away from all the familiar ones).

I also wasn’t a fan of the number of times David made a big deal about being distracted by the female lead. I understand that he’s a teenage boy, but when your narrator mentions distracting she is multiple times in just the first few pages it becomes redundant. You are straight and male, we get it, can we move on now please? (This was handled much better in Firefight).  Granted, I am not a teenage boy, I’ll take my brother’s word that this is pretty accurate, but still hitting the reader over the head with an idea often ends with their head aching.

Still, despite the few drawbacks, I really enjoyed the first two books and look forward to the release of the trilogy’s final installation, Calamity (there’s that word again). If you like dystopians, comic books, or stories that defy conventional expectations, give this series a try.

This is a good example of:

  • Plot twists
  • Character quirks
  • World-building
  • Dystopian society

Disclaimer: This is a writing advice post. I know every writer is different. What works for me may not work for you. Reading writing advice is like buying a pair. The first pair you try might be perfect or you may have to try several before you find the right shoes; until you try on a few pairs, you won’t know. I use the same attitude for writing advice. If it looks like it’s my size, I’ll give it a try. If I like the advice, I use it. If I don’t like the advice, I put it back on the shelf so to speak. If my advice doesn’t resonate or work for you, feel free to put it back on the shelf.


What working on TQG feels like right now.

And now…

It’s confession time.

I’ve reached a point where my work-in-progress (a.k.a. TQG) feels like a chore more often than not. On a fundamental level, I still want to “finish” this story. I want to get to a point where I can either say, “Hey, maybe I should see if this is something” and start querying agents or say, “I’m proud of all the things I’ve learned, but this isn’t it” and walk away. But whenever I sit down to work on TGQ? I find myself not in the mood. Here we are at the beginning of October, and I haven’t finished a chapter since August. It was Chapter One.

I know the problem: Story edits kick my butt. Want a first draft? Great, give me a few months. You want line edits? I got that. Story edits, though? They trigger my primal urge to over analyze everything, because WHAT IF I GET EVERYTHING SOMETHING WRONG!?

Writing is fun.

Editing is work.

Editing takes more motivation than cleaning my room does. (Two rooms over, my father rolls his eyes.)

So I stall. I hem. I haw. I whine—often quite loudly on social media—about how writing is hard. I get on tumblr and scroll through my dashboard until I’ve seen every post fifteen times.

Meanwhile, my novel collects (figurative) dust on my hard drive.

What have I learned? I am not a “wait for your muse” kind of girl. (Technically, I’ve known this, the past few months have made a fresh impression on me.)

I’m more the “force your muse to catch up” person. Because most of the time, my muse does not feel like writing. She’d rather read a book. Or get on YouTube. Or find something else on Netflix to obsess over. (Really, it’s mostly YouTube.)

I have to try.

I have to pull out my notes, sit down at my computer, and open that Word doc. I have to look at my week and say, “Here’s where I can spend this much time writing and here’s where I can spend that much time writing”. And I have to tell myself to try.

I am loathe to contradict the words of a revered Jedi master, but—all due respect to Yoda—when it comes to me and writing, the word “try” must exist. If I don’t try, I don’t write. But if I do try? Well, I either…

  1. Struggle for a specified amount of time (usually 30-45 minutes), write a sentence or two, and decide that a writing day, today is not.


  1. Struggle for a bit, write a few sentences, make a weird face, rewrite those sentences, nod, write more, nod more, rewrite more and come to the end of my writing time with a page or two done and a pleased look on my face. (Sometimes quickly replaced by a confused look as I realize that it’s past midnight. Whoops!)

Note: This method is most effective when you ignore your muse’s initial temper tantrum and attempt a few sentences.

There are writers that mostly write when they feel like it. And as they’ve published more than a few books, I cannot deny this method works for some people. If it works for you, embrace that.

I am not one of those people.

For me, writing is similar to exercising. I almost never feel like working out, but I read once that even if you don’t want to work out you should do part of your routine. If you’re still struggling after a few minutes, then maybe today isn’t a good day. However, completing part of your workout gives you momentum, increasing the chance you’ll finish. While I will always prefer reading to jogging, 99% of the time I finish feeling accomplished and pleased that I put the effort in.

Don’t feel like this has to be you (because it doesn’t), but if the shoe looks like it will fit why not, well…try?

And with that, it’s time to sign off and go try some more.

Question for the day:

Do you wait for motivation or do you make motivation catch up to you?

 Image: Don’t try this at home by Massmo Relsig, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

2200500024_e93db99b61_mOnce upon a time, I thought the most difficult question you could ask a writer was the infamous “What are you writing?” After all, people don’t want you spill the whole book word-for-word, so you have fit your current obsession into a few sentences (the fewer the better). Cue long, excruciating pause, stuttering, backtracking, and general frustration.

Then a new writer friend asked me this doozy: “Are you a good writer?”

It took me a minute, but I said that yes eventually.

The question still hasn’t let me go though.

Am I a good writer?

If you asked my mother, the answer would be yes.

I’m not as sure. Am I capable of objectively answering that question? I am not a published writer–newsflash, I know–the only person to read my current novel is me. My only feedback is my own judgment. Is it possible for someone to be truly unbiased about their own work? I know I’m not.

But I also dislike the idea that the only writers able to write well are those that hate every word they write. In my mind, being too critical is just as ineffective as not being critical enough .

Isn’t it better to have the ability to recognize the golden nuggets in a current work? To look at a draft and say, “I think I might be on to something here, but that other thing there and all of Chapter 15 need a lot of work”?

That’s the kind of writer that I try to be.

A lot of my current project is kind of…meh, but the more I chip away at it, the more I wash and sift and refine it, the more gold I find. Or at least, I hope it’s gold I’m finding. There are good parts in this draft. There might even be brilliant parts in this draft. Only patience and effort will tell.

What I think matters is that I’m recognizing some problems. I know (and feedback on past projects has shown) that I’m WAY too close to this project to see all the problems, but I don’t think that my novel is perfect.

I don’t think it’s crap either.

I think it could turn into something.

At the end of the day, I’d rather believe in myself.

So I (at the risk of sounding narcissistic) think I’ll stick with my original answer.

Yes, I am a good writer. Or at least, I’m on my way to being one.

Image: Question mark sign by Colin Kinner, CC BY 2.0

I have finally reached that special place in my current work-in-progress that every author just dreams about: it’s time to look for an agent.

Allow me to emphasize the word “look”? I’ve finished my second draft and plan to dig into the thing with my jackhammer and scalpel when all the feedback has come in. If I am relatively pleased with the finished result it will be time to query agents. But that’s still a few months away.

So why am I looking at agents now?

Why not wait until I have completed and polished manuscript (Those are the kind of manuscripts that agents like to see)?

The answer to that question can be summed up with one word: research.

I need to know who I’m querying. Sure, I could just start with the first agent listed on Writer’s Market. But it’s so much more efficient to target queries.

Otherwise, I could send my manuscript to someone who doesn’t even represent young adult fiction. Or worse, someone who doesn’t rep fiction period. I want to respect both my time and any potential agents.

So I need to know all I can about said potential agents. The most consistent complaint I’ve seen agents make is that people submit inappropriate manuscripts—meaning manuscripts that for one reason or another don’t meet submission guidelines (these are important, pay attention to them).

So how do I go from the 85 agents that represent young adult to the six or so (the final number is still under advisement) I plan on including in my first round of queries?

Easy, I put them through something I refer to as “The Agent Games”.

So far, I’ve only completed Round 1 of this endeavor. But that still cut down the number of agents that were up for consideration.

There are many ways that someone else could go about weeding out the unpromising recruits in Round 1, but here are some of the things I considered when I was going through the six pages of results that Writer’s Market generated.

  1. I kept a big eye on all of the genres they represented. Now, not representing science fiction or fantasy didn’t get them thrown off of the list. But if they stated that they did not represent those two genres, it was an automatic “no”. Also, I kept in mind future projects I’ve been contemplating. Granted, an agent doesn’t have to be forever, but I’d hate to find “the one” only to have to find different representation because my next book is out of their field of experience. If you’re looking at making the art of Typing in a Tiny Room for Hours your career, you want an agent who can go the distance with you.
  2. Availability of info was also a big factor. Almost every agent or agency on my list had a website. That’s something to keep in mind. If an agent didn’t have a website, they had to really catch my eye to stay out of the “no” pile. I want to be able to get as much information about a potential agent as I can before I submit. What do they like to read? How long have they been agenting? Did they do anything before they became an agent? Knowing these things about them is going to make it so much easier for me when it comes time for Rounds 2 & (if necessary) 3.
  3. Also, having a website with a profile or a short bio helped picture myself working with them. Not only does the bio tell me what they represent, but if it was good, it gave me an idea of who they were. I won’t lie, there were a couple that I read their bio and was like, “You sound wonderful, but I just don’t think we’d do well together.” Obviously, an agent and a writer will clash at some point. But if I can pinpoint any insurmountable differences in personality or ideology, I won’t want to submit to that agent. On the other hand, there were a few that I really liked and I put in one of my files because something about their personality or something they said just clicked with me.
  4. When they provided the titles of books or authors they represented, I always gave that a look. Did I see a lot of big names that I recognized? Those either went into the “no” or the “maybe” pile. I’m not saying that my book isn’t good enough to be in the same agency as say, Suzanne Collins (actually, it’s not, but that’s why it needs editing). It’s just that if I don’t see some unknowns, I feel that’s a pretty good sign that they prefer to work with established authors (some just outright tell you). On the other hand, WM does list the percentage of debut authors an agent normally takes. If the percentage was high they went into the “definitely check out” or the “maybe” file.

So that was my process for Round 1. I shall commence Round 2 shortly. It will involve a lot of reading, thorough perusal of websites & guidelines, and possible stalkerlike behavior on Twitter.

Anyone out there want to chime in on how they narrowed things down during their hunt for an agent?

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Ages 16 and up

Hazel Grace Lancaster’s final chapter was written when she was diagnosed with stage IV cancer. A miracle drug has bought her time, but she is still sixteen and living with cancer. Hazel knows her time will run out. That is enough to give anyone a perpetual bad day. And so she is sent to Cancer Kid Support Group, a weekly ritual that she barely tolerates. The only high point of this ritual is her friend Isaac. Until Augustus Waters shows up. In Augustus, she finds someone who not only gets what she’s going through, but also gets her. With him, Hazel goes on what will probably be the first and only adventure of her life.

The Fault in Our Stars. The Fault in Our Stars. The Fault in Our freaking Stars.

Seriously, where can I even start with this book? It …wait…can’t say that it’s full of spoilers. That is probably the hardest part of this review. Everything I loved about this book is tied to a spoiler. But I’m going to try. So, if you’re super spoiler-sensitive, just take me at my word: Read this book.

I loved this book. I shouldn’t have loved this book. But I loved this book.

I’ll start with the characters. Spot. On. Hazel is a teenager, but she also feels jaded and world-weary (nothing makes you feel world-weary like constantly struggling to breathe). She’s cynical without seeming dark. And she’s obssessed with a book called The Imperial Infliction, which I would totally read if it wasn’t completely made up. Augustus is fun and more. These are real kids having to live through the real consequences of a disease that can cripple families.

John Green could easily have created a novel with a sad and depressing narrative. Or written a story that was all happy and hopeful and possibly unrealistic (the usual method for cancer kid stories). But TFIOS has this great balance in its tone. It’s serious. It’s real. Hazel’s life is drastically impacted by her disease. But Green also allows moments of light-heartedness. TFIOS is neither mopey, nor sappy. It’s lifelike. Hazel goes through ups and downs, just like any teenager (just like any human, really), her ups and downs are just often dictated by her disease. One of my favorite things about these Hazel and Gus is their irreverence (the main vehicle for the book’s light-hearted moments). These two have confronted death and live. Yes, death might eventually come back to claim them, but they’ve been there. They’ve done that. And they don’t mind poking fun at the specter that terrifies them.

And can we talk about how beautifully Green covers description. The descriptions could easily have become heavy-handed and overdone. But Green shows the physical toll and complications of living with cancer with deftness and brevity. The reader is given just enough to get a picture of what is happening to Hazel, but now so much they are overwhelmed. And then it’s back to the story.

Now, this paragraph should be as spoilery as it gets, but I want to assure any people who might dismiss this book because it could end badly.

I’ll admit, I was hesitant at first. I’m good with death and destruction and general badness happening to characters, but there is a part of me that expects a happy ending. Or at least the possibility of a happy end. By all accounts I should not have loved the ending of this book. But I think it might have made my list of books with perfect endings. Currently, there are two books on that list. When it was all said and done and I turned the final page, I felt like I’d gotten exactly the ending Green had promised from the beginning of the book and it was a good ending. An ending that will stick with me for a long time. I’ve never felt such hope and sadness mix after finishing a book. And I’m a fan of Dickens.

My only issue with this book (and if you know me, you’ll have seen it coming) was how it deals with sex. Now, I know that not everyone shares my more conservative opinion. So this may not be an issue for you. But I know some of my readers are like me. So they might also be bothered by the idea that dying a virgin makes a person’s life less full. I disagree with this. However, this is a book about teenagers and death and that means it’s going to deal with sex at some point. For my more conservative readers, just know that it’s in there and make your choices accordingly. I don’t think it should be a reason not to read the book, but do know it’s in there and do be willing to talk with your kids (or parents, if you’re a kid) about it.

All in all, I am glad I read this book. It made me laugh. It made me sad. It made me think. And it made me grateful. You should read it. And then you should go sit outside and be thankful that you can breathe easily.

Also, I’m pretty sure I want to be a shorter, prettier version of John Green when I grow up. So basically, I am never going to grow up. Which sounds pretty awesome.

This is a good example of:

  • First Person POV
  • How to Handle Sad Subjects
  • Characterization
  • Endings

If you’re looking for a happier book, but still want to experience the made of awesome that is John Green, might I suggest An Abundance of Katherines.

7666431386“Show, don’t tell.” As a writer you hear it all the time

It’s very good advice. But it’s not a rule. There are no hard and fast rules for writing. Every author is different. Every book is different. Heck, every SENTENCE is different. Unless, of course, it’s a repeat of the sentence before that, but you get my point.

Yes, showing is the preferred form to communicate with your audience. Showing draws readers into the story. It involves them, forces them to use their imaginations. They don’t just read that the character gets angry, they feel the anger. But that doesn’t mean telling isn’t just as powerful and effective as showing. What it means is that telling must be used more sparingly.

So, here are my own observations about showing vs. telling. I hope these help you if you’ve ever been confused by this “rule”.

But first, a two quick and blatant examples of showing and telling.

  • Showing: He stood quickly, pacing in front of the bench. His hands went into his pockets. They came back out of his pockets. Stopping, he looked at her, took a breath, and got down on one knee.
  • Telling: Sharon could tell Richard was nervous.

Now that even the non-writers are on the same page, let’s talk about telling:

1. Telling is great for getting information out. In your novel, there can be as many characters you can dream up. And that can mean several different points of view (POV). So Character A is obviously going to know things that Character B doesn’t know (unless the two characters are conjoined twins). You can’t walk Character B through past events. A friend can’t go back in time and relive another person’s trauma. But if Character A is that person’s sister, A can impart the information  to B. Some things are worth showing. Some things the reader needs to know, but don’t need to be detail. You see this all the time when authors summarize the events between one scene and the next. (I wish I could put in examples, but I’m not entirely certain of how to work within copyright laws.) Or when a past scene is summarized for a character that wasn’t there.

2. Telling can be extremely powerful when used sparingly. Now you don’t want to overuse this. But sometimes telling can be used to repeat an idea, for example or to communicate and emotion,

“Elaine put her hand to her forehead. It was sticky and wet. Pulling her hand away, she examined her glistening fingers. She was bleeding.”

Now there are many ways that Elaine’s surprise could have been communicated. But I wrote it the way I did, with the repetition and the blatant statement because it shows the train of the character’s thoughts. Telling is especially useful in emotional response. Sometimes you want to show the emotion move through the character. But sometimes, you want something short and sweet like, “I love you,” or “You’re a bastard”.

3. Telling can be used to show character and growth. This is kind of similar and ties in to the last point, but I feel that it’s different enough to require its own number. Let’s set up a scenario: Suppose your main character’s mom never apologizes. At the beginning of the book, you might have a scene that shows more than it tells, like this one,

“Richard’s mother blinked as Sharon finished her explanation. He’d known the truth of course, but the look of surprise on her face was gratifying.

‘Excuse me,’ Eunice said. ‘I think I need to take care of something.’ She walked off in the direction of the ladies’ room. She was gone for fifteen minutes. When she came back, she looked much the same, but it was another fifteen minutes before his mother would meet his eyes. And that she was much kinder to Sharon.”

Okay, so that’s at the beginning of the novel. She is obviously ashamed of whatever wrong opinion she had about Sharon. And she does adjust her behavior. But suppose we’re at the end of the book and Eunice is a dynamic character (a character that evidences some change over the course of the story). You might end up with a mixed scene like this:

“Richard’s mother blinked as Sharon finished her explanation. She fiddled with the clasp on her purse a moment, then she met Sharon’s eyes.

‘I was wrong,’ Eunice said. ‘I’m sorry.'”

Unlike the first example, Eunice’s change of heart isn’t implied through actions. Instead, she demonstrates her growth but outright admitting that she was wrong. As far as character growth goes, this is the more powerful scene. Maybe the previous scene set us up for this scene, but I bet you the reader is going to feel something when they finally see Eunice admit she was wrong.

Now how do you know how much you should show and how much telling you can get away with? Again, no hard and fast rule. There are a lot of variable like: genre, POV, character, audience, time period. You might have a first person narrator who operates with a 50/50 mix. Or you might have an epic fantasy novel that is primarily showing, with the telling mostly in dialogue (dialogue is almost always telling in my experience).

Before we go, a quick word about redundancy. Keep constant vigilance. I was recently rereading a favorite series and while I still think it’s well-written I noticed that the author like to make redundant statements. For example (and this is my own creation), “‘What were you thinking?’ He stood, clenching his fists and glared at her. He was angry.” Again overly simplified, but you get the idea. Be careful with this. If you’ve already shown the audience something, don’t go back and tell them the same thing in the next sentence. It clutters up your writing. Readers are smart. They’ll get it. The major exception to this is when another character makes a “Captain Obvious” observation to another character.

And that’s it. If you want to read more about showing and telling you can check out Description & Setting by Ron Rozelle and Showing & Telling by Laurie Alberts.

Let me know your own feelings on Show vs. Tell. Do you struggle with the ratio? How do you decide when to use one over the other?

This blog post is a response to a Huffington Post UK article which argues that J.K. Rowling’s success is hindering the success of up-and-coming writers. If you think that sounds a little ridiculous, that’s because it is. Blaming lack of success on someone else’s good-fortune is a little narcissistic and certainly counterproductive. But I’m not here to defend Rowling (who has earned her place in world literature).

No, I’m want to address my concerns with the second paragraph. She says:

I’ve never read a word (or seen a minute) so I can’t comment on whether the books were good, bad or indifferent. I did think it a shame that adults were reading them (rather than just reading them to their children, which is another thing altogether), mainly because there’s so many other books out there that are surely more stimulating for grown-up minds. But, then again, any reading is better than no reading, right?

-Lynn Shepherd, Huffington Post UK, “If JK Rowling Cares About Writing So Much She Should Stop Doing It

(A little advice: if you want your criticism of a book/series to be taken seriously, you need to attempt to read that particular work, even if it’s only a few sentences. At least you can say you tried.)

As a whole, children’s fiction can encompass a broad age range. From picture books and Beginning Readers to the young adult genre. However, when I say “children’s fiction” in this blog post I refer to the middle grade (MG) and young adult (YA) genres because that is what I have the most experience with.

The idea that children’s fiction is not “stimulating” for “grown-up minds” is ludicrous.

Not because they are what I write and read the most. But because this is absolutely untrue. And that is why I love those genres. I have learned more about how to write well from books like The Lightning Thief and The Hunger Games than I have from most of the adult fiction I’ve read (and I’ve been reading in the adult section since I was twelve or thirteen).

My first issue with her statement has nothing to do with that appropriateness of an adult reading children’s fiction, it’s simply part of good parenting (or so my mom tells me):

If your child is reading a book, you should take the time to read it as well.

My mom and I were always passing books back and forth and thus we were able to talk about what I was reading (Still do, actually). It’s part of being involved in a child’s education and staying aware of what they are learning. Most of my thoughts and opinions are the way they are, not because my parents forced them on me, but because we had (and still have) frank discussions that allowed me to explore my own opinions.

Now it’s great (phenomenal!) if you take the time to read to your kids. Some of my best memories are of the half hour or so my mom would spend reading with my brother and I before bedtime (I used to get in so much trouble for staying up to read ahead). Those experiences are part of why I love to read. (Thanks Mom!) But even if they’re past that age where reading together is “cool”—or it’s not practical for your family right now—keep abreast of what your kids are reading.

That brings me to my second issue.

In the grand scheme of things, the Harry Potter series is only seven books (granted, some of them are gargantuan). Now that may seem like a lot to some people. But let’s break it down.

If the average person reads eight books a year and they start reading consistently at ten and the average lifespan is 78 years (these are based on vague internet statistics, if you have better stats, post in the comments), then an average person can expect to read 500+ books in a life time. The Harry Potter series is 1% of the total books a person will read in their lifetime. One. Percent. There will be plenty of time and (hopefully) opportunity to read other books of varying age brackets.

And that brings me to my biggest issue with the above statement.

Children’s literature is NOT inferior to adult literature. In fact, I think that authors of children’s literature probably have more difficulty than someone who writes for an adult audience.

For one thing, kids are far more likely to be…um, frank (brutal) when they don’t like something. They have no problem saying, “This is dumb. You’re dumb. Why do I have to read this?” (I used to work with kids and I still work with teens, so this is from experience.)

The other challenge MG & YA authors face is length.

A typical middle grade novel is going to be under 40,000 words (established authors may have more wiggle room). To put that in perspective an adult novel is usually double that number; Sci Fi and fantasy can end up pushing 100k words.

Because they have limited space, I find that MG & YA authors have to be more intelligent and concise in their writing than their colleagues that aim for the older audience. EVERY word counts for double. They only have 40k words (70k in YA) to develop the plot, expose character, reveal backstory and maybe throw in a theme. And it has to be entertaining. How long do you think a bored twelve-year-old will keep reading?

Now for those of you that padded your college essays with shady spacing and chili recipes, this might not seem like a big issue. But us writers? We’re the ones that spent all night trying to figure out how to cut 2500 words down to a thousand and always ended up turning essays with at least one page more than required. I’m not saying this makes us better than you, it’s just that…we like to write.

My point is that the grown-up brain can benefit from reading fiction even if it’s marketed to younger readers (and it’s all about marketing). I am consistently surprised by the depth of storytelling in MG & YA novels. If you want examples, I would suggest the Percy Jackson series, anything by John Green, Ally Carter’s books, and Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series.

Finally, children’s fiction is just as capable of making us to question society and our own opinions. More so I find sometimes. Most of the adult fiction I’ve read feels more geared towards escapism. It’s the YA books that make me sit up and think about the world. Don’t believe me? Read the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins or Ally Condie’s Matched trilogy.

And don’t forget, some of literature’s favorite classics are classified as “young adult”. For your perusal, I present this list (cross-referenced between Barnes & Noble’s website and Tell me you don’t recognize some titles that cover issues we still talk about today:

  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  • To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  • The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
  • The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  • The Once and Future King by T.H. White
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • White Fang by Jack London
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

So what do you think? Do you enjoy middle grade and young adult fiction? What are some of the reasons you like these genres? Can you think of any examples where a MG or YA author displayed fantastic story-telling?

Many thanks to my friend Dot Hutchison, who can be found at, for answering all my questions and children’s lit. Also, you should check out her book, A Wounded Name. It is one of the two versions of Hamlet I approve of (the other being The Lion King)

Mind Games is finished.

Thank. God.

Actually, MG was finished last June (The 29th to be precise and I can be, because I finished the day of my brother’s 22nd birthday) and I’ve already slogged through a second draft. That was painful. But, more on that in a minute.

I’ve been getting a lot of questions from friends and family about what I’m doing next and in interest of informing the greatest number of people possible, I thought that it was time to dust off the old blog.

It’s been forever and a day since I was last on here, hasn’t it?

I may have gone through a writing funk for a good part of last year.  Partly because I was settling into a new job. Partly because I lost said job in March. Partly because, I’ll admit it, I am lazy.

Writing of any kind repulsed me. I wasn’t even interested in writing fan fiction (up to that point, I have always been able to write fan fiction, ideas usually abound). Then about, oh, June I decided that enough was enough.

Did I feel like writing? Nope. But I also knew that if I followed my outline, I was literally pages from the end. So after ignoring the book since January, I sat down and cranked out six chapters over the course of seven days. According to my computer, Draft 1 was finished at 2:06 a.m. on June 30th, 2013 (although I count it as June 29th, my day doesn’t end until I go to sleep).

I felt like an idiot. I’d been sitting with a nearly finished book since November of 2011. All it took  finish a few hours over the course of a week.

I took a few months off to delve into some world-enriching research and then throughout October, November and December of last year I went through the excruciating process of editing my book.

Oh, editing. I think some part of my subconscious went out of its way to make it horrifying. It was a mess. I was a mess. If I could do it again, I would edit a chapter at a time instead of waiting until I’d gone the whole way through. Had time travel been possible there were no fewer than a dozen times that I would have gone back and smacked myself with all 243 double-spaced pages. Mostly, mostly the frustration came  when I ran across one of these:


Just one of maybe twenty.

I mean, how unhelpful is that? Here’s another one:


Unhelpful and creepy

I learned a very important lesson after that edit: My memory requires details. I know that I had specific things that I wanted to do in every instance. But my vague notes did little to jog my memory. Next time, I will be specific and detailed. And much more timely with my edits.

So update over, what’s next? Well, I plan to focus on three tasks, which I will probably be working on more or less simultaneously.

  1. The Final Polish– At least, I hope this is the final polish. I’ve decided (for now) that three drafts is my limit for a book. Two to (hopefully) get the novel nailed down and sorted and one final draft to get it ready for step two (see below). Now I’m flexible on this one. I’m hoping that when feedback comes in, there won’t be anything drastic that needs changing (in other words, anything that would require a major rewrite). As a writer, I know I could tweak until kingdom come and still find more to work on. Hence, the self-imposed limit.
  2. Find an Agent– The time has come to start researching agents. Which means, going through guides and websites to compile a list of agents that might be a good fit for my book. If I were trying to publish in a small niche market (i.e. Schnauzer grooming), I might be skip this step. But alas, I am a YA author and that market seems to abound with hopefuls. If you’re at this step or close to it, I recommend the Writer’s Market 2014 Guide to Literary Agents, which seems to offer a larger selection than say the 2014 Writer’s Market or the 2014 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market (though it does have a decent selection of literary agents). The other two, however, have more in the way of contests and book publishers, if those are your interests.
  3. Start a New Project– Or in my case return to an old one. I am currently in the process of doing research for a fairytale retelling that was put on the shelf in 2010 so I could focus on MG. Now that MG is finally in the editing and submitting phase, it’s time to think ahead. Everywhere I look writer, after writer, after writer (including the famous ones, like Stephen King) recommends starting the next novel when you reach this phase. So that’s where I’m headed.

[SPOILER ALERT]: This post was inspired by The Dark Knight Rises and my absolute love of the Bat-verse. This means that revelations of the identity of a certain DKR character are essential to the point I am making. So, if you haven’t seen it yet I give you permission to stop reading and go see it. NOW! Secondly, if you are not able to drop everything and go to the theatre I would suggest not reading this post until you’ve had a chance to. Unless you don’t care. Put simply: Read at your own risk. Also, serious spoilers about Batman comics from the last few years are featured in this article.

Crazy enough to give the Joker a run for his money.

Villains come in many shapes and sizes. There are the ones that are so awesome they kind of steal the protagonists show, like Darth Vader (quite possibly the bad guy of all bad guys). The ones that are disturbingly insane, but still awesome, like Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender.  The ones that creep you out, like the Borg Queen. The ones you sympathize with. The ones that are adorable. The ones you would date if they weren’t evil (or fictional). The ones you know will convert to the side of good eventually. The smart ones. The sad ones. The tortured ones.

And there are the bad guys you love to hate with every fiber in your being. The ones that you despise,  now matter how much it looks like they’ve turned a corner and finally separated themselves from their controlling, megalomaniac father. Because you know better. They just make it so easy to hate them. Sometimes, one even rises from among all the other bad guys and girls to become the character you loathe more than any other.

This may shock some people, but my least favorite villain of any story, ever is not from the Percy Jackson series. Nope. She’s from a world that I discovered a long, long time ago.

May I introduce Talia. Demonspawn of Ra’s al Ghul.

Time for a quick disclaimer: I am entirely opposed to hating actual people (it’s actually against my religion). However, if you’re a fictional person it makes you fair game (so are inanimate object).

Now, I’ll admit. This intense dislike may be heavily influenced by . If Talia is the character I loathe most, Selina is without doubt my favorite fictional character. Followed very, very, very closely by Bruce.

The only fight missing from DKR.

The only fight missing from DKR.

My excitement over Bruce, Selina and all things Batma- related can be traced to the three-inch Catwoman figurine I got from McDonald’s. At six, I thought she was the coolest character on the 90s animated series. Mostly, because I was going through a cat phase. I didn’t care that she was thief and constantly going up against the Batman, Batgirl and Robin. I think I wanted to be her. Because she had cats. And it only got worse when I started reading the most recent, pre-reboot version of DC comics where is more of an ally to Batman than a member of his Rogue’s Gallery. (My first foray into modern comics was started by the epic Hush storyline.)

Of course, that opinion is based on more than that. Like the fact that Talia is will stab you in the back, to your face if possible. And also, she is completely bonkers. At least, Ra’s wanted to save the world. His problem is that he thinks the only way to save the world is to rule. Still, there are limits to his crazy. Talia blows up her own son to make a point (No, seriously, read Batman & Son if you don’t believe me).

Naturally, both my least favorite character and my favorite character would be in the same movie. They kind of had to be.

Brulina-the moment

Not gonna lie. I waited 18 years for this moment.

Anyone who follows Batman would remember the amazing Heart of Hush arc (oh, how I love Hush for always brings Bruce and Selina closer). They may also have recognized that Bruce’s words to Selina are an echo of Superman’s iconic words to Lois, “I will love you. Always.” I think that one page had me in fits for a week. I may also have blown a blood vessel or two freaking the heck out (there was yelling and jumping and gibberish). The point is that you obviously can’t have the love of a Batman’s life in what is supposed to be the greatest Batman movie of all time without giving screen-time to her greatest competition (human competition anyways).

Selina and Talia are (unfortunately for me) tied to each other by the same man. And between the two, I was on a roller coaster during the entire movie.

As a chronic Batman fan, that movie met and exceeded my expectations. Even if my friend had to hit me for constantly whispering rude things when Talia was on-screen. With the exception of my very loud, “Don’t mess with the East End”, I was more vocal (though with less volume) about my feelings for Talia. She made me cringe, she made groan, she made me mutter “I hate her, I hate her” over and over. Even as the mild-mannered “Mirande Tate” I knew it was her. She’s under my skin in an uncomfortable way.

Just like Selina and Bruce are have gotten under my skin . And just like I want to write characters that are as compelling as Selina and Bruce, I hope that someday I can write character that my readers will loathe like I loathe Talia. It reminded me that you can’t just focus on the good guys. There’s gotta be something that makes you bad guy stick too. Maybe it’s the creepy craziness of Azula. Or the chilling cunning of a man like President Snow, who sends children and calls it keeping the peace.

The definition of creepy.

Are they barely human like the Borg Queen? Or completely badass like Vader? Do they make you want to hide under a bed like Howard Epps? Do they make your heart bleed for them like Snape does?

My reaction to Talia in Dark Knight Rises makes me want to go back through my list of memorable bad guys and figure out what makes them stand out. Because I want my readers to hate my bad guys for more reasons than that I told them to.

What are some traits that you feel make villains memorable? What do you think is essential to a “good” bad guy? Are there any villains that you despise like I do Talia?

I have a confession to make: My passion for my work-in-progress has kind of fizzled out.

I had some awesome momentum last year. Wrote twenty chapters in a month (thank you NaNoWriMo). I knew what was happening. There were great and exciting things running through my head.  I would sit down at my computer and typing was an adventure. And then, it all stopped.  Not like I hit a brick wall or anything and more like I ran onto a giant sheet of flypaper.

Today (actually, last Thursday), I stared at the screen for an hour and didn’t even make five hundred words. To put that in perspective, I was writing between 1000-1200 words an hour at the beginning of the year.

Thanks to my outline, I still know what’s going to happen next. I know how to get from point A to Z, I’ve just lost interest in getting there. There are so many other things I would rather do. Read City of Lost Souls or watch Psych or finally find out what this DC reboot is all about (I am suffering a relapse of Batman mania due to the sheer awesomeness of Dark Knight Rises, but more on that another time). Or write fan fiction, my mind is churning out all kinds of fan fiction ideas. And the sad part is, the fan fiction I’ve written lately is better that the three or four most recent chapters of Mind Games. I mean, Chapter 28 mostly reads like lines for a play, with a few notes about blocking and scene. Well, at least some of the dialogue holds water…maybe…once I polish it up. I have successfully reached the Half-way Blahs (which does not always occur at the actual halfway point).

If this was my first experience with the Blahs, I might be worried. And those of you who’ve just reached this point for the first or second time may be worried. But before you start throwing ashes over torn-out hair and hold a funeral for your muse, listen for a minute. I can tell you that this isn’t my first frustration struggle with the Blahs. And this won’t be your last (And if you haven’t met them yet, they’re coming). The Blahs will pass. The glue on the flypaper dries out eventually and you can build up to that run again. Better yet, you can use the flypaper as kindling to get your fire going again. The work you have to do to escape the Blahs is always worth it.

And as for me, I’ve been lounging about and feeding my inner artist for too long. Problem is, this diet of (phenomenal) reading with no writing has made my inner artist fat and lazy. She could run, but she had no desire to and obviously can’t last for very long. So it’s time to get back on the track. I’m going to make her work, even if she can only manage short bursts at the keyboard. Because even though it may take weeks or months, I will get back to the point when I can spend huge chunks of time writing. I’ll find the passion for this story again. But until then, I will push on (for more about writing even when you don’t want to, check out this blog). I’ll do so much research. I’ll drag out the playlist and listen to it incessantly. And I’ll keep stumbling through my story, because sometimes you have to fall a few times before you can run.

Note: This one has actually been sitting on my computer since November. Kind of got lost…but I found it and decided to post while it was still mostly relevant (And at least a little true).

I feel like talking about movies. Specifically movies that are based on books.

It can be a fan’s dream…or worst nightmare. I know that often I’ll be reading a book and think, “Hey, this would make a kick-butt movie.” Plus, I love to see my favorite stories leap off the page. At the same time, for every good/amazing movie version, there is an equal amount of bad movies. Some are horrendous. Some are merely blah. It seems like it is often hit-or-miss when a book is being turned into a movie. After all, a book can contain a LOT more information than a measly movie can. They’re having to fit a four-or-more-hour read into two and a half hours of screen time (sometimes). Things are going to get cut, things are going to get changed. You may find yourself at the Parthenon in Tennessee battling the hydra a book early.

Now before some people start griping about the all the book-movies gone wrong, which leads to “How could [insert author] have let this happen” let’s remember this: When a writer signs a publishing contract and becomes a published author, they typically sign away the movie rights during that process. And I don’t think that it takes author involvement to make a great book-movie (though it certainly may help). After all, J.R.R. Tolkien wasn’t around to see his Lord of the Rings trilogy get movie-fied, but it was an amazing set of movies.

I’ve come to realize it’s not about getting every scene and snatch of dialogue on the screen. When I think about some of my favorite movie adaptations, it’s about more than that. Think about:

  • The Lord of the Rings trilogy
  • The Princess Bride
  • Holes
  • Pride and Predjudice (the Colin Firth version)
  • The Passion of the Christ (okay, maybe that one is based on four books)
  • The first two of the new Chronicles of Narnia

These are some of my favorite movies. I love them. I adore them. In the case of LOTR (and probably soon-to-be Hunger Games) I go stark-raving crazy over them. And it’s not because they are exact replicas of the original work. Heck, my favorite Princess Bride scene isn’t even in the book. They are amazing because they capture the spirit of the book. Ally Carter puts is beautifully when she talks about the possibility of aging up the characters in her book, Heist Society: “I for one would rather have an actress who has Kat’s same spirit than someone who only has Kat’s same age.” She makes the case that even if they age the characters into their early 20s for the movie, it can still be the same story and still have the same experience as the books and that is what she is most concerned with. For more about her thoughts on the possible Heist Society movie you can start here. (Can we get a “Heck, yes” to a Heist Society movie, by the way)

I’m not looking for every scene to be in the movie when I go see it. I’m not looking for a movie that follows the plot of the book exactly. Some books just don’t make good movies on their own. Take, for example, The Two Towers. Do I love LOTR? Yes. Once upon a time, did I read the trilogy every year? Yes. (Should I get back into that habit? Yes.) Which book was the hardest for me to get through? The Two Towers. I mean, as long as Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli were in the picture I was riveted (can you guess who my favorite characters were?). And then you got to Frodo and Sam and I remembered that I knew how it ended and went all, “Eh. I’ll get to it.” LOTR fan fail, I know.

The Two Towers is mostly walking and a little bit of fighting and some great dialogue between the Elf and the Dwarf. Walking, dialogue and a tiny bit of fighting do not make an amazing movie. Had they followed the book as Tolkien wrote it the movie would have like the bargain brand paper towels on a Bounty commercial.  Instead, Peter Jackson took a little artistic liberty and gave the fans a teeny taste of the action to come at the end of the movie. Big gamble? Definitely. Did it pay off? yes. As did saving the Shelob scene for The Return of the King. After all, we’d just been through the climax of the movie at Helm’s Deep. To add the scene in Shelob’s lair would have taken away from everything we’d just been through. Plus, it created a serious sense of anticipation for those who knew what was coming (and I guess for those who didn’t). Don’t believe me? Look it up online, I’m sure people have written dozens of articles to this effect. What worked so well for Peter Jackson is that he was first and foremost a fan. And he recruited fans. And they were all concerned with creating a movie that would stay true to the big picture of the LOTR books, not just the tiny details. (Though they did great with those, too.)

You cann’t going to please everyone. There are going to be people whose favorite scene is an obscure one or not imperative to the over-arching plot. People like me who were disappointed that most of the Eowyn/Faramir scenes did not make it into the theatrical editions (that was, however, my only disappointment). But for the most part, I think that LOTR fans world-wide ended up with a movie that lived up to their expectations. For me, at least, LOTR was one of the very few movies that I feel the movie was a good as the book.

Have I had some serious disappointments when it came to movie adaptations? Yes. Eragon and the first two Twilight movies being among them. These are the kind of movies that make me worry when I hear another one of my favorites is being translated to the big screen. Now, usually I enjoy the movie, but still think the book is better. Occasionally, I’ll like the movie better than the book (that list includes all of two movies, I think).

But, no matter how awful I think the movie is going to suck, I still feel  that a true fan must see it at least once and form their own conclusions (even if you wait till it’s in DVD form). That’s why I went to see Eclipse and why I went to go see Ella Enchanted, despite the weirdness of the trailers. In both cases I was glad I had gone. Eclipse turned out to actually be a good interpretation of the book (IMO) and Ella Enchanted, while nothing like the book, was a fun movie and I do enjoy watching it every now and again. This is why I plan to go rent part two of the Deathly Hallows as soon as I can, despite what my HP fanatic friend says about how much it stinks. Even if he’s right (and we do have different opinions about how to accurately transform a book into a movie) and I end up feeling indifferent or hating it, I need to finish it just to be able to say that I have. (Anyone feel me there?)

So, does this mean that I am worried about what they’ll do with Hunger Games?


They’re taking the time to cast the right people and I’ve found that when a director takes the time to make sure that the actors are right, then they’ll make sure the movie is right as well. Not that anything but time will tell, however, I’m hopeful and I’ve yet to see anything that worries me. A word of advice though, don’t reread Hunger Games right before the movie comes out. You will spend the whole movie thinking about how this detail is different and how they left out that line. I did this once, never again. I’m planning to reread a couple of months before so that it will be fresh, but not so fresh that every difference has neon lights pointing to it.

So what about you? What have been some of your favorite (or least favorite) movie adaptations. Why? What was it about the movie that made you (dis)like it?


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