Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Showing for More Engaging Prose

First, a note of shameless promo: My debut book, THE BODY INSTITUTE, is already showing up on Goodreads, if you'd like to add it to your "to-read" list HERE. Woo!

EXPLAINING or TELLING VS SHOWING
I've seen it. I've done it. It's so much easier (er, lazier?) to Tell your readers what they need to know instead of Showing them. But when we take the time and effort to Show, our writing can be so much more vivid and engaging.

A. MEAN GIRLS EXAMPLE
Her heart pounding, Gemma slowly dialed the combination to her locker, wishing she could be invisible. She didn't want to turn around too soon, because ever-popular Lilliana and her preppy friends were strolling the halls. She could hear their high-pitched chatter. Ever since school had started, Lilliana and her friends had been making Gemma's life miserable. They taunted her in the classroom, shunned her in the cafeteria, and tormented her in the halls. It wasn't her fault she couldn't afford stylish clothes or the latest high-tech phone. She worked hard at the Coville Pharmacy every day after school to help Mom pay the rent. She babysat on weekends. Honestly, she didn't know what else they wanted from her.

1. Does this feel a bit distant to you? It's acceptable as a paragraph, but we're not seeing or feeling all the interaction firsthand as we should. 
2. "Filter" phrases like "She could hear" contribute to a sense of distance. Watch out for distancing phrases like: he felt, she saw, I realized, etc. 
3. In general, adverbs (like slowly) are Telling; they relay how something is done without showing it.

B. MORE SHOWING, LESS TELLING
Her heart thumping, Gemma dialed the combination to her locker. If only she could be invisible. She didn't want to turn around too soon, because Miss-I-Have-It-All and her preppy minions were strolling the halls. Their high-pitched chatter prickled over her like a mess of spiders. Ever since school had started, Miss IHIA and her human accessories had taunted Gemma in the classroom, shunned her in the cafeteria, and tormented her in the halls. It wasn't her fault she couldn't afford stylish clothes or the latest high-tech phone. She worked hard at the Coville Pharmacy every day after school to help Mom pay the rent. She babysat on weekends. What more did they expect from her?

1. This paragraph adds some details as well as some voice, with words like Miss-I-Have-It-All, minions, and human accessories
2. Notice the difference between "wishing she could be invisible" versus "If only she could be invisible." The latter is closer to her direct thoughts, which shows more rather than tells about her wishes. Ditto for the question at the end of this second example.
3. Questions can feel more immediate and like you're in the character's head—but be careful not to overdo them. (I've been guilty of that, ahem.)
4. There's no need to say "making her life miserable" and then give (redundant) examples of how that was accomplished, as in the first example. 

C. MEAN GIRLS: EVEN MORE SHOWING
Her fingers shaking, Gemma dialed the combination to her locker. She didn't want to turn around, because Miss-I-Have-It-All and her preppy minions strolled the halls. They were nearly at her back, judging by the volume of their high-pitched chatter.

"Gemma-bear, what a shame!" Miss IHIA's saccharine voice held a note of false concern. "Did you not get the memo? We canceled the thrift-store dress-up day ages ago."

The minions erupted into throaty giggles. Gemma tugged on the corner of her frayed sweatshirt, her face burning. It wasn't her fault she had to help Mom pay the rent. She slaved away at the Coville Pharmacy every day after school, and babysat on weekends. Not everyone could afford stylish clothes and high-tech phones like Lilliana and her human accessories. What more did they want from her?

1. Instead of relaying secondhand what happened in the past (yaaawn), show something happening in the present, and imply or indicate it's an ongoing occurrence. 
2. Dialogue often enlivens and shows a scene much more interestingly than narration. Readers can see firsthand what a character is like. Whether you expand into dialogue depends on how important the info is to your character development or plot.

YOUR TURN
Isn't it fascinating how we can use nearly THE SAME WORDS (as shown here) and yet come up with different results, depending on how we arrange them on a page?
Do you write your initial rough drafts more Explaining and Telling, then insert more Showing details when you go to revise?




Monday, March 24, 2014

I HAVE A BOOK CONTRACT!

(I'm posting now instead of my usual 3rd Wednesday posting for the month, to wait for this…)

My new author photo!
I can't believe it! After 11 years of writing/revising, more than 14 novels, and over 350 total rejection slips, I'm thrilled to announce I've landed a book contract for my light sci-fi novel, THE BODY INSTITUTE (formerly SHAPERS).

WAHOOOO! 

Unbelievable.

My publisher will be Strange Chemistry, the YA imprint of Angry Robot Books. Check out their awesome-sounding books HERE.

I'm really excited to be a part of this publishing house. As they describe themselves: "Strange Chemistry is a global imprint dedicated to the best in modern Young Adult science fiction, fantasy, supernatural and everything in between." They're based in the UK and release books worldwide in the UK, Canada, the US, Australia, and New Zealand.

Here's the Publisher's Weekly news release:
Riggs Checks ‘Body’ for Angry Robot
Sold in what agent Kelly Sonnack at Andrea Brown called a “competitive bidding situation,” Angry Robot’s Amanda Rutter bought world English rights to Carol Riggs’s debut YA novel, The Body Institute. The book follows a 17-year-old recruited by a weight-loss company to train its clients by having her brain waves downloaded into their bodies so she can exercise for them. Sonnack said the novel “explores the meaning of self in a brave new world.” Rutter bought the book for Angry Robot’s YA imprint, Strange Chemistry.

My THE BODY INSTITUTE book summary: 
When trim, health-conscious Morgan Dey accepts a job at an innovative weight-loss program that involves downloading her brainwaves into her overweight client's body, she soon realizes she stands much more to lose than the 100 pounds she signed up for.

Title Change
My novel used to be called SHAPERS, if anyone remembers me mentioning that title in the last couple of years. There is apparently a ladies' gym and/or some diet products in the UK called Shapers, so I needed to change the title for copyright reasons. I thought SHAPERS fit the book well, but THE BODY INSTITUTE is a great substitute title, I think.

Thank You, Thank You Very Much
Special thanks to my agent, Kelly Sonnack, for believing in this book—wading through multiple revisions and hacking away at the manuscript with me until it finally resembled something an editor wanted to acquire.

Signing the contract was SURREAL.

The release is set for January 2015!
Let the deadlines and final revisions begin!

FACEBOOK: if you'd like to keep up with my current writerly and book info, please sign in and Like my author page HERE (if you haven't Liked my page already). Thank you!!


YOUR TURN
Have you heard of Angry Robot Books or Strange Chemistry (cool names, huh)?
How would you react if you had to change your book's title—would it be easy or difficult for you to re-envision another one?


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Nicole Zoltack's NA release

Hi everyone! Nicole Zoltack has recently released her new adult epic fantasy romance, called BLOODLUST. This story takes place in a Barbarian society. According to Nicole: "Bloodlust is a state barbarians enter into when they can't control themselves and kill everyone they come across." Yet there is a romance involved therein! Read on and check out the summary, below.

Here is the cover, which is very well-done and seems appropriate for the storyline.


BLOODLUST:
In a world torn by prejudice and hatred, six races struggled for supremacy.

Desperation

Barbarian-Princess Ivy is unwilling to allow her father to provoke the other races into war and forms an unlikely alliance with Lukor the goliath to save her people from utter destruction.

Betrayal

Unbeknownst to her, Lukor blames the barbarians for murdering his sister and plans on sabotaging her goal.

Bloodlust

Almost despite each other, they grow to respect each other on their journey to decode secret messages from the trolls. But nothing Ivy can do will prevent the war as her father is blinded by Bloodlust and incites it himself. Not even killing him and becoming Barbaroness can stop the tide. And when Bloodlust claims Ivy, forcing her to kill everyone in her path, she must make a choice to destroy even Lukor, who she may have started to fall for and him in return.

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Add it to your reading list on Goodreads, HERE!


Nicole Zoltack loves to write in many genres, especially fantasy romance. When she's not writing about knights, superheroes, or zombies, she loves to spend time with her loving husband and three energetic boys. She enjoys riding horses (pretending they're unicorns!) and going to the PA Renaissance Faire, dress in garb. She'll also read anything she can get her hands on. To learn more about Nicole and her writing, visit her blog HERE.

YOUR TURN
What do you think of the cover of Nicole's book, and the summary?
Does this novel sound like something you'd like to read?
Have you read many New Adult titles, one with characters aged 18-25?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Writing Sequences of Events

Congratulations to Elizabeth Varadan, the winner of last week's ebook giveaway! Elizabeth has won an ebook of Julie Musil's new release, THE BOY WHO LOVED FIRE

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Today I'm pondering sequence problems, things I've noticed in others' writing, as well things my eagle-eyed critique partners have caught me doing. (Guilty!)

"AS" AND LINEAR ACTIONS
As I hurried along the sidewalk, I saw Mr. Bagley and stopped to talk to him for a few minutes.

Not possible. Everything in the sentence has to happen in the timeframe of the introductory phrase, "as I hurried along the sidewalk." There is no way the character can hurry along the sidewalk and stop to talk to Mr. Bagley at the same time. You could fix this easily:

As I hurried along the sidewalk, I saw Mr. Bagley. I smiled and stopped to talk to him for a few minutes.

REACTIONS BEFORE AN EVENT
Gina couldn't believe it. Her heart slammed against her ribcage as she strolled into the kitchen and saw Dean clutched in a passionate lip-lock with Rosalinda

Here, the reader is puzzled for an entire sentence and a half before the writer reveals what the main/POV character is reacting to. It's better to let the reader see what the character sees, WHEN the character sees it. Even the verbs don't match: her heart is slamming (already reacting) and she's strolling, which is a casual/carefree walk. You could rewrite the scene like this:

Gina strolled into the kitchen. There stood Dean, clutched in a passionate lip-lock with Rosalinda. Gina couldn't believe it. Her heart slammed against her ribcage and left her struggling for breath.

PRESENT TENSE TANGLES
Especially when using present tense, where things happen in real, immediate time, it's often awkward and inaccurate when you put the "cart before the horse":

Dahlia's voice lowers, sounding husky and vulnerable. "Please. Do this for me."

This structure poses a problem. How would the main character who's listening to Dahlia know if her voice was low, husky, and vulnerable if Dahlia hasn't even spoken her line yet? You'd need the dialogue line first:

"Please. Do this for me." Dahlia's voice is lower now, husky and vulnerable.

OTHER INTRO PHRASES
Intro phrases are usually set off by commas at the beginning of a sentence, and often present an action in gerund form (running, glancing, frowning, etc.):

Racing down the stairs, Kent's heart pounded into his throat as he whipped around the corner.

Multiple problems, here! First of all, "racing down the stairs" is similar to the example above, with "As I hurried down the sidewalk"—everything after that has to occur in time WHILE Kent is racing down the stairs. Can his heart pound during this time? Sure. Can he whip around the corner? Um…no. He's still on the stairs.

Also, what comes right after "racing down the stairs" needs to be the object doing the racing. Here in this sentence, it's Kent's heart. Kent's heart is NOT racing down the stairs—Kent is. This is a detached or "renegade body part." This sentence needs to be restructured. Maybe something like this:

Racing down the stairs, Kent felt his heart pound into his throat. He whipped around the corner.

Although as a note, it's not good to have too many "feel" or "felt" words diluting the strength of your sentences.

I used "as" in most of my examples, but any kind of time/sequence words may pose these problems in your writing. These simultaneous-action words may include: WHEN, WHILE, DURING, etc.  A common place this might snag you is during action scenes.

YOUR TURN
Do you have trouble with sequences of events in your sentences, using AS?
Can you think of any other examples, or tweak the ones I have here for better flow?
If you use present tense, have you ever thought about the order of what's happening in your scenes?


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

ARSONIST and SCROOGE? Julie Musil Interview

Congrats to Julie Musil, who just released her YA ebook, THE BOY WHO LOVED FIRE.

Comment below on this post to be entered in a random drawing for a FREE copy of this book! (if you already have a copy or don't wish one, please specify not to be entered) Deadline: February 16. Winner will be announced on my February 19, 2014, post. 

Genre:  Contemporary with a splash of ghosts. 

THE BOY WHO LOVED FIRE
Manny O’Donnell revels in his status at the top of his high school food chain. He and his friends party in the mountains on a blustery night, sharing liquor and lame ghost stories around a campfire. The next morning, as a wild fire rages in those same mountains, Manny experiences doubt. He was the last of the drunken crew to leave the cave, and he’s uncertain if he extinguished the flames. Within hours, he becomes the number one arson suspect.

Santa Ana winds + matches = disaster. You’d think he would've learned that the first time he started a fire.

As he evades a determined arson investigator, Manny, a modern-day Scrooge, is visited by ghosts of the past, present, and future. He’s forced to witness the fate of his inadvertent victims, including Abigail, the scarred beauty who softens his heart. Manny must choose between turning around his callous, self-centered attitude, or protecting his own skin at the expense of anyone who gets in his way.

INTERVIEW WITH JULIE
  1. What was the inspiration for this book? Real life. We almost lost our home to a California wildfire a few years ago. I wondered, who started the fire? If it was a child, would they ever know the damage they’d done? Once I had the “spark” for this story, I looked to real life when creating characters. My husband is half Mexican and 1/4 Cuban, so that’s what inspired the latin influences with Manny’s family. One of my sons was a burn victim. I drew on those experiences when it came to Abigail, the burn victim who captures Manny’s heart.
  2. What is your favorite thing about this book? Definitely the love story. Manny and Abigail are both scarred, but in different ways. Abby’s scars are on the outside, visible to everyone. Manny’s scars are buried deep, beneath a confident exterior. Abby should hate Manny; Manny should fear Abby. Together they create something special.
  3. Who is your favorite author? What are your favorite books? So many greats to choose from, but here are some of my absolute faves: “Just Listen” by Sarah Dessen, “19 Minutes” by Jodi Picoult, “Firefly Lane” by Kristin Hannah, and “The Notebook” by Nicholas Sparks. I gravitate toward books about family, friends, and love, with a strong emotional pull.
  4. You decided to self publish your book. What made you come to that decision? How did you know you were ready? Passion. Not only my own passion for this story, but my agent’s passion. She believed strongly in this manuscript. Also, the passion of a certain editor who came “this close” to nabbing the book. That’s when I knew I’d take matters into my own hands and get this story out there. I hired a freelance editor and cover designer, and never looked back.
  5. Any advice you can offer other writers? Take your time. Write from your heart. Believe in your work. Edit like crazy. Choose your own path. Enjoy the ride.


Julie Musil writes Young Adult novels from her rural home in Southern California, where she lives with her husband and three sons. She’s an obsessive reader who loves stories that grab the heart and won’t let go. Her novel THE BOY WHO LOVED FIRE is available now. For more information, or to stop by and say Hi, please visit Julie on her blog, on Twitter, and on Facebook.


Click to visit Julie's website HERE, her Goodreads book page HERE, her Goodreads author profile HERE, and her Pinterest page HERE.

LINKS to purchase THE BOY WHO LOVED FIRE
Amazon ebook ~ Amazon paperback ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Apple ~ Kobo ~ Smashwords

Thank you, Julie! It's great to get to know you better, here on my blog.

YOUR TURN
Do you know Julie and follow her blog?
What are YOUR favorite authors and books these days?
Have you considered self-publishing a book, or have you already done it?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Ordering Your Words

I've been noticing something lately. It makes a difference in clarity, sound, and rhythm—depending on what order you put your words when you have a list of things or a pair of items.

SERIES or LISTS OF THINGS
Example 1 
A. Lanai went shopping and brought home boxes of cereal, lettuce, and red radishes.
The main problem with this sentence is CLARITY. If you're not careful with constructions like this, it'll sound like Lanai brought home boxes of all three things: cereal, lettuce, and red radishes. Watch out when you use prepositional phrase structures like this (of cereal, in his hair, on the fence, etc). It's best to put those phrases at the END of a sentence:
B. Lanai went shopping and brought home lettuce, red radishes, and boxes of cereal.
Notice I didn't put the red radishes first—because that might cause the same problem as above. The adjective "red" might be erroneously applied to the lettuce and the boxes of cereal (red radishes, red lettuce, and red boxes of cereal).

The second version is also better, in my opinion, for RHYTHM. I've been noticing lately that things in series often sound better when the items are ordered from simple to complex, and also fewer syllables to more syllables. Even when clarity is not an issue:

Example 2
A. The last time I hung out at the club, I danced with Bertoldo, John, and Marty.
B. The last time I hung out at the club, I danced with John, Marty, and Bertoldo.

--Is it just me, or does the B sentence flow better here? That line starts with the shorter name and progresses to the multi-syllable one. Simple to complex, a natural build-up. Although it might make a difference what the consonants are in each word; things may not flow as well. Another good reason to read your manuscript ALOUD

Example 3
A. She stretched out her arms, twirling madly and closing her eyes and laughing.
B. She stretched out her arms, laughing and closing her eyes and twirling madly.
C. She stretched out her arms, laughing and twirling madly and closing her eyes.

--What about these lines? To me, the A and B ones sound okay, but not as flowing. 
--The C line seems to flow the best to me, which meshes with the simple-to-complex theory I've been experimenting with.

PAIRS of THINGS
Example 4
A. I couldn't figure out which sweater to wear, the burgundy or the purple.
B. I couldn't figure out which sweater to wear, the purple or the burgundy.

Example 5
A. With the dye, he turned his hair frizzy and black.
B. With the dye, he turned his hair black and frizzy.
C. With the dye, he turned his hair ink-black and frizzy.

ONE MORE SERIES
Example 6
A. The only things he forgot to bring were xylophones, grapes, and scissors.
B. The only things he forgot to bring were grapes, scissors, and xylophones.

--In Example 4, the B sentence flows better to me (unless I read them over too many times in a row and they ALL start sounding weird/fine, ha!)
--Example 5 flies in the face of my simple-to-complex theory, because I actually think I prefer the A or C sentences. Perhaps it's the consonants, the overall sound of the words?
--I can't decide on Example 6. The B line sounds smooth, but I have to admit A has a certain rhythmic charm all its own. 

I'm sure there are other exceptions to my general theories here.

At any rate, the point is to consider what you're writing—don't just plop those words down in a series or list of things and be done with them. When you're done with your first draft and wearing your editing hat, contemplate your words. Listen to the sounds! Practice your "poetic" ear. Tweaking the order might improve the flow of your sentences.

And at the very least, check for CLARITY in your series or lists of things.

YOUR TURN
Have you ever thought about the order of your words in a list or series?
Do you agree with my "ear," or do other lines sound better to you in these examples?
Which line sounds better to you in Example 6, A or B?




Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Fresh Goals for 2014

Whether you make specific New Year's resolutions or not, it's good to have goals for life and writing. For one thing, it can make you feel really productive at the end of the year! Reading counts too, because it's important for writers to expose themselves to what's current and what else is out there in Published Land.

My 2013 Re-Cap
1. Substantially re-edited my agented novel SHAPERS. It's growing stronger!
2. Finished a light fantasy novel and got critique partner feedback on it.
3. Critiqued others' manuscripts with detailed feedback.
4. Started a new light fantasy novel, and am 2/3 done with it.
5. Attended the North-California SCBWI holiday event and met new writer friends.
6. Read more YA books than I ever have in years past. Goodreads said I read 20, but those were just the ones I actually remembered to write down.  
7. Actually did some artwork: Etch-a-Sketch drawings, sketches, a painting.

My 2014 Goals
1. To find a publisher home for SHAPERS (somewhat out of my control, but still).
2. Finish the last 100 pages of my WIP, probably before March.
3. Attend the Big Sur Writing Workshop March 7-9: intensive event with critique groups led by editors and agents! Spendy, but may take my writing to the next level. Link: HERE.
4. Attend the April North-California SCBWI conference in Sacramento.
5. Exercise, stretch, and move around in between writing sessions!
6. Don't neglect relationships in my life because I'm writing.
7. Keep reading YA books, especially in my genres (fantasy, sci-fi, dystopian).

YOUR TURN
What are your writing or life goals for 2014?
Have you heard of the Big Sur Writing Workshop before?
If you're a picture book to young adult writer, are you a member of SCBWI?

Happy New Year 2014!
I value your friendship, and wish great things for you and your writing this coming year.



Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Meet Michelle Dennis Evans!


Congratulations to my Aussie blogger friend, Michelle Dennis Evans, who released her e-book in October! Visit her blog HERE and her website HERE. Her e-book, a contemporary young adult novel, is called SPIRALLING OUT OF CONTROL and is only 99 cents and can be downloaded HERE. 

 

What’s Spiralling Out of Control about?  
Temptation, depression, seduction, betrayal ... Not what 15-year-old Stephanie was expecting. Uprooted from her happy, all-girl high school life with a dream-filled future and thrown into an unfriendly co-ed school, Stephanie spirals into depression. 

When a charismatic high school senior, Jason, notices her, Stephanie jumps in feet first and willingly puts all her faith and trust in him, a boy she barely knows. 

Every choice she makes and turn she takes leads her towards a dangerous path. Her best friend is never far away and ready to catch her … but will she push Tabbie too far away when she needs her most?

This novel contains adult themes: underage drinking, rape, drugs.
Recommended for reading audience 15+

INTERVIEW WITH MICHELLE
What's your earliest memory related to writing, and who inspired you to write? 
When I was around 7 years of age I wrote some dialogue when I was practising my spelling words and I remember loving creating those sentences. When I was 8 or 9 I read James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl and I was captivated—from that moment, I wanted to be an author.

Which scenes are hardest for you to write? 
The opening scenes—I suck at beginnings.

What was the inspiration for this book? 
I read a book of true stories about girls who ended up in halfway homes or jail—many of them from seemingly okay families. It made me wonder what might cause the worst to happen.

Would you like to be one of your characters (in this book or another one)? 
Stephanie's best friend Tabbie is lovely ... I dream of being as nice as her.

What's your favorite thing about the book—character, scene, setting, plot, etc.? 
My favourite thing is the tiny thread of hope that weaves its way through when everything seems hopeless.

How has your indie/self-publishing journey been so far?
It's such a roller-coaster. I had no intention of going indie when I began to write and I still submit work and hope to work with a large publishing house one day. I love the relatively new term of 'Hybrid Author' that is my ultimate goal.

What to you is the hardest part about writing?
As an indie author without a whole tribe of professionals editing my work, the hardest part is knowing when it's ready.

Who is your favorite author, and/or what are your favorite books? 
God... the Bible. (giggle—but truth) I find it hard to isolate authors or books into favouritism because there are so many that I love—just check out my Goodreads bookshelf.

What things do you like to do, besides writing? 
Reading... coffee with friends ... hanging out with my husband and family.

If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
Ah haaaa, to make people buy more books with a simple smile :D !

Favorite writing munchies? Cheese, red wine ... through the day, tea.

Do you have another writing project in the works right now? 
Oh gosh yes! I'm nearly through the edits on the 2nd novel in the Spiralling Trilogy, I've started revising the 3rd novel in the Spiralling Trilogy and I just drafted the 4th novel in the Spiralling trilogy ... which would effectively make it no longer a trilogy but I already called it a trilogy so we're sticking with it LOL—plus I still have another drafted novel called that needs to be revised and I have written a verse novel that I absolutely love. If only I had more time!

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Thank you, Michelle! It's great to feature you here on my blog. (Yes, I left in all her Aussie spelling and punctuation: single quote marks, favourite, practising, Spiralling).

NOTE! I'm taking a slight blog vacation in that I won't be posting the third week of December. Happy holidays, everyone! 

YOUR TURN
Do you know Michelle and follow her blog?
If you had a superpower, what would it be? (I think flying would be cool.)
What are your favorite writing munchies?