Monday, August 23, 2010

WIN! WIN! WIN! BOOK GIVEAWAY!

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Big Announcement: My new young-adult fantasy novel has officially come out and is available for order. This paperback book is called Junction 2020: The Portal (my experiment with POD). To celebrate, I am having a drawing for a FREE copy! Your chances are quite high since my followership is still new and growing.

Rules:
1. For 1 entry, simply leave a comment below this post saying you want to enter (click on the word "comments")
2. For a 2nd (3rd, 4th…) entry, tell about this giveaway via your blog, website, Facebook, or Twitter tweet, etc., and leave a comment with a link to it. For each link, you get an additional entry
2. Enter by midnight Pacific Standard Time on Tuesday, September 7
3. The randomly chosen WINNER will be announced on Wed., September 8
4. TWO books will be given away if by some strange miracle over 50 people sign up
6. Winner will receive a FREE copy of Junction 2020: The Portal
7. Entrants from the USA only, please

Questions? post a comment or email me at artzicarol [at] gmail [dot] com.

SUMMARY:
When 16-year-old Mari Stratton attends a New Year's party with her brother and her hearing-impaired friend, she joins in a collecting game outside in the dark fields. As midnight strikes, she finds herself and four others propelled by a violent green storm into a confusing landscape of beauty, danger, and mystery. In this alternate world, ruthless black-cloaked riders on horseback called Shifters comb the countryside hunting them down. Why is this world patterned after the things Mari adores, and why does it feature the hideous things she fears the most?

More importantly--how will they get back to the real world?

SEE BOOK COVER on right sidebar

EXCERPT:
Junction 2020: The Portal
Chapter 1

New Year's Eve, 2019. Nine o'clock at last. Mari Stratton snapped a checkered cloth over a table, exhaling with impatience as it billowed like a sail over uncharted waters for a suspended moment before settling into place. She threw on a white flash of napkins, added a hasty clanking of silverware, and returned the Parmesan and hot pepper shakers to their rightful places next to the wall.

There. Her shift, completed. Another efficient and industrious evening at Aunt Lacey and Uncle Jim's pizza restaurant. Too bad her father wasn't around to take notice. She really could do more than read adventure and romance novels in the backyard hammock.

She hurried past Uncle Jim in the kitchen, through the thick smells of sizzling pepperoni, pungent jalapeños and steamy detergent. In the cramped employee bathroom, she changed into jeans and a powder-blue top. Her reflection in the mirror frowned like a grumpy evil twin as she checked her make-up. And now, time for that blasted party. She would've much rather spent New Year's Eve with only Lauren and one or two other friends. But Lauren was a junior and wanted to go to Stefanie Anders' big End of the Year Bash.

Honestly. The things a person did in order to keep new friends.

Mari ran fingers through her layered dark hair, threw on her jacket, and dashed out the back door to the car. Her mother stood there in a waitress outfit, handing the Chevy keys to Randall as though relinquishing control of the known world to a chimpanzee. Randall looked scrubbed and shaved, his brown hair spiked to flawless precision. Mari rolled her eyes. All for Stefanie's benefit, she'd bet. He'd been unsuccessfully trying to impress Stefanie since September.

Randall kicked the tire as Mari climbed into the front seat. "And why do I have to drive her there?" he asked their mother with a jerk of his thumb at Mari. "Arriving with my sister and her deaf friend is such a loser thing to do."

Their mother's eyes narrowed. "You could always go back inside and start washing dishes."

"Fine, I'm leaving," Randall growled. He hopped into the car and revved the engine to life. Cranking the wheel, he spun out of the alley with a spray of gravel, leaving the sight of their mother with her arms folded into an incredibly peeved pretzel.

"And for your information," Mari notified Randall as he turned onto the street, "Lauren is hearing impaired, not deaf."

He shrugged. "Same diff. Man, are you that hard up for friends?"

"I don't see you hanging out with a whole herd of new buddies."

A muscle on the side of Randall's face twitched. He grunted and said nothing more.

[end of excerpt]

This book is also available for order HERE

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wednesday Makeover Time

WEDNESDAY MAKEOVER: First Day of Middle School

THE EXCERPT:

I walked through the double doors on my first day of middle school, cringing under the weight of my new backpack. My best friend since first grade, Chuck walked by my side for moral support. The halls were a mess. Kids were darting everywhere. Guys were shouting, girls were giggling, and locker doors were slamming. The floors had a shiny gloss on them from hard working janitors like my Dad--although my Dad worked at the middle school. My tennis shoes squeaked on the wax as I scuffed along. By the office, I saw Mandy Hollister and her preppy gang, and braced myself for the taunts about my weight that would soon follow. Fatso Frank, Pudge Boy, Blubber Butt, Lardo. I'd heard them all. To my appalled surprise, she glanced at me for a split second, flipped her auburn colored long hair behind her shoulder, and went back to talking. Nothing. After the whole summer, she was just gonna ignore me? I couldn't believe it, and told Chuck what I'd seen in a stunned voice. He couldn't believe it either.

MY COMMENTS:

I walked through the double doors on the first day of middle school, cringing under the weight of my new backpack. My best friend since first grade, Chuck walked by my side for moral support.
It's not totally clear whether the main character Frank is cringing because of fear or because of the weight of his backpack, although we assume it's because of fear because Chuck is there for moral support. It's the first day of school, so his backpack shouldn't have too much weight in it yet; omit "weight." There should be a comma after Chuck; the official term here is an appositive, which is defined as a phrase describing another noun (usually the proper noun/name is first, however, and the description second). Here it's best friend = Chuck, set off on both sides by a comma.
The halls were a mess. Kids were darting everywhere. Guys were shouting, girls were giggling, and locker doors were slamming. The floors had a shiny gloss on them from hard working janitors like my Dad--although my Dad worked at the middle school. My tennis shoes squeaked on the wax as I scuffed along.
Passive voice in the first two sentences here with the use of "were." Try to avoid this. More active verbs are needed, and the weak verbs could be omitted by rephrasing. Hard-working is hyphenated, since these are two adjectives describing dad that cannot be used by themselves; they are dependent upon each other. Dad is not capped unless you are using it as a proper noun (a name). If it's merely stating a relationship, as in my dad, my mother, my uncle, it is not capped. If you wanted dad capped, you'd omit the "my" and use it like his name/title: "…hard-working janitors like Dad--even though Dad worked at the middle school." Having the bit about the tennis shoes squeaking introduces sounds to the story, as does shouting, gigging, and slamming. This is a good thing, since sensory bits like this help ground the scene and make it more real.
By the office, I saw Mandy Hollister and her preppy gang, and braced myself for the taunts about my weight that would soon follow. Fatso Frank, Pudge Boy, Blubber Butt, Lardo. I'd heard them all. To my appalled surprise, she glanced at me for a split second, flipped her auburn colored long hair behind her shoulder, and went back to talking.
This whole passage is one quite lengthy paragraph, and it's too long for an opening-- especially for a middle grade readership. Break up the paragraphs. Some lines could have more emphasis if given a line of their own, even. The phrase "that would soon follow" sounds a bit too formal and could be changed. Auburn-colored should be hyphenated, but even better, omit colored. Auburn IS a color! Long auburn hair sounds better than auburn long hair, so the order of adjectives should be switched.
Nothing. After the whole summer, she was just gonna ignore me? I couldn't believe it, and told Chuck what I'd seen in a stunned voice. He couldn't believe it either.
An unnecessary distance is introduced here; the reader is TOLD that Frank has said something to Chuck, rather than being shown it. Likewise, SHOW that Chuck can't believe it--let's see the actual dialogue! With dialogue and accompanying action tags, you can also let the reader see more of Frank's and Chuck's personalities/character.

REWRITE:

I walked through the double doors on my first day of middle school, cringing under my new backpack. My best friend since first grade, Chuck, walked by my side for moral support. The halls were a mess. Kids darted everywhere. I heard guys shouting, girls giggling, and locker doors slamming. The floors had a shiny gloss on them from hard-working janitors like my dad--although my dad worked at the middle school. My tennis shoes squeaked on the wax as I scuffed along.

By the office, I saw Mandy Hollister and her preppy gang, and braced myself for the usual taunts about my weight. Fatso Frank, Pudge Boy, Blubber Butt, Lardo. I'd heard them all. To my appalled surprise, she glanced at me for a split second, flipped her long auburn hair behind her shoulder, and went back to talking.

Nothing.

After the whole summer, she was just gonna ignore me? I couldn't believe it.

"Hey," I said to Chuck in a stunned whisper. "Did you see that? Mandy just passed up a chance to harass me."

Chuck's eyes bulged behind his dark-rimmed glasses. "Dude! Did her brains dissolve over the summer, or what?"

Monday, August 9, 2010

Wednesday Critique on a Monday

Yes, I know it's not Wednesday yet, but the BIG, FREE online conference, WriteOnCon (dot com) is happening this week on Tuesday through Thursday, and I want to concentrate on it! Having said that, today's writing sample is from the prologue of an adult novel by Hannah.

Gunmetal Gray

       There’s a man yelling at me in a language I don’t understand. The streets are empty; the sun’s just about to rise, the sky looks like it’s holding its breath before color explodes from the horizon. And the man is screaming. John’s trying to talk to him, trying to calm him down enough to speak. Tex’s voice murmurs like the sand, quiet: “What’s he saying?” We wait, and the sky’s not the only thing holding its breath. Sometimes, you don’t need to be a language specialist to figure out what someone’s saying – there’s a crazed look to the man’s eyes. They’ve seen too much death, too much destruction; the land is reflected in his irises. They’re black, but gray and brown, too. I’ve never seen eyes like his.
       He looks like he’s seen a ghost.
       “I dunno.”
       “John, what the hell's he saying?” We aren’t alone anymore – people are beginning to notice us. They don’t speak, but I see children behind their mothers’ silhouettes. If we aren’t careful, soon we’ll have a situation. We might already have one.
       “He’s talkin’ Turkish! I don’t speak Turkish! I speak Farsi – not Turkish!” The man’s begging for something, looking between John and Tex and me.
       “Ben, Doc, you boys come with me.” Preacher’s watching the people watching us. Everyone’s waiting for something to happen – our rifles are heavier, the wind gentler. The man’s not screaming anymore, but he’s babbling. Talking to hear himself talk. To convince himself that everything’s gonna be alright, that his world’s not going to disintegrate around him.

MY COMMENTS:

There’s a man yelling at me in a language I don’t understand. The streets are empty; the sun’s just about to rise, the sky looks like it’s holding its breath before color explodes from the horizon. And the man is screaming. John’s trying to talk to him, trying to calm him down enough to speak.
I like the phrasing and images here in this excerpt, the emotion and tension. Staccato sentences (and/or short ones) are used well for effect, and the use of present tense shows the action unfolding in real time, which is more impactful. Using first person also ramps up the immediacy. The first sentence catches attention and shows conflict right away. Great image, of the sky holding its breath before the explosion of color. I like that; it not only is original but good in the sense of foreshadowing events to come in this war scene (yes, there is an explosion later; I've read the entire prologue, which is more than the 258 words printed here).
As far as things to improve upon: technically, if the streets are empty, there wouldn't be a man there yelling. Or even a first-person narrator (Ben). It's therefore unclear where that man or man's voice is--in the streets, or not? And obviously, the narrator is there too, along with John (and, as we see later, Tex, Doc, and Preacher)--unless they are somewhere else other than the streets.

Tex’s voice murmurs like the sand, quiet: “What’s he saying?” We wait, and the sky’s not the only thing holding its breath. Sometimes, you don’t need to be a language specialist to figure out what someone’s saying – there’s a crazed look to the man’s eyes. They’ve seen too much death, too much destruction; the land is reflected in his irises. They’re black, but gray and brown, too. I’ve never seen eyes like his.
He looks like he’s seen a ghost.
The murmuring like the sand is a nice comparison, though the simile is awfully close to the last one about the sun, and "like" is repeated yet again in the ghost line. Perhaps change one of these lines (I'd suggest the sun line) to "as though" or "as if." I would omit or rewrite the ghost line, because it is a cliché; something fresher and more original is needed. Even something like, "They reflect unnamed ghosts" would steer clear of the cliché. Discovering later that the narrator is Ben, I would let the reader know this (and that Tex is near the narrator) earlier by changing the first line to something like: Next to me, Tex's voice murmurs like the sand, quiet: "What's he saying, Ben?" I'm not really sure you need to add brown for his eye color; the gray might be enough, especially since gray is your symbolism for fear and destruction showing in someone's eyes. Or keep brown but ditch the black (Like: They're brown, but gray too.)

“I dunno.”
“John, what the hell's he saying?” We aren’t alone anymore – people are beginning to notice us. They don’t speak, but I see children behind their mothers’ silhouettes. If we aren’t careful, soon we’ll have a situation. We might already have one.
To me, the "I dunno" is separated too far from the question, and I can't tell who says the line. A dialogue tag is needed, as is some way of indicating why someone would be saying "I dunno" since it's been a while since you've mentioned it and it's less clear what it's referring to. You might also consider giving the last line here a new paragraph/line of its own for added emphasis.

“He’s talkin’ Turkish! I don’t speak Turkish! I speak Farsi – not Turkish!” The man’s begging for something, looking between John and Tex and me.
"Turkish" is repeated 3 times in this dialogue sentence. Not needed. It's also not 100% clear who's saying this line, so a dialogue tag would be helpful. For instance: “He’s talkin’ Turkish," John calls back. "I don’t speak Turkish--I speak Farsi!”
Also, as shown in the suggestion, at least one exclamation mark should be eliminated, because the more of those you use, the more the reader is deadened to them. Use them only when you have to, and absolutely need emphasis. Be careful of dropping too many g's, as in talkin'--there are a lot of apostrophes in this passage, and it's easy to overdo that kind of thing. It can become distracting or wearying for the reader.

“Ben, Doc, you boys come with me.” Preacher’s watching the people watching us. Everyone’s waiting for something to happen – our rifles are heavier, the wind gentler. The man’s not screaming anymore, but he’s babbling. Talking to hear himself talk. To convince himself that everything’s gonna be alright, that his world’s not going to disintegrate around him.
There are 3 instances of the word "but" in this page excerpt; weeding some out by rephrasing or substituting "except" would be good. For example, this last "but" could be omitted by saying: The man’s screaming has morphed into babbling.

Thank you, Hannah, for submitting a sample for critique!

Friday, August 6, 2010

POD Summary: Amazon's Create Space

As you may know, POD stands for Print-on-Demand, which is a kind of self-publishing that involves books being printed up only when a customer orders them. No upfront costs, no piles of books stored in your garage. This summer, I decided to experiment with POD on one of my novels. It was a novel I was thinking of retiring, having a few other, possibly stronger works that I wanted to concentrate on for agent-hunting and traditional publishing. I thought the novel in question, Junction 2020: The Portal, was a solid enough story, and I liked it, but I had reached the end of my submission/revision road with it.

After researching, I landed upon Amazon's Create Space program. Here are some features:

1. Your book is sold through Amazon as well as a Create Space e-store site that can be linked to your personal website, blogsite, etc.
2. The rights are non-exclusive, so you can still publish the traditional way, later.
3. The books printed are all paperbacks with a laminate coating--no hardbacks.
4. You get to choose the size of your book, from 5x8 to 8x10.
5. Create Space assigns you a real ISBN that they get from the U.S. ISBN Agency, R.R. Bowker. It is registered with Books In Print.
6. You set the price for your book; the list price affects your royalty amount.
7. Create Space prints novels as well as picture books (I'd advise attempting the latter only if you know how to set dpi resolutions and/or have graphic experience--or know someone who does).
8. Templates to design a cover are available. You can personalize these with your own photos or graphics if you know how to set resolutions to 300 dpi and embed fonts. Alternately, you can download a cover guideline to make your OWN completely original cover the correct size (which is what I did).
9. You're allowed to purchase copies of your book at a reduced price. You can order a single copy or 500+. Postage is extra.
10. A proof is sent out for you to approve the final product before you activate your online sales. You pay for this proof, but it's at member cost rather than full retail.
11. A Pro Plan program is available for $39. With this plan, your royalty increases, and the price at which you can buy books is reduced.
12. With the Pro Plan, you can also opt to do Expanded Distribution, which lists your book where libraries, book stores, resellers, and distributors can see and purchase it. Create Space doesn't guarantee sales from these sources; it says they'll "be available" to these places. I have yet to see how this feature pans out. Your royalty decreases for books sold through this service because they are doing all the sales work--but you may sell more books in general.
13. On the e-store site, however, you get a higher royalty, since you are directing traffic/sales to the site.
14. Editing and book-shaping services are available for additional prices (probably not cheap).

I'm feeling good about my decision to publish this one book with POD. I can give copies to the neighbor girls who posed their arms for the cover, and I can give a copy to my niece who always read my stories in the 1990s. I can hand out the book to relatives, friends, etc. So if I never get published the traditional way, gee whiz!--at least I'll have ONE of my own books on my bookshelf. ;o)

If you have any questions, feel free to email (see sidebar) and ask questions.

Create Space features and info:
https://www.createspace.com/Products/Book/

Junction 2020 Create Space e-store example (sales not activated yet; I'm at the proof stage):
https://www.createspace.com/3472932

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Naming Characters

Be sure to read the previous post (Sunday's) about now being able to sign up via email subscription! You can get notifications of updates to this blog by clicking on the link at the top right. Don't forget to verify the subscription by clicking on the email link when you get it.

Naming Your Characters

      "Pass me the ketchup, will you?" Kelly said, pointing across the lunchroom table.
      "Sure." Christy passed the bottle without looking up from her book.
      Kelly doused her fries with a flood of deep red, and squinted . "Wow, you're almost done with that book."
      Christy didn't answer. Her eyes flickered across the pages, devouring them as though they were a fresh, hot batch of curly fries.
      "Whatcha reading, Christy?" Sherry asked, leaning over to look.
      "Uh, it's called Bite Me, You Loser," Christy mumbled. "Vampires. I love paranormal romance. Now let me read! I'm in the middle of a good part."
      Sherry snorted. "I could think of better things to read."
      "Like what?" a voice called. Craig ambled over, followed by a trio of his football buddies.

First, a word of caution: don't start a story with dialogue. It's often a pet peeve of agents and editors, partly because it is only effective if you're really great at writing and can pull it off. The reason behind it not working well is that when you start with dialogue, the reader is often thrown disconcertingly into the middle of a conversation without knowing who the characters are. It feels like something is missing. Also, can you really tell in the example above who the main character is? It makes it more difficult to figure that out. The reader assumes it's the first character introduced, but he/she is not sure. (The first character presented or introduced generally should be the main character, by the way. Try to structure your story thusly, as a general rule)

As far as naming characters…do your readers a favor. Don't make them work any harder than they have to. They don't know your characters inside out like you (hopefully) do; they will get confused. For instance, if two or more characters start with the same letter, it becomes more difficult to tell them apart. Variety is the key, here. In the example above, not only do Christy and Craig start with C, they have the same beginning K sound that Kelly has. The mental sound as someone reads the passage--of all THREE characters--will be the K sound. In addition, there are three characters that end with a long E sound: Kelly, Christy, and Sherry. Try to vary this. Throw in something like a Lauren or a Melissa, a Terrence or a Will, to vary the ending sounds.

Another thing to watch for in naming characters is how many syllables each one has. Variety is key here, too. The example above shows three out of four characters with two-syllable names, Kelly, Christy, and Sherry. Additionally, some novels (such as fantasy, which is notorious for doing this) have most or all of the characters with odd, unusual, or mentally/verbally unpronounceable names. Do you really want to clutter up your pages with names like Mu'a Ha Bathi, Clydistica, Reinfraughtensyde, or Syllestria-qi? One or two of these more difficult names will be enough--certainly not every character. Besides, let me point out the delight of having to type a very short and simple name for your main character--my current novel's MC is a boy named Jay. Lovely, and so easy of a name to type over and over!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Email Notification Enabled!

ANNOUNCING!

I am now pleased to offer EMAIL SUBSCRIPTION service to my blog posts! Yes, it's true, I finally figured out how. I had just assumed that anyone who became a follower was getting email notices when I posted a new blog entry. Not so.

In order to correct for this oversight, I now have a link at the top of the right column that enables my lovely followers (and anyone else who wishes) to be updated when I post something new. Simply click and enter your email address, and presto! you're officially notified of my updates. I joined FeedBurner and found an easy Blogger link feature to add this to my blogsite. If anyone else has a blog and wishes to add this feature, that's how you do it!