Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Christmas BOOK GIVEAWAY!!


Hi! It's not the third Wednesday of the month, but since I'm preparing to move soon and Christmas lurks shortly thereafter, I'm posting now.

MERRY CHRISTMAS and Happy New Year 2013!
I'm constantly encouraged by your friendship, blogposts, and comments. In way of thanks and in the festive spirit of the holiday, I'd like to offer an awesome BOOK GIVEAWAY.

Easy entry rules:
1. Be a follower (or subscriber) of this blog.
2. Leave a comment saying you'd like to enter.
3. Optional: to speed the awarding, tell me which book/s you're anxious to win.
3. Entry deadline for this random drawing: DECEMBER 31, 2012 by midnight PST.
4. Sorry, no international entries. I can instead offer a first-chapter critique. If you want that, please mention it in your comment below.
5. SEVEN WINNERS will be announced on Wednesday, JANUARY 2, 2013!

THE BOOKS:

1. THRONE OF GLASS by Sarah J. Maas (hardback)

When magic has gone from the world and a vicious king rules from his throne of glass, an 18-year-old assassin is dragged to the castle. Celaena Sardothien does not come to kill, but to win her freedom. If she can defeat twenty-three killers, thieves, and warriors in a competition to find the greatest assassin in the land, she will become the King’s Champion and be released from prison.

The Crown Prince will provoke her. The Captain of the Guard will protect her. And a princess from a foreign land will become the one thing Celaena never thought she’d have again: a friend.

But something evil dwells in the castle--and it’s there to kill. When her competitors start dying, horribly, one by one, Celaena’s fight for freedom becomes a fight for survival--and a desperate quest to root out the source of evil before it destroys her world.

2. THE GAME by Monica Hughes (paperback)

The Game is just the beginning…

It’s the year 2154. Lisse and her friends have been deemed unemployable in the eyes of society. Now they must scavenge the disintegrating city for food and shelter, just to make ends meet.

But their dismal existence starts to look up when Lisse and her friends are invited to participate in The Game, an experience highly regarded in their society. The Game is a virtual reality experience where they are challenged to survive. But as they spend more time in The Game, the line between reality and fantasy starts to blur. What started as a simple exercise quickly becomes a test of endurance, trust, and their will to live.

3. THE NEAR WITCH by Victoria Schwab (paperback)

The Near Witch is only an old story told to frighten children. If the wind calls at night, you must not listen. The wind is lonely, and always looking for company. There are no strangers in the town of Near. 

These are the truths that Lexi has heard all her life.

But when an actual stranger--a boy who seems to fade like smoke--appears outside her home on the moor at night, she knows that at least one of these sayings is no longer true. The next night, the children of Near start disappearing from their beds, and the mysterious boy falls under suspicion.

As the hunt for the children intensifies, so does Lexi’s need to know-- about the witch that just might be more than a bedtime story, about the wind that seems to speak through the walls at night, and about the history of this nameless boy.

4. BETA by Rachel Cohn (hardback)
Elysia is created in a laboratory, born as a sixteen-year-old girl, an empty vessel with no life experience to draw from. She is a Beta, an experimental model of a teenage clone, replicated from a girl who had to die in order for Elysia to exist.

Elysia’s purpose is to serve the inhabitants of Demesne, an island paradise for the wealthiest people on earth. Soon Elysias comes to see that Demesne’s human residents, who should want for nothing, yearn. She also comes to realize that there's an undercurrent of discontent among Demesne’s worker clones. She knows she is soulless and cannot feel and should not care--so why are overpowering sensations clouding Elysia’s mind?

If anyone discovers that Elysia isn’t the unfeeling clone she must pretend to be, she will suffer a fate too terrible to imagine. When her one chance at happiness is ripped away, emotions she’s always had but never understood are unleashed. As rage, terror, and desire threaten to overwhelm her, Elysia must find the will to survive.

5. AURELIA by Anne Osterlund (paperback)

Princess Aurelia is next in line to rule the kingdom of Tyralt, but she would rather be one of the common folk, free to learn and roam--and not marry the next tyrannical prince that comes courting.

Naturally, the king wants Aurelia to marry for political power. Aurelia wants to marry for love. And someone in the kingdom wants her…dead. Assigned to investigate and protect Aurelia is Robert, the son of the king’s former royal spy and one of Aurelia’s oldest friends.

As Aurelia and Robert slowly uncover clues as to who is threatening her, their friendship turns to romance. With everything possible on the line--her life, her kingdom, her heart--Aurelia is forced to take matters into her own hands, no matter the cost.

6. YOU WISH by Mandy Hubbard (paperback)

1 Wish…2 Girls in love with the same boy…14 Days to stop the madness!

Kayla McHenry's sweet sixteen sucks! Her dad left, her grades dropped, and her BFF is dating the boy Kayla's secretly loved for years. Blowing out her candles, Kayla thinks: I wish my birthday wishes actually came true. Because they never freakin' do.

Kayla wakes the next day to a life-sized, bright pink My Little Pony outside her window. Then a year's supply of gumballs arrives. A boy named Ken with a disturbing resemblance to the doll of the same name stalks her. As the ghosts of Kayla's wishes-past appear, they take her on a wild ride. But they MUST STOP.

Because when she was fifteen? She wished Ben Mackenzie would kiss her. And Ben is her best friend's boyfriend.

7. CINDER by Marissa Meyer (paperback)

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl….

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness.

But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

Monday, December 3, 2012

MAKE BELIEVE ANTHOLOGY: Book Launch


It's not Wednesday, but I'm posting early this week to be part of my awesome critique partner's book launch: CONGRATS to Lynda Young! I'm so proud of her, her talent, and her hard work to make this happen.

Lynda's short story Birthright has been published by J. Taylor Publishing in the Make Believe anthology that launches today! The e-book is now available and includes Paranormal Romance and Fantasy stories inspired by the cover image. Talk about great holiday reading!

Birthright by Lynda R. Young 
Christa can mask the pain and hide the scars, but running from a birthright is impossible. 

She’s tried to escape her grief by fleeing to a small town in Florida. Much to her frustration, the locals think they recognize her even though she's never been there before. To make things worse, a man named Jack spouts outrageous theories about her. 

Both spur Christa to bolt, to start fresh yet again, but there’s something about Jack that intrigues her enough to stay. The only problem? Someone else wants her to leave, and they won’t stop until she’s dead.

Blurbs from all the stories in Make Believe can be found on the J. Taylor Publishing website HERE.


About Lynda R. Young:
Lynda R. Young lives in Sydney, Australia, with her sweetheart of a husband who is her rock, and a cat who believes world domination starts in the home. She writes speculative short stories and is currently writing novels for young adults. In her spare time she also dabbles in photography and all things creative. You can find her here: Blog, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads




Purchase Links:
On Amazon for $3.99 HERE.
On Books On Board for $2.90 HERE.

YOUR TURN
Do you follow Lynda on her blog (or Twitter or Facebook or Goodreads)?
Have you tried your hand at writing short stories? They are often a great way to get break into the world of publishing!



Wednesday, November 21, 2012

7 Words About You


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!! 
I hope you enjoy family and food and/or whatever else you've planned for tomorrow.

Proud mommy moment--my daughter Janelle Henderson's CD is out on Amazon! She did background vocals, but is featured more prominently in song #13. I also like her background vocals in #7.

The music is described as "moody indie-pop" and "alternative dream pop with synthy elements and gothic undertones, and emotive lyricism." Click on the arrows to the left of the song titles to hear sound snippets:  HERE.

7 WORDS ABOUT YOU
What's your life like right now, in 7 words?
Describe your mood, your thoughts about the holiday, your view of life right now, your feelings about your manuscript, etc.--limited to 7 words. It can be a sentence, a series of single words or adjectives, a list, or a phrase or two. You can count a contraction as one word, like I'm or can't. But limit it all to SEVEN.

My 7 words: Writing is stalled. Ear infection almost gone!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Writing Wallflowers


I've been recently awarded the One Lovely Blog Award from Liz Davis. Click her name to visit her site. Thank you, Liz! I'll agree with one of her random facts--I don't like coffee either. I know...it's so un-American.



INTROVERTS: We Writers
Face it. Most writers are introverts. Not ALL of us, but introversion lends itself well to huddling over a keyboard trying to capture fantastical storylines, compelling characters, and wisps of inner dialogue. We live in our minds a lot. And we're quite comfy there, thank you.

A quip I read lately: Writers are people who have a story to tell, but don't wish to make eye contact while doing it. 

INTROVERTS: Our Characters
So assuming we're pretty introverted (and even if not), do we make our characters the same way? Or do we make them flaming extroverts, doing and saying the things we only wish we could? A lot of my characters are pretty extroverted. They're thinkers, but most of them have no trouble merging and dialoguing with others. Sure, they have their hidden insecurities, but they get to mingle in crowds and say those witty things I only think of hours later in real life. I do write introverted characters too…it really depends on the story.

WRITING WALLFLOWERS
So how do we write an introverted character if we're extroverted, or at least if we're more extroverted than our wallflower main character or sidekick? Here are some ideas, a lot of which are dredged up from my own very shy childhood. In list form, since I like lists!

General Wallflower Characteristics
1. Dislikes crowds. Favors hanging with family, or retreats solo to one's room.
2. Mole-like, squinting into the glare of social spotlights, shrinking from attention.
3. Terror and near-panic-attacks when asked to speak publicly.
4. Feels like everyone is analyzing or judging him/her (which may or may not be true).
5. Frequently buries one's self in a book, video game, or other solo activity.
6. Tend to be thinkers, analyzing themselves and others. Often keeps a journal.
7. When in a group, echoes or agrees with others rather than coming up with new ideas or opposing ideas that have been brought up.
8. Hates group projects in school. Would rather do assignments by him/herself.
9. Feels insecurity or shame about one's identity, appearance, or lack of social skills.
10. Often has no sense of clothing style or interest in fashion.

Specific Wallflower Characteristics
1. Keeps head down. Finds it difficult or impossible to make eye contact.
2. Dry cotton mouth when confronted with a public speaking occasion.
3. Alternately, a sudden excess of saliva that makes convulsive swallowing necessary.
4. Blushing, flushing…that awful RED face that is a public sign of embarrassment.
5. Shaking hands, trembling and weak legs. Even lightheadedness and nausea.
6. A heartbeat that pounds and/or beats much faster than normal.
7. A tongue that turns thick and uncooperative, so he/she stumbles over words.
8. An inability to think straight. Confusion and general muddledness.
9. Drops things, is clumsy: trips on rugs, stumbles on stairs, bumps into things.
10. Tight body language--legs crossed, arms folded, hands clenched.

And if there's a crush on someone involved, pure petrified panic sets in. Then ALL of the above physical reactions might happen in that person's presence!

YOUR TURN
Do you consider yourself more of an introvert or an extrovert? 50-50?
Do you usually make your characters introverts, extroverts--or a combination thereof?
Are you intimidated/freaked by the idea of personally marketing your book, or eager to do it? (author visits to schools, readings and signings, lectures or talks)
Can you add any characteristics that would describe a shy or introverted character?


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Inspired by Life


CHARACTERS: Lady in the Red Hat

I was driving home from the bank the other day, and saw a woman walking down the sidewalk. Calf-length flowered sundress, carefree walk, bright RED wide-brimmed sunhat. The breeze rippled her skirt around her long legs. I wondered what her hair was like, because all I saw was the RED hat. Was her hair short? Was it long…and if so, how did she tuck it under the hat?

Or wait. Maybe she'd undergone chemotherapy--and she had no hair. Interesting theory.

Little snippets of her possible character started developing in my mind.

I stopped at the stoplight and continued to observe (yeah, we writers are weird, stalkerish people). At that point I smiled, because I saw that instead of wearing sandals or flip-flops to match her feminine attire, this woman wore clunky boot-like shoes. Aha! Not your typical girlie-girl. An individual, someone not afraid to lose the overall ultra-feminine effect by pairing her sundress with stomp-worthy boots. That, or else she was very practical. I mean, if she planned to walk a lot that day, she'd need more of a hiking kind of footwear, right?

And then I glimpsed the final impression-changer: one of her hands came up from her side, and she took a drag on a cigarette. That surprised me! But her being a smoker did kind of match the boots. Nix the practical theory for the boots--back to the rebel individual, anti-girlie theory. The red hat was the initial flag that waved "I don't mind standing out!" Her character was solidifying before my eyes.

I wondered…do the characters in my books ever surprise my readers like that? Or are the kids, teens, and adults in my novels more like stock characters, easily put into a well-defined category? Normal. Safe. PREDICTABLE. Do I ever go beyond "normal" characters and make them individuals? Am I afraid to drop something more unusual into the mix, for fear that it won't seem "realistic" or "right" for that character? Fascinating revelation.

What about you and your characters? 

A word of caution. You can go totally bonkers and overdo the unpredictable factor while making your characters stand out and be different. I've read books where almost every single character has an eccentric, bizarre, or unusual trait. Like (and I'm making these up) Uncle Harold has an alligator farm…petite elderly neighbor Ms. Crayville races stock cars in her spare time…BFF Hilary adores scorpions and utilizes them to get even with her ex-boyfriends.

It can reach overload in a short time. The quirkiness begins to be the new norm. As you read, you don't experience the exhilaration of glimpsing a parrot in a flock of crows. You experience…a flock of parrots.

YOUR TURN
Do you people-watch, and get writing ideas from people you see or meet in real life?
Do you tend to make your characters normal and predictable--or are they quirky?
What's your favorite zany/quirky/eccentric character you've read about in a book?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Puns for Warped Minds


Hi everyone! I've been busily house-hunting here in the Chico, CA, area instead of blogpost writing (or alas, even writing, period). Therefore you will now be subjected to a punny list from a forward I got in an email a long while back. Enjoy the wonders of the English language…or groan at the corny-ness of these quips.


1. The fattest knight at King Arthur's round table was Sir Cumference. He acquired his size from too much pi.
2. I thought I saw an eye-doctor on an Alaskan island, but it turned out to be an optical Aleutian.
3. She was only a whisky-maker, but he loved her still.
4. A rubber-band pistol was confiscated from an algebra class because it was a weapon of math disruption.
5. No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.
6. A dog gave birth to puppies near the road and was cited for littering.
7. A grenade thrown into a kitchen in France would result in Linoleum Blownapart.
8. Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie.
9. Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.
10. Atheism is a non-prophet organization.
11. Two hats were hanging on a hat rack in the hallway. One hat said to the other: "You stay here; I'll go on a head."
12. I wondered why the baseball kept getting bigger. Then it hit me.
13. A sign on the lawn at a drug rehab center said: "Keep off the Grass."
14. The midget fortune-teller who escaped from prison was a small medium at large.
15. The soldier who survived mustard gas and pepper spray is now a seasoned veteran.
16. A backward poet writes inverse.
17. In a democracy it's your vote that counts.  In feudalism it's your count that votes.
18. When cannibals ate a missionary, they got a taste of religion.
19. If you jumped off the bridge in Paris, you'd be in Seine.
20. A vulture carrying two dead raccoons boards an airplane. The stewardess looks at him and says, "I'm sorry, sir, only one carrion allowed per passenger."
21. Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in the craft. Unsurprisingly it sank, proving once again that you can't have your kayak and heat it too.
22. Two hydrogen atoms meet. One says, "I've lost my electron." The other says,  "Are you sure?" The first replies, "Yes, I'm positive."
23. Did you hear about the Buddhist who refused Novocain during a root- canal? His goal: transcend dental medication.
24. There was the person who sent ten puns to friends, with the hope that at least one of the puns would make them laugh. No pun in ten did.

YOUR TURN
So did you chuckle--or groan--at these puns? Any faves?
What have YOU been doing for the last week?
Has your weather cooled off for fall, or are you living in a place like Chico where it's STILL 88-95 degrees during the day?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Blog Tour: MORMON DIARIES


Today I'm taking part in a blog tour which features the release of the paperback and e-book editions of an autobiographical essay collection, MORMON DIARIES. This book is written anonymously under the pen name of Sophia Stone, and is a personal and honest account that asks some hard questions about Mormonism.  

Book summary:
Brought up in a religious home, Sophia believes the only way to have a forever family is by following church leaders and obediently choosing the right. She goes to the right school, marries the right man in the right place, and does the right thing by staying home to raise her children. But when she starts asking questions about grace, love, and the nature of God, she realizes her spiritual struggles could rip her family apart.

See the book trailer HERE!     

INTERVIEW QUESTIONS WITH THE AUTHOR
1. How has your change in beliefs affected your marriage and children?
I think it has benefited my children in a number of ways. First, by showing them that goodness isn’t based on legalistic rules, they are more accepting of themselves and others. Second, by helping them see that there isn’t one right way to be a decent human being, they are able to think the best of people. Third, by opening up to other ideas and spiritual philosophies, they are more open as well. 

As for my marriage, my change in beliefs has brought to light problems I’d been ignoring for years. Things having to do with power dynamics, issues with inflexibility, and some fundamental disagreements in parenting styles between my husband and I. My marriage has suffered and I worry about it often. But I also know that without the insights I have now, the relationship would continue to grow more unbalanced and necessary change would never occur.

I’m crossing my fingers and holding out hope in the marriage department. 

2. What are the best ways to support someone going through a faith crisis?
The most important thing is to listen. Don’t distance yourself. Don’t shy away. Don’t give advice, and definitely don’t judge. Just be a friend. Period. Sometimes it really is that simple.

3. What kinds of reactions have you had from your Mormon author friends?
This has been similar to my family response—lots of condemnation, lots of avoidance, lots of judgment, and lots of gratitude. Yes, I know, it seems odd that I’d hear gratitude from LDS author friends who are faithful in the church. But apparently there are people who struggle in silence, unable to tell a soul how they feel without losing those most dear to them. That’s the reason the Disaffected Mormon Underground (DAMU) exists. It fills a palpable need.

4. Who should read your book?
Anyone who wants to better understand how religions indoctrinate children, how they can unite and separate families, how they can bring peace and turmoil at the same time. Anyone who wants a more personal understanding of how it feels to grow up in a legalistic religion that values trust and obedience more highly than free thought, or anyone who wants to understand Mormonism. 

Please don’t misread that to mean my book is factually perfect. It’s not. It is based on my experience, and everyone’s reality is different. But I stand by my claim that people who leave Mormonism are often in an isolating place. It’s hard for an orthodox believer to understand why anyone would leave. It’s hard for those who’ve never been in a fundamentalist religion to understand why leaving one is such a big deal. To both these groups, I’d say, “please read this!” Understanding is vital.

For more information or to purchase:
Barnes & Noble link: HERE.
ONLY 99 CENTS! Amazon Kindle Edition: HERE.
Amazon Paperback Edition HERE.

Tweet with Sophia Stone on Twitter! @ask_a_mormon
--Include the underscores since there's another address without the underscore marks.
--Sophia will take any questions about Mormonism and answer them minus the usual spin under the hashtag #mormonquestions

YOUR TURN
Have you had a personal faith crisis in your life before, or known someone who has?
Do you read nonfiction (such as autobiographies like this), or do you stick to fiction?
Whatever your religious affiliations or beliefs, are you comfortable with sharing religious issues in a blog post like this--or do you avoid talking about religion publicly?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Page Critique: MOVE


Hi bloggy buddies! Today's first page excerpt is a YA contemporary by Ferris Robinson, entitled Move. Please add your helpful feedback below.

Also, THANKS to Medeia Sharif for giving me the Very Inspiring Blog Award last week! Go forth and visit her fun and informative blog HERE.

THE EXCERPT

I have thirty seconds. My thighs are on fire, but I crouch low to the mat and circle him, moving in and out quickly. I shoot in and grab his leg, then explode up through his body. Again. And again.

Sweat streams into my eyes, but I couldn't see him clearly even if he was really there. I watch him, my imaginary opponent, as Three Doors Down blasts Kryptonite around my head. If I go crazy now will you still call me Superman? I check the clock above the door and go again. I'm on my two hundredth shot when I feel a jolt of electricity right behind my elbow. I lose my balance, and stumble in the middle of the take down. I look at my time; 199 take downs in twenty minutes. I failed.

She should have warned me. Made a noise. Stomped her f****** Eskimo boots. Something. She's lucky I didn't jab her in the eyeball.

"What?"

Erin Abercrombie taps her ear, and I take my ear buds out. I don't know what to say. I should have said something earlier, back last spring when it happened. Her sister OD'ed and woke up dead. Or didn't wake up at all, rather. Heroin. I don't bring it up.

"What?"

"Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you. I just wanted to let you know I'm here. Didn't want to freak you out if you saw me in the office."  

THE CRITIQUE
1. Opening Line and Paragraph: good, then fuzzy. The first line is immediately compelling; time restrictions are always a great way to introduce tension in a scene. As the paragraph continued, I found the "him" ambiguous, and wondered if "opponent" would be a more descriptive word to use instead. I also wasn't sure what was going on with the part about exploding up THROUGH the body. It's explained in the second paragraph, but I'm not sure a first paragraph should be this unclear or confusing to the reader. Would it take some of the initial punch away if "imaginary opponent" was used in the first paragraph instead of "him"? I also wasn't sure why he'd need to explode up through the opponent's body again and again…was he adding to the total numbers of takedowns by doing this?
2. Other Unclear Things.
"…When I feel a jolt of electricity right behind my elbow. … She should have warned me. The "she" surprised me when I read it, and I wondered how it related to the jolt of electricity. Does she have electric superpowers? Did she shock him with something?  Did she merely zap him with static electricity? Does he feel her presence as a sort of electrical force? It might be nice to have these things explained (without feeling explainy).
3. The swearing: Stomped her f****** Eskimo boots. I asked Ferris if this was how the word would appear in a final version, and he said no; in the manuscript it's spelled out as a full F-bomb. The asterisks were just used for public sensitivities on this blog (which is very considerate of him). Anyway, using this word in a YA book is a controversial topic.
Questions Ferris should ask:
--By using this language, this novel might end up on a controversial list, and parents and others would object and possibly protest it; is that acceptable to him as a writer?
--Does the use of these words add a level of realism to the work that wouldn't otherwise be achieved? How much would it change the story if those words were omitted?
--How many times is this word used throughout the book? Half a dozen, or fifty? Are all those instances necessary to the plot, character development, and story arc? My suggestion would be to make sure the word is crucial to every scene it's used.
4. Three Doors Down and Kryptonite. These words are italicized in the excerpt, but since Three Doors Down is a band…band names are usually just capitalized rather than italicized (though that may vary from publisher to publisher). Since "Kryptonite" is a song, enclose it in quotation marks. CD or album titles are displayed in italics, but songs are enclosed in quotes.

Kudos and Overall Thoughts: This is definitely gritty and realistic in tone, which seems fitting for a contemporary guy story. From the very first page it promises action and fighting and nice terse/tight dialogue. It hints that it will deal with tough topics like heroin usage, or its aftermath. I like how the line about the Eskimo boots fits very naturally into the scene, revealing something about the female character who's being introduced.

YOUR TURN
What feedback can you add to this critique?
Did you know album titles are italicized, while songs are put in quotation marks?

What's your opinion on using swearing/cursing in young adult literature: does it add more realism--since teens really DO talk that way--or should writers avoid these words and use an approximation of reality instead?

Would you WANT your manuscript to be negatively controversial, banned, or challenged--since doing so garners more public attention?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

PAGE CRITIQUE: What Silence Heard


Howdy, howdy! Today's first page excerpt is a YA thriller by Jeannette Smejkal, entitled What Silence Heard. Please add your helpful feedback below.

THE EXCERPT

I found the mouth of the cave three weeks after leaving my emptied village.

A gasp leapt from my throat and flew towards the cave in a startled greeting.  Though my emotions were blurred my body was desperate for rest — just one night free from worry that a cougar would clamp her maw around my neck as I slept.

Or worse, gnaw at Nell.

 And here in front of me was the solution; its entrance no more than a yawn in the rock.  Inside, we could be peaceful and numb instead of anxious and stunned.  Friends on a campout instead of a girl and a doll, left behind.

Nell gave me the idea that we needed to flush out any occupants before wandering in ourselves.  My chatter often bounced back from her and made some sense.  If I didn’t have her, I would have likely wandered right into the claws of a wolverine.

Fire would work, but I had nothing to light one with.  I had no knife, no axe, no weapon at all, and I would need one to defend Nell if something was calling that cave home.  I rested her in the crook of two rocks nearby, tucked her arms in comfortably, and told her my plan (she was very excited and kept interrupting).

Then I retraced my steps to a fallen tree we'd passed earlier.  There, exactly as logged in my memory, was a perfect, club-sized branch.   Ha, logged.  Nell wasn’t the only giddy one.


THE CRITIQUE
1. Opening Line. The first line introduces the situation in a bold and dramatic way. I like its simple brevity; it's not long-winded. The only word I'm hesitant about is "emptied." It almost gives away a bit too much information right off, as though it's Telling the reader. Personally, I'd omit "emptied" and trickle out hints about her village as the pages go by. Or else choose a different adjective perhaps.
2. Some Telling that could be Shown.
Though my emotions were blurred my body was desperate for rest. This seems to tell the reader what the main character is feeling rather than letting the reader FEEL it. I'd like to see and hear her blurred emotions, experience her weariness and tension and worry along with her. This could be done by internal thoughts, physical descriptions of her fatigue, etc. I do concede, though, that often in the thriller genre, there is more focus on action rather than deeper character development or connection.
Inside, we could be peaceful and numb instead of anxious and stunned. Again, I'd like to experience her anxiety and her stunned state along with her, rather than having it summarized.
3. A rather melodramatic-sounding 2nd sentence: A gasp leapt from my throat and flew towards the cave in a startled greeting. This line sounds overly dramatic to me. With this reaction, I expected something vicious to come barreling out of the cave. The concept is interesting, with the gasp flying to the cave in a greeting, but I think even though she is relieved to find shelter, the overall impact is overstated.
4. Age and gender of main character. We assume the main character is female because she has a doll. This works, though it might be good to verify that for the reader later on. As far as age--to me, she seems quite young for this being a YA novel. Not just the fact she has a doll (indicating an 8-12 year old), but the way she thinks and speaks seems more like a younger protagonist than a teen. But perhaps this character ages throughout the book, or the situations are more mature, and a younger age would be okay. (Like THE BOOK THIEF, which is a YA novel with an 11-year-old protagonist, but since the book deals with the more mature subject of the Holocaust, it's slotted as a young adult read.)
5. Why is the cougar a female gender? In the third sentence, it refers to the cougar as a "her." Are there only female cougars around for some reason? If not, perhaps substitute "his" or (better) "its."

Kudos and Overall Thoughts: The scenario is one of survival, which is a great concept that has many opportunities for tension--very apt for a thriller. I like that even though the main character is alone, she has her doll Nell to talk to. This helps add interest, humor, and variety. I also love the description of the cave as "its entrance no more than a yawn in the rock," and the line about the doll Nell being excited and interrupting. Nicely imaginative!

YOUR TURN
What feedback can you add to this critique?
How old did you think the main character was in this excerpt?
When you were young, did you ever talk to a doll or inanimate object as though it could hear you? (Did it answer back? Was that the start of your interest in writing?)

Photo credit: taken by my hubby's friend Dave Blehm, then tweaked in Photoshop by me.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

R. Mac Wheeler + Kreativ Blogger award


My blog guest today is R. Mac Wheeler!    
Here is Mac's greeting:

If you're an avid reader, you may care that I’m an author of character-driven SF/F/paranormals and suspense, filled with quirky sorts who lug a lot of baggage, in worlds that aren’t that far out.

If you love nature, or photography in general, you may care that I have the photo addiction, and weekly post pictures I take during my Sunday Safaris around Tampa. Stop by my blogs on Sunday evenings…I almost always have a new set. Please visit, leave a note. I love the company…I don't get out much. (I only get away from my computer on Sundays)

Thanks for letting me say hi. I really hope you'll check out my pix.

-R. Mac Wheeler

Click HERE to check out Living In Shadow, his new book out just last month. He said not to worry about mentioning it, but I am anyway. I haven't personally read any of his books yet, but he certainly has published a lot of them! And the covers look colorful, intriguing, and well done, too. Check out his photo compilation below.

Go enjoy his blog, his sense of humor, and his SUNDAY SAFARI photos HERE.


MY AWARD
Also, I've received the Kreativ Blogger Award from Dawn Allen, thank you, Dawn! Visit her informative blogsite HERE.

A Few of the Questions
1. What’s your favorite song?
It really depends on my mood. As a teen I adored Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." I listen to anything from rock, opera, bluegrass, Celtic, classical, folk, and ethnic. I have a really fun Turkish techno CD, and I love bagpipes.
2. What’s your favorite dessert?
Banana bars with cream cheese frosting. (Expected me to say something chocolaty, didn't you?)
3. What is your favorite pet?
A cat, which I can't have because my husband is allergic. So we have no pets at all. But I'm tired of cleaning litter boxes and hairballs anyway.
4. What is your attitude mostly? Optimistic and good-natured/happy.

Random Facts About Me: My favorite movie as a child was The Wizard of Oz. It came on TV every year, and my dad grumbled about how we kids had to watch it AGAIN. He didn't know how lucky he had it, raising kids in the pre-DVD era. My mother also read L. Frank Baum's Wonderful Wizard of Oz series to us, which we loved!

YOUR TURN
Have you visited R. Mac Wheeler's blogsite before? (If not, what are you waiting for?!)
What is YOUR favorite dessert?
What is YOUR favorite pet?
Do you have a favorite childhood movie?


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

PAGE CRITIQUE: YA fantasy


Announcement: Due to continued busy-ness in my life as well as an admitted fit of blogging fatigue, after this I will be posting ONLY on the 1st and 3rd WEDNESDAYS of each month. I hope to connect with you all still, throughout the month. 

Today's excerpt for critique is from Kelly Walker's YA fantasy novel, Cornerstone. Please add your helpful feedback below. Currently my critique queue is empty! So send your 250-word excerpts to artzicarol [at] gmail [dot] com if you'd like a critique. Paste it into the email; no attachments please.

THE EXCERPT
Prologue

Mostly she didn't want to see. But she couldn't help looking through the worn floorboards above her. The older children often came under here to play hide and seek and other childish games. But they weren't playing now. Crouched in the small space below the kitchens, Mairi held the children tightly in the folds of her dress. “Quiet” she mouthed at them. Silently, she prayed they would understand. She tried to cover their faces, to bury them in her dirty linen apron so they wouldn't see their mother above. If she was right, no child should see this. Her own daughter clung tightly to her side.

Desperate words came from above. “No, please... No!” The last word came out as a strangled scream. Trembling, the children stayed quiet.

There were two men upstairs. Men who clearly didn't belong here. They had ridden over the hill with the morning sun. Two small dots moving purposefully closer, closer still. As soon as her mistress had seen them coming, a stillness had come over her. She didn't know how, but Mairi thought it was almost as if she had known why they came. As they closed the distance to the house, Mairi could see they were dressed all in brown, with heavy cloaks hanging loose around their shoulders. Their clothes wore the dust of many days travel. Their faces set, steeled against the task before them. Deftly leaping off his horse, the taller of the men strode toward her.

MY CRITIQUE
1. First Impressions. Since this is YA, I expected the main character to be a teen. As I read, I reminded myself this was a Prologue, so the age of the character could be younger or older than that. I tried to pin the age down. The third sentence says "older children," and I thought that might mean older than the MC. So I thought perhaps she was very young, a flashback or memory from the rest of the novel. Yet when the children huddled in her dress folds, she sounded older/teen-like, and finally with the last sentence in the first paragraph, I realized she was old enough to have a child.

2. Clarity. Some parts were puzzling or not quite clear to me. I got snagged on the second sentence, wondering how she could see through the worn floorboards. Worn, to me, indicates wear and tear, not something transparent or with spaces between. The setting was ambiguous to me; were they in a cellar or basement? Also, initially, I wondered why older children would play hide-and-seek, as opposed to younger children.

3. Telling adverbs. There are quite a few adverbs--which usually tell instead of show--in this short excerpt: mostly, tightly, silently, tightly, clearly, purposefully, deftly. It's best to use adverbs sparingly, and try to use stronger verbs in their place. Especially with "clung tightly." Clinging in itself indicates a tightness, so the adverb "tightly" isn't necessary.

4. Starting point, tense, and order of events. The action seemed to start at one point of danger, with the men already there confronting the mistress, and then the story apparently backed up to tell how the intruders got there. And since the third paragraph is written with tenses like: "Mairi could see" rather than "Mairi had seen," then I began to wonder if it really was a backflash after all. If it is indeed a backflash, I questioned whether that the best order. Could/should this Prologue begin with the men arriving rather than showing Mairi's huddling with the children?

5. Density of paragraphs. There are fairly solid blocks of paragraphs here. White space is inviting to a reader, and paragraphing can actually amp up the drama to a scene by drawing it out visually. For instance, when Mairi mouthed "Quiet," to the children, that seemed a natural place to begin a new paragraph.

6. Possessive needed. Their clothes wore the dust of many days travel. Should be days' travel, as in travel belonging to or pertaining to many days.

Kudos
The way this is written, there is a very nice sense of tension and danger. I also like the protectiveness of Mairi's character, even though I know she will not be the novel's main character. I like her name, too, being a fan of more unusual names. The scene is engaging--I would like to find out what happens next, to see who these men are, why they are confronting Mairi's mistress, and the ultimate fate of Mairi and the children.

YOUR TURN
What can you add to this feedback?
What is your stand on Prologues--to use or not to use? Does this one work well here?
Would've you preferred the scene started as the men arrived, before Mairi huddled with the children--or do you think the order is fine as written?
How often do YOU blog? Are you feeling fatigued?


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

NEVER SURRENDER: Elana Johnson



I'm baaaack to the blogosphere! I've moved to California and trying to adjust to 103 degree weather. It's like walking around in an oven. No wonder everyone has A/C here!

Today Elana Johnson is my cyberguest. Her debut novel POSSESSION has now been followed by the release of its companion/sequel, SURRENDER. Let's help her celebrate!

About SURRENDER: 
Raine has always been a good girl. She lives by the rules in Freedom. After all, they are her father’s rules: He’s the Director. It’s because of him that Raine is willing to use her talent—a power so dangerous, no one else is allowed to know about it. Not even her roommate, Vi. 

All of that changes when Raine falls for Gunner. Raine’s got every reason in the world to stay away from Gunn, but she just can’t. Especially when she discovers his connection to Vi’s boyfriend, Zenn. Raine has never known anyone as heavily brainwashed as Vi. Raine’s father expects her to spy on Vi and report back to him. But Raine is beginning to wonder what Vi knows that her father is so anxious to keep hidden, and what might happen if she helps Vi remember it. She’s even starting to suspect Vi’s secrets might involve Freedom’s newest prisoner, the rebel Jag Barque.... 

So! Let's ask Elana some questions about these books and her writing.

POSSESSION
1. For this book you snagged an awesome blurb from James Dashner, who wrote THE MAZE RUNNER. How did you manage to do that? 
Well, James lives here in Utah, and he’s the nicest person on the planet. So I emailed him and asked, and he said yes! Then he gave me a superb blurb. (Oh my heck! Did you see what I did there?? That’s a RHYME.)

2. My fave bit of tech was the silver cube Vi used that caused whatever food she requested to materialize. If you had such a cube, what 3 foods would you wish to appear? 
Oh, this is too easy. 1. Bacon. 2. Pepperoni pizza. 3. Cheese—harvati with dill, please.

3. Surprisingly, as happily-ever-after as I usually am, the sad ending didn't bother me. I knew a companion book would follow, plus I thought what happened was very apt for the dystopian society and plot. Do you think dystopian books are almost required to end on a less-than-happy note, as part of the genre?  
Hmmm, I’m not sure. I’ve read plenty of dystopians that still wrap themselves up neatly in a nice, red bow. POSSESSION doesn’t do that. It’s not that there can’t be a happy ending, it’s just that there’s not right now. 

I think most other dystopians end on a high note, sort of like “Now we know what’s wrong with our society, so let’s take ‘em down!” kind of battle cry. Those novels have hope. POSSESSION is different in that way too. 

SURRENDER
1. Big burning question. How do you pronounce Raine--is the "e" silent and pronounced like rain or Ray-een, or is it pronounced like Rainy? 
It’s “rain” like the water that falls from the sky.

2. What was the most challenging part of writing SURRENDER? (Any scenes or aspects of writing this particular book, or in writing a companion book in general.)
This is going to sound lame, but the hardest part about writing SURRENDER was deciding if it would be dual-narrated or not. I’m a big believer in telling the right story, the way it needs to be told. I couldn’t decide if this was Raine’s story, and therefore she should narrate it, or if it was Gunner’s and he should.

In the end, I tried doing just Raine. And then just Gunn. And then both of them, and I realized that while their stories intermingle, they also deviate, and by using both of them to tell the story, I could give readers a much broader picture of what’s going on in the world. 

So I did that. 

GENERAL QUESTIONS
1. Why do you like writing dystopian sci-fi? Do you think you'll wander off to another genre after this, and if yes, what would you like to switch to?
I love writing dysotopian/sci fi because of the cool stuff I can do with gadgets and technology. I also like making up my own world and rules for the society. I don’t have to play by anyone else’s definition of the world, you know? 

And I’ll definitely wander off to other genres, but it’ll be more like a march. I’ve written a YA contemporary (in verse, no less!), as well as a YA fantasy. 

Never Surrendering: My (Carol's) Story
Never surrendering is definitely a story of my own writing path. After 15 novels, 11 total years of writing, and many years of attending SCBWI conferences, at last I acquired an agent in April 2011, Kelly Sonnack of Andrea Brown Literary. She's awesome, and helping me take my writing to a new level.

YOUR TURN
Have you read POSSESSION? 
Do you generally like to read series or companion novels? Why or why not?
If YOU had a magic food cube that would make any food materialize, what 3 things would you wish for? (and no, it doesn't have to be a balanced meal!)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

WINNERS! + YA Page Critique


Thanks to everyone for entering the YA book giveaway this last week! Congrats to the winners I've already contacted, courtesy of random.org:

1. A LONG, LONG SLEEP: Irene!
2. THE HUNGER GAMES COMPANION: Tangynt!
3. STARTERS: Tinkerbell the Bipolar Faerie!
4. DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE: Alexia Chamberlynn! 

I would also like to announce that due to me moving next week to sweatingly hot Chico, California, I will be on blog vacation for 3 weeks! I will reappear July 10th (yep, a Tuesday for that week). Sorry I haven't been active in the blogosphere lately, and I'm sad to miss your latest bloggy news, but I've been busy with yard sales, packing, and other moving prep.  
********************

Today's first page excerpt is a YA paranormal by Alice Fleury that is more horror than romance. The title is A Certain Presence. Please add your helpful feedback below!

THE EXCERPT
A black bird perched on the sign painted with the words: Fortune $5. He strutted and twitched and eyed the people outside the tent.

My best friend Bree had maneuvered herself to the front of the line. She hadn’t noticed I’d fallen behind. Kate wouldn’t like this. Not that I would tell her. It was cooler under the tree. A lake breeze blew stray hairs that tickled my face.

“Gen.” Bree jumped out of line. Her pink streaked hair straggled along her shoulders. “C’mon.” She pulled me inside. “We’re next. And you owe me five bucks.”

To our left a table displayed baubles and herbs. Decks of Tarot cards and booklets about psychic phenomena were for sale. Business cards with Madame Nadine’s information lay in a porcelain hand.

Smashed grass created a path to gauzy fabric draped from poles. The curtain parted and a woman walked past me and Bree like she was dazed.

“Come.” Madame beckoned us. Her bracelets clinked with the graceful movement of her arms. “Come.” Candles flickered on a red tablecloth casting shadows behind her.

Bree stuck her hand out. “Me first.”

Madame’s eyes shone like black marbles and her red lips smiled. She cupped Bree’s hand in hers. “Ahh, a long life line.

Bree giggled.

Smoke snaked from the candle flames accumulating in the space between us. Madame’s and Bree’s words became murmurs, their bodies’ silhouettes. My neck prickled and chills ran down my arms. “Genevieve.” A translucent figure whispered my name.

THE CRITIQUE
1. Opening Line. The opening line speaks of something unusual going on, and is attention-getting. It's possibly somewhat cliché to have a raven hanging around as an ill omen (or a witch's familiar?), but it's interesting nevertheless.
2. Things that threw me off.
Bree's maneuvering to the front of the line. There was previous mention of a tent and some people, but the line seemed to appear out of nowhere. I also got confused by Bree pulling Gen "inside" and then mentions of grass like they were still outside.
Bree vs. Kate. First Bree is introduced, and then the paragraph immediately switches to a mention of Kate. More info would be nice to tell who she is, or else the mention of Kate separated more from Bree.
Kate vs. temperature/breeze. It was cooler under the tree. A lake breeze blew stray hairs that tickled my face. These lines didn't seem to mesh with Kate's disapproval; are they connected? I expected to read more about Kate, or have those things relate to her. These could be bumped to a new paragraph, or a transition phrase added.
The dazed woman leaving tent vs Madame Nadine. Since it was Bree/Gen's turn at the tent, I assumed the woman emerging was Madame Nadine, and she was going to greet them. That threw me off momentarily.
3. A wordy sentence: Business cards with Madame Nadine’s information lay in a porcelain hand. Tighter: Madame Nadine's business cards lay in a porcelain hand.
4. Two ambiguous sentences: Smoke snaked from the candle flames accumulating in the space between us. Also: Candles flickered on a red tablecloth casting shadows behind her. Is it the smoke that is accumulating, or the candle flames? Are the candles casting shadows, or the tablecloth? It sounds like the latter in both instances, which I don't think is the intent. A comma would help, but rewording might make the intent even more clear:
Smoke snaked from the candle flames, and accumulated in the space between us.
Candles flickered on a red tablecloth, and cast shadows behind her.
5. Shouldn't Bree or Gen pay Madame? A short phrase or even a single word added would take care of this: Bree paid, and stuck her hand out.
6. No end quote, and no possessive needed: “Ahh, a long life line. Need end quote mark. Madame’s and Bree’s words became murmurs, their bodies’ silhouettes. There is no possessive involved with bodies, just a plural. The word "became" is implied: …their bodies [became] silhouettes.

Kudos and Overall Thoughts: Nicely creepily paranormal in tone, and I like the whispered voice at the end. Despite the minor confusions as I read, the page flows well and makes for an intriguing start. I like the smoke "snaking," and the way Bree's hair (and thus a bit of her personality) is described without stopping the action. I'm very curious as to what will happen next, which is a good thing!

YOUR TURN
What praise or comments can you add to help Alice refine her work?
Have you ever had your fortune told via palm reading?
If you have a blog, when's the last time YOU treated yourself to a blog vacation?


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

YA Book Giveaway!!


Let's change up the pace a bit from critiques! Today I'd like to host a giveaway for 4 YA books shown below. We'll call it my 400 Follower celebration--397 is close enough. Besides, I'm getting ready to move and can't take all my books with me. Thank you for connecting to my blog, new readers and old!

Easy Rules and How to Enter:
1. Be a Follower of this blog.
2. Leave a comment saying you'd like to enter.
3. Optional: to facilitate the awarding, tell me which book you'd like to win! (please say if you have a second choice, too)
4. Deadline for the random drawing is Tuesday, June 12 at 8 pm PST.
5. Winners will be announced on my Wednesday, June 13 post.

Note: Sorry, this giveaway is only open to US followers. If you are outside the US, please let me know in the comments if you'd like to win a FREE chapter critique instead!

THE BOOKS:
DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE by Laini Taylor
Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky. In a dark and dusty shop, a devil's supply of human teeth grow dangerously low. And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she disappears on mysterious "errands"; she speaks many languages--not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she's about to find out.

When one of the strangers--beautiful, haunted Akiva--fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

A LONG, LONG SLEEP by Anna Sheehan
Rosalinda Fitzroy has been asleep for sixty-two years when she is woken by a kiss.

Locked away in the chemically induced slumber of a stasis tube in a forgotten sub-basement, sixteen-year-old Rose slept straight through the Dark Times that killed millions and utterly changed the world she knew. Now her parents and her first love are long dead, and Rose--hailed upon her awakening as the long-lost heir to an interplanetary empire--is thrust alone into a future in which she is viewed as either a freak or a threat.

Desperate to put the past behind her and adapt to her new world, Rose finds herself drawn to the boy who kissed her awake, hoping that he can help her to start fresh. But when a deadly danger jeopardizes her fragile new existence, Rose must face the ghosts of her past with open eyes--or be left without any future at all.

THE HUNGER GAMES COMPANION by Lois H. Gresh
The ultimate (though unauthorized) companion guide to the Hunger Games trilogy.

For all those who adore Katniss and Peeta, and can't get enough, this companion guide to the Hunger Games series is a must-read. Go deeper into the post-apocalyptic world created by Suzanne Collins than you ever thought possible—an alternative future where boys and girls are chosen from twelve districts to compete in a televised fight-to-the-death. When sixteen-year-old Katniss learns that her little sister has been chosen, Kat steps up to fight in her place—and the games begin. This unauthorized guide takes the reader behind the stage.

The Hunger Games Companion includes fascinating background facts about the action in all three books, a revealing biography of the author, and amazing insights into the series’ main themes and features--from the nature of evil, to weaponry and rebellions, to surviving the end of the world.

STARTERS by Lissa Price
In the future, teens rent their bodies to seniors who want to be young again. One girl discovers her renter plans to do more than party--her body will commit murder, if her mind can't stop it.

Sixteen-year-old Callie lost her parents when the genocide spore wiped out everyone except those who were vaccinated first: the very young and very old. With no grandparents to claim Callie and her little brother, they live as squatters and fight off unclaimed renegades who would kill for a cookie. Hope comes via Prime Destinations, run by a mysterious figure known only as The Old Man. He hires teens to rent their bodies to seniors, known as Enders, who wish to be young again. Callie's neurochip malfunctions and she wakes up in the life of her rich renter, living in her mansion, driving her cars, even dating Blake, the grandson of a senator. It's a fairy-tale new life--until she uncovers the Body Bank's horrible plan…

YOUR TURN
Have you read these books yet?
Do you want to enter the giveaway? Let me know in the comments!
When you move to a new place, do you keep your books--or are you able to part with them and give them away?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Page Critique: YA paranormal romance


Today's excerpt for critique is from Theresa Crocker's YA paranormal romance, the last in my current queue. Please add your feedback below!

THE EXCERPT
Chapter 1: Dreams
It was so dark and cold!! I was running somewhere, though I had no idea where, through a dense thick of clouds!! “Fog” I quickly told myself.  Completely out of breath, I had to stop to steady my breathing before I collapsed. As I came to a stop I tried to remember why I was running in the first place, or who I was running from…Instantly his face was before me, a huge man, if he could even be described as a man, dark, almost black hair, shaggy, hanging around his face, a hard jaw, and cruel black eyes. He was dressed, from head to toe in deep black, as if any light around him would incinerate his whole being. His eyes were the most terrifying of all his features, like they were trying to tear me apart from the inside… that’s when I remembered the feeling… the burning sensation that ran throughout my entire body the moment his eyes captured mine! I shuddered at the remembered thought and I started running again, as fast as my legs would move beneath me. Though I could not see where I was going, I knew anywhere was better than behind me… where he was. Sweat dripped down my entire body, grouping mainly in my upper back and chest… I couldn’t breathe again. I was lost… terrified… and I could hear him getting closer. Smell that awful stench that surrounded him. The smell almost of sulfur, or  burning, or… death! I wanted to scream, scream for someone to help me… scream for anyone,  but my throat was too parched for any noise to manifest out of my mouth…

MY CRITIQUE
1. First Impressions. As I mentioned last week, big blocks of paragraphs at the beginning of a book is less inviting to read, and white space is your friend. No more than you'd want a massive piece of furniture next to your front door, you don't want to block your readers in any way to welcome them into your written world.
2. The first line. This isn't as gripping as it could be. For one thing, "was" is weak, and sounds distant. Can the cold and darkness be described rather than Telling the reader it's dark and cold? Let the character--and thus the reader--feel those sensations. And since fog is white, I wasn't sure how that fit in with the darkness.
3. Starting with a dream. A dream sequence is generally not done because it is cliché. While it can be a gripping way to open, it's been done so much agents and editors are weary of it. Can we see a few (intriguing) paragraphs or pages introducing the character before she falls asleep and dreams?
4. Double exclamation marks. Use only one form of punctuation at the end of any sentence. Also, exclamations can easily create melodrama; for example: the burning sensation that ran throughout my entire body the moment his eyes captured mine! It's better to elicit drama/tension by wording rather than punctuation--the words themselves are enough, here.
5. Too many ellipses. Any punctuation or formatting is quickly overdone--whether exclamation marks, dashes, caps, italics, or ellipses. The ellipses in this scene might be great places to cut to new paragraphs. Some sentences could even be single lines for emphasis.
6. Telling adverbs. Right off, there are three adverbs (which usually tell instead of show): quickly, completely, instantly. The latter especially is a "forced pacing word" that could be omitted by rephrasing. It's best to use adverbs sparingly, and spread them out.
7. Creating Tension. To me it dilutes the effect that the pursuer is described as a memory rather than having the character look back in real time and SEE him pursuing her. Also, breaking this excerpt into more paragraphs may help intensify the tension, as the reader's eyes leap from sentence to sentence and down the page. It can feel more breathless if it looks more breathless.

Kudos
I really like the description of the pursuer, with the shaggy hair and penetrating eyes. Nicely creepy. The panic comes through as the main character is running and sweating and feeling thirsty. While the tension could be tweaked and amped more, there is inherent tension. It is appropriately paranormal in tone.

YOUR TURN
What can you add to this feedback? Do you mind that it starts with a dream?
Do you think having the pursuer described as a memory dilutes the tension, or not?
This excerpt sounds like something from a bad dream--have you ever had one like this?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Page Critique: THE CRYSTAL SWORD


Today's excerpt for critique is a first page from Tyrean Martinson's YA fantasy novel entitled The Crystal Sword.  Please add your helpful feedback below!

THE EXCERPT

The antechamber to the Sword Council’s meeting room held a pleasant temperature during all seasons, but Clara’s palms were beginning to sweat with anticipation and nervousness. She swallowed, sighed, and wiped her damp hands on the sides of her hips, under the longer shirt that covered them. Thankfully, no one else could see her in the otherwise empty small room. Three couches lined the outer walls, and a small unoccupied desk stood near the door to the Masters’ Chamber. A thin braided brown rug covered a small portion of the stones in the center of the room. Tapestries with the history of the Hall of the Sword hung from three of the walls and on by the Chamber, a smaller tapestry held the triple crest of the Triune Halls: the Staff, the Sword, and the Scroll. Clara had seen them all before, and she couldn’t seem to sit on the couches. Sitting just made her want to squirm with impatience, so she stood formally at ease with her feet shoulder width apart and her hands on her hips. The meeting of the Sword Council was taking far too long.
               
Finally, the door opened to reveal Master Dantor, her hardest teacher and personal mentor. After six years she didn’t know why he had chosen her as one of his personal apprentices. Each Master Teacher had twelve students they mentored from the beginning of their training through their Mastery Training. Master Dantor had midnight black hair with bits of white at the temples, olive weathered skin, and dark brown eyes.

THE CRITIQUE
1. First impressions. This has a decent though not overly powerful first line, but the verb phrase "were beginning to sweat" is quite passive, especially in a first line. Saying "sweated" would be more direct. It may not even be necessary to say she was sweating, since in the very next line she's wiping sweaty palms on her skirt.
2. The title. There's already a book by Adrienne Martine-Barnes entitled THE CRYSTAL SWORD. But it was written in the 1980's and it's not unheard of to have two books by the same title. The best time for a title search is before you settle on one.
3. Room description. While it's nice to get a sense of the setting with the desk, rug, and tapestries, those details stopped the forward movement of the scene. If Clara's nervous, she probably would NOT be noticing these things in such detail--particularly if she "had seen them all before." The crest gives a little plot info, but on the whole, this paragraph probably isn't the best place for listing room décor. It's best to work these details in more naturally or at least tighten by cutting non-important adjectives like small, unoccupied, thin, brown, etc.
4. Character description. The action stops further as Master Dantor opens the door. Spreading out his description would help the flow; his hair or skin could be mentioned more organically as he's moving across the room or engaging in dialogue with Clara.
 5. Wording and Other Picky Things.
--Unnecessary words/telling. Sitting just made her want to squirm with impatience. The last 2 words aren't necessary; squirming informs the reader nicely enough. Ditto for sweating with anticipation and nervousness.
--"Telling" background. Can it be worked in more naturally that she's been working with Master Dantor for six years, perhaps during the upcoming dialogue? Or maybe just rephrasing might help it sound less obviously informational.
--Clarity and consistency of mood. I stumbled a bit on "feet shoulder": …stood formally at ease with her feet shoulder width apart. Is the "shoulder width" part really necessary? Also, I'm not sure having her hands on her hips comes across as formal or nervous--it's usually a more challenging, confident posture.
--Paragraphs and white space.  My initial thought before even reading was that the first paragraph looked blocky and thus less inviting. White space is your friend. Use it in your openings to add an inviting appearance; it's rather like the feng shui of visual space. No more than you'd want a wall or massive piece of furniture right next to your front door, you don't want to block your readers in any way to welcome them into your written world.
--Small is repeated 3 times. Small room, small desk, and a small portion of stones.

YOUR TURN
What can you add to this critique: first impressions, overall impressions, or specifics?
Do you think having one's hands on hips is a relaxed, nervous, or formal stance--or does it seem more defiant, confident, or bold to you?

Want a critique of the first 250 words of YOUR middle grade or young adult novel? Send it to me at artzicarol [at] gmail [dot] com, pasted into an email rather than an attachment, please. Include your final sentence even if it puts you a little over 250 words. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Page Critique: MANIFESTATION FILES


Today's excerpt for critique is from Chihuahua Zero's YA urban fantasy entitled Manifestation Files.  Please add your feedback below!

THE EXCERPT

     As Mom and I stood outside of customs, she reviewed the list the umpteenth time.
     “All right,” Mom said, rapidly scribbling on her sketchpad. “You know your role once the exchange student arrives. You’ll have to guide him around.” She flashed her paper. On it was an assortment of local attractions only the locals would be interested in. Minor museums, cheap historic diners, and Forest Park’s attractions.
     I looked from the list. “At least you’re not suggesting the Arch.”
     “But that’s expensive, honey.” She flipped a few pages and jotted some illegible writing. “Now, treat him nicely.”
     “I will…”
     “If he has any questions, answer them.”
     “I know…”
     “And be careful with any experimentation of any sort—“
     “Mom!” That again?
     “I know that you didn’t want me signing us up, but I think that housing an exchange student would be a great experience for the both of us.”
     “You already said that,” I said, “but I doubt that our current circumstances—”
     “Don’t worry. I bet that by the end of the year, you’ll look upon this experience quite fondly.”
     I spotted someone headed our direction.
     A teenage boy dragged a rolling suitcase behind him, weaving through the small crowd among the customs area. He was definitely the exchange student.
     He tripped at our feet.
     I rushed to help him up before Mom could fully react. However, the exchange student already began lifting himself up with the suitcase handle. His legs shook. By the time he stood, he wore a sheepish grin that acted as a blatant cover-up.

THE CRITIQUE
1. First impressions. The dialogue flows and it's a good intro page, pretty clean. As far as first lines, it's decent but not overly gripping or intriguing. I also expected more inner thoughts and reactions since this is written in first person; this is quite streamlined. The mother seemed controlling, which causes conflict, but the tension maybe could be notched up to strengthen the scene (being careful not to go melodramatic or angst-saturated).

2. Gender. Most YA has female protagonists, so I made an assumption the main character was a girl. I was surprised to learn that the MC was a male named Bryan! However, it did make more sense that the mother was pushing Bryan/a son toward hanging out with a male exchange student, rather than her daughter. Perhaps the mother could call him "Bryan" in her dialogue, or else indicate in another way that the MC is male. Gender should be nailed down on a first page so the reader isn't disoriented later.

3. Character reveals. Chihuahua Zero wanted to know specifically: Is enough about Bryan shown on this page? What impression do you get from Bryan and Finn's meeting?

I definitely would've liked to see more details about Bryan's personality. There are some nice hints at underlying tensions and his character, but I'd like to see more of what Bryan is thinking and feeling. As far as the meeting, I didn't get much of an impression of Finn, the exchange student, other than he's clumsy and shy and he was carrying a suitcase. There's not much of an exchange other than Bryan noticing Finn is embarrassed and trying to cover it up.

Chihuahua Zero directed me to his first version on Janice Hardy's blog: HERE. If you have time, skim through that and compare! During revision he tightened and omitted some very strong lines (and voice)--such as this description of the exchange student:

“Umm...sorry about that.” His British accent was soft, timid, like a feeble-lunged flutist.. “Phineas Walker...but call me Finn.”

My opinion is that the strongest version of this story lies in the melding of these two versions. I prefer the mother being in the scene rather than the father, though--it shows the father's absence rather than telling about it.

 4. Wording/Picky Things.
--Rapidly scribbling. "Scribbling" means to write hastily or untidily, so the adverb "rapidly" really isn't necessary.
--"Telling" dialogue. The mother's line about "you know your role" is Telling, as well as lines like "I know you didn't want me signing us up" are info the characters already know and would've discussed before this point. Thus, they're mentioned only to inform the reader. I'd rather be shown by Bryan's actions, attitudes, and inner thoughts that he didn't want to be signed up, etc.
--Non-teen dialogue. Bryan's line about "I doubt that our current circumstances" doesn't sound teen-like to me--unless he's very intellectual or formal (which may hinder readers relating to him).
--Ambiguity. I wasn't sure what "experimentation" meant. It sounds like he does science experiments or is secretly sadistic, or else plays mind games with people. Perhaps rephrase? While it piques reader interest, you don't want to give an impression that's too far off. CZ says the true meaning is that Bryan is gay; does this word hint at that to you?

YOUR TURN
Did you read this thinking the main character was female rather than male?
How would YOU answer CZ's questions: Is enough about Bryan shown on this page? and What impression do you get from Bryan and Finn's meeting?
If you read the first version on Janice's blog, do you agree that it has more voice, and that the best version would be a meshing of these two versions?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

15 Things NOT to Blog About


It goes without saying that blogging is very public. If you want to be seen as a professional writer and snag an agent or editor, it's good to be wise about what you blog-post--or tweet or Facebook-post. Here's a list of things to watch out for, though most are admittedly slanted toward traditional publication rather than indie or self-publishing.

1. Posting excerpts of your own work, especially lengthy ones. Who really reads these? Best friends or your critique partners who have already read them? If you intend to publish these works someday, a future publisher may not want these floating around in cyberspace. The rule of thumb is to keep unpublished excerpts short, no more than 1-2 pages. If you're soon-to-be-published, make sure you get the okay from your publisher to post an excerpt from your upcoming book. Also, there's always the possibility that an unscrupulous writer may "borrow" your ideas.
2. Posting personal anecdotes and confessions. These are better suited for personal emails to close friends. Do you want an agent or editor going to your site and reading about your spat with your husband? Do we really need to know the nitty-gritties of your hysterectomy, or how your dog vomited on the laundry?
3. Stats of queries and rejections, posts of actual rejections. When you're published and famous, you can encourage others by saying how you've persevered through 187 queries/rejections and worked for 7 years to become published, but for beforehand, it's probably best to keep those to yourself. Stay general if you say you've been rejected! Imagine a future agent or editor reading what you've written; it may affect a future sale or business relationship.
4. Business relationship details. Don't go on about your breakup with an agent, publishing house, publicist, or critique group.  If you have a disagreement with these people, discuss it with them directly--or vent in private to close friends.
5. Status of your shopped manuscript. When you're on submission, don't list the details or length of time you've been hunting for a publisher. You can undermine your agent's work. You can ruin a potential deal. An editor may Google you and discover you've been out for months and months--and they are last on the list. For sharing good news, usually a writer waits until a Publisher's Weekly announcement is made.
6. Contract or book sales details. This includes contract specifics, number of author copies, number of books you've sold, etc. There are confidentiality clauses in publisher contracts; be sure to get a publisher's permission before sharing anything.
7. Monetary details. Comparing your advance amount or royalties with other writers' can cause dissention or grief. Consider that a huge advance isn't always better, because it's more difficult to "earn out" and begin collecting royalties--and publishers are more wary to publish you again if you don't "earn out."
8. Generally whiny or disgruntled rants about waiting on agents, how unfair the writing world is, how long it takes to get published, the dreck editors are publishing nowadays, how you loathed another writer's book, etc. Do you want to encourage or inspire, or be seen as a complainer?
9. Politics and religion. People have strong feelings about these; you're asking for controversy. It may be fun to generate a rousing discussion, but if you're aiming for publication, remember that you could be alienating future readers, and that agents/editors may browse your blog.
10. Identifying information. Be careful posting photos of your children, specifics about vacation plans (travel itinerary), info about where you work or live, your telephone number or personal email (it's recommended to get a separate email to use for blogging). Don't advertise to a burglar that your family will be away for two weeks!
11. Responding to negative reviews of your book. Don't. Do. It. It generates bad public relations, and doesn't cast you in a favorable light. The backlash is usually severe.
12. Constantly marketing your own book. Once we've seen it, we've seen it. Your followers already know the info, even if a few new followers may not. You're not increasing your sales or outreach.
13. Gross or bathroom humor, off-color videos, swearing, etc. Is this professional? Do we want an agent/editor to see it? We are writers--surely we can use our imaginations and find alternative ways to say things to avoid being offensive to some people.
14. Complaints about your editor's recent revision notes. No matter how you despise your editor's edits, remember that he/she might read your post!
15. Bragging. Be humble. No writer "has it made," and shouldn't treat followers as obsessively adoring fans. We are ALL learning, and we're at different points in our writing journeys.

Be careful out there.

YOUR TURN
Do you disagree with any of these points?
Can you add anything else to this list of things NOT to blog about?
Have you done one of these things, and regretted it? Will you change anything?



Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Sentence and Paragraph Makeovers


Since I'm in between novels, I'm taking a break from writing. I've been doing artwork, like the mini fabric art to the right. It involves tiny scraps of material glued onto mat board. This one is 2.5 x 3.5 inches.

LIVENING YOUR SENTENCES
Face it. Some sentences are more boring than others, pretty plain and ordinary. And if you use adverbs, they can be a lazy or unimaginative way of telling the reader what's going on. Instead, try using more active verbs and shoot for lively phrasings. Consider these examples:

Before: "Get out of my room!" he said angrily.
After: He brandished his fist in her face. "Get out of my room!"

Before: Lila and May walked in the park, talking cheerfully.
After: Lila and May walked in the park, chattering like squirrels on caffeine.

Before: Jim looked curiously at the package, wondering what was inside.
After: Jim squinted at the package. What was inside--that book he'd been wanting?

HONING PARAGRAPHS
Before The Makeover
High above the crashing emerald waves of the wild, frothing sea, Rianna stood on the grassy bluff. Her thick ebony hair flailed in the wind like whipping banners as her blue-green eyes scanned the waves for a glimpse of her father's huge merchant ship. She saw no tiny scrap of sail on the horizon, no sign of a wooden hull. The wind caught at her full skirt, wrapping like a protective cocoon around her little brother who stood beside her. He shivered, his dark eyes somber, his body small and thin like the reeds that grew by the inland rivers.

Comments
1. Adjective infestation! Every single noun does NOT need to have one to three adjectives describing it. The waves are crashing and emerald, the sea is wild and frothing, etc. Do we really need to know Rianna's eyes are blue-green--especially since her brother's eyes are described, too? That detail can be worked in more naturally, later.
2. Similes galore. There are three similes here--about banners, cocoon, and reeds. It's best not saturate your paragraphs with them. You could omit one or two, turn one into a metaphor to break up the monotony, or change a simile to say "as" instead of "like" to switch things up.
3. Redundancies. Saying the sea is both crashing and wild is overkill, and a "tiny scrap of sail" is redundant in that a scrap IS something tiny. Likewise, the hair doesn't need to be both flailing and whipping. A cocoon is inherently protective, so that word could be eliminated. "The waves" are repeated in the first two sentences. "Inland" in the last sentence tells us nothing--is there such thing as a river that isn't inland?
4. Miscellaneous: Technically, the second to last sentence says the WIND wrapped like a cocoon around her brother, not the skirt doing the wrapping. Wind is the subject of the sentence, the thing doing the action. A simple adding of "it" makes the intent more clear.

After the Makeover
High above the crashing waves of the sea, Rianna stood on the grassy bluff. Her hair flailed in the wind like ebony banners as she scanned the horizon for her father's merchant ship. She saw no scrap of sail, no sign of a wooden hull. The wind caught at her skirt, wrapping it around her brother who stood beside her. He shivered, his dark eyes somber, his body as thin as the reeds that grew by the rivers.

Adjectives omitted: 13!
Words omitted: 22!
The result is a cleaner, easier-to-read paragraph. Just imagine if you did this to an entire manuscript--it would be much tighter and streamlined. (Example sentences and paragraph borrowed from one of my early blogposts.)

YOUR TURN
If you are a writer, do you also dabble in artwork or any other creative things?
When you revise are you able to slash similes, adverbs, and adjectives without mercy?
Do you catch yourself using redundancies or unnecessary words, like "tiny scrap" or "inland rivers"?


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Style Sheets for Consistency


Style sheets. Do you know what they are?

For writers, style sheets refer to a list of specific words, grammar conventions, or styles used in a manuscript. They are handy things! If done correctly, they can help you maintain spelling and usage consistency within your manuscript.

The Official Style Sheet
You may use your own style sheet to help you with your writing, but when you sign with a publisher, the publishing house's copyeditor will compile a style sheet. He/she will check against this list as he/she reads through your manuscript. The purpose is to make sure you've stayed consistent throughout your book. This style sheet is shared with the publisher's proofreader.

Should you share your personal style sheet with your publisher or copyeditor? You could offer, but it may not be helpful to him/her. It can often make more work if a copyeditor has to double-check your lists and usages--especially if you haven't been 100% consistent throughout the manuscript.

Book Series and World-Building
Style sheets are especially important when you're writing a series, to help maintain consistency from book to book. It's a great place to record the myriad of details you must keep track of. They are especially crucial for writers of fantasy and science fiction, because the names, places, and world-building are often more complex or extensive.

ITEMS ON A STYLE SHEET
These things below can be listed on a style sheet if you wish to make one. Putting items in alphabetical order for each of these lists is important for easy lookup! You can also put the page number next to characters or words where they are first introduced in the story.

1. Names of characters. Shows how names are spelled: first/middle/last names, nicknames, and any titles (Miss, Ms., Dr., Mayor).
2. Character details. Age, hair/eye color, and clubs/alliances (for instance, the novel DIVERGENT categorizes people into groups: Dauntless, Candor, etc.). Can include quantity and ages of siblings for tracking purposes, even if they aren't "onscreen" characters.
3. Names of places. List any cities, areas, or locations cited in the manuscript with their correct spellings and capitalization. Add info like population and climate if pertinent.
4. Details of pets. Include names, breeds, colors, size, and whether male/female.
5. Vehicles involved. Their make, color, condition, smell, etc.
6. Hyphenation usage. Especially important for words that can be written different ways, such as good-bye or goodbye.
7. Invented or coined words. Crucial when writing fantasy and sci-fi, since these are part of the world-building. Like: mellyflower, taxibot, nerve-gun, etc.
8. Abbreviated or slang words. Words shortened or slang used, such as: meds, 'cuz/'cos, uber, fanfreakingtastic, etc.
9. Capitalized words. Words not normally capped, like Games, War, Outsiders, Party, etc. Be careful not to overdo these; they can make your manuscript seem cluttered or even pretentious (words trying too hard to look important).
10. Alternate spellings or usages. British/Australian/Canadian spellings: colour, neighbour, grey, storey, dialled, theatre. Word usages like backward/backwards, toward/towards (hint: the "s" is usually the British usage). Also, if you're writing historical pieces and staying true to the time period, put those words on your style sheet and share them with your editor.
11. Poor grammar--on purpose. Especially in dialogue, characters don't always speak proper English. They split infinitives: to secretly admire, to never go. They say snuck instead of sneaked for the past tense of sneak. They mess up when using who or whom. ("Who are you going with?" she asked.) Admittedly, some of these are so common it's not necessary to include, but do include lazy expressions like gonna, hafta, gotta, and outta--anything that helps you keep your characters' dialogue uniform. One character may talk more formally, whereas another's lines are peppered with hafta and gotta.

The goal in keeping a style sheet is to produce CONSISTENCY within your manuscript. This can't help but cause your story to come across as more professional. Give it a try!

YOUR TURN
Have/had you ever heard of style sheets before?
Do you use style sheets to help keep your characters, spellings, and words straight?
If you're published, have you seen the official style sheets from your copyeditor?