Archive for the ‘Critiques’ Category

tgnalogorevampI mentioned a few days ago that we were mixing things up over at The Great Noveling Adventure (TGNA) – the other blog that I contribute to – and that I would have some details for you soon.

Time to spill!

We’re making our blog more about you, our fellow writers. We want to make our writing adventure more interactive with yours. So, we’ve invited a couple of new, well-seasoned writers to join the team and we’ve created a new structure to the blog. Each day will have a set theme and we, the contributors, will rotate instead.

Here’s the new schedule:

  • Media Mondays: This is a brand-new content feature–we’ll share downloads, printables, playlists, and more!
  • Travel Tuesdays: Our ever-popular “Your Adventure” posts, link roundups, and guest posts.
  • Writing Wednesdays: Craft posts.
  • Things I’ve Read Thursdays: Book reviews!
  • Top Five Fridays: Lists of our five favorite things.

Each quarter we will have a flash fiction writing prompt contest. (I had so much fun with our Christmas-themed flash fiction that I really can’t wait to do this, again.)Tweet

There will also be group writing sprints on Twitter, starting this Monday. I will be leading some sprints, myself, usually in the mornings. If you’re taking the day off for Labor Day and want some writing companionship, look for me under the Twitter handle @Novel_Adventure and @litbeing using the hashtags #tgna, #sprint, and #amwriting. I’ll be doing at least few rounds of twenty minute sprints before I take the kids to the ballgame downtown.

So, you mentioned something about a ginormous contest?

Oh, right! So much to talk about, I nearly forgot. From now until Sunday evening at 7pm EST (that means 5pm locally) you can enter to win some of the following prizes:

  • Two mystery book packages – Two lucky winners will each get a set of 3 books chosen by Serena, Kit, Isabelle, and Megan.
  • Character Sketch — one lucky winner will receive a character sketch from the super-talented Laura Hollingsworth, thanks to Alyssa.
  • Outlander Audiobook — one lucky winner will snag an audio copy of OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon, courtesy of Lauren.
  • Ultimate Submission Package — one lucky winner will receive a Query Critique from Danielle Ellison, the author of SALT and FOLLOW ME THROUGH DARKNESS, and Senior Editor at Spencer Hill Press; a Pitch + Synopsis Critique (with up to three revisions!) from Sarah; and a 30-Page Critique from Valerie (that’s me!).

That submission package alone is totally worth entering, right?

So, click on over to the TGNA website and enter today!

writemotivation_header1

Many of the people I follow are participating in the A to Z challenge this month, so I expect they are plenty busy with this insanity right about now. (I say this with the utmost respect of one who could never in a million years be organized enough to post daily for an entire month, let alone have a theme involved tying all said fictional posts together – I am not that person.) I think they are all rock stars or mentally imbalanced, like people who purposely run marathons. Seriously, how do you do it?

Goals for this month:

1. Work on suggested revisions for Museum Crashers. I am deep into this goal at the moment and really enjoying it. The suggestions made during my conference critique have me on the right track. YAY!! I also meet with my critique group this week and they will add to the helpfulness, as they always do.

I may have neglected to mention this before, but two other members of my critique group, Barbara Lowell (who has her first book coming out this June!) and Sharon Martin (writer of the most kick-ass novel in verse I’ve read since Ellen Hopkins), both were chosen as top picks by the speakers. Man, do I have a fantastic critique group or what!

2. Work on suggested revisions for Institutionalized. This will be next after I’m done with Museum Crashers.

3. Read 6 books. I’ve just finished one book of poetry that I’m going to write a review on later this week and I’m in the middle of another, a sequel I’ve been really looking forward to reading – THE DREAM THIEVES by Maggie Stiefvater. I’m going a little slow on this one right now. It’s not clipping along with the same fantastic pace as the first one. Part of it may be that it’s been so long since I read the first book that I have trouble remembering everything that happened in the last book and I get a little lost.

4. If complete both 1 and 2, work on first draft of Pretty Vacant. Not ready for this, yet.

5. Yes, you still have to exercise. 4 times a week. Goal accomplished and my body hates it. Every day I wake up wondering why there is pain already. “Oh yeah. The exercise.” We’re not even up to pre-deathly ill month of February levels of exercise yet and my body is already whining. Too bad, chica, cause we’re not stopping. Slap on the icy hot and walk (limp) on.

 

Besides this, I’ve also been busy preparing for a talk I’m doing next month for our local SCBWI schmooze entitled “Intro to Twitter”. As part of this prep, I’ve been creating some lists on my Twitter account to share. Wow, was that time-consuming! I’m glad I’ve finally finished! One is called “Writers of fabulous blogs” and includes all the people I follow who also write really good blogs. Feel free hop on over and subscribe to it.

And how are you all doing with your goals?

I hope to get around to reading at least a sampling of the thousands of A to Z challenge posts out there; they are daunting in their numbers. I am interested in reading through all of Rebekah’s world-building series for sure. Talk about detail. Get on with your bad self!  Are there any A to Z challenges you’ve found fascinating?

Consider this a cautionary tale.

Be wary of testing the law of gravity; it exists for your own protection. For what goes up does indeed come down. And sometimes it does so with a vengeance.

Back when I was in first grade, my brother decided to test Newton’s big theory. For some reason, I decided to witness this event. So when he threw this up into the air…

Photo credit: Roger H Goun via Flickr

Photo credit: Roger H Goun via Flickr

…I caught it with my forehead.

Good old laws of physics passed the test. Still have a small scar above my right eye to prove it.

My younger brother was playing in the the outfield on a hot summer day when a pop fly came right overhead. Glove ready, he reached out to catch it, but the sun blinded him and the ball slipped over the top of his glove…

Photo Credit: Jason Empey via Flickr

Photo Credit: Jason Empey via Flickr

…BAM!!! He caught the ball with his mouth.

Gravity was a cruel mistress on that day. His lips were swollen like two bruised plums bursting off his face for weeks. He now plays soccer.

On a related sports note, back in Little League, my husband forgot that when you’re playing catcher, you should probably kneel behind the plate so you don’t catch one of these…

Photo Credit: Photographer Unknown, Untitled (Four Baseball Bats) 1992, Sold at Christie's Auction in 2007

Photo Credit: Photographer Unknown, Untitled (Four Baseball Bats) 1992, Sold at Christie’s Auction in 2007

…with your noggin.

And maybe you should wear a catcher’s mask. The bat hit him so hard, he didn’t register the pain. He stood there, trying to figure out how his white jersey had turned red and what was dripping into his eye. Uh, yeah that would be the blood from the big gash in your skull. He has a pretty cool scar, too.

You’d think now that we’re older,  we’d all have a better understanding about the dangers of testing gravity, of catching objects hurtling through the air and exhibit a little more caution in our daily lives. Sadly, this rarely turns out to be the case. This past weekend, while swimming with the family at the neighborhood pool, my husband forgot the lessons of the past and did something incredibly stupid. He caught this…

Sophie Smile

…with his face.

My daughter jumped in, all carefree and impulsive – like you do – intent on making a big splash. Instead, she misjudged her aim. Her knee landed somewhere around my husband’s eyebrow, giving him a black eye and her shin bone smacked across his mouth hard enough to knock out one of his front teeth.

Just in time for him to start his new job the following Monday. (With a brief detour to some serious dental surgery. ) Yippee.

So how was your week?

Learn anything cool about science?

Catch anything dangerous with your head?

writemotivation_header1Let’s review some #writemotivation goals to liven things up a bit more.

1. Submit Institutionalized (YA contemporary) to five more literary agents. I’ve submitted to two more agents this month. Still no rejections, so this makes seven submissions out. Will have to send out three more before the end of the month to make this goal. Should be doable.

2. While participating in Camp NanoWriMo, write at least 50K towards first draft of Pretty Vacant (YA contemporary). Uhh…I kind of forgot all about Camp Nano in the midst of the Christmas in July Pitch contest hoopla, the hubs changing jobs which totally threw our harmonious family schedule into chaos (read stressed everyone completely out), him then getting injured and going through major dental surgery the same week he started the new job (although my husband on nitrous oxide was entertaining at times, this injury still added more chaos and stress to the week). This goal is a total fail for the month. I’ll keep working on the story, but there’s no way I’ll make my word limit goal.

3. Read at least five more books – review one on the blog. I need to write a review up this week, but the reading is going well. I may be the cnv paperback USlast person on the planet to start reading Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. A Michael L Printz Honor book, among other awards – actually I should tell you what awards it hasn’t won, it’s a much shorter list. I’m bouncing between this gripping tale and last week’s book of note, Sara Zaar’s How to Save a Life.

4. Finish critique of friend’s manuscript. (Hopefully by her birthday midway through the month!) I have started this, but still extreme sad face. Will not make this goal, either.

5. Exercise 4 times each week. I did make this goal. Yay! Didn’t overdo it. This week the work outs were a little more relaxed, but still accomplished.

6. Participate in all Crit Camp activities, which include critiquing 10K samples from manuscripts from the other participants and preparing crit letters. This. Was. So. HARD! Writing up critique letters with an overview of plot, character, voice, structure, etc., was such a different way of thinking about critique. I really struggled with my final crit letters. Natalie was so helpful in pointing out when I was holding back and not saying what I meant and making me reach deeper. It was such a great learning experience, and in the end, I was able to give more specific examples when giving critiques and discuss the overall picture in ways I’ve never been able to before. I also really enjoyed getting so much helpful, insightful feedback on my own work. If this is something you could use help with, you may want to check out Natalie C Parker’s Crit Camp yourself.

That’s a wrap on the past week. I’ve got some great posts coming up to finish out the month so stay tuned. Next month week I’m headed out to the fabulous SCBWI LA Summer Conference! I’m sure to bring back valuable knowledge to share.

photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. httpwww.flickr.comphotossahlgoodeWhat a week! I thought last week was a whirlwind, this one almost got away from me.  I have returned to civilization and (almost) miss those psychotic chickens. I don’t miss the bugs. I finally stopped itching, yesterday, even with the toothpaste. I must admit that I have dipped into the sacred pint of New York Super Fudge Chunk. After the week in the country, though. I don’t even feel guilty about it.

Here’s a look at this month’s #writemotivation goals:

1. Submit Institutionalized (YA contemporary) to five more literary agents. I’ve done more eliminating of possibilities this past week than submitting, but that is part of the process. Some on my short list, when I looked closer didn’t really fit as well as I had hoped. This was pretty time-consuming. The good news is, my list is shorter. I also haven’t received any rejections, so I still have five submissions out.2013-Participant-Campfire-Circle-Badge

2. While participating in Camp NanoWriMo, write at least 50K towards first draft of Pretty Vacant (YA contemporary). (Yay, camp!) I spent more time on my other camp this past week than this one since it ends first, but I still made a little progress. Yay, for camps with NO BUGS!

howtosave-150x2273. Read at least five more books – review one on the blog. I’m currently reading Sara Zarr’s How to Save a Life and digging it. Slowly chipping away at that gargantuan TBR pile. I may even snag Lauren Oliver’s Delirium series away from my daughter soon.

4. Finish critique of friend’s manuscript. (Hopefully by her birthday midway through the month!) Extreme sad face. Not. Even. Started. Utter Failure.

5. Exercise 4 times each week. More than four times, baby! Got the cramps and muscle strains to prove it!

6. Participate in all Crit Camp activities, which include critiquing 10K samples from manuscripts from the other participants and preparing crit letters. I’ve had so much fun doing the work for Natalie C Parker’s Crit Camp! I’ve received my initial crit letters back and Natalie’s feedback on my critiquing was so great. I’m ready to write up my final crit letters with much more depth and clarity. I hope my own critique partners notice the difference in my critiquing when we meet up next week. I can’t wait to try out my new skills.

On last minute announcement…Xmas in July post headerdrum roll please!!!

I entered my Middle Grade manuscript, Night of the Museum Crashers, into the Christmas in July Pitch Contest and out of 206 entries, mine was one of 30 chosen!

Yeah, baby! I’m so excited!

So what happens next? On July 18th and 19th, all the winning entries (Yes, that includes mine!) will be posted on the two hosting blogs. The lovely Michelle Krys and her equally lovely companion across the pond, Ruth Lauren Stevens have assembled these fantastic group of agents to view and make comments on the entries or possibly even make requests for submissions:

Adriann Ranta of Wolf Literary Services

Tracey and Josh Adams of Adams Literary

Becky Vinter of Fine Print Literary Management

Diana Fox of Fox Literary

Molly Jaffa of Folio Literary Management

Lucy Carson of Friedrich Literary Agency

Lara Perkins of Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Inc. 

Logan Garrison of The Gernert Company

Sarah LaPolla of Bradford Literary Agency

Tamar Rydzinski of Laura Dail Literary Agency

Monika Verma of Levine Greenberg Literary Agency, Inc.

Brianne Johnson of Writers House

Carly Watters of P.S. Literary Agency

Stefanie Lieberman of Janklow & Nesbit

Jessica Sinsheimer of Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency

Katie Shea of Donald Maass Literary Agency 

Amazing, right? Check out Ruth or Michelle’s site for more details. And make sure to stop by to check out all of the amazingly talented entries on the 18th (including mine!OMG! So excited!) You can also follow the action on Twitter at #XmasinJuly and I’m on #TeamRuth. (Never been on a team before…very cool!)

photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. httpwww.flickr.comphotossahlgoodeIt’s only day two of July and already this month is kicking my butt. Not only am I participating in Camp Nano to complete a first draft of my latest YA project, but I won a spot in Natalie Parker’s Crit Camp this month (along with some fabulous books and other swag) and that will keep me plenty busy with my other #writemotivation goals I have set for this month. I asked for it, though. I wanted to really challenge myself this go round. God, I hope I survive. You may want to check on me from time to time to make sure I haven’t crawled under my desk to eat a pint of the tasty, tasty New York Super Fudge

better stock up, it's gonna be a long month.

Just a little taste?

Chunk…Mmm! Doesn’t that sound good right about now? No! We will find some semblance of willpower. WE WILL!

Here are my lofty goals for this month that may or may not render me insane:

1. Submit Institutionalized (YA contemporary) to five more literary agents.
2. While participating in Camp NanoWriMo, write at least 50K towards first draft of Pretty Vacant (YA contemporary). (Yay, camp!)
3. Read at least five more books – review one on the blog.
4. Finish critique of friend’s manuscript. (Hopefully by her birthday midway through the month!)
5. Exercise 4 times each week.

Need to add #6, participate in all Crit Camp activities, which include critiquing 10K samples from manuscripts from the other participants and preparing crit letters.

This month should be a hoot. I also get to house-sit for my folks this week while they attend my brother’s wedding out on the West Coast. So sad I can’t go, myself. My hubs couldn’t get out of work. Now I get to babysit chickens and dogs alone with the kids on the 4th. Should be a gas. Ah, well. Next month I get to travel to LA once again to attend the most fabulous of SCBWI conferences with some of my close friends. That will be a real vacation uh, fantastic working experience. (Maybe a little bit of both, to be honest.)

Here’s to a kickass month with serious goals; may we all survive them!

Just for your information, here’s some opportunities you don’t want to miss:

Late last week, there was a flurry of activity on Twitter when agent Jessica Sinsheimer created a hashtag for all agents (and even some editors) to let writers know what was on their manuscript wishlist #MSWL and YA writer KK Hendin created a Tumblr page to capture the hundreds of responses all in one place here. It was a fascinating conversation that kept many of us enraptured for hours. Some agents even reopened to submissions if writers used the hashtag #MSWL in their query line. If you are ready for query submissions, you must check this out.

On another note of upcoming opportunity, Ruth Lauren Stevens and Michelle Krys will host the second Christmas in July Pitch contest where chosen entries will be allowed to show off their queries and the first 500 words of their COMPLETED manuscripts to 16 participating agents who then may make comments or even requests. It’s a fantastic opportunity so stay tuned for the details.

Good luck, everyone!

Emergency Candy

I am so completely surprised that November snuck up on me. I swear it was just summer. Actually, here in Oklahoma, it’s still been in the 80’s until recently so I can be forgiven for my confusion on that point. I’ve had my head down working in my writer’s cave so long, I’ve lost all sense of time and place. I almost missed Halloween. We didn’t even decorate the house this year – didn’t stop those freeloading cuties from ringing the bell. Good thing I did manage to buy some treats. (And extras of, course. They will be needed this month.)

I have so many things going on right now that I can hardly manage without skipping a night of sleep here and there – and that’s usually a bad idea because it always catches up with me. I become a brainless zombie that makes really bad online purchases. November is busy for me in a normal year, with Thanksgiving and my birthday week always colliding and then we usually travel to my folk’s place during that same time – it’s just nuts. Traveling with an autistic child and figuring out what to do with the two attention-seeking dogs is enough of a stressor alone. This year, I’ve added to the chaos.

I have a novel revision retreat this weekend that I’ve been preparing for all month which has meant reading and critiquing two other novel manuscripts, complete with detailed notes on plot structure, character development, dialogue, and voice. I’m just about finished, but there’s a few down to the wire things left to do. Once I’m there at the retreat, I’ll be able to relax and it will be an enjoyable three days of writing bliss with my friends along two editors from New York who survived the worst Hurricane Sandy had to offer and were gracious enough to rearrange their flights so they could attend our gathering.

Another major thing I’m working on is completing the final revision of my YA manuscript that an agent is waiting to see. I am so close and I really want to send it out this week, but I know I need to wait until it’s ready and in the best shape possible. So when I see another section that needs more work, it’s frustrating. I just want to be done already! Gah! I hope I can send out very soon.

Finally, I’ve signed up for National Write a Novel Month. Most of us just call it nanowrimo, or nano for short. It’s a really fun way to work on a first draft at a frenzied pace with a group of people cheering each other on. I need to get started on my next manuscript and once I send off the manuscript to the agent, nano will the best way to get my mind off of the agony of waiting to hear back from her. If you’re also doing nano, hit me up on your buddy list under litbeing and we’ll make it through this crazy thing together. I’ll be participating in #writemotivation this month as well, but mostly I’ll be keeping my goals related to nano, so that shouldn’t be too much of an added strain.

One final note of business, the die of fate were rolled for my Darcy Pattison book giveaway and three was the magic number. Sharon Martin won the signed copy of Desert Baths. Congratulations, Sharon! I’ll see you this weekend at the retreat and bring you your prize.

So are you doing anything crazy this month? Participating in nano? Let me hear from you.

My first day of the conference, an ecstatic empty vessel, ready to be filled with the words of sages.

To be surrounded by the  kindred spirits of our international SCBWI “tribe” for four days was exactly what I needed. Every speaker added a little more to my depleted well of the creative self deep inside me. I left completely filled up and then some. Many speakers brought me to tears. I hate crying in public, damn it. Still, the tears spilled and inspiration came by the truckload. So much so that I had to just sit with everything for about a week after returning home to let it all soak in before I wrote one word.

Not only did I get to spend five days away from home, meeting new friends, filling my brain up with literary wisdom while surrounded by like-minded individuals, Ialso spent most of my free time with some of my dearest writer friends from our local Oklahoma region of the SCBWI. And what did we do after listening to fabulous speakers all day? Talked more about books and literary stuff! *sigh*

(A very special thank you, thank you, thank you! must go out to my ever-so-patient mate who suffered through countless rounds of questions like ‘where’s mom?’ and ‘when is she coming home?’ and ‘are you sure she didn’t run away for good this time?’ so I could take this much needed journey. You are my rock, and I love you!)

I even talked some of my friends into dancing their butts off with me at the Hippie Hop party on Saturday night. It had been way too long since this mama had dragged her tired self out onto the dance floor. We laughed at ourselves and kept on dancing anyway. Sorry for those of you who had to witness my out of control dance moves, but when the music commands it, you gotta shake it!

Fellow SCBWI’ers getting into the spirit.

Although my roommate Barbara, and crit partner extraordinaire, didn’t “dig” the rap music, she stayed and danced like a trouper.

Me and my Regional RA Assistant Feeling Groovy.

To top it all off, I had the best critique discussion ever with a fantastic agent who wants to see my entire manuscript.  YES! YES! YES!  There was a celebratory dinner in my honor. (Did I mention how much I love my writing friends?)

The week could not have gone any better.

I wish I could share all of the knowledge and insight I learned in detail, but alas, it is forbidden.

FORBIDDEN!

FORBUDT!

VERBOTEN!

I do understand the reasoning. After all, the presentations are the property of the speakers and many of them put so much of themselves into their words, that there is no way I could relay the depth of their presentations here. I can only give brief overviews, a quote here or there, my impressions of the keynote addresses and break out sessions that I attended, and what I learned overall.  Still, I think you’ll find many of these things very enlightening and useful. I shall be spreading this information out over several posts during the next few weeks.

(I don’t want to blow your minds all in one sitting.)

You can also find tons of information about the conference from the official conference blog site here.

To start us off slowly, here’s the first lovely literary tidbit to nosh on:

Several speakers addressed a recurring problem they see with manuscripts they read; the story doesn’t start in the right place.

Either the writer is giving the reader too much history or back story in the beginning of the book or the writer is starting off at a break neck pace, leaping right into an action sequence without allowing the reader to make any connection to the character at all.

Take some time to think about your story and the best possible beginning it could have. Then start where the actual story starts. This may seem like a simple idea, but it’s harder than it may seem. If your story, for example, is about a girl who’s running away from her problems at home, who then lands in even bigger trouble while living on the streets when she crosses paths with a gang of street hustlers, do we need to see the precipitating event? The family dynamic, that drove her from the security of the familiar? Or do we want to jump straight into the action and watch her sneaking out in that first scene? It could be either way. It may depend on what story you are telling and where the story actually starts.

The best beginnings incite questions in your reader.

“What happens next?”

You need to introduce your main character and the conflict of the story as soon as possible without causing confusion and yet at the same time entice  your readers enough to want to turn the next page.  Give them enough set up of the character’s world so that they feel connected to it, but don’t give them so much of an information dump that they struggle to understand what is happening or get bored with a lecture on the history of the Land of Nod or with who begat whom.

If your reader is lost or unable to follow your plot, they will put your book down and cease being your reader. No author wants that.

One of the agents at the conference, Linda Pratt of the Wernick & Pratt agency, suggested that “It can be helpful to re-evaluate an opening line and/or page upon a work’s completion when you know how the whole novel plays out because a good opening sets off the whole work.”

Be flexible (another phrase I heard often) and try moving things around to see what makes the most sense. Figure out where your story truly begins.

That’s something to think about, eh?

I’ve got a ton more planned, so make sure you stop by every few days to see what’s new. By the way, I couldn’t get all 1,244 conference attendees to stand still long enough for a group pic, so here’s a panorama shot of the main ballroom right before a keynote speech. Most of us are in there. Hi, all!

One last thing, I’ve been interviewed – for the first time! – by AG over at Nerd Couture. So if you can’t get enough of me – I certainly can, but there’s no accounting for taste – stop on over and check it out. I’m going to pop over myself just to see what I’ve been whispering behind my back.

So glad to be home!

smile, everyone!