Friday, April 29, 2011

Dream the Improbable

And now, for a little variation from the norm, something wholly new and unusual for me: a completely serious post.

After my last post, Anita asked me where I find the time and energy to do all the things I do.  It's a valid question.  I know to most people my schedule looks, well, insane.

Probably because it is, but that's neither here nor there.

A valid question deserved a valid response, and so I got to seriously thinking about why I am the way I am, do things the way I do, etc.  There's not just one reason or explanation, I think, but I did draw some conclusions, and in a wholly typical fashion, I present my findings to you here, in another epically long winded Kalen post.  Actually, this is long even for me.

(Let's just consider that 'my brand.')

I get up around 5 am, hit the gym for an hour and squeeze in a couple hours of writing before work.  I average 1K an hour, 2K if its just dialogue.  I have a flexible job that lets me leave in the middle of the day for an hour or so when I have auditions to make, and I stay at the office from 5-7 to get a couple more hours of writing in while I wait for rush hour traffic to die down.  Then I go home or out with friends and relax for a few hours, and hopefully squeeze in another hour of writing before going to bed around midnight.

Days when I'm on set however, all of this goes completely out the window as an average work day on set for an actor are usually at LEAST twelve hours and can be up to sixteen hours.  I've worked nineteen hour days on a Pepsi commercial, and expect many more days like that in my future as well.  But there's a lot of down time on set and I usually have no trouble making my word count.

So yes, my average word count per day is anywhere from 5K to 8K, except on weekends when I can usually get to 10 or 12K.  And I average about five hours of sleep a night.

Only two things make this possible.  One, I love what I do.  I freaking live for it.  I will never EVER see creating worlds and characters and bringing other people's characters to life on camera as work.  I'm never too tired for it, resentful of having to do it, or anything other than just looking forward to doing it.  My kind of schedule just wouldn't be possible if I didn't honest to god live for what I do.

The other thing that makes it possible, is routine.  So many people underestimate what the human mind is capable of.  We grow up a certain way, we see life and work and people around us a certain way, and whatever we come to define as 'normal' becomes the bar by which we measure ourselves.  And exceeding normal, going beyond the ordinary or the routine, that takes a toll.  Because our minds, our bodies KNOW that its extra.  It's us asking more of them than we usually do, and they begrudge us for it and makes us pay.  The trick though, is in how you define normal.

For me, this kind of schedule, these kinds of self-expectations are completely normal.  Have been since I was a kid.  My siblings and I were raised as overachievers, as competitive, expected to view extraordinary (in the literal sense of the word, beyond the ordinary or normal) as our routine.  From the time I was eight until I was eighteen, I can remember getting up at five every morning so that all four of us kids had a chance to practice an hour of piano every morning (yup, we're all classically trained pianists too, my kid sister played with the San Diego Orchestra when she was sixteen, etc).  We all played Varsity sports, I did an hour of karate three days a week and had a black belt by the time I was fifteen - heavy, grueling activities that challenged our bodies as much as our minds.  Ridiculous, right?  Living off five hours of sleep a night for most of my life, filling my days with as much physical and mental activity as I do, by most logic I should have driven myself into the ground by now.

Except I get physicals, I go to the doctor, I'm very much in great shape, prime health, and expected to live a long and healthy life.  I'm not actually wearing myself to the bone or taking out credit that my body will be forced to pay for later on in life.  And its simply, honestly because to my body and mind, this is normal.  This is routine.  Forget what society dictates as standard, for as long as I can remember this has been my usual, and so I'm not asking anything of myself that I haven't been asking or expecting for most of my life.

The truly interesting thing to me is, I'm not some exceptionally unique genetic freak either.  In the age old nature vs nurture debate, I know and firmly believe that nature is a large factor in how we ultimately develop.  But in my personal experience, the role of 'nurture' can't be denied.  See, I have three siblings.  My older sister and I are our dad's biological children.  My younger siblings are adopted.  My younger sister is Vietnamese.  My younger brother is Mexican.  We literally share not a single speck of genetic family lineage.

And yet, all four of us are considered to be 'gifted pianists', to varying degrees.  We've all won awards, competitions, etc.  We all excelled at sports, making Varsity teams in our freshmen and sophomore years, though the specific sports varied.  All of us were honor roll students, and while I don't put too much stock in IQs, and what having a 'genius IQ' actually means, all four of us test well into the gifted/genius IQ range.  Not a single specific biological link between us (other than you know, being human), both of them adopted at birth and its not like our parents knew how to pick out the 'potential geniuses.'  I firmly believe that while some people may be genetically predisposed to certain abilities or potential, that all of us are born inherently capable of the same things.

I am the way I am because this is my normal.  Because I was never given any reason to believe I WASN'T capable of the things that I am.  While I've struggled with my own insecurities and personal demons over the years, I simultaneously took for granted routines and skills that would stymie a lot of people, with an end result of mind over matter.  Because I believed I was capable of certain things, because it was simply so ingrained in me that there was no question, no doubt - I was capable of those things.

Now as to the title of this post:

There's a quote I THINK from Sherlock Holmes.  I could be wrong though.  Roughly paraphrased, it says 'When you eliminate the impossible as an explanation, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be true.'

That always stuck with me, and over time I adapted it slightly.

'When you eliminate failure as an option, all that remains, no matter how improbable, is success.' 

As I mentioned, we all have our own struggles, hurdles, and neurotic quirks, insecurities and setbacks unique to us.  While I know I have a lot going for me, there's a reason I'm only actively seeking an agent and trying to break into publishing NOW, when I'm 27 instead of fresh out of college.  When I have several completed manuscripts under my belt rather than straight off my first one.  One of my particular problems that plagued me for YEARS was that I sucked at being decisive.  I always had too many things I wanted to write, and none of them ended up getting written.  Or at least not finished.  I'd waste so much time wondering if this was a better story than that one, or if I liked this plot better and so on and so on.

Doing nothing:  the greatest time waster of all. 

What does this have to do with my adaptation of the Holmes quote?  I finally solved my problem of not knowing what story to write, of deciding which idea was better, and actually started FINISHING things by making a very simple choice.

If I couldn't pick what to write, I'd simply have to write them all.

And so I just picked one.  And started writing it.  And it didn't matter which I picked, because I'd decided that even though the sheer volume of stuff I wanted to write was ludicrous, I was going to write them all anyways.  I told myself that was the only solution to my problem, and instead of wasting more time listing all the reasons that wouldn't work and wasting yet more time STILL trying to decide what to write, I'd simply write.

And a funny thing happened.  I started writing faster.  And more, I started writing SMARTER.  Where once I would rewrite a chapter ten times, now I was getting things right the first, second, third times.  Oh, I still have to revise, edit, do more than one draft.  Don't get me wrong.  But nowhere near what I had to in the past.  Because I decided I wasn't okay with any alternative.  So I'd just have to get better until I could get it all done.

Incidentally, that's why I'm an actor too.  I never could decide what I wanted to be when I grew up - I wanted to be too many things.  Pilot, fire fighter, lawyer, doctor - I couldn't be them all, but I couldn't not be them all.  So I'm an actor.  I can be a little of everything.

Then people said you can't be a writer AND an actor.  That's too much.  It'll never work.  But if I don't accept it not working, if I don't accept picking JUST actor or writer as a career, then there's no reason I CAN'T be both.  Failure's unacceptable to me, so I guess I'll just have to find a way to make both work.

See where I'm going with this?

One thing acting and writing have in common, is that they're the two most empowering fields I know of.  How does that work?  Getting on TV, getting published, it depends on so many variables outside of us, right?  Skill, talent, body of work, market trends, market conditions, economy, luck, casting directors, acquisition editors, etc, etc, ad nauseam.


If you look at successful actors and successful writers, if you look at their work and read their interviews and see how they got to where they are today, there's a million different variables.  No two got their start the same way, no two have the same level of talent.  There are actors of all shapes, sizes, colors and degrees of attractiveness.  There are writers of all genres, experience level, subject matter, and more.  Some writers and actors got their agents by networking, some were scouted, some got their work in front of the right person at the right time simply by luck.  Some only had to try for two months before landing their big break, some it took ten years.  Some only came by it posthumously.

There is only one thing all successful writers and actors have in common.  One common thread that binds them and separates them from failed actors and writers.


They didn't accept failure as an option.

That's it.  That's their big secret to success.  Mull that over for a second.  That's ALL you have to do to realize your dreams.  That's all you have to do to make it.

Just.  Never.  Stop.

Never stop trying, never stop growing, never stop learning, evolving, thinking outside the box.  Never stop dreaming.  When one door closes, find another one.  When one manuscript isn't good enough, learn to write a better one.  Hang a sign outside your door that says NO SOLICITORS, NO DISCOURAGEMENT.  Be blind to all the reasons you CAN'T do this.

If you struggle to find time to write, cut down on time wasting by ceasing to second guess yourself and whether you're good enough.  If you're not sure if the story you want to write is something agents would want to see or that publishers are willing to take a chance on, write it anyways.  Maybe it won't land you that agent.  Maybe it won't sell.  It'll still be a finished novel, you'll still learn from it, and you won't have to waste time wondering what it could have been.  You'll know.  You'll grow.  You'll move on to your next attempt.

Don't be afraid of failure.  Every failed attempt is just one step closer to success, one less thing standing between you and success as you cross it off your list as something tried, learned from and on to the next approach.

The only true failure is being less than what you're capable of.

Want to be a writer?  Hell, want to be an actor?

Just be stubborn.  Be fearless.  Be a risk taker, an opportunity maker, a problem solver and an eternal student.  Don't write something off as impossible just because its never been done before.  Don't be afraid to dream big, understanding that there's a world of difference between feeling you're OWED something and feeling you're CAPABLE of something.

I'm owed nothing.  I'm capable of everything.

Know this.  Believe this.  Smile politely when someone rips your MS to shreds as amateurish and incompetent and say 'Thank you, I KNOW my story is worth telling, so I guess this just means I have to work a little harder to tell it.'

Do everything except quit, and you're more than just a writer.

You're a muthaf*ckin rockstar.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

In Which the Sky is Falling, and I Do Not Make a Good Chicken Little

*gasps and comes up for air all melodramatically*


Well okay, so I last posted last week so its entirely possible that nobody even noticed I was gone, since like, its all relative yo.  But I felt like I was gone forever, because drama has an Einsteinian (sp? real word?  whatever) effect on the time/space continuum and turns a week into


Sorry.  In case you haven't gathered yet, its been a long week.

So I have a ton of stuff to share, some exciting, some not so exciting, some positively reeking of mundanity.  So we're going to space that out.  First of all, my thanks to everyone who took a chance on my little CP Auction Blogfest, and I'm really sorry it didn't work out the way we hoped.  I'll have another post on that later in the week, examining what I think I could have done differently and asking for input on how to tweak things and get more people involved for next time, because I'm totally going to try again.  One wise soul suggested hosting it again right after NaNoWriMo, and I think she might be one of those freaky genius type people.  Because holy smokes that's a good idea.

In other news, the last couple weeks have seen me absolutely swamped with auditions which I will never ever complain about.  However, something to consider, and expect a writing related post on this later as well, as it applies there too - don't bite off more than you can chew.  Which I umm, do a lot.  So for instance, when I did four dance auditions in a span of two weeks (yeah I dance too, mostly hip hop, music videos stuff, got a little contemporary and jazz training too), its kinda me hedging my bets, because you never expect to land all of them.  But when you land say, three of the four music videos and have back to back nonstop rehearsals and multi-day shoots on three music videos crammed into one week, the end result is a LOT OF PAIN.   And sore muscles galore.  And oh dear god, my feet, they may never work again.  But they'll have to, because I also booked a major role in an indie movie shooting in two weeks and have been auditioning fairly regularly now for a producer of not one, but two major genre shows, and hoping that'll lead to something big so fingers crossed!

Also have cover art to show off for Anonymous - remember the Great Grassroots Novel Experiment I spoke of awhile back?  Well it's still in the works, trying to work out the best time table for it as of course part of its purpose is figuring out how to best capitalize on web presence and build buzz, but I do have pretty pictures for it, and absolutely no will power whatsoever, so I'm most likely going to be caving and sharing that soon.

Now, as to the title of this post and the big reason for my absence and drama in the past week - I fear, dear friends, that I have fallen victim to the Great and Dreaded Writersbane.  That which every author fears.  The terror that lurks beneath every laptop.

Yes.  I speak of....


I can practically feel your hearts sink for me as you read those words, because like me, you all know what that means, and instantly imagine the worst.  And oh, it was bad.  It was very bad.  I shelled out the money for a new computer pretty quickly once they determined it'd be cheaper than salvaging mine.  But that was the easy part.  (Hah!)  Then came the part that makes us gnash our teeth and pull our hair.

Seeing what we lost.

Fortunately, this isn't my first encounter with the Great and Terrible Computer Death, so I was somewhat prepared.  I had a lot backed up, and much else stored via emails and on various spots on the web.  But not having a single central back up location online, I have spent the past week scurrying thither and hither about the vast internets, scouring old online journals, boards and email communications for the various drafts of my completed manuscripts and my many, MANY works in progress.  It's still underway, and will take some major reconstructive surgery to match the most recent versions of each MS (I have half the final draft for this MS in this email for instance, and what I'm pretty sure is the last three chapters of the final draft of it on this LJ, etc), but it'll be okay, ultimately.  It's the WIPs that suffered the most.  I have so many, and am so neurotic about sending people stuff when I'm not sure it'll ultimately go anywhere, that some just never made it online, and I really don't know if I'll ever be able to recover them.  Sigh.  Oh well.  The good ones live on in my head with enough urgency that I'll get around to them eventually, and the bad ones, well, if I can't remember them well enough to recover them, perhaps they aren't the best use of my time anyways?  C'est la vie.

But in positive thinking mode, I did discover something about myself while wading through the nigh infinite amounts of crap I've written over the years.  I'm a writer, y'all!

I know, you're all like, uh, no shit, genius. 

But no, its like this!  I'm not actually that stupid kid who writes shit thinking it'll never amount to anything and he'll never be as good as the stuff publishing in bookstores anymore.  I'm REALLY neurotic about my old stuff, because frankly, I don't think its that good.  Even a complete novel I queried with and think is a solid MS, polished as best I can make it, and tells a story worth telling - I hate showing that to people.  Which is weird right?  If I think its good enough to show an agent, I should have no problem showing it to people.  But the thing is, while its the best I could write then, and the best I could polish it since then, its nothing compared to what I could write now - but short of rewriting it from scratch, that's not going to change.  And even though it has agent interest as is, I might end up doing that ultimately anyways because otherwise I'll just never be happy with it.  BUT I DIGRESS!

Point is, that was then.  I was just shaping up a chapter of my current WIP, Midnight Oil (formerly called GILT) to send off to a CP, and I realized, huh.  I really like this.  I think its good.  I actually can't WAIT to hear what she thinks about it!

....does this mean...have I GROWN?

I think it is entirely possible that I have.  As a person, as a writer, both....I'm very bemused by it.

So some thoughts for you all, if you care to share:

Have you ever had that epiphany where you realized you've actually grown as a writer, in a visible, measureable way? 

Or where were you when you realized hey, this might not just be a pipedream.  I might actually be a writer who writes and y'know, does stuff with it.

And if you want to share your own horror stories of the COMPUTER VIRUS and reassure me that ITS NOT THAT BAD and REALLY, IT GETS BETTER, I would probably be most happy to hear them.  Most happy.

And finally, along the lines of what I was talking about last week, before the sky fell and everything, anyone have any questions about the acting industry that they've always wondered about and would be interested in hearing me talk about?  The audition process, stunt work, Are There Actually Fancy Parties Where You Schmooze with Agents and Famous People, or Tips on Making Out with a Total Stranger On Camera and Pretending This is Actually Sexy (But definitely not Porn!)....I'm actually a little curious to hear what people might be curious about, because all my friends are actors and industry people and we're distressingly jaded, so....make of that what you will.

And now I think I've vomited all over your Google Readers enough for one day, so back to my regularly scheduled tweeting!


Okay.  Now I'm done.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Critique Partner Auction Entry #6

TITLE:  I Hate Algebra
GENRE: YA Contemporary
STATUS: Complete

For as long as she can remember, freshman Nicki Miller has been obsessed with the prom. The junior prom would have to wait, though, and three years is like fifteen in teen calculations! Waiting turns out to be the least of her troubles when her father moves out, leaving her depressed and empty. Not even trips to the mall or her sweet tabby can fill the void, but when a handsome upperclassman extends an invitation, her dream is finally within reach. With her baby blue dress hanging in the closet, she is ready for the big day until her grade in algebra class plummets to an F. She then finds herself grounded – no phone, no computer, and her biggest crisis – no prom. Now, she has eight weeks to bring up her grade.

In the longest two months of her life, Nicki wrestles with the separation of her parents, the rudeness of the teacher’s pet, and the frustration of negative numbers. To pass algebra, it will not only take the help of an unexpectedly hot math tutor but also an abundance of determination. In addition to learning some real math lessons, Nicki uncovers some surprising truths about both her family and herself. On the road to accomplishing her goal, she’s about to learn the most valuable lesson - failure does not always equal tragedy.


Chapter 1- The End

“Nicki, I want you to come live with me.”

All I could do was stare across the kitchen table at him as he fidgeted with the gold band on his ring finger.  At that moment I felt hopeful to still see it there. The cup of coffee I’d made for him sat untouched between us as well as the waffles in front of me that looked anything but appetizing.
His baby blue eyes were mirror images of mine, only more bloodshot. With his lips tight in a line, he looked as weary as I felt, that familiar smile that had comforted me for all of my fourteen years was absent from his face. I couldn’t help but ask myself:  who was he?

Daddy had been my confidante, my buddy, my advisor. He was the man whose feet mine rested upon as we’d waltzed around the living room while Mom’s black sparkly cocktail dress hung from my small body. For as long as I could remember, he’d sit with me and tried to appear interested as I pored over prom magazines, listening while I obsessed with Mom over gowns and hairdos and shoes. When I struggled with pre-algebra in eighth grade, Daddy had helped me through it. And when I graduated from middle school with honors two months ago, his face beamed as though I had won the Nobel Prize.

He was a stranger to me now. After that bomb my parents dropped on me and my little sister yesterday, here he was asking the unthinkable.

Critique Partner Auction Entry #5

Hang on guys, this thing might not be a total bust after all!  More entries have started coming in!

TITLE: The  Kelvieri's Boots
GENRE: YA Urban science fiction romance
STATUS: Complete

Dear Agent,

In order to save the planet Kelari and earth, Venus must help a
complete ass of a boy fall in love. This same boy, Ethan must find a
way to destroy Dervinius, the leader of The Order of Eternal Fire. All
of this must happen in one week, or Venus will die, Ethan will lose
his chance to love and Dervinius will rule both worlds.

On her sixteenth birthday, alien princess, Venus, is supposed to
complete her rite of passage and become a kelvieri, immortal. Instead,
she’s sent to earth and accused of blasphemous crimes against Ith and
Aetha, their world’s deities and charged with killing her irrihunter,
Kelari’s sacred creature. The deities won’t allow her to return to
Kelari, to prove her innocence, until she helps Ethan with his love
life. The stupidest thing she’s ever heard, but she has to try or else
she’ll die.

It is one helluva week. Ethan hates her right away, someone’s trying
to kill her and she’s dealing with all of these human emotions for
Zarus, her guardian and Ethan, the ass.  Lust? Love? She doesn’t know.
Her planet doesn’t require the use of feelings.

But, she’d better figure it out quick or both planets will be ruled by
Dervinius, a kelvieri who wants humans and kelarians destroyed. In
their place, he and his followers plan to create a new
race—humieris—kelarian/human hybrids.

Venus and Ethan are in a race against time, for their lives and for
love, but both have no idea as to the real reason why.  And Dervinius
wants to keep it that way.

CONNECTED:  The Kelvieri’s Boots is a young adult, urban science
fiction romance. It’s complete at 75,000 words and the first in a
trilogy or can be written to stand alone.

I belong to my local and national RWA. I have a blog, A No. 2 Pencil
Stat, which I contribute to daily. I have my own author page on
Facebook and I’ve given lectures at a local elementary school on the
mechanics of writing a novel.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.


Chapter 1

Heart and Soul—Venus

“Happy immortality to me. Happy immortality to me. Happy immortality,
happy immortality. Happy immortality to me,” I sang softly, to the
tune of a human song I’d learned from a professor. Alone for the first
time all day, I sat on the chair next to my vanity. Off to my left, in
four perfect rows, were fifteen crystal bottles. Inside, they held
different smelling perfumes. My mother had given me a new scent for
each of my birthdays. Carefully, I added number sixteen, the red
liquid within smelled like Rosithia flowers, tempered by our juicy
citrus fruit, oraney. Then I turned my attention to my feet. On them,
my most prized possession. The gift I’d been dreaming of
since—forever. The Kelvieri’s Boots. Now that I had my own pair, I
knew my life would finally begin.

Inside the heels of the boots were symbols . . . of my imperfections.

That probably seemed odd, that I’d be so excited to receive a present
filled with my weaknesses. But, they were so much more than that.
Receiving the boots meant I’d reached the age of maturity, the age
when age no longer mattered. Now I was more than just “Venus, the
little Alayeahian princess”, as our people always called me. I’d
become a woman.

Eager, I removed one of the boots, the material smooth, and held it
up to eye level. Light, coming from the glow of our suns, shone
through my window, outlining its shape. Within the boots’ heel, an
arrow blazed, shiny and bright. It floated in the dark blue blood of
our sacred animal. I shook it, like I’d seen humans do with a snow

Query Letter Blogfest

So uh - it appears my first blogfest isn't quite working out as I hoped. I do not know what to make of this, as the man I bought it from at the Idea Store (not to be confused with Ikea, though I'm told they're sister corporations) assured me it was flawless. I might have to invoke my money-back guarantee. Hmm.

Well my apologies to the participants on the err, lack of response. It is no lack on the part of your entries, but rather a mere lack of a wide enough audience for your amazing stories. I have failed you as a host! I am riddled with guilt! But since I have an unhealthy love for 'Galaxy Quest' and frequently invoke 'Never give up, never surrender!' as my mantra, I shall rectify this!

I will take part in this Query Letter Blogfest, in a sly, sneaky, wily AND TOTALLY SUBTLE attempt to direct more blog traffic my way and to your fabulous stories! I'M ONLY DOING IT FOR YOU!

I'm such a giver, y'all. It's crazy.

Anyways, here's the pitch portion of my query letter for Dust to Dust, which I have arbitrarily decided to begin querying with on Friday, because well, I'm arbitrary like that.  Please hack it to shreds, because its way too long, and I'm not sure where to tighten.  I suck at killing my darlings.  Unless its characters.  Those I can kill no sweat.  So apparently, I'm only sociopathic when it comes to people, not words.  Who knew?


All Micah wants for his sixteenth birthday is his family together to celebrate it with him.  Easy in theory – until you factor in the curse that compels all nine Braddock children to try and kill each other on sight.

Once Micah would have laughed at the idea any of his brothers or sisters would ever hurt him.  Sure, they had their squabbles.  Trent was kind of an asshole.  Alice always had her nose in everyone’s business, Serena thought she was better than everyone else, and Rowan never could figure out when his jokes weren’t funny and he needed to shut the hell up.  But secrets bond kids tighter than mere blood ever could, and nothing makes for a better secret than growing up with magic.

They didn’t know where it came from, why it never worked the same way twice.  Cam thought it was alive.  They opened a door to let it out, and once it came through it did whatever it wanted.  Each Braddock sibling opened the door with a different ‘key’ – Megan’s magic used fingerprints, Alice’s mirrors, the others shadows, blood, tears, echoes, coins, pictures and dust.  Sometimes shadows made Trent invisible, other times they carried him halfway around the world.  Sometimes Katey could make people hear voices that weren’t there, other times she was like a living echo, barely there herself.  It was magic.  It wasn’t supposed to make sense.  So they let it be and just enjoyed the ride.

Then Katey came home broken one night two years ago.  The first victim of the curse that led to them hunting each other across the globe in a deadly version of hide and go seek.  But even as she shattered windows with the echoes of thunder, broke their mother’s sanity under the weight of a million whispered voices wailing for her ears alone, they looked for no further explanation.  It’d been foolish of them to reap its rewards without thinking they’d ever pay a price, and now the magic had come to collect.

Micah would give anything to go back to the way things were, but two years on his own have taught him some things are too good to be true.  Then Trent and Serena tell him there’s another family with the magic out there.  Who view them as rivals, and unleashed this curse on them in hopes they’d take each other out.  Who even stole their memories of their father and why they are the way they are.  There are answers.  A way to undo the curse and have their family back.  An enemy they can fight.  Vengeance.  Absolution.  A return to innocence.

And all it takes is trusting the family that’s spent the last two years trying to kill him.

Some things, not even magic can do.  

A YA fantasy complete at 85,000 words, Dust to Dust is a story about growing up too fast, finding the strength to forgive, and loving your family even after they hurt you more than anyone else ever could.  


Now off to comment on other query letter entries, entries in Ebyss's contest, finish this chapter of Gilt so I can ship it off to Anne Marie before her fearsome shark icon swallows me whole in one big gulp, and do a million bajillion other things.  Like, the six auditions I have this week.  After the five I had last week.  I don't know WHAT is going on there, btw, as pilot season is in full swing and there's not supposed to be anywhere NEAR this many roles casting right now, and its all very bizarre and I'm very confuzzled and a wee bit sick.  And two of the auditions this week are dance auditions.  This does not bode well.  LOL.  Oh well.

Speaking of, a couple of people were talking to me along those lines earlier, so I thought I'd throw it out there.  What do you guys think?  Do you like your writing blogs popping up in your google readers or what have you with actual writing content, or do you like some diversifying?  I've been trying to keep the blog relatively free of the acting side of things since I didn't consider it relevant to what most of you are drifting around the blogosphere, but if there is actual interest in the random day to day crap that goes along with being an aspiring/semi-working actor, I'm happy to ramble along those lines as well.  Particularly if anyone has any specific questions or areas they've ever wondered about how things work, or something like that.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Critique Partner Auction Entry 4

Title: Judas Pistol
Genre: Mystery
Status: 81% complete

Judas Pistol, a 70,000-word amateur sleuth novel, is set in the gun culture of Montana during two weeks of April 2001. Les is deaf from the service in the Gulf War. He can barely get by on army disability and prize money from shooting matches, so he investigates historical sites and is hired to prove a popular sheriff and a young tribal policeman didn’t go bad. D’arcy and Gunz have different occupations and challenges of their own but find themselves working with Les to solve a series of murders linked to a futuristic weapon handgun and treasures of the "Treasure State."


Toole County, Montana, April 14, 2001

Saturday, high noon

Les Huntsman leaned against recoil as if bucking gusts of headwind. Flash! His revolver jumped again, sending a second ounce of lead to topple another silhouette. His front sight found a third set of head and shoulders. Flash! Muzzle blaze and bounce were all he perceived--no roar, no splat of bullets hitting home, not a sound when heavy figures smacked into skiffs of snow.

Three more shots and empty. One hand swung the muzzle up to thumb the ejector. Hot casings fell to melt holes around his boots, while his other hand blurred up with a fresh speed-loader. Burnt nitrates stung his nostrils. Shockwaves meant his opponent was still shooting. Les slapped another half dozen rounds into battery. Six more jolts up his arms. Six more silhouettes down. At twenty-five meters, only a trio remained. One more reload, three quick flashes, and the last form sprawled on its backside.

To his front, the green light winked off. The red cease-fire lamp blazed in its place. Les had already caught three empty cases and three unfired .480s in his glove, his Ruger held up and open for inspection.

He felt a touch on his shoulder and turned his head. Arthur Burnside had a microphone clipped to his coat collar, but loudspeakers did Les no good. He focused on the range officer’s lips. "Duel goes to shooter on the right . . . Huntsman." Les waited. "Clear on the right. Good to see you back in action, Doc. Go ahead and holster your weapon."

Critique Partner Auction Entry 3

Title: Pictures of You
Genre: Romantic Suspense/commercial fiction
Status: Complete

While it is true that the course of true love doesn’t ever run smoothly, why must it be cluttered with stalkers, murders, and a rumor column edited by a student with a grudge? Vida Adamson thought that teaching at a small university would be the perfect place to recover from a bad and very public break up. She was wrong. She is not in the market for another man, until she meets Jack Hughes. The handsome dean of the school of arts and sciences is recovering from his own bitter marriage mistake. Even before the romance takes off, rumors and pictures begin flying around the campus. Privately they also discover that everyone has demons to overcome, some are within, and some come snarling via nasty text messages. With the demise of Jack’s soon to be ex father-in-law, the school’s president, followed by the death of Vida’s unpleasant ex, they see that their stalker is willing to pay any price to get what she wants. As the threats pile up Jack and Vida realize they must get the police to see the connections between the two deaths and the mysterious messages they are receiving before the final message becomes a deadly reality.

Carly Phillips’ fans would certainly enjoy PICTURES OF YOU, a sexy romantic suspense that will keep readers guessing until the end. The college setting was a natural choice for me, since I taught at small university in New Jersey for ten years.

PICTURES OF YOU, a single title, is complete at approximately 75,000 words.


It was humiliating. Who was he talking to? She had spent hours getting ready: a new outfit, hair and nails done, even endured a Brazilian waxing, and now he was standing across the room talking to some unfamiliar girl. She felt her heart racing. She clenched and unclenched her fists a couple of times before walking across the room in slow, measured steps.

Her eyes gently grazed his face; her voice was composed as the words dripped out more for the girl’s benefit than his, “Your wife is looking for you.” Her gaze moved back and forth, narrowing as she focused on the girl in the David Bowie tee shirt. She turned to back to him, her face changing at lightening speed to a more conciliatory look. She felt her disgust level rising.

Still facing the girl, he let out small breath. “Well, good luck with your classes. Maybe I’ll see you around on the campus.” Once they made their way across the room, he snapped, “So where is she? What’s the emergency?” She stammered something about Johanna having just been there. “Well, go find her.” He watched the girl wade through the crowded room to a small group of professors that he recognized from the math department. She tugged at a guy’s jacket sleeve like a bored child and whispered something in his ear; he put his arm around her shoulders and continued talking. She folded herself into him. Again she whispered in his ear; he laughed and kissed the top of her head. He caught sight of them again as they made their way single-file out of the room. She walked behind him, holding onto the bottom of his jacket. He watched, feeling a little pang of disappointment.

Critique Partner Auction Entry 2

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Percent Complete - A third of the way done.

Query Letter

Dear Potential Critters:

Dyad Gypsy Rue Maddox thought her life was tough enough, having to share body and soul with the demon that almost killed her.

Daily yoga classes, a lifetime of stubborn will, and a steady dose of hot chocolate have brought her closer to being able to cope with the darkness growing inside, but only the soul of an angel can bring permanent balance and relief from the monotony of her rituals.

When Rue moves away from her caravan to the otherworldly territory of Mavra, she starts her new life as the owner of a tea and tarot shop. When the bills start piling up, she’s forced to take a second job and ends up working for the Mavra Inspection Agency, collecting un-collared demons.

Soon, word about her rare heritage, makes it outside the walls of the MIA and she becomes a target for an undead soldier fighting on the frontlines of a war that’s headed to the trenches.

He kidnaps her and uses her, first, as a living demon detector and then as the Ziploc bag for its soul that he’ll need to contain it.

Rue wants to take the demon back to Hell, but the soldier needs it and he’ll do whatever it takes to stop her if he can.

The alpha male of the local feline shifter pride is her only hope of escaping the truth.

If she doesn’t get away, she’ll have to decide if the risk of helping the cause is worth the risk of losing what’s left of her soul.

GYPSY SOUL REAVER, an urban fantasy, has a projected word count of 70,000. Thank you for your time and attention.


Eli Robert’s black eyes gave me the willies.

It wasn’t because he was a snake shifter, it was because we had the same eyes. He was born with his — mine were as unnatural as the platinum in a box blonde’s hair. I got them courtesy of the demon fused to my soul.

I didn’t stop arranging the canisters of Earl Grey tea until the entire row was pulled neatly to the edge of the shelf, then I put the extras in the cardboard box at my feet as Eli walked towards me.

“I need your help Rue,” he said. Not even a smile.

“Hello to you too? And help with what?”

When he didn’t answer me right away, I shook my head. “The answer is no. That’s no. Big. Fat. No. Helping you means trouble.”

He held his hands up in the air. “Woah. Be fair. What happened last time wasn’t my fault. This time is important.”

I stared at him, mouth gaping. “Are we talking about the same situation? Because the last time I helped you out, I ended up inside a Mavra jail cell with a power drunk pixie puking her margherita on my lap right before her excess magic surged in my face.” I glared at him. “She singed my hair! I had to cut it.”

He stood up to his full height, which brought him up to my shoulders. "You were in jail for less than a day, and it grew back. Don't be so dramatic."

Critique Partner Auction Entry 1

Title: Playing God
Genre: YA Dystopian
95% drafted


God is dead. After the War of the Religions, humans proved that nonsensical deities and copout beliefs damaged society. Less than a year later, scientists found a portal to a fantasy world a writer had just created. This discovery, christened Animation, made people accept that no one needs to look up to find a creator--he needs only to look inside himself.

Kalyn Gale has two goals in life: marry her best friend Tony and Animate something--anything. When he Animates first, she begins to wonder if the two aims are irreconcilable. Through a new friendship as she tries to get free of his overbearing influence, she finds traces of a dark secret about Animation which may just mean that the dangerous myth of religion is true.

With the help of a girl nursing a grudge, a woman who still believes in a God long dead, and two boys, one from her past and one perhaps in her future, Kalyn sets out to discover is Animation is one big government hoax. But when a portal to the world she just wrote appears, she must decide if the quest for truth is more important than her desire to be renowed.

PLAYING GOD, my YA dystopian, is (almost) complete at 75,000 words.


The inscription was faded and scratched, but Kalyn Gale had never seen such potent words.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

They’d probably been there for centuries—one, at least, since no one had believed in the silly myths of religion for over a hundred years—and age had weathered them to insignificant gray markings.

Every time she came to this spot, they seemed bolder, deeper, brighter, than the last, as if time itself were going backward and erasing the very marks of age. Of course this wasn’t true. Kalyn gave a rueful laugh which echoed in the empty ruins of the old stone building. Progress. That was the key word of this era. Moving forward step by step and leaving behind anything that would suggest man did not have control of the world.

She dragged her gaze from the thick gray wall and tilted her head back. From her point inside the crumbling structure they used to call a chapel, she could just barely make out a sliver of sky. The moon hung like a fat fist amongst a glimmering array of stars, and some bursts of light cut the darkness in half for a moment.

In that split second, Kalyn could almost bring herself to believe she’d seen a shooting star before reality reached her dreaming mind. It had been a shuttle, or a passenger plane, or even a ship off to the colony on Mars. Not a shooting star—never something that natural or uncontrollable or beautiful.

Critique Partner Auction Blogfest

So its Monday the 18th, and as promised, its Critique Partner Auction Blogfest time!

However, first I have to say something.

I am occasionally, perhaps, a little bit, a teensy weensy smidgen - overambitious.

Yes.  Shocking.  I'm as surprised by this stunning revelation as you are.

But what can I say?  I'm a big believer in HYPE.  Put it out there, in excess amounts of sugar-induced manic glee, and the universe will give you what you ask for, if only to shut you the hell up.  Hey, its worked for me this far.

So this is to say, much as I must accept that my first novel MIGHT NOT BE the 'next Harry Potter', I'm afraid I did not get the scads and hordes and hundred of entries for this that I hoped.  Instead, its a small, humble, but AWESOME start, with a few entries that TOTALLY DESERVE SOME MC'LOVIN and get to horde ALL THE ATTENTION.  All of it!  So yeah.  There's that.

However (I do like my buts NO INNUENDO INTENDED OR IS THEEEEERE?), I still want this blogfest to be all that it can be.  Rather like the army.  I'm all patriotic like that and stuff, yo.  So I'm amending things a bit.  I'm a game changer like that.  What can I say?

At the bottom of this post, you will find one of Mr. Linky's wonderful magical widgets.  There is still a way to partake in the blogfest, if you missed the initial announcement and deadline, or perhaps see someone else with a story you love SO MUCH that you just cant resist jumping in for a chance at critiquing it.  Just sign up in the widget below, link to your blog, and post the first 250 words of your WIP on your blog, along with the other necessary info.  Because we want to get this thing popping, you don't have to do the sample query letter to participate, though I LOVED our entries' query letters and think its totally worth it.  But do include at least some kind of pitch so that people have an idea what your story is about, in addition to your sample page.  If you don't have a blog, but still want to jump in, email me your entry at and I'll put it up as soon as I can.

So there you have it.  I'll begin posting the entries received thus far now, and entrants and everyone else can start going through and seeing what they like.  We're ditching the whole Batch number idea, because like, yeah, that was dumb.  Not gonna work.  But anyways, once something hits your sweet spot, just comment with how many pages you'd like to swap to test things out and where they can take a look at your entry - whether its already up on this blog, is waiting to be added here, or if they've linked to it on their own blog.  As more people (hopefully) sign up on the widget below and starting posting entries on their own blogs, you can click through the links below and search through other blogs for entries you might want to read.

And when multiple people start 'bidding' on the same entries - well, let the games begin!

I will be adding entries throughout the day, as its kinda a hectic time for me, sorry, so please bear with me and be patient, and email me if you sent yours in to be hosted on this blog and don't see yours up by tonight.  This blogfest will run through the weekend, but the sooner you jump in, the more people are going to get a chance to see your stuff, so....have at it!  The original post for this blogfest is here in case you need a refresher in the start of all this madness.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Writing Wednesday

So a couple of notes.  First off, remember to get your entries in for the Critique Partner Auction Blogfest by noon PST on Friday!  And if you're not participating, then say Critique Partner Auction Blogfest five times fast and like, just spread the word and stuff!

Also, I have to give a big shout out and thank you to Chersti Nieveen for hosting the First Line Contest over at her blog, where my first line for Dust to Dust won me a query letter critique from fab lit agent extraordinaire, Mary Kole!  So I've been getting that all super spiffy to send off to Ms. Kole, and it was an amazing opportunity and I love how creative and proactive and supportive Chersti and all the others in our little blogosphere are!  You all rock!

And also in terms of you all rock, I continue to be blown away by reactions to Dust to Dust.  Between that contest, and comments and responses to the Show Your Voice Contest and March's Secret Agent contest, y'all are making me feel so happy and confident about Dust to Dust that its just....its just like crack to a writer.  Or this writer anyways.  And since you all know I love me some crack (shifty eyes, don't read into that, totally kidding, etc, etc) and because a few people have asked to see some more of it, and because its Writing Wednesday already in some time zones but still my birthday in this time zone and that means I can do whatever the hell I want, here's a scene pulled at random from Dust to Dust.  I don't want to spoil anything in case you all do get the opportunity to find it in bookstores someday, so all I'll say is this exerpt may or may not be a scene from my scratch file, and may or may not have actually made it into the final book, and either way, its not actually spoilerific though it looks like it could be.  ;)  Mostly its just Serena being badass and a little bit scary, with hints of creepy.  Because well, that's Serena for you.  Enjoy!


I dropped to my knees, choking - but it wasn’t his grip on my neck that had me gasping for air. His magic was a sandstorm swirling in my lungs. Every breath I took stabbed the walls of my throat with shards of spells and broken glass. Paul grinned down at me through the white spots dotting my vision and I batted at his arm, trying desperately to break free. Dude was on steroids or I was really just that scrawny, but either way, I was still going to die here. Young. Virginal. Alone.

Epic fail, universe. Epic fail.

And then winter came early.

The sharp crackle of ice knifed through the empty food court like an overactive toddler popping bubble wrap without supervision. And if you don’t like my similes, blame my brain’s current lack of oxygen. Paul let his magic and me slip free and I slid bonelessly to the floor, wheezing and flopping around like a geriatric trout with asthma and a smoking problem. I raised my head in search of whoever had kicked the AC into overdrive and found my sister standing regally at the top of the escalator.

God. She was such a drama queen.

Serena was soaked head to toe from her impromptu swim in the fountains earlier, but if it bothered her you’d never know. A silent wind tossed her raven hair behind her, and an endless stream of water dripped from her t-shirt and jeans, pooling around her bare feet and cascading down the steps of the escalator in far more quantities than her clothes could have ever contained. Her face was pinched tight with cold fury, and a chill leaked from her bone-white skin. Frost coated the railing of the escalator beneath her hand and three frozen tears tracked slowly down her cheeks. Big Sis was pissed, and I was just glad that for once it didn’t seem to be at me.

I scooted out of the way just to be on the safe side.

“I think you‘ve been a pain in my family‘s collective asses long enough.” Serena announced into the vastness.  Only the rhythmic trickle of water rushing forth from her kept her voice from echoing like a bell.  Like a death knell.  “And no one gets to kill my baby brother except me.”

Now that was just unnecessary. I frowned. “Okay, see, stuff like this is exactly the reason Megan’s my favorite sister.”

They ignored me in favor of making angry eyes at each other. Serena started slowly down the escalator. One frozen tear dripped free of her cheek and fell into the water puddled at her feet, freezing it over in an instant. It spread forth from there in a river of blue-white light, rattling like dancing ice cubes. Unlike the glaciers they resembled, there was nothing slow moving about either her anger or her magic. The ice coated the escalator in seconds and raced towards Paul.

He swore and leapt into the air, twisting, shimmering until he was nothing but fog and mist. Pale smoke riding the wind. Serena smiled, showing teeth, and raising a hand to her cheek collected a second frozen tear on her fingertip. She flicked it at the rising fog and Paul crashed into a near table, all tangled limbs and solid, weighty flesh. He scrambled to his feet but the ice reached him before he could take a step. It locked him in place and kept climbing slowly up his legs.

“Bitch -” he snarled as Serena reached him. She silenced him, pinching his lips together between her fingers. His eyes bulged, furious, but the ice had reached his arms by then and locked them at his sides.

“What do men like you really think they‘re proving with that word?” She asked rhetorically. “All it really says is we both know I’m bigger and badder than you are. And where’s the insult in that?”

Paul tried to shout something between smashed together lips, but Serena just reached her finger to her cheek again and collected her last tear, placing it on the tip of his nose.

“No more talking now,” she whispered. His eyes widened but too late. The ice rushed over his face and down his chest, pale blue forks of frost burrowing deep beneath his skin and replacing his veins. In moments he was completely translucent. Not just covered in ice, but become ice. Serena pushed gently and he toppled over backwards, shattering with a sharp screech like a single, stunted scream.

“Well I could have done that,” I said into the sudden stillness, peeved. “Okay, maybe not that exactly, but I could have just turned him into dust or something!”

My sister stared at the broken pieces of Paul, face unreadable. “Then why didn’t you?”

“Umm, because killing people is baaaaaaaad.” I stretched out the syllable extra long for good measure. I hadn’t realized I was talking to a five year old.

“Not when they’re trying to kill you.” Serena sighed and walked off towards the entrance. “Grow up, Micah. It’s the twenty first century. There’s no place for martyrs anymore.”

“But, but -” I sputtered for words, because seriously, what the hell do you even say to that? I settled for scrambling to catch up with her. Given the choice between magical corpse and magical corpse-maker, it was a toss up which was better company, but I had promised to at least try and make nice with my siblings. And Paul did try to kill me, and its not like he was family or cursed either, so there was that. Douche bag.

“It’s called survival of the fittest, little brother. It’s hardly my fault if you’ve neglected your schooling.”

“It kinda is,” I muttered. “You’ve tried to kill me more than anyone else.”

“Token efforts. If I really wanted you dead, you’d be dead.”

I rolled my eyes. “Oh stop, you’re making me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.”

“I just saved your life. Must you be such an ungrateful turd?”

“Must you be such an ungrateful turd, Micah?” I mimicked. And then a little resentfully: “I totally could have handled it myself.”

“I’m sure you could have, baby brother.” A ghost of a grin swept across Serena’s face, there and gone again in an instant, like a patch of fog glimpsed by moonlight. Still there all the same, just long enough to picture her as she had been, once upon a time. Wild, dancing and fey. The girl who made the sky cry just so the flowers would grow. It seemed like a very long time ago.

I lunged forward on a sudden whim and wrapped my arms around her. “I missed you.”

Even if she was a super scary magical corpse maker now.

She tensed in surprise, but her arms wrapped tentatively around me in response. “I missed you too, baby brother.“

I couldn’t be sure, the way my face was buried in her back, but a sound suspiciously like a sniffle made me think that maybe she wasn’t a total super scary corpse maker. Maybe she was still a little bit Serena too.

“Now tell anyone I said that, and I’ll kill you, you little shit.”

Then again, maybe not. With my family, who can really say?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Critique Partner Auction Addendum

Just a quick administrative type note, but I've already had entries start coming in for the CP Auction blogfest, and they're great!  Apparently though even with Auction Entry in the subject line, some are getting sent to my spam folder.  I DO check that regularly, but just to be sure, I am sending a confirmation for every entry I receive.  So if you do send in an entry and don't hear a response back from by the end of the day, just resend as it means it probably fell through the cracks.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Critique Partner Auction Blogfest

They say you can never have too many critique partners or beta eyes on your manuscripts.  I disagree, as I think having several thousand people trying to offer you feedback would simply be all kinds of impractical.

But you know, a few more here and there is never a bad thing!  Finding quality critique partners or beta readers, however, is all kinds of tricky.  So I propose a blogfest! 

Mostly because all the cool kids are doing them and peer pressure is a bitch, man.

SO.  Here's how its going to go down.  And yes, credit where credit is due, the format is blatantly plagiarized from a combination of MissSnarksFirstVictim's Baker's Dozen Auction and a few other sources.  Because I am a bad man who plagiarizes.

(In my defense though, being original is HAAAAAAAAAAARD.)

The auction is open to anyone and everyone with a current work in progress, no matter the current length of it.  The rules are simple and finite!  To enter, simply email me at by Noon of Friday, April 15th.  Put 'Auction Entry' somewhere in the subject line, and your email should include the following:

Your Screen Name/Blogger Name/Website
Percent Complete (How far along are you in your WIP?  Do you consider yourself a third done, half finished, three quarters?)

Query Letter: Yup, I want you to write one of those dreaded query letters, even though you're not finished with your ms!  Oh shush, its good practice!  Instead of writing to potential agents, you're writing it to your potential critique partners, trying to hook them on your book the same way you would an agent.  It's okay if you don't know how your MS is going to end yet, most query letters don't give away the ending!  What your query letter SHOULD have for purposes of this blogfest however, are your TITLE, GENRE, PROJECTED WORD COUNT, and of course tell us about your story!  The act of writing out a query letter for it might spark some ideas or connect a few dots for you in ways you hadn't antcipated!

First 250 words of your WIP:  Exactly what it says, just enough to let potential CP's have a sense of your writing style and see if they want to read more.

Then check back here on Monday, April 18th, when I will be posting all your entries anonymously.  They will be divided into THREE categories.  WIPs that are anywhere from 1% to 33% completed will be grouped together in Batch A, WIPs that are anywhere from 34% to 66% finished will be grouped in Batch B and all WIPs that are 67% to 100% complete will make up Batch C.

Once the entries are up, entrants are encouraged to go through the entries from THE SAME BATCH AS THEMSELVES.  The goal of this particular blogfest is to make an even swap.  Quid pro quo.  I want you guys to find CPs that are on the same page as yourselves, even footing as it were.  So hunt around through other entries from your batch.  Find the query letter that gets you most excited to read on down the page and check out the sample of their writing.  And when you find one that has you completely excited to read on further and leaves you wondering where the hell is the rest, yo - then place your bid on that entry in the form of a comment.  A bid is simply you saying which entry is yours and how many pages you'd like to swap with them, to see if you might be a good CP match.  It doesn't come with a guarantee of critiquing anything, its just to access compatibility and gauge how excited you are to see more of a manuscript.  If you're intrigued, but not totally sold, then start small.  Offer to swap the first ten pages, test things out.  If an entry just has you drooling for more, go for broke, bid on the first fifty pages, whatever.

One thing we all have in common as writers is we LOVE seeing people get excited about our work.  And the best critique partners are the ones who are the most invested naturally, the ones who in addition to being our CPs, are our biggest fans as well - because they're the ones who're going to put the most effort into making your MS the best it can possibly be.  We all write in different genres, in different styles, for different audiences.  So the point of this blogfest isn't to try and match you up with CPs who write the same thing as you, or who write for the same audience as you, or who even write in a similar style.  With this, I'm just trying to provide a forum for people to find CPs who match them in EXCITEMENT LEVEL.  An opportunity to go 'Oh wow, this person wants to read my first fifty pages just from what I wrote in my entry?  Huh, let me check out their entry - OH HELL YEAH I WANT TO READ THEIR FIRST FIFTY PAGES!!'

I would like to ask that people not reveal who wrote what until the end of the blogfest however, as we all have a lot of mutual acquaintances, thanks to blogfests past, haha.  We want this to be about the work, first and foremost, so let your entries speak for themselves and have fun revealing your true identity when you've decided who you're going to swap pages with.  Have fun with this in general, bidding against each other on entries you really love - getting competitive with the other bidders is encouraged!  Be realistic with your bids - every one you make is one you should be prepared to commit to, so don't ask to swap full manuscripts right off the bat with all ten entries you kinda like - unless you really think you have the time to sit down and read ten manuscripts in a timely fashion.  Start small, and build on the ones you're most excited for.  If another entrant dares swoop in and try and trump your bid on your number one pick, let her know, oh hells no, that ain't gonna fly, and raise your bid another ten pages!  When all's said and done, entrants can swap pages with as many people as they want.  You can swap with everyone who ends up bidding on your entry, you're not just confined to the highest bid.  BUT, again it comes back to being realistic.  We're all busy and time is finite - so the idea again, is finding those potential CPs who seem most excited about our work and starting there.  Build the excitement guys!

As a final note, please keep in mind that what I am doing here is simply providing a forum and a framework for this.  I can not and do not make any guarantees - the simple truth is yes, not everyone is going to get the same level of excitement for their entries.  Not everyone is going to get as many bids, and not everyone is going to get bid on by the entrants they really want to swap with most.  This can be VERY discouraging.  But it is also what you make of it, and even if you end up being the only entry that gets zero bids, instead of letting that eat you alive, I encourage you to step back, take some time and distance, and then come back with some perspective a couple days later and turn that into an opportunity.  Use a critical eye on your query and sample, and compare it to your favorite entries or the entries that got the most bids - see what they did differently.  Maybe its not as simple as them just being a better writer than you - maybe they just wrote a more effective query letter, and if so, can you figure out what made it work so well?  I can't promise anyone an amazing CP out of this blogfest, though I wish I could.  The only thing I can and will guarantee is that if nothing else, its an opportunity to see what kind of stories, query letters and writing seem to build the most -and most immediate - excitement.

Alright, so that's all he wrote for today folks!  Any questions or clarification you need, feel free to ask in the comments here!  Now go forth and spread the word!*  The more entries, the more awesome stories to sample, and the more fun for everyone, right?     

*Any self-serving side effects of this blogfest should be seen as entirely coincidental and not at all the ultimate aim of the hoster of this blogfest.  He is not actually an evil genius.  Merely a giver.  Who likes to give.  Now please stop looking at me him like that.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

On Inspiration

So what question gets asked most of writers do you think?  Personally, I'm pretty sure its this one:

Where do you get your story ideas from?

The answer being of course:  'Uh.....everywhere?'

As I'm sure all of you can attest, to a writer, that's kind of a silly question.  But let's examine it a little more closely for a moment and give it some serious thought.  Where DO you get your ideas from?  Do you have a brainstorming process?  A go to place to start formulating a new book and see what goes from there?  Or do you just wait patiently for inspiration to strike out of the blue, and jump on those lightning surge epiphanies when and where they happen?

I think its worth examining, because most of us - even when dabbling in different genres - find we have a certain brand.  Specific themes and tropes tend to crop up more often than not in our various stories, whether they're set on Mars or in Tahiti.  We have certain default settings - likes and interests so ingrained into our creative process that we don't go looking for them, but there they are when we look back over our most recently completed manuscript.  Oh hey, look.  Kalen dabbled in excessive family squabbling again.  Oh how interesting, MORE Greek mythology.  And so on and so on.

So I thought today I'd look at a couple possibilities for breaking free of our own personal paradigms and stretching our literary wings a bit.  Stepping out of our comfort zone and challenging ourselves as writers.   Where do we find our inspiration, and where else could we go looking for inspiration instead?  And what kind of stories might result from that?

So here's just a couple possibilities I've had some fun experimenting with in the past.  Chime in with any others you can think of.

Research - It's one thing to do research on a story idea or plot point, to flesh out a novel or premise you've already embarked on.  But what about just reading up on random topics that look slightly interesting, and seeing if it sparks anything?  One thing I've had a lot of fun with in the past is going into Barnes and Noble and just heading for the Paranormal/Folklore/New Age nonfiction section and just browsing.  There are books on alien conspiracy theories, compilations of various legends about Atlantis, histories of lost civilizations, etc, etc.  There were so many books on topics I thought I was already familiar with, but with just a quick perusal of them I discovered I was just scratching the tip of the iceberg.  I knew the story of the lost colony of Roanoke, who doesn't, right?  But just browsing a couple of books dedicated to the subject, I discovered ten other similarly vanished cities, towns and cultures I'd never heard of before, and all kinds of fascinating theories, legends and bits of trivia connecting them, differentiating between them, and just like that, I had a novel unlike anything else I'd written before. 

Similarly, I'd always thought myself well versed in mythology, folklore, legends about magical creatures and monsters...but only the gateway ones, the ones everyone can identify on sight.  I might know more about Greek mythology than your average bear, but it still isn't groundbreaking stuff in today's market.  But step outside the usual fare and there's a wealth of underrepresented mythologies and cultures to mine for material.  I've always been fascinated by the Fae and their whimsical capacity for cruelty, and I've always been equally fascinated by the ocean and its creatures, and by extension mythical sea creatures like mermaids and sirens.  So when trying to come up with story ideas that delved into those interests while still standing out from all the other Fae or mermaid stories in today's market, imagine my glee when I discovered Brazilian legends about creatures called the encantado - dolphin shapeshifters who lure mortals to their Faerie-like Otherworld beneath the sea and summon storms with their songs.  Nothing like that out there!  And then of course, the possibility of setting the story as a vacation to somewhere exotic like Brazil - browse the travel section for books about another country like Brazil, or even just another city in your country.  'They' say write what you know - but you don't have to be from a specific city or country to know enough about it to craft a fully realized, believable story in it.  You just have to do your research.

Melting Pot - Certain themes and interests just seem to go together naturally.  Stories about vampires are never all that far away from stories about werewolves.  Dystopian books go hand in hand with certain obvious tropes - time travel, zombies, totalitarian governments.  Ghost stories seem naturally set in dark and gloomy settings, and high fantasy is closely linked to the classic hero's journey, the quest and the battle between good and evil.  So next time you set out to write a book about one of your favorite interests or personal tropes, try mashing it up with something completely random and see what unexpected results you come up with.  If you want to write a high/epic fantasy story that doesn't cater to the standard fantasy tropes, what if you tried combining fantasy settings with science fiction tropes?  What would a dystopian future and a totalitarian government look like in an epic fantasy world?  Or time travel or human experimentation, but with fantastic, magical explanations and backstory rather than scientific?  And so on and so on.

Mix Up Your Daily Routine - We are a product of our surroundings and our experiences, and our stories are a product of us - so by extension, they too are a product of our surroundings and experiences.  So it stands to reason then, if you put yourself in a new surrounding, or you experience new things, you're going to find yourself with new stories to tell.  And sometimes the differences are subtle, a different feel or tone rather than wholly new subject matter.  The first novel I wrote, while living in Savannah, Georgia, was very different in feel from the first novel I wrote after moving to LA.  After I started acting for a living, my day to day routine and my everyday thoughts, concerns and priorities were very different from when working an office job or waiting tables, and that reflected in what my characters thought about and worried about and how they prioritized and reacted to things.  Now obviously you can't go moving cities or starting a new job just to shake up your creative juices a little, but what little things about your daily routine can you try to do differently, just for a little while?  As an experiment?  Maybe drive to work a different route, with different scenery.  Or take your morning jog in the evening, at twilight instead of dawn.  Or if you're inspired by music, and have a soundtrack to every manuscript you out some new tunes.  Try listening to stuff you wouldn't normally seek out, and see if it triggers anything new in your writing.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Suspension of Disbelief

So I've kind of been AWOL this past week due to excessive real life drama, and its got me thinking - how much is too much?

You see, I've lived a very annoying, obnoxious, excessively dramatic life, which is annoying and obnoxious because I'm actually very low key and loathe drama in my personal life with a passion.  Get enough of that at work, thanks.  Yet occasionally, it seems to follow me home like a lost little puppy - if that puppy were the size of a woolly mammoth.  The amount of truly out there stuff that decides to all occur simultaneously strains credulity - and I'm like....really?  ALL that really just happened?  At once?  For realsies, universe?  And the universe replies, why yes, yes it did.    

And if I can hardly believe all of that really just happened, you can imagine what other people think when I give them the play by play.

So to tie this into actual relevance, I was thinking about conflict in our writing.  Not the nature or types of conflicts, but the sheer amount.  As writers, we're constantly told that passive is boring.  Readers want action, they want high stakes, they want tension and danger and well, drama.  Say no to the down time, cram in more excitement, more, more, more!

So my question to myself and you and the Mighty Arbiters of Good Taste is how do you tell when your tension and drama crosses over to the other side?  Shifts ever so slightly from being in the 'edge of your seat' camp to the 'oh gimme a break' camp?

In television, they call it Jumping the Shark.  When your drama verges on the ridiculous and the reader/viewer is no longer willing to suspend their disbelief.  You've lost them, because you pushed the envelope just a little too far.  All things in moderation.  So how do you know when to pull back and rein it in? 

Your main character is failing school perhaps.  And they just broke up with their girlfriend or boyfriend.  And their parents are getting divorced.  All that is dramatic.  And all that is believable because its theoretically linked.  If a teenager's parents are getting divorced, its going to affect their schoolwork and strain their friendships and relationships as they attempt to cope.  It's all symptomatic of an inciting conflict, even if that's not apparent to the character in question.  All they see is everything going wrong with their life and it all piling up and OMG FML WHY ME UNIVERSE WHY ME?!?!?  But we the readers, ever so slightly removed, can see the bigger picture, view it a little more rationally, and accept that this IS actually all believable conflict because its so intertwined and feeds into each other.  And thus, its good drama and a good story.

But then, the main character's beloved dog dies.  And their car breaks down and their parents won't pay to get it fixed so they have to get a job.  And their best friend starts dating their ex, and the MC finds out they were seeing each before other the MC broke up with the ex and its all stuff continuing to pile on that no longer ties together and has we the readers going really, author?  Really?  That's not all maybe just a LITTLE excessive?

Couldn't you at least have let the MC keep their damned dog?

But the point is, its a fine line.

For me the solution to the drama dogpile is always knowing why I introduce a particular conflict, whether its my MC's grades suffering or his dog dying.  If I have a narrative or character reason for it, then its fine.  It can stay.  If I can't justify it to myself or come up with a good explanation for why it happened or why it NEEDS to happen, then its drama for the sake of drama, and it should probably go. 

So how about you all?  How do you decide when enough is enough and when your characters need a little breathing room?  What's the most you've ever put a character through, or when was a time when you consciously had to make a choice to scale back on some drama because it was just too much for any one character to believably handle?