Monday, August 31, 2009


Wow, you guys rocked that.

We're working on judging the pile o' excellent entries. Winners will be announced sometime this week.*

*I'm thinking tomorrow or Wednesday, but by entering a writing contest you have stepped into the Publishing Time zone, so "this week" will be my official statement!

Thanks so much for coming by, and for entering. This was amazing.

Friday, August 28, 2009


It's Tiara Day!! Tiara Day is all about creating positive energy, being a little silly, and having fun. To play along put a tiara on your avatar for the day--or use a picture of your tiara AS your avatar.

And enter the spectactular, sparkly, first-ever Tiara Day Contest.

I posted the rules and prizes below (here's the link for reference). They're great prizes. (I'm so excited!) Contest open NOW for 24 hours, entries in comments! Please don't forget to include your email addresses. Winner will be announced next week.

Also, not X-rated please. My kid probably won't read them, but I do write YA. :)

So, the prompt:

Write a complete story in only 50 words (less is allowed, but not more!). The entry MUST include the words 'tiara', 'sparkly', and 'princess'.

UPDATE: CONTEST CLOSED! And holy wow, batman, that was a lot of entries!! You guys are fabulous!

Those posted after midnight MST won't count, I'm afraid--in the interest of being fair. But we'll still have plenty of great entries to choose from. I'll post the winner sometime next week!

Thank you!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tiara Day contest: pre-post with rules

Are you ready?(this is a waterlily tiara from Leigh-Anne McCague tiaras. Isn't it gorgeous?)

Tiara Day Writing Contest: RULES
  1. The contest will be open from midnight tonight (when it hits Friday, August 28, MST) to midnight the next day (when it hits Saturday, August 29, MST). All of Tiara Day.
  2. The prompt will be posted at midnight--it'll be a contest to write a 50-word complete story including certain words.
  3. All entries will be posted in the comments to the prompt. Emails must be included too, so I can reach you if you win!
  4. The contest entries will be judged by a distinguished and very sparkly volunteer panel, all of whom are barred from entering, much as they might want the prizes. :)
  5. Winners will be announced next week. We'll be looking for best story and most original twist!
Tiara Day Writing Contest: PRIZES

There will be two grand prizes, donated by Janet Reid and Suzie Townsend, both of FinePrint Literary (thank you thank you thank you!)
  1. A critique of the first 50 pages of your manuscript by Suzie Townsend, assistant/junior agent at FinePrint Lit. Suzie is fabulous--read an interview with her at The Blog Realm.
  2. A one-year subscription to Poets and Writers magazine.
You want to enter already, don't you? But wait, there's more. There will be three runner-up prizes, also donated by the lovely Janet Reid. BOOKS!

The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson

And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander
A Trace of Smoke by Rebecca Cantrell

Now you HAVE to enter. Right? And wear your tiaras?

Look for the prompt at midnight!

(I can't wait. This is SO fun)

Sock-Knockers: Worldbuilding

This is the second in the famous* series of sock-knockers posts. Because these books knocked my socks off, people. I am barefoot in my office.

Actually, I AM barefoot in my office. Hmmm.

Anyway, today I'm looking at the Very Difficult to Master art of worldbuilding--without a slug of backstory.

Worldbuilding is tough as it is. I've heard some historical writers say how easy fantasy must be: "You don't have to research! You get to make everything up!"

Well, yes. But you also have to make sure every little piece of that made-up world is consistent, and reasonable, and would actually work together. The people in this world need to interact with each other and with their world naturally, but in ways that are different from real-world interactions: because environment, knowledge, and experience radically affect behavior. And hardest of all, you as the author need to *show* the differences to the reader, explain how this world works and why it is the way it is, through a character who is so immersed in the world they don't notice the differences. Why should they? It's how they've always lived.

Enter the standard trope of writers everywhere, the "outsider" character. Time-traveler, immigrant, came in through a portal--like the reader, the outsider is new to the world and its people and can spot differences. Ask questions. Make gaffes and have the rules explained to them.

The outsider is useful. But kind of overused, maybe? Kind of *easy*? How much harder is it to write a story through the eyes of a character who is used to this world, to dribble the rules and worldview in slowly and naturally? It is harder. But it's stronger.

The other primary method of building a world for the reader is to dump backstory on them. Writers are getting pretty good now at waiting past the first couple of chapters, but there's a point where the paragraphs of backstory come, weaseled in there somehow. "This is why the world is the way it is..." Sometimes it's necessary. But again, it's kind of weak. There's got to be another way.

There is.

"When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim's warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping."
(under fair use)

That's the opening paragraph to THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins. Oh, you've heard of it? Yes. It's extremely popular, and it should be.

This book has no cheats. It is completely immersive from Word 1, in a world very different from ours, from the point of view of a character born and bred in that world. There are no outsiders. There is, at least as far as I remember, no backstory. If there is it's maybe a sentence here or there. No swaths of explanations, just Katniss picking up and trying to deal with horrible, real circumstances. It's amazingly well done.

I think that lack of backstory absolutely works to the benefit of the pacing, too. The reader is busy trying to figure out what's going on, and by the time they do they're hooked, irreversibly.

Other readers? Am I right here?

Another book that handles worldbuilding Really Well is UGLIES, by Scott Westerfeld. We are thrown into Tally's world immediately, without any delay of explanation--and it works. I hung out in Tally's world for four books, and I didn't really want to leave.

But the most recent book that knocked my socks off with worldbuilding? Sorry, peeps, but most of you can't read it yet.

It's called NEAR WITCH, and it's by my good friend Victoria Schwab. If you liked HUNGER GAMES and UGLIES, and you love to be immersed in a world so real you can breathe it? Watch for Victoria.

What books have knocked your socks off with worldbuilding?

*famous in no one's mind, but it's a good, interest-building adjective, y?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Double Heads-up!

Stay tuned--don't touch that channel. Heads-up 7Up. Like that. :)

Tomorrow will be a new sock-knockers post, focusing on worldbuilding.

Friday is Tiara Day!! But not only that--this time I'm going to be hosting a *fabulous* Tiara Day writing contest. With a prize(s) donated by The Shark herself! The writing prompt, rules, and prize announcement will be posted at midnight Friday and be open for 24 hours.

Be ready!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Dreaming of killers

Though I don't write thrillers—right now—apparently my brain loves them. I often have "chase dreams", whole night-long sequences of action and suspense.

Last night my brain came up with a doozy. I have to say it's pretty good at suspense; if I was watching this in a movie, my heart would've blipped there at the end.

It began in a safe house.

I was there with my husband and my daughter, along with about 10 other families. Every one of them had at least one child, and every one of them was crazed with worry.

Out There—somewhere—was a killer, who had reason for revenge against every one of us. The awful signature of this killer was that he took out his revenge, always, on the children. I had a memory of seeing a shot through the back window of a car, a limp, small form in a carseat…a mother screaming.

The bulk of the dream was all in the safe house, with the dynamics of the people there. We had meetings, we stressed out, we eyed each other's children and thought terrible, selfish thoughts like Don't Let It Be Mine, followed by a guilty "or theirs either". There were meetings and crying.
In the dream my husband was there in two capacities, as one of the potential victims and as a cop, helping to guard us. This made us a particular object of frustration for the other families, as they thought maybe he'd be biased towards us (maybe?).

But the high sign came that it was all clear—the killer hadn't been caught, but he'd made some move that showed we were out of danger for now. We could all go back to our houses for the time being.

So we packed up all the children and traveled by bus or train; it was a long, tiring trip. Then finally we arrived back at our own car. My daughter jumped in the backseat and my husband sat next to her while she buckled in. I stood next to the car with the door open.

And the killer walked by, aimed, and shot into the back windshield. He looked at me and said "So that's your little one," and grinned. The Bastard.

There was a moment when everything stopped, the point of all my fears, lengthened to an unbearable moment. Then I heard her voice, words. He'd missed. So I slammed the door shut, jumped on the killer, and knocked the gun out of his hand.

In the next movement I scooped it up, cocked it, and shot him point-blank in the forehead. No consideration, just pure mother defense reaction. He was dead. And then I breathed.

And then I woke up. :)

Not bad, eh? And just to clarify: though the dream was VERY scary at the time, I enjoyed it. I woke up energized. I love my chase dreams, and in this one I actually got to get the bad guy! Most of the time I wake up before it's over.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Head vs. Page: CAGEMATCH

So I'm only a third of the way into SALVAGED, and I already had to take a brief pause in forward progress to wrangle it.

Why? It's the age-old dilemma: the utterly fabulous, sparkly, life-changing, AMAZING book that's in my head is...not the same one on the page.

This always happens (apparently to Other People as well), so at least I know to expect it. But still, it's disappointing, that first failure, when I realize that the book is NOT going as I want it to.

See, when I first start it is SO glorious. It is the biggest rush ever, like "oh I am SUCH a genius", "this is the best idea in the universe", "how has everyone else not written this brilliant book already", "but no it was waiting for ME to excecute this idea, because I know how."

Yes, ego in the first 5-10k knows no bounds.

Then at about 10k, usually, I look up from the feverish happy-writing and say HMMMM. "This is kind of tangled," I say. "This is not as shiny as it promised to be" and "What the HELL is going on with this book anyway?"

I keep writing it, because I know I must. But then it gets more messy. And I change my mind about what's going to happen, and one paragraph invalidates about 3 previous chapters. By the time I get to about 20k or so, I lay my head down on the desk and weep softly.

Okay, I don't. But I do stare at the screen with great irritation. I don't know if it's ME who has failed the sparkly book, or the book who has failed the sparkly me. But one of us has to figure it out, and fast, before it becomes another idea withered on the vine at 20k.

So this week, I'm reconciling. I did a *gasp* OUTLINE of where I really want it all to go, and how it will fit together. I did character backstories, so I'm consistent and they're all a little deeper than my first shiny glances. I take a look at structure and figure out where it's going waytoofast and way...too...boring.

And then I FIX it. Hopefully. I'm about done with all my notes and thoughts and planning stuff, and about to go straighten up that first 20k.

And then, my friends, I get to Keep Going, but at least I won't be all twisted up in myself.

At least I know that at some point it DOES get sparkly again. Maybe 24 drafts from now, but some happy someday!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sock Knockers: TRUTH

After a long blank spell (writing my thesis), I've been reading a lot lately. Mostly YA: catching up on some classics I'd missed, and diving into new ones.

I don't know if it's the books I'm choosing or the general kick-assness of the YA market right now, but I've enjoyed almost all of the ones I've tried. These are good books: entertaining, fun, engrossing. But you know how you read a book and you think it's really good, and then you read another book and you are just blown AWAY?

I'm going to start a new series of blog posts on those books, taking a look at why they are above and beyond for me. It's called WHY THIS BOOK KNOCKED MY SOCKS OFF. "Sock-knockers", for short. (Because WTBKMSO is not a good tag.)

So today, I'm going to look at two books that blew me away for the same reason.

and CRACKED UP TO BE by Courtney Summers.

Now both of these books are great reads for plot, for beautiful language, for interesting situations. But that's not what put either of them over the top for me.

Both of them are A++ in TRUTH. By that I mean emotional truth, the kind of resonance that makes you read and cringe because you've done or thought that very thing even when it's not a particularly flattering thought or deed. That makes you smile because you have done or thought that very thing, joking around with your friends. It is a realistic portrayal of a life, good and bad.

Neither of these authors was afraid to face darkness in their characters, in the realities they show. And because they face the darkness unflinchingly (and the light moments too), we recognize it. It's no longer superficial entertainment--it is CONNECTION.

I don't think you have to be a "serious" book to attain emotional truth, though maybe it stands out more clearly there. You can attain emotional resonance in any kind of book in the small things your characters do, in their dialogue, in their deepest thoughts. Just don't be afraid to GO THERE. Don't step back and be safe. Take a step--or two, or three--further than you thought you could.

I aim for that. I think we all should.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Yes, I was on VACATION!


Just got back from a week-long vacation with the family in San Diego. It was...amazing. We go there fairly often, and we always have fun--but this trip sparkled and shined. SO many fabulous memories and just happy moments to savor. A *few* highlights:
  • Swimming in the ocean, just sitting out there riding the waves. The sun was warm, the water was 72 degrees and sparkly, and hubby and Child were playing a few steps away, laughing it up and splashing. Heaven.
  • SeaWorld! Riding the Atlantis rollercoaster over and over, and holding our hands up high for the steep drops. Dolphins, manatees, and crazy-loud sea lions.
  • A proper Thai feast at Taste of Thai. Mmmm. We even had leftovers for breakfast.
  • TWO fabulous plays: Cyrano de Bergerac (which I'd always wanted to see: *happy sigh*) and The 39 Steps. Both from the front row, and they both excelled.
  • A full day at the waterpark. Super-fast I-can-barely-breathe body slides, medium tube slides (that Child is finally tall enough to go on by herself), and one we all got to ride on together. Plus the wave pool, the lazy river, and the play beach house. All deliciously wet.
  • Seeing Bob Dylan, John Mellencamp, and WILLIE NELSON in concert. *pumps fist*
  • Fishing on Lake Poway...even though we didn't catch anything. Child's first time steering the boat.
  • Filling up a suitcase with new clothes and goodies.
  • Just hanging out together, having fun. Relaxing. Taking it in.
I didn't get much book work done, but I'm rested and ready to tackle it today. Once I get *cough* caught up on the Internets. :)

Thursday, August 06, 2009


In case your day needs a little you go!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The Lady

Butte, Montana is known for a few things: having cold winters (-30 on occasion), being a bit rough-and-tumble (it IS Evel Knievel's birthplace), and being friendly. But there are usually two things people remember about Butte once they've been here.

The Pit (one of the largest open-pit mines in the U.S., now filled with mine water) and The Lady.

Our Lady of the Rockies stands high above Butte, on the Continental Divide. She's 90 feet tall and she can be seen from anywhere in town, watching over--or blessing--us.

The Lady began as a promise from a regular guy: his wife was ill with cancer and he promised Mary that if she recovered he'd build a statue in her honor. He didn't quite imagine it would turn out to be quite so big, or be at the top of the mountain, but that's what happened. His wife DID recover, and with a lot of help he pulled it off.

The statue has now become a memorial, the inside filled with rosary beads, pictures of loved ones, and notes pinned all over the walls.
But it's also a cool place to visit just to see all of Butte and the surrounding mountains from 7,500 ft--and to see what a little determination--combined with hard work--can do.

So I was pleased that Victoria's visit was timed perfectly for a trip up the mountain. We *might* have talked over the bus driver's tour just a wee bit all the way up, but once we were up there it was a great place to hang out and soak in some inspiration.

If you ever come by my neighborhood, I'll take you up to the Lady too!

Monday, August 03, 2009


I haven't known Victoria Schwab that long in time-terms, but in friend-terms? It might as well be forever. We've been able to support each other through what can sometimes be a difficult, emotionally overwhelming process (I'm looking at you, Certain Parts of the Publishing Rollercoaster)--but also share our little moments of *sparkle-joy*. And she actually came this weekend to VISIT! In PERSON! And she brought CUPCAKES!!

It was a sparkle-plosion. We nearly went into ~**overload**~!

You will be happy to know we survived, and came out the other side slightly hoarse but smiling.

This week is back to racking up words on SALVAGED, and stuffing all my work-work into the week to be ready for vacation on Saturday.

Hooray for friends and sparkle-power and vacation, all three!