Monday, July 30, 2012

Full Steam Ahead

I'm almost halfway through Draft #2 of GRUNSDAY now, and I'm not even that worried about the pothole I mentioned last week. I think it's much improved, and I'll test its bumpiness when I read through the entire draft.  I've dropped 10k words so far, and I'm gunning for about 8k more.

I didn't think I was going to complete a second draft this summer.  I thought my time would be better spent working on something else. But inspired by the productivity of blogger friends like Sarah Fine and Angela Brown, I've decided to go Full Steam Ahead.   Maybe I'll have this draft ready for beta readers before school starts up again at the end of August and I get sucked into ... da da da dum ... Teacher World.

So, other than a little jaunt to Mexico next month (PYRAMIDS!!!), I expect I'll be here for the rest of the summer:

The family room writing spot.

Or here when I need a quieter location:

Basement writing spot.

Or here, when I need inspiration (or when the kids are in the pool):

Goldfish pond writing spot
What are you working on?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Stop for the Potholes? Or Drive Over Them?

Via Wikimedia Commons
I know where the weak areas are in my WIP.  I saw them in the first draft, and I struggled with them again when I wrote an outline for Draft 2.

Since I started revisions last weekend, I’ve already deviated from the Draft 2 outline, because I knew my fix wasn’t going to work.  Now I’ve hit that troublesome part of the story, and I have to decide:  Do I come to a screeching halt until I fix this pothole for good?  Or do I drive over the gravel currently filling it, ignore the bumpiness, and deal with it later?

Part of me doesn’t want to go on until I’ve figured it out.  But the other part wants to push forward, regardless of the hole I’m running over.  I have a feeling that I might need to finish the second draft (maybe even a third or fourth draft) before I figure out how to repave this road entirely – or discover an alternate route.

It bugs me. I don’t like to leave a pit behind me, nagging and vexing me while I move forward. But looking back at other manuscripts, it sometimes took distance and time before I discovered the right fix for plot holes and faulty character motivations. Sometimes it took a beta reader to point me in the right direction. Or perhaps it's not even possible to see the fix it until I make some other, unforeseen change that reveals the correct solution.

What do you do when you know there’s a problem with your story?  Do you stop until you’ve got it entirely worked out? Or do you fill it in gradually, draft by draft, until it’s no longer a problem?

P.S.- As of last night, I had the pothole filled with some fairly good stuff, although I still feel the bumpiness driving over it. I'm ready to move on, though -- at least for this draft.  And, a third of the way through the story, I've already cut 6400 words. Yay! Wouldn't it be lovely if I could do the same for the next two thirds? I'd knock the whole thing back to below 80k!  We'll see ...

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Sharing Pictures via Flickr

If you haven’t already read the post by Roni Loren about a lawsuit over a picture she used on her blog, please do.  Yes, the chances of getting sued over an image you copied from Google images is pretty small, but I was struck by Roni’s comment: “It was a lot of stress, lawyers had to get involved, and I had to pay money that I didn't have for a use of a photo I didn't need.”

Roni said later on in the post: “If you want to give back and not just take--open up a Flickr account and list your own images as creative commons so that you can share the love.” 

I don’t consider myself a photographer, and I hardly even pick up our good camera to take a picture.  Lazily, I use my phone, because I can email myself the pics. But as I looked through my own blog this weekend and saw how many photos I’d taken and posted, I realized that many of them are good enough for other blogs.  Like these: 

So I took the time to start adding photos to my Flickr account that others might find useful, tagging them so they can be found in a search and making them available for sharing. It seems like an easy way to help other bloggers.  Share the love!

And please check out this post by Marisa Hopkins, who shares her own stories of being on the opposite end of this issue -- having her artwork used not just by bloggers, but stolen and used for profit.

Monday, July 23, 2012

WRiTE CLUB 2012 and Speed Dating for Your MC

On July 30, D.L. Hammons’s WRiTE CLUB will be back, bigger and better than ever.  If you don’t already follow D.L.’s blog Cruising Altitude, then you should pop on over now and hit the follow button. Not only does he have a blog well worth reading, he hosts this awesome competition inspired by Fight Club.

Anonymous 500 word entries go head to head each week, the winner determined by reader votes. (Note this rule change from last year: You must sign up via the Linky tool to be eligible to vote. I almost overlooked that one!)  The victor of each WRiTE will go on to the playoffs, which begin October 22.  And the winner of the final round will be determined by an awesome lineup of industry professionals made up of agents and authors.

It’s not too late to send him your own 500 word entry and enter the competition (instructions on D.L.'s blog), but don’t forget that you also need to sign up to vote.  I notice a lot of my blogging friends are already on the list, so I guess I’ll be seeing you there!

There’s also a new feature over at Fiona Claire’s blog, Ageless Druids. (That’s another blog you should check out.)  Fiona’s Speed Dating is a writing clinic for working on voice.  Writers post a sample of their work looking for advice on how to improve the voice of their main character.  Fiona and participants are looking for honest feedback so writers can improve their manuscripts. So, if you’re in need of this service, or if you’re willing to read and advise others, please check it out.

Friday, July 20, 2012

When the Fish Don't Bite

It’s O’Dark Thirty in the Salerni house, and eight people are stumbling around, grabbing a bite to eat and mumbling at each other with as much civility as we can muster for this ungodly time of day. Then my niece, Olivia, puts on her fishing hat and gives me a big grin, and I laugh and grab my camera.  With a hat like this, I think, how can we not get lucky?

Sadly, however, this year’s family fishing trip was a bust.  Thirteen people on the boat in the Delaware Bay for 8 hours, and we didn’t go home with a single fish.  Not one.  Even the throw-backs were few. We may have caught 2 dozen over the course of the whole day.

Sometimes, no matter how great your fishing hat, you don’t catch any fish. We had great bait, too – lively minnows.  We know they were great bait because the darn bluefish kept chomping them in half.  Time after time, we’d feel that one tug on the line and then nothing … and with a sigh we’d reel up our line to find just the minnow’s head.

The most exciting part of the day was when my dad almost pulled in a shark that was as big as Olivia (I swear!), but it jumped off the line before he could get it in the boat. 

You know where I’m going with this, don’t you? Our whole fishing trip could be a metaphor for querying and submitting.  The awesome hat that didn’t help one bit.  The bait chomped in half.  The big fish we didn’t land.

Of course, we still had fun.  My sister’s family was making their annual visit from Kansas, and it was a great opportunity to see some of our cousins, who joined us on the boat. It was Olivia’s first fishing trip.  The weather was gorgeous.  My sister laid dibs on our brother’s fishing rod should anything happen to him, and I graciously withdrew any claim to it. (He was the only one pulling in fish, even if they were too small.)  We had sandwiches and Tastykakes and beer.  We were disappointed not to have a fish dinner that night, but that won’t stop us from booking another trip next year.

I don’t know if the writing metaphor completely works here, because when you’re querying and submitting and pulling in no fish, nobody says they had fun anyway.  The company might be good, if you’re hanging out in the blogosphere with your writing pals, and there may or may not be Tastykakes and beer. (Probably not Tastykakes if you live outside Pennsylvania.)  But even if it’s no fun whatsoever, you can’t stop trying.  Not ever.  Keep casting your line, and don’t forget to book the next trip. Bring your best hat – and a fourteenth person, for heaven’s sake.  Thirteen fishermen was probably a bad idea …

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

20/20 Hindsight

Now that I have finished the first draft of my WIP, I’m ready to start outlining it.

I’ve never understood how writers outline their stories before writing them. Sure, I could make up an outline before writing the draft, but my characters won't feel any obligation to follow my plan.  And character sheets – I’ve heard about them, too. But I don’t know my characters very well before I start the draft, and they don’t usually turn out to be the people I think they will be.

It’s only now that GRUNSDAY is finished, for example, that I understand how Jax has to change over the course of the story, and the kind of person Evangeline needs to be from the start, and why Riley did the things he did.  Now that I’ve completed a draft, I’m ready to sit down and write character sheets – arcs for their personal stories.  In the case of Jax, the event which slaps him upside the head and forces him to change his behavior is one that was never in any of my plans for the story.  In fact, it almost didn’t happen.  I was just finishing the draft of the relevant chapter when I saw the opportunity and went back and inserted it on a whim. I don’t know if I should do this or not, I remember thinking.  But going forward, I immediately recognized the difference -- how Jax had to man up because of that event.

It was 20/20 hindsight.

I’ll also outline all the chapters with color codes for the plotlines. (Katie Mills, you gave me that idea!) This will help me with pacing, because I know this story loses its way in the middle, especially now that I’ve seen the end.

World building? I’ve got to take care of that, too.  Now that I know what must happen, I can better define the rules of this reality. I made it too easy for my characters in the first draft. They are going to lose a few conveniences in draft #2, because if Grunsday is just like any other day, then what’s the point of writing a book about it?

I’ve got a short story project I need to work on while I mull things over and outline the current and future drafts of GRUNSDAY, but I hope to start revising before the end of the summer.

What kinds of things do you understand better after you’ve written the first draft?

Monday, July 16, 2012

First Draft Finished!

There’s nothing like that feeling, is there?

Late last Thursday night, I finished GRUNSDAY, the manuscript I started on April 2.  Fifteen weeks of writing (interrupted by work on THE CAGED GRAVES twice), and it finished up at a bloated 98.5k words.  Yikes.

It’s a mess, too.  World-building errors, the voice isn’t quite right, and it loses focus in the middle. (Which tells me exactly where I need to do some major slashing).  But I did it, and this is a big deal for me because the story is well outside my comfort zone.  It’s contemporary – and a fantasy. I took a risk, and there were times I told myself I wasn’t going to be able to pull it off.

One of my biggest worries (besides the world-building) was the climax.  For some insane reason, I was set on having the climax take place here:

via Wikipedia Commons
That’s the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, Mexico.  I’ve never been there – but that’s where my protagonists were supposed to fight for their lives.  So, I bought a book. I looked at pictures and articles on the internet.  I watched videos on YouTube of people climbing to the top.  And I put together a climax that satisfied my CPs – although I know it’s probably not as accurate as it could be.

Or as it WILL be.

Because my husband is taking me there next month! We’ll be spending two nights at a hotel adjacent to the ruins, and my husband has arranged for a private tour guide who knows I’m doing book research and will take me exactly where I want to go.  I am going to climb that pyramid and see exactly what my characters will see.  I’m sure I’ll have to change some details, but I no longer have any doubt that I’ll be able to fix whatever needs fixing.

I made it this far!  Woo hoo!

Have I mentioned lately what a great guy my husband is?  XOXO, Bob!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Pinterest, Tumblr, and Book Promotions: Worth It? Or Not?

I admit it. I don’t understand Pinterest or Tumblr.  I’ve looked up explanations of these social networks, but reading that Tumblr is a forum for micro-blogging doesn’t help me much. What is micro-blogging?  Blogging for teeny tiny people?  And Pinterest is a content sharing device. Very helpful. So is a book.

With my second book coming out next spring, I need to start thinking about promotions.  One of the things I wanted to do was to set up a site where I could share photographs of the real caged graves that inspired the story, as well as invite others to share photographs/stories of interesting graves and cemeteries.  People have already started sending me links to pictures of spooky and bizarre gravestones. 

I’m thinking Pinterest might be the right vehicle for this. But I’ve also heard Tumblr reaches more people. Has anyone actually used either of these sites for book promotions or personal networking? Do you find them effective – or are you just connecting with the same people you know from blogging and Facebook and Twitter?  When you "pin" or "tumble" something -- does anybody really see it?

In short, are these sites worth the time needed to invest in them? Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Mines and Manuscripts

I was in the Poconos last week, enjoying a writing retreat and then a couple days with my family.  During my day and a half alone, I wrote a chapter in my WIP – which may not seem like a lot, but it was significant for me.  I had taken a break from the manuscript while my sister’s family was visiting from Kansas, and the quiet solitude of the mountains helped me reconnect with the story.  I pushed into the final 5 chapters (which I actually have outlined, believe it or not).

When my family joined me, we visited the Harry HoudiniMuseum, which I mentioned in my last post, and we also took a tour of the No. 9 Coal Mine in Lansford, PA.  I’ve wanted to take a mine tour ever since I started a story last fall set in the early 1900’s centering around mysterious activities at a Pennsylvania mine. I dropped the story due to various plot problems, and after my tour I see a few more snags in my storyline. 

It wasn’t so much a problem of inaccuracies about the mine operation itself.  Those are details easily changed.  The biggest snag is my character Cage Harrison, the love interest for my MC who inherits his family mine business at age 18.  I have portrayed him as a benevolent mine owner who tries to do right by his employees and even throws his back into the digging when a collapse traps some of his workers. That kind of mine owner didn’t exist.  In fact, having my MC, an archeologist’s daughter, discover ancient alien artifacts buried in caves near the mine is MORE believable than a turn-of-the-century mine owner who gives a damn about his workers.  Our tour guide made a point of telling us several times that the MULES were more valuable than the human workers.

So that story is going to remain on the shelf for now.  I’m going to continue with the contemporary fantasy I’m working on, and hopefully finish the first draft in the next week.

But I won’t forget about the mine completely.  I may have to re-envision the story entirely, but how can I not want to write about a place like this?

Double steam powered elevator.

The elevator was operated from the surface and left every 5 minutes whether workers were out of the way or not.

The work space of your average miner in the 20th century.

The work space of your average miner in the 19th century. Your cubicle no longer seems so bad, huh?
*Photos taken by my husband, Bob Salerni.

Monday, July 9, 2012

First Impressions: THE TRANSPARENTS

Our third First Impressions critique  is a MG fantasy called THE TRANSPARENTS, by Vicki Tremper.

Chapter 1: The Sneeze
           Sometimes I wish I could disappear like my hero, Houdini. Get myself out of dangerous situations and tight spots. Today is one of those days.
           Ms. Lopez’s long, dark hair sways gently as she turns her head from side to side. I’m slumped down so low that my nose practically touches my desk. I try to mentally convince her that I’m not here and to pick someone else.
           You do not see me. You will walk right past me. I am not the volunteer you seek.
           I avoid her piercing black eyes. Don’t get me wrong. Normally, I like Ms. Lopez’s eyes. Normally, I live to hear her say “Daniel” in that melodious sing-song that could rival any bird. Just not when she’s looking for volunteers.
           A sneeze begins to build in my nose, which would be the absolute worst. Ms. Lopez needs to forget my existence. For now. Until she finds her victim—I mean, volunteer. She won’t be able to ignore me if I sneeze. She’ll be alerted to my presence and I might as well stand up now and wave my arms around.
           I’m not here. I’m a speck of dust in the corner of your vision. Choose someone else.
           I really don’t want to solve the math problem she wrote on the whiteboard. I’m okay at math. Just as I’m okay at English, and okay at Social Studies, and okay at Science. Which is better than being sucky at Gym.
           But I don’t like being on the spot. I don’t perform well under pressure.
           If only I were more like Houdini. He could escape any situation, thrill a crowd, and stroll into and out of danger without messing a single strand of hair. Okay, there isn’t much hope for my limp hair, but the rest of it sure would make sixth grade easier.
           The sneeze tickles my nostrils and forces my eyes closed. It’s coming and there’s nothing I can do about it.

I think this is a really cute beginning that does just what it’s supposed to do!  I love how Houdini is Daniel’s hero, but Daniel himself can’t perform under pressure. There’s a pretty good voice here, although once in awhile it wavers – such as in the phrase melodious sing-song, which doesn’t strike me as the words of a sixth grade boy.

There are also a couple places where the narrative could be tightened. The fifth paragraph, for example, could be trimmed to: A sneeze begins to build in my nose, which would be the absolute worst. Ms. Lopez needs to forget my existence until she finds her victim—I mean, volunteer. She won’t be able to ignore me if I sneeze. I might as well stand up and wave my arms around. Watch for places where there is too much repetition. A little bit conveys voice. Too much slows us down.

Since the chapter is titled The Sneeze, I assume Daniel does sneeze, gets called upon, and there follows some inciting incident leading us into the main action of the story.  I don’t have anything else to suggest for this lovely first page – although I do want to mention that, by coincidence, I visited the Harry Houdini Museum in Scranton, PA just last week, which is well worth a stop if you are in that area.  Along with the tour, they do a magic show for kids in the afternoons and a séance/psychic show for adults at night. (Want to read about my experience at their psychic show?)

Does anyone have any suggestions for Vicki?  Don’t forget to see what Marcy has to say, and you can find Vicki on her blog, All the World’s in Words.

Friday, July 6, 2012

First Impressions: DARK ONE'S MISTRESS

Today for First Impressions, Aldrea Alien is sharing her first page of DARK ONE’S MISTRESS, an adult fantasy.

“Clarabelle!” The cry rang out across the street, scattering the pigeons resting atop the roofs and sending the nearby cats into a fit of hissing as they scampered for cover.

Clara halted on the edge of the street, her face burning as the echo of her mother’s manly bellow continued. All around her, men and women paused in their daily business. The street gained an eerie silence. In the past, she’d heard worldlier folk boast that such deathly quiet could only be heard here in Everdark.

Then someone coughed, another person sneezed, and the sounds flooded back. The hum of talk. The clink of coins. A few turned to stare at her, the young woman in question, but mostly, the irate cry seemed to be forgotten.

A sigh huffed through her lips. Why does she have to scream like that? She contented herself with the roll of her eyes, wishing the heat in her cheeks would fade. It wasn’t as if she was some small child. She knew her duties well. Knew the streets even better.

She shuffled her burden: bread, cheese, a skin of goat’s milk and a tiny, dog-eared book on the world beyond. The last was for herself. Literally titled The World Beyond. Beyond what, she didn’t know, but it sounded intriguing.

In the pit of her stomach, Clara knew concern hadn’t driven her mother’s voice. She’d taken too long, pure and simple. It wasn’t her fault the baker’s son had gone missing was it now? She’ll find some way to blame it on me.

Knowing her mother, she’d have expected Clara to come running back. Oh yes, my burden is ever so light. And if she fell and ruined it all? Why she’d be treated to one of her mother’s clips over the ear. Or worse, she could twist her ankle on the uneven stones that dared to be called a road. Nature could’ve made a better surface than this. She could’ve sworn she’d heard her mother saying they were repairing the roads.

Or had she meant the Road?

Her gaze lifted to the shadowy bulk of the citadel perched atop Mount Winding.

I like the way this opening drops us into a rich setting with conflict and characterization cleverly introduced by that irate bellow and Clara’s reaction to it.  But I can make some suggestions for tweaking the narrative and getting more out of it.

The street gained an eerie silence. In the past, she’d heard worldlier folk boast that such deathly quiet could only be heard here in Everdark.  I don’t think the verb gained is the best one for that sentence, and I didn’t get a sense of “deathly quiet” – only “shocked quiet” as the inhabitants of the street reacted to Clara’s mother’s unladylike bellowing.  It was amusing more than eerie.

The book on the world beyond – is that something Clara carries with her all the time, or is it something she purchased today? I get the idea that the book might be important – or the fact that Clara carries books is important (I’m thinking Belle in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast) – so let’s get that clarified right away. And if she was held up in her errands because the baker’s son was missing, let’s get that clarified as well. Maybe mention she was lucky to get the bread at all, considering the turmoil at the bakery … or something like that.

In the sentence Knowing her mother, she’d have expected Clara to come running back, the action of knowing is assigned to the subject of the sentence – she – but she refers to the mother and Clara is the one doing the knowing.  So this needs to be rephrased.

The end of the page segues into a reference to the Road (capital letter), the citadel, and Mount Winding.  All very intriguing, and I’d like to read more, but I feel like I’ve been rushed to this point.  On this first page alone, I’ve got Clara in conflict with her mother, deathly silences in Everdark, a book titled The World Beyond, a missing baker’s son, and now a citadel atop a mountain and a road that gets a significant capital letter.  It may be too much all at once.  I’d like to see this page slow down and describe things in a leisurely but sly way, building our curiosity bit by bit and crooking a finger to invite us to turn the page. Reserve some of the mysterious elements I list above for the rest of the chapter.

What do readers think?

Thank you, Aldrea for sharing your first page. I hope the comments helped!  I invite my readers to visit Aldrea at her blog Thardrandian Thoughts, and stop by Marcy Hatch’s blog Mainewords to see her thoughts on the same page.

Monday, July 2, 2012


Our First Impressions for July begins with Honey Rose who is sharing the first page of her contemporary suspense story set in the rainforests of South America, where she once lived for a year. It’s titled CROSSING THE CULTURE.

As Ellie and Kate flew over the Gulf of Mexico, the sun set and the sky grew black around them. After dinner was served, the cabin was darkened for the passengers to sleep during the remainder of the four hour flight from Miami, but the two young friends were restless. It was the first time since starting college that Ellie would be reunited with her large family again, and Kate, her coworker from the restaurant had never been to Ecuador before. The flight attendant announced the impending arrival and Kate leaned forward to catch sight of the lights of the city. Ellie had explained that the city was nestled in a valley in the Andes mountain range, but the mountains were invisible in the darkness.

The plane came around in a steep turn and the lights down below came into view. It looked like a chaotic mess of stars, concentrated in the middle like a galaxy and then spreading out up the sides of the mountains. The wheels hit the runway and bounced twice, braking hard on the short runway to bring the plane to a stop.

The flight attendant opened the door and prepared for the passengers to exit. Kate made her way to the top of the stairs and a blast of cold air hit her. She was wearing a sweatshirt but realized that this would not be enough.

“Brr, Ellie! You were right, it’s freezing here,” Kate complained as she made her way down the stairs.

“I tried to tell you. Did you bring a coat?”

What stands out most for me in this passage is the description of the city lights in the invisible mountains: It looked like a chaotic mess of stars, concentrated in the middle like a galaxy and then spreading out up the sides of the mountains.  I’d like to see that description expanded, and I think the page should start with it – followed by (or possibly preceded by) conversation between the two girls as the city comes into view. (And let’s get the name of the city.)

The first paragraph as it stands is a summary of their trip and their back story, which is not a great way to open.  I think Honey should pull her readers into the story by putting us in that plane with Kate and Ellie.  Who they are and why they’re headed to Ecuador is background information we can pick up through dialogue or bits of narrative shared in later pages.

Why not let us experience the girls’ excitement through their dialogue?  Ellie can point out what her friend is missing in the darkness, and Kate can bemoan the fact that she’s missing it, until that beautiful galaxy of lights comes into view.  Show us the camaraderie between the girls, so that we’ll start out liking them from the very first page and want to join them on this adventure!

Thanks, Honey, for sharing your first page with us! Readers, please share your thoughts and also check out Marcy’s comments on the same page at Mainewords. You can find Honey at her blog Stories to Share.

I’ll be skipping Wednesday, since it’s the Fourth of July and returning on Friday with our second First Impression post.

Picture: Image: 'IMG_1812'