Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Tweeting in the Nineteenth Century

They say there’s nothing new under the sun.

via Wikimedia Commons
I’ve written before that séances were like a nineteenth century version of Twitter. And a recent article in WIRED Magazine reveals that people did tweet before Twitter. It was called sending a telegram.

Brevity was key, especially for overseas telegrams, which could cost as much as $1 per word. Grammatical structures greatly resembled the tweets and texts of today, and short cuts like UR for your and THX for thanks were invented long before we started using them for our electronic messages. There were even codebooks of short cuts, such as 88 – which meant love and kisses.

One thing I haven’t seen in our modern texts and tweets, however, is the creative use of prefixes and suffixes to shorten the word count – possibly because we often count by characters, not words. Or maybe today’s tweeters and texters just aren't as eloquent as telegram senders. WIRED shared this example of a telegram dispatching a foreign war correspondent of The Daily Telegraph to Lagos: “Assume you Lagosward soonest procover situation onspotting warwise.”

And my favorite example was Ernest Hemingway’s response to an editor’s request for receipts documenting his expenses: “Suggest you upstick books asswards.”

Monday, February 25, 2013

I Wanna Give Stuff Away

Last week, I got a giant box full of CAGED GRAVES t-shirts, featuring the artwork of my daughter’s friend, Emily Hutchison. And I’m anxious to send them out into the world!

So, I’m going to give away two t-shirts here on my blog. And I’m also going to give away an ARC of the CAGED GRAVES, plus a t-shirt, over on Goodreads. You can enter for the t-shirts on Rafflecopter below this post. And you can enter the Goodreads giveaway by clicking here – and it’s also on my sidebar.

In other news, I’m about halfway through second draft revisions of THE EIGHTH DAY #2, and I’ve already knocked it back to 69k (from 75k). I think “word scything” is my favorite part of the writing process. I love taking an already completed draft and streamlining it, slicing unnecessary words and phrases, cutting sentences that repeat an already stated idea, and even killing a few darlings here and there. (As in, yeah, that was kind of cute but doesn’t move the scene forward; it’s gotta go.)

This weekend, I also got a really convincing recommendation to try Scrivener, and I’m considering it -- even though I’m usually resistant to changing my way of doing things. However, I can see how it might be useful for planning out this 3-book series. For instance, looking ahead to something I want to happen in a later book, I realize I need to change the details of a particular incident. And that means finding every instance where it’s mentioned in the first two books and changing what I say. I’m given to understand that Scrivener could make navigating my manuscripts in search of particular details a lot easier. Does anybody want to weigh in on that?

Sign up for the giveaways and let me send you some stuff!

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What I've Been Up To

This has been me for the past two weeks or so:

Not Darth Vader. The poor guy hanging in the Sith Lord’s grip, unable to get away. The role of Darth Vader in my life was filled by my WIP. It had me by the throat and would not let go.

Even at work, I walked around muttering to myself in the voices of my characters, drawing little maps on scraps of paper, and choreographing action scenes. Yes, I was into the Climactic Crunch – the part of the book I’ve been visualizing for so long.

Over the 3-day President’s Weekend, I wrote 9,000 words. My feet finally touched the ground around noon on Monday when I typed THE END on the first draft of THE EIGHTH DAY #2.  Phew. *Rubs neck.* That was intense.

I started the draft on December 4. Seventy-seven days from beginning to end.  I know that might not seem like a feat to anyone who’s succeeded at NaNo – producing 50,000 words in 30 days.  But this was the fastest I’ve ever written a manuscript. And it finished at 75,000 words, about 10k over budget. That’s typical. In anything I draft, I write AT LEAST 10,000 unnecessary words. What that says about me … well, draw your own conclusions.

Most people like to give their manuscripts a rest after completing a first draft. Not me. My first drafts are pretty exploratory, and I usually don’t discover the heart of the story and the soul of every character until the end. Not even in a sequel, as it turns out. By the time I’ve completed the first draft, I have a laundry list of revisions to make for the second draft, and I’m ready to roll right in.  The second draft goes out to beta readers … and then I take a break from it.

What’s got you by the throat lately?
Do you rest after a first draft? Or plunge right into revisions?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Blood and Beaches and Kissing

Today I’ve invited my critique partner, Krystalyn Drown, to write a post about the inspiration for her novel, LEGASEA, newly released by Curiosity Quills.  I’ve had Krystalyn here before, talking about her other novel, SPIRIT WORLD. In one of those little twists that happens in the publishing world, SPIRIT WORLD sold first (to Entranced Publishing), but LEGASEA was published first.

And now, I’ll turn the blog over to Krystalyn …

In Nov 2010, Maggie Stiefvater was doing a stock signing at a local bookstore, so I went to meet her and have her autograph my copies of her books. At the time, she was writing The Scorpio Races, but it hadn't been announced yet, so she referred to it as a Secret Novel about blood and beaches and kissing. I told her a friend of mine thought the book was about selkies. Of course it wasn't. Later, when she found out my last name was Drown, she jokingly said I was the one who should be writing about selkies and blood and beaches and kissing. 

Krystalyn Drown
A couple of weeks later, the writing forum that I used to post in a lot (Kelley Armstrong's forum) had a writing challenge to create a 2k synopsis for a new novel. With Maggie's comment fresh in my mind, I knocked out a synopsis about selkies and blood and beaches and kissing. I won the challenge, then set aside the synopsis, not planning to do anything with it.

Coming April 2013
Six months later, with Spirit World revised and on submission, I was looking for a new project, and I remembered my synopsis. I added some new characters, changed the bad guy, and after another six months, I had Legasea, my selkie novel about blood and beaches and kissing.

I should also mention another inspiration for Legasea was the movie The Secret of Roan Inish. It was the first DVD I ever bought, and my characters names in Legasea are inspired by the characters in the movie. Fee is a reference to the main character, Fiona, although Fee's name is actually Aoife (pronounced like Eva, but with an f instead of a v.) Jamie is of course named after Jamie.

LEGASEA is currently available through Amazon and B&N.
SPIRIT WORLD will be published in April.

Krystalyn is giving away a prize pack: a signed copy of LEGASEA, a seal ornament, and a bookmark. Enter through Rafflecopter by February 28 for a chance to win!

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Book to Screen

I recently had the opportunity to view an almost-final cut of THE SPIRIT GAME, which will soon be making the 2013 film festival rounds. It was a strange and exhilarating experience, to see my characters come to life. I’d say “once in a lifetime,” but my husband would reply, “Of course, it’s not once in a lifetime!” Bob fully expects to see my other books on film, too.

What was it like? First of all, I have to point out that my book, WE HEAR THE DEAD, is a fictional interpretation of the real events surrounding the Fox sisters and the rise of Spiritualism in the 1850s. Consider then that a screenwriter interpreted my book. And a director interpreted the screenplay, and the individual actors interpreted their parts.  The end result may not be exactly what I pictured while writing, but fascinating and beautiful nevertheless. I was a contributor to this project, but only one of many. The story is no longer mine alone.

People have asked me, “How can a movie tell the story of your book in ten minutes?”  Well, of course, it can’t. This is just one episode. People then ask, “Oh, which episode in the book does the movie cover?” And the answer is – none.

The screenwriter had to write a ten minute film that gave a flavor of the whole story. It had to be complete enough to satisfy viewers of the short film and tantalizing enough to interest a studio in funding a feature film or television series.

From start to finish, the film shows the Fox sisters before, during, and after a single séance. It gives a quick portrait of each sister:

  • Leah -- hungry for fame and wealth and mastermind of the fraud
  • Maggie -- kind-hearted and the peace-keeper among her sisters, but morally conflicted
  • Kate -- addicted to laudanum, tormented, and possibly afflicted with a real talent

Kate is probably the farthest removed from the character in my book because the film-makers decided to make her older than the young teen in my novel. But this Kate is a valid interpretation of the real one, who performed as a medium from the age of eleven until her death at fifty-five. She is exactly what my Kate is destined to become, even if she hasn’t reached that point by the time my novel ends.

And the séance participants have their own story, as well – one created by the screenwriter Lesley Krueger – and one totally in line with the time period and the type of clientele the Fox sisters used to service.

I am thrilled and honored to have been a part in this whole process and that my book was the inspiration for it (just as the historic events were inspiration for my book). My fingers are crossed that this leads to bigger things. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

When It Rains, It Pours

The publishing world is like that. Months and months of NO ACTIVITY. And then a bunch of stuff happens all at the same time.

I’ve seen a semi-final cut of THE SPIRIT GAME movie. I'll share that experience in a separate blog post, but I feel like a tease telling you about it when -- unless you frequent film festivals -- you’re probably won’t have the chance to see it for a year. The producer tells me that they are currently applying for admittance to film festivals, and the film will not be available for download or rental until next year. But I can tell you now, it was 10 minutes of awesome.

It’s still a few months before THE CAGED GRAVES comes out. I haven’t seen any “big” reviews yet (like Kirkus, Booklist, School Library Journal), but a couple ARC reviews have trickled onto Goodreads. Plus, I ordered t-shirts. And when I get them, I expect I’ll want to give some away …

I’m also closing in on the completion of the first draft of THE EIGHTH DAY #2. Since the first draft is always hardest for me, I wanted to get that done before I got caught up in promotions for TCG. And something awesome about HarperCollins – they’re holding back the copy-editing of Book 1 until I finish Book 2, just so I can change anything I need to make the books work together.

And oh yeah, I’m still expected to show up at work every day and teach the kids.

I'm trying to keep up with everybody's blogs, but I don't get around as much as I like. So tell me, what’s been keeping YOU busy lately?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


Our next First Impression post for the month of February comes from Alison DeCamp. It’s an MG work titled THE SOMEWHAT MANLY SCRAPBOOK OF LUMBERSTAN’S BIG WOODS ADVENTURE. Alison describes it as Laura Ingalls Wilder meets The Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

The envelope sits on the kitchen counter. It’s as hard to ignore as my empty stomach at three o’clock in the afternoon. And it reminds me.
It’s three o’clock in the afternoon.
And I’m hungry.
I stuff a hunk of bread in my mouth and examine the envelope closely this time, now I know it’s tied to so much hullabaloo, and remember the first time I saw it.
To tell the God’s honest truth (which, of course, is the only kind of truth I ever tell), the first time I saw the envelope, I didn’t think much of it. Heck, it was just an envelope; it didn’t look like it would turn my life all topsy turvy. I picked it up, saw the sharp slit across the top and the empty space inside, and set it back on the table to continue on with my very important day. That was the day I spent cutting out pictures of trick banks to glue in my Scrapbook. I remember because Mama asked me what I was doing, and I told her “cutting out pictures of trick banks,” and she said, “Hmmm. Let me take a look, Stan.” The next thing I knew, she had snuggled up to me like butter on warm toast.

I told her about all the money we would save with a tricky kind of bank, one no robber could ever break into. I am hoping to get one for my twelfth birthday, even though it costs a whole dollar, which is kind of expensive. 
“It doesn’t cost anything to look and very little to wish,” Mama said as she snipped the picture out of the Montgomery Ward catalog. “Also, we have lots of time for hoping--your birthday is almost a whole year away.”
“Practically around the corner,” I replied, and Mama smiled.
That’s why I remember, because my sweet Mama has not been smiling as of late.
The second time I saw the envelope it was crumpled on the table. When I flattened it out, some of the words looked like they were melting off the paper. It was still empty, and I was starting to wonder why. In fact, some might say the entire scene appeared suspicious: an empty envelope, wrinkled up like a used hanky. Mama attacks messes like her very soul depends on it. If cleanliness is next to Godliness, she could be God’s Siamese twin.

 “We don’t have much,” she says, “but we take care of what we have.”
She has the bad habit of picking up stray garbage before it’s even labeled as such. If she picks up something once, it’s a warning and twice it’s the trash. Which is why my valuable finds from magazines and catalogs are immediately pasted in my Scrapbook. And why I’m sometimes found digging things out of the garbage. And also why the crumpled up envelope was so out of place on our dining room table.
I am not the type of man who jumps to conclusions, so although the situation seemed as strange as a cat in a wedding dress, I most definitely did not overreact when I spied it for the second time.
I am not known to overreact. Also, I’m pretty sure no one even heard me scream.
The third time I saw it, however, was cause for genuine panic. It was twelve days ago, and the envelope was firmly clenched in the claws of a homely, old woman.

This is one of those really hard pages for me to critique, because I found it utterly charming and unique and the voice of the MC just jumped out at me so clearly.  Honestly, I am hard pressed to make any suggestions for improvement.

Here’s what I liked about it: There was no need for the author to apply some contrived dialogue or narration to give us a hint of the time period.  The price of the trick bank (and the fact that it might take a year to save that much) is a giveaway. So are the MC’s turns of phrase -- To tell the God’s honest truth (which, of course, is the only kind of truth I ever tell) … snuggled up to me like butter on warm toast … as strange as a cat in a wedding dress. They all seem charmingly quaint and old-fashioned. Alison confirmed to me in an email that the story takes place in a logging camp in northern Michigan in 1896.

I like how she has built up suspense about something as innocuous as an empty envelope, and there was something about the “I am not known to overreact. Also, I’m pretty sure no one even heard me scream.” line that made me laugh. I pictured this “somewhat manly” eleven year old boy screeching in alarm at the sight of a crumpled envelope on the table, simply because he knew his mother didn’t suffer trash in the house.

Alison, thanks so much for sharing your first page. Readers, let Alison know what you think and be sure to check out Marcy’s comments at Mainewords!

Monday, February 4, 2013

First Impressions: THE LEGACY OF THE EYE

Our second First Impressions for February comes from Patricia Moussatche. It’s an adult Science Fiction novel called THE LEGACY OF THE EYE.

Catrine blinked as her eyes adjusted to the brightness outside the school building. She should have worn a hat. She glanced at David, who had closed the heavy wood door behind them. Her best friend’s smile shined as bright as the afternoon light. This was the first time either of them had left the school since their enrollment at the age of two. They were both eighteen now, but David looked ready to conquer the galaxy.
“Maybe we should go over your speech one more time,” she said.
His smile dimmed. “We went over it five times on the way here.”
“Four. And you’re still forgetting to mention that the tutors will be traveling to the pupil’s home planet. That’s the whole point of the proposal.”
“Do you want to give the speech?”
Her inside twisted in knots. “No.”
"Then stop fretting. If the council hadn’t liked our idea, they wouldn’t have requested an audience.”
“They probably read the proposal once. You’ve read it a dozen times and you still forget some of the details. I should have made you write it.”
David's smile returned, brighter than ever. “Then it wouldn’t have been perfect.”
Or written at all, she thought.

I gather from the opening page that Catrine and David have an important proposal – maybe something like a doctoral presentation – and although Catrine was the one who wrote it, she and David are partners. David is obviously the one with the public speaking skills, since Catrine’s insides twist at the thought.  He’s better at schmoozing than remembering details. I can only assume that together, their disparate skills blend into a good team.

However, there were a number of things that confused me. As they are leaving the building, the comment is made that this is the first time they’ve left their school in sixteen years. At first, I thought it meant they’d never set foot outside the building, especially since the bright light hurt Catrine’s eyes. On reflection, I’m not sure that was the intended meaning, but it certainly sounded like it. (Could it be true? If so, it needs to have a lot more emphasis in this scene – and they ought to do a lot more standing around, appreciating the sun, rather than simply regret the lack of a hat.)

I also found parts of the conversation hard to follow. David said they went over the speech five times on the way here. But they are leaving a building, not arriving somewhere. Catrine points out that David is still leaving out a key point in his speech, but it took me several tries to understand what she said he left out -- and if this one point was the main purpose of the proposal, how could he forget it?

I also didn’t follow the logic of these lines:

"Then stop fretting. If the council hadn’t liked our idea, they wouldn’t have requested an audience.”
“They probably read the proposal once. You’ve read it a dozen times and you still forget some of the details.”

David’s line is fine. But I don’t get Catrine’s point. Is she saying the council only has a vague idea of their proposal after one reading, but David has even less after a dozen? Kind of insulting to her partner and friend! 

I think it’s fine for Catrine to be nervous and taking it out on David. The fact that he tolerates it so well speaks toward their close friendship! But her lines should be tweaked so we understand her major concern (at least what I think is her concern): David has a speech prepared, but she thinks he is not including some of the details she finds important – and he disagrees.  He’s relying on his gift of gab to win over the council, not piddling details.  I also think we need a better understanding of where they are, what building they are leaving, and where they are going to make the presentation in order to fully understand this scene.

Patricia, thanks for sharing your page with us! I also spotted your query over at QQQE, so I knew the basic premise of your story going in.  Readers, do you have any suggestions for this page?  You can find Patricia over at her website, My Middle Years, and read Marcy Hatch’s critique at Mainewords.

Friday, February 1, 2013


First Impressions in February comes from Michael Di Gesu today. Michael is sharing the first page of his YA Edgy Contemporary novel THE BLINDED GARDENER.

One moment I’m Dad’s personal punching bag, and the next, well, I’m a pawn in his maniacal master plan. That was, until Danny entered the picture and discovered my secret ...

Once again, I found myself at a new school, the third in two years. It sucked having to live by Dad’s starched and mind-numbing military code 24/7. How much more could I take? No honorable discharge was in my future. Not until I turn eighteen. That is if I live that long. 

As the son of a Marine Corps Captain, I had little choice in the decision making of my life. Dad used his usual tactics to persuade me to leave my mom and San Diego to move across the country with him. Needless to say, life in Beaufort, North Carolina wasn’t anything like I had expected. 

The warning bell rang for first period. Lockers slammed and the halls cleared. As I wandered about searching for my classroom, someone approached me from behind. Long bangs fell over his eyes as he loped past me with a kind of natural ease.

Didn’t he see me standing here, screwing around with this frickin’ map?

“Hey, dude. Could you tell me how to get to room 305?”

A slight curl formed on his lips as he faced me. He tossed his head. Platinum fringe shifted to the side and revealed freakish blue eyes that glanced toward me, unfocused.

Holy shit! Is he blind? Or is he stoned?

“I’m heading that way.” His deep voice held a trace of a southern accent. 

He glided toward the stairs. I envied his height: well over six feet and me just an average dude.

“You better move. Connors has little patience when you’re late.” He never looked back once, not even when he spoke.

I rushed to catch up to him. His hand overshot the dented metal banister. On the second swipe, he made contact and climbed the stairs. 

“What’s your name?” he asked, with his back to me. 


He turned the corner and rammed his shoulder into the side. “Damn!” He shook it off and coasted down the hall, stopping abruptly. “Here you are.” A glint of blue shot at me from under his bangs. “By the way, I’m Danny,” he said, low. He did an about face and slipped down another corridor. 

Strange. I wonder what his deal is?

Me, too! Is Danny blind or stoned? I honestly couldn’t tell, and I’m intrigued.

This is the second time Michael has shared the first page of THE BLINDED GARDENER at In High Spirits. Looking back at my previous comments, I see that I liked the alliteration in that first line when I read it before. I still do like it, but now I wonder if it’s a good idea to give away the punching bag scenario in the first line. Is this something Michael really wants us to know going into the story, or is it something we should find out when we actually meet the father? Also, the sentence is in the present tense – which would make it a good line to put in italics and have it be part of Aidan’s thoughts instead of narrative. In any case, I’m not sure if it should be the opening line, or if it would be better off moved to a different spot. Thoughts from readers?

I’d also like to see the back story woven into Aidan’s entrance into the school, to make it seem part of his thoughts rather than … um, back story. For example, life in Beaufort, North Carolina isn’t what he expected, but why is that? Is there something in this scene that reminds him he could have been in San Diego with his mom if his father hadn’t used his “usual tactics” to persuade Aidan to move across the country? I want to get to know Aidan before moving on to Danny, but I don’t want to be pulled out of the scene, either. So connecting what he sees and experiences to his thoughts about the past would be a good way to do it.

One last thing – Aidan’s thoughts should be in present tense, so it should be: Doesn’t he see me standing here .…

Readers, your thoughts? Especially on opening with a reflective paragraph before the first scene – I can’t make up my mind on that.  I think it might be a matter of personal preference. Some agents and editors will like it; others will object to it. Michael, thanks for sharing your first page with us! Michael can be found at his blog, In Time … and don’t forget to stop by Mainewords for Marcy Hatch’s critique of this page.