Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Simple Math

End of the Trimester Grading + Copy-Editing for The Inquisitor's Mark due Monday + Daughter's Middle School Musical this Weekend = No actual blog post for today.

It also explains why I haven't been to visit you at your blogs.

I'll be back next week with First Impressions in March.

Eeek! MARCH!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Airplane Karma #2

Earl Hickey knows about Karma.
A few years back I posted about unpleasant and rude people getting what they deserved on an airplane. I’ve got another story to share, although this one’s from my husband.

Bob travels a lot for work, and yes, sometimes airplane travel is frustrating. But he has said, over and over, that he doesn’t understand why passengers yell and curse at – and pound their fists on the counter of – the only people who can get them where they’re going.

My husband and daughter recently flew to Burlington, Vermont for a college tour at UVM. Their flight back to Philly was on a very small plane that was almost fully booked. Short on seats, the airline bumped my husband up to first class because of his frequent flyer status, although my daughter remained in coach.

At the gate, several announcements were made regarding the tight overhead storage. Customers with roller board luggage that would not fit under the seats were encouraged to check them at the gate. They would be returned at the destination gate, without the need to go to baggage claim. Many people took advantage of this, although Bob noted several people stubbornly hanging on to their roller boards, thinking this somehow didn’t apply to them.

Predictably, as the plane filled up, the overhead storage filled up, too. When one woman discovered there was no room for her roller board, she flipped out. A calm and smiling flight attendant explained the situation (which had been explained about 10x before boarding). This did not satisfy the woman, who marched up and down the plane, opening bins and trying to shove other people’s luggage aside. “I have as much right as anyone else to have my bag on board!” she yelled.

Personnel from the gate boarded the plane to help deal with the woman, and finally the she turned and threw her roller board at the flight attendant, who jumped back. Then the woman took her husband’s bag (he’d been standing nearby looking down-trodden) and threw that at the attendant, too.

Bob said the flight attendant never lost her pleasant smile, although the gate personnel looked shocked and angry. They exchanged glances with one another as they took the roller boards off the plane.

Then the flight attendant went back to her job of caring for the first class passengers. When she got to Bob, he asked if she was hurt. She thanked him for his concern and said no.

“It’d serve them right if their luggage got lost,” Bob hinted.

“Oh, I don’t think it will be lost,” she said pleasantly. “It might end up under the plane instead of with the gate-checked bags. It might end up in the very back. It might be last off the plane.” Then she asked Bob if he’d been to Burlington on business, and he explained that he’d been touring a college with his daughter. “Where is she?” she asked, looking at the empty first class seat beside him.

When he said they’d been separated, she replied, “Oh, that’s silly. What seat is she in? I’ll go get her and bring her up here.”

Karma, people. And if you’ve never seen the television show My Name is Earl, it is darn funny.

On a different topic, I want to thank Joanne Fritz who is posting the second half of my interview on her blog, My Brain on Books, today. She is also giving away her ARC, plus one signed, hardback copy of The Eighth Day after the April 22 release! Stop by her blog for a chance to win!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Between the First and Second Drafts

Conventional wisdom says that after completing a first draft, you should lay it aside "to rest" before beginning any revisions on it -- I've heard some experts recommend six to eight weeks!

Well, conventional wisdom (and those experts) must not work under a deadline.

And, to be honest, laying aside a first draft for weeks has never been my method, even before I had an agent and a contract and deadlines. By the time I type THE END on a first draft, I know all the things that are wrong with it, which may include:

  • Important information I never found a place to insert
  • Important information I inserted in several places, not sure which place would be best
  • Plot holes
  • Unnecessary side plots, characters, or clues I never ended up needing
  • Inconsistent details in setting or world building
  • Wavering character motivation
  • Pacing
  • Necessary character changes (In the first draft of The Caged Graves, the character of Beulah Poole started out as a teenage girl. I realized about two thirds of the way through the first draft that I needed her to be an old woman!)
Immediately after the first draft, I create a side-by-side outline to guide my second draft revisions. In one column, I list the important events in each chapter. In the other column, I note what changes I'll need to make in that chapter. This sometimes will include rearranging or eliminating chapters.
Side by Side Outline for Draft 1-2 of The Eighth Day
In the case of The Caged Graves, a historical murder mystery, I also created an even briefer outline of the events in each chapter and color coded them: purple for the mystery of the graves, yellow for Verity's romance, blue for the mystery of the Revolutionary War treasure. This helped me adjust the pacing and make sure that the main mystery remained in the forefront of the story, with the romance providing a counter-point and the secondary mystery appearing often enough to not be forgotten.

Color coded outline after Draft 1 of The Caged Graves
It only takes me a couple days to produce these outlines. Then I'm ready to roll right into the writing of my second draft.

When the second draft is complete, that's when I send it out to beta readers and I take a break from the manuscript. Under my current deadline, it won't be a six week break, of course. I only have ten weeks before this book is due, and I don't want to turn in anything less than a fourth draft.

As for the revisions themselves, I start with Chapter One. I am a linear girl ...

Monday, February 17, 2014

"It Lives!"

This was me last Friday ...


Yes, at long last, Franken-first-draft has been completed! It came in at 84k words, about 10k more than I want. Pretty typical for me. I can knock that back, no problem. I hit all the plot points in my sketchy outline, and so far my critique partners are mostly satisfied with my conclusion in its nebulous role as "Could be the end of the series finale, but there's room for more."

For those of you who followed my Eating an Elephant post on writing a climactic battle scene that was too big for me, here's how I handled it:

1. Having realized in my Practice Room conversation with Maria Mainero that I don't like reading huge battle scenes -- so why would I write one? -- I decided to separate my core characters from the main part of the fighting, sending them off to an adjacent location where they would be aware of the fighting, but free to do the things I needed them to do.

2. What I'm lacking in the first draft is a good reason for them to be separated, but I have an idea for handling that in Draft 2.

3. I abandoned ideas for events where the only purpose was to parade out one of the minor characters who appeared earlier in the story. They were distracting and pointless. Instead, those characters are briefly seen in falling action, so the reader knows they were present, but in the part of the battle we didn't see.

4. Then I worked through each of my necessary plot points as planned. There are clunky places and some bumpy segues, but I stopped trying to get it perfect on the first try and just wrote it. I ate the elephant, bite by bite.

This is the point where a lot of people put the draft aside for a few weeks "to rest." I've heard some writers claim this is an essential part of the process.

They must be writers who aren't on a deadline.

However, even without a deadline, I never rest between Draft 1 and 2. I have a different procedure. On Wednesday, I'll share my normal method of moving from the first to the second draft.

Meanwhile, Joanne Fritz and Michael Gettel-Gilmartin are both featuring me and The Eighth Day on their blogs today! Thank you, Joanne and Michael! You an also see reviews for The Eighth Day on my sidebar.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Ice, Electricity, Refugees, and 9,000 Words

Most of our community was without power, but thank heavens
the local Asian fusion place with the awesome sushi
had electricity! Phew!
Last week was my spring break. And a little bit of my summer.

We lost all but 0.75 of a workday, which was Tuesday, I think. (It's kind of a blur.) Monday was a snow day. Tuesday was a late opening. Wednesday was lost to the ice storm -- with the resulting catastrophic power outages closing school on Thursday and Friday. In Chester County, Pennsylvania on Wednesday evening, PECO was reporting 282,000 customers out of 300,00 without power.

But not us. I don't know how we escaped, but our house never lost power. Maybe it's because I have weather gods in this WIP, and they wanted me to finish this darn book. But we had power, and I had my laptop, and there was no school.

I wrote almost 9k words and finally made it through the climax of the story. A climax with a clunky, cluttered narrative -- but I did it! Once written, it can always be fixed. Then, over the weekend, I wrote more, putting me within two chapters of completing this draft.

My mother-in-law escaped the power outage, too, and my sister-in-law's house was restored on the first day. My parents' house was without power until Saturday morning, but they were in Aruba on vacation until Saturday, so that worked out pretty good for them. (Except for the food they lost in their freezer.)

However, we had friends who were in the cold and dark. When I discovered via texts that they were sitting in their car to warm up on Wednesday afternoon, I invited them over for dinner. My husband and I suggested they stay with us until their power came back -- which ended up being Saturday. We joked about having a household full of refugees, and when the Benjamin Franklin quote came up: "Fish and visitors smell in three days" -- they decided to bring an offering of raw fish for dinner. Yay for sushi!

So now our spring break in April is gone, along with a few days in June.

But did I mention I wrote my climax? *dances around in joy* And if tonight really brings 14 more inches of snow, as predicted, I'll finish the whole book by this weekend.

In other news, Leandra Wallace won an ARC of THE EIGHTH DAY from Goodreads after she'd already received one from HarperCollins for review. So she's giving the extra one away! Visit her blog for a chance to win!  There's also another Goodreads giveaway for ARCs. The chances are probably better at Leandra's, but you never know!

So, what happens on Grunsday if it's snowing at midnight on Wednesday and into Thursday? Evangeline gets to see snowflakes, that's what. The Eighth Day, Chapter 13.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Tattoos, Book Swag, and Teenagers Never Listen (Thank Heavens!)

Tattoos play an important role in my upcoming  EIGHTH DAY fantasy series.

So did my teenage daughter, Gabbey.

I asked Gabbey to design a family crest for Jax Aubrey's tattoo. She did, although she didn't exactly follow my directions.

But Gabbey's diversion from what I wanted (specifically, she used a bald eagle instead of a falcon) inspired the title and the premise of the second book in the series, THE INQUISITOR'S MARK. In the first book, Jax's mark is supposed to have a falcon, but he's given a bald eagle by mistake, This becomes important in Book 2.

It was only appropriate, therefore, that I get temporary tattoos as swag for my book launch. Gabbey designed 5 crests for Transitioner families in the first book (as well as a couple for the second book, which we are holding back for now). Then my husband found

Oddly, the first shipment vanished somewhere between a Wednesday and a Thursday. The company could not explain what happened. It's as if someone stole the box on a day that the rest of us don't have, just to prevent me from giving away their secrets.

But finally ...

I'll be mailing these out to anyone who buys the books and wants a set -- or who'd like to have a set just for fun or to give away as prizes. If you want some, let me know!

Friday, February 7, 2014

First Impressions: INTO THE BLACK

Our last First Impressions in February comes from Paul Baughman. It’s a science fiction novel titled INTO THE BLACK:

John Adler walked into the office of the Director of Advanced Projects when he heard the muffled 'Enter'.
"Hi Bill," he said.  He stopped in surprise to see three others already seated with Bill Smith in the informal conference area.
"Come in, Jack.  Have a seat."
Jack closed the door and took the one unoccupied chair at the end of the low table.  There was a mug and a carafe of coffee already set out in front of him.  Automatically, he poured himself a cup and sipped as he studied the others.
Louise Billings was a familiar face to the scientific world.  In her late forties, she still kept a trim figure and unlined face.  If her dark brown hair had any grey, it wasn't showing.  She wore a conservative business suit and a crisp white blouse.  She had started her career as a mediocre chemist with a talent for publicity and politics.  Over the last twenty years, she had used her political savvy and scientific credentials to work her way into the Directorship of the National Research Agency.
Henry Stinson was well-known both inside and outside the scientific community.  As the head of the first team that had designed and built an FTL probe based on German and Russian nobel prize work, the whole world knew his face.  He was a stocky man, in his late-fifties wearing a slightly rumpled business suit.  He was mostly bald with a fringe of grey hair that frizzed wildly.  He was known as a brilliant engineer with a flair for systems integration, and an inspired team-leader who could always get diverse personalities and backgrounds to cooperate on the job, even if they abraded each other at other times.
The third person was another man.  He was very thin, on the edge of emaciation, but his clear blue eyes, thick, wavy hair and unmarked skin showed his build to be unrelated to disease.
Jack put down his coffee and raised his eyebrows at his boss.
"Jack," Bill said.  "This is Louise Billings--"
"Mr. Adler," the woman said, rising and offering her hand.  "It's a pleasure to meet you."  Her smooth voice irritated Jack in a way he couldn't define.  He returned her firm hand-shake and turned to the others.
"Henry Stinson," Bill continued, "leader of the FTL Project."
"Mr. Adler," Stinson said.  Stinson's hand-shake was just as firm as Billings', but seemed friendlier.

I always want to feel an initial bond with the main character on the opening page of a novel, so I suggest giving us a chance to know John Adler – just a little bit – before putting him in an office with a bunch of other people. It can be brief and simple, such as what he’s thinking as he walks down the hall, where he’s coming from, or what he’s anticipating. Also, if the main character is going to be called Jack, let’s call him Jack from the opening line, rather than John.

Next, Paul introduces us to several people in the office with physical descriptions and background information. Then he introduces them again as Jack shakes hands with each one. Why not blend these things together?

As Jack shakes hands with the other people, Paul can give us a brief description and one line of background information about each one. Then, as the conversation continues, the rest of the background for each character can be sprinkled into the scene. This will serve the reader in three ways: a) we move more quickly to the purpose of this meeting b) it will break up the character résumés into bite size pieces for us to absorb and c) it will flesh out the dialogue to come with interesting tidbits about the people speaking.

Finally, if the background information about Louise and Henry is rephrased and filtered through Jack’s thoughts – that is, if we get his opinion of them instead of just facts (like we do when Louise’s voice irritates him), we will get to know Jack better, too. Readers, what do you think?

Paul, thank you for sharing your first page with us! You can find Marcy’s thoughts on this page at Mainewords, and you can connect with Paul via his blog or Twitter account.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

First Impressions: NA FANTASY

Our second submission for First Impressions is a NA Fantasy by Colleen S. Myers. She hasn't
given us the title for it. This is the first page:

I snarled and swung my blade at Xade as he danced out of the way. He moved back across the translucent bridge of the spaceship towards the helm sliding sideways. I tracked him, waiting for my shot.
My breath came out in pants, chest heaving.  I rubbed my face on my sleeve as I flicked my hair back.
Xade glared at me as he curled his lip. "You think you can kill me, Coree?"
I sprang at him as he stumbled back and batted me away.
"I’ll kill you. I’ll kill you all!" I declared.
Xade sighed wearily and motioned to the men around us who stood silent witness to our fight. "Fine, I am done with this game." 
All three of them closed in on me but I remained focused on Xade, my tormentor. Though they all had the same pale hair, pale white eyes; I always knew him. It was his eyes, the look in them that said he liked to hurt women.  The Imani consider themselves superior but they get off on the same things as every other psycho in the universe.
He pulled a syringe from his pocket.
I backpedaled into one of the men. He grabbed my hand and twisted, disarming me. Another held my arms back over my head as I writhed and screamed and yet another grabbed my legs. Xade strode forward and inserted the needle into my jugular, depressing the plunger.
My vision blurred. "No not this again. Please."
"No not this again." he agreed. "This is our last and final gift to you, the gift of innocence. You won’t remember the time you have spent with us. You can die happy and unaware, ignorant of your potential.” I jerked in their hands at the mention of death.
Xade noted the movement with a smug smile as he leaned close to me and whispered. “See, we believe you, we believe that there is nothing that will stop you from remembering and seeking vengeance. No matter what drugs we give you, no matter the gifts we lavish on you, you won’t stop your crusade and we are tired of your ingratitude.”
“Gifts,” I spit out as my body dropped out of their arms and fell to the deck with a thud. “Torture, experiments, pain. None of those are gifts.” I tried to roll away as my vision completely deserted me and my head grew foggy.
The last thing I heard was their laughter as Xade pushed me off the ship onto the mountainside and whispered “fly free.”

One of the tricky things about writing fantasy and science fiction is figuring out how much world-building you can do in the first page – and in the first chapter as a whole. This page introduces a lot of things in less than 500 words: blades and spaceships, a villain named Xade and a race called the Imani, a syringe, talk of torture, experiments, gifts, and potential. I would suggest that’s too many elements for a first page. Can some of it be shifted to a different spot?

For instance, I’d suggest cutting the sweeping generalization about the Imani. Let us see that for ourselves – or have Coree make the observation to another character later in the story. (It’s too good a line to lose. But it can be moved.)

The second thing I’d trim is the “As you know, Bob …” conversation. Xade and Coree discuss things they both already know, so the exchange between them doesn’t feel real. Plus Xade tells her the injection is the gift of innocence, that she won’t remember her time with them. (Is this an alien abduction scenario?) But then he tells her that nothing will stop her remembering, so if this is the case, why is he bothering? How Colleen resolves this depends on what happens later in the book, but I suggest the dialogue be revised so that Xade doesn’t express his doubts about the injection.

Finally, as a reader, I don’t like being dropped into the middle of an action scene unless I'm immediately grabbed by the voice and/or personality of the main character. But this page is all action – except for the punchy line about Imani being like all psychos in the universe – which I’ve said maybe doesn’t belong here. (Although I’m rethinking that now, since we do get her voice there.) 

I'd love to see this story open just a few minutes prior to the sword fight, maybe with Coree running through the ship trying to escape? Pondering her options? Determined not to go back to the experiment room? Something that connects us to her and her situation. Readers, what do you think?

Colleen, thanks for sharing your page with us, and good luck as you polish this to a shine! Marcy has her own critique up on Mainewords, and you can catch up with Colleen on Twitter.

Monday, February 3, 2014

First Impressions: KILLER STILETTOS

It’s February, folks! And that means I have a first page needing your First Impression. This submission comes from Shelly Arkon. It’s a YA Paranormal called KILLER STILETTOS, and it is a sequel to her prior work, SECONDHAND SHOES.

After Gram poofed out of my hospital room, a bunch of ghosts showed up. They filed in one by one quickly. Before I could think a thought or say anything, my entire room had filled up with them. Men, women, and children. All dressed in hospital gowns. Some were maimed. Some appeared perfectly fine. There were so many, the ones around my bed squished up against it. They were wall to wall. Too many to count.
I lifted my good hand and waved, scanning as many faces as I could. “Hey, there.” What else could I say? Ghosts had a way of finding those with the gift. But I certainly wasn’t expecting this many. Not now. I was still recovering from surgery. Not to mention, being confined to a cast. It wasn’t like I could be of help to anyone. Plus, battling Oshun, the demon-slut, a few moments ago left me drained. She almost sucked the life right out of me.
A young blonde woman towering right in front over me cleared her throat. She glanced over her shoulder for thirty seconds.
“Go on,” one of the others said to the woman, “ask her.
The woman turned to face me and said, “We need your help.” Dimples appeared at the corners of mouth when she smiled. Flecks of gold danced in her blue eyes. She must have been around my age. Nineteen, perhaps.
“I figured that.” A ferocious itch began in my casted leg, and I reached for it. But my wounded shoulder made it impossible for me to get to it. My back slammed back into the pile of pillows behind me, waffling air around me.
“Most of us have been here for years.” The woman brought her folded hands to the center of her chest in a please-have-mercy-on-us way. “We can’t seem to find our way out of this place.” A crease formed in her smooth-looking forehead. “Your Gram told us you could help us find the doorway to the light.”

The opening pages of a sequel are tricky – something I know well since I recently finished revisions of THE INQUISITOR’S MARK with my editor. I thought it would be clever to open with a chapter from the villains’ POV and reveal they were on the trail of my main character. My editor pointed out that this only worked if readers remembered who these villains were and what the stakes were for my main character – and chances are, they wouldn’t. So, my first chapter became my second chapter, and I opened instead with something that would re-orient my readers to the main character, his world, and his problems.

The same thing applies here. It seems like you are picking up the story mere seconds after you ended the last one, but your readers will probably not remember the final lines of your previous book. If Gram had words of wisdom for your main character in the closing of SECONDHAND SHOES, why not open with them? You could even put them in italics, to mark them as a memory of what Gram said, rather suggest she’s saying them right now.

It might also be good to mention the main character’s cast and the demon-slut battle before the ghosts arrive. Let the readers think, Oh yeah. I remember that, before you introduce a new problem.

Also, since this is a YA with intended cross-over appeal, you want to be careful of voice. The first line -- After Gram poofed out of my hospital room, a bunch of ghosts showed up. – had a MG feel to me, as did some of the other sentences. Short sentences could be combined for a smoother feel, while providing variety in length and sentence structure and a slightly more mature voice.

Readers, what do you think? Shelly, thanks for sharing the first page of your sequel here. Marcy will have her own feedback at Mainewords, and Shelly can be found at her blog.