Friday, July 29, 2011

8 Best Articles This Week for Writers 7/29/11

After the Sale
Book Reviews
Craft of Writing
Issues, News, and Trends
Just for Smiles
Social Media
To Market
Other Weekly Round-Ups:
Did we miss anything? Anyone? Please leave a comment!

Happy reading and joyous writing,

Martina, Marissa and Clara

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

13 WOW Wednesday: Carol Riggs on the Long and Persistent Road

Today's guest is Carol Riggs, who writes YA novels and lives in southern Oregon with her husband. She has worked as a proofreader-typist for six years for a book info company, and shares her expertise as a great and generous critiquer. She's repped by Kelly Sonnack of Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Catch her on her blog or on Twitter.

The Long and Winding Persistent Road

by Carol Riggs

Yep, I'm typical
Ever heard how a typical writer must write a million words, or for an average of 10 years, before he or she reaches publication? We can buck the odds--and people certainly have--but my journey has been more "typical."

Close…but not quite
I began seriously writing in the 1990s, trying everything from picture books to novels, and finally found my niche in YA. I joined the SCBWI and went to annual conferences. I wrote 10 novels, amassed over 300 rejection slips in 8 years, and even got editor requests for revisions on 2 different novels. After my revisions, when the novels still weren't strong enough, I ended up rejected again.

I got discouraged. I thought maybe the publishing world wasn't "into" the kind of novels I wrote. I was getting praise for aspects of my writing, but part of the real reason is because my total writing skills weren't quite "there" yet. 

Yes, I gave up for a while
As a single mom in 1999, I quit writing. I threw out all my novels, hard copies as well as computer copies. I got a "real" job, and did artwork in my spare time since I'm also an artist. For 10 long years, I didn't write a blessed thing. When I got remarried again in 2008, I didn't have to work again (don't hate me, hehehee) and in 2009 I starting writing again. I love, love, love it!

The road to agented
I wrote 4 more novels. Back in the 1990s I had a Shiny New Idea I never wrote, called FARRADAY'S FAT FARM, about a girl who has her brain waves downloaded into people who are overweight, in order to help them lose weight. My techy hubby helped me figure out how that could work in a sci-fi way, and EMRT was born and the novel renamed.

I wrote a 62K-word rough draft in 2.5 months, and met with an editor at an SCBWI conference in 2010 for a first-chapter critique. She suggested I change the title, wondering why I didn't just call it SHAPERS, since EMRT was too cryptic. And so I did. *grin*

Five months later, after more revising, I went to an SCBWI retreat where Kelly Sonnack of Andrea Brown Literary Agency was speaking and offering critiques. Since I'd been agent-searching for a year and a half, I targeted her for a paid critique. Not only is she way cute (I told my roomie that Kelly reminded me of Legolas' sister, elflike with long silky blonde hair), but she gave a talk on revision that blew everyone away. I thought whoa! I don't care if I already have a full out to 2 other agents (which I did), I want HER. She's very easy to talk to; I lucked out and got scheduled last, which meant we sat and talked for an extra 20 minutes about my book and my writing. I did a short revision and sent her the full at her request. The other 2 agents considering fulls sent me rejections. I held my breath.

In April Kelly contacted me about revising it to her specs before she offered representation, and we spent two hour-long phone conversations brainstorming and discussing possible changes. She asked what else I had written, and was excited by the sounds of my WIP. At the end of the second call she said she DID want to represent me--without me having done the revision yet, squeee! After I quit floating around near the ceiling, I worked on a first round revision for 9.5 extremely solid weeks, coming up only for air, food, and sleep. I expanded the novel from 64K to 81K. Kelly is very hands-on editorial, which I really appreciate.

What made the diff
How did I get from aspiring to agented?
1. Having persistence. Getting discouraged but bouncing back. Because I love to write.
2. Reading everything I could find online to improve my skills. In the 1990s, I wrote almost in a vacuum except for SCBWI conferences; there is so much more info available to writers nowadays. Utilize these free resources!
3. Doing contests--like this blog's query contest where I honed my query for SHAPERS. I did a five-page Red Light Green Light entry on Cynthea Liu's blog (yup, got shredded). I also joined the free online conference, WriteOnCon, and got some valuable feedback in the forums.
4. Finding knowledgeable, hard-nosed critique partners who didn't let me get away with sloppy writing.
5. Reading published books and analyzing what worked.
6. Having completed many novels, and having a WIP that sounded intriguing to an agent.
7. Being passionate about the idea for my novel. I've always been fascinated by Before and After photos ever since I was a kid. I've also egotistically thought that if only I could "borrow" someone's body for a few months, I could whip their bodies into shape and they'd be amazed at how they looked afterward. Thus, Morgan Dey was born--as a seed piece of myself. 
8. Having a unique idea. Seriously. With all the books that are out there, we as writers need a new twist in plot or premise that makes a book stand out. Agents and editors are swamped with the same old things. Have a storyline that stands out. Be as unique as you can. 

Good luck, and KEEP ON WRITING!!! 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

14 Preparing for Luck to Strike

There have been a lot of posts lately about green-eyed monsters and other people's success, and I've done a lot of soul searching about this subject myself. The subject really came home to me yesterday when I read an article about something completely unrelated.

As you may, or may not, know, I just got back from Washington and Alaska. We went there in search of wildlife, and we were extremely lucky. Our whale watching trip in the San Juan Islands found a super-pod of Orcas, while the one in Alaska put us literally in the middle of one of the largest pods of humpbacks that had ever been seen in the area. On a kayaking trip in Kenai Fjords, we ran into a large group of bow-riding porpoises swimming together with a dolphin, and spotted two separate Minke whales, more humpbacks, and lots seals, sea lions, and sea otters. Our trip to Denali National Park netted black and brown bears, moose, bald eagles, and even a wolf and an elusive lynx. Bottom line, we were lucky enough to be in the right places at the right times, and we kept our eyes peeled.

Unfortunately, another group of people visiting Alaska were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The article I read yesterday was about seven students mauled by a grizzly defending her cubs. The students were at the front of a large group of National Outdoor Leadership School participants crossing a river at the tail end of a 30-day backpacking trip.

NOLS is a great organization. My son has done several adventures with them, and he's learned a lot each time. The counselors are always prepared. The students tend to be smart and resourceful. And this particular group had already been out there a long time. They would have learned that bears usually leave people alone, especially if she hears a group coming, and these kids were crossing a river. They can't have been exactly silent. It seems they did everything right. As inexplicable and devastating as this tragedy was, after the attack, the kids handled everything extremely well. The outcome for the victims could have been much worse otherwise.

My heart goes out to these kids and their families. They were exceptional young people at the threshold of adulthood, poised to conquer the next phase of their lives. Meanwhile, the last photos my daughter and I took in Alaska was of a mother brown bear with her cubs at Katmai National Park. Wandering through the woods at Katmai, there were literally bears bigger than conventional grizzlies all around us. Granted, there were almost 75 rangers at the park, but believe me, the thought of mishaps definitely crosses my mind.

No matter what we do, no matter what preparations we make, luck plays an enormous role in the outcome of any venture. Publishing is no different than any other aspect of life. But luck isn't the only element. The best luck can be foiled by failing to be ready to follow through. At the same time, the worst luck can be mitigated by knowledge, determination, and solid preparation.

We all know what we need to do to succeed as writers. We have to write well. We have to come up with stories that readers want to read. And yes, we have to submit them, to the right people at the right time. But you know what? Since we can't control the timing and the luck, all we can do is keep improving our stories and sending them out. We can't give up. We can't feel defeated. We can support each other and rejoice in each other's successes.

If we're not prepared, mentally and technically, to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves, the best luck won't help us. Instead of getting discouraged, we have to take our craft to the next level and be prepared.

What are you doing to improve your writing? Are you writing? Are you working on a great new idea? Are you looking for a great idea? Are you reading books that inspire you? Are you going to SCBWI-LA or other conferences to get energized and recharged?

Best of luck,


Monday, July 25, 2011

37 In Stores This Week (with Giveaways)

The Ladies of ACP may be soaking up some much-needed vacation time, but great YA books wait for no one! Here's a look at what hits shelves this week. Please leave a comment on this post to let us know what books you're itching to read. When we return in early August, we'll run a surprise post featuring winners of all the books we've received from the publishers during our absence.

Supernaturally (Paranormalcy) by Kiersten White
  • From Goodreads: Evie finally has the normal life she’s always longed for. But she’s shocked to discover that being ordinary can be . . . kind of boring. Just when Evie starts to long for her days at the International Paranormal Containment Agency, she’s given a chance to work for them again. Desperate for a break from all the normalcy, she agrees. But as one disastrous mission leads to another, Evie starts to wonder if she made the right choice. And when Evie’s faerie ex-boyfriend Reth appears with devastating revelations about her past, she discovers that there’s a battle brewing between the faerie courts that could throw the whole supernatural world into chaos. The prize in question? Evie herself. So much for normal.
Wolfsbane (Nightshade, Book 2) by Andrea Cremer
  • From Goodreads: This thrilling sequel to the much-talked-about Nightshade begins just where it ended–Calla Tor wakes up in the lair of the Searchers, her sworn enemy, and she's certain her days are numbered. But then the Searchers make her an offer–one that gives her the chance to destroy her former masters and save the pack–and the man–she left behind. Is Ren worth the price of her freedom? And will Shay stand by her side no matter what? Now in control of her own destiny, Calla must decide which battles are worth fighting and how many trials true love can endure and still survive.

And Then Things Fall Apart by Arlaina Tibensky
  • From Goodreads: Keek is not having a good summer. She and her boyfriend have just had their Worst Fight Ever (on the subject of her virginity, nonetheless), she’s been betrayed by a best friend, her parents are splitting up, and her mother is on the other side of the country tending to Keek’s newborn cousin, who may or may not make it home from the hospital. Oh, and Keek’s holed up at her grandmother’s technology-barren house with an abysmal case of the chicken pox. In Keek’s words, “Sofa king annoying.” With her world collapsing around her, Keek’s only solace comes from rereading Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and typing on an old electric typewriter. Keek—whose snappy narrative voice is darkly humorous and hysterically blunt—must ultimately decide for herself which relationships to salvage, which to set free, and what it means to fall in love.

Wildefire by Karsten Knight
  • From Goodreads: Every flame begins with a spark. Ashline Wilde is having a rough sophomore year. She’s struggling to find her place as the only Polynesian girl in school, her boyfriend just cheated on her, and now her runaway sister, Eve, has decided to barge back into her life. When Eve’s violent behavior escalates and she does the unthinkable, Ash transfers to a remote private school nestled in California’s redwoods, hoping to put the tragedy behind her. But her fresh start at Blackwood Academy doesn’t go as planned. Just as Ash is beginning to enjoy the perks of her new school—being captain of the tennis team, a steamy romance with a hot, local park ranger—Ash discovers that a group of gods and goddesses have mysteriously enrolled at Blackwood…and she’s one of them. To make matters worse, Eve has resurfaced to haunt Ash, and she’s got some strange abilities of her own. With a war between the gods looming over campus, Ash must master the new fire smoldering within before she clashes with her sister one more time… And when warm and cold fronts collide, there’s guaranteed to be a storm.

Addie on the Inside by James Howe
  • From Goodreads: The Gang of Five is back in this third story from Paintbrush Falls. Addie Carle, the only girl in the group of friends is outspoken, opinionated, and sometimes…just a bit obnoxious. But as seventh grade progresses, Addie’s not so sure anymore about who she is. It seems her tough exterior is just a little too tough and that doesn’t help her deal with the turmoil she feels on the inside as she faces the pains of growing up.
The Babysitter Murders by Janet Ruth Young
  • From Goodreads: Everyone has weird thoughts sometimes. But for seventeen-year-old Dani Solomon, strange thoughts have taken over her life. She loves Alex, the little boy she babysits, more than anything. But one day, she has a vision of murdering him that's so gruesome, she can't get it out of her mind. In fact, Dani's convinced that she really will kill Alex. She confesses the thoughts to keep him safe, setting off a media frenzy that makes "Dani Death" the target of an extremist vigilante group. Through the help of an uncoventional psychiatrist, Dani begins to heal her broken mind. But will it be too late? The people of her community want justice . . . and Dani's learning that some thoughts are better left unsaid.

Putting Makeup on the Fat Boy by Bil Wright
  • From Goodreads: Carlos Duarte knows that he's fabulous. He's got a better sense of style than half the fashionistas in New York City, and he can definitely apply makeup like nobody's business. He may only be in high school, but when he lands the job of his dreams--makeup artist at the FeatureFace counter in Macy's--he's sure that he's finally on his way to great things. But the makeup artist world is competitive and cutthroat, and for Carlos to reach his dreams, he'll have to believe in himself more than ever.

Alex Van Helsing: Voice of the Undead by Jason Henderson
  • From Goodreads: Now that Alex is in the know about the deadly vampires that live—and hunt—clustered around his boarding school, everything is different. Putting his talents to use, Alex is training with the Polidorium to become a vampire hunter, just like his Van Helsing ancestors. Sure, he’s only fourteen, but c’mon, this runs in his blood. Meanwhile, Alex’s arch-nemesis Elle, a vampire whose youthful appearance and blond hair disguise a vengeful rage, is out to get him before a powerful leader called “Ultravox” arrives on the scene. Ultravox specializes in assassinations, but who is he targeting? Dodging Elle’s attacks, Alex is on a mission to uncover Ultravox’s deadly plan before his friends and his school become collateral damage. There’s no time to report back; innocent lives hang in the balance, and it’s up to Alex to act now—or else.
Happy reading!
The Ladies of ACP

Sunday, July 24, 2011

4 Best Articles This Week for Writers 7/24/11

Hi Everyone! I'm back from the wilds of Alaska and recharged both by the vacation and by having taken Sarah Ockler's brilliant advice. (If you missed her WOW Wednesday post this week, you can read it here. Don't miss it!) Being out with the bears--literally--and all that gorgeous landscape was incredible, and now it's just a brief few days before I head out to LA to visit my family and then haul my notepad, pencils, and suitcase full of prosecco to SCBWI-LA! Who's going? Anyone? I'm so excited!

Obviously, I missed ALL the Google reading while I was gone. I've MISSED reading all those fabulous posts. Clara Kensie was fabulous keeping up for us, so here's a round-up of her posts. Please drop her some comments and appreciation!

Happy heatwave! (Can you believe this weather? AAACK! It SNOWED on me in Denali on Monday and now it's 110 degrees in Virginia.)


After the Sale
Craft of Writing
Issues, News, and Trends
Just for Smiles
Social Media
To Market
Other Weekly Round-Ups:
Did we miss anything? Anyone? Please leave a comment!

Happy reading and joyous writing,

Martina, Marissa and Clara

Thursday, July 21, 2011

6 Deciding When to Show and When to Tell

Marissa and I are almost back. Promise. And that means she'll be posting contest winners shortly. :D In the meantime, here's another article from the archives....

Deciding When to Show and When to Tell

"Show, don't tell" is probably the most common advice given to writers. But that's not the whole story.

I've been thinking a lot about this issue. It came up in both large and small ways in a number of the critiques I've done for other writers recently, and it was flagged in my manuscript by a couple of the writers in my wonderful critique group. I started thinking about researching my thoughts and doing a blog post, but serendipidously, several of the blog's I regularly read posted articles on the subject last week. Michael Bourret described how he has been seeing a lot of manuscripts that aren't engaging or engrossing because of too much telling. Mary Kole had a post on "Good Telling" based on an essay she received from Melissa Koosmann. The Plot Whisperer (Martha Alderson) also had a great post on how people may hide strong emotions.

So I'm going to tell you what I think. (Because really, when don't I?) And I want to know what you think. Tell me if you agree or disagree, and let me know how much you think style, skill, POV, and genre fall into the equation.

First, there's a difference between narrative and scene, and each has its role in a novel.
  • A scene takes place in real time, in an idenfied location, and it involves action and/or dialogue between characters. By definition, a scene is "show." It engages the reader, engrosses them, and makes them feel connected to what the characters are feeling.  
  • Narrative summary describes--"tells" about--action or an event, but doesn't show it. Just as you would have a hard time selling a manuscript that's all narrative, you would have a hard time getting a reader to enjoy a book that is all nonstop action. As readers, we need time to breathe and absorb. Narrative serves that purpose.
For me, deciding whether something should go into scene is part of planning the novel, and it comes down to issues of tension and pacing. If you think you need a scene, here are a few questions to ask yourself:
  • Is the event or information significant enough to the story to warrant a full scene?
  • Does it move the story forward?
  • Does it lead the character toward a turning point or plot point, preferably both, that you want the reader to remember and experience along with the character?
  • Are the events action or reaction? In other words, is something happening, or are the characters making decisions based on something that has already happened?
  • If it is action, does it directly impact the POV character and are you giving her an opportunity to react to it?
  • Is there identifiable conflict between two characters, between what your main character wants and what she needs, or preferably both?
  • Are you providing important information that a reader is likely to skim over, misunderstand, or not care about in narrative form? Remember, the reader doesn't know what you know -- that it's important.
If the answer to any of those questions is affirmative, then you probably don't want to put information into narrative. This goes double for plot devices such as memories, monologues, and so forth. Flashbacks and visions, well-crafted and used sparingly, may work as scenes, but bear in mind that you have to give characters time to react to them. They work best at turning points in your story, the same way that backstory is ideal at turning points, where information is placed in context of past and present combining to help the character make a decision that will lead to resolution and a new complication.

Narrative summary, on the other hand, works best for:
  • moving the story forward in time.
  • covering repeating actions so that the one instance you show in scene will stand out.
  • varying the rhythm of the writing.
  • giving the reader a break after a tense scene.
  • briefly covering a character's reaction following a scene.
  • providing information in a way that would fall flat in a scene through lack of conflict.
  • delivering information that's not significant enough to merit a scene.
  • subtly directing attention to an emotion or piece of information that might otherwise get lost.
  • misdirecting attention to manipulate the reader's perception.
  • supporting the reader in the suspension of disbelief.
  • inviting the reader to share a secret.
One more reason is pure practicality. It always takes more words to show than it does to tell. If your scenes stretch out too long, it may be time for a little narrative summary in the mix.

Melissa Koosmann's essay was in part based on excerpts from a speech by Arthur A. Levine senior editor Cheryl Klein titled "A Few Things Writers Can Learn from Harry Potter." Klein described how J. K. Rowling uses brief lines of narrative "telling" to carry scene shifts and provide a context through the use of topic sentences. Klein further points out that narrative can misdirect as well as direct.

Just as the best dialogue doesn't always tell the truth, great narrative summary doesn't always say what you think it does. One of the great examples provided in essay is the line that precedes Harry's unexpected trip to the zoo on Dudley's birthday: "Harry had the best morning he’d had in a long time." Why is this a great line? Because it is followed by Rowling's examples of Harry getting treated like a second class citizen. Instead of merely going on for pages and pages with scenes of how Harry's life sucks, she lets us see that things we would think are horrible, Harry considers a special treat. Rowling's narrative shows the events from Harry's perspective and subtly calls attention to the humble, resilient side of Harry's nature.

But Rowling's narrative does even more than that. As the essay puts it, there is a supportive web of good telling even within the scenes; Rowling uses it to punctuate and control the reader's takeaway. All of that together lets Rowling's readers know that we are in the hands of a master. We feel we can trust her.

Especially in fantasy, trust is essential. Nicola Morgan did a post about Suspending Disbelief in which she pointed out that a strong narrative voice is critical to allowing readers to believe in your story. And the more incredible the story, the more you must work to earn their trust.

Which brings us to the little things that build credibility. Showing details and small pieces of business within your scenes is what brings your characters to life. And again, this is crafted into your novel through planning, not through some rote repetition of insert Action A into Dialogue B, add Dialogue Tag C, and punctuate with Action Beat D. As Mary Kole points out, "a lot of convoluted, cliche stuff happens when a writer desperately tries to avoid telling (like hammering hearts and foot-tapping gestures, instead of just saying, “She was nervous,” or “He hated when she was late,” or whatever)."

To avoid these:
  • make your scenes visual and memorable by setting them somewhere with built-in actions, props, and symbols to use in punctuating the emotional conflict within the scene.
  • know your characters well enough to know how they will react.
  • make other characters react to each other.
  • don't overdrive the words and actions to substitute for emotion.
  • don't make your characters too emotional to substitute for lack of conflict or tension in your scene.
  • do look for fresh ways to show what the character feels or sees or experiences.
  • employ telling stylishly, and use it with confidence in situations where you want to call attention to the narrative, bridge or transition between two scenes, or use irony to show that things aren't what they seem.
  • avoid telling things you've already shown; trust your reader to infer from action and dialogue.
Half of what I found while searching for articles on "show versus tell" contained "good" examples with cringe-worthy writing. Yes, these examples followed all the rules. They showed instead of told. They avoided adverbs, used strong verbs, provided lots of action beats. But they felt cliched and overdone, as if they were trying too hard to convince us.

Now I am often guilty of lapsing into schmaltz, and I am an active member of Overwriters Anonymous. The word "look" and its variants appear in my manuscripts too often and must be ruthlessly stamped out. I have to do a word search for the word felt as often as the next writer. But I firmly believe that a character's heart shouldn't clench over every set-back. Eyes really can just look at someone or something. They don't always need to gaze, or narrow, or bulge. Tears don't have to be present in every scene. And characters shouldn't coo, croon, sneer, or smirk more than once in a very great while. (And certainly NOT in a dialogue tag!!) Those kinds of stock actions are conveniences to the writer, crutches just as false as the "she was something" or "she felt something" telling pattern. Characters can nod, shake their heads, and do things that are relatively invisible to the reader, but more unusual actions must either be used as a habit you've deliberately given to your character--and only that one character--or reserved for one-time use.

And I'm not saying that most instances of telling wouldn't be stronger when converted to showing. But after agonizing over the examples in my own writing, and changing most of them, I'm not sure that the obvious cure isn't sometimes worse than the problem. If you can't come up with a unique and original way to express emotion, is it better to stick with simplicity?

It comes down to this: the rules for writing well are guidelines. Good writing is an art. Like pornography, we know it when we see it, but it is different for each of us. I know that from now on, when evaluating showing versus telling in my own work and that of other writers, before suggesting that something is "telling," I'm going to be careful to see if there is a reason why the writer "told," and evaluate whether there is a pattern in that telling which brings integrity to the book. If the telling results in lack of connection and engagement, that's one thing. But if it doesn't interfere? Should we fix it if it isn't broke?

What do you think? What are some of your favorite examples of good telling? Can you think of any published examples where the showing didn't work?

Happy writing,


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

13 WOW Wednesday: Sarah Ockler on Getting Lost on the Road to Publication

Sarah Ockler is the bestselling author of Fixing Delilah and
the critically acclaimed Twenty Boy Summer, a YALSA Teens'
Top Ten nominee and IndieNext List pick. She is a championship cupcake
eater, coffee drinker, night person, and bookworm. When she’s not
writing or reading, Sarah enjoys taking pictures, hugging trees, and
road-tripping through the country with her husband, Alex. Visit her website or find her on Twitter or Facebook.

Getting Lost on the Road to Publication
by Sarah Ockler

Wherever you are in the publishing journey, you've probably figured
out that writing takes serious perseverance and patience (by which I
clearly mean drugs and alcohol. Just kidding. Mostly kidding.) I mean,
books don't just write themselves! *stamps foot*

Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah
OcklerBy the time I wrapped up my first novel, Twenty Boy Summer, I'd taken the word "commitment" to frightening new heights (there's a reason it's so close to "committed," because that's exactly what my husband wanted to do to me). I was obsessed, writing every spare moment -- lunch hours, late nights, weekends when everyone else was having fun. It was an intense time because I knew that if I was going to succeed, I had to make writing my number-one priority.

I don't regret it. I finished, landed an agent, and sold the book relatively quickly (something that still feels like a dream, even four years later). I always advise new writers to do the same -- make writing your top priority. But I've also realized that while I needed to push myself hard to overcome insecurities, naysayers, and a whole host of ready-made excuses, the write-every-spare-second method is not sustainable.

Art + Business = Burnout

Fixing Delilah by Sarah
OcklerWhether you're already published or still dreaming of ideas for your first book, once you decide to write for publication, the art of writing becomes impossibly tangled with the business of writing, and it changes things. Some of the pure joy of it fades; the shininess dulls. Not to say that being an author isn't rewarding and incredible, but it's challenging at every turn, fraught with rejection, self-doubt, publishing industry craziness, and straight-up writing overload.

Thing is, we're writers. We can't not write. If I go more than a week without scribbling, I get cranky and start serving myself large quantities of Ben and Jerry's and/or white cheddar popcorn and/or Bombay Sapphire gin, sometimes all in the same bowl. So I realize that not writing is not an option. But taking small breaks is an option --- a necessity, even.

Losing It

Recently, I'd noticed some serious burnout smoke coming from my head (it smells like burnt coffee and lightening, in case you were wondering) -- a sure sign it was time to get lost. So my husband and I planned a week-long trip to Rocky Mountain National Park.

I left my laptop behind. I had no internet. I paused all deadlines.

Sarah Ockler, lost in
Rocky Mountain National ParkWith my bestie husband, I took long, strenuous hikes up mountains. I rode a horse. I smelled trees and photographed wildlife. I explored alpine lakes and trails. I read books at night and ate homemade pie and chatted with the college interns working at the B&B where my husband and I got married (and where I wrote much of Twenty Boy Summer). Yes, I jotted a few notes on paper when I felt creative, but I didn't work. I put plot and character development and marketing plans aside and let myself wander, physically and emotionally.

After a week in the mountains, when I found my way back and pulled my chair up to the keyboard, I was refreshed, energized, and absolutely ready to write again. Creativity lost, creativity found.

Travel a No-Go? 8 Ways to Get Lost in Your Own Backyard

Traveling is a great way to escape and recharge, but you don't have to pack your bags to break from the stress of the writing biz. There are some great ways to get lost locally, even if you're short on funds or time. The important thing is to walk away from the page, and here are 8 ways to do it:
  1. Find a new writing spot. If you write at home, venture out to the park. If you're usually typing away at the bookstore, try the library or coffee shop, or buddy up and write at a friend's place. Even a short-term migration from the desk to the kitchen table counts -- just enough to change the scenery.
  2. Play tourist. Put on your walking shoes, get on your bike, or hop in the car or bus and sightsee your town as if it's your first visit. There are tons of things to experience in every place --- historical sites, restaurants, architecture, nature, local oddities. When was the last time you visited a museum, took a home and garden tour, drove down an unfamiliar street, or shopped on the other side of town? Inspiration often strikes in new places.
  3. Read a book. All the better if it's not your usual genre. How fun to go on an adventure with a character who hasn't been plaguing your mind and waking you up every night! Reading something amazing and unexpected always makes me want to be a better writer.
  4. Immerse yourself in non-writing creativity. Every try sketching or painting? What about putting together a recipe from scratch? Taking photos? Making up a song or rap? Don't be shy about droppin' dope rhymes in the privacy of your own home. Getting in touch with the other creative parts of your soul can boost your writing mojo.
  5. Wander off the info highway. The internet is awesome, but it's also a ginormous time suck, and it rewires our brains to be less original and creative. A few days sans email, social networking, and online gossip is like a cold shower for your mind.
  6. Mix up your playlist. Like music? Experiment with something totally whacky. Country lovers, check out acid jazz or ambient. Is classical your thing? Why not rap? Swap your easy listening for classic rock or indie stuff. Get lost in some new tunes and see where the music takes you!
  7. Reboot your writing routine. Do you only write between the hours of one and three, with Mercury in retrograde, the ambient temperature at 67.9 degrees, imported lavender incense burning, a mug of earl gray tea steaming near your left hand, and a purple-haired troll doll perched upon your keyboard? OMG, me too! But... what if you woke up in the middle of the night and wrote in bed? Ditched the laptop for some on-paper cursive writing? Shake things up in your writing life to break patterns, habits, and ruts and you might see things in a new way.
  8. Veg. Nothing wrong with a little R&R on the couch, remote in hand. Taking a nap is an awesome pastime, too. So is a hot bath. A long daydream. Sometimes you just need to turn off your brain and let the muse find you.
Writing is hard, often weighted with frustration, doubt, fear, anxiety, panic, and pure hatred for the written word (wow, first car on the emocoaster, anyone? Sit next to me and hold my hand!). Wandering off, even for a little while, can actually help you find your way back. And when you do return to the page, you'll be a better writer, excited and maybe even full of new ideas. So get lost, dude! Take a deep breath, turn off the computer, close the notebook, clear your mind, and go. Your creative soul will thank you. And your readers will, too.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

6 Now and Then: Reevaluating Your Writing Resolutions


That's right – this girl!

But here's the thing. It's summer. Half the country is sweltering in 90+-degree weather and/or still wringing out their tissues from Harry Potter's cinematic THE END. And to be honest, I'm elbow-deep into potty-training a stubborn two-year-old who'd rather sit in soggy underpants than tell me she has to go. SO, I figure since we're more than halfway through the year, it might be a nice time to revisit those good old New Year's resolutions we all made in January. You know the ones:

Finish the manuscript. Get an agent. Get a book deal. Blog every day. Convince the spouse that yes, every writer you know is waited on hand and foot and YES, that includes hand massages, four-course dinners, AND entire blocks of uninterrupted writing time every single night plus maid service and on-call babysitters and

Um, yeah…so how you doing on those?

Maybe a better question is – do you still remember your writing resolutions from the beginning of the year? No shame if you don't. I had to look mine up last night because well, let's face it, I barely remember where I park when I go to work in the morning. But after spending about an hour hunting for my 2011 resolutions (which I finally found tucked away in my "Writing Expenses" folder of all places), I can tell you that I only accomplished one of my resolutions so far. ONE.

Now, I know the year isn't even over yet, but I couldn't help but feel this uncomfortable pang of failure form in the pit of my stomach. Like I made my parents take off work, drive through sleet and snow during rush hour traffic so they could see me in some cheesy high school rendition of The Glass Menagerie, only to find out I was booted back to understudy status ten minutes before curtain call because I couldn't remember my stinking lines.

Okay, so maybe that scenario's a bit of a stretch. It's summer. Did I mention I'm potty-training a two-year-old? Anyway, I think we all know what self-inflicted disappointment feels like, yes? So what do you tell yourself when the guilt from wasting six perfectly good months threatens to cripple you?

For me, I realized last night that, although I've barely crossed anything off my list, there are some things – MAJORLY IMPORTANT IN THEIR OWN WAY things – that I never even thought to write down that I can say I did accomplish this year. Things like teaching my aforementioned stubborn, doesn't-want-to-use-the-potty daughter how to sound out words and count up to twenty in English, Spanish, and French. Things like meeting new writing friends in person and exploring awesome new ideas with them. Things like getting an agent and going on submission and taking my time writing a story because it's the kind of story that's pushing my writing ability to the limit and would suffer greatly if I tried to rush it too much.

If you look at your old goals and really analyze where you are right now, I'm sure you'll also come to realize that so much can happen and change in half a year even when on paper it looks like nothing's happened or changed at all.

As writers, it's important we set goals. It's important to reflect on and revise those goals (and not file them under "Writing Expenses"). But it's even more important to be flexible and accepting when those goals decide they want to marinate longer than what we'd originally planned or banked on.

So my summer proposal for you is to review your 2011 Goals/Resolutions from the beginning of the year. Take note of what you've done so far. Take note of what you haven't done. Then throw that list away. You're a different writer now than you were six months ago. It's time for a new list. A new focus. It's summer. It's hot. It's the perfect time to whip up a 2011 Writing Resolutions Part Deux, dontcha think?

We'd love to hear about your progress from the first half of the year. Is your New Year's list all crossed off, or collecting dust somewhere on your desk? What are you working toward for the rest of the year? (And if anyone wants to leave any good potty-training tips, that'd be cool too. I'm desperate!)

Happy Summer-Goaling!


Monday, July 18, 2011

26 In Stores This Week (with Giveaways)

The Ladies of ACP may be soaking up some much-needed vacation time, but great YA books wait for no one! Here's a look at what hits shelves this week. Please leave a comment on this post to let us know what books you're itching to read. When we return in early August, we'll run a surprise post featuring winners of all the books we've received from the publishers during our absence.

Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker
  • From Amazon: Lacey Anne Byer is a perennial good girl and lifelong member of the House of Enlightenment, the Evangelical church in her small town. With her driver's license in hand and the chance to try out for a lead role in Hell House, her church's annual haunted house of sin, Lacey's junior year is looking promising. But when a cute new stranger comes to town, something begins to stir inside her. Ty Davis doesn't know the sweet, shy Lacey Anne Byer everyone else does. With Ty, Lacey could reinvent herself. As her feelings for Ty make Lacey test her boundaries, events surrounding Hell House make her question her religion.
The Final Hour (The Homelanders) by Andrew Klavan
  • From Amazon: The Homelanders are attacking-and it's Charlie's last chance to stop them. Charlie West was an ordinary high school kid who went to bed one night and woke up in the clutches of terrorists and wanted by the police for murder. He also woke up with no memory of the events of the last year. His memory is returning now and has brought the terrible realization that he knows when the terrorists are going to strike next. Whatever it takes, Charlie knows he can't give in or give up until they're stopped . . . even when the final hour is ticking away.
Ripple by Mandy Hubbard
  • From Goodreads: Lexi is cursed with a dark secret. Each day she goes to school like a normal teenager, and each night she must swim, or the pain will be unbearable. She is a siren - a deadly mermaid destined to lure men to their watery deaths. After a terrible tragedy, Lexi shut herself off from the world, vowing to protect the ones she loves. But she soon finds herself caught between a new boy at school who may have the power to melt her icy exterior, and a handsome water spirit who says he can break Lexi's curse if she gives up everything else. Lexi is faced with the hardest decision she’s ever had to make: the life she's always longed for - or the love she can't live without?

Pearl by Jo Knowles
  • From Goodreads: Bean (née Pearl) and Henry, misfits and best friends, have the strangest mothers in town. Henry’s mom Sally never leaves the house. Bean’s mom Lexie, if she is home, is likely nursing a hangover or venting to her friend Claire about Bean’s beloved grandfather Gus, the third member of their sunny household. Gus’s death unleashes a host of family secrets that brings them all together. And they threaten to change everything—including Bean’s relationship with Henry, her first friend, and who also might turn out to be her first love.

Clean by Amy Reed
  • From Goodreads: Olivia, Kelly, Christopher, Jason, and Eva have one thing in common: They’re addicts. Addicts who have hit rock bottom and been stuck together in rehab to face their problems, face sobriety, and face themselves. None of them wants to be there. None of them wants to confront the truths about their pasts. But they’ll all have to deal with themselves and one another if they want to learn how to live. Because when you get that high, there’s nowhere to go but down, down, down.
The Girl Is Murder by Kathryn Miller Haines
  • From Goodreads: It's the Fall of 1942 and Iris's world is rapidly changing. Her Pop is back from the war with a missing leg, limiting his ability to do the physically grueling part of his detective work. Iris is dying to help, especially when she discovers that one of Pop's cases involves a boy at her school. Now, instead of sitting at home watching Deanna Durbin movies, Iris is sneaking out of the house, double crossing her friends, and dancing at the Savoy till all hours of the night. There's certainly never a dull moment in the private eye business.
Love Story by Jennifer Echols
  • From Goodreads: For Erin Blackwell, majoring in creative writing at the New York City college of her dreams is more than a chance to fulfill her ambitions--it's her ticket away from the tragic memories that shadow her family's racehorse farm in Kentucky. But when she refuses to major in business and take over the farm herself someday, her grandmother gives Erin's college tuition and promised inheritance to their maddeningly handsome stable boy, Hunter Allen. Now Erin has to win an internship and work late nights at a coffee shop to make her own dreams a reality. She should despise Hunter . . . so why does he sneak into her thoughts as the hero of her latest writing assignment? Then, on the day she's sharing that assignment with her class, Hunter walks in. He's joining her class. And after he reads about himself in her story, her private fantasies about him must be painfully clear. She only hopes to persuade him not to reveal her secret to everyone else. But Hunter devises his own creative revenge, writing sexy stories that drive the whole class wild with curiosity and fill Erin's heart with longing. Now she's not just imagining what might have been. She's writing a whole new ending for her romance with Hunter . . . except this story could come true.
Return to Daemon Hall: Evil Roots by Andrew Nance & Coleman Polhemus
  • From Goodreads: A year has passed since that fateful night in Daemon Hall’s house of horrors. Bestselling macabre author Ian Tremblin decides to hold another writer’s contest but this time in the safety of his own home. Tremblin is excited to share with contestants a very old book he has recently acquired that once belonged to Rudolph Daemon, the millionaire builder of Daemon Hall who later went mad and killed his family. But the book, like the mansion, is powerfully evil and soon transports the group to the burned out shell of the haunted mansion. Flesh eaters, voodoo, a proficient sociopath, and the root of the house’s malevolence are all part of the mix. Who will get out alive?
Happy reading!
The Ladies of ACP