Writing advice at Phoenix Comicon

Making New Friends

What a blast! I’m attending Phoenix Comicon for the second year and it gets better every time. Daughter loves it, and I have to admit I’m loving it too. Along with people watching, which happens to be a peak attraction at an event like this, I also have the opportunity to learn from some great MG and YA authors. Panel discussions include Mythopic Worldbuilding, Writing for the YA Market and Making Your Fantasy World a Reality. Yesterday, I attended the Mythopic Worldbuilding, hosted by Terry Tibke, Travis Hanson, and J.S. Lewis. Great information from some awesome authors. Other authors attending the show include James Owen and Diana Gabaldon.

The best advice yesterday came from Travis Hanson…don’t make all your characters sound like you. It’s very easy to make all your characters have the same voice, which bores a reader to death. We tend to write people who resemble ourselves and it’s too easy to get into that trap. His advice? – People watch and you’ll find all different kinds of characters to draw from. Use people you know and their mannerisms to diversify your characters. This one hit home with me. I listened to him and imagined the characters in my book—making a mental note to go back and reread for just this type of consistency in voice. Big No-No. Thanks Travis!

Other great advice  had to do with outlining. Each writer has a different take on outlining, but Travis, once again, made it clear that he needs to have an ending in order to keep the story on track. No need to outline everything, but at least with an ending already established, there is a destination to keep to. I realized  that I had already done that since I knew exactly where I wanted my story to end. I let the characters get there in their own way, but it really did help to have that destination in mind. Without that, as all panelists agreed, a story can meander and travel all over the place, losing readers along the way.

Finally, a fascinating discussion on “stealing” vs. “borrowing” story ideas and characters from classic stories. Are these stealing or borrowing? Some books, mainly Twilight, could be a rewriting of Pride & Prejudice, as some of the authors agreed. Is that stealing? There are many stories “based” on others. It’s the retelling and the changes that make a difference.

Today, I’ll be attending the Writing for the YA audience and possibly the Fantasy World panel. Unfortunately, the second one runs at the same time as a Dr. Who panel and I have to admit—I’m a bit of a Dr. Who fanatic. I love the show and would love to see this panel. But then again, my novels don’t have a fantasy world, so I feel OK skipping this one. Travis Hanson will be at this panel and his advice is worth it in any case. I’ll let you all know what I decide later, but either way it is sure to be another great day of people watching, author scoping and fun.

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Look for the beauty in life, it’s definitely there

Remember the phrase, “Walk a mile in another man’s shoes,” and its meaning? (OK, that’s not exactly it, but you know what I mean.)  What I see there is a message of understanding and courage. A message of reevaluating your own life by taking a look at someone else’s life. I’ve done that recently and been reminded that all struggles are relative. My best friend, bless her heart, is going through another struggle that threatens her life. I won’t pile on the crap for you, I’ll just say that two years ago when she lost both breasts to cancer and endured months of chemotherapy and radiation, we thought she had been through it all. But for some reason, shit keeps falling. I don’t know why…but it does. Health issues for her young son followed and now infections that threaten her life and more surgery and hospital stays. What the heck?

Why am I telling you this? It’s simple- take the time to be happy. While sitting in the hospital with my friend, we talked about stupid stuff, we laughed and joked. We didn’t dwell on the IV or nausea but rather on the silly things people do, and more importantly the great feeling you get with a new pair of shoes. So my message is simple- Don’t fret over what someone said, whether you have the most updated technology, or whether that book is coming along fast enough. Does it make you happy to write? Then do it. Does it make you happy to be with your family? Then do that. Take time to see the beauty all around you and in the people you are with. Create the laughter, cherish the smiles, and be with people you love.

I was reminded of all this just this morning when I saw a beautiful post at Songs Kate Sang with a simple, precious photo of something most people would have passed by. Take the time to see the beauty. I know-this isn’t a new message, you’ve heard it before. Take time to smell the roses, blah, blah. But I’m serious. Take time to stroke your child’s hair, breath in slowly as you pass a rosebush, close your eyes and feel the breeze on your face. It’s all a rare and wonderful form of beauty.

My friend is out of the hospital and home with her family. She’s cancer-free and I believe she will stay that way. She sees the beauty in life and I see the beauty in her.

Have a great day and make the most of it!

Put the action up front

I’ve heard this so many times. Start your story with the action, don’t work up to it. Don’t make the reader wait for something to happen, etc. So why, oh why, did I do just that? I thought I was done, the book was marvelous, I had it going on! Then I re-read (for the umpteenth time) and realize that it takes a helluva long time to get to the action. Jeez! So I’m back to square one and punching it up.

As much as we want our work to be bullet-proof, it’s not. Each time someone reads it and gives a critique, we must decide what to keep and what to use. This time, it was obvious…”Why is it so slow in the beginning?” my friend asked. “It’s so powerful the rest of the book and with so much action. Shouldn’t that be up front?” DUH! Of course it should and I am blind.

Read any YA book and you’ll see that 95 percent of the time, the action starts right up front. Percy Jackson is a great example. He’s on a field trip with his class, walking through a museum and Pow! his teaching turns into a flying creature and tries to kill him. Every kid reading the book was hooked right there. Same thing with the first Harry Potter-he’s under the stairs and he keeps getting letters….they won’t stop till Hagrid shows up. It’s right up front… And that’s why agents want just the first few pages. It’s all up front, if it doesn’t start out powerful how can they expect anything more?

So, I’ve learned my lesson and I’m back to working on Ch. 1. Not discouraged at all, just grateful for a friend who pointed out a flaw. Put the action up front…it’s my new motto (and should have been all along).

The Amazing 26 Blocks opens in Downtown Phoenix

Last night I attended the opening night of 26 Blocks, an art exhibition like no other. 26 photographers, 26 writers and one sculptor created a fabulous and inspiring exhibition. 26 pairs of writers and artists were created, given one city block in downtown Phoenix for inspiration, and told to create something. Photographers captured the beauty and quirkiness of Phoenix, while writers created everything from poetry, free thought, articles and more. The event was hoppin’, wine was served, people were talking and reading and having a ball.

Not only does this exhibit celebrate the beauty and uniqueness of Phoenix, but it makes me feel so glad to live in such an awesome place. Joey Robert Parks, who thought up the idea and ran with it, deserves a standing ovation for the tireless effort that paid off big time. Watch for Steve Dreiseszun, Scott Hermanson, Ed Sweet, Karen Werner and more. They are all so talented and I’m so glad they chose to participate. What a show!

The exhibition is at After Hours Gallery until May 30, Phoenix New Times has some great photos here, then watch for it as it travels the Valley of the Sun!

Sometimes you just need a night out with the gals, and swag!

One of my goals for the next few months was to learn more about social networking, building a platform, building a following, etc. How to do that? I figured the best way to accomplish that was to find others who know how and pick their brains, beg for info, whatever it took. But I didn’t have to go that far since I had a friend who was blogging, gaining immense following and knew all about it. How is that possible that I didn’t even know that Sara was a font of blog/network information. A whirlpool of free info.

On top of that, I was invited to the Phoenix Moms Night Out, thanks to Sara and- Pow-I walked into a room full of savvy, intelligent women who blog, raise kids, work, and have fun. What a great place-I was in heaven. I met so many women who were struggling with the same issues-working, raising kids, making time for themselves, etc. With wine and new friends, this was a night to remember.

And what could be better than that? One word-Swag. Two bags of goodies-some for me to keep and some I know my friends will be happy to get. The Capital Grille in Scottsdale hosted this event and Linda, the sales and marketing manager, took care of us with charm and generosity. The food was tremendous-crab cakes, sliders, fried calamari, seared tuna, etc. And when I said I had a food allergy, the chef came up with an heirloom tomato/mozzarella salad to die for! (I love being treated like a queen!)

Ok, here’s what we got in the swag bags-you know you’re jealous already… my favorite was the cup cozy from Boutique Karma. Reusable and lovely, and I’m feeling a little more Green already.

Also included were chocolates from Dove Chocolates (my favorite member of the food pyramid), snack cakes from Little Debbie (my husband took those to work today with a smile), and lovely baking cups from Simply Sweet, a specialty baking shop in the Phoenix area.

Now, there was also a My Little Pony in the bag, and I won another one in a drawing. Since my daughter is 14 and has passed the pony stage, I traded with Sara for her cute T-shirt from Me Time. Perfect deal. And there were books in each bag and a pacifier that I know my friend Sarah will love for her new baby, Kit.

Another favorite of mine was the small gift from The Body Shop, provided by Sierra Orthodontics in town. Thanks guys! If I need Invisalign braces the future, I know who to call.

I’m looking forward to spending more time with these great women, and learning more about how they have built such awesome platforms on the Internet. Social networking afire! Thanks guys…back to writing…

The agents are the popular kids…and I’m the nerd

I’ve been feeling rather strange lately, but it’s quite familiar. While following agents on Twitter, reading agent blogs, commenting and trying to engage these wünderagents, I finally realized why I am feeling like I’m back middle school. Remember when you wanted to be one of the popular kids? You listened to their conversations and tried to jump in the conversation. You watched what they wore, how they talked, what they laughed about and then you tried it yourself, only to be shot down by a glare, snub, a whip of a ponytail as it swings away or the worst-ignoring you completely.

Well, I’m back there, right now. As I follow the uberagents on Twitter and listen in on their conversations with other agents, I realize it’s just like following the popular kids to the mall. Sometimes I get to hear what they eat or where they shop. I follow the agent blogs and try to learn how to be cool (which means how to be published in my updated version). I try to do the things they say in the blogs, write the query the right way, approach them the right way and maybe, if I get it right, I’ll get a nod or be accepted into the popular crowd (which now translates as an offer of representation).

I knew it felt familiar, it’s an unforgettable sensation. And with each rejection from an agent, I’m left standing by the lockers as the girls with silky blond hair (those cool, hip agents) walk by in slow mo with their hair flying and skirts swinging. I’m left watching them closely and hoping for a nod.

So, here’s to hoping I get asked to hang with the “cool” kids-those awesome agents-and break this code for good! With each query that goes out there, I have one more chance to walk the hall and swing my hair in slow mo!

MyNoWriMo starts today!

I had the fabulous experience of writing the first draft of my novel during NaNoWriMo. Wow, talk about pressure and motivation. But I found out something very interesting about myself-I need that. I need the deadline, the pressure, to feel that others are watching my progress. If not,  I’ll just wait till tomorrow, clean the kitchen, make a martini…you get the picture.

Therefore, while shopping around BOOK ONE, I am now starting on BOOK TWO and embarking upon MyNoWriMo (My Novel Writing Month). NaNoWriMo is a great program, but why wait for it? Why not create one of your own when you need it? Learning discipline is the best part of NaNoWriMo, so why not carry that into your life?

I’ve developed a great continuation for the story that began in BOOK ONE  and I’ve got 30 days, once again, to get this done (or 50K words at least). I’ll keep you up to date on my progress and I’m counting on all of you to keep me going. Last time I got up early every day since it was the best way for me to make sure it was done for every day. Sure, I was half asleep at times and my best friend was the coffee pot, but I felt great all day knowing I had taken care of my responsibility. I loved that I thought about the characters and story all day long-shopping,cleaning, writing, home schooling, planning, etc. It all involved my characters somehow-they followed me everywhere and ideas sparked and grew from all of it.

Why the hell are you writing BOOK TWO if you haven’t sold BOOK ONE, you may ask? Why not? So many have told me that selling a novel is even easier when you’ve got another in the works. More importantly, I need to keep the story going. I love these characters and I feel it’s my duty to keep them alive.

Join me in MyNoWriMo and let me know how you’re doing… Good luck!