Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Gratitude 2013

Here's the part where I get all sappy...


One day we've devoted to remembering to be grateful for everything we have in our lives. I could dust off my soap-box, step up, and wag my finger at how we should be thankful every day for the awesome/terrible/wonderful/horrifying/awe-inspiring world we live in...


You've heard that said before from people who have said it better than I ever could. So I'm just going to itemize the *remarkable* things that I'm thankful for this year.

I'm thankful for my home.
                               Me when I met L
We (L and I) were going to move this year. The opportunity arose suddenly, and for a moment we were both beside ourselves with excitement. However that old matron, Prudence, won out. It wasn't fiscally responsible for us to make a long-distance move at the time, and fortunately another job opportunity presented itself to L, and he took it.
That job allowed us to move. Not to another state (someday Utah, Nevada...*whispers* Oregon), but to a real house. Not a tiny apartment, not a ramshackle building with four walls and a roof, but a lovely house that suits both of our very different tastes. A large garage for him, an extra room with a fireplace that was transformed into a lovely library for me...and a yard for the furry brute that lives with us who chews indiscriminately on his surroundings.
I'm thankful that we found this house together, that we make our coffee, watch our movies, wash the floors -- that we live here. I wake up every morning and go to bed every night beside someone who loves me. Together in these (almost) three years we have started a life together, and I am so so SO very grateful for that. It really is a dream come true.

I'm thankful for my day-job career change.
I've worked a number of different jobs, always writing in the background. Until recently, I often found that I didn't really write and I just worked meaningless jobs with the intention of writing. I didn't get serious until 2011.
I was in the Hospitality (read: hotel) business for a long while. The reasons why I spent the better part of this last year clawing my way out of that career path merit a post all their own, but here I'll suffice it to say that I finally did it.

                       This was how I went to work every day for years.

I have a job now where I get to hold and interact with dogs, cats, kittens, and puppies. I get to help people who want to help their animals. I have set, fantastic hours (perfect for my writing-mode time of day), and we can still afford to pay our bills. I work with knowledgeable people who have integrity and take pride in their work.
It is the first day-job I've had where I can truly say "I'd be happy doing this, and writing on the side for as long as it takes". It's nice not having the place you spend 40+ hours per week being just a means to an end, but time well spent. It's a new feeling, and for that I am very grateful.

I'm thankful for my Kim.
My best-friend Kim. A year ago today I was insane, prone to fits of glee and self-deprecating bouts of anxiety - I was new to the query trenches.
While L (my love) keeps me grounded he is not a man of words (I use enough for the both of us, I think). Also, he doesn't know how to handle my wild thoughts/emotions aside from just letting me speak my hopes/frustrations/fears/dreams/doubts into the room and following up with a "Well, we'll see..."
My best friend Kim is the Reason to my Madness.

                                       Pictured: Me talking to Kim
She is a sharp critic (wonderfully merciless, yet kind). Truly, had I listened to Kim's initial critiques of my first novel I wouldn't have queried too soon, and I wouldn't have needed to spend months fixing all the things she told me in the very beginning to fix. (Except the umbrellas! THE UMBRELLAS STAY, KIM! --- unless an agent or editor says otherwise)
We live seven hours apart. We see each other once a year. But she is my soul-sister. Without her I fear I would drive L insane. She means the world to me. I am/have been/will always be grateful for her.

I'm thankful for Twitter.
Oh lord that sounds so lame. However without Twitter I wouldn't have found my excellent Critique Partners Alex, and Phalia.
Ooops! Let's take a step backward: Without the Twitter contest PitMad, I would not have found Alex on Twitter. He's incredibly talented, and has a sharp eye. I could go on and on about how he has helped my first novel become what it is. Without one Critique Partner I wouldn't have gone looking for another, Phalia. She is tremendously supportive with heaps of ambition and talent as well.
Twitter also introduced me to the supportive writing community out there:
Melanie Conklin, Heidi Schulz, Alana Chapman, Richard Pearson, Julie Hutchings, Emma Trevayne, Chelsea Bobulski, Lela Gwenn, Brianna Shrum, Jean Giardina, Brooks Benjamin, Summer Heacock,  Megan Orsini, Lucas Hargis, Carey Torgesen, Vicki Weavil, Jessie Devine, J.M. Bankston, Hillary Monahan, Rhiann Wynn-Nolet...
                                             I LOVE YOU ALL!!!

Basically look at the people I follow on Twitter - Every. Single. One is so disgustingly talented, funny, warm-hearted, and just....whenever I'm having a bad day or feeling cynical about the state of the world I can go to Twitter and be reminded that these people are out there creating and bringing their special brand of Phenomenal BAMF into existence. (Yes, I just used "BAMF" - 2008 was a good year.)
Let's not forget the publishing professionals on Twitter who dispense wisdom, advice, and good humor into the universe: Sarah LaPolla, Eric Ruben, Jessica Sinsheimer, Brooks Sherman, Amy Boggs, Peter Knapp, Bridget Smith, T.S. Ferguson, Jennifer Udden, Evan Gregory...the list goes on...They all regularly go out of their way to better the writing community, and educate the uninitiated. My writing has improved just by following their blogs, reading their feeds, and (in a couple of cases) taking their advice.
Twitter is a bar full of lively, interesting conversation, and it's a classroom --- a bar-classroom that I don't have to pay for, or put on clothes to visit. I'm very grateful for that.

I'm thankful for other people's patience.
Writing is full-time thing. At least that's how I treat it. I have a day-job that takes at least 40 hours of my week, I have the love of my life who I enjoy interacting with on a more than occasional basis, and I have writing.
Believe it or not I have other friends, too! Friends who live less than ten minutes away! I realized over a coffee date the other day that I've only seen my good friend, Anna, only six times this year. Six.
She lives seven minutes away - eight or nine if there's a traffic issue. She (and my other local friends) always invite me for coffee, or for movie night, or for drinks, etc...
I'm  writing.

                                       Me, just ask anyone.
And they're okay with that. We're all grown, and at this weird place in our mid-late twenties where real, post-college, adult life is kindof kicking our asses. But there are some friends who have drifted away due to my self-imposed solitude. That's okay too. I still love them. But I'm grateful for the ones who still invite me to do whatever even though there's a 98% chance I'll say No - because I know they get me. They're the ones who ask me "how's the story coming" and their eyes don't glaze over when I start to talk. They're my people, and I'm grateful for their patience.

I'm stopping here at five things. My magic number is 3, and I'm compelled to run to my alternate magic number (7), but I'll relent and be content that 5 is the number of Grace, Freedom, and Change - I can live with that. It's better than going all abstract and reaching for the Feels. People can always tell when you're reaching.
What are you thankful for?
Whatever or Whoever it is let me encourage you to tell them - everyone likes to know that they're appreciated/loved.

I have one chapter left on my NaNoWriMo novel! So I'm going to get back to that. It has gone from MG SciFi to YA SciFi - more on that next time though!

Until we meet again....

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cyclones, Wardrobes, and Passageways - Oh My!

I write stories that are labeled Portal Fantasy.

My Middle Grade MS, and my Young Adult MS/WIP are both Portal Fantasy. I'm about to break the pattern with my NaNoWriMo Project, but we'll talk about that tomorrow.

For now, I'll begin by clarifying:

Some of you may be wondering, "What is Portal Fantasy?"

Remember how Dorothy got to the land of Oz the very first time?
A cyclone picked up her house and took her there. Portal
In book three, Ozma of Oz, a hurricane took Dorothy and her hen, Billina, to Oz. Portal

Remember how the Pevensie children first made their way into Narnia?
They crawled into the coolest wardrobe ever. Portal.

Remember when Harry Potter got his wand, or how about when he made it onto the Hogwarts Express?
Hagrid tapped the bricks which opened the door into The Leaky Cauldron, and Harry vanished into the barrier between train platforms 9 and 10 to wind up on Platform 9 3/4. You guessed it...Portals.

Portal Fantasy - despite these examples of timeless and magnificent stories - is disdained by many. The majority of readers (be they agents, editors, or Barnes & Noble shoppers) want to be immediately introduced to the fantasy world in which the story takes place.
I am not said reader.
In fact, I prefer Portal Fantasy over almost any other genre/category of story. But that makes me Very Picky whenever I pick up a Portal Fantasy.

There are common wisdoms in the writing community:
1. Write what you know.
2. Write a story that only you can tell.
3. Write for yourself/Write what you love.

I've previously covered the "Write what you know" and how it has affected my storytelling.
I know magic. I know fantasy. Therefore, that's what you'll be getting a lot of from me.

I'm skipping number 2, because it merits a blog entry all its own.

Now, as for "Write for yourself/Write what you love". This is often translated into "Write a story you would want to read."

I didn't know that Portal Fantasy was an official label until I began researching the query process, etc...

Like many of you I read to escape. Real life has bills, socially unacceptable people, and other obligations that just drain all the fun out of the world around us (if you let them). It's so much more exciting to dream about what I would create in a quasi-Utopian Fairyland like Oz, or being a wandmaker for future Hogwarts students.
Portal Fantasy is special kind of escape.
How many of us waited for our owl (which must have just fallen behind on its route) to deliver our letter to Hogwarts?
How many of us have longed for an "out of our hands" way to flee the drudgery of common existence? You might consider it a sort of Fantasy-Scapegoat.
Harry Potter would have been a different story had we met Harry at the Grandparent-Potter's house nervous about his first day of school, and already familiar with the Wizarding World. Not that it would have been less amazing or interesting, but we would have been further removed from the magic.
By experiencing a fantastic transition alongside the protagonists we, the audience, not only empathize with their journey, but a part of our imaginations makes that magical transformation with the character. To use HP as an example (for the millionth time) - we sorted ourselves when Harry was sorted; some of us may have hoped for Gryffindor (I hoped for Ravenclaw, alas, I am resoundingly Slytherin), in any case, we became Hogwarts students by proxy.

I can't be a Stark of Winterfell, or (thankfully) a Lannister of Casterly Rock.
But perhaps a tornado will whisk me (and my loved ones) away to Oz; maybe my owl will arrive next year (very apologetic for her years of tardiness)...
For me Portal Fantasy allows for the "this could happen to me" aspect of the story - no matter how outlandish it may be.

Writing a portal is no easy task. It's one of those things where everything has already been done. Your characters can't be caught in a violent storm, fall under the bed, walk into a spacious closet...

In the earliest rough draft of my first MS, Bianca & Scarlett were kidnapped into Faerie - too scary/violent for what I wanted it to be.
By the finished 3rd draft I borrowed from The Road to Oz. In the fifth Oz book Dorothy finds herself wandering the countryside until she comes to a crossroads, and the path leads her back to Oz.
Bianca and Scarlett meandered down an alleyway and found themselves in Faerie.
One of my best friends (who, unfortunately, loved almost everything about that terrible draft) did comment on this:

"You know why we had bells between classes in High School right? We can all tell time, but psychologically the bell causes our mindset to change. It ends one thing and starts another. The transition into Faerie needs a bell. I was reading, then suddenly they were there. It didn't work for me. It needs a bell."

I drove myself insane trying to find the perfect bell. I ended up borrowing and altering certain mythologies for my bell, and now "the Bell" is now a crucial piece of world-building that alters how/when the story takes place.

So there it is: My declaration of love for Portal Fantasy and its implied inclusivity (new word!), and how it changed my writing life.

Why do you write the stories you write? Why do you read the stories you read? How do they shape the way you live your life, dream about tomorrow, or write your own work?

Until we meet again...

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Writing the Second book...

For as many writers you find you'll discover an equal number of "writing processes".

You won't know what your own REAL writing process is until you begin work on your second (maybe even your third) book.

First books are where you learn how to unlearn all your rookie mistakes
I've talked several times about how my 113,000 word YA became an almost 50,000 word MG. That was the same story - one book - cut by more than half because I was repairing all the mistakes from an almost hopelessly flawed manuscript.
Now that work is under control. When the day comes and it needs to be edited or changed further I'll know exactly where and how to begin. It's handled.

As of this moment I am excitedly churning out my first actual YA project!
*this is me when I write - except there's more typing involved*

A little backstory:

Before there was my MG...there was the idea for this book. The year was 2009, and I was finally doing it: writing my debut novel!

I had the whole world built. The whole story outlined. The characters itching to find their way onto the pages and say all their lines. Alas, it didn't click with me, something was missing.

I shelved the project in August of 2009.

I came back to it in 2011. After what felt like centuries of a writing hiatus, I had met L, I had a good steady job (no more writing by candlelight because the electric hadn't been paid!), I had a reason to be successful! Real-Adult-Life was starting and I didn't have a MS in hand to find an agent. I was behind! So I dusted off the 2009 project and set to work.

I changed the story around, I added a couple of characters, I took certain elements out, and I realized that the world wasn't as complete as I originally thought then fixed it.

I wrote six chapters, and I came to another stopping point.

I wasn't feeling it. Not only was it poorly written, but it lacked the immersive quality that would keep me entertained while writing it (the same quality that keeps me reading fantasy.)

There was no hope for my 2009-2011 project.

Back on the shelf it went.

In November (November 15, 2011 to be exact) I got the idea for what became my first book. It is now complete, and in the hands of agents.

After I sent it to the first agent who requested I was outlining "Book 2" (my MS is *hopefully* the first of a series)...and in the midst of fleshing out the outline for Book 2 I discovered It.

It = the missing part of my 2009/2011 failure.

The Story never left me; I actually pirated multiple things from that world, and several characters that made it in to the final draft of my current MS.

I freaked out. The excited Freak Out.

When I inserted the once-missing link into the 2009/2011 YA Fantasy outline I panicked for joy. Oh goodness, the entire story underwent a massive overhaul. Only three of the original characters remained. The MC became supporting cast, and one of the supporting cast members became the MC. The world became completely three dimensional.

I had all the tools I needed - so the outlining began.

The outline was quick. The Story was waiting patiently in the crevices of my brain for a very long time. It was like taking all of your dishes out of a box and finding their proper places in the cabinet. It was a little too easy.

This time I got nine chapters in...then I went back and re-read.

Oh no.

See, the worlds of my MG and my YA are...subtly linked, and what I had written of the YA didn't all.

I understand the voice for a Young Adult story and a Middle Grade story will be ever-so slightly different...but what worried me was the Horror element in this (what was supposed to be) YA Fantasy.

Murder, bloodshed, gruesome - all in chapter one. I worried, pacing through the house thinking "Well, it is supposed to be darker, and it's for an older audience..."

But No. There was no excuse. Anyone who read the first chapter would think "horror" and if that isn't what they signed on for then it meant that they would put the book down long before we get to the fantasy element.

It was time for a Re-write.

I didn't shelve it. Because all the pieces were there. The world is now perfectly complete - outlines for mulitple future stories are done. The time is Now.

So I went back...and re-outlined. Created a whole new beginning without a hint of bloodshed. It allowed me to introduce certain important characters much earlier. BOOM! BOOYA! ...or whatever the kids say nowadays.

Now as for my process. I had no idea how much that would...refine itself.

My Middle Grade MS was an arduous project; a labor of love; created in the throes of literary passion and almost divine inspiration.

My Young Adult is all blood, sweat, and tears. It's a story that has to be told, but I'm still uncertain as to how to tell it.

My MG - the characters appeared in my head. They never changed from who they were. I had one character with a stutter (that stutter was written out between drafts 5 and 6) but ultimately the essence of who each and every person is has never changed.

My YA - even as I write there is only One character who remains constant, and it isn't my MC. My Main Character even her appearance fluctuated greatly in my head until I wrote it down.

Is she black or is she white? ...Both

Is she blind or can she see? ...Both

And it goes on...

Her personality is even worse. She isn't an artifact I'm digging out of the sand like so many of my other characters. She's someone I'm getting to know; like I would get to know you if we were sitting on your couch while we watched tv and drank a glass of wine. Which means sometimes she leaves the room and I can't ask her questions. So I wing it. She isn't a badass, she isn't desperate for vengeance, she isn't funny, she isn't quirky, she isn't high strung, she isn't easy-going...Eden just is. She is all of those things and more. She's perfectly lovely. But I'll be damned if I can tell you everything about her - she's still a mystery.

As for my speed....

Oh the words still pour like a fountain - when I'm "in the zone"...but I'm forcing myself to write outside of my comfort zone. I did that with the first draft of my first book, and though the draft was terrible and almost nothing but character names have survived from it - I still had something to fix.

So it will be with this.

The writing has improved. My prose are less purple (not as many adjectives/adverbs), but I still write everything down.

That's my process.

Like a film that's four hours long but has to be condensed to 90 minutes so are my stories. I'll cut all the fluff away. That time they traveled here, the idle conversation there...those can all go away. I have to write them down though. Because the first draft is for Me. This is my time to find out what I'm writing. I'm discovering these characters and building their relationships as I go - which is an entirely new experience. I know where they end up...I know how all of my stories end...and I'm having great fun finding out how this one begins.

So there will be more blog silence from me (unless I have earth-shattering news to share) until this book is complete. Then I'll be back to my regularly scheduled appointments with you.

What have you learned working on your second or third book?

Have you picked up anything that you shelved years ago?

What have you created recently?

Until we meet again...

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Thursday's Children 7.18.13: Inspired by Diversity! An interview with Craig L. Gidney

A weekly blog hop where writers share their inspirations. Please join us!
A weekly blog hop where writers share their inspirations. Please join us!
Today's post brings you my very first blog interview with author Craig L. Gidney.

 Allow me to detail how Mr. Gidney and I became acquainted.

 Approximately two weeks ago, I became rather interested in observing a movement that has been gaining steam in the writing community.
The issue of Diversity in YA literature.
Needless to say I am a strong advocate for those who would bring characters of various minorities, sexual orientations, and cultures onto the Middle Grade/Young Adult stage.
Not only did I begin to examine my own work, but I begin to notice within the Twitterverse (where I find 99% of my writing/publishing contact) I was one of a remarkably few people of color.
Then I realized that I was the only person of color that I was aware of writing Middle Grade fantasy.
One step further: I was the only homosexual, person of color that was writing Middle Grade fantasy.

Surely this couldn't be, I thought. I certainly couldn't be the only one.

Thankfully (as is often the case) I was right - I wasn't the only one.
I put out a call on Twitter seeking anyone that was aware of a male, homosexual, person of color who writes speculative fiction for Middle Grade, Young Adult...and New Adult.
It took 5 1/2 hours, and many kind strangers Re-Tweeting - but I was finally directed to Craig L. Gidney.

My joy couldn't have been contained.

I found his work on Amazon, I found his Twitter, and from there I made my way to his website.
As the discussion and search for authentic Minority characters intensifies throughout the publishing industry - I fear we may forget that the pool of Minority authors is just as small as the one for Minority characters.
I e-mailed Mr. Gidney. I was hungry for the world to see and to know someone like him, who is - ultimately - someone like me (except Mr. Gidney's prose has a magical, compelling quality that I will never master).
In my e-mail, I asked Mr. Gidney for an interview and he graciously accepted.

Ladies and gentlemen on the other side of the screen please give Mr. Gidney a warm welcome....

The obligatory first question an author is always asked: What brought you to writing? How did it begin for you?

It started in the second grade. I was still learning how to print letters, and we were given a class assignment to write a story. Ostensibly, this assignment was to demonstrate our vocabulary and spelling. For me, though, it was a springboard to create. I think that long lost work was about mermaids. I filled about 10 sheets of that gray, wide-lined paper they had back then. I remember one of the teachers told me, “You will be a writer when you grow up.”

As an aspiring author the publication journeys of authors are a keen interest of mine. What circumstances led you to the method of publication you chose?

Social media was a key component. I kept a Livejournal account, and made the acquaintance of Steve Berman of Lethe Press. He mentioned that he had an anthology he had been editing, called So Fey: Queer Fairy Fiction, and he announced a call to submit on his Livejournal. My short story collection arose from that initial contact.

In your new novel, Bereft, Rafael "Rafe" Fannen is a young boy at a religious school struggling with a dark secret about his identity. What was your inspiration for this story?

My older brother had a book in his room, called Black Skin, White Mask by Franz Fanon. The cover of the book a picture of a black man wearing a white half-mask. That photograph terrified me! Later, when I was in college, I read some Fanon, and as a response wrote a draft of the story that would eventually become the novel. Rafe’s last name, Fannen, is a direct homage to Fanon. The novel is opened up with a quote from a William Blake poem that gave the novel its title.

Now, it's a very crude, broad-stroke faux synopsis to say"a young boy at a religious school with a dark secret about his identity." Bereft is so much more than that; the layers and nuance wrapped in your lyrical prose are magnificent. From your perspective what sets Bereft apart from the other Young Adult LGBT fiction out there?

Bereft is a novel that’s “in conversation” with a number of cultural narratives and tropes. Rafe deals with some heavy issues through his rich inner life, which reference everything from fantasy literature to Christian theology. I put a lot of work into the subtext; as readers we absorb messages subliminally, so it was important to me to be aware of that. Rafe navigates a world where his mother’s Angels battle against his father’s African masks. Where the Virgin Mary is also Lady Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings. The symbolism in the book was carefully crafted.

You've mentioned the importance of Young Adult readers seeing themselves in the books they read. I heartily agree! What book were you reading when you first saw yourself? much of you is in Rafe?

Andre Norton’s novel Lavender-Green Magic was very important to me. It was one of her YA novels, about a black family who move to a New England town. The kids find an enchanted pillow that transports them to Colonial Times where they end up in the midst of a power struggle between two witches. I was simply enthralled that she included black people in her work.

As for the second part of the question, there is a lot of Rafe in me. In addition to the identity issues, I did go to a religious school, was bullied, and read lots of books. Where Rafe and I differ is that both of my parents were together, stable, and upper middle class.

Can you describe your writing process? How do you "get in the zone"?

I brainstorm on paper. This is where plot points, images, and various scenes are dreamed up. I have several notebooks filled with ideas. When I compose the text, I listen to music, mostly songs without words in the ambient genre. I always have my brainstorm notebooks open, in case an idea for a later section pops into my head. At the end of the writing session, I jot down where I finished and what more needs to be written.

What are three professional goals you hope to accomplish?

I don’t have three professional goals, only one. That’s to be able to write full-time. It’s become increasingly difficult for freelancers. Writing does not pay the bills, and there are horror stories about best-selling authors dying penniless or being unable to get health insurance.

We get a taste of your vivid, fantastical imagination in your collection of short stories Sea, Swallow Me. Do you plan on returning to the fantasy realm in the near future, or can we expect more poignant LGBT contemporary stories? Both?

I am currently working on two fantasy projects. One is a magical-realist novel that may or may not be YA. The second thing I’m working on is a themed collection of fantasy/magical realist/horror short stories that focus on African American characters.

In your blog you mentioned you grew up as a "geek". As a sci-fi fantasy nerd myself I know that Once a Geek, Always a Geek. What are some things you fan-boy over?

I am mostly a book geek, so when a favorite author comes out with a book, I get weak. I also am a music geek. I go to shows when I can afford to. I’ve become more of a film buff, and like everything from angst-ridden indies, cult classics and Hollywood blockbusters. I want to see Pacific Rim so much!

Top three authors (living or dead) you would have over for dinner?

I would invite the fantasy author Tanith Lee, who has been really supportive of me. I managed to get a couple of her obscure books back in print. James Baldwin would be interesting—I understand he was quite the character. And Toni Morrison—she’s so eloquent. I imagine that I would silently eat my meal (at the French Laundry; always dream big, I say) in quiet awe.

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Remember that you love writing. Most likely, you won’t be the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. You will end up on the midlist or published by a small press, and you will collect rejection slips (or emails) more than you will acceptances. But you will persist, because you must tell stories.

What is the most magical, extraordinary, or exciting thing ever to happen to you?

Picture it: a Brazilian beach, surrounded by surf and sand. The wild sea crashing against a rock where I was standing. An unbridled pony, nibbling beach grass. A sky the blue color that seems to only exist in fairytales. I was alone but I felt euphoric. I felt a mystical connection to everything.

Thank you so much for your time Mr. Gidney, I would have a thousand other questions, but I only allow myself twelve (it's one of my magic numbers). It is my sincerest hope that your audience continues to expand.

For those of you curious to read Mr. Gidney's mesmerizing work you can read one of his short stories, "Magpie Sisters", here. Be aware that Bereft is available on Amazon, and Kindle, it's definitely worth your time. Keep Mr. Gidney in your thoughts (and on your bookshelf) as he is definitely an author to watch!

Until we meet again!

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Friday, July 12, 2013

My Worst Experiences = My Defining Moments, and Where I Go from Here

Next week I'm preparing to host my first blog interview with someone who I consider a role-model.

I don't use the term "role-model" lightly. Being very different from everyone I've been surrounded by in my formative years I've crafted significant portions of my personality from my favorite literary characters.
That may seem silly to some of you, but as an only child with a single, working mother and living outside of the district of the school I attended my peer interaction (until I was 16) was very limited. Television and the books on my shelves were simultaneously my escape and my social education.

As for my role-model? Last week I plumbed the far reaches of the Twitterverse asking my friends and acquaintances:

"Help! Searching for a male, homosexual, POC {Person of Color} author who writes MG/YA/NA speculative fiction..."

It took multiple Re-tweets from kind friends and strangers, but eventually I was directed to Craig L. Gidney.

You see, in the far future when I find my way to (hopefully) your bookshelf a part of me was very scared that I would be alone. I write MG/YA speculative fiction, I am a person of color, and I am gay.

But here he was, my personal Trailblazer. The one who came before, and in my elation and excitement I quickly (with trembling hands) e-mailed Mr. Gidley asking for an interview, and he graciously accepted.

As I perused Mr. Gidney's blog postings - which you should also because they're intelligent, insightful, and beautifully written - I noticed that there were many references to Black and African American culture, and homosexual culture as well.

I'm about to post my personal experiences and feelings which may make me unpopular for some of've been warned.

If you haven't noticed (if you're familiar with my blog or my twitter feed) rarely do I directly take stances on what I refer to as "Minority Issues". I often Re-tweet or reply to things that I agree with or vaguely comment on things that I don't. As for a well crafted, concise essay on why _____ is right/wrong - it's rare to hear my point of view in my own words.

Mostly it's because I had a hard-working, bold, formidable Momma-Bear who protected me from the worst of the world as I grew up. My experience with the evils of the world is limited. For instance, my mother didn't reveal to me until I was twelve that my grandparents were racists before I was born. I had no idea; they took me everywhere and bought me everything that I ever wanted. They were Nanna and Pa. They weren't those awful people that you see in movies. Their love for me changed their hearts before I could even talk so I never got to see the worst of them - thankfully. They are still my Nanna and Pa, and they love me like crazy.
Because of Mom I grew up in a very optimistic bubble full of books, cartoons, and toys.
My first experience with racism didn't come until I was in the third grade.

Mom doesn't even know about this.

To be clear, I knew that I was different. It was a vague, uninterested sort of observation that I came to very early in life. I had been ostracized since Kindergarten for being a "girl". That never bothered me. Girls were my preferred company, and they never called me a girl. The people that called me that were in the periphery of my attention - and most often beneath it.

At my elementary school, students gathered outside the cafeteria before school, and ten minutes before 8am we were lined up and ushered into the building by our teachers.

One morning three young boys - who I didn't know at the time - pushed their way in front of me.

"Get outta my way, nigger," the first one said.

I blinked in surprise.

No one had ever called me that before.

I'd heard it in movies, I knew what it meant, and I knew it was an ugly thing to say.

But I didn't know how to react.

I was raised never to start fights, but always to finish them.

But the blonde boy didn't hit me - he just called me a name, and I had been called names before...just not THAT name.

Then the other two boys turned around.

For five minutes the three of them giggled and called me "nigger" over and over.

They thought it was funny.

At one point they even started flipping me the bird while giggling and saying the word.

I stood there and looked at them.

I memorized their faces.

I still didn't know what to do.

You didn't tattle-tale. They were just being kids, calling names, and doing things that "bad kids" did.

Another boy - who, once again, I didn't know - pulled me back out of my place in line.

"You have to tell a teacher!" Andy told me.

I shook my head, "No, it's not a big deal."

I was scared.

If Mom found out what those boys did - she would hurt them. She would hurt their parents; the world would catch on fire and explode if Mom found out what happened. Those boys didn't deserve the Wrath of Mom.

Since then, I've always considered myself merciful.

"Well then I'm telling," Andy said. He looked as worried and distressed as a fellow third grader could look, he went and found the chaperone, and I disappeared into the crowd.

I saw him point to me, and the parent-chaperone look over at me.

No one came to talk to me.

No one came to find me.

Until now, only Andy, those three boys, and I know what happened that morning.

Andy and I became friends when we were in high school. More accurately - we were part of the same large group of friends. He's married to a wonderful woman with a beautiful little girl. He never stopped being a Good Guy, and he'll never really know how grateful I was to have an advocate - even though I didn't reach out when he offered his hand.

Two of those boys I actually became casual friends with as well. They both currently serve in our armed forces, and one has a family of his own now.

None of us have ever spoken of that morning in line outside of the cafeteria.

I doubt any of them except me remember it.

Maybe Andy.

But because Andy is good and polite I doubt he would ever mention it if he does remember.


It wouldn't be until 7th grade that I fired the shot heard 'round the school.

I was one of the academically recognized students able to leave class five minutes early to go to lunch.
We left Mr. Smith's English Class, and a well-known "bad kid" happened to be walking down the hall with his sister. His sister was in my homeroom the previous year, and we got along well - she thought I was funny (which was how I won most of my friends).

One of the faux-trees caught a breeze that blew through the atrium we were walking through and fell on her shoulder.

The tree weighed all of 5 pounds.

It caught the six of us in the hall by surprise.

I chuckled, "Be careful!"

"Shut up, nigger."

The boy, her brother, said it.

At this point in my life, my temper and sense of indignation had started to develop. I was far less peaceable than I was as a child, and there was no fear of Mom's retaliation. I was 12 and an invincible know-it-all. Think of a sassy, brown Hermione with a penis.

"What did you say?" I asked calmly. My hands were shaking, and my chest and face could have cooked an egg they were so hot.

"You heard me," the boy replied.

"Yeah, I did."

Without preamble or fanfare I punched him, and immediately turned around and walked the rest of the way to lunch.

Little did I know the woman who would be my 8th grade science teacher saw (though didn't hear) our altercation from down the hall.

She followed me into the cafeteria and pulled me out of the lunch line.

When we made it to the Assistant Principal's office I was already in tears.

I was Colten! I never got in trouble! I never hit anyone! I was never mean! I wasn't one of the bad kids! I didn't break rules!

Mom arrived seven minutes after I made a weeping phone call.

Mom never leaves the house without make-up. When she burst through the front doors of the school her normally pristine cosmetic mask was streaked and smudged 9 ways from Sunday.

She was so proud of me.

My teachers were so proud of me.

Since I did punch the boy I got 2 days In-School-Suspension (ISS)...The boy got 5 days.

My teachers sent me cards, brought candy into the tiny dungeon-like ISS building, and my theatre teacher was the only one who gave me an assignment. She provided me with a radio and headphones, and instructed me to list my top 10 favorite songs that played on my favorite stations.

I knew the boy wasn't a racist. He used The Word to get a rise out of me. He wanted to start a fight. He had black friends, his sister was a casual acquaintance of mine; he was just trying to be what my family would call a "Billy Badass".

I never harbored any ill-will towards him. I knew that's all he was trying to do, but by the time I was 12 - I had deemed such behavior Unacceptable.

 I found out seven months ago that he died.
I came across his sister's facebook and she posted a "RIP Baby Bro". I looked up the newspaper article from my hometown. He died in a high speed chase from the police in 2011. He lost control of his vehicle.

Now homophobia I am more familiar with...but not the ugly "we hate gays" kind, but the ignorant, reckless-with-words kind. I was a "girl" until 5th grade when everyone learned the word "gay", and it never really bothered me.

But three years ago when I was twenty-three I had my first disturbing taste of true, ugly homophobia.

I had gotten a speeding ticket in Canyon, TX.

It's the 12,000 person town where my former University is located.

I was working a job for barely above minimum wage and the ticket was more than I could afford.
I went to the appropriate city office to determine a payment arrangement.
There was a young, brunette lady sitting behind the desk.
Typical, moderately attractive West-Texas girl. She was my age.
I had engaged with her earlier and she was overtly hostile.
So this time I turned on the voice recorder on my cell phone. If she stepped out of line, I would have proof.
She and an older woman who also worked in the office took me to a small room so we could discuss the details of the payment arrangement.
At one point I had to go back out to my car to retrieve the original ticket.

I left my cell-phone - still recording - on the table.

Once I left, having made the payment arrangement, I got to my car and back-tracked on the recording to see what I had missed.
The older woman said something that was muddled.
The young brunette, who was sitting closer to my phone replied to whatever the older woman said:

"It just makes me sick that he takes it up the ass!"

She was vehement. There was an exclamation point at the end of her sentence.
My hands are trembling even as I write this.
I felt my stomach shrivel, and twenty minutes later when I arrived at work my co-workers commented on how flushed and pale I looked.
I explained to them what happened.

"You have to do something!" they pushed.

I didn't know what to do.
Who do you call?
What do you say?
It was so shameful, and it made me feel - for the very first time in my life - Wrong.

I ended up doing nothing.

Would it make her homophobia worse if I retaliated? Was she not entitled to her own beliefs? She didn't say it TO me she said it to a co-worker ABOUT me. My co-workers said awful things about her once I told them the story - Fair is Fair.

It was (and is) a terrible reminder of the world we live in, and the kinds of people we inhabit it with - and I'm sure she feels that exact same way about me.

But here's the thing...this is why I don't draw attention to those moments in my life...and why you may find me ...irritating.

We are all discriminated against. Fat-shaming, slut-shaming, racism, homophobia, anti-semitism, protestants-vs-catholics, etc... No one crime is greater than another. As a brown person if I cry "Racism!" at every encounter I feel may have disadvantaged me in some way then I am a victim. And there are people in the world who are REAL victims.

I am intelligent, creative, I live with a beautiful man who loves me, I have friends who I adore and who cherish me...I am blessed. That is enough. The people who Don't have those things are victims. The people who are prevented from attaining those things are victims.

Those kids grew out of whatever phase they were going through when they taunted me. They don't hate black people any more than I do.

That hideous-hearted girl from Canyon will never be able to achieve success outside of the bubble of West Texas without a tolerant attitude toward those who are different. And frankly, that's fine, because as far as I can discern she has nothing to offer the wider world.

I don't mention my stances on issues because more often than not I've observed that taking a stand creates an issue instead of solving it.

Never start a fight, but always finish it.

That's how I was raised.

But I was also raised to Pick My Battles.

Is that brunette in a position of significant authority? Did I not recieve the payment arrangement I went to make because of her attitude? No.
She said something nasty and hurt my feelings, but ultimately I still got my way. It all ended well.
It wasn't unjust for her to speak her mind to her colleague.

I'll fight injustice tooth and nail, and down to the grave.

But I find we have to be very careful to not limit the freedoms of others as we (minorities in general) pursue our own. Tolerance is a two way street, and sometimes that road can get narrow.

My interview with Mr. Gidney will definitely touch upon diversity in literature. The world thirsts for it. I would like to think that my friend's children wouldn't blink twice at an epic fantasy series set in Austrailia with an Asian heroine when they are old enough to read Young Adult books. (That's not my story, but you get the drift.)

We didn't have that growing up. Conscious Diversity is something new, and I think those of us who have endured any type of injustice should lace our stories with the wisdom we've learned from our encounters. So that the kids like me, who build their souls from pieces of other's imaginations can learn things like charity, kindness, mercy, forgiveness, and love without being preached at, or scarred...but entertained.

The world is what we make of it. Because I've seen ugly human hearts and minds I can recognize virtue much more clearly. So it is virtue that I cling to and cultivate. I would rather create beauty and harmony than fight fire with fire.
I write because I want to create good things. I want to foster open minds, and warm hearts. I want others to cherish and pursue idealism and innocence.

I've only fought when the time was right. When someone tested the boundaries and pushed too far. It was a small battle...and I think - in the end - people like that always end up defeating themselves one way or another.

So now as I prepare to converse with someone whose experience and cultural knowledge vastly outweighs mine, I look to him for guidance. Ultimately looking to answer the questions I always ask I too soft, and I too naive, am I too idealistic? (I've been called a "Pollyanna" more than once in my life.)

This week I get to introduce you to a brilliant author who writes magical prose, and I get to learn about myself in the process. I look forward to us getting acquainted with Mr. Gidney.

Until we meet again!


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Thursday's Children 7-11-13: Inspired By FIRSTS

A weekly blog hop where writers share their inspirations. Please join us!
A weekly blog hop where writers share their inspirations. Please join us!

This week on Thursday's Children in honor of the Like A Virgin Contest we were asked to answer 7 questions in regards to our personal lives, and our writing.

I love being interviewed. More than that I love interviewing; getting to know people is one of my favorite experiences.

There was a lot of "adieu" in the rough draft of this blog, but then I decided I love saying "without further adieu" more than I love sharing more weird idiosyncrasies about myself so...

Without further adieu:

1. How do you remember your first kiss?

I had just turned nineteen, and he had just turned twenty-three. Which might seem a little old for a first kiss, but in small-town Texas boys who like boys don't get a lot of opportunities when it comes to romance.
On the first day, in my first class of my first fall semester I saw that the metallic, slate-blue "N" on his gray New Balance shoes matched the blue of his eyes. I was smitten.
Over the school year we became the best of friends; which led up to a conversation in the following  April where we both confessed for the first time in our lives to another person that we were gay.
In July - the wee hours of the morning on July 8, 2006 to be exact - while less than sober, and more than uninhibited we each shared our first kiss.
At the time it was everything I ever wanted.
For 11 months I had wondered what it would be like to kiss him, and be Out There with someone.
My sexual orientation was one of the worst kept secrets of my youth.
Since everyone learned the word "gay" in 5th grade that's what I was called. But growing up in a small town where everybody knows everybody I had more friends than people who didn't like me, and the taunts never really got under my skin because a) I knew it to be true b) I knew it didn't change anything about me as a person, and c) Because I omitted, denied, and avoided claiming that part of my identity for so long I eventually became my own adjective to my friends and relatives: "That's just Colten"/ "That's so Colten!"
I promised myself in high school - when my Baptist upbringing had reconciled itself with my teenage boy desires - that I wouldn't say anything about being Gay until I had Someone (a boyfriend). It seemed useless otherwise. I felt that claiming that kind of label without a reason would lead people to believe that somehow I was different than the person they grew up knowing.
So through the lens of hindsight I remember my first kiss as sloppy, unromantic, and reckless (it wasn't the beginning to a relationship but a very fun and very sad ending of a friendship)...but without that kiss I wouldn't have had the courage to Be Myself, or claim that part of my identity that allows me to love freely now.

2. What was your first favorite love song?

Texas has the University Interscholastic League (UIL) which is an organization that sponsors academic competitions between participating schools. One Act Play is one such competition. I was in "One Act" from eighth grade through my senior year in high school.
My junior year we were watching the first show (we were slated to perform 5th), and I was sitting next to the boy who I would compare all men to for the next 9 years of my life.
We met my freshman year in high school he was one of the tech guys in my theatre class - not a performer, but he liked to help build sets and take trips during competition season.
Dishwater blonde curls, dark blue eyes, he hunted, fished, played baseball, football, and basketball - I also attended his Eagle Scout ceremony. But what sealed the deal was during rehearsal one afternoon I saw him reading Shogun by James Clavell. He's a guy's guy AND he reads historical fiction set in Asia?!  

That's what I thought about men who read for pleasure when I was in High School.

In short order we were best friends (notice a trend?).
Then a year and half later we're sitting in this dark theater in some high school in central Texas. The show was Sweet Nothing's in My Ear.  At one point in the show the husband and wife are remembering the night they fell in love, and conceived their son on a beach. The music the director/sound designer chose for this moment was Norah Jones' "Come Away With Me".
To this day every time I hear that song I think of him.
How it felt to be his best friend, sitting there right beside him wishing that he could feel the way I felt, wishing that I could even tell him how I felt. I've experienced that simultaneous rapture and longing remarkably few times in my life - it's a horrible, glorious feeling. "Come Away With Me" brings me back to that time in my life.

3. First thing you do when writing for the day?

I'm easily distracted. So I have to "get in the zone". I pace back and forth through our apartment. I have to map out and plan exactly what I'm going to write that day otherwise I'll meander through my MS as much as I did answering questions 1 and 2! I'll do this until I have a clear first sentence to the chapter and a final moment. What's in the middle comes on the fly, but I've been known to pace for up to two hours before I actually sit down to write.

4. Who was the first writer who inspired you to write?

Stephen King. No question. I read The Stand when I was 11 years old, and still I wonder what it would be like be one of the last people on earth. I realized that I wanted to make people feel as strongly as I did for his characters. I wanted to make people feel things, and alter the way they viewed certain things. King's work exposed me to varied belief systems and perspectives on issues that I had yet to experience or consider. I knew then that I wanted to do that for people.

5. Does the final revision of your first book have the same first chapter it started with?

NO! Hahahaha, and that makes my best friend, Kim, so-so-So happy. She hated the opening prologue from the moment she read it. It's been tweaked, cut, and altered several different times across 7 drafts. How it stands now is about a page and a half, and significantly different from the bloated introduction it was.

6. For your first book, which came first: major characters, plot, or setting?

Characters, and right on the heels of that - Setting. The title is what initially came to me, and immediately when I asked the question "Who" in regards to my title my characters waved politely, and introduced themselves. I had to do very little work with most of my characters. Oliver gave me a bit of trouble in the beginning.

7. What is the first word you want to roll of the tip of someone's tongue when they think of your writing?

I want them to shout "MORE!" ...because - God willing - there will be.

Until we meet again!

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Saturday, July 6, 2013

A Rose by Any Other Name...

Names are my favorite.

More precisely, naming characters is one of my favorite "in process" points of telling a story.

The other day on twitter one of my favorite, dry-humored Agents mentioned a query he received with characters whose names made them sound "insufferable".

Naturally, I chuckled a wee bit, but then remembered (as I often do when that Agent tweets) that I would be mortified if I recognized my work as something they commented on.

What if the Agent said (if it were my query), "MG character names in this query: Bianca, Scarlett, and Oliver. If these were people in real life, I think they would be insufferable to be around."

*The names the Agent commented on were Dylan, Soren, and Thea. Which - to me - are perfectly acceptable names*

I put a lot of work into naming my characters. My main character's names fell into my head rather easily, but my supporting cast? Ha! I had to discover who everyone was, and then I had to really observe what they looked like in my mind's eye. One character (one of my favorites) her first name changed so many times I was still debating it on my fifth draft.
I take into account where they were born, their socio-economic standing, their appearance, and most importantly what their name means.

My most often used resource is

I put clues into my character names; clues about who they are, or who they're going to become. If not clues then allusions to something else (often a favorite television character with the same name). Otherwise I just have a giant notebook of names that sound really cool to me.

My Bianca could never be a Whitney. My Scarlett could never be a Poppy. Those are acceptable names, of course, but because of their personalities and appearance the names wouldn't ring true to the reader.
Oliver could never be a Trevor, Paul, or Peter, but he could be an Ethan - which became his middle name. He was almost Andrew...but the meaning of the name Oliver sealed the deal. It is perfect, and hints at the future of his character.

I've read a couple of MG/YA book series' where the names of the characters are a struggle for me to remember.
(People who know me will note that I have a near flawless memory.)
Names - for me - indicate a closeness with a character. When I recall those stories with the forgettable character names I can still remember the plot of the story, or names of certain characters. Times like that I think the author and I were in synch. The characters were a vehicle for the author's plot (which I remember clearly) but no more; the character names I actually remember I think the author must have really enjoyed writing.
How close an author is with their characters and how they view their characters is hidden in the name.

How do you name your characters? Is it an arduous process? Is it in-depth? Do you find that your character's names come to you easily? - (I envy you!)

Until we meet again!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Theme: Your Story's Hokey Pokey

Hokey Pokey - noun - also known as "What it's all about."

While wandering about the Twitterverse this morning I happened upon This Post by freelance editor Leanne Sype where she discusses what she looks for (as an editor) while working a manuscript.

One of the things she stressed was the Theme of the work.
"You need to believe in your story and its central themes so deeply you can't help but share them with the world."

This topic of themes excites me. Because as many re-writes and revisions that my story has undergone the Theme has remained constant:

Now as I began developing this series it took me a few drafts to realize that not only the entire story arc for the series, but each installment also required its own mini-theme to reinforce the overall idea.

If you've read more than two of my previous blogs you may have gathered that I have written/am querying a Middle Grade Fantasy.

"Middle Grade" has only recently made its way into my vocabulary. It's actually because of my theme(s), and certain very unfortunate things that happen to my characters down the road that I erroneously assumed that my work was Young Adult.

So my theme...I understood from the start that writing a fantasy for kids (of any age) was going to be a challenge. So many great authors have proven that writing for kids can turn you into an overnight sensation (or at least a well-known success) that it seems everyone wants to write for kids so the market is flooded. I knew that I couldn't write for anyone except children - it was that, or try my hand at horror - which is my hope way way WAY in the future.
My characters came to me first. It's in your characters that you find your theme.

Now prepare yourself: You're about to get a glimpse into the raw mind of Colten - it's a strange place.

From the ages of 9 - 12 I secretly wanted to be an Animorph. You remember Animorphs, right? Slug-like aliens subversively taking over planet earth, and our only defense was a group of preteens who could turn into any animal they touched.
I was a huge fan. Like, I would daydream about what animal I would choose for my "battle morph", what bird I would choose to become when we needed to fly on a reconnaissance was intense.
Then came Harry Potter. 'Nuff said.
My point is that fantasy stories for me have always been an immersive experience. If I fall in love with a story I consider myself in it.
Naturally in developing my own world I found myself not only studying it, but also inside of it. (Which, frankly, I couldn't write about a world I couldn't see myself in; that was part of the challenge I faced for four years prior to this idea - finding a world to write about that I loved.)
In children's books - particularly fantasy - it seems almost a prerequisite nowadays to do away with responsible caring adults.
When imagining myself lying to my mother to sneak out of the house and battle aliens as a Leopard - I always had a problem. My mom kept a very watchful eye on me. So for me the logistics of being an Animorph were always muddled.
When I imagined being 11 with a wizard coming to the door and telling my mom that I would be sent away to magic school to be immersed in a culture my mother was completely unfamiliar with - the pain of her imagined breakdown would kill the fantasy (just a bit) for me.
Ultimately I wanted Bianca and Scarlett to come from an environment similar to the one I came from. Should someone else read like I do and become Immersed in the worlds they explore I don't want them thinking (even subconsciously) that Mom/Dad/Grandma/Grandpa aren't an extent.

Second, I wanted to avoid common tropes of fantasy...prophesies, being the Last, the First, or the Only.
Not that I don't love books with those things...I mean, Hello, have we met?!
But I'm not the right person to write things like that. My mind will take the path of least resistance, and I'll find myself having written (and you'll be reading) something that reeks of unoriginality because I dipped my story in a bathtub of Fantasy Formula.
Also, being the Only, the First, the Last, or the subject of a world-changing prophecy wouldn't be in keeping with the "everyman" quality I wanted for my girls.
I want people to fall in love with my characters not because they should be pitied, feared, or praised. I want readers to love my characters because they see themselves, or their best friend, or their brother/sister/cousin...etc...
I want to reinforce that just because you aren't the Only, the First, the Last, or the Savior prophesied about in the long ago and far away doesn't mean you're not special.
My goal was to make you feel like when you were rooting for Bianca, Scarlett, and Oliver that you were cheering yourself or your best friend on toward the finish line.

Then comes the overall theme. For me my entire series is about my journey as a writer - and yours. Frankly, anyone's journey to achieve whatever dream they have. That, in short, is what my story (stories) are about.
You, Me, the common man/woman - in a world where we can't just turn off work, ignore our family or loved ones, but we still have goals and dreams that we pursue. Finding the balance between the destiny you've chosen for yourself and the things that life throws your way.
Bianca, Scarlett, and Oliver have found their place in Faerie at the expense of our world and - more importantly - their families. The sacrifices they make on their journey to become great mirror the sacrifices we all make when we find our true calling in life. It's bittersweet, the way life is.

If the basic plot of the pages is the heart of your story then the theme is the soul. That invisible, intangible quality that gives life to the story outside of the pages.

Does your story have a soul? What moves your writing? What is your theme?

Until we meet again!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Thursday's Children June 13, 2013: Inspired by Theatre

In my previous blog post I mentioned that I have started a new project.

This "new project" has been crawling around the back of my mind for almost 8 years. I didn't know it, I didn't always recognize it, but as I'm putting story elements together, finding out about these characters, and discovering the world they live in I realize I've been waiting to write this story.

See, eight years ago (this fall it will be eight years) was my first semester in college. In my free time between classes, rehearsals, and work I always kept my eye on the prize: my writing.

But my first semester in college I only had the vaguest shadows of an idea. It ended up being an idea that I scrapped and sold for parts to the better part of my brain, but as I was searching for the idea I would create little writing exercises for myself. In part I did it hoping to "happen upon" a good story, but basically to keep my creativity finely tuned.

My favorite of these exercises was to take showtunes from my vast musical library, put them all on a playlist, hit shuffle, and make a story out of the first 21 random songs that played.

I'm a theatre-kid, and musicals (good musicals) use song to progess a story. So I would string together a unique story from disparate pieces of other stories, using characters of my own creation. It really was great fun.

The other night I was at work, and I realized I had forgotten...actually FORGOT the words to what was one of my favorite songs from a musical ever. I couldn't even think of the name of the song! (I turn 26 tomorrow; I'll clearly be senile by the time I'm 30)

I broke down and found my answer on the internet (there was a literal facepalm after I saw the song title, I can assure you). After a while I was thinking about how that show isn't particularly well known, and how it's such a brilliant show...and it's not a book.......but instead of historical I could have it as dystopian! And instead of _____it could be _____....

And thus, my new project was born from a musical. The most fun part of this is discovering a "new" dystopian world: one where the government isn't the evil Big Brother...

So that's what currently preoccupies me... What has inspired you in the past? Where does your Muse find her/his voice?

Until we meet again!

A weekly blog hop where writers share their inspirations. Please join us!
A weekly blog hop where writers share their inspirations. Please join us!
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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Book in the Drawer

Last night, I got the idea for a new story. More like, I was inspired to tell a story that I desperately love. Immediately upon coming home from work I set to work ironing out scenes, finding the names to the main characters, and roughly began building the world that they inhabit.

My excitement was indescribable.

But see, I think it's somewhat silly also. Not the idea. No, no, I'm quite in love with the idea. The silly factor for me comes because I am agentless. Ultimately, at this very moment, I am no closer to being on your bookshelf than a person who has never written a book. An ugly truth, but true nonetheless.

Further along the silliness train: this story has nothing to do with my MG Fantasy work that I am querying at this point.

See, if you remember from one of my previous posts. An agent advised me that there's no guarantee for a book series. Not in the querying phase. You can have the idea, the story, and the desire, but there are no book 1 sales to merit a book 2. There is no editor certain of your story's marketability to contract a book 2. So don't try hanging your hat in a closet that doesn't yet exist.

My MG series is near and dear to me. Since November 15, 2011 that has been the focus of every stray thought, and where every ounce of my storytelling talent (if any - I don't believe one can be described as talented without legitimate validation) has been directed. It is the world that I created, and the world that I live in when my eyes are closed.

So this story feels kindof like I'm being unfaithful to Bianca, Scarlett, and Oliver (My MG main characters). I haven't put their story aside; not by any means. My MG Fantasy is still being queried, but book one is complete. There is no tweaking, fixing, changing that I will make outside of editorial changes that come from a source higher up than me. It has seen 7 drafts, been edited from 113,000 words to 52,000 words, and the beginning has been completely re-imagined/re-written countless times (I'm terrible with beginnings - I always see how my stories end first). At this point, I can only query until I find an agent who loves the story as much as I do.

But I can't just sit and twiddle my thumbs. I want writing to be my career, not my hobby.

I always get story ideas, sometimes from dreams, mostly from things I see going to and fro day to day, but last night's was different - it's a story that I already love.

Did you know that Stephen King's Under the Dome originated in the early 80's? He started working on it, realized it was too big and messy for him to tell at that time and put it in a drawer. It was titled The Cannibals. Years later he came back to it, updated it (fixing this and that, I'm sure) and now all the non-readers will get to enjoy it as a mini-series on CBS this summer.

Stephen King is known for writing books and sticking them in drawers. Many authors probably do it. Publishing is a slow process, but stories come on the fly at all times of the day or night, and as quickly as a bolt of lightning. During those months or years when the gears aren't turning, and when the Muse is getting her beauty sleep Mr. King recommends having a "book in the drawer" to please the publishing gods.

So this project will be my "book in the drawer".

My Fantasy (series?) has been plotted....and re-plotted...and plotted again. In fact, my world-building grew even more from the changes I had to make in shortening the first story. Now I could write books about Faerie until I die...but I won't...because as much as I hope you enjoy them someday, I know you really wouldn't want me to - the overall story arc will satisfy you, I hope.

For now I'm working on the Non-Fantasy Story. The Tragedy. And someday (hopefully soon) when I'm chatting with my agent, I can say "Well I have That, but also I have This...and this other story that I want to get to work on too..."

Do you have a book in the drawer? I hope so, because I'm just discovering how much fun it can be.    :-)

Until we meet again!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Thursday's Children June 6, 2013: Inspired by Commentary

Recently I've been plagued with an overwhelming desire to watch a good scary movie.
Usually I don't allow myself to watch horror films outside the month of October (in preparation for Halloween), but this was an itch that I just had to scratch.
The other night I went to my local Book/Video store and bought a scary film that I saw in theaters last year and thoroughly enjoyed. I also picked up a new one that I wanted to see in theaters but missed the opportunity.
I'm a big "save the best for last" kind of person. So I decided to watch the one I had already seen first, before I watched the film that I was waiting to see.
Sinister was the movie I watched first.

If you haven't seen it, you should because it really is a fantastic piece of storytelling.
Upon my second viewing I still got all the heebie-jeebies that I did the first time I saw it.
Then I watched Dark Skies which was also quite scary (for me) and terribly enjoyable.

The same production team was involved with both films so naturally there are similarities to the way the stories were told.
The following day, my hunger for something scary still wasn't entirely sated. I own many horror films, but I wanted something new and fresh that I hadn't seen before. I was so pleased with my viewing of Dark Skies that I wanted more of those same feelings.
Alas, by the time I got off work the shop where I buy most of my movies and books was already closed. So I came home and turned on Sinister, not to watch the film again, but because I had noticed that there were two different commentaries for the film. One by the Director, and one by the Writers.
Sinister is such a unique film in so many ways that I was quite curious as to how they found the inspiration for the film, and what led them to make some of the storytelling choices that they did.
Not only did I get the answer to those questions, but I also got an impromptu writing class by listening to the commentary.

One quote stood out to me in particular:
"When you're writing speculative, or genre fiction ... come up with your story first then introduce the genre elements later. At it's heart, Sinister is a movie about a guy's fear of failure, and how his family is slowly being torn apart by his quest to reclaim his fame..."

I actually paused the film, and went back to memorize that quote again for you.
My eyes were probably the size of tennis balls.
You see, I write Middle Grade Fantasy - speculative fiction. No doubt many of you also write speculative (genre) fiction.
I sat up and thought about some of the greatest stories.
They all revolved around an emotional idea. The Heart of the story.
The setting, the world-building, the twist ending, the intricate plotting all were secondary to the most important thing: The Heart.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is about a girl and her three friends on a quest to find what makes them whole.
Harry Potter is about an abused orphan on a mission to confront the man who murdered his parents.
The Gone series is a modern day Lord of the Flies that shows the depths of darkness in a young person's soul, and questions the Nature versus Nurture aspect of Good and Evil.
The Dark Tower series is about one man's quest to find the meaning of life while being surrounded by (and propagating) death.

I must admit, I panicked for a moment.
Sure, I just re-wrote my manuscript. I went down from 95,000 to 71,000 then to 52,000 words. But what was my story about? What was the Heart of this new draft?

Three seconds after I asked this question I had my answer...

What is the heart of your story? Can it be summed up in a sentence? Is it the thing around which your entire manuscript revolves?

A weekly blog hop where writers share their inspirations. Please join us!
A weekly blog hop where writers share their inspirations. Please join us!
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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Agent Wand

In the world of traditional publishing we know that an agent is one of the keys to your success. (I'm taking for granted you are a writer, or at least attempting to be involved in the publishing/writing world)
To be traditionally published you face several tremendous challenges.
First and foremost - you have to write a brilliant, unique, well-crafted story.
Second, in the world of Traditional publishing you need an advocate. A stranger who will read over your work, make editorial suggestions, assist you in honing your talent, sell your work, and protect you during negotiations with your publisher. You need an Agent.

I've posted a few things about my Agent Quest before, but one thing I haven't mentioned is my process for finding an agent.

You might think it's pretty straightforward, and it is (more or less), but agents are just as diverse as authors.
For you fellow Harry Potter nerds I'm going to liken it to finding a wand.
"The wand chooses the wizard" as they say; I'll add: "The agent chooses the author."

I've heard it looks something like this.
You see, in J.K. Rowling's universe a wizard can do magic with any wand, BUT when a wizard has their wand - one that they've bonded with - they reach their full potential. They are capable of greater magic, and the relationship between wizard and wand affects the power and success of the wizard.
The agent chooses the author.
When the right author and agent are paired that's when the greatest magic happens.

This is what an NYT #1 Bestseller looks like.

Take to the internet and begin your search. You'll likely find my same starting point: "Literary Rambles", it has an alphabetized list of agents who represent Young Adult and Middle Grade work.
I remember freaking out the first time I found it. You'd have thought I found Atlantis.

But remember...just because it's a wand doesn't mean it's the one that will help you do your best magic...just because they are an agent doesn't mean they're the right agent for your work.

Also be aware that this person relies on you, and you rely on this person to have a career. You need one another. This is a business partnership. Would you open a clothing store with someone who doesn't have your same taste in style? Would you open a restaurant with someone who only wants to make seafood and you're allergic to shellfish?

Pictured: Hasty Agent-Author partnership
Harder question: would you open a restaurant with an eclectic menu? Maybe you enjoy pasta dishes, and this person says "sure! I love pasta, we'll also sell burgers, steaks, barbeque, and maybe a few other Italian entrees."
This restaurant may sell what you make, but how often have you found a Burger-Pasta-Steak restaurant selling the Best pasta? the Best steak? the Best burgers?
In that situation it comes down to what will satisfy you, and you need to ask yourself that question as you're agent hunting.

My query process has been very selective. There have been a few outright misses (I have a tendency to be drawn to wonderful/amazing agents who don't rep my genre), but I haven't really blanketed the universe with my query letter and sample pages.
I've only queried agents who I feel I would like as people. If I can answer "If they weren't an agent, and I weren't an author could we be friends?" with a "Yes." then I put them on my query list.  I follow them on Twitter, if they have a blog I read it. I read, re-read, and RE-READ the submission guidelines (my brain has a tendency to miss details when I'm too excited/anxious).
Be aware that when you and the right agent finally connect it's potentially a career-long partnership. As long as you're making magic they're the wand that makes it possible.

You can find "how I got my agent blogs" all over the internet. I just wrote this because I wish someone had told me certain things sooner, and made certain things clearer before I started making "rookie mistakes"...I would have liked to have known someone else's Agent Hunting Protocol before I started forming my own...

Until we meet again!

***Please Note: the likening of an agent to a wand is in no way meant to de-humanize, or infer that an agent is nothing more than a tool. Agents are people with hopes, thoughts, and dreams of their own. If you think, have thought, or have treated an agent otherwise then you are an ass.
The Agent/Wand Author/Wizard simile was meant only to be an enjoyable illustration.