Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Next Big Thing... or Not

As I’m sitting in the Indianapolis Airport, lamenting about my canceled flight, it hit me: I aspire to spend more time in airports, and so I better start saving up travel karma. This got me thinking about what I want from my writing career. It’s a fine line between being confident and being obnoxious.

Admit it, when you hear an unpublished writer say they’re the next Stephen King or JK Rowling, most of you roll your eyes. It’s a one in a million shot, right? Who in their right mind would think they could be the ONE? (Well, other than Stephen and JK.) In my genre, the current buzz names are Stephanie Meyer and Suzanne Collins. They both have best-selling series with movies raking in millions (okay, Hunger Games isn’t out yet, but I know I’ll be at the midnight show. Who’s with me?)

Why is dreaming big a bad thing? I mean, if you’re doing the work to become better and you aren’t spending all your time talking about how great your writing is instead of actually writing, where’s the harm? If you can walk the walk, why is confidence discouraged? Besides, I’m willing to bet not everyone wants to be the multi-book best-selling author, even the people who are consistently hitting the top of the charts and getting movie options.

I remember an interview done with Stephanie Meyer on the red carpet at one of the movie premieres. The reporter asked her what advice she would give to aspiring authors and her response was interesting. She said not to get into writing for the money. She said you have to love writing and make that the priority. She went on to add that she hadn’t been able to write much because of the PR for the movies and it was something she really wanted to get back to. But, being someone who only listens to TV with about half my attention, here’s what I heard. “I wrote this book. Lots of people liked it. I wrote more books. A production company optioned them. People went crazy over the movies and I sold more books. I made lots of money. But I’m not happy about it because I can’t actually do the thing I love to do: Write.”

So, because my flight was canceled and I have literally seven hours of hanging out in an airport today, I thought I would share my aspirations. Some may call them borderline arrogant, but I like to think of them as constant motivators pushing me to be better. They remind me that success rarely, if ever, comes without the price tag of hard work and dedication.

1. Write books that are on the best-sellers list. Number one would be nice, but just being on the list would be cool, too. Heck, at this point, being on Amazon’s top 50 in YA (insert genre) would be good.

2. Have a modest production company option my book. (Not at all interested in a TV series.)

3. Get interviewed by Ellen (I’ve been practicing that interview for about a year now.)

4. Remember that writing is the breath of my soul. If I ever get to a point where the joy of “breathing” is squelched by my “brand”, it’s time to re-evaluate my aspirations.

5. Never become so cynical about my career that I can’t find satisfaction in my work.

6. Spend the rest of my life writing books I would want to read. If my books become too commercial or don’t make me excited writing them, maybe it’s time to enjoy my moderate success and take a break from churning out crap. (My current WIP actually leaves me smiling when I finish revising and I can’t wait to find out what happens next!)

7. And of course, know where every Starbucks is in every MAJOR airport in the country. (Do they have an app for that?) ***REVISED TO REPORT THERE IS A STARBUCKS (or two) ON EVERY CONCOURSE IN THE KANSAS CITY AIRPORT***

So here’s my question for you, oh faithful readers: What do you aspire to? I hope, no matter what it is, you find a way to BE PASSIONATE about your goals and the role they play in your life. As for me, I’m going to find a more comfortable seat and dream about the day I can afford first class… oh wait, I’m a writer… maybe I should aspire to paying for the early check-in. When I'm published I'll be able to afford ten bucks, right?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

How Zombies Can Change My Life

This year, my friends have been doing those 5K obstacle course races. I think it’s safe to say that some of them are addicted. I’ve watched from afar, admiring their passion, but not really getting into the craze. Until now. Next June, in the next town east of us, there’s going to be a Run For Your Lives Race. Not only is it a challenge in a location that can only be described as breath-taking, but it’s a chance to check off one of the items on my bucket list: Get chased by zombies. You read that correct. It’s a traditional climb up the vertical wall, hustle up the cargo net and climb under barbed wire in a pit of mud race, plus zombies are trying to steal your lives (think flag football belts).

How freaking cool does that sound? If it weren’t for the zombie part, I don’t know if I would be so excited, but since I’ve always thought it would be awesome to be in a horror movie but I lack a certain level of elementary acting training, this is the closest I’m going to get. Here’s the kicker. In order to do this race, which really will be a grueling one, I have a tough road ahead of me. I have to lose weight, break out the muscles that haven’t seen the light of day in a decade and of course, the first rule of the zombie apocalyptic: CARDIO!

It’s been a long time since I’ve trained for anything, and to be honest, I’ve always used the excuse that I’m not disciplined enough to do something like that. Except, wait. I was disciplined enough to write a book. And determined enough to revise and revise and revise. And I was passionate enough about it to subject myself to the gatekeeper’s (aka agents) rejections. Not only that, but I was persistent enough to start another book in order to start the whole process over again. It got me to thinking about how I can relate writing a book to training for a zombie invasion with sprints.

I start my training, officially, on Monday, when I begin the Couch to 5K program. (First rule, remember?) In a lot of ways, this is like writing the backstory, getting to know your characters, and developing your plot. It’s conditioning; getting ready to get into the good stuff.

In nine weeks, I will start the C25K program over, but this time, I’m hiking the incline on the treadmill up higher and higher each day. I’m also adding weight training. Those zombies aren’t going to get the drop on me when I have to hoist my body over a fallen tree. For me, getting the first few chapters done is a lot like this. There’s always so much to convey in those pages. It’s like going uphill in a wind storm. There are days where I just stare at the screen and wonder how the big time writers can churn books out time after time.

Now we’re 18 weeks into training. In case you can’t do the math, that’s exactly half way between today and the race. Now, I won’t be buff, yet, but one would hope the commitment is starting to show in my clothes. After a quick shopping spree to buy new workout gear, it’s time to rev up the training. Now I’m going to start the recommended training for the Indianapolis mini-marathon. I’m not going to actually do the marathon, but this will replace the C25K program and improve my endurance. I’m also adding three classes: boot camp, zumba, and pilates. In the writing world, this is where the work is flowing. I’m churning out a chapter a night. We’re cruising, baby. In the groove, got it goin’ on! But this is also a time when I’m most likely to get distracted by other things: youngest child’s birthday, spring break, life in general. This is where it’s easy for me to demonstrate self-destructive tendencies. But if I can avoid the pitfalls, I’ll make it to the home stretch.

Week 27. Nine weeks left until the big day. I’m still doing the Mini road training, weight training, the classes… what else can I possibly do? Amp it up. Look for the weaknesses and improve them. Wow. Sounds like the revision process, doesn’t it. Revise until the work sparkles, and not in a Twilight kind of way. Polishing and perfecting. Arms not quite able to make that vertical wall? More arms. Middle of the book dragging the plot down and messing up the pacing? Fix it!

Now, sometime during this last nine weeks I hope to get a chance to get real world training, from an Marine no less. I want to learn some of the techniques that will help me master the obstacles and continue to avoid the long arms of the walking dead. In the writing world, I would describe this as beta readers. It’s the first time the book is being taken for a spin, finding out what points of the plot others think work and don’t work. This is also a time for one more good revision. It’s one more chance to master the tone of the words and strengthen the story arc. This is the test-run.

Race Day. This is when I pray all the training and work pays off. It’s when I take something that’s been personal for the last several months and put it out there to be rejected. In the Run For Your Lives race, getting across the finish line is one thing. Doing it without skipping an obstacle is the difference between a finish medal and nothing. Since I want that medal for my motivation board, I cannot skip an element. It’s not an option. I have to find that one foothold that’s going to help me get over the top. But there are unforeseen issues. Maybe I'll get behind someone who steps on my hand with their size 13s and my bruised appendage just can’t hold on to the rope on the next obstacle. When I think about this, I realize it’s a lot like sending out query letters. All the work has been done. You’re as ready as you can possibly be and yet, there’s still one more hurdle to get through: finding the right agent at the right time who gets your book and wants to be a part of it. (In case I wasn’t clear, this is the finding the foot hold moment.) The rejections, and more importantly, the reason for the rejection are the unforeseen issues. There are all kinds of reasons why agents reject a manuscript, even one they really love. Those things are out of your control. You have to duck and weave when they come your way and keep moving forward.

But this is where the training and belief is going to shine. If you really dig deep, no matter how many obstacles you have to jump, if you have faith in yourself and in your work, you can reach the reward, whether it’s a finisher’s medal or a book contract. In the end, it’s all up to how much you want it and what you're willing to do to get it.

One more thing about the Race For Your Lives 5K… once you’re done, they give you beer. I think surviving the Zombie Apocalypse earns you at least that. But when I get my agent and that awesome person finds the right publisher for me book, we’re not doing beer. MARTINIS FOR EVERYONE! Until then, I’ll focus on my training and my writing, making sure I’m ready for whatever comes next. I never thought zombies could turn me into a race enthusiast, but it just goes to show you that you can BE PASSIONATE about anything you want!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

To Trend or Not to Trend

Before you read this, I should remind you that I write and read mostly YA, so most of my comments aren’t as relevant to adult literature. And, I should also mention that I tend to stick with SFF (Science Fiction/Fantasy) books, though not exclusively, so some of these comments are genre related and as always, my opinions alone.

My first novel, The Partizans, is about sixteen year old transfer student who Hannah Slaughtery never imagined her future would involve fighting against monsters she doesn’t believe in with people she’s not even sure she likes.

But when she and four other students attend a retreat at Piaculum Academy, they discover they’re the next generation of Partizans, a band of supernatural warriors dating back to the dawn of man. Each must decide how much of themselves they are willing to sacrifice as they stand against the Formorians, a ruthless and tyrannical empire of demons who have been wiping out the Partizan lines for generations in order to make way for their own ascension.

As Hannah struggles to comprehend her legacy, she is distracted by the unexplainable, yet undeniable connection she feels toward Finn, another Partizan, who is obviously hiding something from her.

Mentored by Garrett, a First Crusade era Catholic priest turned vampire, Hannah begins her metaphysical transformation to become a witch, knowing only one thing for sure: the carefree days of her youth have come to a screeching halt.

I loved writing this book and I still have hope that it will see the inside of a publishing house. But I happened to start writing this shortly after Breaking Dawn came out and the slew of YA vampire books that followed. I wasn’t writing to a trend. I was honestly writing a book that I wanted to read. But as I began to submit to agents, I was constantly getting the vibe that, as soon as they saw the words “YA Paranormal”, their eyes either rolled or glazed over . I did get a few awesome agents who asked for fulls and partials, which made me feel good, but it got me to thinking about trends and how to be the trendsetter instead of the trend follower.
Case in point: Fallen angel books. They are everywhere. Some are great. Some, eh, but what they have in common is that I can find any number of them in the book rack of our local Wal-mart. (It’s the closest thing my town has to a book store.) But how did those first fallen angel books get written? How did the writers start the trend?

Were they struck with brilliance? Did someone whisper to them in their sleep that there is a small aspect of their favorite genre that needs exploiting? I don’t have an answer. I really want to know. Because if I’m going to write what I like, which is another piece of advice you garner at writer’s conference and on blogs, then I’m going to be writing a lot of supernatural creature books. How do you train yourself, as a writer, to see beyond what you know?
I know this blog post is filled with more unanswered questions than I would normally post, but it’s something that has been on my mind lately, and listening to the Robert Frost inspired song by Sydney Forest, Road Not Taken hasn’t helped.

For those of you who are thinking about taking the literary road less traveled, BE PASSIONATE about it! And feel free to share a little wisdom with the rest of us!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Website updated

I'm such a slacker sometimes! I have finally updated my website... a little update. If you're at all interested in knowing more about me, stop by the site and click on the "About Me" tab at the top of the page. Hopefully the rest of the pages will get filled in over the next week.

Also, if you have some great websites that writers must know about, email them to me at or post them below. I really want to get the link salad page started. It will be a work in progress, but at least it will be in progress!