Monday, May 7, 2012

Great Lines

Every now and then, something that I write comes across perfectly. More than that, even. It turns out beautiful.

This is rare for me. So I have to celebrate when it does happen.

This is a line that I did almost 2 years ago, but every time I read it, it makes me fist pump and say "Boo-yeah. Bring it, Sir Guy. Bring it." What can I say? Evey is basically my hero.

“You are right, Sir Guy. There are some people who are better than others. But it isn’t because of where they were born. It is their actions that raise and lower men. And judging by your actions, you are one of the lowest pieces of filth to plague this world. Hang me, if you must. Add one more crime to your conscience.”

Richard is unquestionably, the best Sir Guy ever. ^  (Nothing like the Creepy McCreeperton that Evey faces.)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Girls Who Read - Mark Grist

I'm pretty much obsessed with this. Feel free to judge me. I'm not even ashamed.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

When a Book Changes Your Life - The Hunger Games

If you get emotionally involved in a story, then it's a good book.

If you can read it a second or third time, and still be just as invested, if not more, then it is a great book.

If your life is irrevocably altered for the better because of what you read, then it is literature of the highest quality. 

Last summer I finished reading The Hunger Games for the second time, and it literally changed everything. 

The movie premiered this past week, so I thought it was a good time to revisit my old blog post. I especially feel that the timing is right, because of some of the anti-Hunger Games sentiment that is going around. 

Every major book is going to have its revilers. For Harry Potter, it was the witchcraft thing. For the Hunger Games it happens to be the brutal combat-to-the-death of 24 teenagers. 

For obvious reasons, I understand where they're coming from. You want me to read a book about young kids being forced to fight each other in a gladiator-esque arena? No thank you. 

I know a lot of people who don't want to read the series because of this. I've even heard people calling it "spiritually damaging." But it's actually the exact opposite. 

I'd go so far as to say that:

The Hunger Games is inspiring and spiritually enlightening.  

Yes, violent things happen. Yes, adorable 12 year old girls get brutally murdered. Yes, people watch it like a sick reality tv show. 

The plot is disturbing. But it's not what the book is about. It's about kids who have to be strong to survive in a hard world. It's about people standing up for their rights. It's about a girl who would offer herself up for certain death, just to protect her little sister. 

Those bad things happen in the plot because they have to be overcome. 

All of those things are inspiring enough to spawn half a dozen blog posts. But there's more. Something that I think we often forget, but I hope I never will. Not after last June. 

As I said, I was re-reading The Hunger Games. The book was awesome enough the first time. That second time though, I really got into it. I already knew the characters and what was going to happen, but I still spent the whole time covering my face and wishing that it would change. Sadly, it didn't. Things still happened, and I still cried.

About ten minutes later, in my after-book stupor, I didn't really know what to do with myself. As usual, I replayed the book over and over in my head, but I'm a multi-tasker by nature. I needed something unobtrusive to do while I analyzed everything. 

I hadn't had dinner, so even though I wasn't particularly hungry, I got in the car and started driving. I didn't feel like having anything I passed, and I ended up at Walmart.

As I drove, I began to be impressed by the sheer absurdity of traffic. How people get so mad at other people, or get so obsessed about their precious cars. I'd thought about that kind of stuff before, so it wasn't new, but it was on my mind more than usual.

Then I walked in through the door of Walmart, and I was suddenly hit with a wave of disgust.

I walked past four or five drink machines, two crane machines, and a red box. The commercialism almost overwhelmed me. The flashy labels. The lights. The totally unnecessary products, and the billions of dollars spent in marketing them.

I have to be honest, I almost turned around and walked right back out then and there. But I needed groceries. So I entered the store itself.

Rows and rows of food, piled up for anyone's taking. Dozens of racks with shirts and pants and jackets and socks. Aisles filled with the most advanced toys a kid could ask for. Video games, movies, cell phones, cameras, TVs, laptops.

I felt like a Capital yuppie.

All I needed were a few clueless people. Selfish, arrogant, decorated and clothed according to fashions, and oblivious to the bounty around them... oh wait, Wal-mart had those too. In abundance. Hundreds of them milling about. Complaining about how hard life is while filling their carts without even a thought.

Isn't it scary? How different are we really? Suzanne Collins might have exaggerated a bit when she wrote the Capitol citizens. But only a bit. A very little bit.

I take so much for granted, and I am guilty of emphasizing things that aren't really important. I'd realized that before, but it never hit me on such a deep, extremely real level.

I was disgusted. Almost to the point of nausea.

There really aren't any words that convey the depth of my revulsion for the society in which I found myself. Suffice it to say that I was shocked in a way that I have never been shocked before.

It's been almost a year since then. I am once again capable of shopping in Wal-mart without puking. I almost wish that I wasn't. If it weren't for that silly thing about needing to eat to stay alive... 

Every time I read the books, I remember that night. And every time, I remember that I am not starving. I have clothes. I have shelter. I have the right to vote. 

I have piles of food. Literally. High quality, disease free, pre-harvested piles of food, to be more specific. And how often do we walk past this without even realizing how fantastic it is?

So word to the wise: Don't go to Wal-mart 5 minutes after reading The Hunger Games. Or better yet, DO. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


I posted this on my other blog a long time ago. I was going through old posts tonight, and thought that this was a good one to revisit.

I have begun to accept the fact that I will never be eloquent.

Some people just aren't born to be that way. And I'm becoming increasingly sure that I am one of those people. It sucks sometimes because there are occasions when I suddenly understand some concept really well, or come to a realization about my life that I'm sure would help other people if they got it too. And then I try to explain it and it blows up in my face. I never do it justice.

Like now, for example. I've already erased sentences that were an attempt to explain this idea in a more prosy way. And they were stupid.

This is also weird because I do write things. Like stories. People automatically assume that if someone writes stories, they are good with words. Unfortunately, this is an egregious falsehood.

Maybe I'm too dramatic for prosy, flowery description. I like exaggeration and explosions and sword fights and words like egregious. Things that are just too big for poetry.

Maybe I'm meant to be an understander, but not an explainer. It could be that it's one of my life trials to never be able to clearly communicate what my brain so effectively comprehends.

But also, maybe there are just too many people who use too many words. As nice as it would be to lend credibility to my little speeches through eloquence, maybe that's not what the world needs more of right now. Maybe we need more people who see it and tell it like it is, even if it is rough around the edges. It could be that we need more people who focus on the meat of the issue, and not the saying of it in a favorable way. Who can explain something so everyone can understand it, and not just the "intellectuals".

It's not a great thing, sometimes. People quite often look down on you if you can't present yourself just right. Appearance and sophistication are everything in this world. If you don't have it, you're no one. Which causes for a lot of... left-out-ness. I'm taken as a no one on so many levels. After all, if you're not pretty in the face or pretty in words, what else is there?

But I'm starting to notice that being so very different is good. If every person was the same, the world would be really, really, REALLY boring. It's hard. And there are days when I wish I could just fit in. But most of the time I'm starting to appreciate it. After all, there are things that I have that no one else does, and they do it to themselves. They could be happy in that way, or stressless in that way, or whatever it is. But they don't, because they care too much about pleasing the man.

Even now, while I'm trying to explain that it's okay to not be prosy, I still keep trying. And it's really not that good. But it's an ongoing process. Being alright with not fitting in will not happen overnight. But I'm sure it will eventually.

These things always turn out a lot longer than I'd like. I also have a problem with being succinct.Which I suppose is related to my lack of explaining ability.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Writing is hard. Why do you do it?

I've heard a lot of different reasons for writing. I want to be famous. I want to get rich like J. K. Rowling. I want to work from my home when my kids are asleep. They run the gamut.

But by far, the most common response I hear is:

"I write for me."

Without accusing these people of lying, I ask: What does that even mean?

I'm not being sarcastic here. I really want to know. Because I sure don't spend hours typing, and correcting, and re-reading, and correcting again, and banging my head into the wall just "for me". I don't get it.

When I do say that to myself, it comes across in one of two ways.

1) A pretentious way of saying "You didn't want to publish me? Well screw you. I didn't write it to be published anyway."

2) As a self defense mechanism. "I actually do want to be published more than anything in the world, but if I tell people that I only write for me, then it won't be so crushing when I get rejection letters."

Whatever the case, though, writing is hard. And to do it well takes a lot of work. "I write for me" isn't strong enough on its own to justify all that work. People who say it must have more specific reasons. I just don't know what they are.

Why do I write?

I have a crippling shyness. It is a real process to get me warmed up in a crowd of people that I don't know.

And then when you do get me talking, I don't shut up. On, and on, and on, and on, about things that they really didn't need to know. (My blogs are more like my talking than my writing.) I've shocked a lot of people that way. They never see it coming. The energizer bunny of rambling.

Let's just say I'm really bad with people. The Supreme Chancellor of All Awkwardness.

And yet, unlike a lot of writers, I am not all that introverted. I need people. I need to communicate with people. To connect with them, and share ideas with them. Everything about me works better when I have someone else there to help me.

As you can see, this creates quite a problem.

That's why writing is perfect for me. I can share ideas, tell a story, make someone laugh or cry. I can connect with someone. But I can type it out, read it a few hundred times, and make sure it says the right thing first.

"I just write for me" will never work in my case. Because I NEED the audience. I need to be heard. I need to be responded to. And writing is the only way I can do that effectively.

I write because I need to communicate.

Why do you write? If "I write for me" is applicable, what does it actually mean to you?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Writer's Horoscope

This is my forecast for today.

There are restless energies from everywhere and everyone, including you. It may be hard to get down to business and do your work today. If you do not concentrate on the business at hand you may find yourself working late. If you are in sales or some sort of social work, you will make great headway in work production. Mental stimulation from others is the key for you--it is a good idea to cooperate and compromise with others. Any previous doubts you toyed with, regarding the direction of your profession, will be turning toward a most positive direction--success is the name of the game! You have a pleasant disposition toward all you come into contact with and you gain a great deal of focus as a result of this interaction with others.

When I first read this, I think "Wow. That is so applicable to me." I am working late right now. I do have questions about my future profession. And I do brainstorm better with other people than on my own.

Then I look at it a second time and realize that so does most of the rest of the world.

If you really look at the sentences, they're completely devoid of substance.

"There are restless energies from everywhere and everyone." What does that even mean?

"If you do not concentrate on the business at hand you may find yourself working late." Um, yes. Usually things do work that way when you procrastinate.

Then why do they sound so good? Why do so many people swear by them?

Horoscopes are written in a clever way. Every single sentence is as vague as they come. Because it's so vague, it can apply to almost anyone.

At the same time, we are well aware of the trials and successes that we're currently dealing with. Because those thoughts are so active in our minds, our brains automatically use them to interpret the horoscope in a way that makes sense to us.

This technique works for horoscopes because the readers already know the story.

Don't Do This.

Sometimes writers will also craft paragraphs of meaningless vagueties. But a writer's job is to tell us a story that we don't already know. And if we don't know it, those sentences will continue to be meaningless.

A young girl lives a hard life. Nothing comes easy, and nothing comes without a price, especially when the girl must put her life on the line in order to save her sister. Thrown into a life-or-death contest, she struggles to survive. And the fight isn't just about food or water. Who should she trust? There are enemies everywhere, and one wrong move could cost her everything. 

It sounds good, but doesn't tell us anything. What makes her life hard? What happened to her sister? How will she save her? What kind of contest is it? We don't even know what genre this story is. It could apply to practically anything. (We won't even go into the cliches.)

Compare it to this:

Starving to death is a common occurrence, but Katniss Everdeen beats the odds. She keeps her family alive by being tough and good with a bow. But starvation isn't the only danger in District 12. Every year, two teenagers from each district are thrown into an arena where they are forced to fight to the death. Only one can survive. Katniss will need more than good odds if she wants to get home alive. The Hunger Games are about to begin.

Don't judge my cover copy too harshly. I'm not Suzanne Collins. But can you see the difference? In this one we get who she is, what she's like, where she lives, what is happening to her, and what the stakes are, all without sacrificing the dramatic phrasing.

Have I mentioned how hyped I am for this movie? 

Once you know that the blurb is about the Hunger Games, the first one makes sense. And that's how we see our own writing sometimes. When we know the story, we know what each sentence means, even when it's terrible and confusing.

Clear and well constructed sentences are crucial to good writing. Rhythm and cadence are just as important as grammar and spelling.

You don't have an unlimited word count here. Make every sentence mean something.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

My Mattress is Breathing

It’s definitely out to get me. My mattress, that is. I’m sure it swallowed the person before me.

Mattresses are like anacondas, you know. Once they eat, it takes a long while before they need to again. They digest things ever so slowly, and hardly move while they do.

That’s how I know it’s after me.

It’s been moving. Rumbling. Seeming remarkably empty. I’ve been waiting for the day that it just snaps me up. I wonder what they did with the last girl’s stuff. Mine will be a pain to move, if it gets me.

Sure, they might seem all innocent. They’re great at luring you into a false sense of security. But even the safe ones still need to eat. Those socks that go missing? And the way the blankets seem to gradually disappear? That’s no accident.

Monday, March 5, 2012

This Post

Dear Everyone in the World (and not just writers),

Punctuation, spelling, and grammar were invented for a reason. People rely on these rules to understand what you are trying to communicate. Creative license does not extent to flouting rules for the pure sake of flouting them. That just makes everyone confused.

Yours Truly,

The Author.

Also, read this post. Immediately.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Don't be a Jellyfish

Most artists share one ginormous weakness. Sensitivity.

It's understandable, of course. Being criticized on the way you file papers or answer a phone can be obnoxious, but it's not life-threatening. Being criticized on a painting or a performance is a whole different thing.

When you've got something that you've poured so much of your time, energy, and soul into, it becomes like your child. Bad reviews are like personal attacks on your family.

Where sensitivity goes, I've noticed two distinct categories that artists fall into: The Jellyfish and the Lizard.

Don't be a Jellyfish. 

Jellyfish are kind of cool. Most of them are pretty, but that's all they're really good for. Looking at. They're so delicate, they can't afford to let anything get too close.

Touch one, and it gives a pretty wicked sting.
Take one out of its protective watery environment, it dies.

Jellyfish don't even have brains.

If you've ever watched American Idol (or any similar show), you'll know that some artists are jellyfish. Like this guy. They just sting you and swim away to do their own thing, brainless and useless as ever.

If you want to make it in an artistic career, you've got to be more like this guy:

This guy has thick skin. He has spikes and an effective defense mechanism.

He knows that the world isn't all rainbows and candy.

He also knows that he has weaknesses.

When he's threatened, he protects his softer underbelly, displays his spikes, and weathers the storm. When the storm is over, he gets up and lives his life.

You can't please everyone.

Haters gon' hate.

It is literally impossible to please everyone. Even the most fantastic literature of all time has its critics.

You will always (and I repeat, always) have someone somewhere that doesn't like your work. It is inevitable. If Rowling was a jellyfish, we wouldn't have the epicness that is the Harry Potter franchise, and thousands of kids would still be non-readers.

Now, if everyone hates your work, and you don't get even one like, you might want to pay attention. But even that must be taken lizard style.

Jellyfish often think they're lizards. 

They think that stinging the offender and ignoring hurtful comments is the same as having thick skin. It is not. The key word here is HUMILITY.

Without advice from outside parties, nothing about your work will ever improve. Stagnating is as bad as dying.

The trick is to become a good judge. Listen to critiques and learn to figure out which comments will help you, and which are just the hating haters. Learn to take criticism without letting it hurt you.

It isn't an easy road. If it was easy, we wouldn't need so many spikes. But then again, if it was easy, there wouldn't be much point to it either.

Even lizards have tough days, though. And just in case you're needing a little bit of a mood lightener to aid you as you lizard through life, watch this.

Go forth, and be a lizard!

Word Count

Something that I mistakenly did when first starting out (and I see a lot of others do it too) is try to figure out the size and page numbers of my work.

Okay, it's fine if you're just doing it for fun. But don't mention it in query letters.

A) Because loads of things affect the page count. The same novel can be practically any size you want it to be. When they consider your work for publication, they don't want to know your arbitrary page guesstimation. Just give them the word count, and the professionals know what to do from there.

B) It proves that you're a newbie. Not the "I'm not published yet, but I'm willing to work hard to make it happen" kind. But the "I haven't done any research on this stuff because I think I'm already as amazing as J. K. Rowling" kind. The first, people like. The second, they despise. Don't be the second kind.

C) It's a lot more efficient. Saying "My novel is 79,000 words" is just plain better than "In print form, my novel will end up being around 300 pages, depending on font size."

Just a note:

Knowing the word count is also helpful for your own information. You need to know whether your manuscript is even marketable, and there are definite limits to what publishers will accept from a new author.

Keep your manuscript between 50k and 100k. 

Obviously this doesn't include pictures books or easy readers.

These are not hard and fast limits. Every genre has its own acceptable range. Fantasy tends to run much longer than romance, for example. And if you have something really spectacular, exceptions are made. But don't bank on that.

If you do decide to flout the rules, try to be reasonable. 800,000 words is an automatic rejection no matter how good. (This is literally the length of the bible.)

But the best way to get lucky is to do the hard work. Do your research on word counts, and it will pay off.

Friday, March 2, 2012


Rejections. The bane of our existence.

They are tough. They are harsh. They make you want to wrap yourself in a sheet, stare at the computer all day, and angrily yell "Bored!" at everything you read.

But the sad truth is that rejections are a necessary part of being a writer. Without them, we would be nothing, for three reasons.

  • They force you to improve your craft. 
  • They force you to become a humbler, more decent human being. 
  • Most importantly, they force you to really examine how you feel about writing. 


There is no such thing as a good first draft. But that's what drafts are for. You get all the bones out there, and then you add the layers that make it real.

First novels are much the same. Very few people write a spectacular first novel. (And when I say that, don't go getting the idea that yours will be different. Because there's a 96.34% chance that it won't.) 

By the time most authors get to the publication of their debut novel, they've already written three or four that previously got scrapped. At least.

Still, no one ever believes that until it happens to them. I sure didn't. I had a lot of erroneous ideas about that first novel. And let me tell you now, I'm kind of embarrassed that I let it see the light of day. 

But it's a necessary part of the process. Because if I had never sent it out, I never would have gotten rejected, I never would have realized that it was terrible, and I never would have gone on a ravenous rampage through the internet world in order to discover what I could have possibly done wrong. 

And I never would have written newer stuff. Stuff that is exponentially better. 

Common Decency

Writing (or rather finishing) a novel can make us feel like we're on the top of the world. Rejection letters remind us that we're still human. 

It's not bad to feel that rush of excitement. To glory in the sense of having accomplished something worthwhile. But sometimes people forget that being a nice person is a good thing. Being a royal douchebag just makes everyone's life harder. 

You'll get a lot farther in the world, and in the publishing industry, by being a decent human being. By treating people with respect, even when you disagree. By listening to advice, and having an open mind about your work. 

Rejection letters can give us that occasional reminder that the world does not revolve around us. When we remember that, everything about our writing is better off for it. 

The Crossroads 

Your first rejection letter is the most important. It's what separates the dabblers from the artists.

In anything we do, there comes a point where we have to decide what we really want. 

Law school is hard. Do we really want to spend all that time, all that money, and all that misery so that we can have a career in law? 

Mount Everest is insane. Do we really want to go through those many training hours, base camp acclimation, and the risk certain death just to stand on the literal top of the world for five seconds?

Up until that first rejection, anyone with a pen and a few bits of notepaper can claim to be a writer. Not so many make it back out again. 

That rejection letter is your critical moment. The point where you realize that a career in writing is not going to be a piece of cake. 

Are you willing to endure the pain of drastic edits, the hours of  sometimes fruitless work, the sleepless nights? Are you willing to be critiqued, sometimes harshly? Are you willing to risk repeated rejections in order to get your work out there?

Do you have what it takes to persevere when the going gets tough? 

You won't know until you try. 

Don't be afraid of that first rejection letter.

No matter what it says, or how you react to it, that letter will help you decide where you want to go with your life. This is a good thing. 

But if you're worried because you love writing so much, don't be. It's the dark times that show us what we're really made of, and most of us are surprised to find that, when the light comes back again, we're made of much tougher stuff than we thought we were. If you love writing that much, the rejection will only make you stronger. I guarantee it. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Query Letters and Shark tanks

If you're just starting out, you may ask "What is a query letter?"

Query letters are a short blurb for your novel. It's basically like back cover copy. That brief thing that people glance over when deciding if they want to read your book.

The query is what an agent or a publisher will see. It has to be clear, short, and compelling enough to make them want to read your manuscript.

I know, they really are a pain in the royal caboose. It's hard to condense a 100,000 word narrative into a 250 word burp. It's even harder to make it any good.

You may also ask "Do I really need one? Can't my story just live or die by virtue of its amazingness?"

No. No it can not.

See, agents and editors are super busy people. They can't read manuscripts from every Tom, Dick, Harry, Joe, and Rutherford. They only have time for one page (if even that.) If they can't see potential after that one page, they move on.

Fair or not, such is life.

My first query letter was a monstrosity. 2,158 words.

Every time I open the file, I shudder. I'm thoroughly embarrassed that I let something that bad get seen by anyone. And I'm extremely un-surprised that I got that form rejection letter. (See tomorrow's post for more about rejections.)

I don't claim to be the world's leading expert on query letters. But luckily for all of us hapless newbies, there is a most wonderful and magnificent blog which is entirely dedicated to the perfecting of query letters.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I introduce you to the shark tank:

This blog will be your best friend. It is run by an agent who spends much of her free time disemboweling query letters, purely out of the goodness of her heart. (Or maybe out of ravenous hunger and sarcasm.)

Unless you want to become shark bait (ooh ha ha) you WILL follow these rules when treading in the shark infested waters:

  • Read all of the archives. Yes, I said all of them. There are over 200. But I'm up to about 135, and I'm still learning new things from them. Just do it.
  • Follow the advice. (Some people seem to think that the rules don't apply to them. These people often become chum.)
  • If you want to submit a letter, FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS. It isn't that hard to do. And t'would seem common sense, but for that pesky little thing called the 'brain'. Some people don't use them. Alas.

As I said, there are over 200 posts on query shark. Getting through them won't be a walk in the park. But if you're even semi-serious about your writing, just do it.

In the mean time, though, here are a few very, very basics to get you started on the right path. 

  • Don't go over 250 words. Ever.
  • White space: use it. Break up your paragraphs so that people don't get migraines just from looking at your letter. 
  • Include a few basic things: WHO the story is about, WHAT their problem is, and WHAT the stakes are if they don't fix their problem. These are absolutely crucial. 
  • Wordy epistles of flowery prose will not sell anything. (See previous bullet.) Clarity always. 
  • EDIT
  • Read Query Shark

The DNA of Writing

There's something that almost every writer thinks when they first start out. And they're all wrong.

I thought it too.

That thing is some variation of "I won't take writing classes or read how-to books because I don't want my writing to be tainted. I refuse to become a boring formula writer."

Luckily, it doesn't work that way.

Novels are like DNA.

DNA is made up of pairs of nucleotides. There are only four of them. C, G, A, and T.

To make things even more restricted, C can only pair up with G. T can only pair up with A.

This might seem quite useless. What can you do with only two different pairs?

Yet, every single living creature on this planet is made from DNA. From amoebas to the billions of individual humans, all of them are built out of CG and TA pairs.

Kinda blows your mind, doesn't it?

Writing isn't so different. There are only a few building blocks to work with. You can't do anything useful without them, and all of them have been used before. But there are literally billions of possible combinations.

Painters become better at painting when they learn how to use different kinds of brushes for different effects.

Chefs become better at cooking when they learn how to use a new spice.

Musicians can't compose if they don't know the notes.

So don't be afraid of learning about the craft of writing. Read books. Follow blogs. Take classes. Learn what those building blocks are. (Luckily we have more than two.) They'll only help.

A Starting Place

I don't profess to be a writing guru.

I don't even profess to know what I'm doing.

But I do claim a few things: Determination, Love, & The Ability to Learn.

Those three things are what any writer needs. Everything else comes second.

This blog isn't for people who want to know the ins and outs of publishing. There are ten gazillion of those. And it isn't the writings of a professional who is trying to bestow the wisdom of success unto the up and coming starving artists.

No. This is something else entirely.

When I figure out what, I'll let you know.  

For now, let's call it a journey.

Yes, I just cringed too. But cliches are a starting place, at least.

That's it. That's what this blog is. A starting place.