Tuesday, January 31, 2012

On Outlining

I've always had a love/hate relationship with outlines. I understand their use in planning, staying on track, envisioning the entire story, and ensuring a build up to the climax. I've also felt that they constrain the creative process at times and leave little room for the characters to evolve as they must...must because as the writer I'm getting to know them even better and because sometimes they surprise me.

I suppose that's why I'll often compromise with a brief outline with major plot points that include A and B and C, but how certain characters achieve getting from A to B may be somewhat fluid in my mind.

Well, that's all about to change!

I recently received some very insightful--and helpful--advice about my WIP, particularly the middle of the story where the plot twists plateau before the big pick up. This wasn't achieving an even greater surprise for the audience at the end. It was slowly losing them because my writing from point to point wasn't as tension filled as they need to be.

And so I'm back to the editing drawing board, this time with the New Year's resolution to be much more detailed--and to study the plot twists of my fav novels and the education out there available. One amazing site recommended to me, and which I've already been devouring is The Plot Whisperer (http://plotwhisperer.blogspot.com/). If you haven't checked it out, well what are you waiting for?!

What's your writing or work weakness?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Happy Friday!

I recently shared The Vow trailer with you, exclaiming how I can't wait for it to come out. I've also explained Channing Tatum as being one of my dream employees helping make this blog happen :-)

So when a friend sent me a photo from Channing's GQ photo shoot but improvised with his movie The Vow in mind, I couldn't help but smile and share:

What celebrity crushes do you have?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Cover Love

Carrier of the Mark
by Leigh Fallon is a cover I just uncovered and I adore. It's simple but beautiful. It's intriguing and artful and hints at the dark undertones of this storyline. Awesome!

Here's the description: Their love was meant to be.

When Megan Rosenberg moves to Ireland, everything in her life seems to fall into place. After growing up in America, she's surprised to find herself feeling at home in her new school. She connects with a group of friends, and she is instantly drawn to darkly handsome Adam DeRÍs.

But Megan is about to discover that her feelings for Adam are tied to a fate that was sealed long ago—and that the passion and power that brought them together could be their ultimate destruction.

What interesting books have you stumbled upon lately?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Breaking the Rules

If you're a writer that's ever researched query letters then you've heard that query letters are NOT to be written from the first person perspective of your character. Well, I stumbled upon one successful query letter from author Miranda Kenneally, represented by the amazing Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary Agency that does just that--and it rocks! This is a perfect example where great writing, an intriguing storyline, and a great voice trumps all. Here's the successful query that Kenneally wrote:

My name is Jordan Woods, I’m seventeen, and last year, I blew it in the final seconds of the Tennessee state championship football game. This year, I can’t let that happen or I’ll never get a scholarship to play ball in college. I have a lot to prove, what, with an NFL star for a father – a father who doesn’t think I should be playing football. Why wouldn’t a famous quarterback want his kid to follow in the family footsteps?

I’m a girl.

But I’ve been playing quarterback since I was seven, so everyone’s gotten used to me by now. I’m a normal teenage girl. Well, as normal as I can be. I mean, obviously I think Justin Timberlake is a mega hunk, but I’m also over six feet tall and can launch a football fifty yards. Other ways I’m not normal? A girl who hangs with an entire football team must hook up all the time, right?


I’ve never had a boyfriend and most people think I’m gay. Hell, I’ve never even kissed a guy. But that might be about to change because the hottest guy, Ty Green, just moved here from Texas. Just the sight of him makes me want to simultaneously fly and barf. It turns out that he’s also a quarterback, and he’s a hell of a lot better than me. Last year, Ty led his team to win the Texas state championship.

And I’m scared. What if Coach gives my position away? What if Ty isn’t interested in me? The worst fear of all? What if Ty distracts me from my dreams of playing ball in college?

And why is my best friend, our star wide receiver, acting so strangely all of a sudden?

SCORE, my 67,000-word YA novel, explores when it’s okay to make compromises in life, and when to take risks. My protagonist writes poetry (it’s a hobby that she keeps hidden from her teammates), so some sections of the manuscript are written in verse. While Catherine Murdock’s DAIRY QUEEN series also focuses on a female football player, my novel is different in that my protagonist doesn’t just decide to play football one day. Football is the only life my protagonist has ever known. When this new guy moves to town, she begins to explore the femininity she has rejected her entire life. She also faces a serious struggle with unrequited love, though not in the way you might expect.

Since your agency represents Ally Carter, I thought you might be interested. I also believe you’ll enjoy the love story. I attended American University, where I studied creative writing and literature. As a tomboy who grew up playing football during recess and didn’t get her first kiss until the age of sixteen, embarrassingly, I am highly qualified to write this novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Though the title was later changed from Score to Catching Jordan, you can see this has great pacing, an unique heroine from what we've been seeing in YA these days, solid writing ability, and a true sense of who Jordan is. I want to read it NOW! And that's what a great query letter should do.

To get into the head of her now agent and what her impressions were, read this interview courtesy of YA Highway.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Young Adult

After far too long of a delay I finally had time to go see the movie "Young Adult." The tagline for which reads, "Everyone gets old. Not everyone grows up."

The movie stars Charlize Theron as Mavis Gary, a role she plays impeccably. Mavis, a young adult ghost writer has hit a creative roadblock while finishing the final book of a now floundering series. It is then that she receives an email from her ex-boyfriend and high school love Buddy Slade announcing the joy of his newborn baby.

Mavis obsesses over this fact until crafting a plan to return to Mercury, Minnesota to save him as he's so obviously "trapped" in his marriage, in their small hometown, and with this child. The driver of this compulsive reaction is Mavis' own insecurities and inadequacies of crafting her own life in Minneapolis and as a writer. We have no hint at any real fulfillment that Mavis may have in her life. She seems to generally enjoy her writing but not in the passionate way I've known so many of my writerly friends to be but, rather, because she knows high school. More specifically, Mavis knows the mind of the high school queen bee--a title she has never truly sough to evolve from. A title that means very little to many of her now former classmates, including Buddy Slade and his wife.

Mavis is equally as good at her own mind games as her characters are; so much so that she never truly looks inward at her motivations. She props herself up on a mightier than thou stance because she has "escaped" their town to the big city, but what life exactly does she have there in her sterile apartment and constant reruns of reality television?

Mavis returns to Mercury and, as is often the case when one returns home, she becomes the person she was when she left. In fact, she claims to have escaped Mercury but what's so sad about this dark comedy is that she's actually desperately longing to hold onto everything she had that's there: her popularity, her old boyfriend, her superiority. Everyone knows her in Mercury and she makes a point of dressing the part. When alone, however, she is drunken and wearing recycled sweatpants. It is only with new friend Matt does she show us the true Mavis, and what we see isn't pretty. It's a neurotic, beautiful woman who is so utterly alone and so completely lost that she's devoting all of her energy on confiscating someone else's life. Sure, it's a life she once believed she would have: one with Buddy, one perhaps with a baby.

Mavis couldn't care less about her family or, really, anyone but herself. Charlize nails the role of a self involved woman. It's all about how others can help her. Matt, a fellow classmate whom she rarely if at all remembers is her only confidant. It's part kindred spirits, part drunken antics, part excuse to be rebellious and juvenile once again. Matt is really only known for the cruelest event to ever happen in his life and, perhaps, in Mercury: He's the victim of a hate crime. On one end, Mavis' ability to look past this and not dwell on his handicap shows us a glimmer of hope. That hope, however, is never nourished. This is, after all, a dark comedy not a RomCom. Our heroine doesn't evolve as we would like. She uses Matt to feel better about herself.

That said, Matt uses Mavis for many of the same reasons. She's this ideal that he both valorized and now pleasantly gets along with. It's like finding out your idol is merely human with all the same flaws as everyone else; it's humbling and horrifying at the same time.

Mavis has her moments of humor, many of them in fact. She also has her moments of clarity if brief and fleeting. For example, she admits once aloud that she suspects she's an alcoholic but her proclamation isn't taken seriously.

The story comes to a climax at her ex-boyfriend's house. I won't give away all the details in case you go see the movie but I will say this: as conceded an individual as Mavis is, so completely without thought of her actions and consideration for others, I couldn't help but wonder how much of this is truly who she is and how much of it is fiction like what she writes--a front she so desperately clings to because her popular and beautiful ways once worked before and she's desperate to prove she still has it, desperate to believe the lies she tells herself.

Young Adult goes where so few movies and stories dare to go: a protagonist that we don't particularly like. That said, the storyline is unique and risk taking. Charlize so embodies this character that we believe she's true with every ounce of us even though we know it's a work of fiction. Diablo Cody, the screenwriter, does what she does so well. She takes a magnifying glass to life and people and peels back the layers of those onions. She unapologetically writes a story with all the mess and snare that life has to offer. I would certainly recommend this movie for anyone looking for a well acted interesting story about the queen bee that never grew up and the town that did.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Swagger Song

I just stumbled upon this song and I have to say, I LOVE it. Yesterday in DC it was rainy as all heck. Absolutely HORRIBLE out. I knew it wasn't going to be a very nice walk from the metro to my office when earlier that morning my waterdog of a Lab didn't even want to get wet!

But then I hit play on my iPod with this song:

and suddenly it wasn't quite so bad. Okay, that's a lie. It was still awful out, but this song did what all good swagger songs should. It invigorated me, got my head nodding and gave me that little extra pep in my step. Here's hoping it does the same for you!

What awesome songs have you come across lately?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Review of From Black Heels to Tractor Wheels

From Black Heels to Tractor Wheels by Ree Drummond (aka The Pioneer Woman) may not be the first book you'd expect to see featured on my blog but I'm a sucker for a good love story, anything with quirk, and of course good recipes! My friend Valerie and I met doing charity work for the Ronald Macdonald House some years ago and ever since have been swapping book recommendations back and forth and bonding over our shared of love of reading. Around the holidays she told me quite enthusiastically about From Black Heels to Tractor Wheels. My response? We need to share this with my blog followers! And so she's been kind enough to guest post her review here. I hope you enjoy it, and if you've read the book, what did you think?

Here's what it's about: "That's when I saw him—the cowboy—across the smoky room."

I'll never forget that night. It was like a romance novel, an old Broadway musical, and a John Wayne western rolled into one. Out for a quick drink with friends, I wasn't looking to meet anyone, let alone a tall, rugged cowboy who lived on a cattle ranch miles away from my cultured, corporate hometown. But before I knew it, I'd been struck with a lightning bolt . . . and I was completely powerless to stop it.

Read along as I recount the rip-roaring details of my unlikely romance with a chaps-wearing cowboy, from the early days of our courtship (complete with cows, horses, prairie fire, and passion) all the way through the first year of our marriage, which would be filled with more challenge and strife—and manure—than I ever could have expected.

Valerie's take:
The Pioneer Woman’s book, From Black Heels to Tractor Wheels is a memoir of sorts. The Pioneer Woman (PW), aka Ree Drummond, runs a super successful blog, thepioneerwoman.com. She posts great, simple recipes with step by step photos of what everything should look like. She also posts her musings on the world, photos of her family, homeschooling tips and more, all articulated with her wry, quick, easy flowing tone. PW wears many hats including wife, mother, chef, ranch hand, blogger, tv show personality, and unintentional comedian. She lives in rural Oklahoma on a ranch and married to a real-life cowboy. *SWOON*

Drummond was not always on a ranch, though. She lived in Los Angeles and was staying with her family in Oklahoma before her next move to Chicago when she met her now husband, “Marlboro Man” as she calls him. This book chronicles her relationship with Marlboro Man from first sight through their first year of marriage

I loved this book. It was a quick read, particularly because you always want to know what is going to happen next. It is peppered with recipes and hunger-inducing descriptions of steaks, linguine with clam sauce, and cinnamon rolls. It has beautiful graphics at the start of every chapter – I am such a sucker for that! I was just as in love with Marlboro Man as Ree, and I think you will feel the same if you read the book. Most of the book was originally published as serial posts on her blog, and was so successful that it was developed into a book. For that reason, it is sometimes a little disjointed, but content rules over transition in this book so it’s a forgivable offense.

Sarah’s bio says her love of cooking is second only to her love of eating, so I knew I had to include some of Ree's discussion on food. Here she is talking about cooking Linguine with Clam Sauce for a date. (And here's the to recipe to make it yourself at home!)

“In preparation for Date Five, I agonized for 24 hours over what I could cook for this strapping new man in my life—this man whose voice made my knees go weak and whose strong, sweet kisses finally showed me why God invented lips. I knew one thing: I had to pull out all the stops for this meal. Clearly, no mediocre cuisine would do. I reviewed all the dishes in my sophisticated, city-girl arsenal, most of which I’d picked up during my years in Los Angeles, and finally settled on the obvious winner: Linguine with Clam Sauce… Problem was, I had no earthly idea who I was dealing with. I had no idea that Marlboro Man, a fourth-generation cattle rancher, doesn’t eat fish, let alone minced up little clams, let alone minced up little clams bathed in wine and cream, let alone minced up little clams bathed in wine and cream that are mixed up with a bunch of long noodles that are way too complicated to negotiate. To say Linguine with Clam Sauce is near the very bottom of the list of dishes Marlboro Man would ever elect to touch with a ten foot poll would be an understatement of epic proportions.

But here’s the romantic part. He ate it. Well, he ate most of it, seemingly enjoying it at the time but, I realize now, refraining from throwing out too many effusive compliments, probably out of fear I’d cook it again sometime.”


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Cover Love

If you're a regular follower of the blog then you likely know I have two adorable and sometimes ridiculous dogs named Annie and Molly whom I adore. They couldn't be any more different from one another and yet they both fit in so well with our family.

So it's no surprise that I have a soft spot for books about dogs. Heck, one of my fav reads from last year was The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein and I've raved about Stay by Allie Larkin. (You can read my Q & A with her on the blog here in case you missed it.)

I just recently stumbled upon another dog book entitled You Had Me at Woof by Julie Klam that was just too cute to walk away from. Don't you agree?

Not only is the cover so adorable but the title kinda rocks too! It's a perfect marketing marriage and, for a sap like me, insurance that this lands smack into my TBR list.

Here's what it's about: Julie Klam was thirty, single, and working as a part-time clerk in an insurance company, wondering if she would ever meet the man she could spend the rest of her life with. And then it happened. She met the irresistible Otto, her first in a long line of Boston terriers, and fell instantly in love.

You Had Me at Woof is the often hilarious and always sincere story of how one woman discovered life's most important lessons from her relationships with her canine companions. From Otto, Julie realized what it might feel like to find "the one." She learned to share her home, her heart, and her limited resources with another, and she found an authentic friend in the process. But that was just the beginning. Over the years her brood has grown to one husband, one daughter, and several Boston terriers. And although she had much to learn about how to care for them-walks at 2 a.m., vet visits, behavior problems-she was surprised and delighted to find that her dogs had more wisdom to convey to her than she had ever dreamed. And caring for them has made her a better person-and completely and utterly opened her heart. Riotously funny and unexpectedly poignant, You Had Me at Woof recounts the hidden surprises, pleasures, and revelations of letting any mutt, beagle, terrier, or bulldog go charging through your world.

What books won you over at first sight?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Write What You Know

I've heard the saying, "Write what you know." It's because to write well the reader needs to feel a sense of truth to the story and its characters. Even in fiction, that connection, that sense that something is ringing true, must be there.

I got thinking a lot about this idea when I was home over the holidays. It's tough when a loved one isn't around and the holidays come to being. A few years ago my grandpa passed away and every year since I've made a point of reflecting on stories about him with my grandma. It keeps him fresh in our minds in the most wonderful of ways.

My grandpa grew up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn back before Williamsburg let along Brooklyn became a trendy place to live. At the time, he was the only Irish family in an all Italian neighborhood. He grew up surrounded by Italians, eating Italian food, and ultimately marrying an Italian woman. My grandma admitted to me this past Christmas that my grandpa tried to join an Italian-American club in his retirement years but without a lick of Italian blood in him, he was denied.

Don't get me wrong, there was definitely a part of my grandfather that was proud to be Irish but what he knew was Italian. He knew to win over my grandma's family he had to help make homemade wine, taste test fresh spaghetti sauce, and never protest when someone tells you to "eat more; you're too skinny." He got used to the family gatherings we have now where four people can presumably talk all at the time and at increasingly loud volumes and yet it's not an argument that's taking place, it's normal.

But how much of what we know needs to be in our writing and storytelling and how much of it can be imagination? How true can we be to an experience if we've read it or heard it but never lived it? What's the proper balance?

My grandpa went to Ireland a few years before he passed away. Part of him had to experience something he was connected to but knew little about. No one in his family was alive to tell him about Ireland; there were no traditions passed on; and certainly no family recipes. He didn't grow up among other Irish-American immigrant families or go to school with them. It was a factoid upon which he had no other observations or truths to bestow.

When he came back from Ireland, there was an excitement and a level of appreciation that I had never seen. It didn't change his history, however. He still preferred Italian food. He still loved his Italian wife. He still identified with all the things he had before. But, now, he could tell stories about Ireland too...and something about that was beautiful. Something about that made his own personal story seem more complete.

Sure we can't experience everything our characters do in fiction but we need to try our best to tap into their mindset, to do our research, or do as my grandfather had done and go out and explore. If we do then we'll not only have richer material from which to draw from, we'll become better storytellers too.