Thursday, January 12, 2017

Positive Critique is Positive

I live in a tiny little village in Northwest England where I always see someone I know while walking the dog, I know the local butcher and the postman by name, and I know the names of all of the kids on our street. The one thing I didn't know -- any writers who I could interact with in real life. 

Until very recently, ALL of my writer friends were virtual. Which is great, because yay writer friends. But not so great because I couldn't remember the last time I actually spoke to someone in person about writing. Even as a self-professed semi-introvert, I felt like something was missing from my writing life. So, I did the only thing I could think of -- I posted a "hey, is anyone interested" post on the community Facebook page.

And, lo and behold, people WERE interested! People I didn't know, but who agreed to meet me in the local pub on a random Monday night. We met for the first time in early December to get acquainted and discuss expectations for the group. I'll admit, it was daunting, but also really cool to meet fellow writers living down the street. A couple of people are poets. One woman is starting her first novel, and another is producing a book based on her crafts business. We agreed that for all of us critique was our primary motivation for joining a group, so the agenda for next time would focus on feedback.

Fast forward to yesterday and the first "real" meeting. Everyone brought something to share and we all exchanged work and took turns providing feedback. As is the case with many new groups, almost all of the feedback given was positive -- which doesn't mean it's not useful!

We, as writers, are almost pre-programmed to believe that the only feedback worth having is that which criticizes because it helps us to improve. For me, in the drafting stages, it's nice to hear when something's working, but it's improvement that I'm really after. So, when those assembled around the table yesterday looked at the first three pages of my latest book and said good things, I'll admit that at first I was a tiny bit disappointed.

Then I thought about it some more. Almost everyone laughed or smiled while reading my opening pages. Result! I'm writing a rom com so I know I'm hitting the right note. I asked specifically about language because my main character is a Brit, and they assured me she was spot on. Another result! And everyone said they were interested in my love interest and wanted to know more about him and where the story was going. Three for three -- and all of that after reading only three pages.

It's no wonder I came home and cranked out another 3K words on that story. The writing group feedback -- and the encouragement gained from such positive feedback -- was inspiring. Will I take it to the bank and decide I don't need editing and/or the rip-it-to-shreds feedback my critique partner so lovingly provides? Absolutely not. But will I use it to give myself a push to make my (self-imposed) deadline for getting this draft done? You bet I will! In fact, if you'll excuse me, I have another 3K to write today.

Monday, January 9, 2017

How do you deal with Writer ADD?

A post by Mary Fan
I have a major case of Writer ADD… that is, I can’t decide what to work on next. While I’ve always
had multiple ideas kicking around my head at once, I can usually hunker down long enough to finish one first draft before starting another.

This time’s different. I’m finally getting back into my writing groove, but it’s as if all the books I didn’t write during my slump are demanding to be written at once. Originally, I was going to work on the experimental magical realism book I’ve been plotting forever (a few pages of which I shared on this blog for a CRITEEK!). Maybe it’s just because this one’s hard to write, or maybe it’s because I’m not confident I can make it what I want it to be, or maybe it’s because I’m fairly sure it’ll never be marketable, and the mercenary side of myself is asking why I’m bothering… whatever the case, a clawing, pestering part of me keeps demanding that I work on something different, even though I’m already several chapters into the first draft.

I finally caved and decided to give a second WIP a go, just to see what would happen. Since I kept hitting walls on WIP 1, I figured starting WIP 2 in the meanwhile couldn’t hurt. WIP 2 is much more my usual speed… YA sci-fi, though a bit different from what I usually write in that it’s less adventure-y and more contemplative… more the Interstellar kind of space story than the Star Wars kind. Since the tone’s so different from what I’m accustomed to writing, I’m once again hitting a wall.

I’ve never been afraid to switch up styles before—in fact, I like never writing the same book twice—but I feel like I’ve wandered further outside my comfort zone than usual with both these WIPs. That’s probably a good thing in the long run… after all, trying new things is the only way we grow. But I’m not entirely sure if now’s the right time… after all, it took me months to feel like writing again (like, want-to-sit-down-everyday-and-eagerly-bang-out-words writing, rather than beat-words-out-of-myself writing). Maybe now’s not the best time to be challenging myself… part of me just wants to write a just-for-fun book. Something easy that practically writes itself.

Which brings me to potential WIP 3... an idea that hit me completely out-of-the-blue. I don’t have any concrete outlines or notes for it yet… all I know is that it’ll be about a warrior girl in a cursed kingdom who gets to fight monsters of some kind and enjoy a fluffy romance that ultimately leads to happily-ever-afters all around. In other words, I want to write a Disney movie of a book.

Great. That’s three potential WIPs right there. I worry that I’ll start #3, only to get five chapters in and decide I want to work on something else entirely. I’m hoping that brainstorming it will help get it out of my system for now, so I can at least finish something. But who knows…  I’m seriously considering rolling a die to pick a WIP, and then sticking it out until the bitter end, however it turns out.

Does Writer ADD ever get to you? And if so, how do you deal with it?

Thursday, January 5, 2017

6 Questions with YA author Melinda Michaels

Melinda Michaels, my quasi-neighbor (we literally live in the same neck of the woods) and writing buddy, is the author of Golden, a YA retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. She's currently working on Roses, the second standalone in the same universe. You like ABC's Once Upon A Time? You're going to love these books.

I thought it would be fun to do a quick Q&A with my girl. Six pithy questions.

Q: If your books were a food, what would they be?

A: Clementines. Not quite a meal, but you can binge on them and they aren't bad 😉

Q: What celebrity would you want to play your main protagonist(s)?

A: I always thought a young Carey Mulligan would fit well for Hanna, but there are so many up-and-coming actors that I think it would be nice to see an unknown in most of the roles. I like new faces.

Q: Biggest challenge to your writing....and go!

A: Fighting with myself about if my stories are good enough, thought provoking, interesting and just plain entertaining. I have a severe lack of confidence mixed with an extreme amount of arrogance, which leaves me stressed about my writing.

Q: A favorite line from your book(s).

A: One of my favorite lines is from Carly, Hanna's best friend in GOLDEN. 
"Who lives their life like that? Not living today because of what's going to happen tomorrow? It hasn't even happened yet."

Q: What are you currently reading?

A: I just finished re-reading A Christmas Carol as I read it every year.

Q: What TV show are you currently binge-watching?

A: The Crown on Netflix and Sherlock Holmes on PBS.

Thanks for stopping by, Melinda! See you for our weekly writing session.
*For the record, I too am enjoying The Crown.

Connect with Melinda on Twitter! And check out her books. She's good people.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Google Search: What if they...

A new year is upon us and here at Across the Board that means trying out new things. Among the changes you’ll see this year is a new reoccurring segment called ‘Google Search’. Have you ever started a search in Google and noticed the predictive suggestions provided? If so, then you’ve probably also noticed that a few of them can be a bit humorous. We Borders decided to have a bit of fun with these Google predictive suggestions this year in our new series.

Here are the rules:
  1. Start a random search string in Google (or could be from one of your previous searches)
  2. Choose one of Google’s suggestions
  3. Write up a post (or some flash fiction if you’re feeling really creative)

That’s it. It’s all about creativity and fun.

Since I suggested this crazy game, I’m the lucky one who gets to go first. For my random search, I started with, “What if they” and here’s what Google gave me:

I had to go with “What if they mated” for my topic today. My spin on this is what if they mated one book with another? What would we get? I read You by Caroline Kepnes earlier in 2016 and enjoyed it. I had a lot of fun with my Back Jacket Hack-Job of You, so I decided to use it for my inspiration here as well.

What if they mated You by Caroline Kepnes with....

1) The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

This mating may or may not work out well for Joe. While I believe Joe’s obsessive tendencies would lead him quickly to full-on OCD, it would likely ruin his game. Original Joe would sometimes wait hours or days or even weeks to get the results he desired. OCD Joe might not be able to hold out that long. He would feel compelled to stalk Beck at the exact same time every day, in exactly the same way. It would make it much harder for him to blend into the background. Also, he’d probably get caught sneaking into Beck’s apartment because he’d have to organize all her personal items before leaving. Of course, with this mating the title would need to change. The Beck Project seems obvious.

2) 11/22/63 by Stephen King

I believe Joe would love this mating. He’d be able to keep going back in time and take his stalking to a whole new level. I imagine Joe would go back 50 years in time, select his prey, stalk her for a few years, go back to the present and stalk her again! Yeah, this takes creepy to a whole new level.

3) 50 Shades of Grey by E L James

Speaking of the number 50, Joe would have fun in a mating with 50 Shades of Grey. He would still be able to monitor emails and phone calls, control his woman, and he could even put her in a cage. But the bonus is that she’d know about it—no hiding! Since Joe is so sinister, I assume the title of the mated version would need to be changed to something like 50 Shades Darker—oh, wait . . .

4) Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

The mystery for me in this mating is if Joe would be Harry or Voldemort. Joe thinks he’s a good guy, so that’d make him Harry. But he doesn’t exactly like to be the center of attention. He wants to hide in the shadows, and that’s where Voldemort likes to slither. While I have questions with this mating, I am absolutely certain Joe would love to be able to wave a wand to make a little magic happen. Maybe even conjure up a potion such as Amortentia to ensure his desired results. And that invisibility cloak—priceless!

5) The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Ah, in this mating Joe will finally have an arena for his obsession. He’d be able to prey on his victim beloved 24/7. And as an added bonus, he’d be adored by millions of viewers for his superior stalking abilities. He’d be rewarded for eliminating his competitors. Although, in this mated version Joe wouldn’t have to kill his beloved at the end of the game. She’d be forced to serve him for the rest of his life—or at least until he found a new target for his adoration.

Well, there you have it. My twisted version of ‘What if they mated’. What books would you mate?

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you enjoyed this first installment of our new Google Search segment!

~ Carrie

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Let's resolve that 2017 is a much better year

Oooh, boy. 2016 kinda sucked from a global perspective, didn't it?
Brexit. Aleppo. Bowie. Trump. And that's just a millimeter off the top of the iceberg, am I right?

Anyway, we at Across the Board decided to share our 2017 writer resolutions -- what we vow to do smart this upcoming year. In no particular order...

Brenda: Fewer distractions. More words.

Stephen: Finally write that haunted house novel.  Or voodoo zombie.  Whichever one is going to turn out to be the hot new craze I'm about to start.

Jonathan: Finish my book and query it to at least three agents by April 1st.

Mary: Just keep writing, just keep writing, just keep writing, writing, writing, writing... What do we do? We write, write, write!

Carrie: Focus on writing more frequently.

Kimberly: Query my YA novel. Get off the freaking internet. Seriously, Mama's got to disconnect.

Happy New Year, everyone! May it be a good year for you.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Hooray! I'm a full-time writer, for now...

A Post By Jonathan

Holy crap! I'm a full-time writer and I'm really freaking out...

Okay, a little backstory: Some big changes are happening in the Schramm household. My wife has accepted an exciting new job at a great university in Southwest Virginia, which means the whole family is packing up and leaving Indiana for good. While my wife starts her new job, I am going to be taking on the mantle of stay-at-home dad and raising our two-year-old son. That should keep me pretty darn busy, but if I play my cards right I should have time to do quite a bit of writing along the way. I'm still going to be looking for work at said great university, but until then I'm going to tell people I'm a full-time writer (and maybe, just maybe, it'll actually happen!).

It helps that I have a completed first draft (of a book that I worked on for like ten years...) at home. And since I'm leaving my very steady job with a pretty decent salary and great benefits to follow my wife's career, I think I may suddenly have the time (and, more importantly, the motivation) to finish the edits and send it out into the world. My wife and I thought about doing the long distance thing for a millisecond, but we tried that early on in our careers and now that we have a kid there's no way that's happening. I would probably lose my sanity within the first week.

Anyway, it's an exciting yet frightening time for me. But I'm so glad I have my writing to fall back on in desperate times such as these. It's a skill I can hopefully use to make a tiny bit o' money, or at least fill the void of productivity that a gainfully employed person who finds themselves suddenly unemployed will probably encounter from time to time.

So wish me luck folks... Hopefully my next post will be all about how I've finally finished editing my manuscript and am ready to query it out!

Monday, December 26, 2016


Happy Boxing Day, everyone! Have you got your gloves on for boxing today? No? That's not what you're supposed to do? That could explain some of the weird looks I was getting today...

Kidding, kidding. I've lived in the UK for 9 years and have got my definition of Boxing Day properly sorted. In our family it usually means a long walk with the dogs, turkey curry and drinks starting at dinner instead of at lunch. For some it's a shopping day, although not all of the shops are open because it's officially a bank holiday. For many, it's a continuation of Christmas Day with family or friends and an attempt to make a dent in the turkey leftovers. (Turkey is the traditional Christmas dish and is generally unavailable the rest of the year. In January, this seems like a good thing, but I start to miss it eventually.)

Wikipedia says Boxing Day dates back to the 17th century and began as the day when servants or "errand boys" (Were there also "errand girls"? Wikipedia is woefully incomplete in this regard.) could expect to receive a Christmas box filled with food, gifts and even cash to share with their families as thanks for services throughout the year. In Ireland, Boxing Day is also St Stephen's Day. Saint Stephen was the patron saint of horses and, before fox hunting was outlawed in the UK, Boxing Day fox hunts were held throughout the country. Boxing Day is still a popular day for fox hunting, as certain types of hunts fall within the parameters of the law. (I've seen a few hunts around where we live, but they're "drag hunts", which means the dogs and riders are chasing a scent, but there's no actual fox being hunted. It's both an impressive and imposing thing to see.)

Anyway, fox hunting or bargain hunting...meh. My favorite explanation of Boxing Day is this one from The Guardian: The origins of Boxing Day lie not in sport, but in small acts of kindness.

Christmas, for those who celebrate it, is often expressive and loud full of grand gestures and a quest for perfection (the perfect gift, gravy, turkey, outfit, etc, etc.). It's lovely...but exhausting. No one's up for waking up to do it again the day after, but what if we all went out of our way to do one small kind thing? Pick up a piece of trash from the path. Wave at a passer by. Let the person behind us in the check out line at the grocery store go first. Buy a suspended coffee for a stranger. Something as simple as tweeting someone a complement (or letting an author know you loved his/her book!) takes seconds, but its impact lasts a lot longer. 

In a way, it's the last thing you want to do after a full-on Christmas Day when giving is the order of the day, but maybe small acts of kindness are a way to keep the spirit of the season alive a little longer? It's pretty late in the day here in the UK (And cold. And rainy. And I'm already in my pajamas.), so I'm going to head on over to social media to spread some #BoxingDayCheer. Won't you come on over and join me?

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