Thursday, March 31, 2016

Packing for Camp NaNoWriMo

Hey guys! On Friday, I'm heading to camp! Camp NaNoWriMo that is. I haven't done a WriMo in years because I haven't had a new project coincide with the event. But this year, I do. So now I'm rushing to pack for camp.

For those unfamiliar with the global event, November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, when writers pledge to write 50K words in a month. It's a community event. Writers often write in solitude, but during November, we are all in this together either online or at regional write-ins. Camp NaNoWriMo is different. This happens in April and July and is a kitchy, low-key event where writers set their own goals for the month. Maybe all you need to write is 40K words or 35K. It's fine and all part of the fun. You join a cabin and chat with fellow bunk mates. 

I've set a 50K-word goal. Years ago, 50K words seemed insane and I've never won NaNo. Not once. But as I flex my writing muscle more and more, the word count seems less daunting. With a solid outline, an hour or two to myself, and a total disconnect from the internet, 1,667 words a day seems like a very doable task.

Here's the kicker, though. I'm not done with my outline and I have two days, including today, to finish it. I'm writing Book 2 in my mystery trilogy, so an outline for two POVs is a must. If I don't get it done, I won't be a successful camper. And my parents paid a lot of money for me to attend this camp, so I better make good use of my time. JK. Camp is free!

Are you participating in Camp NaNoWriMo this year? If so, best of luck! Meanwhile, I've got to run and pack an outline.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Is it a novel idea, or just a gnat?

“So, do you have any more ideas for books?”

I get this question a lot from readers, friends, and family. For me, the issue isn’t getting ideas for my next book (and the next several after that). It’s filtering through the ideas and separating them into two piles:
  1. true potential
  2. annoying gnat

There could be more categories, but I’ve chosen to keep it simple. I should also point out that category (1) above does not mean that I will actually write a novel out of that idea. It just means I see potential worth pursuing. Why the term gnat you might ask? Well, put simply, gnats are annoying and always present unless you do something to make them go away. Some ideas are like that—they pop up and try to buzz around in your mind even though they dont have the potential to be anything more than a distraction from your ideas that have actual potential.

I’m not here to tell you how to sort your ideas. It’s my belief that this is one of those areas where the best process is different for each person. I’m just here to tell you that you should have a process and let you know a bit about mine (in case it inspires your own process).

The engineer in me would love to tell you that I use a complicated process with graphs and charts. Maybe a little C&E and FMEA action. While I do enjoy mixing my technical and creative talents (hence the title Literary Engineer), there are times when I need to rely on instinct that is lightly seasoned with sound processes.

Since my writing career started unexpectedly, I like using a similar serendipitous approach to finding my novel topics. It makes me feel as though I’m moving in the direction I’m supposed to, rather than me trying to force something that isn’t meant to be. In fact, two out of my three published books started as a dream (my other book is a sequel, so indirectly it also came from a dream) as well as my current WIP. I still get ideas from my dreams, but they also strike me at other random moments. For example, I received one idea after a trio of songs played randomly from my playlist. My brain thought, “That might make a good story.”

But how do I know if these random ideas are worth pursuing?

1) Back Burner
My first step is to actually try and put the idea out of my mind. If it goes away, then it was just a gnat. If it stays with me, then I know it might have some potential.

2) Marinate
If the idea sticks, then I let it stay in my mind, but I don’t obsess over it. I don’t even write it down in my log of ideas yet.

3) Simmer
If the idea has true potential, I find that it won’t be satisfied sitting over low heat on the back burner. Suddenly, ‘signs’ start popping up and work the idea up to a simmer.

4) Boil
If I’m really lucky, an idea will work itself into a rolling boil. When that happens, I find that I can’t stop thinking about the idea. Usually, this is when lucid dreaming occurs (and usually when I least expect it).

I might push an idea into the gnat bucket at any point during the process. Even if an idea tries to build to a simmer, if it’s not something I’m interested in writing I’ll continue to try and block it out. I realize I’m at risk of losing out on a possible bestseller, but I have to enjoy my writing process and be at least somewhat interested in the topics I write about.

I have to admit that my favorite part of the entire process is when lucid dreaming occurs, whether for a new idea or to enhance a current idea. For me, it can happen at any time. I felt a bit awkward in my workout class a couple weeks ago when lucid dreaming took over. We were doing a leg exercise and when I came back into focus the rest of the class had moved on to the left leg while I was still pumping away on the right. Oops.

I’ll walk you through an example. I won’t tell you the specific idea because, well, I don’t like to share. OK, fine—really it’s because I don’t have it all flushed out, and if I start talking about it in detail I might jinx the magic.

Recently my daughter asked me to watch a movie with her. I asked her which movie she wanted to watch, and I was surprised by her answer. I was expecting her to name one of her favorites that I’ve had to sit through about 20 times already, but she mentioned a movie that I’d forgotten she had on the DVR. I had never watched it with her, so I settled in for the show. Not 30 seconds in, my mind said to me, “I wonder if I could do a modern day telling of this story.” Huh. Where’d that come from? I’ve never considered writing a novel that would be a modern-day version of an old tale, so the thought took me by surprise.

Cue the weed-out process.

I watched the movie, forcing myself to not rewrite it in my mind along the way. It stayed with me over the next few days, so I placed it on the back burner. Then the signs started. First, the story was brought up in a show I watch regularly. It wasn’t entirely out of context for the type of show it was, so I tried to push it toward coincidence (albeit with impeccable timing). Then a few days later it came up in a game that I’m testing for my daughter (i.e. making sure it’s appropriate for her age). The game includes some dialogue between characters for quests and in one of these dialogue sessions a part of the story was mentioned. Now that was unexpected—I mean, out of all the myths and tales that exist, what are the chances that this random game would include the story that has been haunting me? Anyone who knows me well will understand that I had to log it as a sign.

I’ve now documented it in my list of ideas and started researching. I’m looking into the original tale and many of the retellings. Lucid dreaming is still happening, working to fill in a plot that would work for a modern-day version.

I realize that my process might seem hokey to some, but it works for me. It’s how I feel connected to my stories. It’s also how I determine which story to write next—I just pick the one that’s about to boil over!

How about you? What does your idea sorting process look like?

~ Carrie

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Deadline or Lifeline?

A Post By Jonathan  

Credit to TED Talk website

I'm unfortunately going to have to make this post kind of short because I've got a sick one-year-old at home and there's no telling when he might jump up and scream like a banshee for "dada" to run down the hall and tend to his every need...

Who am I kidding? Yes, I have a sick kid. But he wasn't sick on Monday or Tuesday, when I really should've been working on my blog post (due Thursday). The truth is, I kind of procrastinated on this one. So, that's what I'm going to post about today. Procrastination.

I know, I know, we writers have heard it all before -- or we'll wait and hear it all tomorrow-- but I had an epiphany that I just had to share. As an unagented, unpublished, wannabe author, it really hit home for me and I hope it will do the same for you. Let's stick with that thought for a second....

What do agented/published authors have that we, the undiscovered, don't? Besides tons of money from book sales (or at least some money from book sales), their names written in time for all eternity, and all the other ethereal jazz that comes with being a person who wrote an actual book and had the courage to send it out into the world?

Deadlines, people. Deadlines. Or are they actually Lifelines?

If you troll some of the writing blogs/Facebook groups I do, you may have seen a link recently to a TED Talk by Tim Urban, titled "Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator." The whole thing is really good, so I recommend you watch it from beginning to end. But the part that really stuck out to me was when the presenter highlighted the two different kinds of procrastination. The traditional, more talked about kind is when you wait right up until the deadline to finish your project, like I did with this post... But the worse kind of procrastination, the kind I think I've been struggling with for sometime, comes when you have no deadline at all.

I'm famous for revealing that I've been working on the same novel for over a decade. Now I know that it's not because I'm lazy. My panic monster just hasn't had a reason to wake up in a while... (watch the TED Talk and you'll know see what I'm talking about).  Basically, without a deadline, I've had no true incentive to push my novel to the point of publication. And yet, when I was in college and had to turn work in for a grade, I would pull multiple all-nighters to finish a paper or project. Would I feel like kind of a loser that I waited so long to finish the assignment? Yes (though at least I finished it...). But it was nothing compared to how I feel --and how I think many other deadlineless writers feel-- pecking away at a project, day after day, year after year, with nothing to show for it but a bunch of words on paper that no one will ever read.

So how do we get over that first hump? Can we procrastinators really impose timelines on ourselves? I wish I could give you a resounding yes, but it's up to the individual (for the record, I'm really going to try!). I guess that's why NaNoWriMo is so popular. It gives us all a deadline. I do know this. If we don't find ways to set hard targets for ourselves we will continue to feel unaccomplished, and our dreams of publication will continue to drift further and further away.

I did have one idea. I thought about going into the business of selling deadlines. You give me $100.00 and I give you a deadline in return. If you don't meet your deadline, I keep your $100.00. If you do meet your deadline, you get your $100.00 back with a little interest. If everyone meets their deadlines, I'm in the red. If not, I'm in the black. What do you think? Any takers out there? If so, I'll just need your credit card number...

Anyway, thanks for stopping by! I think I hear a baby crying...


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

It's my book birthday!

I just wanted to announce to the world, or err ATB readers, that the first in my new mystery series, Dead and Breakfast, has been published today! Woot!! *throws confetti*

This is a Kindle Scout winner and it's available exclusively on Amazon for a mere $3.49. You can't go to a fancy coffee shop for less.

If you love a page-turning mystery with murder, ghosts, and the oppressive humidity of the Florida Keys, then you'll definitely want to pick this up.

Help spread the word -- click to tweet below.

Tweet: Happy Book Birthday, @KGGiarratano! Dead and Breakfast -- murder and mayhem in a haunted hotel. Get it!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Breaking up is hard to do

Today's topic -- breaking up with your agent. 

Yep, it really does happen and sometimes it's the best solution. That doesn't make it any easier, but it can be less painful. Really.

The short version -- be professional, thorough and remember how small the publishing industry really is.

The long version:

  • Take emotion out of the decision -- Once you decide to go down the path of breaking up with your agent, it can't be undone. Whatever your reasons, make sure business and your career are the deciding factors, not emotion. If you're angry or frustrated, wait 24 hours before initiating the break-up conversation. At the snail's pace with which publishing moves, you won't lose anything to wait a day.
  • Make sure you've done everything you could -- If there's a particular thing driving your decision -- your agent hated your last MS, your agent doesn't keep you updated as often as you'd like, your agent hasn't sold your book -- an honest conversation can go a long way to keep the relationship intact. It won't be an easy conversation, but again, it's a professional relationship. Take emotion out of the conversation. I have author friends who have encountered all three scenarios with their agents and managed to successfully resolve them.
  • Re-read your contract -- Know the terms of your agreement before you end it so you're not caught unaware.
  • Notify your agent -- This one seems like a no-brainer, but once you've decided the situation is beyond repair, send the email, make the phone call, do what you need to do to make sure there is a record of the dissolution of the relationship. Email is the best way to ensure you have a written record and if you're uncomfortable making the call, it kills two birds with one stone.
  • Get relevant info from your agent -- If you plan to query again, this could be vital. And even if you don't, it's better to have your sales figures and submission lists rather than chasing down your former agent months from now.
  • If you have outstanding unsold manuscripts with your agent -- Ask for a Cessation of Representation letter, specifying that your (now former) agent will have no legal right to this work should you sell it in the future. This letter should also specify a timeframe within which you are free to seek representation (refer back to your agent contract -- it will be spelled out there).
  • If you have books under contract with your agent -- Establish roles of communication related to your current deals. You and your agent will continue to be in touch regarding royalties, foreign rights and, even, quarterly statements for the lifetime of your book.
  • Keep it classy -- Refer to the point immediately above. If you have current contracts, you will be in touch with your agent for the lifetime of your book. Don't take to social media and badmouth him/her. Plus, the publishing industry is small and you don't want the reputation as "that guy".
  • If you decide to query again -- It's up to you to disclose your previous agent relationship at the query stage. Many people say mentioning you've had agent representation in the past gives you a leg up in the slush pile, but it depends on your agent experience and your break up.
If you're reading this with a break-up in mind, be forewarned that even if YOU instigate the break-up and even if it's one thousand per cent justified, it's still a break up and may leave you reeling and emotional. Allow yourself time to recover. Have that glass of wine/pint of ice cream/bag of chips. And stay off social media.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Graphic novels are...taboo?

I seem to have several taboo reader habits: reading YA as an adult, audiobooks, and--the subject of today's post--graphic novels. I'm relatively new to graphic novels, as I've only been enjoying them since December 2014. But just as with audiobooks, I'm often taken aback by the negative reaction I receive when I mention them. In fact, an online discussion I was involved in regarding graphic novels yielded a comment that claimed they were the video games of the book world (note: I also fancy myself a gamer), a waste of time and killer of brain cells.

The thing with graphic novels is that they have pictures. And you know what? I actually had to teach myself how to read these correctly because of the pictures. That's right. I had to retrain my mind because I was reading all the words, but missing out on everything else. Those pictures are there for a reason. You need to observe the images to get the whole picture (no pun intended). Facial expressions, someone creeping up on someone else, objects in the scene, etc. are all on the page without being in the wording. I found that without looking at the pictures for full context, those words didn't make sense most of the time.

Graphic novels, just like audiobooks, require a different set of reading skills. Observation, for one, and interpretation of what you've observed that isn't written down. It's like reading body language and facial cues, not just the inflection of the spoken word. Not everyone is great at reading others, though, so graphic novels aren't for everyone.

In case you're interested in expanding your taboo reader habits, here are some graphic novels that I can recommend:

  • Revenge: the Origin of Emily Thorne (my first graphic novel)
  • Sandman by Neil Gaiman
  • Fables (awesome for fans of fairy tales) 
  • Amulet (MG graphic novel series that my daughter loved and insisted I read) 

The Baron also suggested:

  • Preacher (he cautions that it is not family friendly)
  • Locke & Key 
  • Saga

Other popular ones you may be interested in:

  • Y the Last Man
  • The Walking Dead
  • V for Vendetta
  • Watchmen
  • Scott Pilgrim

So, do you read graphic novels? What is your favorite? And if you haven't read any, why not?

Thursday, March 10, 2016


Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

Hey, everybody!  It's time for another installment of "Eek! Put Some Pages Up For Criteek!"  In case you don't remember the deal, you can check out Jonathan's original post including the rules.  But long story short, you hereby have my permission to shred/praise/toss/tout/completely rewrite the first two pages of my horror Work in Progress, contracted with Sinister Grin Press, THE HEMATOPHAGES. Happy reading. And be gentle!


            “What is your greatest weakness as a researcher?”
            It’s a stupid question.  One that’s been asked at job interviews since time immemorial.  Briefly, the image of a protosapient Neanderthal in a pantsuit made from leopardhide comes into my mind, asking an applicant what her greatest weakness as a mammoth hunter is.
            I take a deep breath.  The air is oxygen-rich.  Richer than we keep it on Ryloft.  That’s good.  That’s to my advantage.  My pupils are dilated.  My senses are sharp.
            I refocus on the question.  The creaky old cowshit question, old as the hills.
            The purpose of this question is to turn it around and reveal a secret strength.
            “Truth be told, I’ve found that there are times when I become too obsessive about my work.  Burning the midnight oil.  Sometimes when I get too wrapped up in a research project I can end up neglecting my personal relationships, leisure time, and, yes, even hygiene.  I don’t smell too bad right now, do I?”
            Everyone chuckles.  Work humor.  The joke wouldn’t even elicit a smile with real human beings.  At the office, it brings the house down.  Something inoffensive enough to laugh at.
            The next woman on the panel clears a rather unpleasant clog of mucus from her throat to refocus our attention.  I realize I’ve forgotten every single one of their names.  I think this one is the Equal Opportunity Representative.
            “Tell me, Dr. Ambroziak, as a counterpoint, what is your greatest strength?”
            I’m not a doctor.  I should probably have corrected her.  But I didn’t. 
            Was that part of the test?  Should I have corrected her?  Were they probing for assertiveness?
            No, by the five sets of dull glassy eyes staring back at me I can tell they’re not pulling any flashy corporation nouveau tricks out of their collective sleeve on me.  They (or just the EO rep) had probably just misread my resumΓ©.
            The purpose of this question is to show restraint, that you’re humble and a team player, and not a braggart.
            “My greatest strength?” I repeat, trailing off as though I’d never given the matter any thought.  I re-cross my legs so that they are reversed.  The panel is staring at me, sympathizing.  Make them wait much longer and I’ll seem like a dummy.  But wait just long enough to feel like I’m really digging deep.  I exhale painfully.
            “Well, if I had to pick something I suppose my greatest strength is that I’m wise enough to know my own limitations.  I know when to ask for help, whether from my supervisor or my peers.  I’m not the sort of person who’s going to get in over her head and then keep pretending like I can swim my way out of it.  Of course, you all know the story about the mice and the bucket.”
            The panelists exchanged glances with each other.
            “The mice and the…bucket?” the EO rep asked tentatively.
            “You’ve not heard?  I thought everyone that old chestnut.”  I looked from face to face.  Blank.  “Well, you see, one day two mice fell into a bucket of milk.  The first one couldn’t scrabble up over the side, so she gave up and drowned.  But the second one kept paddling and paddling and eventually she churned the milk into butter and then just walked right out.  The point is never give up and never quit trying.”
            The low murmur that followed was like a symphony of mild acclaim.  So far I’d been asked four questions, and so far I’d knocked all four out of the park.  There were five panelists and if I knew anything about interviews that meant the last one was coming.
            “Are you ready for the final question?”
            I nod.
            “What is the meaning of life?”
            I’m not taken aback.  Thank God they haven’t strayed from the script in the slightest.  This is just Corporate Interviewing 101.  Not a single one of them has put a second of thought into their questions, and every single one has an objectively “correct” answer.  I’d be surprised if they hadn’t come from a pre-made list.
            The “spoiler” question.  The purpose of this or any other spoiler is to judge whether I’m easily confused or thrown off my game.  The answer doesn’t matter.  Just answer confidently, as though they had asked you about your education or qualifications.
            Without missing a beat, I say, “The meaning of life is to persist.”

Monday, March 7, 2016

This author's life, as told through pictures

A post by Mary Fan
Instagram is a fun, fascinating place, and I totally suck at it. But I like pretty pictures as much as the next gal, and I mostly post glamor shots of books (which I spend far too much time posing when I'm bored) or random pictures of things that catch my fancy. Much like Facebook photos, except with more hashtags and artsy filters.

So when YA blogger extraordinaire Dahlia Adler (of the Daily Dahlia), tweeted that an Instagram challenge that she'd come up with just for fun, I couldn't resist. The challenge was to post a picture a day for the month of February, according to the calendar below (with #AuthorLifeMonth), and it soon became huge on Book Twitter. And it was a cool glimpse into the lives of authors from all over. What I learned: authors are a funky bunch... and loads of fun!

And Day 29, that extra Leap Day, was a freebie, which meant "Post whatever you want." I had loads of fun snapping and sharing these pics! So now, without further ado... here are my #AuthorLifeMonth pics :-)

A photo posted by Mary Fan (@astralcolt) on

#authorlifemonth Day 9: Challenge overcome I get terrible stage fright. TERRIBLE. As in... The sees black spots, face goes cold, actually-think-I'm-gonna-pass-out kind. I'm also terrified of letting other people read Words I Wrote. The first time I posted a chapter of Artificial Absolutes in an online writers forum and someone commented, I had an anxiety attack (even though the comment was good!). Top that off with the fact that I hate any form of public speaking, and the idea that someday, I'd get up in front of a bunch of strangers and read from that Thing I Wrote seemed laughably bizarre a few years ago. But I did it!!! I'm still terrified of public speaking, but I do it anyway... I find that if I fake enough confidence, sooner or later, I start to believe it 😊 #writersofinstagram #writersofig
A photo posted by Mary Fan (@astralcolt) on

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