Monday, December 31, 2018

Writer’s Resolutions {with Loopholes}

It’s New Year’s Eve and you all know what that means — it’s time for our last minute New Year’s Resolutions! My personal opinion on New Year’s Resolutions is that they’re not really designed to help you reach your goals. Mostly they are put in place to make you feel bad about what you didn’t do this past year and give you things to beat yourself up for not doing next year. As a result, I don’t set New Year’s Resolutions. I know not everyone is like me {gasp} and will insist on setting at least one resolution. Being the helpful gal that I am, I decided to give you four popular New Year’s Resolutions for writers AND corresponding loopholes to help ensure you don’t fall into that trap of just making yourself feel bad for not accomplishing your resolutions for yet another year.

Resolution 1: I will write every day!
Loophole 1: Every day, open your WIP and write one word. If you know you can’t open it tomorrow, work ahead and write two words. That’s it. You’re done. 

Resolution 2: I will finish my current WIP!
Loophole 2: Most writers refer to their current manuscript as their current WIP. However, WIP is actually a pretty generic term. If you’re struggling to finish that mammoth 100k novel, quickly start a 500 word essay. BOOM — you now have a new WIP that’s feasible. 

Resolution 3: I will win NaNoWrMo this year! 
Loophole 3: This one was a bit tougher to get a loophole in place, but I worked it out. Just tell people that NaNoWrMo stands for National NOT Writing Month. Now winning NaNoWrMo will be easy peasy lemon squeezy.

Resolution 4: I will set SMART goals!
Loophole 4: For those who might not know, SMART in goal setting stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. So here’s your SMART goal for accomplishing all your 2019 Resolutions: I will write 1.5 words per day in my current WIP, except during the month of November. In November I will write 0 words per day. There — you now have a SMART goal to finish that 500 word essay in 2019! And since you’re guaranteed to achieve all your resolutions for the year, you can cruise through 2019 feeling great about yourself :D

Of course, if you actually want to get any work done then I suppose that last resolution on setting SMART goals is the most important. And remember not to beat yourself up if you fall off track. Just pick yourself back up, dust yourself off, rest those SMART goals, and get back to work.

Anyone have a New Year’s Resolution they’d like to share?

Happy New Year, everybody!

~ Carrie

Thursday, December 27, 2018

2018 Fantasy Round-Up

It's the end of another year and it seems rather obligatory that I use this opportunity to reflect on my 2018 accomplishments:
Some of the projects weren't ones I anticipated but came as sort of a delightful surprise. I'm hoping for more of those next year, but for now,  here's what I'm looking forward to in 2019:
  • The release of  Touch of Smoke a paranormal romance from Red Adept Publishing
  • The release of a Revolutionary War era historical romance short story "The Green Lady and The Rogue" in an upcoming pulp fiction anthology from Crazy 8 Press
  • Finish my current Work in Progress, a contemporary YA fantasy based on Appalachian mountain music
On top of the writing projects I've had the privilege to work on this year, I've also tried to read as much as possible. I read a variety of genres, but Fantasy and its various sub-genres are always my favorite, so I'll end this post by sharing my Top Ten Favorite Fantasy Novels of 2018.

9. The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo

8. Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

7. The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

6. Rosemary and Rue (October Daye series) by Seanan McGuire

4. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

3. The Winner's Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski

2. Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

1. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Monday, December 24, 2018

Doomsday and Chill

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
Hey everybody!  I hope your holiday seasons are going well.

Publishing, goes into a bit of a hibernation cycle during December.  Like everybody else, this is the time of year when people take vacation time, but it's particularly pronounced in the publishing industry.  I think it's probably a symptom of being an industry centered in New York City, not known for gentle winter weather, and December not being a particularly noteworthy time to put books out, as opposed to, say, the movie industry.  The books you want people to buy for the holidays need to be out and generating buzz by Autumn, and then the next big worry is the books people are going to buy before they head to the beach in the summer.

I can't say how much this is anecdotal or not, but in recent years I think NaNoWriMo has contributed to the shutdown.  Now, someone like you who reads this blog probably knows that you can't submit a manuscript to an agent or publisher until it's been edited to near perfection.  But for the folks who don't take the time to learn the industry, many of them see November as the time to produce a manuscript and December as the time to shop it.  You'll notice a lot of agents at this time of year even close to submissions.  As I said, it may be anecdotal, but I've heard that this is in large part due to NaNo.

So, for a variety of reasons, old and new, geographical and traditional, publishing shuts down in the month of December.  And in recent years I've been doing the same thing.  Year after year, NaNo and all the accompanying pressures burn me out.  So I hate to do it, but usually I end up taking the month of December off, too.  So far this year all I've done this month is:

- help Kimberly with a back jacket copy
- talked to my agent for an end-of-year check-in
- edited a few typos in SKINWRAPPER

And that's it.  I haven't done any traditional writing work in three, going on four, weeks. 

The only difference is, I'm letting myself be okay with it this year.  After the November I had, and, frankly, the ten months before that, I need some time to decompress.  So I guess the moral of this is, if you're like me, let yourself relax now and then.  Admittedly, there's probably a happy middle ground between grind away eleven months, relax one, but I'm sure you'll find it.

In the meantime, enjoy spending time with your families and celebrating the holidays.  I just picked up a copy of my good friend Mike Lombardo's "I'm Dreaming of a White Doomsday" yesterday, and if you're looking for some seasonal horror fare, you definitely need to grab this as well.  Happy Holidays, everyone!

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Mug

By Cheryl Oreglia

There is much to notice and observe in life. Is there not? It's what a good story teller does, searching out the disturbing, puzzling, cheerful details in order understand, but the truth is I never completely understand anything. As if an architect, a story teller first builds the foundation, followed by a detailed structure, and only then is the real purpose revealed. 
God is in the details. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (a famous architect) 
I've been taking an online course on creative writing which my kids gave me a few years ago for Christmas. One of the assignments was to take the first letter of your first name, in my case C, as my name is Cheryl, and we were prompted to write a story about the first three things that comes to mind when you consider your letter? If you know me at all you know coffee would dominate the story, maybe we could slip in Christmas, and then we'd be off to the lake, as in Clearlake.

The hidden agenda was to connect the stories with some mundane detail? 

The first thing I notice is the way I sip coffee? It's unusually ritualistic. Gently grasping the small handle on an all white mug, inserting my pointer finger into the perfectly sized hole, I lift the cup as if a sacred vessel, kissing the smooth, hard, porcelain lip. It's strangely carnal? 

My mouth accepts the lukewarm coffee, allowing it to pool under my tongue, before ever so slowly ingesting the tart amber liquid. The movement of my hand reverses the motion returning the cup gently to the nightstand, as I allow my desire for another sip to slowly build, then as if a prayer, my hand returns again, and again to embrace the cup. 

I'm very picky about my mugs as one should be. I like the lip thin, the weight practical for single handed movements, and of course the cup large enough to hold a decent pour. In fact I silently fume when my husband brings me coffee in an unacceptable mug. It's my burden and I bear it silently.

I like repetition. Truth is I adore repetition. It sustains me and it fails me all at the same time.

This coffee tradition is a morning activity, infusing me with something akin to joy, as my brain unravels from its slumber, and the obligations of the day slowly encroach on my muddled, and complacent mind.

What does that remind you of? 

Yes, Christmas of course. The most ritualistic of holidays, so entrenched are we in our ritualistic behaviors, we will go to extreme measures to ensure the continuation of these cherished traditions. We are not above brawling, guilting, and ransoming those we love to ensure cooperation. I know, I'm a mother.

Advent, a time of waiting, anticipation, and joy. It's as if I have slumbered all year, desperately in need of Christmas to shake up my muddled and complacent mind. The darkest of days juxtaposed with the light coming into the world is intoxicating. Our hardened hearts slowly kneaded by the reign of God, it's a cathartic, poignant, gift. 

The day after Christmas we pack up our shiny new toys, fill our mugs with fresh coffee and head to the lake, Clearlake. As I bring my mug from cup holder to lip, I'm aware of the hand of God that moves us from complacency to peace, the conveyance of story teller that drives us from a standard reality, to edifying and mysterious places. 

Great writers painstakingly construct their fiction with small but significant details that, brushstroke by brushstroke, paint the picture the artist hopes to portray, the strange or familiar realities of which they hope to convince us; details of landscape and nature, of weather, of fashion, of home, of drink, of botany, of music, art, of all the things with which we humans express our complex individuality says Francine Prose. 

Those seemingly simple but well chosen details shed light on our character, hopes, dreams, and vision of life. To shed a more powerful light on seemingly simplistic behaviors, that mold, define, and shape not only our comprehension, but our appreciation for the precious gift of life. The details are not only the building blocks of how we put our story together, but clues to something deeper, a glimpse into that which holds us, our favorite mug. 

What are three things associated with the first letter of your first name? Leave a few details in the comments! Merry Christmas all. 

When I'm not writing for Across the Board, I'm Living in the Gap, drop by anytime. 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

How to Fall in Love with Your Cover

Is there anything better than a shiny new book cover? Especially when it's YOUR shiny new book cover? Whether you're traditionally published or an indie author, the thrill of seeing that email in your inbox with the subject line: "Cover Draft" never gets old.

The possibilities are endless before you open that email. It's the first visual representation of your book baby. The excitement is palpable.

Then you open the email.

And it's not...all that. It's not even close to what you were imagining, despite the detailed cover form you filled out. Why? Why is this draft cover in your inbox so far from your vision? You filled out the cover form!! You were perfectly clear.

Weren't you?

Chances are, you were very clear. To your brain twin. You know, that person who thinks exactly like you do and knows that when you specify a guy who's kind of a cross between Channing Tatum and Liam Helmsworth, you really mean Henry Cavill. He's not doing book covers (but then again, Beyonce just did a wedding, so anything's possible, right?), but you figured there was a stock photo model who would pass. And this guy...could not be mistaken for Henry Cavill. Ever.

So, what to do?

After you freak out - and send the photo to a sympathetic friend - take another look at the cover and ask yourself:

  • What do you like about the following?
    • Colors
    • Fonts
    • Cover model(s)
    • Background
    • Title treatment
    • Title placement
    • Author name placement

  • What, specifically, do you not like about the following?
    • Colors
    • Fonts
    • Cover model(s)
    • Background
    • Title treatment
    • Title placement
    • Author name placement
The more specific you can be about what you like and don't like, the easier the conversation with your cover designer - who is NOT your brain twin after all - will be. If you're traditionally published, the changes you're able to make may be limited, which is why it's even more important to be able to dive into specifics. 

If you're an indie author, though, this is only the beginning. It may be that draft number one of your cover is a starting point for the conversation about everything you do NOT want your cover to be, but chances are, there's something in the existing cover that you'll want to keep and your designer needs to know that.

Of course, they also need to know what's not working for you. A black background on a rom com can work, but only if that's your vision. A swirly curly font on a sci-fi novel probably doesn't work very well. As for that cover model...

You can save yourself a world of frustration by diving into stock photo sites yourself, to give your designer some options. Deposit Photos, iStock, and Shutterstock are the favorites, but there are others. It's a minefield, but also your best bet for communicating your vision.

Speaking of vision...there's a lot of differing opinions about providing a cover mock up to your designer. *I* think this isn't a bad idea if you've got a very specific vision. But I also think the cover mock up is best provided in the early stages, not after a first draft. I've given my cover designer a mock up and gotten a much-improved version of said mock up, but I've also provided a mock up and never heard from the cover designer again, so this is definitely a "tread carefully" area.

At the end of the day, the cover designer is an artist. Just like you. His/her vision for your cover might not match yours, but you both want the same thing - a cover that will sell the hell out of your book. Chances are excellent you'll get there - as long as you're clear in your communication through the drafting process. 

What's your top tip for working with a cover designer? And, while you're at it, who do you recommend?

Monday, December 10, 2018

The Tragedy of My Latest WIP

A post by Mary Fan
Hey everyone! Mary here, and I'm inadvertently continuing on fellow ATB blogger Kimberly G. Giarratano's theme on revisions

Once upon a time, I thought I had my writing process down. I’d start with oodles of brainstorms, then meticulously plot the story, then outline each chapter so that by the time I started writing, I’d have a pretty solid blueprint for what I was doing. Just add words. What emerged was usually pretty solid, and any revisions that needed to be made would be a relatively simple matter of condensing some parts, expanding others, and cleaning up.

In the past two years or so, I’ve been doing more pantsing—that is, writing without a specific plan and just seeing where the story goes. I’d still have something of an outline in my head, though—at least I’d know the major plot points and the shape/direction of the story. But perhaps more importantly, I had a solid sense of what the voice would be.

That’s where I thought I was with this latest WIP, which is a novel-length origins story for two characters I’d already written about in multiple short stories. This should be easy, I thought. I already knew the characters and the world, and all I needed was a plot. And so I hashed out a basic outline—the book was a mystery, so I figured all I needed was to map out who the suspects were and how the characters would discover the clues. The rest, I believed, would work itself out along the way.

I wound up writing the entire manuscript in about two and a half weeks total (I wrote the first four chapters of so in about three or four days, and then set it aside for a while to work on other things, then picked it up again and finished the rest in two weeks or so). Partly, it was because I had a deadline—I’d signed up for my local writer group’s full-novel critique session, and the date was coming up fast. And partly it was because I underestimated how many other things I’d have to work on at the same time as this book. I also got cocky. Having the characters, the world, and the mystery plot made me believe I was at that “just add words” stage.

Wellp, I was wrong. Writing in such a rush meant I purposely skipped over some parts. But it also meant that I didn’t think through others. Going into my critique session, I thought my revisions on the manuscript would be a simple matter of inserting the stuff I’d skipped over and expanding some parts.

My critique group gave me a lot of great feedback with regard to what was missing. But more notably, the remarked that the narrator’s voice and back story weren’t quite working. The book was supposed to be YA, but was coming across as more childish. Which was weird since I’d written this character before. But after reviewing the manuscript, I realized they were write. The voice was actually rather different from what I’d used for the short stories, and I’m not entirely sure how that happened. And her backstory, which I’d purposely left rather vague in the short stories, was flat, and that in turn made her rather flat. Maybe I didn’t know this character as well as I thought.

And so what was supposed to be a simple matter of “add more words” soon evolved into “rewrite the whole book.” Beyond reworking the voice and the back story, the entire beginning needed to be redone to better capture the mood of the world—and to actually have some kind of hook. And the middle section, which was super rushed before, needed to be redone to let the main character be more involved in the plot. I think part of the problem was because I had the suspects and clues all planned out, I just plopped them into the manuscript without actually giving the character a chance to discover anything. The ending might be okay, but all the revisions to the earlier parts of the book will probably have some downstream effects. Also, the voice.

Basically, I set out to write one book, accidentally wrote another because I was in a hurry (and got cocky), and now have to actually write the book I meant to. There are some parts that can be salvaged, and I do think it’s easier reworking a manuscript—even if it’s 90% of a manuscript—than starting completely from scratch. Still, suffice it to say that I’m not loving this situation. Especially since I’d planned to finish revisions by now, and I haven’t even started (though that’s mostly because I was feeling super burned out in November after two months of nonstop work on the two books I have coming out next year).

But even though my first draft ended up being an utter disaster and even more of a mess than most first drafts, I'm glad it at least exists. Sort of.

Have you ever had to redo your entire manuscript after writing it? What was it like?

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Notes on a revision

Greetings, readers! Depending on where you are located in the world, it could be bone-chilling cold or a balmy 70 degrees or monsoon season. Whatever your weather, I hope your holiday tidings are sweet. You know what's really fun to do in December? 😏 Revise a novel!

December is the worst. I blink after Thanksgiving and it's Christmas. But, typically, December is when I find myself finishing up a manuscript. And because New Years is a pretty cut-and-dry beginning, I like to have that same manuscript done before the Ball drops. It makes me feel good. Something off my annual plate.

Honestly I love revisions. I've already put words on the page, now I get to make them look pretty. I mean there is way more to it than that, but for me, the hard part is over. It's time to make the story shine.

All writers have a revision process. Some revise and edit constantly before adding to their word count. I have a tendency to revise half-way through the drafting process. I make structural and plot changes, kill or add a character, change villains. Etc, etc. Then I rewrite a lot. Then I tweak the plot some more. Then I finish. And while I'm doing that I make a bulleted list of things that need to be fixed. These are things that I don't need to stop writing to worry about. And this bulleted list is literally notes on scrap paper. I work in Scrivener, but I find my revision notes are best kicking it old-school. My current ones are on graph paper.

I'll show you a few.

  • Make weather descriptions more applicable to early October.
  • Does Clark miss Forestport? Make it clear if she does.
  • Establish sister's criminal past.
  • Remember to firmly establish Clark's PTSD.
  • Change Yelena's name to Sylvia
  • Draw a map to get bearings
  • Solidify where Wendy lives
I have a ton more, but then I'm giving away spoilers. For me, a bulleted list is the most efficient way to revise. No elaborate charts or grids. Just notes that I can cross off as a I complete them. When revising, the key is to start big, then work your way small. 

Only then, when the story is strong, do I form chapters. In Scrivener, I group scenes into chapters based on word count. It's incredibly arbitrary, but so far, no one has complained.

Once I tackled the bulleted list, I pass the book onto trusted readers. At that point, I incorporate feedback.

Everyone talks about plotting vs. pantsing, and process. What's your writing process? But rarely do I hear about the revision process. What does that look like? It's daunting to write a book in the first place, just to go back over it a trillion times trying to correct all its flaws. It's like fixing the universe. There is so much to do. But all writers do it. So....

How do you revise?

Monday, December 3, 2018

Making the Switch

For the last four years, all of my writing has been done in Word. I came from the corporate world so it was familiar to me. As a whole, I like it and I’ve learned how to use certain formatting techniques to make final edits for both e-book and paperback a little easier. Once I was well into this writing gig, I started hearing about writing programs, such as Scrivener. I was intrigued, but I was comfortable with what I knew. I didn’t want to waste time learning a new platform—and what if it made it more difficult to get my books into their final forms? But, I’m a sucker for a good program and so it stayed on my mind. I figured I’d make the switch after I finished my current manuscript so I wouldn’t have to transition in the middle of a project. 

Well, Christmas came early.

No—I haven’t finished the manuscript yet for that book I told you I’d finish by the end of May. But I did finally get a new laptop. I didn’t realize just how much the old one was holding me back. I kinda feel the way I did back when we made the switch from dial-up to WiFi. Oh, hello, Productivity. I’ve missed you.

I figured since I have a new laptop, I might as well go ahead and download Scrivener. Even though I haven’t finished that epic manuscript yet, I plan to learn how to use it through other projects. Such as this blog post. I’ve always written all my blog posts in Word first and then copied them over to the website to post. I did this because my Internet would often crash at random times and I didn’t want to lose all my work. The other reason is I like to keep a record of all my writing and back it up to my external drive. Anyway, I converted my Word document for this blog into a Scrivener project. This is my first use outside of the tutorial, but my first impression is:

One of the things I’m loving so far is that I can split each topic into a document. And each document is sorted into the year that I wrote them. I can now easily go back and see what I’ve written about before. I often look back over my topics to make sure I’m not just regurgitating the same ideas over and over again. Previously, in Word I’d have to scroll through to find the titles. It was doable, but not efficient. And I like efficiency. Some of you are probably yelling at me through your computer screen/phone telling me that I could just filter down to my posts on the blog itself. Yeah, I could, and I have. But remember my computer problem mentioned above? My connectivity was so poor and sporadic that I got used to working off-line until the last possible moment. Now I don’t have to worry about it. It’s all listed on the left side of this screen.

In the screen shot you can see that I also insert notes to myself in my post draft telling me where to insert graphics. Another thing Scrivener allows me to do is drop images or other document types down in the ‘Research’ section. I’m not yet sure if I’ll use that feature for my blog posts, but who knows. At least I can do it if I want to. 

Another thing I think I’m going to love about Scrivener is the way I’ll be able to keep track of ideas for future blog posts. Back up in that screen shot, you can see I created a section called ‘Future Ideas’. I sometimes write a post I won’t need right away. Like I did for my next BJHJ, which won’t be scheduled until sometime in 2019. I had an idea and didn’t want to lose it, so I went ahead and wrote the post now. I don’t know when Steve will put it on my schedule, so here in Scrivener it can sit nice and safe in the ‘Future Ideas’ category until I know. Then I’ll slot it into the 2019 category when my time is up. I sometimes also draft out other ideas that I don’t know if I want to make a topic or not. I’ll keep a draft of the post or outline until I decide. Again, I’m loving Scrivener for helping me keep it all organized. 

Now, my big challenge is do I want to group all my blogs into this one Scrivener project, or do I want to create one for each blog? I see pros and cons for each. There is no wrong answer, and the cool thing is I can play around with it and try it both ways to see what works best for me. 

Oh, and I should mention that the conversion from Word into Scrivener and splitting each post into a new document was super easy. 

Now I’m off to see how easy it is to transfer this document into Blogger. If you see a well formatted post then you know it went off without a hitch :D 

~ Carrie
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