Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dreaming of words

I love dreaming - especially in that moment just before slumber takes you. That is when my mind runs free and ideas flow. Sometimes I have had to stir from my dreams to capture the ideas so they do not escape into the night.

Daydreams too.Oh how I love them. Driving in the car to and from work - with the music cranked up normally. Lying on the beach I have dozed and the daydreams come.

Last night I dreamed about my NaNoWriMo story. I think in part this was because I had emailed the basic plot to my Alpha editor yesterday and she came back with a myriad of questions. Which was great as I am setting it in the future and there are a lot of different things to consider.

I let the story consume me, trying to not be distracted by the other ideas bouncing around in my head. It's happened before where I've been focused on story and other ideas creep in. I thought I had made
great ground on my NaNoWriMo story a few days ago and then realised it was a different story I had set in the future. Doh!

Embrace your dreams and strange ideas, you never know how much someone else will enjoy reading what your mind can create.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

NaNoWriMo - getting my writing groove back

I had been banging my head against a brick wall with writer's block in October. The story I had been writing like a fiend I had to take a break from as I need to do some serious research and consultation on. I had other story ideas but getting the words out of my head and onto paper (or into my computer) has been like pulling teeth.

Partly it's because I've been distracted by what's going on with Dad and his cancer. Ever since I saw him last, so withered and frail, I've been able to thing of little else. I managed to write a short story in June after seeing him, but I think that's because he still looked liked Dad rather than someone who is about to die.

So lots of my writing friends are doing NaNoWriMo and I thought I'd check it out. Looking through the website I figured it was just what I needed. The story I really wanted to work on is already underway - and I was not going to do this half-arsed. I had a couple of other stories with small bits already written but my Utopian concept, Dirty Rainbow, was still just in my mind.

Then the images started flowing. I read a bit of The Ideas Factory, aimed at helping writers get their groove on, and it said to live your idea. I've been thinking about Dirty Rainbow before I go to sleep at night and while driving in the car, and the story keeps getting further developed in my mind.

I've made some brief notes on characters (surnames are particularly important - I wonder if anyone will notice why) and started to develop the "world". But I am hanging out to get the prose flowing. Hopefully this will get me back in my writing groove.

Dirty Rainbow
Humans have evolved and the world is perfect, or is it. Women took control of world politics, ended war, disease and hunger. With this came an adaption of the human race - men died out and women learnt to procreate without men. They also evolved to be perfect in every way, no one is ugly, everyone is healthy The population is smaller, more manageable and peaceful.

Jenna should be happy, like everyone else. But she's bored and longs for adventure. Then a mysterious family moves in next door. Their daughter is home schooled, and rebuffs Jenna's attempts at friendship. What starts as an innocent investigation into mysterious neighbours unravels an international secret.

 Your NaNoWriMo
So what are you doing? Got a story figured out? Something you've wanted to write for years? A brand new idea?

My NaNoWriMo Page (from here you can get in and sign up)

Other Blog Posts on NaNoWriMo

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I'm not touching you! I'm not touching you!

A shadow of his former self

This is not a writing post today; this is a personal post.

I have just gotten home from a long and hard journey and wanted to share the experience. People who have read my earlier post Drawing Inspiration From Death know that my family have been affected by cancer. What I didn't share in my previous post was that it is my father.

A few moths ago my grandmother died. About two weeks after she passed away we found out my dad had stomach cancer, and it was not a good outlook. Our only hope was chemo. Dad had to undergo a short stint to chemo and if that worked he would continue on it for six months. If not, then there was nothing that could be done.

The chemo didn't work; it kept growing.

Since we found out we have tried to make the most of the time that we have. Initially the doctor said we could have 12 months, but now it's clear that's not the case.

I'm glad that in the mid-year holidays we chose to stay with my parents on the coast and commute to Brisbane for my son's rugby league carnival. I'm glad I convinced Dad to come and see my son play at that carnival. I'm glad that my parents came up to visit us after Dad's chemo treatment finished. I'm glad I visited Dad for Father's Day. And I'm glad that I just took my boys to see him for the last time this weekend.

It had been six weeks since I had last seen Dad, and he was no longer the same person. His body has been ravaged by the cancer. He is so thin and weak. He actually looked alien to me. But he also wasn't all there mentally. I'm not sure if that was because of the opium patches that they have him on or whether the cancer has gotten to his mind too. Dad kept forgetting things, getting confused and not really paying attention to what was going on around him. The biggest change was his sleep patterns. He needed to sleep a lot.  Watching him I wanted to cry.

But I didn't cry around Dad. He's not into mushy stuff. We spent time watching my son's man-of-the-match grandfinal performance, talking about how well both the boys are going at school, karate and nippers and how my quest to get my novel published is progressing (for the first time ever he didn't say to me "don't quit your day job"). I tried to spend every moment he was a wake with him as I knew this may be the last time I see him alive.

Originally I wanted to work out of my parents' home in his last days, but it was clear this visit that if I did that it wouldn't be respecting his wishes. He doesn't like being seen like this and just wants Mum. I understand that and will respect that.

The morning we were leaving Dad went back to bed before everyone was up and I hugged him and told him I loved him in case it was the last time I saw him. I'm not sure if it even registered for him. Then I went out the back and cried. Mum joined me not long after and for the first time since we found out about Dad's cancer we held each other and just let it all out.

Dad is Mum's soul mate. They have been together forty years. Mum knew when she say him that he was the man she would marry. They had so many plans for their retirement, they were going to grow really old together. Now Mum has to be alone.

I was so glad Dad did wake up again before we left and my husband and sons also got to say goodbye. And I got to say goodbye again.I'm so glad we took the time to make the trip down to see them as I think Dad really enjoyed seeing the boys, and I know Mum enjoyed watching Dad with the boys.

This disease really plays havoc on families. But if you are strong together you can pull through it.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

How to get a date with a fireman

Sex in YA stories - what YA readers & writers have to say on it

Earlier this week my friend and I were discussing sex in YA and whether or not teens expect sex to be included in a novel.

 I'm not for arbitrary censorship personally, (believe everything has it's place in the right context), but I have seen first hand that not all YA readers are comfortable reading about sex.

Sex should be plot driven for me when in stories (obviously erotica is another kettle of fish cause sex is kinda the point of the book). There are times when the story simply can't occur without sex. I decided to test her theory on members of the YA Writer's community I'm part of. So let's find out (please respect people's right to opinions in comments):

Age 15
Writer and Reader of YA

It's honestly a matter of opinion as to whether or not you could bring yourself to read, or write, a 'sex' scene in a YA novel. Naturally, sex scenes can only be implicated in YA novels, you're not allowed to go into any detail. My parents aren't married and have been together for seventeen years and have two children. Being brought up I don't mind sex outside of marriage.

But I don't think that means you should 'jump around' so to speak. Naturally with what I’ve been brought up I don’t mind implied sex scenes in novels; as long as they have some major contribution to the story. In YA novels today you do see a lot of casual sex, and I don’t agree with that part of it.

For me, if it means something to the characters and adds to the plot (sub or main) then I don’t mind reading about it. But there's a responsibility of the reader as well when taking on novels with implied sex scenes, or even adult sex scenes.

Age 13
Reader of YA

I don't think that there should be any sex scenes in YA books. And I agree with Nana_Hassan that we have to consider that your book will be out there for the world to read. Some people may be comfortable with it, and some might not. To me, kissing and romance are fine, but having sex in books make me feel squeamish. Also, it's not right, especially pre-marital sex. It wouldn't be teaching any morals in the YA. That's what I truthfully think. And being a Christian... well, it just adds to the fact that sex in books for the YA should not be allowed.

Age 14
Reader of YA

I believe that sex shouldn't be allowed in YA, because it is just not right. This is my opinion. I mean, you have to consider that your book will be out there for the world to read, and some younger people coould stumble across it by mistake. You can imagine the consequences. Romance, is fine, kisses too, but sex shouldn't be described in full detail or otherwise. I'm not critiscizing anyone here. Just my opinion.

Age 20
Writer and reader of YA

Sex in YA is always controversial. In fact, I had some Texan told me I was going to hell because of the sex in my book (which, by the way, is non-existent, I think she had more of a problem with the language). Generally, I don’t always want to read it. I think some it can be absolutely ridiculous (AKA House of the Night) but then also there’s a place for it. Take Twilight, three and a half books of pure sexual tension and then ‘I woke up’ and the deed is done? That’s a cop out by the author not being able to write appropriately for teenagers.

Ariel Marie
Age 19
Writer and reader of YA and comic book obsessed
The controversy of sex in YA novels comes most likely because of age. Even if premarital sex is introduced in a novel, that does not necessarily make it a bad thing. Once I heard somebody complain about how sex in such novels is a disgrace, it makes sex look awesome and corrupts the youth.

But at the same time, my dad wanted to introduce me to such a situations to make sure I wasn’t naive in middle school. He started to show me such movies as Revenge of the Nerds, explaining that I had to understand the way that boys thought. Meanwhile, my mom told me to read a book called Forever by Judy Blume because it explained what happened to a girl after she lost her virginity.

By portraying such scenes in a certain way can help people in the future instead of hiding sex completely creating a surprise in the real world. Not only boys but girls take advantage over those who may be sheltered, not understanding such words or questions that involve sex creating a problem. Even though it’s not a novel, a great example is a teen movie, Mean Girls. A boy asks the main character if her ‘muffin has been buttered’ but she has no understanding of what this means. If sex or even the language in general is allowed more in YA novels, it can be used to help avoid such events.

Age 17
Writer and reader of YA

Sex in interesting and touch subject. There seem to be two extremes for it - a) it's fine, teens have it, or b) it's wrong and shouldn't be discussed. Personally, I don't at all think it should be in any form of public entertainment, as I believe that sex is to be saved for marriage, and kept secret. People aren't designed to have sex before marriage.

To have it in a YA book is often an encouragement of young adults to have it, even if it's against their parent's wishes. And, it's simply not an image that one should have presented in their head often because they read it in a book. Sex is like dessert. If you have before marriage (dinner) your appetite is spoiled.
Age 19

Writer and reader of YA

Sex is part of life. It happens every day, whether we like it or not. Here's a secret. Are you ready? Let me whisper it for you. Censoring Sex isn't going to stop it from happening. Teenagers are still going to do it. We need to stop feeding them this sparkly vampire (oh yeah, by the way - SEX in Twilight. Spoiler right there.), fantasy crap and give teens the TRUTH about the world.

Guess what? It's not a pretty place all the time. I got told off by someone because my latest project talks about sexual abuse. Guess what? It happens. Don't like it? Too dang bad, we don't live in a perfect world. People turn a blind eye and don't want to believe the evils of the world.

Frankly, I'm sick of it. I'll pick up Ellen Hopkins books (she talks about Prostitution in one of her books, incest and sexual abuse in another) or the book Speak (talks about Rape) over this stupid fantasy crap any day. I understand hating books that are like "oh everyone go have sex at fifteen!" But I do support those trying to show people what to avoid. As a YA reader and author, I don't think we need to censor this stuff at all.

Age 23
Senior Creative Writing Major & YA Writer and Reader

I see nothing wrong with sex in YA, whether it's a tasteful scene or dialogue on the subject, if it's within context of the characters and story. The more teenagers are informed and exposed to sexual subjects in other mediums, the less likely they will go off and do something foolish. Am I saying all YA books must have sex? Of course not, but having characters talk about sex is more realistic than if the issue is skirted altogether. The heroine in the book series I'm working on has sex towards the end of book one, but it's something in context with her character, where she is at that point in the story, and something she knows she wants to do.

I always reference the Judy Blume classic FOREVER when discussing sex in YA, which is perhaps the most realistic view of teen love and sex. Blume wrote the book for her teenage daughter who, "...asked me for a story about two nice kids who have sex without either of them having to die. She had read several novels about teenagers in love. If they had sex, the girl was always punished - an unplanned pregnancy, a hasty trip to a relative in another state, a grisly abortion, sometimes even death. Lies. Secrets. Girls in these books had no sexual feelings and boys had no feelings other than sexual."

FOREVER has been a challenged since perhaps the 1980's for its suggestive nature, detailed (but not gratuitous) sex scenes, and the fact the protagonist, Katherine, goes on the pill, and, well, let me just quote the wonderful Ms. Blume again, "The 70s was a much more open decade in America. Forever was used in several school programmes then, helping to spur discussions of sexual responsibility. This would never happen today. How are young people supposed to make thoughtful decisions if they don't have information and no one is willing to talk with them? Girls and boys have to learn to say 'no' or 'not without a condom' without fear."

Age 13
Writer and Reader of YA

I think that within a certain boundary, it’s fine to put sex scenes in YA fiction. People are people, and generally people are going to do it. As long as it isn’t overdone, I don’t think it’s an issue. I also don’t think that authors should go into extreme detail about it. These are teens that are reading, teens that may still be virgins, and it maybe a bit jarring, even for the most jaded of us.

I’ve read a few books where sex scenes were inserted, and they all seemed to have the same reason why they fit and seemed appropriate: none of them went into detail.

I’ve noticed that a lot of people get worked up when there are these sorts of scenes in YA novels, saying that they’re inappropriate. A lot of the time, these people are adults. I know that they may be parents and might not want their kids exposed to that sort of thing, but as for if younger teens mind, I doubt that many do. Also, if used the way that I already talked about, it would be completely non-scarring.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I hope that's Batman

Hello Mary Sue, have you met Gary Stu?

Mary Sue was a nice young girl, dancing around in the world of Star Trek fanfiction with her boyfriend Gary Stu, but slowly she started drifting out of the world of fanfiction and into author pages.

So who is Mary Sue? A Mary Sue character is something you want to avoid as a writer. They are characters who are just too perfect with everything turning up roses for them. She has the Midas touch, gets all the guys, does nothing wrong and is the author's pet. And readers spot her a mile away and go running for the hills.

Nowadays a Mary Sue/Gary Stu can also include a character that acts as an author surrogate - a character that inflicts the creators personal beliefs onto the reader - or a cliched character in desperate need of a make over.

It doesn't matter if you are writing about aliens, paranormal creatures or 'regular folk', characters need to have flaws. If a character overcomes every obstacle put before them with ease, how is that entertaining the reader? Ho hum, he beat that troll with his his bare hands - boring. Oh now she has five guys chasing after her. She's so beautiful, but doesn't know it. Gah! How are we meant to like this chick?

People want variety, they want originality. They don't want to have a stock standard girl/guy pop up in every book they read. It's important to not follow 'trends' for your heroes or villains. It can be hard as there is only a set number of hair colours and eye colours to choose from, however all the best friends' characters don't have to have red hair. Nor does the MC have to have green eyes.

Make your characters original, make them pop from the pages for your writers. Give them someone new and refreshing to fall in love with.

If you want to know if you have written a Mary Sue/Gary Stu in your story try this test (I passed!!):

More info on Mary Sues and how to avoid them:

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Query-go-rounding respectfully

I recently finalised my manuscript and am jumping on the query-go-round (let's see how dizzy I get) so I am doing A LOT of research into agents. So I've been compiling information on potential agents through a number of sources (check out at the bottom of the blog), stalking agents and authors on Twitter and have pitches going through my brain like crazy.

On one agent I follow made a tweet that indicated they had received a query addressed to "Dear so and so" and I was like SERIOUSLY?! And it got me thinking about form queries.

You might get lucky with a stock standard query, but for the most part I think agents will see through it. If you have nothing in there that shows why you want them specifically as an agent then why would they want you as a client?

For me I'm not just querying every single agent who has represented YA.  Just because I write it and they represent it doesn't mean we'll be a good match. My field is speculative fiction and there are a lot of YA agents who aren't into that. I am wasting my time and the agent's time if I query them and they don't want speculative fiction.

For the query letters I have been drafting, it has been a really slow process because I don't just want to show the agent why I want to be their client specifically, I want to show them why they would be interested in my story and myself specifically. What is it about Mishca that would attract them the most? For some it's the romance as that is their focus, for others it's the darker elements of the story and for some it's the fact that I have a unique hook that is not currently in the YA market.

Although it can take LOTS of queries to get a deal, you don't want to query 100 agents at once. Word could get around town and you don't want to get a bad reputation as a serial pest. Most agents understand that you are going to query a fair few agents but stagger it rather than bombard everyone at once.

While I am not signed yet, I have scored a manuscript requests from a really good publisher after I was fortunate enough to meet with an editor a month ago. The editor at the publisher specifically mentioned how great my pitch was. Here's hoping agents can see the potential the publisher has seen so far.  AND here's hoping it leads to more!

In the meantime here's some tips for researching and writing a great query letter:

  1. Look for websites that have agents listed in your genre well before you want to query.
  2. Make a list of potential agents and look for social networking opportunities (Twitter, Facebook) and set up a query tracker spreadsheet.
  3. Take note of their social networking posts (conferences they are attending, online chat/question sessions opportunities, pet query peeves, what they are looking for).
  4. Look for agent interviews with them - it will show you if you are a good fit for them as a client AND if they are a good fit for you (do you want an editorial agent, are you looking for a long-term career as a writer and want an agent who is interested in developing you as a writer, do they take debut writers).
  5. Take note of some information that would help personalize (but try not to be stalkerish about it).
  6. Think about what in your story would be specifically attractive to that agent.
  7. Look for query letter examples that won the agent over.
  8. Proof read your letter as well as your story.
  9. DON'T send a query until your story is ready.  Preferably have a Beta Editor who really knows what their doing or even pay a professional to check your work. There are lots of online critique opportunities nowadays as well.
  10. Check if the agent's response time frame or if they don't respond at all. Some agents tweet/blog where they are up to time wise for queries. This can help.
  11. Don't send a narky response if you get rejected or ask for feedback if the agent haven't supplied any.
I once read that it's good to send out about 10 - 15 queries at first then send out a new query for every rejection that comes in.

Aspiring writers should all know that this is a tough gig. Nothing happens over night, there's a huge amount of waiting involved and not everyone wants to take you on as a client - sad but true fact. But let's not forget that agents are people too. They're not robots at the end of an email waiting to make your life hard. They're looking for a story that they feel passionate about enough to take it to a publisher and say "you need to make this into a book - it will sell."

Here's some great links to help find agents and for more query advice (primarily I look at sites for YA but some are universal):

Agents Listings:

If you write YA this is one of the best sources of information:
Fantastic site. Subscribe for alerts on new agents and tips:
A massive database to help you find agents that may be a fit for you:

For Industry and Query Advice:

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Signature styling

What's your signature styling? Have you given your characters a signature style?

I'm not talking about signing your name - but the clothes they wear, how they where their hair or any other factoid that they may be "known" for. 

Seriously get stalked when I wear these shoes

For me, I am known for my taste in shoes.  Seriously! I have been stalked by women who are either admiring my shoes or trying to catch up to ask me where I got them from. The ladies where I buy my lunch love to check out my shoes and hang out for when I wear new ones. My love of shoes may have something to do with the fact I worked at a shoe shop when I was a teenager.

This topic might seem like an excuse to show off my shoe collection, but there is more too it than that for your writing. If you want to make a character memorable then it's a good idea to give them some signature character traits, something that makes them stand out from other characters. It doesn't have to be simply clothing, it could be hairstyles, things that collect or personality traits.

People watching is a good way to ascertain traits that make people stand out. There is a work colleague of mine who regularly changes her hair colour.  Every time I visit her office I'm always interested to see what "new hairdo" she will be sporting.

Sometimes people have catch phrases that they use over and over again. My brother-law continually says "indeed" in conversations. A guy a work with greets me on the phone with "Hey what's happening." Dialogue can be a good place to differentiate your characters.

Personal habits can be another defining feature. A woman I know has a habit of pursing her lips then twitching her mouth from side to side. Other people chew their nails, fiddle with their hair, tap their feet, wrinkle their noses or bit their lip when nervous or worried.

These little idiosyncrasies are part of what creates a complete persona for characters and we need to consider these types of things when writing.

And to finish off on, my hybrid boots
that get lots of attention
 It's not surprising that I've made the title character from my first novel Mishca, a lover of shoes.  Most writers have a bit of author insertion in their debut novel. My second novel's main character Leena is not so fussed about footwear but lives in drill pants and work shirts with her job as an environmental consultant. She also likes her personal spaces and has a bit of a potty mouth.

Sometimes you can plan your characters' traits by creating bios for them. Other times they just evolve as you write. Just make sure you don't have flat Mary-Sues or Gary Stus. Make a rich character with a unique voice and qualities that set them apart.