Monday, March 31, 2014


I love reading.  I was the kind of kid who was always be found with a book in my hand.  I would sneak books with me everywhere.  On a family trip to Niagra Falls, I read both A Tale of Two Cities and Sense and Sensibility. 

There are some books I’ve read because I feel like I need to, and it’s hard for me to stop reading, even if I’m not hooked.  More recently, I’ve been learning how to stop reading when I get bored or can’t stand the writing style.  It gives me a greater chance of finding a book that I actually enjoy, rather than wasting my time on something that I don’t.

So last week, I started The False Prince, a book my cousin had recommended and it was the first time in a very long time that I’d been this hooked.  I actually got frustrated with the need to eat or sleep because I just had to find out what happened next.  The story, though entertaining wasn’t what kept me reading. 

It was the main character.  He was the kind of person who jumped off the page and grabbed me.  I read for him.  I was rooting for him even when I seriously wondered if he was really thinking at all.  He had me hooked and I would love to be able to meet him in person.  I read the entire series in just four days. 

Books should hook us, they should make us care about the characters, the outcome, the stakes… everything.  To see it done so well was really a benefit because now I know what I want to do with my own stories.  I saw the kinds of characters I want to create. 

What about you?  Any books that have hooked you recently?  I’d love some recommendations. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Moving Closer

Until recently, I never considered publishing.  I was writing for me, not for anyone else.  I became obsessive about editing and revising, and editing some more.  I even had betas going through my writing to try and improve it.

It wasn’t until my very pushy, yet very supportive husband asked me what I was doing.  I had no clear goals, all I was doing was writing.  But what was I writing for?  For me, right?

But when he asked that question, I started to realize that I wanted to share what I wrote.  For someone like me, so chronically shy that it’s hard to look into people’s eyes, admitting something like that was difficult.  My writing is one of the most personal things that I’ve created, and to share something like that is terrifying. 

Once I realized that I wanted to publish someday, I started making clear, definite goals.  I joined a critiquing website, began researching the publishing industry.  Then, this year, I felt like I was finally ready to take that plunge.  I participated in the #Pitmad in January.  I had one person request my query and first five pages.  After I sent it, she responded with a very nice, very kind rejection. 

So I kept working.  I researched queries.  I practiced and I revised.  Fortunately for me, I can get a bit obsessive about that kind of stuff. 

This week, I participated in a second #Pitmad.  This time, I got another editor to request pages and a query.  And the next day, I got a response.  In it, she told me three times that my query was well written, but because I’d already queried their agency, she wasn’t able to.

Yes, that’s a rejection, but it was a great rejection.  It made me realize that I’m getting closer.  I’m moving toward my goals.  Each step feels like an accomplishment.

How about the rest of you?  Moving toward your goals?  Making those small steps?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Movie Adaptations

Last night, after a long, and not so great week, I convinced my husband to go with me to see Divergent.  I was pretty late in finding the series, I only heard about it when Allegiant came out, so I’ve read all three books in the past month or so. 

Going into the movie, I wasn’t expecting to be wowed.  It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen a good movie adaptation of a book.  Honestly, there’s a part of me that wonders why I even bother to go.

I think a part of it has to do with the fact that I can create the world while reading.  The author may have created it first, but every reader has their own viewpoint.  And there’s always the challenge of taking every thought and idea and deciding which ones are most important.  Books will always have more than the movie, unless it’s split into several different movies, and even then, something’s bound to be missing.

I can’t even count the number of movies I saw that were perfectly ‘okay’ but left me disappointed.  They may have left out one of my favorite minor characters from a book.  They may have adapted a slower novel into a politically driven movie, dumping the whole character of the book by the wayside.  (I’m looking at you Ella Enchanted.)    I’ve even seen movie skip over the rising action portion of the book, the part where the hero learns whatever it is that they need to win in the end, turning it into a short, music filled montage. 

Even movies that are more or less true to the novel, I’ve come out shaking my head, wondering where the ‘heart’ is.  Essentially, that is the essence of my complaint.  I want to feel the same way watching the movie as I did reading the book.  That’s really why I read, for the characters and for the journey.  But at the heart of every book is the way that it makes me feel. 

I think that's why I've never thought about whether or not any of my novels become a movie.  I honestly don't know if I'd enjoy that.  I've always felt that if that were to happen, they'd be stripped of their essentials. 

So going into this movie, I was ready to be disappointed.  But I think I grinned through the entire thing.  Not because it’s an entirely happy movie.  It’s not.  I was ecstatic because I was watching what I’d read.  Sure, they had to drop some characters, and numerous plot points.  And yes, there were points that were a bit disappointing, but in the end, when I walked out of the theatre knowing that I’d watched the movie of what I’d read.  They’d captured the essence of the book, its tone, its soul and put it on screen.

I wish there were more adaptations like that one. 

What do you think?  Are you a fan of movie adaptations of books?  Did you enjoy Divergent?

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Power of a Word

Lately, I’ve been thinking about words.  Maybe it’s because I’ve been so focused on my query and trying to make every single word exactly right. 

As a writer, I have to remember that each word can have a power that even I may not realize.  No matter who we are, there’s always going to be specific words that have a personal meaning and bring up memories or opinions. 

As a nurse, there’s one specific words that I absolutely never want to hear.  It’s probably not the one that you would think.  In nursing, the worst word you can use is “quiet.”  I don’t like to believe that we’re a superstitious lot, but I’ve experienced firsthand the power of that one single word.  I remember the nights when I get report and the nurse before me tells me: “Everything was really quiet today.”  That’s when I know that my night is going to be miserable.  And it always is.

Even the way a word is used can affect a person.   Think about the term ‘retard’.  I have heard some people who use it as a joke or a putdown and don’t realize how personal and offensive it can be.  But if they were to understand what it really means, what it can do to those who really struggle with prejudice due to the use of that word. 

Or think about the power of the words: "I have a dream."  Do you know who said it?  What does it make you think of?  There is power behind that phrase, and Martin Luther King Jr. knew it.

As I was working on my query, I had the phrase “do something.”  As I was revising, I changed it to “act”.  Just changing a phrase into one single verb, I found that the entire sentence became much stronger.  While editing and revising, it’s important to pay attention to every single word and the power that they bring to the sentence and the story. 

What words have a specific meanings for you?

Friday, March 21, 2014

What are the Stakes?

I’ve been using the past month or so working on my query.  I know, I know.  It seems like a long time, but it’s the first impression of my writing and I don’t want it to be thrown together.  Besides, it took years to revise and rewrite my novel.  I feel like my query should have the same kind of focus.  (Hopefully not a years’ worth.)

Many different people have critiqued my query, and I’ve noticed a certain theme.  Why does this matter?  Why does your character even care?  What are the stakes your character is fighting against?

As I go through possible answers to those questions, and my query has changed quite a bit.  And I’m starting to realize that the stakes need to be personal.  What does it matter if it affects society or changes their environment?  What is it about the situation affect them personally?

For example, in Harry Potter, the main character is fighting against Voldermort, the man who killed his family and is threatening the very society and life that Harry knows.  But what does that matter?  Why does Harry feel the need to fight?  It would have been much easier for him to sit back and let someone else fight the battle.  What is it about the conflict that Harry finds so personal that he’s willing to sacrifice everything, even his own life, to keep Voldermort from wining?

Honestly, I’d love to hear your thoughts to that question.  Is it because of some moral sense of responsibility?  Revenge?  Preserving a world where his place isn’t in the closet?  In memory of those who’ve already died?

The stakes are what makes the character.  If there’s nothing to lose, there’s nothing to win.  Our characters need to be motivated by something that’s so personal that they’re willing to fight until it’s over.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Not all Advice is Good

About a year ago, I found an online critiquing site that really changed the way that I write.  The availability of people who were not only willing to read my writing, but also provide honest and thoughtful feedback was overwhelming.  Before, I’d had one critique partner at a time, but now, I had three critiques on a chapter, no matter what.

I had some great advice, and I had people point out some major flaws in my novel and my writing style.  I’m not going to say that some of it didn’t hurt, honestly that’s something what happens with a critique.  Not everything’s going to be positive, but hopefully it’s not all negative either.  However, I did quickly learn that sometimes, a writer has to follow their own gut instincts.  Just because someone suggests something, it doesn’t mean that it needs to be changed.  Whenever I start a critique, I always preface it by saying that what I say is my own opinion, but that the writer can take and leave whatever they want.  Ultimately, the decision is up to the writer.

But there were some instances where the suggestions just did not mesh with what I was looking for.  I had some critiquers who came in on chapter 12, not having read any of the previous chapters, or any of the following ones.  Their critiques may be based on the fact that they didn’t know my characters.  An action that may be sudden or unexpected for them may have been building for the past several chapters.
Then there’s advice that’s just wrong.

I think the worst advice I’ve ever received was: If you’re going to have dialogue, you have to have who’s saying it in front of the dialogue so that the reader can hear it in their voice.  Always preface dialogue with “John said” or “Jane said.”  That would really decrease the variety in sentence structure, and honestly, I feel like it would sound forced.  For me, that advice doesn’t work, and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen it in action in something that I’ve read.

Critiques are worth their weight in gold, but sometimes, it’s important to make sure you don’t have pyrite instead.

What’s the worst writing advice you’ve ever received?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Romance in Literature

Last week, I decided to watch a movie from my childhood, The Swan Princess.  This movie brings back fond memories of growing up, singing the songs and spending time with my family.  In fact, while watching the movie, I spent the first ten to fifteen minutes quoting the entire thing.  And I definitely sang all of the songs without difficulty. 

However, as I was watching, I started thinking about the kind of ideas that this movie gives children.  And when I say ideas, I mean specifically describing romance and creating expectations. 

I loved romance as a kid.  Movies, books, etc.  That was my favorite genre.  And The Swan Princess was one of my favorites.  Derek goes to extraordinary lengths to prove his love to Odette, and even when he knows he’s lost, he keeps fighting.  It’s a story of true love, or what I assumed was true love.  But as I started watching, I was a little surprised by how forced the romance felt. 

Derek and Odette spend their entire lives forced together, but hating each other.  While watching, my husband tried to guess their ages as they grew up, and said something along the fact that Derek probably noticed that he had feelings for Odette when she was flirting ‘with the castle guards.’  But he didn’t really realize what he was feeling until that moment when she was pushed in the room, all grown up and stunning.  That’s actually quite common in romantic shows, that a man doesn’t realize that he’s in love until the woman appears dressed up and beautiful.

Over the years, I’ve adjusted my idea of what true love is.  When I was in high school, I worked at a retirement home where I became friends with quite a few of the residents there.  There was one couple that became my hallmark for ‘true love.’  He lost a leg in war and had to ride around in a wheelchair.  She had more health problems and was on continuous oxygen.  But together, they were able to function as one.  She pushed his wheelchair while he held her purse, and her oxygen hung on the back of his chair.  Every night, they split a fruit plate for dessert. 

Then, I fell in love myself.  It did take me quite a while to realize that I was in love, especially since it started as friendship.  But what surprised me the most was that my husband never made a grand gesture to prove his love.  He didn’t fight a ‘great animal,’ he never raced across an airport to profess his love, and he never offered himself a sacrifice to save my life.  What he did do was become a constant in my life, someone who I could talk to about anything, someone who never judged me for who I was. 

He didn’t fall in love with me because of the way that I dress, or because I wore a lot of makeup, but because of who I was.  He was impressed with my piano playing, my attempt to learn Spanish, my aptitude for learning.  And I fell in love with his easygoing nature, his dependability and his adaptability.

Love isn’t always a grand gesture like shown in the movies.  Sometimes it’s something as small as supporting one another’s weaknesses, whether it be physical or emotional.  And that’s something I look for now when I read romances.  Difficulties due to lack of communication and lies tend to leave me cold.  I want to read more natural romances, where it builds slow and strong, not to be broken by a simple arguments and clashes in personalities.

How about you?  What kind of romance do you look for in literature?

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Practice, Practice, Practice

I’ve been writing for a while.  My first ‘official’ novel was written in high school, once I finally figured out the value of outlining and preplanning.  It took me almost three months to write, but I was incredibly proud of myself.  After two or three ‘drafts’ of that novel, which consisted of mostly just fixing the spelling, I moved to my second novel, though that one was never finished. 

When I got to college, I left all of my writing at home and focused on ‘real life’ until I realized that the more I ignored my writing, the harder it was for me to focus on my studies.  And nursing is not a field that you don’t want to be able to focus in.  My Junior year, I went back home, grabbed my binders and started reading through that first novel that I’d written.  To my surprise, it was awful.  Terrible.  I cringed at how juvenile it sounded. 

I spent most of my Junior year, and the summer after revising the novel.  I made some pretty substantial chances, and it ended up with 35,000 more words and a much more satisfying ending.  But it still didn’t feel like enough.  So I went back and revised that.  And then I revised again.  I read books on how to write, and I began to branch out, explore on the internet to see what was available.  I found critique partners who were willing to work with me, despite my inexperience. 

After a year of revising that first novel, another idea came to my mind.  I tried to follow the same procedure, using months to plan and prepare, but this story took me by surprise and after just a week of planning, I wrote the entire novel during the last month of my Senior year.  I was amazed by how much better this novel was than the first one.  It’s not me bragging, I had just learned enough skills that this draft was almost to par with draft number 4 or 5 of the first novel.

I’ve found, after years and years of writing, that I’m a reviser at heart.  I don’t mind taking my novels and tearing them apart, just as long as I know that it will be better.  I just finished a major revision of my Blue WIP, probably one of the only ones where I was dissatisfied with how it turned out after I finished the first draft. 

Now that I’ve finished with that revision, I went back to my NaNo novel, ready to tear it apart.  Last week, I went through the entire thing, doing a quick read to decide what major changes needed to be made.  To my surprise, this novel was solid.  Yes, there will be revisions, but nothing as drastic as the first 4 novels that I’d written.  The practice, and the dedication that I’d shown to my writing had finally started to show.

Growing up, I took piano lessons.  And I believe that I had some talent.  But years and years of half-practicing and not dedicating myself to the craft has decreased that talent somewhat.  At least, that’s how I feel.  Now that I live on my own, and now that I understand the value of practice, I actually have improved much more than I did when I took lessons.  It’s just a matter of focusing and practicing on a regular basis.

Picture taken by me

Writing is the same way.  No matter how much talent a person has, there’s always something more to learn.  I heard once that the first million words are just practice.  As I went through all of the novels, half-novels and rewrites that I’d done, I realized how much that’s true.  My NaNo novel was probably the novel where I surpassed that number.  (If not before). 

Does that mean I’m done?  Everything I write will be gold?  Not in the least.  But it does mean that I’ve learned, I’ve improved and I’m going to keep improving.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Misconception of the Muse

Last week, I finished my revision of my Blue WIP.  It took a while for me to get into the groove, I’d just finished writing a brand new novel, and it was hard to get excited to completely redo something I’d already done.  But that’s the life of a writer, no?

Anyway, I figured that once I started, then it would get easier.  I would work one day then take a few days off, then work another day.  I think what I was really waiting for was for the muse to strike.  I wanted her to take me by the ears, pull me into the chair and just overwhelm my brain with genius.  (A person can dream, can’t they?)

The thing is, that’s not how the muse works.  I know that.  I’ve dealt with her enough times that I know the best way to call on her. 

Start without her.

Writing isn’t always easy.  I wish it was.  There are days when I can barely form complete sentences, let alone anything worth reading.  But for some reason, the action of writing, proving that you’re serious about what you want is what she really wants to see.  It may take days before it finally strikes. 

For me, because I took so long to actually sit down and focus, it took me 2 months to rewrite this novel.  Not that 2 months is a long time, but considering how well I did in November, it felt like an eternity.  But once I reached the second half, once I forced myself into the chair, once I got words on the page, she finally came.  I finished the second half in about 2 weeks and the last 10,000 words were completed in 2 days.  I couldn’t sleep or eat until it was DONE!  

I was so excited about it that I sent it to my alpha almost as soon as I finished.  I knew it was good, or at least much better than the first draft.  I could feel the difference, and I know that it was a combination of hard work, dedication and small part muse.

So what do you think?  Does the muse even exist, or is that just a creative way of prolonging work?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Children in Literature

As a writer, I’ve experimented with many different types of genres and writing styles.  Through all of this writing, I’ve found a writing style that feels the most natural to me, something that I enjoy writing and that I feel I do well.

I love writing about children.  Growing up, I was around a lot of kids.  I had four younger siblings, and I began babysitting at age ten.  My parents had me take a babysitting class at the hospital where I learned how to deal with children of all types and ages, as well as how to keep them safe.  I have over thirty younger cousins that I love to spend time with.

There’s something about the innocence and the wonder of a child that I love to explore.  Children have a way of looking at the world that reminds all of us that life isn’t always so bleak.  Even in their worst moments, I’ve seen them pull through and keep going. 

I love reading about children as well, though I can honestly say that there are a lot of books where I don’t feel like the writer completely has the right ‘voice’ when it comes to a child.  So here’s a few things that I really try to focus on.

Photo taken and edited by me

1. Children say what’s on their mind.  They don’t say “Kids Say the Darndest Things” for nothing.  After years and years of dealing with children: babysitting, teaching, etc, I’ve learned that to be true.  You never know what children will say and they can always keep you laughing.

2. Children are naturally curious.  Nothing escapes their attention, and they’re not going to let something go if they really want to know the answer.  Have you ever been followed by a child who asks “Why?” all day?  They’re natural learners.

3. Children absorb whatever they hear.  Never assume that they aren’t listening.  Even if they don’t completely understand, they’re going to remember how they feel when they heard you.  That’s especially true when a person loses their temper, says something without thinking or tells a lie.  Children won’t forget. 

4. Children speak and think simply.  They’re not going to always put all of the facts together.  Don’t assume that they’re going to sense that people are in love or that something’s wrong.  They’re going to take things at face value, they won’t always dig deeper. 

Children are the ones who are beginning their journey.  Their slate is new and ready to be written on.  Maybe that’s why I love telling their stories.  There’s so much that’s still going to happen for them, and I get to experience it with them.

What about you?  Any other attributes about children that you’ve noticed?

Friday, March 7, 2014

New Year's Resolutions Update

I just finished rewriting my Blue WIP this week, and I’m incredibly happy with the way that it turned out.  The rewrite was grueling, and I know that I still have a lot of work left, but I can see the progress from a first draft to a second revision. 

As I’ve said before, the Blue WIP was an experiment in attempting to write a novel without planning in advance, and to be honest, I don’t feel like that’s the most effective way for me to write.  I truly admire those who can just start and find out what happens as they go along.  It’s something that I can’t do, and I’m not embarrassed to admit it.  Every writer has their own strengths and weaknesses.  Mine happens to be that I write very well when everything is planned out. 

After my first draft, I knew I had to go back and revise, but this time I had a plan.  I added two new characters and made my main character suffer.  I also increased the tension and the threat in the scenes.  Just those few changes (pretty major changes), have made a huge difference in the pacing, the plot and the readability. 

Another great asset to rewriting was that I started reading much more and I started to see patterns in what drew me in and what I found boring.  I found that as I kept reading, it became much easier to see plot turns and twists and to be able to put it in my own writing.  

Now that I’ve finished, I can cross off the first of my New Year’s Resolutions and begin on the second one.  One out of four and got another one halfway done. 

How are the rest of you doing on your resolutions?  

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Dealing with Death

I work in a profession that deals a lot with something that most people try to avoid: death. 

Death is something that can’t be avoided.  It happens to everyone at some time, whether it’s someone they love or their own.  Each experience with death is something private and personal.  As a nurse, I have the chance to watch patients and families as they go through it.  It’s a chance to glimpse through the window of a person’s true personality, their true values and how they deal with something so tragic. 

Honestly, I could spend pages and pages writing about different experiences I’ve had with death.  People who’ve died ten minutes to midnight New Year’s Eve, families who plan the death of their parents years in advance, or even people who don’t believe that death is imminent.  I’ve seen angry, inconsolable, relieved, and even happy.  Each time, it feels new, yet the same at the same time.

But that’s not what I want to focus on.  

Death isn’t necessarily always physical.  As I’m working on the Blue WIP, I’m starting to realize that there’s always something that a character fears, and death can be one of the most effective.  Right now, my character is afraid of the death of her career.  This is something she’s dreamed of her entire life, and as she’s watching it crumble and slip away, she’s left to deal with the end of the one thing most important to her.  Now that she’s left vulnerable, I can really delve into who she really is, to learn what she really values once her career dies. 

That’s just one example of death in literature, but there can be so many other possibilities.  Death of romance/relationships, death of beliefs, death of security.  Loss defines us as humans and is one thing that we can all relate with.  Whether or not I’ve experienced the same kind of loss, I can always understand what it’s like to deal with it. 

So, right now, I’m working on throwing a bit more ‘death’ into my writing.  I want the reader to glimpse through my characters’ windows, to see who they truly are when they lose the one thing most important to them.  Who are they when they have to deal with grief and loss?

Monday, March 3, 2014

Writers are Readers

Growing up, my closest friends were books.  Or maybe my closest friends were in books.  Either way, I was almost never far away from a book.  When we went to Niagara Falls as a family, I read Sense and Sensibility and A Tale of Two Cities on that trip.  Every time we stood in line, every time we waited for a meal, I pulled out a book. 

Every day after school, the first thing I would do is pick up a book and read.  I had a bookshelf full of books and a basket of books underneath my bed. 

I really became the person I am because of the books I’ve read.  But as I grew up, went to school, started working, I didn’t have as much time to read.  Life got in the way, and I think my writing suffered from it.  I never stopped writing, but I did have the tendency to put reading on hold.  I still went to the library, picked out a few books, but not as frequently as before.

For Christmas, I received a tablet, and I use it for reading.  Now, I can buy books for a lower price and carry them around in a pocket.  I love the convenience, but at the same time, I miss the feel of books and turning pages.  Though my sagging bookshelves probably appreciate not having to hold any more weight. 

The small bookshelf at the end of the hall

But on the upside, I’ve been able to read much more than I have in years.  In fact, the past 2 months, I’ve read more than I did all of last year.  And I’ve seen a definite improvement in my writing.  As I see how other writers do it, as I see fantastic plotting, and not so great writing, I’m noticing what I like and what works and doesn’t.  I get ideas and I can’t wait to get back to my own writing once I finish. 

The old adage of improving your writing by reading is true.  Watching and learning from others is a key ingredient to writing.  Just like in nursing, I have to learn from other nurses with more experience than I have.  

There’s always an opportunity to learn, and reading can give a writer new insights to storytelling.