Friday, January 31, 2014

I Think I Just Read That…

This month, I’ve been playing around with my new e-reader, and though I still miss the feeling of turning pages and closing the book when I finish. 

Despite that, I am adjusting, and I’m loving the fact that there are so many books at my fingertips!  Just this month, I’ve read three novels, one anthology and novellas.  And it’s even better because I can finally support all of my writing buddies who are publishing as well.

What’s interesting is that as I’m reading (especially as quickly as I’m reading), I’m starting to notice a trend.  Common themes between stories that makes me compare them. 

A few months ago, my sister lent me a book, one she thought I would really enjoy.  I sat down, started reading and my first thought was: 

Uh oh.  I’ve already read this book. 

I hadn’t actually read it, but I’d read one remarkably similar.  Two siblings with unknown powers that made them gods, they’re separated from their family, guided by mentors who know the magic that they possess.  It probably sounds familiar to you too, though I’m probably not talking about the book that you’re thinking of. 
What surprised and delighted me about the novel that my sister gave me was that it was easier to jump into the world and enjoy the ride with the main characters.  In the book I’d read before, I’d actually stopped reading halfway through because I couldn’t stand the main characters.  (Something that very rarely happens to me as a reader.  I think there are only 5-6 books that I’ve ever not finished.) 

Both books started out with the same idea, the same blurb could be used for them.  But they went in two completely separate directions.  In writing, just like anything else when creating occurs, there is the chance of writing a story remarkably similar to someone else.  Even if they’re across the world.  Does that mean that we should give up?  Stop writing because someone else might be writing it?

No.  But it does give us the challenge to make our story ours.  What is it about your story (or my story) that stands out?  What’s the theme, who are the characters?  Two of the novels I read this month include children who are separated by special abilities by color.  Almost identical in that idea and aspect.  It’s a way of categorizing, of separating them.  And it’s something I’ve used in novels of my own.  Yet when comparing the two stories, they are remarkably different.  Enough so that I was able to enjoy both without worrying about whether I’ve “already read it.”

Create something that’s yours.  Find what makes your work unique.  Because chances are, that’s what your reader is going to remember.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

1st or 3rd Person?

I read an interesting article on Nathan Bransford’s Blog the other day.  For those of you who didn’t read it, the link is right here.

He talked about how some critics have decided that first person narrative isn’t ‘serious.’  I’m not sure what makes it less serious, though to be honest, I occasionally find it a bit exhausting.  I don’t enjoy being so deep in someone’s head for so long.

Probably one of the biggest reasons why I’m not a big fan of first person narrative is that it’s been a long time since I’ve seen it done well.  Well, that’s not true.  I read a fantastic book a few weeks ago that did it well.  (Now that I think about it).  But I stick with what I said before.  There are very few books that I’ve read that makes me actually sympathize with the character rather than get annoyed.  (I’m not saying that I’m the leading expert on this, it’s just my opinion.)

Maybe it’s the genre that I tend to read.  I’m always drawn toward YA fantasy, and for some reason, there are quite a lot of books out there with very narcissistic main characters.  Characters who are ‘wronged’ and then spend pages with internal monologues about how hard the world is or how mean everyone is to them.  It gets tedious, and usually, I toss the book aside before I get to some kind of a resolution, which I hope ends with them thinking about something beyond themselves.

I’m not saying anything about first person, and if you’re planning on writing in first person, I applaud you.  It’s a voice that I don’t know that I’ll ever master.

When I first started writing my White WIP, it was all in first person.  And it was terrible.  Years later, when I came back to it and started working on revisions, I realized that it just didn’t feel natural to me.  I changed the entire story to third person limited and it was like the story unfolded out in front of me.  All of my stories since have been in 3rd person.  Mostly because that’s what feels more natural to me.  It gives me a chance to take a step back when I need to and to look at the big picture, rather than what’s in their heads all the time.

But that’s just me.  How do you feel about it?  1st or 3rd person?  Does it even matter?  And if anyone has suggestions for a 1st person novel written well, I’d love to hear it!

Monday, January 27, 2014

The First Step

I’m not an adventurer.  I usually leave that to my characters. 

For me, I love my comfort zone because it’s cozy and it’s something that I know.  I very rarely take risks without calculating all of the possible outcomes and yet, those risks and changes are what have made my life exciting.  In those moments when I have to move out of my comfort zone, leave what I know or try something new, I get a rush of excitement.

As many of you may remember, one of my New Year’s resolutions involved sending out my first queries in the month of January.  Writing is a passion of mine.  I do it because I love it.  But I’ve gotten to the point where I feel like it shouldn’t just be for me.  I want to share it with others.  Since I’ve decided to try traditional publishing first, that means querying. 

I participated in #Pitmad earlier this month, and WOW!  I was amazed by the fast-paced momentum that it went by.  I’m glad I participated, and maybe someday later I’ll be able to participate in another twitter pitch session, but I’m not sure that I liked the speed that it went by.  I much prefer taking things at my own speed, rather than trying to shout for attention.  I did have one editor request a query and the first 500 words, so it was a good experience, just one I’m not sure I’d repeat.

The rush of having someone actually request a query was fantastic.  The waiting, the anticipation… it was enough to make me want to try again.  This time, I sent out a query on my own, where it was just one on one.  I know the agent probably receives hundreds of queries a day, but at least I don’t have the feeling that I’m one of thousands trying to get attention.  (Though it’s probably not an inaccurate description.)

Last week, I received rejections from both the agent and the editor.  When I was talking to my mom about it later, I told her that I had the urge to print them both out and hang them up on the wall.

It’s not that I enjoy rejection.  I don’t.  But the fact that I was rejected also means that I tried.  I took that first step toward publication.  I tried and I failed.  But that doesn’t mean that I won’t ever succeed.  If I had never tried, then I would never achieve my goals.  If I never take that step, then I’ll never get anywhere.  And that’s why I’m going to celebrate this failure.

Picture taken and edited by me

Friday, January 24, 2014

Hero’s Journey

I spend a lot of time driving to and from work.  Each week, it can be up to 4-5 hours.  And when I drive, I think a lot about all sorts of stuff, especially my writing and stories.  The novel I’m working on right now has felt a bit lackluster.  As I started to sort through my story and what’s missing, I realized that I like one specific plotline.  That’s the hero’s journey. 

When I was much younger, I remember going to my cousins’ house over the summer.  They had a lot of awesome computer games that encouraged creativity.  There was one specific game that allowed you to create your own stories, put different characters in different scenes, allow them to interact with one another and change settings.  They would create amazing scenarios and stories.  When they gave me the chance to try, my story consisted of 8-9 characters walking from place to place until they get to their final destination.  I even remember one of my cousins telling me that “nothing’s happening.”

Most of my stories consist of my characters traveling from one place to another on a ‘hero’s journey.’  Most of the novel will actually consist of the journey, and this novel is no exception.  So as I’m sorting through the plot, I realized that it’s just like that story I created when I was younger.  Nothing was happening.  They were just traveling.

But that’s not what the hero’s journey is.  If a character has to move from point A to point B, then it can’t be the story of a drive down I-80 in Wyoming.  (Which if any of you have driven down I-80, then you know what I mean.)  Think of The Hobbit or the Lord of the Rings.  Those characters did nothing but travel, but they ran into Orcs, Dragons, Dwarves, even Gollum.  The entire story isn’t about where they’re going, but how they get there and what they face as they travel.

And that’s what my story was missing.  My characters needed more conflict, even if they’re just traveling.  So I started with a ball of fire.  And an earthquake.  Suddenly, my story wasn’t stalled, and my characters weren’t just traveling, they were living a story.  And that’s what the reader wants.  They want to see the characters struggle, to empathize with them. 

So if your story feels lackluster, maybe you should take the scenic route instead of driving straight down the highway.  

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


The past month has been pretty grueling.  Workwise.  I’m to the point where I’ve worked at least 6 hours every single day over the past two weeks – some days culminating in up to 12 hours.  Because I work nights, it’s hard to get a day that’s really off.  And yes, I’ve been a bit frustrated about it.

Right now, I’m experiencing what nurses call burnout.  What happens when someone is worked so hard, given so few breaks that it’s hard to focus…or care.  Which is something that I hate.  I’m a nurse because I love nursing, I love being there for the patients, and knowing that I can make a difference.  So when I’m exhausted to the point that I don’t care, I know that I need to get away.  I need to step away, focus on something else – especially myself.

Burnout happens quite frequently because of the nature of nursing.  There’s a lot that’s expected, including keeping people alive.  And there can be days that are so stressful you want to scream.  Even at nights. 
Unfortunately, burnout doesn’t happen in just nursing.  It can happen to anyone who doesn’t balance their lives.  Too much of anything can be bad.  Too much physical, too much sleep… the body needs balance. 
In my health class, I remember learning about the five areas of development.  Physical, mental, intellectual, emotional, spiritual.  Each area is important, and we need to learn how to focus them. 

Right now, I’m feeling a bit lopsided, too much physical and emotional, not enough spiritual or mental.  For me, the best balance for nursing is writing.  It’s a chance to sit down, focus on my thoughts, be with myself.  I’m an introvert, which is not an option when nursing.  I’m always speaking with doctors, patients, family members, even other nurses.  No matter how much I’m working, I always come into contact with other people.  So it’s nice to come home, curl up and spend some time with my imaginary friends.
I just wish we could spend some time together.

How do you keep balance in your life?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Long Distance Relationships

So today, I’m writing to get some thoughts from readers and writers.

I’ve been having a bit of a struggle with two of my characters.  I finished the novel and felt like something was off.  Before I even started writing, I could tell that these two had chemistry and that there was a romantic interest there.  But within the story, they didn’t spend a lot of time together, which resulted in them having a long distance relationship.  When there’s no method of communication and they’re separated by hundreds of miles, it’s hard to build on a relationship.  It didn’t feel natural.  In fact, I’m attempting a rewrite where they spend more time together.

My question is… is there a possible way to make a long distance feel ‘live’ within a story?  Have you ever read a book where characters survive a long distance relationship without the use of mail, phones or electronics? 

My husband has a saying: “Amor de lejos es amor de cuatro.”  Roughly translated, it means that long distance relationships involve four people, not two. 

I’m not saying that long distance relationships don’t work in real life.  I’ve actually had to go four months in a long distance relationship with my now husband several years ago while I was in school.  But we also had the advantage of Skype.  I remember hearing stories from my dad about how he and my mom would spend hundreds of dollars on long distance phone calls – something that I can’t even imagine.

I want your opinion on this topic.  Does this work in writing?  Have you read anything that you enjoyed involving long distance relationships?  

Friday, January 17, 2014

Taking Chances

When I was little, I really liked watching “The Magic School Bus.”  Something about their zany adventures adding with science was just the right mixture for me.  And there was always Miss Frizzle’s catch phrase:

Photo created by me

Now that should be my theme for 2014. 

I’m a normally cautious person.  I like to examine every option, and usually, my most common decision is to take the safe route.  In high school, I never went out and, I never liked going out of my comfort zone.  Safe is good, it’s not scary.

But safe never got me anywhere.  When I started applying for colleges, there were the safe ones.  The ones I knew I could get into and that I didn’t have to really worry about the applications.  There was one specific school I applied to that was a long shot.  I didn’t have a very good chance, and even if I did, it would be more difficult than going to a school near home.  Instead of moving to a different state, I’d be moving to a different country, learning a new language and a new culture.

I was terrified, but I took the chance.  When I got accepted to a university in Madrid, it took me weeks to convince myself that I wanted it.  That I was ready for it.  It took even longer to convince my parents. 
That one decision, crazy and outside of my comfort zone, was the best decision I ever made.  I found myself becoming more comfortable with myself, making friends I wouldn’t have made otherwise, and I ended up meeting my future husband.  I learned a new language, traveled to places I never thought I’d been and learned how to fend for myself.

You’d think that I’d have learned my lesson, but I still enjoy my comfort zone.  And that includes within writing.  Yes, I’ve slowly expanded the circle, but there’s still stuff that terrifies me.

This month, I finally did something that I never thought I’d be able to do.  I started sending out queries.  Now, that is terrifying.  And yet, I feel like it’s a step in the right direction.  I took a chance.  Was it a mistake?  Possibly, but it’s the only way that I can become a better writing and move past the fear that I have.

So that’s my new theme for this year.  I’m going to “take chances, make mistakes and get messy.”

Monday, January 13, 2014

Why I Write

The ending of 2013 was a bit rocky, though I think I’ve figured out why.  I stopped writing.  Life got pretty hectic and I felt like I had to set something aside, and writing was what I chose.  December was a terrible month, but after a long talk with my dad over the holidays, I realized that writing is my escape. 

When life gets hectic, the last thing to do is desert the thing that releases stress.  While driving to my parents’ house and back, I began writing again, and I remembered everything that I love about writing.

Going back to my stories is like greeting old friends.  I know these characters inside and out.  I know their struggles and their needs, and I want to cheer for them as they pursue their goals.  These characters make up a large part of my life.  And I know that it sounds weird saying that since technically they aren’t real.  But they’re real to me. 

Writing is a way for me to connect with my subconscious.  My creativity.  My inner child.  The part of my mind that doesn’t stress about passing medications on time or whether or not someone needs a catheter changed.  A section that doesn’t notice the laundry that’s piling up or the dishes lying in the sink.  In that part of my mind, I don’t remember the health problems that bring me down or the disappointment that make me want to cry.  It’s the chance to feel new and renewed, experiencing life for the first time and in a new world where I can control everything that happens.  I know that things will work out, even if it’s an imaginary struggle.  It still feels like a victory when it’s over.

When I write, I create.  I make a difference that I can see.  That’s not always possible in the rest of life.  As a nurse, sometimes, I get discouraged, knowing that there’s only so much that I can do for someone.  The human body is unpredictable, constantly changing.  At home, no matter what I do, there’s always something else that needs attention.  But when I write, I can see the changes, the increase in word count, the building of chapter upon chapter.  And no matter what happens, whether I need to rewrite it or not, it’s there.  I’ve saved it and it’s not going to disappear.  It’s not going to change. 

I need writing.  I need to allow that part of myself freedom to create and to flow.  When I suppress it, the rest of my life suffers and I struggle to focus. 

Why do you write?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Rewriting Step One: Admit You Have a Problem

Right now, I’m in the middle of some pretty heavy revisions on my Blue WIP.  My wonderful and dependable alpha even had a hard time getting through it.  It was a big experiment of 2013, trying to write without an outline and it ended up in a pretty big disaster. 

This novel was a sequel to my Red WIP (now ready for submission, yay!) and I wasn’t quite sure where I was going with the story.  Fast forward to November when I got the idea for the third book in the series. 

Series.  Did I seriously just write that?  Wow. 

Anyway, this book was the story of another one of my characters, set several years after the sequel.  The world had changed, and many of the changes occurred because of what happened in the second book.
Or, at least what SHOULD have happened in the second book.

But I was stuck.  I couldn’t figure out how to fix all of the errors in the second book and still have it bridge from the first to the third book.  Then, a week ago, my husband and I took an impromptu road trip to see my family.  9 hours driving through the snowstorms of Wyoming gave me plenty of time to think.  And not get distracted by the internet or anything else.  I pulled out my brand new tablet and took notes of what I wanted to keep.  And what I needed to scrap.

Usually, when I write stories, I start with the outline.  But I already had the basic idea for this novel.  After all, I’d already written it.  All I have to do is completely rewrite it and fix all of the parts that don’t work. 

Fortunately for me, I knew exactly what wasn’t working for the story.  Most of the characters.  Because I hadn’t planned, I didn’t know what they were doing or where they were going.  So this time, I started out with character bios.  I don’t go too in depth with most characters, but with these ones, I pulled out an excel sheet and made a table of all of the characters.  I then wrote their motives and needs.  For every single character.  As I did that, I realized that I was missing a character.  There was no major antagonist, no one whose needs and desires clashed with those of the protagonist. 

Enter Aza.  Let me tell you, she’s quite a character, and very different from anyone I’ve ever written before.  I’m excited for her to come into the story. 

Now it’s time for revisions.  Fortunately, I love those.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Are we there yet?

Over the holidays, my husband and I made an impromptu trip to visit my parents. It's a long drive, usually between 9 to 10 hours, and most of the way, the view is just desert. As a child, we took the trip at least once a year to see my grandparents.  And of course, 9 hours stuck in a car seemed like an eternity.

As we were driving, I was amazed by how much faster and seemingly familiar the trip was. Maybe because I'm now familiar with road signs and I'm able to determine for myself if we're "there yet." It’s much easier to endure the journey when I know what to expect and when I can gauge where I am on the road.

Writing is similar, at least for me. 

I need to know where I'm going so that I don't lose energy and determination to get there. I need a road map, a guide. And that's exactly what my outline is for me. But what's amazing is that now, after writing so many stories, I have a better idea of the journey. I know how to get there, even if the roads aren't always the same.

In my planning, I know what I need and what doesn't always add to the story. Instead of needing weeks to months to create characters with intricate back stories and settings, I know how much I need to start. Why take a journey if there isn't a little bit of adventure? As long as I know where I'm going and how to get there, I'll be fine.

How about the rest of you? What kind of road maps do you use when writing?

Monday, January 6, 2014

New Year, New Goals

Happy 2014!

It’s the beginning of the New Year, which means a time of self-reflection and new starts.  I have quite a few New Year’s resolutions, and as many of you might guess, many of them have to do with writing. 
So here’s my list so that you can all keep me on track.

1.  Finish writing synopsis for Red WIP, revise query.
2. Send out first batch of queries by the end of January.
3. Rewrite Blue WIP
4. Revise Yellow WIP

Having a clear list of goals is what really excites me for this year.  And I’ve already started.  I’ve finally written a draft of the synopsis that I like.  It’s at least the right direction.  Though I’d much rather write an entire new novel than a synopsis.  I think I’ve put too much pressure on it, though if my dozens of query drafts are any indication, I’ve still got a ways to go.

I’ve also written a clear outline on my Blue WIP with several changes that I really feel good about.  I figured out what was wrong with it.  Mostly just the beginning and the middle.  And most of the ending.  I started a new draft yesterday, and I’m already excited to keep going. 

I’m off to a good start, and I hope I can just keep this energy up! 

What resolutions do you have for 2014?  Are you already working toward them?