Sunday, August 30, 2009

Writing to Sell

I was emailing a friend of mine that I've come to the conclusion that I probably need to change genres and target group after looking at what's selling like hotcakes in the marketplace.
So I came up with a premise that will fit into the Young Adult Fantasy/Horror market.

A fifteen year old vampire-fairy morphs into the body of a human blonde cheerleader who falls in love with the to-die-for quarterback but in the process accidentally discovers he is a wizard-fairy turned into a werewolf by her own vampire-fairy godmother and only another vampire-fairy can remove the spell and save him, however, unbeknownst to her, his one mission in life is to destroy all vampire-fairies or he will become an ugly little troll as did his father and grandfather before him. Will her own guardian pixie stop her in time? Will she remove the spell and be destroyed? Or will the to-die-for quarterback choose to become a troll to finally be close to his estranged father?

Yep, this is a keeper.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Revising to Escape a Drought

The drought here in San Antonio makes it hard to do anything. It's like the only storm cloud overhead is clinical depression and it's hovering over the city. Someone asked if I noticed how the people in San Antonio don't have their usually friendly attitudes. Everyone does whatever he needs to do and then spends the rest of the time indoors. It's hard to keep upbeat when you are seeing the dying grass, shrubs, and trees day after day, week after week, with no relief in sight.

In my neighborhood I would wake up in the morning, put on my cross-trainers, and join the crowd of early morning walkers scurrying around like busy little ants. I don't walk anymore. Now, once in a while I will see one or two dedicated walkers hit the pavement but the rest of us quit. It's just too unpleasant to be outdoors.

All of this has made it difficult to write and here's where I've tried to treat writing as a job. I know when I taught school it didn't matter what the weather was doing, or even how I was feeling, I had to go to school every day and do my job.

After goofing off in June and July, I decided August would be different. I had to force myself to sit at the computer and write something every day. My mind was blank and what I wrote was awful.

In order to keep showing up, I decided it was time to start the first major revision of my first draft of my WIP and I'm glad I did. Once I jumped in, I lost myself in my MC's world which isn't going through a drought. I added a nice refreshing thunderstorm and lush, green scenery. Now I have no trouble sitting down each morning and working!

Thursday, August 20, 2009


After working alone for a few years, piling up manuscripts in various stages of development, and bugging my family and friends to give their opinions on my work, I knew I needed someone to rip into the work and tell me exactly what wasn't working. "It's good! I love it!" puffed up my ego and it felt really good but I knew those rejections would keep coming if I didn't get the truth from other writers.

It's hard to hand over your work to strangers and I had put it off long enough. It was time to join a critique group. That is not easy! Most are full and have definite requirements for newbies. That's understandable since the groups have studied and progressed and don't want to start over from the beginning with a newcomer. It took months of searching the SCBWI boards and Verla Kay. I learned from others that not all critique groups are a good fit and they were right. I also learned that when you find the right one--it's wonderful!

I wound up joining and leaving a couple in the beginning because of a variety of reasons. One group I joined was made up of all newbies like me and we really knew nothing about critiquing. We floundered and I moved on to a group of experienced writers with a couple of newbies. We did well for each other--and then no one posted because we got busy with our lives and it died a slow death.

The last group I belonged to is still going strong and was the best fit. This time I left since I couldn't devote the time needed and that wasn't fair to them. They are an amazing group of writers who promised to take me back when I was ready. I miss them!

The one thing I learned from the experience is that most people, including me, don't know how to give a really good critique. I did the best I could and became better at it but the same questions kept popping up.

  1. Where do I start? Do I concentrate on grammar, spelling, punctuation, or skip that and go into characters, plot, dialogue?
  2. How do I tell someone that their baby isn't working right? And if it's not, do I know enough to point out exactly what will make it work?
  3. If they've been at this for a while they've probably developed a thick skin but I still have to be careful not to hurt their feelings so how do I maintain a balance between criticism and praise?
  4. Why is it that some people have to be told the same thing over and over again? Can I say it once and then ignore it the next time?

Today someone told me about Linda Sue Park's website and her page on Critiques. Her advice covers it all! When I begin my critiques again--I'm going to be a whole lot better at it!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Writing Mysteries and Kristi Holl

Writing middle grade mysteries is a lot more of a challenge than most people realize. As a matter of fact, most people think writing for children is a snap and even in the writing community a lot of writers, agents, and editors turn their noses up at children's writers as if they are second rate. Writing for children is tough and governed by rules that other writers don't have to consider. But I'll save that rant for another day.

When I chose to write mysteries it was because I loved them growing up. I couldn't get enough of Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys and later Phyllis Whitney, Victoria Holt, Earl Stanley Gardiner, and so on...I had no idea just how difficult it would be to create one. The first thing I had to decide is what age I wanted to write for and middle grade turned out to be the right age for me.

So far I don't think The Secret in the Cellar is strictly a mystery. I would classify it more of a suspense/thriller. My latest WIP Secrets at Wentworth is a mystery with red herrings. In planning this manuscript I kept referring to the lessons provided from one of the best children's mystery writers out there today. In case someone else needs help in this area I thought I would share the information.

I'm talking about Kristi Holl. I was lucky enough to attend a workshop with her a few years back and until that workshop I hadn't been aware of her work. The workshop was fabulous and I came away from it totally enthralled. I went straight to the library and found The Haunting of Cabin 13 and Danger at Hanging Rock. I was hooked.

Then I pulled up her website and squealed in delight. She had included a section called Mystery Writing. There are seventeen topics covering lessons for writing mysteries that every children's mystery writer needs to copy and refer to when plotting their own mysteries. Those lessons helped me become better at plotting and structuring my own work.

Kristi's series The Boarding School Mysteries from Zonderkidz/Faithgirlz are exciting puzzlers about real crimes with appealing characters and believable actions and endings. I purchased them for my great nieces and they loved them. I just hope someday to produce a mystery almost as good as these. Kristi has put out several books on different subjects, be sure and check out her website even if you don't write mysteries.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Educational Site

My best friend, a former third grade teacher, has a daughter who is about to enter her second year of teaching. While helping her daughter look for things she could use to supplement the curriculum, she came upon Suzy Red's website and discovered a treasure of materials. Kids Wings Download Literature Units are truly amazing. If you are looking for some new ideas this is a good place to start.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Victims of Drought and a Poor Ecomomy

We are in the middle of a drought here in San Antonio and under water restrictions. The temperature is setting record highs. Right now the most important thing to me is keeping shrubs and trees alive. My backyard St. Augustine lawn doesn't exist. It is dry, straw colored, and crunchy. The bermuda patches in the sunny areas is dormant or dead.

I started the spring with a small vegetable garden built around a baby crape myrtle. After I harvested cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, etc. and put up pickles. I pulled up all the plants, scattered bermuda seed, and each morning hand water it in. It's barely growing, but I hope to have something to protect the soil around the roots of the crape myrtle before winter.

Because in my neighborhood we have possum, raccoon, and other critters running around at night, I keep a bird feeder full of chicken scratch for all of them. (It's the kind that any animal can crawl in and eat) I also keep the two birdbaths full of water, refilled twice a day, and a container on my patio for the smaller animals and cats that roam. Two of my neighbors also do this.

The population of "stray" cats that traveled in herds on certain streets is practically gone. Most of these have no homes, some do, and were being fed by kind people and dined on rodents and doves. Several of the cats were trapped, neutered or spayed, and rereleased. They are just disappearing. None of us really want to know why.

The other morning I got up and found a pitiful little cat had crawled onto the patio. He, I have no idea of gender, was emaciated-dehydrated and starving. Being full grown he should have weighed 10 pounds and just picking it up it felt less than three. He mewed softly and sweetly but was dying and he refused water and food that I offered. No way could he be saved without huge vet bills. Here is where my disappointment in big cities comes in. The Humane Society will not take a sick animal. "If you can afford it, have it treated by a vet first. Then you will be put on a list to bring it in if a place opens up through adoption." This is what they told me when I found a dog, luckily I found the owner through it's microchip.
I put the cat in a carrier, even as weak as it was it resisted, and drove the thirty minutes across town to the new Animal Care Services. (The city pound) Their goal is to be a no kill shelter one day and they are doing great things.
The young man that waited on me took the cat's picture, my I.D., and said, looking down at the floor, "When they come in like this, they are usually euthanized."
"I know and I think it would be a kindness," I said.
He looked relieved, I guess they get a lot of flack. Another young man came out to take over and couldn't be nicer. He asked me about the carrier and I told them to keep it as well as the towel inside for the cat's comfort. "I know you'll want it isolated since it may be ill, feline aids was found in our neighborhood from another stray." He thanked me and took the cat to another building.
I filled out paperwork and felt really bad.
This cat was not a feral. He was too sweet and loving to not be somebody's pet. If he got lost that's one thing, but so many people drop unwanted animals off in neighborhoods thinking that they have children so it will find a good home fast. Problem with that thinking is that if the parents want the children to have pets they already have them. Another reason could be that this cat might have been abandoned. The economy has caused foreclosures in my area and people just leave their pets behind. If they aren't taken in right away, they wind up like this cat.
That sweet little cat didn't deserve this and after all his suffering he at least could have a kind death.When I got home I looked at my gray and white, neutered, pampered, indoor, male 16 pounder. "You are so lucky." He just flicked his tail to let me know I was disturbing his nap.
Then I scrubbed out the water container on the patio to prevent the spread of disease.

Friday, August 7, 2009

An Author's Image

In the September issue of The Writer magazine. Chuck Leddy wrote an article entitled: "Hot shots: The marketing of an author's image." Basically it is about how an attractive author has an advantage when it comes to having their books marketed. If they take a great photograph getting publicity is easier. And it seems people in the publishing business are "courting" attractive authors.

I glanced in the nearest mirror. Maybe with botox, a lift or two, hair dye, and a good makeover--I might take a good picture. But, maybe I wouldn't have to do that to get a book published, because then the article made me laugh. I quote: "As Jessa Crispin, editor of the literary Web site Bookslut, told NPR,"I have met too many writers who look absolutely nothing like their author photo. You meet them at a party, and you're like, 'Who are you?' "

Chuck Leddy's last sentence was perfect. "While a good author photo can't hurt your career, writing a good book is even better."

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Science Fiction and Fantasy

I've never been into Science Fiction and Fantasy as a main genre for writing or reading but I will snap up and read the ones that my friends are reading. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S.Lewis, Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, Alexander Key's The Forgotten Door, and all the Harry Potter's books, are just some of my past favorites. There have been many more and some being published by the Blueboarders that I'm planning on buying.

Today I would like to brag on a writer friend who is not only in this month's issue of Stories for Children with two stories and is in their anthology, but Gilda Herrera's excellent story for children, Earning An Encounter, is in the July issue of Beyond Centauri. Due to some technical problem, the magazine didn't arrive until late, but it was well worth the wait. Another story of hers, The Missing Ingredient, will be in the January, 2010, issue.

For those of you who are looking for a home for your Science Fiction and Fantasy stories, Sam's Dot Publishing puts out several print magazines and is worth looking into.

Congratulations, Gilda!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Dreaded Query Letter

The Secret in the Cellar is a middle grade mystery I completed this summer. By that I mean, through the last three years it has been through two critique groups, numerous revisions, numerous title changes, and even one, big, time consuming POV change. Now I have to start submitting it. Since very few publishers accept the whole manuscript, it's now time to create the master query letter.
I pretty well mastered the cover letter and synopsis for fiction stories to magazines, but the query letter is a whole different thing. Some advice articles tell you start with a question others say that's a no-no. Some writers say, keep them guessing so they want to read the manuscript, most editors and agents (and published authors) say that's a really big no-no. They want to know the ending in advance. Listening to editors and agents, I decided early on, is the way to go.
Donald Maass, a literary agent, has a free downloadable book on his site: The Career Novelist. In it is an example of a query letter. It is perfect. Simple, direct, interesting, brief, and made me want to read the book.
I printed off that example as a guideline, sat down at the computer, and couldn't do it!!! Writing this query letter has kept the manuscript on hold, it's got to be one of the hardest things I've ever done. I haven't even got a good enough one to present to another writer for help. But..I can do this... that's my mantra. I repeat it several times as I head for my writing room, pull out the chair, and sit down to revise it for the umpteenth time.
The only good thing about struggling over this is knowing that maybe, just maybe, when my WIP is ready, I will be able to type the query letter up in minutes rather than days. At least, I hope that's what I'll do...