Thursday, March 31, 2011

My Novel's Journey: Neeta Lyffe II: Conference Fun

Ninja Monkey picture by Donovan84.

One thing I adore about writing conferences is that I always get the BEST ideas from the workshop homework.

This year, I chose three workshops to work on Neeta Lyffe II: I Left My Brains in San Francisco--Real-world worldbuilding and Obviously, God has a sense of humor, both done by my good friend Walt Staples; and Structuring characters, by Tanya Stowe.

What I loved about each of these (and the others I took) was that they gave just a little bit of theory, some practical examples, then presented a challenge for me to apply the ideas to my own work.

In the worldbuilding, we examined different aspects of creating a fictional world based on reality: doing research, seeing the world through your characters eyes and creating characters that are a natural result of your world. I already knew my world pretty well from Neeta Lyffe, but not only did this give me a chance to apply it to San Francisco (and to determine where I need more research), I also came up with some funny ideas--like the Ninja Monkey Dance! (It "was" all the rage in the early 2020s.) I also rounded out where the zombie invasion will come from, and came up with a couple of minor characters. Here's one.

Chenille: A student at ArtsInstitute-San Francisco, Chenille is into environmental art. She's a fangirl of Hollister Grant, the scientific "genius" behind the Global Fattening theory, which says that climate destabilization is not caused by warming or cooling but by the uneven distribution of the human population due to rampant urbanization. When Grant returns as a zombie (which Neeta re-kills), Chenille's deepest desire is fulfilled when Ted affirms that yes, the fish had indeed nibbled at his corpse, before he returned to shore.

In humor, Walt explained some of the basic conventions of humor--slice of life, the double-take, the change-up pitch, the build and pop--and challenged us to write something for each. I'd never dissected humor before, and Walt is as funny in his lectures as in his stories. Here's my "final exam":

When they entered the trade show floor, Ted grabbed Neeta's forearm. "Rule One of trade shows," he instructed. "Always stop first and take it allllll in."

Neeta made a visual sweep of the floor. Dark fabric on piped made booths where entrepreneurs demonstrated and sold the tool of her trade, some with flat-screens playing videos to show their superior effectiveness. This year, the cleaning products and containers dominated the row farthest away from the food court; at least their complaints had paid off. Nothing like trying to enjoy the convention center's clam chowder with someone spraying chlorine bleach from a supersoaker only a dozen feet away. That aisle had been reserved for protective equipment: rubber boots and biohazard suits, gloves and motorcycle helmets. Vendors selling the more practical equipment took up the middle. Swords and chainsaws, and…was that a lirpa? Every year, he brings a few of those, and every year some Star Trek fan figures if he can't use it at work, at least it will look impressive on his wall.

To the back, they saw a spout of flame and heard a shout, but the sprinklers didn't go off. Someone must have gotten to the extinguishers in time. The flamethrower guys usually knew what they were doing.

And, of course, sticking out like a guilded thumb, a stage for Zombie Death Extreme. Saturday, she was going to have spend half the day there schmoozing people in the name of a contract she only signed to get out of debt last year.

She shrugged. Looked like any other zombie exterminator trade show her mom had dragged her through as a kid, but when she looked at Ted, she saw his eyes glowing like it was Christmas.

"So?" he asked. "Monofilament swords first, or the flamethrowers?"

"Remember our budget?" she said.

"Hey, a guy can dream!"

I never took a creative writing course, so Tanya's information was wonderfully new to me--about the character arc, the "dark moment" every protagonist must have, relationship barriers, tangible objectives... I must admit, it was so late at night when I did that assignment, I read it as "tangible OBJECT" and was rather confused until the next lesson. Tanya also patiently led me through several tries in pinning some of this down, as a result of which, I understand my "love triangle" of Neeta, Ted and Marcel a lot better. I came up with a fun scene where they are at a convention dance, and Marcel tries to woo Neeta on the dance floor and does a pretty fair job of it, but Ted steps in and wins her over with--you guess it!--the Ninja Monkey.

A fun advantage of this was that I showed my family the Ninja Monkey. My husband danced it with me, and my daughter just stared and shrugged. "And my friends wonder where I get it."

The CWCO is done for a year, and I can't say I'm not relieved--it's a lot of work--but I'm so grateful for the wonderful presenters and the opportunity to build up my book. If you have a chance to attend a conference, online or live, then I highly encourage it!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

My Novel's Journey: Mind Over Psyche Excerpt

This is an excerpt from Chapter 11, chosen at random.

Tasmae drowned in cold, heavy waters; bathed in fire; was torn from the inside.  The whole time, images and emotions pounded up on her: anger and hate, despair and confusion, passion and ambition.

Make it stop! Make it stop! Makeitstop!

That’s enough! Her warrior self exploded.  Gardianju! Tell me what this means.  We don’t have time for this.

Too many signals, all in conflict.  She hung by a thread over an abyss, but when she blinked, it turned into a padded pink box.  She screamed and tried to climb.

The rope snapped.

She fell.

Tasmae was again flung from the Remembrance, this time full of adrenalin.  Taking advantage of her guardians’ surprise, she dashed from the room.

She ran through the empty compound thinking only that the walls were too close, the air too heavy, the shadows full of phantoms ready to ambush.  She cried with delight to see the sun burning bright.  She drank in its heat.

A unicorn waited at the door.

Despite muscles that felt bruised and hands that felt raw, she threw herself onto his back and let him carry her to an open field.

Once there, however, she panicked at being alone with the images left from the Remembrance.  She couldn’t make herself go back, either.  Leinad would take her, by force, if necessary, and make her complete the Remembrance.  I can’t let him, she’d thought wildly, I can’t

She couldn’t be alone, and she couldn’t seek out anyone Kanaan.  Not like this.  She was contaminated with the insanities of Gardianju; she couldn’t risk touching someone’s mind now.  She was barely handling it, and it was part of her Talent.  No healer would touch her, no friend offer comfort.

Her mind reeling, she slid from the unicorn’s back and sat upon the ground, legs crossed, arms wrapped around her stomach, rocking slightly.  She didn’t know why she was doing it.  She couldn’t make herself stop.  The unicorn nuzzled her gently, sending a cautious query, but she didn’t respond.  She was trapped.  Alone.

Suddenly, an everyn dove out of the sky and landed beside her, wheedling its way onto her lap.  No, sister, he told her.  You are never alone.

Another everyn joined, then another and another, until she was surrounded by a dozen or more, until her lap and arms were full of small dragon-like creatures, their cheeks stroking her skin, wings enveloping her.  Carefully, they teased the tortured memories of Gardianju from her, replacing them with affection and reassurance. 

We are the first of the Greater Beasts and brothers to the animals; share the chaos with us.  We can handle it.  We have done this duty before; it is our God-sent Talent.  It is our avocation, our joy to help you as our ancestors had helped other Miscria.  Take our aid, sister.  Accept our love.

They guided her through a cleansing, led her gently to Divine Love.  Words floated through her mind:  Mercifully guard my every thought and grant that I may always watch for Your light, and listen to Your voice, and follow Your gracious inspirations.  I cling to You and give myself to You and ask You, by Your compassion to watch over me in my weakness…

She blinked, suddenly aware of her surroundings.  Not only everyn surrounded her now:  unicorns and some lesser beasts had joined the circle of love and support.  A large, wolflike creature had shoved his way through enough to lay its shaggy head upon her lap, and she scratched its ears gratefully.  Normally, they were solitary creatures, feral and sometimes dangerous.  She thought she knew which images it had shared for her sake.

It tolerated one more scratch and took off with an explosion of motion that sent several everyn flying and squawking in protest.  She found herself laughing, and thanked the beasts who had saved her from herself and helped her back to sanity.  Then she closed her eyes again, gave her gratitude to God, and felt His love in reply.  The words came back to her.  Sometimes, the Miscria were given words, like the recitation to call the Ydrel.  But these were not from the Remembrance, or from Deryl.  Even the accent was different.

Joshua.  Tasmae rose and asked the unicorn to take her to the human.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Progress on Domestic Goddess Goals

Here it is, March, and I thought I'd give you all an update on my domestic goddess goals, mostly because Rob ran across this cartoon on and said, "This used to be us!"

The biggest one for me this year was to cook at home more often. We are terrible about fast food mainly because I get too involved in writing and forget to prepare anything, then get lazy and ask Rob to grab burgers on the way home. This year, I wanted to try new recipes and cook at home five or six mights a week (we like to go to a restaurant on the weekend, and usually catch fast food or pizza at least one night because of lessons, etc.)

So far, I've not tried any new recipes, nor has anyone really cared about it. However, I am doing very well at having a dinner ready. The crock pot has especially been my friend with this. Sometimes, I even put a roast to cook in it and leave it for days--fantastic! What's even nicer is that we've rediscovered "leftovers soup." For the beef, anyway; only Amber and I prefer my chicken soup of Campbell's, alas. That's OK. The chicken is great for salads and sandwiches, and the broth can be used for cooking the next chicken--or tossing into the beef soup.

The Flylady regime continues to go well--in fact, my supercleaner mom came over for a week and told me she was bored one day when I left her home to run errands because there wasn't anything to clean.

The dining room chairs, as you know are recovered--and we made a matching valance, table runner and pot holders, plus 10 napkins!

Reading Scripture and praying daily still isn't 100 percent, but I'm much better than last year.

We're still working on the kids and homework thing. They are reminded daily as part of their Fabulous Five; and I check for missing assignments each Wednesday and track grades each Friday. We have the teachers helping us to help Steven learn to better track his assignments. He's always been scatterbrained that way.

The credit card thing has not gone as well as I'd hoped, since the boys took up skiing. However, between credit card debt and finding a sport all my men love, I'll take the sport! They all need the physical outlet and it's bringing them closer together. Some things are worth the debt. However, we are working to cut down on incidentals--like fast food--so that's helping, as is my selling more stories.

Of course, exercise is my other downfall. My arm, after showing some great improvement, took a turn downward again; this time in a new, weird spot. So more physical therapy and more being careful with the sword. However, I have no excuse for not doing the daily workouts other than I just get lazy.

Gotta work on the laundry and cooking thing with the kids. I actually forgot I'd set that goal.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

My Novel's Journey: Mind Over Matter edits-Wrap Up

It's done! I'm sending it off to the publisher! Mind Over Psyche (was Mind Over Matter) is finally finished and I feel really good about it. I'm sure my terrific editor at DragonMoon will have some suggestions, but in the meantime, here's a wrap-up:

Beginning Word count before rewrite: 132,000 approx
Word count after re-write: 99,427 (557,249 characters)
Word Count after backwards edit: 98,640 (553,096 characters)
--# changes found in backward edit: 1100, approximately

Major changes:
--Flashbacks made real-time
--Subplot removed/diminished
--Deryl's motivation made stronger
--Character I thought would come back didn't
--First chapter trashed and elements woven into subsequent chapters
--2-page chapter incorporated into preceding chapter so that chapter lengths are more even.

I'll be at the Catholic Writers Conference Online next week, but I'll post an excerpt for Thursday.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Boys Upstairs by Jane Lebak

Synopsis: Jay Farrell, a crippled priest, has begun housing homeless boys in his rectory. Once a street kid himself, he was riding the rocket-train to a lifetime in prison until the day he drove over a land mine in Iraq. Today he works at an inner-city parish, running a soup kitchen and struggling to manage an impoverished church.

With temperatures below zero and falling a few nights before Christmas, Jay's estranged brother Kevin dumps three more children on his front porch. Kevin, a cop who can't believe in God after all the evil he's seen, hasn't spoken to Jay in years, but he knows Jay will at least give the kids a place to stay. It isn't over yet, though. As they work together to meet the children's needs, they must confront the long-buried emotions that have divided them so long.

The Boys Upstairs examines the real gift of the holiday season and how hope can transform the ones society condemns as not worth saving.

Mini Review: I read this aloud to my 10-year-old son, and he really enjoyed it. I must say that I had a hard time at some points keeping my voice clear because the scenes choked me up. Despite the title, this is really a story about two brothers finding each other again. I would have liked more about the children--perhaps Jane will consider a second novella? I definitely recommend this to anyone looking for a heartwarming story no matter what time of year.

Purchase Link: Amazon Kindle:

Saturday, March 12, 2011

My Novel's Journey: Mind Over Matter edits

Sorry this is late, but I did finish the backwards edit on Mind Over Mind.

Incidentally, I'm changing the title (publisher approving, of course) to Mind Over Psyche because it fits the plot better. I'd like to use Mind Over Matter for last one, I think.

What's a backwards edit? You start with the last sentence of the manuscript, read and evaluate it, make changes. Then you read the next to the last sentence, evaluate and make changes. Then the one before that... You keep going until the first sentence of the manuscript.

So why edit backwards?

It forces you to look at each sentence on its own merit.
It keeps you from getting caught up in the plot.
It stops your mind from filling in blanks based on context.
It lets you look at a sentence for language use rather than mere utility.
Sometimes, you catch logical disconnects that you didn't see reading forwards.

Here are a couple of examples:

Man, did I use the words "suddenly" and "just" a lot. Neither I nor my critiquers (save one) notice when caught in the plot, but when backwards, I realized I'd used it several times on one page.

I caught a lot of passive voice. Taking the sentences out of context made me more aware of passive voice (was, is are) and progressive (am doing, was doing). Many times, I could cut those. Ditto for adverbs.

I realized that I had Deryl riding a unicorn BEFORE he put his clothes back on. Lady Godiva, he is not! Changed that.

I found places I could add more foreshadowing.

I discovered one place where I headhopped. It was seemless when reading it forward, but jarring backward.

I made a lot of sentences stronger.

Old: He was aware, too, or how hard Tasmae had hit him and how much his neck and throat ached.

New: His neck throbbed from Tasmae's choking and his head with it.

I also had the joy of realizing that I love this book just as much backward as forward. When I can say that, I know I've done well!

Now, I have to put in the changes. The manuscript is 98,350 words. What do you think it will be when I'm done?

Monday, March 07, 2011

On Letter Writing

I have a good friend that I met online. Walt is part of the Catholic Writers' Guild, and was president for a while, and he and I have critiqued each other's works. He's very funny, and as a parent of grown kids helped me get through some tough times with my son last year. We e-mailed just about every day. This year, however, changes in his life have meant he's gone offline. However, that doesn't mean our friendship has ended. Walt is a letter writer.

Remember letters? Not those year-in-reviews people send out each December, but actual off-the-cuff newsy handwritten letters? I used to write letters all the time, until the Internet and online friendships made e-mail, IM and chats the communication mediums of choice. Now, I try to send my godkids a postcard or short letter once a month, but that's about it.

This month, however, I've had to rediscover the art of letter writing. I thought I'd share with you some of the things I think makes a great letter, and how to write them.

1. Take your time. Unlike e-mail or IM, you can stop and think, put the letter aside and pick it up at the end of the day. Just be sure to get it in the mailbox eventually.

2. Respond to the other person's letters in your own words. Unlike e-mail, where you can paste a direct quote from their e-mail and then your thought, you have to compose your thoughts with theirs in mind. This can mean a little extra work, but it also requires a little more thought. It becomes conversation instead of parroting.

3. IM is good for the minutiae of life, but in letters, go beyond that. Your reactions, your ideas, your gripes--share yourself not just your to-do list. If you have business, talk business, but if this is a letter to a friend as well, tell them a little about your day, the kids, whatever.

4. Have fun. Write the kind of letter you want to read, too!

Friday, March 04, 2011

Marketing on Amazon

This past week, I let my novels sit and stew while I concentrated on setting up the Catholic Writers Conference Online and put some effort into my author pages on Amazon.

This is something I've been meaning to do for a long time. Amazon is right now the big bear of online selling, so it should not be ignored. I've read many success stories of authors who say their sales increases are due to working Amazon. So this week, I made a list of things to do and got on them.

First, I had to log into amazon's author central. If you do not have an author's central account, get one. This lets you do a lot of things including adding information about you and your books.

Next, I updated my bio, added some pictures. Simple stuff, though I don't think I'll really have a lot of sales success from them.

Then I opened up each book's page and got to work on the info. This is the stuff like reviews, summaries, etc. Your publisher should fill in some of it, but a lot gets left blank. I put in reviews, the back-cover information and revised the product descriptions where they were the same as the back-cover blurb. I also added my genre-specific bio.

There's an interesting section called "From the Author." You're supposed to add something about why you wrote the book, etc. I put in some snippets from interviews, a guest post I wrote on building the world for Neeta Lyffe, etc. (Time-saving key: re-use what you already have if you can.) It made for an interesting mix, I think.

I read an interesting blog about the importance of tagging books on Amazon, so once or twice a week, I ask folks to tag my books. I post the request on Twitter and Facebook, then to whatever genre-specific group I belong to. I don't know the results yet, but I'll let you know. I've got a record of my amazon ratings.

Also on my list are some sillies like listmania, joining a group or two, etc. I'm aiming for a small task a day.

What are your ideas for Amazon?