Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Guest Post: Author Sheila Roberts on Passion and Practicality

I have a special treat for everyone! Sheila Roberts, the author who leads my critique group, is doing a guest post here today! Sheila is an amazing mentor and true-blue friend. She is someone who inspires me in my life--not only as a writer but in a larger way, as a human being. I feel very fortunate to know her. And on top of all that, she provides our critique group with some of the best snackage ever. Yes, Sheila = AWESOME.

Here's some more info about her (I pulled it off her website): Sheila Roberts lives on a lake in the Pacific Northwest. She’s happily married and has three children. She’s been writing since 1989, but she did lots of things before settling in to her writing career, including owning a singing telegram company and playing in a band. Her band days are over, but she still enjoys writing songs. When she’s not speaking to women’s groups or at conferences or hanging out with her girlfriends, she can be found writing about those things near and dear to women’s hearts: family, friends, and chocolate.

Sheila Roberts
photo credit: Robert Rabe

Take it away, Sheila!



Oh, my gosh! Vampire books are so hot. I should write a vampire book. Oh, wait zombies are the new thing. Yes, let's do a zombie book! Hmmm. Maybe we should take a classic tale and tip it on its head - combine Jane Austen AND zombies. Oh, Jane Austen's been done. Well then, how about putting zombies on the moors with the Brontes? That would be cool. No, wait, talking dogs. That is the new trend. I could do talking dogs. Oh, no. Somebody's doing a book on fairies. I wanted to do a book on fairies. Now, what to do?

Ever have a conversation like that with yourself? Ever worry that you're missing the latest publishing trend, that the wave has crashed without you, that the plane has taken off and you're stuck in line at the Starbucks? That's why you're not selling, of course, because you missed the plane, you haven't caught the wave. You don't know what the next wave is. Oh, no!

You have to have heard this before, but let me restate it here, don't write to the trends. (Not unless it's something you are wild to write and you can turn it into something fresh.) Write what you are passionate about. And if what you're passionate about has some great talking points so much the better (because hey, as writers we not only have to think about the story, we have to think ahead to how we'll promote the story). Chances are, if you are excited about a subject other people probably will be also. At least I've found this to be true in my own writing life.

The topics I have been into writing about turned out to be subjects that struck a nerve with other women (my particular readership). When I was working on my novel On Strike for Christmas (about a group of friends who went on strike for more appreciation and put the men in charge of Christmas), I found many women nodding agreement. "I do everything," one woman lamented. "My husband doesn't even know what we got the kids." "My husband would just as soon stay home," said another. Hmm. That sounded a lot like Bob Robertson (aka Bob Humbug) from the novel, for whom my naughty husband was the prototype. Of course, guys rang in on the subject, too. "Who cares?" said one. "And who asked you women to do all that in the first place?" Hmmm. Good question. The more I talked with people the more I knew this topic would make for some fun reading and would be fun to promote - a perfect combination for a novel. And that is how I've done all the novels I've written these last few years. Find a topic that interests me and then see what I have to say about it that is just a little different. And interesting, first and foremost to me! My new release, Small Change (St. Martin's Press), deals with a topic about which I am passionate: learning to live large on a small budget. I have so much to say on this that I am not having any trouble at all coming up with ideas for interviews, press releases, book events, or blogs. Because this is a subject near and dear to my heart, I was able to really pour myself into the book and I'm still excited about it.

Here is a mental checklist I go through when I'm about to start a new book:
1. Is it fresh? (As in unique? Am I putting a new spin on an old story?)
2. Does it hit a nerve? (In other words, does it speak to something that interests a lot of people?)
3. Does it lend itself well to promotion? (If I've got nothing interesting to talk about in relation to this book maybe I don't want to write it. What's the point of having a book I can't promote? If I don't want to talk about it, who will want to read it?)

Now how about you? Are you passionate about the core belief underlying your story? Is that story fresh (did you find a new way to get your message across)? Is it something you could talk about with enthusiasm? And is it something other people will want to read and talk about also? If you can answer yes to those questions, chances are you have a winning combination.
It's Dawn again. I told you guys she was awesome! While I can't provide you with samples of Sheila's baked goods, I do have a surprise! Sheila is leaving me with one autographed copy of her new release, Small Change, for a contest giveaway!
Any of my followers who comment on this post before the contest closes will be entered to win. Yes, Niki in New Zealand, the contest is open to all my bloggy friends who are followers, not just those who reside in the U.S.! :) Since my friend Debra was so good at quality control for my last contest, let's pull her into this one, too! The contest will close Friday, April 2nd, at 8:00 p.m. PST.
Thank you, Sheila, for being with us today! I love ya!

Moonrat's Awesome Contest!

In honor of Moonrat getting her 500,000th hit at Editorial Ass today, she's having a giveaway contest. The prize: she'll critique the first twenty pages of the lucky winner's manuscript! Check out the contest! It ends March 31st at 11:00 p.m. EST!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Let the Games Begin!

Yeah, I'm talking mind games again. Remember when I mentioned expanding the definition of "first draft" to keep myself loose as I write? I thought it was cool that you guys understood. Your comments heightened that I'm-so-glad-I'm-blogging-and-interacting-with-lots-of-other-writers feeling, and they made me really think about my writing process. That's important because I never want to become stagnant as a writer; there's always room for growth.

So here's where I am now: My group met and we discussed the first chapters of my new WIP. It went well, in my humble opinion, though I'm definitely still writing my way into the novel. While I have an outline, it's very fluid. Some things looked great on the outline, but when I started writing...they
had to be changed or tweaked. As we discussed the chapters, we brainstormed a bit. Great stuff came to the surface, which equals more changes.

I'm excited! My OCD brain loves strengthening the beginning of the story before launching into the rest. Then I know I'm building on top of something that's fairly sturdy. Once I get
in deeper, I'll have to go back fewer times--though I'll still have to go back. At least that's been my pattern in the past. Sometimes, I won't allow myself to go back; in those cases, I'll write myself notes so I can push forward and make the changes later. But when I'm at the beginning, I need this "writing in" period. And while I'm finding every manuscript is different, I've been doing this long enough to have figured out some of the things that work for me and other things that don't. Of course, some of these may change over time.

Getting back to the mind games, I turned in my new chapter when we met. I reminded my critique group that this
is the first draft. Obviously, they were fully aware of this.
But still. It fed the first draft magic in my head. I know that chapter has too much exposition at the beginning of it. I know it's there for me, and I'll end up cutting most of it later, if not next week. I also know there's really good stuff in that chapter--things that will make me want to sit down and write every day and tell a whole story. I'm comfortable with all this because I'll clean up the whole book before any agents or editors see it. Dang, I'll revise it several times before any humans outside of critique group get their eyes on it!

But guess what?
I'm still writing the first draft. I. Love. That.

Some of you have already answered this, but do you consider it a first draft when you rework a chapter several times? I read the term "zero draft" yesterday. Can someone tell me what that is? It sounds like a mind game I might like... ;)

I'll close with a picture of Pepper and Thistle. They have nothing to do with this post, but they're so darn cute, aren't they?!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

What I'm Reading

I love getting book recommendations from my kids because:
a. They have great taste.

b. It means they're reading.

c. Each book we share is one more thing we have in common.

My son, who reads way faster than I do, told me I should read

It's the first book in The Looking Glass Wars trilogy. Here's the blurb from the back of the book:

The Myth

Alice Liddel was an ordinary girl who stepped through the looking glass and entered a fairy-tale world invented by Lewis Carroll in his famo
us storybook.
The Truth

Wonderland is real. Alyss Heart is the heir to the throne, until her murderous aunt Redd steals the crown and kills Alyss's parents. To escape Redd, Alyss and her bodyguard, Hatter Madigan, must flee to our world through the Pool of Tears. But in the pool Alyss and Hatter are separated. Lost and alone in Victorian London, Alyss is befriended by an aspiring author, to whom she tells the violent, heartbreaking story of her young life. Yet he gets the story all wrong. Hatter Madigan knows the truth only too well, and he is searching every corner of our world to find the lost princess and return her to Wonderland so she may battle Redd for her rightful place as the Queen of Hearts.

I really enjoyed it. I also felt the gorgeous illustrations in the middle of the book helped set the tone for Beddor's fantasy world. While I was at the bookstore last week, I ordered my son the next book, SEEING REDD. Of course, I may have to borrow it. ;)

I haven't seen the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp version of ALICE IN WONDERLAND yet, but remember this?

Just yesterday, I finished
PAPER TOWNS by John Green.

OMG, people. At a future date, I'm probably going to have to do a whole post on John Green. I kept hearing about his awesomeness and had PAPER TOWNS on my long-and-always-shifting to-be-read list, but it took me this long to get to it. Now his other books are needs, not wants. Yeah, he's that good. Here's the blurb for PAPER TOWNS:

Who is the real Margo? Quentin Jacobson has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs into his life--dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge--he follows. After their all-nighter ends, and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always an enigma, has now become a mystery. But Q soon learns that there are clues--and they're for him. Urged down a disconnected path, the closer he gets, the less Q sees the girl he thought he knew...

That John Green...I'm his newest fan.

How about you guys? Have you read either of these books? What are you reading?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

First Drafts

I'm off and running with my newest WIP, and I'm jazzed about it. I get to work on a new puzzle. I'm applying the road map I've created, the notes I've made, the character sketches I've completed, and the research I've done so far--everything--to the blank page. I'm officially neck deep in first draft.

As crazy as the first draft stage can be, there are oodles of things I love about it. One is based entirely on Anne Lamott's "sh**ty first draft" theory. As a perfectionist, this frees me up. I'm allowed to suck. The beauty of this, of course, is I can loosen up to get it all out: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
I love to be allowed to have it all. Whose permission do I need? My own.

I mentioned at Becky Levine's blog that my critique group members and I turn in chapters as we go. Once I'm into my first draft, my goals are usually to go through the edits in my returned chapter and write a new chapter each week. I leave a small amount of time to clean up the new chapter so my group can see it as pretty as I can make it that week. Technically, I suppose that makes my completed first draft hardly a first draft at all since every chapter has been edited at least once by my group and at least twice by me. But in my mind (and in my computer), I still file it under "first draft." Mind game? Totally. But it works for me.
Even doing revisions, when I'm creating entirely new scenes or changing an old scene substantially, I have to tell myself to return to the first draft frame of mind. And it helps me.

There's no right or wrong way to write a novel; each one of us needs to do what works for us as individuals. Still, it's so interesting to hear how other people do it.
How do you work? Do you show your critique partners, your agent, or your spouse--anyone--chapters as you go, or do you keep the first draft to yourself? Does knowing it's the first draft help you relax and just get words down? Are there any mind games you play with yourself to help you work?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Please Note: My Mail Server Was Down

The server that hosts my email account crashed, and, as a result, my email was not being delivered Monday, March 8th (starting around 2:00 pm PST) and Tuesday, March 9th (ending around 7:00 pm PST). Please resend any messages if you tried getting hold of me between those times, even if you received notice of a delayed delivery.

Thank you,


Saturday, March 6, 2010

Monsters in the Pacific Northwest?!

Looking for something fun to do with the kids over Spring Break? Here's an idea! My friend Nina Hess, author of A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO MONSTERS, is going to be at the Skamania Lodge (Stevenson, WA) for a special event! It will take place on Saturday, March 27th, from 2:00-4:00. Here are the deets:

Bed & Book-fest - A Family Experience
Join award-winning children's author Nina Hess for a reception of milk and cookies at Skamania Lodge on Saturday, March 27th from 2:00-4:00 pm. Families and children will enjoy meeting Nina, author of The New York Times picture book best-seller, A Practical Guide to Monsters. This is a fully illustrated overview of all different kinds of fantasy monsters. In addition, children can participate in a Monster Making Workshop and design their own monster using a handout created by Ms. Hess.

Price - $15 per child for hotel guests, $20 for children not staying in the hotel. (Each child will go home with a signed copy of Ms. Hess's book

I realize most of you aren't local, but is sounds like a great time for those who can make it!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Creative Writer Blogger Award

It's time to come clean and tell you which items on my list are truths and which are lies. I'm going to do this Stephanie Thornton-style, showing you my list again, but this time with commentary.

Here we go:

1. Just after making the cut for the 1984 U.S. Olympic team (equestrian), I fell off my horse and dislocated my shoulder. I was dropped from the team. Since the Olympics took place in L.A. that year and I lived in L.A. County, I was able to go and cheer on my friends. Lie! Reality: I took horseback riding lessons in eighth grade and loved the Black Stallion series. Is it just me or is my truth slightly less impressive than my Olympics whopper? ;)

2. My mom and a few friends met JFK. Even though he only talked to them for a few minutes, a photo of them together came out in a magazine about twenty years later. Truth! Isn't that way cool?! My mom, from Boston, was a nurse. She was with some of her friends who were also nurses. Someone was rushing Mr. Kennedy (I believe it was just before or just after he became president) along, but he said he first wanted to talk to the group of nurses from Boston. He was very friendly and sweet, talked with them a few minutes, then left for wherever he was headed. Years passed. We all knew the story from my mom, but it was wild when a picture popped up in a magazine in the eighties!
3. When I was four, I modeled shoes for the Sears catalog. I did this for two months, but I got fired when I started throwing tantrums. Lie!

4. I performed in three parades at Disneyland. Truth! Our high school marching band, drill team, tall flag team, and rifle squad performed there every winter. I guess this is where I tell you that I twirled a rifle in high school. Don't laugh--our uniforms were pretty cute. Well, our competition uniforms were completely dorky, but we wore cheerleader-style uniforms to football games. Anyway, after performing in the parade, we had free admission for the rest of the day!

5. My cousin Paul played a corpse on NCIS in 2008. Lie! And who the heck is Cousin Paul?!

6. I have a bobblehead collection. Some of my favorites: Rodney Dangerfield (CADDYSHACK edition), the Kraft Macaroni and Cheese dinosaur, and thin Elvis. Lie! My son owns a few sports bobbleheads, but that's about it.

7. They had to stop the escalator at Mall of America because my shoelace got caught. Lie! But couldn't you totally see that happening to me?

Now that I'm done with the award, you can trust me again. Honest. :)