Friday, January 31, 2014
It's been a strange couple of days; like being thrown into the narrative of a dystopian novel.
If you've paid any attention to the news, you've probably seen the cluster flake of a snowstorm happening in the south. Yeah, I know. Two inches. No big, right? I can actually hear some of you chuckling. We get it, Mindy. Ohio is cold.
But the thing is, we don't get snow down here. When snowstorms are spoken of around these parts, people drift back twenty or thirty years to the nineties or eighties, and recall the details in terms of inches.
And when we do get the occasional few hours of snow, it's usually well predicted and we southerners are granted enough time to shut everything down and retreat to our fireplaces and highballs full of bourbon, to patiently wait there at least twenty four hours until, usually, a forty degree swing in the weather brings around Ray Bans and sun dresses.
That's not even an exaggeration. Saturday's high is 65 degrees.
This time, however, the science failed us. The weather geeks, well, missed. A dusting, they predicted here in Birmingham. Schools were open. People were at work. The snow began falling a few hours ahead of schedule. Pretty, we thought. And then it started falling heavier and heavier. By the time the warnings were issued, it was too late.
All at the same time, this happened: Schools let out. Businesses let out. Snow covered the streets. In nineteen degree weather and in the steep hills of a town without an infrastructure to salt, sand, or plow anything, that was all it took.
Thousands of cars have been abandoned on highways and streets, unable to find traction in the snow to climb hills or negotiate turns. Eleven thousand kids spent the night at their schools. I got lucky. I got my kid and took the flattest route back to my home, which is close to my son's daycare. I passed four wrecks. A friend of mine walked twelve miles to his wife and newborn son to accompany them the remaining two miles back to their home. I wish his story was uncommon.
Birmingham has become a scene ripped from a dystopian novel; a story about surviving when the comforts and systems of society break down. As the snow melts, things are getting better, but I found it absolutely fascinating how quickly and easily our way of life can slip out from under us and crash into a complete and total mess. Yet the stories emerging from this disaster, much like those in a dystopian novel, aren't really about people overcoming obstacles so much as they are about the evolution of relationships, new and old, between people.
Odd that it takes an event like this for us to rediscover our communal humanity. But it gives me heart, I suppose. Maybe the end of the world won't be that bad after all.
Witnessing this unfold has reinforced the notion that I have to, above everything else, write the truth. And what I mean by that is that fiction has to be real. It has to be true, even more so than non-fiction. Seeing this spectrum of human behavior - mostly good - amongst such dire circumstance has exposed what in my writing does not ring true for similar settings in my fictional world.
So my ham-handed tie in to writing is this: Is experience necessary to write truth in fiction?
S. L. Duncan writes young adult fiction, including his debut, The Revelation of Gabriel Adam, releasing August 12th, 2014 from Medallion Press. You can find him blogging on INKROCK.com and on Twitter.
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
I had everything planned: I had scheduled my car for its inspection with my mechanic and arranged for a couple routine maintenance items. Before I brought the car to the mechanic, I noticed that the air in one of my tires was low, but whether due to the cold or some mechanical problem, the air dispenser at a nearby service station didn’t work.
Then came the pot hole that flattened the low tire. Since this is New Jersey, I also had a car hot on my tail, so I pulled to the side so he could pass and I got stuck in a snow bank. Once back on the road, I engaged the hazard signals and drove on my flat tire to find a safe area nearby to change the tire.
It seems the last person to secure the spare was an arm wrestling champion, but I couldn’t budge the screwed-on clamp. I ended up having to drive a couple miles on a flat tire. I could smell burning rubber by the time I pulled into his station. Long story short, my plans changed.
It may as well be the story of my writing life.
As writers, we need to be ready and able to adapt. Things get in the way, opportunities emerge. Sometimes Plan B doesn’t work and Plan C is less than ideal.
Lots of things can happen to writers at any stage of development. Your agent and you might disagree on your latest project. The editor might suggest a total refocus of your manuscript. Your family life might interject its own catastrophes that make your fictional characters say to themselves, "Jeez, glad that didn't happen to me."
I wish I could say everything will turn out fine in the end, but real life can present terrible challenges when you turn a page. All I can say is that as story tellers, if we can keep people interested, there'll be an audience. Keep writing, my friends.
Matt Sinclair, a New York City-based journalist and fiction writer, is also president and chief elephant officer of Elephant's Bookshelf Press, which recently published Summer's Edge and Summer's Double Edge, which are available through Smashwords and Amazon, and include stories from several FTWA writers. In 2012, EBP published its initial anthologies: The Fall: Tales from the Apocalypse, (available viaAmazon and Smashwords) and Spring Fevers (also available through Smashwords, andAmazon). Matt blogs at the Elephant's Bookshelf and is on Twitter @elephantguy68.
Friday, January 24, 2014
Disclaimer: While I am a teacher, I'm a math teacher. I try to keep up with English/Language Arts education as an author, but I don't know firsthand what those teachers face.
There's a lot of controversy about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and their implementation. Too much emphasis on non-fiction reading … pushing us further into test-driven education … Let's leave that aside for now, though, because standards have been around before CCSS and will continue to be. It's my contention that standards in and of themselves aren't a bad thing—it's what you do with them.
"Hey, R.C., what does this have to do with authors of kid-lit?"
Is it just me, or is it really cool to think a class somewhere reading your book and talking about it? For some of you, maybe not. Maybe you're saying, "Yeah, right. My book will land on a Banned Books List long before any teacher will dare use it in a classroom." (And hey, that's its own kind of cool right there.) But maybe some of you have that same occasional daydream I do.
One way many authors are making their book more attractive for classroom use is by preparing (or paying to have prepared) discussion guides and other teaching materials. With both my author and teacher hats on (and believe me, that's quite the look), I can say some are better than others. Some more useful than others.
If you're thinking of preparing such materials on your own, here's some totally biased advice from me to you.
- Start with the Standards: Seriously, you and I both know that you know your book. Click on over to this page on the CCSS. Select "Reading: Literature" and then the approximate grade(s) you feel your book might be used in. Read through the standards and see them through the lens of your story.
- Make Teaching Easier, Not Harder: Put everything you can at the teacher's fingertips, rather than making them dig. Think about how the teacher will want to use the materials. Discussion guides meant to be used verbally should look one way, while questions for students to answer in writing should perhaps be formatted in more worksheet-style, ready to print. Alternatively, make your materials easy to edit or copy/paste from.
- Avoid Minutiae … Unless that's the Point: Sometimes teachers want a few quick, simple questions on a section just to verify students actually did the reading. You might want to include those as "quick quizzes" or something. But those are pretty easy for teachers to come up with on their own. For general questions, dig a little deeper. Remember, you know your story.
- Fiction & Non-Fiction Can Be Friends: This may be easier for some books than others, but if there's any way to incorporate non-fiction resources, go for it. For example, Mindy McGinnis's Not a Drop to Drink lends itself to connected reading on water conservation and other environmental issues.
- Don't Forget Writing: Go back to that CCSS link and select Writing, followed by grade level. Take a look and think about how a project or paper related to your book could help meet some of those standards. Include suggestions about such projects in your materials.
R.C. Lewis teaches math to teenagers—sometimes in sign language, sometimes not—so whether she's a science geek or a bookworm depends on when you look. Her debut novel Stitching Snow is coming from Hyperion in October 2014. You can find R.C. on Twitter (@RC_Lewis) and at her website.
Friday, January 17, 2014
I remember joining Twitter a few years ago and being completely overwhelmed. I've seen/heard/read a lot of questions popping up here and there regarding Twittequette lately so I thought I'd tackle that today.
Twittequette Tips for Interacting with Agents & Editors
- Is it okay to follow agents and editors on Twitter or do I need an invite?
- Absolutely okay to follow them!
- Is it okay to talk to agents and editors on Twitter?
- Yes, but don't be pushy. Start small - retweet what appeals to you, answer questions they ask. Personally I suggest doing a lot more lurking and learning than interacting.
- Is it okay to ask agents and editors business questions on Twitter?
- Not usually. If there's an #askagent #askyaagent or similar chat going on, go ahead, but don't be a pest at other times.
- Can I pitch agents and editors on Twitter?
- NO!!! Absolutely not.
- Unless it's a contest, then check out the rules and feel free to participate.
Twittequette Tips for Self Promotion
- Is it okay to promote my book?
- I sense a BUT... coming, what is it?
- But... don't do it very often.
- A standard tip I've seen is to have at LEAST 5 tweets (10 is probably better) about something and/or someone else in between your tweets about you.
- Don't promote every review you receive but when something genuinely excites you go ahead and post it! (Need I repeat... not too often.)
- If all you talk about is you and your books, you'll soon be talking to yourself.
- Follow people because you're interested in them ... NOT because of what they can do for you.
- DON'T unfollow people shortly after you've followed them to inflate your numbers. Nobody really cares about numbers and this makes you look like a dweeb.
- Listen to Mrs. Rabbit. If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.
- having said that it's OK to be funny and snarky ... just don't aim at a person. I follow some hilarious people who are incredibly snarky but they're never mean. If you don't know the difference, err on the side of caution.
- Be yourself and relax. Twitter is all about fun and connections.
Any Twittequette tips to add? Any questions to ask of our knowledgeable readers?
Jemi Fraser is an aspiring author of contemporary romance. She blogs and tweets while searching for those HEAs.
Monday, January 13, 2014
One of the best things about the writing community is that it's so supportive. Writers share information and experiences on blogs and Twitter, offer advice to newer writers, and spread the word about others' books.
For me, there's a fine balance between that support and being authentic. If you don't like someone's cover or book, do you still rave about it in the name of being supportive? Some writers do, and I think they often have valid reasons for it. Tastes are subjective, so they're objectively celebrating the effort and accomplishment. They're offsetting the inevitable snark-reviews.
Good reasons. If that's what makes sense to you, go for it!
The trickiest place for this is in reviewing. I decided a long while ago that I wouldn't review books. Period. Books I love, hate, or are so-so about. My own nature is to find things to pick on, so I make a lousy "celebrator of effort and accomplishment" if I don't adore everything about a book. And if I review one writer-friend's book (because I love it) but not another's (because I don't love it), it gets way too awkward. I can't say I love everything, because I don't. Because I'm admittedly really picky, it's often hard to focus on any aspect I thought was good.
So no reviews for me, and I think that's a decision each author has to make in a way that works for them. It has to do with personality along with a whole host of other factors.
There are other things I can do, though, that I think are more universal. I can be vocally supportive of all paths—traditional, agented, small publisher, self, whatever. I can likewise be supportive of writers in all genres.
Most importantly, I can make sure I never look down on a fellow writer.
While it's critical to have self-confidence in this business—we need to believe our stories are worth reading—it's just as critical not to let that cross over to arrogance. In my case, I write Young Adult sci-fi. I do so because it's what I love, and I think my books have something important to add to the conversation.
That's not the same as thinking I'm better than everyone else publishing or attempting to publish in that area. I think I'm pretty good at some things. I know I still have plenty to learn.
I think I can add a different voice. I don't think "different" means "better."
I have opinions. I have some expertise. I don't have the right to poop on someone else's parade.
This is why decisions about how to publicly convey our support for each other can be so tricky, at least for me. Being honest, authentic, and supportive while keeping our egos in check … it's a big balancing act.
How do you choose to show your support for your fellow authors? Are there things you find you just can't do? Where's your balance?
R.C. Lewis teaches math to teenagers—sometimes in sign language, sometimes not—so whether she's a science geek or a bookworm depends on when you look. Her debut novel Stitching Snow is coming from Disney-Hyperion in Fall 2014. You can find R.C. on Twitter (@RC_Lewis) and at her website.
Friday, January 10, 2014
Vine. Really? Yep, that's right. Post three second videos of random things and see if people think it's cool, funny, cute, awkward... or you can just go for the gross out if you get injured a lot like I do. Oh wait, you can't hear me because you just took your bottom lip and pulled it up over your head to avoid yet another social media thing that you feel pressured to make yourself a part of?
Unhook that lip. Nobody looks good that way.
Here's the thing about social media - it works.
Here's the other thing - it's a time suck.
So what's the key? Find what works best for you. Sure, you've heard that, and I just became the 340th person to tell you it, which makes this blog post as useless as that Vine video of a pug chasing it's tail.
Or... is it? Because people really like pugs, and a pug lover might also be a book lover. That video of your dog being a dumbass will probably get more reach than you talking about your book (again). And let's be honest, you already took the video anyway. Post the damn thing.
Honestly, this is my approach to social media. I hit myself in the leg with a sledgehammer this morning and I tweeted about it, to great applause. This has nothing to do with my book. Neither do about 3/4 of my tweets. My Instagram feed is mostly of my dog sleeping in weird positions and my cat in the Christmas tree.
The biggest drawback I hear about social media is that people claim they don't know what to say. Guess what? There are plenty of outlets where you don't even have to worry about saying anything! There truly is something out there for everyone when it comes to social media, and below you'll find a list of my own accounts and how I use them as an author.
Facebook: Yes, it's true that I'm a YA author and teens have abandoned Facebook because their parents can monitor them easily there. At the same time a huge amount of YA sales are to adults, and they are using Facebook, so I will too. What can an author do with a Facebook page? Anything you want! Host giveaways, link to your latest blog post, share fan art, your trailer, any current deals on your book. Funny memes. My posts reach anywhere from 200 to 2000 people on any given day. People are looking. Write about hitting yourself with a sledgehammer. Whatever.
Twitter: It's not hard, I promise you. 140 characters per tweet. The @ is your name, the # is a topic or thread to follow. You can post pictures, link to your blog, participate in chats and contests. More importantly, follow agents you are interested in to see what they're saying. A lot of preferences come out on Twitter - and personalities. Follow people for awhile and you'll find out who you do - and don't - want to work with. Also tweet about hitting yourself with sledgehammers.
Tumblr: If you're a YA writer, this is where the teens are right now. If you're not, this is still a good place to be. It's gif-heavy, yes, but that doesn't mean you have to be a gif-fer to play. Think of your Tumblr dashboard as your Facebook Home page and it'll all fall into place after that. Easily shared and with a wide audience, anything interesting you say (or see) here will reach who it's intended for eventually. Word to the wise - Tumblr is very image based. Text-heavy posts are more appropriate for your blog, although certainly anything can be shared here. This is a quick moving crowd that wants easily digestible bits - so provide that. Pics, cover shares, quick YouTube videos, fan art postings all have a good home here. A pic of that sledgehammer and the bruise wouldn't hurt.
Pinterest: Seriously? For writers? I thought this was all cupcakes and home decorating and fashion? Yeah, there's a lot of that. Pinterest is pictures, period. What's a writer to do? On my boards I share all my covers, pics from tours, fan art, pictures of NOT A DROP TO DRINK in the wild (which fans are happy to provide), and most importantly, pictures of the setting for my book. My boards build a tone for my readership, something you can do for your book too. A very important thing to remember with Pinterest is that you need to have the rights to post / pin said pictures. Play it safe and post pictures you've taken yourself. A great place for a sledgehammer pic.
Instagram: Yep. More pictures. I know, it's an unfair world. But guess what? You don't have to just take pictures of your book. In fact, you really shouldn't because that would be incredibly lame. Have a cat? A dog? A cool house? New shoes? Take a pic, people love it. Your social media isn't just about selling your book. Your readers want to know you, and if you show them literal snapshots of your life they'll love you for it. Sledgehammer? Def.
Google+: I know, you're all - WAIT THAT EXISTS?!? It does. It's Facebook in Google colors, and it's not quite the social media graveyard some might lead you to believe. Catch the quiet ones here, the people who don't want to go all-out and shotgun splay themselves everywhere. That's a massive generalization on my part, but there are great niche groups on G+ that you can build an audience among if you take the time, especially readers. Even better, you can maintain a nice looking page there without a lot of time on your part. As you know, Google owns the internet so your blog (if you're Blogger), YouTube channel and various other Google owned shinola can all be wired to auto-post there. All those things you said about sledgehammers? Just say it once - it'll end up here if you set it up that way.
YouTube: OK, so you're probably all, "Mindy. I'm not insane like you. I don't blow up inflatable circus clowns and make paper mache arms and read about lockjaw from the encyclopedia and videotape myself doing it." And... well, nobody should probably do that, but I'm my own type of girl. YouTube and vlogs are for the outgoing. Definitely don't make one if you're one of the "I don't know what to say," types. This is for people like me who never shut up and whose brains generally crank out vlog ideas at 3AM because they're in a manic phase. However... do you have a book trailer? If you do, here's a great place to put it and link back to. I know you're waiting for me to say that I have a vid of me hitting myself with a sledgehammer, but I don't. More's the pity.
Goodreads: Yes, there's good things. Yes, there's bad things. Roll it all together and it's just like real life. What's Goodreads best for in my opinion? Showing people what you're reading. Hey, we're trying to reach the book crowd here, and I'm guessing that all writers started out as readers. So show that side of yourself. What are you reading? People care. A lot more than you think. Set up your Goodreads account to tweet when you begin and finish a book and you'll get a ton of interaction on Twitter. Especially when you finish that one about the history of sledgehammers.
Riffle: This is a new one in the book crowd, and personally I love it. It's like Pinterest + Goodreads = Riffle. Visually heavier than Goodreads, if you've got a good-looking cover this is a nice place to make your presence known. It's a book lovers site, and one where you get the experience of being in a bookstore because you are literally browsing covers on the main page. One to keep an eye on. So you finished that sledgehammer book? Won't the cover look nice on your list of recommendations?
Vine: Yep. I mentioned this one already. Think of it like Instagram but with videos. Kind of like what MTV was for radio when MTV was you know... for music videos. What do I have to say about this? I seriously have no clue because I just set up my account. Like, two seconds ago. Come learn with me. I promise my first vid will be of the sledgehammer.
I know I said this post is not intended to make you feel inadequate, and right now your hands are buried in your hair and you're damning my name. There's no reason for that. I do everything because I like to play, and if playing isn't you thing, cool. Pick what looks like fun to you, then dabble.
The biggest thing about social media is that it takes time. I don't want you to run out and create an account on every one of these platforms and then acquire a massive five followers (two of them probably bots) and make yourself insane trying to keep up, all the while screaming, "Mindy said this works and all my followers are the same people! And one of them is my MOM!"
Relax. Like I said, it takes time. I first started using Twitter two years ago and after a week was convinced it was a waste of my time and a passing fad. Er... bad call on my part. But I stuck with it and now I have a solid fan base there that I can reach out to at opportune times- like my upcoming cover reveal for IN A HANDFUL OF DUST.
In the end, social media can be magic if you make it work for you. The keys are knowing your own preferences and limits, and having the patience to stick with whatever platforms you choose long enough to let the network grow.
Also, sledgehammers are dangerous. Take note.
Mindy McGinnis is a YA author and librarian. Her debut, NOT A DROP TO DRINK, is a post-apocalyptic survival tale set in a world where freshwater is almost non-existent. The companion novel IN A HANDFUL OF DUST releases September 23, 2014. She blogs at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire and has serious social media problem. You can find her on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest,
Wednesday, January 8, 2014
The holidays are over and it's a brand new year. So it's time to admit something: I am having a creative existential crisis. Every time I sit down to work on an idea I ask myself what the point of the whole thing is. Why am I doing it? So I stop and do something else. I've been reading and other creative things.
Sometimes I get the itch to paint. Just splash stuff around on some acrylic paper and see what happens. So I dig through my art drawer, pull out the supplies and start playing. I call it 'therapy painting.' (I highly recommend it.)
I was painting on the floor of my bedroom the other night, binging on Netflix when a thought hit me--I never ask myself why I paint. I never need to. It's fun, it relaxes me, I get to create, it's hurting no one. And that is totally and completely okay.
So why is it that when I write I always ask myself 'why'?
I've heard a hundred stories about writers afraid to say they write because they're afraid of being judged. I've heard stories of people who ask writers when they're going to get real jobs. I've heard stories of writers stopping because they're afraid they're not good enough, strong enough, anything enough. There are stories of every color and shade, from writers and non-writers all pointing to the fact that we expect a 'why' from writing.
But people don't ask you that when you paint. Or when you play music. Or scrapbook. Almost any other creative hobby. You don't need a reason to do it, because it makes you happy.
Now I honestly don't know why we (and others) feel the need to justify why we write. That's not a mystery I can solve. But I am here to encourage you that as a writer, you don't need a why. Whether you're writing with a goal of publication, or journaling the stories that appear in your head, your hobby doesn't need a justification.
So in this new year, if you are down with a case of the whys, silence the endless question marks in your head and in other peoples words. Write for you, and only you. That first, is the most important.
Happy new year!
Charlee Vale is a Young Adult writer, agency intern, photographer, and tea lover living in New York City. You can also find her at her website, and on Twitter, and painting, when the situation requires.
Monday, January 6, 2014
I can't speak for the rest of the FTWA crew, but I'm (mostly) rested and relaxed after our holiday break and I'm ready to jump back into business as usual with writing and blogging. With a new years comes a fresh start for all your writing goals. Here are ten grammar reminders to help you make this year's word count really shine.
1. Lay vs. LieThere are still times when I have to Google this because I second-guess myself.
Lay is a transitive verb meaning to put something in a horizontal position.
Present tense: lay
Past tense: laid
I lay the book on the coffee table. Yesterday I laid it on the kitchen counter.
Lie is an intransitive verb meaning to recline or be in a position of rest.
Present tense: lie
Past tense: lay
I lay the book on the coffee table so I can lie on the couch. Yesterday I lay on the couch all day.
If you're like me, it will never not look strange even when you've written it correctly.
2. Peek/Peak/PiqueFor a more in-depth explanation of this mistake, see here. Otherwise, hopefully this sentence will clear things up:
As a teen, I couldn't help but peek at my grandfather's old photo album; the images of him at the peak of his football career piqued my interest in the sport.
3. Should of/should haveIf you're tempted to write that you should of, would of, or could of done something, what you really mean is you should have, would have, or could have done it. The contraction should've might sound like should of, but it's not.
4. Then vs. ThanThen is used in reference to time: Go through this light, then turn left at the court house. I worked there ten years ago. The building was brand new back then.
Or consequence: If you had looked up the directions this morning, then we wouldn't have wasted twenty minutes going in circles.
Than is used for comparison: The court house building is newer than the police station.
5. Lets vs. Let'sLets is a present tense conjugation of the verb let, meaning to allow. My neighbor lets me keep my bicycle in her garage when it snows.
Let's is a contraction of let us, which is a command that basically is saying "we should" do something. Let's go hiking tomorrow.
6. Past vs. PassedPassed is the past tense conjugation of the verb pass. We passed a gas station a few miles back.
Past is not a verb. If you aren't sure which to use, ask yourself if the word you want to use is a verb. If so, use passed. But if the word is supposed to be a preposition, adjective, or noun, past is what you want. We already drove past the gas station. I don't remember the drive taking so long in the past.
7. And me/II don't know about you, but "and I" was beaten into my head as a kid to the point where I didn't realize for a very long time that there are times when that's actually incorrect.
Incorrect: Will you come to dinner with Sally and I?
Correct: Will you come to dinner with Sally and me?
If you aren't sure whether you should say and I or and me, try taking the other person out of the sentence. You wouldn't say Will you come to dinner with I, you'd say with me. Adding Sally to the mix doesn't change that.
Correct: Will you come to dinner with Sally and me? She and I would really love your company.
8. Elusive vs. IllusiveElusive means evasive. Something difficult to catch or an idea that is difficult to grasp.
Illusive means deceptive or misleading. Causing or caused by an illusion.
9. Allude vs. EludeTo allude is to indirectly refer to something. He couldn't disclose his exact location but his letters alluded to the desert heat.
To elude is to evade or avoid, or to escape understanding. The dog's name eluded me so I couldn't call him to me. He eluded all the neighborhood kids trying to catch him by darting through a hole in the fence.
10. Defuse vs. DiffuseDefuse literally means to remove a fuse, as in disarming a bomb. It is used more figuratively to mean to lessen a dangerous or tense situation.
Diffuse means to spread out widely, which is why we have scented oil diffusers to make our houses smell yummy.
What are some other grammar mistakes that you tend to make or that you've seen often?
J. Lea López is a shy, introverted writer with a secret world of snark and naughtiness inside her head. She writes character-driven erotica and contemporary new adult stories. Her first novel, Sorry's Not Enough, and her free short story collection, Consenting Adults, are available now. She'd love to tweet with you.