Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Eurovision and a Song Writing Prompt (Never Forget)

I'm currently in revision mode, so posting on here will be more sporadic than usual for the next week or so. But-- BUT!

Last week was the final for the Eurovision Song Contest. As I've mentioned in past posts, I'm addicted to the wonderful yearly cheesiness that is the ESC. (Seriously-- Russia came in second this year with seven grandmothers singing "Party for Everybody." You can't say no to babushki!) But for every uber-cheesy song, you'll have some great club/dance music (Greece! Ahhh! That was AWESOME), some radio-ready songs (like Germany's), or some very pretty ballads.

The one song that really stood out for me this year was Mundu Eftir Mér  (Never Forget) by Greta and Jonsi from Iceland. It's pretty, ballad-y, epic, and I just fell in love with the song.

Then... I saw their English music video:

and the writer in me screamed "Writing Prompt!" "Writing Prompt!!!!" because the imagery and story were just SO perfect. In this one video, I can see:

1. A contemporary
2. A fairy-tale-like contemporary fantasy
3. A fantasy
4. A sci-fi
5. A dystopian
6. A paranormal romance
7. An excuse to stare at pretty Icelandic scenery and oooh and ahhhh over the Aurora Borealis in the background

Do you see something worth writing about in this video? (or do you REALLY, REALLY hate this song and now hate me?)

Friday, May 25, 2012

I Blame the Romance Writers

While revising D, I realized that I needed another kissing scene to round out the story.  Not rounding out through the kissing part itself, but through the events for which the kiss is a catalyst (and not that! Get your minds out of the gutter, people!)

Now, y'all know by know that I feel incredibly awkward while writing kissy scenes. While everyone else on #1K1hr or during other writing blitzes would get excited-- "Yes! I finally got to the kissing!", I dreaded them. But this round of revs, I found myself grinning while editing one of the kisses... and was actually looking forward to the new kissy scene.

I blame my romance writing friends. (And YA! YA writerly people who love the kissy scene writing almost as much as I love glitter. And you know how much I love glitter.) *Oscar the Grouch Look* Why for you do that to me? I was happy with the whole begrudging kissy-scene writer label. Now? Now I still feel goofy... but I enjoy it a whole lot more.

Plus, now I definitely need a boyfriend. Because it would be so much better to practice with him. So much better than making weird, vague hand gestures while driving or in the apartment or (worse of all) in my cubicle during lunch hour to make sure my descriptions of hand and arm and head positions in kissy scenes are physically possible/make sense.

It's All Your Fault.

Thank you :)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Tense Enough Yet? (Another SCBWI Poconos Post)

Almost one month later and I'm finally, finally writing up the third "wrap up, what I learned" post from the SCBWI PA Poconos conference. Not the last-- I still have two more workshops and two/three more keynotes to go! I'll eventually post it all-- until then, y'all will have to be patient with me.

(I'm sorry things have been slow on this blog-- between long work hours, physical therapy sessions for my knee and family obligations, my free time is limited and blogging is low on the totem pole. I still love all of you, though!)

Look! A Mountain Laurel! Did that distract you from my foot-dragging blogginess?
(Pic taken in our yard in South Jersey-- I ♡ mountain laurels)

I'm really excited to write about tension today-- since the weekend ended up becoming all about character building for me, I love the tools that were given to us in this workshop. They promise to make my characters' stories interesting.
These notes are from "The Tension Headache", the workshop taught by Sara Sargent, Assistant Editor of YA and MG at Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins Children's Books (Follow her on Twitter here.) Like in my character workshop post, I'm not going to write everything I noted down-- I don't think it's fair to transcript someone's entire talk (which is basically what my notes ended up becoming due to all of the wonderful information that Sara gave us!!!), but I will write up the points that resonated most with me:

This quote was underlined in my notebook: "Your novel thrives on drama and tension."-- Drama may stink in everyday life (unless you're a drama queen and love that stuff), but a book without drama is... boring. And a boring book doesn't get picked up by readers (or agents. or editors.)

Sara then went on to describe the different types of dramatic tension that can be present in a novel. There are four ways in which we can torture our characters (My comments in purple, starting with "Mwahahaha"):
  • Romantic tension (Please! The "will they, won't they" thing is eeevil, but the fireworks when the characters finally get together are awesome. But maybe that's just me and I like eeeevil *whistles innocently*)
  • Environmental tension-(My MS really depends on this and romantic tension, so I listened HARD here)
  • World building tension: (Since I'm currently reading Insurgent, I have to pop in here and say that Veronica Roth did a masterful job with world building tension in her books. I cannot wait for book 3!)
  • Big ideas: tension revolving around concepts of love, freedom, etc. Sara's example here was 13 Reasons Why. (I think Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak and Wintergirls fit in perfectly under this type, as well.)
She suggested that we list out all of the plot points in our stories-- if we see a weakness, editors and readers will, too. The stakes need to be sufficiently high for the tension to be believable.

A lot of this talk really made me think a lot about how to tighten my writing. As someone who can be prone to LM Montgomery-esque purple prose (God, I love that woman, but I also know that I'm no LMM. She was able to get away with long paragraphs of description,) keeping the story moving is always foremost in my brain when I'm plotting and editing. This workshop also is helping me figure out how to drive the plot and interest in the still plotting, still outlining contemporary in my head (yup. Back to Phoebe's story. Always. Because contemporary doesn't have magic or surreal elements to make things easier-- at least, for me.) I like workshops that make me ask questions and that inspire me at the same time.

I'm not sure if these were Sara's exact words or a paraphrase in my notebook, but either way, they're the perfect way to sum up the entire workshop (and end this blog post):

"Up the stakes, threaten your character. Make everything matter. Never be safe."

Next SCBWI PA Poconos installment: How Laurie Halse Anderson made me cry. Sneak peek: "A loving God would not give you the passion to create without giving you the seeds to create. You need to nurture those seeds."

Sunday, May 13, 2012

More SCBWI Poconos- Building Character

So many things happened after the SCBWI PA Poconos conference to delay blogging about my experience, but I still wanted to cover my "what I learneds." Meaning: I'll be sporadically posting about the conference over the next few days or weeks. The added benefit of time and distance means that, if the message stuck, it really, truly resonated with me.

I'm going through all of the workshops and events based on mood, in no particular order. Today, I'm in the mood to talk about: Character!

(Confession: when I first signed up for the conference, I had a major brain fail and, instead of signing up for "It's all About the Characters," I signed up for "Getting into Character." Luckily, the awesome conference organizers *THANK YOU, Francesca!* were able to fix this for me. Otherwise, I'd be blogging about doodling character stick-figures in my notebook for two days. Whew!)

The 2012 SCBWI Poconos conference will always be about character for me. My own character as a person/writer  (in the personal sense of the word) as well as bringing out and understanding my characters' voices (in the fictional sense.) I was exposed to character-building moments from breakfast to dinner, in peer critiques and workshops. A lof of this was covered in my first conference post and will probably be covered again in a wrap-up post. Until then, this post is all about...

It's All About the Characters-- Stacy Cantor-Abrams (Entangled Publishing)

The workshop started out with Stacy Cantor-Abrams listing some facts about a girl named "Stacy."  These Stacy-facts were basics that didn't leave much of an impression. We didn't feel a real connection to this Stacy. Then, she told us some more information about "Stacy"-- funny stories, tidbits about her life, emotionally impacting details... and suddenly, we had a "connection" to "Stacy" (BTW, those stories? All true!) She used this exercise to show us how fleshing out a character can help the reader become emotionally invested in him or her. Details and background make a character real to the reader.

From that example, she went on to tell us about what strong characters mean to her, as an editor. Two main points stuck out to me:

1. Teen readers really want to relate to the characters in your novel. Characters are not extraordinary, it's the plot that should be extraordinary.

2. But...sometimes, the character doesn't feel special enough. She'll pass on the MS if she doesn't feel a connection to the main character.

So... how do we DO that connection/special-but-not-too-special thing?

Stacy pulled out a copy of Pretty Amy by Lisa Burstein:

*TOTAL aside here... I had seen a few "Waiting on Wednesdays" about this book and between that and  following Stacy's twitter feed's tweets with the most awesome ugly prom dress moments at RT to promote the book... well... I was kind-of dying to get my hands on this book. A girl gets locked in prison on her prom night? Awesome! I had to keep from jumping up and down about the fact that we were going to have her read from an early copy... and restrained myself from begging for a prom dress prison moment. And, no, this has nothing to do with any of my inner geek/mildly gothy/loner girl anti-promness. Not at all :) ANYway...

She read... 3?... excerpts from Pretty Amy, stopping after each excerpt to explain why the scene did a good job of fleshing out Amy's character. She talked about how Lisa Burstein had written backstories about the character relationships-- some that made it into the book, some that didn't, and even how Lisa wrote short bits to audition different types of pets for Amy before deciding on a bird (BTW, I so want to read those, though I do love, love, love her bird.)

And then she handed out a sheet of writing prompts. We were supposed to pick one prompt and put our character into that scene, free of the constraints of the plot of our stories. The idea was to learn more about our characters and how they would react to (sometimes outlandish) different situations. The person whose little bit of writing she liked the most would get that advanced copy of Pretty Amy.

I kind-of wanted that book. Like, grabby-five year-old want for that book. I really LOVE motivation.

Book-hungry, I picked "Your character falls in love at first sight" and set to work on a mini Phoebe-story. Feebs' personality and traits are still in their early stages for me. Right now, her character can very easily become a caricature or (worse) blah if I don't get her voice right, and playing with her like this really seemed to help me learn a little bit more about her. Writing that scene was fun and magical. I'm not exaggerating when I say I was grinning most of the time.

At the end of the fifteen or so minutes, not only did I end up with a scene that may slide nicely into my nebulous semi-plotted mini- sock-boy story (a bit more plotted thanks to tips from Sara Sargeant's Tension Headache workshop), but I also won the book! *throws glitter and confetti into the air* Considering how awesome some of the other pieces read aloud were-- we laughed and clapped and some felt so emotionally, wonderfully immediate-- I'm happy that Feebs made an impression.

*Issy dances around with her copy of Pretty Amy, does a twirl* It definitely lived up to my hopes. I was nothing like Amy when I was a teen and couldn't really relate to her situation, but I still cared about her. That's what makes a book great for me.*throws more glitter*

I'm glad that I was able to squeeze into this workshop. The lessons are still resonating with me weeks later. Since the conference, I've carved out "stress-free" writing times in the morning before work. Sometimes I edit or "really" write, but other times I play and learn about my characters. As emphasized by almost everyone in every workshop, just writing and working on the craft of writing-- including character development-- is necessary. (And it's just plain fun!)

Next installment for my SCBWI Poconos posts: Let's talk Tension!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Walking Inside Fairytales

About a month ago, I blogged to give y'all a glimpse into the images and places that inspired The Desired. Today, I want to tell you about the legends and magic that surround one of the images-- the stone tombs on my great uncle's property.

In the middle of the woods, you can stumble right into the tombs if you're not looking
As I mentioned in my last post, these early medieval tombs littered the landscape...until practical farmers broke them up to use the stone for buildings and walls (and get it out of their way! What's a tomb doing in the middle of perfectly good farm- or wood- land, anyway, right?) The few tombs that survived did so out of luck, geography, superstition, or a sense of historical preservation.

But... an entire blog post about a tomb wouldn't have the same impact without a legend, a guardian, and a locale, right?

Let's start with locale: the foothills of the Serra da Estrela (Star Mountains), the hilly terrain filled with giant granite boulders, ferns, foxglove, blackberry brambles, briers, oak, and (a new transplant) eucalyptus. Twilight brings a fog that rolls over the land, concentrating over forgotten wells that litter the landscape. No city lights-- no lights at all-- exist to fade out the Milky Way that stretches across the sky. The stars are a touchable distance. And this tomb sits in a clearing, undisturbed by people or time.

And now, the guardian and the legend.

There are stories all over Portugal and the Galicia region of Spain that talk about the Moura Encantada, an enchanted maiden who guards castles and lakes and treasures. She can guard the mundane of this world or could be guarding the frontiers of fairyland (the Mourama.) Her tales stretch back from pre-history.

Even though some legends make her a Moorish princess, the name "Moura" doesn't come from "Moor"... but rather from the Latin word for death or the Celtic word for spirit.

She can seduce you, trap you, reward you. But only if you know how to help or free her.

And the tomb? Depending on who you ask, it's her bed (a cama da moura) or where she kneads her bread (a masseira.)

She is legend, woven into the very stone and walls of the land. She is in the songs and the soul of the place. Stories from the Beira region mountains also speak of witches, werewolves, and ghosts that wander the land in addition to these mouras. Is it any wonder that this place is so inspiring?

Side note: The name of my uncle's property where the tomb shown above is located and the name of another property that has been in my own family for centuries is Vale da Maceira, which is pronounced a lot like like "Masseira." "Valley of the Masseira." Interesting...

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Singing for my Subs: My Entry for "The Writer's Voice"

For those of you who stopped by this morning when I was lucky enough to make it into the first submission window for the Writer's Voice, I'm so glad that you weren't scared off by my "plop it and go" post. Thursdays are bad for me. Very, very bad! But I managed to squeak into the first submission window right before a video conference at work (shh... don't tell my manager!)

For those of you who have NO IDEA what I'm talking about:

"'The Writer’s Voice' is a multi-blog, multi-agent contest hosted by Cupid of Cupid’s Literary Connection, Brenda Drake of Brenda Drake Writes, Monica B.W. of Love YA, and Krista Van Dolzer of Mother. Write. (Repeat.). We’re basing it on NBC’s singing reality show The Voice, so the four of us will serve as coaches and select projects for our teams based on their queries and first pages." (BTW, if you're not reading these blogs... shame on you!)
My Disney-esque singing to a pumpkin moment.
The closest thing you'll get to me singing on this blog.

Hopefully, my plot summary (aka, intro- and closing-less query) and my first 250 words are enough to woo me a writing (not skating) coach for The Desired! And please help to cheer me on in this blogfest!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Is This What You Would Write?

"Blink and they'll all be ghosts. Blink and they'll all be gone."- LaCroix, Forever Knight

April was a difficult month for my family. I'm already written about my paternal grandmother passing away and two weeks before that, my mother's brother died of complications from an early onset Alzheimer's-like illness. Also, this month, my mother learned that her cousin has stage 4 cancer. It has been a stressful, sad month.

My manager hasn't had it much easier-- his father had to undergo surgery for a malignant tumor that they found in his intestine, his pregnant sister lost her baby at eight months, and while his sister was speaking with a 46 year old neighbor the other day, that neighbor dropped dead on the spot from a brain aneurysm.

All of this death and illness really forced me to look at my own mortality and choices. Truth: we're all dying. It's just that most of us don't know our expiration dates. Even if you do make it to old age, time moves by so fast that you barely have a chance to register it before it's gone. One day, you can wake up and suddenly you're ninety and wondering where all of the years went.

Death is scary. Realizing how short our time is on this planet can be motivating and inspirational.

If you only have a few more months (or years, depending on how fast you write/edit) to live, is what you are writing or editing the book that you would write? Are you writing the book that you were meant to write? Is this your swan song?

I'm not talking about writing the next War and Peace or Great American Novel... but about writing your great novel. Is what you are writing right now the last thing you ever want to write? Because if it's not, maybe you need to rethink that decision. At the conferences, they tell us not to write to trend, but rather to write for ourselves. Are you writing for yourself?

Because, if you're not, you could be missing your only chance.
As I re-revise my first MS (thanks to all that I learned in the Poconos), I keep asking myself these questions. I'm not the Great American Novel type. I'm a cute boys and magic kind-of girl. A place-as-character writer. The Desired is a love letter to the parts of Portugal and the fairytales and legends that I've loved since I was a little girl. And, while I tighten and cut and add, I find myself peppering that love and mystery throughout the story. Is this good enough to be my swan song? I don't know. But I love the story enough to try.

Don't blink. Write as if this is your last book, page, paragraph, sentence. We owe ourselves that much.