To leave a comment, click on the header. You have to be "in" the post for the comments to appear. THANKS!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Your Ending: The Rollercoaster Stop

I once heard the amazingly-talented Kathleen Duey say that your ending should be like a roller coaster stop.  You want to hit the climax and then coast to the end rather quickly.  When the ride is over, your reader wants off; there's no point in staying on any longer.
At the same time, we all know our readers need a little resolution - maybe have some loose ends tied up.  We don't want to slam readers into an abrupt ending that leaves them scratching their heads.

So where's the middle ground?  How do you end your novel in a way that satisfies without becoming stale?

Here are a few tips:

1.  Get to the Point.  Why did you write this story?  According to editor Victoria Mixon, your point in writing the story is your climax.  Once you've gotten to that point, there should not be much else of interest to write.  I'd suggest that if you've got a ton more to say, then either your climax is in the wrong place or (a la Stephanie Meyer), what you're actually writing is the sequel.

2.  Consider an Epilogue.  Author Edward Patterson provides an extensive on-line list of ways to end your book WRONG.  His main suggestion on how to get it right?  Consider an epilogue.*  He describes it beautifully as "that taste of sherbet between courses, "your novel" and "the reader's exit to the real world." And isn't that what we want?  The novel really ends when the climax is over, but rather than slamming into an ending, we ease our readers out of the story by tying up loose ends and letting them know how things work out for our characters.

*This is not to suggest that every story has to have an epilogue.

I really want to know your thoughts on this.  What are some of your favorite tips and tricks for creating a satisfying ending that doesn't go on forever?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Friday Flashback: High School Music

I graduated from good ol' Martin County High School in 1995.  The music of my senior year included some of the following priceless gems (all of which are included because I can still at least sing the chorus from memory):

The Sign, Ace of Base (1994)
I'll Make Love to You, Boyz II Men (1994)
I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That), Meatloaf (1994) - okay, total aside: does anyone know      
                     what those lyrics are supposed to mean?
Kiss From a Rose, Seal (1995)
Run Around, Blues Traveler (1995)
Hold My Hand, Hootie & The Blowfish (1995)

The last one reminds me of Summer Nights at Wet'N Wild in Orlando.  This is where a water slide park stays open into the night and a live band playing popular cover songs takes the stage.  I can remember being there with my best friend, jamming out to the music, not caring if the sultry night air was too warm because I was wearing a bathing suit and could go jump into the water at a moment's notice.  It was a time when I didn't need a boy.  Just me and my BFF.

I also remember the band covering Two Princes by Spin Doctors.  Remember that one?  Oh yeah!

Go ahead!  Crank up those computer speakers and shake your hair lose.  I know you're ready to party like it's 1999 with these tunes blaring.

What are the songs of your YA days?  Have any special memories they trigger for you?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tuesday Tip: Writing Effective Dialog

I've been reading some first five pages over at the amazing YALitChat site, and I keep seeing the same dialog "mistakes" again and again.  (I hate to call anything a "mistake," but for ease of reference, I will.  Once you know and understand the "rules" though, you can break them with purpose rather than on accident.)  Here are a few pointers to keep in mind as your fingers click away on the keyboard.
art from

1.  Use Contractions.  We've been taught at every stage of our educations NOT to use contractions when writing. It's been so ingrained in my head, that when writing dialog, I'm apt to write something like, "It is great to see you again."  But that's simply not how most people (especially not teens) talk.  When we talk, contractions fly around faster than hooker flyers in Vegas.  Unless you're intentionally creating a stiff character, salt your dialog liberally with contractions.

2.  Don't Use Dialog Tags Other Than Said or Asked.  This is a really common newbie "mistake." (*raises hand here to be included in the group*)  A tag is what comes after the dialog, as in, "Oh my god, I won!" she shrieked.  Tags other than "said" or "asked" are not en vogue right now, falling into the telling rather than showing category.  If you need to punctuate your dialog with a description following it (and god-forbid don't include an adverb with your tag), then you're probably not doing a good enough job of showing your reader what's happening.  For a complete list of dialog tags NOT to use, check here.  As Nienke points out, "said" is invisible.  The reader's eye skips over it.  Whereas the tag injects the author back into the story.

3.  Avoid Mini-Monologs.  This is particularly true when writing dialog for guys.  I am always running my dialog by my hubby, who invariably tells me, "Guys don't talk like that."  (I'm also told that guys don't get into much description and don't really talk about feelings.)  By and large, no guy is going to speak more than 2 - maybe 3 - sentences at a time.  Even really chatty girls shouldn't have dialog that goes on and on.  When people are talking together, there is a give and take of information.  Skim through your dialog and if you see a block of text, mark it off to go back and revise.

4.  Don't Info Dump.  Don't have one character tell another something just to spoon feed info to the reader.  This is especially true if the other character would already know what he/she's being told.  The reader can immediately spot the info dump for what it is: the author being lazy.  Figure out another way to get your information into the story without being obvious about it.

5.  Punctuate Appropriately.  This is a pet peeve of mine and a lot of people mess it up.  It's not that hard.  If you have a tag following your dialog, DON'T end the dialog with a period. Use a comma, question mark or even an exclamation point (although these should be use INCREDIBLY sparingly).
       Wrong:  "I'm going out." Alice said.
       Right: "I'm going out," Alice said.
On the flip side, you need the comma before the tag.  Don't leave it out.
You would, however, use a period if what follows the dialog is not a tag.  For example:
       "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard."  Sarah rolled her eyes. "I don't know why I bother."
Interspacing your dialog with action is a great way to break it up and clue your reader in to who's talking without having to use a tag.  If you want to get really fancy, try this:
"This, my dear Watson, " said Holmes, "is elementary."  Notice the placements of commas and the period.  If you have other punctuation questions, feel free to ask me and I'll do my best to answer.

6.  Have a Purpose.  This is one I actually don't see all that often myself, but I see this advice so often, that someone out there must be doing it.  Dialog in your book shouldn't sound like a normal conversation.  For example:
             "Hi," Sue said.
             "Hey, how's it going?" I answered.
             "Pretty good.  True Blood is on tonight."
             "Oh yeah. I love that show. Pretty crazy car accident Bill was in last week." I shuddered just remembering it.
             "Oh, that reminds me, did you hear about Sarah's car accident?"
SNOOZE!  Get right to the meat of your conversation.  If the point of the dialog in the example above is to break the news of the car accident, start there.  Dialog should be driving your plot forward.  Skip the pleasantries that we all engage in for regular conversation.  As with every other part of your story, make every word count!

These are all just mechanics - the basics really.  If you really want to take your dialog to the next level, I suggest reading this informative post at Dirty White Candy.

Any other words of wisdom you want to share? Things I've forgotten?  I feel like there are probably more rules out there than space on this blog, but hopefully I've hit the "biggies."  (Which reminds me of another thing I hate to see in punctuation - the period goes INSIDE the quotation marks, not outside.)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Smitten with everything Bitten

I'm practically salivating with all of the vampire hotness around these days.  True Blood is back on.  (Yummy!)  Eclipse is coming out in less than two weeks.  (Edward Cullen? Be still, my beating heart!)  And then there was this... the unexpected surprise I found when I cracked open a copy of Beth Fantaskey's Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side last night.
I read until after 2 in the morning.  I read for another 2 hours by the pool this am, only occasionally glancing up every now and then to be sure the children weren't drowning.  And I finished it off this afternoon.  All told, I spent 7 of the past 20 hours CONSUMED by this book.

Now, I'm not planning on doing a formal review here 'cause I'm light years behind everyone else who has already read this book and loved it.  And also because I can't decide if I'd give it an OMG! 4 out of 4 Greek coins or the highly-unlikely-to-be-achieved HFAC (Holy Flippin' Animal Crackers) - 5 out of 4 coins.  The bottom line is, if you somehow missed this book like I did (*hangs head in shame*) - go out and buy it now!! And when you're done reading, you can catch an exclusive online epilogue here (13 chapters worth of epilogue actually).

I also invite you to check out this interview of Beth Fantaskey on Oasis for YA.  She gives a sneak peak into what she's working on next.  (Hint: If you loved Jessica's Guide, you'll be excited.)  Also, Beth was the first author we interviewed and she was super awesome!

Finally, while I may lust after all things vampire (hello Rob Pattinson) - I wanted to give a shout out to my uber-adorable husband, who is WAY cuter than any on-screen undead, and a WONDERFUL husband and father.  Love you, sweetie.

Now if only he could grow some fangs...

Friday, June 18, 2010

Paradise Found: White Sands and White Cat

Go on, be jealous.  I can't say I'd blame you, because last weekend I got to spend some quality beach time on the soft, sandy shores of Bimini while reading Holly Black's new book, WHITE CAT.

I'd been hearing a lot of buzz on twitter about White Cat and the cover looked pretty darn intriguing (I admit to being one to prejudge a book by its cover), so I decided to give it a go.  All I can say is, when is book 2 coming out?

Here's the teaser:

Cassel comes from a family of curse workers -- people who have the power to change your emotions, your memories, your luck, by the slightest touch of their hands. And since curse work is illegal, they're all mobsters, or con artists. Except for Cassel. He hasn't got the magic touch, so he's an outsider, the straight kid in a crooked family. You just have to ignore one small detail -- he killed his best friend, Lila, three years ago.

Ever since, Cassel has carefully built up a façade of normalcy, blending into the crowd. But his façade starts crumbling when he starts sleepwalking, propelled into the night by terrifying dreams about a white cat that wants to tell him something. He's noticing other disturbing things, too, including the strange behavior of his two brothers. They are keeping secrets from him, caught up in a mysterious plot. As Cassel begins to suspect he's part of a huge con game, he also wonders what really happened to Lila. Could she still be alive? To find that out, Cassel will have to out-con the conmen.
Holly Black has created a gripping tale of mobsters and dark magic where a single touch can bring love -- or death -- and your dreams might be more real than your memories.

I loved this book because it was a fresh paranormal story.  Cassel has supernatural powers, but that doesn't make him a vampire, a werewolf, a faerie, or even a warlock.  He's a new breed of boogie-man, blending the intrigue of mob life with the mystery of the paranormal.

Black's story is full of twists and turns that are neither obvious nor so out of the blue that you're scratching your head wondering what just happened.  She has also created a diverse cast of three-dimensional characters, each with their own unique personalities and ambitions.  We often hear as aspiring writers that each character has to want something -- and all of these characters do.  And it's what each of them wants that drives their interactions and the plot.

I also loved that Cassel was a total scammer, but was endearing too.  He's just the sort of bad boy that we all want to root for, because deep down he really just wants to be good.

Oh yeah, and the romance was well... pretty much non-existent.  That also made this book completely unique.  It was all about Cassel trying to figure out his own life rather than how two teens (one or more with supernatural abilities) are going to get through life together.  Don't get me wrong, if you say "paranormal," I'll say, "romance."  The two things go together in my mind like Oreos and a big, cold glass of milk.  But the take in this story was refreshingly different.

All in all, I give WHITE CAT an OMG! rating, equal to 4 out of 4 Greek coins.  If you're a fan of the paranormal genre at all, this is one you shouldn't miss.  Get your copy at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.  For more information, check out Holly Black's website.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

8 Great Writing Tips

These tips just landed in my inbox and they're so wonderful, I'm going to "borrow" them so I can share with you.  **I take no credit for these.  They are totally the brain child of Neil Gaiman, author of Coraline, The Graveyard Book, and The Sandman series and were sent to me via Gotham Writer's Workshop**

8 Good Writing Practices
  1. Write.
  2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
  3. Finish what you're writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
  4. Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
  5. Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
  6. Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
  7. Laugh at your own jokes.
  8. The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I'm not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

For Me?

I can't believe it!  The lovely Joanne Brothwell gave me a blog award.  It's my first and I am so touched.  I'm touched by all of you who choose to read along with me each week, actually.  So first of all, thank you!

Now, about that award... It's called the Versatile Blogger award and it comes with a few rules.
1.  Thank and link back to the person who gave you this award.
2.  Share 7 things about yourself.
3.  Pass the award along to 15 bloggers who you have recently discovered and who you think are fantastic for whatever reason!  (In no particular order...)
4.  Contact the bloggers you've picked and let them know about the award.

Seven random things you may or may not have wanted to know about me:
1.  The only seafood I eat is canned tuna (in tuna salad).  Anything else is a no-go.
2.  I'm deathly allergic to escargot.
3.  I'd go crazy in my office if there was no music on.
4.  Life's too short to drink diet soda.
5.  I started law school before turning 21, which made the welcome-to-law-school pub crawl exponentially less fun.
6.  If I had one wish and I couldn't be for anything sappy (like good health for my family or world peace), I'd ask for an amazing singing voice.  Not only would I be happier, but so would everyone who's ever been subjected to my singing.
7.  I love foreign travel but my husband is afraid of flying. Can you say, vacation conflicts?

And without further ado, here are the 15 blogs that I'd like to recommend to you:
1.  Larissa of Larissa's World
2.  Sheri of Writer's Ally (even though she's already received this one once, she's still awesome)
3.  J.A. Souders of Angels and Demons and Portals, Oh My!
4.  Liz Czukas of her self-titled blog
5.  Nikki Katz of her self-titled blog
6.  Melina at Reading Vacation
7.  Laci Smith of Writing My Chaos (for 1 reason, we have the same cool blog template)
8.  Alex of The Gartner Gazette
9.  Renae of The Siren's Song
10.  Sara B. Larson of her self-titled blog
11.  Shelli of Market My Words
12.  Ezmerelda at Dreamz of a YA Writer
13.  Some awesome California ladies at YA Know
14.  Julie at Writing and Blogging Between Carpools
15.  Mandy and Suzi at Writing Out the Angst
BONUS: 16. A.E. Rought of It's All in the Genes
I hope you check out all of these amazing bloggers.  Some of them have legions of followers, some (like me) only have a few, but they all have something worthwhile to say.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

CAPTIVATE: Book Review

Carrie Jones' CAPTIVATE, the highly-anticipated sequel to NEED.
Zara and her friends thought they’d solved the pixie problem. And they did — sort of. The pixies are all locked away, deep in the woods. But the king’s needs grow stronger each day that he is in captivity, while his control over his people weakens. And it’s enough to draw a new king into town. Astley claims he is different. He claims there are pixies who can live peacefully with humans, that it doesn’t have to be all violence and nastiness all the time. Zara wants to believe him . . . until Astley also claims that she is fated to be his queen.

There is no way Zara would ever turn pixie. And she’s got good friends who will make sure of that. Besides, she and Nick are so in love they’re practically inseparable. But when the very thing Zara wants to protect most is exactly what’s at risk, she is forced to make choices she never imagined. 

If you haven't read NEED, click the link to read the synopsis for it.  I put off reading NEED for quite awhile because it just didn't sound all that great to me.  Boy, was I wrong!  Despite having TWILIGHT in its DNA(as Publishers Weekly said), and being about pixies (which sounded kind of silly), I was drawn in almost immediately and couldn't wait for CAPTIVATE to finally hit the shelves.

Unfortunately, I was not as "captivated"by this book -- for multiple reasons.  

First, the whole "fated to be his pixie queen" thing just screamed WICKED LOVELY to me.  I really adored the WL series and no one can pull it off like Melissa Marr.  It'd be like trying to sing Whitney Houston on American Idol.  You just can't compare.

Second, the first half of the book had sort of an "any day now" feel to it.  Like come on, any day now we can start with the action. Not that things didn't happen in the first half, but they didn't particularly move me to turn the page.  Somehow I knew the real crux of the action hadn't started yet and waiting for that to happen got a little frustrating.

Third, the foreshadowing seemed a little like overkill.  Now, this is a little hard to explain because I do not want to give any spoilers.  There was a definite twist that I did NOT see coming, but because of the foreshadowing I sort of knew it would work out anyway, if that makes sense.

Last, CAPTIVATE feels like a total setup to ENTICE, book 3 - which is looking to be action-packed and drama-filled based on where this one left off.  My problem is that I wasn't all that grabbed by the first half and wondering if the author was struggling to stretch what should have been just two books into three.

All of that being said, once the surprise twist hit, the pace really picked up.  At that point, it became a total page-turner and I did stay up too late to finish it. The characters are just the same as on the ones we came to love in NEED.  Zara has such a great voice and is easy to relate to.  Plus, Jones adds a couple new faces to the mix as well.  I happen to like the new pixie king Astley, but then again I liked Keenan in WL.  (I must fall for the brooding supernatural types.) 

Bonus: all of the chapters start with a humorous pixie tip, like: "Pixies can be annoyingly cryptic.  Don't talk to them.  They'll confuse you and then laugh about it later like movie villains and physics teachers." 
Overall, I give CAPTIVATE 2.5 out of 4 coins.  It was better than "ICBW" but not as good as "URA*."  Whether you like it or not though, any NEED fan is going to have to pick up CAPTIVATE in order to get to what promises to be a pins-and-needle third book (ENTICE).  But you might consider saving your pennies and waiting until it's out in paperback (December 7th).  If you're like I was though and simply can't wait, you can get your copy at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
That's me.  Anyone agree or disagree?  If you think I missed something - tell me!  I'd love to know your thoughts.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Tuesday Tip: POV

Point of view is more than just whether you use third person or first.  Authors - rightly so - spend loads of time agonizing over which POV to use in their manuscripts.  While first person is more intimate, third person gives you more freedom because you can describe things/events your MC might not otherwise know.  But once you've made that important decision, there's still more about point of view to consider as you're writing.
Point of view is also about describing the world from the unique perspective of your characters.  For example, how a child sees an oak tree likely will be very different from how an old man sees it.  (This, in fact, is a writing exercise given at SCBWI - Miami by Jen Rofe.)  Try this sometime.  While the child might think a knot in the trunk looks like a wrinkly elephant knee, the only man might see an arthritic joint.

Author Kathleen Duey advises to incorporate description through point of view.  But remember, you can only describe what your MC knows (or doesn't know) about the world.  For example, in Libba Bray's A Great and Terrible Beauty, she wouldn't even need to start the first chapter with the date and place.  It's all evident from the word choice and descriptions.
"Please tell me that's not going to be part of my birthday dinner this evening."

I am staring into the hissing face of a cobra. A surprisingly pink tongue slithers in and out of a cruel mouth while an Indian man whose eyes are the blue of blindness inclines his head toward my mother and explains in Hindi that cobras make very good eating.

Mother reaches out a white-gloved finger to stroke the snake's back. "What do you think, Gemma? Now that you're sixteen, will you be dining on cobra?"

The slithery thing makes me shudder. "I think not, thank you."

So did you guess the date and place?  1895, Bombay, India.  The date is obvious not only from the clues like "white-gloved hand" but also from the language.  Gemma doesn't say "gross" or "disgusting."  She responds in a centuries-gone clip.

Jill Santopolo said at that same SCBWI conference, "every word should world build and give context." Take a look back at some of your favorite novels.  How do the authors infuse their worlds with context just through word choice?  Who do you think does this best?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Flashback Friday: Summer Lovin'

For those of you unfamiliar with Flashback Friday, the goal is to get you to think back to your YA experiences and remember the emotions and actions that kept your nerves in a frenzy during your teen years.  For many of us, it's been *awhile.*  Seems to me, a walk down memory lane can only help...

In honor of summer vacation, let's think back to the blistering heat of a summer romance. Were there days at the beach? Nights around a campfire? Watching scary movies under the covers?

This is an easy one for me. I never had a summer romance. Nope, I was about a hundred miles from my then-boyfriend at my dad's house.  Our only "romance" was in the form of love letters back and forth. And since I was away from my friends and my guy, I had time to write plenty of letters.  As did he, thankfully. I just loved getting those thick envelopes addressed in his scrawl, with pages and pages of wonderful nothingness. Seems like most of it was just stream-of-consciousness, but it was bliss to this lonely girl.

In the only one I remember with any clarity, he wrote a quote from the Eagles' song, Peaceful, Easy Feeling:
I like the way your sparkling earrings lay
Against your skin so brown.
And I want to sleep with you in the desert tonight, 
With a billion stars all around.

Two thoughts simultaneously surfaced in my fifteen-year-old brain. (1) Aww... how sweet and (2) Holy crap! He wants to do "it" already.  There was something electric in that raw moment of panic and power.  Of knowing I was desired, but not wanting to be desired quite so much.

Thinking on in now, it seems the panic is often missing from most YA heroines (at least in the books I've been reading).  They typically dive head-first into romance without worrying that they're going too far.  Maybe it's because the authors know they won't write sex into a YA novel?  But shouldn't the girls angst about it a little anyway?

What are your thoughts? Would YA girls be better represented to want to back off the loving just a little?  Have any steamy YA summer romances you care to share to inspire the rest of us?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Musical Writing Prompt

I just love this little-known Snow Patrol song:

Listen closely to the words.  I'm sure there's a YA story about heartbreak lurking in there somewhere.  Does it inspire you??