Monday, May 30, 2011

Beta Beta Bo Beta

I never heard the term ‘beta reader’ until I started blogging last year.  Everywhere I looked people were talking about their ‘betas’ and how useful they were and I kept thinking ‘what the hell’s a beta?  Is it some software or gadget I don’t know about?  It looks like I should get myself one.  They seem to be all the rage…’

Eventually I realized that betas were people you have read and give feedback on your work before you send it off to agents or for publication.  Apparently (according the Wikipedia)- the term did come from software fabrication released for testing before hitting the big market.

And did you know that in this little hierarchy of give and take-we authors can call ourselves the ‘alpha’ when we send it out to our ‘betas’?   I’ve always wanted to be an alpha in some form! -so there you go.

A beta reader is NOT the same thing as a critique partner.  A critique partner is more of a cheerleader who helps you through the writing of a first draft- you send them your manuscript in chunks as you write them and they help you identify big or small problems as you go and keep you on track.

A beta reader reads in the entire manuscript in one sitting and gives feedback on larger issues such as plot, characterization, and pacing.

When I finished my first book, I had a small critiques group on The Word Cloud that was really helpful.  Some of us still keep in touch but I haven’t had an honest to goodness ‘critique partner’ in a long time.  Now a’days I prefer to get my whole manuscript out of me at once in a first rough draft and do my best with initial edits and revisions before sending it out for feedback.

What do you look for in a beta reader?  How did you find yours?

With my last project I specifically asked a few fellow bloggers who I thought might be interested in the story and genre itself- who were around the same level of experience- or (in some cases even more experienced:) that myself and who’s style and devotion to the craft spoke to me on a personal level.  I have to say that I was very lucky to have my betas on my last project- they made a huge difference and I look forward to working with them again!

So now it’s your turn!  What do you look for in a beta reader?  And how did you find yours?

Friday, May 27, 2011

The DKS Affair

Some of you might have noticed news coverage about the European ‘Money Man’  (president of the International Monetary Fund) who was charged with attempted rape and sexual assault in New York a couple weeks back.  Yes, he is French.  Yes, he is well known around these parts (Although I had no idea who Dominique Strauss-Kahn was until this happened- Let’s just say I lack passion when it comes to politics- international or otherwise.)  In any case, it’s a pretty huge deal here- every day or night time broadcast includes something about DSK ever since his arrest.  (I’m actually kind of curious to know what kind of coverage it’s getting in the U.S.?  Do people even care?) 

Anyways, I was watching an abc news online broadcast and the journalists made a comment about DSK’s wife ‘standing by her man’ and how in France, DSK’s behavior isn’t as looked down upon as it is in theU.S.

I wouldn’t say that’s completely true.  The French do not turn a blind eye on rape or sexual assault.  However, a consenting affair is pretty much fair game in French politician-land.  All the great presidents of France were pretty well known ‘skirt chasers’- had private affairs or public ones and nobody batted an eye lash.   DSK is no exception- having had a public affair a few years back.    

I find this fascinating to tell you the truth.  In the U.S., an affair can break a political career.  I mean, Clinton came close to being impeached for his ‘non’ relations with Monica.   Why isn’t this the case in France?  I know there’s a stereotype about the French.  -Like when a marriage gets tough, the French get a lover.  But this hasn’t been necessarily true in my experience ( I don’t mean me, but the French couples I’ve come into contact with)  However, when it comes to people highlighted in the media- actors, singers, politicians, etc...the French seem to find adultery understandable. Any ideas on why this might be?

Have a great weekend everyone!


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How Do YOU Kiss?

I’ve written and read my fair share of kissing scenes.  My favorites are by far the ones with the most build up- the sexual tension, the witty banter, the ‘lean in’ and ‘eyes fluttering over features’ and ‘gaze locking on lips’ and ‘air growing warm’ etc... but what about the actual kiss itself?

There’s always the simple ‘they kiss’/ ‘he kisses’ / ‘she kisses’ period- skipping the details of everything that comes between the initial lip lock and release.  And a lot of people might prefer this- feeling the description of what happens during a kiss is unnecessary or that it might take away from the action.

And while I certainly don’t want to know about every string of saliva connecting our two main characters, I do admit I prefer a few details. 

After all, so much can be said with a kiss.

Is it slow and tender?  Or hard and impulsive?  Is there any spark or is it cold and distant—like the characters are shaking hands with their mouths?  I think a kiss can not only add to the action, but give us a glimpse into the true dynamic between two people in the story. 

So tell me, how do you go about kissing? (um, in your writing I mean)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Hitting the Wall

Last week I totally hit a wall with my new project.  I wasn’t happy with the scene sequence in my outline at that point of the story.  I knew it had to change.  Something different needed to happen.  But what?  I spent about three nights rereading the previous chapters and then staring at the blinking cursor.  

I kept hearing the Chinese drive-through intercom voice from ‘Dude, Where’s My Car?’ in my head saying ‘Aaand then?’.  (I know. I need help.) It was driving me crazy!  Inspiration had left me stranded about a hundred pages into the story and although I could hitchhike back to where I started, there was no moving forward.

Eventually what I ended up doing is making a list of things that need to happen at that point in order to move the story along.  Then I made a list of things I’d like to see happen- certain characters highlighted, possible scenarios, emotional conflicts, etc...  It’s almost like constructing a puzzle- you need all the pieces to fit perfectly so that it doesn’t seem contrived.

I let my list marinate for awhile.  Started critiquing some material for a friend.  Watched tv.  Drank margaritas.

And then yesterday morning it was like the flood gates had opened!  I’d found the perfect setting and scenario!  It involved all the characters I needed to highlight.  I killed two birds with one stone and got the situation exactly where it had to be for future chapters.  I wrote the whole ten-page scene in a two-and-a-half-hour mad woman type fest.  My fingers were flying.  My eyes were unblinking and dilated.  I probably looked like I’d been possessed.  In the end though, I think it’s probably my favorite scene so far.

Do you ever hit ‘the wall’ in the middle of a project?  What kind of things do you do to get over it? (or under it, or through it?;)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Gimme Gimme Gimme TV After Midnight

One of the things you’ll notice if you ever visit France is that their schedule begins and ends later than back in the U.S.  For school children here, class begins at 8:30.  In some schools it’s 8:45.  Offices open at 9 am. 

Children get out of school at 4:30 in the afternoon and have ‘snack’.  Dinner is served around 7 or 8 o’clock at night depending on the family.  The news is also at 8pm sharp.

After the news the nightly programming runs from 9pm to midnight.  Many a’french go to bed after that time.

I remember when my French mother in-law and her sister were visiting my parents, they couldn’t believe how early we ate dinner (as early as 5:30 if they had things to do at night but usually around 6-6:30) and how early everyone went to bed!  At 10 o’clock my parents were out cold yet the French were still bright eyed and bushy tailed and wondering why there was nothing good on TV.

I can never get to sleep before midnight anymore.  It doesn’t help that often times French channels will show not one but THREE episodes of a popular show in a row.  (There are commercial breaks every thirty minutes here- not every five minutes like in the U.S.)

What is your schedule like?  Would you have any problem adapting to the French way of life or are you naturally a late-night person?  

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Civilian in the Ebook Revolution

I want to write intelligently about the new wave of publishing online.  I really do.  But despite doing the research, I find there are still many things that elude me. 

Like, I don’t know why the term 'Epublishing' excludes self published material (I mean E-anything means electronic doesn’t it?  Whether its self published or Electronic Publisher published?  See, I’m confusing myself.  Again.)  Or why ‘Indie Publishing’ has eight different definitions.  I have totally God or Googled the whole thing.  But it feels like everyone is giving a different answer.

Everywhere I look there’s a new article highlighting how successful some online authors are- making double or triple what they would have made with a traditional publisher and in a tenth of the time.   And when you read stories like this and this, it does sound terribly tempting, doesn’t it?

However, the more I dug around, the more I realized the world of profitable online publishing is something that takes months of research to fully comprehend.  For instance- why do some authors hit it big and others no?  (besides the obvious- some people working harder at their craft and putting out a solid product)  From what I can gather, it’s a mix of attractive cover art, hot genre (romance and erotica are apparently doing very well),  lots of marketing, worthy storylines and LUCK.  – Ugh!  No matter what you do in this business LUCK seems to play at least a 75% roll in your success.

The dangers and deceptions in online publishing include putting out a product that isn’t 100% at its best (in the case of self publishing).  No one buying your book.  Losing any chance whatsoever at traditional publishing with the story in question.

The dangers and deceptions in traditional publishing seem to be the fear of spending years writing and waiting and waiting and waiting for the publishing industry to decide they want you (slight risk of dying of old age before this happens).  No one buying your book.  OR selling less copies than you would have if you’d been published online (since you control the pricing with an online product and this tends to raise book sales) and making less money for your work because you’d be receiving a lower percentage of  the royalties with a traditional publisher.

Thankfully, a few of my author friends have decided to go the Online Publishing route in its various forms and are much better equipped to give insight on the process - India DrummondStephanie Haefner, Nicole ZoltackEmily White, Anita Laydon Miller, Aubrie Dionne and Karly Kirkpatrick especially come to mind. Be sure to check them out!

 If anyone else has had experience with online publishing, I’d love for you to share it in the comments! As for all the other authors like me, trying to go traditional- what do you guys think about publishing online?   Tempting or completely overwhelming?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Letter From the Query Trenches

T’is a dark, dreary, mud filled hole of highs and lows.  Not a thing to report on the rejection front.  Nigh on the request front.
In fact, it would seem Agent Army has declared a cold war altogether.  They sit in wait, just over the frontier, yet me and my creepy binoculars remark not a white 

Okay, that’s enough of that.

Basically it’s been complete radio silence from agents the last couple months.  I have no idea if this is just me or of it's an overall lull in activity but I swear I send myself emails every now and then just to make sure my box isn’t broken.  I’m still waiting on responses to queries sent back in November.  And yes, I have checked the website to be sure it’s not a ‘eight weeks and you’re out’ type of deal.  All in all, I still have about 30 queries that seem to have been swallowed by the universe. 

I sent the last one out about a month ago and have been busy with my new wip ever since so I haven’t been stressing much about it but I still think it’s kind of weird.

How about you guys?  Stats?  Activity?  Anyone else notice the freezing of time in Agentland?  

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Mom Writers (Revisited)

Being a mother means we must assume nearly 32 other professions all rolled into one…..For free.
We all know the stories about how JK Rowling wrote most of Harry Potter while her baby napped in an out of the way café. Or about how Stephanie Meyer spent one summer writing every spare minute while trying to balance her children and family time. The point is, it CAN be done.
But being a mother and ANYTHING else is always difficult to manage, never mind trying to write entire books and get them out there. Yet here I am, along with thousands of other aspiring writers who are also full time moms. Here are some tips I’ve learned along the way that have helped me find the time to devote to writing.

Type Fast. I’m not kidding. It’s gotten to the point where I type almost as fast as I speak and my fingers continue to finish phrases long after my mind has taken a break to mentally calculate how many seconds I have before my daughter pushes that milk cup off the table.

Write While the Children Sleep. I love how everyone assumes that just because my children are asleep, it’s free time for mommy. Sure, I’ll write when they’re asleep. I’m not an idiot. But free time doesn’t come until AFTER I’ve finished cleaning up dinner, dishes, and laundry. Which brings me to my next tip-

Brainstorm During Mundane Chores I hate doing dishes. Hate it hate it hate it. But the one thing that I did look forward to was those fifteen minutes where I’ve got nothing to do but think. Some of my best plot turns and character traits came to me while I was folding clothes or scrubbing pots and pans. 

Invest in a Laptop This has been a lifesaver for me. I can bring it out in the back yard while the kids play, type away on the couch during their morning cartoons. Wherever they are, I am, only one problem-

Don’t Forget to Play with Your Kids- Sure, you’ve fed and clothed them and they’re reasonably clean. But how much time have you spent interacting or playing with them? I find that when I’m really deep into the story line, my mind is constantly wandering back to it and I forget that my kids don’t just need me to be there, they need me to BE THERE. And so I try and strip my mind and spirit back out of the computer screen and focus on my kids until they get bored with me. (They always do)

If I find that I haven’t done this enough some days, I ask the girls to help me with supper, or help me clean their room or fold laundry. They love spending time doing it with me, feel ‘grown up’, and probably won’t realize we’re doing chores until they’ve reached early teens. Who knows how long I’ll be able to keep this tactic up but for now, it works.

Any other tips for writing moms who are strapped for time?


Monday, May 9, 2011

Time is (Not) On My Side

From 8:00 am until around 10:30 am, Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesdays,  you can find me curled up with my laptop somewhere in the house.  I usually start out on the couch while the girls are watching their morning cartoons.  Hubby sleeps till around 10 am since he gets home from work so late the night before.  When the kids have stopped asking for more to eat, or for me to change the channel, or set up ‘Barbie Fashion Design’ on the computer- and are all three completely absorbed in one of the three activities, I sneak off into my daughter’s room and start typing from the bottom bunk bed (as close as I get to a private office around here).

 It’s calm and quiet for awhile.  Until all three children burst in, complaining of boredom. When they start spinning cartwheels and taking out the toys, I then sneak back out into the living room and finish up from the couch.

At 10 am, I make a mad dash to put dishes in the sink, clean the table, pick up any child destruction in the living room, and take a shower.  The last thing I need is my wonderful husband making some wise crack about me doing nothing but sitting on the computer all morning (which is exactly what I’ve been doing).

The afternoon holds more of the same.  I put the girls down for a nap.  Get some blogging out of the way and then return to my wip.  But between the blogging and the kids announcing they have to pee or that they aren’t sleepy, and then the two oldest swearing up and down that if I let them relax in my room with the television on low, they’ll behave- but end up back in the living room fifteen minutes later because “She hit me!”, well, lets just say the afternoon is NOT a very productive time for my wip and I.  I might get a little bit done at night but it depends on the kind of day I’ve had (and how much wine I needed to ‘relax’).

What about you?  When is your most productive ‘writing time’?  Does it just kind of fall in naturally or do you have to actually block off time for it?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Don't Forget to Say 'Goodbye'!

Leaving without saying ‘Aurevoir’ in France is a HUGE breach of etiquette, especially if you’re visiting someone’s house.  Now, I’m pretty sure the same can be said if you’re visiting in America as well- you’d want to bid your host farewell and thank them for having you.  Normal, right?

Well, the French go a bit above and beyond the call of ‘politesse’ and if you plan on leaving a French get-together, its best you start saying ‘Goodbye’ about twenty minutes or so before reaching the door.

Not only do you and your spouse have to say ‘Goodbye!’ and kiss your hosts cheeks along with every single individual present, - your CHILDREN are also expected to perform this ritual, no matter their age.  The bigger the party, the longer it takes to get to everyone.  No simple general hand-waving from the exit goes on here. 

An assembly line of relatives pretty much assembles whenever somebody’s about to leave- kissing their whole family one by one.  ‘Aurevoir aunt Michelle!’ *smooch smooch*  ‘Aurevoir oncle Gilbert!’ *smooch smooch*…and the grandparents, brothers, sisters, cousins, and just when you think you’re out the door- your husband and you both realize your eldest child has snuck back out to play instead of saying their ‘farewell’ and you’re going to have to bring them around to say goodbye again, which you do, while your husband loads the other two into the car. 

And if you should forget to say goodbye to someone (because they were in the bathroom or out smoking a cigarette) you can bet your ass they will be complaining about your rudeness after your departure.

One of the things I'm always thankful for in the U.S. is our tendency to 'wave' goodbye.  Much easier and, lets face it, more hygenic.  Nothing like rubbing cheeks with twenty people every time you arrive and depart a social gathering.

Hope everyone has a great weekend!


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The 'Sweet Kiss Goodbye'

I’ve heard this piece of advice before but haven’t realized how efficient it is or how much I tend to use it in my own writing :

The Sweet Kiss Goodbye

Think of it like this-  You’re husband/wife/S.O. is leaving to go to work and you give’em a quick peck before you see them off- signaling you’ll miss them (a little) but you’ve got stuff to do- your own day ahead of you and frankly- they aren’t the first thing on your mind.

Now, what if you were to send them off with a fall-of-your-chair passionate mouth melter that left them wondering (first and foremost-)  ‘What the hell’s gotten into her?’ and later thinking ‘I can’t WAIT till I get home tonight!’

That is what you want to do to you manuscript every time you log out of word.  Um, and no, I’m  not talking about making out with your computer screen, you bunch of sickos.

I’m talking about taking a break right before a big scene- something you’ve been looking forward to and working towards. 

Not only does this give you the time to daydream about how you want to execute it but it will also have you chomping at the bit (the second time I’ve ever used this expression. I swear.) to get back to your writing.

It can be an important scene between characters or a major plot twist- anything that has had your creative juices flowing for awhile.  Don’t leave you’re manuscript before having already set the scene.  Scene setting (for me) is the worst- because I have to brainstorm on how to effectively get my MC where they need to be for the juicy stuff without breaking pace or including boring info and it’s HARD and will have me avoiding my computer as though it has bad breath and a five o’clock shadow.
I use the momentum given by writing one captivating scene to push me through the setting for the next and then stop riiight as things are getting interesting. 

How about you?  Do you tend to use the ‘Sweet Kiss Goodbye’ in order to keep the love alive?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Your Eyes. Your Story.

I started a new wip a couple weeks ago and things are finally starting to fall into place.  The outline is still in a constant state of flux- scenes added and deleted, moved around or presented in ways I hadn’t thought about before I arrived at that section but I've definitely found my groove.

Even though the fun has just begun, there are still doubts.  I’ll be writing and then take a step back and think ‘How will other people see this?’.  Because, yes, eventually someone else will probably read my work, especially if (not when) in the end I think it might be worth querying agents with.  (Yes, I think books are worth writing even if they AREN'T meant for querying and there's no market for them.)

When the doubt comes in,  I start second guessing everything- my plot, storyline, voice etc.  ‘Is it too outrageous?’  ‘Should I really use a swear word there?’  ‘Will this story line hold their attention?’

And while it’s a good idea to at least give a little consideration to the future reader and think your story though, as to the rest of it- I say ‘Who cares???!!’

The important things happening with a first draft in my opinion are:

I’m writing!  After each project, there’s a lull after I start querying.  Try as I might, I couldn’t bring myself to write more than a few pages since November.  So being in the midst of another wip feels fantastic!  I’m doing what I love and honing my craft and I plan to adapt all the great things I’ve learned since my last project.

 I like my story, dammit!  One of the biggest reasons I started writing was so that I could live the story and experiences I wanted to.  I have total control of where this is going and what happens and it’s almost as good as reading a book.  At this point in the process, I shouldn’t give a damn what anyone else thinks.  I’m writing for me, for my enjoyment, and my enjoyment only.  If when I finish, I think there could be interest from people in the publishing industry- that’s when I’ll take a deeper look at my work and try and see it through different eyes.  Not before.

I find that worrying about future readers or the marketability of my story only stifles the creativity, so whenever the doubt starts creeping in, I might pause-  But eventually I think ‘who cares?!’ and push through it, taking the story where I want with renewed determination.

What about you?  Do you take a look at marketability and bounce ideas off others before you start a story, afraid to waste time writing something that won't interest?  Or do you barrel full steam ahead because this particular story is speaking to you, even if you're not completely sure you'll try and get it published? 


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