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It’s time for another YA Highway Road Trip Wednesday.  I’m going to try to participate in them as much as possible from now on, because it gives me a good reason to update this poor, neglected blog.

This week’s topic:

What are your writing and publishing superpowers (drafting? beta-reading? writing queries? plotting? character creation? etc.) — and what’s your kryptonite?

Road Trip Song of the Week: “The Man Of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts” – Sufjan Stevens

Quick confession before we get started… and if you know me in real life, you know this already:  I’m not very self-confident.  As a writer, as a person, as a girl, as anything, really.  I’m just not programmed that way.  But, I’m going to force myself to talk positively here, because I am good at some things.

  • Dialogue  I can write dialogue like a champ.  For days.  It’s a little ridiculous.  I’m chalking it up to the fact that I was a theater major, and I’ve been involved in theater stuff for about half my life.  Plays are all about dialogue.  I mean, that’s almost all there is in a play script.  The only writing class I took while in college was playwriting, and we focused a lot on dialogue.  Often, when I’m working on a first draft (or zero draft, really), if I’m stuck, I’ll just write dialogue with minimal description.  I’ll come back later and fill in.
  • Grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.  Hey, Vampire Weekend!  You know who gives a f**k about an Oxford comma?  This girl!  I’m pretty confident about the rules when I write, and I’m an ace line editor.  I can wield a semicolon with style and grace.  And while I always have a copy of The Elements of Style nearby, I also know when it’s okay to break the rules.  And I do break them.  See what I just did there?
  • Beta reading  I will give you honest feedback with constructive criticism.
  • Mushy scenes  I’m a sucker for romance, and I think I can write the sugary stuff pretty well.

Now, what am I not so good at?  Oh, there’s a litany of things:

  • Adverbs, and the overuse thereof  I didn’t even know this was a thing until it was pointed out in a Writer’s Garret class.  I should be banned from using “really” or “pretty” or, well, almost every other adverb.
  • Description  Remember how I said I can write dialogue?  Well, I’m not so hot at writing the rest of the damn words.
  • Conflict  Maybe it’s because I try to avoid it so much in real life.  I dunno.  I am just terrible at conflict.  I can’t seem to make stakes high enough.  I resolve it too quickly.  I run toward a happily-ever-after like my life depends on it.  Now, in my current NaNoWriMo project, I concentrated on making sure there is enough conflict in the plot.  Unfortunately, that makes it feel icky to write sometimes, because conflict makes me uncomfortable.  Can’t we just write novels where people fall in love and feel better about themselves???  Oh right, no one would read that.
  • Re-writing, editing, draft #4248, etc.  I find this very tedious, and I give up easily.  I’m just not a finisher (I’m no Bald John Green, folks).

So, that’s that.  One last thing about Road Trip Wednesday: I freaking love me some Sufjan Stevens.  The title of this post is from one of his songs (“The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades is Out to Get Us!).  He’s on my List (you know, the “it’s okay to cheat with these five celebrities” list).  I may have made a super silly Pinterest board with my current List-dwellers.

So, speaking of my NaNoWriMo novel, I’m up to 10,546 words.  That was great on Sunday, when I hit that word count and was a tiny bit ahead of the pace.  But I haven’t written anything since then.  I started a new job on Monday (again!  Let’s hope this one sticks!), and I’ve been a little exhausted the past couple of nights.  I’m going to get back in the saddle tonight and will write at least 2,000 words a day until I get back on pace.  And I may have skipped some of the conflict-y scenes to write a mushy scene, because, well, see above.

I’m having trouble getting into my main character’s head.  She’s different from me, and I’m not used to writing that.  Specifically, she’s kind of given up on love, and I never did, even when I was single for years (LITERALLY YEARS, people, in my 20s. Oh, and in my teens).  It’s been hard getting into that mindset.  I’ll crack her, though.  I have faith that I’ll be able to do it.

Some shout-outs to friends that are also writing NaNoWriMo novels:

  • Diana, who doesn’t have a website but has been writing with me online and commiserating over the phone
  • Kristen, who seriously needs to update her blog and come have a write-in at my house
  • Tiffany, who has been writing with me online and cheerleading on Facebook and Twitter
  • Brandy, also cheerleading on Facebook and Twitter, plus I think we’ve written together online this month… right?
  • Melissa, who is going to start her novel any day now…
  • And I’ll add in Jen, who is working on a different project but has been cheerleading and writing with me online.

It’s so good to know other writers.  All of the NaNoWriMo participants that I know are struggling right along with me, and I’m glad to know I’m in good company.  Keep going, ladies!  We can do this!

(By the way, I may think outrageously, but I don’t write in cursive when I’m writing books.  It’s laptop all the way for me.  How do you write?)

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Workspace

Could you write a novel here?

Today is Halloween, which means that I’m nursing a hangover from a party last night and am getting ready to hand out some candy to the neighborhood kids.  It also means that it’s the last day of October… and National Novel Writing Month starts tomorrow.  Yes, 50,000 words in 30 days.

It’s my fourth attempt at NaNoWriMo.  In 2006, I lost inspiration and quit.  In 2008, I succeeded and decided to become a writer.  I tried last year and didn’t quite make it.  I let our Italian vacation get in the way instead.  Great trip, but I didn’t even make it to 40,000 words.

This year, I’m going to win.

I set up a workstation for myself this afternoon.  I’ve never tried writing at a desk before, preferring to write in a chair or on a couch.  But my decrepit old back isn’t happy when I do that anymore, and it seems to like the desk chair we have in our sunroom.  So I cleaned off our little desk, moved my three lucky orange Ganeshas to watch over me, and hung three cute bird and tree paintings (mixed media artworks? what does one call these?) for inspiration and cheer. And I have a ton of albums I need to listen to before December, so I’ll have a fantastic soundtrack to this moody, paranormal(ish) young adult novel I’m about to write.  In first person present tense.  Which I’ve never done before.

Deep breaths.

I downloaded the just-released beta version of Scrivener for Windows, and I’ve been playing with it this afternoon, writing character sketches and a synopsis for each chapter.  I’m nowhere near done outlining, but if I get half of the book outlined before tomorrow, I’ll feel pretty good. I’m hoping that organization is going to be my best friend this year.

I’ve got help, too.  I’m participating through D Magazine’s FrontRow blog and possibly helping to coordinate something through the Writer’s Garret.  Even better, some friends are NaNoWriMo-ing too.  Anne and Kristen from my writing program as well as my friend Tiffany are all going to give it a go.  And this guy, who is partly responsible for my current hangover, is thinking of trying, too (do it, do it!!!).

I couldn’t be more thrilled that I will have several writing buddies this time around.  Seriously, you need a cheerleading section if you’re going to make it through this month.  Well, a cheerleading section, some headphones, lots of caffeine, and some serious booze.  At least, that’s how I do it.

And I’m gonna do it.  Who’s with me?

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side job

I did a little guest DJ gig over at my friend Kristen’s blog for her weekly Music Monday post. You can find it here.

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makings of a feast

We’re having friends over tonight, and my husband has been busy prepping while I’ve been working and straightening things up a bit.  We hit Central Market this afternoon, and they are in the midst of their annual Hatch Green Chile Festival.  We bought most of our supplies there, but we had to pick up some Mexican staples from El Rio Grande in our hood (barrio?) on the way back home.  Here is a feast in the making:

On the menu tonight: homemade guacamole with a bit of hatch chile, hatch cream corn, carnitas tacos with cilantro, onion, and lime, and avocado margaritas.  I’ve never had avocado margaritas, but I hear they’re delicious.

While I was sleeping in this morning (a shocker, I know, as I never sleep in on Saturdays!), my husband made the long trek to far North Dallas to pick up some Hypnotic Donuts.  As you can see from the picture above, we have already eaten two.  But there’s still four left for us to eat as dessert: 4 Chocolate– choc frosting, choc sprinkles, choc chips, choc drizzle; Canadian Health Care– maple bacon on maple frosting; Dancing Bears– gummy bears dancing in a circle, and Poppin Berries with a C– cherry pop tarts on cherry frosting.

Tonight is probably not going to do much for the state of my physical health, but I bet it’s going to do a world of good for my mental health.

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We’re going to take a little break from talking about my creative writing class to focus on publishing.

One of the scariest things – to me, at least – about being a writer is getting published.  I mean, getting published itself isn’t scary, it’s wonderful!  But the road to getting published can be daunting.  How do you find an agent?  How do you deal with rejection letter after rejection letter after stupid rejection letter?  Should you go to every writers conference around and try to sell your book in a five-minute meeting with an agent?  What helps  you keep your chin up?

It’s frankly terrifying.  I’m still gonna do it, of course.

Some writers choose to self-publish instead, and there are plenty of tools for that (for example, lulu.com).  Others decide to go to a small press or independent publishing house, which can be a little easier to crack than the big publishing houses.  My friend Jennifer McBay Barry successfully published her first novel, The Kingdom (which is the first in a series), with an indie publisher, and I asked her if she would mind sharing a little bit about her experience.

So, you wrote a novel. What happened next?

When I was about halfway through writing the book, my husband advised me to start a Facebook fan page so that I could begin to build a fan base.  I didn’t even know if there was a point to building a fan base for a book that might not ever be published, but I put one together anyway.  I posted the first three chapters of the book to give potential readers a chance to test drive before buying, and that turned out to be an excellent idea.  Before I even typed the last word of The Kingdom, the book had over four hundred fans.

When I finished the book, I began researching agents and publishers and began putting together my query letter according to the specifications that each agent or publisher put forth.  As I worked through the editing process, I was also sending off dozens of letters.  I received dozens of rejections, two letters expressing interest, and one acceptance.

What made you decide to go with an indie publishing house?

I listen to independent music almost exclusively, and I don’t watch very many Hollywood blockbuster films.  So many independent musicians and moviemakers are finding fantastic success, as long as they are patient and willing to work hard.  In the end, their success is even sweeter, because they know that they brought every bit of it upon themselves.  That idea appealed to me a great deal- to know that people bought my book because others enjoyed it and not because some marketing machine told them to do so.

How has your experience been so far?

There is no doubt that this is a hard road.  There are not very many successful independent authors as of yet, but there are many that are hoping to change that.  Marketing is expensive, traveling is expensive, and there is not enough income from sales to cover these expenses.  I do, however, get to interact with the people that are buying and reading the book.  I develop relationships with the new fans, and I listen to what they would like to see in future installments of the series.  It’s far more rewarding than any huge advance paycheck could be, and I know that it will pay off in spades.

How much of the groundwork must you do yourself?

I did a lot of groundwork for myself to see the book stocked in stores, only to find that the bookstores don’t want to hear from the authors at all.  They will accommodate the publisher, or they will try their best to accommodate possible customers.  Every author, however, thinks their book is good enough to sit on the shelves in a bookstore.  Until the book is stocked in the stores, these store managers have no desire to hold an event with the author.  I won’t name the chain, but I contacted them several times to see if I might get the book on their shelves.  I was put on hold, transferred, hung up on, and patronized.  When the publisher managed to get the book in the stores, the managers suddenly couldn’t wait to have me in for a signing.  It seems there isn’t much I can do for myself without the support of fans and my publisher.

If a major publishing house wanted to pick up your book series, would you do it?  Is that possible under your contract with your current publisher?

I would immediately think no.  However, it boils down to the amount of creative control that I could have, and the amount of interaction that I could have with the readers.  I think a place like Random House would swallow me whole.  If there was a middle ground, I’d be more likely to consider it.  And as far as I understand, for the right amount of money, any contract can be reversed.

Any insights for other writers who are considering indie publishing?

It’s expensive, it’s hard, and it’s outrageously rewarding.  If you have a full-time job, prepare to take on the responsibilities of another job and a half.  If you’re married on top of all of this, then you’ll feel like you need a 48-hour day to get everything done.  However, you’re not relying on someone else to tell you whether or not your work is good enough; you’re passing that privilege directly to your readers.

Tell us a little about your book!

If you’re interested at all in Irish mythology, Irish history, fantasy, and romance, then you’ll love The Kingdom.  The main character and narrator, Rioghan, is a man that has seen entirely too much to get excited, and yet he finds a girl that manages to awaken something inside him.  As they get to know each other, Rioghan shows her the truth behind many of the myths and legends that we hold dear.  You can read the first three chapters on the Facebook fan page here.

The Kingdom is also sponsoring a contest for aspiring writers.  You can check out the rules and the prizes at the Key to the Kingdom Contest.  The grand prize winner will have their short story published in the second installment of The Kingdom Saga.  I am excited to see the submissions!

I want to thank Jen for sharing her experience with me and the handful of people who read this blog.  By the way, she’s very nice and The Kingdom is a really fun read.  She’s still working on getting it stocked in major bookstores, but you can always find it on Amazon (and it’s even available for Kindle).  And if you write – submit a short story for her contest!  The contest is accepting entries until May 31st, so there’s still time.

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