Friday, October 30, 2009

Fear is the Mind Killer: or, Don't Worry, this is not a post about the "Dune" Saga

Since today is the day before Halloween, I wanted to talk about fear.

Fears vary so much from person to person. My husband is afraid of spiders, while I'd rather catch and release them into the yard. Riding my scooter makes me fearless, yet fear of failure can make me an emotional train wreck.

The one thing that we all have in common is that our fears will make us do things we might not normally do. Fear is a universal motivator, although what it motivates us to do is as variable as our fears. Concern for ourselves and others will motivate us to act, or even to overcome another fear. As writers, fear is an important tool to convince our characters to do what we want them to do. Of course, the flip side to that, is that these fears must be established early on as a quirk or flaw of the characters. Ah, the joys of characterization!

But the most interesting part about fear is how humanity seems to crave a good scare every once in a while. Scary stories told around the fire pit didn't originate with the Boyscouts of America, they are as old as fire pits themselves. Americans go in droves to scary movies, especially this time of year, wanting to get their blood pumping and endorphins flowing.

I love a good haunted house, but none will ever be as frightening to me as the first one I ever went to-- first grade at my school overseas. I was six, a little gypsy, ironically enough, and I'd never been so frightened in all my young life. Not even when I fell off my trike when I was four and got glass in my knee. I wasn't scared then, because my big strong daddy picked me up and took me to the hospital. But without Mom or Dad to cling to in the haunted house, I'd never felt so vulnerable, even in a familiar place where I knew I was safe. I had nightmares for months of rubbery bats dropping out of the ceiling on me, and tripping over bones trying to get out of the dark. I still draw on that chest constricting fear for my writing, even though my rational adult brain knows that my first haunted house was probably not very scary at all. But the memory freaks me out far more than going to the House of Shock or the Mortuary as an adult.

Scary movies still give me nightmares, which is why I prefer campy horror of the Evil Dead and Cabin Fever persuasion. Only movies, though. I have no problem with reading horror. Something about the vivid imagery of the movies supplants itself indelibly in my subconscious and flashes behind my eyes when I'm trying to sleep. That's why you'll see me at Zombieland before Saw 87 gaziilion.

What scares you? How do you use fear to motivate your characters? And do you remember the first time you went to a haunted house? Does it still chill your blood and keep you up at night?

Or is it just me?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wannabe Scribe Book Giveaway!

Great contest opportunity from Shannon Messenger at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe that ends midnight on Friday, her time.

Up for grabs are:

NERDS signed by Michael Buckley
Dreamdark: Blackbringer signed by Laini Taylor
Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy signed by Robin Preiss Glasser

And you get to choose which prize you want. Sorry, U.S. entrants, only!

My current followers (meaning everyone who followed before today, October 26th) will automatically get five (5) entries in the contest when they comment. New followers will get three (3) entries when they comment. And if you don't want to follow, you can still enter and get one (1) entry.

But wait--there's more! (Heh. I've always wanted to say that.)
Extra Entry Options
+10 for writing an actual post on your blog about this contest. It doesn't have to be long, but I will be checking it to make sure it's there and it qualifies.
+3 for linking this contest on your sidebar
+3 for tweeting a link to the contest (please be sure give me your twitter name so I can track it down)
+2 for telling me why you want the book you are choosing in your comment
+1 for telling me I'm wonderful :) (What can I say? I feed off compliments.)

Just like last time, all entries will be written on equal sized pieces of paper, scrambled up, and then I will draw one winner at random. You have until midnight on Friday, October 30th to enter and I'll announce the winner Saturday, October 31st (weird how that worked out, huh?) And unfortunately I can only pay to ship within the US.

Good luck to all who enter!

30 Days of Write: Pre-November Planning and the Allure of the New Notebook

I've been doing a lot of thinking recently about how NaNo can benefit me if I treat it as a serious writing exercise. As I've said before, my goals are to ignore my inner editor-- as in, don't get it right, get it written-- and to focus on my perceived weaknesses in craft and characterization. It seems as though a lot of people who participate in NaNo are changing their writing habits, whether out of desire or necessity.

A strange phenomenon is the planning that occurs in the time leading up to November, before any of the actual novel can be put down. Ordinarily, I'd love this time, plotting and writing character bios and researching. But since I'm also scrambling to finish up my WiP-- don't get it right, get it written!!-- I have very little time to devote to pre-November planning. Another reason I'm glad I chose a project that already has an established story/plot arc I'll be more or less following.

But does this expectation in October turn pantsers into plotters? How many self-proclaimed "fly by the seat of my pants" writers give in to creating plot arcs or storylines, or-- Heaven forbid-- even the dreaded outline before they're allowed to type that first sentence? There's nothing I'd love more than to snuggle into a chair tonight with a notebook and some cocoa and flesh out my characters for NaNo. Instead, I'm going to be forcing myself to finish my WiP's first draft. The end is in sight for Mara's story. Which is good, because we need some space. So you can understand the allure of Hans and Greta and a new notebook right now.

In my world, there's nothing more promising than a blank notebook. I have a bit of an addiction to adorable notebooks about 5 by 7. When I first started writing, I was afraid to write in anything other than an old, half-used Mead from my grad school days, 8.5 by 11. I didn't trust myself to break in a new notebook. As if what I wrote wouldn't be worth the paper it was inked on. It actually took quite a while for me to believe in myself enough to know my ideas were worthy.

It's a little thing, but now a get a distinct thrill of expectation when I start a new notebook. A new notebook means a new story, new characters to love and torture and dream about... well, you get the picture. Nothing promotes creativity for me, and helps me get the characters and the story straight in my head like writing it all out longhand. There's no way I can sit and stare at a blank screen and wait for the story to come drizzling out one line at a time, so I applaud those who can. Instead, the smaller the notebook, the easier I find it is to face those blank pages, to fill them with worlds of words and exciting detailed character backstory.

So if any of you pantsers feel the need to get your story started before November gets going, don't forget about the allure of the new notebook. ;)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

WIP Wednesday : There and Back Again

Some of my favorite stories end where they begin, and my WiP is no different. Wait a second, maybe it is...

If you study the tropes of literature and television, you may hear that there are only three plots. Or seven. Or thirty-six-- it's all very confusing, really, but worth the time to study. One of Christopher Booker's supposed seven basic plots is the "Voyage and Return" story. Obviously, this encompasses stories like The Hobbit, Robinson Crusoe, Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, in which the main character leaves home, has an adventure, and comes back home.

Mara's story, however, gives the Voyage and Return a different spin. Yes, she leaves home and has a great adventure, but though she does get a little homesick, she finds a new life and a new home. Before she can start that new life, however, she must take care of some unfinished business at home, which is where she is when the story ends.

What I like about studying tropes is how you can use them to give an old story new life. Everything old can be new again when an author knows what has come before and how s/he can change a trope to suit their story. What I like about this method is that it provides the reader with a story that starts out familiar and comfortable, but in the end winds up surprising them by diverging from the story the are expecting to read. Of course, there's a danger in diverging too much, but a skillful writer can make it work with solid, likable characters, a uniquely lyrical narrative style, or a fast-paced plot.

If anyone still hasn't decided on a project for National Novel Writing Month, take a look at t.v. tropes (see the "television" link above). You may waste hours looking at this site, so don't say I didn't warn you. But knowing what has come before is a great way to decide what you'd like to write next. As my daddy always says, those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it.

Which is why we'll be seeing Lord of the Rings rip-offs for another seventy years. ;)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

That Which We Call a WiP by Any Other Word, Still Smells as Sweet...

Morning, y'all! I had an amazingly productive unplugged week, but it's great to be back. I've got my yet-again-untitled-work-in-progress completely plotted and I think I've only got another 5-7k words left to go, so the timing is perfect to finish before NaNo.

Sadly, as you may have surmised, I'm back to hating my title. Frustrating to be so close to the end, yet still not see my finished work as a whole. It's like finishing a jigsaw puzzle only to discover that the picture you've completed has vanished from sight.

I'm holding out the hope that as I think more critically about my revisions, a title will make itself apparent. Not something I really want hanging over my head during NaNo, though, so I've been looking for inspiration in old French ballads and poems. I heard that Margaret Mitchell got the title for Gone With the Wind from a poem, so I thought I'd try that route. Of course, the translations lose something of the passion of the originals, so it hasn't been very forthcoming.

Hans and Greta have been in my thoughts this past week, as well. I even talked about it with my husband, who asked me why I decided to go with the traditional Wilhelm Grimm story when I could take it in any direction: A modernization in Eastern Europe where the step-mother sells them into the sex trade, or some rural American setting where the witch is really a cannibalistic serial killer. (Seriously, these were his ideas, not mine)

The easy answer was that the time frame-- one month-- would be too short to research like I'd want to (the rituals of serial killers and cannibals, or the truth about the sex trade). Hence, the appeal of a Grimm's fairy tale. I've read every version of Wilhelm Grimm's rendition, which is enough research for me to plow through a first draft in 30 days. I'm writing it as if the Grimms heard the story from an elderly Hans and Greta. And I was actually born in Hessen, the story's region of origin.

There are a lot of reasons-- including my love for the story-- that I chose to write an extended version of the Grimm fairy tale, but I realized that the long answer is similar to what Davin Malasarn wrote in a recent Literary Lab post:

"I'm hoping, through this experiment on non-experimentation, to pick up some good story-telling habits. I'm also hoping to direct my creativity into other areas of the storytelling process. By fixing certain elements, like structure, my creative energy will flow into other avenues, like scene building and character traits, that will force me to think in a different way."

Like Davin, I'm hoping that this exercise will help me direct my creativity into characterization and motivation, instead of plot twists. That it will help me devote more time to craft and style and whatever I tend to sacrifice while I'm writing for the sake of the story. Hansel and Gretel is pretty much all about the characters anyway. Motivation is the key, as I've said before.

As we read the children's story, we don't question why the father decides to give up his children. We don't question Hansel's devotion to his sister, or the witch's desire for fresh meat. In an extended narrative, defining the motivations of the characters is necessary to make the reader believe the story is real.

So there's the long answer. I'm not using NaNo as an excuse to crank out another mediocre novel like all the others I've written. It's an exercise to improve my writing skills, to stretch the writing muscles I hardly use.

Why will you NaNo? For practice? To let a WiP sit for a while? Or just for fun?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

While I'm Gone, Don't Feed the Demons!

I've been driven to finish my wip as if I'm being chased by the procrastination demons. I've been working so hard, I even thought it might have a proper title. When I googled said title, I discovered it had been used by an author for a 2006 coming of age novel. But I figure for now it makes a good working title and looks snazzy topping a query letter. I'll reveal my new working title at the end of this post, but first--

I've got to unplug for a week. I've been making such good progress on Mara's story that I need to give it the attention it deserves, especially if I'm going to sign up for NaNo. I haven't even allowed myself to think about my dark, delicious NaNo fairy tale while I'm still working on my WiP, that's how serious I am about finishing this first draft.

But if, while I'm gone, anyone wants to leave questions for me in the comments of this post, I'll answer them to the best of my abilities. Anything from "What's your favorite ice cream?" to "How many places have you visited?" (Answers are, respectively, lychee sorbet, and not as many as I want to. ;) ) It's been a while since my last personal post, anyway, and there are just so many wonderful things to discover about yours truly. *bats eyelashes*

To tide you over until then, I leave you with an exceedingly rough query for my almost finished, as yet working titled WiP (constructive criticism welcome!):

Query: Strings Attached, a 65,000 word YA paranormal

When the boy she refused to marry goes missing, a selfish young Gypsy girl discovers that the gift she's always denied might be the key to finding him.

Mara has always known she’s different. She can see muló, the spirits of the dead still chained to this earth. Some are helpful, like Kira, the old wise-woman, and some, like the Tinker, have much baser desires. Far from being a normal Romani girl, Mara is still surprised to realize she wants more from life than to marry Alex and become a wife and mother. Spurned, Alex leaves for Paris. Following the death of her father, Mara decides to go find him.

Mara's quest to find Alex leads her to a Parisian cabaret where nothing is as it seems-- particularly not the backer's handsome son, Guy. And using her unique gift only seems to get her into trouble. After Alex's body is found in the Seine, Mara knows she has only until winter's end to discover what happened to him before her family moves on to a new campsite. The longer she stays at the cabaret, however, the less she wants to go home. When she discovers Alex's murderer might be someone at the cabaret, Mara needs to use all her wits to keep from being the killer's next victim.

Have a great week, everyone!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Believing is Seeing; Making the Magic Work

Went to see Where the Wild Things Are this weekend and I enjoyed every second. From the very beginning I was drawn into Max's world, and stayed firmly put until the final credits rolled. Which inspired today's blog post.

I know, as a rational human being, that the Wild Things ARE NOT REAL. They are puppets with computer generated facial features. Yet I enjoyed myself more when I pretended they were real, living, breathing, eating, fighting, filthy, wild things. Why is that? Perhaps it's easier for me to lose myself in a fantasy world than some people, but there are certainly times when it's easier than others. It took all the elements of this movie mixed with the emotions it made me feel to suck me into the story. Which leads me to the question:

How do I do this in my own work?

What combination of craft and emotion do I need in my book to catch readers up completely in the web I've woven for them? How do I make them believe, and thus, SEE my vision?

There's a lot to be said about what a story needs to be successful-- all successful novels rely heavily on craft and style, plot and pacing. But how do these qualities come together and make... MAGIC?

I've decided to make a list of what my strengths and weaknesses are, so that I know what I've got to make magic with. From previous critiques I know that I do a good job setting the scene. That's something to work with, for what would the Wild Things be without their wild island? But I've also been told I need to work harder to reveal what's going on in the main character's head. Okay, I can work on that. I've also been told that my style can read a bit dated. Hmmm, I can work with that, too, especially since one of my strong points is making a historical setting believable.

I won't bore you with the rest, because behind the scenes, making magic is very tiresome. It takes a lot of getting it wrong first to get it right, and a lot of hard work to make something so difficult and time-consuming look so easy. I will tell you that knowing I'm armed with the proper components for my magic making takes a lot of stress out of writing.

Of course, there's one component that's more necessary to the magic than all the rest combined.

Every book needs to have the sort of magic spark that makes a reader want to suspend their disbelief-- a book must make them FEEL. Whether they sympathize with your main character's disadvantaged upbringing, or your antagonist's inexplicable love for his sick sister, the reader must feel something. And this, I think, I really where the magic starts. Where the reader really begins to get lost in the story, to call the author cruel for inflicting such hellish torments on the people they've grown to care for.

Your plot full of angels and demons and apocalyptic mayhem will simply roll off the reader like water off a duck's back until a character that provokes an emotional response comes into the story. Then it becomes as real in their head as it is in the author's.

Which is why we read books in the first place, is it not? To be taken away on a journey of words to a place where the problems of imaginary people become more real than our own?

To conclude, there's no reason why we all can't be masters of making readers feel. Haven't we all experienced pain, loss, wrath? Hope, fear, and envy? What writer (or reader, for that matter) hasn't experienced all the emotions life has to offer? Good writers learn how to harness the energy of these emotions, how to draw upon them to add reality to the novel they are crafting. This is something I'm slowly learning to do because as a writer, I instinctively feel what my characters are feeling. However, unless this emotion is properly transferred to the page, the reader will never truly know what they are supposed to be feeling.

The magic happens when the reader doesn't sense the author's hand forcing them to feel an emotion.

That's when they stop simply seeing your story, and they start believing it.

That's what I hope to be able to do with my current novel.

Make the magic real.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

And the winner is...

Rebecca Sutton!

Send an email to the address in my profile with your mailing address to collect your very own copy of The Hollow! If I haven't heard from you by Monday, I'll try to contact you througth your blog.

Thanks again to everyone who entered!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Let the Wild Rumpus Begin!

As you may know, one of my favorite kid's books was made into a full-length movie that releases today! I have to work late tonight, or else I'd go see it, but I have plans to go tomorrow.

The reason this book still ranks as one of my favorites is that it taught me to use my imagination. It doesn't hurt that the main character, Max, is delightfully wicked and mischievous. Until he starts missing his home and his parents and his old life that he once found so boring and not Max-centric enough for him. I can definitely relate. ;)

In other, non-Wild Thing news, The Great The Hollow Giveaway will run until midnight tonight, CST. A winner will be drawn tomorrow morning, and the winner posted at noon, CST.

Good luck to all who entered.

PS, typed 2400 words last night. But who's counting?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Gearing up for NaNoWriMo-- Stretching my Writing Muscles

Thousands of writers have already signed up for National Novel Writing Month. If I finish up my WiP first draft in time, I'll join their ranks. *stretches hamstrings*

But you don't have to wait until November every year to have your own personal NoWriMo. Let's say I don't finish my WiP (Mara's Story, as yet untitled) until December. It seems to me that a personal WriMo would be the perfect opportunity to keep my mind off my completed first draft, off the nagging of revisions, and let the ink dry before I tear it apart. Like a fine roast, it needs to rest before I start carving it up.

Now, TerNoWriMo (that's Tere's Novel Writing Month, of course) would still follow the same guidelines as NaNoWriMo-- write 50K in 30 days. This will help keep me focused, goal oriented, and, most importantly, distracted from Mara's finished first draft. And when that 30 days is done, I'll return to my WiP to begin my second draft and then send it out to betas. Switching gears on projects like that really helps to promote creativity-- for me, anyway-- and will also provide me with an established, well-rested project to become my new WiP while I'm querying my old one.

I think this cycle will work pretty well for my writing because it will keep me from becoming too familiar with my work, which is one of my biggest hurdles. Ooh, you know how I love writing metaphors, so we can't skip this one...

To me, this new cycle of writing is a bit like a decathalon track. At first glance it seems pretty predictable-- it goes around in an endless oval, with a smooth running surface. But different events require different skills. A WriMo is a bit like a sprint, while revisions are definitely the 400 meter hurdles. The initial idea of a new story is sort of like the High Jump, where the realm of possibilities is wide open and you shoot for the moon. Plotting is like the Long Jump.

Querying imakes me think of the shot put at first, becoming more like discus throwing as you widen your query parameters.

So reading rejections must be like stabbing yourself in the foot with a javelin. ;)

Are you gearing up for NaNo? Planning ahead, or pantsing?

Good luck to everyone who participates!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

WiP Wednesday: Keep it Simple, Stupid.

"It seems that perfection is reached not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away". Antoine de Saint Exupéry

I'm learning that simple is complicated. While the phrase "Keep it Simple, Stupid", usually refers to using the fewest amount of words to say what must be said, I think it can also be applied to plotting. A plot that's too complicated is like a tiny planet overgrown with baobabs-- you can't see the planet through the trees.

The novel I'm currently querying, EVANGELINE, has a pretty complicated plot. In order to figure out a way for the story to make sense (girl goes back in time, why? How?) things got, well, a little complicated. I applaud my betas for being able to follow it, really. And it's definitely the one thing I wish was easy to revise, but it's too, ya know, complicated to change without creating a paradox in the space-time continuum and destroying life as we know it. You wouldn't want me to do that, would you?

My WiP "As Yet Untitled/Mara's Story" has a fairly simple plot. Maybe simple is the wrong word, but far more straightforward than EVANGELINE. Sure, there are paranormal elements, but it's really a murder mystery. And so, while the plot should definitely have twists and red herrings and there should (obviously) be some major obstacles for the heroine to overcome, the story should stay pretty simple.

Or at least, that's what I keep telling myself.

Simple is hard for me, the queen of complicated plots. I used to think that complicated = original. How can a work be derivative if it's this complicated? I've learned a lot about writing in the past few years, enough to know that original ideas can be simple, too, and that a few plot twists don't disguise the fact that a story is really just another star-crossed lovers trope. (please don't blame me for the hours you waste after clicking this link)

Not that there's anything wrong with that, either. As I wrote in a post last week, the same old stories can always be updated for the current generation.

But my WiP doesn't need any of that. I know who-dunnit, and I'm slowly figuring out what that means for the heroine. I just need to follow my scene goals and keep myself from needlessly complicating things.

Anyone else have this problem? I'd love to hear about how others deal with keeping their little planets baobab free, er, I mean, keeping their plots from getting too complicated. ;)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Here There Be Dragons... The Perils of the Untitled Work in Progress

Last night was a perfect night for writing... even if it was only for an hour. While my husband braved a torrential downpour to get me falafel, I took my new desk for a test drive. Turns out she goes from zero to 1K in 60 minutes. ;)

If I can just get myself to write 1K per day-- increasing my work flow on Saturdays-- I'll have my first draft pretty close to finished by November. That'll give it plenty of time to rest and breathe while I play around with Hans and Greta for a month. At least, that's the story I think I want to tell. It could be dark... very dark. And it's been a while since I wrote a male mc.

But first-- Mara's story still has no title. It's like the titling demons have wrestled the originality out of me. I keep coming up with these contrived or boring or trite sounding titles: Carnival of Illusions, The Spirit Room, Carmen's Ghost, Murder and Mara's Gift, Leaving Purgatory.

Bah! I'm embarrassed just admitting to those. I usually have a working title by the time I've gotten this far. It's strange, like steering a ship toward a nameless country. Here there be dragons. Yar.

Yes, I know that there's a good chance -- should my work be accepted by a publishing house-- that the final title decision will be out of my hands. But I can't help but think that a snappy title goes a long way toward attracing a literary agent. And that agent will have enough work ahead of them before my novel can even be submitted to editors. So shouldn't I do my damnedest (is "damnedest" a word?) to ensure I have a title that will stand out from the crowd, attract attention, and arouse the curiosity of agents, editors and potential readers, alike?


I know a title will come eventually, while I'm working on my NaNo project, perhaps, so I'm not making myself crazy over it. I just feel, I don't know, somewhat incomplete when I'm writing a story with no name.

It's just one more dragon in the sea of publication.

If anyone needs me, I'll be over here, hiding from the dragons. Maybe I can tempt them with something shiny so they won't eat me.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Power of Personal Space, or A Much Needed Ego Boost

Stayed up late last night unpacking and rearranging, and I'm proud to tell you I now have a HOME OFFICE. Of course, by the time I finished hauling furniture around (okay, I was mostly sliding the furniture around on those floor sliding mover things), I was too worn out to even write my name.

I did have the energy to put up some Walter Anderson prints my stepmother gave me years ago, and gather up my writing books and some pens. Now it's looking very nice. And inspirational, now that I think about it.

Even though I haven't written anything there yet, just having this personal space makes me feel more like a writer again, which is something I feared stress and moving and all this worry about blogging and marketing myself had squashed down into a dark oubliette deep inside of me. After weeks of stress, this relief has begun to manifest in flights of fancy of the silliest order...

Sure, I'm just getting back on track with Mara's story (my YA paranormal WiP), but will one month spent on something else really hurt? Maybe that will help me get my but in gear on the WiP for the next two weeks before NaNo starts. (link provided in case you've been living in a cave on the moon with your eyes shut and your fingers in your ears)

That's right. You heard me. I know I've said before I have no time for NaNo this year, but now that I have my new office, it's obvious I'll have plenty of time to work on Mara's story before November starts. And this Hansel and Gretel story is just clawing away inside trying to get out. I almost want to squash it down into that oubliette, but then it might never get out. But who am I kidding? I'm super writer now that I have my home office. SUPER WRITER. (In case you didn't hear me the first time) I can write anything at my new desk, maybe even women's fiction. You know, stuff not for teens, and with no fantasy elements. Like Mary J. Freed's Summer of Stupidity.

See, with this inspirational space of my own, I can write whatever I want, not whatever the muse dictates. She's fickle and only wants to write YA paranormal, anyway. ;)

So do I have a good excuse not to participate in NaNo this year, or should I just stick to my WiP? Keep in mind, LOL, I might not actually be the SUPER WRITER that my ego thinks I am right now.

P.S. My ego just went ahead and entered the first paragraph of my WiP in super-agent Nathan Bransford's first paragraph contest. Fingers crossed.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Following a Trail of Breadcrumbs...

As promised, here's the first page of a retold story. Working on a few new ones for next week. Enjoy!

My beard may be gray now, and my bones sore, but the smell of pfeffernusse still makes me wretch inside. I watch my grandchildren make their gingerbread houses-- as my children did, and Greta and I when we were babes-- and try to resist the urge to fling them into the fiery hearth. These old bones are too tired to do such a thing, even if it wouldn’t frighten my family. My sister and I never told a soul what happened to us so many years ago, when we were lost in the woods. My grandchildren revel in the smell of Christmas and St. Nikolas that only reminds me of pain and helplessness.

“Hans, come tell the children a story before bed.”

Silent as a spirit, Greta appears at my side. She is as gray as I am, but her bones are not so sore. Her clear blue eyes crinkle with concern. “You’re thinking of the woods again, aren’t you?”

“Can you look upon one of those houses without thinking the same thing?”

But it is as if I don’t even see these little houses or the children playing.

In my mind I see a house in the woods, sun dappling through the trees off of gingerbread shingles and candy window-panes. I can almost taste it. I haven’t eaten sweets in forty-five years. Not since Greta and I finally found our way home.


Enter The Great The Hollow Giveaway HERE until October 16th.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Great "The Hollow" Giveaway!

It's a beautiful morning here in New Orleans, but the heat index is supposed to top out at about 105 degrees. That's the "feels-like" temperature for all you weather channel fans. So what better way to cool down my blog, than by holding a contest for Jessica Verday's chilling debut novel, The Hollow?! See my review here.

It's easy to enter:

Just commenting on this post will earn you 1 entry.
If you are a follower of my blog, or you become a follower, that's +1.
If you blog about this contest that's another +1.
Post a link in your sidebar for +1 more.

And finally for a whopping +5 --that's five, count 'em, FIVE-- entries, either post on your own blog, or email me (see my profile for my email) the opening to your own retold story. Any entries emailed to me will be posted on my blog through the week. Unless you'd prefer not to share your entry with the world seeing as no one's actually getting judged on the content of their entry, just that they participated, in which case simply tell me not to post it.

Your entry can be anywhere from 100 to 350 words, whatever flows. I'll even write my own and post it tomorrow. For inspiration, see Tuesday's post. I really enjoyed writing little snippets. Let's see if I can pull off a first page. You have until Friday, October 16th to enter, at which time all entries will be numbered and drawn randomly out of my bathtub.

When I read The Hollow, it was like getting a second chance to enjoy The Legend of Sleepy Hollow all over again, but it was a different experience from seeing movie versions. Even versions like Tim Burton's where the plot deviates delightfully from the original. Hollywood takes its liberties with classics, with legends all the time: Clueless/Emma, 10 Things I Hate About You/Taming of the Shrew, Drive Me Crazy (or Can't Buy Me Love)/The Frog Prince, A.I./Pinocchio. And who could resist Bill Murray in Scrooged?

For a little added chilling inspiration, I leave you with a link to Neil Gaiman's frightful retelling of Snow White, Snow, Glass, Apples. It's darkly imagined, sexually graphic and lyrically beautiful.

Enjoy, and good luck with the contest!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

WiP Wednesday: Setting Scene Goals. And Keeping Them.

Morning, y'all! I am back! By "back" of course, I mean back in the writing groove. It's great to have that feeling of the words flowing out of me again, clicking away their monotone symphony on the keyboard.

But there's a problem that comes with getting back into the writing groove and that's the extra fluff. Fluff I really don't need when the writing should be tight and precise. I'm halfway through the story, and know this is not the place to go off writing a Melvillean style treatise on whaling, er, I mean the history of the Parisian cabaret, no matter how much I want to.

Some of you might be saying, who cares? You can trim all that excess fluff during the second draft. Just write the first. I would, but that's just not how my brain works. If I go off on a tangent, start writing by the seat of my pants, I wind up with lots of fluff, and no substance, no story. At least, not a story anyone wants to read.

So instead of using a strict outline, I like to quickly jot down scene goals before I begin to write. It can be only one or two sentences, like this:

Mara must free Georges from the store-room. He and Mara look for Alex.

This keeps me on the right track, while at the same time, leaves me free to make any other decisions I want to once I'm writing. It's less like a map, and more like a compass. Do I always fulfill my scene goals? No, but they keep me honest, keep me thinking critically about the plot and what needs to occur to move the story along. Or else we risk winding up with four pages on how the Moulin Rouge wound up closing in 1896, yada, yada, yada...

So you see, it's plotting, but it's not constrictive for you pantsers out there. And it helps you to analyze the plot as you are writing without planning too far ahead. One scene at a time.

Tune in tomorrow for details on The Hollow giveaway! Tell your friends. ;)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Nothing New Under the Sun...

What is it about a retelling that is so enticing? The lure of the familiar, backed by the promise of something new to come? There's something safe about reading a retelling, as if you already know where the author is taking you, and you willingly let yourself be sucked beneath the waves.

Yesterday's review of Jessica Verday's debut novel, The Hollow, got me thinking about taking inspiration from literature, mythology and legends, or folk and fairy tales for your own work. Authors have run the gamut from simply being inspired by a story or tale and incorporating that into their work, to rewriting their own version with an original spin.

Probably one of the most famous rewritten stories of recent decades is Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones' Diary, which is more or less a modernization of the classic Austen novel, Pride and Prejudice (sans zombies, of course). The Hollow took only hints of Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, relying on the tone of the original to flavor the book. Whether he drew upon Lewis Carroll's classic for inspiration or not, Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere was compared to Alice in Wonderland by multiple reviewers when it was published.

Robin McKinley's Beauty is one of the first novelized retellings of a fairy tale that I remember reading. Though it's been at almost fifteen years since I last cracked its spine, I remember that all the classic elements were there: Beauty, the Beast, the Rose. McKinley's full-length novel loaned the story a level of intensity and emotion, something a fairy-tale can never develop in its short morality tale.

The fairy tale boils down to its purpose-- to teach a lesson (which can carry over to a novel in the form of theme). But, because of their brief format, can readers ever really bond with the characters? Especially when their "types" have become so well-used as to become uni-dimensional and clichéed: the kind woodsman, the generous daughter, the noble beast. Extending a fairy or folk tale to novel length can allow the writer to give these cardboard cut-outs life, whether they be main characters or otherwise.

Retellings of fairy and folk tales or myths can be successfully set in a historical or fantastic world, but they can also utlize a "real life" modern day setting. Imagine the difficulties of writing Rapunzel in our modern world. Symbolism plays a larger role in this type of story, with Rapunzel's tower and her hair being replaced perhaps by a psych ward and an indomitable will to get out of there with her sanity intact:

Sometimes, Zellie thought as she surveyed the padded walls of her cell, my plans work too well. How was she supposed to convince the doctors she wasn't really crazy when she'd tried so hard all week to look like she was? If she'd just put all her efforts into studying for her math midterm instead of trying to get herself committed, she wouldn't be in this mess.

This makes it even easier for the author to take his or her liberties with the story, giving it an original spin. Fairy tales, because of their simplicity and practically universal theme, can be easily modernized, giving an old story a second chance in our modern world. Shakespeare is a perfect example of an author whose work is so universal, his plots have been recycled by other authors and screenwriters/playwrights since his day.

Social commentary has a relevant place in a modernization. Retellings of classic literature are more often than not modernizations. Bridget Jones may be a modern woman, but she is just as limited by her parents and her career (and her perceptions about her body) as Elizabeth Bennett is by her social status. I've always wanted to rewrite Jane Eyre, but the fear in modernizing a classic is not knowing where to deviate from an already complicated plot, and where to stay true to the original.

Can you guess what the next two modernized fairy tale snippets are?

Both of her older sisters had lost their virginity on their sixteenth birthdays. Briony vowed she would too, or else be so embarrassed she'd lock herself in her room for a hundred years.


From the moment Marina saw Troy, she knew deep down in her soul that she'd give anything to be with him. Even if that meant throwing her audition so that his girlfriend would win-- a semester at a vocal training school abroad. Then Troy would be all hers.

This is actually lots of fun! Maybe next time I'm stuck on a project, I'll make an exercize of writing a few lines of a modernized fairy tale.

Do you have a favorite story, myth or legend, or even a classic you'd like to update or take inspiration from?
What would it be?

Feel free to post snippets of your own rewrites. In fact, you might want to warm up your writing muscles, because I'm planning a contest for Thursday...

You could win a free copy of The Hollow just by dropping by and commenting!

But if you play along, you'll earn more chances to win!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Four Star Review: Jessica Verday's The Hollow.

Take the legend of Sleepy Hollow, add one modern teen, a suspicious accident, a hot guy and a whole lot of hormones and what do you get?

Jessica Verday's romantic and spooky debut novel, The Hollow.

Summary from Simon & Schuster's web page:

"When Abbey's best friend, Kristen, vanishes at the bridge near Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, everyone else is all too quick to accept that Kristen is dead…and rumors fly that her death was no accident. Abbey goes through the motions of mourning her best friend, but privately, she refuses to believe that Kristen is really gone. Then she meets Caspian, the gorgeous and mysterious boy who shows up out of nowhere at Kristen's funeral, and keeps reappearing in Abbey's life. Caspian clearly has secrets of his own, but he's the only person who makes Abbey feel normal again...but also special.

Just when Abbey starts to feel that she might survive all this, she learns a secret that makes her question everything she thought she knew about her best friend. How could Kristen have kept silent about so much? And could this secret have led to her death? As Abbey struggles to understand Kristen's betrayal, she uncovers a frightening truth that nearly unravels her—one that will challenge her emerging love for Caspian, as well as her own sanity."

Since the book starts at her best friend's funeral, you are immediately rooting for Abbey, and hoping for her to get what she wants. I was a little choked up during the first chapter, which helped draw me into the story. That combined with the easy first person narration made it a real page turner.

I loved that Abbey's hobby was perfume making, which added olfactory elements to the writing, and her desire to open her own store felt very real to me. The hobby really fit into the story, too, not just stuck in there as a quirk to make her character more interesting. Abbey might get confused during this story, but she always knows what she wants, a trait I enjoy in a heroine.

The New England setting really helped win me over in this book-- the way it changed from summer to the crisp of fall to winter's chill, and the way the main character changed along with it. And as far as dialogue goes, Verday has it down. Especially the catty upperclassmen Abbey hears talking about her, and the mother, whose lines are so perfectly motherly-- the right mix of caring and snark. All of the dialogue with Abbey and Caspian and her friend Ben is very believable and the right mix of funny and serious.

I understand that there will be a sequel to this book, and I will certainly read it, but I felt like I needed more closure out of the first volume than I got, hence four instead of five stars. The ending just seemed to come out of nowhere to me, when I thought there'd be much more. Not to say that there weren't a number of important revelations before the end of this book, but the story just didn't satisfy me like I'd hoped since I'm technically still in the middle of it. But it sort of seemed to finish on a downer, a dark time for Abbey. I trust, however, that she will rise up in the second installment and show us all what she's made of. I know that it, too, will be a page turner. At this point I'd just settle for Abbey being happy, but I know she won't be until she finds out the truth.

The truth about what, you ask?

Well, you'll just have to read it and find out.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Getting personal ... Scented Phoenixes and Shrinking Violets

Maybe y'all noticed I changed my screen name to get a head start marketing myself-- you know, building my online presence and all that jazz. Well, in honor of this momentous change (seriously, this is a big deal for me. I loooooved the anonymity a screen name provided. I guess I'm just shy, but more about that later) I've decided to make this post a little more personal than usual.

It started raining last night all the way through to the morning. I took the streetcar to work for the first time in years, but I couldn't find my galoshes, so my feet are wet. While I'm warming up with a nice hot chai with real half and half, and checking my email, I see I have a Click and Ship notification. I just about die of ecstacy. But I don't dare die, because then I'll never get my Oceans of Love and Millions of Kisses limited edition Lucy Westenra themed Halloween bath oil.

For those of you not in the know, I am an addict. I love things that smell good. I'm reading Jessica Verday's The Hollow right now and loving it because the main character wants to be a perfumer. One of my favorite books is Suskind's Perfume. You're about to get a peek into the depths of my madness. I buy perfume-- unsniffed, no less!-- off the internet from a place called Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab.

Who in their right mind would buy perfume off the internet, you might ask? Well, I never said I was in my right mind. But the website is so evocative and poetic; dark, bawdy and romantic at turns that I can't resist the urge to smell like a Hawaiian goddess or the personification of Smut. Or the spicy Bengal that smells just like my chai. I love the Beardsley prints and other art that adorns the pages. The perfumers at bpal take inspiration from literary sources, too, running the gamut from the innocent scents of Alice in Wonderland, to the dripping aquatics of H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu. Right now you can smell like Hellboy, if that's your thing. Just reading the website stirs my creative juices and I rarely leave the house without applying some sort of bpal oil that suits my mood.

So you can imagine my elation at the Click and Ship notification. My package will be in my grabby little hands by Tuesday. I enjoy a shortbread cookie, dunking it decadently into my chai as I scroll through blogger. I hit up my usual haunts, leave some comments, when I read on Lauren's Crammed Bookshelf that one of the cutest ya books I've read in some time might not get another print run if sales don't improve. This leaves the buttery shortbread tasing like ash in my mouth, and my Click and Ship/perfume high vaporizes.

Shrinking Violet, written by Danielle Joseph and printed by MTV Books, is a book about a normal girl with normal problems. Her name is Tere, so she's got that going for her. ;) And she's horribly, terribly, painfully shy. I used to be shy, too, and on occasion, still get the urge to run to my bed and hide under the covers rather than meet new people at a party. But Tere overcomes her shyness when she's given an opportunity of a lifetime-- to be a disc jockey on her step father's radio station. Of course, her shyness complicates things along the way, and she tries to keep her radio persona a secret (something I can definitely identify with), but she gets her Cinderella story ending. And the Miami setting adds a hot, sultry, sexy vibe to the story.

Head on over to Danielle's livejournal, where you can read more about the book and the author, and what she's doing to promote book sales. You could win a prize!

Danielle's problem is probably a lot more common than we aspiring novelists realize. I think we're all learning that debut authors can't just sit back after the novel is published and wait for the money to roll in (not to be taken to mean that I think Danielle was doing this). Over the past few weeks I've learned just how important self-promotion is, and what content is or isn't appropriate for a writing blog, a topic that has been recently discussed by some of my fellow bloggers, such as Lazy Writer (Susan), and Abby Annis. Now more than ever I realize that I made the right decision to change my screen name, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. ;)

So yesterday we talked about banned books, and this morning we're trying to save one from the obscurity of the small print run. It's been fun revealing some of my passions to the blogosphere-- whether it's my love of books, which I know most of y'all share, or my obsession with perfume oils, which I'm sure not many people can really understand. But we all have our vices. Mine just happens to smell like chocolate, black cherry and orange blossom.