Monday, November 30, 2009

Don't Take it Personally...

This morning, literary agent Rachelle Gardner posted a must-read article for those querying writers who are getting fed up with agent responses-- or lack thereof-- to their work. It basically boiled down to this:

"Vent about your frustrations, but please, please, please: Refrain from making every complaint a criticism of agents."
At the risk of branding myself a suck-up or worse, I believe Gardner when she explains just how busy the average literary agent is. Query letters alone must take up an inordinate amount of time for what amounts to a fairly thankless head-ache of a task-- something I think we can all agree on.

But if literary agents really didn't care, there wouldn't be so many of them blogging about their experiences, and about what makes them keep reading a query letter or a submission. Agent blogs are my lighthouse, the flame that guides me through the querying process. The operative word being "guide"-- I take their word as guidelines, not Gospel, and it has helped me to craft my queries to where I have about a 20% success rate. Can't argue with results. And I get most of my information about what's happening in the publishing industry from agent blogs, too.

Just in case you've missed a few, here's a short list of agents who blog, which is by no means exhaustive, but these are the ones I check the most regularly.

Kristen Nelson of Nelson Literary Agency
Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown
Jessica Faust of BookEnds, LLC
Jennifer Jackson of Jennifer Jackson Literary Agency
Jenny Bent of The Bent Agency
Janet Reid of Fine Print Literary
Kate Shafer-Testerman of KT Literary
Jenny Rappaport
Jill Corcoran

There's also a Blog Roll here on the Agent Query website, which is another invaluable resource for learning about a particular agent's likes and dislikes. After all, if you send off your query and a writing sample, and things go well, you could be in a serious relationship with this person for some time. Isn't it worth getting to know them a little before hand?

But just remember-- if they choose not to begin that relationship with you, it's not personal.

So perhaps as a gift to them, we could be a little gentler on literary agents this holiday season. That means no querying NaNo novels in December, folks! ;) And even if you've had a bad experience with a particular agent, remember they're all individuals who deserve our respect.

Happy Holidays, Literary Agents!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Two Teaser Tuesday!

Hey, y'all! This morning I wanted to start with a recipe since so many people said they loved the food in New Orleans. We really are all about food here, which is the reason I know I can never move away. Also, when coworkers see you at a food festival with a beer in one hand and two cannoli in the other, they don't find anything strange about the situation. They just ask where you got the cannoli.

So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, and cooking for your loved ones, I'd like to share a recipe for callas. Leftover white rice from take-out? Don't throw it away, make calas!

What are calas, you ask? These hot, sugary fritters in the photo are from Elizabeth's, one of my favorite brunch places. I ALWAYS get the calas.

Diana Rattray, an avid home cook and recipe collector living in Mississippi, explains that calas are:
a breakfast fritter mixed with cooked rice, flour, sugar, and spices, and then deep-fried. According to "The Dictionary of American Food & Drink," the word Calas was first printed in 1880, and comes from one or more African languages, such as the Nupe word kárá, or "fried cake." African American street vendors sold the fresh hot calas in the city's French Quarter, with the familiar cry, "Calas, belles, calas tout chauds!"

Here's a recipe from Nola Cusine. Read the instructions carefully-- the dough needs to rest overnight.

1/2 Cup warm water
1 Tbsp Granulated Sugar
1 pkg Active Dry Yeast
3/4 Cup Cooked White Rice
2 Large Eggs, beaten slightly
3/4 Cup All Purpose Flour
1 pinch Kosher salt
1/4 tsp Vanilla Extract
1/8 tsp freshly grated Nutmeg
Peanut Oil for frying
Powdered Sugar for a heavy dusting

The day before you want to make your Calas, combine the water and sugar in a small bowl. Add the yeast and let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. Add the rice and stir well. Cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature overnight. This step will really give your Calas a distinctive flavor; think sourdough.

The next day, stir the rice mixture and kind of mash the rice against the side of the bowl with a wooden spoon. Don’t go too crazy though, I like to have a bit of that rice texture in the finished product.

Add the remaining ingredients to the rice mixture, mix well with a wooden spoon. The mixture should be a fairly loose batter, a little thicker than pancake batter. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour. This step will make your Calas as light as air when fried!

Heat 3 inches of peanut oil in a large saucepan to 365 degrees. Drop spoonfuls of the Calas batter into the hot oil. Fry until golden brown, turning once. Serve with lots and lots of powdered sugar, like Beignets, or drizzle with Cane Syrup. Recipe makes about 6 good sized Calas.

Hope you enjoy the recipe, and keep reading for a teaser from EVANGELINE!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Aspire to the Stars, or, That Which We Call a WiP by Any Other Name, Part II

Friday's Editorial Anonymous post really got me thinking about the importance of a good title, especially agent Jill Corcoran's comment at the bottom. Corcoran shared her feelings about how a good title can help your query get noticed in her in-box in her own blog post.
"Your book title is your whistle, your magnet, your bullhorn."
More often than not, I have a working title in mind while I'm drafting, but a title for my current WiP has eluded me from the start. November has actually been pretty kind to me since it morphed from NaNoWriMo to NaNoRevisMo. I'm excited to finish up my EVANGELINE rewrites and send some fulls out to betas so I can jump back into Mara's story. Except that I'm sick of calling it "Mara's Story". The manuscript is simply titled, "Mara", as well as the folder in which I keep all my research, mind maps, etc. And for this YA paranormal murder mystery, simply "Mara" just won't do.

So I've been voraciously reading mystery titles for inspiration. I'm also doing some research on how other writers think up titles, and playing around a little with lists and even Wordle to work my way closer to a title.

One method involves sitting down for five minutes with a piece of paper separated into three columns: Nouns, Verbs, Adjectives, filling those columns with words that come to mind when you think of the theme or tone of your story. My list from this exercise looks pretty good, but it's easy to fill up the noun column before you even think of the adjective and verb columns, so pace yourself, lol.

Once I finished that, I opened the file (without looking at the text, mind) did a copy all, and pasted the body of my manuscript into Wordle. I compared the words and added any good ones to my columns. Using these columns, see if any word combinations stand out to you.

Now, this list's use as a writing tool isn't limited to titling. I've saved it for my rewrites. There may be words on that list that I've overused, and will need to be replaced. But there may also be words that suit the tone of the manuscript that don't appear at all, words that I'd like to use if I can without sounding forced.

Corcoran has some great advice from her blog post that I'd like to share here:
"Free associate a bunch of titles. Type them out, double spaced, and eliminate the ones you hate. Send the list to fellow writers, friends, kids. These writers, friends, kids do not have to read your book first. Heck, the agent/editor you are querying hasn't read your book yet and that is who you are trying to attract. Ask 'which title would make you want to pick this book off the shelf?' Let each person only pick three and order their winning choices.

Don't pour years into a book and short change your title. You are just short changing yourself.

And yes, not every title of famous and super seller books are bullhorns. But that argument does not hold water with me. Don't look towards the mediocre and say it worked for them, aspire to the stars and look towards the neighboring galaxy."

Her advice to ask others for help can be hard for some of us prideful writers to swallow. We want to think that genius will strike us eventually, and that we of all people should be able to name our own baby. But just as we ask others to help whip our manuscripts into shape, we shouldn't neglect the importance of the title.

Margaret Mitchell titled "Gone With the Wind" from a line of poetry, a tactic I've tried with minimal success since my WiP is set in Belle Epoch France, but it may work for you. Quotes from famous writers, artists, etc, are also great sources for titles.

Here are a few more sites with tips, inspiration and advice for naming your baby, er, I mean novel:

B. W. Clough's "The Theory and Practice of Titles"
Sarah Stodola's list of the "Top Ten Novel Titles of All Time"
Elizabeth Richards' 2008 article- "How to Write a Great Book Title"
Rebecca Lake's 2009 article- "How to Name a Novel"
Let luck guide your quest for the perfect title at "Random Book Title Generator" or "Serendipity: Fantasy Novel Title Generator"
Sandra Haven's "Fiction Titles"
Christina Hamlet's eHow article, "How to Title a Novel"
And of course, once you've got a relatively unique title that suits your novel, check it's possiblity of success at "Lulu Titlescorer" Put your title to the test!

I understand that the title may be changed on a publishing house's whim, or when an ill wind blows through marketing, but Corcoran-- in a position to be an authority on the subject-- couldn't be more right. A good title in an agent's inbox is like waving an Hermes scarf in front of Shopaholic. Or a Vietnamese po'boy in front of me. ;)

She's also spot on when she says not to look toward the mediocre. Doesn't our work deserve the best, brightest, and loudest bullhorn we can think of? I'm aspiring for the stars to title Mara's story.

Are you?

Friday, November 20, 2009

You know you live in New Orleans when...

Since I've been revising EVANGELINE, I realized that I missed writing about New Orleans. I love setting, and I especially love this city. So in lieu of a real post today, I thought I'd share some of my favorite "You know you're from New Orleans" lines...


You know what a "second-line" is, and where to find the best spot for Super Sunday.

You reinforce your attic to store Mardi Gras beads.

You proudly claim that 'Monkey Hill' is the highest point in Louisiana.

You drive your car up onto the 'neutral ground' if it rains steadily and heavily for more than two hours.

You have 'flood' insurance.

Someone asks for an address by compass directions and you say it's 'Uptown, downtown, backatown, riverside or lakeside.'

Your idea of a 'cruise ship' is the Canal Street ferry, and your idea of a 'foreign cruise ship' is the Chalmette ferry.

Your burial plot is six feet 'over' rather than six feet 'under.'

You know the 'Irish Channel' is not Gaelic-language programming on cable.

You don't worry when you see ships riding higher in the river than your house.

You get on a bus marked 'cemeteries' without a second thought.

You have no idea what a turn signal is or how to properly use it.

You can cross two lanes of heavy traffic and U-turn through a neutral ground while avoiding two joggers and a streetcar, then fit into the oncoming traffic flow while never touching the brake.

You can consistently be the second or third person to run a red stop light.

You know how long you have to run to a store, get what you need and get back to your car before you get a parking ticket.

You got rear-ended 10 times by people with no insurance.

You take a `right-hand turn' instead of a right turn.

You judge a restaurant by its bread.

The white stuff on your face is powdered sugar.

You know better than to drink hurricanes or eat Lucky Dogs.

You visit another city and they 'claim' to have Cajun food -- but you know better.

You have the opening date of any sno-ball stand in your Daytimer.

You know that a 'po-boy' is not a guy who has no money, but a great-tasting French bread sandwich.

You judge a po-boy by the number of napkins used.

The major topics of conversation when you go out to eat are restaurant meals that you have had in the past and restaurant meals that you plan to have in the future.

You consider having a good meal as your birthright.

The four seasons of your year are crawfish, shrimp, crab and oyster.

Your stomach can handle a dozen Manuel's tamales at 3 a.m. after having a few at Markey or Saturn Bar.

The waitress at your local sandwich shop tells you a fried oyster po-boy dressed is healthier than a Caesar salad.

You know the definition of 'dressed.'

You can eat Popeyes original chicken, Haydel's kingcake and Zapp's while waiting for Zulu. Then you go to Jackson Square for a Central Grocery muffaletta with a Barq's while sucking hot crawdads and cold Acme oysters, hurricanes and several Abitas. Then you can ride the St. Charles Avenue streetcar home past Camellia Grill for a chili/cheese omelette ... without losing it all on your front stoop.

You have gained 10 or 15 pounds permanently, but you don't care anymore.

Ya stood ya'selfs in da' line by Galatoire's.

You think 'drinking water' when you look at the Mississippi River... but you know better.

You don't really teach people the right way to eat crawfish, so there's more for you.

Your idea of cutting back on calories is to suck the heads and not eat the tails.

The smell of a crawfish boil turns you on more than Chanel#5.

You burl (boil) crawfish and fry them in erl (oil). Don't forget to pack the uneaten tails in furl (foil).

The first thing you do every morning is pick up The Times-Picayune obit section to see `who died inna'papah.'(paper)

There is a St. Joseph lucky bean in ya mama's coin purse and on yo'dressa' too.

When you speak with a tourist, he asks, `Are you from Brooklyn?'

You make groceries at Schwegmann's to get da' Zatarains for da' crawfish. Den', ya' suck da heads of those crawfish for da' juice. Don't forget da' beer and da' white Russian daiquiris. Afterwards, you go down to Randazzo's for some king cake. While in da' parish, you stop at Rocky's for some baked macaroni and pok(pork)chops to take home. On Mondays, you get da' begneits, coffee anna'Gambit. (Dat' Gambit has everything.) For lunch, you go down to Mother's for some red beans and rice. Tomorrow, you get da'muffaletta at da'Central Grocery. And dat's what we do in N'awlins, dawlin'.

You're not afraid when someone wants to 'ax' you.

You were born at Baptist, raised in Metry and hang with Vic and Nat'ly.

You go by ya' mom-n-ems on Good Friday to eat crawfish, drink beers and play touch football on the neutral ground.

You believe that purple, green and gold look good together -- and you will even eat things those colors.

Every time you hear sirens you think it's a Mardi Gras parade.

On Christmas Eve, your daughter looks up in the sky, sees Santa Claus and yells, 'Throw me somethin' mister.'

You fill your Nativity creche with king cake babies dressed like Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the wise men and the angels.

You go buy a new winter coat and throw your arms up in the air to make sure it allows enough room to catch Mardi Gras beads.

You have a parade ladder in your shed.

Your finest china has 'Endymion' written on it.

Your first sentence was, 'Throw me something mistah,' and your first drink was from a 'go-cup'.

You describe a color as 'K&B' purple.

You have a special set of well-broken-in shoes you refer to as your 'French Quarter' shoes.

You move somewhere else and you feel like you are from Oz and you moved to Kansas.

Everywhere else just seems like Cleveland. Sorry Cleveland! ;)

You're a lil' short on money but it's O.K. 'cause ya' can get a 'french fry poboy wit' ros' beef gravy and it's jus' as good and it'll fill ya' up too.

You can remove the cap from a Tabasco bottle with one hand.

You have spent a summer afternoon on the Lake Pontchartrain seawall catching blue crabs.

You watch a movie filmed in New Orleans and say things like, 'Dere ain't no way they can run out of a cemetery right on to Bourbon Street ... and don't call me "Cher."'

You haven't been to Bourbon Street in years.

You bring empty 'grocery bags' to a parade.

That brown bag you take to the Saints game ain't your lunch.

You know that 'Tipitina' is not a gratuity for a waitress named Tina.

You have to buy a new house because you ran out of wall space for Jazz Fest posters.

You drink 'Dixie', whistle 'Dixie' and name your dog 'Dixie'.

You worry about deceased family members 'returning' in spring floods.

You're sitting on the Lakefront reading the Gambit, eating hot crawfish and drinking Abita beer.

You can ask for 'lagniappe' and not feel guilty.

You reply to anything and everything about life here with, "Only in New Orleans."

You're out of town and you stop and ask someone where there's a drive-thru daiquiri place (then they look at you like you have three heads).

You consider a Bloody Mary a 'lite' breakfast.

You go to sleep Friday evening before you go out Friday night.

You have a monogrammed 'geaux-cup.'

You like your crawfish so hot, you can't distinguish between sweat, a runny nose and crawfish juice.

You save newspapers, not for recycling but for tablecloths at crawfish boils.

When you give directions you use “lakeside and riverside’ not north & south.

Your ancestors are buried above the ground.

You get on a green streetcar to go to the park and a red one to the French Quarter.

You listen to holiday songs such as “The 12 yats of Christmas” and “Santa and his reindeer used to live next door.”

You walk on the “banquet” and stand in the “neutral ground” “by ya mommas.”

Someone asks for directions and you stop and help them with a smile.

You start an angel food cake with a roux.

You think a lobster is a crawfish on steroids.

You think boudin, hogshead cheese, and a Bud is a bland diet.

You think Ground Hog Day and the Boucherie Festival are the same holiday.

You take a bite of five-alarm chili and reach for the Tabasco.

Fred’s Lounge in Mamou means more to you than the Grand Ole Opry.

You have an *envie* for something instead of a craving.

You use a “#3″ washtub to cover your lawn mower or your outboard motor.

You use two or more pirogues to cover your tomatoes to protect them from the late frost.

You use a gill net to play tennis, badminton, or volleyball.

The horsepower of your outboard motor is greater than that of your car motor.

You pass up a trip abroad to go to the Crawfish Festival in Breaux Bridge.

You are asked to name the holy trinity and your reply is “onions, celery, bell pepper.”

You let your black coffee cool, and find that it has gelled.

You describe a link of boudin and cracklins as “breakfast.”

Every once in a while, you have waterfront property.

Your mama announces each morning, “Well, I’ve got the rice cooking …what will we have for dinner?”

None of your potential vacation destinations are north of the old Mississippi River Bridge (US 190).

You refer to Louisiana winters as “Gumbo Weather.”

You think of gravy as a beverage.

You greet your long lost friend at the Airport with “AAAAAAAYYYYYYYYEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.”

You sit down to eat boiled crawfish and your host says, “Don’t eat the dead ones,” and you know what he means.

You don’t know the real names of your friends, only their nicknames.

You give up Tabasco for Lent.

You worry about a deceased family member returning in spring floods.

You don’t learn until high school that Mardi Gras is not a national holiday.

You push little old ladies out of the way to catch Mardi Gras throws.

You leave a parade with footprints on your hands.

Your last name isn’t pronounced the way it’s spelled.

You know what a nutria is but you still pick it to represent your baseball team.

You like your rice and your politics dirty.

No matter where else you go in the world, you are always disappointed in the food.

Your loved one dies and you book a jazz band before you call the coroner.

Your accent sounds nothing like Harry Connick, Jr’s.

You ask, “How they running?” and “Are they fat?” but, you’re inquiring about seafood quality and not the Crescent City Classic.

Your town is low on the education chart, high on the obesity chart and you don’t care because you’re No. 1 on the party chart.

Nothing shocks you. Period. Ever.

Your idea of health food is a baked potato instead of fries with your seafood platter.

You have to take your coffee and favorite coffeemaker with you on a three-day trip.

You have sno-ball stains on your shoes.

You call tomato sauce “red gravy.”

Your middle name is your mother’s maiden name, or your father’s mother’s maiden name, or your mother’s mother’s maiden name, or your grandmother’s mother’s maiden name, or your grandfather’s mother’s maiden name.

On certain spring days, Crawfish Monica is your breakfast. Ahh, JazzFest!

Your house payment is less than your utility bill.

You’ve done your laundry in a bar.

You don’t show your “pretties” during Mardi Gras.

You know that Tchoupitoulas is a street and not a disease.

You “boo” the mayor on national television.

You wear sweaters because it ought to be cold.

Your grandparents are called “Maw-Maw” and “Paw-Paw.”

Your Santa Claus rides an alligator and your favorite Saint is a football player.

You suck heads, eat tail, sing the blues and you actually know where you got dem shoes.

You shake out your shoes before putting them on.

You don’t think it inappropriate to refer to a large adult male as “Li’l Bubba.”

You know why you should never, ever swim by the Lake Pontchartrain steps (for more than one reason).

You cringe every time you hear an actor with a Southern or Cajun accent in a “New Orleans-based” movie or TV show.

You have to reset your clocks after every thunderstorm.

You waste more time navigating back streets than you would if you just sat in traffic.

You consider garbage cans a legal step to protecting your parking space on a public street.

You fall asleep to the soothing sounds of four box fans.

Your one-martini lunch becomes a five-bloody mary afternoon… and you keep your job.

You’re walking in the French Quarter with a plastic cup of beer. When it starts to rain, you cover your beer instead of your head.

You refer to people older than you as Mr or Mrs. and their first name.

And lastly, you eat dinner out and spend the entire meal talking about all the other good places you’ve eaten. Mmm, Boucherie tonight for my husband's birthday. Can't wait!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

NaNoRevisMo-ing my brains out...

No time for a real post today. Squeezing in some revisions whenever I have time, like my lunch-break. I can eat in December. ;)

Thanks to the amazing Wendy Sparrow, I've already received some awesome feedback on my first three chapters. Her fresh perspective has really helped me to nail down some of the reasons the story isn't working, so thanks again, Wendy! Everyone should check out her blog, Where Ladybugs Roar.

Hope everyone else is doing well on their WriMo-ing and RevisMo-ing. There's still a third of November left, folks! Keep up the good work!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Free Your Mind-- Mind Mapping Software

Because of my new-found love for Wordle as a writing tool, I thought I'd share a tool I use for just about every stage of finishing a first draft. Mind mapping software. What is a mind-map, you ask? Remember those bubble diagrams and flow charts you learned to make in grade school English? That's a type of mind-map.

The easiest way for me to brainstorm--whether it's a new story or one I'm trying to finish-- is longhand. But sometimes I need to have a more concrete worksheet to go from. I am a huge mess-maker when it comes to flow charts, which is counterproductive to my brain, so software works for me to keep me organized.

I prefer FreeMind for its simplicty of use. It's also FREE, plus, one of the label icons is a penguin (for Linux, I know, but still, it's adorable).

So what can this program do for me, you might ask. I can't tell you that, but here's how I use it.

During the initial "What-if" stage, where the story is in its infancy, I use the software to follow different story threads simultaneously, searching for the one I like best. I like being able to compare ideas side-by-side, and because the roots are collapsible with a click, I can hide the nodes I'm not currently working on-- the alternate realms of possibility. Once I have all my potential ideas organized, I find an ending that works for me, and work toward it.

For those honest-to-goodness outliners, it's easy to format a mind map into your standard three act structure-- or the beginning, middle, and end, if you prefer. Because of the ability to create so many child nodes, as the program calls them, you can continue adding story ideas as you write to flesh the story out further and keep yourself organized.

Another way I like to use it for plotting is as a character development tool. I usually try to plan my main characters around their purpose in the story: antagonist, obstacle character, double-crosser, etc. You can make a node for each character, give their relation to the main character or protagonist, and add character traits, quirks, physical features, and their role in the story. I tend to make one outlining each character's motivation, as well.

The right tool for the right job, as my father always used to say. At least this one is a multi-tasker.

Anyone use any other free online software for writing besides wordle and mind maps?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Benefits of Drafting in First Person

Playing around with Wordle and the first chapter of my revised manuscript of EVANGELINE. Looks like I need to do a search for "just" and see where I can use something else. Of course Evie is the most common word in the chapter now that I've switched it to third person, but I wonder if there's a way to reduce the number of times I use it. The whole manuscript would probably benefit from a chapter by chapter word cloud before I start querying again. See, Wordle isn't just for stalling. ;)

However, I did notice something quite interesting during this revision (yes, NaNoWriMo had become NaNoRevisMo around these parts, lol). Most of the prose and exposition sounds more natural being delivered by an invisible narrator than the main character-- to me, that is. Whether or not that's the truth is yet to be seen, but it's not the first time I've re-written a manuscript in a different tense.

I'm actually thinking that despite which perspective I wind up using, writing the first draft in first person was very helpful to me in getting deeper into the mc's head. When I draft in third person, I often feel there's something missing, or that I'm watching the main character from outside, rather than in their heads.

I actually began the novel before Evangeline in rotating first person with four female main charaters. Over the course of writing the novel, I decided to switch it to third, but by then I had already been privy to my character's secrets and desires, inside their head rather than a simpel on-looker. Finishing their stories in third made perfect sense at that point, and kept my novel from being unfavorably compared to an urban fantasy "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants". (Which also had four first person female povs, and even went to one of the exact same places as one of the Traveling Pants girls, as I found out too late. Grr...) And I know I was able to get a better feel for each character by starting off in first person, as if they were telling me their story in private.

My current WiP, Mara's Story, is the first novel where I didn't have to struggle to get into the main character's pov. So it will likely stay in first person, which I think is the only way to tell that particular story. Since it is a mystery, I like the limited point of view, and I enjoy the intimacy and tension that I used to show the main character's inner-struggles. I can't imagine this story NOT being told by Mara.

As for EVANGELINE, this month marks one year since I began it during NaNo 2008. I couldn't resist dusting it off and trying to breathe some new life into it once this year's NaNo story fizzled out before it got started. I'm also shamelessly soliciting for betas-- either to just read and give me your thoughts, or for a full-on critique-- after I get it cleaned up in the next week or so.

Anyone learning any other tips for writing first drafts? Especially those of you still cruising along on your NaNo without looking back. Any fun new tools for stalling-- er, I mean drafting that I don't know about?

Stay tuned for tomorrow's post on free mind map software!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Revenge of the Swimps


Today I am home sick. I bought some bad boiled shrimp yesterday(or burled swimps, however ya wanna say it), and I've been paying for them ever since. Only live shrimp for me from now on.
So for a reminder of the pain I'm in, I thought I'd promote a New Orleans food festival. Yes, I know I'm a glutton for punishment.

If you're in the SELA area, next Sunday is the Po-boy Preservation Festival. I'd love a copy of the poster, with art by New Orleans' own Bunny Matthews. Yes, I'm still thinking of food, even when I'm sick to my stomach. Mmm, Vietnamese Banh Mi, muffalettas, and Thanksgiving po-boys, oh my!

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Four Star Review: Scott Westerfeld's "Leviathan"

Finished Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan last week and it is officially one of my new favorites. Well, it will be once the sequel(s?) are published.

From the publisher's website:

It is the cusp of World War I, and all the European powers are arming up. The Austro-Hungarians and Germans have their Clankers, steam-driven iron machines loaded with guns and ammunition. The British Darwinists employ fabricated animals as their weaponry. The Leviathan is a living airship, the most formidable airbeast in the skies of Europe.

Aleksandar Ferdinand, prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battle-torn Stormwalker and a loyal crew of men.

Deryn Sharp is a commoner, a girl disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She's a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.

With the Great War brewing, Alek's and Deryn's paths cross in the most unexpected way, taking them both aboard the Leviathan on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure. One that will change both their lives forever.

What I love about Westerfeld's writing is how quickly and totally he sucks you into a world of his own making (see the Uglies series) that is at once foreign yet familiar. He uses jargon to show you the limitations, the wonders, or the cruelties of his world and that dialogue slips so effortlessly out of the mouths of his characters, you have to remind yourself that they're not human beings.

He also knows how to write a thrilling adventure story. And he uses this alternate universe he created to wring as much conflict out of the story as possible for a satisfying read. Though the Clankers and Darwinists are inspired by the Axis and Allied powers of the Great War, Westerfeld (and illustrator Keith Thompson) conjures up an unforgettable Steam-punk struggle. Of course, in true Westerfeld form, the cause of the war is pretty much the same in both our worlds. The world of his Uglies series is a reflection of our own society-- our dependence upon technology and petroleum, and societal brainwashing, just to scratch the surface. Leviathan is no different in its depiction of a war-torn Europe, but the moral issues are simpler than Uglies, making the layers of the story much simpler for younger readers to understand.

I am also grateful for Keith Thompson's illustrations, which not only aided my trip into Leviathan's pages-- I got there via Huxley ascender, of course-- but they also helped my brain to make sense of some of the more amazing Steam-punk inventions and creatures. The walkers and the Leviathan itself practically marched and floated out of the pages once I really got into the novel. And you may or may not be familiar with my love of maps, real and imagined, so picture me staring at the endsheets (above) for about an hour. ;)

Yes, it ends with a bit of a cliffhanger, but without giving anything away, I must say I found some closure. And I know the second volume will be even better now that all the set-up is out of the way. So I highly recommend this book to anyone age 12 and up who is looking for a great adventure story.

While I'm waiting for the next installment, I'll have to check out some other Westerfeld books-- his Midnighters and Peeps, maybe. I'd love to hear what y'all think of his work.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Do You REALLY Know Them?

Today being Veteran's Day, I wanted thank all the members of the armed forces, from the United States or otherwise, who risk their lives. That said, I won't get into my personal politics, but my father is a veteran, and so are many other men in my family.

It got me thinking about how little I know about my dad's two tours of Vietnam, his time in Korea and Honduras, and his part in Operation Just Cause in Panama. All I knew when I was a kid was that my dad was in the army-- just like most of the other kids I knew. I thought of my dad as a man of superhuman strength and skill. He could fix almost anything, and beat us all at Trivial Pursuit. I knew that when he wasn't around, he was "in the field" or overseas. I knew he jumped out of helicopters and planes with a parachute or sometimes rappelled. But I didn't really KNOW...

Now that I'm an adult, I have a greater understanding of the things my father had to do "in the field". Especially now that his knees and shoulders are shot. And though he never really talks about when he was in Vietnam and Panama, I know what happened there shaped him into who he really is.

The point of this post?

Looking at my dad now, 62, a grandfather, with his Central Mississippi accent, shiny shoes and his creased Dockers he looks a bit like a dandy. I've had room mates make fun of the messages he'd leave on the answering machine:

"Ter-EE-sa, this is your FA-ther. Call me SOON, love." (The printed word cannot do his accent justice.)

"No, my dad is not gay!" I'd have to reassure my two gay room mates. "He fought in wars and had to kill people."

He had to KILL people.

I will never really know this part of my father, and I'm not sure I want to. But I understand, and I feel sympathy that so much of his life revolved around violence. No wonder my mother was the spanker, not him.

There are parts of my father I will never truly know, because frankly, they scare me.

But if my dad was a character in one of my novels, I'd know exactly what happened to him, exactly what he did in those wars. Because those are the actions and situations that shaped him into the man he is today.

A man you'd get a casserole recipe out of before a war story. But he still keeps his shoes shined and wakes up at 0'dark thirty.
Happy Veteran's Day, Daddy.


Do you REALLY know your characters?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Hi, My Name is Tere, and I'm a Writer

There, I said it. Funny how much that admission sounds like the start of a support group meeting. But ya know, after yesterday's post, and all the supportive comments from y'all, I realized that this online writing community we have here IS my writing support group.

Whether it's Abby Annis sending me a much needed ego boost, or Susan Mills telling me it can be okay to edit as you go, it's a nice change to be surrounding myself with such supportive, positive people. People who understand what's going on in my writing life. My husband and friends are as supportive as they can be, but they don't exactly understand the compulsion to write, or what it takes to persevere through rejection letter after rejection letter without giving up or kicking your laptop down a flight of stairs. Or what it's like to feel more at home in a made up world than in the real one.

You may not know this about me, but I'm an introvert. It's hard for me to make friends, and even harder to feel like a part of a group. For a lot of reasons-- enough reasons to fill an emotional portmanteau. Yes, I have baggage. But I'm working on it. I have to admit I can be a very bad friend sometimes because of this, and I'm ashamed to admit that in the past I've used my writing as an excuse to be a bad friend.

Over the past few months I've realized that being a part of this online writing community has filled a hole inside me I didn't even know was there. And I've regained a confidence that I thought I'd lost, which is one of the reasons I'm joining Choir. I need more creative outlets than just writing and blogging. I need to get over my fear of rejection-- not rejection from agents, but from potential friends and peers.

I'd almost rather people sent rejection letters. They're usually quick and to the point-- nothing personal, right? It's easier for me to deal with rejection in print, anyway. (Of course, we'd still scour form rejections for some kind of subjective reason we were rejected. ;D ) In fact, most things are easier for me to type than to say, ergo it takes much less effort to make friends online. Probably because I felt that books made better friends than people when I was a child. Books probably were my first friends. Maybe that's another reason I feel so much more at ease around my fellow writers: they're friends of old friends. I take heart knowing that there are so many people on the planet experiencing the same exhilaration, pride, and nervous nail-biting that I experience on my writerly journey.

So I want to dedicate this post to you all, my fellow writers, who have not only helped me become a better novelist, but also a better person.

Thanks y'all!

And don't worry, I'm not going all mushy on you. Tune in tomorrow for your regularly scheduled diatribe on something asinine. See ya then!

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men Aft Gang Agley...

I've always wanted to use that quote for a blog post, and NaNo seems like the perfect time.

Not that November is anywhere close to the perfect time for me to write 50K in 30 days. Not trying to make excuses, but November is a busy month for everyone in the Crescent City, when the temperature finally drops and hurricanes are a thing of summers past (okay, maybe not so much this year, if you've been watching Ida on the t.v.). Festivals abound with art markets, music, movies and mirliton. Fringe Festival is this week, too. Overhead projector shadow puppetry, anyone? Oh, right, and there's that little thing called Thanksgiving in a few weeks which will have me in a turkey-induced stupor until December.

Then there's the New Orleans Symphony Choir, for which I will be auditioning on Tuesday. I'm giving into peer pressure and giving up my Tuesday nights for Choir. I'm not even really a choir kind of person-- really more of a showtunes sort of gal-- but it's been far too long since I've had any sort of musical outlet. And it seems like all I do lately is go to work, come home, and write. It's a life, but it isn't living. And it's a life I've been "not living" for far too long. So, keep your fingers crossed for me.

Now we come to the crux of the problem... I've stalled on my NaNo project. Completely.

In my attempt to stifle my own creativity and work on character development, I've given myself no reason to care about the story. Just the characters.

And they're starting to get on my nerves.

Not the sort of people I should be spending most of my time with until December. I want to try to work around this boredom and figure out how to fix the story, but it just feels like for every step forward, I'm taking two steps back.

Turns out I'm not excited enough about Hans and Greta to keep moving forward at the pace NaNo demands. There's something missing from the story-- possibly people, since it's just Hans, Greta and the witch for the bulk of the story. It's completely boring me in a way no writing has ever bored me before.

Boredom. The NaNo kiss of death.

I finished my WiP at a breakneck speed that I thought I'd be able to keep up come November with a different project. But the emotional attachment I'd formed with Mara just isn't there with Hans and Greta. They're cold and aloof and not telling me what they're really thinking. Maybe Rachelle Gardner's timely post will help me...

I won't abandon them in the woods with the witch. We'll keep in touch this month, and maybe get to 35K words. I am still trying to keep some distance between myself and my WiP, so any time I'm feeling like I want to open that file this month, I'll open up my NaNo instead. But there are so many books to be read, for pleasure and to research for my WiP. Maybe I'll think of an idea for a new story-- for my next novel-- and start plotting.

So I'm not giving up on NaNo. I'm still going to be typing every day. I'm just not going to kill myself to force out nearly 2K words a day on a project that I'm not feeling passionate about. So I'm going to relax and not worry about word count. I'm not going to go back to my bad habits of over-editing, and I'm still going to focus on characterization, but since I already know I'm capable of writing 50K in 30 days, I don't have anything to prove.

And I know that forcing it is no way to find the passion I need to continue telling the story.

Anyone care to share their own NaNo experiences? And don't forget to enter Lisa and Laura's contest! See the link in my sidebar. There's another Kindle giveaway here. Good luck!

Friday, November 6, 2009

"Spread the Love, Win a Kindle" Giveaway at Lisa and Laura Write

As some of you may know, the fabulous sister-sister writing duo of Lisa and Laura Roecker have sold their manuscript, The Haunting of Pemberly Brown, to Sourcebooks, available Spring 2011. Way to get that book out there before the Mayan Apocalypse, ladies! ;)

To celebrate, and to spread Good Vibes, the writing team collectively known as LiLa will be giving away a Kindle that mysteriously came into their possession. Now I don't know about you, but there are only two things better than a Kindle:
1. A free Kindle

Oh, wait, there's one thing better. That's spreading the word about LiLa's upcoming publication!

To enter the contest, see their post at Lisa and Laura Write here.

I love to hear about blogger friends getting published, and Lisa and Laura couldn't be more modest about their own hard work and talent. Or more generous with their good fortune!
Congratulations again, LiLa!

Good luck, everyone.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Finding Inspiration. What? Stalling? Who, me?

Just wanted to share some sites with photography that inspires me. While I know there are plenty of awesome-- in the most literal sense of the word-- photographs of inspirational nature scenes, as a fantasy writer, I take a lot of inspiration from digital photography. Especially those with interesting lighting effects that create a narrative in the photo that wasn't there before.

Kind of like the little details we weave into our stories make them original.

Vandelay Design has a huge collection of them here.

And deviantART has a great gallery of images under Photomanipulation, which is where I found the amazing first image for this post. Don't these all beg to have a story told about them? Do they each have a narrative that speaks to you? What makes them so special?

Hope this helps you keep those creative juices flowing! Keep up the good work. ;)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Luck. Too Bad I'm Not Irish...

I guess I must have Scottish luck instead.

Luck and I have always had a give-take relationship, like a karmic sword of Damocles swinging back and forth a hair's breadth from my skull. Take last week. I finished my rough draft, had a great time with friends at a fun music festival, and relaxed on Sunday while I met my writing quota for day one of NaNo.

This week my knee went out on me, I missed a day of work, the battery died on my scooter (at least, I hope that's the only thing wrong with it), and I wrote this post on the streetcar this morning. Also, there is no green tea in the break room, so I am stuck with Lipton. Grrr.. ;)

Luck enters into my character's lives all the time, usually bad luck. Of course, it only looks like luck at the time, and I later reveal it to be more than simple luck or coincidence. As a reader, giving a character too much luck-- whether good or bad-- makes me sense the hand of the author at work. Sure, bad thing happen to people in life all the time, and those people must react. While that's fine for the premise of a novel, or the initial conflict, using luck to help the characters out of trouble is an author cop-out.

A good author will take advantage of the problems they throw their characters into. Our favorite authors use these experiences to endear us to a character, to show us what they're made of, or, conversely, what characteristics they lack. That's one of the themes of the original Grimm's Hansel and Gretel-- that the children rescue themselves using their wits. It's a model that most children's stories and young adult books have tried to follow ever since, and it works for adult books, as well.

No one wants to read about characters when even the author can't be bothered to give them enough brains to get themselves out of trouble. Yet another mantra to recite during this 30 Days of Write...

What are your NaNo mantras?

Monday, November 2, 2009

30 Days of Write: Charting by the Stars

Mornin', y'all! Hope you all had a fun and safe Halloween. To catch you up, I finished my rough draft of Mara's story on Friday night, had a blast covered in blood, mud and beer at Voodoo fest, and managed to get in my writing quota yesterday while my poor body recuperated from a surfeit of dancing and Blue Moon and Hurricanes and deafening music. And the food. I don't know about where you come from, but here, people get just as excited about the food as the music. I had crabcakes, crawfish bread, deep-fried oreos (my favorite)-- I spent just as much time in food lines as I did in front of stages.

I almost won a game of Bingo!, saw a zombie trapeze act, a zombie burlesque act, and a zombie cellist, saw a huge Japanese gospel choir, and sang along with tons of songs.

I went to see Gogol Bordello and danced my ass off (and got the t-shirt). This band has been one of my biggest muses while writing Mara's story, so it was amazing to be able to see them the day after I finished my rough draft. I even listened to their CD while I wrote on Friday, I am that much of a dork. Saw Jane's Addiction, Parliament, and a lot of guys dressed like Gene Simmons, even if I didn't see KISS onstage. It was fun-- and MUDDY!-- and man, am I sore!

Oh, you wanted to hear more about how NaNo is going for me?

Actually, it's been an interesting experience so far. Since I spent so little time plotting this novel, I'm not actually sure where the story might take me. It's a strange feeling. Writing a novelization of Hansel and Gretel, I already have an established storyline to follow. But as I write, I'm having to decide what to keep, what to toss, and what to change or add to the story.

Usually I plot by stringing along scenes that come to me the most vividly, the scenes I'm pretty sure I want to use. The stars, for the sake of this particular metaphor on writing.

The end, for instance, when Hans and Greta return to their father, will be a bittersweet reunion. I'm not sure how they escape from the witch yet, so that scene remains uncharted. In fact, my "stars" are looking pretty dim right now. As time goes on, I'm sure they'll come into focus, but for now, I'll navigate by the ones I can see.

Of course, I thought it would be easy to turn a 32 page fairy tale into a 50K word novel, but it's turning out to be a bit more of a challenge to create believable characters out of almost cardboard cut-outs. My Greta is turning into a lazy dreamer, and Hans her keeper. I don't actually have an idea of what I want the witch to look like or act like, but I know she'll lure the children to her and treat them like her own. It's not my Hansel and his young flesh she's after, though.

It's Greta.

I'll keep you posted on my progress, and I hope everyone who decided to write or revise had a great first day of NaNo. I'd love to hear about your stories, or progress.