Six Sentence Sunday – 1/29/12

Today is #sixsunday where writers share six sentences from their work. I’ll share a snippet from my time-travel romance WIP tentatively titled Must Love Breeches.

Here’s my new pitch/logline: When a modern girl finds herself stranded in 1834 London, she must find a way home while navigating the pitfalls of London society, resisting her attraction to a hunky lord, and ultimately having to decide when her true home lies.  (You can see the other entries here.)

Here we meet Lady Byron (Lord Byron‘s widow) and it’s just been announced that Lord Montagu has arrived to visit. Ada is her daughter (the future Ada Lovelace). The heroine (whose POV we are in) has had it with Lady Byron’s passive aggressiveness:

Lady Byron continued, “So kind of [Lord Montagu] to be solicitous, but then he should be since I am a close relation after all and one cannot be too solicitous when it comes to family. Is that not so, Ada? No, not at all.”

Good Lord. She wished Lady Byron’s embroidery needle would slip out of her fingers, whip around and stab the back of her hand. The woman was unbearable.

I want to thank all the commenters last week who helped me get my six sentences into a good rhythm. The comments were extremely helpful and enlightening and as some said, it was a good lesson in writing. Thank you!

To see snippets from others who are participating or to sign up yourself, visit here. And this week’s other time travel snippets are: Ginger Simpson.

Thank you to everyone who comes by and comments each week! Have a great Sunday!

Weekend Grab Bag – From Writing Tips to a Mr. Darcy lollipop

Writing and the Writing Life:

Romance Writers:

Browncoats:

  • Check out this craft Browncoat who made a gingerbread house in the shape of our favorite ship.
  • Oh, love it! A new meme, this time for Browncoats. It’s Jubal Early logic. There’s not that many yet, and some of them aren’t that funny, but it just started a couple of days ago, so Browncoats, get busy ;)

Ada Lovelace:

Jane Austen:

In Geekdom:

  • For those geeky about books like me, you might enjoy following this tumblr account: bookshelfporn
  • And I’ll leave you with this:

Want your theme? Your subconscious will eventually grab you by your short and curlies

To her surprise,  Bella finds the foot she'd misplaced two years ago. I’m knee-deep in my fourth draft when lo and behold, out pops my theme. It was freaking amazing how it felt, too, so I scribbled it down and realized that I already had so many elements in place it was a wonder I hadn’t gotten whiplash from it hitting me in the face before.

Are you a pantser like me still struggling with finding your theme during revision? I’ll share what I did that made it so glaringly obvious.

Lots of craft books on theme always say not to force it, that it will just come to you, and after a year and three drafts when it hadn’t, I had started reading that advice and saying, “Yeah, right. Pfft.” Finally, I settled for something like “love conquers time,” but it just didn’t ring my bells.

Meanwhile, I’ve been entering some RWA (Romance Writer’s of America) Chapter contests (three to date) and one of them required a synopsis. Gasp! I knew I had to do one of these dreaded things eventually so I sat down and read up on best practices, did some brainstorming exercises to help boil the plot down to its essentials and hammered one out, sat on it, researched some more, revised it, brainstormed, posted it for review, etc.

It was during one of those moments when I was looking at the macro structure of my story that I realized my theme. And then I made bullet points of every single way that theme was a part of my story already, and I was bowled over. I swear, it was like I’d planned it the whole time! The craft books were right!

One of the craft books I’m working with right now is Writing Love: Screenwriting Tricks for Authors II by Alexandra Sokoloff and among other tips, she’d advised making a list of thematic words that will convey what the story is about so that you can start assembling a visual library in your mind as well as vocabulary you want to incorporate. So I did that and went back to my revisions and it really helped tighten my first chapter. Who knows if anyone will really get that I chose the visuals and setting specifically as subtext for my theme, but it’s now there and it feels great. It will also help me make final decisions on some backstory and as well as see that certain paragraphs aren’t really necessary – they’re now just clutter. I’m also keeping the theme and my word list handy as I work through my fourth draft to see if there are ways for me to strengthen my scenes and prose.

It’s also helped me to strengthen my logline/pitch, and when I get closer to the query stage, I’ll be sure to have it in there.

One thing I want to make certain I don’t do, is hit the reader over the head with it though. I feel it should be something that’s just lying there under the surface, helping to buoy them along as they read.

How about you? Plotters, is this another instance where you’re shaking your head at us poor pantsers? Pantsers, have you also struggled with your theme and how did it come to you? How do you ensure you haven’t been too obvious with it? Readers, do you like trying to find the theme?

Six Sentence Sunday – 1/22/12

Today is #sixsunday where writers share six sentences from their work. I’ll share a snippet from my time-travel romance WIP tentatively title Must Love Breeches. I currently have this out to Beta readers for feedback and hope to be in a position to query for agents by March. Here’s my working query hook for it: Isabelle Rochon has met the man of her dreams. There’s only one problem: he lives in a different century.  (You can see the other entries here.)

I’m going to try something new and share something I just added to see if it flows right. Setup: Lord Montagu, the love interest from the 19th century, has come to call on the heroine (from our present time). This is in her POV. I just revised this bit this past week — the original just had the first and second lines. I thought I’d try to explain what the meaning of the bow seemed like to her and I’m not sure if I have the beats down right.

He executed a neat bow.

A folklorist should document his bows — the man expressed different degrees of meaning with each. Like this one, which seemed to say, “I’d like to jump your bones.” Well, he’d probably phrase it as, “I lust for you.”

Um, yeah, no. Who was she kidding?

I’d love constructive feedback as to whether this flowed smoothly and if it gave you a chuckle? EDIT: The consensus seems to be that the last line kinda fails. Any suggestions on how to reword that so it gets across that she’d just made all that up and read too much into it? Okay, changing last line to:

Um, yeah, no. Probably more like, “Good afternoon.”

To see snippets from others who are participating or to sign up yourself, visit here. And this week’s other time travel snippets are: Tarah Scott and Ginger Simpson.

Thank you to everyone who comes by and comments each week! Have a great Sunday!

Weekend Grab Bag – From Writing Tips to Geek V-Day cards

Writing and the Writing Life:

Romance Writers:

Browncoats:

Ada Lovelace:

Jane Austen:

In Geekdom:

Stop SOPA/PIPA

funny pictures - I made you a cookie LOL
Just a quick post to let you know that I will be participating tomorrow, Wednesday, January 18 from 8 am EST to 8 pm EST, in the nationwide protest of the SOPA/PIPA bills. Other sites around the internet will be participating too, like WordPress and Wikipedia. I’m against piracy, but to shutdown a whole site for one of its users’ infractions is not the way to handle the problem. One day you might be visiting tumblr.com and the whole site will be down because one user uploaded a copyrighted image. This is a statement in support of a due process, the right to be heard, the right to be presumed innocent of wrongdoing until proof has been made.

Tomorrow some sites around the internet will be black to display what the outcome of PIPA/SOPA could be, if passed.

Six Sentence Sunday – 1/15/12

Today is #sixsunday where writers share six sentences from their work. I’ll share a snippet from my time-travel romance WIP. I currently have this out to Beta readers for feedback and hope to be in a position to query for agents by March. Here’s my working query hook for it: Isabelle Rochon has met the man of her dreams. There’s only one problem: he lives in a different century.  (You can see the other entries here.)

Thought I’d share the moment she transitions to 1834.

The room spun around her, the air, colors and sound muted as if she were inside an abstract watercolor painting. She put out a hand to steady herself. What the —? She shook her head. Nearby stood French doors that led to the balcony. She stumbled to the open doors and leaned against the door jamb.

If you were here last week for my 6, it inspired a post on dorky moments. Share yours!

To see snippets from others who are participating or to sign up yourself, visit here. Here’s another time-travel writer today, Ginger Simpson.

Have a great Sunday!

Weekend Grab Bag – From Writing Tips to an online Regency Hero dressup doll!

Writing and the Writing Life:

Browncoats:

  • There’s a petition formed on Facebook to try and convince Netflix to bring back Firefly

Jane Austen:

In Geekdom:

What’s your most dorktastic moment? I’ll tell ya some of mine!

Hmm, actually not sure what qualifies…. which to choose? I was thinking about the comments people left on last Sunday’s post, and about how my main character Isabelle’s assessment of her situation seemed to strike a chord with some folks (not in an earth-shattering, clouds-part-and-light-beams-sear-downwards kind of way, but you know, they-could-relate kind of way).

I haven’t had that exact experience she relates, I don’t think (Listen to me! Jeez, I only caught this on the third read that this makes it sound like Isabelle actually exists and related this experience). Anyway, I have a weird memory that glosses over or forgets unpleasant things. But I felt like I’d been there. I know I have definitely dressed up in some awesome Halloween outfits with no thought to sex appeal and been out-gunned at parties with guys not even noticing me. I’ve also taken things really seriously and shown up to events super excited and been let down big time. So I wanted to tap that for her time at the ball. I was also the kid that totally loved school supplies. Still love wandering the aisles of Office Depot.

Anyway, so I thought I’d share some dorky things I’ve done and open the comments for your stories. It’s honestly hard to pick things out because I’m pretty much a geek-dork all the time and it’s hard to look from a stranger’s or friend’s perspective to say “no, THIS was the most dorktastic.” In college my friends called it “pulling an Angie.”

So let’s see what I can remember (arguably some of these might be more geeky than dorky):

Playing dress-up for a really weird reason

I’ve never told anyone this story because I cringe thinking about how utterly dorky this is, but when I was around 8 or 10  or so (God, I hope it wasn’t later than that), I remember that we (the family) went to eat at a Longhorn Steakhouse and I felt like I had to absolutely be in character for it and so I dressed up in my best cowboy outfit a Florida girl could muster and sauntered in with my thumbs hooked in my belt loops. I probably even said “howdy, pardner,” to the waitress, but you know, the glossed-over memory thing. Sigh.

Needing to keep a record of things

In college in the late 80s we had a pretty awesome music scene in Atlanta and Athens. Never told this to anyone either, but I used to keep index cards of every band I saw, with notes, and marked down each time I saw them. I kept them hidden away. Actually, I think it was also of bands I hadn’t seen, too. Kind of like a cheat sheet/flash card kind of thing. Christmas break of my sophomore year, however, my roommate and I sublet our apartment to two punk rock dudes, one of whom was British, and I was so worried they’d find that stash (and how embarrassing that would be) and so I threw them out! I still think about that every once in a while and regret that I did that, as it would be an awesome trip down the ole memory lane.

My first fan girl experience

Had a huge crush on Shaun Cassidy in the late 70s. I had it so bad, I used to use his album cover as a make-shift lap table/plate and eat my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches off of it while listening to Da-Doo-Run-Run and staring at his dreamy face, etc. Anyway, my love could not be contained and I wrote him to let him know and asking for an autographed photo. I enclosed an autographed photo of myself in exchange. (I still giggle at this, but at the time I was completely serious).

As a side note to this: I was kinda crushed I never got a letter back with photo. Years later when my parents were packing up to move to NYC, my mom called me and said, “Guess what I found! Your letter to Shaun Cassidy!”  Turns out she’d gone out to the mailbox and retrieved it (hey Mom, that was a federal offense), thinking I’d love to see it when I grew up. She didn’t quite get the reaction she’d expected, as I was kinda miffed. I actually never did see it as I was in college in Atlanta at the time. Mom, you still have it?

Body betrayals for that oh-so-wacky fun time

This one is called the Toe Spasm Story by my friends and is kind of a cross-over with Embarrassing Moments In High School.

At my Catholic high school, we had a Sadie Hawkins dance and I’d screwed up the nerve to ask a cute, popular guy I had a crush on. He said yes, much to the shock of my teammates on the volleyball team. I was riding high for a bit until rumors reached me that he really didn’t want to go with me, but with Tiffany (not real name) and so I let him off the hook. I was pretty crushed, but still determined, and so I asked this guy on my track team who was nice. He said yes.

Fast forward to a couple of days later and we’re all at a party at my best friend’s house, and being in Florida, it was also a pool party and she lived on the bay with a dock, etc. So here I am in the pool, testing my flirting skills (I SUCK at flirting) by splashing water at the guy I’d asked (let’s call him Toby). He’s splashing back. There’s some giggling. All going good. Yeah, me! Then my big toe cramps up Big Time. I scramble out of the pool and sit on a deck lounger while my big toe hurts like freakin’ hell. Everyone, and it seemed like friggin’ everyone, gathers around my big toe and watches. As. It. Spasms.

Needless to say, it was all rather embarrassing. After my toe quit making a spectacle of itself, I looked around for Toby and he was nowhere in sight. I wandered outside and who do I see at the end of the dock holding hands with Tiffany’s best friend? Yep, Toby. After all this, that damn dance didn’t even take place.

Anyway, I think I’ll stop there as I’m not really sure that anyone would find this remotely interesting. And these might not even be the dorkiest. I just don’t know.  Looking back I wonder if this is one of the reasons I’ve been single most of my life. I don’t appear to be particularly geeky or dorky on the outside, so when my dork side (get it? Star Wars pun?) appears, it throws a guy off. Not what he was expecting. And the geeky guys are just too dang shy.

Anyway, I know y’all must have some good stories to share!

What’s your most dorktastic moment? And I know I’m conflating dorks and geeks, but I’m kinda both…

Do some readers hate your book? Good! You’re doing something right!

There’s been a big, uh.. kerfuffle… in the reader community recently that has had me cringing, stupefied and scared at turns. As an unpublished writer I have yet to experience first-hand what it’s like to get a negative review, so my post today is partly a way to mark down my thoughts on this so that when that does happen, I can read this post as a reminder.

For those unaware, the flare up happened when some authors ill-advisedly called out some online reviewers for harsh or negative reviews. And it got fugly. Fast. The gist of the complaint seems to be that reviewers should keep the author’s feelings and hard work in mind when writing their review.

Uh, no.

Reviews are for readers. Period.

Thinking about this has reminded me of my uncle’s 30-40-30 rule I posted about in the early fall, and so I thought I’d revisit this rule and put it in the context of the current hubbub. The rule is:

30% of the people are going to like you no matter what, 30% will not like you no matter what, it’s the 40% in the middle you need to worry about.

I think this rule helps put many things in life in perspective. In my post in the fall, I applied it to receiving critiques on our WIPs. It also applies to reader reviews. And this brings us to my blog title: if you’re getting negative reviews, you’re doing something right. Huh? Here’s the way I see it:

  1. It’s a measure of success. You’ve gotten your book out there and it’s getting noticed beyond your 30% circle of love. This is good! You don’t want it to wallow in obscurity do you?
  2. It means you haven’t written something so bland, so careful, that the collective response outside of your 30% love circle is “meh.”

If you write with passion and honesty, I guarantee you there will be people just as passionately opposed to it.

It’s what makes humans so dang interesting. I know I whinged last week in my post “Is my zipper down or do you just not like my pants?” about a critique that had me doubting myself and doubting the positive critiques I’d received, but I’m in the stage of trying to better my WIP and I really wondered if this negative critique might actually have merit. But I think this is a different stage than one where a book has already been vetted and put out as a final product. It’s now passed from the stage of feedback for improvement, to others voicing their opinion on whether they liked it for others who are looking to buy it. It’s no longer feedback for the writer to improve it.

My mom is a professional artist. (No, I’m not digressing!) I remember many a show as a child where I would sit reading behind her display or playing a quiet game (I hope!) with my brother and I would hear all manner of comments on her work. I remember the first time I heard someone walk by and say that one of her paintings was total crap (or something along those lines) and went on about why they didn’t like it. Naturally I was horrified and told my mom. You know what she told me? “Good! That means they felt some kind of emotion!” This lesson stuck with me and is why I was happy my mom hated my ending when she read my third draft.

Anyway, my mom pours her soul into her paintings and the worst thing that could happen for her when someone sees her work is to feel no emotion whatsoever and just walk on by. She is also a subscriber to the bad publicity is good publicity mantra. She also loves competition and encourages artist friends to enter shows she’s also competing for — she’s even picked up their paintings to enter! The way she sees it, is that her getting in a show (or winning Best of Show) means absolutely nothing if quality artists were not part of it. (Okay, I think I’m digressing now… Onward!)

So anywho, (okay, 30% of the readers of this post will HATE that I used that colloquialism!) my uncle’s and mom’s lessons have resurfaced in my mind this week as I read about what’s going on right now in the reader community. Others have posted their voice of reason in the midst of this much more eloquently and passionately than me, so I’ll just share a few more thoughts I have on this.

If you have a solid product, the 30% haters usually hate it because some hot button was pushed for them and the review is to alert the others who share that same hot button, that they probably won’t like it either.

That’s all. They can’t stand HEAs. Or sparkly vampires. Or adjectives. Or characters who smoke. Or characters that say “dang it”. You name something distinctive about your story or character, 30% will hate it. The 40% in the middle will be able to tell from the review that this is the case and would weigh it against reviews of others who seem to have their own likes and dislikes. We will drive ourselves nuts trying to please everyone. We just can’t. Unless we are willing to write something very bland and safe.

I caught myself at one point looking at a group thread on Goodreads about what words romance readers can’t stand to see used for sexy bits. Cuz, you know, I’d hate to turn people off when I want them turned on… And you know what? Some readers would say they didn’t like it when an author used “x” and preferred “y”. And I’m making notes thinking this is all good stuff to know. And then I’d see comments where others would say that actually they hated the “y” word and preferred the “x” word. Argh! Sigh. And then I gave up and reminded myself that I can’t please everyone. I need to stay focused on what seems natural for my story. And that’s it.

In reading other takes on the hullabaloo, it’s been said that many readers are suspicious of overly positive ratings.

There’s a reason for this. They instinctively know it hasn’t gone outside of the 30% love circle or that it’s rigged. It’s also why people who mediate elections in other countries to ensure fair elections know that the system is rigged if the candidate gets way over 70% of the popular vote. There’s just no way the guy is that popular with everyone. Or why a politician is in deep doo-doo if their approval rating drops below 30% (they are losing the confidence of people who normally would like them no matter what).

Anyway, this is all easy for me to say as I’ve only been dealing with critiques, not reader reviews. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to see my baby ripped to shreds by someone who didn’t finish reading it and/or obviously missed some major points, or claimed something was historically inaccurate when it is accurate, or just simply can’t stand dorky heroines. When (and I’m saying ‘when’ not ‘if’ as part of my positive envisioning of my future) I get my first book published I’m going to be scared shitless. Seeing the harsh reviews out there honestly made me wonder if I really wanted to do this writer thing. It’s scary! As epbeaumont commented on the 30-40-30 post recently:

The rule’s useful to bear in mind, because when that 30% who hate it get their buttons pushed, they don’t always play nice.

So I need to be resolved to the fact that it’s all part of the business. And hopefully I’ll remember this post and come back and read it.

Future self? You got some nasty reviews? Good for you! Pull up your big girl panties and deal! You dared to write something that wasn’t bland. You bravely risked that 30% will not like your character and/or story. Here’s hoping the majority of the 40% in the middle do.

Because all this is so damn easy for me to say, I’d love to hear from authors who’ve actually experienced this. How do you handle it? Does this advice make sense? Readers, what do you think of the recent scandal?