Six Sentence Sunday – 4/29/12

Today is #sixsunday where writers share six sentences from their work. I’ll share a snippet from my time-travel romance WIP titled MUST LOVE BREECHES, which is now out in query land! (You can see the other entries here.)

I am currently looking for Beta readers. If you’re interested, let me know. I’ve stopped querying to see how this batch takes and so this new round of Beta reading will be to help me tighten up what problems will have come to light.

Here’s my pitch/logline: When a thoroughly 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. 

This is the midpoint of the novel, right after she’s caught him sneaking around in a room at a ball. Oh, and she’s on top of him on the floor because she’d been surprised by him and tackled him to the floor before she realized who it was. Picking up exactly where we left off last week (this is in his POV):

He detected in her eyes, hiding behind her spectacles, the moment she also became conscious of their position, their dangerous position. On the verge of suggesting she arise, he saw the dratted door knob turn again.

Without further thought he grabbed the back of her head and brought his lips to hers. Luckily, they lay at such an angle, and the room lit by only a single candle, that he was rather certain their identities were safe from discovery. She responded to his kiss immediately, opening her mouth in invitation. Desire pounded through him at this surprising response.

As always I welcome constructive feedback. Thank you!

To see snippets from others who are participating or to sign up yourself, visit here.

Thank you to everyone who comes by and comments each week! 

Weekend Grab Bag – From Writing Tips to Making Sure You Have the Right Batman

Song playing right now on my playlist: “Lakme” from The Hunger soundtrack

Writing and the Writing Life:

Ada Lovelace:

In Geekdom:

  • And I’ll leave you with this. Make sure you book the right Batman (h/t Stubby the Rocket):

Pitching at a Conference? Set Fire to the Rain!

advice animals memes  - Animal Memes: Lame Pun Coon - No Stairway to HeavenWe’re in the full swing of conference season, and one of the aspects that can make a writer gnaw their fingers down to the second joint is pitching. I’ve only done it once, so I’m no expert, but I also didn’t throw up on myself, or stare and blubber and wipe drool off myself while staring at the agent or any other combination of blowing it. I’ve heard/read horror stories of writers first experiences at this and they aren’t made up. So I thought I’d share what I did in case it helps even one other writer.

Okay, I think there’s two kinds of nerves that come into play while doing this:

  1. The Oh Shit I Have No Idea What I’m Doing nerves
  2. The Pre-Flight Jitters

I’ll share how I handled both.

The Oh Shit I Have No Idea What I’m Doing nerves

Starting about a week before my first conference, I felt like I had a big ole lead ball in my stomach and it only got worse. I had the The Oh Shit I Have No Idea What I’m Doing nerves. When I get in that state, my left brain kicks in and I go into research mode. This is natural to me and so I was surprised when I met other conference goers who’d done no preparation or even research. One hadn’t even written her book, so if she’d done research, she’d obviously missed that admonishment to never, ever do that. For others that naturally research, I probably won’t be sharing anything new, but for the others, seriously, research. What do you need to research?

  • Look up blog posts on pitching at conferences. You’ll get a feel for how other writers have experienced it, what they wore, their horror stories, etc. I even got nervous about what to wear (others obviously didn’t and went in looking like slobs) and brought 5 different outfits. Best advice I saw on this was to wear what you’d wear to your first book signing. Appearance does matter, but you don’t want to over dress. You want to look sharp and capable.
  • Look up what and how to pitch. You’ll feel more comfortable going in knowing the format and with a well-honed pitch. If you’re interested in the links I found, see my pre-conference post. Remember, this is marketing. You are not giving a book report. You want to intrigue them enough about your premise, that they HAVE to see your story.
  • Research your agents! I got seriously left-brain anal and made dossiers. Got out my label printer and made a folder for each and inside I put my one page cheat sheet. The sheet had a photo of the agent I scraped off the interwebs, their name big and bold, their agency, and then a bulleted list of facts I’d found out about them that were relevant to my project, or that I had in common with them (favorite book, etc). This was a great ice breaker when I went up to each. I’d lead in with whatever it was I had in common with them, or if I liked one of their clients, etc., and then we were rolling!

I found that once I had done these three things (which was about 2-3 days before I left for the conference) and had written my pitch, that lead ball had dissolved. I think it was knowing that I had done all that I could do to prepare myself.

One last thing I did to help with this was practice my pitch. I said it out loud to any friend or co-worker who was willing to indulge me. And I also just stood and said it out loud over and over. You can’t do it in your head or even whisper it. I did that at first to get it memorized. But when I used my full voice for the first time, it was a completely different experience. I stumbled. I said ‘uh” too many times. So out loud, folks. Full-voice out loud. On the car ride to the conference, I also said it out loud over and over.

Note: I’ve seen posts that say you shouldn’t memorize. I did, but I tried to make the lines sound casual.

Pre-Flight Jitters

Okay, so I was as prepared as I could be and had a pitch I believed in. Now I just had to do it. I did get nervous again, but each time I felt its fingers curling around my stomach I slapped it away. I would NOT let it take hold. I reminded myself that I was prepared, etc.

I have a trick I always do, dating back to high school exams, which is to envision a mental gear shift and switch it up right before I need to perform (for an exam, job interview, pitch session), I can literally feel my brain shift to a calmer, sharper state. I also remind myself that I cannot die doing this.

Another thing I did, which I found out isn’t too common (at least in the sample I took at the conference), was play my theme song in my head. Whenever I started getting the jitters, I mentally blasted the line from Adele’s song “I Set Fire to the Rain” in my head. Seriously, this works. Maybe not this song for you, but come up with some song that signifies power and confidence to you and gets your blood pumping. Then just play that little snippet mentally in your head. I found this extremely useful when my name was called to walk into the pitch room. I closed my dossier on the agent where I reviewed the bulleted list, straightened and blasted that song in my head during the whole walk to the agent’s table.

I Won’t Lie

The first agent I pitched to was over Skype and thank God, with no visual. I opened with my thing I had in common and she was extremely nice and then she said, okay so what’s your book about? My body spurted adrenaline into my system and I suddenly got nervous. But what saved me was the memorized pitch. It was like I was on auto-pilot, but not sounding like a drone about it. It was like my body was detached and I could hear myself talk. I was animated from the adrenaline and it came out sounding a tad nervous but natural. I think. Anyway, the point is, you WILL still be nervous, but if you’ve prepared yourself, you’ll get through it just fine. The agents EXPECT you to be nervous. They are nice people and they WANT to find someone at this conference to represent, so they want you to succeed. She asked for a partial and I’d forgotten to have my notebook handy and so I made a mad dash and scrambled for it (another reason I was glad there was no visual). My hands were shaking so badly I could barely read my handwriting.

I pitched to four agents that day and each asked for either a partial or a full. It got easier as each pitch happened. Thankfully my hands weren’t shaking with the others, since it was in person.

Bottom Line

Prepare yourself and then just remember: relax, the agents aren’t your enemy.

Have you pitched at a conference? How did it go? Do you have any tips on how you got through it?

Six Sentence Sunday – 4/22/12

Today is #sixsunday where writers share six sentences from their work. I’ll share a snippet from my time-travel romance WIP titled MUST LOVE BREECHES, which is now out in query land! (You can see the other entries here.)

I am currently looking for Beta readers. If you’re interested, let me know. I’ve stopped querying to see how this batch takes and so this new round of Beta reading will be to help me tighten up what problems will have come to light.

Here’s my pitch/logline: When a thoroughly 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. 

Y’all have been so patient as you read through snippets of her meeting Charles Babbage, scenes with Ada, etc., that I thought I’d bring us back to a scene with His Hunkiness. This is the midpoint of the novel, right after she’s caught him sneaking around in a room at a ball. Oh, and she’s on top of him on the floor because she’d been surprised by him and tackled him to the floor before she realized who it was (this is in his POV):

What the devil had prompted her to seek him out in this way? Had she really managed to pull him to the ground? Rather irritated with himself, Phineas glared at his supposed intended and became acutely aware of their position; specifically and suggestively their position in relation to each other.

Their labored breathing comingled, sending shivers through his body. If he had been tempted by her close proximity during previous encounters, this eclipsed those. His heart beat faster as her heat and scent settled over him.

As always I welcome constructive feedback. Thank you!

To see snippets from others who are participating or to sign up yourself, visit here.

Thank you to everyone who comes by and comments each week! 

Weekend Grab Bag – From Writing Tips to Cats in Space

Song playing right now on my playlist: “Xavier” by Dead Can Dance

Writing and the Writing Life:


Ada Lovelace:

Browncoats:

In Geekdom:

  • Love My Little Pony? Play Skyrim? Then check out this surreal mashup of Pinkie Pie in Skyrim
  • And for Star Trek fans, check out Cats in Space, a video short.
  • And I’ll leave you with this:

Hijinks or Tears – Which Romances Do You Prefer?

funny pictures - *CHILLAX, GURLFREN!*

I’m always obsessed with learning more about anything I tackle, and so for writing, I read and reread craft books, trying to soak in every tidbit. Right now I’m in the planning stages of a new novel and so I’ve been rereading some books on structure and some on writing romance. Coupled with a comment made by an instructor in a class I’m currently in, it’s made me step back and look at what kind of romances I like to read.

Hijinks or Tear-jerkers

What started this introspection were some comments made by this instructor that in romance the main conflict needs to be based on emotion, which echoes what I’ve been reading in the writing romance books. That I can’t have external issues keeping the two apart, etc. And typically the books will list different emotional, drama-inducing scenarios that frankly, while yes, they are heavy on emotion and conflict, just don’t interest me in the least. My usual response when reading a romance where the main thing that’s keeping them apart is some huge emotional baggage is “get over it.” I’ve never been into watching movies or reading romances where the sole purpose is to indulge in some huge emotion-fest.

But, please know this is not me judging those types of stories, it’s simply me stating it’s not my thang. I know that there are other types of stories that I find awesome, that don’t interest others. That’s what’s so amazing about humanity– the variety of opinions. Thank GOD we don’t all have the same tastes!

So, back to exploring my tastes :) Perhaps this is why I don’t normally read contemporary romances, since that seems to be how they’re mainly structured. Everyday domestic drama holds no interest for me. Especially if the main plot is 80% working through some emotional trauma that’s keeping the two apart. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read some contemporaries that aren’t like this, but I usually come by them from referrals or because I know the author’s work.  The historicals I typically read have some kind of interesting external plot the two get ensnared in, and hijinks and fun and love happens along the way. If some happen to elicit a tear or two, that’s awesome sauce. I’m not averse to emotion, I just don’t relish wallowing in it, if that makes sense.

Anyway, this led me to question whether MUST LOVE BREECHES is even a romance (according to the instructor, based on my GMCs I turned in, it’s not) and set me into a panic last week. But then I’d just finished reading a wonderful romance and I thought I’d analyze it to see if it would hold up to the instructor’s strictures, and I really don’t see that it does. But I could be wrong. Please feel free to set me straight in the comments. I want to learn!!

The book? A Week to Be Wicked, by Tessa Dare. It’s also getting great reviews, so I’m not alone in thinking this was a great story and romance. In fact, it could be one of her best. Since I’d closed the book with a sigh during all this introspection, I thought I’d see if I could write up the GMCs for this book (GMC=Goal/Motivation/Conflict, usually stated as x wants ___ because ____ but___):

Minerva

External GMC: She wants to present her findings on her geological discovery because she wants to leave a mark on the world, but the symposium is in Edinburgh and she can’t get there alone.
Internal GMC: She needs to feel attractive and loved for herself but her bluestocking habits are usually all that guys see.

Colin

External GMC: ? In Act Two, he modifies his goals in order to get Minerva to Scotland because he realizes she’s determined to go anyway but he has to have a woman in his bed every night. But what’s his original story goal? Is it: He wants to live life on the surface and have a woman in his bed every night because he cannot sleep without someone physically next to him, but Minerva is a virgin and wants her to escort her to Scotland?
Internal GMC: He needs to keep everyone at an emotional distance because that’s how he’s learned to cope in life but Minverva challenges him

What am I missing here? I feel like I’m missing “it” on several levels. One– I can’t seem to come up with solid GMCs for Colin. If you’ve read it, can you help me out here? In fact, I just looked up the book description, and his goal is stated as “Colin Sandhurst, Lord Payne, a rake of the first order, needs to be . . . anywhere but Spindle Cove” which would actually dovetail with hers, not be in conflict with it. And Second– if this had been my homework assignment my instructor would have told me that my story was flawed because my hero’s GMCs were muddled and not tied directly to the heroine’s strongly enough. She would probably say that he needs to have some competing external GMC that would be opposed to her going and ditto with the internal, so that the whole middle was taken up with their conflict over this. But yet, she’d be so wrong. This story WORKS, and it’s a wonderful LOVE story with tons of ROMANCE. And I loved Colin to pieces and wanted to wrap him up and take him home with me. His character arc was wonderful to witness and a natural progression. As one reviewer said, it’s so much fun seeing a guy like that fall like a tree. Sigh.

The pretend instructor feedback on Dare’s book (hero’s GMCs were muddled and not tied directly to the heroine’s strongly enough) is similar to what she’d told me about mine and said “let me guess, your middle is mostly external conflict.” Well, yes, it does have a lot of external conflict, but it also has emotional conflict. After a while, I realized that the kind of romance she’s advocating is actually the kind I don’t like to read. As noted above, I like to have a good balance of external and emotional conflict. I also realized that this is how many who don’t read romance perceive it and is why they don’t read it as it wouldn’t be their thing.

So that you have an idea of the styles of romance I like to read, here’s my list of auto-buy, big-name romance authors:

  • Loretta Chase
  • Julia Quinn
  • Amanda Quick
  • Tessa Dare
  • Katie MacAlister
  • Courtney Milan (a recent addition)

I’ve never read a single Nora Roberts, as I have this perception that her work is the kind of romance I don’t like to read.

So, am I completely whacked and I’m analyzing Dare’s book incorrectly? Am I missing some key ingredient that would make all this crystal clear for me? Do you like purely emotional-driven conflict or a mixture of both?

Sorry for the rambling post as this is something I’m trying to grapple and understand. I’m hoping that by writing this post, it will help clarify some things in my mind.

I’m also aware I probably just exposed myself as a complete ignoramus and just shot any chances of landing an agent if they happen to check out my blog while evaluating my partials/fulls. *waves* Thing is, I want to learn. To get better. I figure by posting this and getting your feedback, it will help to this end. What am I missing in understanding the romance genre?

Six Sentence Sunday – 4/15/12

Today is #sixsunday where writers share six sentences from their work. I’ll share a snippet from my time-travel romance WIP titled MUST LOVE BREECHES, which is now out in query land! (You can see the other entries here.) Yesterday, it finaled in the Georgian/Regency/Victorian category for the RWA Hearts Through History chapter contest!

I am currently looking for Beta readers. If you’re interested, let me know. I’ve stopped querying to see how this batch takes and so this new round of Beta reading will be to help me tighten up what problems will have come to light.

Here’s my pitch/logline: When a thoroughly 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. 

In Chapter Three, Isabelle is trying to show Ada Byron that she’s from the future. After walking her through a lot of her behavior that might have been strange to Ada, she pulls out her final proof, her phone. She knows Ada is fascinated by math, and so in this snippet, she’s showing her the calculator. I’ve had a lot of different Beta readers and Critique Partners read this scene, and not ONE picked up on the little pop culture reference, so I’m putting it out there now (hint, it’s in the numbers):

“See these little numbers here? I’m going to add forty-eight plus fifteen hundred and sixteen.” Isabelle punched buttons as she talked. “And the screen here shows the answer.” Isabelle peeked at Ada to gauge her reaction. Ada blanched again and her hand trembled as she held it in front of her mouth.

As always I welcome constructive feedback. Thank you! And don’t feel bad if you don’t get the reference. I didn’t want it to be obvious since it’s not something Isabelle would know of, it’s more of a wink-wink to the reader from me… UPDATE: If you’re wanting to know, some commenters have figured it out and left some veiled hints, just don’t get lost while reading them.

To see snippets from others who are participating or to sign up yourself, visit here.

Thank you to everyone who comes by and comments each week! 

Weekend Grab Bag – From Writing Tips to a Queen Riding Darth

Song playing right now on my playlist: “Feeling Gravity’s Pull,” R.E.M.

Writing and the Writing Life:

Romance Writers

Ada Lovelace:

Jane Austen:

Browncoats:

In Geekdom:

  • And I’ll leave you with this, Queen’s Freddie Mercury riding the Darth (h/t Stubby the Rocket):

Firefly Friday – The Three Dimensions of Character

Welcome to a new installment of Firefly Friday, where we examine a writing tip chestnut and marry it to my favorite TV show Firefly to illustrate it. Today’s topic: The Three Dimensions of Character. I haven’t done one of these since last November, but I thought this tip was shown so well in several instances in Firefly that I’d resurrect this feature.

I’m in the middle of digesting Larry Brook’s awesome book on writing called Story Engineering: Mastering the 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing. It’s chock full of great advice that has frankly made my brain hum (in a good way). One of the 6 core competencies that he says a successful writer needs to grasp is character.

Yeah, yeah, I hear ya. Every craft book talks about character. But, like everything else he covers, he takes you deeper. One of the aspects of character development he talks about is the three dimensions of character, and if you think this is just your standard ‘make your character three dimensional’ advice, think again. I’ll give a quick overview (you’ll need to get his book to get the full details) and then give examples from Firefly. 

He says that all characters, like people in real life, have three dimensions, or aspects.

  1. First Dimension – Surface traits, quirks, and habits. These are things the world sees about this person, which may or may not be what the person thinks it says about them. It’s the person’s outward identity. In fiction, a writer can show aspects of a person’s character (what they drive, what they eat, etc) and a reader may or may not assign meaning to it. The reason it’s not good as a writer to stop here for main characters is that illuminating a character’s first dimension does not tell us his true self. (Firefly fans can already probably guess an example I will use). Anyway, it could all be a smoke screen.  If, however, as a writer, you show the meaning behind these outward traits, you’ve now crossed into the
  2. Second Dimension – The realm of backstory and inner demons.  In this dimension, the writer gives the backstory, agenda and/or meaning behind the surface traits, and what the reader assumed might be totally different. It adds depth to the character. It’s their inner landscape. It’s all the juicy backstory stuff that prompts, explains, and motivates the character’s first dimension choices of identity. First dimension is what you see– a guy with a tattoo. Second dimension is why he has that tattoo. Illuminating the second dimension creates reader empathy.
  3. Third Dimension – Where the true character emerges through choices made when something is at stake. Basically, when push comes to shove, just who is this guy? The true character is not defined by their inner demons and/or backstory until the character does something under pressure, which exposes who they truly are (good or bad). Usually in fiction, this decision comes at the end to show the character’s arc. It’s what shows the character as a villain or hero. A villain will continue to define himself by his backstory, while a hero will overcome it.

Okay, now for the fun part–giving examples from Firefly! The first example is from the episode “The Train Job” which FOX aired as the pilot. The premise is that the crew of the ship is hired by an underworld criminal to heist goods from a moving train. The captain doesn’t really care what it is, as long as the job’s done and they get paid. But when the heist hits an obstacle, and he learns that the goods are invaluable medical supplies the citizens of the planet are in desperate need of? His choice illuminates his true self. To relate it to the 3 dimensions, you could have two captains with the same quirks and traits, same background to explain them (on the losing side of a civil war, living on the edge of civilization scraping by), but each now has the same choice. Same 1st and 2nd dimension stuff, but one could choose to finish the job (and justify it in their mind) and the other could choose to return it. What does Captain Reynolds do? His answer beautifully illustrates what we’re talking about (9:24 to 10:30 on the timestamp):

The pertinent quote here:

Sheriff: A man can get a job, he might not look too close at what that job is. But a man learns all the details of a situation like ours, well, then he has a choice.

Captain Reynolds: I don’t believe he does

To the captain, his belief that a man doesn’t have a choice when faced with such a moral issue is his true nature. It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the only thing. Another captain with the same traits and backstory might not have agreed.

This episode ties in nicely to the next example. The underworld criminal, not too happy with Captain Reynolds’ decision, gets his revenge in a later episode called “War Stories.” The villain, Niska, is a sick bastard, who follows the teachings of warrior-poet Xiang Yu. Niska loves to torture people because he believes it’s the only way to see their true selves. This whole episode becomes a demonstration of illuminating the 3rd dimension for many of the characters. For Captain Reynolds and his pilot, Wash, it is illuminated in how they react to Niska’s torture. Theirs is the biggest illumination of character in this episode, but some of the others get some too. In this episode, each has a choice about what to do now that their captain is captured. Each decides to rescue him, and in their own unique ways:

  • Shepherd Book, their man of the cloth, when asked about using a gun quips that the Bible is fuzzy on the subject of kneecaps
  • Kaylee, the engineer, discovers that she doesn’t have the fortitude to shoot anyone when their fall back position is overrun.
  • River, for the first time, shows a scary side of her abilities when she rescues Kaylee (twist here though is that her 2nd dimension backstory here gives her no option but to react this way)
  • Even the mercenary Jayne joins in (though it could be argued that even though he’s doing it for no money, he’s still operating between his 1st and 2nd dimension, since he also just likes a good fight)

The clip I’ve isolated (11 minutes) is a good example since it shows all of this and has the dialogue about ‘meeting the real me’. For those that don’t know the characters, this starts off with Wash, who up until this point in the season has been the never-been-violent, fun-loving pilot. His wife (who is a warrior) has just rescued him from a horrific torture session when this scene begins, leaving Captain Mal Reynolds behind. She also had a choice to make when she went in to ransom them, the captain or her husband, and she chose her husband (28:00 to 39:23):

And finally, the whole movie Serenity is the character arc of Captain Reynolds and River being resolved. For Captain Reynolds, until this movie, we never got to see what he’d be like when he was ‘at war’ and what kind of moral choice he’d make on something huge. His choice caused the death of two of his friends, but I believe his resolving that part of himself is why Inara is finally able to stay on the ship and explore a possible relationship with him. She needed to see his true self.

What do you think? Have you read Brooks’ book? Does this make sense? Fan of the show? Have you learned any good lessons from the show I haven’t covered?

Six Sentence Sunday – 4/8/12

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, which is now out in query land! (You can see the other entries here.)

I am currently looking for Beta readers. If you’re interested, let me know. I’ve stopped querying to see how this batch takes and so this new round of Beta reading will be to help me tighten up what problems will have come to light.

Here’s my pitch/logline: When a thoroughly 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. 

Continuing with the party at Charles Babbage‘s, we’re skipping ahead a page and everyone is staring at the Silver Lady, his dancing automaton:

“I rescued this fair lady from the sale at Weeks Museum only this year,” continued Babbage. “I show this to you not only as a marvel of man’s ingenuity, but as a lesson in the decline of Britain’s industrial spirit. This wonder, ladies and gentlemen, was created by that genius John Merlin at the end of the last century, and what advances in this sphere have we made since? I ask you, what if Mr. Merlin had been supported financially? Would we today have automata in place of butlers, serving us our drinks?” A chorus of chuckles came from the obliging crowd.

As always I welcome constructive feedback. Thank you!

To see snippets from others who are participating or to sign up yourself, visit here.

Thank you to everyone who comes by and comments each week! Have a great Easter/Passover!