Saturday, March 28, 2009

Annoyances Be Gone

Well, after having to wait six weeks or so, and longer if you count the time it was out of stock, I finally received my craved MBIII shirt from NFL Shop. Reebok can't keep womens' Cowboys shirts on the shelves, so acquiring even one has been nearly impossible. Ready to move on from my way-old Emmit Smith shirt, I've been trying to get another one for over a year but the choices for women have been too few and nonsensical. I swear Reebok had their shirt designer, surely some chick who doesn't follow football, go to the Cowboys website, note the quarterback then randomly select two offensive linemen, two defensive and call it a day. There should be a jersey for every Pro-Bowler. Don't ya think? At minimum. The new hire seems to be more aware of who's actually good and popular. Maybe this one's a guy, a fantasy football addict. That'd be my guess.

I falsely assumed a women's replica would be softer than a guy's. Guess they want every economically-challenged fan to suffer itch and discomfort if one can't afford the silkier, finer mesh and snazzy stitched-on letters used in authentic treasures, not that they make such jerseys for women, but I can dream...and storm the switchboard.

Getting a med refill for my son has also been a challenge. On Friday, I was looking for his bottle of Ritalin and found it, surprise, surprise, in a pitcher of water. Cuz, yeah, that's where I like to keep it for freshness. Well, liquid seeped in and turned the capsules to mush. My poor son cannot concentrate without it, and he just started second grade. Problem is, I just purchased that script last week. The Doc's office was no problem, but because there's a 30-day block, I had to find another pharmacy that carries it, which is like going on a quest for the Holy Grail, and then I had to convince the insurance company that I'm not a drug pusher. I offered to send them the bottle of mush, and they said that wasn't necessary and gave me the go-ahead for another refill, which is fantastic, cuz I really don't have an extra $185 for another bottle. An answer to prayer.

Oh, and my other son's kindergarden teacher, after meeting him for his screening, mentioned she wants to keep an ear on him to see if he might benefit from a speech Eval for his slightly slow talking. That would be a drawl, lady. Guess my husband needs to go to therapy too then, cuz my son picks up his laidback cadence from him. At least a bridge is now bridge and not a bree-idge. Well, all my minor annoyances have put me in a sick mood, so I wrote a little horror story—my first in the genre—exaggerated from real events, to share with my kind and loyal readers.

~ Carousel ~

Though the cherry chip cupcakes topped with pink icing and sprinkles—not the sugar crystals, but the little ball ones that come in five colors and crunch when you bite 'em—tempted her from the game table, gobbling one would have to wait. The birthday freak-show about to unfold in the leisure room of her mansion would surely be more delicious anyhow.

Aubrina grinned devilishly. Her unsuspecting pajama-clad friends were right where she wanted them: Holly flat on her back, Madison and Claire kneeling at Holly’s sides, Evie at her feet. They waited with fingers underneath Holly, preparing to hoist.

Aubrina had chosen the red-headed, freckly Holly as the mock-corpse…because she was the meatiest and the homeliest. Definitely harder to raise. Definitely the most hilarious imagining up in the air.

She kneeled down at Holly’s head. “We can begin.” Her twelve-year-old guests all giggled from nervousness or silliness. Aubrina figured silliness. Of course. The fools had no idea what to expect, but obviously they assumed this was some kind hoax or child’s play. They’d soon learn it wasn’t.

"Come on, guys, stop laughing. This is serious. It won’t work if we’re goofing off.” Buzzing with anticipation, Aubrina added, “Now…close your eyes and concentrate.”

When they obeyed and adopted gravity, she beamed, admiring her authority over them. She was, after all, the only one thirteen. She noticed Evie peeking with one eye open and her bottom lip quivering. “Come on, Evie, stop being a baby. You’ll spoil it.”

All eyes popped open.

“I’m not so sure about all this,” Evie bleated.

Why’s she scared? Aubrina squinted at her, wondering if she knew. She couldn’t possibly. “It’s my birthday party. This is what I want to do. Do it, or go home!”

Evie tucked her black hair behind her ears with shaky hands and wheezed, “But, it’s two in the morning.”

“Right! No one can take you home now. Looks like you’re doin’ it then.” Annoyed that everyone was delaying the fun, she barked, “Come on! Stop breaking the circle. Now we have to hold hands again to draw in good energy.”

When the players held hands and closed eyes, Aubrina nodded in approval. The stage was perfectly set. The lights glowed dimly. The pillows lay scattered like headstones. Her parents slept soundly in the east wing. Even a full moon lit the night sky. Everything was perfect, except for the absence of rumbling thunder and flashing lightning, which would have added tremendously cool atmosphere.

The only unsettling thing was the eye staring back at her. Glossy and black, evil and crazed, nearly glaring in disapproval. The dusty, old carousel unicorn she’d drudged up from the basement for charity seemed to ogle from the corner where it had been standing erect all week, awaiting pickup. Aubrina wasn’t especially charitable, but her parents left her in charge of cleaning out the basement to make space for the home theater she wanted. The stupid, colored catastrophe with its twisted golden spike had been a gift from them on some past birthday. The sixth one maybe. Why’d I want it? She’d begged for it but had hardly touched it since the initial gasp of surprise. It was large enough to sit on, but she’d never done so. Can’t remember. Oh well. Now it can clutter up some other kid’s basement. She couldn’t wait for the creepy thing to disappear. Especially now. Hopefully, Sarah wouldn’t mind it. She was sensitive. Aubrina should have considered that, but it was too late to move the carnival reject now.

Aubrina shrugged. “Okay. Let’s begin. Concentrate and believe…Everyone repeat after me…Light as a feather. Stiff as a board.”

After they chanted, “Light as a feather. Stiff as a board…Light as a feather. Stiff as a board,” for a couple minutes, Aubrina muttered, “Now, raise her up as we say it.”

The girls lifted Holly about a foot off the carpet and cheered their success.

“You did it,” said Holly from her bed of fingers.

“No. The spirits are here,” Aubrina whispered with her gaze roaming. “I’ll prove it. Lift her some more.”

Evie started to quiver and cry. “Stop it,” she sobbed, “please. This doesn’t feel right.”

“Shut up, Evie. Or you’ll make them leave. Lift her, I said.”

Aubrina smiled as the twits inched Holly up until she was over all their heads. Aubrina lavished the astonishment and awe of her friends, except Evie, who was still shaking.

“Guys,” Madison shrieked. “Her weight’s off me. Look.” Madison lowered her hands from Holly’s side with palms outstretched, fingers wiggling.

All hell broke loose. Screams erupted as everyone let go of Holly, who remained stuck in the air, held there on some invisible platform, despite all her squealing and flailing and kicking. She pretty much resembled a trapped pig. Definitely hilarious up in the air.

Aubrina burst out laughing as Madison tried to help Holly. Even with all the grunting and groaning, pulling and tugging, she wouldn’t budge.

This is the best birthday present ever. Sarah had definitely delivered the spookfest she’d promised.

“Okay, that was awesome. You’re so cool, Sarah. Let her down.” Aubrina expected Holly to drop like a side of cow, but she stayed where she was. Aubrina cringed.

It should have been funny, a joke on all them, but it began to feel eerie. Aubrina’s arm hair stretched for the heavens in tingly goose-bumps. “Sarah, put her down!” It’s not supposed to be like this. Sarah said she’d scare the guests, frighten them a little. She knew what this was. She'd wanted it, planned for it, begged for it. So why couldn't she keep her teeth for chattering?

The lights flickered. The neglected piano played, a tinkering broken-music-box sound building up to chaotic frenzy. A biting chill slithered into the room. Unable to see Sarah, not even as indigo mist, Aubrina shivered more from terror than heat's descent. She could sense Sarah’s fury.

Sarah spun Holly spun around and around like a record. Holly screamed and wailed in terror. The girls ran and hid wherever they could find cover. Aubrina knew there was no place to hide. They’d just have to wait out Sarah’s tantrum.

“I knew something bad would happen,” Evie bleated. “I told you.”

“Shhh. Quiet. She’s never this bad.”

Aubrina and her guests bellowed when Holly zipped across the room into some unseen wall.

Holly levitated above the unicorn until invisible hands jerked her down on the horn with tremendous force, impaling her through the upper back before crashing the hideous thing to the floor.

Aubrina couldn’t believe her eyes. A bloody horn stuck out of Holly’s tainted chest. Her eyes widened to saucers. Her mouth remained agape, frozen with a scream that never found voice. Her body convulsed and then ceased moving, leaving her in a ragdoll slump. It was the most gory sight Aubrina had ever seen…but also just a little bit cool.

As Sarah departed the game room with a door slam, the draft followed. The girls ran up to Holly shrieking. Claire puked and peed on the carpet as Madison grabbed Holly and shook her, sobbing for her to still be alive, even though she was clearly in some hereafter.

A shudder shook Aubrina from shoulders to knees. Apparently Sarah hates unicorns…or redheads.

The lights stopped flickering. The concerto ended in the off-key high notes. But the screams persisted, Aubrina’s especially. Not only had she witnessed her friend’s demise in a most gruesome way, but she was also quite peeved that her pretty, pink cupcakes now bore sprinkles of blood. I’m never ever asking for presents again...Not ever.

* * *

Annoyances be gone. After my little release of frustration in this creative burst of grossness, I feel so much better. Does it make everything hunky-dory? No. But at least I'm able to channel my negative emotions and splinters into something else, like one of those model ships. Using my creativity with a pen or paint brush has always been an outlet for me. What do you do to vent?

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Building Momentum in Your Middles

Well, I’m at the midway point of my novel, Sapphire Reign. My main character has just been declared dead. Is she or isn’t she? Things are looking grim. How’s that for a middle?

I’ve had ups and downs, drags and bursts of inspiration in getting to this point, which is mostly because of my just-wing-it style and penchant for intricate plots that weave mystery, suspense and romance with weirdness. It's predecessor has a little bit of weirdness. This one has a lot.

I’ve taken myself in uncomfortable and different directions in this endeavor, working with more description than I usually do, infusing deeper narrative internalization beyond direct thought, and also tackling grittier material and more physical scenes, both intimate and not. I also want to get in more action and physical altercations. I think that’s the most difficult thing for me to convey and show with words. I think I'd struggle with a gladiator battle.

Do you find yourself struggling with the middle, building up to that very important climax. The middle is basically everything between the onset of the story question and the end. We hear about story arcs and are told to think of our throughlines in this way, but that arched image may be hampering your writing.

An arc may not be the best visual of your book's structure. What if your story is more like a rollercoaster with many small hills and loops and one gigantic monster at the end that takes readers way up into the sky and then rockets them down below ground level into an unexpected, underground tunnel like the Superman ride?—Love that ride BTW!

With Kings & Queens, I didn’t suffer from the dreaded sagging middle at all because I built my novel like a rollercoaster and not exactly an arc. It doesn’t just go from A to B with one hump but takes readers over here to explore this option and then rockets them over yonder to check out that, all equally enthralling to get to the answers of who and why.

These little hills are called set pieces. They are things you can hint at or build up to. They are pinnacle moments of change, danger, revelation, and character experiences that take your story into delicious directions. If your story is begging to be a rollercoaster ride, then build little hills and turns along the way and make it so.

Some stories are more like an angular slope with little curve at all. Some are figure eights. Some are circles. Find the best shape of your story. No matter your story’s shape, everything needs to move towards a satisfactory end with good pacing. Here's a list of things you can do to fix sagging middles...aside from laying off the beer and Doritos.

* Increase tension/jeopardy/conflict

* Raise the stakes

* Add a twist

* Find ways to have your subplots affect your main plot like a domino effect

* Unlock a minor mystery then add another one

* Add a ticking time bomb

* Have your MC follow a solid but wrong path then set sights in a new direction

* Add a catalyst

* Add a cause that alters your character's motivation.

* Let a character adopt a new goal. e.g. The villain was after the little girl, now he's after your MC too.

* Give your character a new problem to deal with or goal to reach.

* Evaluate your subplots to make sure they're not creating drag

Your middle should never lose its intrinsic purpose as a connector from the onset of the story question to the end. Don't let it drag and sag. Make it gripping and interesting. Build momentum. You can do it. Write on!

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What Do Literary Agents Want?

Every writer would love to pick the mind of a literary agent to gather info about what's hot and what's not, all the do's and dont's. Here's a link to an awesome, candid round-table discussion with four young literary agents that goes into fine detail about what they're looking for in a book and more. Very informative! Check it out. And once you get there, you'll find more agent Q & A's to jump to from there.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Running in Slow-Mo

Some days I zip along in my penning of Sapphire Reign and get so much accomplished and then other days writing 500 words is a tremendous effort. I wonder if picking a more simplistic storyline would have helped instead of going for something so bizarre and creepy. :)

Editing Kings & Queens, the book I'm close to shopping, is taking me forever. I keep thinking about audience and itch to tweak the narrative to make it sound less YA-ish. All but one of the POV characters are teens, and I write subjectively, with a close, deeply penetrating narrator, so the novel sounds youthful as a result. I wrote it for anyone who enjoys a story with well-rounded characters and a twisty plot, not just for teens.

I consider my audience to be both older teen girls and young women under thirty, and a sliver of teenage guys because I have an intriguing male protagonist, action, baseball and violence. But is it YA or adult? Publishers like you to choose one side or the other because they need to know how best to position it. The complexity and intricacy bring it right up to the crossover line, and I'm just not sure which side it will land on first. Most likely YA, with crossover appeal, so all my painstaking tweaking will be for naught. I can hear the Q & A now. Q. What made you decide to write for teens? And how did you adapt your style when you switched to adult fiction? A. ?????...I'm sorry, folks, our interviewee has left the building.

I'm just about finished, as my critique group has reached the end of my book, then I'll give it to my husband to proof my edits. So I'll be emailing queries very soon. Wish me luck.

Back to Sapphire Reign, my sequel to the aforementioned YA-ish book, which has three twenty-something adults, one preteen and one teen as POVCs. This one is definitely not YA. The tone is much darker, the narrative has greater breadth, the world is grittier, the killers are more vicious, and everything is askew. If my first book goes YA, do I shelve the sequel until I develop a readership? I'm not sure. They're both stand-alone works, but the second picks up threads from the first. I definitely want to hover in my suspenseful-mysterious-weird niche for a while. And my first book's positioning will determine what I work on next.

Ever feel like you're running in sludge because of certain details that are killing your creative drive? I love writing, it's all the extra things like finding a perfect tag for my works that boggle my mind, stress me out and slow me down.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Friday, March 20, 2009

No Go But That's Okay

I've been offline for a few days. Well, I'm back...obviously. I got an email from ABNA and my entry did not make the cut. I'm supposed to get the excerpt reviews in a couple weeks. I'm curious about those.

I was glad that I wasn't chosen to move forward because after entering I was nervous about being in the contest. The more time that went by, the more I was hoping for a diss. ABNA is just not the route I want to take to become published. And if I somehow won, which is slim but still a possibility since someone has to, then I'd be roped into a crappy contract and be starting off my career un-agented.

There are few shortcuts you can take to get you to where you need or want to be in publishing. I'm excited about going on an agent hunt. Do I want to be rejected? No. But how exciting will it be when I strike a chord with that ONE. who is as passionate about my work as I am. The hunt is fraught with tears, struggle and fire, but that builds determination, perseverance and strength.

With my critique circle nearly finished with my MS, I'm so close to putting on my hiking boots and stocking up on printer ink and paper reams. Can't wait.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Writing Exercise: The Nanofic 55er

There are several forms of short fiction you can pen to get your creative juices flowing from drabbles at 100 words to droubbles at 200 words and nano fic pieces with even less. The two most common mini works are exactly 69 or 55 words. The 69er is freestyle, while the 55er is restrained by form. The 55er consists of 10 sentences. The first has ten words and each sentence to follow decreases by one word until you’re left with one word. I challenged myself. It's not that great, but here is my go at a 55er:

Sweet Justice

She slips into the shadowy room where I’m waiting...aiming.
Cheaters deserve the fire of steel, coldness of death.
Sweet justice was commissioned; it beckoned me here.
Who’d disregard candlelight dinners...midnight beach romps?
Hmph…I’m not judge, just executioner.
So why am I bleeding?
She deserved the bullet.
She’s smirking, leaving.
She knew!

It's fun for exercise anyway. Give a 55er shot.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Will Books Become Kindling?

I'm not much of a gadget nerd. Actually, that's an understatement. I'm totally in a deficit...not packing muggers' delights of any sort. I don't have a cell phone much less a Blackberry or any other hand-held, buttony communication tool. I know! Crazy right? Nor do I have satellite radio, a Mark of the Beast tracker on my car, a digital pen, an X-Box or a PS...whatever number they're on now...15?

I don't get the point of Twittering, especially via phone, and have failed miserably at it, making it so evident that micro-blogging is NOT for me. In like six months, I think I've posted twelve times or something like that. Wanna follow me? I'm totally thrilling, not boring at all.

I did finally catch up to this age and get an MP3 player for exercising and running, but that's a fairly new addition to my pocket of nothing but gum.

Now Amazon is tossing Kindle out there like it's the next best thing since sliced bread and cocaine-free soda. No not Kindle. Kindle2. Excuse me. We've upgraded. Something tells me, I'm not in the target market for this revolutionary book-not product.

I've read plenty of books on my computer screen, some phenomenal, but I just didn't get absorbed into that fictional world like I would've had I read the same thing on paper. There's a difference. I'm not quite sure what it is, but it matters. Yes, a Kindle2 is convenient. You can order a "book" on Amazon and *poof* it's just in there like magic. No wait. No postage. You're saving trees and ink. Benefits galore, but it's just not for me. Even if I were compelled to snatch up every new thing off the belt, I still wouldn't buy it. I like to curl up with a book and a mug of cocoa and just read.

I just hope the Kindle2 doesn't have people burning books to save landfill space or turning libraries into museums. What a sad day that will be.

PAPER or SCREEN? Choose wisely, my friends? There may be no turning back.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs?