Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Cool Contest Put on by Nathan Bransford

To follow my post on first drafts and their relation to a certain looming sports event, I thought it'd be appropriate to post a link to a neat little contest that Nathan Bransford is putting on here.  Basically, you make your picks for the upcoming tournament and whoever does the best wins their choice of a query critique by Mr. Bransford or a book by one of his clients.  Even if you're not a sports fan its worth entering because with the NCAA basketball tournaments, the people who pick by their favorite color or mascot tend to be the ones who win.  And I think it's a pretty awesome prize!

So go check it out, and feel free to post your picks/trash talk here.

Oh, and Happy St. Patrick's Day!  Is everyone wearing their green??

Friday, March 13, 2009

First Drafts: The March Madness of Writing

I love March Madness.  It's the only time of the year I watch basketball, but I just love it.  So many upsets and buzzer-beater victories, and ultimately, a crowned champion.

And with MarPrilWriMo just beginning, it got me thinking: First drafts are, in a way, like March Madness.  You're embarking on this potentially life-changing quest with an end that you (usually) know and want to reach, yet you know there will be massive obstacles along the way if you're characters are to achieve their desired ending.

There are also upsets along the way--the unpredictability factor.  Just as you never know who is going to win any given game in the tournament, in first drafts we're still getting to know the characters.  Dramatic changes can occur at the drop of a hat, upsetting your whole intended plotline.  Sometimes these changes in character or story are unexpected underdogs (figuratively speaking), and you end up rooting for them and figuring out a way to make them work.

This is one of the reasons I have always loved first drafts, and I'm falling in love with them all over again as I start my latest project for MarPrilWriMo.  So many things have happened already that I never could have expected, and it's like I'm meeting new friends.  It's magical and wonderful, and I can't wait to see what happens next (or to see how all these basketball games play out, for that matter!).

Thursday, March 12, 2009

You Tell Me: Thoughts on Queryfail

I was catching up on Nathan Bransford's blog yesterday, and one of his posts turned into quite a debate about the recent Queryfail Day that some agents were involved in on Twitter.  I honestly had no idea so many people were so upset about it.

For those of you who don't know, Queryfail Day was a little event on twitter where agents who felt like participating could post tweets with snippets from queries that they rejected. The idea was to educate writers on what types of things you shouldn't include in a query, so that we wouldn't make the mistakes of trillions of others.  They also (when it happened, which wasn't often, if you followed it in real time) posted Querywins, which were queries that got partials or fulls requested, and were written well.  The agents used no personal identifiers or book titles or anything in their queryfail tweets.

It turns out that a lot of people got really insulted by queryfail, because some of the queryfail posts were pretty snarky.  They said it disrespected those people who worked hard, done everything they could to succeed in publishing, and sent in something they put their hearts into. Some people even went so far as to say that they will never query an agent who participated in queryfail day.

Since it's going to potentially be a monthly event, I'd like to know what everyone else thinks about this.

Personally, I loved it.  I was not insulted at all.  I maybe didn't learn a whole bunch, but there were a couple tidbits of knowledge I gleaned from it.  But my thing is this: the queryfails that were accompanied by snark had not done everything they could to get published.  If you didn't follow it, there were some pretty ridiculous queries.  The vast majority of those people probably hadn't even written the book, and were just blasting out mass, unpersonalized queries.  Or they obviously didn't take the 30 seconds it takes to look up the agent/editor's submission guidelines.  They are not treating the agent with the respect they deserve, and most of them probably won't even have a clue about the queryfail that they've been a part of.  So I don't really think it hurts anyone.  The queryfails that were generally helpful were posted earnestly, and absent of any snark.  That's make take on it; of course, I'm not an easily-insulted person, so maybe my take is a little less than sensitive. I don't know.

But that's why I want your opinion. :) SO, what do you think about all this madness?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Random Childhood Memories #2: Second Grade, Stupid Grappling

Remember my post a little while back about my first grade childhood memory? My first girlfriend?  Well, I've decided to make it a series, working all the way up through high school.  

Remember my buddy from my first story, the one who ended up in rehab by his freshman year?  Well, in second grade, I was still good friends with little old Fred.  One recess on a beautiful spring day, Fred and a whole group of us thought it would be fun if we organized a big old wrestling match out on the school lawn. Naturally, we knew fighting was against the rules, so we did the responsible thing and cleared it with the yard duty.  

"It'll just be a fun thing," we told Sue. "No one will get hurt, we just wanna wrestle." Famous last words.

Sue assented and we proceeded to have a blast. Grass was staining our clothes and dirt was getting in our eyes, and it was awesome.  

Until one kid--Josh, let's say--got a little angry.  I didn't even know what was going on, I was on the outskirts of the skirmish.  All of a sudden I look up and Josh is actually punching the new kid at school, who couldn't speak english and probably didn't understand what the whole point of our fun was. 

When everyone realized what Josh was doing, they yanked him off the new kid, and a new cluster formed--a violent-looking cluster, probably.   The second Sue saw this new cluster, she blew her whistle and broke it up, and proceeded to make us all sit on the bench for the remainder of recess.  As I see it in my mind's eye, it was actually a pretty comical sight: Ten kids squeezed on a little bench, all trying to get a piece of seat.  So recess ended, and I figured that would be the end of it.

No, siree.

No adults saw Josh do the punching, so it was all on the word of the kids.  Naturally, no one said anything.  Not, that is, until the period after recess, when the new kid came in from the other class with Sue.  Everyone looked up from their reading as Sue walked to my desk and asked to see me outside.  What could this be about? I wondered.  Sue answered my question very quickly, and proceeded to tell me that the kid said I was the one punching him!

I ended up getting a citation and having to write 100 sentences saying "I will not punch anyone," and got in trouble with my parents, too.  I was a perfectly innocent kid, and this new guy spoiled my clean record.  It still makes me mad every time I think about it, because I was completely dumbfounded when he told on me. I never did find out why he picked me.  But it sure made me a whole lot less sorry that he got beat up.

Of course, there is justice.  Ol' Josh, the kid who did the punching, ended up getting expelled for possession of Marijuana in the SIXTH grade.  Yep, great elementary school I went to, huh? ;)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Story in Six Words: Yet Another Challenge

I'm apparently into challenges recently.  Hey, they're fun.  At least, I think so.

Today's challenge: Can you write me a story in just six words?

Here's mine:

"For sale: baby shoes, never used."

Sad, huh?  Well, I have a confession: I didn't write that. It's Hemingway's six-word story.

But you get the idea.  What will your six-word story tell?

Sunday, March 8, 2009


Over at her blog, Casey recently stated that she was starting a new novel. Well, I also happen to be on the fringes of a budding project, and have been wanting to crank out one of those really fun awful first drafts.

So what did we do, you ask? To which I wittily answer: MarPrilWriMo.

I'm sure most of you have heard of NaNoWriMo before. You know, write a novel (or at least 50k of one) in a month. We're not going to be quite as intense (shooting for 30k, which averages out to a grand a day), but it still will be a fun, commiserating, one-person-pushes-the-other-until-everyone's-achieving-more-than-they-would-have-on-their-own kinda way to pound out those pages.

If anyone ELSE cares to join in on the fun (not to mention, it'd be almost a third of that 100k we're all shooting for by year's end knocked out), we're starting tomorrow, March 9th and running through April 9th. Midnight to Midnight, I suppose, if you want to be all official about it. We could even potentially schedule some word wars and think up some dares such to make it really feel like nanowrimo. Join us. It'll be fun, I promise.

And see you on the MarPrilWriMo front!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

1,000,000 Words: A Challenge

I was reading my parents' Bottom Line Personal magazine yesterday, and there was a small article about how mastering most anything takes about 10,000 hours of practice and doing before the brain cognitively assimilates the task. This article made me remember something I've read in a couple places in the past few years regarding this topic and writing: Some universal wisdom in the fiction writing world apparently got together and decided that the one million word mark is the point at which one finally masters his or her craft. Now, one million words is an awful lot. It's a little less than the entire Harry Potter series, which took Ms. Rowling a decade to write (granted she probably wrote a lot more than a million words in the process).

But you've got to start in pieces. So I'm posing two things: a question and a challenge.

First, how many words of fiction do you think you've written so far, in your lifetime? Just a rough estimate. I'd guess I'm probably right around 110,000.

Second, I challenge you to add at least 100,000 words to your total before the year is out. Counting today, there are exactly 300 days left in 2009, which leaves only a little over 300 words a day on average. That's only a page in Times New Roman font. That would put me personally over 200k, and I'd be pretty stoked with that. One fifth of the way towards mastery.

Anyone up for the challenge?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Want some great laughs? Queryfail day.


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Breaking News: SCBWI 2009's Performance

Assuming they let me back up on the stage at the Golden Kite Luncheon (which I'm thinking they will, since I talked with Lin Oliver about it), I have officially decided what I will be singing at the 2009 SCBWI Nationals in L.A.

And no, I'm not revealing it.

All I can say is that it will be the most excruciatingly epic yet.  Book your flights now.

Homemade Enchiladas!!

Family traditions are wonderful things. Except for when the cousin's new boyfriend comes in and breaks your record.

For probably fifty years now, our family has made homemade enchiladas on my grandma's birthday.  My great-grandma used to be the one to make them, then when she got too old she passed the recipe on to my mom.  Making these enchiladas is a two day process, between making the crepes from scratch, to marinating and grinding up the beef, to finally baking the whole enchilada (literally, and the figure of speech, I suppose).  They are delicious.

Now, my family is full of big eaters, and we pride ourselves on the ability to consume mass quantities of food.  So obviously, there is a family record for most enchiladas eaten.  It is something I have coveted since childhood, and I finally broke it last year.  How many did I eat, you ask? Twenty.  The old record was fifteen, set in the 80s.  I was so proud of myself; that's an epic amount, right? A number that would last generations.

Well, my cousin's boyfriend comes in this year and manages to squeeze down twenty-one.  Darn him.  I was a good sport about it, but I secretly boiled inside, and took solace in the fact that at least he was miserably full.

Next year, though, I'm going for twenty-five.  I keep telling myself that if I had had to last year, I could have put down more, but didn't need to. The record had already been shattered.  I can do it. Right?

Does anyone else have any family traditions that involve gorging one's self with disgusting amounts of food? Or any other tradition you care to share?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Books That Just Stick With You

I'm sick today, so instead of coming up with something to write about, I'm gonna let you all do the work!  Brilliant, right?

So, if you could indulge me, please recommend me ONE must-read book that has stuck with you far after you've come to the last page and put the book down.

My choice at the moment would be THE HUNGER GAMES, by Suzanne Collins, here's an example of the kind of book I'm looking for, and a little insight into how this book gets into your mind and gives you a sense that what's going on in the story is so palpably real: I just finished the book and my parents are watching some special about this guy murdering people on the Appalachian trail. When they started describing to me what the guy was doing, a thought flashed in my mind that "that's not even close to as awful as what the people in the Capitol are doing to all the citizens in the Districts." Then I remembered it was just a book. 

Curious now? Yeah, go get it.  And tell me of a book that made you feel the same way.

(Look at that, I ended up writing something after all.)