Uncovering the Past

I wanted to take a moment to explain the photo at the top of this blog. It’s a scene in the 1940s of kids going skating. I’m sure you’ve never gone skating looking as sharp as these teenagers. But that was a different time which is why I love it so much.

It showcases an era of which many are not familiar. Maybe your idea of ‘colored’ people during that time was limited to cotton fields or other menial work that took place down south. This photo was taken in Chicago at the Savoy Ballroom in 1941. These kids look middle class and well-groomed. It’s just another example of how a lack of knowledge and our own misconceptions can prevent us from really knowing our history.

Through my writing, I intend to create stories around such situations in history in order to bring to the fore the lives of kids just like these and others as I discover them for myself. Stay tuned!

Paying Dues

It’s been several years since I started this blog (and others) and today I have decided to consolidate and upgrade based on my current experience. I’ve paid my dues.

Now don’t take this the wrong way, I still have lots to learn in the traditional pub game, but I can say that I’ve also paid some dues. I started out thinking I knew it all; that since I had a journalism background this kid writing thing would be easy. NOT. I had to read books on writing, sit in on writing courses, join writing groups and do a lot of listening.

I teamed up with crit partners and we shared what we learned. I watched other writers’ journeys and took copious notes. I shaped and reshaped my approach. I even changed genres until I found the one in which I felt most comfortable expressing myself.

I say all this to say that now I finally feel I am getting there. Not there yet, but getting there. I am an author.

So I am changing the subtitle of this blog to reflect my writing focus as well as to move further into my craft while sharing what I continue to learn with you.

All that said, I am gearing my writing toward YA historical with a focus on untold stories from a black as well as white perspective. Being biracial, I am also an #ownvoices writer and intend to explore more avenues that will allow me to bring out the unique experiences of my heritage.

I hope you will enjoy the posts which will include craft, websites, updates and rantings as usual.

Thanks for sticking and staying; there is a lot more to come!

Just a Moment of Your Time…

I’m sure all of us have visited websites or been on the phone with customer service when, after the experience (or call) has ended, you are asked for ‘just a moment of your time’ to take a brief survey.  I got to thinking about this and how it might work in the writing world; specifically, how it could be used when querying.

For example, let’s say you send your query by email (I guess snail mail could work too) and in addition to your sample chapters you include a request to take a brief survey ‘about your experience.’ It might go something like this:

“In appreciation for considering this query, I would like to offer you a $10 Starbucks gift card. Simply answer the following 3-question survey (or two or one depending on what you want to know). Then provide the three questions and space for a response. This can even be done via Survey Monkey (that is, if folks are not afraid to click the link).

You could ask:

  1. What do you think would have made your experience better?
  2. Did the sample chapter begin in the right place? Explain.
  3. If you actually liked the concept, how were you expecting it to develop?
    Note: This question addresses those who have a preconceived idea that your pitch brought to mind, but your chapters did not deliver.

You’d have to be sure to provide open-ended questions in order to avoid the dreaded ‘yes/no’ responses. Of course, you’d also have to figure out a way to send it automagically after you are rejected. LOL. Still working on that part.

So, what do you think? Could we writers get away with this? Probably not, but it would sure help refocus those who consistently receive the ‘loved the concept, didn’t connect with the writing’ response.  Or the ‘didn’t like the execution,’ response. Or the more common, ‘it wasn’t for me,’ response.

I know, I know. It’s a numbers game in a lot of cases, and some say it’s timing. But whatever it is (maybe even your writing ability or understanding of your genre), a survey does sound nice. And who doesn’t want a $10 Starbucks card?

 

 

What I learned from NaNoWriMo

For some crazy reason, my first attempt to pub this blog failed; guess WordPress is having their issues…

Anyway, I wanted to share what I learned from my introductory nano experience==2016 is my first year at this. I hesitated in past years because I either missed the start of the month or had more pressing things to attend to (I conduct bible studies and sometimes I do it in sprints of 30 days). So since my crit partner was doing nano for a ‘real’ project (she has an agent) and I had a story idea, I decided to try it.

One thing about me, I hate to fail. I am also a trained and certified project manager so I hate disorganization, too. Those two things helped me get to 50K in 19 days. But that wasn’t the main impetus. Let me explain…

I had been reading two books before nano: 2k to 10k by Rachel Aaron and an article I found by Cheryl Klein. Rachel’s book helped me learn to do a lot of upfront work so that there was no question about where I was going in the story. Cheryl’s article showed me how to set up a matrix for each scene; an action/reaction approach.

Both of these were instrumental in easing my anxiety going into the challenge.

I also made sure I knew all my characters – names, background, motivation, role  – and wrote those down. I found my theme, story point, and even determined the ending. These also helped me create a manuscript ‘shell’ that I could fill in at will. I ‘d basically built the house and now I was ready to add the furniture and decorate.

I also used Scrivener for the first time. The scenes I created fit well into the tool and it helped me avoid frustration since I didn’t have to look at an entire ms at once. I could write each scene as a self-contained story and combined with Cheryl’s goal/obstacle>But>Therefore approach I was able to weave them all together.

The next thing I did was create a map of my world so that I knew where everyone would be and how they would get there (I am revising now to make sure I did that correctly and that I did not overwrite my descriptions of the scenery. I had fun with that part).

Last, I created a schedule I could maintain: I work full time so I had to write 30 min. in the morning, during my lunch, and after dinner. My goal was 2,000 a day but I ended up around 3200 because I knew my story and where it was going.

So there you have it. Now I’m off to work. Have a great one and keep on writing!

 

Does Anyone Mentor PoC Writers?

As a kidlit author of color I read and hear a lot about diversity and I agree there needs to be more in kidlit. Some of it is that authors of color have given up trying to get in to traditional publishing opting to self publish; I know some who have started their own publishing companies. The efforts I’ve seen for PoC authors has been admirable but what many of us really need is mentoring. We need to know what we may not be doing right, what could make our writing stronger while not diluting the strong messages we want to convey. I know that issue books can turn some agents/editors off but unfortunately those stories define us as much as the non-issue aspects of our lives. Now I am not advocating special treatment but rather a chance to get a foothold in the industry. Not all of us are going to come with that polished manuscript agents covet but we could if we had help. Yes we can read, we can attend conferences, and join online groups but often we are in the minority there and that in itself can be disheartening. Maybe you’d say we should create our own groups but separating ourselves is self defeating if we are to level the playing field. So I ask, where are the mentors for PoC writers? We sure could use some help.

Why Keep Going?

I’m sure that some of you authors-in-training are out there asking yourself this question and it is a legitimate one; especially if you have been chiseling away at your craft, learning the business, reading in your genre, watching Twitter posts and participating in a myriad of workshops, pitch wars and all that is the writing life. And after saying all of this I say, yes, keep going. Why? Well for one I am and here are the reasons.

Because all that information you have been gathering is going to culminate into your ‘ah ha’ moment and then it will all come together. I say that because that is what is beginning to happen to me after plugging away for years. You begin to see a pattern forming. You start to make connections between things. You notice a trend and then you say ‘Oh, so that’s what they meant.’

Now I am going to tell you something that everyone has told you: accept rejection and keep moving. I wrote an earlier post Why I Love My Rejection Letter that may help you get over the sting. At this point I take them in stride and look forward to getting them so that I can take that agent off my Excel spreadsheet and add another one. If you get feedback which unfortunately is rare, cherish that. I save those and try to apply what little morsels they dole out. I always try to thank those agents/editors in particular for taking the time to do that since they are very busy people.

But a pubbed writer and critique partner gave me the best advice: READ, READ, READ. Since I have a full time job and other responsibilites reading is very hard to fit into my schedule so I go to the Overdrive app for my local library and am reading a lot more. Believe me when I say it makes a H-U-G-E difference because you start to notice trends in structure, language and content that you can use in your own work.

Make your book the best you can make it before you send. At first I had issues with that but have learned I really have to take it as far as I can even if I end up being asked to revise it several more times. Be willing to do that work for the sake of the work and the reader. If you value what you do you won’t have any issues with revisions. It’s a win for all involved so be grateful for the suggestions and apply them.

I also suggest you not allow yourself to get discouraged until you have sent out at least 80 queries (and yes there are 80 agents/editors out there for your genre). It’s almost like job hunting – its a numbers game. I use the CWIM and also make sure I check the agency/publisher website in case something has changed. In the latest version Chuck has included some examples of first pages that several different agents critiqued and they all had differing reactions to the books. That was a big eye opener as to how subjective it is; all agents won’t view your book the same way and that is a good thing. It gives you hope that maybe there is one out there that will love it.

I try to research the agent to find out something about them personally and what they tweet, blog about so that I can get to know them before I submit. If I don’t find much I just approach them with the same respect and courtesy I would any new person I meet in business.

If you participate in online pitch wars make sure you work on the pitch in advance and use the most descriptive words you can; don’t be vague – you only get one shot at it (well maybe two in the 8 hr period but you know what I mean). It’s nice to get agent likes and that feels good so consider that a win as well even if you don’t get repped.

Well, I’ve got a conference to attend shortly so hope this advice helped and happy writing!

Voice is Everything

So today I want to talk about voice. We hear it so much as authors. Voice. The book ‘just has to have it’, the agents say. But you might ask, ‘what is it exactly? Don’t all characters have a voice, after all, they are talking?’ True, but just having a character talk is not voice. It’s what the character demonstrates his or her self to be. Let me explain.

When you sit down to lunch or drinks with your friends and you all start talking, you know that no matter the subject each of you will reveal their voice in the conversation. One friend may shy away from certain topics and you can tell by the way she participates, what she says or does not say. Another friend always has a definite opinion and she expresses it in a defiant way. And yet another makes light of just about everything. Study your friends and then translate that to your character. That is voice.

How do you do this? Examine each of your characters and ask yourself. ‘Who is Johnny? How does he feel about certain things?’ Then give Johnny the mannerisms, words and attitude he needs to pull it off. You need to make Johnny real, like your friends. And he needs to maintain that ‘voice’ throughout the book.

Readers need to be able to get together in book clubs and say ‘Johnny just hates xyz,’ or ‘Johnny is just a joker, he never takes anything seriously.’

How will they know this? VOICE!

Feeling the Void Not Just Filling it

We writers love to wax poetic about the industry and our place in it and in this post I am no exception. Today I feel compelled to discuss the recent surge of writers who are chasing the agent’s dream rather than their own. What I mean is, some writers are so anxious to get published that they troll the agent sites such as #mswl and #tenqueries to find out the agent’s wish so they can in turn grant it. Before I continue let me preface this by saying I too peruse those two hashtags but not for the same reason. I find it interesting and sometimes amazing to read what agents want; it’s entertaining too depending on the agent who writes the tweet. But for me, that’s where it ends. I believe that if there is a void in a certain type of book, as is surmised by these posts, then the author should not simply fill that void, they should be writing because they ‘feel’ the void.

Let me elaborate.

I write what I feel, those subjects that mean something to me. Situations in which I have often had personal experience, or know someone who has had that particular experience. Granted I make things up to complement the information because that is what the license of fiction allows. As a reader I also find that the book that ‘feels’ rather than fills, can be discerned in the text — it is clear that the author gets what they are trying to convey.

So I guess all I am saying is stop trying to follow a trend, copy a best seller, or satiate an agent. Just write what’s inside you and make us feel it too.

What I’m learning about my book

One of the things I am both excited about and frustrated by is the process of revelation. My new book examines a more serious subject than my first and as it is progressing I am seeing how all the elements fit together in a different way. First of all I decided to write this book in first person. I am finding that it is requiring me to dig deeper to show how the characters around my MC react to and interact with him. I am also working harder to prevent what I keep hearing happens so often in first person: boredom. I can see how that would take place since you must remain in one person’s head. That is why I have been working on ensuring his personality is strong and apparent in all he says and does. That has required that I really know him well — his personal agenda, his deep seated desires, his weak points. It has been very interesting developing him and I learn more each time I sit down to write.

The difficult part has been not overdoing his reactions to the external forces coming at him while at the same time showing his feelings in a human way.

I am also struggling with revealing the background info; I wanted to allow other characters to bring out. Writing in first person really limits this and I am having to find creative ways to bring it out without stating it as exposition. This is teaching me a lot of about my writing and making more aware of different techniques.

Since this book is so close to my heart I am determined to take my time and get it done well. I have about five chapters left to complete the first draft and am forcing myself not to go back and rewrite early chapters. But I am re-examining them to ensure they fit together and I am telling the story I want to tell. I am an outliner so I do have a direction; a shell so to speak that is guiding me. But I have enough flexibility to adjust as I go and allow for a lot of creativity.

All in all, the writing advice I have read and heard over the last few years from books and authors and agents and critique groups is all coming together now. It’s a great feeling to know you are working on something that has personal meaning and I hope that once it’s complete it will have meaning to my readers as well.

1st or 3rd?

Lately I’ve been contemplating POVs. Should I write the protag in 1st and stay in his perspective or should I write him in 3rd and allow the reader to see inside a few other heads from chapter to chapter? Most of the books I’ve read caution against head jumping and I get that. It’s jarring to me too; that’s why if I do it I change chapters — if I don’t catch it within scenes, then oops — but I am aware of the rule.

In my current manuscript, the protag makes a life-altering discovery that only he can overcome, so 1st would be great to show his reactions/emotions and his mindset. However, after we get over all that, we still do not know how others feel about it since this discovery also affects their view of him — or their guilt — depending on the character. Therefore, I have been forced to really think hard about how to bring out their emotions without always relying on dialogue. It’s tough. I am used to writing in 3rd so this was never an issue. I had always reserved 1st and even second for my self-help books, but writing a novel in 1st is proving to be quite challenging.

Another difficulty I find in 1st is the past tense. Sometimes I catch myself writing in present when I don’t want to do so. I say ‘don’t’ when I need to say ‘didn’t’. 😦 Thank goodness for editors. 

Then there’s the suspension of disbelief: how can a person tell you a story that happened in the past when he already knows the outcome? Writing so that the reader doesn’t pay any attention is also an art. 

Fortunately for me I have lots of example books I can read to get a feel for it. Some of my fav authors — Gary Schmidt, Jackie Woodson, and even James Patterson (Middle School) are useful to read and re-read to jar the old noggin and get some ideas flowing. 

If you have any thoughts please on this post a reply.

Keep writing!