Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Word Up Wednesday: Wreak

Wreak is an interesting word because if you just take away that little r, you get weak. (Funnily enough, that's what my Nemesis, Simon Larter, is.) However, when you add the r back in, you get exactly what I do to him: wreak havoc. Also, this is what Spain did to Portugal yesterday I watched the taped match between them -- a really excellent display of professional football, keeping the action tense the whole way through and wreaking havoc in my household as everything came to a stop in order to watch this game. (I have renamed the cat Villa in honor of David Villa who scored the goal for Spain. God what a good match.)

Wreak is related to wreck and generally means to bring about destruction. Also to vent. And say it nine times fast, and it starts sounding a little silly. Wreak is a pretty aggro word, actually. Probably most of us don't want anything wreaked on us. Like a storm, a shower of bullets, a dark cloud of pestilence (except for the nemesis). Of course, we like to wreak all kinds of nasty stuff on our characters. Wreaking is, I'd say, a writer's (sharp) tool. If you're not finding ways to up the wreaking, then you're probably back toward being a little weak.

Right. I've got to go find some water to toss on the cat's head in order to christen him his new name. Throwing water on a cat's head might be seen by some as wreaking havoc, but this was a needed step. Behold, the two Villas:

I know the similarity is uncanny! I could only tell them apart because of the red Spain top!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

How I Learned that Writing Does Not Equal Genius

Last week I had a bit of reality regarding my incredible amazing genius self.

I work in corporate marketing communications and I am the only one in that position in my company. I came to the job with a background in technical writing and am typically the keeper of messaging and official company lines in the company, not to mention the one who write collateral. It is, after all, typically what marcom positions do.

So last week a colleague asked me to put together a brochure. He supplied the copy, which annoyed me. I should have come up with the copy, but whatever. Okay. I would edit instead. Sometimes that's what the role requires.

"I'd like to look at these features and benefits," I said.

The coworker eyed me, wary of my suave marcom words.

"Okay," he said. "But the copy is already approved."

This annoyed me, because I am the one who typically approves copy. I am, after all, a WRITER. I have a effing graduate degree in English!

So I went through the "features and benefits" and pointed out a few changes, which weren't anything big. Then I laid out the brochure and sent it to my coworker for review. He came back with several changes. Then several more. Then more. We went back and forth at least seven times. Then he called me.

"Sierra," he said. "There is yet another change. You must insert a comma after the two items in the last sentence. There should be another comma there."

"A serial comma, you mean," I said, doing my best to keep my voice sarcasm-free (and failing, of course). "Have you decided to start using them, then?"


"Right, I'll just put that in, and add them in everywhere else it needs them, too," I said.

Now at this point, you're probably thinking, what an arse Sierra is being, and you'd be right. I was being one. I was being pedantic and petty, because I felt insulted that my coworker, who is not even a native speaker of English, should point out grammatical issues. Even if he was the one who wrote it.

Then it hit me: just because I write novels does not make me a writing god.

Oh, I know. I know, right?

So I did what I could to adjust my attitude, and continued on with eighteen more rounds of nitpicky edits, because that's what was required to get the job done.

But yesterday I made sure I mentioned repeatedly how his home country lost a World Cup match last week. And he took it graciously, because he does not suffer from pretensions like I do did. And I was glad of the reminder and the lesson that just because I write stories, just because I write and complete novels, does not make me an automatic writing genius.

It's a reminder we probably all need once in a while. Oh fine, just me, then.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Got Plot?

Today I have a special treat: an info-graphic on plots. This is something that I was mucking about with for my own use. I am a plotter, you see, and I like to have things clear (and also I love layout). I recently did a revision on my story's midpoint, and wanted to review exactly how important the drama should be at that point. And thus, the poster was born.

This is 11 x 17 in size; and the below is an image of the actual poster. Click on it to make it bigger, or click here to download a PDF.

Comments on the steps I used are welcome. I know some will disagree with them--if so, would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

  • The Lt. has superb advice on pitching to agents -- fresh back from a conference, the Lt. writes with an abnormal amount of sense. Also it is CHOCK full of links -- this post is like a complete do it yourself guide to pitching.
  • Fadra has a whimsical post about her real-life Wacky Wednesday. You may or may not remember this great Dr. Suess story. The whippersnapper loves this story and we read it a lot.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Word Up Wednesday: Stars

I often like lying on my back, looking up at the ceiling for no particular reason other than that I'm tired from the rigors of sitting on my arse all day. Of course, I'm not doing this on train tracks or on a sidewalk, or in my office where people have to step over me in order to get to the copier. Mostly I do this at home with a roof over my head, but occasionally I get to do this outside, and the best times are when I'm looking up at the stars.

Stars is such a great word. It's shimmery and sparkly and makes me hope and dream and battle against the finite nature of my human brain in order to imagine what's out there beyond stars. I've known for many years that stars are far-away suns, and that most of them have already died and only now is the light reaching us. (I mean, okay. That's a good story and everything.) Even so, I still like the idea of their stationary positions in my night sky, and I like that they are there in the same spot whether I'm looking at them from California or from a beach in Greece.

I like the word because it's simple and still manages to sound otherworldly and dreamy. And it has so many applications. Stars refer to anything sparkly, or dead suns (supposedly), or celebrities, or people who achieve extraordinary results.

Looking up at the stars makes everything seem like it's possible, doesn't it? Stars don't know anything about confidence issues or a broken plot or rejections. They just shine at you, and you just let them shine on you, and you're good. And that's all you can really ask of something out there in the sky.

Moby -- The Stars

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Writer Fortune Cookies

Wouldn't it be nice if the world was full of writer-centric things? Shyeah! I've put the writer fortunes on one handy sheet for you, so you can print it, cut them out, and take them to a fortune cookie company

CLICK for a bigger image!

Have any to add?

Monday, June 21, 2010

More on Branding

Last week I talked about how the second you put yourself out in the tinterweb, you're pretty much branding yourself. I gave a list of pointers on what to do or not (like don't represent yourself with pictures of dead armadillos).

I wanted to expand on this topic because Tahereh asked what I thought of Maureen Johnson's branding manifesto, on which she got 254 comments (as of this writing) all saying "Yes I love you and agree with you." (In fairness, I would have said that too.) To sum up the post, Maureen was passionate that social media for authors is a two-way conversation, and not about one person selling a book to another. And in this, she is absolutely right.

What is brand, again?
Maureen's example in her discussion was a woman at a conference who insisted that we all brand ourselves and sell, sell, sell. The woman is incorrect that this is what a brand is for. I suspect the woman doesn't quite know what a brand is, because she missed the boat on the online interaction that is so crucial to our world now. And also because she emphasized that you need to get out and sell or die. Branding is actually a set of consistent visual cues that define a certain sensibility for a person, company, or product.

If that is too rigid, think of this: a brand is a set of colors, or a logo, or a certain way of writing, or a habit that embodies you or your message. By this definition, branding isn't really related to sell sell sell, although it can be. Or you can use it to represent yourself. Maureen said that a brand is a package of yourself so that consumers know what to buy. This is true, but that limits the definition to purchasing.

Riiigght, so what does branding mean to authors?
It means that when you present yourself professionally and consistently, or in a way that embodies who you are, you're branding yourself. And my whole point in this discussion was that the second you step on the tinterweb and start pressing send on things, you're branding yourself because you're sending out representative material.

And if you're a writer aspiring to be published, you'll probably want to make sure you don't come across as a nut case. If you're already published, you'll probably want to convey what you write through color, fonts, and the style of your posts. (Psssst. That's a brand.) And guess what: your brand also includes how much you make yourself accessible to readers or others reaching out to you.

So let's see some examples.
Maureen's brand, as far as I can tell, is her iconic picture that she uses on Twitter. And a certain way of writing her tweets, including putting us into a jar. And while book covers will change between editions and print runs, her book covers are currently all consistent in the font they use-- a scripty type that fits in with YA. Coolio. I think Allison Winn Scotch's brand is wrapped up a consistent set of colors used throughout her communications: aqua and brown, and has also consistently been clear about wanting to help out aspiring authors through her blog. I think Tawna Fenske, quite apart from her high-quality monkey toes brand, has branded herself as a purveyor of humor by the type of posts she writes on her blog, and the effort she puts into amusing us on a regular basis through those posts. It wasn't a surprise to learn that she writes humorous romance.

What's my brand? Cripes. As far as I have tried, it's the visuals of the red scheme, my red photocopied-esque picture, and my font in my name up there. As far as I have tried with content, it's clear, concise information (I try) with lots of white space and headings. Since I write what I like to think of as humorous women's fiction, I hope my posts are somewhat funny (as in, laughing with me, right?). I'll stop there, because if I say I'm funny, then I fear coming across as someone with a very high opinion of herself. Or else a saddo who thinks herself is funny when no one else does.

Does it work? In the above cases, yes. In my case, um...I haven't got any books to sell yet, so only time will tell. If I ask you if you would buy my book based on what's on this blog, then you would be forced to say yes, and my head would be cleared for lift-off again.

Andddddd....why do we care again?
I did point out in my prior post that having a color scheme or a logo or a catch phrase might not be important for you. And you don't have to have those things. It's okay to have an ambiguous brand. Again, so long as you're consistent, and professional. People get along just fine without full branding guideline manuals. But you should, in my opinion, think about the way you come across to others and behave accordingly. That, to me, is the essence of branding.

I'd like to continue this discussion. What are your thoughts on this? Agree? Disagree?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

I want you to know I am eating chocolate brownie ice cream while preparing this post. It's been that kind of week.

  • Lynn Price (I think? Cause the blog is called Behler Blog? Not sure what a Behler is? But my imagintion is running, and it involves aliens and pirates) has a great post on the bullets of a good pitch, and uses the recent Query Shark Win for an example. Well worth a read, even if you don't know what a Behler is.
  • When you're putting an ad on Craigslist to rent an apartment, for God's sake do some basic editing! (says Julie Dao, and quite rightly too)
  • And last but not least, here are the goals scored in the USA-England World Cup match last week, done entirely in Legos -- please especially admire the poor Green fumble, again and again.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

How to Burn E-books in 5 Easy Steps

Yeah, the book burners have a challenge on their hands: books are changing. Oh sure, you can still get your hands on regular printed books for a knee-slapping, good old righteously indignant book-burning party, but these days you need to consider the new digital medium.

Well. Book haters! Never fear. I have 5 simple steps for you to keep on burning books in a digital age, thereby saving our population from thinking outside your box!

STEP 1: Download loads and loads of efiles to your Kindle or whatnot.
Download as many as you can, cause that way you can destroy more. Think how EASY this will be! Hee hee! No one thought of this when they started making digital books! It is SO EASY to download TONS of digital files at once! Where once you had to get a TRUCK to load up the hardbacks, now you just need a computer with a little bit of space! Shoot, even a USB drive will do!

STEP 2: Burn One e-Reader.
Those filth-producing publishers have locked the book files so you can't put them all in one disgusting area on your computer and delete them. No. DANG IT. Instead, just go ahead and burn the e-Reader -- just one, symbolically, of course, as they're rather pricey. This is for the greater good of our youth, or something. THEN DELETE THE FILES YOU DOWNLOADED OFF YOUR E-READER! Yes! When you take pictures, make sure you get one of your finger on the delete key.

STEP 3: Delete your online e-reader account.
Oh yes yes yes, refuse to HAVE an account that will provide you with such filth! This gesture will really show those corrupting merchants of muck who's WHO.

STEP 4: Burn cables and wires.
That will really show those heathens. You are showing them now. You. Showing. Now.

STEP 5: Send a nasty letter to Google for allowing our precious youth to SEARCH through BOOKS.
Don't mince words! Be all, "I COMMAND you to remove that filthy filth filth from your filth-encrusted filth searcher!" Those Google overlords won't be able to resist the call of purity form your righteous fingers.

Then, all you have to do is sit back, drink a 40, and watch the fruits or your labor pay off. Oh,

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Word Up Wednesday: Interminable

This week's word up is one that is often combined with WAITING. Because waiting, as we all know, SUCKS. And when you're in the middle of it, it seems to have no end, which is precisely what waiting consists of. In fact, it's a wonder we say the word waiting at all, when interminable does so nicely.

It seems like I did a lot of interminable waiting as a kid. Always waiting for grownups to finish talking or taking care of one thing or another. I am very conscious of this now with the whippersnapper. He's always waiting for me. As for me, I was an energetic and vivacious sort, and there was no getting used to waiting. Maybe that's why I was such a reader. I will still take a book with me today, and if someone whips out their phone to take a call that is clearly more important than speaking to me, out comes my book and the waiting becomes less interminable.

As writers, we know how interminable waiting goes, do we not (coy smile)? We wait until our novels are finished, we wait until they're good, we wait until the point where they're ready to query, we wait to hear back from critique partners, we wait to hear back from agents, editors, ahhhh gahhhh! Interminable waiting! We have to devise diversions for ourselves to handle this waiting.

This week I am waiting on something very important. I can't tell you what it is, but I can tell you that it is NOT anything to do with writing, alas. However not a second goes by that I don't think about it and the waiting is so interminable that it is inimitable and irritating and infuriating!

Waiting is about the worse thing I can bear-- and that goes for writing. It's super hard for me to find patience in the waiting that is required in this profession. What is interminable for you?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Last week Meghan Ward had a list of ways to effectively implement your writer brand. Oh yes, I know you're all, "WTF do I care about writer brands, I'm not a marketing person, nor am I published. At the very least this is not something I need to be concerned about at THIS point."

Oh no, you do need to be concerned about it. Brand starts right when you log onto the tinterweb and send anything out using your nimble little fingers. It starts when you blog, tweet, or accept friends on Facebook. Whether you have a web site or not, YOU ARE A BRAND.

Some people won't want to care about their brand until later on. And I understand that. It's not your focus. (Duh. Cupcakes are.) Your focus is WRITING. Yes. As well it should be. But again I say: your brand has already been established when you posted your first comment on Nathan Bransford's blog with your Google profile.

When to pay attention to your brand is your own decision but in case you want to give it some thought, here is a quick primer (also you should read Meghan's post for more):

Be consistent
Use the same name, or a derivative of, across all your social media accounts.

Be memorable
You don't have to come up with a logo (although it's not a bad idea), but you shouldn't be represented by a black mass of tsetse flies.

Be appropriate
You know, use your name or else at least something you've decided to brand yourself with. Don't use something like a swastika. If you use a swastika as your brand, please stop reading this blog and don't come back.

Remember the golden rule
Publishing is SELLING YOUR WRITING. Your writing is a PRODUCT. So when you SELL YOUR PRODUCT, you have a better chance of seamlessly slipping into people's consciousness by having a nice, consistent, memorable brand. Yes.

Learn from others and pick up on subtleties
Check out Allison Winn Scotch's web site. See the colors she uses? She uses that pretty brown and aqua color scheme throughout everything -- so you remember it. Good branding. See Tahereh's blog? She uses a distinctive font and also a distinctive way of writing (energy, caps, heading size) that you recognize.

Be aware of what you set
Once you put something out there, it already starts working as your brand. You can change it if what you put is not very cohesive, but whatever you put has already started working for you.

Bottom line: do if you still don't care about brand, that's ok. Just remember that it's out there waiting for you to control. It's never too late.

Monday, June 14, 2010


Queries got you down? Blow some steam off with this stupendous new game!

Click for bigger image!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

Okay guys, listen up. The World Cup starts tomorrow and I'm jumping up and down in excitement, as though I have to pee. Seriously, how fun. Some of you know that I am a supporter of the Edinburgh, Scotland-based team, Hibernian FC. Scotland isn't in the World Cup, but we will be seeing some good action from some of the best players in the world.

Because I know most of you don't care as much as I do, I have a very special link for you instead: World Cup 2010 Hotties. Yes. Now listen, there's not much argument here that the winner of the hottie contest is going to be Christiano Ronaldo, just as long as he keeps his inflated-ego, arrogant mouth shut. And don't tell anyone I said he's hot.

Now for the Roundup.

  • The Savvy Book Marketer has a list of book marketing ideas -- the only pity with this post is that it's one nearly unreadable block of text. Sorry. You've been warned. Perhaps I shall summarize for you in a post soon with my added ideas.
  • Natalie Whipple writes about the importance of hating your book. When I saw this, I was all ZOMG I EFFING HATE MY BOOK RIGHT NOW and therefore her post was fantastic. Even if you don't hate your book, maybe you should. Have a wee looky-loo at this post and find out how it helps.
  • Anne Allen with another spectacular post (you're reading her blog, right? Sometimes I feel silly posting her posts here in the Roundup because you should all be reading her blog ANYWAY) on 5 things we have wrong about agents.
  • Check this book review by Lt. Ccyyxxx on the book Blind Submission, a fictional tale set at a literary agency. His review makes it sound a very, very tasty read.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Monkeying Around with Tawna Fenske

You learn all sorts of things on Twitter. Sometimes if you're there at just the right time, you'll catch amazing things like pictures of author Tawna Fenske's toes. I was blown away by how unbelievably monkey-like her toes were, and then it turned out that she, like me, has an impressive range of simian foot capabilities.

We call them monkey toes.

It turns out we can both do an amazing range of activities with our toes. Observe just a sampling of my primate abilities:

1. Change the television channel.
Sometimes when I'm lounging on the couch, it's just too much effort to get up and reach for the remote control. So I let my toes do the work. There is a sort of beauty in this laziness; remote controls were invented so you don't have to get up off the couch to begin with, and this takes it just that extra step further. (Tip: don't use your big toe or you'll skip more channels than you wanted.)

2. Groom my cats.
Look, it's a lot of effort to bend down and pet those useless beasts! Using my toes, which are just as good, is pleasurable for me (free foot massage) AND the cat (they get petted). Win-win. (That is the side table getting petted.)

3. Flip light switches.
Feeling a little crusty sometimes? Yeah, I do. So what better than to use my amazing monkey toes to turn on and off lights AND get some high-kick exercise at the same time? It needn't be a painful contortion, no. Just a simple lift and you have illumination. Another kick and you have darkness. (Plus you'll be energy efficient. Yes, monkey toes are good for the environment!)

4. Cook espresso-rubbed pork tenderloin.
Oh yes, yes, yes, it is a gourmet delight. Sometimes, when I'm really into a story, I can't afford to waste my arms by cooking. So in step (get it, ha ha!) my baboon tootsies and voila! A delicious meal cooked. (I have found that it's best to refrain from telling Mr. Sierra that my toes did the preparation.)

5. Use chopsticks.
Forget waxing on and waxing off, I'm a master at chopstick usage with my toes.

Tawna challenged me to Photoshop a photo using my toes. Well! That wasn't difficult at all! Although the mouse and keyboard needed a bit of a wipe-down afterward. Here it is:

I challenged Tawna to recreate the works of Shakespeare with her unbelievable monkey toes. It should only take her, say, a million years. Since we likely don't have that kind of time here, I asked her to peel a banana with her toes instead, and present photographic evidence. You should swing (get it, ha ha!) on over to see her gibbon-like attempts at her blog. You'll also find a similar list of 5 totally amazing things she can do with her monkey toes.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Word Up Wednesday

The fairy stopped walking and dashed under foliage. Something wasn't right. She peered through the leaves to see if there was someone on the path, but the shaded woodland trail was empty save for fallen twigs and loose pebbles.

She shook herself, giving off shimmers from her wings. She loved shaking herself and knew she looked ephemeral in the green forest light. But there again, something was different. The feeling she'd had while walking was back. Something felt off-balance. Again she checked her surroundings, but no goblins were in sight. Nothing bothered her-- no pesky water beetle picking at her boots. So what was it?

She shook herself again, imaging the ephemeral quality of her wings, and then she had it. She looked up to see it: a small tear in her top right wing. The torn wing shook when she wriggled. She stared at the rip, frozen by the knowledge. A large, fat tear rolled down her glittery face, encapsulating a thousand crushed diamonds. The torn wing was the beginning of her end, and she knew it.

All right, so. Did you catch this week's Word Up? Cause I didn't use it correctly! No! It's ephemeral, and it sure as heck does not mean shimmery or shiny or otherworldly or glowing. No siree. I've gone thirty -- well, I've gone many years thinking this pretty word meant that, thinking that it leant itself very well to fairy stories. I scribbled out the one above for you to see how well it fits, even, but it was a naughty trick to play if you don't know what it means. I didn't know its real meaning until last week.

It means short, as in a short life span. A water beetle's life is probably ephemeral, as is many other insects. You could use ephemeral to romanticize the death of someone whose life was cut much too short, and you could use it to describe the mad, desperate dash made by an animal or plant to procreate before being snuffed out. Some meanings have it as "lasting one day only."

So did you know what this pretty word meant? Did you catch it when I used it incorrectly?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Blog Host Behavior When You're Big Time

You know the old line about writing a letter to a celebrity and getting back a "personalized" autograph with a letter saying "Due to the volume of mail, [celeb] cannot personally respond to your letter, but believe me, she's really pleased you wrote"?

I think that celeb-type bloggers/tweeters must go through this with commenters.

Yesterday we talked about comments and how a blog host should handle them. Roni at Fiction Groupie wrote a whole post about it yesterday, with further interesting discussion in her comments. What I got out of that was that people want some form of acknowledgment for their comments, but not necessarily personal or specific.

Readers just want to know their efforts are appreciated, too.

I put forth that bloggers have a responsibility to the community that they create to interact, moderate, and continue it, in as much as blogging is a responsibility. And before we go any further, let me just say that when I speak of bloggers, I mean those in the writing community, because that's the sandbox I play in.

But what about bloggers who are published authors, or editors, or agents -- that is, those who are afforded a more celeb status? Tawna Fenske had an excellent post on this topic a few weeks ago, saying that there is a perception of writer-cliquishness that she's seen. It's true that when you have loads of adoring fans, it becomes difficult to personally respond to each.

What do you think about this? When you become Big Time, do your responsibilities change? What happens when Roni, who gets a ton of comments every day, gets and agent and publishes her books? Do her "obligations" as a blog host change?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Canon of a Good Blog Host

A week or so ago, my nemesis Simon made an announcement on his blog* that because of the high amount of comments he gets per post, he would no longer respond to them all in the comments, and would be only doing so via email. I thought this was silly and told him so (par for the nemesis course). But then, Roni at Fiction Groupie, whom I respect, said that wasn’t a bad idea**.

*I only scan his blog looking for opportunities to apply my plot against him.
** I surmised she’d had a temporary lapse in sanity, because after all, this is the nemesis we’re talking about.

It’s rather a blessing, isn’t it, to be found so diverting on a regular basis. (The nemesis gets around 50-70 comments per post and Roni gets around 25-35). We all know that lots of comments make our world go world, because as bloggers, it’s the most visible validation that people like what you say.

It seems that handling comments falls under the Canon of Good Blog Hosts, a list that I just made up, but which I feel strongly about. Please understand: I’m listing these things from my experience as a blog reader—NOT as a blogger. I read a lot of blogs every day and the following items make me read and enjoy posts more:

Respond to comments.
If you have hordes, no one’s going to crucify you for not replying to each single one. I just disagree with the email response method because it doesn’t mean less work for you, other people can’t interact with your responses, and new readers think you’ve gone into hibernation! It’s important to appear as though you still live on your blog, when tons of others do.

Be tidy.
As a reader, I’m looking for content. I like a picture or two, but a thousand of them prevents me from reading your content. Make sure the post is front and center and isn’t too cluttered by eye candy. This goes for backgrounds. Make it easy on the eyes (white is best), and keep sparkly moving things to a minimum. Some of you have these things, and I still love your blogs, but man I read your posts in Google Reader. Just saying.

Be short and use headings.
Not always possible to be short (like this post), but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve clicked on a blog to read what I think sounds like a really cool post title, only to turn away because it consists of thick blocks of unbroken paragraphs. I can’t deal with it, guys, I can’t. And neither can others, because my most least successful posts have proven to be those with long ass blocks of text.

Provide a means to contact you.
I recently wanted to contact a blogger to ask for a comment for a post I'm planning, but there was zero way to contact him. Oh, you could fill out a form, but I sure as heck wasn’t going to take the time to do it.

Make it easy to interact.
I’ve said this many times before as has Roni (poor Roni probably thinks I’m harping on her today but I hope she knows I LURVE her), but taking off the word verification on comments really, really, really is appreciated. It slows me down. I don’t have one on mine and I never get spam. Not sure what verification prevents.

Be consistent and don’t apologize.
If I don’t know when you’re going to blog, then chances are I’ll forget to check back regularly. Note that I’m not saying I don’t WANT to. Repeat: I forget. Consistency is key. Also, if you haven’t blogged in a month, don’t apologize for not blogging. It’s okay. Really. Just post your usual thing. You’ve wasted my eye real estate by apologizing. I’m looking for content, remember?

I hope these help. No one's perfect (especially not my nemesis). Try your best, but try also to remember that people are reading, quickly, and regularly.

What are you blog pet peeves?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

  • The shimmery Julie Dao has a very timely and important warning about putting your work on your blog. This is something she and I spoke about before. Read her post, peeps. It's important to think about this stuff. It's why I no longer participate in blogfests or contests with my WIP.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

How to Escalate the Suck Factor, Star Wars Style

When I was a little girl, I was obsessed with Star Wars. I was the only girl in my grade that had a metal Star Wars lunchbox, and I had Star Wars sheets, and even Luke and Leia dolls. It was pretty great. I’m not like a Star Wars fanatic or anything. It’s a great movie (and when I say “it,” I mean the original, but also the original three movies collectively). Apparently, I was three or so when the first film came out and my crazy parents took me to the theater. I was diverted by the striking resemblance between Chewbacca and my cat, Elco, and I shouted "Elco! Meow! Meow!" every time he came on screen. My parents had to take turns taking me out of the theater.

Anyway, Spike TV ran a Star Wars marathon all Memorial Day weekend and Mr. Sierra and I couldn’t help but watch even though we had to sit through interminably long commercials. I’m glad I did. It's been a while since I saw Star Wars, and of course now I looked at it differently -- I looked for what it can teach me about story. And guess what! Star Wars can teach us a lot about plot tension. Take a looky-loo:

In the original Star Wars film (episode IV if you keep track of those things), Luke and Han Solo enter the Death Star. There they discover that Princess Leia is being held prisoner (bad) and is scheduled for termination (worse). They go to the prisoner level to rescue her. They’re wearing stolen Storm Trooper suits, and they handcuff a reluctant and surly Chewbacca/Elco to pretend they’re transporting him as a prisioner.

The first bit of tension comes when they arrive in the prison level and arouse suspicion. So they shoot all the guards on that level. Luke runs off to find Leia’s cell, and Han tries to tell the inquiring guard over the com that they had a “weapon malfunction,” but everything’s fine. The guard on the com is all "Whatevs" and he says he's sending troops in. Tension!

Luke rescues Leia, but then they have to get away from the troops that came down to investigate and find the guards all shot up. Unfortunately, there’s no way off the floor; they’re trapped. So they go into the garbage chute. And here’s where it gets really good. Now they’re in the garbage chute, and the guards are after them, and there’s no way out. THEN a nasty scary slithery monster slides around their feet! Pretty bad, huh? I’d be shaking. Slithery monsters are BAD. But it gets WORSE. The walls start collapsing! Really fast! Things just keep getting suckier and suckier!

(And by the way, HOW AWESOME are these Star Wars trash compactor book ends? I KNOW, right?)

This is a high tension moment. As we know, C3PO has R2D2 shut off the garbage and they’re fine. But then there’s the matter of getting away, and the movie is great at escalating that tension, too. Luke and Leia run down a hall, chased by storm troopers! But the bridge is shot out! So Luke throws a really thin and breakable-looking rope thingy from his handy Storm Trooper belt (I'd have kept it, too) and they swing to safety. Your breath is held while they swing.

See how the action keeps making things suckier and suckier for them? The whole movie is like this. The next time you watch an action movie, watch for the way the story goes from bad to much worse. That's great storytelling. You need to push yourself to get that. For example, I had a sucky thing happen in the climactic event in my WIP. But after I saw Star Wars that weekend, I knew I had to add more sucky things in there to draw out the tension, and I'm glad I did.

(Also check out this Lego Death Star. They never had that when I was a kid!)

What movies do you like that make things suckier and suckier for the characters?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Word Up Wednesday: Inflammable

Sometimes I worry I won't be able to think of a word for a Wednesday Word Up post and then I'm always distracted by a cool word and there you have it. This week it's one I've loved for a long time: inflammable. I love it because it means both the propensity for bursting in flames, and also not bursting into flames.

I know, right? How cool is that?

The Word Detective (a wee gem of a site) says:
The Latin prefix "in," while it sometimes means just "in" (as in "inflammable"), more often turns up in English words meaning "not" (as in "invisible" -- "not visible"). After World War Two, safety officials on both sides of the Atlantic decided that folks were too likely to see "inflammable" and decide that the word meant "fireproof," so various agencies set about encouraging the revival of "flammable" as a substitute. The campaign seems to have worked, and "inflammable" has all but disappeared.
Oh no, it has NOT. And people still aren't sure which meaning you intend. If you walk down the street and see a guy lighting a tank on fire that says clearly on the side, "inflammable liquid" tell me you're not going to run.

If you want to say that something is not capable of catching on fire, use another word like "non-flammable" or "flame-resistant" or "fire-safe." This has obvious safety reasons. You wouldn't want to be a kid's jammy manufacturer and put "inflammable material" on the tag and not have parents know what that means. Likewise, if you want to say it will burn, use "flammable" or "burn, baby, burn."

So when DO you use inflammable? When you want to confuse people, obvs. Otherwise, you are allowed to use it for both meanings.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Interview with Allison Winn Scotch!

Holy Krakow! Today is the day! I got to ask NYT bestselling author Allison Winn Scotch questions in support of her new book, The One that I Want, which is released today!

Allison is the author of two previous novels, The Department of Lost and Found, and Time of my Life. She's very active on her blog and Twitter, and has a lot of advice for writers. For this interview, Allison and I went out together and got mani-pedis, and then sat in leather club chairs and sipped mimosas and ate cupcakes.*

*Not really. But while we're dreaming, the cupcakes were Bourbon-Madagascar vanilla with thick buttercream frosting.

Sierra: The One That I Want is about looking forward in time as opposed to backward (as with Time of My Life). I love this idea of going forward because I am curious about women in the later parts of their lives looking back over their accomplishments. What were your goals for writing this?

Allison: Well, kind of akin to TOML, I wanted to explore a woman who wasn't living her fullest life. But in this case, we find Tilly, my heroine, who thinks life is actually pretty complete, and the only way to shake that up is to show her how much more it could be...and how much she has to lose by not stepping up to the plate. So really, she's just a bigger metaphor for taking
the reins of your life and driving it someplace.

Sierra: What are some of your favorite books and authors in the women's fiction genre?

Allison: Oh wow, this list could be endless, especially because I have so many dear friends who write in this genre. So I feel like this is an impossible question! :) But a few that come to mind are anything by Laura Dave, Leah Stewart, Julie Buxbaum, Elin Hilderbrand, Amanda Eyre Ward and Joshilyn Jackson. I'll pick up anything they write. And Good Grief by Lolly Winston
really helped shape who I became as a writer.

Sierra: Where would you like to see books in the women's fiction genre go? More sex and the city style, or more issue-centric?

Allison: Great question.* As I've gotten older, I've found that I gravitate toward heavier subjects, so I'm less inclined to pick up a fun romp that doesn't have a lot of weight behind it. Which takes nothing away from those books, only that these days, they're not what I tend to grab. I lean toward books that linger with me, have me ask questions of my own life, and really
resonate for a few days after. So, I guess I'd like to see more of that, if only because it means I'll have more to read!

*Note that she said "great question." BFFs!

Sierra: Do you have a critique group? If not, how do you step outside yourself and solve logic/plot problems you can't see?

Allison: I don't have a critique group but I do have an editor and agent who serve the same purpose. I'm the type of writer who knows how to take a book to a certain level and then recognizes that she needs a second set of eyes to illuminate what to do next. To take the book from good to (hopefully) great. So I very vocally seek out these critiques and support, and then use the advice to go back and revamp.

Sierra: You've said you have written novels in 2 or 3 months. Is that still your time span? Including revision?

Allison: The One That I Want took about six months for a draft, then three months for
a revision, and that was much longer than my previous two. But I think those two were sort of lightening in a bottle, and now, yes, six months is probably my standard, with a few months for revising. Then I vegetate for a few months before starting the cycle all over again. :)

Sierra: How do you know if you've written winning first pages? Experience? Agent/editor feedback? Do you have a few trusted beta readers?

Allison: This is something that's come to be only via experience. When I wrote my first manuscript, I thought it was BRILLIANT. Just brilliant. It was only when I wrote a much better one that I realized how god-awful it was. (Needless to say, it was never published.) Now, four books in, I have a very good idea of when something is working - and just as importantly, when it's not - but it's almost a sensory perception thing. Ephemeral. I just know. I wish I could explain it more than that, but I think as with many jobs, you just learn via doing it.

Sierra: You've said many times that your biggest piece of advice to other writers is to be open to criticism. But how does one break out of that bubble of ego and find humility about what they've written? How did you do it?

Allison: Honestly, I don't think writers - if they want to be successful - have any other choice. You have to decide: do you want to recognize that you're flawed or do you want to continue to go unpublished? In most cases, those are your options. And if you can't take criticism, in all honesty, this isn't the career for you. The rejection is both harsh and bountiful, and you either learn to use it to improve your craft or you going to be mired at the bottom. As far as my own ego, I think I was sort of born with an oversized dose of confidence, which actually helps me take my ego out of the equation. I trust myself and also am confident enough in myself to know that criticism is usually meant to help, not something to take personally, and I very rarely see it as anything other than a tool to make me a better writer. I don't know, it's just never bothered me, as long as it's not personal.

Sierra: You've written about conquering the expanse of time twice now. If you could have a secret power, what would it be? Mine would totally be teleporting. Or invisibility at will.

Allison: Mine would also be teleporting.*Or similarly, the ability to fly. I love to travel but hate airplanes, so to have the capability to just, say, go to Paris for the afternoon, would be heaven.

*This proves we are BFFs.

Sierra: What is a guilty procrastination pleasure that you have while trying to write? Twitter, Google maps, Glee, M&Ms?

Allison: Pop culture websites, blogs and forums. I could lose days upon days at places like Television Without Pity,, and the like. What can I say? As much as I love books, I also love TV and gossip. :)

Sierra: Do you have any idea how much your tweets and blog posts help sell your books? I, for example, found your web site before I'd ever read your books. Because of your online presence, I bought your books.

Allison: Hee! I have a very vague idea that it helps, but no concrete proof other than anecdotes like yours. (Thank you, btw!) I think that readers like to know who an author is and hear her gives them an assurance that a) there's a human behind the book jacket and b) if they like the author, they might like her books. So that's certainly part of why I tweet, etc. But
mostly, it's also a lot of fun, and I enjoy the hell out of it.

Thank you, Allison! I really enjoyed you answers and I can't wait til my copy of The One That I Want arrives in the mail.

Want more Allison? (Why wouldn't you?) Check these:

Allison's web site

The One That I Want at: