Friday, September 30, 2011

Google Reader Roundup

Thank you for all your birthday wishes this week--definitely made me all giddy inside. I like to think you were encouraged by the complete and total hotness that is Joseph Fiennes, but if it was just me--then I'm flattered. Thank you. (But you can love Joseph too. I do.)
  • My business and critique partner Mike Chen has a great post on jacket copy like queries, with a great example of one that totally made me want to read it.
  • Kathleen Pickering at The Kill Zone talks about hooks.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What We Do for Work

Back when I had my whippersnapper five years ago, I knew I was going to have to go back to work when he was three months old. This crushed my spirit in many ways, and I really enjoyed every second of my maternity leave. I remember really envying --like I was green--the moms I met who got to stay home with their babies. Especially those for whom it was a choice. Such is the life in a two parent working family.

But now, things have changed. I work from home as a freelance writer and designer. It's everything I ever wanted and I just love it. And it lets me stay home with Rainbow Puppy, which is huge. Even better, it really defines who I am much better.

One of the things I learned along the way in writing fiction is that your character's profession says a lot about them. If your character is a mortician, that might say something about him or her -- or might, in a nice twist, not. I find I love knowing what people do. The funny thing is I no longer envy the "Oh I don't work" line from other moms because I get to stay home too (even though I work). I kind of get the best of both worlds. Some people may think asking what they do for work is a superficial thing, a question with the underlying intention of determining how much money someone has. But we know there's much more to that.

Knowing that a profession matters for your character, I find that if my character doesn't have a job, that's a problem. I'm not talking about unemployed because times are hard or because he or she is independently wealthy-- I mean no job. It's almost like not having a face.

What kind of importance do you attach to your character's jobs? And what do you do for work? I really want to know.

Monday, September 26, 2011


I've got these really obnoxious sunglasses. They're not my fault, though.

What happened is that my cousin is an optometrist, and he carries all kinds of designer frames. And because there was a family discount involved, I felt obligated to act as though I were a rich person and purchase exceedingly bourgeois sunglasses. I went straight for some really gross Dior frames with a big huge "D" on the sides. But before you puke, let me explain. The "D" had buckles on them. See? (The pair below is not quite my pair but it shows the D with the buckle, which mine has.)

You can't fault me for buckles.

Although these frames are huge and so heavy that they actually make my ears hurt after a while of wearing them, they're wonderfully dark, which provides relief for my light-sensitive eyes and cover for staring at you-- you can't see my eyes behind them. They are prescription, and they do have extra dark anti-glare stuff. Anyway, they're disgusting.

So when I saw my friend Meghan Ward's super cute very nice sunglasses made by ProDesign, I knew I'd found the ones--ones that could finally replace the hideous Dior ones. And it turns out my cousin carries those frames. I sent Meghan, who is fashionable (she does, after all, have a memoir about the fashion industry), the following email:

Hey, my cousin who is an optometrist carries ProDesign....he wants to know your specific model.  I promise I am not trying to be like you -- I just really really loved those sunglasses.
And Meghan replied that the next time she got out of bed she'd check and let me know. Out of bed!
Meghan has two small children! She never even goes to bed!

Okay, okay. I realize I was being stalkery and weird. But the sunglasses are really nice.

This reminded me of when you read a really good book and you start thinking in the voice of the writer and of course you start writing like him or her too, until you realize that you cannot do this, that you have to write with your voice, even if your voice sounds like a howler monkey in comparison. There are so many authors who write so distinctively that I know I've done this with.

But at the same time, I've also taken bits and pieces of the best of them and melded them into my overall voice over time. Do you do this? What happens when you come across a really fantastic bit of writing with a wonderful voice--do you start trying to emulate?

Mind you, this is nothing like sunglasses.

And Meghan did finally reveal the model number. I have an appointment to try them on very soon.
This past weekend when I saw her, I admired her glasses yet again and promised to make good on my threat to get that pair. She tried to pass her pair off as beat up and crooked as though to show they don't hold up very well, but we know. They're great and I'm totally getting them.

P.S. Make sure to have a look at yesterday's post.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Happy Birthday! me!

Thank you, Joseph Fiennes. What a nice surprise!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Google Reader Roundup

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Kicking People in the Head


So I've been carefully rewriting my first chapter of my WIP for a very very long time now, and finally, finally, I made myself let it go and I sent it to a trusted beta reader. She sent it back with many comments, and some of them included this: why aren't you letting your character explode?

My character, you see, was repressing everything and not expressing her displeasure with the disruption to her world in the first chapter.

When I got the comments, I thought, well, I can't have her beat the guy with a frying pan, can I? She'd be arrested! He'd have her arrested for aggravated assault! She can't do that--she'd have an anger management problem! People who hit or kick or punch others in the neck have anger problems and can't be trusted to handle stressful situations like rational adults, with a calm approach to problem solving.

Whatever. This is fiction. So I made myself write that she kicks him.

It felt great!!

I had forgotten this lesson that letting go is important, that letting the words flow is good. That having fun is the best part of writing!

I guess the problem came about because I secretly want to kick a lot of people in the head, but that indicates an anger management issue, and I'd be arrested for aggravated assault.

What kinds of lessons have you forgotten and rediscovered along the way? I want to hear them!

Monday, September 19, 2011


I am fond of saying "don't question me," but actually like every other self-absorbed person, I like to be asked questions, except when the questioner is dressed in Kevlar and I’m in a small room without windows and the questions come fast and hard and concern where I was and what I was doing on a certain date and time.

So I asked Twitter to please question me, and here's what happened:

@JenntheAmazing asked: Favorite animal to use for an assault on Normandy?
Me: Perhaps a bunch of black widow spiders? Oh no wait-- Gila monsters! They have deadly secretions on their skin full of bacteria. Yes. Perfect for Normandy invasions.

@AmaliaTD asked: who is your favorite muppet?
Me: I have always enjoyed Beaker, but I admire the passion of Animal.

@AmaliaTD asked: which is your favorite Muppet movie?
Me: I have to go old-school The Muppet Movie from 1979. I love the older style muppets with Jim Henson's actual voice.

This led to finding this most fabulous rendition of the Muppet Show theme song by You Tube darlings OK Go.

@BaronBlitz (a long time family friend) asked: Would you rather be known as Supreme Overlord Sierra or Sierra Mistress of the Lark.
Me: Supreme Overlord Sierra, of course.

@Dawn_Alexander asked, What is the one thing you have always wanted to do, but never have?
Me: When I was 22 I went off to Europe except I didn't stay long, despite my mom saying she would give me money to stay. I wish I had done that, I had nothing else going on. I was just out of college. The world was my oyster.

@BaronBlitz asked: If you had a death ray that could strike anyone in the World, do you think you'd actually use it?
Me: Yes.

@TaherehMafi asked: WHERE ART THOU ROMEO?
Me: In the pages in my fiction :)

So, winning question --
Readers (and God you're nice for reading this silly blog!), what's the one thing you would have done? Also, do you have any questions for me? Ask! I'll answer anything!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Google Reader Roundup

There were so many good blog posts out there this week and I'm bummed I didn't get a chance to read them all--I barely had time to read these, but here were the ones that were particularly good reading for me this week in my Reader.

  • Kristen Lamb talks about people bots and the dangers of becoming one in social media. By the way, Kristen says exactly what I say: social media is actually for engaging with others...not just throwing yourself out there and doing the least amount of work possible.
  • WOAH! What happened here? Agent Joanna Stampfel-Volpe writes about how two authors wrote an article detailing how they were offered representation if they removed a gay character from their novel-- except that it isn't true.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Twitter and blogs and selling books

I get People magazine. There, I've admitted it. It's my guilty pleasure. (And, as it happens, my mother's too--in fact, I got my subscription for her birthday, except she doesn't want it coming to her house out of some snooty form of embarrassment, so she gets the issues after I'm done reading them. In this way, her birthday present has managed to benefit me hugely.)

And apart from Star Tracks (you know you like them too), I like People's book section. Why wouldn't I? A week or two ago, I saw a review for The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and it said so very little about the book except that it was "magical" that I had zero clue what it was about and therefore zero compulsion to read it. How sad. Now maybe the reviewer was stunned by the brilliance of the book (I am not being sarcastic; many reviews are coming in with a similar sentiment), or else the reviewer didn't have time to read it and gave a half-assed review.

Here's part of what the People review says:
"...the author entices her audience to suspend disbelief and rewards its members with captivating pleasure."


" this dark and extravagantly imagined debut, the effect echoes that of a magic trick: The confusion is part of the seduction."

What? It goes on like this--pretty words that told me nothing. The only actual hint as to what the book's about is this: "The plot follows the separate and then intertwining lives of Celia and Marco, both forced to spend their lives pitting their unusual talents against each other in a cruel competition."

That's it! That's a logline and not a very good one! And I was like, well, you haven't told me anything, and I don't know who or what Celia and Marco are nor why I should care about them, so pass.

It was a sucky review and I was not swayed. Until last night on Twitter.

Jan O'Hara, who writes at Writer Unboxed, re-tweeted this by author Brunonia Barry (whom I didn't know of until last night either, and whose book The Map of True Places also looks pretty good!):

"Erin Morgenstern's book,"The Night Circus," goes on sale today. I LOVE THIS BOOK! If you read only one book for the rest of the year, it should be this one!"

To which I responded (to Jan):
"I saw this write up in People last week and couldn't understand at all what it was about. Only that it was "magical."

Jan replied to me: "I didn't see the People write-up. Have you had a chance to read The Night Circus yet? Special book!"

I said: "No, I haven't--it looked interesting but then People didn't say what it was about, just that it was magical. What is it like?"

Jan: "Amazing craft. It's cross genre - historical romantic fantasy. Did you see my interview with @erinmorgenstern on WU?

Here's the link to Part I, if you're interested. Contains an exerpt and links, etc. @erinmorgenstern"

Now at this point, I went to go read the article. And I was instantly hooked on The Night Circus. The Writer Unboxed has this review from Brunonia Barry herself: "Dark as soot and bright as sparks,’ The Night Circus still holds me willingly captive in a world of almost unbearable beauty. This is a love story on a grand scale: it creates, it destroys, it ultimately transcends. Take a bow, Erin Morgenstern. This is one of the best books I have ever read.”

But what's it about? The Writer Unboxed article states this up front and also gives a quick excerpt. It was a sure way to tell me what the book was about and hook me. And I am hooked! The Night Circus is released today, and I'll be reading it.

Here's what Writer Unboxed says (but you should just go read the article for yourself because it's also an interview with Erin Morgenstern):

At its heart, The Night Circus is a genre-bending tale of duelling magicians. “…Celia and Marco… have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead…”

So-- lesson here? Post. Read. Tweet. It sells books, and I am the living proof of that. Popular magazines (i.e. traditional marketing media)? Hmm. Not so much.

Me: @jan_ohara Thanks Jan. This is SO MUCH better than people. I'm hooked. Thanks!

The Night Circus book trailer
Erin Morgenstern's web site
The Night Circus at Indiebound
The Night Circus at Amazon
The Night Circus on iBookstore

Monday, September 12, 2011

Happy Endings

One of the tenets I hold for myself in my writing is that I always want a happy ending in my stories. So when I recently finished reading One Day by David Nicholls, the film version of which is out in theatres now starring Anne Hathaway, I took it hard. I won't spoil it here except to say the ending is not happy, but it is handled very well, with additional material that sort of makes the whole theme of the book come together. The film has remained true to the book--a decision many fans of the book disliked.

This EW article about One Day--which reveals the ending by the way--has oodles of comments from readers who were super pissed off at the ending in the book for not being happy, going so far as to call the author "lazy" and the plot "contrived." Many commenters said they threw the book across the room when they got to the shocking bit. I actually think the readers were just angry, hence calling the author lazy and making comments on the plot, neither of which were true.

Unhappy endings are hard to take. As a reader, you question the author, you question the story, you question everything. Maybe that's what you want readers to do. Maybe you want readers to think and react more than just a momentary "ah that was nice" and then close the cover, which is what might happen with the standard happy ending. Many One Day readers noted in the comments section of that EW article that they threw the book across the room when they go to the shocking bit. Others said the book was a giant waste of time because of the ending. A waste of time! Mein Gott! What is the point of reading at all if not to meet new characters in new places, experiencing new things? Who cares where they end up when the cover closes?

Turns out, readers care. The vitriol of the commenters about One Day both in that EW article and on Goodreads is pretty severe. What do you think? Is the happy ending better to do, even if it's safe?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Google Reader Roundup

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Social Media PSA

Yesterday on the Huffington Post, Laura E. Kelly, a person described as a "social media author consultant and editor" suggested that Amazon's Kindle's new social media feature was going to make the lives of authors much harder. The new feature allows readers to ask questions of authors right from the book, and the question would go to the author's twitter or Amazon page.

Presumably, suggested Kelly, authors would be completely drowned and distracted by this new and, she seemed to fear, completely unnecessary method of reader-author connection.

This article really baffled me, especially since Kelly is credited as a social media author and consultant. If what I'm reading is the case and the article wasn't satire (if it was, then I guess the joke fell flat), it seems that Kelly thinks the new feature is going to really overwhelm authors, even those who are already "dutifully tending their blogs, their Facebook page(s), LinkedIn profiles and Twitter feeds."

Let me say this nice and loud:

Social media is for engaging with others!

So guess what? This new feature enables that! Kelly takes the point of view that this is going to be a real nuisance. She says the "social pressure will mount." Then the "time pressure will escalate." Then finally, your head will combust with the "inevitable irritation with your readers."

Hang on. Looks like we need a quick reminder-poo.

Social media is for engaging with others!

Kelly then notes, "The majority of authors probably won't have to deal with any of this. How many people are reading their books anyway (and then feeling moved to reach out to the author)? The writers who need to worry most, of course, are the successful ones. Authors with a following. Authors whose readers crave two-way interaction with their literary heroes. Authors who have annual deadlines for delivering books and no spare time."

Listen, if you're a super successful author with a following and deadlines and lots of other magical sparkly things, then you probably have someone working for you to handle your social media connections.

And if you don't, then maybe--just maybe--you're one of those authors who actually gets the point of social media and uses it accordingly--to connect and engage with other people. Talk with them. Share ideas. Actually reply to their tweets. Answer their emails. Engage with them.

And when things get crunchy time-wise, you scale back, just like you have to do with everything else in life.


Monday, September 5, 2011

That Place You Go

About 15 years ago, I lived in a place that had really gorgeous walking trails. The development was built up against Federally protected wildlife areas and gorgeous hills and open space for miles around surrounded a residential community. It was essentially a massive cul-de-sac, with no through passage.

I absolutely loved my walks there. I did about a 3.5 mile loop with some nice hills built in. This is it, pictured at right. Always I felt restored by the hills and blue, blue sky. Always I got a high from the endorphins of a good hard walk. I planned my future on these walks, I worked through issues, I thought about life, love, and who I was. These walks were my religion, and maybe it was no coincidence that I also did a lot of thinking about God and what God is and means to me on those walks.

I moved away from that area for good six years ago, but I'm only about a 15 minute freeway ride away. I go back. I haven't been back in the six years I've lived away until recently. After I had Rainbow Puppy, I started going back to walk off the maternity poundage.

It's still the most gorgeous walk I've ever had. I know this is weird since it's through what is essentially a tract housing estate, but the houses are really nice and most of the loop is actual trail. Anyway, on a recent walk I was surprised that I keep coming back to that walk and that area all these years later. It really does something for me (besides providing quiet time in which to plan my world domination). Nowadays, large swaths of the walk are devoted to thinking up stories and working out the kinks in my plots.

I'm really lucky to have this place and I'm guessing no matter where I live, I'll keep coming back to it.

What about you? Do you have a great thinking spot where you can just be, and work stuff out, and most important, let your mind relax so it can tell awesome stories? Leave a comment and tell me!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Google Reader Roundup

  • Roni Loren...ha ha!...not Roni, it's the video...well, listen, Roni has a good post on blogging being her morning pages, but it's the extra bonus horrid Dirty Dancing disgusting grody deleted love scene that still has me cringing. Go. Read. Watch.
  • Bookends gets and answers a great question about the limitations of common knowledge--you know, when you make a reference to something you think (hope) should be common knowledge, like Blue Steel :).