Star Wars Marathon 2014

Labor Day weekend is one of those long, lazy weekends when a lot of TV channels run viewing marathons (of TV/movie series, like Star Trek and Twilight Zone). In the spirit of this tradition, I decided to post about my recent Star Wars movie-viewing marathon, which took place 2 weeks ago. At the time, my 13-year-old son and I had the house to ourselves (my husband and daughter were on a college visit to DC), and he suggested a movie marathon. There were a lot of great choices (Marvel superheros, Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones), but, in the end, we went with Star Wars, partly because we’d never viewed ALL the movies in chronological order.

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Here are my thoughts after watching all 6 movies, back-to-back (over two days). Keep in mind that these are issues/thoughts that came up during our viewing. I wrote them down right away, without bothering to look up anything for verification, because I wanted to document my immediate reactions.

And, obviously, SPOILER ALERT (in case you haven’t seen all the movies).

  1. R2D2 is Awesome – I always thought of R2 as a fun sidekick and a form of comic relief (along with C-3P0), but there are numerous occasions, in BOTH trilogies, where he saves the day. He saves various spaceships mid-flight, often while under attack (when he’s riding along with Luke, Obi Wan, AND Anakin). He is constantly plugging into other computer systems to open/close blast doors, stop garbage chutes, and find out about captured prisoners. And it’s because of his “mission” that Luke connects with Obi Wan and sets events into motion for Episode IV and the movies that follow.r2d2 giphy
  2. C-3P0 is Annoying – At first, he’s kind of funny, because he’s so neurotic, and he’s often the voice of reason. But by the sixth movie, I just wanted him to shut up, especially because he’s always ragging on R2D2.
  3. Han Solo is (Also) Awesome – After watching the prequel trilogy*, where most of the characters act formal, and often refer to each other as “my young apprentice” (in that slightly condescending way), and most of the humor is so forced (Jar Jar, anyone?), Han Solo is a breath of fresh air. He’s not a hero at the outset. He’s cocky, self-centered, and in it for the money. He’s a great counterpart to Luke and Obi Wan, because he doesn’t take the Force seriously. That’s why his swooping in at the end of Episode IV to help Luke is such a huge victory. He becomes a hero by how he chooses to act, not because he’s the “chosen one.”han solo giphy
  4. The Emperor is a Cool Villain – When you watch all six movies in a row, you realize that the Emperor has an awesome character arc as the villain of the entire series. He starts off as a senator, becomes the chancellor, then the Supreme Chancellor with Emergency Powers, then Emperor, and by Episode VI, he has almost gone insane, but still wields so much power. The fact that Luke and Vader/Anakin team up to defeat him is a bigger victory than anything else in the movie (including blowing up both Death Stars)emperor giphy
  5. Special Effects: Old vs New – For obvious reasons, the special effects are way, way better in the prequel trilogy—cool creatures, great spaceship battles, awesome interior shots and visuals (especially planets like Mustafar and Corsuscant). I’m pretty sure CGI didn’t exist when Lucas made the o.g. trilogy, so I think most of the spaceships were models and the monsters/aliens were people in suits. (I could be wrong about this). However, most of the time, the primitive special effects weren’t noticeably bad (not to me, that is). The BIG exception is the computer screens or viewing devices. The graphics are primitive—not much better than Pong or early Atari. My son snickered at the “targeting computer” used by Luke when he’s trying to blow up the Death Star in Episode IV.Targeting-computer
  6. Strong Characters Matter – There are a lot of reasons why I like the original trilogy better, but the number one reason is the characters. I love the Luke-Han-Leia friendship/love/rivalry that starts in Episode IV and grows through V and VI. These people start out as strangers, but in the end, they grow super close and make sacrifices for each other. My son said it reminded him of the Harry-Ron-Hermione friendship in the Harry Potter series. The prequel trilogy has nothing like this. The closest it comes is in Episode II, when Padme, Anakin, and Obi Wan are fighting huge monsters on Geonossis.han luke leia giphy
  7. Storytelling Matters – Another reason I like the original trilogy better is that it’s easier to understand. When I first saw Star Wars IV as an 11-year-old (during its original run in the theaters), I understood the basic premise right away. Empire=bad guys, Rebels=good guys. I didn’t need to know the politics of the Empire or how it grew to be so powerful. The prequel trilogy tries to explain the Trade Federation and the blockade, and has a bunch of stuff about the Galactic Senate and so on. Whatever. In the o.g. trilogy, the Empire was evil. Boom. We got it.imperial cruiser giphy

So, these are my own (completely biased) opinions. What about you? Any thoughts on the movies? On the original trilogy versus the prequels?

*In this post, the prequel trilogy refers to Episodes I-III. The o.g. trilogy refers to Episodes IV-VI.

Posted in Just for fun, Movies | 4 Comments

Read-A-Romance Month: August 2014

It’s Read-a-Romance Month, which means writers are joining together to share the theme “Celebrate Romance” on their blogs. My local chapter of the Romance Writers of America (RWA), the Wisconsin RWA, is participating with a series of blog posts. Writers who contribute are asked to write a short essay on romance, answer three questions, and recommend other romance authors.

VHoltI’ve always enjoyed love stories, but I didn’t discover romance novels until high school. My first exposure was in 9th Grade, when a friend turned me onto the Gothic novels of Victoria Holt. Most of them were the same: brooding alpha-hero, virginal heroine (usually a governess-type), huge estate/castle, and an element of danger. I couldn’t get enough of these, and after I’d finished all of them, I read everything the author wrote under her historical pen-name, Phillippa Carr.

By 10th Grade, I craved something a little steamier. That’s when my best friend and I discoveredroserogers historical romances. She’d found a novel on her mom’s nightstand entitled The Power and the Passion, and we took turns reading the racy scenes out loud. That summer, I found a used bookstore that sold historical romances for a quarter, and I started buying them by the bagful. This was the 1980s, so we’re talking bodice-rippers like Kathleen Woodiwiss and Rosemary Rogers, with descriptions like, “from the steamy bordellos of New Orleans to the glittering splendor of St. Petersburg” (or something like that).

Even though I enjoyed romance novels for years, I never identified myself as a “romance writer” until recently. My novels were heavy on kissing and always ended with a HEA, but I placed myself squarely in the fantasy genre. Not until I joined RWA (and met loads of great writers through WisRWA) did I realize that it was possible to call myself  a romance writer, whether I wrote science fiction, fantasy, or young adult novels.

Questions:

  1. Describe the most daring, adventurous, or inspiring thing you ever did.

Elephant ExpeditionThe most daring thing I ever did was move my family to India for five months. In 2009, my husband, who teaches high school Calculus, applied to be a Fulbright Exchange teacher overseas. When we found out his exchange would be in Chennai, India, we were shocked, because we’d expected to be posted to England. We decided to accept the posting, and moved to India for five months, along with our two children, ages 12 and 8. Going from our small town of ten thousand to a bustling city of 6 million people was a huge adjustment. Our experience was at times exhausting and overwhelming, but also amazing and life-changing. In the end, it brought us closer as a family, and we’d love to go back.

  1. Tell us about your journey to becoming a writer.

It’s hard for me to remember when I didn’t want to be a writer. I wrote and illustrated a lot of short stories in elementary school. By the time I was fourteen, I’d written my first novel (a lenghty epic best described as Biblical fan fiction!). I wrote as a hobby, on and off, for years, but I didn’t consider pursuing the craft seriously until 2008, when both my children were in school full-time. Since then, I’ve been writing non-stop. For the most part, I write YA, because I love reading that genre, and because I’m still a kid at heart.

  1. Tell us About a Book That Changed Your Life.

illusionI’ve read so many wonderful books that it’s hard to pick, but one of the most influential books I’ve ever read was Illusion by Paula Volsky. Up until then, every fantasy novel I’d read was set in a world that resembled Medieval Europe. However, the premise for Illusion was “the French Revolution, with magic.” For the first time ever, I realized that world-building could encompass different cultures and historical periods. As a result, I completely rewrote the fantasy novel I was working on, changing the setting from a generic medieval kingdom to a land similar to 16th Ottoman Turkey. My next novel took place in a country similar to 16th century Persia.

Recommendations:
Most of my recent recs are in the Young Adult and New Adult categories, because these are the categories I read the most. I’ve provided links to Goodreads, so you can read the plot summaries there.

Jennifer E. Smith (YA) – The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, This is What Happy Looks Like
Miranda Kenneally (YA) – Stealing Parker, Things I Can’t Forget
Dahlia Adler (YA) – Behind the Scenes
Chanel Cleeton (New Adult) – I See London, London Falling
Noelle August (New Adult) – Boomerang

 

Posted in Reading, Writing | 1 Comment

The Writing Process Blog Hop

Thanks to writer G. R. LeBlanc for tagging me as a participant in the 2014 Writing Process Blog Hop. We met last fall through a New Adult writing class offered by the Young Adult chapter of RWA and stayed in touch. She was kind enough to beta-read an early draft of my current project and gave me great feedback. In May 2014, we joined together, along with a few other writers, to form the Winsome and Wild Blog. You can check out G.R.’s Writing Process post at her blog Ebb and Flow.

Here we go with the questions!

What am I currently working on?

I am currently working on the second round of revisions for my YA contemporary novel, FIELD RULES, with a deadline of early August. I’m hoping to start a new project in September, probably another YA contemporary. Right now, I have a few ideas floating around, but nothing definite.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

So far, I’ve tried to set my work apart from others through unique settings. I’ve done a lot of traveling, and I love incorporating my own experiences into my writing. My first novel (trunked) was a YA fantasy, set in a Middle-Eastern type world resembling 16th century Persia. My current project, FIELD RULES, is set on an archaeological dig in Cyprus, based on my background as an archaeologist. Unlike other archaeology-set MG and YA novels, FIELD RULES isn’t an adventure story (no mummies, lost treasure, aliens, or evil Nazis): instead, it’s a realistic account of life on a dig, with a heaping dash of romance thrown in.

Why do I write what I write?

For the most part, I write YA fiction. I’ve tried writing adult fantasy and New Adult romance, but I’ve been told that my voice sounds like a teenager’s. I definitely read more YA than any other age category, and I’m particularly drawn to epic fantasy and contemporary romance. I’m not sure why I love YA books so much—maybe it’s because I’m still a kid at heart, or because I haven’t forgotten how I felt, at age 17, when the world was wide open and anything seemed possible.

How does my individual writing process work?

Before I start writing, I do a lot of thinking—usually while out walking—and I brainstorm ideas with my critique partner. Then I write a “treatment” with character sketches, a rough plot outline, and a setting. This treatment inevitably changes over the course of revisions, but it serves as my initial framework. I try to write the first draft in chronological order, but if I get bogged down, I skip to scenes that I’m excited about (usually they involve kissing!).

After I finish my first draft, I let the manuscript sit for a couple of weeks, then work on revisions. Once I feel like my work is ready to be seen by others, I send it out to beta readers. Although I’m a quick first draft-writer (it takes me about 6 – 10 weeks to write 70K word manuscript), I spend much, much longer on the revision stage.

Next on the blog hop is Wendy Bennett, a NA writer from the Winsome and Wild Blog. Wendy is currently working on her first novel, a contemporary New Adult romance featuring a hot hockey player hero. Her blog features “Hot Hockey God Friday,” which is definitely worth a look!

You can learn more about Wendy at her website: http://www.wendymbennett.com/

Her writing process blog hop post will be up next Monday, on July 21.

 

 

Posted in Writing | 4 Comments

From the Field to the Page

Working on an excavation on San Clemente Island, CA

Working on an excavation on San Clemente Island, CA

If you’ve read the “About Me” in this blog, you’ll know that I have a background in archaeology. I worked on a lot of digs, got my MA in Archaeology from UCLA, and I put four years into the PhD program. My dissertation topic got the green light from my committee and I started doing field research. But instead of moving forward with my dissertation, I dropped out of grad school. It wasn’t a decision I took lightly, but there were a lot of forces pushing me away from that path. To this day, I don’t regret leaving. The academic world is insanely competitive, especially in a field like archaeology.

My academic background came in handy, career-wise, until I left the paid workforce to be a stay-at-home mom. As our family prepared to move from California to Wisconsin for my husband’s job, I boxed up my archaeology textbooks and my Middle Eastern history tomes and thought, “Too bad all this research won’t ever come in handy again.”

Thankfully, I was wrong.

I’ve been writing for a while now, but last fall was the first time I combined my archaeology background with my passion for writing. It’s not that I hadn’t considered it, but I had so many other stories itching to get out.

And I’d never been able to figure out how to set a story on an archaeological dig and make it semi-realistic, rather than an Indiana Jones-style adventure. Not that I’m knocking Indy, because I love those movies, but seriously, I spent eight seasons in the field, and there were no bad guys, car/horse/Jeep chases, Holy Grails, aliens, human sacrifices, religious artifacts, quicksand, giant spiders or deadly snakes.

Nope, never came face-to-face with a snake!

Nope, never came face-to-face with a snake!

This isn’t to say that archaeology is dull – it’s not – but most of the drama in the field comes from relationships. When you stick a dozen people together in a remote location for six weeks, with minimal amenities, you’re bound to get drama!

Petra, Jordan

Petra, Jordan

Once I decided to set a book on an archaeological dig, I had a blast writing it. The end result was Field Rules, my YA contemporary novel set in Cyprus. Now that I’m in the revision stage of Field Rules, I’m eager to lay the groundwork for my next book. This time, I’m hoping to set the story in Jordan, where I excavated in the 1990s, and make use of some of my experiences, including working with the Bedouin and traveling to places like Petra and the Dead Sea.

One of the things I love about the planning process is that I get to do research. Not only am I going to read up on modern-day Jordan, but I’m also planning to do some academic research. Since two of the archaeologists in the book are rivals, I need to know what they study and why they have conflicting ideas/theories. Most of the academic stuff won’t make it into the book, but I need to know it, to understand my characters better. It’s like doing research for grad school, but without any pressure!

So, even though I’m no longer working in the field, I get vicarious joy from doing research for my characters. It just goes to show that you never know when you’ll get to use the subjects you studied in college!

Posted in Archaeology, Biography, Writing | 5 Comments

Spring Break 2014

Since last week was Spring Break for the kiddos, my family embarked on a six-day trip to Boston and New York. The plan was for my daughter (a junior in high school) to tour six colleges (three in Boston, three in NYC) and for us to visit with relatives and fit in a few tourist activities.

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The college visits were interesting, although we began to notice certain things emphasized on the tours, like the campus blue lights (and the response time for the local police!), the number of clubs offered, and eating options/meal plans (always important!). As someone who went to college in the 1980s, I was amazed at all the opportunities for internships and junior year abroad programs. A few times on the tours I felt a little jealous, because my college years are way behind me.

IMG_2504However, as appealing as the colleges were, the admissions process was intimidating. The process of writing an application essay reminded me of the process involved for querying a manuscript. It isn’t something you dash off quickly if you have an hour to kill. Writing an essay (or a query) takes a lot of thought and can require numerous revisions. And sometimes it’s a matter of being the right person at the right time. At Barnard College, the admissions officer told us that they reject applicants with perfect test scores and 4.0 GPAs, simply because they believe these students aren’t a good fit for the school. The same principle applies when querying. You could be doing everything right, but you might still get rejected, because your manuscript might not be a good fit for a particular agent or publishing house.

In addition to visiting colleges, we took the subway all over Manhattan – we went to the 9/11 Memorial, the Bronx (Fordham College), the Upper East Side (to visit my aunt), the Upper West Side (Columbia) and mid-town. Since I recently signed with Erin Niumata of Folio Literary Agency, my family wanted to know where “my” IMG_2528agency is located in New York. We tracked down the address for Folio and my husband took a picture of us outside the building. (I didn’t try to go inside, because I didn’t want to appear stalker-ish!).

IMG_2532As I’ve mentioned before, my daughter and I love musicals, so we had to fit in a Broadway show. If it were up to me, I would have picked a known commodity, like Newsies or Pippin. But thanks to my daughter’s suggestion, as well as the current offerings at TKTS booth, we went to see Heathers, an off-Broadway show at the New World Stages. It was a fantastic musical, full of energy, great songs, and a full component of teen angst. Plus, it had a totally 80’s vibe, which I loved. Definitely recommended for fans of the original movie!

On our last day, I took my thirteen-year-old son to the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria. Truly an awesome museum, with old movie cameras, hands-on exhibits, costumes from movies like Chicago, set designs from The Silence of the Lambs and The Wiz, free screenings (we got to see The Lego Movie) and a whole row of old-school videogames, like Space Invaders, Super Breakout and Ms. Pac-Man (my personal favorite!).

Now that we’re back home, and the kids are back at school, it’s time to return to my regular writing routine. But I always love a chance to take a break, step outside my comfort zone, and explore places with my family.

Posted in Biography, Musicals | Leave a comment

Taming the Worry Monster

I am a chronic worrier by nature. Always have been, always will be. As a writer, I battle the Worry Monster a lot, especially late at night, when I can’t sleep.

stitch gift

When I started querying for the first time, my head filled with worries:

  • What if I spend hours researching each agent and customizing each query and all I ever get are form rejections?
  •  What if I get requests but then get more form rejections, which means my writing truly sucks?
  • What if an agent is so disgusted by my writing that he/she sends me back a rejection that basically tells me I have no business even dreaming of being a writer and please stop?
  • What if every writer friend I’ve met during The Writers’ Voice and Pitch Wars and all the other contests get agents and publishing deals and I’m left standing on the sidelines, like the last kid picked in gym?

Merida gif

I tormented myself a lot. As it turns out, I did get numerous rejections (both form and personal) and I did have to query three manuscripts before I was offered representation, but, eventually, it happened.

But now I have a new set of worries. I blame social media, because I love Twitter, and whenever I see a post from a writer about a “cautionary tale” or a warning, I have to read it. And then I the worries start:

  • What if my book gets sold but then my editor leaves the publishing house and the new editor hates it and decides to put it on the back burner?
  • What if I get some crazy-huge advance (yeah, right) but I don’t earn out and then no publishing house wants to touch me again, ever?
  • What if I get a bunch of harsh, one-star reviews and a friend responds in my defense, and then I get caught in some awful online comments-war?

Now, you could argue that I’m putting the cart before the horse. Way before. And you’re right. So, in order to tame that Worry Monster, I need to remember how What to Expect when You’re Expecting almost send me over the edge.

What to expectWhen I was pregnant with my first child, 16 years ago, my OB/GYN gave me a copy of the book, What To Expect When You’re Expecting, along with a bunch of pamphlets. Maybe things have changed now, but that was the drill back in the late 1990s.

At first, the book was great—each month I checked to see what the baby was doing, growth-wise, and what I should be “expecting.” (I also went into paroxysms of guilt over my weight gain—which was more than it should be). But then, one day when I was bored, I made the mistake of checking the back of the book, the section entitled “When Things Go Wrong” (or “Pregnancy Complications” or something like that).

Bad idea.

It was terrifying. All of a sudden I was reading about pregnancy disasters that I’d never heard of before. I started stressing about all the things that could go wrong. It gets worse. At my baby shower, someone gave me What To Expect: The First Year and What to Expect: The Toddler Years.

Did I flip through them? Hell, yes.

tantrumAnd then I freaked out again. Because, holy cats, toddlers. Now I was worrying about public tantrums and potty training and night terrors and a bundle of other issues. If the thought of having a baby freaked me out, the thought of a toddler sent me into a five-alarm panic.

Keep in mind that I hadn’t even given birth yet.

But here’s the thing. I have two teen-age kids now, and I’ve done okay as a mom. There have definitely been rough patches: emergency room visits, sleepless nights, friendship issues, arguments, moments of crushing mommy guilt. But the hard stuff hasn’t come all at once, like a blizzard of epic parenting fails. And I haven’t had to deal with it alone. I’ve turned to my husband, or my mom-friends, or other people I trust.

Writing is the same way. In my journey thus far, there have been tough moments and setbacks I didn’t anticipate, along with blissful surprises. I have no doubt there will be more twists and turns in the road ahead, as well as unexpected bumps and detours. But I don’t have to worry about them yet. And when I do hit those bumps, I have writer friends I can talk to and confide in. I have people I can turn to for advice.

dog road trip

So the best thing I can do is shove that Worry Monster back under the bed and try to forge ahead, as best I can.

Posted in Biography, Writing | 3 Comments

My Agent Announcement

The short version:

As of today I am officially represented by Erin Niumata at Folio Literary Management!

anna excited

 

The longer version:

I’ve been waiting to write this blog post for three years. Three years, people! That’s how long I’ve been in the query trenches. Not with this book, but with my three books combined. I started querying in February 2011 with a fantasy romance manuscript, back when I thought 120,000 words was a perfectly acceptable length for a debut novel, and I’ve learned a lot since then.

I’m not going to recount the full story of my querying experiences, but I’ll recap the past six months that led to my signing with Erin.

Back in September (2013), I started Field Rules, a contemporary romance based on my own experiences as an archaeologist. I wrote the first draft in six weeks, which is unusually speedy for me. I think the story came easily because I love writing about archaeology, especially since it brings back a lot of great memories of my days in the field.

Indiana jones temple

After I finished the first draft and my CP reviewed the entire manuscript, I sent it off to beta readers, then made revisions. My goal was to have Field Rules ready in time for Brenda Drake’s Pitch Wars contest in December. I’ve done a fair amount of online contests over the past three years, and Pitch Wars is hands-down my favorite because you get to work with a mentor. I already participated in Pitch Wars in 2013, with my YA fairy tale retelling, Piper Girl, and it was a great experience.

After I sent out my Pitch Wars queries, I was thrilled when three mentors requested more pages. Things were looking good! Then, when the mentors picks were announced,  I found out I wasn’t chosen—not even as an alternate.

sad dog up

The next day, in a wonderful twist of fate, I learned that Karma Brown—one of the super-secret Ninja Elf mentors—had picked me as her mentee! I was thrilled, especially since she told me she’d give my manuscript a thorough critique. Working with her was an incredible experience. She went above and beyond the call of a mentor, even dealing with my stressed-out questions on New Year’s Eve! By the time we were done revising, I felt much more confident about my manuscript.

baloo

 

During Pitch Wars, Field Rules got 3 requests, which was fantastic! After I sent off my requests, I made a list of further agents to query. Before I could dive into the query trenches, Heidi Norrod hosted #Adpit—a Twitter pitch party for Adult and New Adult authors—on February 5.  My pitch (“Indiana Jones meets Bridget Jones”) got a bunch of requests, including one from Erin Niumata at Folio Literary. I was particularly excited about her request, because her agency bio said she’s not accepting unsolicited queries. I had also seen an earlier tweet of hers, stating that she was going to start accepting romance and women’s fiction submissions as of Feb. 14, so I thought, “Yes! I beat the rush!”

On Valentine’s Day, Erin upgraded her partial request to a full, which made the day ten times better (especially since I had nothing romantic or fun planned). A week later, Erin sent me another email, asking to chat the next day. Of course, I completely freaked out, barely slept, and was a wreck in the morning.

cat chasing tail

During the phone call, Erin offered representation right away!! I wanted to accept, but I had to notify the other agents who had my work and give them time to respond.

A week later, I emailed Erin back and formally accepted her offer. Today I signed the contract with Folio, and I’m super excited for the next phase of my writing journey.

gatsby

 

 

Posted in Biography, Writing | 15 Comments

Oscar Night

side_oscarThis Sunday is Oscar Night – or, as it’s officially known, the 86th Annual Academy Awards – and I can’t wait. Never mind that I’ve only seen one of the Best Picture nominees, I’m still excited to watch the ceremony in its entirety.

My first Oscar viewing was back in 1977 (I’m dating myself with this confession!), when Star Wars was nominated for Best Picture. I was certain it would win, because it was clearly the most awesome movie out there. (In my defense, I was eleven at the time). I was furious when my mom wouldn’t let me stay up to watch the final hour of the telecast. And even more furious when I found out a romantic comedy called Annie Hall won instead.

Over the next ten years, I watched the ceremony on and off, usually with my dad, and only if a movie I liked was nominated. But in 1988, during my first year of grad school at UCLA, I went to my first Oscar party. It was a small affair—just eight of us—hosted by my good friend, Jeff Jenkins, a wonderful guy who has never let his blindness stand in the way of his passion for movies. Jeff went on to host an Oscar party every year after that, always with a betting pool and delicious “themed” food.

When my husband and I moved from Los Angeles to Wisconsin, I missed that Oscar party a lot. Most of the new friends I made had little interest in the Academy Awards, so I didn’t start a party tradition of my own. But I continued to watch, year after year, even though it was just my ballot sheet and me.

2011-Oscars-300x195Until the year my daughter starting watching with me. I don’t remember when she first got hooked, or when I finally relented and let her stay up through the entire thing, but it has now become a tradition. With our ballots in hand, we eat popcorn and M & Ms, comment on the gorgeous dresses, and check off the winners. Even during the weeks leading up to the show, we’ll discuss the possible outcomes for the major categories, as though we’re seasoned movie critics.

Why do I love watching the Oscars so much? I’m not sure. With two kids, a busy schedule, and a limited budget, I don’t get out to the movies as much as I’d like. Most of the time I end up watching the nominated films long after they’ve been out in the theaters, usually on DVD or Netflix. But I love the actual ceremony—the gowns, the red carpet, the montages and tributes, and the song and dance numbers—and so I continue to watch.

Do you have any traditions when you watch the Oscars? Any fun parties?

Posted in Biography, Just for fun | 2 Comments

Lessons Learned from #PitchWars: The All Is Lost Moment

Over the past month, I’ve been fortunate to work with the very talented (and very patient) Karma Brown, my mentor for Pitch Wars. One of the benefits of being a Pitch Wars mentee is that we have our full manuscripts read and critiqued by an experienced writer. Karma was very speedy with her critique, so I was able to start my revisions right away. At first, the workload was manageable. I felt challenged and excited, but not overwhelmed.

That was until Karma got to the ending of my novel and informed me that my stakes weren’t high enough. Not even close. In order to revise the ending, I was going to have to dig deeper and make things a lot worse for my heroine.

belle cryingBut here’s the thing—I’m a wimp when it comes to my characters. Yes, I like tormenting them, but only a little bit. I don’t want to make them miserable because I feel sorry for them! This was one of my biggest flaws with the first novel I queried (a young adult fantasy). By the end of the book, the heroine was convinced she’d never be with the guy she loved, but her crisis was resolved in a brief conversation with her cousin and even briefer confrontation with her uncle! She barely suffered. I could have made things so much worse for her, but I wimped out.

So, as I dug in to revise the ending of my manuscript, I went back to one of my favorite writing books, Save the Cat, in which the author, Blake Snyder, breaks down stories into sections, or “beats.” According to his formula, two of the most important beats towards the end of any screenplay/novel are: the“ All is Lost” moment and “The Dark Night of the Soul.” If you’ve ever used The Hero’s Journey to plot your novel, these beats are similar to “the Supreme Ordeal” that the hero/heroine face. At this point of the story, the protagonists have hit bottom. All hope is lost. They’re going to die or lose the person they love. Or somehow lose the ability to throw that evil ring into the fires of Mount Doom when the entire fate of Middle Earth depends on them (come on, Frodo, you had one job–get it together!).

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

Some examples of “All is Lost” moments include (I’m using Disney examples, since I watch a lot of animated movies):

  • sad mulan2Mulan: Shang discovers Mulan is a woman, and she’s ejected from the army. She’s left, alone and miserable in the snow, having brought dishonor to her family and lost her friends.
  • Toy Story 3: The toys are trapped in the junk yard, about to be incinerated and there’s no way out.
  • Tangled: Mother Gothal “rescues” Rapunzel and takes her back to her tower, convincing her that Flynn has betrayed her (while Flynn is captured and thrown in prison).
  • Hercules: Hercules gives up his strength to save Meg, only to be tricked by Hades, who reveals Meg’s been working for him; Hades subsequently unleashes the Titans to destroy Ancient Greece.

My kids are so used to me analyzing movies this way that they’ll even call out: “There it is, Mom! Dark-Night-of-the-Soul!”

As a writer, the best way to approach the All-Is-Lost moment is to imagine the worst thing that could happen to your protagonist and put them at risk for it. In real life, I think many people fear death more than anything—either their own or the death of someone they love—but not every story needs to be that dramatic. If you’re writing a light, contemporary romance, threatening the heroine with sudden death might seem out of place! But there are other ways you can make your character suffer—you can put their careers, romantic relationships, or friendships at risk. For example, for someone in middle school, the thought of losing their best friend might seem like the worst crisis ever. In high school, it could be the fear of failing or being publicly humiliated.

After I reviewed the too-soft ending of my novel, I realized I had to make things a lot bleaker for my heroine. I had to break her heart and send her into a spiral of despair and frustration. Resolving her crisis was a trickier, since I’d painted her into a tight corner. Fortunately, I had a couple of “light bulb” ideas and the story came together.

In the end, what I’ve taken away from this revision is that it’s okay to torment your protagonist. Make them suffer. Make them cry. Make them curse their fate. Because if you do, their happy ending will be even more rewarding.

What about you? Do enjoy tormenting your protagonists?

 

Posted in Writing | 5 Comments

Writerly Resolutions for 2014

When I first started getting serious about writing, my New Year’s goals usually looked like this:

  1. Send out queries
  2. Get an agent
  3. Sign a publishing contract.

Kind of unrealistic, not to mention self-defeating, since  #2 and #3 weren’t in my control. Starting in 2012, I realized I needed writerly goals that I could accomplish, regardless of anyone else’s decisions or actions. I wanted to challenge myself, but I didn’t want to set myself up for failure.

new-years-eve-2014_1388111214So, with that in mind, here are my goals for 2014:

  1. Finish revising my New Adult contemporary romance, Field Rules. Normally, I might plod along with my revisions, but I need to have this manuscript polished in time for the agent round of Pitch Wars, on January 22. Being chosen for Pitch Wars was a great way to end 2013 and has resulted in a ton of helpful feedback from my awesome mentor, Karma Brown. My job, for the next three weeks, is to make my book the best it can be, so that I can do her team proud.
  1. Write another book. When I was struggling to revise my YA novel last summer, a few people suggested I set it aside and write something new. At first, I was skeptical (“I can’t abandon my novel! I love it! I have to keep plugging away!”), but once I got into a new story, I stopped feeling so frustrated and fell in love with writing again. The best way to keep improving as a writer is to keep writing! (Not that I’m dismissing revision, because it’s a crucial step of the process, but, with every new book I’ve written, I’ve learned more about the craft).
  1. Attend a writing conference. Last year, one of the best decisions I made was to attend Midwest Writers’ Workshop (MWW) in Muncie, Indiana. Although I went with a friend from my local RWA chapter, the others in my group were people I only knew from Twitter. (Yes, I went on a road trip with people I met on the Internet!). It was a bold leap for me, but I met some amazing people, made new writer friends, and came back revitalized. A good writing conference can do wonders in terms of inspiration and networking.
  1. Put my work out there. By this, I mean, enter contests, seek out new beta readers, and take people up if they offer critiques. This can be really scary, because sometimes the feedback is negative. Sometimes the contest results are depressing. Even though I’ve done a lot of online contests, I was nervous sending out queries for Pitch Wars. What if no one requested pages? What if all the feedback I got said my book sucked? But I’m glad I entered, because I ended up being picked as a mentee.
  1. Write something different. An essay, a short story, an archaeology article—anything that forces me out of my comfort zone. Bonus points if I have it critiqued and submit it somewhere.
  1. Read at least 52 books (1/week average). A simple goal, but a really important one. Sometimes, when I’m in the thick of writing or revising, I don’t want any distractions, even books. That’s okay in the short term, but it’s not good for me as a writer. Reading is something I’m passionate about—it’s one of the main reasons I started writing. As with last year, I plan to read widely: YA, MG, NA, narrative non-fiction, adult fiction, and memoir.

That’s it for now. I’m excited and energized to make 2014 one of my best writing years ever!

 What are your goals for 2014?

Posted in Reading, Writing | 1 Comment