If you're new here, you may want to subscribe to my RSS feed. Thanks for visiting!
Smart Writer Meets Opportunity
Kami Garcia has an unusual author success story. She and friend Margaret Stohl were teaching high school and running a teen reading group. They started noticing that the books they were reading weren’t as good as they could be. At the time, it seemed every YA novel involved a love triangle between a girl, a vampire and a werewolf. So Kami and Margaret decided to write their own, and it turns out, they had a bestselling idea, and a built-in teen focus group to help hone it. Essentially, their story was a Southern Gothic family saga with Witches. Nothing quite like it had ever been done before.
She told the story of their apparently accidental success at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators 2015. Kami and Margaret started by serializing their story and sharing it with teens. It quickly gained almost viral popularity in their town, and they got feedback, and kept revising. They were planning put it on the internet as a free PDF when their friend, the author Pseudonymous Bosch, passed their manuscript along to his agent. It became the bestselling Beautiful Creatures series.
I am a big fan of Kami’s blog. She regularly provides amazing resources for writers.
She does a weekly roundup of great writing posts she finds on the internet. There’s so much useful stuff, I find myself wanting take days off and just read and explore. She posts her inspiration boards. She shares the way she builds her worlds. She lists her favorite books on writing. During the last NaNoWriMo, she posted a video a day to her YouTube Channel, no small feat. Watch her posts and you’ll see she is busy, smart, organized and devoted to the writing process, just like you’d expect a great High School teacher to be.
My friend Gwen recently asked me for a list of modern fantasy books that use the Sidhe, and other tropes of Irish magical tradition.
Here’s a quick list:
Anything by Emma Bull, particularly, The War for the Oaks – the rock and roll payload will be fun for Gwen, and, really, for anyone who likes fantasy.
The Tithe Trilogy by Holly Black – great, dare I say ‘classic’ Urban Fantasy. I love the way this starts in Atlantic City. The imagery is crisp and intense.
The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black – just finishing listening to the Audible version, and it’s so much fun.
The Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa – a neat wrinkle to have a kind of fey who work with metal, as opposed to running screaming from it.
The Sidhe are always popular. People like fairy books, and I think an edgier approach definitely is appropriate to the original tales, and works for today’s teen and adult fantasy readers.
One thing I’d love to see in a modern Sidhe fantasy book is more grounded life for the Sidhe. I mean, who can spend 24 hours a day at fairy court? What does a day in the life of a fairy really look like? Do they get up and sip magical coffee? Do they read the Sidhe Times?
And since they do spend so much time at court, it seems like what you should see is a lot of the same political scheming that you would have seen at the court of Louis XIV or Catherine the Great, or the Barberini pope. I would think there would be tons of high context ceremony, lots of traditions that you’d just have to know about. Lots of people getting demolished by gossip, a la that wonderful French film Ridicule.
I enjoy the way Holly Black does it a lot. Her Sidhe are dark and dangerous and truly inhuman. The court feels real.
Readers: What’s your favorite Sidhe Urban Fantasy book or series? I know I’ve missed a lot so please, share your wisdom!
If you’re a writer like me, one of your vices is probably books about writing.
I call it a vice because reading a book on writing is one helluva way to avoid actually doing any writing. I know this from experience.
Publishing companies seem to know that aspiring writers tend to buy books on writing like one of my great aunts liked to buy Hummels. A search of ‘fiction writing’ books on Amazon.com yields a result of 47, 843.
How Do I Choose?
So how to pick your next writing book? I am particularly obsessive about finding the one treatise on plot that can rule them all! I have a number of contenders, but I still haven’t found the one great book on story structure.
In the mean time, I want to know which books on writing my favorite writers recommend, so then it’s internet and another first-class time suck. It’s okay. We all do it..
Great Writers’ Favorite Writing Books
As I trawl the interwebs in search of the best books on writing, one in particular, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, shows up frequently, alongside Stephen King’s On Writing, Natalie Gold’s Writing Down the Bones, Save the Cat, and so on.
I must admit I avoided Bird by Bird because of the title. It seemed overly precious, and I wondered why the author would pick that, since it seemed to have nothing to do with fiction writing. That shows how much I judge a book by its title.
I finally decided to see what the fuss was about, so I downloaded Bird by Bird from Audible.com.
I love Audible.com. I require a steady stream of compelling audiobooks because traffic turns me into a Viking berserker.Unless I have some compelling distraction, I might ram my Toyoto Echo into that douche of a BMW who just cut me off on my way from the 5 to the 134.
This book definitely helped me keep my driver’s license.
Best Books on Writing: The Life
There are many books on technique, on how to build character, how to show not tell.
Bird by Bird has great pointers on plot, character, description, but what it mostly has is relief-giving advice on how to walk through life as a writer, the kind of advice that when you hear it, makes you sigh, feel understood, and, most vitally, feel motivated to go on and do what you are here on the planet to do.
Because if you are a writer, you know it ain’t easy.
Writing is a solitary affair, and the best ideas can be killed by that evil laughing hyena of a critic, that bitter maniac we all carry around inside of us.
The Audible version of Bird by Bird is ably narrated by Susan Bennett (also the voice of Siri!). The prose is precise. The way Lamott describes her own process, the obsession, the procrastination, the ADD, the hypochondria–it’s hilarious. Her narrative voice is strong and encouraging.
This quote below made me cry “yes!” as I was hiking up over the Silver Lake hills, listening to it on my iPhone.
“Writing can be a pretty desperate endeavor, because it is about some of our deepest needs: our need to be visible, to be heard, our need to make sense of our lives, to wake up and grow and belong.”
Ah, the need to be seen and heard. Thinking about it still brings up an old old ache behind my eyes and at the back of my throat. Yep, there’s my old friend.
So many things are quotable and tee-shirt wearable in this little book.
“Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism.”
“Messes are the artist’s true friend.”
And then, there are the practical suggestions, which I’ve woven into my own writing practice.
“…write down all your memories as truthfully as you can.”
Now from time to time I have told myself that I will never write my memoirs because my life is not terribly interesting. But Lamott’s book has given me the permission to write down as much as I can remember, and it feels like it’s opened something up inside me. And it keeps my daily thousand word goal going strong. I think it’s making me better. And I can thank Bird by Bird for it.
Here’s Lamott on character:
“…a person’s faults are largely what make him or her likable.”
On just sitting down and pumping out that shitty first draft:
“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts.”
On truth and using your own voice:
“You cannot write out of someone else’s big dark place; you can only write out of your own.”
Here is how she explains character-driven plot:
“That’s what plot is: what people will up and do in spite of everything that tells them they shouldn’t, everything that tells them that they should sit quietly on the couch and practice their Lamaze, or call their therapist, or eat until the urge to do that thing passes.”
A key point on dialogue:
“…remember that you should be able to identify each character by what he or she says.”
I was halfway through listening to Bird by Bird, and I knew I needed to own it on paper. I knew I was going to want to thumb through it, highlight parts of it, and tab pages.
Lamott is truthful about her own experience, about how overwhelming it can be to sit in front of a blank screen everyday and try to fill it up with something other than drivel. About how the choice to write surfaces massive insecurity.
Her solutions? Shitty first drafts, short assignments, the one-inch picture frame. I’ll never forget those. My brain can latch onto them. They work.
For the record, I still think it would do better with another title.
The anecdote it’s based on answers the question, how do you write when it’s such an overwhelming task? The answer is, the way Lamott’s father advised her brother to write a report on birds he had to do for grade school. “Bird by bird.”
Yes, that is true with writing. You just take it one bit at a time, and suddenly you are in the fictional dream, seeing and feeling it all.
“Writing is about hypnotizing yourself into believing in yourself, getting some work done, then unhypnotizing yourself and going over the material coldly.”
Every year around this time, we look back over the previous year, evaluate our successes and failures, and we resolve to improve ourselves. Around this time of year, if you don’t see NEW YEAR, NEW YOU somewhere, on a magazine cover, or as the headline of many articles, maybe you don’t know how to read.
But can we ever really hope to be different? Can people change? Or are we kidding ourselves and wasting all of this New Year’s motivation?
Can we really be different this year?
I want to say to myself and to you, “Of course we aren’t wasting our time.” Hoping to be better people is one of the things that makes us human. And if adding one to the number of the year makes us rethink things, get perspective, set goals, strive for more, then, God bless it!
But I do think there are pitfalls in resolving to be different. I have definitely fallen in before.
The Pitfalls of Resolving to Be Different
Discounting our previous successes, and
Setting ourselves up for failure.
So how can I avoid those?
The trouble with resolving to do things differently in the New Year is that it suggests that no matter how many great things we’ve done in the past year, it’s somehow not enough. WE are somehow not enough.
To send myself a healthier and kinder message, I am doing this:
List/Mindmap 2014 Wins
Find a way to take stock of 2014’s wins, and appreciate them. Write them down in your journal, and once they are there, re-read them. Then highlight them, maybe draw a mind-map about them. I am updating my list as I think of more wins. Then, when I feel it’s a nice long list, I can take a look at it. Breathe in some gratitude about all that. Remind myself that if I just did as many amazing things as I did last year, I’d have a great 2015.
Reframe the Tough Bits
But what if you look for those successes in 2014 and you have trouble finding them? Not all of us had our greatest year, and that’s OK. If that is you, then, fair enough. Remind yourself that you made it through 2014. When life is tough, muddling through is hard. And it is an accomplishment. So try to make an adjustment inside yourself and see if you can simply be grateful for that. Simply be grateful for being here. Great things can start from the place you are now.
Setting Yourself Up For Failure
I’m prone to these things that I’ll list. Maybe you are, too:
Committing without examining the consequences or letting my very good instincts do their job.
Just plain overcommitting. Trying to do too damn much, which leads me to another biggie.
Setting unreasonable demands on myself. That leads to…
Denial about all of the above. And that, eventually, leads me to…
Seeking oblivion in shopping, eating, drinking, daydreaming, and awfulizing.
What is Awfulizing?
It’s a weird addictive process in which I start thinking about how other people and other groups of people do many bad things. I focus on all of that, and I can use it not to look at myself. In this way, I can avoid unpleasant truths about my own bad behavior. Or, if ‘bad’ sounds too, well, BAD to you, then I’ll just call it behavior that doesn’t get me where I want to be.
The thing about awfulizing is that it keeps my mind off me and my responsibility for creating the life I choose to live.
So How Can I Avoid All These Set-Ups for Failure?
I have a few ideas. Let’s see how these sound to you:
Delay committing to anything until I can sit down and consider the consequences. A key tool in this quest goes something like this: “Hold on, I’ll have to check…with my husband…with my calendar…with my spiritual advisor…with my Tarot deck…with my Higher Self…with Obi-wan Kenobi’s ghost…with my cat.”
Pick one thing as my primary principle. So for me that would be this: Remind myself that this is the Year of Writing for me. So yes, I want to lose weight. I want to run lightly, like Atalanta before she went after the Golden Apple. I love buying makeup. I love seeing theater, and I love traveling. I love lots of things. But this is the Year of Writing and Full Commitment to Writing. So all other commitments must be judged by this measure: How does this serve my Year of Writing? Will this interfere with my Year of Writing?
Set fewer goals, no more than 3-5 major goals, for example:
Write an average of 1000 words per day
Finish Second Novel First Draft
Get to 140 lbs and love reclaiming my skinny self wardrobe. Hipster black jeans, here I come!
Gather more writer friends into my world. Let’s all become awesome and published and giving our full gifts to the universe!
Clean out the Hoarders Blue Room (don’t ask).
As I resolve to be different, I’m going to keep those guidelines in mind.
I hope this was helpful. Personally, I feel good about all this. I’ll check in with you around the Spring Equinox and let you know how it’s going.
Thanks for coming to my site and reading this post!
Please let me know what you are thinking about in the comments below. Share your wisdom! Ask questions! Free associate!
You may have heard of National Novel Writing Month, an international phenomenon in which hundreds of thousands of writers make a pact with themselves and others to write 50 thousand words of a novel in the month of November.
If you’ve always wanted to write a novel, this is a great way to go. If you are ready to dive in, why not go take a look at the NaNoWriMo site right now, then come back here to finish reading about why I think NaNoWriMo is an awesome thing for aspiring novelists.
Go ahead. I’ll be here. Waiting. For you. To come back.
1. Support Can Be Beautiful
If you’ve tried to write a novel, or even a short story, you’re probably well aware that one of the biggest challenges any writer faces is the solitariness of the process. It’s scary facing that empty page all by your lonesome. But there is help available.
The NaNoWriMo website has a great forum section where you can commiserate, ask for help, get encouragement, get research or plot, or title, or all kinds of other help, and, most importantly, know you’re not alone.
Published authors write Pep Talks with great tips on how to reach your goals. Check those out. You may find your favorite author has left you pearls of wisdom that can help you on your way.
NaNoWriMo has local chapters that host all kinds of events where you can hobnob with your fellow wizards and participate in write-ins that will help you keep to your daily goal of 1,664 words. One of the coolest involves riding a train from LA to San Fran (see below).
2. Critical Mass
Somehow just knowing there are so many people out there fighting the good fight every day, flexing their imaginations, and trying to make their dreams come true during NaNoWriMo inspires me.
If you can’t make the various local write-ins and events, you can use the forums or work with your local guides to set up a Skype or Google Hangout session with your fellow writers.
3. The Great Train Escape
I’ll describe what it is—you take a train from LA to San Fran with other WriMos (NaNoWriMo participants call themselves this). As you go, more and more WriMos get on the train with you. Apparently the train conductors find you all fascinating, as if you are some species of rare bird with bright feathers. You write and party in San Fran for a weekend and come home. Go here to read more and let the enchantment, and maybe some shots from North by Northwest or Murder on the Orient Express or Risky Business unfold in your imagination…
It’s just a personal page on the NaNoWriMo site in which you track your daily word count. It’s got a nice looking bar graph, too, but for me, on each day of the two NaNoWriMo months I have completed thus far, it became a daily obsession. Doing your daily word count and tracking it is simply such a great way to feel good about yourself. And no matter how the rest of your day is going, you have this. You did your daily 1664.
5. Swag, Discounts, the Tally and the Winner Badge
NaNoWriMo has online badges, special discounts on writing software and other goodies for those who finish, and many other little perks that add up to a big inner grin when you finish your fifty thou. You will feel hella good.
You get a deep discount on Scrivener, both the best and the worst novel writing software I know.
When I finished my first NaNoWriMo I wasn’t even halfway done with my first draft, which ran to 140 thou, but I had a massive feeling of accomplishment, and I knew I would go on to finish the whole dang thing.
So that’s my plug for the wondrous NaNoWriMo. I hope it’s helpful to all of you soon-to-be novelists out there!
Have you ever been on a writing retreat? What would your ideal writing retreat look like?
How blissful would it be to be in a lovely place with blazing fast wifi, comfy chairs and ample views, with nothing to think about but your work? It would be awesome to have plenty of time only for writing, researching, even reading inspiring works, be they novels or books on writing craft.
I have a lovely present from my folks for this weighty birthday coming up, and I want to spend it wisely. My ideal scene would be two weeks in Italy, one week cycling from gorgeous vista to gorgeous vista, and another week in an Italian town I hadn’t yet visited, maybe Torino, or Palermo, or Pesaro.
But alas, airfare to Europe is so costly these days! I was thinking of doing a bike trip in California wine country instead, and then the idea of a week-long writing retreat popped into my head.
I started Googling, and although there are many sites with long lists of writer’s retreats and conferences, I’m having trouble finding just the right fit.
Some look too airy-fairy, too crunchy and loose in structure. Others look like conferences. Others look like someone’s chance to fleece the bewildered. Some are just too pricey.
My Ideal Writing Retreat – A Checklist
Pretty Location, prefer seaside
Highly structured schedule
Free reliable fast wifi
Cute and comfortable lodgings with views, air conditioning and comfy chairs, nice desk setups
Food delivery to lodgings
Crit sessions with industry professionals, established writer, editor or agent once per day.
No bias against genre fiction or literary elitism of any kind! (Seriously, is 1984 not literature? Because it’s Science Fiction, people! Insert rant here.)
Terrain that’s great for walking, running and biking.
Organized morning and evening hikes, runs and bike rides
A nice variety of attendees, like maybe 50 or so
A lap pool with lots of lanes would be awesome!
Daily yoga sessions in morning and evening
Organic locally sourced and yet very yummy food
Nighttime networking activities
Both genders, because humanity has that, and I write about humans. Okay, those humans, some of them can do magic and turn into animals, but they are still humans.
Communal dinner and encouragement to meet new folks and chat over a meal daily
Within 5 hours driving of Los Angeles
Doe such a thing exist? You tell me. I haven’t found it yet. Am I asking for too much?
Is this one all girls? Is it all about writing a self-help books? Shouldn’t the site quickly answer such questions? An inability to communicate key info does not give me great confidence in the quality of the retreat. That’s not cool. What’s the opposite of a sausage fest? I don’t want it, whatever it is. The location is perfect, though.
The text on this site worries me, although the location can’t be beat. And all this talk of Steinbeck, whose work I love, makes me think the literary bias thing might be at play. Read the poem they put on their page and, umm, tell me what you think.
Wow – it was fun learning how to design a book. Lots of work, too! Thank goodness for Lynda.com! I’m really proud of the result.
Please comment below if you’d like to learn more about this rewarding and complex process—self-publishing a book that was in print, but is now out of it.
We designed the dead tree version, too, coming soon!
If you like science fiction and suspense, this is the book for you! Check it out!
In near-future Manhattan, First-Leveler Watly Caiper, desperate for cash, lets a rich Second Leveler rent his body in an ultra-real game called Hosting. Framed for murder, he’s on the run from the police. Can he catch the real killer before they catch him?
I’m super-psyched to head to Comic-Con this Thursday. This year, I swear not to be made zombie by the overwhelming stimuli of the Exhibit Hall, and if they still have those Star Wars footsie pjs, they will be mine!
The Cumberdude will be there promoting Penguins of Madagascar, and maybe even showing up for the Hobbit presentation in Hall H. I’ve never been to a Hall H Presentation myself. Never thought getting on line at 5am was worth it.
I plan on checking out all of the panels on Science Fiction and Fantasy I can get into, and I mean the kind made out of sentences and paragraphs. Take that, visual media!
I am currently reading via Audible the wonderful Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy. Have you read it? Russian magic, and a very sexy bad guy in the Darkling. I thought I was done with love triangles, but no! This one really works! The look and feel of the magic is especially cool. Check it out!
Thanks for visiting my blog! Want to chat with me? Comment below!