Sunday, August 18, 2013

Before You Hit Send

So as I crank a little Imagine Dragon's It's Time, I feel it's time to post some things I've seen in the Query Box recently, those troubling trends that as a polished author you should fix before, you know, you hit send.

A trend that is still making me cringe, despite numerous debates from other established agents and editors who have mentioned the downside, is the dreaded PROLOGUE.
Now let me first say, that as an author, I once had the despised prologue opening my first manuscript. I learned quickly that it just wasn't necessary. I will tell you the reasons so you can learn from mistakes, because as an intern, I am still seeing these ungodly beasts of teasing, non-important, rife with cliché pages.
So why do most agents, editors, and interns moan, gnash their teeth and bang their head upon the keyboard when they see the that single word atop the first page of a querying author's manuscript. It's simple; it means nine times out of ten - because sometimes there is a one percent need for a well crafted, necessary prologue - what is TOLD in those prologue pages is all backstory that can and should be carefully and craftily woven throughout the REAL story. Sometimes as an author working through your first several drafts you need that prologue so you can better understand your characters' motivations and goals, but I guarantee by the time you get the final editing and revising, its gots to go!

Now, as I mentioned OCCASIONALLY (and I mean sparingly) there arises a need for a prologue. What comes to my mind is a recent series of historical romances by Sabrina Jeffries. In the instance of her Hellions of Halstead Hall, the prologue was needed because it established a specific point in the past of the main characters and was essential to the over all mystery arc of the series. It was a specific point that each of the characters had experienced when they were children and it was better told as flashback prologue than by infusing the knowledge throughout the story. The brief vignettes of the past set up what each character knew about this specific instance and what would propel their character throughout the rest of their individual stories.
Now to the meat, the reasons you should avoid the prologue, or what I see when I read them. Many times a secondary character is used to tell something outside the scope of the character's journey. As an author, you may feel it is important to convey this episode on the page. DON'T. If the story doesn't start with the main character it can be a turn off. Many times these pages introduce the villain first and shows them in the throws of their devious, murderous, maniacal actions. As a reader, I expect the villain to be bad, the worst seed. I don't need a separate opening to TELL me this. An agent once told me, the villain who's evilness is just hidden under the surface is more compelling, more surprising. Think Jaws, she said. And it's true. Build up the suspense, don't tell us or show us right off the bat how evil the murderer or villain or antagonist is.

Another reason why your prologue is still clinging for dear life when you query. You're writing historical or high fantasy and feel that to sufficiently reveal your world, whether the court of Louis XIV or the hills of Mordor (yeah, just examples), you've written a dozen pages of world-building with characters that are non-essential or a point that starts way before the actual story does. I've found that many times this is the case. World-building is hard folks, but dumping it in a prologue is just lazy. Sorry.
Finally, there's the prologue that opens the paranormal (usually romance). In these instances the "different" character or the main character with "paranormal" differences is introduced in an episode that shows their differences outside the main story, or before, or flash-forward to the climax of defeat or mastery of said powers. It's best to just start your story where it should and reveal the powers as the character learn them. Or worse yet is the prologue that shows how "normal" these characters are before the proverbial poo hits the fan. Weave this in. Start where the story starts. PLEASE.
In the words of those who have lamented before me, it's probably best to just leave the prologue off your manuscript. It can always be added later.

As a reminder, only 4 more days until I will be completely incoherent and Jace Wayland obsessing.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

How A Conversation With Your Crit Partner Can Turn Insane

Soooo, as I'm sitting on my deck tweaking and revising like a mad woman and my bestie CP Alisha Klapheke is sitting on the beach somewhere with sand between her toes and all that sunshine, I decide I must text her about the terrible things I must do to my character this morning. She knows the scene, I've discussed it with her and we agreed...Jesse must feel pain, lots of pain. Of course, I've been procrastinating.

What ensued from an innocent text turned into one crazy thirty minutes that ended with us hoping the FBI and the NSA would send us to the Wall.

Here's that insane conversation, Caution: laughter and eye-rolling my occur. And probably some misspelled and autocorrected typos!

Me: (first text of the morning) Oh, no. I have to write THE scene. revised the one where Jesse tells Scarlett about Wounded Knee, made me vaclemnt.

Alisha: made you what?

Me: Vaclemt? Is that the word. You know choked up?
Me: And now I keel Cooper in hotel explosion

Alisha: It's verklempt. It's Yiddish.
Alisha: Ha

Me: Ahh I knew that.

Alisha: Put on some sad music like accidental babies.
Alisha: That song rips me apart.

Me: What's that?

Alisha: And it's good for the sort of love triangle

Me: Ooh is that the name of the song?

Alisha: Yup

Me: Who's the band?

Alisha: Damien Rice
Alisha: Master of sadness
Alisha: That's my only term

Me: LOL Good. I will get it. Because it's about to get deep in her
Me: Here
Me: That sounded soooo wrong

Alisha: Haha
Alisha: Good luck!

Me: (thinking the conversation is finished - little did I know) I will torture you with this chapter soon

Alisha: I will get the tissues

Me: Oh yes. I hope so....I'm procrastinating by buying iTunes songs

Alisha: That's not procrastination that's prep

Me: I'm looking for songs from Pearl Harbor. Wanted that Faith Hill song. Just realized, even though I don't like her, her songs and voice match Scarlett

Alisha: (probably thinking the conversation should have ended minutes ago) That's cool
Alisha: What song was on that? Can't remember

Me: There you'll be

Alisha: Oh yeah I liked that once upon a time

Me: Haa Haa she had some catchy songs. The others remind me of Sandra Bullock movies - practical magic and hope floats

Alisha: I ADORED practical magic
Alisha: I DETESTED Hope Floats

Me: Me too I like hope floats a little for Harry

(at this point we dive into fan obsession over Harry Connick Jr)

Alisha: I do adore Harry. I used to be a fanatic for him

Me: Oh me too. I saw him and got his autograph at the Ryman

Alisha: Posters, CDs, pins, the works
Alisha: (realizing what I just said) Aaaaaaaaaa

Me: Yes!

Alisha: So jealous
Alisha: At least my seventh grade self is!

Me: I got one of those posters they make at that downtown printing place and he signed it

Alisha: Aaaaaa
Alisha: Stop torturing me
Alisha: You suck

Me: LOL. I saw him in New Orleans too as the King of a Matdi Gras float (oh my flying fingers messed that word up)
Me: Haa Haa

Alisha: You seriously suck

Me: I am now researching sound effects of an explosion. Envy me!!

Alisha: Kapow! Kazaam!

Me: LOL. I need more of the physical

Alisha: I was kidding! Hee Hee

Me: Haa Haa Okay

Alisha: Once again if the FBI ever checks a writers computer...
Alisha: We would be doomed

Me: Right!! I was researching old NYC maps and google popped up and said I was making bizarre searches. I freaked. Like what?

Alisha: What did it say?
Alisha: You are SO on a list

Me: It went to a page I'd never seen and said I was making irregular search or something like I was a bot??
Me: I imagine I am especially after all the angel demon stuff and now explosions and old transit routes in NYC

Alisha: Whoa. That's creepers
Alisha: Yeah you're shady

Me: I know. I have never ever seen that before
Me: LOL Shady is my middle name

Alisha: I don't know you

Me: Right. You and all you Edinburgh grotto look ups 0.o
Me: We are plotting world domination

Alisha: No one cares about the Scots

Me: (continuing with my world domination plot and how the conversation ALWAYS turns to Game of Thrones) With Jon Snow and King Robb

Alisha: (still lamenting the poor Scots) Poor things
Alisha: (realizing I've brought up the boys) Yea!!!!!

Me: (back to the poor Scots) Poor kilted sexy babies

Alisha: We shall prevail
Alisha: Word

Me: (back to not getting taken to jail by the FBI) Because like Jon Snow...we know nothing
Me: (with insane idea) I should post this insane conversation on my blog You know

Alisha: Yes
Alisha: Me too bc I blog like constantly
Alisha: Ummmmm
Alisha: Yeah

Me: It would be funny and exonerate us from the NSA

Alisha: Hahahaha

Me: I need things to blog

Alisha: DO IT

Me: Oh it is so done!!

Alisha: I'm too Purdy for prison

Me: Maybe they'll take us to the Wall

Alisha: Well maybe not
Alisha: (realizing I've slipped in another Jon Snow reference) Aaaa!

And that is how crazy writer talk gets started.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Before You Hit Send

While I've been dwindling with ideas for my Steampunk posts, I thought about a new post series.

I've been very busy the last month with the extraordinary opportunity to serve as an Agency Intern for the Corvisiero Literary Agency. Right now this means primarily looking over queries and filing them. But I see so many common mistakes and thought I would share those sorts of things so you guys in the trenches (and trust me as a querying author, I'm right there in the trenches with you) can make your query stand out.

Today's topic is Word Count.

There are dozens upon hundreds of websites that post appropriate word counts for every genre. I suggest, no I highly recommend, you do this research to find out what is acceptable word count. You'd be surprised how many queries I see where the count is too high or even too low for specific genres.

The reason you should know your targeted word count is because for instance, hypothetically, if you are querying a 150k YA contemporary, well that's probably too long. This tells the agent, or in my case the Intern, right off the bat that there might be a problem. It could be overwritten pages or unnecessary scenes. It means your MS may have the first draft problem called Walk the Dog, an amateur author syndrome where you have written every action down, getting the character from point A to point B to point C and D. Ultimately it boils down to querying too soon before you've revised your manuscript.

It can mean, that while you have lovely descriptive details, you may have two or three sentences describing everything when just two or three words fit better. It means that instead of setting the scene, you've spent an entire page or two describing everything in so much detail that it isn't believable that the character would waste all this valuable time and space on the page to reflect on the description when they should be gearing up for action or reacting to something or someone.

It can also mean that, unfortunately, you may ramble, scenes may drag and the overall pace is slow. The key to remember is that every word, every scene, every chapter must serve a specific plot centric purpose. Most of all, it must hook the reader to keep them turning pages.

On the other hand, I come across queries with too low a word count. A suspense thriller clocking 40,000 words...I'm shaking my head. Low word count indicates to me, Intern, that the story isn't as developed as it should be. It could mean that maybe it's all action without those slower scenes of reflection a character will have before diving head first into their next reactive action or goal. It can mean that subplots weren't introduced or fully intertwined or nicely wrapped up. It can mean that maybe not all the characters, especially the villain, has been fleshed out to the best potential. Or you haven't given your hero or main character enough room to grow emotionally, because as readers we want to see a character grow through their experiences.

Also find a lot of queries where the word-count is completely omitted. To be honest, nine times out of ten I just think you haven't done your homework in how to write a good query, but that one percent I think "Are you hiding something? Is your wordcount so ridiculously high or low that you don't mention it?" If that's the case see above and start revising before you hit send.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Steampunk Saturday, vol. 7

As I scarf down a few cinnamon rolls, a few meaning the Pilsbury-in-a-can size, and take a break from catching up on my fave TV show Nashville, I realized it's been two months since I posted.
So I've thrown in the soundtrack to Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and I'm posting about the Victorian lady's wardrobe today.
During the Victorian Era, the female fashion and figure changed dramatically from the 1860s to the final years of the century. Many people associate the look of the 1860s as the hoop skirts with layers of crinoline and petticoats, tight corsets and ringlets of curls framing faces. I think instantly of Scarlet O' Hara or Jo March. The fashion of the pre and post Civil War and Queen Victoria's morning period.
But styles changed by the 1890s, a period that dominates the Steampunk genre because the Fin de Siecle was the age of advancing technology and cutting edge invention and theories. Women's fashion was no exception.
Unfortunately, a blog post featuring all the infinite details of a woman's dress in this era would be long and probably boring, so I will stick to the most visible and visual of her outfit. And I will stick to the fashionable elite.
Dresses, Ball Gowns, and Sitting Room Attire :
The foremost name in fashion at this time was Charles Fredrick Worth. These are just a few of his lovely 1890s gowns. The mutton sleeves, or poofy at the shoulders, was beginning to show up. Gone are the layers of crinoline and petticoats and even the bustle of the 1870s and 1880s is vanishing from the lines.
A woman's wardrobe had numerous dresses for every occasion. She had evening gowns for formal dinners or small social affairs. She had elaborately decorated ball gowns to be the envy and catch a handsome dandy's eye. She had simple yet stunning day dresses usually with an accompanying overcoat to run errands about town or more luxurious traveling wear to be seen out and about. Teagowns - not shown- were for the everyday run about the house, or worn especially during pregnancy due to the voluminous laces and flowing material that allowed ease to put on and move about.
You can check out this fabulous Pinterest page The House of Worth to see even more beautiful dresses from the Victorian Era into the mid-Twentieth Century.
Gloves, Hats, Umbrellas or Parasols :

Just as gentlemen looked fashionable with their walking canes, women never left the house without their stylish and expensive umbrella or parasol. Gloves were practically required during this time. At the end of the century, black chamois gloves were highly fashionable for day wear, but white was still popular for evening attire and balls. As many day dresses were two pieces, they may have worn a blouse with an ascot style neckline and had need of a pin to hold their ascot in place. Hatpins were also highly fashionable and had beads and other jewels. Hats at the Turn of the Century were sometimes similar to the bonnets of the 1860s, tying around the chin with large ribbons, or they were fixed to the top of the head with a hatpin. They were small and decorated with silk flowers and bird feathers ribbons and bows. It would be another ten years before the large brimmed Edwardian hats surfaced - my most favorite vintage hat of all time.


Saturday, February 9, 2013

Steampunk Saturday, vol 6

Oh the wonderful art of flying contraptions.

When I was, oh about the same as my darling daughter is now(6 ish), my mother would read Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to me. Probably every night. It was my favorite story. It was also one, that after so long, I began to tell my mother stories I made up to go with the illustrations.

It's no wonder I fell in love with the world of steampunk! Within the wonderful pages from the spy master himself, Ian Fleming (no relation unfortunately), is the story of a family and their flying car.

Part of what draws me into the Victorian Steampunk world are the gadgets and machines.
For instance the dirigible.

There are so many beautiful artist renderings of one staple of the steampunk world, the airship or dirigible or zepplin. These airships, lighter than todays counterpart per se, stayed aloft using a large cavity like a balloon filled with some kind of lifting gas - like helium or authors' made up substances like Ether or in my story Akasha. They manuevered with rudders and propellers. Unlike the blimps of today, the steampunk version was like a floating ship with a balloon filled with floating gas attached or large propellers to keep the ship aloft.

Then there's the velocipede.

Towards the later end of the Victorian Era, an increase in leasure activites came about. In fact, the creation of some of our nation's most beloved parks came into existance in this time period. Like Central Park. As more and more middle class families enjoyed their weekends off from the daily work week grind, more and more activites became accessible. Riding bicycles quickly turned into not just a leisure activity but a sport. In San Francisco, velodromes were created to allow "scorchers" - or bicycles racers - a place to race each other or cycle laps. 

And finally, the steam coach or carriage.

A horseless, steam or ether or other energy source powered carriage or stagecoach. Think of it as the Victorian mini-van, able to haul anywhere from four to six people inside the carriage to neighborhood destinations, like a ball, or across the US to far off cities.

Finally, I leave you with this, in lieu of much speculation from Disney's purchase of the rights of the Star Wars Franchise.....


Friday, February 1, 2013

The Kick-Ass Heroine vs. the Meek, Yet Strong Protector Heroine

It's only fair, after devoting 3 posts to the Hero, that the ladies should get some equal posting time.

When I mention kick-ass heroine, I imagine most envision this.....


Or this.....   

I think of this.....

So what qualities make up the K-A Heroine?

1.) They don't need no stinkin' man, at least they've started out thinking that. They're quite capable of stealing Death Star plans and smuggling them off their ship under attack. Or infiltrating an evil spy organization at the same time working as a double agent to help the CIA. Or surviving the jungle, or a televised death match, or demon spike-haired vampires infesting their high school.

2.)They've got some wicked Dos that say I'm perfectly coifed to kick some alien, spy, jungle butt.

3.) Leather is never optional; it's required.

4.) They've had some kind of training. Whether it's in espionage, deathmatch bootcamp, fugative on the run, or inert latent jedi mind-tricks.

 5.) They never pout or put their hands on their hips to get their way. They take what they want, even if it leads them into a smelly, monster infested trash-compactor. Never argue with the K-A Heroine. The hero must understand, she knew exactly what she was doing.

6.) She puts others first, her life is last thing she's concerned with. The cause is greater. She'd rather die than expose a rebel base or let the governement make her kill her hunger games partner for "ratings."

7.) Don't let her tough exterior fool you. She is wrought with emotions, usually of the conflicting sort. Does she choose the bloodsucker over the sensible vampire hunter, does she choose the annoying, prying reporter for the CIA handler. But nine-times out of ten she falls for the smirking anti-hero with a blaster by his side, because she sees in him her greatest challenge, making him have a change of heart.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Today is the #PitchWars contest and I get to be an alternate to the fabulous mentor Stacey H Lee!! We worked to polish up my Mission Impossible meets Charlie's Angels Wild West Steampunk YA Historical. So I thought, like a few other mentees, I would write a post on the origin of BAD COMPANY.
When I went to the Romantic Times Conference last April, I was brainstorming with some of my author besties Natalie Zaman, JA Souders, Liz Czukas, Zoraida Cordova, and Charlotte Bennardo on what to write next. I had two ideas already shot down and I was in a funk trying to figure out what I wanted to write.
While sitting in the hotel room one afternoon while one friend worked on her editorial notes, I wracked my brain and an idea kept teasing me A time travel horror story. I wanted to have the steampunk elements in the horror story and that meant focusing on Victorian England and that meant taking a look at the most gruesome horror that happened in Victorian England. (I don't want to give too much away because I still plan to write that horror story)
But as I wrote the opening chapters and had my beta readers take a look, I just couldn't get much further than chapter one. My heart kept telling my to write happy happy joy joy, something humorous and fun.
And I knew it had to be Steampunk. I wanted to move away from the popular Victorian London setting of most steampunk stories, so I went to the otherside of the United States, to California and the Wild West.
Since a main component of Steampunk is the "ether" that powers the gadgets and anachronistic devices that populate these stories, I began looking for ideas for my energy source. And as I wrote the first chapter of my story - which has since been pretty much scrapped in revisions - I envisioned my hero as a half-Lakota Sioux kid from Knob Hill San Francisco. And I knew that my energy source had come from a discovery on his grandfather's reservation that changed the whole perception of Native Americans in my alternate West.
At the same time I was writing the first draft my children were watching and rewatching the Tom Cruise Mission Impossible movies along with Charlie's Angels with Drew Barrymore, and the idea stuck with me to have to competing spies/detectives with their paths crossing and falling in love.
And that's how BAD COMPANY came about.