Friday, December 24, 2010

What did you accomplish this year?

Is the year almost over already? Time sure flies when you're having fun! Here's a summary of what each of us accomplished in 2010:

Jenny: I had a wonderful year overall. I signed with my agent in February, got a contract with Gallery Books (Simon & Schuster) at the end of June, launched Killer Chicks with two incredible writers in September, and finished the first draft of my current novel in late November. It's been a whirlwind! The best thing this year, though, has been the friends I've made, and continue to make. Even though I need to scale back the time I spend on the internet in 2011, I still plan to pop by everybody's blogs when I can to cheer all of you on! I predict even bigger accomplishments for all of us next year, Killer friends, and you bet I'll be around with plenty of Woo Hoos! Happy New Year!

JB: The year didn't turn out the way I'd planned. (Then again, they never do.) I started the year with an agent. I left her in March. I wrote a kick-ass book, sure that it was "the one" and would land me another agent (not to mention a lucrative publishing contract). It hasn't. (yet!) I sold the book my agent hadn't managed to sell (THE FIRST VICTIM coming from Carina Press in June!). Starting Killer Chicks with Jenny and Joann, and having the opportunity to interact with all of you, our readers, has been an amazing experience. While I'm disappointed that Jenny is leaving, I'm looking forward to seeing what our newest Killer Chick (No, I won't reveal her secret identity!) will be adding to the blog. (Don't miss her debut the week of January third!) I'm looking forward to finding out what 2011 will bring. I know it won't turn out the way I plan.

Joann: It was a good year for me. I queried my first viable novel in January and out of a handful of inquiries, had three requests for full reads. All came back telling me I had more work to do. I did that work and signed with my agent in May. We went on sub shortly after and, though I think we both expected different results, I don't yet have a contract, but every step brings me closer to realizing that goal. I wrote two more books this year and hope both will eventually make it to bookstore shelves. It was an honor launching Killer Chicks with the Jennifers and getting to know all our Killer Friends. Thank you for being so active on the blog. You make this fun!

What did you accomplish in 2010, Killer Friends? Let us know below, and have an amazingly Happy New Year! We'll see you back here on January 3rd!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Suck Filteritus

If you write, you’ll probably know exactly what I mean when I talk about a Suck Filter. You’re tooling along writing, editing, polishing your little heart out. Everything’s coming together beautifully and you’re convinced this manuscript is the best you’ve ever written. It’s your Life’s Work, your Purpose. And it’s Good.

Then, BOOM! The Suck Filter descends.

You go back and read the exact same words you were so convinced were Gold yesterday and all you can see is SHITE (as the Brits say). Instead of beautiful, your manuscript is boring. Instead of the characters whispering sweet nothings in your ear, they’ve become cardboard cutouts, silent and sullen. You can’t set a decent scene to save your life and you’re not even sure if the story idea is still a good one.

How does this happen? I see lots and lots of blog posts by writers who suffer from Suck Filteritus and while I'm not sure there's a cure, I do have a little experience with predicting said affliction. I've written four manuscripts so far and throughout each I've noticed signs that warn of impending Suck:

  • When I turn to hubby and say, “This is the best thing I’ve ever written.” Such a statement is tantamount to throwing down the gauntlet, and the Writing Gods do not treat me kindly afterward.
  • When I must read every polished word again That Moment because I can already feel the confidence slip…slip…slipping away.
  • When I begin searching for bad writing to convince myself I can do better. (A cheeky endeavor that leads absolutely nowhere.)
  • When I find myself searching for good writing to see if I’m “doing it right.”
  • When I try to push through the block and not a single word will come. Not. One.
  • When I haven’t “filled my well” with other creative activities. Suck Filters love empty tanks. (If I let myself get completely drained, I have no objectivity and see everything as Suck, which sucks.)

I think this, in part, is why writers suffer. We’re not only up against incredibly dismal odds, we fight ourselves constantly. And even with all the signs and symptoms of impending Suck days, I can’t do much to prevent them. They’re a part of the process.

So…you guessed it. I’m behind the Suck Filter right now and MIDNIGHT is stalled. I’m hoping with a few good movies and a break from work the confidence will come back. For now, though, it’s best if I don’t look at anything I’ve written. Including this blog post. (Hope it’s mostly free of typos and those worrisome dangling participles.)

Your turn, Killer Writers. How do you wiggle out from behind your own Suck Filter…or get your mojo back…or push through?

Just wanted to say another thank you to Jenny for being such a great contributor to Killer Chicks and for getting us up and going. I’m wishing you lots of luck in 2011 and looking forward to my Kindle download of CREEP next summer!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Highs and lows

If you're reading this blog, there's a pretty good chance you're a writer. So maybe you don't write thrillers like we do. Or maybe you haven't yet finished your novel, or you mainly write short stories. Maybe you've written five novels and are knee-deep in Query Hell.

Regardless of the stage you're at, I think we can all agree that it takes a certain kind of person and a certain thickness of skin (Ultra Super Maximum Thick) to be writers striving for publication. It takes a lot of courage to write something and let someone else read it, let alone a critique group, let alone an agent or editor. As a writer, I feel like I strip naked every day. Even though I write fiction, my personal experiences inevitably permeate my work, and the thought that someone might hate it hurts. Writing can be a deeply personal endeavor. I know it is for me.

And because it's so personal, there isn't a lot of "in between". There are incredible highs (a great crit! A partial request! An offer!) and there are incredible lows (a rejection on a full, a rejection on a partial, a rejection on anything). I've noticed that since I started writing seriously again, there haven't been a lot of boring days. I have awesome days, and I have crappy days, but life is never dull.

My best writing high: Signing with my agent. The day Victoria was called was the very first time I felt legitimized as a writer, and I was thrilled that there was someone in publishing who actually thought I could write. 

My worst writing low: A personalized rejection from a big-name agent on a three-chapter partial. He said that while my writing was flawless (SOAR), my characters were unlikable and he didn't much care what happened to them (THUD). I read the email, crawled back into bed, and stayed there all day.

What about you? What, so far, has been your best writing high and your worst writing low?

By the way, this is my last post for Killer Chicks. Blogging alongside two amazingly talented writers has been one giant high! I look forward to keeping up with the girls in the New Year as a reader and a fan. Happy Holidays, everyone!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

If You Could Write a Letter to Santa What Would You Ask For?

The other day I was eavesdropping on a little girl who was dictating her letter to Santa (not that her mother was writing anything down since she was pushing a grocery cart) and it got me to thinking...

Dear Santa,

As I'm sure you know, I've been a very good writer all year. I do not deserve a lump of coal in my stocking (or a year's worth of writer's block).

This year I'd very much appreciate it if you could bring me:

1) A plethora of new ideas
2) The discipline to turn all those ideas into manuscripts
3) A shiny new agent
4) Great cover art for THE NEXT VICTIM (to be released by Carina Press June 13th!)
5) A computer that doesn't hate me
6) Great reviews for THE NEXT VICTIM
7) A new book contract
8) Great Sales for THE NEXT VICTIM

(Please note that I have asked for eight things, which makes them equally appropriate for Chanukah)

Love,
JB

Your turn KILLER FRIENDS -- what would you like to ask her?

Monday, December 20, 2010

JB gets a release date, Joann edits her heart out, and Jenny survives her copy edits

JB: I've got a tentative release date from Carina Press for THE FIRST VICTIM -- June 13th, 2011! That's got a nice ring to it, doesn't it? I didn't get my revision letter from my editor yet, so I spent the majority of my time working on a WIP (not the sequel to the book that's out to agents -- this one is a stand-alone). I chose to work on this one because like THE FIRST VICTIM, it's in third-person and fairly dark.

I also sent out a couple of queries for my other book and was shocked to receive a request for the full manuscript from an agent (I'd thought that with the holidays, I'd be lucky to hear anything by the end of January).

Goals for the week: I'm trying to redesign my personal blog for the new year, so I'm spending a lot of time cursing at it. Plus I'll keep plugging away at my WIP until I get my revision instructions from my editor.

Joann: OMG, JB!! You've had exciting news after exciting news this week. CONGRATS!

I am having the best time editing MIDNIGHT. You know that feeling when everything hits its stride and it's all coming together so quickly you can barely keep up? Yup, that's where I am and I'm loving it. Also, I read a fabulous article this week about darkness in children's lit. It both buoyed and validated the hell out of me: As Grim As Grimm. I will definitely be checking out Dust City. Doesn't it sound fabulous??

Goals for the week: I'm averaging about a chapter a day on MIDNIGHT, so I'd like to try to keep up that pace. We'll see if it's doable with the upcoming holiday. One chapter takes 4-6 hours to edit, so between work and classes starting I might need to slow it down a bit.

Jenny: Woo hoo on the release date, JB! And on the edits, Joann!

I survived my copy edits for CREEP and sent them in late Monday night. Then I spent all day Tuesday wondering if there was something I missed. Then I spent the rest of the week trying to not to think about it! I have a terrible time letting things go.

Goals for the week: I have to remember to breathe. I just finished up the last of my Christmas shopping today, and tomorrow I'll begin to pack for my trip home to Toronto. Do I even still have a winter coat?

Friday, December 17, 2010

What holiday movie would you like to see made into a thriller?

In true Killer Chicks style, we're having fun re-imagining holiday movies as thrillers. Join in! What holiday movie would you like to see made into a thriller?

Joann: I LOVE It's A Wonderful Life. I've watched it every year since discovering the brilliance that is Jimmy Stewart and it never fails to make me cry. However, just once I wouldn't mind seeing George Bailey poison crotchety Mr. Potter with a few of Zuzu's petals or talk him into jumping off the bridge or stuff the money Potter steals from Uncle Billy down the old man's throat. Yeah...that'd be okay. Also, George would need to get away with it. He'd be Lecter, Dexter, and John Doe rolled into one sweet-talking psychopath.

JB: I'd pick Ruldoph, but despite expectations, I wouldn't turn him into an ostracized school shooter. Instead I'd let him have the last laugh.

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away (okay, the North Pole) there lived a disfigured reindeer with a weird, red, glowing nose named Rudolph. None of the other reindeer would play with him and they were known to call him names. Poor picked on Rudolph spent too much time playing violent video games.

Then one foggy Christmas Eve this old, fat dude had the nerve to come and say, “Rudolph with your nose so bright. Won’t you guide may sleigh tonight?”

And Rudolph said, “Hell no! Find your own way in the dark.”

So, idiots that they were, Dasher and Dancer, and Prancer and Vixen,
Comet and Cupid, and Donner and Blitzen flew off into the fog never to return again.

Rudolph is the only reindeer left.

THAT’S why he’s gone down in history.

Jenny: ROTFL! I'd like to see a thrilling twist on How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Imagine the Grinch is being hunted by a mob of vengeance-seeking Whoville Whos. After all, he's ruined their Christmas, and that's just not okay. They'd climb up to his mountain top home, and in organized SWAT-team formation, take him out.  Then they'd cart his body back to town and stick his head (and just his head) on top of the town's Christmas tree.  The moral of the story?  Don't f-ck with Christmas, kids.

Have we blown your warp-o-meter yet, friends? If not, what holiday movie would you like to see made into a thriller?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Joann's Top Elebenty for 2010

JB’s Top Ten post on Tuesday inspired me to think about the amazing things I’ve learned in 2010. We’re always learning aren’t we, friends? Honestly, if you had asked me at 16 what I would be learning at 37, I’d have laughed and said “Nothing! I’ll TOTES have it all together by that RIPE OLD AGE”. Or something like that. Thing is, I’ve learned more in the past five years than in the previous 32 combined, so my adolescent self would’ve been waaaayyyyy off.

And this year? Packed full:

Elebenty. It’s okay to love and admire and want to emulate the YA contemporary writers I hold in high esteem (I’m looking at you, John Green and Laurie Halse-Anderson), but it’s even better to remember that we each have something unique to contribute. My contribution just happens to contain a few more shadows and a little more blood.

10. Everyone who pursues publication has a different path. Everyone. Mine may be meandering, but I suspect it isn’t any less satisfying than someone who travels a straighter, faster road. I learn at each delicious curve and isn’t that the point?

9. There will never be a time in my life when I don’t disappointment someone and someone doesn’t disappoint me. This is how life works. Pain and glory. Learn. Move on. Grow.

8. It’s okay to say no, but if I can’t do that, it's good to at least work out a solution that doesn't include me yanking my hair out strand by strand (for fellow word nerds, the clinical term is trichotillomania).

7. Snow days are so awesome. So. Awesome. But icy patios aren't. And crutches suck. And a sprained knee = ouch. BUT my boss is amazing for letting me work at home while I recuperate, my husband is phenomenal for taking such good care of me, and I have huge (HUGE) new respect for people with disabilities. The everyday things we take for granted as able-bodied folks are astounding.

6. I don’t have a lot of close friends. Hell, I don’t have a lot of close relatives. But I am loved by an amazing man and three affectionate cats. What’s better than that?

5. If today sucks, I can almost always count on tomorrow to be better. So much in life – mood, motivation, mendacity (this one comes from my frustration with the current political climate) – depends on perspective.

4. It doesn’t make sense to wait until life is “perfect” to pursue the things we love. It’s cliché, but life truly isn’t a dress rehearsal. Get busy in the mess and use the imperfections for story fodder.

3. Writers, fellow bloggers, and supporters (I’m looking at you, KC friends) are super cool and super smart people. I’ve learned a TON from each of you since September. Thank you.

2. “It's never too late to be who you might have been.” – George Eliot

1. Some things have to be learned again and again (and again) until they truly sink in. If my next year's list looks like this one, you'll know I'm still busy incorporating, processing, and accepting.

Any of these resonate with you, Killer Friends? Got any “learnings” to add to the list?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Love, Actually

It’s no secret that I write dark, twisty stuff. I write about serial killers and murdery mayhem and psychopaths and sociopaths, and it's pretty obvious that I'm drawn to the sinister side of human nature.

But who says I don't love a good romance?

In terms of genre romance, I might not write it or read very much of it, but I can't deny that I love when romantic elements pop up in a story. Maybe it's because I'm nosy by nature – I always want to know who's doing it with whom, even though I know it's none of my goddamned business.

But the thing is, I prefer when it's not the main story line. I like romance (and sex) best when it's part of the undercurrent supporting the bigger picture. I like my lovey bits to be a spice, not an entrée. Just like I enjoy my steaks with Montreal seasoning, so too do I enjoy my mystery/thriller/suspense/crime novels with a certain dose of romantic tension.

In my current WIP – well, I can't tell you much about it yet, lest I jinx it – there's a new romance budding between a police detective and the quirky medical examiner as they pore over dead body after dead body. It's nowhere near the main storyline, and not something I planned for, but I literally couldn't seem to stop them from falling in love. (Making goo-goo eyes over a decomposing corpse? I did warn you that I gravitate toward the dark and twisted.)

Romantic elements can add an interesting layer to the plot, allowing us to see sides of the characters we wouldn't otherwise get to see, which can then enrich character motivation and other main elements of the story.

What about you? Do you like those lovey bits that sometimes pop up in thrilling stories, or would you prefer to "kill" the romance?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Top 10 Best of 2010

In no particular order:

Best Fiction: “People of the Book” by Geraldine Brooks

Best Non-Fiction: Jennifer Louden’s “The Life Organizer”

Best Viewing : JUSTIFIED (it’s on f/x be sure to check it out when it returns)

Best Writing Tool: Uniball Vision Elite with Purple Ink

Best News Received: Offer from Carina Press and finding out Charlotte Herscher would be my editor

Best Day: Walking around Nassau (in the Bahamas, not Long Island) with DH

Best Advice Received -- Lower your expectations of others

Best Decision Made – To write the book of my heart (in which multiple people are killed, lol)

Best Compliment Rec’d – beta readers quoting parts of the book of my heart while giggling uncontrollably (in addition to the deaths, there are many chuckles)

Best Gift Rec’d – Support of Friends and Family

Now it’s your turn. Tell me what some of your Top 10s of 2010 were!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Joann's revisions, Jenny's copy edits and JB's title

Joann: Every creator painfully experiences the chasm between his inner vision and its ultimate expression. The chasm is never completely bridged. We all have the conviction, perhaps illusory, that we have much more to say than appears on the paper. (Isaac Bashevis Singer)

This quote says it better than I ever could. The second first draft of MIDNIGHT is finished and the editing is going well, but there's so much I want to say and, for this story at least, it's less about the prose being beautiful and more about getting out of my own way to tell the story. That's tough because I want both. Perhaps by the seventh draft...

Goals for the week: Revisions will sloweth as intercession classes approacheth. :) Looking forward to the holiday break.

Jenny: I agree, it's so tough to achieve that perfect blend of prose and story.

I got back from vacation last Thursday (had a wonderful time!) to find my copy edits for CREEP sitting in my inbox the following morning. There are not enough words of praise for my copy editor. I thought the book was pretty tight, but I've been shown it can be tighter, and better. Am I weird for enjoying this part of the process? I've been working all weekend on the edits and am nearly done (deadline is tomorrow). I also got a copy of my production schedule and my release date is set for July 5. AND the book is now available on Amazon for pre-order. Whew! Things always seem to happen all at once.

Goals for the week: Christmas shopping! I'm spending the holidays in Toronto this year, so everything has to be done early (I'm normally a last-minute panic shopper).

JB: I've got my official title for my upcoming Carina Press title: THE FIRST VICTIM (are you scared yet?).

Goals for the week: I'm in flux as I wait to receive the next round of my revisions....

What have our Killer Friends been up to this week?

Friday, December 10, 2010

What's your favorite thriller movie?

Joann: I LOVED The Usual Suspects. It's an absolutely GENIUS movie and Kevin Spacey is brilliant (as usual - the man has serious range). This film is intelligent and requires that you don't zone out for even a second. When you get to the end and realize that everything you've seen is...well, I won't give it away, but when you do reach the "AHA" moment and your head tingles with realization and your mind plays back every moment of the film, yeah...that's the stuff. "Who IS Keyser Söze?" has become euphemism in our family for "WTF is really happening here?"

Jenny: Hands down, my favorite thriller is The Silence of the Lambs. It has a spectacularly fascinating villain (Hannibal Lecter), an interesting secondary villain (Buffalo Bill), and a likable heroine (FBI trainee Clarice Starling). This movie actually borders on horror for me, especially during the scenes where the Governor's daughter is kept in the well. "It puts the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again!" Tight pacing, complex characters (you know I love characterization!) and a satisfying ending make for a movie that I can watch over and over again.

JB: I've got to go with Se7en. The seven deadly sins. Kevin Spacey at his absolute creepiest. You-know-who's head in a box. What's not to love? A close second for me would be And Then There Were None...it's caused me nightmares for years!

So what's YOUR favorite thriller movie, killer friends?

Hope you have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Stranger Than Fiction

Photo by Me! Unhappy spirit captured in the
trunk of an ancient tree? Perhaps!
Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't. -Mark Twain

We’ve discussed the idea of life being stranger than fiction once or twice here on Killer Chicks and, I’ll tell you what, it’s the absolute truth. My life has been strange and if you’ve read any of the Freaky Friday posts on my personal blog, you’ll know just HOW strange. 

Of course there are lots of things I leave off my blog, not because I’m a particularly private person, but because I’m guessing my readers wouldn’t believe me. You know what I do with those bizarre things instead? I write them into my fiction. And wouldn’t you know it – feedback on my novels indicate credibility issues with the autobiographical aspects. Course folks don’t know the issues they’re pointing to are autobiographical, but it cracks me up. I want to say, “Hey wait a sec! This is right out of my own life!” 

But I get it! When someone tells me an outlandish story I definitely weigh the reliability of the storyteller. Are they elaborating? Embellishing? Outright lying? And why? 

I think individual filters play a gigantic role in how we view someone else’s story. If you haven’t experienced anything ghostly or don’t believe in an afterlife, you might think me completely off my rocker when I talk about my own experiences with the paranormal. If you had loving parents who encouraged your dreams growing up, you might not believe in a brutal father like Hank (TIN LILY). On the flip side, it can be difficult for me to see the genuine happiness in a close family unit. (I’m always looking for the darkness that I just KNOW is there.) 

So, my friends, while true life is stranger than fiction, it’s my fiction I’m going to have to make more credible.  While the feedback has been wonderfully flattering, I’ve got more work to do before TIN LILY is ready – namely, development of those bits and pieces I plucked right from my own experiences. I’m hoping 2011 will bring a better outcome for LILY, but for now it’s back to revisions. 

So, friends, what gives you pause when reading someone else’s story, whether it’s true or not, and how do you determine credibility?

p.s. I am SO EXCITED to tackle TL revisions. I've learned masses about writing since going out on sub and have lots of great feedback to work from. Stay tuned for good news in the coming months!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Writer's Brain

Boy, do I miss the days when I could just read books like any other reader would. When I could watch TV like a regular couch potato. When I could go to the movies and just get lost in the special effects while chewing on a Twizzler.

Those days are long gone.

Ever since I started writing seriously again three years ago, I've been ruining my own entertainment, because I now suffer from a serious case of Writer's Brain. Take TV, for instance. I can't get through an episode of Criminal Minds without questioning the believability of FBI profilers actually making arrests in SWAT-like formation. I can't get through an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit without predicting the backstory of both the victim and the rapist. And I definitely can't watch an episode of CSI without wondering why on earth Marg Helgenberger is wearing stilettos to a crime scene.

I never used to be this way. I used to stare in rapt attention at the screen – be it big or small – and lose myself in the story. I could almost always suspend my disbelief. But now? I analyze everything. I often figure out the ending to the movie thirty minutes in. I'm finding it very hard to be surprised.

It's the same way with books. Even when reading published books, I mentally edit as I go. I pause at a poignant sentence and, instead of marveling at its complexity and richness, I wonder how I'd rewrite it if this were my story. If I'm reading a novel written in the third person, I count the number of POVs and compare it to my own book. I analyze dialogue tags. I question the presence of each and every adverb. I compare every author's villain to my villain.

And it's not just fiction. Writer's Brain affects real life stuff, too. The other week, I was watching some reality show about animal hoarding, and they featured an elderly woman who had 85 cats. She could barely feed them all. Her house was disgusting. They found piles of cat feces under her sofa, along with the bones of a kitten who'd obviously died there. The woman had her cats taken away, and I couldn't help but think it would have been so much cooler if they had lifted up that sofa and found the old woman's bones there.

I know. It's so wrong.

I'm not sure there's a cure for Writer's Brain, other than to stop writing, which of course is not an acceptable solution. Do you guys suffer from Writer's Brain, and if so, how do you manage it?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Edits and Revisions -- Oh my!

So what are edits and a revision letter like?
A lot of red type.
Only kidding.
Sort of.
Once you get over the initial shock of having someone point out each and every flaw in the manuscript you’ve poured your heart and soul into (and let’s face it, millions of brain cells have probably been sacrificed for the project too) edits and revisions are a blueprint for making a good book great (at least that’s what my editor and I are hoping for).
As you’d expect, edits are mostly mechanical stuff. For example, I learned to type on a typewriter (a MANUAL typewriter which means my pinkies are imbued with near-superhuman strength). As a result, I tend to double-space between sentences…which is a no-no I still haven’t “untrained” myself from doing.
Edits are also about word choice. My editor gently (but repeatedly) that basically my heroine was too much of a hard-assed bitch. She showed me how subtle changes in word choice could make my heroine more likeable.
And edits are about punctuation errors (comma splice!) and grammar mistakes (dangling modifiers!).
Edits are pretty easy to address.
Revisions not so much.
I can only speak of what kinds of things I was asked to consider revising.
My list included:
Eliminating a secondary character.
Making the identity of the killer less obvious.
Drastically cutting back the importance and “page time” of two other characters.
Making my hero more heroic.
Toning down a certain relationship.
Fixing Inconsistencies and Gaping Plot Holes. (most of these were due to the fact I wrote soooo many drafts of this book and lost track of what was in and what was left out of the submitted version – something I need to make sure to pay closer attention to with my next submission))

Do I think that all the changes I made helped to make the book stronger? You bet!
Am I terrified my editor won’t agree with some of the changes I made? I’m losing sleep over it! (I made a fairly big change at the end of the book when it came to dispatching (or not) my villain. I think my choice served my hero’s story and I’m hoping my editor thinks it serves the story.)
So now you know about my pre-offer revisions (see last week’s post if you missed it) and my first round of official edits/revisions. I promise to let you know what happens next.
If anybody has any questions, I’ll do my best to answer them.
In the meantime, I’ve got a question of my own: Which do you enjoy writing more, the original draft of a story or a revision?

Monday, December 6, 2010

JB's between rounds, Joann's flying through revisions, and Jenny's not here


JB: I finished my first round of revisions and sent them into my editor a day or two early. I never realized how physically painful the revision process could be! (I guess because I was so concerned about doing the best possible job, I was tense throughout it). It literally took a couple of days to unhunch my shoulders, lol. And then the insomnia kicked in as I spent many sleepless hours worrying whether my editor will like what I did. I also sent her my acknowledgments page, which was surprisingly difficult to write. Then I pulled out my NaNo project and started working on it again. Oh, and as I mentioned in my goals last week, I did contact the agents who have my manuscript. I only heard back from one, but it was an encouraging update. (Not a "woo hoo! let's celebrate" kind of thing, just a confirmation that things seem to be moving in the right direction.)

Goals for the week: Keep working on the NaNo project...at least until I receive my next set of revisions from my editor.


Joann: Yay, JB! That's fantastic. I'm sure your editor will love your changes.

I've been flying through the second draft of WAM. Well, it's actually more like a second first draft. I looked back at when I first began working on this book and can you believe it? I started in May! The book has evolved beyond my wildest dreams and I'm just thrilled with its development. The second first draft is just a few tweaks from being finished and then it's time to nail down my research and edit/rewrite/polish. I've got a good while in front of me, but I'm looking forward to it.

Goals for the week: Finish those tweaks on MIDNIGHT and then begin the next phase. Woo hoo!

Jenny: I'm on vacation in Mexico! Hope you're all having a great week.


So tell us Killer Friends, with the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, does your writing fall by the wayside? Or do you indulge more as a form of stress relief? And speaking of stress, how did those of you who'd signed up for NaNoWriMo fare?

Friday, December 3, 2010

What's the dumbest thing you've seen a hero/heroine do in a thriller?

Jenny: I can't believe I'm actually going to criticize my new favorite show, The Walking Dead, but here goes. I hated when the hero, Sheriff Rick Grimes – after FINALLY being reunited with his wife and small son – went back into Zombie Central to rescue a racist hillbilly who almost beat one of the other survivors to death. His intentions, while noble, were irritating and slightly unbelievable. His family should always come first. I hate it when heroes try too hard to remind you that they're heroes.

Joann: Great example, Jenny. I bought into his other reason - to get the guns and the walkie-talkies in the bag he dropped (though someone else could have done that) - but your point about heroes is a great one.

Let's see...the dumbest thing I've seen a hero do. Okay, I thought the microwave scene at the end of The Last House On The Left was just lame. I mean, the guy's daughter is bleeding to death in the boat and he takes the time to truss up one of her would-be killers only to zap him to death? Oy. I call LAME!

JB: I've got to go with the ever-present The Hero Turns His Back On The Villain Who Isn't Dead Yet scene. You know the one. You've seen it a million times in books and movies. If you're like me you probably start muttering, "You idiot! Don't you know he's gonna get up and come after you again?" (says JB who just wrote one of those scenes as part of her revision, lol)

So tell us, killer friends, what's the dumbest thing you've seen a hero or heroine do?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Perfect Gift

This time of year can be very difficult for some folks and I'm afraid I'm one of them. The commercials with shiny, happy people shopping gleefully for their loved ones, the Norman Rockwell images of perfect families and perfect holidays, the push push push to buy buy buy - it's all a bit exhausting.

Know what I do love, though?

Giving.

I used to get all wrapped up (ha!) in the anticipation of reactions from family and friends when they opened The Perfect Gift I'd painstakingly picked out (or made!) for them. You know what lurks down that road? Nothing but dark and grimy and smelly old disappointment.

I learned my lesson some time ago and though I still slip now and then (and almost always face that disappointment), I keep the old adage "it's the thought that counts" firmly in mind when clicking around the tinterwebs to do my shopping.

Kinda reminds me of this whole writing gig. It doesn't matter how many years we put into our craft, how beautifully rendered the prose, how fully realized the characters, there's always going to be someone who doesn't like what we wrote and, as a result, disappointment.

The path from story idea to seeing our work on a bookshelf can be excellent practice for those inevitable (and vocal) negative opinions. Most of us experience rejection along the way and we'll react either by thickening our skin ("it's the thought that counts") or bowing out of the game all together ("screw 'em, everyone's getting fruitcake this year").

Anticipation can be a bugger and I've learned along the way it helps to be hopeful without building expectations. I HOPE an editor will fall in love with my books, but I don't expect her to. I HOPE my sister will like the ******* I bought her for Christmas, but I don't expect her to.

Expecting something to be a particular way, I've learned the hard way, is inviting Disappointment to have a long sit-down. And, I'll tell you what, the Big D is a chilly companion.

Hope, on the other hand, warms my soul right up.

So how do you deal with disappointment, killer friends? And expectations? And anticipation?  

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Six-Week Marinate

Every writer has their own process, and the Six-Week Marinate is part of mine.

Before I had ever written a novel, I read Stephen King's On Writing where The Mighty King advised aspiring authors to let a book sit for six weeks in between the first and second drafts. He stressed the importance of getting distance from your story and returning to it with fresh eyes six weeks later, so that you could see all the things wrong with it. It sounded like great advice.

But when I finished the first draft of Creep back in January 2009, I was reluctant to let it marinate for six weeks. I had written what I felt was a really clean first draft. I had great characters, lots of tension, a strong arc, and a compelling ending. I was antsy to get started on the rewrites, because surely there wouldn't be much to fix. But King's advice stuck in my brain, and so, wanting to do things right, I put the novel away and tried not to think about it for exactly six weeks.

By the time those forty-two days passed, I was totally dreading opening up my Word files. I had sweaty palms and heart palpitations. A lot of time had passed, allowing all kinds of doubt to seep in. I no longer felt the draft would be clean. I was pretty sure my characters were one-dimensional. I was certain my ending was flat. And you know what? A quick read through – on hard copy, because I printed the whole damn thing out, all 550 pages of it – confirmed that my fears were TRUE.

My first draft was shit.

Right from the first page, I could see all the places where it was overwritten. I had way too much backstory (which maybe I needed to know, but my readers certainly didn't). I had a ton of repetitive phrases and cheesy clichés, and I had tried so hard to make my protagonist interesting that she came out completely unlikeable. The entire thing needed work, on both macro and micro levels. I pulled out my purple pen and started slashing.

I shudder to think what would have happened had I not let the manuscript sit for six weeks. Would I have revised it once and then queried it? Probably. Yikes!

What about you? Do you let your work marinate in between drafts, or do you jump right into revisions? What works for you?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Receiving the Dreaded Revision Letter Part One

Like death and taxes, it’s almost impossible to escape receiving the dreaded revision letter, either from an agent interested in representing your novel, an editor acquiring your book, or, most likely both.

I’m going to tell you about my experience with the revision letters I’ve received from my editor at Carina Press. I’ll spill all about the highs, the lows, and the slogging in-between.


The first was an invitation to Revise and Resubmit, which meant that while they were interested in my novel, they felt it had some issues that needed to be addressed. I must admit that I had mixed feelings about that initial R&R request. On the one hand I was pretty jaded. I had done them before for this same manuscript for both agents and an editor. On the other hand, the editor at Carina Press who made the request was none other than Charlotte Herscher!!!!

Okay, maybe hers isn’t a household name, but to me she represented the Holy Grail of editing. Why? Because she edited all of Allison Brennan’s suspense novels. I’m a HUGE fan of Allison’s. For years I’ve been saying I want a career just like hers. Her books are a lot like mine, complete with REALLY creepy killers. (I’d had a number of people tell me that my killer is “just too creepy”.) I was so convinced that my book was similar to Allison Brennan’s books, that I compared my work to hers in the query I sent Carina Press.

Fate decided to smile at me. Charlotte Herscher had left Ballantine and was now working for Carina Press and my novel was forwarded to her. She liked it. She really liked it…just not enough to recommend acquiring it at that point in time. Hence, the first revision letter.

If there was one editor I believed could see the potential of my novel it was Charlotte Herscher and yet…

…and yet…

I don’t know how other writers feel, but I was conflicted about it. Yes, the opening comments were a balm to my ego as she listed what she liked most about my book (she was creeped out by my villain, but in a good way) but then I got to the meat of the letter. The part that outlined what she thought was wrong with the book.

For the record, she didn’t say anything was “wrong” or “bad” or “total dreck“ (her thoughts were all phrased in a generous and kind way). I supplied all that commentary as I read about the issues she had with the story. I had re-written and revised this story so many times already that I couldn’t possibly do it again. She was wrong.

Stewing, I closed the email, turned off my computer and went for a walk. Unfortunately this is how I tend to handle most problems. I get defensive first, think things through later. On my walk I slowly realized she might be right about a couple of things she was right about. I went home, opened the email and read it again…and again…and again.

And lo and behold, I realized she “got” my book. She understood the story I was trying to tell and had sent me what I’d always hoped to receive, a blueprint to take my novel to the next level. Her suggestions were spot on, and she helped me to see clearly how to address issues I’d sensed were problems, but hadn’t had a clue how to solve.

I’m not going to lie to you and say I embraced the revisions whole-heartedly right off the bat. It was more like they were a nasty smelling medicine I needed to take to get better.

And the manuscript did get better. Once I’d completed the rewrite, I resubmitted the manuscript and was eventually offered a contract.

And then the hard work started. I received my official edits/revision letter. I’ll tell you all about that adventure next Tuesday!

Tell me, how do YOU feel about revision letters?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Shopping, Snoopy Dancing, and Swigging

We're back! Did you have a good week? We sure did! Here's what we've been up to:

Jenny: I had one of my best friends come and visit over Thanksgiving weekend, and we shopped. And shopped. And shopped. And talked, and ate, and shopped some more. I only feel a little bit guilty about it.

Goals for the week: I'm off to Cabo San Lucas tomorrow! Woo hoo! But don't worry, thanks to the magic of early scheduling, my Wednesday posts will run as usual. (I'm sure you were all very worried).

Joann: Oh man, so jealous of Jenny's trip to Cabo! I've never been, but it's definitely on my list of places to visit. I didn't do any shopping over the holiday (I'm an online shopper through and through), but I did get a TON of writing done. Of late I have felt compelled to participate in the traditional Snoopy Dance because this new manuscript (WALKING AFTER MIDNIGHT) makes me SO HAPPY - not the writing (it's crap right now), but the layering of ideas that just keep coming. I love that energy.

Goals for the week: work, write, teach, repeat.

JB: I'm jealous of both Jenny's trip and Joann's Snoopy Dancing (and I'd like to see pictures of both!). I'm not a shopper, but I did celebrate Thanksgiving with another tradition. I did a Turkey Trot which was a lot of fun. With a December first deadline looming for this first round of edits/revisions I must have admit I've spent an awful lot of time swigging coffee and staring at my computer screen. My post tomorrow will be all about what it's REALLY like to receive an edits/revision letter.

Your turn KILLER FRIENDS, tell us what you did this week! (If you're finishing up NaNo, please be sure to tell us how you did!)

Goals for the week: Meet my deadline. Pass out. Follow up with the agents who have the full of my other manuscript (yes, I AM a glutton for punishment, lol).

Monday, November 22, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Monday, Killer Friends! This will be our only post for the week, so in the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday, we'd like to update you on our progress and also tell you what we're thankful for.

JB: Because of the extensive revisions I've been working on for my contracted novel, I've had to completely shelve my NaNo project. Not only did I not have the time to devote to it, but it was way too confusing to jump back and forth between stories and voices. Since I really want my Carina Press novel to be the best it can possibly be, I've committed to giving it my full attention.

Speaking of which, next Tuesday I'll write an entire post about my adventures with this round of revisions, but I'll tell you now that they're hard work...exciting stuff, but definitely a challenge! In addition to rewriting, this week I attended my first Harlequin/Carina Press teleconference--such enthusiastic and informative folks! I also had my first phone call with my editor (so cool to have someone in my corner who "gets" my story and is pushing me to make it even better) and we brainstormed a list of possible titles to send to the marketing folks.

What I'm thankful for: Everyone at Killer Chicks, the entire team at Carina Press, my incredible crit partners and readers, family and friends (especially she who had just emerged from a coma this time last year) purple ink, hot showers, thunderstorms, coffee, the Dog of Death, and Long Suffering who puts up with me saying on a fairly regular basis, "Hey, this would be a really good way to kill someone." Oh, and for all those agents who are preparing to offer me representation for my other book....(can't hurt to think positive, can it?)

Joann: Yay, JB! That's fabulous progress! SO thrilled for you.

I finished FULL DARK, NO STARS this week and LOVED it. Something Stephen King said in the afterword really resonated with me: "Take a bright light, and shine it on everything. If you don't want to see, why in God's name would you dare the dark at all?" This has helped me come to terms with delving into WAM's darkest places and I'm happy to report that the second draft is coming along swimmingly.

What I'm thankful for: So, so, so much: a warm house while it's snowing (SNOWING!), my wonderful hubby, my cuddly, affectionate cats, my fun coworkers, my awesomely proactive and encouraging agent, my students, my siblings, my fabulously talented blog partners, all our wonderful Killer Friends, and the good health to pursue so many of the things I'm passionate about.

Jenny: Woo hoo! I'm so excited for you, JB. Can't wait to read your revisions post. And Joann, I'm salivating over King's book. So glad you've recommended it.

I received a draft of my cover copy – no, not the actual cover (I know, that's what I thought it was, too), but the blurb. And I love it! I am also happy to say that the first draft of my new WIP is now officially done. Done done done! No more novel writing for me until January. Yes, JANUARY. Let the six-week marinate begin! (I'll still be blogging, though.)

What I'm thankful for: My supportive husband, amazing friends, my two awesome blog partners, a great agent, a fabulous editor, and a really productive 2010.

What are you thankful for, Killer Friends?

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving (for those who are celebrating) and we'll see you back here on Monday, November 29!

Friday, November 19, 2010

If you had 5 minutes to spend with your favorite author...

... what's the ONE question you'd ask?

Joann: This is a toughie because so many writers are fully accessible via Twitter, FB, and personal blogs, and they answer all sorts of questions very openly. I'd want to be clever and smart, which would undoubtedly make me go red-faced and silent. I think I'd ask Stephen King the following: "If you had 5 minutes to spend with your favorite author, what's the ONE question you'd ask?" Then I'd ask him that question. <------ You say cheater, I say clever. :P

Jenny: I just laughed out loud! Clever, indeed. I would ask Stephen King (because yes, he's my favorite author, too), what his worst experience in publishing has been so far. It just seems like he's had this dream career. Has he ever been insulted by an author he admires? Has he ever been embarrassed at how one of his movies turned out? Has he ever been embarrassed about anything? Okay, so that's one big question and three mini questions, but come on, they're all related.

JB: She's not my favorite author, but I'd love to ask J.K. Rowling about some of the choices she made in the HP series (mostly the stuff that drove me nuts).

What about you, Killer Friends? It's Free-For-All Friday! Who's your favorite author and what would you ask?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Time keeps on slip, slip, slippin' away

Some folks have a Biological Clock, some a Career Clock. I have a OMG-Must-Fulfill-Dreams-Fast-Fast-Fast Clock.

When I turned 34, the idea of time passing too quickly (and an overwhelming panic) hit me full in the face. A few months after my birthday I finished graduate school and had a strong desire to switch my career path, so I did. And I thought, now that damn clock will stop its infernal ticking and I can get on with developing this wonderful new career.

Can you guess what happened? Yup, the ticking got louder. The job was (is) fantastic, but instead of satisfying my need to create, it fed it. A year and half in I started writing again and finished my first novel. The clock got louder. I put that book away (very trunk-worthy) and wrote another. The ticking turned to drum beats, slow and steady and LOUD. I found an agent who loved my book and went out on sub. Now…surely, some peace. Um, no.

And then on one particularly agonizing day not too long ago, I let go. Sounds easy, right? It wasn’t. It was really hard. I wanted it to be as easy as deciding on a new career path, but that didn’t happen. It had to be a conscious choice – one not another soul in the world could make for me. And now, a few short weeks after I decided to stop being such a drama queen? The ticking is softer and I’m relaxing into the fact that there is no way I can accomplish everything I want to in this brief lifetime. I’m going to turn 38 in a few short months and, I’ll tell you what, not a drop of all that panic made the last four years slow down.

::whispering:: And wouldn’t you know it? After I relaxed, I received a bit of good news...and, while very excited, also took it in stride. It’s not Full Blown Awesome OMG Double Rainbow good news, but I’m happy and I hope to share more with you in the coming tick tocks.

I would love to hear your thoughts on how you handle the insanely fast passing of time, friends. Do you let go and just Be or do you struggle against the ticking of the clock?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Champagne wishes and caviar dreams

I took an online fiction writing class through the Gotham Writers' Workshop a couple of years back (great school, by the way), and at the end of the ten week session, our instructor posted a final discussion question on our class message board:

What's your writing dream?

The responses came in fast and furious.

"Gina" said she'd love to write a short story anthology just for herself.

"Carolyn" thought it would be cool to finish the first draft of her novel.

"Mike" said he'd like to be published in an online magazine.

And so on and so on.

I read all their posts in surprise. I double and triple checked the instructor's question. And I totally felt like shouting (I didn't, but I wanted to, in whatever way you can shout on an internet board):

"Come on, people! She said writing DREAMS! Not goals. DREAMS! As in, FANTASIES! They don't have to be based in reality. They don't even have to make sense. Surely as writers we can DREAM bigger than this!"

I found my classmates' responses so underwhelming. I couldn't tell whether people were afraid to be honest, or whether it was really possible that nobody in this writing class had a really big writing dream. Of course we all want to finish our novels. Of course we'd all like to be published someday. That's why we took the class.

But she said writing dream. Which, in my opinion, refers to a level far beyond goals and reasonable expectations. 

So here's what I posted:

"My dream would be to write a bunch of bestselling novels, one of which gets made into a movie starring Angelina Jolie. I want to be interviewed in Entertainment Weekly and I want Stephen King to talk about how much he loves my work in his monthly column. I want to be touted as having redefined the thriller genre and, after I'm dead, I want critics to have heated debates over who "the next Jennifer Hillier" will be."

Feeling a little giddy from allowing myself a moment to imagine the impossible coming true (because yes, I realized how completely over-the-top it sounded), I hit "post".

Silence.

Nobody responded.

Days passed.

Finally, the instructor popped back in to check on the discussion and said, "This is what I was looking for, a really big dream! Good for you, Jennifer. Why not add winning back-to-back Pulitzers to that list?  Because that's definitely mine!"

And I thought, Nah. I'm perfectly okay with just commercial success. <grin>

So what about you? What's YOUR writing dream? Let's hear it, and don't hold back!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Push that snowball down the hill (week 3 of NaNoWriMo)

If things had gone according to plan, I'd be writing act 3 (of 4) this week, but a combination of a week spent visiting family and edits/revisions for a book that's actually under contract, have derailed my NaNo project. (How is YOUR NaNo manuscript coming along?)

Last Tuesday I mentioned tackling the midpoint as the climax of Act 2. This means that something major has just happened. This event will change the direction of your story. It will increase the stakes. The pace will pick up.

Everything is going wrong for your character, but things are suddenly looking up for you, the writer. Why? Because once you've reached the midpoint, gravity is on your side. All this time you've been pushing a giant snowball up a mountain, but now that you've reached the peak, all you have to do is give your story a giant shove and race downhill toward the end. (HA! as if it were that easy, lol)

You've created your own momentum. Ask yourself what is now driving your story forward and keep those elements in mind at all times.

In my story my protagonist fails (which forces her to come up with a new plan -- a change in direction). There's a very real and imminent threat that she'll lose what she holds most dear (a raising of stakes). She's running out of time (an increase in pace).

You're now closer to "The End". Maintain a sense of urgency and keep on going!

What are your tips and tricks for getting through the second half of a novel? (I need all the help I can get so PLEASE share!!!)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Chugging, Evolving, Revising

It's Monday again! Is it us or are the weeks flying by? Here's what we've been up to:

Jenny: I'm about a third of way through my plot hole plugging, and I'm running on fumes. I've been thinking and breathing this WIP for what feels like an eternity (it took less than three months to write the first draft, but I started trying to write the first draft in January), and I can't wait to get it all organized so I can stick it away and not look at it for awhile.

Goals for the week: Keep chugging on my plugging. Groan. Cut me some slack, I'm tired!

Joann: The ever-evolving ms. that is WAM is...ever evolving. But it's going well and that's what matters. I'm knee-deep in the second-draft and rewrites. Very little of the first draft is making it in. Goals for the week: keep on keeping on.

I'm reading Stephen King's FULL DARK, NO STARS and I'm LOVING it. If you opt to read it, take a close look at the reviews on Amazon (if you pay attention to them at all). The poor reviews are strictly to do with the pricing set by the publisher. Why do people do that? Grrrrrr! It's the first time I paid $15 for an e-book, but that's my choice! Anyhoo, loving the book. It's old-style King and what could be better than that?

JB Lynn: I'm very excited (and a bit overwhelmed) because I've received my revision letter and first round of edits from my editor at Carina Press!

A combination of needing to get a new computer, a week-long visit with family, and working on the edits (while trying to figure out how to solve the issues raised in the revision letter) put me WAY behind with NaNoWriMo. I only wrote 5217 words this week. I hope everyone else who is participating did better!

Goals for the week: Edits, revisions, NaNo -- Repeat daily!

Check in, Killer Friends! What's up with you?

Friday, November 12, 2010

What qualities of a villain capture your imagination?

JB: I must admit that I have a thing for brilliant villains. I don’t care whether they’re evil genius serial killers (John Doe was my favorite character in Se7en), mastermind world dominators (I’m thinking about all the Bond villains here) or the psychopath next door (I’m talking about you, Annie Wilkes!). Smart villains don’t get caught or stopped (at least not right away). Smart villains have interests other than killing (fava beans anyone?). Smart villains are a match for, or even superior to, the heroes and heroines they go up against. Smart villains make a story interesting!

Jenny: Man, do I love villains. They're always my favorite character in the story, even if I'm not rooting for them (I usually do root for the hero). Villains can do whatever they want. They don't have to worry about being likable and they definitely don't have to worry about being sympathetic. They don't have to play by the rules. They can be flamboyant or they can lurk in the shadows. I enjoy writing villains more than any other character because there's such freedom in it. My favorite kind of villain is smart, original, and has motives larger than what they seem. So I have to ditto JB that John Doe from Se7en is one of the best villains of all time. He was the ultimate mastermind.

Joann: Count me as third fan of Se7en's John Doe. It's funny, I love complex villains when I'm reading about them or watching them on the big (or small) screen, but I have a tough time writing them three-dimensionally. In real life, I think it's easier to understand an "evil" act when it's perpetrated by someone who is clearly bad or seriously dumb. Such a concrete view keeps the ickiness at arm's length. I think that's part of why John Doe and the Joker and Iago and all those other really freaky villains both appeal and scare the bejesus out of me: they're intelligent, often funny, ambitious AND they want to watch the world burn.

Your turn, killer friends. What qualities of a villain capture YOUR imagination?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Give Me Specificity Or Give Me Death!

If you’re a writer, you know the setting in your novel has all the potential to become a character unto itself, separate from the cast of protagonists, antagonists, and supporting peeps. Seriously, how important was Hogwarts in the HARRY POTTER series? How crucial was that flight of stairs in THE EXORCIST? The Lincoln Tunnel in THE STAND? All were pretty damn significant, I’d say.

When I’m reading a novel, picturing the setting is as important to me as liking (or not liking) the characters. My imagination doesn’t want Vanilla High School #3 or Plain City In American #10. I want the DEETS. I want to SEE that ominous, killer staircase and FEEL the cold drafts from Nearly Headless Nick and SMELL the rotting flesh of all those dead folks crammed into the Lincoln Tunnel (ok, maybe that’s a bit much).

I think about this all the time in my own writing and I’ll tell you what, setting is one of the hardest things to get right, in my opinion. It isn’t just about place, it’s about atmosphere and season and circumstances. Setting isn’t just a backdrop in which our characters play out their assigned roles. It needs to be as well drawn as everything else. Otherwise, we’re gonna give our readers a big old case of the Blahs.

In my own writing the setting tends to spring up spontaneously and then shows me its significance later on. Sometimes it’s about conveying wealth or poverty, separateness, mental illness, death or new life, but it’s always, always symbolic of the big issues in my characters’ lives.

If we infuse our settings with as much care as we do our characters and our plots, we have the potential to create an almost physical space that readers can occupy for the hours they’re spending with us. What an incredible opportunity!

When it comes to setting, don’t go Blah. Go Big!

I’d love to hear your all-time favorite novel setting, killer friends. What was it about the place/time/circumstances that affected you so deeply? If you’re a writer and you care to share, how do you choose your settings?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Finding balance

Confession time: I am addicted to the Young & the Restless.

For those of you who might not know what this is, the Young & the Restless is a soap opera that's been on television longer than I've been alive. Yes, the storylines can be ridiculous (everybody's been married to everybody and people come back from the dead ALL THE TIME... and no, not as zombies), but I still tune in. I need this soap opera in my life. The ridiculousness of this one TV show somehow helps me balance out all the seriousness I experience in my day-to-day life, and I really need that balance.

For me, Y&R is the fastest and most enjoyable way to unwind after a tough day of writing. Even if I've missed an episode or two, it doesn't require brain cells to figure out what's going on. After an afternoon of staring at my WIP and contemplating different ways for people to die, nothing feels better than to curl up on the sofa with a mug of tea and find out what the back-stabbing, incestuous, poison-tongued residents of Genoa City are up to. It's a great way to decompress, to get out of my own head and just indulge in something utterly fluffy (because fluff is exactly what I try to avoid in my own work).

Having recently finished the first draft of my third novel, I've learned the hard way how necessary it is to seek balance, even in the midst of a draft. Being constantly consumed by a project has never helped me, and has, in fact, hurt me by causing me to slam right into the Burn Out Wall long before the book is finished. So now I know: when it's time to stop writing, it might also be time to stop thinking about writing. At least for a little while until my mind refreshes and I'm ready to go at it again.

Other ways I wind down: cooking, cleaning (picture me armed with a can of Pledge and a rag, hunting for a dusty bookshelf), and dancing. I like to jack up the volume on a favorite song and just let loose. Nobody's watching, so who cares if I look like a fish flopping around or if my moves are so totally 2004? When Outkast tells me to shake it like a Polaroid picture,you bet your ass that's exactly what I'm going to do! Five minutes of no-holds-barred dancing clears my head and recharges my batteries. (As does chocolate. Can't forget about chocolate.)

It's those little breaks that keep me going all the way to The End.

How do YOU keep going? Do you take breaks too, or do you push hard all the way the through until you're finished?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Avoiding a Sagging Middle (week 2 of NaNoWriMo)

Okay, so last Tuesday I told you about how I’m not a plotter or pantser, but a paradigmer. This week I want to share how I approach getting through the dreaded middle of a book. In no way do I think this is the “right” way. It’s just the way I do I do it. If you’ve got a system that works for you…don’t deviate! But if you’re struggling, maybe my approach will help you to think about it differently.

For many people (count me! count me!) writing the middle of a novel is like entering a land of quicksand. One minute you’re on firm footing and the next the life is getting sucked out of your story.

But, let’s back up a step. Most people would agree that novels have a beginning, middle, and an end, which in turn leads to our understanding of basic three act structure. Therein lies the problem, imho. Most writers believe one of two things:

1) Each act/section is equal (a third is the beginning, a third is the middle, and a third is the end)
2) The first act is ¼ of the story, the middle is HALF of the story, and the last act is ¼.

With me so far?

No wonder the middle is intimidating. For one thing, the middle is long. For another, most of the flashy stuff – introducing characters/story lines and completing a characters arcs and a big bang climax occur in the other two acts.

Now here’s my crazy idea. What if you break the middle into two acts? What if you start thinking of your midpoint as the CLIMAX of your second act?

Something big is going to happen at the midpoint -- a giant plot twist, an unexpected failure, a point of no return. Hell, your protagonist probably believes that the action they take at the mid-point will end their ordeal (sure, you the writer know that their life is about to get worse, but they don't). They probably think things are getting better/going well for them. Write toward the midpoint as though it’s a climax and your story won’t sag in the middle.

In my NaNo novel, my MC is going to do the one thing that can put her life back on track. She truly believes if she accomplishes this Herculean task, all will be right in her world. She makes the attempt. She fails. All is lost…

What’s the midpoint of your story? What does your protagonist think they’re going to accomplish? Infuse this section of your novel with the sense of urgency they’re experiencing. They’re not approaching the midpoint as an obstacle to overcome. He or she believes it’s the finish line and they’re rushing forward to cross it.

Now it’s your turn. What are your tricks for avoiding middle-of-the-novel slump? Please, please tell me -- I need all the help I can get!

If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, how are you doing? (Don’t forget I’m posting tips, tricks, and pep talks every day on JB Lynn’s Confessions of a Crime Writer!)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Jenny's CREEPing along, JB is juggling projects, and Joann is making progress

It's Status Check Monday, Killer Friends! Here's what we've been up to:

Jenny: Over the last couple of weeks, I had lots of cool things happen with CREEP, my debut novel, which I talked about on my blog last Thursday. The highlights: edits are done (copyedits are next, I believe), the book will be available in Canada, and it might just get a reading guide! Pretty exciting stuff.

Goals for this week: keep plugging the holes in the current WIP. It's actually not as awful as it sounds. Mainly because the book is written, and I'm definitely all the way out of panic mode. Hooray for that!

JB: I survived the first week of NaNoWriMo! My current wordcount stands at 12906, so I'm ahead of the game by a little. How's everyone else doing?

The real NaNo test will be this week because on Friday I received my first round of edits for my Carina Press manuscript. Oh, and my executed contract, which went 'round the world, ended up in my mailbox on Saturday, so now everything feels more official, lol.

Goals for the week: Make a dent in the edits and keep on NaNo-ing! (Oh, and not losing my mind in the process is pretty high on my list of priorities.)

Joann: Woo hoo, Jenny! Such awesome news! Yay, Jen! Congrats on your first successful week of NaNo. That is an incredible word count.

My biggest accomplishment this week: twelve amazing years of marriage - as of TODAY! Happy Anniversary to my wonderful, brilliant, sweet Hubby.

Writing-wise, I'm making A LOT of progress on WAM (title to definitely change), which is such a relief. I’ve been so excited about this book since I started it, but kept running into brick walls. I switched POV and wah lah! the second draft is flowing. Whew! I’m also typing in The Unnamed and Very Mysterious Handwritten Manuscript, which is fun. The ms. is actually longer than I originally thought (YAY for tiny handwriting!). Also, I bought a beautiful new book about astronomy. It's for research (she says defensively).

Goals for the week: continue to focus and make progress on my current projects, hope to hear something about TIN LILY.

What have you been up to and what have you got coming up, Killer Friends?

Friday, November 5, 2010

WINNERS of the 3-3-3 Contest!

Thank you so much to everyone who participated! We appreciate your support and hope you had as much fun as we did.

Without further ado, here are the winners:

Missie at The Unread Reader
You have won a $25 Amazon gift card for being a blog follower!

Joni at Bear Nekkid
You have won a $25 Amazon gift card for being a Twitter follower!

Adam Purple at Writer, Not
You have won a $50 Amazon gift card for your outstanding flash fiction piece, The Museum of Obscure Cartoon References!

Congratulations to all the winners!

Missie, Joni, and Adam, please contact Jenny at jennifer98101@gmail.com by Friday, November 12 with the email address you'd like your e-gift card sent to.

Once again, thanks to all who participated, particularly those who submitted a flash fiction story. We were blown away by your creativity and talent. Bravo! We'd also like to extend a very warm welcome to all our new followers. Hope you stick around.

In case you missed Adam Purple's story, here it is. Have a great weekend, everyone!

The Museum of Obscure Cartoon References
by Adam Purple
I entered through the revolving door and found the information desk. The woman behind the counter spun her chair toward me. A pencil protruded from the tight bun atop her head.

"Yes?"

"I’m looking for the band that did the cartoon--"

"South Park, third episode, 1999. Second floor. The Kornucopia Room. Stairs are on the left."

"No, see, there was a song, but it was about growing up…learning--"

Her eyebrows arched. "Cartoon Chicks. Downstairs, in the Betty Boop Basement. West Wing, the Jessica Rabbit Repository." She leaned forward to eye me over the top of her glasses. "Adults only."

"No, not like that. Just listen. They did a song. About tying shoes…"

She nodded, just once. "Spongebob, episode 21. Third floor. The Hall-o-Ween.

"That’s it! You’ve got a killer memory."

Her lips turned upward at one corner. "Murder and Mayhem. Gary Larson Library. Third floor." She spun away.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Beauty and Writing

Sometimes there's so much beauty in the world I feel like I can't take it, like my heart's going to cave in. (American Beauty, 1999)

Friends, don’t you just want to get out your butterfly net, snag those incredible moments of beauty, and pin them to a piece of cardboard so you can always remember how they made you feel? Tom Lowe at Timescapes managed to do it in video and I hope you’ll take a couple minutes to view his stunning work and then join me below for a discussion about how this all relates to my most recent manuscript.


TimeScapes: Rapture from Tom Lowe @ Timescapes on Vimeo.

Back in September I read John Green's Paper Towns and loved it. The nostalgia got to me in a big, big way. Shortly after finishing PT, I traveled to the town where I grew up and visited places I hadn't in years, relived memories I’d let slip away because they were too painful/too embarrassing/too whatever, and (to my surprise) began a new manuscript on the way home. I didn’t think it would turn into anything – just a quick little writing exercise that would keep me limber.

I spent the next six weeks writing, still expecting nothing much to come of it. On Tuesday I put down my pen (literally - this is the handwritten ms. I'm talking about), and not because the exercise had run its course, but because it was finished.

I think the combination of reading PT at the time I did and the trip home stirred something in me that allowed this book to emerge. I LOVE when just the right mishmash of elements come together to create something new, when you can point to a specific moment and say, “That’s it! That’s when the idea came to me!”

I won’t know if the manuscript is viable until I get into rewrites and edits, but I do know in writing it I felt my heart cave in a little, not from the beauty of my prose (Ha! Ha! First drafts are NEVER beautiful), but because in using a pen instead of a keyboard I more clearly saw each scene, each character flaw, each moment of discovery as if I was glimpsing something rare and wonderful. That is a true find and I will always be grateful for Paper Towns, my trip home, and a notebook I threw into my bag at the last minute – my own little moments that conspired to create, for me, something beautiful.

Any moments of beauty you've experienced lately, Killer Friends? Hmmmm?? Perhaps a new torture device for one of your exceptionally villainous villains?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The art of selecting a book

I don't know about you guys, but I take book buying very seriously. Whether I'm shopping in a bookstore or on my Kindle, the magnitude of choices I have at my fingertips forces me to be extremely selective about what I spend my hard-earned money on. Yes, looking for a new book is always fun. But that doesn't mean I take it lightly! Let's face it, nothing's worse than bringing your new book home (or on vacation, or to work to read on your lunch hour), only to realize you bought a dud.

Here are the four criteria I always consider when shopping for a new read:

Author recognition
We all have our favorite authors, and when I see that one of mine has a new book out, I'll almost always buy it without too much thought. Jeff Lindsay just released a new Dexter book?  Sold! Jeffery Deaver has a new Lincoln Rhyme novel out? Sold! I'm a loyal reader, and supporting the authors I love is a no-brainer.

Cover Art
I admit it, I've been known to take a chance on a book simply because I liked the cover. I'll use Fangland by John Marks as an example of this. I knew nothing about the author or the book, but the cover was wonderfully creepy. It reminded me of a movie poster, so I bought it (which turned out to be a good decision – I loved the book).

Back cover/jacket flap blurb
Quite often I'm enticed by the blurb – and that's exactly why it's there. Consider this from the jacket flap of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins:
"In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV."
I had never heard of Suzanne Collins. The book cover didn't do much for me. And at that point, I hadn't really read much YA. But this blurb? Those two sentences sent me straight to the cash register.

Personal recommendation
There's nothing I appreciate more than a book recommendation. Now, please don't confuse this with book reviews, which are a different animal. I love it when someone I personally know, who knows my tastes, tells me there's a book I really need to read. My mother recommends (or not recommends) books to me all the time, and she's almost always right about what I'll end up enjoying.

What I don't take into consideration when buying a book?  
Anonymous reader reviews, like the kind you find on Amazon.com. I'm wary of listening to the advice of somebody I don't know. Which isn't to say they're without merit, it's just that anonymous reviews don't sway me personally one way or the other.

What about you? What makes you decide to buy a book? What makes you decide to put a book down and keep looking?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Plotter? Pantser? Or Something Else?

There's no magic formula for writing a book. (If there was I'd patent the sucker and make a gazillion bucks....but I'd give you, dear readers of Killer Chicks, at a significant discount.)

In this Writer's Digest article, best selling thriller writer David Morrell talks about wanting to be surprised by his story, while the equally successful Ken Follett reveals his outline is typically 50 typed pages.

I'd guess from reading that article that Morrell is a pantser and Follet a plotter.

Me? I like to think of myself as a "paradigm-er".

Outlines never worked for me (I blame those pesky Roman numerals). I have trouble envisioning things that are presented in list form, while horizontal paradigms make perfect sense to me.

(If you're unfamiliar with paradigms, check out these examples from Syd Field. Yes, they're for screenplays, but the basic concept can be carried over to novels. No, I don't think they're the "right" way to do it...I just happen to use a bastardized version of the concept (I'm a big believer in working in 4 acts...more about that next Tuesday) to get my own story down.)

For my NaNoWriMo project I made up seven separate paradigms.

They are:

1) My main story
2) My main subplot
3) My motivation story
4) Employment
5) Love interest
6) Mentor
7) Allies who are also Complications

***I don't really have an antagonist in this story, but if I did, I'd definitely have an antagonist paradigm too....after all he/she is just as responsible for driving a story toward its conclusion***


Here's how my Employment paradigm works (keep in mind that this is not a main storyline, just something that complicates my MC's life):

Inciting Incident -- MC finds out she's in danger of losing job
Turning Point 1 - She's fired
Pinch 1 - Starts job search
Mid Point - Meets someone who suggests a new career path
Pinch 2 - Job interview
Turning Point 2 - Begins training for new job

(no climax or resolution needed because it's not a main storyline)

Can you see how figuring out all of these moments for each of your storylines, could be helpful?

So that's how I'll be tackling my National Novel Writing Month project, what about you? Are you a pantser? A plotter? Or something else entirely?

You can find me at NaNoWriMo under JB_Lynn (don't forget the underscore) and I'm tossing out tips and tricks every day this month over at JB Lynn's Confessions of a Crime Writer.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Status Check: Joann's Big Ideas, JB's NaNo insanity, and Jenny's awful first draft

It's Status Check Monday!  Did you all have a good Halloween? We sure did, considering all the fabulous entries we received for our flash fiction contest. We'll be announcing the winner this Friday, November 5. Thanks so much to all who entered!

Here's what's up with the Killer Chicks right now:

Joann: I'm not used to having more than one idea at a time. Not saying it's a bad thing (at all). In fact, it's somewhat of a relief because I thought after I'd written two novels I'd be sort of spent, you know? Not true. Ideas breed more ideas, which then have little baby ideas, which may grow up to become adult ideas...you get the idea. Right now I have four Big Ideas, all I think will make very interesting YA novels. I'm working on three of them. When I get stuck on one, I move to another and when I get stuck on that one, I move to the third (diagnosis: WIP-ADD). Trouble is, this distributed-focus model SUCKS when you're trying to finish anything. My goal this week: focus, stop being so ADD-y and start moving toward some finishing lines. I had myself half-convinced I need to join NaNo this year. Don't let me, friends. I do not need another idea.

JB: I want to throw up. I'm vascillating between being ridiculously nervous (what was I thinking?!?) about starting NaNoWriMo and being overly-excited (I'm getting so sick of catching myself thinking "this is going to be awesome!").

Tomorrow I'll explain what I hope to accomplish this week.

Best of luck to everyone who is joining me in this temporary insanity.
Current word count: 0

Jenny: Yay for Big Ideas and yay for NaNoWriMo! I have partnered with some very productive Chicks.

As for me, I FINALLY finished the first draft of my current novel. 98,255 words. 366 pages. And yep, it's all shit.

But it's okay. Over the next few weeks, with a lot of restructuring and the filling in of some ugly, gaping plot holes, it'll be less shitty and ready for marinating (which is when I don't think about it for six whole weeks). Maybe during that time I'll be able to think up a decent title.

Killer Friends, check in! What do you have going on this week?

Friday, October 29, 2010

FFF: What annoys you about the thriller genre?

Before you answer that question, answer another. Have you entered our 3 Ways to Win Contest? Today's your last chance.

JB Lynn: I can’t stand descriptions of weapons that go on for multiple paragraphs. I don’t care if a gun can shoot the wings off a mosquito, I just want to know if it will fit in a woman’s evening bag.

I also can’t stand it when I get to the end of the thriller and I have unanswered questions AND the author hasn’t addressed them. IF a book ends with, “But we still don’t know who sent the poisoned bonbons to the writer” I’m okay with that, but if I think a writer just forgot to pay something off it annoys me.

I’m betting that someone will say that they hate it when characters are “too stupid to live”. You know the ones…they hear a mysterious noise and go to check it out, they accept a ride from a stranger or they abandon their car when it breaks down. While I feel a twinge of annoyance when writers have their characters do such foolish things, I also know that in real life people do those very same things…and end up dead.

Jenny:  I can't stand long-winded descriptions of forensic analysis. It's fun to watch CSI on TV because you get to watch what they're doing, but in a book... yawn.

I also get annoyed when thrillers ignore characterization. I can think of a big-name thriller (that went on to become a big-name movie) where the characters almost didn't need to exist, because it was all about solving the puzzle and racing from one clue to the next. The characters were secondary, and while I realize that in a thriller the plot is really important, the characters shouldn't be reduced to mere plot devices. As a reader, it's hard to feel invested in the outcome of the story if I don't at least care what happens to the characters.  My favorite thrillers are the ones that strike that perfect balance between character and plot.

Joann: Ditto JB and Jenny PLUS I hate it when characters are "too stupid to live"...hehehehehe. No, seriously, authors often have the advantage of building credibility, but this does tend to bug me in films where there are only two hours to make us believe or give us the opportunity to suspend our disbelief. I think Scream does this extremely well. Though the characters are always walking into situations that eventually get them killed, it's totally believable they would.

I also hate long-winded descriptions AND lists. Lists are on my list (I'm looking at you, Dragon Tattoo).

I really, really, really dislike when something is mentioned for a split second in the beginning of a novel or film and then that something is used as a murder weapon at the end (I'm looking at you, Last House On The Left). Give us some context, some meat!

So, how 'bout it, Killer Friends? Any annoyances you'd care to share?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Easy Writer

Torture Porn, animal cruelty, misogyny: my personal trifecta of “OH HELL NO!” Aren’t you tired, dear friends, of reading about women too stupid/too drunk/too weak to know they’re in danger of The Big Bad? And aren’t you tired of reading about defenseless creatures meeting their end at the hands of The Big Bad With A Case Of The Animal Cruelties?

It’s no secret I love all things dark – horror, thrillers, even true crime. BUT within that love is an abiding need for smart, complex characters who have a ton of options and more than one potential destiny. I’m going to pick on one of my favorite Dark Masters, Stephen King, because I think he does this particularly well…with some exceptions.

In THE STAND Stu Redman doesn’t wear the proverbial pants in the mutually-respectful relationship he has with Frannie Goldsmith. Instead, King wrote Stu and Frannie as equals, both reliant on the other to survive. On the other hand, what was up with Nadine Cross? Born and bred to the be the Dark Man’s bride? (Patting self on back for all that alluring alliteration!) You could argue Nadine had free will, that her choice was agonizing, but when you’re moving toward a specific outcome your entire life, how do make a different choice and still be credible? I wanted to see more options for Nadine. I wanted to see Old Randy NOT use his Bad Boy Mojo Powers to sway her decision.

Ok, you know that part in APT PUPIL where Dussander starts in on the kitties and doggies? I would argue it was completely unnecessary and, in fact, gratuitous (sorry, Mr. King). By the time Todd and Dussander are in the thick of it, we know the old SS officer is dark and twisted. I really REALLY don’t need furry evidence to further prove this fact. IMO, these scenes are some of the worst I’ve skimmed in any book. Awful stuff. If you haven’t “gone there” yet and animal cruelty sticks with you (like it does with me), just don’t.

Even with the Easies King chose in the two examples above, he created some amazingly memorable characters. But you know what made Dussander and Flagg fascinating for me? It wasn’t their arrogance, though they certainly had that. It wasn’t their cruelty, though they both engaged in some really awful stuff. It was how their arrogance and cruelty destroyed them.

Here’s my point: we can use Easy Memes without becoming Easy Writers. Let’s plump our MC’s so they’re full of roundy goodness, yes? Complexify our casts, I say! Give them more to do! And can we take a hiatus on misogyny for misogyny’s sake and animal cruelty for animal cruelty’s sake? Okay? OKAY!

And let's not forget Le R's Important Words Of Wisdom: "I think that it is useful to remember that what makes crime and thriller novels compelling is not necessarily THE MOST GROSS DISMEMBERMENT EVER WITH SEXUAL TORTURES OF ALL THE LADIES...Also, NO MORE ANIMALS IN ORIFICES. I seriously do not want to read that ever again as long as I live."

Any Easies on your shit-list, friends?

Bonus: I got my rant on over at my blog today too and posted two of the MOST AWESOME VIDEOS EVER.