Apr 29, 2012


It's funny how people are so good at adapting to situations. I'm a restless type. After a year (or even 6 months) of the same routine I start to get a little stir crazy. I start wanting adventure and change! Perhaps this is a remnant of my days in school, where every 4 or 5 months you switch schedules/living areas completely. Even the extraordinary, like teaching English in South Korea or living in the slums of Cambodia, falls victim to this.

Every once in a while, you need a getaway. Which is what the husband and I did with our friends a few weeks ago. It may surprise you to know that South Carolina actually has mountains (in the itty, bitty top corner) and that these mountains are actually tall enough to provide a semi-strenuous hike!

Though I was born and raised on salt marsh and sea, there's something about the mountains that tugs at my heartstrings. The air is crisper. The trees are lusher. The horizon rolls on and on with blue hills. Every single time I'm hiking through the mountains stories jar to life in my head. Stories that make me want to capture the feel and life and wildness of the land I'm in.

Table Rock (where we ended up hiking) is actually very close to the Asheville/Charlotte area where The Hunger Games was filmed, so the landscape looks very similar to the arena that Katniss was thrust in. This meant I was leaping around the trail, pretending to shoot arrows and wishing that my hair was long enough to throw back in a braid.

We also tossed cheese puff balls on top of the mountain and tried to catch them in our mouths. (Husband's secret video project... don't ask). Several cheese puff balls were harmed in the making of that film...

Look! We got to the top!

We made some new friends along the way.

The view (and an old friend with his walking stick).
So here's to getting out and being inspired by the things around us. Be they mountains, marsh or anything between.

Apr 26, 2012

going organic (plot-wise)

In the writing world, we have terms that define the way a writer plots things. For example.

Outliner (n): a writer who keeps detailed notes and synopsis of their projects. They rarely deviate from their roadmapped plots. One such writer is J.K. Rowling, who apparently had all 7 books of Harry Potter outlined before she started writing the first one.

Pantser (n): a writer who "flies by the seat of their pants" plotwise. They write as the words take them and do not make outlines or keep notes.

A writer who does a bit of both is known as a "pantyliner" (hehe.)

I'm a natural Pantser. I've tried outlining, believe me. But then my manuscript automatically rebels and says, "Hey, guess what, I'm going this way now. Have fun rewriting your outline, sucker!" People often ask me if I know what will happen story-wise when I start writing a book. The answer is: kind of. I usually have a vague (and sometimes not vague) idea of where the story will go. But this always manages to change as soon as I actually put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard as it were). And I have yet to know what the ending will be for any first draft I start.

But, honestly, Pantsing a novel is scary. There are so many possible ways a plot could go that you can often take wrong turns and go a ways down a false trail. I've grown to find that these false trails are necessary to the development of my novel. Sometimes I have to write useless scenes or silly side-plots to get to the heart of the novel. And while this means I have to throw away thousands of words, they weren't written in vain. Every sentence gets me closer to the end goal of a great and hopefully functioning first draft.

Every one of my books starts off with a seed of an idea. Some tiny wisp: a picture or a first line that sticks in my head and won't leave until I write it down.

When I do write it down, more comes. The seed starting poking out feeler roots: the character, their voice, the setting. What happens next. And what happens after that.

The first few scenes are always rough and exploratory. They almost never end up in the final draft (and if they do, they look very different!). These feeler scenes help me realize who the character is and what their story is (both past and future). Usually in these scenes there will be sentences or instances that will automatically compel me into the "what next." And I go from there.

The what next scenes break out of the ground and pile together on top of each other, growing and growing until the core of the story appears. Sometimes it takes a good deal of time for this core to appear. Such as with Cutthroat Novel. What I thought was the core conflict was actually.... not. Well, not fully.  And I just realized this when I decided to add more vantage points.

But for me, writing organically doesn't mean going completely wild. Just like a tree, novels need to be pruned and cared for in order to grow well. Those wonky side-plots can be hemmed and trimmed to provide good tension and rich subtext. Characters who were hidden in the woodwork can be coaxed out and formed into intense, beautiful voices.

So, I guess I'm more of a "Pantsing with care" kind of writer.

What about you guys? Are you outliners or pantsers?

Apr 24, 2012

my genius marketing plan

As soon as you sign a publishing contract, your duties suddenly explode beyond the world of writing. You are now an entity that is responsible for such abstract, scary tasks as "building a platform" and "marketing." (Whenever I hear building a platform I still just think of people putting together the giant stage that they use for graduation ceremonies at my Alma Mater.
This whole getting people to like you and buy your book thing is a little overwhelming at times. But--BUT-- I have a plan. You see, my books have a hook that involves British Royalty. And it seems that everyone really loves Will and Kate. So if I can just tap into this cultural obsession with the British Royal family...

So, I present to you, my genius marketing plan. No really. It's fool-proof.
(The following conversation was held with my critique partner and should be taken with one (maybe two) grains of salt).

Me: Marketing is so fickle. I have my fingers crossed that William and Kate will decide to have a baby around the time my book comes out.

Kate:  Maybe we should give them a call‬.

Me:  We should.‬

Kate:  ‪"Hey, Wills - get on the babymaking! It would really help a sister out."‬

Me:  ‪Be like, "Look here, Kate Middleton, you need to have a baby next summer so I can be a bestseller."‬

Kate:  Haha. I love it.

Me:  ‪If only.‬

So there you go. I've given away my genius marketing plan. Let me just pick up my phone and call...

Apr 19, 2012

time for another awesome music post.

So for Easter my wonderful mother slipped iTunes giftcards into our baskets, which is a completely awesome and practical gift for my music-addicted self. I'm not really able to write without music playing, and the song will often set the mood of the writing, so I need very specific and ever-changing styles of songs for my different WIPs.

Here's a few of the tunes I've dug up during the past few days:

I (like so many writers) adore Snow Patrol in ways I cannot verbalize. This song "Fallen Empires" from their latest album embodies everything I love about them. Epic lyrics. Epic composition.

This song I discovered via The Hunger Games movie. It's called "Abraham's Daughter" and it's by Arcade Fire. This is one of those rare songs that fits more than a single WIP for me. It fits very well with SouthernGothic novel and Cutthroat novel. It would probably do well with Luminance Hour too if I let it.

The cover of "Sweet Dreams" by Emily Browning for the Suckerpunch soundtrack is amazingly haunting and perfect for Cutthroat novel.

And the best part? I get to listen to them on my shiny, new headphones!

So anyway, I still have money left on said iTunes card. What are some awesome, epic songs you've been listening to lately?

Apr 18, 2012

hunger games hangover

So husband and I just got back from a matinee viewing of The Hunger Games (yes, it took us this long to finally have the free time to go to the theatre together). I returned to the house to promptly and ravenously eat a slice of bakery bread drenched in Nutella. (I guess watching other people on the brink of starvation/bloody deaths will do that to you).

I'm currently writing this post to process what can best be described as a Hunger Games Hangover. It's a story so powerful and striking that it really does demand a response.

The movie was so well done. I think they did an amazing job handling the subject matter and all the inevitable moral implications that come with it. Our society is so used to blood and gore on television, yet I was so impressed by how the filmmakers chose to be discreet in the way they depicted the slaughter. Anything more would have been gratuitous and frankly disturbing.

The mood of the film, how the actors and the setting betrayed fear, was so well done. I was literally shaking in my seat with Katniss when she was preparing to enter the arena. And when Prim's name was drawn from the bowl... the look on Katniss's face was heartwrenching.

As a storyteller, I always have a habit of dissecting the stories I ingest. The Hunger Games is no exception. I think one of the most amazing things about this story is how high the stakes are. The scenario that Katniss is thrown into is an impossible one, which puts the readers/audience on the edge of their seats until the very end, and even after!

And the sibling/caretaker relationship strikes a very strong chord with me. As an oldest sister, there's little I wouldn't do to protect my brothers. I think this is a widespread sentiment that touches the hearts of so many readers/viewers.

Anyway, enough of me rambling. Have you guys seen the movie? What are your thoughts?

PS. I love that Jennifer Lawrence has so many freckles. I too, have been, er, 'blessed' with an abundance of very visible freckles across my face (as my Korean kindergarten students were more than happy to point out on a very daily basis). There are points where I get self-conscious about them, so it was nice to see such a beautiful actress sport them with such grace.

Apr 16, 2012

my lucky 7

This has been a fun little game that's been floating around the blogosphere. And A. G. Howard, the author of Splintered has issued an open call, so I've decided to give you guys a peek at Luminance Hour. It's still in revisions, mind you, so these lines may or may not make the final cut!

1. Go to the seventh or 77th page of the WIP or latest book
2. Count down seven lines.
3. Copy the 7 sentences that follow and post them.
4. Tag 7 other authors.

So, I've hunted down (a little more than) 7 sentences from the 7th line on the 7th page of Luminance Hour. I'm also going to take Anita's route and say that whoever wants to participate jump in and leave a link in the comments below! I'd love to get a peek at everyone's stuff. Here's goes:

Like the rest of London, the prince’s bedroom is a living collage to the passage of time. Richard’s bedside table— a decadent piece crafted in the 19th century out of wolf-gray marble and mahogany—is covered with the unnatural blinking lights of electronics. A digital clock. A mobile phone that shivers and glows at odd moments. His chrome laptop is tucked in the back of the same antique desk Queen Victoria once wrote her letters on. Chubby, meticulously painted cherubs born in George I’s era gaze down from their ceiling frescos at stereo speakers. They smile on, as they always have.
It’s almost seamless, the way the past is entombed with the present here.
“Why are you sleeping?” I slip into the room and approach the bed. The light filtering through the gauzed curtains is quickly dropping into the bruised plum color of night. No normal mortal is asleep at this hour.

Apr 12, 2012

today's writing is brought to you by:

Some wonderful electronica. Very fitting for the streets of Cutthroat Novel (which is a scary, kick-butt place).

Apr 11, 2012

why i failed the 2k a day

As my faithful readers know, about a week ago I decided to throw myself into a 2k-a-day wordcount challenge.

I failed.

Here's why. It's not that I can't write 2000 words a day. I can. I proved this to myself quickly. I put my nose to the grindstone and dutifully provided the number of words I needed to satisfy this goal. But I noticed, after a few days of this, that my writing was getting out of control.

The best way to explain this feeling would be to use a skiing metaphor. I love skiing, I'll even go down black diamonds if my husband coaxes me with promises of hot chocolate (and this is saying much since I had a rather serious skiing accident on one during my high-school years). I love going fast and hearing the shred of ice and snow under my blades. But there's nothing I hate more than going fast and feeling out of control. You know what I'm talking about, like any bump or hitch will send you flying into a cloud of powder and disjointed skis.

Well, writing 2k a day had a very similar feeling. I didn't feel in control of my story. Instead the demand for word-count was dragging me around by the hair, forcing me to write shoddy descriptions and words just for the sake of themselves. I didn't have time to mull over my characters of where the story was going, which meant that I took it down the wrong path more than once.

It was good for me to do this experiment, because it taught me a lot about my writing process. I'm a slow writer. I need time and space and freedom to delve into the story between the words and discover what I'm trying to say.

So today, I'm going to go back to the 6000 words I wrote and carve them down and figure out what this story needs in order to make it shine.

Maggie Stiefvater also has something to say about this, after she tried to write The Scorpio Races as a Nanowrimo novel in 2009. Somehow, hearing an author as talented as her coming to the same conclusions gives me hope. :)

Apr 10, 2012

two things on a tuesday

1. So you guys know the Ridiculously Photogenic Guy that's been floating around the internet for the past week? This one:

Well this picture was actually taken a few weeks ago at the Cooper River Bridge Run that's held here every year in Charleston. I was talking to my brother over coffee last week (he goes to my alma mater and we like to meet and work together in a nearby coffee house, he's a writer too so it's kind of fun to just chill and write together). He leans over to me eyes wide and says, "There's just one degree of separation between me and an internet meme!"

Apparently Ridiculously Photogenic Guy is the brother of one of his high-school classmates. This got me thinking of how random and weird it would be to become famous as an internet meme. RPG did nothing but look at the camera at the exact moment someone was shooting. Days later he's internet famous and has people calling him for interviews/gushing over his good looks! How crazy is that?

On the other hand I'm not so surprised, because according to surveys, Charleston is where America's most attractive people live.

2. Husband has returned from his crazy long and involved documentary across America! He hasn't finished the video yet (there's hours and hours and hours of footage waiting to be waded through), but he has finished these short teasers:

It's good to have him home, and I'm very proud of what he's managed to get done!

All right! I'm off to write 2000 words!

Apr 9, 2012

2k a day: day 3

As of 5:18 today I have written 800 words. Not looking so hot. I could list a myriad of excuses (getting new tires for the car, grocery shopping, cooking dinner, hanging out with friends later), but it doesn't look like I'll be hitting 2000 words today.

But while I love goals and meeting them, I'm also learning to give myself a bit of grace.
Life happens. It's inevitable.

Tomorrow we'll be aiming for 2k. :)

Update: 6:36. I'm at 1100 words. Not too bad. AND I made turkey pot pie. I get bonus points for that. Right?

Apr 6, 2012

the 2k a day challenge.

Lately, I've been doing so much juggling that I feel like a clown. It is my own fault. Because I seem to have a big problem making myself not write. And it is the nature of the publishing beast that there are long gaps of waiting/nothingness between editorial letters/other publishing tasks.

I currently have 3 WIPs in various stages of the writing process. It's kind of like a Netflix queue--listed with priority and importance.

1. LUMINANCE HOUR (obviously)
2. Southern Gothic Novel
3. Cutthroat Novel

Anyway. I've found myself with about a 2-3 week window to work on Cutthroat novel (since the other two are currently in the hands of professionals.) Cutthroat novel is in the first/rough drafting stages of the process. This is my very favorite of all the stages, and I'm really enjoying the chance to go back to drafting after 4 months of revision work.

But soon I will have to drop it and go back to revision land, so my goal is to get as much of this rough draft knocked out as possible. I have what I would like to diagnose as a "writing wall." This happens at about the 1500 word mark (ie. 6 double spaced pages). Once I hit this I lose my fuel or whatever it is that makes the writing magic happen. I lose hope. I go clean the house / read / eat / do other things.

I am determined to defeat this writing wall. And so it is my goal, for the next few weeks, to write 2000 words a day. It will be a stretch, and I might hate myself for it, but I will try to make this happen. If I do not, feel free to harass me. (Though keep in mind I take weekends off!)

And hey, if you guys feel like you can do this too, feel free to post your word sprints in the comments below!

Day 1: 2010 words

Day 2: 2033 words (draft total at 39,000 words)

UPDATE: After reading through these scenes I've decided to tuck away (see scrap) the last 1000 words of Day 2. This is because it was heading on a false trail. Alas. I will still count the words as written though. Because I wrote them.

Apr 3, 2012

an obscure life post that i somehow relate back to writing.

I am bad at talking on the phone.

I don't know why. I just am. I get the sweats whenever I have to call people and ask for things. This doesn't really apply for friends or people I know. It's more for appointments. Like doctors or hair salons. Or, in this very applicable case, fixing one's car.

I was minding my own business, having a perfectly lovely Friday evening eating delicious/gourmet tacos when my car decided that it no longer wanted to run. I got into the driver's seat, turned the key and.... nothing. After going through all the necessary checkings (Is it the battery? Is the car set in Park?) I came to the deduction that the car was, well, dead. And that I had to get it towed.

Just the thought of calling a towing company was enough to set my teeth on edge. (Is there an actual term for phone paranoia?) But I did. And it was the worst of ordeals. This is how it went.

Saturday: Called a towing company. Waited 2 hours for them in a parking lot. Chickened out/had to go on a day trip out of town.

Sunday: Oh Sunday. Called a different towing company (as I took the fact that 1st towing company's no-show as a loud and clear, "We don't want your money."). The man on the other line told me he didn't want to drive as far out as I was from him. Called another different towing company. Man tells me it will be an hour. I bike to Taco restaurant to wait for them by my car.

An hour and a half goes by. I call back. Man confesses that he lost my number. Tells me tow truck will arrive in 5 minutes. Another half an hour goes by and I'm about to break out into hives because this entire ordeal is driving me close to insanity (Apparently my personality type doesn't "deal well with day-to-day" things. Which in my opinion involves employing tow-trucks.). Man calls back and tell me truck will arrive in seven to eight minutes.

Truck arrives. I ride along with my car to the car shop. The driver, who introduced himself as "Squirrely," then proceeds to inform me that their credit card machines are broken and he will only take cash. Car shop happens to be in the middle of nowhere. And I, flustered, explain that he must take me to an ATM.

Squirrely proceeds to drive me two miles further into the middle of nowhere. Here there be strip clubs (where Squirrely tells me there was a great knife fight the night before) and a gas station of a doubtful nature. I go inside and withdraw money from the ATM. I take the cash to Squirrely, who then proceeds to tell me that he has no change for the wad of 20s I have to hand him. I then return to the inside of the gas station, where the attendant searches for the watermark on my twenty-dollar bill before he gives me change.

Squirrely takes the money and then leaves me and my bike in the middle of stripclub/knifefight wasteland. I bike 4 miles back to my apartment.

I do not ever want to tow a car again.

The moral I will take from this ridiculous venture (besides the fact that all my paranoias about talking on the phone/setting up appointments are true!!!) is that in life and writing there will always be setbacks. Things will be late. Things will break down. People will only take cash and then not give you change.

The key part is you always, always have to keep going.