Friday, August 31, 2012

Contest Alert: PitchMadness

Sorry for the late warning on this one, guys, but I wanted to tell you anyway. Polish up your 35 word pitch (exact word count) and the first 150 words (end at the end of the sentence) of your completed manuscript and go here for more details.

Submission windows: 
Saturday, September 1:
1ST SUBMISSION TIME: 12:00 pm EDT (EST-NY time) first 100.
2ND SUBMISSION TIME: 6:00 pm EDT (EST-NY time) first 100.
Tuesday, September 4:
3RD (Extra!) SUBMISSION TIME: 10:00 am EDT (EST-NY time) first 100.
Visit Brenda Drake's blog for more details on proper formatting and for the email address to send to.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The "Girl Book" Debacle

Shannon Hale has been posting about the tragedy of how boys will often refuse to read girl books. Catch up on her excellent blog discussion here, here, and here and on her tumblr account here.

She's running a contest right now where you can post a picture of a boy/guy/man reading any "girl" book and post a link here. Winners will get quality girl books. Like her recently-released sequel to Princess Academy (her "girliest" book), Princess Academy: Palace of Stone.

So I rounded up my boys and handed out copies of "girl" books: Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George, the sequel, Dragon Flight, and The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale. When I first started passing them out to my confused sons, KidC (9 years old) got excited--he thought I was giving them away. He remembered me reading the Dragon Slippers books to them and was grinning. Bouncing. I've recently started reading The Goose Girl to them (spurred, in part, by Shannon's posts) and KidD (11 years old), was the only one who had expressed discontent with the no-explosions-in-the-first-chapter pace. KidC and KidB (7 years old), when asked, admitted to liking the first chapter, no-explosions and all.

So I handed Dragon Slippers to KidD, Dragon Flight to KidB, and Goose Girl to KidC. And I explained that I was going to take a picture of the boys reading the books. And that I would post it on my blog.

KidC exclaimed "I don't want people to see me reading a girl book!" He tried to trade Goose Girl with KidD so he'd have one of the Dragon Slipper books instead (lesson learned: dragons are manly, even if they are friends with a seamstress who exclusively makes fancy ballgowns). KidD tried to pose with the book covering his face. KidB, who is learning what is acceptable from his brothers, was likewise reluctant.

KidC with Goose Girl, KidB with Dragon Slippers, KidD with Dragon Flight
So I called a halt to the proceedings, sat down my young-uns, and asked: What is wrong with girl books?

KidB exclaimed that they talk about girl parts. (We told him that none of the books he'd be reading would have anything like that.)

KidC related a story (the specifics of which he could not remember, which could suggest that it does not have its origins in reality but is instead the product of his expectations) about a time when a boy caught him reading a girl book, laughed at him and then told the other boys.

KidD, an hour after I took the pictures and mocked them for not being manly enough to read "girl" books, asserted that his problem was with having his picture taken, and not with having people see him reading a book with a girl on the cover. He says that wouldn't be a problem for him at all. We will be testing this assertion and reporting back.

When I started reading Shannon's posts, I had a bit of an a-hah! moment. Back when I started reading novels to my boys at bedtime, I started with Dragon Slippers. This was mainly because I had purchased the first two books and knew I needed to own the books before read them, since we didn't make it through a book in 3 weeks. Plus, I wanted something fantasy, since I've noticed that a taste for fantasy must be cultivated very young or it is harder to acquire one later. So I read Dragon Slippers and, despite the very girly scenes, my boys loved it. After that, though, I wanted to try to cultivate their love for reading on their own. So I went looking for "boy" books so they'd be all "Wow! That sort of stuff is in books? I want to read more of it!"

And, sure, I don't think that's a horrible theory. My boys loved Janitors by Tyler Whitesides. They roared at every fart/burp/potty joke in J. Scott Savage's The Zombie Kid (no, it's not out yet--we read it before it was even an ARC--nyah, nyah). They enjoyed the twists and turns of Harry Potter (we stopped at book 3).

But now I think they've got the point. Even though they aren't devouring books (yet--I still have hope), they know there are fascinating stories in there. They know where to go when they're ready for a good time.

Now is the time to expand their horizons, methinks. To introduce them to books they might not pick up on their own, but just might love anyway. To convince them that there doesn't need to be a boy on the cover of every awesome story. That girls, doing girl things, can teach them as much about their own lives as fart jokes. Maybe more.

We're now 5 chapters into Goose Girl, and the boys are warming up to it. It helped that one of the guards was killed by a sword that burst out through his chest. That was cooool.

What do you think? Do you encourage your boys to read "girl" books? Do you ever tease them when they love a "princess" book? (Stop that right now!) When you shop for a story your son/brother/nephew might like, do you consider female protagonists? If not, why do you think that is? Is it socially accepted for a girl to read a boy book? If so, why is it okay for a girl to read a boy book, but not the other way around?

(Updated to change Dragon Spear to Dragon Flight. Spear is the 3rd book. *blushes*)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Final Prep for GUTGAA 2012

Quick: Add this to your To-Do By September list:
  1. Polish query
  2. Polish first 150 words
  3. Sign up for the Gearing Up To Get An Agent blogfest
Deana Barnhart

Then, once September hits, you'll be ready to:
  1. Answer questions and hop around the Meet-and-Greet (starting September 3)
  2. Email your polished query and first 150 words (starting September 7) to Deana Barnhart to include in her anonymous Pitch Polish
  3. Get critiques on your pitch (starting September 10)
  4. Enter the Agent Pitch Contest (email your pitch to Deana starting September 14)--1/5 of that contest will be featured on this-here blog, so you KNOW you wanna play (up to 200 can enter)
  5. Root for your favorites as four guest judges troll the entries to pick the 50 finalists (announced September 21)
  6. Watch with baited breath as the 11 agents judge the 50 finalists over at Deana's blog (starting September 24)
  7. Enter the Small Press Pitch Contest (starting September 28)
  8. Rinse and repeat for the Small Press editors
  9. Did I mention random door prizes every Friday?
  10. Learn the winners of the pitch contests on October 12
Are you signed up?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Okay, so Shannon Messenger shared a lovely time-waster on her blog yesterday, so instead of the thoughtful ,useful post I was going to do, instead you get these:
This one is made from the first two chapters of the book I'm querying.

This one is made from the first two VERY rough chapters of the new book I'm writing.

Eventually, I'll use this as a tool to identify words I use too much (like "just" and "back"), but for now, it's just pretty. Go try Wordle yourself!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

When Do You Abandon a WIP?

So, you're writing along, loving your story, loving your characters, loving torturing your characters and suddenly . . . BAM! Wall. Maybe it's "writer's block" and you should just push through it. Maybe some part of your story or plot is just too flawed to fix without a complete overhaul. Maybe that other story that has been niggling at the back of your brain has just become too shiny.

Whatever the excuse, you are no longer excited to write the story.

You no longer love your characters.

Torturing your characters no longer gives you the thrill it used to.

You don't particularly care what happens at the end.

Were every last one of your characters to perish in a sudden ninja-zombie apocalypse, you'd be okay with that.

You've tried for weeks, and you just can't figure out why the antagonist wants what they want--or why the hero would be against that.

If you were reading this book, you'd put it down.  Forcing yourself to continue feels as exciting as studying for the bar exam. Writing one more page will cause your brain to melt.

So Stop. 

Last November, I participated in NaNoWriMo. All month, I pushed myself to write 50,000 words. And I did it. I wrote Every. Last. Word. Then, a few months later, I forced myself to outline (yeah . . . backwards). Most of the original 50,000 went in the wrong direction. (I'm not a very good pantser.) So I threw most of it out and started writing it again. I followed the outline. It was mostly interesting, but I just ran out of steam. I'd figured out what the antagonist wanted during the outline stage, but it made less and less sense as I wrote. Finally, though I was pretty sure what came next, it was just too boring to think about.

That's why I have this folder:

The Trunk isn't the end. Maybe I'll pull it out in a few months, dust it off, suddenly have an epiphany, and decide to finish it. In the meantime, it's just another half-finished novel. And that's okay.

I get to work on New-Shiny now.

Have you ever abandoned a WIP halfway through? Was it hard? Have you ever finished writing a book and wished you'd stopped halfway through?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Gearing Up to Get an Agent 2012

Deana Barnhart

My awesome writing groupie, Deana Barnhart is again hosting the Gearing Up to Get an Agent blogfest. Deana, herself, does not need this, since she has recently acquired herself an agent. For the rest of us, though, she has lined up a bunch of agents and small publishers who will be perusing our polished pitches for possible representation/purchase. Cool, huh?

Also, this year I'm helping. Even cooler, yes? :)

So go here to find out more and to get signed up, then start hopping around to all the other blogfest blogs to say hi (or you can wait for the September festivities. Either way).

So are you gonna play?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Write On Con

I'm posting a day early to tell you about Write On Con. It's a free online writer's conference.

Actually, just trust me on this: go there and play. You'll need your query, your first page, and a thick skin. Also some luck, a love of ninja agents, and thirst for knowledge. You'll want to post your stuff on Monday so the ninja agents can see it starting on Tuesday.

Go! Go! Go!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

How NOT to Write a Query 6: Breakdown

On Tuesday, I broke Dan Wells' excellent book blurb on PARTIALS. This is about how.

First, let's look at my bad version again:

Sixteen-year-old Kira lives on Long Island with the tens of thousands of humans who survived the war with the partials—engineered organic beings identical to humans. The weaponized virus which destroyed the rest of humanity is still working: no baby has been born immune to the disease in over a decade. Desperate to find a cure, the government passed the Hope Act—which could soon force Kira to become pregnant . . . and watch a new child die every year to provide data for the scientists’ disease research.

Kira knows she's too young to start that, but she is determined to find a cure—and she’s willing to go to tremendous lengths to make that happen.

Before we move on to the good version, notice that this blurb suggests that Kira's main goal will be working to avoid being used as breeding stock for dead babies. We know that she's going to go to "tremendous lengths" to find a cure for the virus that makes that necessary, but we don't know if she's planning to dodge an unwanted pregnancy or if she's planning to reluctantly submit. What, exactly, are these tremendous lengths? Not a clue.

So let's look at the real blurb:

Humanity is all but extinguished after a war with partials—engineered organic beings identical to humans—has decimated the world’s population. Reduced to only tens of thousands by a weaponized virus to which only a fraction of humanity is immune, the survivors in North America have huddled together on Long Island. The threat of the partials is still imminent, but, worse, no baby has been born immune to the disease in over a decade. Humanity’s time is running out.

When sixteen-year-old Kira learns of her best friend’s pregnancy, she’s determined to find a solution. Then one rash decision forces Kira to flee her community with the unlikeliest of allies. As she tries desperately to save what is left of her race, she discovers that the survival of both humans and partials rests in her attempts to answer questions of the war’s origin that she never knew to ask.

[I left off the paragraph that talks about how awesome the book is--we don't get to write those things for our queries.]

So what's the difference? STAKES. The real blurb tells us clearly 1) What Kira wants (to save her friend's baby), 2) What stands in her way (the virus that will kill the baby), 3) What she's doing to get it (hint: she's not getting pregnant--she's off somewhere else looking for the cure), and 4) What happens if she fails (humanity won't be saved).

This is slightly different from How NOT to Write a Query 5,where I talked about not being vague and including specific details about your world and your plot. This time, we're focusing on the stakes--what the protagonist has to do and what will happen if s/he fails. That needs to be in there somewhere, folks. More, you need to give the agents some hint about what the protagonist will be doing about that. Because that's where the story is.

Setting isn't story. Premise isn't story. Character isn't story. Story is someone trying to get something, something standing in their way, and that person doing what it takes to overcome the obstacle to prevent something bad from happening.

I'm ashamed to confess that it took me a year to understand this. That I thought until very recently that my query didn't need all that. That the goal and the obstacle and what my MC would have to do to overcome it was a secret. That the potential consequence was the biggest secret of all. *sigh* Be wiser than I was, okay?

Specific details about the actual stakes faced by the protagonist can help make the book sound like something someone will want to read.

So go look at your query and make sure it says, suggests, or hints the following:
1. What does the main character want?
2. What stands in his way?
3. What will she have to do to get what she wants?
4. What, specifically, will happen if he fails?

Is it there? Has it always been there? If so, you're a year ahead of me.

What lessons have you learned while writing bad queries?

I'm planning another installment of this series for the first Tuesday of each month. If you'd like me to feature (read: rip apart without mercy) your own real query--either anonymously or with full credit and linkage--email me at robinweekswriter [at] gmail [dot] com.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

How NOT to Write a Query 6

Time again for another round of:

If you're just joining us, this is a series where I explore all I know about queries . . . which mostly encompasses the mistakes I've made along the way.

This post explores something REALLY OBVIOUS that took me a year to learn. Seriously, I spent a year thinking my own query didn't need this. *head desk*

Once again, I've bastardized a book blurb of a really awesome book and turned it into something a novice query writer might write. Since this is Dan Wells's book, PARTIALS, and since Dan is not a novice query writer--and didn't have to query this book (quite the opposite)--my rewrite is the absolute worst this particular blurb has ever been. Probably. Also, I totally stole whole phrases from the real blurb while I was writing my screwed-up version.

In any event, if you haven't read this excellent book yet, please keep in mind that this is the bad version. Don't judge the book on the bad blurb. Come back Thursday for the real version.

Sixteen-year-old Kira lives on Long Island with the tens of thousands of humans who survived the war with the partials—engineered organic beings identical to humans. The weaponized virus which destroyed the rest of humanity is still working: no baby has been born immune to the disease in over a decade. Desperate to find a cure, the government passed the Hope Act—which could soon force Kira to become pregnant . . . and watch a new child die every year to provide data for the scientists’ disease research.

Kira knows she's too young to start that, but she is determined to find a cure—and she’s willing to go to tremendous lengths to make that happen.


So what do you think? If you haven't read the book, what do you think the main conflict is? If you have read the book, does this version of the blurb sound at all familiar? What's missing?

Breakdown coming on Thursday . . . .

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Free Will

Hundreds of writers have imagined a better world. One with less crime. One with less poverty. No war. No random strangers who enter movie theaters to gun down innocent strangers. Where everyone enjoys peace and posterity and a reasonably long life. Where everyone gets along and serves their community and handles infrequent conflicts with grace and logic and understanding.

These writers write a genre called DYSTOPIA.

One thing that all dystopias have in common is that, to achieve their dream of peace, the government which sought to create a utopia found they had to restrict free will in some manner.

The most extreme dystopias will use brain implants or drugs to control strong (destructive, doncha know) emotions. Others try to convince the populace that all the rules about who they're supposed to marry, how they're supposed to think, and what they'll be when they grow up are GOOD and RIGHT and THE ONLY WAY TO LIVE.

There are degrees of control, but no dystopia can survive without some loss of free will. Even with free will restricted, people are forever breaking out of these perfect societies, rebelling against them, trying to take them down. Hardly anyone looks at these books and thinks "Oh, yeah. Now that's how I'd like to live."

We value our free will above almost any other gift, blessing, or right. We value our ability to make our own mistakes, to claim credit for our own successes, and to rule our own lives--even if we do it very, very badly. We chafe whenever the government gets too up in our lives, telling us we can't do this or to stop doing that, when it wasn't even hurting anyone!


We don't value free will in others. We don't want someone else to use their free will in a way that impacts our lives in a negative way. We don't like it when other people make mistakes. If we could, most of us would create a don't-mess-with-me bubble around our lives so that no one else could make anything bad happen.

And when that doesn't work, when someone has the audacity to use their free will to run rough-shod over our perfect world, some people wonder why a benevolent God doesn't step in and restrict that horrible man's free will. Doesn't stop the mess before it starts.

Writers and readers already know the answer.

In life, as in fiction, trials come to create a change in the protagonist. To test us and to try us. To make sure we're not some stagnant boring hero with a soft spine and a rubber resolve. To give us a honed edge.

Those qualities we value in fictional heroes are also important in life--and we don't get them when our lives are perfect.

So don't wonder where God was when a madman disrupted a movie in Aurora. With all respect and sorrow for those whose lives were torn apart that day, He was there. Letting free will take its course and standing by to help us pick up the pieces.

I don't wax religious much here, and I know not everyone shares my faith, and that's okay . . . but it has to be said: God's greatest wish for us is for us to learn how to live in His utopia someday. One where everyone chooses to be good and nice and decent to each other. Where no one is forced--not even by Him--to act in a certain way.

That will never happen if we're too weak to learn how to choose good for ourselves, even when everything goes wrong.

God has read all the dystopia books and He doesn't want that for us, either. Can there be any doubt about that?