Sunday, December 30, 2018

You're writing about WHAT?

There's so much pressure today on writing for the market, writing for your ideal reader, writing for a genre so the publisher feels secure in how to market the book and the bookseller knows where to shelve it.

All this is important but let's not lose sight of why most of us write in the first place. I think writers write for much the same reason as readers read. A reader picks up a book, and sticks with it, in order to escape to that world for a while. A writer writes in order to create that world.

Writers are generally imaginative people and we like to escape for a while into the worlds we created, too! Given the hundreds of hours it takes to write a novel, it had better be a world that captures our heart. Writing the book of your heart doesn't mean abandoning marketing concerns and the rest of it, but it does require some emotional investmentit requires heart.

So don't let anyone get away with asking, incredulously, You're writing about WHAT?

Friday, December 28, 2018

Ignore this tip: Don't waste words

Don’t waste words!

I’ve seen this writing tip thrown around as if anything but minimalist sentence structure and short words is the equivalent of purple prose.

I’m setting poetry and short stories and non-fiction aside, because they’re a different breed. In novel writing, I think it’s okay to linger sometimes.

I’m not talking only about description. I tend to skim lengthy descriptions just like you probably do. An effective description of, say, a location, is done by taking into account two things: the perspective of the character experiencing it (what they notice depends on who they are), and the focus on extraordinary details. A bus station has seats, restrooms, a ticket counter, and buses. Everyone knows this, so you don’t need to describe them unless there’s something unusual about either those items or the character experiencing them. For example, my main character Wynter grew up on an isolated commune and has never been to a bus station before. So, for her, the vending machine is unusual and also incomprehensible—a “big, brightly lit cupboard” full of locked-up snacks she’s never seen or tasted.

So, when is it okay to waste words?

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Editing: Imposing structure retroactively, part 2

In part 1 of this two-parter we looked at how to create a structural template for your panstered first draft. Today we'll complete the process by using the template to look for holes and pacing problems.

Looking at my Little Sister Song structure, my theme is stated in two parts: Wynter has found home (8%) but Joy got left behind (5%). As the story proceeds, we learn they are all counting on Joy to hold the family together (will she or won't she?), so this becomes more important later. The reader doesn't need to be beaten over the head with theme and may not realize the sentence they just read was, in fact, a statement of the theme. My reference is fairly vague and I think that's fine. But if, at around 5%, you haven't introduced any concept of what the story is about (and I don't mean a lofty idea like Love Conquers All, but a personal, tailored idea for your characters to explore), now is the time to figure out how to do that.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Editing: Imposing structure retroactively, part 1

In a previous blog I looked at why “outline first” is not always a useful writing tip, because it can detract from the creative joy of producing words on the page, otherwise known as your first draft.

I have a better use for outlining, and it’s after your first draft is written. The techniques of outlining that you're probably already familiar with can bring order to your existing story, and more importantly uncover pacing and plot problems.

As with all editing tips, the key is to work in an organized manner, choosing your preferred tools, and using them effectively. My preferred tools are Google Docs (or Word), one of several traditional story structure paradigms, and occasionally a million or so sticky notes. If you work with Scrivener or another writing program, these programs have inbuilt structuring tools. I'll focus on a simple word processor, but you could use the same techniques with pen and paper.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Ignore this tip: Up the stakes!

Up the stakes!

Heard this before from agents, editors, bloggers, craft books, or critique partners? If you’re writing genre fiction, this may be good advice. A murder mystery (usually) needs a dead body. A thriller probably needs several. A courtroom drama needs some broken laws, the more salacious the better. A science fiction novel needs a species, a spaceship, a planet, or perhaps an entire galaxy at stake.

Or does it?

There have always been quieter novels written in these classic genres. My current series is a family drama without a steadily rising body count or a terminal illnessand, I hope, without melodrama. And yes, I’ve been told by professionals to “Up the stakes!” as well. But I don’t believe external drama or even manufactured friction between characters is always the key to writing a compelling, satisfying story.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Sunburnt Stars: A Conversation That Happened #20

When I was a kid, I used to draw comic strips about girls in boarding school (I mean, what else is there?!). More recently I've tried my (digital) hand at comic strips about writing, living with another writer, and motherhood. The series is called Sunburnt Stars for no good reason.

So, stand by for the occasional randomized little bit of nonsense. (Click to enlarage.)

Here's a seasonal one:

Friday, December 21, 2018

Ignore this tip: Outline first

Pantster or plotter? Whether you’re one or the other, a mix of both, or you chop and change over the course of a project, you’ll discover plenty of useful information from writers on the craft on how to make the most of your preferred method of working. You’ll also find a great deal more information on the latter than the former in terms of plot structure (Hero’s Journey? Plot Embryo? Save the Cat beats?), and methods of creating outlines (Snowflake? Brainstorming and index cards?).

But for those who find themselves stuck in outline mode, unable to complete that first draft, I’m going to offer a different approach that’s worked for me. Let’s start with a bit of layman’s psychology.

I’ve always found that the most useful method of getting words on the page is to feel inspired to do so. Doesn’t matter how many hours in the day you can dedicate to writing, or how many craft books you’ve read, or how detailed your outline is.
Being creatively productive follows directly from loving what you’re doing.
Writing inspiration comes from many places. The ability to maintain the desire to turn that inspiration into a complete novel is pure gold.

What maintains that desire?

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Character quotes

I've been posting quotes from my books on Instagram over the past year. Thought I'd do a quick fun post here that showcases one quote from each of the four main characters. First up is Jesse, who gets all the best lines to be honest. He's brother #3, age 17 when we meet him, a super smart college student who makes it his mission to teach Wynter all about the world.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Ignore this tip: Show, don't tell

In this series I’m taking some common writing tips and showing (even telling?) why they’re wrong. They’re not entirely wrong. Sometimes they’re half right. But if you’re anything like me, you read a lot of writing advice and then freak out because you didn’t follow it.

Show don’t tell is pretty much the #1 writing tip out there. What does it mean? I joined a novel writing class years ago and one of the students was a journalist. When we shared chapters for critique in class, her romance (about two journalists) was a classic example of telling—not just a sentence or paragraph or two, but the entire thing. It was written as a journalist might write it—a clinical description of events, dramatic though those events were. Here's an example from my own book, rewritten in the same style.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Ignore this tip: Use only "said"

As an author and editor, I'm keen to try a different approach. There's so much prescriptive writing advice out there, repeated over and over, that just doesn't seem to match what we see when we open up industry-published and best-selling novels. So I'm starting a new series about the writing tips that I freely ignore, and that you, too, can ignore if you want to. Or at the very least I'll offer advice about when it's okay to ignore the tip.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Little Sister Song

The Wynter Wild series is a story about love, music, family, pancakes, and the occasional igloo. Here's the blurb for Book 1, Little Sister Song (out in early January 2019):
Wynter spent the first thirteen years of her life behind a chain-link fence in the middle of the Arizona desert. Her search for love starts the day she escapes on a bus with nothing but an address and her sister’s instructions to forget the past and embrace the world outside.
Knocking on the door of an unassuming house in Seattle, she is welcomed by her true family—three brothers who never knew she existed—in a place where they have pancakes for breakfast and make rock music in the basement. A place Wynter wants to call home. They all share the same pain: their mother’s abandonment years earlier. And they all share a bond to ease that pain: music.
But Wynter quickly learns there are no happy endings. Her adult siblings have problems of their own. Will she be able to stay long enough to taste her first tangerine, learn the blues turnaround, and put the family back together?
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Friday, December 14, 2018

Introducing my new contemporary series...

For those of you who know me as the author of Song of Scarabaeus (Harper Voyager), thanks for following me to my new home. I write in several genres, from science fiction to middle grade to contemporary family drama. It's this last one I'm working on right now.

The story of Wynter Wild has been buzzing around my head for a while, arising from my interest in music, family dynamics, bad parenting, lost boys, and one talented, bewildered girl who's just looking for a place to call home.

A year and half a million words later, it was time to impose some order onto the thing. Book 1, Little Sister Song, comes out early 2019 and the remaining books in the series will follow in fairly quick succession. I hope you'll come to love these characters as much as I do as you follow their story.

Subscribe to my newsletter for the latest on release dates, giveaways, and what's going on in my world. Meanwhile, on this blog I'll be using my 15 years of editing experience to share some writing and editing tips, along with excerpts of my latest books, and other writerly musings. Follow me on Instagram for fun book quotes like the one above, or on Twitter for short-form random ramblings. I love connecting with fellow readers and authors.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

New website

Go to for my new website. I'm currently writing a contemporary family drama under this name, and I'm also working on new science fiction.