Monday, March 24, 2008

Telling a Good Story

X-posted from my Tuesday Maven post on the Manuscript Mavens...

So... even though my book isn't out until Spring 2009 (April is the word on the street these days), I just got my first review! Click here to read Melissa Marr's thoughts on The Forest of Hands and Teeth. A huge thanks to Melissa for taking the time to read and comment on a debut book and thanks to my sister who read me the review over the phone because I was off in the mountains without internet access :)

Anyways, recently the Mavens all talked about those ah-ha moments in writing. As I said then, I get these moments all the time. I can have the same conversation about craft, read the same books on craft, have the same day dreams and each time I'll walk away with something new. The other day I had one of these ah-ha moments I wanted to share :)

I was reading a book and realized that while the writing for much of the book is great, some of the writing is just... writing. It's not great, it's not bad, it's not mundane or boring -- it's just words strung together getting points across. Honestly, I doubt anyone reading those particular passages would have thought anything of the way they were written -- like I said, they were written fine. They didn't stand out as gorgeous prose -- they didn't really stand out at all.

And suddenly I had this ah-ha moment! I realized that the purpose of writing a book is to tell a story (yeah, most of my ah-ha moments tend to also be duh! moments). I realized that sometimes we get so focused in on parts of our books that we forget to stand back and take in the big picture -- we forget to look at the story we're telling.

Sometimes I think it can be easy to focus on internal conflict versus external conflict versus raising the stakes versus showing all five senses that we forget that all of these devices serve to help us tell a compelling story. And I think sometimes you can look at individual scenes of a book and they work, but once put together as a cohesive whole suddenly the story feels off.

Here's a rather timely but odd example... it's March Madness, the season where everyone fills out NCAA brackets and joins office pools to see who wins. I love following the tournament but I never have the time to follow the whole season -- so when it comes to filling out my brackets I have NO idea who to pick. I do it all by gut and who sounds good and whose colors I like. JP was reviewing my choices and finally he said "each game you choose is totally plausible, when you look at your brackets on a game by game basis, it's solid. But overall there's no way you're going anywhere."

I've judged some contests recently where I see this happening -- scene by scene everything makes sense, but when you read the synopsis, when you look at those scenes adding up to become the whole, the story just isn't there -- it doesn't hold together.

So, along with all the myriad other things we remember when writing, don't forget that in the end we're all story tellers. How we tell that story (what devices we chose, the tone, the language, the POV) influences that story, but in the end, it's all about telling a good story.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Meet Jake!

We adopted this guy yesterday -- isn't he the cutest? He's a rescue mutt and just about the sweetest thing ever. Terrified of cats, loves people and to be petted -- really he's a very gentle beast!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Support Yourself

This is x-posted from the Manuscript Mavens --

So, I joined Seventy Days of Sweat and so far I've written... um... nothing. I joined 100x100 (one hundred words a day for one hundred days) last year and um.... it didn't stick. In fact, I think the only writing challenge that's ever worked for me was when on her blog Diana Peterfreund challenged everyone to write -- something, anything -- every day for a month. Her motto was "writers write" and so she said we should all write! This couldn't have come at a more perfect time for me -- I was trying to finish the first draft of The Forest of Hands and Teeth and I was gearing up for a massive trial -- working 80 hour weeks. There were days when the most time I had to write was the 8 minutes it took for my mac 'n' cheese pasta to boil. But I wrote during those 8 minutes because Diana was (and still is) right: writers write.

All of these challenges and all of these goals are very useful and they're great! I'm all for anything that gets people writing (the old motto I learned around the RWA boards: BITHOC -- butt in chair, hands on keyboard). But here's the thing that I have to remind myself: at the end of the day, it's only you and the keyboard. You and that blank piece of paper. At a certain point it can't just be about being accountable to other people -- about sending an email to a loop checking in -- it has to be about being accountable to yourself. In the end, no one else can make you sit down and write except yourself.

Of course I'm not saying to go out and unsubscribe from your loops and disconnect from your support systems. Trust me, I know that at the end of a long day sometimes you just want to steam your face with pasta water rather than sit down and bang out a few paragraphs that you'll end up deleting anyway. And sometimes the only thing that forces you to trudge to your computer is knowing that the next day someone is going to ask you: did you write last night? But I am saying that you also need to find that accountability within yourself. It has to matter to *you* if you wrote or not. You have to answer that question for yourself and be satisfied with the answer.

And here's something that I'm starting to catch a glimpse of now that I have some publisher-set deadlines off in the future. Deadlines don't necessarily force you to write. It may seem reasonable to say "well, once I have a contract and publisher-set deadlines I'll have built in accountability so I won't need to rely on myself any more -- something external will push me to sit down and write." Here's a truth: some published authors miss deadlines (well, except for Nora Roberts). Some published authors misjudge and come close to missing deadlines. My next book is due in roughly six months -- that's at least 10k a month I need to write to get it done (and let's not forget that it took me 4 months to revise the last one). That's over 2k a week. How much did I write this week? Last week? Nothing. See, I have a deadline and it's not making me accountable, because that has to come from me. A contract does not make you write -- the skills, perseverence, dedication, motivation you learned getting to that contract make you write.

I'm all about supporting each other and riding each other to reach farther and write better. Trust me! I love nothing more than celebrating an awesome word count or an awesome chapter or writing The End or submitting -- all of it! And I love it when people celebrate those steps with me (like all the awesome support for my book cover!) At the same time I think that we all have to find that part of ourselves that wants to write -- that needs to write -- and that's what has to drive us. Because in the end, no one else will: it's you and the blank page.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Computer Decisions....

So it's time I bought a new computer! It's been time for a while now but I'm a terrible decision maker when it comes to big purchases. So this is where I ask for y'all's thoughts. I'm trying to decide between the MacBook laptop and the MacBook pro.

The MacBook is the white or black one you've seen around and the MacBook Pro is the silver one. The differences as far as I can see...

MacBook has a 13" screen, Pro has a 15" screen (I don't care about it being small, in fact I like to have space on the screen to put all my windows. I just don't know if the 13" is enough screen -- right now I have a 15")

MacBook has 1gb memory, Pro has 2gb. The size of the hard drive doesn't really matter because I don't use that much but I'm also getting a 500gb backup.

MacBook has the glossy screen, Pro has the anti-glare screen.

The cost difference between the two is about $500 (I'm going with a refurbished one) but this is the one thing I said I'd splurge on with the sale of my book (and it's deductible).

So, any thoughts? Does anyone have either of these -- how did you make the decision? Anything else I should take into consideration?

Monday, March 10, 2008


Hey Y'all!! I'm so ecstatic to finally be able to introduce you to my protagonist, Mary:

I couldn't be more excited about this cover -- I love the Forest in the background, I love the way her hair is blown out behind her, I love her expression, I love the font (rumor is both my name and the title will be glossy) and I love the colors. I'll admit, I wasn't expecting a person, and especially not a face, on my cover -- first, there just haven't been heads on YA covers recently and second, I don't describe Mary that much (and I don't think I ever describe her clothes which is another reason I'm uber impressed with this cover). So when I first opened the email I was like "Oh!" and then I was like "Oooooohhhhhh!!!!!" I just don't think they could have done a better job on this cover -- I'm totally in love :)

And yes, I've totally been staring at this cover all the time. I have a print out hung next to my desk at work and one propped on my bookcase (my future inlaws actually glued my cover to another book so that it looks like a real book and my dad had it framed!).
So, what do y'all think!?

Sunday, March 02, 2008


JP gives his side of the proposal here. He's just the best ever! Also, he's been reading me his book and I LOVE it. I'm so excited for him and the story and I'm totally hooked!

I've been working on copy-edits or, as I like to call it: "playing with punctuation." I have a whole post about it but I'll probably save it for the Manuscript Mavens tomorrow. Um, if I can find a way to fit it into this week's theme...

This weekend I'm going home to see my sisters -- both of them will be in town with all of their kids: 5 boys and 1 girl ages 5 and under. OY!

And finally, I know people dismiss facebook and I did too. But can I just say that I LOVE reconnecting with old friends. I've always said that I'm too lazy to continue a lot of my earlier relationships but that doesn't mean I don't care about the people who have been important in my life. It's just cool to catch up with folks without the pressure: to see the engagements, the kids, the fun! This weekend I was able to catch up with two people who were amazing friends in my life -- Kristin from law school and Nancy from high school. You know, it's hard to keep in touch with people that you know you won't see a lot. But these are people I spent every day with for years. They know me so well, and it's cool to catch up and know that life has been great to them.

It made me happy to know that their lives are happy because they deserve it. Maybe I'm sentimental, but I kinda like that :)

So that's what's going on here! House is still a mess, roses are still gorgeous, kitties are still rotund. Life is good in the Ryan-Davis house :)