Friday, December 12, 2008

My 1.5 Minutes of Fame!

Well, this has been quite an exciting day! Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris was featured on The TODAY Show!! No, I'm not kidding! I'm not sure if I'm allowed to embed their video, so I'll link to it instead. The children's book segment starts at the 5:00 minute mark. TODAY show link.

Sweet! And kind of surreal, actually.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008


Wow. I am half way through Beastologist 2 already. How did that happen? Not that I’m complaining, mind you. That kind of progress is purely a gift from the muse, so I just hang on for the ride.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Publishing Envy

How does one keep the publishing envy at bay? One of my writing group members, Val Hobbs (seriously one of the best writers I know) asks this question in her blog this morning, and it got me to thinking. I haven’t been haunted by that particular monster for a while, and I’m trying to figure out why.

Part of it stems from the fact that I love writing what I write. I have fun with those books, I tear my heart out with these books, but I adore writing them. The thing is, I have written books I didn’t love as much, that weren’t a part of my own core writing drive, and those books are much, much harder.

About three years ago, in order to save my sanity, my writing focus shifted away from publishing and more to the process. Now, I realize that’s somewhat easier to say once one’s had the validity of being published, but being published isn’t the same as staying published, so there is still a huge risk involved. And at one point I had a huge epiphany: I realized I’d rather write this book my way and never sell it rather than write it some other way. That was a hugely anchoring moment and came after about eleven rejections on the book. As luck would have it, the twelfth editor bought it. Coincidence? I think not. I think sometimes that act of letting go is what sets things in motion—but I digress.

I’ve come to view all those reports of large, six figure deals as urban legends, publishing myths that have very little to do with my own reality. The other thing is that for as many of them that earn out that advance, a similar number do not, and that terrifies me; to have had some publisher pay that much money for one of my books then seriously underperform. ::shudder:: I seriously think that sort of pressure would crush my muse.

Now, just to be clear, I do get bitten by writing envy—someone’s voice just leaps off the page at me, or their sentences are lyrical and lush, or they get to a cherished idea before I do. But that strikes me as being somewhat healthy—something that motivates me to push my own boundaries.

So I guess I manage to avoid publishing envy at this stage in my career by a unique combination of denial, fear, and sheer stubbornness. Not sure that’s something to be recommended, but it’s working for now.

Friday, December 05, 2008

The Real Staff of Osiris

Someone asked if the Staff of Osiris in the book was a real artifact.

While the idea of an actual staff that belonged to Osiris was a construct of mine, the idea that Osiris once lived and walked the earth was not, nor was the idea of magical staffs. Here is a picture of an actual staff taken from a tomb under the Ramesseum in Thebes.

The basic plot for TatSoO had been percolating for a couple of weeks, and then when I saw a picture of this staff, I knew it was it.

It was found tangled with a mass of hair! Isn’t that especially creepy!

Thursday, December 04, 2008


So. I made it twenty-four hours before my hands were itching to get started on my next project. This is a good sign. I was supposed to have two full days off, but by Tuesday afternoon, I was digging through my books and Googling mythical beasts. I did make myself hold off on beginning any actual writing, however, feeling pleased at that small victory.

Part of the problem for me is that not only is writing my job, but it’s my passion and hobby as well, so when I’m done writing, for reset and relaxation I turn to . . . more writing. Although granted, R&R writing is often different than deadline writing. Usually it involves more of the fun parts of writing, building the world, playing with the characters, toying with what if scenarios, and brainstorming.

One of the things I usually end up doing is creating entire family histories for my books or characters, often involving genealogies (werewolf rising) or timelines of their past (Theodosia) or whatever. Part of this is because it seems to me that our roots inform so much of who we become—what the expectations for us are, and how we perceived the world—that I don’t know how to write a character without knowing this about them. Think about it, even names are loaded with our past; is it of German descent or French Canadian? And if it’s different from everyone elses, why is it different? Did the character’s mother or father have a fanciful streak? Saddled with a boring name and thus vowed to name her daughter with something more glamorous/original?

I think knowing this kind of stuff helps to create a sense of history and depth to the characters lives, to make the reader feel as if they have real pasts and lives that began before they showed up on paper.

For the first time, all this history is actually a part of the backstory of Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist. He comes from a long line of explorers, adventurers, and mapmakers. This family history is bound up in two hugely important volumes, Sir Mungo Fludd’s Map of the World, and The Fludd Book of Beasts. Since these both figure so prominently, I’m creating them so I can have them to refer to throughout the book and store my research on the various mythological beasts, etc. And that is definitely a fun thing; very much akin playing, if truth be told.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Twiddling My Thumbs

Wow, a free day. I’m not sure I know what to do with myself. It’s been so long since I’ve had one! Since I was restless yesterday after turning in my book, I ended up doing a lot of the chores on my list of things to get to, so I am totally clear today and tomorrow. One unanticipated chore I got done was cleaning out my closets. I have no idea what lit a fire under me to do that yesterday, but I now have three large bags of stuff to drop off at the Salvation army, as well as two bags of books to go to the friends of the library bookstore.

That always happens when I finish a book: I go on this kind of de-cluttering frenzy. Maybe it’s a way of cleansing my mental palate of the old project to make room for a new one. I’m not sure, but I feel it must have something to do with mental feng shui. Usually it’s a matter of cleaning off my two desks, which become totally buried during the course of finishing up a book. But for some reason (Thanksgiving) my desks didn’t require quite as much work as they normally do, or I had more energy than usual…something was different and I ended up with clean closets. Well, cleaner closets. They’re not perfect yet, not by a long shot.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Writing Shorter Books

So, I’ve emailed Theodosia and the Knights of Horus off to my editor. I’m giving myself a 48 hour break, then I have to dive into my next project, Beastologist 2, which is due to said editor on January 15. Luckily, I’ve already done a lot of work on this project. I have a pretty solid outline, a bunch of research notes, and the first fifteen pages already done.

One of the things that’s really difficult for me is resetting my internal clock from a 300 page manuscript with six subplots to a 70 page manuscript with maybe one tiny subplot. I imagine it’s like moving from a four bedroom ranch house in the suburbs to a studio apartment in the city. There’s no room for all the things you’re used to having!

A critical step that helps me with this resetting is structure. In order to help me make this transition, I have a structure template that I use. The one that I’m currently using for these shorter books is adapted from a template Blake Snyder features in his enormously helpful book SAVE THE CAT. (Which I highly recommend you add to your collection of plotting tools.)

So once I have a general idea what the elements of the story are going to be, I start plugging them into the template. That way, I know I have seven pages for a setup and that by page 9 the inciting incident needs to happen and that around page 18 I better be breaking into the second act. By focusing on what limited space I’m working with, it really helps both my conscious and subconscious mind focus on what the critical elements of the story and characters are. I don’t get distracted by extraneous details or unplanned side trips and cull the story down to its essence.

It’s kind of like taking a piece of 8 x 11 paper out to draw on versus a 24 x 36. I now understand where the edges are, what the limitations of space look like, and I can proceed accordingly.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Really and Truly Done--For Now

I started to write a post last week about the revision process. In fact, it started like this:
I adore revising, especially that first set of revisions after I’ve managed to nail down the plot and the mechanics of the novel and can focus on the more character heavy details.
That's as far as I got before things got all Thanksgiving-ey crazy. Then, when I had time to think about posting again, I was at the stage where I hated revision. Hated. It. My brain hurt and I was pretty sure everything I was writing was loathsome.

Which pretty much sums up the revision process.

Until two days ago when I reached the home stretch, and things began looking up; I had officially reached the Finish Frenzy, which is very much akin to the manic phase in bipolar disorder. Everything is go, go, go! And it's working! Oh yes it is! ::insert chortling right about here:: And then you nail in the last detail, finish filling in the last hole, and type The End.

And you collapse. Or jump up and scream and dance around the house, and then collapse. I have spent the day alternating between languishing on the sofa, feeling dazed, and zooming around the house cleaning out closets and drawers because I'm done!

Okay, I never claimed writers were sane.

But I am really and truly done. The book is as good as I can make it at this point in time, that last clause being the most important. If I had time, I'd put it aside for two months then give it another polish, but I don't. I am sure, however, when I look at it again in six weeks, all it's faults will be glaringly obvious.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Goldilocks and The Three Chairs

So as I think I may have mentioned in passing, my back went out on me about a month ago. It’s fine now, but I hadn’t had a back tweak like that in a looooong time. It’s just so tough when a writer can’t sit comfortably.

But have no fear, a white knight came to my rescue in the form of my dear mother, who insisted on buying me a new chair, specifically, an Aeron chair, as she had had one for some years and loves it a lot. She had actually made this offer a year ago, before my back went out, but I demurred, thinking it too extravagant, too chic, too I don’t know what. But Wednesday saw us at the local office furniture place, trying out chairs.

And can I just say but My! There are a lot of different chairs out there and a such an awful lot of different things to adjust on said chairs!

So I began trying them out. And trying them out, and trying them out. The Aeron was good, but so was the Mirra, but it didn’t have quite enough lower back support. There was another in-the-running, a Sitmatic, that seemed good too. Finally, after much agonizing, I selected an Aeron, due in no small part to my mothers (and others) high praises, and my mother wrote the check (I had to close my eyes while she did that part) and off we went.

Except when I got home and began using the chair, I realized there is a huge difference between sitting in a chair, and actually using it as you do every day. The expensive sucker I’d brought home with me was too big, too long in the seat specifically, and kept bumping (and therefore bruising) the back of my calves. You see, I don’t just sit in chairs, I scoot around in them like a deranged go-cart driver as I move from computer screen to bookshelf(for research) to the table behind me (where I have laid out plots and graphs and other notes.) This Father of All Chairs was simply not for me. It was too hard.

Now I don’t know about you, but I have return phobia. I loathe returning things. It makes me feel high maintenance and demanding and just generally like if I were really worth my salt I would have ended up with the correct thing in the first place. Even so, it was too much money to spend on a chair I couldn’t sit in. So my poor husband schlepps the chair back to the car, and off I go to the furniture store. They lug the old chair in, and I return to my other choices of the day before. But now I have a better idea of what I’m looking for, so I test for those things as well, making sure to scoot everything I sit in.

Surprise, the most comfortable chair is the Sitmatic. It’s missing a couple of features of the Aeron, but is cushier, and has a couple of more precise adjustments. I am somewhat dismayed that my backside prefers a chair that sounds like it could have been sold on a commercial during the Ben Hunter Movie Matinee, and if you CAALL NOW you will get free shipping and a special one time offer of a free attachment that will julienne your potatoes for you while your at it.

But so be it.

As he carries this second chair inside, my poor husband grunts, "This one is solidly made," which is codes-peak for this is a heavy sucker. But we get it inside, and I commence to try and get some frickin’ work done that afternoon.

Except…this chair isn’t right after all either. One of the things it doesn’t do is rock back, but I don’t rock back, or so I thought. My old chair had a very short back, and apparently I do stretch back over that quite a lot, so that sitting in a high back chair that doesn’t rock back feels a lot like having on a straight jacket. But I cannot return yet another chair. Can I? (See, this is why I don’t buy expensive things—the decisions! The pressure!)

But much to my deep chagrin, I do. I have to. It’s too much frickin’ money to not get the right one. I am sure that when the woman sees my car pull up in the parking lot, she runs and hides in the back. Which is actually fine because I can do all my test sitting alone and in private. Its down to the Aeron B and the Mirra. Back and forth I go. I prefer the Aeron’s lumbar support and slightly more fine-tuned seat adjustments, but I prefer Mirra fabric and the way the lip of the seat is adjustable.

When I finally settle on the Aeron B and the poor warehouse worker is yet again lugging a chair out to my car, I offer to bring him some scotch or vodka for his troubles, but the saleswoman informs me that he is a Jehovah’s Witness and doesn’t drink. Here’s hoping he likes See’s Candy!

The moral of the story:
Size does matter—especially with Aeron Chairs
Be sure and put a chair through it’s paces before you buy that sucker, a ten minute sit in a showroom is not a thorough test-drive!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

What Color Is Your Revision?

I’ve discovered a enormously helpful new revision tool. It’s probably something everyone else has known about for eons, but I’ve just stumbled upon it and it’s keeping me from feeling scattered to the four corners of the universe.

I’ve taken to printing different versions of the mss out on different colors of paper. So the rough draft was printed in white, the second draft was printed on yellow, and the third that I’m currently working on is on blue paper. The final version will be on buff colored paper. (Yes, I really am the queen of multiple drafts. I can NEVER get it in one.)

Such a simple, simple thing, and yet, it frees up just a little bit more of my mental hard drive so I don’t have to stop and think, okay, which is the newest version? I know some people print their version numbers as a footer on the mss, but I always forget about that, and this color thing just makes it so clear.

Plus, seeing the mss on a different colored paper is almost as effective as using a new font for making old typos easier to spot.

It is especially helpful when I’m weaving in bits from older drafts.

Not to mention that it’s pretty. It makes my desk look like a rainbow has exploded on it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Done, Done, DONE!

Yes, that screaming you hear is moi, thrilled to pieces that I've finally finished this wretched first draft. I've never contemplated Death By Unfinished Manuscript before, but this book about did me in.

I started the book on June 3, much later than I should have, but I was distracted by the new book I'd just written and sold, and I hadn't factored in new time management issues involving my PT job and boys home from college for the summer. So all in all, I learned a ton about my process and time management issues, so the agonizing did serve some practical purpose.

And, not only am I DONE! (done, done, done--such a happy word!) but I have ten whole days left for revision. Is life good or what?

And to celebrate, I cleaned the much neglected kitchen and did two loads of laundry. Oh, and made a pet food run. Ah, the glamorous life of an author...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

All Wet

I have recently developed a thing for baths. It started when my back went into twisty, pinchy fits and I began taking warm baths with Epsom salts to help unknot.

That was six weeks ago. I’ve only taken one shower since then, the rest are daily baths. I love the immersion in water, the calm and quiet of it, the sense of being enveloped by an entirely different element. It's almost as good as a nap for jump starting my subconscious, and if it's good for my writing I can justify it six ways to Sunday.

Also, probably no coincidence that this affinity for baths is only showing up now that the boys are off at more thundering, colliding monoliths destroying all that calm.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Upcoming Booksigning

I always forget to mention this kind of thing here on the blog, but I'll be having a booksigning for Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris next Sunday, November 23 at Chaucer's Books in Santa Barbara at 3:00. If you're in the area I would love to see you!

As an extra added bonus, I'll be signing with my dear friend, fellow Shrinking Violet, and all around amazing writer, Mary Hershey. That's a twofer, folks!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Am I The Only One?

Can I really be the only person I know who reads more than one book at a time? My husband thinks I'm slightly insane for doing this (and somehow thinks that slightly mitigates the insane part).

Actually, reading can be a conundrum for me when I'm writing a book; there is such a fine line between feeding my work and pulling me off course. It can be nearly impossible to find books that keep me connected to the joy of reading a good book, yet aren't too similar to what I write, thereby infecting it with their voice, or conversely, are too different from what I write. In the latter case, if it's a great book, it makes me want to chuck my current project and start something new.

So for the last throes of Theodosia and the Knights of Horus I've been reading Sophie Kinsella's Remember Me (for the British accent, don't you know?) and re-reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and re-reading D. M. Cornish's Monster Blood Tattoo: Foundling. (Which, btw, if you haven't read and you enjoy fantasy, you simply MUST read.)

And I alternate. Last night I read about 50 pages in one, and that was enough of that, then read 25 pages of Kinsella, and put that aside, then finished out the evening with MBT.

I'm really hoping someone out there does this too...

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Someone nearby has gone and fertilized their field, and not with any, run-of-the-mill fertilizer. Oh no. This stuff reeks beyond the reekiest thing in your imagination (even my current writing!) It’s not a simple horse manure type stuff, but some ghastly, vile, fish guts and horrid chemical smell that burns the inside of one’s nostrils. Ugh.

Makes it very hard to concentrate on today’s pages.

Hmm...maybe I can pretend it’s the stench of the Thames and incorporate into today’s writing.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Making My List And Checking It Twice

No, not my Christmas list, my reading list. For when I finish this Book That Will Not End. Well, that and the next book, but I only have six weeks to get that written so I’m sure that time will fly by. I have a whole list of books I can’t wait to read, but they’re too diverting—they’ll take my voice and story interests in a whole ‘nother direction and I can’t afford that. At least not until Jan 15, and then, watch out! I’m going to plant myself on the couch and read for two weeks straight!

Some on my list:

Ink Exchange
Kushiel’s Mercy
The Born Queen
Midnight Never Come
The Sugar Queen
The Immortal

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Stuck in iSuck

Bleah. This is the hardest stage of the manuscript, the pure slogging stage, where I am sick unto death of this plot and these characters and whose idea was this anyway? Every word I write reeks of dreck and sewage.

Even worse, I added five pages of revision notes today, pleased that my page count would go up, bringing me ever close to The End. Except, I ended up removing just as many pages as I added. So not only am I stuck in iSuck, but I’m going nowhere too. I formally dub this The Book That Will Not End.

Double bleah.

Friday, October 31, 2008

In Honor Of Halloween....

Back in June when I had a chance to go to the ALA conference, I was lucky enough to have dinner with my editor, my agent and another author, Brian Lies. (Yes, isn't that a terrific name for an author! Lucky!)

Brian is one of those guys who knows something about everything and makes a fascinating dinner companion. Especially since I can get a little shy at those sorts of things, so all I had to do was sit back and listen (and try not to put my foot in my mouth when I did talk.)

Anyway, Brian is also the author and illustrator of the rollicking, hilarious, and brilliant BATS IN THE LIBRARY. (And you don't have to take my word for it, it's been on the NY Times Bestseller List for over seven weeks!) If you haven't already, take the time to check it out. The illustrations are breathtaking, full of humor and detail and the kind you could sit and absorb for hours. It's the perfect Halloween treat for any young readers you know. They might even share their candy with you while you read it to them!

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

TatSoO Ships Early!

Hello, remember me? I have been gone a long, long time, so I don't blame you if you don't.

I’m really sorry. I keep vowing not to do that, and then…I do that. The good news is I've been writing, writing, and writing, busily working away on revisions to the first Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist book (The Flight of the Pheonix) and frantically working away at the third Theodosia book, (Theodosia and the Knights of Horus.)

Also, that part time job I loved? I ended up having to quit due to time constraints (that and the fact that my back hated it) so I should be better about blogging here. (Okay, stop laughing!)

Also, for those of you who've been eagerly awaiting the next book, THEODOSIA AND THE STAFF OF OSIRIS shipped four weeks early and is in stores now, so you don't have to wait until November 10. And if you're hungry for a teaser, I just posted a first chapter excerpt on the Theodosia blog. Check it out!

And my sincere thanks to all of you who keep checking back here. I'll try to be more deserving of your loyalty in the future.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Random Acts of Catch Up

Well, it’s taken me a good two weeks to get back into my groove since the conference. No real surprise there.

RWA was terrific! I got to see some dear, dear friends that I hadn’t seen in three years, so that was fabulous. There were a lot of marketing sessions, so I got some good info that I’ll be sharing over at Shrinking Violets. Another thing I was heartened by was the unspoken theme this year, or at least, the unspoken theme that I glommed onto, was that it was time to step outside the conventions of the genre, if that’s where your story took you. Not just for the sake of being different, but because you needed to go there. There were a number of indicators that the genre was in need of fresh, original voices and takes on stories, so that’s always nice to hear. In fact, two of my favorite quotes from the conference were:

No one will remember you if you write small. I think that was Shauna Summers who said that. Also, The worst thing to be is forgettable. That may have been Shauna, too. My notes aren’t as clear as I’d like.

I got to meet Sherry Thomas, one of my favorite new writers this year, and pick up her most recent book, DELICIOUS, which I loved. An unexpected treat was that I got to meet Melissa Marr, whose WICKED LOVELY was fabulous, and pick up a signed copy of her newest, INK EXCHANGE. I’m saving that for a treat when I finish my first draft of Theo 3.

Which, btw, I’m at that plodding (not plotting!) stage of Theodosia 3, needing to go back in and weave all the threads that developed as I wrote the discovery draft of the first half. Once I have that all in place, I can pick up steam and write the second half. Sometimes my process annoys the spit out of me.

In other news, I finally finally got a myspace page up. I swear, I may be the last author on the planet to put up a myspace page. I was conflicted for a long time because the majority of my readers are under 13, and therefore technically not allowed on myspace. However, I’ve come to see that there are a number of librarians and booksellers and other writers whose purpose is to network with each other, so it finally made sense to me. So if you're on myspace, feel free to friend me!

Oh! Another session at RWA that I found extremely helpful was one with Eric Maisel. Specifically, his suggestions to reframe our self talk to honor our creativity more. I especially liked his suggestion that instead of discipline in our writing, we talk of devotion, and that really struck a chord with me. Many people comment on how disciplined I am, and I have to resist snorting at them. Moi? Disciplined? Not so much. I am, however, devoted to my writing, just as I am to my family. The truth is, when you love something, it is very, very easy to devote yourself to it.

So if you’re having trouble finding the discipline to put your butt in that chair and write, try finding that little spark of devotion that first got you interested in writing in the first place. That may be a much better motivator for you. It is for me.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Off To A Conference

I am heading off to the RWA National Conference in San Francisco tomorrow morning, not that you’ll miss me since I’ve been scarce again. (I did warn you.) The funny part is that I thought it would be less expensive attending it this year since there wouldn't be any airfare involved--it was close enough for me to drive. Well, that was before gas climbed up to $4.70 a gallon and before I learned the hotel charged $50/night for parking. So now I'm flying after all.

I am way looking forward to filling my well with lots of craft advice and discussions, as well as just being in the incredible cloud of energy that develops when so many creative people are in one place.

For those of you who won’t be going to any conferences soon, I thought I’d point you to some fabulous advice on writing in first person given by one of my favorite fantasy writers, Carol Berg. Be sure and read both part 1 and part 2. I especially liked her comment that when she tried writing in third person, she felt like she was five miles out of town. Perfect description of how it feels when you can't quite connect with your characters. Enjoy!

And I’ll be back next week and report in.

Scratching My Head

Every once and a while, it feels like I’ve completely forgotten how to write a novel. I can’t figure out where to start, or how to plow forward. So what do these people do, I whine to myself. What gets the plot moving, or worse, what is the frickin’ plot? That’s when the digging begins.

And for digging, I find the most useful tool is a large, 11x 17 or 17 x 21 sheet of graph paper. I take that big piece of paper and write the protagonist’s name and any other major players, along with any plot goals I may know of, for example, a quest for the emerald tablet. Then I just do that whole brainstorming thing where I try to fill in the following sentences:

Theodosia wants
Wigmere wants
Sticky Will wants
Stilton wants
Fagenbush wants
Awi Bubu wants

Somehow, seeing it visually helps my brain forge the connections and possibilities that merely listing them or thinking about them doesn’t.

Then once I have some vague goals for people, I begin fleshing out why they want it. Because I’ll have to show that in order for their goals to makes sense, so that gives me some great scene material.

Next, I find out what is in the way of their goals. If my muse is on top of her game, I find that many of the characters are standing in each others way, which means I have a nice big connected tangle of goals and conflict that all tie in to the major plot. Usually there are one or two dangling, like Will’s. Will wants to provide for his brothers and keep and earn Wigmere’s respect. However, in my current plot, that’s not really threatened or in any kind of danger. So now I have to brainstorm some action, plot thread, or layer that pulls that goal into the main story.

Plotting. Not for the faint-hearted.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Of Bridge Conflicts and Withdrawn Protagonists

Well, I lied about the tomorrow part. Sorry about that. It’s been a busy week. And hot! Yowa. 92 degrees in the shade. And anything over 78 melts my brain.


Sometimes it can seem impossible to build a strong enough emotional connection between the character and the reader AND start the book when the trouble starts. Of course, in an ideal world, you could do both, but since many of us are not perfect writers, we have to find other ways to accomplish this end. For me, my own personal philosophy is, when in doubt to err on the side of connecting with the reader emotionally. What I sometimes use to do this is called a bridge conflict. Which simply means that in the beginning of the story, the protagonist is in conflict with something, but that something happens not to be the main plot element.

For example, in Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos*, the inciting incident for the main plot is when Mum brings the majorly cursed Heart of Egypt home with her. The problem I ran in to was, if I started the book there, I’d have to shoehorn in too much backstory in order to make the reader understand about what Theo’s “normal” life looked like, because it was very, very different than the average normal life, either then or now. Plus if the reader had a chance to understand how on her own Theo was, her emotional isolation as she dealt with this major problem would be more vividly understood. Or that was my thinking at the time. (I do find that writing theories evolve over time, so who knows what I’ll think in five years!)

So the book opens with Theo in conflict with a cursed artifact that her mother has sent home ahead of the rest. This does a couple of things. Shows Theo’s Ordinary World. Gives clear parameters of what the magical rules are in the story world. Establishes Theo’s emotional isolation, as well as her plucky resourcefulness at dealing with it all. And shows how she ends up taking care of the adults around her. All in all, a nice micro encapsulation of the themes Theo will be struggling with on a grander scale throughout the course of the book. I was also able to get one of the bad guys in there in that first scene, although deeply hidden.

So Theo’s conflict with the Bastet statue was a bridge to the main conflict, giving the reader enough time to settle into the complex world of the story AND bond with Theo, so when this big bad nightmare of a problem fell in her lap, they would see how it was testing her beyond her normal coping strategies.

I think one of the things that determines whether or not bridge conflicts works is whether or not the story has enough plot layers. Which is really the subject of another post, but essentially plot layers are all the different areas of the protagonist’s life that the main plot impacts. The bridge conflict can’t be about something that never comes up again in the book. It needs to tie into the overall cohesive elements that form the various plot elements or lays the foundation.

Creating an emotional connection with a withdrawn or reserved protagonist.

Well, this was the problem I was whining about that started this whole series of posts. In my most recent book NATHANIEL FLUDD, BEASTOLOGIST, The book opens with Nate sitting in a lawyers office, receiving the bad news that his parents have been lost at sea. The scene ends with the lawyer hustling him off to the train station, where poor Nate departs for parts unknown, specifically his last remaining relative.

The good news was, I had indeed started the story when the trouble starts: finding out your parents are dead and being shipped off to the unknown is Trouble.

The bad news, Nate was unbelievably passive. As a child in an adult situation, all he could do was sit and take in information. Kiss of death, interest wise. Clearly he would be easy to sympathize with, him. But my challenge was to show HIS emotional scars and wounds so that the reader would care about him specifically and not just, oh, ho hum another orphan in children’s literature…

The emotional set up for his character was that Nate had been emotionally and physically abandoned by his parents into the care of his governess/nanny. And while she appeared very loving and to have his best interests at heart, she also managed to quash him in many ways; curiosity, any desire for adventure, etc. But how to show that or allude to that in the first scene without just telling a lot of backstory?

What I finally ended up doing was having him sit there, instructed by Miss Lumpton to draw while she talked with the lawyer, essentially to be seen and not heard. Then he hears the lawyer mention his parents and he stops drawing to listen, and Miss Lumpton exhorts him to keep drawing. But suddenly he has a goal, even if a very tiny goal. To understand what’s happened to his parents and by extension what will happen to him. This is also a nice way to get some dramatic action in what was a very physically static scene. The action of Nate’s drawing or stopping or fiddling with his pencil gave me some nice vehicles for showing his emotional state rather than telling.

Plus it is just the sort of thing that stupid adults say to kids, as if they can sit there and turn off their ears!! And by that one command, I (hopefully) was able to convey how much Miss Lumpton squelched his curiosity, his intelligence, and his place in the world, until he became merely an extension of her desires. Okay, maybe it doesn’t convey all that, but that’s what I wanted to convey and if it touches on some of that, I’ll be happy.

Which is a long way of trying to illustrate that even the most withdrawn protagonists who are afraid to react in their world, if you dig deep enough and long enough you can usually find some way to establish unique, empathetic characteristics as well as tiny little goals.

And now I simply must go finish up my lesson plans for the SBWC then get ready for work. If you have questions or need further clarification or examples, say so in the comments and I’ll address them next week!

* I’m not trying to be all about me by using examples from my own books, they are just the ones I understand the best.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Pulling the Reader In – Part Deux

One caveat before I continue talking about story beginnings. We all have different reading tastes and will have different opinions on what makes a good story. Therefore, take my ramblings with a grain of salt. If you are someone who reads for plot, you may (quite validly) disagree with me. If you are all about the subtle character studies, my suggestions may seem too heavy-handed for you. And that’s fine. For me, as a reader and writer, I find myself drawn to stories where the plot and character are intertwined, with the plot being the physical vehicle through which the character effects meaningful personal growth or change. Your mileage may vary.

In fact, a really good exercise is to pull 10 of your favorite books off the shelf and read the first scene. What about that scene grabs you? At what point did you feel you were in the hands of a skilled, competent storyteller and decide you wanted to go along for the ride? That can be a good guide as you try to construct your own first scenes. Now, onward...

In order to show the emotional scar or wound in the first scenes of a book, that means you, the writer have to know quite a few things in order to pull that off.

You have to have a fairly firm grasp of both the internal and external character/plot arcs in your novel. If you don’t understand what is emotionally driving your characters’ actions, then you can’t show it to the reader. See, the thing is, people don’t set off to join the cheerleading squad, be the star of the soccer team, find out what’s inside that spooky house at the end of the street, or become queen bee of 4th grade just because. While those are excellent external plots—lots of pro-active actions a protagonist can take towards those goals—there are usually internal reasons that propel a person to pursue those goals, and that’s what I think can be missing in so many books, and more specifically, in so many openings.

We need to know why THIS scenario is so meaningful for THIS kid, above and beyond other kids who have found themselves in similar situations. Without seeing a glimpse of the emotional impetus that drives them—or at least seeing evidence that something is driving them emotionally, then even the most physically suspenseful, action-packed opening can feel flat and lifeless.

Think of all those women out there who aren’t big sports fans, would never spend a minute watching any sporting event on TV, yet if you put THEIR kid on the field, their emotional involvement is suddenly way up and they are rabidly involved in the game. You want your readers to have that same emotional connection with the characters in your story so that they care deeply about what happens to them

So one of the most helpful tools in getting all these elements on the page is the ol’ goal, motivation, and conflict trio. You should know both the internal and external GMC for your main character, and find ways to make sure you get it on the pate. You don’t need to have all those elements in the first scene—in fact that would be TMI. You want to seduce the reader along, raising questions, creating empathy, and making them curious enough that they keep turning the page.

Then try to couple that with compelling situations, such as…
Have the character be in undeserved trouble
Have the character do something nice
Have them be funny
Put the character in physical or emotional jeopardy
Show them as skilled or intelligent or plucky
Show them in conflict with someone or their surroundings

Some examples:

Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos
Her goal in that first scene is to keep her father safe from whatever curses might be on the Bastet statue. This is a solid encapsulation of her larger goal of keeping her family safe in general. Her external motivation is also made clear, that she is the only one who can see these curses, therefore she is the only one who can deal with them. It also, hopefully, hints at her emotional scar or wound—she is left having to take care of the adults around her in very dangerous circumstances because no one would be inclined to believe her should she dare to explain about the curses. The scene (hopefully) also hints at her emotional abandonment by illustrating just how much she’s left on her own both physically and in a coping sense. Also, she’s in conflict with both her surroundings (curses) the adults around her, she’s in undeserved trouble for trying to protect her father from the curses, and she’s plucky and intelligent.

In Harry Potter, his initial goal is just to endure the Dursleys. Instead of seeing the emotional scars, we actually witness the actions that cause these scars, which is equally, if not more effective, but it can be very hard to do in a way that doesn’t load the opening of the book with backstory. So Harry’s grim circumstance is the motivation for his first goal, to find out what is in that mysterious letter that shows up and opens a whole new world to Harry, one the Dursleys don’t want him to explore. This is also where conflict is introduced. Harry defies the Dursleys and tries to get at the letter to discover this mystery about himself. Harry is shown in lots of undeserved trouble, he’s plucky, he’s in conflict with everyone in his family, he tries to do something nice for the snake at the zoo (commiserate) and clearly he’s in emotional jeopardy by living with these horrible people.

In My Big Sister is so Bossy She Says You Can’t Read This Book, Effie is shown in a wildly unfair power balance with her sister. Like Rowling, Herhsey does a good job of showing us the actions that cause Effie’s scar tissue, right in that first scene with her sister (motivation for the subsequent events). Even if Effie can’t articulate her goal, the reader can sense she needs to get out from under her sister’s thumb and get some justice. In fact, that whole first scene nicely sets up her internal goal: Get out from under Maxey’s overbearing ways, Motivation: because she’s steamrolling over Effie all the time, Conflict: Maxey’s got such a strong personality, and Effie doesn’t have the personal strength or fortitude—yet—to get her to back off. But Effie is funny, she’s in undeserved trouble with both her mother and her big sister, she’s waaaay plucky, plus there’s that big secret/lie thing she mentions, right up front.

Tomorrow – what to do if you can’t get the main external plot elements to start in that first scene, and how to make a quiet, mousy, withdrawn protagonist likeable, or at least empathetic.

Friday, June 13, 2008

By Request: Letting the Reader In

In the comments, Agent E said: I seem to encounter themes with writers now and then--lots of people struggling with similar issues--and right now it's a question of "how do you let the reader in without getting into too much navel-gazing?"

So I’m going to talk about that. Plus, since I’m gearing up for my teaching stint at the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference, I can use it there, too. Two birds, one stone, etc.

The short answer to Agent E’s question: In the very first scene, you show a glimpse (and just a glimpse, mind you) of the emotional hole the main character is trying to fill.

But you show it in such an off-hand way that it’s clear the character themselves are unaware of that emotional lack and how it affects them or drives their behavior. (And really, aren’t most of us unaware of the scars that drive us? That burgeoning awareness of our own behavior is part of the journey.)

Basically, you show the emotional scar tissue without explaining the wound.

What this does is three things:

  1. It creates empathy with the protagonist. Even an unsavory protagonist can be compelling if we get a hint of what emotional wounds are driving him.
  2. It raises our curiosity as to how those scars got there.
  3. It assures us that we are about to embark on an internal journey as well as an external journey; that this journey will have some emotional depth to it.

For example, think of the first Harry potter book. Would we care as much about Harry if we met him for the first time at Hogwarts? Probably not. It was his unrelentingly grim home life that first bonded us to Harry, not his magical skills. We felt emotionally for that kid who was stuck living under the stairs and made to be a slave to the highly distasteful Dursleys. And yet the plot of that book, the philospher’s stone, isn’t really introduced until Hagrid takes the mysterious packet out of the vault at Gringotts. But our emotional connection to Harry and compelling dramatic questions occur much earlier than that and capture our interest.

In the Black Book of Secrets, E. F. Higgens creates enormous empathy for a rather unsympathetic character—a pickpocket. Yet when we see his own parents trying to capture him so they can have his teeth pulled to pay for their gin, we suddenly understand him a little better, and have immediate empathy. Again, his subsequent journey wouldn’t be as meaningful if we didn’t see what sort of wretched beginnings he’d come from.

My Big Sister is So Bossy She Says You Can’t Read This Book by Mary Hershey uses humor and a grossly unfair power balance between Effie and her big sister to bond us immediately to Effie. She also shows us a dash of Effie's deeply buried yet still alive rebellious nature, so we don't have to worry that she's a total wet noodle. There's still some fight left in her.

Winn Dixie has heroine doing something nice—bringing home the dog. But it is also emotionally risky—her dad’s not much of one for reaching out or connecting emotionally, so we also see the big hole in her life left by both her father’s distance and her mother’s absence. It is instantly far more than just a stray dog that is at stake here.

Then the second thing you need to do is use the situation in which you introduce the character to raise dramatic questions about the plot or the world the character inhabits. The above openings do double duty and also raise dramatic questions.

Winn Dixie does it through dropping hints about the backstory; What did happen to India’s mother? Why is her dad like a turtle?

My Big Sister does this by making us wonder what lies were told and also by putting Effie in a hugely unfair situation with her big sister. Hershey also does a fabulous job of hinting at Effie’s true nature by showing she’s got ways of her own of fighting back.

Rowling, of course, does this with the world she creates. There are so many amazing things going on, letters insisting on being delivered, huge giants showing up on deserted islands, Diagon alley, all those tells us we have just entered a world of untold surprises and delights. That combined with our emotional connection with Harry fully suck us into the story.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? But how do we do all that? In the first few pages, no less?

Tomorrow (hopefuly) I’ll talk more about the actual tools and techniques we can use for doing just that.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Bumps in the Path

Okay, so now that I warned you all that I'd be disappearing, I've become all chatty. How contrarian of me!

I wanted to talk about a couple of problems I ran into with my recent project, BEASTOLOGIST. For one, it was a chapter book, which is shorter than standard middle grade, coming in at around 15,000 words rather than the 25,000 to 45,000 of standard middle grade (not to mention the whopping 80,000 words the Theo books weigh in at.)

Writing short is hard ::she whined:: I think that’s one of the reasons the scope of chapter book stories tends to be smaller: a contest, a rivalry, a small conflict within the family. But I wanted to write a fantasy-adventure involving a complicated backstory. Not to mention needing to accomplish the basics; dimensional characters, plot layers, etc. Phew. Every word had to carry triple duty. If you think about it, not a bad exercise in seeing just how much you can cut down to the story bones and still have a (hopefully!) compelling tale.

Another issue I bumped into was that of The Withdrawn Protagonist, which is actually something I bump up against fairly often. I am attracted to quiet, reserved, sometimes even withdrawn protagonists. I like to explore the series of conditions and situations that force them out of their shell; that give them the courage to step out of their voluntary shelter and engage with life and begin recognizing their own personal power.

But in order to show this journey, I have to introduce the character while they are still withdrawn and somewhat timid and cautious.

Which also bumps into one of the endless craft questions: how much do we need to know and understand of the character before the main plot really takes off. Some people (with whom I argue much) say the physical action of the main plot needs to start immediately. As in that very first scene. However as a reader, I have found that I like to bond with a character first, to better understand their flaws and strengths and problems in their lives before bounding off on this big adventure.

If I’ve had a chance to bond with the character, I care more about what happens to him (or her.) Otherwise it’s extraordinarily easy for me to put the book down, even with a rollicking plot, because I simply don’t care enough or can’t feel the depth I need for a satisfying story.

As a writer, to overcome this, I find myself using bridge conflicts a lot. Which I’ll have to talk about in my next post because I have to go make dinner...

Monday, June 09, 2008


You know that saying, that when someone shivers it's because somebody just walked over their grave? Well, here's a new take on that old favorite.

Today, I got a Google Alert (all authors know about these, right?) for R. L. LaFevers on FIND A GRAVE! Yowza. Talk about shivers! So of course I had to go check it out. It's the grave of a young RL who lived from 1883-1885, poor little tyke. But still. Kind of creepy.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Promised News

From Publishers Marketplace....

Author of THEODOSIA AND THE SERPENTS OF CHAOS R.L. LaFevers's first two titles in a new illustrated chapter book series, NATHANIEL FLUDD: BEASTOLOGIST, in which Nathaniel loses his parents, is shipped off to a distant cousin, adopts a gremlin, and begins his travels as a Junior Beastologist tending to the world's mythological creatures, again to Kate O'Sullivan at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, by Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

I'm so excited to be working with Houghton Mifflin on this new project! Not to mention what a blast writing it has been. Too too fun.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Akhet – the Season of Inundation

First of all, I have to show off the amazing cover for Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris. Yoko Tanaka has truly outdone herself. I am so lucky!!

Now a warning: Major Update ahead.

So, I had a great excuse for my absence this time. Honest. Two weeks ago, my iMac went up in smoke. Literally. A little plastic smelling puff of smoke. I took it to the local Mac shop, which is brilliant but s-l-o-w and one week later found out the power pack and the logic board were kaput. It would cost the same to repair as it would to purchase a new one. So I am typing this blog entry from a brand new shiny iMac. Now, I haven’t been very impressed with Macs to tell the truth. I know there are many who are absolutely fanatical about their superiority to other pcs, but I haven’t seen it. And certainly not mechanically. This is the 2nd power pack to go on my machine. However, I am quite fond of their sleek, compact all-in-one design, so will give them one more try. But that’s it. Also, I bought a three year Apple Care package, just in case.

But it did take a whole ‘nother week for me to get into the Mac shop and pick one up. I had work, and went to BEA which was faboo! I got to meet so many of the wonderful people at Houghton Mifflin, as well as booksellers and readers and other authors. Major heaven. Also major crowds. Boy. Talk about sensory overload.

I will have some exciting news to share here in a few days, I’m hoping. But I also need to give you a heads up. The season of inundation is upon me. I have a firm due date for Theo 3 now, and its sooner rather than later, so I must get cracking. Plus, the boys will be home in a couple of weeks for summer, which will greatly impact my free time. I haven’t juggled writing on deadline, the boys, AND a part time job in a long, long time. If ever. So it will be a challenge.

Which is, in it’s own way, a bit of a head’s up that I may to pare down to the essentials for the next few months. I’m not sure yet. I’ll definitely post news or appearance stuff when I have it, but my already sporadic postings may become even more so. Consider yourself warned.

Friday, May 16, 2008


So right now I'm working on a story that has tons and tons of backstory. But backstory can be the kiss of death. Nothing slows the pacing like stopping the forward progression of the narrative to shoehorn in something that happened a long time ago. So this was my revelation about backstory:

Backstory should be like a striptease. You reveal just enough to make the reader want more. Then, when they're nearly frantic with their desire to know what happened, you can reveal all. Ideally, it should be at a moment when the backstory intersects in a dramatic way with the main plot.

Friday, May 09, 2008


First of all, thanks to everyone who weighed in on the photo decision! I appreciate your input.

Conflict drives the story. How big and how multi-faceted the conflict is determines the scope of the story. Is your conflict big enough to sustain an entire 100 page novel? A 300 page novel? Making the conflict bigger does not have to involve saving the world or life or death issues. It can be just as effective having your character be forced to cross their own personal boundaries and the issues and conflict surrounding that.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Dreaded Author Photo

When I was young (I mean really young, like 13 years old) I wanted to be a model (as did every other 13 year old girl who didn't want to be an actress or a clothes designer). That was well before I discovered how much I loathe being in front of a camera. Hate. It. Talk about stiff and mannequin-like! Oy. Good thing I switched to a much more practical vocation, like writing. ::snerk::

I have been long overdue for a new author photo as my last one is about three years old and I look stiffer than a corpse. However, since I think they're about as much fun as my annual mammogram, I tend to put it off and put it off best friend grabs me by the ear and drags me to a photographer. Yes, everyone needs a best friend like that.

So, after 68 shots, I have two that don't make me cringe. This is actually an excellent ratio. Usually there are zero that don't make me cringe. Since I can't quite decide which one I should use, I thought I'd see what you guys think.

Me in a jungle gym:

Or me hiding behind a tree.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

German Theodosia!

I arrived home late Friday night, dragging in from a long afternoon of work, and found a huge box from my publisher on my doorstep. Truly puzzled, I quickly went in search of a razor knife to open it with.

Imagine my surprise and utter delight when I found an entire box of these!

The German edition of Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos! Isn't it a fabulous cover! Only I think in German, the title is The Curse of the Black Cat. I wonder if all German cats wear earrings, because I'm quite fond of the one Isis is wearing.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Desperartely Seeking Cinderellas (or Cinderfellas!)

fAiRy gOdSisTeRs, iNk

Sneaking up on Surprising writers and illustrators everywhere!

Announcing a $1,000 grant opportunity
for a SCBWI member to attend the
August 1-4, 2008 SCBWI Summer Conference
in Los Angeles.

TO APPLY: Submit a 250 word double-spaced essay
describing what you hope to accomplish
by attending this year’s summer conference.

Send to:

Application deadline: May 15, 2008
Winner will notified on June 1st, 2008

Questions about the grant may be sent to:

Fairy Godsisters, Ink. is a small, benevolent squadron of children's book authors who believe in the magic of passing forward lucky breaks, bounty and beneficence, as so many have done for us. We are Thalia Chaltas, Mary Hershey, Valerie Hobbs, R. L. La Fevers and Lee Wardlaw.

Back From Hiatus

I guess I’m just going to have to accept the fact that I’m a sporadic blogger at best. I keep trying to do better, but things keep coming up. This last hiatus was precipitated by adjusting to the new PT job (um, that’s part time, not physical therapy) and…tada!...finishing a manuscript.

I’m very happy about that last bit. Finishing a manuscript is one of the best feelings in the world. The only problem is that I am usually so flush and rosy from the joy of having finished it that I can’t read it with even one iota of objectivity. Which is where beta readers come in. So my newest manuscript is off to a few selected beta readers. While I’m waiting to hear back, I’m turning my full creative attention to Miss Theodosia and Book Three.

In other news, the galleys for THEODOSIA AND THE STAFF OF OSIRIS just arrived! Which means we are just that much closer to publication. Yeay! I’ve also had a chance to see the new cover for Staff of Osiris and it is amazing. Once again, Yoko Tanaka has outdone herself. I’ll have to see if I can get permission to post the cover here.

And now, because those of you still reading this blog are true diehards and deserve some acknowledgment, I’m going to have a giveaway!

The first person to leave a comment to today’s post (after my long hiatus) will win a free signed copy of the new paperback edition of THEODOSIA AND THE SERPENTS OF CHAOS.

Which is a fancy way of saying it's out in paperback now! (Although truly, the first person to leave a comment will win a copy.)

And be sure and come back tomorrow when I have a very exciting announcement to make that may just involve a great opportunity for a lucky blog reader!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Catching Up

Wow, you know you're way too busy when you can even find the time to blog good news! I've been trying to fight my way to my computer for the last week to share this tidbit...Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos has been nominated for an Agatha Award! How cool is that??

I'm very excited, especially since the award is named after Agatha Christie, and I cut my mystery teeth on Agatha Christies during my teen years. Absolutely devoured every Agatha Christie mystery that was in print at the time.

I also got the Architexture Workshop behind me. It seemed like it went well and I hope people got a lot out of it. I enjoyed doing it. One of the perks of doing workshops is that I always end up having an epiphany on one of my own works in progress, and this time proved no exception.

I was having a bit of a problem with my current book, feeling it was a little thin. Then during the workshop it hit me, I hadn't drilled down far enough--I hadn't gone far back enough in history to explain this family's rather particular calling.

So I spent a lovely day, immersed in my WIP, up to my elbows in research materials. Happily, I did finally drill back far enough, although I am chagrined to admit that meant going all the way back to the 13th century, even though my story doesn't take place until 1920. I will very likely not use most of it, but apparently I needed to know it to give the characters enough depth and history to come alive for me.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Shifting Vision of Success

So, the reason I got behind on blogging the last couple of weeks is because…I’ve started a new part time job.

Yes, she who was absolutely positive that writing full time would be her personal version of nirvana has changed her mind.

When I was prepublished, my biggest dream was to write full time. Then I got a three book contract and was able to do that. Except, it wasn’t really writing full time because I had kids in the house, and they tend to be the full time thing, and everything else is part time. (At least for me—for others it is most likely different—but that’s been my experience.)

So my big consolation with them going off to school was that at least I’d be able to write full time now, really and truly full time, not this part-time, full-time jazz.

But what I found was that it felt an awful lot like staring at my navel for hours on end. Writing four hours a day came easily, writing eight hours a day was a fight, and I ended up getting in my own way, forcing things that really shouldn’t have been forced. Pretty much the same principle as overworking piecrust dough. Roll it out once or twice and you have a perfect piecrust. Keep fiddling with it over and over and you end up with something that more closely resembles shoe leather.

So we’ll see how this goes. Right now, it feels perfect. It’s afternoons, which is my creative dead time, and it’s in my own small town, so only a three minute drive to work. Both lovely. Another thing I find I’m really enjoying is the daily sense of closure and accomplishment I get. In writing (and publishing) the goals are all so long term. And as soon as you reach one, finish the copy edits, say, another one pops up in its place; proof the galleys. So I find that I’m really hungry for this sense of daily accomplishment that the new day job is providing.

So that’s where I’ve been. Once I get my feet more firmly under me, I’ll be slightly more consistent here…

Monday, February 11, 2008

Still Laughing...

So Friday afternoon there's a message on my answering machine. It's the coordinator for our small town's Home and Garden Tour, and she's calling because she wants to consider our house for the upcoming Home and Garden Tour.

That sound you here? It's me guf-fawing. Our home is SO not home and garden tour material. I mean, it's a nice house in a lovely area, but I am SO not a home and garden-type housekeeper. At all. Plus home decoration is way down on my list of priorities. My house looks like it's inhabited by two teen males, one scattered mechanic, and a absent-minded professor with waaaay too many books and stacks of papers.

So I called her back and left a message on her machine that I thought someone was playing a cruel joke on her. When we finally talked, she assured me that no, this wasn't a joke. I assured her that it was. Then she very sweetly asked if I was being modest. ::snort:: Hardly. Just realistic. I told her we'd talk again in two years when my housekeeping skills and home decorating priorities shifted.

See, the thing is, a long time ago when I committed to pursuing writing, I knew something had to give. I couldn't do it all. So my priorities became my family, my health, and my writing. Everything else moved way down the list. Where it remains.

Now granted, my family dynamics have shifted (read empty nest) but my priorities haven't caught up yet. Soon, I'm guessing. But not quite yet.

And I share this with all of you in case there are others who have housekeeping way down on their priority lists. I want you to know that the bottom of the list is a perfectly acceptable place to put it. Especially if you're raising a family or pursuing a creative endeavor.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Thoughts on Pacing

So, I'm putting together a day long workshop for my SCBWI Region called Architexture: A Multi-faceted Approach to Building the World of Your Novel.

Anyway, I've been working on it the last couple of days and one thing I had planned to cover, pacing tips, doesn't seem to fit gracefully into the overall flow, so I thought I'd post them here.

Write in scenes - I'm often surprised when I find a book that doesn't have scenes so much as a continuous flow encompassing every moment of the character's life, whether it is relevant to the story or not.

Cut in and out of scenes as tightly as possible - Start your scene as late as you can and have it still make sense, then get out as soon as the purpose of the scene has been accomplished.

Stay in the Now of your story - The Now of the story is the real time of your story. It's kind of the literary equivalent of living in the moment. It is very closely related to...

Avoid flashbacks and info dumps - As much as you can, anyway. Because the minute you have a flashback or info dump, you've stopped the forward momentum of your story cold. If you must have either one of them, have it as late in the book as possible and be sure you teased the reader with it so that they are dying to know that mysterious bit of information that you've adequately foreshadowed.

Include dramatic action, not any old action - Actions speak louder than words, so don't just have your character doing the dishes, but add subtext to the scene by having her dish washing convey something that is not stated. For example, is she practically scrubbing the pattern off the china because she's furious but can't say so? Or is she focusing on doing the dishes perfectly and precisely so she won't break down in tears in front of her entire family?

Avoid sitting and thinking scenes - Okay, they can't be avoided altogether, but if you add dramatic action, you give them some depth and layers that makes them more compelling.

In tense moments, use shorter sentences and paragraphs to convey that tenseness. Also consider shorter scene and chapter length

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

More News...

And because this is publishing, the news isn't always good. I just found out that Werewolf Rising is being remaindered. (sob!) So sad. The poor thing never even made it to paperback.

It's too bad because of all of my books, this is the one I get the most mail for, begging for a sequel. So while apparently only 358 people read it, they were passionate about it. Plus, I had left some intriguing questions to be answered in a sequel which will, alas, most likely never see the light of day.

Excuse me while I have a moment of silence...

Monday, February 04, 2008


Sorry to go silent last week. It was hugely busy for a number of reasons, some of which I will go into later in the week. But for now, the most exciting reason...

From Publisher's Marketplace:

R.L. LaFevers's next sequel to THEODOSIA AND THE SERPENTS OF CHAOS and THEODOSIA AND THE STAFF OF OSIRIS, set at the Museum of Legends and Antiquities, in which Theo must convince her parents to take her back to Egypt so she can beat two competing evil societies in the race to find a cache of hidden magical artifacts, to Kate O'Sullivan at Houghton Mifflin, by Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

We're still tweaking the title. My current choices are Theodosia and the Emerald Tablet or Theodosia and the Book of Thoth. The latter keeps the whole Egyptian flavor/theme going. However, that might not necessarily be a good thing as they may all begin to sound alike. Luckily, I don't have to decide today.

Another reason for my distraction was that Number Two Son came home this weekend. It feels like all I did was cook. And stare (fondly, if somewhat annoyingly) at him. He was a very good sport about it. Well, he should be. I fed him well. It was a fair exchange.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

It Never Rains In California...

Well, for the most part, that's true. Or it rains very rarely. But we've gotten a humdinger of a storm! It started raining yesterday and has been raining every since. And not just rain! But thunder! And lightening! Which we only get about once every three or four years. So I'm very excited.

It is also weather that is hugely conducive to writing. I got 3,000 words written today.

Now granted, that is an aberration. And probably because the story has been percolating in the back of my mind for over a year. But still... Thunder. Lightening. Rain. Writing. Color me happy!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Cleansing My Mental Palate

Once upon a time, at fancy dinner parties, the hostess used to serve small cups of sherbet between the dinner courses in order to help her guests cleanse their palates so they could have their taste buds start fresh with the next course. That way there would be no taste of fish still clinging to their tongues as they began on the beef course. Or something like that.

Anyway, I've decided to adopt that strategy to my writing for the next month or two. I'm putting aside NIGHTSHADE for a short while so I can cleanse my palate and start fresh when I pick it up again. It has too many vestigial tales clinging to it from earlier versions and incarnations.

Instead, I'm going to work on a shorter project called THE AMAZING DINWIDDIE. And I can't tell you if it's going to be a chapter book or a short middle grade or even a regular length middle grade, because that's part of the exercise. I'm going to force myself to write this book without knowing any of that stuff. I'm going to shut out all those clamoring editors on my shoulders and just write, for gawd's sakes.

Now I realize that between being a shorter book and much less edgy and dark, there will be far fewer restrictions my internal editors will be trying to place on me. But that's why this is such a perfect place to start. You have to lift ten pounds before you can lift fifty. So this is my ten pound book.

Another thing I'm going to try that I haven't done for a long time is to write my daily quota, then walk away from the mss for the day. Not fiddle with it and plot it out ad nauseum. I want to see how that changes things.

Because that's the thing about writing: each book is different, and for me at least, the process is constantly changing and evolving in order to produce the best book I'm capable of. Or, you know, work around my personal demons. Same thing, in the end.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Brain Cramp

A dear friend of mine, Katy Cooper, talks about how in every manuscript there comes a point where the project makes her brain cramp.

That’s where I am right now with NIGHTSHADE. All my clever plotting threads have gotten tangled and interwoven so tightly that my brain is cramping up and writhing in agony, trying to figure it all out.

At first, I thought it was time to pull out the color-coded index cards and the spreadsheets and bring the left-side of my brain into the equation. However, in lieu of my last post, I think instead, I'm going to back away a bit and try to reconnect with the parts of this story that had me so excited about writing it, and make an effort to strip away anything I might have encumbered it with. Once I've done that, I'm going to do some journaling and play around with the "promise of the premise." This is a term I picked up from a recent craft book I read called, Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. It's a very quick read, and I thought it had some interesting new ways of looking at plot elements and structure. It didn't feel as seminal to me as Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass or STORY by Robert McKee, but very worthwhile. I think its greatest value will be in helping reduce a sprawling mess of a story to its core focus.

Which I'll try, just as soon as my brain uncramps

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Self Censorship

So the other day I was reading the recent deals on Publisher’s Marketplace. This is not something one really needs to do as a writer but I’m afraid I am nosy (::ahem:: just like a certain young heroine I could name). Anyway, I apparently also like to torture myself

I was shocked and dismayed to find a deal announced with a blurb that—I swear—could have been lifted right off my computer, it was that similar to an idea I’ve been toying with for a while. Now, I know that there are few original ideas, yadda, yadda, yadda, but this one felt fresh and different and I was looking forward to working on it—someday. Someday when I got up the nerve that is. You see, I hadn’t let myself start that book because I was afraid of it; afraid of what the subject matter said about me, afraid it would be too shocking or too dark or too—some damn thing. I don’t know. The thing is, I don't mind being scooped, but I do mind being scooped because of fear. Argh!

Which brings me to self-censorship, one of the deadliest cancers creativity has ever known and one of my personal bugaboos. Public attempts at censorship and book banning have nothing on the insidious creep of self-censorship. With public censorship and book banning, you can fight back, write letters, protest, raise consciousness, buy the book in question to reverse the tide. But with self-censorship, it's much more subtle and can creep up on you so that you don't even know you're doing it.

I know some writers are much better than I am at throwing it off, but I really do have a very rigid, disapproving, repressed editor sitting on my shoulder as I write (and no, it’s not you Mom--I swear!) and I can’t tell you the number of ideas she nixes or waters down, for fear of upsetting people.

The thing is, though, that writing is meant to explore dark paces, often so we won’t have to, or to shine a light on our own psychic hidey holes. I know that. And I love it when an author does it, and does it well. The emotional journey and complete catharsis that those kinds of books provide are some of the most profound reading experiences I've ever had. And yet I shy away.

The thing is, the possibility of upsetting a group of concerned parents in Kansas really does upset me. I like involved parents. And teachers. And librarians. I don’t want to tick them off.

But being nice has nothing to do with being a writer. We owe our readers the truth as we see it, even if that truth is dark sometimes, or cloaked in fantasy worlds or needs to explore issues that some prefer weren’t explored.

Clearly, this is something I need to face. (And soon! Before all my best, edgy ideas get consumed by other feeders at the cosmic cauldron of Story.) In fact, I’ve already begun. I’m designing (in my mind) a set of new people to sit on my shoulder as I write. I normally write for myself, to tell the sorts of stories I love but can't find or find enough of. But now I’m working on visualizing the one reader who really needs this dark, edgy, shocking story I want to tell. Then, once that person is fully realized in my mind, they are going to go over and bitch slap the censuring editor.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Home Stretch

I swear to god I haven't fallen by the wayside on my new resolve to blog more regularly, I'm just coming down the home stretch on these copy edits, which I need to get into the mail tomorrow.

I had some little snippet I was going to blog about earlier, but now my brain is mush and I've forgotten it in a swirling maelstrom of red pencil marks, purple ink comments, yellow query notes, and green pencil flourishes. And my eyes hurt.

However, I do have to say, a good copy editor is as valuable as great undergarments: they keep everything neatly in its place and fully covered, with no visible flaws for the outside world to see.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Tudors

My father got me a subscription to Netflix for Christmas. (I know, I'm so behind the times!) And since I'm working on a YA mss that takes place in the 1490's I thought I'd try watching the new series, The Tudors. You know, for historic flavor. Has anyone else out there watched it?

I wanted so much to like it! And I almost did. But the fellow they have cast as Henry VIII is SO wrong, it's hugely distracting. He's on the slight and slender side, and dark hair and dark eyes and built nothing like any of the portraits of Henry that I've ever seen. He also comes across as petulant and sullen, rather than arrogant and rash.
The actor they have playing the Duke of Buckingham is much more Henry VIIIish.

The sets and costumes are fabulous however. And I'll keep watching--at least for a little while longer. But honestly people! How do you get this:

From this?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Some Updates

Speaking of the next book (which Erica was in the comments to the last post) Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris now has a pub date: November 1, 2008. I know that seems like a long time, but I'm sure it will be here before you know it. Or it will be if I ever get this copy edit done!

And speaking of copy edits, how much do I love this copy editor? In my next life, I want to be able to print really, really small, and very neatly. I’m not kidding. This woman looks like she’s typed her queries in 6 point font.

Also, just a heads up. Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos will be out in paperback in May, so for those of you who weren't quite ready to commit to the cost of the hardback, well, it will soon be available for only $6. Such a deal!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Remember Me?

Wow. You look away for a second and Bam! Three months zips by.

Once again, I have been a very lackadaisical blogger. Of course, I have many totally justifiable excuses, and if you want to see my doctor's note, just email me and I'll zip you a copy.

If it makes you feel any better, I didn't get Christmas cards out either. In fact, I've only gotten Christmas cards out three years out of the last twenty, which says a lot, don't you think?

So. New Year. New Resolutions. You know the drill. One of my goals is to pop in here more often. One of the problems is I tend to think I need to have an official article or lecture planned. I'm going to try and remove that pressure and see if I can't just wander in here and, well, babble at you in a more casual fashion. You guys are up for casual babbling, aren't you? Of course you are! Hopefully, that will make it easier to post more regularly.

Hm. As for a quick recap of the last three months, which actually, now that I think about it, would have made a good Christmas letter.

Both boys off to school. Much sobbing and rending of cloth. Minimal grocery bill nicely offsets this despair, however.

Both boys doing well in school. Sobbing down to merely tearing up at odd moments. Much writing getting done. Yeay!

Youngest son very sick. First time sick away from home. Sobbing resumes, this time with a guilty note to it. Diagnosed with mono. However, has NO symptoms of mono, merely bad cold.

Oldest son calls home. He too, is very sick. He too, tests positive for mono. (No doubts about what these two have been up to while away at college!)In fact, I must stop sobbing long enough to drive up and help him out, he is that sick. One trip to the emergency room later, we are thrilled to discover he has one of the most severe cases of mono the emergency room has ever seen. I am so proud. Eldest son comes home long enough to effect the most miraculous recovery ever, and returns to school in one week.

Which gives me just enough time to clean the house in time for Thanksgiving.

Writing like a maniac and loving it. Boys due home second and third weeks of December. Can't wait! Plus, very generous in-laws have decided to take the entire family to Maui for their 55th wedding anniversary. Tropics, here we come! Unfortunately, I am not a tropical person. Heat and humidity don't do it for me. However, it was very, very lovely. Boys and beloved spouse snorkeled and swam with sea turtles and jumped off tall rocks that left me dizzy. I read five books, which is my personal version of paradise. Return to real life, refreshed. Pack boys up. Ship them back to school. Am much relieved to find I only cry a little at their departure and quickly get back into the swing of my writing life.

Which included updating this blog!