Wrapping Up ROW80 & Looking Ahead to 2015

I hope your Hanukkah, Christmas, or other holidays were peaceful and enjoyable. For those who struggled with the holidays this year due to hardships in their lives, my heart goes out to you. I pray that everyone faces a hopeful year in 2015.

But here at year’s end, I’m doing a little wrapping up and looking ahead for me, my writing, and my blog.

ROW80LogocopyFinal ROW80 Check-in

It’s been years now that I’ve been involved in A Round of Words in 80 Days. I’m aware of other writing challenges, but I like this one particularly because it’s flexible to the participant and the season. Writers set their own goals for a round that last 80 days, and then report their progress and receive encouragement from others.

I haven’t been quite as on top of ROW80 this time as I like to be. But I did participate once again, and here’s my final report.

1. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. I edited both, but I need more feedback from critique partners before polishing and publishing. Thus, these releases will happen after the first of the year.

2. Read 12 books. I read 10 books. And I’m still trying to get through Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. Honestly, if this one hadn’t tripped me up, I’d have made my goal. I feel bad about my slow progress, but Mansfield Park is often named as Austen’s least engaging novel and it involves a lot of telling and dialogue — more than I recall in her other works. Yes, yes, that’s all rationalizing, but I have sworn to myself that I will finish this book and I plan to make it through before the end of this year.

3. Attend Immersion Master Class and follow-up. I completed Immersion, made necessary edits based on what I learned there, and have only a couple of scenes to fix to be completely done. In addition, at the encouragement of Immersion mates and others, I entered my manuscript in the Golden Heart contest.

2015Looking Ahead to 2015

It’s good to take a look back and where you’ve been and what you can improve, but I don’t believe in dwelling there. Take stock, sure, but then look ahead to what’s next.

So here’s my overall list of writing goals for the New Year:

1. Revamp my website. Yes, I’ve done this before, but I’ve never been supremely happy with how it’s all going here. In fact, I wrote not that long ago on Blogging: What’s the Point? I’ve had some ideas stirring around in my head for months, but I haven’t had time to get to them. I’m planning to change that in 2015 and reboot the blog.

2. Publish three paranormal short stories. I have three more short stories to put out for my Paranormal Playground series. I’ll be releasing those, hopefully in the first half of 2015.

3. Publish “Color Me Happy.” This young adult contemporary short story was published in an anthology, but I’d like to publish it as a single as well. I’m aiming for perhaps a summer release.

4. Query Sharing Hunter. This contemporary young adult novel has been my heart’s work in 2014, and I believe it’s ready to go out to agents and publishers. It’s already been sent out a few times, but it’s in better shape now and I’m eager to query my manuscript.

5. Edit The Year of Firsts (working title). I wrote this middle grade novel a couple of years ago, then let the draft sit. I like the story and the characters, but after much thought, I’ve decided to edit it into a young adult novel. Of course, that means more like rewrite than edit, but I think this will be a great follow-up project. (And yeah, I no longer like that title, so I’ll be trying out new ones.)

6. Serve as RWA chapter officer. Next year, I am the vice president of special events for my RWA chapter. Some moments, I think I was crazy to agree to add another item to my already full plate, and other moments, I’m really excited to get to do this job. Wish me luck!

Perhaps I’ll get even more done in 2015. But I’m keeping my list right there for now.

What have you accomplished this past year? What are you looking forward to doing in the New Year?

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The Pajama Writers Club…or What Do Writers Wear?

Last Wednesday, I was sitting at my computer and editing my novel when I suddenly realized it was past 10 a.m. and I was still in my jammies. Not that I was surprised. Since I work from home, it’s easier to let everyone else in my family get ready and out the door. Then I can get ready on my own without interruption or battling for hot water from the shower.

Fairly often, however, I go way past waiting for the family to leave…and all the way to, “How long can I stay in these pajamas?” I’ve even had noon creep up on me, and I’m still in my PJ’s with my hair in a ponytail. Oops.

So back to last Wednesday, I popped over and wrote this status update on Facebook:

Facebook status update

The overwhelming response seemed to be that writing in your pajamas was not sad and pathetic. Rather, it was a delightful idea plenty of others would love to do!

Which made me wonder: What do writers wear to write?

My own writer wardrobe consists of everything from jammies to yoga pants to jeans to business casual. It all depends on what else I have going that day.

As it turns out, I’m not the only one who has wondered. Quite a few have written on this topic. Successful writers wear everything from plain clothes to special hats to underwear to nothing at all while they work. Some months ago, Elle magazine even had a suggested wardrobe for “Novelist,” which literary agent Sharon Pelletier pointed out on Twitter. Her tweet was passed along to many writers, who got a good laugh from this idea:

Elle Novelist

I can’t believe I was missing the long-sleeve silk blouse. As if that‘s what we wear!

But one of the best posts I stumbled upon came from Lynne Kelly, who asked fellow authors what they wore…and posted their photos! Hey, I’m game. So here are a few photos of what I might wear while writing:

Yoga Pants & a T-Shirt
Yoga Pants & a T-Shirt
Still casual, but a dress!
Still casual, but a dress!
The Pajamas Look
The Pajamas Look

It doesn’t seem to matter what I wear. As long as I show up and write, I get things done!

Speaking of which…

ROW80 Update

Round 3 ended last Thursday, and the final round for 2014 begins on October 6. However, I wanted to go ahead and do a wrap-up and look-ahead for my writing goals.

1. Finish editing Sharing Hunter, young adult contemporary novel. I really need one more week to be all done, completely finished, super-happy with the result. Because I realized I need to add 2-3 scenes. Yet I’m still pleased with my progress this round.

2. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. Moved this goal to next round.

3. Read 12 books. Read 13 books total.

4. Attend RWA Conference and Day of YA in San Antonio and follow-up as needed. Goal completed.

Next round, I’ve got three straightforward goals. I’d like to be more ambitious, but looking at my calendar and upcoming holidays, I’ll simply start with these:

1. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. A Little Fairy Dust and Living with Ghosts are slated to come out before the end of the year.

2. Read 12 books. Yet again, this is a good number for me to achieve each round, and I like tracking what I’ve read here.

3. Attend Immersion Master Class and follow-up. In October, I’ll be immersed in writing with several fellow authors and writing coach extraordinaire, Margie Lawson. I’m taking my Sharing Hunter manuscript for one more make-it-shine edit.

I’d love to hear what others wear while working at home. What’s your get-things-done wardrobe? And how was your week?

Contests, Critiques, and Queries: Not for the Fainthearted

If you want to be a real writer, you have to get better — better than you started out, better than thought you were, better than you are. You have to be okay with putting your work out there and seeking feedback from good critiquers. This past week, I’ve been on that road.

Wizard of Oz

Way back in December, my local RWA chapter had a Christmas party, and one of the activities was to write down a goal for 2014 which we would review at the next Christmas party (this December). I wrote down: “Enter three contests.”

And I did enter those three contests, finaled in two, and placed first in one. (Which, I won’t lie, felt awesome.) But I’ve decided to enter two more contests as well, and I’ve been getting those submissions ready. Entering contests provides an opportunity to get your work in front of other writers, hear their feedback, and possibly get an industry professional’s take. I was reluctant at first, but now I’m sold on the benefit of contest entries.

When choosing which ones to enter, look for appropriate genre categories, what exactly gets judged (chapters? synopsis? query?), what the requirements are, and who are the final judges. I chose one of my contests solely based on an editor judge from my dream publisher; the potential of getting a request from them is worth the entry for me.

I’ve also been getting critiques from critique partners in my midst. I am so blessed to have fabulous writer friends willing to do everything from brainstorm plot or characterization issues, to read a passage I’m struggling with, to go over whole chapters and provide detailed feedback. I also love getting to read work from others and give my perspective. I believe my commentary has improved as my understanding of craft has deepened.

One of the most common questions I see in the writing community is “How do I find a good critique partner?” And honestly, I still don’t know how to answer. I sort of stumbled upon my marvelous luck. My beta readers/critique partners came from an in-depth writing class, a conference, online interaction, a local writing chapter, and a long-term friendship. I guess the threads through all of those are finding ways to link to other writers and being willing to share your work, try out those connections, see if you fit.

Critiques are a must-have for any serious writer, and your critique partners should be your most honest critics and your best cheerleaders. This past week, I’ve been getting the criticism and the cheerleading, both of which I need.

Speaking of critiques, I am taking an online query class through Lawson Writing Academy this month: Submissions That Sell with RITA Winner Laura Drake. Queries are a different animal. Many writers hate the idea of having to summarize their hundreds-of-pages novel in a few paragraphs or — how can it be done?! — a single logline. But this is the business of selling the novel you spent so much time writing. Whether you query a traditional agent or publisher or write marketing blurbs for a self-published novel, you’d better know what your book is about and be able to state it in the attention span of a gnat.

I’ve queried before and actually enjoy writing up these letters, along with loglines and synopses. It’s a good challenge. However, I admit to feeling a little wounded by the critique of my query I posted on the online class forum. (Just right there — in the left chamber of my heart, a half-inch by half-inch space, a little bit of an ouch.) Yeah, my query could be better.

But this is no time to be fainthearted. If my query can be improved, I need to know. I need to present the product I’ve spent hours and hours and hours putting together in the best light possible. I want people to read this baby! So there will be blood, sweat, and tears expended on query writing. Which I consider well-worth my effort.

So that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing this past week: contests, critiques, and queries. Oh, and writing. And editing. And . . . well, here’s my progress report for A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life.

ROW80

1. Finish editing Sharing Hunter, young adult contemporary novel.

Snoopy doing happy dance

That is my update. I’m now letting the novel sit until midweek, then tackling another edit.

2. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. I can now start on this goal this week!

3. Read 12 books. Read The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and almost finished with Promise of Magic by Melinda VanLone — which will make 11 books for the round.

4. Attend RWA Conference and Day of YA in San Antonio and follow-up as needed. Just waiting to finish #1.

So what feedback do you receive and recommend? What do you think of contests, critiques, and/or queries? And how was your week?

The Importance of Setting

I’ve been thinking a lot about setting lately — how certain settings in novels come alive . . . and how describing setting has sometimes been a struggle for me.

I tend toward blank room syndrome: placing characters in a seemingly blank room and calling “action.” Instead, I desire the richness of setting attached to many of my favorite novels. Sometimes a setting itself is almost a character, acting and challenging the protagonist and others or mentoring them in some way.

Different settings evoke a different tone, emotions, sensations, thoughts, tension. Consider your own immediate reaction to the following locations, all from well-known stories:

Lucy opening the wardrobe
Lucy discovers Narnia
The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe

Narnia

District 13

Camp Half-Blood

Neverland

Hogwarts

Forks, Washington

Oz

(From The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hunger Games Trilogy, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Peter Pan, Harry Potter, Twilight series, and The Wizard of Oz)

Just reading those names and pausing for a moment, we can imagine ourselves there. The worlds are fleshed out, seemingly real, though only imaginary.

But the same world-building occurs even in contemporary fiction. For instance, the world from Dairy Queen*, a novel about a small-town teenage girl growing up on a dairy farm, is quite different from the world of privileged teenage thief Katarina Bishop in Heist Society*. We all live in a distinct world of some sort of other, and authors bring us into a character’s world when they effectively paint that picture through description, dialogue, and a character’s perspective.

If you’ve read the following, you may also have an immediate reaction to these contemporary “worlds”:

Hazel Grace’s support group room (The Fault in Our Stars by John Green)

Paris boarding school (Anna and The French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins)

The town of Rosewood (Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard)

Camp Green Lake (Holes by Louis Sachar)

So why has this all come to my mind lately? Two reasons. One, because I’ve been reading through The Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter, and the girls’ spy school is a rich setting that tells so much about the main character’s life. And two, because I was writing a scene last week in which my own main characters attend the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and I pondered how to describe the building where animals are on display. So I asked myself:

What does it look like? It’s sort of like an indoor barn.

What does it smell like? Like hay and livestock.

What does it sound like? Like a bunch of animals and crowds milling around.

What are people wearing? Everything from all-out cowboy gear to t-shirts and shorts.

Cattle at Texas State Fair
Texas State Fair, but you get the picture, photo by Andreas Praefcke, via Wikimedia Commons

Notice how all of my original answers pretty much assumed my readers had been in a barn or around livestock or seen cowboys. Because that’s a world I’ve lived in! I had to regroup and think about how to explain it all to someone who’s maybe never seen a cow milked or a rodeo event or a parking lot carnival or real (not stereotyped) cowboys. Because I want that scene to come alive, to make them feel what it’s like to attend the world’s largest livestock exhibition.

Such setting attention enhances a story, draws the reader in, and deepens the characterization. And it’s worth my effort as an author.

Now what other efforts have I put in this week regarding writing? Here’s my weekly update for A Round of Words in 80 Days:

ROW80

1. Finish editing Sharing Hunter, young adult contemporary novel. Six chapters done, which I consider good since I didn’t have as much time to work this week with registering kids for school and enjoying some last-hoorah summer activities with the family.

2. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. Still aiming for September releases after #1 is finished.

3. Read 12 books. I read 2k to 10k: How to Write Faster, Better, and More of What You Love by Rachel Aaron and Don’t Judge a Girl by Her Cover and Only the Good Spy Young by Ally Carter (a wonderful series, with a unique setting of a girls’ spy school). I started a couple of other books, but sadly abandoned them. All in all, I’ve now read 9 books this round.

4. Attend RWA Conference and Day of YA in San Antonio and follow-up as needed. Waiting on feedback on my query for those who requested a manuscript at agent/editor meetings.

So what stories have impacted you with a rich setting? What locations or cultures can you easily imagine after reading about them? And how was your week?

*Dairy Queen is by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, Heist Society is also by Ally Carter

Must You Suffer for Your Art?

Robin Williams
Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society

This past week, there’s been an abundance of news stories and reflections on the life of a comedic genius and extraordinary actor, Robin Williams. Despite his public persona as the funny man, he clearly suffered from deep depression and suicidal thoughts. There’s been plenty of debate about his life, the causes of his suicide, and what those suffering from depression should or can do.

I’m not getting into any of that.

But several articles also suggested a link between creativity and “insanity,” or perhaps better called “instability.” After all, Seneca the Younger (an ancient Roman philosopher) said: “There is no great genius without some touch of madness.”

We have a character archetype of the mad genius or the suffering artist — the person whose creative tendencies keep him from eating or sleeping or succeeding in relationships. We certainly have many examples of brilliant, yet self-destructive, artists — from Vincent Van Gogh to Ernest Hemingway to Janis Joplin to Heath Ledger. And we rightfully pay homage to their creative contributions.

But I want to speak up and squash the myth that you must be a mess inside to produce excellent work outside. The suffering artist type is often romanticized, and I think it’s bunk.

"The suffering artist type is often romanticized, and I think it's bunk."

Yes, our difficulties in life can make us more aware of senses and emotions and underlying truths. I do believe that some become artists because of the lives they have experienced and their subsequent desire to speak to the flawed human condition. But I don’t think it’s a necessary avenue that one must have massive hardship to create well, or that you must perpetuate suffering to continue your creativity. Indeed, the human experience itself is sufficient to produce all the material needed, since no one gets through this life without some challenges.

Sometimes I hear other writers talk fondly of sacrificing so much for their art. One keynote speaker at a conference I attended even recounted the failure of his first marriage as simply the cost of pursuing his creative path. How heartbreaking! Is it not possible to create excellent art and live a happy life at the same time?

Let me assure you that many others have done exactly that. (Personally, I’ve been heartened by the successful comeback of Robert Downey, Jr., who stopped torturing himself with drugs and has produced some of his best film work since.) It’s well worth the effort to be both excellent at creativity and at life.

Yes, Robin Williams’s work will be remembered and cherished for years, but what about the heartache he endured? The family he left behind? The memory of a life gone too soon? I choose to believe that Williams’s amazing talent would have flourished with a happier life as well. Because talent can be like that — it can thrive in bad times and good.

If you’ve bought into the myth of the tortured artist and you’re accepting life pain for the sake of creativity, for heaven’s sake, I’m begging you to stop. Trust that your talent goes deeper than that. Trust that you can have, and deserve to have, a happier life. Get help if you need it. Be a creative, yet happy, soul.

Other excellent articles I read on this topic: Why I Hate the Myth of the Suffering Artist; Scientifically-Backed Reasons Why Being Creative Can Make You Happier

As a happy person myself, let’s now see how creative I was this past week. Following is my weekly update on A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life.

ROW80 Update

1. Finish editing Sharing Hunter, young adult contemporary novel. Seven more chapters completed. It’s going quite well, and I hope to be finished in a couple of weeks.

2. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. I’m aiming for September releases and will tackle this goal when #1 is finished.

3. Read 12 books. This week, I read Radiant (novella) and Boundless by Cynthia Hand, Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, and Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy by Ally Carter. Not counting the novella, I’ve read 6 books this round (halfway there).

4. Attend RWA Conference and Day of YA in San Antonio and follow-up as needed. I polished up my query, delivered it to a critiquer, and I’m waiting for feedback.

One bit of happy news! My novel, Sharing Hunter, finaled in the young adult category for the New Jersey Romance Writers of America Put Your Heart in a Book Contest. My thanks to those who put on these chapter contests, which offer valuable feedback and opportunities to hone one’s writing.

So what do you think of the “suffering artist” stereotype? Is there truth to it?Do you believe it’s necessary to suffer in order to produce great art?

And how was your week?

My Recent Travels and #ROW80

From July 12 through August 3, I was out of town 17 of 23 days. So it’s no wonder I’ve been a bit MIA on my blog. I’ve been catching up this last week, and I thought I’d catch y’all up too.

Here are my recent travels, summarized with photos:

Camp Staff Photo

Here I am in the front, on the staff of 89 adults who led church camp at a facility on the Medina River near Bandera, Texas. It was my ninth year to attend and my first year to teach story writing classes to kids ages 9 through 16.

Kids at camp

If 89 staff members sounds like a lot, it’s only because there were 360 campers.

DSC_1799

In addition to teaching writing classes, I also got to teach the younger kids one night. I absolutely love getting to hang out with elementary-age children.

Julie at camp

It was a fabulous experience, but admittedly, I was not looking my best by the end of the week. For instance, fashion was not forefront on my mind. (If only you could see the knee socks and tennies I actually wore with this shirt and skirt combo. Hey, it was raining!)

I returned home on a Saturday evening and hit the road again on a Tuesday morning — heading to the Romance Writers of America (RWA) National Conference in San Antonio.

Diana and Me on Riverwalk

I got to hang out with the lovely Diana Beebe (fantasy author) at the Marriott on the Riverwalk. (You wouldn’t believe how long it took for us to get this fuzzy selfie of ourselves with that view.)

Steampunk party

Diana twisted my arm (not much twisting required) to attend a Steampunk-themed party one evening, hosted by the terrific Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal chapter of RWA. [Shown in photo: Callene Rapp, Tameri Etherton, Diana, and me.]

The conference was wonderful…and huge. Texas-size huge. It’s one thing to visualize being among 2,000 writers, and another thing to experience being one among so many pursuing and enjoying a writing career. I learned so much and interacted with such encouraging people. It was an unforgettable week.

RITA Awards with Friends

The week culminated in the RITA awards ceremony, a formal event during which the highest awards for published and unpublished books are given to romance authors. [Shown in photo: Same people, opposite order.]

Laura Drake and Me

One super-special treat was being there when Laura Drake was announced as the RITA winner for best debut novel, The Sweet Spot. Congratulations, Laura! Well-deserved.

Then it was home for four days and back on the road. (I’m starting to hear Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” in my head.) Because I was meeting up with family members to enjoy a weekend in Round Top — a population-91 town in Texas that has made a name for itself with great shops, fabulous food, and interesting sites.

Royers Cafe

One place where we ate delicious food was Royers Cafe, which has been featured in numerous newspapers, magazines, TV networks, and the Food Network. Yum!

Julie with Osmonds lunchbox

We checked out several antique shops, including this one where I located an Osmonds lunchbox. Having been a huge Donny Osmond fan when I was a young girl, I had to get a picture. If it hadn’t had a $49 price tag . . .

Black Cat Choir performing

In addition to wonderful shopping, the town had a court yard area outside the Stone Cellar restaurant where bands perform in the evenings. Here’s the Black Cat Choir covering 70s rock.

Finally, by August 3, I was back home and ready for some R&R. But that’s not all I’ve been doing. Indeed, with all of my traveling, I’ve skipped a couple of check-ins for A Round of Words in 80 Days.

So here’s the scoop, and how I’m doing with my writing goals.

ROW80 Update

1. Finish editing Sharing Hunter, young adult contemporary novel. Burning it up, y’all! I’m so excited. I love how it’s coming together. I whipped through maybe nine chapters this past week of rewrite, edit, polish. If only you could see my happy dance . . .

2. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. I’m now aiming for September releases, but I did get some excellent feedback from fellow writers on my back cover copy. As soon as #1 above is done, I’ll be tackling this goal.

3. Read 12 books. I should have kept better track. I’ve let my Goodreads account go idle the past couple of weeks. However, I believe I’ve read the following: City of Bones (Mortal Instruments #1) by Cassandra Clare, Hallowed by Cynthia Hand, and I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You by Ally Carter. (By the way, I met Ally Carter at RWA, and she is both a genuinely fun person to spend time with and a great author.) So that makes 3 books down, 9 to go.

4. Attend RWA Conference and Day of YA in San Antonio and follow-up as needed. Obviously, I went! Now for the follow-up. When I got home, I connected with those authors I’d met at RWA and had contact information for. Now I’m pulling together the manuscript to send it to those who made requests.

So that’s it! Now how’s your summer gone? Have you been busy, or enjoying the lazy days of summer? And if you’re doing ROW80, how are your goals coming along?

4 Tips for Writing a Short Story

I recently wrote a guest article at Writers in the Storm on 6 Reasons to Write a Short Story. So that was a bit of why, but how do you craft an effective short?

While there is much advice about writing novels that translates to writing short fiction, other aspects don’t seem to apply. For instance, the story structure for novels — with various theories, diagrams, acrostics, and outlines — doesn’t fit a lot of successful short stories.

By researching, taking an RWA course on short stories, reading other stories to see what worked (and what didn’t), and using trial-and-error, I came up with my own tips for writing a short story.

1. Limit your characters. You don’t have enough time and space to develop many characters. Just as you wouldn’t introduce twelve people in chapter one of a novel, don’t overload the short story reader with too many names and faces.

Make sure every character must be there.

  • Does each character contribute to this particular storyline?
  • If you have two secondary characters each serving a purpose, can you mesh their purposes and create a composite character?
  • Does your main character need so many friends or family members?
  • Can you refer to a character by their profession or appearance, such as “the police officer” or the “red-headed cheerleader”?

If you need to mention several people, maybe you can link them more generally. For instance, you could refer to a group of friends by their leader’s name, like “Rudy and his gang.” Or group them in a memorable way.

In my upcoming short, A Little Fairy Dust, the main character, a fairy godmother-in-training, has three sisters, all with names beginning with F. Having their names all start with the same letter allows the reader to immediately recognize a sister without needing to know exactly who’s who. Although be careful not to be gimmicky; have a story reason for your choices as well.

2. Forget those subplots. Choose a main plotline, and maybe one subplot. You can’t weave several plots together the way you can in a novel. Know who and what your story is about, and stick to that.

If you’ve ever written a query, synopsis, back cover copy, or an “elevator pitch,” you already understand this principle. When describing a novel, you stick to the main story with the protagonist, the antagonist, the primary conflict, and its resolution. Approaching a short requires the same perspective: Whittle away at the whole convoluted story to find the core element within.

Indie author Kait Nolan does this well in her Meet Cute romances, a series of shorts celebrating the first meeting of a romantic couple. As she explains, “You’ve got a very narrow window that requires quick and ruthless worldbuilding and leaves no room for you to get distracted by other stories beyond your main plot—and that includes backstory. Don’t overcomplicate by trying to tell more than one story.”

3. Squish the timeline. One of my stories happens in the course of a few hours, and another occurs over the course of four months. But in both, the timeline is truncated—by choosing a single event or by sharing only slivers of the whole story.

Shrinking the timeline to a single day or hours can give your short story a sense of urgency—that now-or-never feel.

My Sister's Demon book coverOr you can cover a longer period of time, but expect to leave stuff out and do a little telling to catch readers up. This can work well with internal or external dialogue as the main character reflects on something that happened during a time gap. For instance, there’s a month gap each between most chapters in My Sister’s Demon, so at one point the main character summarizes:

In the last month, she’s bought all kinds of not-Nickie stuff—everything from a black-and-blood-red clothing line to bags of marijuana to creepy wooden idols she found in some weird magic shop.

With one sentence, the reader gets the overall picture: things got worse. Slid seamlessly into real action time, you can keep the reader up-to-date, cover a greater time span, and maintain your focus.

4. Remember the arc. While studying up on short stories, I read many examples from writers that weren’t stories at all. They were scenes or interesting premises, but conflict and a growth arc were missing. A beautifully described scene or character is not a short story. The same character arc applies to short fiction: Your hero must face an obstacle and change as a result.

Make your main character face his fears, encounter difficulties, wrestle with a villain, fight for true love. There should still be an inciting incident, crossing of a threshold, building of stakes, a climax, resolution.

You won’t have as many plot points as you would in a well-structured novel, but you might be surprised how well you can cover a character arc even in a short story. Think of how many times in your own life you’ve learned something important from a single, attitude-altering event.

Just like in a novel, make each word count in your short story. But feel free to use a little trial and error yourself. Shorts can be a great way to step out of your comfort zone, tell an impactful story, and hone your writing skills.

ROW80 Wrap-Up

Yep, this is the final report for Round 2 of A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life.

1. Read 12 books. I read 13 books and one short story. In case you’re curious, here’s the list:

  • Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point-of-View by Jill Elizabeth Nelson (nonfiction craft)
  • Unearthly by Cynthia Hand (YA paranormal)
  • Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain (nonfiction craft)
  • The Collector by Victoria Scott (YA paranormal)
  • The Quantum League: Spell Robbers by Matthew J. Kirby (middle grade paranormal)
  • Self-Publishing Attack by James Scott Bell (nonfiction craft)
  • Top Ten Uses for an Unworn Prom Dress by Tina Ferraro (YA contemporary)
  • After the Scandal by Elizabeth Essex (historical romance)
  • Stupid Cupid by Tina Ferraro (YA contemporary short)
  • Defiant by Jessica Trapp (historical romance)
  • How to Ruin a Summer Vacation by Simone Elkeles (YA contemporary)
  • No More Christian Nice Girl: When Just Being Nice–Instead of Good–Hurts You, Your Family, and Your Friends by Paul Coughlin and Jennifer D. PhD Degler (nonfiction)
  • Sketchy Behavior by Erynn Mangum (YA suspense)
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (YA contemporary)

2. Finish editing SHARING HUNTER, a young adult contemporary novel. Once again, I did not complete this. But I’m so amped about where I am now that I almost don’t care. (Almost.) I’ll push this goal to next round, but I expect to get it done soon.

3. Edit one short story to publication quality. Last week, I still hadn’t hear back from everyone about my next cued story, A Little Fairy Dust. But I’d rather hold that one until I’m absolutely certain it’s ready for publication. It’s almost there. But I also did the last polish and formatting for another short in the series.

4. Publish and promote two short storiesMy Sister’s Demon was published on May 15, and I flipped my planned sequence and released The Vampire Exclusive on Friday, June 27.

The Vampire Exclusive cover
Click for link to Amazon

5. Stay on top of ROW80 sponsor duties. In total, I visited 64 ROW80 updates, and I think I hit everyone who participated in this round at one time or other. I truly find it inspirational to see how other writers are progressing by setting manageable goals and taking important steps in their writing journey.

Are you a fan of short stories? What tips do you have from reading or writing shorts? And how was your week or your round?

Are You Snarky? Synonyms for Sarcastic

Sarcasm often gets a bad wrap. Look up the word sarcasm on Google, and this is the first definition you’ll see: “the use of irony to mock or convey contempt.”

Indeed, one can be sarcastic with a mean motive. But what many people tend to call sarcasm today is really comic irony. Perhaps a better definition for modern usage is the first one given by Merriam-Webster: “the use of words that mean the opposite of what you really want to say especially in order to insult someone, to show irritation, or to be funny.”

Yeah, those last two are what I do. Not really the first.

In case you need some alternatives for the word sarcastic, here I come to the rescue!

Super Sarcastic Girl

Snarky. This has become my favorite. Although around since 1906, it’s been used more often in recent years. It derives from a word meaning “snort,” which is about the way a good snarky comment can come across.

Sarky. In case that word above just has too many letters, you can go with the British (or more specifically, Cockney) slang version of sarcastic — sarky. Which really just sounds like you’re too lazy to use three syllables and shortened it to two.

Quippish. You know what a quip is — “a clever usually taunting remark.” But did you know there’s an adjective version? Yep, it’s quippish. It’s not often used or even included in some dictionaries, but we can bring it back into fashion.

Witty. Let’s face it. If you’re good at sarcasm, you’re witty, which is defined as “showing or characterized by quick and inventive verbal humor.” You can be witty-mean or witty-funny, and that part is your choice.

Use your snarky, sarky, quippish wit with care. While studies have shown that “exposure to sarcasm enhances creative problem solving, the effects aren’t all positive; some people take sarcasm as truly insulting.

But if you’re looking for someplace to celebrate your sarcastic wit, you can share your sarcasm with me or you can check out the Sarcasm Society (also on Facebook).

And now here’s my un-sarcastic report on my progress for A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life.

ROW80 Update

1. Read 12 books. I read No More Christian Nice Girl: When Just Being Nice–Instead of Good–Hurts You, Your Family, and Your Friends by Paul Coughlin and Jennifer D. PhD Degler (nonfiction obviously). And I’m two-thirds through Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain. 9 2/3 of 12 finished!

2. Finish editing SHARING HUNTER, a young adult contemporary novel. Yay, I got quite a bit of plotting done this week! I’m working on summarizing scenes and seeing where I need to beef up and where I need to press delete. Call this week a win! (Finally.)

3. Edit one short story to publication quality. I found two teenage girls to read the short story and give their feedback. Once I get their comments, I’ll finish editing and polishing. On hold.

4. Publish and promote two short storiesMy Sister’s Demon is available on Amazon and coming soon to Barnes & Noble. Half done!

5. Stay on top of ROW80 sponsor duties. Visited 7 blogs this week. Lots of great progress and exciting news out there! Done.

So are you a sarcastic person? What word do you use to refer to yourself or others who use comic, or abrasive, irony? And how was your week?

P.S. I wasted a ton of time enjoyed spending time creating a superhero, which you can do as well at Marvel.com.

Baton Blog Hop: My Writing

The marvelous Kait Nolan tagged me for the baton blog hop. So I’m answering the questions and tagging three others at the end of the post.* 

Julie sitting at laptop
Writing at my local coffee shop

What am I working on? Two major projects right now. The first is my series of six young adult paranormal short stories, which begins with the first story, My Sister’s Demon. I’m editing, polishing, formatting, and loading them up one at a time. This self-published series is titled Paranormal Playground. (See the first cover here.)

Then I’m editing again through Sharing Hunter, my young adult contemporary novel — which has been a labor of love and madness, depending on which day you ask me. Actually, I adore these characters and their story, so I’ve taken extra time and effort to get it right. I’m planning to pursue traditional publishing with this novel.

How does my work differ from others of its genre? If you’ve visited my blog for a while, you might have noticed a new tag line up there: A handful of real life, a heartful of story. Writing YA paranormal and contemporary, my tag line is true for both of these. I hope to capture a slice of real life, something we can all relate to, but then tell a story that brings your heart into the equation. That “heartful” could be the tender feelings of romance, the intense desire to solve a mystery, the pounding nerves of fear, etc. But I hope having my characters deal with whatever they face — be it a crush on the boy next door or the need to exorcise a demon — can encourage the reader to take life on and come out a winner.

As for the uniqueness of my writing, I’m a snarky girl. And it comes across on the page. So I hope to bring some wit to the stories as well.

Why do I write what I do? I actually answered this question recently in a post I did for the A Round of Words in 80 Days blog:

I think part of what keeps me wanting to write YA and MG is when I ask myself, “If I could write for one and only one niche group, who would it be?” And it’s young girls struggling with who they are in those formative ages. That’s when I fell in love with stories, when books sent me to worlds I didn’t know and got me out of the frustrating one I was in, when fiction sometimes seemed far more real than the stupid drama of junior high and high school. It’s when I realized that books could be friends.

How does my writing process work? I call myself a “plantser” (I think I got that word from author Roni Loren). For me, what tends to happen is I write a first chapter by the seat of my pants based on some scene, premise, character, etc. If I can tell there’s something to this, I step back and develop the idea further.

I write a plot outline, which at this point includes things like the opening, inciting incident, plot points, setbacks, climax, wrap-it-up. I don’t get much more detailed than that before I start writing. My story often changes as I write, and that’s fine. I can easily adjust a plot outline, but when I try to plot individual scenes in advance, my brain tends to get overwhelmed and my writing gets stymied.

One part of the “writing process” that’s often ignored is editing! I’ve written about editing tips I’ve learned, and Margie Lawson’s Deep Edits program has also really helped. Quality writers have to be willing to dig into their WIPs again and again to get them to the level they can and should be for readers to fully enjoy the story. I continue to learn how to best do that, but I love seeing the story take shape.

Tag, you’re it.

Since I know they have upcoming releases, I’m tagging Melinda VanLone, Catie Rhodes, and S.J. Maylee for this blog hop. If they wish to participate, they can answer these questions on their own blogs and tag 3 more writers to pass the baton.

ROW80 Update

1. Read 12 books. Read Stupid Cupid short story by Tina Ferraro, but I’m not counting that. I also read a nonfiction book and started North of Beautiful by Justina Chen. Halfway through — 6 of 12 books read.

2. Finish editing SHARING HUNTER, a young adult contemporary novel. I edited a little bit, which was something. But now that my short stories are in a good place, I am moving this goal to the forefront. A little forward progress — like a Mother May I baby step.

3. Edit one short story to publication quality. I finished the rewrite of one short story, and I’m happy with the result. This was the last story in the Paranormal Playground series that needed to be completed, and it will be released this fall. Meanwhile, I read through the next release of the series, A Little Fairy Dust, and made editing notes. I need to rewrite sections of the first chapter, but the rest of the story seems solid. Once I get that first chapter in place, I’ll send it to my beta reader. Happy with this progress.

4. Publish and promote two short stories. I finished the Scrivener Compile course offered by Gwen Hernandez, compiled and uploaded the first story — My Sister’s Demon — to Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It should go up this week. *fingers crossed* Halfway there!

5. Stay on top of ROW80 sponsor duties. Visited 8 blogs this week. Done!

So what projects — writing or otherwise — are you working on? And how was your week?

*For future reference, I’m hit or miss with these things, so if the chain letter means a lot to you, I’m probably not the best person to tag! :S)

If Your Mom Tweeted

One of my favorite language-focused blog series has been “If They Tweeted,” with posts on quotes from Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Martin Luther King, Jr., and several others. It’s interesting to imagine what some would do with 140 characters or less, if only they’d had access to Twitter.

Some of your moms may already be tweeting, but others have moms who are still getting to know their cell phone and haven’t dipped their toes into the Twittersphere. Still, there are plenty of momisms around, that I believe I can offer what your mom would say if she tweeted. So in honor of Mother’s Day here in the United States — If Your Mom Tweeted.

Fake Tweet from Mom

  1. Cover your mouth when you cough.
  2. Whatever you do, don’t touch the toilet seat. #publicbathroomtip
  3. Don’t make that face, or it will freeze that way.
  4. Eat your vegetables.
  5. Your shirt is not a napkin.
  6. If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?
  7. Be home by curfew!
  8. I’m not buying that for you. Put it back.
  9. Do your homework.
  10. You will not talk back to me that way.
  11. Don’t make me come in there.
  12. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
  13. Of course I have eyes in the back of my head.
  14. That thing you lost? It’s right where you left it.
  15. All this gray hair? That’s from raising you.
  16. Go ask your dad.
  17. Say please and thank you.
  18. Would it kill you to get along with your [brother/sister] for just one day?
  19. How many times do I have to say something before you hear me?
  20. You are not going out dressed like that.
  21. No one ever said life would be fair.
  22. Come here and let me give you a hug.
  23. You can do it. I believe in you.
  24. If I had a choice? Yes, I’d do it all over again.
  25. I love you . . . more than you can imagine.

Back atcha, Mom!

Happy Mother's Day

I’ll be celebrating with my family by giving my own momisms and avoiding all cooking. While I’m doing that, here’s my weekly report for A Round of Words in 80 Days.

ROW80 Update

1. Read 12 books. Read After the Scandal by Elizabeth Essex (historical romance). Her books are so well-written! 5 of 12 knocked out.

2. Finish editing SHARING HUNTER, a young adult contemporary novel. See the next goal, because improving my short stories has been keeping me from editing the novel like I should. But sometimes (sigh), you have to take one project at a time. Nope.

3. Edit one short story to publication quality. Editing that same short story I was working on last week. I thought I was done, but there were still problems. It’s been a frustrating process to figure out how to rework this story, but I honestly see it getting better every time. I think I’ve finally nailed down the bones and muscles of it, so I’m going to set it aside for a while. Three chapters rewritten.

4. Publish and promote two short stories. I decided to take Gwen Hernandez’s newest Scrivener course on compiling (I’ve highly recommended her general Scrivener course before) and started that last week. Based on her excellent lessons, I reworked some compiling options for my upcoming short story, My Sister’s Demon, so the ebook will be well-formatted for readers. Progress.

5. Stay on top of ROW80 sponsor duties. Visited another 10 blogs this week. We have some new participants! Done!

What momisms do you remember from childhood, or that have come out of your own mouth? And how was your week?