Thursday, August 14, 2014

Friday Feedback: How to Keep Going When Your Inner Critic Chimes In, A Few Words About Querying, and a Standing Offer.

my kids hate these sunglasses.

Whoa! Hold on one minute!!!

No one, but NO one, said summer could go this fast.


I mean, seriously, like mind-blowingly fast.

Alas, it has, and, thus, it is somehow our last official day -- and our last official Friday Feedback -- of the 2014 Teachers Write! summer.

*cue tears* Because, trust me, we are all as sad as you are.

Yet, all we can do is make the most of it. Go out with a bang! So, this modgepodge post will contain:

1. some hopefully valuable information on how to keep going when your inner critic chimes in, from Sarah Darer Littman (& a few others);

2. my now-usual parting gift (you'll see in a moment if you're new here...);

3. the name of the winner of the belated-but-not-forgotten drawing for an Advance Review Copy of Amy Fellner Dominy's A MATTER OF HEART which comes out next spring!

and, of course,

4. Some last-gasp Friday Feedback sharing of any excerpt of your choosing!

It's a long, long post, so apologies, but there's lots I wanted to cover. So, without further ado, here's Sarah, with:

#1. How to keep going when your inner critic chimes in...
Sarah is the author of the forthcoming BACKLASH,
WANT TO GO PRIVATE? and several other amazing
YA novels. Click the link and read all about her!

The Inner Crazy Lady:

After reading some campers' feedback to Gae’s question on the Teachers Write Facebook page the other day about how we might improve consistent participation in Teacher’s Write throughout the summer,  I started to recognize a familiar friend – or, more accurately, a familiar “Frenemy" -- showing up in your comments.

I call mine, “The Inner Crazy Lady.” You might call yours “The Inner Crazy Guy” or “The internalized voice of my hyper critical parents/friends/relatives” or, simply, "Bob."

What this particular "friend" does is sabotage your writing process – inhibiting the free flow of creativity, making you afraid to put another word on the page, preventing you from finishing what you started.

Sarah's ICL probably tried to stop Backlash
from being written. I'll say Beyotch!
*meanwhile, if you're reading captions,
write "I read captions" in your comment to
be entered to win an ARC of Sarah's Backlash!
Winner announced next week
on the TW! facebook page! 
How does The Inner Crazy Lady (or Bob) do this?  By telling you it sucks. That this is THE WORST THING EVER WRITTEN IN THE HISTORY OF EVER. By saying that you’re not a writer, you’re a fraud. My ICL still says tells me this even though my fifth book comes out next March, I’ve written many other work-for-hire books, and I have been paid to write political opinion columns since 2003. Put simply, she is a total beyotch.

As soon as I hear one of my students apologizing for their work before they’ve even read it, I give them “The Inner Crazy Lady” talk. I tell them how I’ve learned to trick the ICL by writing my first drafts as fast as I can, so that hopefully I’m finished by the time she wakes up and starts harassing me. If she does start up, thanks to Anne Lamott I have an answer for her: “Girl, this is just a sh*tty first draft. I’m just getting words on the page. I CAN FIX IT (“it” being whatever her complaint is at the moment) IN REVISION.”

Why do I call her a frenemy rather than simply an enemy? Because the Inner Crazy Lady is also responsible for my driven almost to the point of insanity work ethic, and for how I try to learn from the experience of writing each book (including the criticism) so that I can do better on the next one.  It’s okay that she hangs around -just not while I’m writing the first draft.

Find the strategies you need to keep your Inner Crazy Lady (or Bob) in check. And don’t think you’re alone! Every author has one.


Amy Fellner Dominy, author of OyMG, Audition & Subtraction,
and the forthcoming A Matter of Heart on her inner critic...

and, Charlotte Bennardo, co-author of the Sirenz Series & Blonde Ops

and, me, author of The Pull of Gravity & The Summer of Letting Go

#2. a parting gift... So last year, and maybe the year before, I made a so-far standing offer to any TW! camper who regularly participated on Friday Feedback to review your query letter for any of your WIP's when ready. This summer, I hereby extend this offer. I know this gift only really helps those of you who are working on your own fiction, but, hey, camp is free, and at least it's a little something. BEFORE you send my your queries, I beg of you, please do your research on how to write a query letter and read this post: Friday Feedback: KISS those Queries! While the advice in there is harsh and limiting, I stand by it. Though I have seen the rare query that violates these rules and still gets requests, you'd better believe it was because the manuscript described was exactly what that agent was looking (or, hoping) for. If you find yourself ready to query, feel free to contact me at my email or through my facebook author page;

#3. The winner of an ARC of Amy's Fellner Dominy's of A MATTER OF HEART,

as determined in a purely random drawing involving only me, your names on folded paper, and my son's green golf hat, 

but carefully supervised by the accounting firm of My Son's Dog, Charlie. . . 

is Linda Mitchell!!!! Linda, email me at and I'll put you in touch with Amy for mailing information!

and, last, but not least, 

4. Friday Feedback. You know the RULES! Since it's just you and me today, I'll share a passage from the very middle of my WIP I'm turning in to my agent as we speak! Wish me luck! The story takes place near NYC on the day of, and in the few immediate days after, 9/11. The MC Kyle brings home a girl who has amnesia (and some other weird things) and he hasn't exactly figured out how to tell his cop dad, whose been busy down at the site, that he's brought her there... fyi, we don't know the girl's name, and Kerri is Kyle's sister. . .  So, what works for you? What doesn't? Does it compel you to keep on reading? 

See you in the comments!

Kerri’s door is still shut.
            I knock as quietly as I can, then open it a crack without waiting. So she doesn't call out, to tell me it’s okay to come in.
            Except I don’t need to worry about that.
Because she’s not in the room anymore.
            Kerri’s bed is empty. Made up. My plaid pajama pants folded neatly on the pillow.
            I run down the hall to the bathroom even though it’s clear she’s not there. The door is wide open, the toothbrush I gave her gone from the sink.
            My heart races. Why did she leave without telling me?
            I close the door and sit on the toilet to think, then figure, screw it. If she’s gone, she’s gone. What am I going to do about it? 
            It’s her problem, right? Not mine.
I close my eyes and lean back against the cold tank, shake my head against the thoughts that creep in.
The girl on the bridge in those wings.
At the edge.
Leaning way out over the water. . .
            I try to think back to my sister’s room. Did she take the wings with her? I don't remember seeing them on the chair.
I look helplessly around the bathroom wondering if I said something to bother or upset her? Wondering if she left me some clue.
My eyes pause on the magazine basket. It’s out of place a little, maybe. Rifled through. Jutting from the base of the cabinet.
On top is a June issue of the New York Insider magazine with a photo of Washington Square Park on the cover. Stone archway, pink trees in massive bloom. In an inset, a photo of those three asshole prep school boys who they say raped that exchange student this past summer.
Was that just a few weeks ago?
It was such a huge story back then.
I shove the basket back with my foot, and stand up. Why can’t I be an uncaring asshole like they are?
I mean, really. Why do I care about the girl?
It's great news that she’s gone!
Now, she’s not my problem anymore.
I'm relieved!
I should be relieved.
So why do I feel so crappy?

See you all next summer! Or maybe for a few periodic FF's between now and then?! 
xox gae

p.s. please continue to buy, share, tweet and review the titles of all the Friday Feedback guest authors. Word of mouth is everything to most of us! 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Friday Feedback: Ending it All (or at least a Chapter or three. . . )

Happy Friday, campers!!!!

Do the extra !!!s help?

If I'm having a hard time sounding authentic and enthusiastic, well, the truth is, I'm a bit melancholy that our penultimate Friday Feedback is already here.


Teachers Write goes too fast!

Summer goes too fast!

Don't let me get started on all the rest of things that are blurring on by in a heartbeat. . .

Alas. Here we are, the 8th of August with one week to go, so it seems fitting to talk about endings. So, I've asked guest author, Will Ritter, to chat with you all about just that. Or his take on that, which is how to write a good Chapter ending.

This is Will, making copy edits to a mss.

Will is the fun and quirky author of the forthcoming debut novel, Jackaby, (from MY esteemed editor, Elise Howard at the amazing Algonquin YR).

Jackaby is described as: "Doctor Who meets Sherlock" and features a detective of the paranormal as seen through the eyes of his adventurous and intelligent assistant in a tale brimming with cheeky humor and a dose of the macabre.



That is one awesome cover...
Jackaby has been getting rave advance reviews, and, as always, Will will be spending a good deal of time here today, so please check it out when it releases NEXT MONTH!

So, without further ado, here's Will (and me chiming in once in red) with Friday Feedback:

As the school year approaches and Teachers Write draws toward an end, I’m thrilled to be here to talk about endings. I’m not going to devote much time to THE end. THE end is important, but in a way it’s also easier to write. Chapter endings, I’ve found, are much trickier.
Building up to THE end takes a lot of work, but as I approach, I generally find my direction is pretty clear. After all, I’ve been planning it and pushing toward it for the entire book. It’s a lot like wrapping up the end of the school year—finish everything and then leave them with something to think about. Chapter endings are more like wrapping up a unit or a single lesson. They need to make the preceding work feel productive, and set the stage for what’s to come. They need closure and continuity.
A successful chapter ending occurs at a natural threshold. Shifts in location, time, or emotion are all common places to draw that line—but my favorite ones also set one foot over the threshold, enticing readers to step through and see what lies beyond. 
Sorry to butt in, but I love this: "... my favorite ones also set one foot over the threshold..." I mean, I love that. Because it gives you a perfect image in your brain. So, yes, do that! Do that when you end your chapters!
I don’t worry too much about chapter size, although I tend toward shorter chapters as a preference (a pacing choice common in YA). I just try to end each chapter on a strong emotional beat, in a way that will pull readers forward. I want each ending to feel solid, but I don’t want everything to be resolved too neatly. Readers shouldn’t be fully satisfied until the final page.
There are three ways chapter endings go for me. (1) The nature of the chapter pushes things forward on its own, and all I need to do is tack on a nice clincher that reminds readers of what made the chapter exciting. (2) Other times, I’m in an emotional lull, waiting for the fun stuff in the next chapter. In those instances, I often tuck in something portentous like “I told myself not to worry—everything would be okay. I would not discover how wrong I was until morning.” (3) On rare occasions, however, I find I’m in a lull before a lull. When that happens, there’s no manner of clever wording that can make a chapter ending work. I need to edit out the fluff or just rewrite to keep up the pace.
In the following scene from my current WIP, my characters receive some disquieting news from a policeman, and then go to investigate it (a very archetypical detective-fiction plot point). I had originally taken time for the characters to put on their coats, and written some nice period imagery about a carriage ride to the scene. Blegh. Dreadful. I can work in those details in ways that don’t kill the timing. Instead, I hacked away the florid crap and ended on the stronger beat. I want my reader to feel the bubbling urge to follow me into the next chapter, just as my leads want to follow their liaison to the crime scene. What do you think? Does it draw you along, or does it still fall flat?

* * *
“I’m not here to arrest you this time. I’m here to…” Marlowe took a deep breath and closed his eyes. “I’m here to enlist your services.”
Jackaby raised an eyebrow. “What did you say was the manner of Mrs. Cambridge’s death?”
“Call it unnatural causes,” said Marlowe. The corners of my employer’s mouth twitched upwards. Marlowe rolled his eyes and nodded obliquely toward the street. “Just hurry up. I’ve got a driver waiting.” He stamped off down the front step, not bothering to ask if we would be right behind.

* * *

So here's your chance. Share an excerpt in the comments that's a chapter ending (or a section ending...) and see if it leaves us wanting more.

And please be respectful and remember the RULES:

  • what works, first. 
  • If something doesn't, why not? 
  • And no more than 3 - 5 paragraphs, the latter if short! 

Thanks for being here, Will! Congrats on Jackaby's imminent arrival!!!

Will & gae

Friday, August 1, 2014

Friday Feedback: More on Character: Seeing the Face Before You

Charlotte, looking uber hip and cool..
Dare I say, like a Siren(z). :D 

Today I have the lovely Charlotte Bennardo on Friday Feedback, co-author of BlondeOps and the Sirenz series (Sirenz, and Sirenz Back In Fashion). We're talking some more about character, and "seeing the face before you." As always with my FF guest authors, Charlotte is putting in much time, energy and love here, so please check out her books, buy a few, and tell your friends and students about them. 

I like meeting my characters, face to face. Impossible you say, because that character is only in your mind?  Well, we all have a doppelganger (or two…). So there is someone out there who looks just like (or really close to) your character.

When I set out to write my YA sci fi novel, Lethal Dose, I was doing it during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month- 30 days, 1660 words a day every day in November). I couldn’t waste time daydreaming about my character’s physical appearance. Instead of a text-only trait list, I scoured the internet looking for that picture of my character.

For Sirenz and Sirenz Back in Fashion, (co-authored with Natalie Zaman), we agreed that Hades, Lord of the Underworld would be hot and hunky. We imagined Ian Somerhalder (Vampire Diaries) as Hades. Because we wrote alternating chapters, it helped immensely to see the face, know how the eyebrows quirked, or the mouth tugged up on the left in a grin, etc. so we could be consistent. For Lethal Dose, I chose Nicholas Hoult (Jack The Giant Slayer) because he looked like what I imagined for Dalen Steele. Keeping a publicity shot printed on Dalen’s ‘bio’ helped me feel close to my character.

What didn’t work was a ‘grocery list’ of things like “Hazel eyes. Brown hair. 6’ tall, loves his mother,” etc. It’s too ‘dry’ and flat. “A picture is worth a thousand words…” A cliché that works for me. Some people don’t want a definitive image, and they can work like that.  But if your story has a number of characters, how do you keep straight what they all look like, how do you keep them all from blending in?

Nicholas Hoult,
photo courtesy of fanpop.
Here’s a partial sample of Dalen’s bio:                                                                                                              
-19 yo
-6 ft
-hazel eyes
-adept at biology, chemistry, botany
-Earth gypsy
-cool, detached, precise
-sole support for mother Sarita, sister Jenica, and mentor Myca
-loves gletoid legs (large, prolific insect- tastes like chicken!)

A list requires time to sort through and when I’m in the middle of writing a complex scene, taking time to read several pages can ruin the flow—whereas I can take a quick peek at the face without interrupting my typing. When deadlines and fast flowing thoughts are chasing me, anything that helps me stay in the groove works for me.

So, interesting, Charlotte! I used to be the opposite. For my first several manuscripts, I never made character lists or bios (still don't), and purposefully didn't want to look at a photo, especially of a famous person, and equate them -- fictional and non-fictional -- in my brain. I wanted to "see" the character in my mind and not have them look like anyone else in my head. Much the same reason I still don't like when they put a photograph of a character on the cover... I don't want to tell the reader how the character looks so much as let the character look to them however he or she feels through the writing and story.

THEN, in the early revisions of "Frankie Sky" (now, THE SUMMER OF LETTING GO), I got stuck... I felt like Francesca wasn't coming to life in my brain or on the page. I suddenly felt the need to "see" her externally, to make her feel alive. 

I googled photos for days... typing things like "16-yr old girl, looks young, straight hair, thick eyebrows, plain but pretty," into the search bar. Until I came up with this photo... 

**SPOILER ALERT** for those who have not yet read THE SUMMER OF LETTING GO, scroll down fast or cover the screen if you don't want "my" vision of Francesca in your brain.

*** DOUBLE EDITED ALERT*** You snooze, you lose. I'm pulling the photo down to protect the innocent... ;) I warned you earlier...

Anyway, the minute I came across the photo, I knew. It was her, my Francesca, right down to her soulful penetrating eyes.    

Using the photo, I went back and rewrote her. Her dialogue came more clearly. Her relationships came more clearly. Her desires and fears too. I've done the same again for the MC, Kyle, in the WIP I've been working on this year. It really helps me now a lot to let myself find that doppelganger to the character in my story. 

So, here we go! Let's share more about our characters (or feel free to post any excerpt you're wanted some feedback on) in the comments!. And, please remember the RULES. And to check out a copy of Blonde Ops! 

And, now, for feedbacking, here's Charlotte's excerpt from her WIP, Lethal Dose:

Dalen tried to stay as unobtrusive as possible; just a slum rat scouring the marketplace looking for a dropped coin, a lost scarf, a discarded piece of junk that might be useful.
            That’s when he saw the Lexian. His white hair, long ears and pupil-less eyes confirmed his species although he was rather short; about six and a half feet by Earthling standards. His blue-tinged skin was less common than Dalen’s golden. Curious, Dalen inched closer to him and the Garans he was talking with, to eavesdrop.
The Lexian was trying to work a deal to sell some gold uranium alloy, one of the rarest elements in the universe. Even at fourteen, Dalen seriously doubted the Lexian had it. Just a whisper of someone having the stuff would bring not only thieves and cutthroats, but Assassins from the Guild. Dalen wondered how the Lexian could be that stupid to be so obvious—and even stupider for trying to deal with the Garans. They were cold-blooded, reptilian, and lethal not only because of their razor sharp claws but because they were smart—and untrustworthy. The greedy little bastards were always trying to haggle every deal that left the other party screwed. Even a nobody Earthling like Dalen knew they were best avoided.
            The Lexian was trying to get one of the Garans to shake on the deal when Dalen saw the other pour something from a liquid nitrogen-cooled container into the Lexian’s drink.
            He kept silent. Wasn’t any of his business.