Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Why you might need more than one crit partner, or why online critique sites rock. But no porn today.

In my last post I told you all why it's essential that I have a critique partner, and by extension why you should have one too. Also, there was crying and mention of porn. Anyhoo, I couldn't leave out all the other people who are reasons that I get to have a go at writing books instead of, you know, working and stuff.

I'm not an in-person type of person. Online works best for me. The place that I use for this is Scribophile, and not just because there are periodic discussions of how the hell you say its name. I sent my first book through the mill there and was lucky enough to pick up some loyal and wonderful readers who read the whole thing. What's more, they didn't laugh. They even came back and read my second novel. So it's down to them, in part, that I sent that novel out and gots me an agent.

Some of them have blogs: J. D. FieldAmaleen IsonKristine Goodfellow. Some of them (I'm looking at you, Kinkaid!) neglect their blogs (they die if you don't look after them you know. Just sayin'). These nice people, plus others - like Mr Mark Stone - discussed with me the relative evils of the word 'was' and the possibility that the world would implode if we used too many adverbs. They read the unfocused waffle that was my first draft, and they helped me make it better. 

And here's the important bit - they had different ideas about what I needed to do to fix issues with my writing.

This is why it's important to surround yourself with people whose opinions you can trust. When you have a group of people willing and able to give intelligent comments on your work, it's also important to know when to excercise your own judgement entirely, and when to listen to other people. Having lots of people read your work is great, but you also have to know when something is a true issue with your story and when something is an opinion - maybe a valid opinion, and something that could work, but an opinion nonetheless. 

Look for issues that are mentioned by more than one person. Listen to your own gut when it comes to your story, but don't ignore the more objective opinions of others if they're identifying the same problem.

So what do you think? Do you have crit partners? What's your optimum number?

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Why you need a crit partner. Also, porn.

Writerly friend Amy Christine Parker  recently wrote a post about how wonderful her crit partners are and suggested her readers do a similar post. So Michelle Krys did. And it sounds like she has this one critique partner that's particularly spectacular. I think her name is Ruth, or something.

I did a google image search under 'big headed' to find this pic. I recommend that you don't do that if you like your eyes because sometimes the interwebz are a bad place, kids. Also, in related advice, do NOT google Puss in Boots while on teaching placement. In front of kids. Yeah, I've never clicked 'close' faster in my life. Ok, back to the point.
So this is my post in the same vein (with added advice on avoiding porn. Or finding it. Whatever).

This is Michelle Krys. You got that, right?

 I've talked about how I met Michelle before. And I know she's going to be thrilled I dug that post out again. And if you don't already know who she is, then you must never have been to my blog before because I kind of never shut up about her. You know those girls who wear the same jeans and drink the same drink and go to the little girl's room together? I think that's us. Except I've never done any of those things in real life with anybody, and also she looks better in those jeans than I do (curse my Hobbit lineage).

Anyhoo, it's my new life mission to make her cry with this post, so get your mac out because you're going to get covered in sap otherwise.

Reasons you should get a crit partner as great as Michelle (but not her. She's busy reading my crappy first drafts).

1) She's read everything I've ever written. And that means my overwrought, craptacular first novel, my endless and obsessive draftings of various query letters (approx seven billion separate critiques. I wish that was an exaggeration) and my self-doubting, whingy, ungrateful and melodramatic emails regarding such subjects as 'I hate my book', 'I hate myself',  and 'Ugh'.

2) She's responded to every single one of those neurotic re-draftings of query letters and emails, often right away (even though she works full-time and has a kid) with stellar advice. She makes me a better writer. And she doesn't judge me for not being a better person.

3) She's a nurse. I can't even drive near the hospital without freaking out and she works there, saving babies lives. I can't fathom how she does it, but I have the utmost admiration for the fact that she does. I've never met her in person, but I'm kind of proud of the fact she does that job (wtf is that about? I have no idea).

4) She's honest about my writing in the most encouraging way you've ever seen. Seriously, it's a skill. How she manages to be that peppy about the fourteenth draft of a pitch for a book I haven't even started yet, I don't know. But she does.

5) Michelle's a great critique partner, but she's also my friend. I don't have to pretend I feel a certain way if I don't. I don't have to hide any part of me as a person (and there are some less than desirable parts), and I don't have to worry that any of my writing ideas aren't good enough or ready enough to show her.

Ok, if you're not in diabetic shock from all that syrup then wth is wrong with you? Is your heart made of coal??

There are other people who have helped me tremendously since I started writing - but they're going to get their own post : ) Michelle gets the whole post to herself for being my bestest critique partner/internet bff. THAT's how much I <3 her. Just sayin'.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Have you read this? Cool books I recommend, and why I liked them.

Looking for Alaska Looking for Alaska by John Green

My first John Green book! Also, John Green's first book. I will be going back for more. I like clever people, and this book is full of them. One of the other things I liked is the device of labelling all events 'forty eight days before', 'three days before', and then 'ten days after'. Now you want to know what the event is and how it happens, right?

The Scorpio RacesThe Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

What stood out most to me was the incredible setting and how Stiefvater used it. I've loved all of Stiefvater's books, but this one really uses the island it's set on in a different way. Have you read it? What did you think?

I'm doing so well with my vow to read more this year! Like I've said before I'm a slow/thorough reader and I like it that way, but I also wanted to read more - especially YA books, and also other Greenhouse authors. You probably noticed me raving about AFTER THE SNOW. Anyway, it's not like I'm counting I'm totally counting, and I've now read 14 books in 2012. Even the ones I wasn't so enamoured with have taught me things about what I do/don't want from my own writing.

Blood MagicBlood Magic by Tessa Gratton

Something different from the paranormal side of things here. If you're intrigued by the title, you won't go far wrong reading this. Favourite aspect? The story. A good, complicated, twisty story that kept me interested. Also, zombie squirrels. Yeah!

Have you read anything great lately?

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

How I fixed a plot problem without wine (I know - I didn't think it was possible either).

I wrote this post a while ago, where I asked you if you'd ever set a WiP aside, and if you had, what happened to it?

At the time I'd finished (HA! yeah, it was nowhere near finished) THE CRACKS IN EVERYTHING and it was with clever Agent Julia. So it was shiny-new-book time for me.

I had an idea for a boy POV contemporary/romance-ish type story, and it even had (gasp) a title! My titling prowess is lame at best and so I took this as a good sign. This book had a plot. I had a plan. Yes, I'd confirmed the long-held suspicion that I was a genius.

So I set to work and wrote 19k words. And realised that the plot was RUBBISH. I set it aside. I wrote the aforementioned post hoping that you would tell me that this was a) normal, and b) certain to end in me running through sun-drenched fields of fragrant flowers clutching the finished work to my chest with a beatific smile on my face because, yes, one day I would finish the book.

You made valiant efforts towards letting me kid myself. (Thank you!)

A few months later, I read this post by Sarah Davies on the Greenhouse blog. You can see my enthused comment at the bottom of the post.

The point here is that I'm not a patient woman. I don't like waiting. I definitely don't like leaving things half-done and walking away. But a few months ago I could not for the life of me figure out how to fix this story. No matter how often I thought about it, no matter what crazy alternative directions I wrote down, no matter HOW MUCH WINE I DRANK (I know, it was bad).

I'd considered a change of genre - maybe this was a horror story. For a while I was convinced it was a contemporary ghost story. Or maybe a sci-fi? If I just added killer aliens or space monkeys, that would fix it, right? RIGHT?

Wrong. It's a contemporary boy POV romance-ish type story set in Siberia and London.

And what it took for me to fix it was TIME not WINE. Who knew?

Between the time that had passed (and in that time I'd written most of the first draft of another book and all but forgotten about the work that was rapidly becoming the-19k-that-shall-not-be-mentioned) and the stellar advice in the Greenhouse blog post, I figured it out. And lo, once again, it was awesome!

What do you do to figure out plot problems? Any advice for me if this happens again?

Friday, 11 May 2012

Tagged Part 2 (Hey, if it's good enough for Breaking Dawn.)

Part 2 of the subverted and highly self-indulgent Tagged post. You can read the first part here where I do at least say something about books.

6. Describe your ideal holiday destination.

Must have a forest. I like trees.

Must also have a lake. This one in New Zealand will do.

The Seychelles. It would be cool if they could be at hand too. Mr Steven could shade my laptop screen with palm fronds or what have you.
Venice. Yeah, I'm going to need that to be available. I don't like sand EVERY day, after all.

This is Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. The rainbow is not optional - I must have it.
This is the the Eden Project in Cornwall in England. I've been here once, but it's way cool and this is my insane fantasy, so it should be close too.

Mount Fuji in Japan. I could write a beautiful book here.

Machu Picchu. COOL!

Paris. Must be at night. Must be raining. This holiday IS going to happen, right?
And while I'm visiting all of the above, I'll be staying in this cottage in the woods.
At the same time, I'll be staying at the Burgh Al Arab Hotel in Dubai because LOOK AT IT!
This is inside the hotel. Probably I'm staying right at the top.

7. If you could have written any YA book in history, which book would you choose and why?

To Kill A Mockingbird. And if the reasons aren't obvious you should go away and read it now. 
Also, Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma broke my heart and I don't think I could make myself write something that difficult and sad. I admire Suzuma greatly for being able to do it. Sometimes I feel like I wimped out and I don't like that.  

8. Choose one: your book is a literary masterpiece with tons of critical acclaim but very, very lacklustre sales, or your book is a blockbuster of a novel with millions upon millions of copies sold but others question its quality and it is nearly universally bashed in the writing community, a la Twilight. There's no in between choice (Nice try!)

Gah! Can I. But if. What about. Are you sure I can't have both? 

Actually, I will always love Twilight, because those books are the reason I picked up a laptop in the first place. My first novel wasn't exactly fanfic, but it was reasonably close. I thought, 'I'd love to do this, and if Stephenie Meyer can do it, maybe I can after all.' Turns out I was an idiot, and writing a book is hard. But I would never have written my second book and so never signed with Julia if I hadn't read Twilight. 

Ok, did I talk enough for you not to notice me not answering the question? I did? Super. 

I love you, Edward! 

9. You're forced to re-live one day of your life over and over again for eternity. Which day would you choose and why?

How hard if this question?! Think about it. I have kids, and when they were born, those were pretty great days - especially when baby4 turned out to be a girl. Bonus! But do I want to live those days again? Um, not even a tiny bit. 

My wedding day? Mr Steven and I have been married for thirteen years this year. Now, would I like to look like I did on that day? Hell yes. Said wedding dress is unattainably SMALL. Does raw silk shrink when exposed to, er, time? I can only assume it does. We'll put this day down as a maybe, because high on the list-of-things-I-suck-at are these weddingy things: a) being the centre of attention, b) graciously accepting compliments, c) having photos of me taken, d) engaging in small talk, e) kissing/hugging/touching people (yuck).

However, I do excel at these weddingy things: a) stuffing my face, b) accepting/consuming free wine. It's tricky. 

The blushing bride. So pretty!

Soooo, did I actually answer any of these questions? My next post WILL be about writing. Unless I see anything else lying around the internet that needs derailing. Or if I see something shiny.    

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Quick post for a cool contest!

Yeah, I know I promised a reduction in the amount of exclamation marks, but cool things keep happening (!)

My writerly friend and fellow Greenhouse author Natalie C Parker, just sold her debut YA (which you should check out by clicking here). It's called BEWARE THE WILD and it sounds fascinating, which is why I added it on Goodreads. What do you mean, I'm adding as many links as I can in one post just to amuse myself? How dare you.

So Natalie is holding a cool contest to go with the cool news. Want to win an Arc of this?

All you have to do is click on Natalie's name above. That will take you straight to the post on her blog where you can enter!

There's more. It's ANNOTATED!! 
The Curiosities includes the stories and each author’s comments, critiques, and kudos in the margins. Think of it as a guided tour of the creative processes of three acclaimed authors. 

How cool would it be to own this? How much would you like me to stop using the word cool? *Both of these things could happen if you go over to Natalie's blog right now!

*Only one of these things could happen if you go over to Natalie's blog right now.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012


 Ok, so April's blogging was filled with competitiony goodness, and it's likely that July's bloggery will be taken up with something similar too, so today (and although I'm going to pass on forwarding the Tag) I'm combining the questions that two of my lovely writer friends asked me for this Tag game thingy. Also, I'm not answering eleven questions. Also, I've cherry-picked the ones I wanted to answer. Yeah, stand back, I've gone renegade. 

 1. Which three books are at the top of your TBR pile?
Under the Never Sky (Under the Never Sky, #1) Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

Next one up is easy, because I've been press ganged into bumping this one up my tbr by the fangirl ravings of Michelle, who assures me this book is AWESOME.

Insurgent (Divergent, #2)Insurgent by Veronica Roth

After that is this little beauty, because I've only been reading YA for a couple of years and it will make me feel like one of the cool kids if I read something so shiny and new. I never said I wasn't shallow. 

The Weight of WaterThe Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan

Then there's this one. I'm reading other Greenhouse authors work and this is one of them. I hear it's different and unique and beautiful and moving. These are words I like.

2. Who is your favourite literary villain and why?

You know who does a good villain? Dickens. Complete with suggestively evil name. But my favourite clever, manipulative, grey-area villain in kidlit is Long John Silver. 
3. The world is going to end in 24 hours, how do you spend your last day on earth?

WHAT? I run to London, force a publishing house to sign a seven figure deal and hastily shove print outs of my book at panicked strangers who don't care because SOMEONE MUST READ THE DAMN THING. 

I'm kidding. Mostly.  

4. Vampire, werewolf, or other?

I'm a sucker (pun intended) for the vampire's. Always have been, always will be. I love them all. Notwithstanding the fact that Breaking Dawn Part 1 might have been the most disturbing thing I have ever seen.

Interview with the Vampire


5. What is your favourite perfume?

I am NOT only answering this one so you know what to get me for my birthday.

Ok, this is getting looong, so I'll do the other questions in another post.

Here are the blogs of the two writer friends who sent me these questions so I could subvert the game and ruin it for everyone. I think that was their intention anyway. 

Amaleen Ison's blog