Monday, August 10, 2015

Monday, August 3, 2015

BFF's First Review & My Favorite "Tell Me a Story" Books

Happy Summer Monday, everyone!

First off, stop by Books.Fantasy.Fandom. to check out Ashley's review of A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES. It kicks off our first official week of posts. I'm so excited for our Q&A with Kate Elliott on Wednesday (one of my fave fantasy authors), and our reactions to the Sherlock Special trailer for Friday Fandom.

'Tell Me A Story' Books

You know those books that draw you in and wrap you gently in their story as it unfolds like you were listening wide-eyed around a campfire or on a cozy winter night on Grandpa's knee? I call these "Tell Me a Story" books and, boy, do I love them! They make us feel like kids again, surrounded by the wonder of adventure and danger, honor and friendship.

The kind that have perfected narrative distance to achieve an almost-omniscient tale that feels like someone's speaking it right to us. Whose opening lines whisk us away and make us lean forward, elbows on knees, thinking, "Oh, this is going to be good!"

To round out the summer reading season, I wanted to a share a few of my favorites with you. They hail from many different genres, so hopefully there's a fit for all!

  • The Deed of Paksenarrion, Elizabeth Moon - Epic Fantasy
  • A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L'Engle - MG/YA Fantasy
  • The Emerald Atlas, John Stephens - MG Fantasy
  • The Far Pavilions, M.M. Kaye - Historical Fiction
  • Out of Africa, Isak Dinesen - Nonfiction, Memoir

And, if you're still looking for a good read. Check out my review of Karina Sumner-Smith's RADIANT at Fantasy Faction.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Sneak Peek of Books. Fantasy. Fandom.

Fun news, guys! Ashley Nixon and I are starting a book review and reading blog! You may have seen the hints on Write Me A World already. While we both love (and will continue) our writing blogs, we also wanted a site where we could fan out as readers. And we figured you might too!

The result is Books. Fantasy. Fandom. Or, BFF for those who like clever acronyms.

On the site, you’ll find:
  • Weekly reviews of fantasy books across all ages
  • Friday Fandom posts about our favorite fandoms on the large and small screen
  • Q&As with authors like Kate Elliott, KA Stewart and more
  • Categories and tags that help you find reviews in our archives (even tricky finds like “YA for boys”)
  • Our review policy in case you’ve got something you think we’d love!

As you can probably tell by the number of exclamation points, we’re really excited about BFF and hope you are too!! In fact, we hope you’re so excited you’ll spread the word and stop by to enjoy. We can’t wait to share our favorite books and new reads with you!

If you have questions, salutations or are interested in a guest post, email us at booksfantasyfandom[at]gmail[dot]com.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Eyes Have It...Or Do They?

Hi everyone! I'm back from a short summer hiatus. I bet you've all stayed busy, and I definitely want to hear about your latest projects. I'm also excited to share some fun blogging and book review news (remember that secret announcement I hinted at a few months ago?). Details are coming next week, so stay tuned!!

In the meantime, I wanted to let you guys in on my favorite tips for writing emotion.

©  | Dreamstime Stock Photos

If you're anything like me, you've watched your share of gut-punchingly emotional scenes in movies or TV shows where the characters seem to say EVERYTHING with their eyes.

No words.

No actions.

Just the subtle play of their eyes in that split second to capture what they feel: heartbreak, hope, fear, disappointment, anger, love.

Even in our daily lives, the eyes tell a story of someone's moods, thoughts, and reactions. Talented actors and actresses can convey even more. (The 100's Bellamy Blake seems to have a corner on the expressive eye emotion market.)

So, if you're FURTHER like me, you watch these great scenes and think, "That! That right there is what I want to capture in my novel."

And here's where those eyes begin to lead us astray. The danger is that, while eyes can be a powerful nonverbal cue on-screen, readers can't actually SEE them on the page. We end up describing the eyes (telling) rather than the emotion itself (showing). All that great potential too often fizzles in feeble phrases like "He looked..." or "Her eyes widened."

This last one is a good example of the limitations. While "eyes widened" is a nice lead-in phrase, what does it actually tell us? People's eyes can widen in surprise, in hurt, in fear. Which one is your character facing?

On TV, we naturally intuit the answer from tiny clues. A frightened eye looks different than a surprised eye. But those are nearly impossible to communicate on page via eyes alone. In order for it to have meaning, we need to take it deeper and that can be danger-ground for telling.

But it doesn't have to be. Instead of letting the eyes do all the work, opt for other supports and alternatives that pack more punch on page:

  • Facial expressions and movement - What does your character do with her eyebrows, forehead, lips, nose, chin that helps convey what she's feeling?
  • Action - Make your character DO something. Even a subtle shiver or the clenching of a hand can speak volumes. Action is doubly effective for emotion, because it can be seen, and sometimes felt, by both the POV character and any other characters in the scene with him.
  • Internalized actions - Showing action doesn't mean your character needs to physically move. Throats can tighten, stomachs can turn cold, spines can stiffen.
  • Inner dialogue or thoughts - A character can't see her OWN eyes to describe emotion, so unless you're writing omniscient, sprinkle in some thoughts to give us a peek at her internal reaction.
  • Dialogue - This is your best bang-for-the-buck at conveying emotion and advancing the story. Dialogue on the page is what eyes are on-screen. Readers intuit the tone, subtle undercurrents, and what's left unsaid as much as what your characters discuss aloud.

Now, go forth and make us weep!

Monday, June 15, 2015

7 Common Fears and Advice for Writers

Digging this one up from the archives, because good advice never goes out of style! And neither do writers' fears. 

Hats off again to Sylvia for her words of wisdom.

The talented Sylvia Ney over at Writing in Wonderland is taking over the blog today to share her insights on common writing fears and how to overcome them. Take it away, Sylvia!

Writers often express common fears when talking with agents, editors, and other authors. The advice I offer below is based in part on my own experience and in part on interviews I have completed with agents and editors.

Rejection and Inadequacy - This is the most common fear because it’s the hardest to let go. You question if your work is worthy of publication. You feel it as a first timer wondering if you’ll ever find someone to like your finished product. And this feeling will still sneak up on you as a multi published author worrying if the next creation will be as successful. Rejection happens. You can’t please everyone all the time. Shelves are lined with the books of famous authors who suffered repeated rejection. The key is, they never gave up. They continued improving and searching for the right market. You can too.

Success - Many people are afraid of success. They believe too much will be expected of them and the thought of everything becoming too big to handle is enough to paralyze them into doing nothing. The trick is to deal with the situation one step at a time. Worry about success when you get there.

Revealing Too Much - There are times writers expose so much of their soul, inner demons, dreams, hopes, and beliefs that a project can become very journal like. You begin to fear you are revealing too much of yourself. Maybe family and friends who read the book will see right through the characters, and to the true depiction of yourself (or worse yet, one of them). Relax. Every great writer draws from experience, as well as the heart. The relationship you have to the story is what makes it memorable. It’s what will hook and never release a reader. And the truth is, someone will see themselves in your story whether that was your intention or not. That means you’ve been successful at capturing human experience.

You’re Too Old - You’re never too old. I know a thirteen year old who has just published her first book, but it’s nowhere as moving as the first book my friend published in her seventies. With age comes experience. Experience adds depth and maturity to your writing. A novel requires patience - something young authors often lack.

Too Much Research - Details are important in a novel. You have to know the period in which the story is set, details of characters’ occupations, nuances of different cultures, etc. Enjoy the research. Learn about your characters and the world they live in. Try writing articles, blogs, or ebooks based on the new things you are learning (these can prove to an agent or editor that you are highly qualified to write on your topic – even if the book is fiction). Don’t consider learning a job. It can be a fun hobby as well as a lucrative side project.

Technology - If you’re only comfortable using a word document, and have yet to learn anything else about your computer, the thought of mastering the technology involved in submitting and publishing might be intimidating. The great news is that it’s all relatively simple to learn and use. You can take the time to learn to do it yourself, or there are many others you can hire to help with everything from formatting, to cover design, to marketing. Shop around and ask for recommendations.

Marketing - Some people are natural marketers: confident, charismatic, and with an instinctive grasp of what benefits will entice their audience. Others find marketing uncomfortable at first. Marketing may not come naturally to you, but you’re perfectly capable of it. You are simply letting people know what you can do for them. Focus on your audience in your marketing. Instead of trying to write about how great your work is, write about how it can help them. Start an email list, create social media accounts (facebook, twitter, pinterest, etc.), use your own blog, guest post on other sites.

If one of these fears has been holding you back, decide today how you’re going to move forward. If you want to ask specific questions, I encourage you to leave a comment below or read Jane Friedman, Rachelle Gardner, Noah Lukeman, and Chuck Sambuchino. Other agents are helpful as well, but these four have FREE information available on their websites/blogs.

Awesome advice, Sylvia! I know from experience those four names you suggest are fantastic resources for writers. So go ahead, guys, check it out and vanquish those pesky fears and doubts!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Writing about the Good Stuff

©  | Dreamstime Stock Photos

It was (finally!) a beautiful, sunny summer weekend here in the Cheese state, and it got me thinking about the importance of calling out the happy times, the salad days, the celebrations in our novels.

We writers get a kick out of trapping our characters in awful situations, so it's easy to overlook a story's lighter moments. But they're vital.

Think of:
  • The long-awaited melting of winter in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
  • Christmas holiday or the Quidditch matches at Hogwarts
  • The Bel Tine festival in Wheel of Time
  • The shindig or any of the crew's meal times aboard Serenity in Firefly
  • The wedding scene from Lion Heart

Each of those scenes--and others like them--allow us to glimpse the characters' normal lives in between the myriad of wicked plot twists we throw at them. Moments like these are opportunities to do three important things:
  1. They let readers experience a new, lighter side of the characters. Perhaps even learn something new or uncover a deeper layer of character. This last reason is why the Firefly meal scenes are some of my favorites. We always seem to come away from them with a new bit of history about our crew's time together.
  2. They let the characters and readers catch their breaths. Even if the next page is right back to action, even if the celebration is interrupted halfway through by a dementor in a space suit spreading a zombie plague...for that split second of calm, it's still a change of pace. Pause points like this help keep the plot flowing. When was the last time you enjoyed a book that was ALL NAILBITER, ALL THE TIME! There have to moments of reflection, moments where you get the information that helps you understand WHY you should be biting your nails in any given chapter.
  3. They set the comparison for the bad times. There's an old saying that you can't appreciate the light unless you've lived in shadows. The same is true for stories. Without the fun and celebrations, readers can't fully appreciate the gravity of your dark scenes or the frantic pacing of your action scenes. The burning of the Shire wouldn't have been nearly as powerful or heartbreaking if we hadn't seen the laughter, dancing, and cheer of Bilbo's birthday party.
So, next time you've got your MC backed against the wall, facing an angry weredragon with nothing but a hairbrush, try sending them a few happy scenes too. Readers will thank you.

In the meantime, long live summer!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Conference Insights and My Fave New Releases

Hello again, fellow interwebbers! Can you believe summer is here already? Well...sort of. What have you been up to in recent weeks?

My YA steampunk is coming along nicely, and I had a chance to attend the Milwaukee Writing Workshop with Chuck Sambuchino and a panel of fantastic agents. (You can see who here).

One of the most interesting segments was the first-page panel, where Chuck read aloud a variety of first pages from the crowd, and the eight agents then raised their hands at the moment they'd personally stop reading.

We got through about 35 first pages, from a variety of genres, and got an inside glimpse of an agent's thought process while reading queries, feedback and reasons for stopping. I was impressed with the panel's professionalism, business savvy, and love for stories!

Chuck's final piece of advice for the day? "Put down the remote!" The room chuckled, but it's sadly true. Butt-in-chair time works for a reason, folks.

The conference netted lots of great take-aways, on everything from platform to publishing options. I captured some of the highlights for you below.

New Releases that Deserve a Place on Your Shelves!

In the last week, two books launched that should be on your radar and your TBR.

The conclusion of Gaughen's Robin Hood trilogy, told from the colorful and delightful viewpoint of Scarlet/Marian. And if that's not enough convincing, read my reviews of SCARLET and LADY THIEF.

I was lucky enough to read this one prior to publication, and I'm so excited it's out in the world for all of you now! I loved Ashley Nixon’s pirate fantasy, CUTLASS, and said I couldn’t wait to see where she took the series. Well, with the release of FLINTLOCK, the answer is: bigger, broader and even more fun! Catch my full review here.

What's on your summer reading list?