Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Happy April [Clever] Fools’ Day!

Every April Fools’ Day, I think of my friend Sam, who chose April 1st for her wedding day.

It seems like a funny date for a wedding until you realize it’s brilliant! They got all the venues and services they wanted (because who gets married on April Fools’ Day?) and everyone remembers their anniversary.

I love a clever fool.

I am working on something. A secret project (labeled “secret” because after years of writing, I realized I work best if I don’t share my story with anyone until it’s finished). I’m excited about it, and downright giddy about the fact that it includes a fool who isn’t really.

The concept isn’t new. It is, in fact, a variation of the underdog story prevalent in just about every popular middle grade and young adult novel you can think of. It is even a variation of a religious narrative: the lowest of all is really the greatest of all . . .

And when it’s done well, it is one of my favorite kinds of books to read.

The clever fool chooses to be the underdog; he hides his smarts, facing social ridicule, for a higher cause.  Because I recognize how hard that would be (I’m pretty sure I couldn’t do it), such a person is my ultimate hero.

So in honor of April Fools’ Day, I give you my favorite fool books:

The Scarlet Pimpernel (and its sequels) by Baroness Orczy
The Thief (and its sequels) by Megan Whalen Turner
and The False Prince (and its sequels) by Jennifer Nielsen

Have you read them? (Do!) Do you have any fool favorites to add?

These books can be enjoyed solely for their entertainment value. But if a moral can be taken from them, perhaps it is that we should have the confidence to not worry about what society thinks.

Like, say, getting married on April Fools’ Day. [Happy Anniversary Sam and David!]

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Emily Manwaring spent her childhood in Wales, her adolescence in Utah and the time since in England and New Hampshire respectively. She has a degree in English Literature from BYU and currently lives in Northern Utah with her husband and children.  She likes to sleep [mostly she just misses it], read, and write [this makes her sound very lazy].  She is currently working on a picture book series. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

So You Want to Chase a Dream

I've been thinking about dreams a lot lately. Not the things I see while sleeping, but the things I want for my life. For over a year, I have been trying to be content with where I am in my life, and I'm not there. It's not the sort of thing that is making me dissatisfied with my life - I like where I'm heading but not happy where I am.

For a long time this bothered me. I would read all those lists of "Things People Do Who Are Happy" and they talk about living in the now, being happy in the present. And I had a hard time reconciling how someone can be happy RIGHT NOW and still want something different.

But the more I think about it, the more I think I understand. Though my job right now isn't perfect (okay, it's frustrating often), I don't hate being at work. I interact with some great kids, get to teach literature (what's not to love about that) and see students grow in many ways. My current schedule lets me still be involved with my kids in the afternoons and evenings, and allows for a chance to write, blog and pursue things outside my job. My three kids are at a great stage in their lives, my husband is working a job he enjoys and we live in a neighborhood where everyone in our family has opportunities to connect and be happy.

But.

I want more.

And I think that's okay.

Source
See, in wanting something else, in longing for what could lie ahead, in setting my sights on a future that I have seen others attain, I am presented with the opportunity to reflect and reevaluate often. In doing this, I have eliminated things that make me feel like I'm using my time, but really I was just spending it. By reaching for something better, I am maximizing my life, continually learning - both about how to make a story better (characters, setting, plot, point of view and so forth), and how to make myself better.

One of my favorite and least favorite tendencies of American culture is the "Cinderella" story. Obviously, they feel good. We get to see someone rise from a life they didn't love, get snippets of the setbacks they experienced and celebrate in their ultimate triumph.

The problem is all of this passes in a short news blurb during the pre-show of a sporting event, as a montage before presenting them with an award, or if we have gone really deep, a full length (two hour) movie. We shrink someone's accomplishments over years and decade to fit the screening time a focus group has determined to be appropriate.

But chasing dreams takes time. And hard work and grit and tears and failures and fresh starts and yells and hard work again. It takes coming back when things went horribly wrong, tweaking and re-tweaking until we get that one part right, only to realize that there are other parts that need the same attention.  For many people, that is the time to say it isn't worth it, it's too hard, no one will ever appreciate what they have to offer. For many people, that is the time to quit.

For dream chasers, that is the time to take a look back at where we started, to see where we have come. That is the opportunity for us to experience happiness in the moment - yes, that moment when we want to quit is exactly when we need to be happy because we have grown. That is the time to take stock of how we spend out time, how we feel our sense of accomplishment, and to recognize that the pursuit of a dream has placed us in a position to see the world differently.

And in the middle of all this, regardless of whether or not the end goal is how we envisioned, we will see that because we are chasing a dream, we are already living it.


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Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and high school English teacher in Southern Utah. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a dash of magic. Her loves include Diet Coke, owls, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is an editor for the Women's Fiction Writers Association quarterly newsletter.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Five Tips for Writing Historical Fiction

I have to confess: I love the nineteenth-century. (Would I want to live there? Of course not!) I'm fascinated by the class structure, by the growing emancipation of women, by the intricate manners and (yes, I admit it), the gorgeous dresses.

I wrote my dissertation on 19th century American women, but I took so many Victorian lit classes that many of my peers thought that was my emphasis. And my debut (!) takes place in nineteenth-century England and Hungary. While it is fantasy, so some elements are made up, I've also done a lot of research to get details about the world as accurate as possible.

For those of you  new to writing historical fiction, here are a few tips for finding good source material.



1. Starting with Wikipedia is fine . . . as long as you don't end there.

I've read my share of Wikipedia entries as a writer and researcher. It's easy--and one of the first sources that pops up in any search. And while it can be helpful to get a basic overview of a topic you know little about, it's pretty unreliable as a general source, since anyone can edit the pages and basically say anything they want (as dramatized by the Colbert Report's brilliant Wikiality show). So if you're just getting started, that's fine. But make sure you do more research. Wikipedia should never be your only source.

2. Find reputable online sites dealing with your era

There are lots of historical fiction buffs out there, many of them with websites. But if you want a legitimate site, look for some combination of the following:

  • Asite whose creator has credentials in the field (such as Lee Jackson's wonderful Dictionary of Victorian London--his most recent book came out with Yale University Press, so it's safe to assume he knows what he's talking about)
  • A website hosted by a university, like Brown University's Victorian Web
  • A site that draws from a variety of writers (who can fact check each other)
  • Blogs or posts written by well-known historical fiction writers (like this delightful list by one of my favorite alternate history writers, Gail Carriger).

3. Get thee to a library

I'm lucky in that both my husband and I have access to a university library. In prepping for my book, I read a lot of published books dealing with Hungarian history, but I also found some wonderful details in academic articles, like an article exploring how Hungarian women helped the 1848 revolution and reform movement by promoting fashion trends that emphasized Hungarian nationality and by hosting balls (of all things!) to support the cause. Another helpful find: a book from a 1979-80 exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Hapsburg style, with chapters covering changing fashions in Vienna and Hungary.

4. Look for Primary Sources

For the uninitiated: a primary source is something written close to the event itself--an eye-witness account. So a primary source for the Civil War era might include letters, diaries, even newspaper accounts of battles (if the journalist witnessed what happened). Secondary sources are compiled after the event, usually by a historian who has combed through primary sources looking for pertinent facts ("pertinent" depending on the historians own agenda). In my case, primary sources included novels written by 19th-century Hungarians (even in English translations, they gave me a good sense of popular issues and concerns of the day, and they often contained wonderful details of food and fashion). I also read several travel narratives by British travelers to Hungary. Since my main character is a British lady on her first visit to Hungary, the narratives helped me decide what details a nineteenth-century British sensibility might notice on entering the country. Some of these I found in libraries--others I found for free on Amazon.
 

5. When in doubt, consult the experts 

At a recent conference, I heard a speaker emphasize how important it is that we get diverse experiences right--and to do that, we need to consult readers who belong to the culture we're trying to portray. Since we don't have that luxury with historical fiction, do the next best thing: consult someone who has made a study of that period. Experts shouldn't be hard to find--they might sponsor one of the websites you've found, or they're the university professors who wrote the books and articles you've studied. Most university professors I know love their subject area and are thrilled to share their expertise (though it still behooves you to be respectful of their time, and emails are often more effective at establishing contact than phone calls or trying to show up to their office).


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Rosalyn Eves is a part-time writer, part-time English professor, and full-time mother of three. She loves all things BBC, especially costume dramas and mysteries. When not wrangling children (and sometimes when she should be wrangling children), she's often found reading. She's represented by Josh Adams of Adams Literary.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Guest Post: 19 Things My Friends and Family Said About My Book

We are thrilled to have Bethany Chase, author of THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY available in MARCH 31, with 19 things her friends and family said about her book.

1. My editor friend, circa 2010, after reading my very first draft: “You need to understand it is a compliment when I tell you I did not expect this to be this good. Usually when my friends give me things to read it’s very much a ‘don’t quit your day job’ conversation.”

2. My husband, circa 2011: “Why won’t you let me read a draft of your book?”
Me: “Because I’m self-conscious. You don’t get to read it until it’s on a shelf at a bookstore and I can’t stop you from buying it.”

3. Everyone, at any given point in time: “Hey, do you want to come to this fun event?”
Me: “I can’t, I have to write.”

4. Everyone, March 2013: “Your book is done? When do I get to read it?”
Me: “AAAAAAAAhahahahahahahahaha”

5. My newly-acquired agent, April 2013: “So is the love interest based on your husband? He must be an amazing guy.”

6. My editor, July 2013: “So is the love interest based on your husband? He must be an amazing guy.”

7. My husband’s friends, July 2013: “So is the love interest based on Allen?”

8. My husband’s friends, July 2013: “So is the main character based on you?”
Me: “No, not really.”
Me: “I mean, it’s pure coincidence that she’s also an only child from the Virginia Blue Ridge who lost her mother to breast cancer at a young age, and went into an architecture-related field.”

9. Writing craft cliché: “Write what you know.”


10. Everyone, August 2013: “You got a book deal? When do I get to read it?”
Me: “AAAAAAAAhahahahahahahahaha”

11. My in-laws, November 2013, over Thanksgiving dinner, escalating their arms race with their friends who have been bragging about their filmmaker son: “Bethany’s book is going to be published by Random House!”
My in-laws’ friends: “That’s wonderful! Is it coming out next year?”
Me: “AAAAAAAAhahahahahahahahaha”

12. My copy editor, May 2014: “You say the word ‘just’ a lot.”

13. My husband’s friend’s father, July 2014, over dinner: “You sure do have a big appetite. Are you sure you’re not pregnant? Where does it all go?”
My husband: “It goes to her brain.”

14. Everyone, September 2014: “Holy crap your cover is gorgeous.”
Me: “I KNOW. Thank you, Belina Huey.”

15. My boss, December 2014: “Could you please take a look at editing some of the copy in this product guide we’re releasing? I’ve noticed you’re really good with words.”

16. My boss, January 2015: “That’s awesome that you wrote a book. What kind of book is it?”
Me: “It’s a love story.”
My (young, male) boss: “Is it like 50 Shades of Grey?”

17. My friends, February 2015: “So when do you hit the NY Times bestseller list?”
Me: “AAAAAAAAhahahahahahahahaha”

18. My husband, March 4 2015, pointing at the finished copies of the book that just showed up in the mail: “You know I can just read this now. You can’t stop me.”

19. My friends: “So when is the next one coming out?”

Thanks so much Bethany!


Enter below for the chance to win TEN copies of Bethany's book!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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After growing up in the foothills of the Northern Virginia Blue Ridge, Bethany headed to Williams College for a degree in English. Only in the spring of her senior year did she begin to consider how exactly she might earn money with a degree in English. And this gave rise to the logical answer: interior design!

Bethany has been working in the architecture & design industry for over eight years now, but when she's not hanging out with mess-makers and paint-slingers, she's writing. And when she's not writing, Bethany enjoys photography, karaoke, and complaining about being flat-chested.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Trusting Ourselves as Storytellers

The amount of writing advice that is available on the internet is daunting. We are supposed to write what we know, show don't tell, match the beats, give a character voice that is different than the writer voice, and so forth. Moving along with our stories, we learn the difference between en dashes and em dashes, when to use that, when to use which, how to format all the things and when we have molded our story to precisely what we think it was meant to be, we start looking for ways to see what others think.

I (along with many others) am a HUGE supporter of contests. They are put on by some of the most generous people in the writer world, people who have bought into the idea of paying it forward in the realist of terms. My own writing has improved dramatically from reading reactions people have to a pitch, a query or the first 250, and from understanding what agents see when they read what I've written. 

I've also learned the very real importance of understanding what kind of a writer these kinds of contests are looking for. 

But there with this feedback comes the potential of a writer losing her voice. Someone who crafts stories containing more emotion, more character, slower plot may question his writing ability. Reading the praise for something that is immediately funny, action packed, witty or otherwise may create the inclination to ditch the heartfelt plot and move for faster pacing. 

This is why, in the midst of feedback, we make sure we are getting feedback from those to get what we are writing. 

Let me explain. 

The writing community is very generous in time and effort given to help others in pursuit of the dream. However, each of us also have preferences for what we like to read. Where some are interested in fast pace, snappy dialogue and kick-a characters, others want luxurious descriptions or quiet walks through a forest. Good intentions are just that, but there are going to be pieces of advice that don't quite click, and when there are two or three, we can begin to doubt our own writer's voice. 

I suggest a few things to keep the doubts away (as much as possible).
First: trust the feedback from the people you trust. 

We have talked before about the value of a writer's group. It is essential that we find these people, meeting whatever way possible, and that the lines of communication are wide open. These are the people you can send a quick "Do you agree?" question in regards to feedback, knowing that the stranger online is only seeing a fraction of a fraction of your work.

Second: pay attention to the comments and critiques from the gatekeepers and professionals who represent and sell what you are writing. 

There are several agents and editors who represent my genre that I follow like a hawk, determined to read and pay attention when they write advice articles. What they are talking about for me will not necessarily apply to my CP's writing MG, YA or NA, but it is so incredibly important for me. These are the people who are making the sales, who are marketing the books, who are putting the books in the hands of readers. They know what makes someone keep reading, they know what makes someone put a book down, and when they talk, we need to listen. 

Third: read online reviews people leave on the genre you are writing. 

This is your focus group and you don't have to do anything to get their feedback. Notice what they say about books they like, which ones are getting high marks and take note at what it is they do that you could also incorporate. DO NOT COPY WHAT HAS BEEN DONE (really, that's plagiarism, and more than that, really crappy behavior) but pay attention to what your readers love. All books have tension of some sort - do your readers like that as emotional? Intellectual? Is the discovery of self enough to engage your readers or do the extenuating circumstances need to be heightened. This also gives the benefit of comp titles when querying or just pitching to a friend on the street. 

Fourth: keep reading what you are writing. 

It is important to read lots, all the time, everything, but make sure that you are giving your mind the opportunity to be fully immersed in the genre you are writing. In reading our genres, we can know where the mid-point is, how the characters are developed, what the plot points need to contain, the kind of language that is accepted. This is vastly different for each genre and for each aged reader, but they are so very important to mark in our own writing. 

Last: trust the person creating the story

You thought of your characters. You created their circumstances. You have a unique narrative voice to tell their story. When the feedback is piling in, when the opinions seem to contradict themselves, close your eyes, look deep into yourself, and know who the creator is. When you do this, you will understand when something needs to be fixed, when there has been a quirk in the story that cannot stay, and you will feel when what you have just needs a final polish. No one can tell you when that happens, and there will be significant trial and error (and probably some tears), but bit by bit, who you are as a storyteller will begin to unfold. 

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Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and high school English teacher in Southern Utah. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a dash of magic. Her loves include Diet Coke, owls, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is an editor for the Women's Fiction Writers Association quarterly newsletter.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Getting the Most Out of Your Writing Time: 3 Tricks to Maximize Your Productivity

If you're like me, writing time is precious.

Confession: I have a running fantasy of going on a fabulous writing retreat somewhere in a remote location with house elves (or the equivalent) to cook and clean and to bring me fresh changes of pajamas on a daily basis so that I may do nothing but write.

That still hasn't happened.

Until then, I'll share with you the next best thing: some time-management tricks that may help you obtain more of that precious writing time.



1. Pomodoro Technique - In a nutshell, here's how to do it: set a (tomato- or other-shaped) timer and write for 25 minutes, take a 5-minute break, and repeat. When you've completed four rounds of this, you may take a longer (e.g., 20- or 30-minute) break and then start again. Check out the official website dedicated to this technique, buy the tomato-shaped timer, and try it for yourself.

Considerations: This technique is limited to when you have long stretches of uninterrupted time to write (e.g., if you have kids and they finally go to bed, or if you get a long weekend all by yourself -- still waiting for this to happen.) You can also use this technique to set up "sprints."

2. "Don't Break the Chain" - Inspired by Jerry Seinfeld and applied to writing, the idea of this technique is to set a specific daily writing goal, mark off the days on the calendar in which you achieve that goal, and "don't break the chain" of days in which you meet your goal. This technique is so popular that there is an iPhone app for this called "Don't Break the Chain."


Considerations: For this technique, you need to be able to set a writing goal that can be fairly consistent for the month. Ideas for daily writing goals might be setting the numbers of minutes you need to write every day or a to set a specific daily word count goal. Keep your daily writing goal realistic yet challenging enough to push you. If unexpected things happen, or if you have a trip that month, or break the chain for another reason, don't worry! Just start up again as soon as you can. You'll do great :)



3. Set Writing Rewards and Forming Routines

Set Writing Reward - If you finish a round of Pomodoro, reward yourself. Rewards can be something as simple as treating yourself to a smoothie or 5 minutes of social media. After a week without "breaking the chain," treat yourself to a lunch with a friend. Or apply rewards to other writing-related accomplishments. For instance, I love to play around with photographs for book teasers, and I use those breaks as rewards for when I finish writing a chapter. Or sometimes I let myself try out a new recipe I found on Pinterest after meeting a writing goal, and everyone in the family benefits!

Form a Routine - We're creatures of routine when it comes to certain events in our day, no matter how big or small of a routine. Some of us are more creatures of habit than others, but finding precious writing time means making sure it's part of your routine. Try to set aside time for writing sometime during your day, whether it be during your lunch break, in the morning before anyone else wakes up, during the weekdays before the kids get home from school, or during the time your significant other is giving you a pedicure (also still waiting for this to happen). The schedule doesn't have to be set in stone, but it should be something that you count on as part of your daily routine.

What about you? Do you have suggestions for maximizing your writing productivity? Share them below!

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Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both urban fantasy and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of YA urban fantasies MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL (coming 2015) and NA contemporary romance LOSING ENOUGH. She is also one of the authors on the YA/NA crossover anthology LOSING IT.



Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Why You Shouldn’t Get Disheartened by Agent (and Publisher) Rejections

Today I want to tell you a bit about my journey in connecting with my agent, because it's definitely one of the most exciting by also most stressful and discouraging parts of a writer's life. It's exciting because, oh...the possibilities. After years and years of writing and editing and polishing our manuscripts to (we hope) perfection, the chance to finally delve into the professional world and reach readers is a dream that is too good to come true. Right?

 The stressful and discouraging part is the inevitable rejections. After all that hard work, the last thing we want to hear is that our manuscript is not perfect for our dream agent. With every "no," it feels like the door leading to publication closes half an inch more. Before we start querying, we can almost convince ourselves that anything is possible, but once the "not for me"s start rolling in, the doubts can become insurmountable.

 But if you've gotten great feedback from experienced critiquers on your manuscript and synopsis, and you feel good about what you're sending out, let me tell you why I think you should brush off those rejections.

THE SEARCH

When I was ready to start querying, I consumed every piece of advice I could feast my eyes on--and there's a lot of it. One of the best pieces of advice I came upon was to research the agents I was querying before sending them a letter. It's important for a few reasons. Yes, personalizing your letter establishes that you're educated about the process, the agency, and the agent, and yes, you want to make sure you're querying agents who represent work like yours. But it's also important because you want to want to work with this person if they say yes.

And that's one thing I think it's easy to forget in our excitement to finally see our dreams become a reality--working with an agent is a mutual relationship.

When I was researching agents, I came across an interview for one agent who said she liked stories with "people being taken apart, the putting back together is optional." Since I love tearing my characters apart and my fiction often has a darker tone, I was really hopeful about hearing back from this particular agent. Reading her interview, I just felt a connection. Our views on books and publishing lined up so much. I hit the send button with my fingers crossed.

THE WAITING

And then the rejections started to roll in. One after another after another. I was okay after the first few. I didn't expect to nab the first agent I asked. But as they continued to appear in my inbox, I saw that door closing, inch by inch.

I won't say it wasn't hard. I won't say there weren't days I wanted to give up. But deep down I did my best not to let them shake me, because I knew that when an agent finally said yes, it would be the right one. I may have done my research and followed all the guidelines, but there's only so much you can tell from a person based on what you read online. At the end of the day, only the agent knows if it's a good match. You know what does tell a lot about a person, though?

The book they choose to write. The characters they create and the struggles those characters face. The nuances that come together in a way that is unique to the author and their individual experiences. A writer's book is a road-map to their heart and if an agent connects with those things, there's a good chance you'll see eye to eye on other things, like editing choices, career goals, and the list of editors you'll eventually send the book to. Just like readers who like the same book often have other common interests, an agent who loves your book is going to share similar values and ideas. When you work together, you're more likely to have a shared vision.


THE CONNECTION

I've been with my agent for over a year now, and I can tell you that's been the experience for me. That agent who loves characters taken apart read my book in three days, put me on Cloud 9 after our first phone call, and we've been in sync ever since. She connected with my attention to details and is a perfectionist like me. We both tend to work slower to allow the story plenty of room to become what it needs to be, with lots of discussions about it as we go. And being that we both are drawn to the intricacies of characters and their personalities, she has been a patient and understanding guide to me as I've navigated the tougher parts of becoming a professional writer.

Because of that, I'm so thankful for all the agents who owned up to their "not for me"s because if they hadn't, I might otherwise be working with someone whose ideas about my stories and my career don't quite line up with mine. Finding the right agent, was worth the wait.

So if you're querying or you're getting ready to, keep your chin up and keep these thoughts in mind when you start to receive rejections, as you no doubt will. Let those "no"s slide off your back and look forward to hearing from the right one. Or, if like me, you're waiting for the right editor to come along, let's remember these thoughts too.


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Jamie Raintree writes Women's Fiction about women searching for truth in life and love. She is currently working on revisions of her first novel in preparation for submission to publishers. In the meantime, she blogs about her journey toward a well-balanced life and a career in publishing--her struggles and successes along the way. She lives in Northern Colorado with her husband and two young daughters and is a Workshop Coordinator for the Women's Fiction Writers Association.