Thursday, February 24, 2011

Cooking up some luck with smarts as an ingredient

I am a firm believe that luck just doesn’t fall in your lap. Now yes, some people break my belief and luck does just stumble their way. But let’s face it. Most successful people are successful because they made it happen. They made their luck or put themselves in the right places to cook up some luck.

Since the Oscar’s are this Sunday I’ll use some Hollywood examples. Last year we watched actor Christoph Waltz amaze audiences with the Nazi role in the movie ‘Inglorious Bastards.’ He deservingly won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. He admitted in his acceptance speech that he took the role because of director Quentin Taratino and of actor Brad Pitt. Waltz, who had been acting since the 70’s, surrounded himself with talent. Both his acting perseverance and his smarts to accept that role landed him the award and a very busy acting schedule.

Actor George Clooney once said, “I'm not smart enough and I don't know enough about what's going on.” That’s why he surrounds himself with people that do. He is obviously a success. Although this next example is not an actor he is unarguably successful. “Surround yourself with people that are full of ideas, and people that are not going to be "yes-men." Surround yourself with smart, truthful, honest people.” Said Donald Trump.

As writers, we are fortunate to be in an industry has so many resources. Join RWA or another professional writing organization. Join a critique group. Go to local book signings and meet authors who have made it. Learn from their success. Do not try to become an author on your own. Take chances and don’t be afraid to ask for help by people who know the industry.

Do you surround yourself with smart people? How are you being smart to cook up your own luck? Since it is Oscar weekend, I leave you with actor Christoph Waltz acceptance speech. Notice how he pays tribute to all the smart and talented colleagues that made his Oscar a reality.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Find your cheerleader

We're in a competitive and challenging industry. Whether you have a critique partner, a critique group or our member of a writing organization, you need a cheerleader. Family support is also a must. They are your cheerleaders. Let your family know how important your writing is to you. They need to understand and take your career seriously.

Being a writer is the ultimate roller coaster ride. We have ups and downs. Rejections and requests. Productive days and unproductive days. Our cheerleaders lift us up and keep us going. Though they may not be objective, your family can read your work and critique it as well. My husband actually caught an inaccuracy in the physics of one of my scenes. Of course, I laughed and reminded him that my book is a fantasy. The events cannot really happen. But he said that if something can be real, make it real. He was right and now with his scientist help the scene is better.

Over that last four posts I've been discussing the importance and methods of critique partners. Having such a resource I believe brings a writer great value. I encourage you though to not just share work with your critique partner but to also share industry and craft knowledge. My critique partner and writing friends and I are quick to share resourceful articles that we've found. We share our successes, concerns and fears with one another. Your family will hopefully always be your number one fans but it is your critique partner that can truly understand what you are going through.

It is so important to have a cheerleader. I'm fortunate to have a very supportive husband, family and many wonderful writing friends including my critique partner. What have you done lately for your cheerleaders? Do you just critique and send back your critique partner's pages? Do you just listen to "cheers" from your family? Let your cheerleaders know how much they help you. Take a little time to step away from your keyboard and spend time with them. Send an email of encouragement to your critique partner that doesn't have to do with a critique.

How do your cheerleaders help your writing?

Give back to the cheerleaders in your life. What do you do for your cheerleaders?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Sharing the love: A Critique Partner Relationship

I’ve discussed the importance of having a critique partner, the styles of critiques and how you might go about finding one. Today though, I’m here to tell you that having a critique partner is just like any other relationship. It is about give and take. It’s about sharing the love.

You can’t just expect a fabulous critique and help if you don’t reciprocate in return. This is why I caution writers about getting several critique partners. Of course the feedback is great but this process does mean time that you must take away from your own projects.

Just like all relationships, sometimes we get burned, as writer Alyssa Goodnight pointed out in a comment on Wednesday’s post. She had a critique partner that “fell off the map.” I’d say that person probably didn’t fully understand what it meant to be a critique partner. If you’ve had a bad experience don’t use that as an example of what having a critique partner is about. It’s always a good time jump in again because if you find the right person than the process can really help your writing.

Are you sharing the love with your critique partner? What do you do to show them your appreciation?

Since it is Friday I leave you with a fun video. Although Aurellia was not Jamie’s critique partner her dedication to helping his manuscript is amusing. Also, this is a great lesson on backing up your work! Unfortunately, the video I found has a disable embedded code so you must click on the link below to view. Enjoy some Love Actually!

'Love Actually' Lake Scene

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Navigating the Critique Partner Want Ads: Where to Find your Critique Partner

We've established that having a critique partner is a good idea and what’s in a critique. We’ve discussed the types of critique partners. But how do you find a critique partner? First, I highly recommend joining a professional writing group. When I decided to take my writing from freelancing to novel writing I joined the Romance Writers of America and the local West Houston RWA Chapter. Now, it’s true that I do not write romance, even though there are romantic elements in my young adult series. But the chapter President of the time, author Kimberly Frost assured me that you don’t have to be a romance writer to join the group. I followed her advice. I joined and it has been one of the best writing career decisions that I have made.

Joining writing groups is all about networking. Whether you are learning from others success or meeting potential mentors or critique partners joining such a group is important to understanding this industry. Coming from the world of dance everyone was so competitive that making true friends was next to impossible. Secretly, your “friends” wanted you to fall and sprang something so they could take you place. This only applied if you were good and should have been seen as the highest compliment. However, I’ve been AMAZED with the people I’ve met in the writing industry. Everyone I’ve met truly seems to be nice and the “real deal.” Yes, it’s taking some getting use to but I urge you to get use to such kindness and take advantage of it.

This blog for example, I’m giving you free advice as is most other writing driven blogs that you read. Join writing groups. Learn from people. Make connections. Take a few online classes. It is from those experiences that you will find your critique partner(s.) I’ve seen sites where you can post requests. There are also loops. My personal opinion, I like to get to know someone before sharing my work.

For a long time I was afraid that sharing my work would result in my ideas being stolen. A mentor/online instructor, Laure Schnebly Campbell (take a class of hers if you haven’t yet) told me that know one could invest the time and energy into writing a 75,000+ plus manuscript if it wasn’t their idea. I struggle enough with my own ideas I could never, successfully take on someone else’s. With that advice I became open to the idea of critique partners and I’ve found the process to be most valuable.

I found my main critique partner at a local Houston (when I lived there) Young Adult/Middle Grade writing group. Rachel is so helpful to my writing and a great resource to bounce ideas off of. Follow her at The Ending Unplanned.

How did you find your critique partner? Are you currently seeking one? Where are you looking?

OSCAR’S DOG TIP OF THE DAY: Beware of construction if it ever takes place on your street. Make sure that you have a window to supervise it from it from. By letting your dog see sounds that are upsetting them, sometimes it can help calm them down.

For tips on hot to care for special needs dogs visit my column, Special Needs Dog Care at

Friday, February 11, 2011

Wicked English Teacher vs. Avid Reader: Critique Partner Styles

On Wednesday I discussed the benefits of a critique, but in what form should that critique come in? The truth is that there are many ways to critique and they all have their pros and cons. The style of critique can also vary based on what stage your manuscript is in.

There is, what I’m calling the “wicked English teacher.” This one can be the most painful of critiques but it will still beat your dream agent shooting down your manuscript any day. This is where a critique partner takes your work line by line and picks a part the grammar, tense and anything else they can find. It may sound harsh but this is the most thorough and should be your most appreciative critique. One of my degrees is in Journalism so I find it easy to pick a part people’s work. However, I’ve been amazed at how easy the little things slip by me in my own work. Sometimes your work is too close to you for the flaws to pop out, another important reason to work with critique partners.

Another style is the “avid reader.” This is my favorite to critique. If your critique partner doesn’t get it then I promise you that your intended readers will not. This is a great way to check your plot and character arcs, make sure that areas don’t drag and that the suspense isn’t too fast to follow.

But who says you have to limit yourself? No one! Just like your book is your own your method for receiving critiques is up to you as well. I’d recommend using what I call the “melting pot” method. In other words, take advantage of it all but don’t take on too much. Remember, for every critique partner that you have you also have to critique their work as well. To reap the benefits you have to give constructive critiques. I recommend having one main critique partner for the entire manuscript. Then use other critique partners for specialized reasons.

Critique partners with specialties? We all have our strong points. I have a writer that I send my romantic scenes to. She is very strong in this area and I am smart to use her knowledge. I also have someone that I send parts of my battle scenes to. This way I can see if I’m on the right track. And then I have someone who reads my queries and synopsis.’ It is always wise to surround yourself with smart people. That’s why I feel that joining a writer’s group and network are key to being successful in this industry but I’ll save more on that for another day.

Before discussion begins, I do want to say that it is important to discuss your desired style of critique with your critique partner in advance. Make sure they know what you expect and what they expect from you. I advise revisiting that topic after the first critique, to make sure that both of you are satisfied. Also, remember that these are critiques. You are not bound to listen to them all. Take them for what they are, another person’s opinion. But remember what I said on Wednesday. If a critique gets you fired up then there probably is some truth to it. Now is the time to grow some tough skin!

Again, I want to send some love out to my fabulous critique partner, Rachel Harris at The Ending Unplanned.

How do you critique? How does your critique partner critique? Do you use many critique partners for different styles of critiques? Share your experiences, ideas and suggestions below.

OSCAR’S DOG TIP OF THE DAY: Beware of paws on ice! Dog’s are not natural ice skaters so their owners must take caution when they go out in icy conditions. Throw down some salt, dirt even a towel anything to help dogs find traction.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What’s in a critique?

What's in a critique? Why do we need critique partners?

If you are writing fiction? Then you’ve learned what a complicated task it can be. But then again, who ever wanted something easy? I prefer a good challenge.
With my freelancing and non-fiction, no one cared about my plot arc when I wrote on how to decorate the perfect dining room tablescape (yes, it is a fashion term.) No one questioned my character arc when I interviewed residents from Anahuac, TX on their famous Gator Fest. And no one cared about a poetic setting description when I covered the Presidential election in Crawford, TX.
But in my young adult fantasy novel, people will care. My readers will care but first my agent will care.
So fiction writers, it’s time to toughen your skin and share you heart-filled work. I’d rather hear that a scene needs help from a fellow writer than have my dream agent tell me.
But what’s in a critique? How can you use the critique to help you go from ‘pen to publish?’ My best advice is to truly listen to each critique. A rule that I follow is that if the comment upsets me, then there is probably something to it. In order to save time fiction writers must throw the Kubler-Ross model out the window.

Denial- There is NOTHING wrong with my manuscript! It’s perfect!
Anger- I spent over a year of my life on this. How can no one love it?
Bargaining- I promise I can write it better.
Depression- I’ll never get published. I don’t care anymore.
Acceptance- OK, I’m going to make changes, make it the BEST manuscript and keep trying.

It’s easy to fall into this trap and waste a lot of time not listening to critiques. Of course don’t jump on everything that someone tells you. This is your story. You know it as well as your heartbeats, or you should.

I have a wonderful critique partner. One of the many things that she helps me with the most is giving me reader feedback. My young adult fantasy has a lot of suspense and twists but those can become tragic flaws if it is too confusing for the reader. Especially with fantasy writing a writer can get so trapped in the world that they can forget what the reader does and doesn’t know. The writer is the all-power ruler within their writing universe. My critique partner keeps me grounded in making sure I don’t get too carried away in the fantasy elements.

There are many ways to benefit from critique partners. The first step is recognizing that we all need one. This topic is truly endless so I’m turning it into a series:

-Wicked English Teacher VS. Avid Reader
-Playing the Critique Partner Want Adds
-Sharing the Love
-Shared Therapy

And I’ll see how the topic response and discussion goes from there. Until Friday’s blog I want to give a shout out to my fabulous critique partner, Rachel Harris. She is a huge blessing. AND I get to, in turn read her wonderful manuscript! See? It’s all about give and take! You can read about Rachel Harris at her blog, The Ending Unplanned.

Let the discussion begin:
Did you work for a while without a critique partner?
How did that work for you?
Have you experienced the Kublar-Ross steps of manuscript denial?
Do you regret not getting a critique partner sooner? Or are you still without one?

NEW ADDITION TO PEN TO PUBLISH- Oscar's dog tip of the day!

Currently the snow is falling in Arkansas. It is so important to keep your pets warm. Especially if they have a medical condition. Oscar has epilepsy.

Oscar's Tip of the Day: Sit on your owner/writer's feet. Preferably with a blanket or two. Stay warm in the snow!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Rituals and habits, the oddity in writers

It has already been said by many that if you're a writer than you are cut from a strange cloth. Think about it; you love to be alone, you play make believe with characters in your mind, you may even here voices! You've embarked on a stressful and endurance-filled industry where hard work takes years to be rewarded, if it ever is. write because you love. You write because you need to in order to be happy. At least these are the reasons as to why I write. So, with all this craziness it should come as no surprise that many writers have habits and rituals that help them tackle their tasks and writing dreams.

Me? I must have music in order to write. This applies to my life as well. I can't cook, clean house; you can get the idea. God Bless Steve Jobs and the iPod. My music takes on the style of whatever I'm writing. If my characters are in combat, theatrical scores that match their action are blaring. If it's a tender, loving moment, again the music fits the mood. Now lately I've had to adjust to some new musical habits. My baby loves Glee and does stay calm to their music. And my writing also benefits from a calm baby. So I may have had to adjust my musical tastes but still for me, music plays a key role in my writing. That and my white erase board with daily goals and tasks listed.

What do you have to have to write? What are your strange habits or rituals as you enjoy this writing industry? Happy Friday and share it with us in a comment below! For all of those who are experiencing crazy winter weather; stay warm and safe.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

To Prologue or Not to Prologue

When beginning my YA fantasy I had many questions and fears. One was should I have a prologue or not. My gut kept telling me "yes" considering the considerable background of my heroine. However, I kept the reading from top agents and editors about the importance of that first chapter. I read somewhere that unless you were an established author that prologues were frowned upon. So I wrote my YA without a prologue. The result, when I reread it I could see that the readers would be lost. Now I'm a huge fan of suspense and twists and turns but you can't confuse that with just keeping them so in the dark that it results in them throwing the book at a wall.

Back in November I attended a Warrior Writer workshop with New York Times Bestselling author Bob Mayer. When discussing prologues he pointed out that movies do them all the time. Take 'The Peacemaker,' we see the nuclear missiles stolen before we meet our protagonist. Now I seem to notice this in so many movies that I watch and movies, as we know, many times are books adapted for the big screen.

So the bottom line, write what is best for your book. I'm now revising and rewriting my YA to get it ready for submission. And yes, it has a prologue. It is important to keep your prologue short. Don't bore your reader with information dumping before they meet your main characters. However, in my case a few pages of back story told through the hero's eyes has made my story much richer.

Does your book have a prologue? As a reader/writer how do you feel about them? I leave you now with a video of the prologue for 'Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.' Knowing the beginning back story of the ring set the stage for this film beautifully.

The videos that I kept finding had disabled embed codes.