Thursday, January 29, 2015

Worst Query Ever?

I was trying to write a good query today and it just was not happening. So I decided to write a horribly bad one instead. That was so much easier. Enjoy.

(The sad part is, this is almost certainly not the worst query ever, especially since it has very few typos or grammatical errors, but I hope queries that are worse are very few and far between.)

Dear Mr. or Mrs. Agent/Editor/Publisher,

How would you like to get in on the ground floor of a mega-million dollar project? I’m writing a series of epic books that are going to take the world by storm!!!!!1 They are going to be bigger than anything you have ever seen before!!!!

What would you do if you were suddenly teleported to a world where magic was real? Not only that, but the world is also a planet in the future, where humans have just landed in spaceships! Could you survive the fight against goblins, zombies, and killer space robots with laser eyes? Not likely! But that is exactly what Veronika has to do. And will she ally herself with the unbelieveably hot Ad’da’n’kuryth of the Che’el’nolyr people (which are like elves, only much cooler!), or will she fall for the shadowy, brooding Fred, the world’s first vampire werewolf? (That’s right, he’s both!) You’ll have to read the book to find out.

The FLAMING AMETHYST series is going to be seven books long, or maybe longer if I come up with more amazing ideas. The first book, GEM FURY, is already 150,000 words long, and I’m only a third of the way done, so you know they are going to be majorly epic! The people who read my books are really going to be getting they’re monies’ worth. And you can bet that my books are going to appeal to everyone! Think of them as HARRY POTTER meets STAR TREK meets LORD OF THE RINGS meets TWILIGHT meets 50 SHADES OF GREY. Who wouldn’t like that? And just imaging all the extra money we’ll make off of the movies and merchandising, too!!!

I know my writing is great because my cats always smile when I read it to them, and when I showed a couple pages of it to my Great Aunt Esmerelda, she said she had never read anything like it before (and she reads a lot).

I didn’t attach a sample because I don’t want anyone to steal my ideas! But as soon as we sign a contract and I get my first advance check, I’ll send you the 500 pages that are done so far. Prepare to be blown away! But I want serious offers only. For a series this incredible, I won’t consider anything less than six digits (per book).

I don’t want to waste any time on this, so when I call you tomorrow, be ready to make me an offer. And I’m sending this out to over 200 people, so your offer better be big, or I’ll sign with someone else. Let’s face it: if you’re too stupid to jump on this opportunity, you can spend the rest of your life crying over it while someone else gets rich.


Ima Writer

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Do you write, or are you a writer?

In church this morning, the sermon was based on translation and interpretation. Specifically, it looked at the translations of Mark 1:16-20, in which Jesus calls Simon, Andrew, James, and John to stop fishing and follow him. The two translations varied in whether Jesus tells them "Follow me and you will fish for men" or "Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men" (the first is not an exact quote, just from my faulty memory).

The difference in the two? A matter of identity. Were they going to be performing an action, or were they going to become something new and different? The minister expanded with a few examples, such as dancing. Pretty much everyone can dance, but relatively few people are dancers. We can run, but many of us have never been (and will never be) runners.

As I listened, my thoughts turned to writing. Anyone can write. We all do it from time to time. Anyone can tell a story, though many people have trouble if asked to create an original one. But is someone who write stories a writer, or does that involve something more? More importantly, how do we see ourselves?

When someone asks you what you do (for work or for fun), do you say, "I write books," or "I am a writer." I think there is a difference, and a crucial one. If you write books, stories, screenplays, or whatever else, that is wonderful. But does that make you a writer? No. You are only a writer if you believe you are a writer. If you know you are a writer. Until you know you are a writer, you are just someone who writes. And if that is what you want, let no tell you that is a bad thing.

But if you want to be a writer, don't just write, BE a writer.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Middle Grade Roundup

Which new middle grade titles stand out? Here are a baker's dozen of middle grade books that come highly recommended by the folks on #onefour and #titletalk (in no particular order):

Cupcake Cousins by Kate Hannigan
Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
Hope is a Ferris Wheel by Robin Herrera
A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd
There Will Be Bears by Ryan Gebhart
Nightingale's Nest by Nikki Loftin
The Nethergrim by Matthew Jobin 
The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates (series) by Carline Carlson and Dave Phillips
A Cloud Called Sorrow Overcomes a Bully by B. A. Hamel
Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff
Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord
Ava and Pip by Carol Weston

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Some Thoughts on Dialogue

One of the things that seems to drive me crazist is writing dialogue. It always sounds too stilted or too informal and slangy to be quite believable, never quite meeting in that happy center. While I suspect that dialogue will be my bane for many years to come, here are a couple of thoughts I had recently on writing (and editing) it.

On writing, the main thing I think (and I am certainly not the first person to say it) is to turn off your internal editor. Yes, most of it is not going to come out right the first time, or even the second or third. That is what editing is for, but editing can only happen if you actually get the words down on paper first.

Even if the phrases sound good by themselves, I also constantly worry about maintaining a consistent voice for each character. This problem is compounded further if, like in one of my WIPs, you have several main characters, all with similar backgrounds (they all grew up in the same small, isolated community) and who are all likely to be talking similarly to each other anyway. At that point, after panicking a bit, I decided there were two things that might be able to save me.

First, find an existing character who sounds like your character. For me, this does not mean someone in a book, but on TV or in a movie. I have to be able to hear the character's voice to know what he or she is going to say. I have to know his or her personality. I would never expect Patrick Stewart to utter the line, "I pity the fool!" any more than I could see Mr. T saying, "Cry 'Havoc!' and let slip the dogs of war." Once I know what a character sounds like, and for me that requires finding a real life model, then I can better hear when the lines I try to feed him are wrong.

The second technique is part of the editing process. I pulled out every single line of dialogue from my WIP and put them all into a spreadsheet with page numbers and character names. Now I can put every single line spoken by a character next to each other and compare them easily without having to flip through 240+ pages of text. It has helped me considerably in adding unique quirks to each character, both in terms of what they would and would not say.

So, while I still dread writing dialogue most days, at least I might have a small handle on making it work. But if anyone else has some ideas on how to make it easier, I would love to hear them!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Adventures in Baking

Okay, so I normally blog about writing and writers, but since I actually had a very successful baking experience (which isn't super rare, but is still notable for me), I thought I would share, especially since I was using a modified recipe of my own design.

I love oatmeal butterscotch cookies (sometimes called oatmeal scotchies), but have never made them before. Since I needed to bake something for my family's Christmas get-together (okay, I could have gone with a store-bought pie, but I'm better than that), I thought I would give them a try. It was easy to find a recipe online, but fortunately before I grabbed the first one and started baking, I read the comments. There were three main complaints: the cookies came out too thin and hard; they crumbled/fell apart; and they were too sweet. So, with base recipes in hand and comments in mind, I set out to develop my own formula for perfection.

(Note: the base recipe is the one provided on some packages of Nestle butterscotch morsels, which I found online with comments here.)

My recipe:
1 cup butter, softened (original is 3/4 cup)
1/2 cup white sugar (original is 3/4 cup)
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup flour (original is 1 1/4 cup)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups rolled oats (original is 3 cups)
1 2/3 cups (1 11-oz package) butterscotch chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Mix butter, both sugars, eggs, and vanilla until well blended.
Mix flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a separate bowl, then add to butter mixture until thoroughly mixed.
Stir in oats and butterscotch chips.
Roll dough into 1" balls and place on ungreased non-stick cookie sheets.
Bake for 8-10 minutes.

There are two deviations in the cooking directions. First, the original recipe calls for dropping dough in spoonfuls on the cookie sheets. I saw a suggestion in one of the comments that rolling it into 1" balls (about the size of a donut hole) worked better, and after trying both, I have to agree. The spoonful method produced cookies that were too thin around the edges, and which got very dark by the time the centers were fully baked. The ball method produced better looking and more consistent cookies with good, thick edges. I think rolling the dough also helps push the chips inside the cookie, so they do not melt and burn onto the cookie sheets.

The second difference was a very minor one, but is the sort of think that I appreciate when people tell me. The recipe calls for baking the cookies until they are golden brown around the edges. Well, considering the dough and the finished cookies are almost identical in color, that did not work too well for me. What I figured out was they were done when the tops of the cookies were no longer shiny.

Here is a picture of the finished results. The two cookies on the left were rolled, the two on the right were dropped.

I may make some additional changes to the recipe next time (I think taking out 1/4 cup of flour and adding 1/4 cup of oats back in might be good), but for now I am very happy with the results.

Now back to writing. Have a happy and safe holiday season.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Voice Recognition Software

For some time now I have been considering buying voice recognition software because it seems to me that I'm likely to be able to talk faster than I can type. Okay, it doesn't just seem to me that I can do that, I happen to know it for a fact. So today I started looking for voice recognition software. I started by looking for freeware because I work on a limited budget and if I could find something that would work for me at least half decently and I could get for free, it would probably be my best choice. I was not surprised to find that there are very few freeware options when it comes to voice recognition software. However, I was very surprised to find out that there is actually free voice recognition software built in to Windows 7.

This has to be one of the best hidden secrets that I have ever encountered. It seems like this is the sort of thing that they would widely advertised (and looking back, maybe they did) but obviously it did not stick too well in my mind. In any event, now that I'm aware of it I plan to use it. Only time will tell if this will work out as a good solution for me. There are no doubt better engines out there, but for now it is free and I'll see if I can make it work.

And yes, I did record this blog entry using the windows 7 speech recognition software (and with relatively few corrections needed).

Monday, August 26, 2013

Five More 5-Star Picture Books

Here are five more excellent picture books that have been released in the past couple of months:

Matilda is a very good cat, but Hans is very naughty. Yet somehow, when Hans goes too far and a reward is offered for information about him, Matilda knows exactly where he can be found. In Matilda and Hans, Yokococo masterfully blends a simple story with striking illustrations. While the story teaches the basic principles of naughty and nice, it also shows that everyone contains at least a little bit of both. Matilda and Has makes a great read-aloud for preschool children.

In No Fits, Nilson!, Amelia and Nilson go everywhere and do everything together. The problem is, whenever something goes wrong, Nilson throws a major fit, and Amelia must do whatever she can to calm him. OHora has crafted a short but highly relatable story of temper tantrums that recognizes how little it can take to spark one but which also offers encouragement for controlling them. The acrylic paintings have a cartoon-like quality to them and effectively support and expand upon the story. The final illustration may confuse some children, but makes a great starting place for discussions (what was really throwing the fits?). This is a great book to share with preschool to early school-age children, especially those who might need a little help with their own tantrums.

Zoe's Room (No Sisters Allowed) tells the delightful story of Zoe, self-proclaimed Queen of the Universe. Every night after the lights go out, she builds empires, explores uncharted territory, and holds tea with the royal court. But when her little sister moves in, everything changes. Murguia has written a very short but lovable story that will resonate with any child who has a younger sibling, or who is facing any sort of big change. Her ink and watercolor illustrations are uncluttered and inviting, with just the right tones to set the mood and ample white space where appropriate.

Clementine receives exactly what she wants for her birthday: a nurse's outfit and a first-aid kit. As Nurse Clementine, she is ready to leap into action at any sign of injury, no matter how small. But she is not ready to deal with the biggest problem of all--when no one needs her help. Simon James' watercolor and ink illustrations are cartoon-like but expressive and full of action. The situations throughout the book are entirely realistic and will resonate with any child. It is also very easy to empathize with Clementine when she has no one left to help.

Dozens of Cousins is the story of a huge family reunion, complete with uncles and aunts, grandmothers and grandfathers, and of course dozens of cousins. The story is told by the cousins, who scramble, race, jump, dive, stuff their faces, get muddy, and generally have a fun, noisy time. The story is actually a free-verse poem, and as such has some wonderful word choices and arrangement. It begs to be read out loud. The illustrations are wide, double page spreads covered from edge to edge with color and action, along with plenty of details to examine through multiple readings. One of the best new picture books I've seen this year.