2011 in retrospect and plans for the Year of Armageddon

This year has proven to be a trying one, emotionally, physically and spiritually.  In the process, I’ve discovered my hide is thicker than I thought it was and I can pretty much make it through anything (thanks to my friends, family and writing buddies).

Did I accomplish all my goals for 2011?  Ha ha!  Not anywhere close, but that’s okay.  I did accomplish a big goal – I had a publisher request a full manuscript!  Of course I submitted and held my breath for three very long weeks before they got back to me.  They didn’t accept the ms right away but it wasn’t a rejection either.  They red-lined my sweet little baby and then requested me to resubmit should I decide  to take their advice and make the changes.  I am still working on those changes because I realized what geniuses they were and now my story has taken on a whole new life and meaning. The changes weren’t cut and dry.  They were intense, and my manuscript is so much better for their suggestions.  Do I plan to resubmit anytime soon?  Yes!  I’ve set my goal for January 31, 2012.  Can you hear my heart racing?  🙂

I also won two, what I like to call, Reader’s Choice Awards from Midlife Collage for my non-fiction stories:  Baby and Five More Minutes, both of which are posted on my non-fiction stories page.

My next goal for 2012 is to read a lot more YA  novels and post reviews of them for other YA junkies like me, to read.  There are so many awesome books out there, and my goal is to read 2 a month, at least.  The first one I want to cross off my list…The Scorpio Races.  And I am waiting on pins and needles for two new books being released in 2012:  Insurgent and The Halflings

This coming year I hope to find a job, whether it’s freelance writing or a standard 9 -5 job.  It’s a necessity, though I have to admit, I’ve enjoyed being a stay-at-home mom again and if I had my druthers, I would continue to stay at home and write.

I have already been invited to 3 end-of-the-world parties on December 24, 2012, which I know now I will not attend because it’s Christmas Eve.  If the world does indeed end on Christmas Eve, who else would I rather be with than my family and close friends?  (no offense to my party-hardy friends.  Thank you for the invite, though.  I’m sure the parties are going to be tons of fun and quite interesting, to say the least).

So, with that said, I’m going to leave you all now so I can go back to editing.  Enjoy your New Year.  Stay safe and may all your dreams and wishes for the new year come true.

A Fan’s Version of The Hunger Games – Katniss and Rue

I love the Hunger Games and I can’t wait for the movie to come out.  A year ago, I found the video below of a fan’s take on Rue’s death.  I had watched a lot of fan versions of the film but none of them affected me the way this one did.  I pray with all my might the official film is this intense and heart-wrenching.  In anticipation of the real Hunger Games movie, I had to post this again.  After you watch it, please click around on other films these actors put together, including the behind the scenes video.  I love seeing young people getting involved in the arts.  And to think this video stemmed from a fan’s love of a great literary series.  And who says teens don’t read?  I can only hope that my book will someday affect someone with such intensity and passion.

I think I have to warn you the video is a little violent and bloody, but so is The Hunger Games.  Great tribute to Suzanne Collins.

Class of 2011: YA Superlatives Blogfest DAY FOUR

Today is the final day of the The Class of 2011: YA Superlatives Blogfest, a fun and interactive way to highlight and share your favorite YA novels, covers, characters, and story elements, hosted by Jessica LoveTracey NeithercottAlison Miller, and me. The Class of 2011: YA Superlatives Blogfest spans four days, beginning December 26th and culminating today, December 30th.

And speaking of selections, here are mine for Day Four:

Best in Show

Supernaturally by Kiersten White, Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini; The Secrets of Tamarind by Nadia Aguiar; The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan; Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor; Burn Bright by Marianne de Pierres; Divergent by Veronica Roth; Wither by Lauren Destefano; The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson; Across the Universe by Beth Revis; Chime by Franny Billingsley; Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins; Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs; The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler; The Iron Knight by Julie Kagawa; The Space Between by Brenna Yovanoff

 And my favorites are:

Favorite Cover – Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Cutest Couple – Lola Nolan and Cricket Bell from Lola and the Boy Next Door

Most Likely to Succeed (Or, pick a Printz Winner) –  Chime

Most Likely to Make You Miss Your Bedtime – Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Best Repeat Performance (Favorite sequel or follow-up.) – The Son of Neptune

Pair Most Likely to Stay Best Friends Till They’re 80 – Zuzana and Karou from Daughter of Smoke and Bone.


Breakout Novel (Favorite Book by a Debut Author) – Divergent, no questions asked!  Amazing.

Best Old-Timer (Favorite read of the year, published BEFORE 2011) – Hunger Games trilogy.  I can’t pick just one.  It’s been how long since they were released and I’m still thinking about these characters!


Most Pleasant Surprise (Book you didn’t think you’d like, but totally did.)  The Future of Us

Sleeper Hit (Book I found so awesome I wish it had been hyped more) – Starcrossed

And now it’s MY turn to pick a superlative!

Most anticipated 2012 YA release…

Superlative Blogfest: Elements of Fiction

Today is Day Three of the The Class of 2011: YA Superlatives Blogfest, a fun and interactive way to highlight and share your favorite YA novels, covers, characters, and story elements, hosted by Jessica LoveTracey NeithercottAlison Miller, and Katy Upperman. The Class of 2011: YA Superlatives Blogfest spans four days, beginning December 26th and culminating this Friday, December 30th.

Here is my list of 2011 reads:

Supernaturally by Kiersten White, Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini; The Secrets of Tamarind by Nadia Aguiar; The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan; Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor; Burn Bright by Marianne de Pierres; Divergent by Veronica Roth; Wither by Lauren Destefano; The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson; Across the Universe by Beth Revis; Chime by Franny Billingsley; Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins; Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs; The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler; The Iron Knight by Julie Kagawa; The Space Between by Brenna Yovanoff

Thursday, December 29: Elements of Fiction

Most Envy-Inducing PlotChime

Most Wonderful World-Building:  Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Most Formidable World:  Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Most Wanderlust-Inducing:  The Space Between

Loveliest Prose:  Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

Best First Line:  Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children:

I had just come to accept my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen.

Most Dynamic Main Character: Karou from Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Most Jaw-Dropping Finale:    Burn Bright

Best Performance in a Supporting Role: Brimstone from Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Best use of a themeThe Girl of Fire and Thorns

Midnight in Paris

I am not a fan of Woody Allen, never have been, but I have to admit this film is positively delightful.  As a writer and author, this film was like a daydream to me.  I mean, what current-day author wouldn’t like to hitch a ride back to Paris in the 1920s and party with F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and converse with the great Gertrude Stein?  Magic.  Complete magic.

The story takes place in Paris and centers around Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), a successful Hollywood screenwriter who dreams of finishing his first novel about a man with a nostalgia shop in Paris.  Midnight in Paris opens with some beautiful shots of Paris where Gil is vacationing with his fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams), and her rich, right-wing, conservative parents.

Inez, in one word, is a bitch (excuse my French) and is forever berating Gil when she’s not running off with her overly pretentious friends.  Why he is engaged to this pernicious twit is beyond me.  The reason is obviously unknown to him, too, which probably explains why he wanders the streets of Paris alone.

One night, while walking the streets of Paris, Gil gets lost on a side street and takes refuge on a church’s steps.  While contemplating his dilemma, bells chime the midnight hour.  Just then, an antique Peugot arrives filled with boisterous partygoers dressed in vintage clothing, and they coax him to join them in their revelry.  They arrive at a party where he sees an unknown Cole Porter playing piano and meets F. Scott Fitzgerald and his zany wife. Zelda.  F. Scott then introduces Gil to Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll).  Gil is ecstatic and can’t believe that he has somehow time-traveled to the ’20s and is hanging out with his literary heroes who seem to really like him.  He is even more enthralled when Hemingway introduces him to the great Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) who agrees to critique Gil’s novel. But the magic disappears and Gil is thrust back into 2010 as soon as he leaves Ms. Stein’s home to return to the hotel to collect his manuscript.  But that doesn’t deter Gil.  He returns to the same side street the next night at midnight in anticipation of being whisked back into the jazzy, ragtime 1920s.

Gil ends up sharing drinks and conversations with Picasso, Salvador Dali (played by the magnificent Adrien Brody), T.S. Eliot and Luis Buñuel.  Gil is attracted to Picasso’s mistress, Adriana, but sadly, Adriana does not share his love of the 1920s.  After several encounters with her, Gil returns to the present with a new awareness of who he is as a person and what he wants in life.

“Midnight in Paris” was the perfect film for this hopeless and hopeful romantic.  The fantastical premise of the story isn’t remotely plausible, but that isn’t the point.  Allen doesn’t even try to explain it, but he doesn’t need to and we don’t care. We are easily swept along in his story, and we fall in love with all of Allen’s characters, even the neurotic ones.  Owen Wilson makes this film.  He is lovable and I found myself cheering him on in his search to find a kindred spirit who loves him as well as walks in the Paris rain.  Corey Stoll is superb as Hemingway and Kathy Bates is timeless and a perfect addition to this film’s cast.

Woody Allen fans will love this film as will those who are looking for a wonderfully light, romantic film.  Bravo to Mr. Allen.  If he continues making films of this caliber and finesse, he may have just recruited a new fan.

‘Flesh out’ your characters. What does that mean?

Congratulations!  You’ve completed your manuscript and now you’re ready to take the plunge, stand naked before your audience, and expose all to your chosen beta readers.  Two points I want to make before I go any further:

  • If you don’t have any beta readers, get some…now.  Don’t walk.  Run.  You need them before you even think about subbing to an agent or publisher.
  • Do not invite others to give their honest opinions and critiques if you are not ready to hear what they have to say.  I understand that criticism is sometimes hard to take and it can hurt.  Sometimes the critiques feel like personal attacks, but they aren’t.  Your betas have your best interest at heart.  They want to see you succeed.  Keep that in mind as you let their suggestions sit for 24 hours.

With that said, let’s look at one of the most common suggestions your beta readers might say:  “You need to ‘flesh out’ your characters more.”

What in the heck does that mean?

I know when I first started putting my novel out there for critiques, this comment always baffled me.  As a then newbie writer, I often wondered what it meant and how does one flesh out characters?

In a nutshell (pardon the cliché), it means your characters probably read like one-dimensional cardboard cutouts, always acting and/or doing expected things in expected scenarios. They’re not unique but rather born of stereotypical molds.  Not good.  In order to make your characters – and in turn, your novel – stand out, you have to make your characters unique.  Have them shatter the mold.  Make them act against their inherent nature.  Flesh them out.

How do you do this?  You have to get deliciously mean with your characters.  Deny them the things they expect, or make something happen to them they don’t expect.  For example, my main character, David, from my novel, In the Shadow of the Dragon King, is a wealthy kid who’s grown up not wanting for anything.  He’s had everything given to him, therefore is able to fart around in his free time to do whatever he wants.  In my first draft of the story, David didn’t really grow.  He remained this sort of nice but pompous jerk who thought he had life all figured out.  In my 12th draft, he realizes he’s not the biggest fish in the sea, and he certainly doesn’t know near as much as he thought he did.  He no longer has the world at his fingertips.  He can’t go to his godmother and have her intervene on his behalf.  He isn’t privy to the luxuries of life – a comfy bed, food to eat, clean clothes, showers.  He doesn’t have access to all his millions to buy the necessities he needs:  a razor, deodorant, toilet paper.  He must learn to improvise and rely on his instincts, luck, his best friend and a few unusual ‘gifts’ if he is to survive the perils facing him.  In essence, I’ve ‘fleshed him out’.

Making your characters act against their nature exposes what they are really made of.  The reader relates to them because now your characters are no longer single dimensional cutouts.  They are now human, with real flaws and attributes, real fears and strengths.  They’ll be going through physical and emotional changes, and your readers will gladly follow along because they want to see your main characters succeed and win while seeing the bad guy epically fail.  Your readers are now hungry, salivating to find out how your characters are going to get out of the mess you created.

So, the next time your beta reader, agent or editor tells you to ‘flesh out your characters’, it’s time for you to step out of your comfort zone.  Abandon the norm.  Force your mind to do the unexpected.  Your characters will be better for it and your readers will thank you for it.

Are fiction writers certifiably insane?

I mean, come on, think about it.  We have voices talking inside our heads.  Lots of voices.  They talk to us, they talk to each other.  They argue.  We talk out loud, verbalizing their words.  We act out the scenes the way we envision they should react to a string of events.  We plot out evil and then make these imaginary characters murder, rape, pillaging, lie.  Why, even some of our characters ride wedras, talk to trolls, train with wizards or fight dragons.  Some are werewolves, others elves or some unheard of species all together.  And some of these imaginative tales take place in cities we’ve never been or in make-believe worlds.  Sounds kind of nutty to me.

Most of the time, people like the ones described above, undergo extensive psychiatric help.  Thousands of years ago, they may have burned us at the stake for practicing sorcery.  And it wasn’t long ago they put people away in sanitariums for hearing and talking to voices inside their heads.   So why aren’t authors considered certifiably insane if they hear a voice in their head and answer back?

I’d like to think it’s because we have some connection with reality, but I can’t use that as a huge excuse because most of us writers spend more time in our imaginary world than in the real one, at least us full-time writers.  I don’t know about you, but nothing burns me more than typing a way at a great scene and the oven buzzer goes off, the dog knocks over a vase, the phone rings or a precious offspring whines for the umpteenth time that his sister stole his legos.    How dare reality take me away from that pivotal moment that’s changing my character’s life for good or bad!  Now, I’ve lost it, that moment where the plot was coming together.  My brain is now frozen.  I’m lost.  Now it’s time to go to the store or the park, yet the entire time my characters are duking it out in my head.  Scenes are unraveling.  The words are flowing…and I’ve left my digital recorder at home.  No matter what I do, the voices never go away.  They’re always there, plotting, devising, whispering.

Even as I sit here and write this post, one of my supporting characters is arguing with his father, loud and clear.  My brain has been in a deadlock as to how I was going to re-write this scene so it didn’t sound like a Star Wars knock off, and now it’s coming to me.  Unfortunately, this means I now have to part with reality and talking to you good folks so I can hang out with my imaginary counterparts and sort out their issues.  *smile*.

Yes, we authors are a little ‘touched’.  It’s all good, because without us crazy, insane writers, there would be no books to read, and what kind of world would that be?

Do you inhabit your characters or do they inhabit you?

I had someone ask me once, do you inhabit your characters or do they inhabit you?

To be honest, the question stumped me at the time.  I had to think about it for a minute before I said, “both.”

I’ve tried many times to write stories about certain types of characters I’ve had in mind, but ended up abandoning them and the story because I just couldn’t put myself into them.  I had great ideas, great plot lines, but the actual character development felt forced.  I just couldn’t relate to them and the more I tried to make them ‘likeable’, the more I ended up despising them.

Then there are the ones I love, like David, Charlotte, Trog and Eric from my novel, In the Shadow of the Dragon King.  I know what they have for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I know their bathroom habits, how often they brush their teeth, their highs, their lows, their ups, their downs.  Every deep, dark secret they ever had, I know about.  Now, you can say “Well, of course you know about those things because you wrote them”, but it goes beyond that.  They are as much a part of me as I am of them.  They ‘speak’ to me, and if I let them, they lead me down the plot path and offer up twists and turns in ways I never dreamed.  Many times I dream about them to the point they wake me up in the middle of the  night and I have to run out to my computer to write it down before I forget it.  So many sub-plots were revealed to me by letting my ‘characters’ guide my writing.  Sometimes, I feel like I’m merely a vessel for them to tell their story.

I’ve read interviews with other authors who claim they same suffered from the same dilemma.  J.K. Rowling even admitted that it was difficult to wake up and not write another line or any other stories about Harry, Hermione and Ron.  She’d been with them so long, talking to them, studying them, venturing off with them on their adventures that it felt very strange not having them around anymore.  That is the way I feel about the main characters in my novel.  Sadly, I know there will come a day when I put “The End’ on the series and David, Charlotte, Trog and Eric will no longer play a role in any other story I write.  Like Rowling, I’m sure there will be a sense of relief that it’s over, but I also know I will be sad at the same time.  I imagine it will be like moving away and leaving behind all of my best friends.  Hopefully, some new characters will take root in my mind before that time comes, making the transition easier.  I can only hope.  But I won’t worry about that now.  I still have two more novels to write in the series.

So, what about you?  Do you inhabit your characters or do they inhabit you?  I’d love to read your comments.

And the winner is…

Julie Belfield!  Julie answered all the questions correctly in the trivia contest.  She gets to choose the Kindle copy of one of the following:  The Hunger Games, the Iron Knight or Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

Congratulations, Julie!  Please send me an e-mail to let me know which book you would like to have.

Thank you to everyone who participated.  Have a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!