Joining the Campaign

I just started this blog a few months ago, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out my mom is the Writers' Platform-Building Campaignonly person reading my posts.  Wait, scratch that.  I would totally be surprised to discover that because I’m not sure my mom even knows what a ‘blog’ is, and she definitely wouldn’t know how to find mine. 

I’ve always been a shy, introverted, scaredy cat. At most social gatherings, you’ll find me diligently doing my part to hold up the nearest wall.  It’s a little easier on the web, but it’s still daunting to reach out to strangers.  So how lucky for me that right as I’m dipping my toes into the blogging waters, Rachael Harrie is running her Third Writers' Platform-Building Campaign.  As Rachael says:

"My Writers' Platform-Building Campaigns are a way to link writers, aspiring authors, beginner bloggers, industry people, and published authors together with the aim of helping to build our online platforms.

The Campaigners are all people in a similar position, who genuinely want to pay it forward, make connections and friends within the writing community, and help build each others' online platforms while at the same time building theirs."

This is such a fantastic idea, since it gives us more bashful folks a little push to interact with our fellow bloggers.  I’m excited to meet and interact with so many like-minded writers.

For fellow Campaigners stopping by my blog for the first time: I write novels, short stories, and screenplays; and in the last two years I’ve started dabbling in making short films.  I’ve had a few short stories published, but my first love is writing YA novels in the genres of thriller, suspense, and horror.  In the non-writing part of my life, I watch an alarming amount of television and also give my Netflix subscription a robust workout.  I’m also an animal lover with a menagerie of pets; and, yes, I’m one of those people who puts party hats on their dogs and makes them “cakes” for their birthdays. 

So are you an internet wallflower or the virtual life of the party?  Are you excited for the Campaign?  Did you participate in one of the previous Campaigns?

YALLFest 2011

Y’all, YALLFest is coming to Charleston!  No, this is not a festival to see who can produce the most adorably drawn out y’aaaaalllll.  It’s a YA extravaganza bringing twenty top young adult writers to Charleston for a weekend of seminars and panels.  Even at the large kidlit conferences, you are unlikely to get this many NYT bestsellers (eleven!!) in one place, so I’m pretty much giddy with excitement that this will be happening just down the road from me. 

The festival will be November 11th and 12th.  It looks like the Friday events are only for high school and college students, so the big day for writers in the area will be Saturday.  There will be seven hourly panels at Blue Bicycle Books during the day, as well as a YA SmackDown on Saturday night.  The whole day should be a blast and an excellent way to meet other YA writers in the area.  If you live within easy driving distance, you should definitely be here.  And even if you don’t live nearby, Charleston is a gorgeous city and an excellent place for a November vacation!

YALLFest Banner

Click here to find out more about the festival, including the list of amazing authors who will be speaking. 

 

Are you planning to attend the YALLFest?  Which authors are you most excited to see?

 

 

An Unexpected Honor

When I opened my front door today, I discovered a fantastic surprise waiting for me.  No, it wasn’t Jensen Ackles in a tux extending an oversized box of Godiva chocolates.  As unbelievable as this might sound . . . it was actually more awesome than that.

Around these parts, if something is too big to fit in the mailbox, the mail carrier just leaves it at the front door.  The only issue is that I hardly ever use the front door.  Today I happened to be expecting a package, so I took a quick peek out front.  Tucked between the glass door and the wooden door was a brown box, but not the package I was expecting – instead it was from Highlights.  I don’t know how long it’d been there, but from the date on the letter inside, it’s been several weeks.  Oops!  Anyway, I’d already received my contributor’s copies from them, so I couldn’t imagine what it might be. 

I ripped into the package with the excited abandon of a kid on Christmas morning.  Inside I found a pretty pewter plate (I love alliteration!) engraved with my name, the title of my story, and Highlights Author of the Month Award“Highlights for Children Author of the Month.”  Cue the dropping of my jaw and eyes bugging out of my head.  There was also a lovely note from Highlights editor in chief Christine Cully telling me the staff had voted me Author of the Month for my story “Seeking a Hidden Hive.”  Wow, I’m so honored!  My heartfelt appreciation and thanks to the Highlights staff!

This short story has led to many amazing honors and opportunities in my writing life.  I’m just so grateful for whatever odd conversational turn of events led to my brother and me discussing honeyguides in late 2008.

 So what's the most exciting thing you've ever found at your front door?

 

A Bloody Flash

I’ve been a NYC Midnight junkie the past two weeks.  This weekend was the first round of their fourth annual Flash Fiction Challenge.  Writers from around the world are divided into groups, and each group is assigned a genre, a location, and an object.  The writers then have 48 hours to write a story of 1000 words or less that incorporates those parameters.  I’ve participated the past two years, and I love the way it pushes me creatively during those adrenaline-fueled weekends.

For the first challenge this year, my group was assigned the genre of drama, the location of a blood drive, and the object duct tape.  I was kind of bummed about the genre of drama - I’ve had it a number of times over the course of various NYCM competitions and was hoping for something to push me out of my comfort zone.  Plus drama is so broad - almost every story is a drama in some way; and with my fondness for writing thrillers, suspense, and horror, I had to be careful not to cross too far over into one of the other genre categories.  This was especially tough this time given the location was a blood drive - the horror story practically writes itself!

I spent most of Saturday pacing around the house swilling coffee rejecting idea after idea.  Of the two that were my front runners, I worried one was too sci-fi and the other was too fantasy.  In their rules, NYCM states they encourage the creative use of the parameters, so I finally had the idea to push the meaning of “a blood drive.”  Instead of the typical setting of a mall or office building with chairs, nurses, juice, and cookies, I decided to interpret the phrase literally and have a bloody protagonist driving a car.  Once I settled on that, the details began to fall into place.  By 11:30 pm on Saturday night, I finished my first draft.  It was awful.  So terrible, I thought about starting over with one of my earlier ideas.

But after rereading it a few times, I figured out where it had gone off the rails and rewrote it.  I only kept the first paragraph, some of the plot points, and a few phrases I liked from the original.  I finished that draft around 5:00 am (oh, have I mentioned I’m a night owl?), and then immediately did another round of editing.  At 6:30 am I was still 227 words over the limit, but I decided sleeping on it was the wisest course of action. 

Once I woke up, I started the painful process of chopping and tightening and tweaking to make sure every word counted.  I also sent a draft to my brother, sister, and parents to read, since they are always my first readers.  They were all very enthusiastic, but they usually are, so they’re not the best barometers.  As the midnight deadline approached, I finally got the story whittled down to 994 words, and I was pretty happy with the story I submitted.  Here’s my title and synopsis:

A Long, Bloody Road - As time runs out for her son, Sarah’s not afraid to spill a little blood to save his life.

Have you participated in NYC Midnight’s flash fiction challenges before?  Which genres would you like to get?  Which genres would you dread?

More Micro-fiction

 Last week I participated in the first round of NYC Midnight’s micro-fiction challenge.  It’s a good thing we were allowed to submit three entries, because the reactions I got in various places really drove home how subjective this whole writing thing can be.  NYCM provides forums where you can post your stories for feedback, and there the overwhelming favorite was the one on domestic violence.  However, I also posted them on twitter, and the favorite was the poop joke – I even got retweeted by several people I didn’t know, which felt awesome.  But when it came time for the judges to pick the top 25 from each group to move on to the voting round, the only one of mine they selected was the one about the reluctant wedding:  Sick of being poor, Amy clasped the withered hand of her rich groom & choked out the words, “I do.” 

Even though I didn’t feel that was my strongest of the three, I was just happy one of mine was moving on to the next step.  So then NYCM had the public vote on their favorites.  The three with the most votes in each group (plus two picked by the judges) would move on to the final round.  I was surprised to find out last night that my wedding story had the second highest amount of votes in my group, so thank you to everyone who voted for me. 

That meant today was the finals, and all 100 writers who moved on were assigned the same word: oxygen.  Today was crazy busy with some high stress things happening, so I didn’t have time to angst and fret over my entries like I usually do.  Fortunately, three ideas came to me very quickly, and arrived pretty much already in bite-sized chunks, so I did not have to spend forever trying to whittle them down to less than 100 characters.  Considering the very small amount of time I had to work on them, I’m pretty happy with what I submitted.

1.  Amy told him sex without oxygen would be a rush. A belt one notch too tight makes her a millionaire.

2.  The greedy fire consumed the room’s oxygen making her husband’s death less painful than Sue planned.

3.  Despondent from being the 3rd wheel, Oxygen split from the Hydrogens, flinging the world into chaos.

After I wrote #1, I was trying to find a three-letter name (have to keep it short!), and I picked ‘Ami.’  Then my brain started itching thinking I’d already used it before.  So I looked up my first round stories and saw that I'd used ‘Amy’ in the wedding one that advanced me to the finals.  Then I realized this new one actually made a perfect sequel for the wedding one and changed the name to ‘Amy’ to match. 

Should I write a third one where Amy gets caught to make it a trilogy?  What micro-stories can you come up with for ‘oxygen’?

WriteOnCon Returns

Are you guys participating in WriteOnCon this week?  If you’re a writer, and especially if you write for the under 18 crowd, you should check out the information-y awesomeness over there immediately.  This is the second year for WriteOnCon, which is an online writer’s conference for kidlit writers taking place August 16-18. 

While there are live events like Q&A sessions, the best part is that all of the content remains available throughout the year.  So if this is a busy week for you, you can wait until your schedule is less hectic to visit and absorb the mind-blowing amount of information.  In fact, I found it pretty overwhelming last year, so popped back in over the ensuing months to reread some of the posts that really resonated with me.

Another fantastic aspect is the forums where you can meet and interact with fellow writers.  They also have a number of critique forums available – you can post your query, first 250 words, or first five pages and fellow participants will offer feedback.  An exciting component they’ve added this year is Ninja Agents, which are agents who anonymously drop in (they are color coded) and offer feedback on what you’ve posted.  I posted my query, 250 words, and five pages last night, and within an hour, one Ninja Agent had provided feedback on my first 250 words and another Ninja Agent had commented on my first five pages.  They both said my writing had a great voice (yay!!) and asked a few questions that have me questioning if I’ve started my story in the right place.  While I have a lot to think about now, it’s invaluable to have a chance to improve my beginning before I start querying.

The most amazing part about all of this is that the conference is FREE!!  They do have a place set up for donations, and I encourage anyone who gets something out of the conference to donate a little if they can.  I thought this was a fantastic event last year, and I definitely can’t wait to see what they have in store for us this year.

Did you attend WriteOnCon last year?  Are you participating this year?  Are you putting anything up on the forums to be critiqued? 

Keeping It Short and Sweet

NYC Midnight is a group that runs all types of contests throughout the year where they challenge participants to be creative in a short amount of time, whether it’s writing screenplays, short stories, micro stories, or even making movies.  Depending on the contest, participants are assigned a genre and other parameters, and then have a time limit for producing their work of art. 

One of my favorite contests for the past several years has been the Tweet Me a Story challenge.  We are assigned a word and have only a few hours to create complete stories in 140 characters that incorporate the exact word.  Apparently NYCM decided that wasn’t enough of a challenge, so this time we have to create stories only 100 characters long.  Yikes!

Today was the first round of the micro-fiction contest, and I was assigned the word ‘words.’  I wasn’t very inspired, because first of all, it sounds weird to say, “My word is ‘words.’”  But also because ‘words’ is not one of those words (see what I mean?) that has more than one meaning, so there’s not much to play with in terms of using one of the more obscure definitions. 

We are allowed to submit three entries, and I had six ideas I played around with and tweaked at all day.  When the midnight deadline rolled around for me to submit, these are the three I turned in:

1.  Sick of being poor, Amy clasped the withered hand of her rich groom & choked out the words, “I do.”

2.  As her husband aimed his gun, Tanya smiled - her daring words had finally freed her from his fists.

3.  Sam told him to sit, but the dog confused his words; now the priceless rug is peppered with turds.

Have you ever participated in any of NYCM’s contests?  Have you written micro-fiction before?  What micro-fiction can you come up with for the word ‘words’? (never stops being weird)

 

Fare Thee Well

I received an email today that made me a little sad – Chris Baty is stepping down as the Executive Director of The Office of Letters and Light (OLL).  Chris started National Novel Writing Month with a few of his friends back in 1999, and since then it has grown into an international phenomenon.  OLL is the non-profit group created to organize NaNo, Script Frenzy, and other writing adventures. 

National Novel Writing MonthAlthough I’ve never met or even corresponded with Chris, he’s been a huge part of my writing journey.  I like to think I’d have eventually gotten my act together to write my first novel, but I can’t be sure about that.  For years I’d been saying I wanted to write a novel, but it wasn’t until I heard about NaNo that I actually did it.  In the month leading up to it, I read his book No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days, which really felt like a pep talk from a friend telling me I could do it and coaching me on how to keep the fear from paralyzing me. 

How amazing it must feel to Chris to have started this movement that helps people achieve their dreams and try new and scary things.  I know NaNo has a lot of detractors saying people are just spewing out crap, and I myself get frustrated by the participants who don’t realize the importance of rewriting and editing these NaNo drafts before sending them out, but I will always be grateful to Chris and this insane event he started.  Not only did it set me firmly on my path of serious writing, it also introduced me to a new format - screenplays

Chris’s email said he is stepping down in order to focus on being a full-time writer.  Having made that same decision about my own job a while back, I totally understand how difficult and yet exciting that was for him.  And although I will miss his pep talk emails and the energy he provided even via cyberspace, I wish him the best of luck, flowing words, and much happiness!

Do you think it will be the same without Chris?  How have the programs he started impacted your writing?

A Perfect Ending

I watched the series finale of Friday Night Lights last night, and I’m still feeling the loss of such an amazing television show.  It was such a perfectly FNL ending: plenty of hope for the future, but not everything wrapped up in a falsely perfect bow.  Through five seasons, the writing, directing, acting, cinematography, and editing came together seamlessly to create a something that felt more real than any show I’ve ever watched.  I often felt uncomfortable while watching because I felt like some creeper peering through the windows at these people’s lives.

I think part of the reason it felt so real to me is that I grew up in Summerville, SC, where Green Wave football was more important than just about anything.  I don’t know if Coach John McKissick is the molder of men that Eric Taylor was, but I do know that McKissick is the all-time winningest high school football coach ever.  I spent many Friday nights under those bright lights screaming my head off for our team (that is when I wasn’t awkwardly trying to be cool). 

But it wasn’t just familiarity that made these characters so authentic.  A magical combination of acting and writing truly made them feel like friends.  I laughed with them, worried for them, and I cried for them, oh man, how I cried for them, both at their joy and at their pain.  It actually got to be kind of ridiculous, since I apparently developed a Pavlovian response to the FNL theme song – it would start playing and my eyes would start watering.

As a writer and filmmaker, I know I will pull out my DVDs again and again to enjoy and appreciate what the FNL team did, as well as study how they did it so I can learn to create characters that feel so incredibly real. 

Were you a fan of Friday Night Lights?  Can you suggest other shows with characters who feel so authentic?  For the writers - did you pick up any techniques to improve the characters in your writing? 

Sticking with Netflix

I got my price hike email yesterday from Netflix, and like most people venting on the interwebs, I was outraged.  While an increase in prices over the years is expected, this was a huge jump, and the tone of the email was a tad condescending.  Honestly, I think the whole thing would have gone over better if the email had used more conciliatory wording (a reminder that words have power!). 

But now that I’ve had a chance to cool down and think about it, I won’t be one of the people jumping ship when the prices go up.  Even with a 60% increase, I’m still getting a lot of bang for my buck. 

When the streaming option first came out, it was a bonus I never used.  None of the “big” movies were on there, so what did I care?  Then one night I was bored and between DVD deliveries, so I wandered into the streaming catalogue and found something that caught my eye.  It was a small independent film I’d never heard of, and it was fantastic!  But since I knew nothing about it, I never would have “wasted” a DVD rental on it, which makes me sad to think about.  I’m now hooked on streaming and watch more movies that way than I do DVDs.  Sure there are plenty of stinkers out there, but I’m discovering all kinds of treasures I never would have seen otherwise. 

I need both features of my Netflix account.  The DVD deliveries keep me up-to-date on the Hollywood blockbusters, so I can participate in pop culture conversations.  And the streaming side helps me find those hidden gems that inspire me as a writer and a filmmaker.  To me, that’s definitely worth an extra six bucks a month.  Just don't push your luck again anytime soon, Netflix!

What did you think about the Netflix price increase?  Are you going to keep your plan or look for an alternative?  Or should we all quit watching movies and go read a book?