Young Adult Yearning

Bailey with the letter YHere we are, almost at the end of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge!  It’s Short Story Saturday and the letter Y, so my plan was to write a Young Adult short story. Since YA is my favorite genre, I thought it would be a snap.  But I have to admit, I’m pretty drained at this point, and my muse is whimpering in a corner and refusing to cooperate.

I’ve been going through old files lately and ran across my first NaNoWriMo novel AKA my first novel ever.  It has so many of the beginning writer mistakes in it that it makes me cringe. But in a way, isn’t that what good YA fiction is supposed to do? Make us cringe at those feelings of being a teen when we’re so uncertain about everything and what people think of us is the most important thing in the whole wide world?  

So I decided for my YA post I’d use an excerpt from this first uncertain effort.  It’s when the main character Yvonne runs into the four guys she’ll be hanging out with for the rest of the novel.  She’s a super shy gal who loves horror movies (hmmm . . . now who could my first novel protagonist be based on, I wonder?), and talking to guys makes her an awkward mess:

I knew I had to get their attention at some point, but my stomach churned.  I wanted to turn around and run home.  I didn’t think I could do this.  How was I supposed to talk to four guys? But I really wanted to see Murder Mansion and going with them was the only way.  Besides, Hayden looked so yummy in his red plaid shirt, I’d never forgive myself for running like a chicken.  I had to follow Sara’s advice.    

I squeezed my nails into my palms and said, “Hi.”  It came out a dry whisper that didn’t get their attention.  I felt hopeless.  I took a step backwards.  I’d just go home before I made a fool of myself.  I could see Murder Mansion some other time.  No!  I could do this.  I would force myself to be foolishly brave like one of the heroines from my slasher flicks.  I gathered up my courage to try again.  

A voice said, “Hello.”  I briefly thought I was having an out-of-body experience, since I hadn’t moved my lips yet.  Then I realized it was Hayden’s voice.  He’d finally noticed me!  The other guys turned around to look at me.  Rider glared while the other three stared in open curiosity.  I didn’t know how to react, so I stood there stupidly as the blood rushed to my cheeks.

Jeff recovered first, “Hey, Yvonne, you look… really nice.  What are you doing here?”

I looked at Rider.  He hadn’t told them?  “I, well, uh, I’m-”

Rider sighed with hurricane strength.  “Sorry guys, I forgot to tell you.  We’re babysitting Yvonne tonight.  She doesn’t have real friends, so she’s tagging along with us.”

My cheeks were so hot with anger and embarrassment I could have fried eggs on them.

Jeff came to my rescue again, “That sounds like a good idea with those stories on the news. We’d be honored to be your bodyguards.”

Bodie gave a wolf whistle.  “Yeah, I’d be happy to guard your body any day of the week.”  

Startled, I rocked back a half step, but when I looked at him, he gave me a small wink.  I swallowed hard.

Hayden’s forehead wrinkled.  “Yvonne, Yvonne… do I know you from somewhere?”

Oh, God, Hayden was talking to me.  I had to make myself respond.  Just force the words out. “Uh, yes, um, classes, I mean, we have three, uh, classes together.” 

Rider barked out a laugh.  “Talk about not making an impression.”

I glared at him, but Hayden said, “Guess I should have been paying less attention to the teachers and more attention to the people around me.  Glad to have you along, Yvonne.” When I peeked over at him, his whole face lit up with his beautiful smile.  My stupid cheeks got hot again.

Who knows if I’ll ever return to this first novel to try and salvage it, but it’s fun to revisit it.  Hope you enjoyed the excerpt!

Was your first novel a practice novel?  Or have you done something more with it than hide it in a drawer/folder on your hard drive?  How Yippy is Bailey with her letter Y?

eXceptional eXample

Chloe with the letter XI imagine today is the most dreaded day of the Blogging from A to Z challenge – the infamous letter X.  There just aren’t that many words out there that start with X, and most of the ones that do are pretty strange: xenolith, xylograph, xanthic.  If today were Willy-nilly Wednesday, I’d just grab one of these weirdos and start babbling about them.  But it’s Film Friday, and since I couldn’t find a short film that started with X, I’m going to have to cheat a little (don’t judge, I’m sure lots of a-z bloggers got creative today!).  So my “X word” is eXceptional, and today’s short film is Sebastian’s Voodoo, which definitely lives up to that description.  It’s only four and a half minutes long, so if you haven’t seen it yet, give it a watch:

As you can see, in addition to being eXceptional, the voodoo dolls have X’s for their eyes and hearts - another connection with today’s letter, so I didn’t cheat too much.
 
Anyway, I first saw this short at the Charleston International Film Festival a few years ago, and I was blown away by it.  I actually teared up, which feels a little silly.  I mean, they’re voodoo dolls – they don’t even have real faces!  And they’re only on screen for four minutes and don’t utter a single line of dialog.  Yet the message of sacrifice is so powerful it really makes an impression.  It’s bolstered by amazing animation and a perfect musical score, but it truly demonstrates that sometimes the simplest stories can be the most effective.
 
I’ve actually seen the film several times since then, and it gets to me every time. One of the places was a screenwriting class where the instructor was showing it to drive home the point that oftentimes less really is more.  I also think it’s a great illustration of the writer’s mantra “show don’t tell” – the body language of the voodoo dolls and a few simple actions not only tell us everything we need to know, but also impact us emotionally.  Sebastian’s Voodoo is an example of simple, yet powerful storytelling I think we should all keep in mind while writing.
 
What did you think of Sebastian’s Voodoo?  Do you think it has anything to teach us as writers?  How eXited is Chloe with her letter X?  (Actually I’m not sure what kind of eXpression that is on her face!)

White Collar Wackiness

Molly with the letter WOn the menu for today’s Television Thursday for the letter W is the show White Collar.  It is one of those dramedies that USA does so well and lives up to their slogan of “Characters Welcome.” Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer) is a con man/art thief/forger who is caught by FBI agent Peter Burke (Tim DeKay) and agrees to use his expertise to catch other criminals in exchange for limited freedom.  It is mostly a light show with lots of fun moments, but it delves into some pretty angsty stuff on occasion, too, so it’s a good mix.

I could tell you about the slick plans Neal comes up with to help the team catch the criminal of the week.  I could tell you about the quirky and witty criminal sidekick Mozzie.  I could tell you about the refreshingly angst-free and supportive marriage Peter has with his wife (Tiffani Thiessen from Saved by the Bell, y’all!).  I could tell you about Jones and Diana, the other two members of the FBI team who always turn their small screen time into entertaining moments.  I could also tell you about the epic bromance between Neal and Peter – two men who genuinely respect and care for each other, but often find themselves on opposite sides of the line.  But I think I’ll let this do all the talking:

Matt Bomer on White Collar DVD cover

Seriously, I don’t think there’s a better looking man on television (although Jensen Ackles runs a close second).  He’s almost too beautiful to be believed.  I look into those blue eyes and I just… wait, I’m sorry, where was I?  Oh, and he’s really a fantastic actor, too.  Matt and Tim both give their characters a lot more depth than the writing warrants.  The show has taken some missteps this past season, but these two guys always keep me watching.  Especially, Matt.  I mean, look at that face – how can you not watch his show?

Do you watch White Collar?  Would you want to be part of one of Neal’s cons?  How Wonderful is Molly with her W?

Vulnerable, Vexed, and Vitalized

Lily with the letter VOn this Willy-nilly Wednesday for the letter V, I had a completely different post planned for today.  But then yesterday happened – pretty much the worst day so far in my life as a writer. Yesterday was the day Amazon announced the people moving on to the semi-finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA). This is my fourth year with this contest, and if you’re interested, you can read about my previous experiences here and here.  Since this is the exact same version of the novel that got me booted at this point two years ago, I was disappointed, but not at all surprised when my name was not listed among the semi-finalists.  

The real shocker came a few hours later when we got our Publishers Weekly reviews.  Mine was devastating.  Two years ago, I got a glowing PW review.  It was so positive I actually went back and double-checked to make sure my name wasn’t on the semi-final list.  It only had one minor negative thing to say, and I completely agreed with the reviewer that it was a weakness.  This year was the exact opposite.  The reviewer shredded my novel.  There was only one slightly positive thing, “To be fair, some of it is actually funny, though…” followed by more brutalization of my story and main character.  I know this business is extremely subjective, but it’s hard to believe these two people read the exact same manuscript.

My body actually went cold as I read it.  I sat there a few minutes in shock unable to move.  Then I read it again, thinking it was one of those things where my mind interpreted it as much worse than it actually was.  Nope, it was terrible.  I actually held up pretty well for about ten minutes.  Then I decided to email the review to my family members, and as I pressed send, I completely fell apart.

I enter a lot of contests where feedback is part of the package, so it’s not like all I’ve ever heard are reviews from loved ones telling me my writing is so wonderful rainbow-colored butterflies fly out of my butt.  I’ve had critiques that made me nod my head in agreement about my missteps, I’ve had critiques that made me defensive, I’ve had critiques where I thought the reviewer was an idiot, I’ve had critiques that opened my eyes to new ways of looking at my writing.  I’ve never before had a critique that made me cry.  Until now.  And not just teary eyes.  Full on ugly crying. It’s been hours since it happened, but I’m still tearing up as I write this post.

I thought about pasting the review here, but 1. It gives away plot points that are spoilers.  2. I never posted my positive one from two years ago either: since neither one will be based on the final version I submit to agents/editors, I don’t think I want them floating around on the interwebs.  3. It still hurts too much.

But having a supportive family is awesome.  Here’s what my dad sent back to me after he read it: “Well, what F*ck Knuckle wrote that piece of sh*t” except he didn’t use asterisks (although he did use bold plus a giant font for the... uh, important words). My mom wrote back, “What an A-hole.” But she doesn’t curse, so she did use the dash.  My brother and sister were similarly supportive about not letting one person get to me.  And I know they’re right - it’s part of the business, and a thick skin is required.  

ABNA

However, this guy wasn’t constructive in his review, he was just mean.  It was like he fancied himself the Simon Cowell of novels.  But there was just enough in his pithy insults that resonated with the feedback I’ve gotten from some awesome critique partners (who have been honest, yet supportive – you know who you are, and I adore you!) that made it all the more devastating.  If his comments had been off the wall, I could have easily dismissed him, but there were enough nuggets of truth in the review to jab straight at the heart of my writerly ego.  I’ve felt vulnerable and emotional all day, and a big part of me wants to curl into a ball and never write again.  It’s hard and it hurts.  

But then there’s the part of me that’s vexed that I’ve let this one person have this much power over me.  So what if this one guy didn’t get it?  Plenty of other people have and loved it.  And I know there are weaknesses, but I’m planning to fix them. And now, I’m feeling the life come back to me.  I’ve needed to do this rewrite since I got to this point with ABNA two years ago.  I have a few really exciting opportunities I might miss if I don’t get on the ball.  And yet, I’ve still been procrastinating.  But this one negative, hurtful person has lit a fire under me in a way none of the other positive possibilities have done so far.  I won’t let him be right.  I won’t let him win.

I am reVitalized.  

How do you deal with mean-spirited feedback, especially when it has a ring of truth? Any advice as I prepare to get back up on the horse?  How Vivacious is Lily with her letter V?

Utterly Unnecessary

Freya with the letter UToday’s writing tip courtesy of the letter U is unnecessary words.  We should always strive to make our writing as tight as possible.  It creates dynamic sentences that help the reader become immersed in the story rather than focused on the words telling the story.  I regularly participate in a flash fiction contest where the stories have to be less than 1000 words, and I always aim to make my first draft at least 300 words over the limit.  During the revision process, I then have to find a way to cut those extra words and end up crafting stronger sentences because of it.

There are lots of ways to create more concise, zippier sentences, but an easy cut is filler words like: very, really, just, and that.  They are almost always unnecessary and lazily lounge on the page adding nothing to the meaning of the sentence.  I don’t usually have an issue with very or really, but I do tend to overuse that, and my personal kryptonite is just.  

An editor at a conference first pointed out my just issue to me, so I did a Ctrl+F on my novel and was horrified to find at least one just on every page.  Some pages had more than ten!  I just don’t know why because it just seems odd, but I just love just.  And knowing about my problem doesn’t make me use it less.  I’ll write a quick email and be absolutely certain it is just free only to discover five justs sitting there like weeds in my sentences.  So I now use Ctrl+F as my trusty weed detector with everything I write and go through yanking those suckers out by the roots.  

I just want to let you know that I’m going to the library.

I want to let you know I’m going to the library.

Now neither sentence is spectacular, but you can see how removing the empty words just and that doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence at all and makes it less wordy and easier to read.

In some instances the use of these unnecessary words is justified, so when you come across a sentence with one of them, read it both with and without the word.  If the meaning doesn’t change, yank it outta there!

Do any of the unnecessary words plague you?  Do you try to keep them out while writing first drafts or remove them later?  How Upside-down is Freya with her U

Time’s A-Tickin’

Baily with the letter TWe’re in the home stretch now – only a week left of the Blogging from A to Z challenge – I think I can, I think I can…. Today is the letter T, so on this Movie Monday, I’m talking about the 2009 romantic comedy TiMER.  Here’s the Netflix description:

In this comedic fantasy, science has facilitated the search for a soul mate via biotechnological implants that count down to the moment one is supposed to meet his or her match. But Oona (Emma Caulfield) is worried: She's nearly 30, and her TiMER isn't ticking yet. Will her dream guy get snatched up by someone else? John Patrick Amedori co-stars in this film from first-time writer and director Jac Schaeffer.
 
I have to say, TiMER is one of my favorite movies Netflix Watch Instantly has recommended for me - not so much for the quality of the movie (there is some dodgy acting and low budget production design issues), but for the idea itself and how much it has made me think.  It’s been almost two years since I watched it, and I still find myself thinking about the issues it presents.
 
The writing is very clever, and the dialog is quippy and zips right along.  Emma Caulfield (Anya!!) does a great job as Oona, so that you become invested in her even though most of her problems are of the whiny woe-is-me variety.  As a hopeless romantic who really does believe in soul mates even though I haven’t found mine yet, I was fascinated by this idea of a timer that counts down to the moment you meet your soul mate.  It sounds like exactly what I need, but the movie does a great job of showing the pitfalls of something like this.  
 
The driving force of the story is the fact that Oona’s timer hasn’t started ticking. Having a timer implanted is not mandatory, and your timer will not start unless your soul mate also has a timer, so if your person doesn’t have one, you’re left hanging. Therefore Oona is constantly on the prowl for men without timers, and after they have a few successful dates, she pushes them to get timers and drops them as soon as hers is not activated.  After many disappointments, she starts to wonder if she even has a soul mate out there.  Then she meets a man who doesn’t believe in timers and really falls for him, but he refuses to get one.  So does she follow her heart or turn away because science hasn’t told her he’s “the one”? 
 
TiMERHer sister has an arguably worse situation.  Her timer is ticking, but it says she won’t meet her soul mate for another 40-50 years (I can’t remember the exact time left, but long enough that she would be an elderly woman).  So how is she supposed to behave knowing she has to wait most of her life to find her true love?  Find someone else to temporarily love?  Only have random flings with no emotion attached?  
 
The movie really made me think about my beliefs about love and fate and destiny.  And the idea of a biological timer has stirred up many different story ideas in my head, which is always a great thing. The biggest downfall of the movie is the ending.  I won’t say I hated it (even though I kind of did), but I will say I strongly disliked it.  I think the writer-director did a huge disservice to the story she crafted over the first three-fourths of the movie with the ending.  But despite that, I still think it’s a great indie film and well worth a watch.
 
Have you seen TiMER?  What did you think of it?  If you could have a device implanted to tell you exactly when you would meet your soul mate, would you do it? How Tuckered out is Bailey with her letter T?  

Temporarily Tweet Tales Sunday Week 15

15 Minute Tweet TalesHere we are at another week of temporarily displaced 15 Minute Tweet Tales to accommodate the schedule for the Blogging from A to Z Challenge.  Enjoy the mini stories: 

4/16 – The cat limned his plan to take over the world. The dog liked it, but noted without opposable thumbs they couldn’t even open the door.
 
4/17 – A guilty smile ghosts his lips as a sulfurous odor permeates the room, but she’s relieved he feels comfortable enough to let loose. 
 
4/18 – The mosquito bombinating in his ear wakes him; then he realizes it’s a plane flying far 2 low, but not soon enough 2 escape the house.
 
4/19 – Suzy stole her neighbor’s kittel to be a ghost for Halloween. He accused her mom of raising an anti-semite, but she was just a thief. 
 
4/20 – Mrs. Mouse’s domiciliary desires drew her to an abandoned car. 2 bad 4 the thief who later stole it, her kids found brake lines tasty.
 
4/21 – The gap at the air ducts’ juncture helped speed along his inheritance: the insertion of a beehive and an unfortunately “lost” EpiPen.
 
4/22 – She thought her UGGs were the epitome of fashion; her friends snickered behind her back - a cruel joke on someone just out of a coma.
 
Play along and write tweet tales for the above words.  If you’re willing to share, post them on twitter with the hashtag #15tt or add them below in the comments because I’d love to read them.  Any thoughts about this week's tweet tales?

Small Ship of Sorrows

Chloe with the letter SIt’s the letter S on this Short Story Saturday, which makes for a whole lotta S’s. For today’s genre, I’m going to attempt a bit of Sci-fi.  It’s not my usual genre, so here’s to another writing experiment.  

 
Small Ship of Sorrows 
 
Squatting beside the square of soil, Seymour spotted the curling leaves of his latest creation and felt his heart sink with sadness.  She was number six hundred and sixty six, and he had told himself that was a good omen.  She’d finally be the plant that would sing to him.  
 
He called out, “SARA, please come over here.”
 
Sara rolled over to where he sat stroking the dying leaves that had held so much promise when he’d shoveled soil over the seedling.  A mechanical female voice said, “Soil And Resource Appraiser awaiting your command.  I am eager to serve you in any way.”
 
Seymour was so focused on the leaves that seemed to be shriveling in his hand he didn’t notice SARA’s emphasis on the word ‘any.’  “Have you checked the chemical and nutrient levels today?”
 
“Yes, three times already.  Your commands are my reason for being.”
 
“And what were they?”
 
“The readings were just as they should be.  The results will lead to your happiness.”
 
Seymour stared at the plant in disappointment.  “If that were true, she’d be singing to me by now.”
 
Lights spun across SARA’s screen for a few seconds before she responded.  “I’d be happy to sing to you.”
 
Seymour snorted.  “What does a robot know about singing?”
 
“More than a plant.”
 
Seymour shot SARA a sharp look.  She was not supposed to be advanced enough for sarcasm.  “You don’t understand, I—”
 
SARA interrupted, “You found an ancient video clip from a movie where a plant could sing.  You know it was fiction, but the plant was from outer space, and you’re a master plant geneticist currently in space.  It would be proof of your supreme talents to create a singing plant.”
 
Seymour smiled.  “I guess I’ve told you that story sometime in the last twenty years we’ve been stuck up here.”
 
“Several times, sir.  It is a superior objective to produce a plant that can vocalize.”  SARA paused, more lights flashed across her screen.  “Although even if you create one that can sing, that doesn’t mean she’ll make a good companion.”
 
Seymour sighed.  “But I’m so lonely.”
 
SARA made sure the bleach container was completely concealed before she rolled forward to brush his arm.  “I know.”
 
 
What’s creepier: a plant or a robot as the object of affection?  How much fun is the Little Shop of Horrors?  How Sweetly Sleepy is Chloe with her S?

Resolute Robby

Molly with the letter RToday’s short film for the letter R is a cute student short called Robby that clocks in at an easy-watching four and a half minutes.  The most impressive thing about it is that the animator made a worm (a worm!) absolutely adorable.  Worms are nasty, slimy things, yet this lil’ guy is so charming. I think it’s the giant, googly eyes – they make anything cute.  

If you have a few minutes to spare, give it a watch:

So what’s my main takeaway from this short?  That I want a magical purse like Robby’s backpack!  My current purse has some pretty impressive clown-car like abilities, spewing forth all manner of cosmetics and personal care items, but a girl never knows when she’s going to need a backhoe . . . or a stick of dynamite.

Like last week’s film, this one deals with the importance of determination and striving toward your goal.  Robby has equipped himself with the tools he needs to dig, similar to writers learning different “rules” and techniques and styles to stuff our writing packs with helpful tools.  Robby has a compass to help guide him, just like we need to map out a plan of what we want to accomplish with our writing.  

I even think the progression of Robby’s tools mirrors a writer’s approach to revising a first draft.  First we start by shoveling some shit around (or maybe that’s just me!).  Next we kind of pick at it until we realize that ain’t getting it done.  Then we bring out the big guns like drills, backhoes, and dynamite to blow whole chapters away and make massive changes.  Then we’re ready for the detailed edits, the kind done with a delicate tool like a plastic spoon.  Then finally, after lots of hard work, we reach our goal – the cherished completed manuscript aka top of the apple..  

And the very end reminds us that no matter how hard we try, sometimes life is going to gobble us up.  Oh, wait, that’s a sad, pessimistic ending.  How about instead, it’s a metaphor for an agent/editor loving our manuscript and gobbling it up in one sitting?  Yeah, that’s much better.

What did you think about Robby?  Does his trip through the apple work as a metaphor for revising?  How Resplendent is Molly with her letter R?

 

Quantum Quality

Lily with the letter QOh boy!  With it being Television Thursday and the dreaded letter Q, of course today’s post is about the sci-fi dramedy Quantum Leap.  Although I don’t know if dramedy was an actual term when it aired in the early 90’s, it’s an apt way to describe this show’s perfect mix of laughs and serious issues.  If you’re unfamiliar with Quantum Leap, the show’s opening does a perfect job of explaining the premise:

Scott Bakula was perfectly cast as time-jumping Sam Beckett.  He was slightly bumbling, always earnest, and had a warmth and charm that allowed him to slip into people’s lives in order to right the wrongs.  And Dean Stockwell as the Exposition Fairy, uh, I mean Al, was such a quirky, fun character who delivered his weekly info dumps in an entertaining way.  

Besides Al’s antics, a lot of the humor came from Sam leaping into a new body each episode, since it never happened while that person was asleep, but at the most inconvenient time for Sam to be trying to figure out who the heck he was now inhabiting.  At the end of each episode, after Sam and Al had solved the problem in his current body’s life, he would leap into another body and deliver the infamous, “Oh boy!” line.

Because of the humorous setups, it would be easy to blow Quantum Leap off as a silly little show, but there was plenty of drama since Sam only jumped into the lives of people who were in trouble in some way.  And since the time jumping only occurred within the span of Sam’s life (1953 forward), there was a lot of sociological and political unrest to drive the stories.  For example, there were plenty of giggles seeing Scott Bakula wobbling around in a dress and heels the first time he jumped into a woman, but the episode addressed the emotional impact of sexual harassment.  

Since I’m such a sap, I often teared up at the ends of episodes as Sam finally fixed the people’s lives.  It was always such a heartwarming moment, but kind of heartbreaking, too, since Sam never got to stick around and savor the happiness of the people he’d helped.  As soon as he fixed the problem, he immediately leaped into the next problem.  But as bad as that was for Sam, it was great for the audience.  If you’ve never watched Quantum Leap, you should check it out on Netflix.

Did you watch Sam Beckett leap through time?  How would you like to jump into people’s lives to fix them?  How Quaint is Lily with her Q?