Tuesday, April 4, 2017

What I'm Writing Now

I've been hard at work on my next novel, Unforgettable, and I hope to finish it in the next few months.

It's a love story that takes place on both the Cape Verde islands and the Eastern part of the United States.

Here's a peek at the first chapter:

Her home, her entire world, would soon be entombed in molten rock. Smoke billowed out from the volcano’s cone, and red lava exploded upward in jets, crashing back down to earth in flaming balls. Peering past the old mango tree, she saw lava flowing down the hill toward the houses and shops that dotted her island village. Flames already engulfed the sports stadium, and hot, black ooze had already swallowed some of their neighbors’ homes.

 Celia pulled on her mother’s arm. “We have to leave the house.” The authorities had ordered them to evacuate a few days earlier. After dragging their two foam mattresses, the card table, and their two folding chairs to a nearby village, she had dragged her mother there as well. But this morning, when she awoke, her mother’s mattress lay empty.

Panicking, Celia ran for an hour, taking paths known only to the villagers, to where she suspected she would be, back at their house. Watching her mother water the mango tree with an empty bucket, Celia gulped air filled with the stench of rotten eggs. Could this be a nightmare? No, it was too real.

She had to convince her to leave, which wouldn’t be easy. Though Celia was full grown at eighteen, her mother was still taller and stronger, and now out-of-her-mind crazy.

“Mama,” she cried, choking from the taste of sulfur in her throat. “Do you want us to burn alive?” Powerless to stop the surge of living rock, she listened to the lava crackle and hiss as it rolled toward them. Though it only advanced a few feet per hour, it had already reached the edge of their property. Within minutes,  it would set fire to the beautiful trees they had nurtured since her childhood.

Their village lay within the ancient crater far below the volcano's newer cone. She had seen villagers and news crews observing from the rim of the crater a few days before, so she scanned the hills above her for someone to help, but from where she stood among the trees, she couldn’t see anyone. They were all alone.

Her mother stared at her with empty eyes, as if she spoke and walked in her sleep. “We can’t leave the crops," she said, sounding so calm, "It’s good, black soil here.”

Just two weeks before, when the earth first started trembling, her mother had been perfectly normal, preparing a new batch of crocheted doilies to sell to the tourists who came to hike the volcano. She’d always handled tragedy well. Even when Celia’s baby sister died eight years earlier, she had stayed strong. Now she reminded Celia of the woman down at the market who claimed to have given birth to a chicken.

Celia grabbed her mother’s arm again, pulling as hard as she could in her exhausted state. “Mama, this is worse than the other eruptions. Half the village is already lost. We won’t be able to save the mango trees.”

Her mother twisted free from her grasp again. “These trees need water. They haven’t had water in over a week!” She picked up a broken branch from the ground and held it threateningly over her head.

Celia backed away. She wished Manny were here to help. He would throw her mother over his shoulder and haul her over the hill to safety. “You may want to die for these trees, Mama,” she yelled, “but I promised Manny I’d be here when he gets back. I’m not going to stay here and wait for the lava to swallow me whole.”

Celia turned and marched twenty steps in the other direction, hoping Mama would follow, but her trick hadn’t worked. Mama still clung to the mango tree, and Celia couldn’t leave her. This was the woman who had sung her lullabies and taught her to sew. This was the woman who worked on the road crew to provide her with food and clothing. This was the woman who never, ever sent her to school with a wrinkly dress or a dirty face. Now this woman hugged her favorite tree, her face smashed against the trunk, sobbing. Whether this mental illness was temporary or permanent, Celia would not abandon her own mother. Barely five meters up the hill from her, lava crept forward.

Celia groaned. “Mama!” she yelled, anger welling up inside her as hot as the lava plowing toward them. “Come with me! Now!” She ran back and grabbed hold of her mother’s arm again, but the woman had such a tight grip on the tree that Celia couldn’t budge her.

“You can’t trust a man to come back for you,” her mother howled through her sobs. “Not after he leaves Fogo Island. That’s when you’ve lost your spell over him. He forgets how beautiful you are.”

Was she talking about Manny or Celia’s father? Yes, her father had forgotten them, but Manny wouldn’t be that way.

She pulled on her mother’s waist, then on her legs. But the woman slumped down, becoming a dead weight anchored to the tree. Celia tried tickling under her arms, and then on her feet.

Nothing worked.

Finally, she knelt down and took her face in her hands. “Please, mama, let go of the tree. I love you. Don’t make me watch you die!”

Time was running out. As the lava gained on them, a grape vine on the other side of the tree caught fire, and Celia did the only thing she could think of. She picked up the tree branch in both hands. Sucking in a breath, she closed her eyes and lifted the branch over her head, but she couldn’t do it. She couldn’t hit her mama.

The lava rolled ever closer—just a few steps away now. So close that the heat burned Celia’s skin. How could Mama not feel that?

“I’m sorry, Mama,” she said in her softest voice. “I’m sorry about the volcano.” Then seeing the far-off look in Mama’s eye, she had one more idea. Her hands shook as she pointed in the direction of the closest hill. “I think you’ve watered this tree enough. We have more trees to water on the other side of the hill. They’re all gonna die if we don’t water them. We’ve got to hurry!”


Her mother stared at her for a moment. Then, like a bird answering a distant cry from her flock, Mama raced out of their burning orchard, carrying her bucket with her. Celia followed. She didn’t look back to watch the lava roll through the front door of the only home she had ever known.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

DITL and DIY

I've been wanting to write a Day in the Life (DITL) post about my life as an author, where I walk you through a typical day in my life. The problem with that is that there is no typical day. Every day is so different. I do write most every day, but every other part of the day is different. I only write during the school hours because after school I want to be available for my kids.

I usually write for a few hours at home every day, but depending on what's going on during the rest of the day, I sometimes write at a library or cafe. I also love to write at ski resorts while my kids ski.

During the morning and early afternoon hours, I sometimes go on field trips with my kids or meet online with my critique group. I also have days when I help a friend or take my sons to the orthodontist.

This January, I found myself with fewer commitments than usual, so I decided to tackle my list of projects to complete. It started out with decluttering and organizing. Then I finally jumped into one of the projects I'd dreaded. I refinished and painted my kitchen table! Here's a picture of what it looked like in the process:




It had a golden oak finish, and the top of the table was pretty thrashed. We bought it used to begin with, so it came with plenty of wear and tear, but we had added even more. As you can see, my husband and son helped me sand down the top. (They did most of that, actually.) I got stuck with the washing, staining, and painting, which was plenty. Here's how it turned out:


I painted all eight of our chairs white to go with it. It took a long time, let me tell you. If you'd like to know how I did it all, check out the instructions from this video

YouTube is so helpful when it comes to Do It Yourself (DIY) projects. I also watched videos to help me organize around the house. My favorite organizing YouTuber is ClutterBug. Not only do I think she's hilarious, I love budget-friendly style. You can find her channel here

Here are some pictures of a few of the things I've organized around the house lately:

This used to be a jumbled mess on top of the refrigerator.
I used Dollar Tree bins and chalkboard labels to contain the clutter.

This is my new gift wrap station that I keep on the door of our Harry Potter room downstairs.
I used a cheap over-the-door shoe organizer from WalMart
and took a seam ripper to it to make some of the pockets bigger.
 I also used some packing tape to join pockets together.


Oh, and for those of you who are wondering what I'm writing--I am hard at work on a book called Unforgettable. It's a love story about immigrants from the Cape Verde Islands, and it's so fun. It has everything I love to write about, including beaches, a volcano, and love. 






Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Manuscript Makeover Part 4: Final Edits



Last summer, a writer's group invited me to teach a class on editing from start to finish. I designed my manuscript makeover class for them, and I've decided to share it on my blog as a series of posts. This is my fourth and final post in the series.
Today I'll discuss the final edits I go through before I submit my manuscript to an editor for publication. Usually, by the time I've gotten to this point, I've worked out all the kinks in my plot and characters, and I'm ready to focus on my prose.

Here's my writer's to-do list:

Make sure each character has a unique voice.

Add literary devices to build emotion.

Eliminate the passive voice (search for there and was. Give the action a subject.)

Check for sentence variety.

Eliminate wordiness.

Eliminate adverbs.

Search and replace for overused words (Google search: “words writers should delete.”)

Watch for overused prepositions.

Finalize character names.

Read your manuscript aloud one more time.

Spell check.

Search for and replace double spaces.


Thanks for reading! Please let me know if you have anything to add to any of my manuscript makeover posts.


Friday, February 17, 2017

Manuscript Makeover Part 3: Goals, Hooks, and Setting



Last summer, a writer's group invited me to teach a class on editing from start to finish. I designed my manuscript makeover class for them, and I've decided to share it on my blog as a series of posts. I've already covered editing for character and plot in my last two blog posts.
Today I'll discuss editing for goals, hooks, and setting. After character and plot, these three elements can do so much to make sure your readers are turning the pages.
Goals:

It's important to remember the overall goal of your character throughout the book.

A single overarching goal or desire should drive the plot. Think of any movie and you'll see what I mean. In Hamlet, it's revenging the king's death. In Jurassic World, it's capturing the dinosaur. In Finding Nemo, it's . . . finding Nemo.

Each character needs specific goals, and these should be obvious to the reader within the first two chapters. To build tension, you need to make sure that the main characters' goals conflict, and they should especially conflict with the villain's goals.

Each character participating in a scene will also have a specific goal or goals. Make sure that in every scene, the reader knows who wants what and what happens if they don’t get it.

Characters’ goals can change as they change (arc.)

While you're evaluating your characters' goals. Ask yourself:
Are you being too easy on your characters?
What can you do to torture them even more?
How can you frustrate them in reaching their goals?


Hooks:

A hook is something interesting that draws a reader in and makes them want to read more. (You hook the reader's attention.)

Check to make sure:
·         The first paragraph and last paragraph of the first chapter hooks the reader.
·         each chapter has a hook at the beginning and end.
·         your lowest point (belly of the whale or all-is-lost moment) is low enough.
·         your resolution has lots of emotion.

Avoid predictability with brainstorming. (If the reader sees it coming, they won’t want to keep reading.)

For some good examples of hooks, I recommend reading the first and last paragraphs of each chapter in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

Setting:
Your setting can do so much to add interest and help you avoid predictability. Ask yourself these questions as you consider your settings;Does the setting in each chapter add interest and tension?
Can you vary the setting more often?

Can readers visualize each setting? (Have you used the five senses to describe your settings?)

Friday, February 10, 2017

Valentine's Day Sale


I'm taking a brief break from my manuscript makeover series to tell you about a great offer for Valentine's week.

I've teamed up with some great authors to offer you a selection of clean romance novels at only 99¢ each. You'll find books from Heather B. Moore, Rachelle J. Christensen, and Lindzee Armstrong, as well as many others. Check it out here at Lindzee's Blog. The sale runs from February 10 through February 16. Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Manuscript Makeover Part 2: Plot


Most beginning writers plot by the seat of their pants. In other words, they don't use an outline. There are advantages to avoiding an outline--your story can feel less predictable and more creative, but you're most likely going to have trouble delivering a satisfying ending. 

I recommend that even if you write by the seat of your pants, you organize or outline your plot after the first draft. There are two ways to do this.

First, you can borrow a plot from another story. (People often do this by following the plot of a fairytale or classic novel.)

Second, you can make an outline. I struggled a lot with outlining when I first began writing, and I eventually came up with a handful of resources that help me. Here are a few:

Watch Dan Wells' YouTube class on story structure here. It's a five-part series, and I recommend that you watch all five videos while taking notes.

Read about Blake Snyders’ Three Act structure in Save the Cat.

Experiment with the Snowflake Method before you write.

Learn about the Hero’s Journey

If none of these work for you, you might look over Freytag’s Pyramid. (This is the five part structure you most likely learned about in elementary school: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.)

As you strengthen your plot, you'll find ways to add tension to your story and pull off a better ending.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Manuscript Makeover Part 1: Character

Last summer, a writer's group invited me to teach a class on editing from start to finish. I designed my manuscript makeover class for them, and I've decided to share it on my blog as a series of posts.
Today I'll discuss editing for character, which is one of the most important parts of writing a novel. This involves making sure your reader will like your main characters and also making sure they understand your characters' emotions and thought processes.
First, it's important that readers love your main character(s).  
As Blake Snyder says,  "Liking the person we go on a journey with is the single most important element in drawing us into your story.” 
Here are ten ways to make a character more endearing:
1. Have your character do something heroic in the opening scene. (Think of Mr. Incredible in the opening scene of The Incredibles.)
2. Make them funny. (Phil from Groundhog Day is good example of how this can work well.
3. Make them a good friend to another character. (Think of Cher from Clueless or Sam from Lord of the Rings.)
4. Give them special talents or abilities. (This is why we like Shelock Holmes.)
5. Make them attractive. (Basically any female main character in a movie.)
6. Make us feel sorry for them. (Harry Potter is a good example of this.)
7. Make the bad guy worse. (Think of  Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.)
9. Give them something we wish we had. (Captain Kirk from Star Trek can travel anywhere he wants, so people like him despite his negative qualities.)
9. Make them proactive. (This is why women love Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice.)
10. Don’t let them get too negative about themselves or other characters.

Second, ask yourself whether your reader can relate to your characters:

Can the reader feel what the character feels?
Can the reader understand why she says what she says and does what she does

You can do this through dialogue tags. I like to write down examples of great dialogue tags that I encounter while reading. Here are some examples from JoJo Moyes' Me Before You. Notice how they reveal her characters' emotions and thoughts:

Describing voice:
“Her voice is husky, testament to their missed hours of sleep.”
“He said it like it was a question.”
“When Patrick spoke again, there was a faint air of martyrdom in his tone.”
Describing internal feelings:
“How could I explain to him . . . how a body can become so familiar to you?”
“I couldn’t stop beaming.”
“I turned to face Mrs. Traynor, wriggling so that my jacket covered as much of the skirt as possible.”
Main character interpretting others’ dialogue and cues
“She withdrew her hand from mine as soon as humanly possible.”
“Only later I realized he hadn’t seemed happy when he said it.”
“Mum shut her eyes for a moment, as if calming herself before she spoke.”

Another way you can help readers identify a character's emotions or thoughts is through descriptions. Make sure that when you describe a setting, a character, or an action, you do it from your character's point of view and not your own. I've been reading the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and I'm so impressed with how well she tells her stories from a child's point of view. I invite you to read a few chapters from any of her books to see what I mean.

A good way to know if you're on the right track is to ask critique groups and beta readers if they can relate to your characters.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Meet Kathryn Cooper



Today, I'd like you to meet author Kathryn Cooper. She and I have been online friends for a few years, and she's awesome. I think everyone should get to know her. 

Here's our interview:

1. Please tell me about your new book. What inspired you to write it and what's it about?


Aspen Everlasting is the first book I've ever written. My love of Young Adult reads began in college when I took a children's literature class. I read Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. I fell in love! My passion for reading grew. After a few years I read a trilogy where I didn't like the ending and decided to write my own book! So I did. It took a few years, but I'm happy that I accomplished this huge goal.

Aspen Everlasting is about a sixteen year old girl named Aspen that quickly finds that she has super strength. She goes on an adventure to find out what was happening to her. This is adventure and clean romance.

2. I know you had surgery for a brain tumor a couple years ago. How has that affected your writing? How has it affected your outlook on life? 


I found out I had a brain tumor as I was finishing up a lot of editing from my beta readers and editing friend. I had been working on this book for a few years so when I regained my ability to read I went back to writing. I edited a lot then a month before my surgery I sent it in to agents. After my surgery I found out that I would be going through radiation for 6 weeks then 12 months of chemo. So I sent my book out to publishing companies without an agent. I was so happy to find out Cedar Fort took my book as an eBook. It was a wonderful day.

My outlook on life didn't change it just grew larger. I became closer to God my Heavenly Father, my brother and Savior Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. My love for others grew. I know that every person good or bad are my brothers and sisters. 

3.You live in Texas now, but if you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live and why?

I was born and raised in Texas so this is where I want to be. I love my Texas country life. I dream to visit Scotland, England, and France.

4.Do you have plans for another book? If so, what is it about?

I keep going back and forth. I'd like to write about what I went through during my brain tumor treatments. I was going to do a YA fiction, then an adult fiction, but now I'm thinking I'll just write the true story. Nonfiction! 

5. I'd like to know a little about your childhood. Where did you grow up, and what were your favorite hobbies as a child?

I grew up in the area of Waco, Texas. In the summer we spent hours every day swimming in our backyard pool. In the fall I loved being in my high school band's colorguard. Go Flags!

6.What are five of your favorite books or authors?



I love too many books to name them! Some authors I love: Janette Rallison, Shannen Crane Cramp, Ally Condie, Ally Carter, Lindsay Cummings, Marissa Meyer.

7.Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Go for it! Write when you can. Create a story that you love. Read a TON!

You can learn more about Kathryn at https://kathryncooperwrites.com

Her book is available on Amazon and at select bookstores.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Writing = Rewriting

I've been working on two projects lately--a novella set in Rexburg, Idaho, and a novel that begins in the Cape Verde islands. Over the last few months I've been rewriting both. I hate to rewrite, and I love to rewrite. Mostly, I hate it before I start, and I love it after I'm finished.

After I rewrote 150 pages, I took a break over Christmas and New Years. During that time, I watched a bunch of Kon Mari cleaning videos on Youtube and did a ton of decluttering. I also rearranged some of my drawers in the Kon Mari fashion. It struck me that decluttering is a lot like rewriting. It makes you feel a lot better once it's done.



I think there's a myth among the general public that for a real author, words come easily. A real author can write a book in a month without much need to revise or edit. She naturally develops plots and outlines as she types, coming up with characters, worlds, and historically accurate details easily. For me, this couldn't be further from the truth.

Good writing involves a lot of rewriting. 

Sometimes I forget this, and I get discouraged that I'm having to rewrite a scene for the third time. I was in one of these funks last month, when I read this quote by Michael Crichton: "Books aren't written--they're rewritten . . . It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn't quite done it." You read that correctly: Michael Crichton, author of Jurassic Park, The Andromeda Strain, Coma, Twister, Congo, and Westworld, has had to rewrite parts of his novels up to seven different times.

Then I found out that Ernest Hemingway rewrote A Farewell to Arms a whopping thirty-nine times!

I was already feeling much better about my third rewrite.

In a class I attended with Brandon Sanderson, he joked with us that his first drafts weren't absolutely spectacular and that his critique partner, after reading something that had been revised a few times, joked that he'd forgotten that Brandon was actually a good writer.

The process is different for each writer, but, no matter how you draft and revise, it involves serious work. Some writers may redraft instead of rewriting. Others may be like Diana Gabaldon,who wrote the Outlander series. She said, "I get asked, 'How many drafts do you go through?' all the time. The answer is either 'one' or 'infinity,' but I don't know how to tell the difference. I don't write, leave, come back later and revise.  I work slow and fiddle constantly, so the revision is pretty much done as part of the original writing.  By the time I'm done with a scene, I'm done with it."

This doesn't sound fun . . . but it is fun, once you start doing it, and finally everything starts to come together.