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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Road trip Wednesday - book covers

This is my first Road Trip Wednesday, which is a fun little blog carnival hosted by the awesome people over at YA highway. The question this week is what are your favorite book covers? I have to admit that I cheated a bit here and snipped off the covers of some books that I haven't read yet (though I plan to), but I think it's mostly the artistic merit we're interested in here.

1. Hush Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick. The image here is just too symbolic and beautiful. I can't wait to read this one.

2. Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.  I love the creepy factor in this cover, but I especially love the swirly print. What can I say? I'm one of those people who liked to doodle, dotting their i's with hearts and practicing their bubble letters.

3. Eyes like Stars by Lisa Mantchev. I love the curvy lines in this. The angle of the girl's face, her hair, her back and then it's all accentuated by the little fairies floating around her.

4. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
Bare abs and biceps with tattoos. 'nuf said.

5. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. This is actually an older cover for this book since it's been reprinted so many times.  I especially love the way the leaves are turned into closed lips.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Is your character cliche?

I didn't get any writing done this weekend, even though I woke up at 6:30 both Saturday and Sunday and everyone else was asleep. Well, almost everyone. My two year old is the one who wakes me so early. In between fussing over which cartoon he gets to watch, and insisting on sitting on my lap while I type, and having to reach up to the counter to get his own apple (which requires that I pull the chair up for him), well let's just say that it's hard to get anything done. Then there's my recent book obsession. I had six books left to read before I have to return them to the library next week, and I knew that I had to get cracking on some of them. So I finished The Tale of Desperaux (ok, but not as good as I thought it was going to be), Pictures of Hollis Woods (I highly recommend this for MG) and Jinx (my first Meg Cabot read, which was ok, but I kept wondering what all the hype is about Cabot. Maybe her other books are better?). I now have three books left to finish by next Sunday, and I think that I'll manage as they're all MG and should be fairly easy to coast through. Lesson to all of this: don't plan on reading 15 books in one month if you still want to be a writer! I think that I'll just check out four books for next month. I have a set of the Percy Jackson books coming from my son's Scholastic book club so I'll be reading those too, but it's time to slow down.

I did get some work done on my book though, not actual writing, but plotting and thinking. Specifically, I got to thinking about cliche characters. There have been a lot of threads on this subject in AW lately, and I thought that I had managed to avoid that in my own WIP, but it got me to wondering if I really had. Was my character cliche without me realizing it? No one intentionally wants to write a stock character, but sometimes it just happens, especially to new writers which I still categorize myself as. So I did a web search for cliched character types and after looking through them all, I think that I'm safe as far as my MC, Nikki, goes. I do have a few minor characters who fit the cliche, most notably a villain who is just 100% evil without any depth at all. I may have to do something about that, but I'm not overly concerned about it. I think that it's probably ok to have a few minor characters that fit the cliche because they're minor. They don't have many scenes devoted to them, and it's hard to fit in a lot of depth when there's very little space to do it, and in the case of villains, you still have to make them look mean.

Anyway, I thought that it might be helpful to others if I compiled a list of cliche characters. These are from a few different websites and really just the ones that I came across most often. You'll notice that some of these character types are present in a lot of popular literature from hugely successful authors. You may wonder, what does this say about the cliched character? If so and so did it and they had no problem, then why should I? And that's a good question. I mean people like these characters because they are fun, easy to love and even easier to write -who doesn't love a peasant who becomes a king, and really how likable could he be if he were rich and noble already? But ask yourself, would you rather do something that has already been done, or would you prefer to stand out from the crowd? I want people to say that my characters are unique, that they sit with the reader long after that last page is turned. I don't know if I will actually accomplish that, but I think it's a good goal to strive for, and doing a cliche character is not the way to go about that.

Non-inclusive cliche character list:

1. The girl who believes she's an ugly duck but it turns out that she's really pretty, she just needed a guy to tell her.
2. Princess with rebel princess syndrome
3. Bitchy popular girls, and they tend for some reason to be blonde
4.The "I am just as tough as a man and need to prove myself every five minutes" girl.
5.Hunky, moody and mysterious guy
6. The evil clergy man
7. The old Native American who knows all the old stories and traditions of his tribe.
8. rich boys and girls with boring parties where everyone gets drunk and the big problem is who's sleeping with who
9. Fat, jovial type
10. intellectual loner
11.Evil villains who are evil to the core
12.Character who has no idea where he/she is from but there is some random piece from their childhood that they use to discover who their parents are
13.Peasant who becomes a king
14.Hero who is cocky and arrogant and must be tempered by his wise mentor - usually some old guy.
15.Evil wizards who plot to take over the world.
16. Green eyed, red haired girls who have a temper - and often tend to be witches!
17.Evil villain's son or daughter who has turned to the good side.
18.Insecure girls who are insecure for no reason.
19.The perfect vampire who is always hot and sexy. Hello? He's dead!
20.The comedian side kick.

If you have any suggestions that you think should absolutely be on this list, especially if they are common in YA, then please let me know and I'll add it in!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tuesday Teaser Jan 19, 2010

Time for something a bit different. The basic premise of this story is simple. In his past life, the main character, Erik, was a gangster from the thirties and forties, and now he has to fight the inherent darkness inside him or risk losing the girl he loves. I originally wrote this as an adult story and it was very, very long- around 200,000 words. It probably could have been three books because I went through a different "mini" story for each stage of his life - teens, thirties and sixties.  But now, I'm thinking that this might be better written strictly as a YA novel because I'm better at writing that genre. The problem is that every time I try to write this beginning it comes out completely different from what I had originally intended. And that's ok, but I would still like to incorporate some of the stuff I had written before. I mean I don't want to throw away all 200K words! At any rate, this is one version of my "teen" story. It's chapter one, and the novel is called BETTINA. This is my first attempt at writing in present tense and I'm not sure if I want to keep it that way. Oh, and the character of Karpis isn't made up - he was a real gangster who lived in MN (see mugshot to the right). As always, all comments are appreciated.

BETTINA Chapter 1

I’m supposed to be studying. Ms. Gray, my seventh period German teacher agreed to let me out since A. she knows that I’m already fluent in the language and B. she has a little crush on me. Bully to me. I’m not studying. I’m looking through the newspaper for any information on the closing of Alcatraz prison. This is not headline news in Minnesota, but I’m hoping that someone, perhaps a reporter with a penchant for Minnesota history, has recalled that one of Alcatraz’s most famous prisoners made St. Paul his stomping ground during the 20's and 30's.

I flip to the Variety section and lo and behold, there it is. The caption reads: Alvin "Creepy" Karpis to be moved to McNeal Island Penitentiary. 

Below the article is a mugshot of said Creepy. His mouth and eyebrows are straight lines, as if someone has penciled them in. His hair is swept off his forehead, exposing a half formed widow's peak. But it’s his eyes that draw the viewer. They stare through the page, emotionless, as if the man were not a man but something else altogether. 

I don’t need to read the article to learn that Karpis is a bank robber, kidnapper and murderer. I know that already. I remember that. What I want to learn is if he has any chance of being paroled. I scan the article. There are references to William Hamm Jr. of the Hamm Brewing company who was kidnapped on June 15, 1933, his life held for a 100,000 dollar ransom. But there is no mention of Karpis’s life sentence being revoked. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. In either case, I know that a smoke is in order.

I reach for the half-empty pack of cigarettes next to my copy of Chaucer. I shake one out and dig in my pocket for a lighter. As the flame flickers, I take a look around the diner. 

It’s three o’clock. In fifteen minutes, classes will let out at my high school down the street and then the place will be bustling with kids seeking to gorge themselves on greasy French fries, overdone burgers and malted milk shakes. In the meantime, the only people here are me and a couple of truck drivers. I pick up my coffee cup, noting that it is cold to the touch and mentally reprimand Vera for failing to fill it. Again. She’s at the counter, taking money from a customer and as she closes the cash register, I notice that it sticks out half an inch. She walks away without bothering to fix it. 

I inhale deeply on my cigarette. Open my book to distract myself. Look again at the cash register.

Vera walks to the other table and takes the truck drivers’ order. They're flirting with her, and she gets flustered. She’s used to a little flattery. What waitress isn’t? But when one pinches her ass, she flees to the kitchen as if a bee has stung her. My gaze returns to the cash register, then back to the truck drivers who, to my surprise, are also eyeing it. They get up. One goes to the entrance of the cafĂ© and remains there, looking out the window. The other walks to the counter. It’s rather clever really, to distract Vera like that. Crude, but clever. Unfortunately they have either forgotten that I exist or else they don’t consider me a threat. Imagine that.

I get up just as the man sets his hand on the money drawer. His head darts in my direction. I walk behind the counter, cup in hand and grab the coffee pot.

“Hey, boy what you doin’?” he asks.

“Vera doesn’t mind,” I say. 

I fill my cup and set the coffee pot back into place.

“Shouldn’t you be in school or somethin’?”

The man at the door looks at us, his eyes darting around like a frightened rabbit.

"School just got out," I say. "Of course you wouldn’t know that, being a stranger in town. You also wouldn’t know that in about five minutes two dozen witnesses will walk into this diner, and every one of them will vouch for me when I say that you robbed the place.”

“Now look here, boy," he says and points a finger at me. "You can't go 'round accusing people of shit like that. It ain't consensual."

"I think you mean constitutional."

“Oh, so you think you're a smartass, huh?" He leans forward and tries to appear menacing. Emphasis on the word tries. Compared to Karpis, this guy is about as frightening as Steamboat Willy.

"Stewart, I see someone coming,” the man at the front door hisses.

I grin. “So, Stewart. Should we call it a draw?”

He hisses something foul under his breath and looks at the register, wondering if he can take me on and still get out of there in time. I may not be much to look at, rather tall and skinny, but wearing my uncle’s WWII bomber jacket gives me a look of authority that I would otherwise lack. Or at least, that’s what my best friend, Tommy, tells me. Still, I decide that I need to make my point a bit clearer.

“That your truck out there?” 

“Yeah, what of it?”



Sheesh, how thick can you get?

“It’s your license plate number, you idiot. I saw it when you drove in.”

He curses under his breath, then grabs one of the toothpicks sitting on the counter as if he had intended to do so all along. He takes his time leaving, throwing a backward glance at me before the door jingles shut. When he and his partner are gone, I look down at the cash register and shake my head. It’s really too easy. I grab a table knife, jam it into the open crack and give it a good yank.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Smelly Stickers for you!!

Ahh, the beloved smelly sticker,  the aroma of good work, the little treat at the top of your paper that told everyone you had the best grade in class (never mind that everyone else got one too). I loved them. Some of my favorites were, "You're appealing!", "Grape Stuff!" and "Poppin Good".

My sister liked some of the weirder ones, like the one that smelled like gasoline and her all time stinky favorite, spray of skunk! (And yes, it really did smell like skunk).

 Have you ever wondered what happened to the scratch and sniff craze? Well, I decided to do a little web search. It turns out that in the mid-80's, manufacturers changed the paper they made those stickers on, using glossy paper instead of the old matte stuff. As a result of this, the stickers didn't hold the fragrance as well, and so died a part of our childhood. Today, original packaged vintage stickers can go for a couple hundred dollars on Ebay! *shakes head* If only I had kept all of those old spelling tests.

What does this have to do with writing, you say? Well, nothing really, but as I was doing some critiques on SYW today I realized just how much I enjoy it. I'm starting to think that I should have been an English teacher instead of a scientist, I like it so much (or maybe I just enjoy it when people listen to me). In either case, if I had been a teacher, I'd be the kind to give my students smelly stickers.

I guess that I'd have to have some system for grading if I were to give out smelly stickers. Let's see. One for good showing versus telling. One for voice and one for having a good hook. Of course, knowing me, I'd give everyone a sticker just for having the guts to post, and I'd be running out of stickers quite frequently! So if I've given you a critique lately, pretend that I've put a big fat smelly sticker on your paper, maybe "Berry Good", "Dino-mite" or "Stick to it". You choose!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A tribute to man's best friend

I just realized that today was my dog's birthday. She died this past summer from a tumor on her heart. Casey would have been 10 years old today.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Tuesday Teaser Jan 12, 2010

I just added this scene yesterday, so forgive me for the non-existent editing. I thought about giving an intro, but I think that it's pretty much self-explanatory and for the parts that aren't, I'd rather save the mystery.

Sorry this teaser has been removed.

Friday, January 8, 2010

SNI's - the achilles heel of this writer

Yes, they are just that. I have a love/hate relationship with them. I get so many ideas, that I could fill up pages and pages, and when a particular one strikes, I have the urge to put everything else on hold and just focus on that one thing. But I know this is no good. When am I ever going to get my second draft of NIKKI'S WISH done if I keep getting distracted?

The most recent SNI (shiny new idea) came to me as I was thinking about someone's story over in the SYW section of the AW website. The author's story was fine as is, but I started thinking about it from a whole different angle, turning what was a contemporary piece into something with a paranormal twist. I thought of telling this author of my idea, but then decided against it. I know how writers hate it when you say, 'hey, you should do this, or this,'. It's irritating, and I don't want to tell anyone else how to write their story. But this was such a good idea that I decided I could use it as a spring board for something of my own (something completely different than what she had written mind you) and off took my SNI.

Then last night another SNI came to me in my sleep and this one I will tell you about because it's for a kids book and most of you don't write for the younger ages. So I was dreaming that I was reading, but while I was reading, every sentence came out really funny and when put together, the story didn't make any sense at all. So when I woke, I thought, 'hey, that'd make for a good character - a girl who whenever she tries to read, sees something different than what is written'. For instance, if the story read, 'Once upon a time', this girl would see the words 'once upon a hairy frog', and so on. The first scene would probably show her being forced to read outloud in front of the class and when she does the story comes out hilariously funny. All of the kids laugh and the teacher gets angry at her. Eventually the teacher would come to realize that those really are the words that the girl sees and that she has some sort of a reading disability. Then the teacher would find a way to teach the girl how to read properly. Yes, there's a lesson in there, but I think that I can do a lot with the girl's "problem" to make it entertaining in the first degree and informative in the second.

So those are my SNI's for this week, now, if I could just come up with something for that Valentine's Day contest that Sage is running, but I am so very, very bad with shorts. 750 words! How can anyone come up with something in just 750 words!

My goals for this weekend are

1. To get through two chapters of editing in NW.
2. Get to the library. If you've seen my reading list so far this year (toggle below), you know that I'm desperate for something good.
3. Revise a section from BETTINA for Tuesday's teaser. It's been a long time since I've looked at it and I need something new to share.

Have a good weekend all - and for you teacher's out there (I know there are a few of you), if my SNI sounds like something you've already seen, let me know, please!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Tuesday Teaser - Jan 5, 2010

Today's teaser is the beginning of Chapter 6 from NIKKI'S WISH. It's kind of a short one.

Sorry, this teaser has been removed.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Book list -2010

I've decided to divide my book list for 2010 into two categories, adults and teens in one and children's in another. My goal for this year is to read 50 in each category. You can click on the Goodreads picture on my homepage for a score for each book. Those highlighted have reviews.

YA/Adult Book list:
1. Smack by Melvin Burgess
2. Jinx by Meg Cabot
3. The Absolutely True Diary of a part time Indian by Sherman Alexie
4. Dead until Dark by Charlaine Harris
5. Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
6. Hush Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick
7. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
8. Paper Towns by John Greene
9. How I live now by Meg Rosoff
10. Shiver by Maggie Steifvater
11. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
12. Three Days to Dead by Kelly Meding
13. Undone by Brooke Taylor
14. Teen Idol by Meg Cabot
15. Graceling by Kristin Cashore
16. Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers
17. Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta
18. Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson
19. Love you, Hate you, Miss you by Elizabeth Scott
20. Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
21. Cracked up To Be by Courtney Summers
22. The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen
23. This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen
24. Dreamland by Sarah Dessen
25. Fragile Eternity by Melissa Marr
26. The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor
27. The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty
28. Dreaming of Amelia by Jaclyn Moriarty
29. The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
30.The Sky Always Hears Me and The Hills Don't Mind by Kirsten Cronn-Mills
31. The Lighter Side of Life and Death by C.K. Kelly Martin
32. Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly
33. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
34. Stolen by Lucy Christopher
35. If I Stay by Gayle Forman
36. Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
37. Uglies by Scot Westerfeld
38. Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson
39. Bloom by Elizabeth Scott
40. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Children's Book list:
1. The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White
2. Stuart Little by E.B. White
3. The Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl
4. Diary of a Wimpy Kid #2 by Jeff Kinney
5. Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Riley Giff
6. Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi
7. Wayside School is Falling Down by Louis Sachar
8.The Bad Beginining by Lemony Snicket
9. The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
10.Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
11.Clementine by Sara Pennypacker
12. Percy Jackson, The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan
13. Percy Jackson The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan
14. Percy Jackson The Titans Curse by Rick Riordan
15. Percy Jackson The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan
16. Percy Jackson The last Olympian by Rick Riordan
17. 39 Clues #1 by Rick Riordan
18. 39 Clues #2 by Gordon Korman
19. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Peterson
20. Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
21. Holes by Louis Sachar
22. The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan
23. My Rotten life by David Lubar
24. When the Whistle Blows by Fran Cannon Slayton 



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