Friday, September 28, 2012

NaNoWriMo Prep Time!

It's time to gear up for again for thirty days and nights of literary abandon. For those of you unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo, November is National Novel Writing Month. Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to write 50,000 words between November 1st and November 30th.

It doesn't have to be polished or publishable! But when you're finished, you should have a killer rough draft of that novel you've been wanting to write.

Who you? Yes, you! You know you've always wanted to write a book.

October is the best time to prepare your outline so you have a rough idea where you're going. This doesn't have to sparkle like a wanna-be vampire either. But you should get something down so you have a better plan than I did when I decided to take my writing seriously (it didn't end well...).

The good news is that when you sign up at the National Novel Writing Month website, they'll give you a ton of help in achieving your novel writing dream.

Want outline help? Try these links:
Creative Writing Now: How to Make a Novel Outline
How To Write a Book Now: Writing an Outline of Your Novel

Want a great book for writing your book in a month? I can't recommend Book in a Month by Victoria Lynn Schmidt highly enough. It's one of the Writer's Digest books that I just love. When you're finished using this awesome workbook, you'll have your main plot line drafted and well on your way to a finished novel.

And if you'd like a warm up for NaNoWriMo, try Jane Ann McLachlan's October Memior and Backstory Blog Challenge. This will get your creative juices flowing and might even give you some ideas for NaNoWriMo!

Good luck and may the odds be ever... well... just get writing.  ;)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Before I Fall Review
Buy it at B & N
Before I Fall was one of the few books I've read that I had a hard time putting down. As most people know, I read a massive amount of audiobooks at work, and this one made me want to go home and listen to the remaining six hours before I went to bed.

But that woulda been an all-nighter and I've got kids, so...

The Good
Before I Fall deals with the life and death of Samantha Kingston, a popular high school girl who gets to relive the last day of her life seven times. With echoes of Groundhog Day, Before I Fall is brutal in its portrayal of high school mentality and the revelation of what we mean to each other. It's classic first-person narrative is some of the best I've seen and drags you kicking and screaming into the story.

The Bad
The content is a bit rough, with language, sex, and drug and alcohol use/references. But if you're looking for an excellent example of the hero's journey, this is it. Lauren Oliver makes this New York Times bestseller truly worthy of your time.

And another thing, every adult in here is an idiot. Almost a requirement for a YA book--I understand, the hero has to develop and all--but these adults really aren't taking an interest in their kids lives. If anything, the harsh realities in the book are a wake-up call for parents as well. Does that make the book bad? No, it's what makes the harshness so much more bitter. (Well done, Ms. Oliver)

The Spin
While there's no WAY I'm going to let my kids read this one before they're eighteen, Before I Fall jumped to one of my all-time favorite books just for the lessons it teaches. As I said, the content is a bit harsh in the first few chapters. But with all heroes, they have to learn how to rise above the status quo and this book does it masterfully.

Monday, September 24, 2012

New Features!

I've been trying to come up with some new features that I can do on my blog. Some things that will make this site more productive to the writing community in general. And hopefully a little more entertaining to my followers. Mainly, I think I'm going to try adding to my posting schedule. (Like anyone needs more stuff to read on the internet...)

Here's my current thinking:
Monday: Blog post
Wednesday: Book review
Friday: Writing prompt (Unedited, 500-1000 words max)
My biggest concern is whether I'll be able to keep up with this schedule. As long as I keep the posts brief, everything should be fine. Be sure to watch for the train wreck...

And of course October-November is a huge monkey wrench since I'll be doing the October Memoir and Backstory Challenge (25 days of blogging) followed up with NaNoWriMo in November (write 50,000 words in a month). I'm going to have to do a months blogging before then...

Additionally, I'm creating two other features I'll be running on this site.
  • A page listing writing conferences and retreats.
  • A side box featuring a challenge to expand your world.
The writing conference page will list as many Conferences (cons) as I run across, but I won't say the list will be comprehensive, because I still want to spend my time WRITING, not web developing.

The side box will have little things you can do to step away from your computer and expand your knowledge base. It'll usually be something simple. For example, my first will be: make hash browns without a recipe. If you already know how to make hash browns... well... don't tell anybody. Everybody else needs to give them a try. I'm going to be willing to take suggestions for this feature that are sent to me through my Twitter account.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The October Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge

Want a good way to gear up for NaNoWriMo? Try The October Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge!

Jane Ann McLachlan is starting a fun October blog challenge/hop with an interesting twist. Be sure to visit her site for more details, but here's how she has the challenge posted on her blog:
"Can you produce 25 blog posts in one month? Sure, if you have a theme to inspire you. So here’s the theme: write a memory or reflection for each of the first 25 years of life. It can be a personal memoir from your life, a reflection on turning a certain age, a recollection of someone else at that age, a poem or a photo, on the ages 1 to 25.

For example, on October 1st, you could write about something that happened the year you were born, or about the birth of your child. You could do a photo collage of your first year of life, or of babies. On October 2nd, write about something that happened at age two to you or someone else. If you write a poetry blog, compose a poem for each year of life up to 25. If you write a cooking blog, you could include recipes for healthy baby food, snacks for toddlers, etc. A gardener could reminisce about learning to love gardens at each age, or introducing the hobby to her children as they grow, or suggest gardening ideas for the various ages. Photographers can capture each year in photos. This will work with any type of blog, and you can experiment with different media or genres in your own posts. Br inventive - surprise us, delight us, inspire us, make us laugh, make us cry. Try something different every day or stick to one format and focus on content – anything goes as long as you blog about ages 1-25.

For those who write fiction, this is a good way to troll your past experiences for great story ideas. Or write your blog from the point of view of one of your characters (or a character from your favorite novel) recalling an experience from his or her past – great for fan fiction, character development or experimenting with backstory. If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, this will be a good warm-up as you hear your characters reminisce in their own voices.

Skip a day if you have to, but try not to skip an age – and please blog the ages in order – that way we can see what others did with the same age we’ve just posted about. If you don’t finish it’ll still be fun as far as you get, and if you have to skip a day, that’s okay. There are 31 days to complete this in. "
So gear up for this fun writing challenge and have your life flash before your eyes.

Sign-up begins Monday, September 24.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Star Wars: X-Wing: Mercy Kill Review

Star Wars X-Wing #10: Mercy Kill
Click to buy it at Barnes & Noble
I'm a Star Wars nut from way back, so any Star Wars review by me tends to be a little biased. But, I'm enough of a fan-boy that I can admit when I have a real gripe with the galaxy far, far away. That said, I'm glad Lucasfilm has raised the bar on their novels.

The Good
Star Wars: X-Wing: Mercy Kill takes place thirty years after the original X-Wing series, and just after the events in the Fate of the Jedi series. None of the original Star Wars characters take part, except for a brief cameo by Wedge Antilles. This was a predominant theme with the original X-Wing books, so it's not a real surprise.

But Mercy Kill adds delightful stories to the Star Wars universe. Building on the tension of an infiltration mission, coupled with building a new Wraith squadron from the ashes of the old one. It was exciting and fun. All the action of a heist story set in the Star Wars universe. At the very least, you get to see Gamorrean male go-go dancers.

The Bad
This book might only be meant for true Star Wars fans or sci-fi fans that can enjoy the Star Wars universe. You're not going to see any of the original characters and if you're not familiar enough with the X-Wing series (or the expanded Star Wars universe), you might feel like you walked into a new Jason Bourne movie without knowing who Jason Bourne is. Sure it'll have action, but you'll spend a little time catching up on the story. But even that's not a big deal, since Aaron Allston did a great job of providing enough clues to the history that all readers will be able to jump right in.
Star Wars The Clone Wars: Shatterpoint
Click to buy it at B&N

Final Tally
As far as Star Wars books go, I think Mercy Kill is one of the better ones in the expanded universe. I give it high marks for action/intrigue and character development. My favorite character was Piggy, an altered Gamorrean with high intellect and the ability to speak. He pulls the spine of the story together, which was a wise choice.

If you're looking for another good expanded universe title, I recommend Shatterpoint by Matthew Stover. It's the first Clone Wars novel and stars Mace Windu. It also holds the distinction for being the first Star Wars book I've read that shows a Jedi acting intelligently and not just jumping into a hack-n-slash battle.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Inevitable Contradictions

Author, Blogger, Writer ... Whatever, Lord Just Help Me!
Image From the 'Being Catholic... Really' blog.
At some point in our writing careers, and in truth life, we come up against competing advice.

  • "Revise as you go."
  • "Don't revise anything until you write the entire draft."
  • "Real writers plot out their whole stories before they begin."
  • "Writers have to be willing to go where the story takes them."
  • "Writing can't be taught."
  • "Practice and learn from the masters."

Yeah... well...


Everyone is different. We each have skills others lack. With writing, you may write awesome dialog. I might do killer descriptions. But we all come from somewhere different. Even the same story can be told differently. Don't believe me? When was the last time you told urban legend stories with your friends and had them add/correct the story you were telling?

One thing I know: we each have to find our own way of doing things.

As we develop, we may start out flailing at the blank pages. Eventually we 'find' better ways of doing things. What works for me may not work for you, but that doesn't mean either of us is wrong. Just different.

You may only write a paragraph a day.

Great! Tell your story.

Maybe you revise after your critique group has made suggestions.

Good job! Tell your story.
Don't automatically believe someone who tells you you're doing it wrong. You will find your own way if it's something you really want. That's not to say you shouldn't listen to advise. But try other people's tactics... carefully. They may be destructive to yours. Remember the quote from Tracy Hickman that I used in my Reevaluating Your Goals blog post, "Everyone has to find their own way, but its never the same way. Everyone has to pay their own dues, but they're never the same dues."

Explore your technique and enjoy your journey. Life's too short to do anything else.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Vespers Rising Review

Vespers Rising (The 39 Clues Series #11)
Buy it @ B&N
If you got hooked by the fast-reading Middle Grade series, The 39 Clues, then you were excited like I was to see the release of the first book of the second series, Vespers Rising.

Rick Riordan, Peter Lerangis, Gordon Korman, and Jude Watson joined forces on this one to create essentially four short stories that build the new threat to the Cahill family, the Vespers. Starting with Gideon Cahill in 1507, each story explains the origins and purpose of the Vespers leading to their current battle with Dan and Amy Cahill.

While the stories are exciting and well written, I wasn't really interested in all the past history. I wanted more Amy and Dan adventures! The last story is about Amy & Dan, but because 3/4 of this book deals with other family members, it felt like the expanded Star Wars universe. Sure it's fun, but you really just want to see Han, Luke, and Leia in action.

Fortunately enough, the story about young Grace Cahill is close enough to the original 39 Clues stories to make it satisfying.

Vespers Rising is a necessary book and a good read to set up the history for the Vespers series, but it won't be my favorite without Amy and Dan's antics.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Sunday Life Lessons

Okay... a funny thing happened to me a couple of weeks ago. Fortunately there's been enough time that I can tell this story and laugh about it. Sorta...

We were in the usual hustle to get the kids up and rolling to make it to our 9am church. Sadly the boy had trouble getting out of bed, so we didn't make it until half way through sacrament meeting.

There we were, all six of us, sliding into the very back row of the chapel. The first speaker wraps up and several men start heading for the front.

My wife leans over, "Is the choir singing today?"

Now I have to think about it. First off, I haven't made it to choir practice for a couple weeks, but I do seem to recall that the men had a special musical number coming up.

"I guess so," I say, grabbing a hymn book and heading to the front.

As I'm stepping up with the men on the stand, I suddenly realize that there is only ONE member of the choir in this group. I leaned in close to him, "Is this not a choir number?"

He shakes his head. "No."


Now I have a split second to decide between the walk-of-shame ALL THE WAY to the back of the chapel, or stay and sing a song I haven't practiced.

"Well, I'm already here," I said as I stepped in line with the guys.

Fortunately they were singing, 'Let The Lower Lights Be Burning' and I knew, or could follow, the rest of the basses. I'd even like to think God was helping me out of a sticky situation.

It went well and we all had a good laugh about it after church. The other guys thanked me for pitching in with their families musical number. They were really nice about something that was super embarrassing for me.

But I realized that I learned a few things that day:
  • Be on time to church so I can read the program
  • Go to choir practice if I'm going to sing in church
  • This one is probably the most important. I learned that I'm the type of person that, even if I'm going to make a fool of myself, I'll throw myself out there and try to fly.
You should fly too. At the very least, you'll have a funny story to share.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Questions for the GUTGAA Meet and Greet

Deana Barnhart
Sign Up Now!
The Gearing Up To Get Your Agent blogfest is on! This week, everyone is getting to know each other, so join in on the fun!
-Where do you write?
I just finished a roll-top desk and it's down in my office. My writing space is almost perfect!

-Quick. Go to your writing space, sit down and look to your left. What is the first thing you see?
 My little framed sign that says, 'Butt In Chair'
-Favorite time to write?
Morning to late afternoon. And eleven p.m. to two a.m.  Basically when everyone is asleep or not home.
-Drink of choice while writing?
Cherry Coke
-When writing , do you listen to music or do you need complete silence?
  Instrumental Soundtracks (scores). Especially ones specific to the genre I'm writing.
-What was your inspiration for your latest manuscript and where did you find it?
Donating plasma twice a week. Those people are real vampires.
-What's your most valuable writing tip?
I like quotes, especially when someone says it better than I could. Stephen Cannell said, "I never waited for my Irish Cream coffee to be the right temperature, with a storm happening outside and my fireplace crackling ... I wrote every day, at home, in the office, whether I felt like it or not, I just did it." So my tip: Write. Every. Day.

Halting State Review

Halting State I really liked the concept of Halting State and was excited to read it. That said, I had a really tough time getting through it.

The Good
The story deals with characters tracking down who robbed a bank in the virtual world of an MMORPG (massive-multiplayer online role-playing game), causing the host company to lose $36 million dollars in real world money. Cool concept right?!

The Bad

Unfortunately, Halting State is written in second-person narrative. 

I've always thought writing in second person would be a fun challenge to tackle as a writer, but Halting State showed me the error of my ways.

Some of the time, like when the reader is in the virtual world, second-person is cool. And the comedy performed with it during 'self-reflection' is hilarious. The rest of the time it just plain sucks. I felt like it kept throwing me out of the story.

The audio version of this book was awesome. Robert McKenzie does an amazing job with multiple English/Scottish characters and their accents. Not to mention that his voice is so rich and enjoyable, it should be labeled 'chocolate.'

Final Tally
While the story itself was awesome and well written, I didn't love this book because the 'second-person speed bump' kept whacking me on the head. Read it for the comedy and cool concept, but be sure to take some Tylenol first.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

I Can Quit Whenever I Want... That's What Scares Me

I've missed a whole month of blog writing. I know... bad boy. But it's not exactly like my writing has suffered. Over the last month, I've been knee-deep in rewrites on Blood of Mars. Currently I'm trying to tie all the scenes I wrote into a coherent thread. Making the beginning match the end and all that.

What's Up Chuck... err... Tony?
I was talking to a friend and realized that its been about six months since I stopped playing Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR) so I could focus on my writing.

You have to understand, for me, that's something amazing.

See, first of all, I'm a gamer at heart. Second, I'm a HUGE Star Wars fan. After playing World of Warcraft for almost five years straight, I cut back to just playing a handful of Facebook games. These gave me a little entertainment, but I was worried that when SWTOR was released, I would fall down its magic rabbit hole and I wouldn't write for a long time.

Now, in all honesty, that did happen for about three months. Couple that with moving/unpacking/Christmas and I wasn't doing any noticeable writing for five months. But then I quit doing nothing and gaming to finish my rough draft for Blood of Mars. When that was done, an amazing thing happened.

I didn't go back to gaming.


Well, mostly it was because I really want to get this bird to an editor so I can start pitching it. But what really happened was that I was having so much fun writing that I didn't need to play a game. Is it stressful? Yes. Is it hard work? Yes. Is it fun? Totally yes!

Keep Moving - Don't Quit!
I still have a lot of regret for those missed five months. Where would my book be now if I hadn't stopped? But when I got back with my writing group, I realized something even worse happened during that time. I started sucking. Sad but true. I'd allowed my writing toolbox to gather dust. When I came back, all my tools were dull.

Have I gotten better? I don't know...

Maybe I never will.

I'm not saying you can't take a day to rest. Everyone needs that. But the longer you quit, the worse you'll get at whatever you enjoy doing.

So, if I went back to gaming now, I'd probably suck. But I'd rather suck at gaming than writing.

What would you rather suck at to achieve your dreams?
Don't Quit
When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you're trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest, if you must, but don't you quit.

Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about,
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don't give up though the pace seems slow
You may succeed with another blow.

Often the goal is nearer than,
It seems to a faint and faltering man,
Often the struggler has given up,
When he might have captured the victor's cup,
And he learned too late when the night slipped down,
How close he was to the golden crown.

Success is failure turned inside out
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far,
So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit
It's when things seem worst that you must not quit.

- Author unknown

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