Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Disconnect - A Month Without Social Media

Social media icons on phone
I have friends who can write an entire novel in one month. They are goddesses and I am jealous. My average is a bit longer.

In publishing there's this running joke that the second book is the hardest and I was not prepared for how true that was. There have been times, many of them, where I questioned if I even know how to write anymore. What are words? What are these letter things and exactly how many writing craft books can I read before someone stages an intervention?

In the months prior to finishing the latest draft of my second book, I decided radical action was needed. I must do the dreaded. The unthinkable. That's right, I deleted social media. All of it. I removed the apps from my phone, closed the tabs on my computer and strictly forbid myself from looking at ANYTHING even remotely involved with social media until my draft was done. 

I lasted a month.

No the book was not done in that time, but it was darn close. Writing is lonely and while most of my writer friends live hundreds (if not thousands) of miles away, there's something comforting about checking in with them and feeling like I'm part of the larger writing community. Or maybe that's just my inner procrastinator talking.

Either way, it was a productive (if lonely) month. Things I learned: it's amazing how much more writing you can get done when your phone isn't dinging every few seconds with alerts from social media. Another big take-away: as much as I love #bookstagram, man does it take a ton of time! There's setting up book shots, post-processing, preparing posts, and making sure to comment and like other accounts so you're not just a vain-glorious blowhard boasting about your pretty pictures and not encouraging others as well. When adding up all the time I spend on social media in an average week, Instagram is easily the biggest time suck. It's also my favorite, however. Twitter makes me feel like the world is on fire (which it is, to be fair), Facebook makes me feel like everyone else is succeeding at life WAY more than I am (also likely true), but Instagram makes me feel like the world is filled with other people who love books and pretty pictures. That last reality is the one that most often helps keep me sane.

In that month offline, I felt liked I'd been dropped into a canyon. It's a little scary how quickly we've gotten used to being connected constantly to those around us and how dependent we've become on our phones. Our whole lives are on those little devices. I'm not saying I enjoyed my month off social media, because I did not. At all. But being offline reaffirmed how much I care about my friends and want to connect with them. In-person whenever possible, but online when not.

I'm super excited that in the next several weeks I'll get to see a bunch of my writer friends in-person at Writers In The Field (a hands-on research extravaganza) and then at Bouchercon in late October (all the murder mysteries you can handle with twice the mayhem and stabbiness).

Monday, August 13, 2018

It's Pitch Wars Wish List Time!

Hello, Pitch Wars hopefuls! If you’ve arrived at this page without visiting my co-mentor, Sarah Cannon’s blog first, please head on over there to find out why you want us as your mentors! Because you really, really do! :D

All set? Excited? Wondering what the heck we’re hoping to find in our inboxes? I just happen to have that info for you.

Our Wish List
Both Sarah and I are voracious readers and read quite widely. So we’re open to most genres, styles and flavors of MG.

But there are a few things we’d really, really love to see in our inbox:

Fantasy with a new twist!
We'd love to see the diversification of fantasy that's been happening in YA trickle down to MG even more. Or high fantasy with counternarratives, such as the sly and witty feminism in MISS ELLICOTT'S SCHOOL FOR THE MAGICALLY MINDED, or the matter-of-course LGBT family in THE TEA DRAGON SOCIETY. Give us wild and weird new worlds, like THE LAMPLIGHTER CHRONICLES for MG or THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON. We'd also enjoy fun romps like THE STORY THIEVES books or THE LEAGUE OF BEASTLY DREADFULS.

Sarah writes Contemporary Fantasy (If you haven't read ODDITY you absolutely should, it's fabulous), so it's no surprise that genre is high on our wish list! We'd love to see American fantasy through new and underrepresented lenses: think ARU SHAH, THE SERPENT'S SECRET, MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR, and MS. MARVEL. We love dark, creepy, and funny, sometimes all at once! Give us a MG with a NIGHTLIGHTS or LUMBERJANES vibe.

(We're mentioning a few graphic novels, but that's because they're often great indicators of up-and-coming must-read lit rather than because we specifically want graphic novels. Alas, while we love to read them, we're not the right fit to mentor them.)

Yeah, we said it! Don't be afraid to send us your broken worlds and eerie futures. Sarah recently read a gorgeous dystopian called A WHISPER OF HORSES and adored it!

We both have a soft-spot for a good retelling, whether it's a literary retelling, myth, folklore, or real-life events told through a different lens. THE GRAVEYARD BOOK (which is a reboot of THE JUNGLE BOOK) is a particular favorite for both of us.

Science Fiction
Someone please bring us your version of DRAGON PEARL so we have something to read until it comes out? Or send us something like HOLLY FARB AND THE PRINCESS OF THE GALAXY which is as tongue-in-cheek as Douglas Adams.

Such a broad spectrum of books in this genre but particular faves for the two of us include: COUNTING BY 7s, THE FIRST RULE OF PUNK, THE STARS BENEATH OUR FEET, FINDING PERFECT, and THE ETHAN I WAS BEFORE. They're very different books, but they share important qualities: unique, nuanced characters telling stories only they could tell.

Animal Narrators

When done well, books with animal narrators can be amazing. For example, the main character in THE DRAGON WITH A CHOCOLATE HEART is a dragon who's turned into a girl. Viewing the world of the story through her dragonish lens is part of what makes that book so original and fun! Another animal main character done well is Casseomae the bear from THE PRINCE WHO FELL FROM THE SKY, by John Claude Bemis. In this case, an animal MC puts a cool spin on what would otherwise be a pretty standard MG dystopian. What we're saying here is that an animal-driven narrative would have to have serious hook to get our attention...but we also wouldn't want to miss it.

Give us the kind of book that makes you keep all the lights on, the sort that puts goosebumps on your goosebumps. We love a good ghost story and one of JC's all-time fave series is LOCKWOOD & CO. by Jonathan Stroud.

Give us twisty tales that keep us guessing and pit your characters against foes determined to keep them in the dark. Particular favorites include the ENOLA HOLMES series by Nancy Springer. (JC has a serious Sherlock obsession.)

Whether it's more recent eras like THE CARE AND FEEDING OF A PET BLACK HOLE, INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN, and AHIMSA, or distant times like THE INQUISITOR'S TALE or THE TRAGICALLY TRUE ADVENTURES OF KIT DONOVAN, we want to be swept away to different times, especially if it's with characters and cultures that aren't commonly seen in historicals to-date.

The list above isn't exhaustive, we just wanted to give you a taste of some of the books and genres we love. There are really two things we're looking for: number one is voice, voice, voice! It really is such a critical part of any story, and MG voice is hard to nail! Second, original ideas and world building (yes, even contemporary novels have world-building.)

What we’re NOT looking for:
  • Anything other than Middle Grade. Sarah and I can only mentor MG as part of Pitch Wars and we don’t want you to waste one of your precious entries, no matter how amazing your book is, on a manuscript we can’t touch. 
  • Books dealing with drugs/alcohol abuse 
  • Books about eating disorders 
  • Books that promote hate speech or views 
  • Books that feature gratuitous violence against animals 
  • Books about sexual abuse 
  • Books written by our CPs, betas, friends, past or current mentees. You’ve already got a shortcut to our inbox and opinions :) 
  • Anything that is poorly written or with a ton of grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes. We don't expect your book to be perfect (if it is, you shouldn't be entering PW anyway; go sub that thing!) but we do expect that you've taken the time to make sure it's not riddled with mistakes that make us feel like we're reading something Google translate just spit out. This is a deal breaker.

What you can expect if we pick you as our mentee:
You will work your butt off. There will be homework. We'll do a broad pass on your manuscript, as well as detailed line edits. We’ll also work together as a team to polish your query and pitch so they are shiny and bright and ready for the agent round. Our critique style is very, very thorough and your manuscript will bleed red with comments, corrections and suggestions when we are done, so if you can’t take constructive criticism, we may not be the mentors for you. We're not ogres! We will cheer you on and talk you through the hard bits. But you really do need to come into this ready to work hard on that manuscript (we certainly will) with an open mind.

Our mentee will have the final say on all changes. We will never ask you to alter your manuscript in ways you aren’t comfortable with. But choosing a mentee isn't about finding a manuscript that's already perfect. It's about loving a story and having a clear vision for how to make sure agents and editors can see what we see. We shall not waver in the face of grammar shenanigans! We shall not crumble under snail-like pacing and info-dump moments! We will persevere and we will win this war!*

*We define winning as helping you revise your book to a place where you’re happy with it. The agent round and requests are a happy benefit, but not the whole point. However if you get a million requests, heck yeah we're going to throw a virtual party!

Follow us on Twitter (@saille and @JCDavisAuthor) and make sure to check out the other awesome mentors helping out with Pitch Wars this year:

2018 Middle Grade Mentors
Middle Grade Mentors Blog Hop will appear right here!
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Friday, February 9, 2018

Adding Fanfiction to Your Writing Tool Belt

Image by Lexi on We Heart It
Pick a fandom, any fandom, and there’s probably a community of fanfic writers and readers camped out there and having fun.  For those that haven’t heard the term before, fanfic is short for fan fiction and refers to written stories of any length inspired by books, movies, video games, television programs, music and/or celebrities. That’s a broad spectrum of fiction and the internet is riddled with it.

But why would an author writing original fiction want to consider reading and writing fanfiction as well?  Fanfic is actually a useful tool you can add to your arsenal. There are two broad areas where fanfic is useful: first as a creative catalyst and second as a research tool.

Fanfic And Creativity

Almost every writer has had moments when you hit a wall on your work-in-progress. Call it writer’s block, call it brain fog, call it a momentary blip in your creative genius. Either way – the words aren’t flowing the way you’d like them too. Fanfiction can be a great way to take a break, but still flex those writing muscles.

Pick a fandom you love, or even better, one your target readers also love, and write a flash fiction piece. Write a short story. Have fun! Indulge every ship, every pairing, every dramatic or romantic or ridiculous thought and potentiality that you like. Write until you’re smiling so big your cheeks hurt. Then take a step back and read over your work. What about it makes you happy? Yes there are characters and worlds that you love in there, but beyond that – what themes do you see? What situations? Would any of those work in your original writing?

You can use fanfic as just a break, a chance to blow off creative steam. Or you can use it to find what sparks might reignite your passion for your own work-in-progress. Either way, if you’re having fun, it’s worth every moment. Just make sure you do get back to that work-in-progress before too long!

Fanfic As Research

As of this article, An Archive of Our Own (one of the largest and most active fanfiction communities online) has close to 25,000 fandoms represented, over 115,000 users and over 300,000 works posted. More are added every day. That’s a lot of information in one place and if you know who your target readers are and the fandoms that appeal to them, it’s a great way to get a peek inside what they’re passionate about!

Head over, pick any fandom you like, and sort the results by the most popular. Look for common themes. Go read the comments on a few of the most popular pieces – what are the readers saying? What are they most fired up about? What storylines seem to get the most interest? Why? What do you think makes those stories stand out (beyond good writing)? Read a few fanfic pieces and see if they spark any ideas for your own work.

Whether you use fanfic as a way to shake off the writing-blahs or as a jumping off point for your next big idea – it’s definitely worth having a look!