Thursday, October 27, 2011

Another Friendly Conversation: Teralyn Rose Pilgrim

This week I have the honor to introduce Teralyn Rose Pilgrim to all of you! I got to critique the first chapter of her most recent book a little while ago and I loved it! She has a real talent for writing and bringing her world to life. So, here we go!

How did you get started as a writer?
When I was eight years old, my teacher assigned us to “write a book.” We typed them up on the computer, we illustrated them, we made covers, and the teacher even bound them. She put our books on the shelf for us to look at during reading time. Kids would come up to me and say, “I love your book.” I had so much fun, I decided I wanted to do that for the rest of my life.

THAT. IS. AWESOME! What a fun thing to do in school!

What was your first complete story?
It was called The Hair Cut. Twin girls get in a fight because one is jealous of the other’s rabbit. She threatens to cut her hair (their long hair is symbolic of their relationship, so this is a betrayal). They eventually make up. In the sequel, robbers steal the rabbit and attempt to kill the twins. Their friend has to solve the mystery of who-dunit; we find out in the third book he wanted the rabbit because it was actually an alien.

Alien-rabbit abductor who-dunit! It actually sounds kind of fun.

What made you decide to write it?
Heck if I know.

Blunt honesty is so refreshing sometimes!

Do you free-write or outline?
I’m experimenting with different structures, actually. I’ve winged it with one book, outlined as I wrote with another, and this time around, I’ve meticulously outlined every scene. I like outlining as I write the best; it keeps things organic.

Ooh, please let me know how that turns out! I've never heard of someone doing it one piece at a time like that.

What do you do to counteract writer’s block?
You’ll have to be more specific. Some people have a day or two where they can’t think of anything to say and they call it “block.” That just means you need to do something else and try again tomorrow.
I went through a real writer’s block for two years. I believe when you can’t write for that long, it’s a sign that something’s wrong in your life and you need to fix it before you worry about writing.

I'm glad you finally got through it. Thankfully, I've never had a slump that long. (the longest I've ever been stuck is about 6 weeks.)

How do you keep your characters original? (i.e. what do you do to make sure your characters don’t turn out the same in every story?)
I ask myself, “This character is different because…” Example: she’s loud and obnoxious, she’s nervous and bites her nails all the time, she’s grumpy and constantly scowls at people. Once I have a starting point to work from, they flesh themselves out.
Free writes are essential to me and developing characters. I write three or four pages about each character as quickly as I can, and when I’m done, the character is usually pretty solid in my mind.

I agree with you about free writes. Mostly mine are little scenes that I thought were really fun but don't fit into the book anywhere. Even though I can't use them, I hang on to them because they're still experience for the character.

How do you build a believable world within your stories?
I write historical fiction about ancient Rome. Readers have already seen everything I’m trying to describe. Instead of describing the entire scene, I use triggers. Marble columns, togas, mosaic floors. Then I add in something unique to make the scene interesting. When you trust your readers enough to fill in the blanks, painting a scene is easier.

To quote Howard Tayler, "Luxury!" That's one of the hardest parts about writing Sci Fi and fantasy.

 How does your own life inform your writing?
I’ve noticed my religion has a great influence on my ideas (I’m LDS); for example, I identify heavily with Vestal Virgins because they had to remain chaste and modest, just like me when I was a teenager. I’m a somewhat emotional and intense person, so there’s a lot of variety in the pacing of my books. The more I grow to love my husband, the sappier my writing gets.

Surprisingly, my marriage doesn't really have much influence on my writing. However, my values and world view have a very distinct impact on my writing. I'm also LDS, by the way!

Have you ever attended a writing convention or conference?
I did! I went to the Historical Novel Society in San Diego last summer. I learned a ton; I wrote a month-long series of articles about that conference on my blog. Probably the most important thing I learned was to understand your genre. Read everything you can in your genre, make friends with writers in your genre, and be familiar with new books coming out. I also learned how to make and keep writer friends, which has been invaluable!

I remember when you were trying to figure out a way to get to that conference. I was so happy you got to go!

Who is your favorite author?
Toni Morrison. She can get away with anything. I need to stop reading her books though, because the last thing I need is encouragement to break rules.

Confession time: I've heard of Toni Morrison, but I have no idea what she's written. Also, I'm still learning what the rules are. Getting away with breaking them is a LONG way down the road.

 Favorite book?
The Phantom of the Opera. It’s a million times better than the movie.

So I've heard.

Favorite genre to read?
Historical fiction, literary fiction, and the classics.

I think it's safe to say the chances of us ever running into each other at a book group or writing conference are slim to none. I make it a point to read classic literature (at least a couple of books each year), but the vast majority of my reading material falls into the science fiction and fantasy categories.

 Favorite genre to write?
Historical fiction.

'Nough said.

 When you’re not writing, what do you do in your spare time?
I’m on a roller derby team where I am known as Cleofracture. I own a blog which I adore and spent way too much time on: (see the link above). Besides that, I spend most of my time with my husband.

Roller derby? Like for real? That's so cool! You're the only person I know who's even been to a roller derby, much less participated. 

So, since you write historical fiction, I have a new question for you: how do you do your research?
When I wrote my first book, I made one big document where I kept all my research. Whenever I found a fact, quote, or a paragraph of information, I pasted it in the document along with the source (web page, book title, whatever). Then I made a table of contents so everything would be easy to find. I regret this more than I regret any other mistake I made with that book.
Now I save every web page in its entirety, print it out, highlight it, and organize it into a notebook. I also have to own all my books. This might seem tedious, but if you’re going to spend years on this project, you’ll want to have the complete info readily available.

Not going to lie, I'm imagining what you're home library must look like, and I am MAJORLY jealous!

A big thank-you to Teralyn for being my guest today! I hope you all enjoyed getting to know her as much as I did. I'm still waiting to get Dan Well's responses back, but you'll know when I do. Seriously, expect multiple elated posts on the subject ;)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Campaign Challenge Three: Show, don't Tell

As promised, I am posting my response to Campaign Challenge #3 today. For those of you who aren't familiar with Rach's latest challenge, here's how it works (pulled directly from Rach's post, here):

Write a blog post in 300 words or less, excluding the title. The post can be in any format, whether flash fiction, non-fiction, humorous blog musings, poem, etc. The blog post should show:
  • that it’s morning, 
  • that a man or a woman (or both) is at the beach
  • that the MC (main character) is bored
  • that something stinks behind where he/she is sitting
  • that something surprising happens.
Just for fun, see if you can involve all five senses AND include these random words: "synbatec," "wastopaneer," and "tacise."   (NB. these words are completely made up and are not intended to have any meaning other than the one you give them).

This scene is exactly 300 words and I managed to squeeze in the nonsense words too! So, without further ado, here it is:

Mara collapsed onto the fine white sand with a heavy sigh. It had already soaked up some of the morning sun’s warmth; it slowly soaked through the material of her suit coat and blouse and into the muscles of her back.

This is as nice a place to wait as any, she thought.

She sighed again, kicking off her shoes and digging her toes into the sand. She closed her eyes, focusing on the feeling of the sun on her forehead, the rush and crash of the waves in her ears, the salty tang of ocean air on her tongue…the trickle of sand sliding down her collar. She screwed up her face.

“I guess even perfection has its drawbacks,” she said to herself, imagining the sand that must have already worked its way into her long blond curls.

How long would it be until the board called for her? She’d seen their schedules and they weren’t nearly as busy as the company bigwigs pretended. All this waiting was just a ploy to unnerve her, put her on edge. She smiled to herself; if they’d actually read her reports, they might have realized such tactics weren’t likely to work on her. Not when she had someplace like this stretch of deserted beach to retreat to.

A gentle breeze tickled her nose, bringing an acrid scent to her nostrils from somewhere behind her. It smelled of machine oil and industrial sealant. Mara sat up in a fury.

“Tacise, get in here!” she shouted. “I’m supposed to meet with SynbaTec any minute now and I can still smell the machinery! Get Wastopaneer in here and get it fixed!”

She pulled a remote control from her pocket and clicked a button. The beach, the sun, even the sand in her shirt and hair vanished.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

News and an Apology

So, first some exciting news. I'm going to be hosting an interview with Dan Wells, author of the John Cleaver books (an YA thriller/horror series). I don't have an exact date yet, but I'll let you all know as soon as possible.

Second, an apology to my Campaign friends. I know I missed the second post and that some of you were disappointed. However, I am working on the third challenge and will be posting it tomorrow!

That's all for now. See you tomorrow!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Another Friendly Conversation: Michelle Merrill

Today I have Michelle Merrill here. Her blog is called Perfecting the Craft and it's really good (one of the highlights of my Google Reader queue). And I'm just as excited about this interview as the rest of you because I really don't know that much about Michelle. So, let's jump right in!

How did you get started as a writer?

I got into reading first. Then I suddenly had some character's talking to me in my head. Literally, I had a hard time listening to real conversations when theirs were taking over my brain. So I finally wrote their story, which was an accidental time travel turned into revenge for future events. Even in its full awesomeness, it's stuck in a deep folder in the depths of the hard drive on my computer. It may never see the light of day, but some of the characters and events might :)

I think most writers' first books end up tucked neatly away. It's all part of the process of becoming a good writer. My first was a Sci-fi space opera about a guy and a girl who are both on the run from the same crime lord.

Do you free-write or outline?

I mostly free write, but after reading Story Engineering by Larry Brooks, well...let's just say things are more organized before I sit down to write a story. I usually get a general chapter by chapter outline and a realistic conflict. Then as the character's develop more, I have an 'extra's' folder for that and any additional info that comes for a certain chapter goes under that chapter in my outline. So, I plot a little but more comes as the story is told. I love when my character's surprise me.

I know! It's so exciting to see what happens when things don't go they way you planned.

What do you do to counteract writer’s block?

Write. Really, it usually helps. That and some sugar. And reading. For some reason, when I read, more ideas come. And no, I don't mean stealing from the author I'm reading, but it just gets my brain juices flowing.

Some of my best ideas (in my opinion) come while reading something else. And usually they are sparked by a small event or detail, or and idea inspired by such, that I just kind of run with and build into something completely different than what I read.

How do you keep your characters original? (i.e. what do you do to make sure your characters don’t turn out the same in every story?)

I give them each a limp and an eyepatch. Confused? Read Save the Cat  by Blake Snyder. You won't regret it. A lot of times in first drafts, my character will sound the same as in the first draft of another book I've written. But they all have different stories and those different stories shape the deeper character and help define them by the choices they make and the way they react to others. If you want some great exercises and advice on characters, read Save the Cat and Story Engineering!

I had to start sitting down and basically outlining each character's backstory. That way I know, at least a little, what the character's world view and attitude are at the beginning of the story. Then I have to figure out how to make him or her evolve into the person I know he or she will be by the end of the story. It's kind of fun!

How do you build a believable world within your stories?

It's hard to do without an info dump. But it's about knowing the world yourself and adding details as they are presented in the story. Explaining enough to make it real but not too much to be an info dump. It's a fine line that I'm still playing with right now! Keep it believable. Have your crit partners read it! They'll tell ya if you've gone too far :)

Couldn't have said it better myself! It's all in the small details.

What do you do to make your whole story interesting? How do you avoid “slow stretches”?

My crit partners are awesome in this area! It's hard for me to see this all the time, but they are good at pointing it out. Basically if something's not happening to further your story along, then it's not needed. Every sentence, every word, every scene needs to have a purpose. Oh, and Story Engineering has an awesome outline to get the right plot points and pinch points to make sure everything runs smoothly!

You cite that book a lot, and every time you do I become a bit more curiously about it. I'm definitely going to have to check it out.

How does your own life inform your writing?

Experience. I've traveled a lot. Not far away in different countries, but I went to 48 states in a van before I ever set foot on an airplane. I've met some interesting people. I've seen and heard a lot. Get out and observe. Don't let your muse keep you home all the time. Your writing can only get better by taking a break and observing. Read a lot and don't put limitations on your imagination until it's needed to stay realistic.

Road trip! I love it.

Have you ever attended a writing convention or conference?

I've only attended WriteOnCon two years in a row. But just because it's free and online doesn't mean it's not worth it. I've never learned so much in such a short time. I learned everything from craft to platform to submitting. The writing world is more than just words and it can become overwhelming if you let it. Make goals, stick to them, perfect your craft, write, get crit partners, be open to constructive criticism and stay true to yourself. There's so much to learn!


Who is your favorite author?

Oh, that's so hard. Uh...between Jane Austen, Brandon Mull, Tamora Pierce, Gail Carson Levine, Maria V. Snyder, Shannon Hale, Brandon Sanderson...I'll have to go with Shannon Hale right now. I love her books!

Pardon my boorishness; I've only heard of two of these: Brandon Mull and Brandon Sanderson.

Favorite book?

Again with the choices. I'll go with Poison Study on this one even though Pride and Prejudice is always good.

Favorite genre to read?

YA Fiction. And in that I love fantasy, light paranormal, contemporary thrillers, and dystopian.

I like your taste!

Favorite genre to write?

Fantasy. Historical or urban.

Is historical fantasy a real thing? That's so cool!

When you’re not writing, what do you do in your spare time?

Take care of four small kids, read, watch movies, and play Magic the Gathering card game with my hubby :)

You're the second writer/blogger I've met that plays Magic. Small world!

What are three interesting facts about you?

I'm picky about how to load the dishwasher, I'm already listening to Christmas music, and I didn't like reading until four years ago.

I love it when someone discovers they love reading. It validates me for some reason.

Well, that's Michelle in a nut shell. She's pretty awesome. I really hope you all check out her blog. And thanks to Michelle for being such a great guest!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Another Friendly Conversation: Rosie Connolly

Today I've invited Rosie Connolly to talk with me. She runs a really fun blog called East for Green Eyes. I have to admit that the title was what got me to visit in the first place! I wasn't disappointed either! Sit and listen, then go check it out!

How did you get started as a writer?

Excellent question, and I’m not really sure I have a solid answer for it. I’ve always been somewhat of a storyteller, even if it just meant gross exaggerations and tales of ghosts and aliens when I was a kid. I started actually writing things down—outside of class assignments—when I was 11 or 12. After that, I couldn’t really stop. I started college (several years later, of course) as a creative writing major. Due to unfortunate circumstances, I set writing aside for about 10 years, returning to it in 2008.

A good story is what really makes me tick!

What was your first complete story?

My first complete story was a horror “novel” of about 50K that I wrote in JHS. I considered myself the next up and coming Christopher Pike, conquering the YA horror scene. Honestly, it was crap, but it was fun.

Yeah, I thought my first book was going to be the great American sci-fi novel... I should go back and revisit that one; maybe it can be salvaged ;)

What made you decide to write it?

Hahaha. Honestly, it was JHS, and I was unpopular (to say the least). I based several characters off of people I knew in my classes and killed them off. Totally cathartic J


Do you free-write or outline?

A little of both, but I lean more toward the outline. I’ve found that if I don’t know the ultimate end game of a story, my characters won’t cooperate with me. So I always need to have a beginning, an end, and several middle points in mind before I can begin anything. But some scenes in between, and how I connect the dots, tends to be a little more free form.

That's about the point I'm at in my writing process.

If you free-write, how do you keep things organized?

I use a program called Scrivener for everything I write. I LOOOOVE it. I downloaded a free trial version for NaNoWriMo last year and I haven’t written in any program other than Scrivener every since. I can start a “scene” by taking notes for myself, and it’s always there, ready and waiting when I get there. And I can move things around so much easier than cutting and pasting in Word or another word processor. I don’t really want to sound like a walking advertisement, but, seriously, it’s the best thing I’ve ever paid for. (I’m even trying to get my husband to get himself a copy for academic writing. I think it would help him, too)

Ooh! Sounds fun! I'll have to check it out.

If you outline, do you plot the entire story first, or bits at a time as you write?

A little of both. Like I said, I can’t start without a beginning, several middle points, and an end, so I always have that as a loose outline. Sometimes I’ll free-write in between. Sometimes I’ll come up with another middle point that has to happen, and I’ll add it to the outline.

What do you do to counteract writer’s block?

The best thing that’s ever worked for me is forbidding myself from writing. It sounds silly, but once I’m not “allowed” to write, that’s all I want to do. My brain goes into overdrive and I can’t think about anything else until I can get back to that last scene. Reverse psychology at its finest.

Hahaha! That is awesome!

How do you keep your characters original? (i.e. what do you do to make sure your characters don’t turn out the same in every story?)

I’m not sure. My characters come to me in various forms, and they all just feel inherently different from the start. I can’t say it’s always a conscious decision. 

*Jealousy!!!* I have to check and recheck to make sure my characters aren't too similar...of course it forces me to develop them more, so it has it's advantages.

What exercises to you use to develop your characters?

I like to ask my characters a series of questions, some of which I have posted on my blog. Sometimes I’ll use some of the resources at the
Honestly, and while it’s the easiest tactic, it’s also the most time consuming, I’ll write a full draft, and the character will develop on his or her own over the course of the writing. Then I’ll go back and tweak in revisions.

Cool! I'm going to go check out those questions!

What do you do to make your whole story interesting? How do you avoid “slow stretches”?

I picture each scene as having its own individual arc, so that it has to have some kind of rising tension throughout, possibly with dips, but there’s always something increasing the tension. Maybe it’s not the tension of the main plot, but it’s something to keep the reader interested. If I can keep that in mind, I like to think that it staves off the slow stretches. I suppose we’ll find out for sure once I actually start querying (hopefully just after the new year).

Hey! I do the same thing!

How does your own life inform your writing?

It does. I don’t think anyone can deny this fact. But how? I’ve noticed a trend recently where several of my main protagonists have missing parents. It’s not consistently one or the other, but there’s at least one absent. I suppose that’s because I’m still dealing with the death of my father from a few years ago.
Beyond that, I guess the only other thing is that I can’t stand my female characters being stupid or silly, just in the same way I can’t surround myself with those kinds of women. I need strong, smart female friends just like I need strong, smart female characters.

I find myself working my philosophy/values into a story by spreading them among the characters, including the villain. I find it gives the story a more realistic, well-rounded feel (especially when I can show the villain doing things for what even I feel would be a good cause, even if I am horror-struck by what he/she does).

Who is your favorite author?

(For the record, none of my following answers go together.)
I would say my favorite author is probably Barbara Kingsolver. I love the Poisonwood Bible!

I've always been a bit intrigues by the Poisonwood Bible, but never enough to pick it up. Maybe I'll check it out.

Favorite book?

Geeky as it may sound, War and Peace. I’m a sucker for a good epic. And a good romance.

Epic I can go for. Romance...well, just like chick-flicks, I prefer something with action and excitement.

Favorite genre to read?

Anything YA, though I’m definitely not exclusive in my reading. I recently devoured The Ghost and the Goth and Divergent. Excellent reads (imho) for anyone looking for a YA suggestion.

There has to be something extraordinary in a book for me. I don't mind books set in the real world, as long as there's something to take it out of the realm of everyday life. I like spy novels! I also like mysteries.

Favorite genre to write?

Definitely YA, though I lean more into the urban fantasy realm. The novel that I plan to query is a YA urban fantasy/romance. My NaNo piece from last November is YA urban fantasy. Right now I’m working on a YA dystopian, and my NaNo this year will be a YA paranormal.

Now that's what I'm talking about! Though I confess most of the ones I've read are all basically the same.

When you’re not writing, what do you do in your spare time?

Um, what’s spare time? I consider that I have two part-time jobs: the one that pays my bills now (which is working as a technical editor for a small academic publisher), and one that will pay a bill or two later (which is my writing). That consumes 50-60 hours Monday through Friday. Add to that my weekend work, and I don’t even want to think about the number of hours. I suppose after that I’m a compulsive TV-watcher/knitter. I also like to cook, but mainly because I’m cheap and I can’t really eat out (too many dietary restrictions).

Wow, and I thought I was busy! What's your weekend work?

What are three interesting facts about you?

1) I have a master’s degree in Slavic Linguistics. I specialized in Polish syntax and clitics.

Wow! How in the world did you decide on Slavic linguistics?!?!?!

2) As a linguist by training, I fit several stereotypes, including (but not limited to) have studied several languages but speaking none of them with any kind of fluency. The best two, I suppose, are Russian and Polish. If I were dropped in the center of either of those countries, though, I’d probably get my fluency level up within a couple of weeks.

That's about where my Spanish is.

3) One of my cats is from Poland. My husband and I adopted him while we were living in Krakow in 2004. We call him to dinner in Polish. Since then, we have adopted a second cat from the local shelter, who really just gets confused when we try using commands with her in Polish. She is hopelessly monolingual J

What were you doing in Poland? Gotta confess, I'm a little jealous (of the travel in general). And funniest pet situation in the world!!!

Wow! I've never learned so much about one of my visitors before! Rosie, you are an awesome interviewee! I hope I can read some of your stories some day!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

An Experiment in Outlining

Hi everyone!

I had an interesting experience last night. First off, my wife has started transcribing all her old journals...which she has kept since she was in elementary school...consistently. So, the computer has been somewhat monopolized of late, which means I'm doing any and all writing (or writing-related activities) by hand, on honest-to-goodness paper with a real ink pen. I feel like I'm a kid again! It's actually been really fun listening to my wife laugh at her past self, and I've even enjoyed writing by hand again, but that's not what I'm here to talk about today.

I've never really gotten the hang of outlining. I realize that it is a powerful authoring tool, but I've always shied away from it because I didn't want to spoil the ending for myself. I've always been afraid that if I already knew what was going to happen in a story, I'd have no more motivation or desire to write it. However, my current WIP has not been cooperating...not for weeks. It is as hard as hickory knots! So last night, in an effort finally vanquish this irksome problem, I sat down with my paper and clipboard and started drafting a general outline. I actually got the idea from Teralyn's recent series of posts "How to Prep for a Book" (specifically posts #3,4).

I decided that I needed to get at least the basic framework down on paper so I'd have a sort of road map when I get stuck (which is happening all too frequently and regularly). I've been telling myself that knowing the basic plot line shouldn't ruin things for me because 1) I'm older and more mature than I was the last time I tried outlining a story (it has literally been six or seven years and I've changed a lot since then), and 2) I can still look forward to seeing how my characters react to each other and events! This is what I'm really excited about now.

All the same, if my pseudo-outlining idea doesn't improve things with my WIP, I think I might let it rest and germinate for a while. I've got three or four other ideas that I'm also really excited about, so I won't be wanting for something to write.

How about you guys? For all you fellow pantsers out there, why don't you like outlining? And what do you do when your story just won't come out? For all you outliners (whom I confess I envy a little), what motivates you to write when you already know the story? And for everybody: how do you know when it's okay to throw in the towel, even for a little while?

I look forward to hearing from all of you!