Friday, December 31, 2010

Eye Candy Blogfest

Happy New Year!

Okay, now on to the blogfest.

The Eye Candy Blogfest is hosted by Vicky Rocho over at Rambles and Randomness...Thanks Vicky!

The idea of the blogfest is, on New Year's Day (I know I'm a little early), to post a favorite picture. It can be anything from a beach at sunset to a hottie to your kids or pets...anything that makes you smile! And, um, keep it PG.

So, here's my favorite pic...because I adore donuts and this pic makes me want to roll around in the pile of them. It's just beautiful.

And because I couldn't pick just one, I had to add this castle ruins.  I think it's pretty awesome.

I didn't take these pics myself. The donuts would never have lasted long enough to be photographed and although I wish I could have been at those castle ruins in person, I'll have to daydream a bit longer.

And for all of you ladies wishing for a hottie in your stocking, I kinda like this one:


Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Happy Holidays to everyone. No matter which one you celebrate, make it good!

Living in a Christian culture, my family celebrates Christmas even though we don't specifically self-identify Christian. It seems like in America it's kind of the default religious affiliation....certainly the calendar, business, and government revolve around its holidays. But even if you don't buy into Christian theology, it can't hurt to enjoy a little mid-winter cheer (okay, strictly speaking it's not mid-winter since the solstice was only a few days ago, but around here we've had snow on the ground for a few months so it feels like mid-winter). Celebrate family and generosity and love of your fellow man. Make a go at seeing the glass as half full instead of half empty and maybe do something nice for a stranger just because you can.

We will be doing the traditional things we always do. Good food, gather around the Christmas tree and open stockings and gifts, sing carols, play games, and just relax together.

Then on the 27th I'll be heading out to attend the last residency of my low residency MFA program. Yep, I'm heading into my thesis semester...the home stretch. I can't believe I'm almost done! I guess that means I need to buckle down and get my thesis revised and polished and shiny-perfect!

This residency should be a good one, too. I've signed up for workshops on screenwriting, playwriting, sci-fi and fantasy fiction, and performing your work. Despite how happy I am to be almost finished with the degree, however, I'm sad that this may be the last time I see many of the people I've come to be friends with through the program. We all live scattered around the country and only actually see each other at residencies. We've formed a tight-knit bunch of writing friends and I'll miss seeing them at regular intervals, even though I'm sure we'll keep in touch (on facebook if nothing else).

So what are some of the ways you celebrate the holidays? Do you have quirky family traditions? Any favorite foods? Games? I love discovering the ways other people celebrate!

No matter what you do, I hope all of you have a joyous holiday!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Good News and Bad News

A little over a month ago I sent out my first tentative queries to a handful of agents. I've received several rejections and one request for a partial. The good news is after requesting the partial the agent responded back to me yesterday. The bad news is that she didn't request a full.  However, she did offer very useful and constructive comments about how to improve the story and characters...which I suppose is more good news.  All the things she pointed out as problems were things I suspected anyway and I had already begun to outline necessary revisions.

So now it's back to the drawing board. I believe in this story and these characters and I'm determined to find the formula that works for this novel. I'll have to make some drastic changes, but I know it can be done and the story will be that much better because of it.

I first realized the story may need this kind of overhaul shortly after I'd sent out my queries and I was devastated, mostly because it felt like starting over, and the sheer scope of it was overwhelming. I refused to believe it at first, depressed by the thought of such major rewrites. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense, so I started trying to work out the changes that needed to be made.

My goal is to have these revisions done in a month so I can begin the query process again. I have no idea if that's a realistic timeline, but I know what I'm capable of and I know these characters and their story so I'm pretty sure a month is doable. It's still an overwhelming task to face, but now that I'm in a more positive state of mind I'm ready to face it and conquer it!

Have you ever faced this kind of overhaul of a novel? How did you handle it?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Query Letter Blogfest

Thanks to Jodi Henry for hosting the Query Letter Blogfest!

The idea of this blogfest is to practice your query writing skills. As if writing the novel weren't hard enough, tackling a query letter (and synopsis) can be torture. I've posted my query below, but I've removed the portions discussing my background and memberships, leaving only the story-related information.


Dear  Agent:

I am pleased to submit for your consideration, Faerie Fate, a paranormal romance set in contemporary Oregon and divided between both the human and faerie realms. It is complete at 86,000 words.

Holly Reed is a grad student who doesn’t have much family to speak of, and yearns to know why. But when she discovers she’s half faerie and the father she never knew is a renegade out to kill her before he starts a war with humankind, she’s plunged into a world she grew up believing only existed in faerie tales.

Shadow’s life has always been about duty – to his queen, to his job, to Gaea. He gave up on finding his soul mate long ago. But when Fate puts Holly in his path desire flares between them, and he’s forced to reevaluate his long-held enmity toward humans. Amidst growing unrest and with war on the horizon, Shadow claims her as his soul mate.

Despite her undeniable attraction to him, Holly is afraid of becoming nothing more than Shadow’s property and rebels against his claim on her. But with her father hunting her, she’s faced with an impossible decision: accept Shadow’s offer of protection and forfeit her humanity and everything she’s ever known, or have her memory wiped and go back to her human life giving up her magic, her new family, and the man she’s grown to love.

Thank you for considering my work. I look forward to hearing from you.

Best Wishes,

Margaret Bail

So, what do you think? Does it work? What needs to be changed?  

Now go check out the rest of the entries at Jodi's blog!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Welcome Back and Brainstorming Ideas

Hi Everyone! Welcome back post-NaNoWriMo. I felt like I was underground there for a month, unplugged from social media.

I wish I could say that my NaNo experience this year was a blinding success, but it wasn't. I managed to write just shy of 40,000 words, which is short of the required 50,000 to win NaNo. But on the upside, that's 40,000 words closer to having a completed first draft, right?

There were two reasons why I missed the 50,000 mark.

1. Two of my children have birthdays at the end of November, plus there's Thanksgiving, plus the crush of both teaching and being a student. It was just too much and I cracked under the pressure.

2. I wrote myself into a dilemma. It wasn't a corner so much as an as-yet unsolved problem. 

Here's what happened: I decided to pants this novel. No plotting at all. Because it's written in first person present tense and it's a headlong chase adventure kinda thing I figured my not knowing what happens before the characters do would add some freshness, if not to the story at least to the writing process.  And for the most part it has. Unfortunately the downside of pantsing is that when you run up against a quandary you can't just look at your notes and say, "Ah! So that's what happens now!" and then go back to writing.

So I wrote as much as I could without solving this little problem and then I was stuck. Without giving too much away, I've got most of the cast of characters of this book looking for the same treasure, but I have no idea what the treasure actually is. And when the two main characters finally cracked the code that allowed them entry into the room where the treasure is hidden.....I had to stop writing because I was stumped.

Now, since there's only one week left of the semester and as a teacher I have to read and grade about 30 term papers, and as an MFA student I still need to write two papers, my main characters are frozen in time staring at a treasure that now only they can identify and I still can't.  However, my goal is to complete the first draft of this manuscript by the end of December, before the next semester starts, so clearly I need to get to brainstorming.

Which brings me to the main point of this post: As writers, I know all of you have run into these kinds of problems, whether it's in the plotting process or when you're in the middle of pantsing it.

In my search for ways to discover this treasure, I've collected several different brainstorming techniques I want to share with you, just in case you ever find yourself backed into a corner:

1. Freewriting. Everyone's done this at one point or another. Put the pen to the paper and just write. It doesn't matter if it makes sense and don't worry about the quality. The point is to stomp out the internal critic and let the ideas flow.

2. Clustering. This is kind of like freewriting, but briefer. You write your main topic (in my case "treasure") in the center of the paper. Then you work out from that center word filling the space with any words you associate with the central topic. Write fast, don't stop to consider, just get words down. Then when you're done start circling terms that seem related and connecting them with lines. These sets of words can help trigger ideas.

3. Journalistic questions. Ask who, what, when, where, why, and how about your subject and see what you learn about it. Ask about its history, why it's important, who is it important to, where has it been...etc.

4. Think outside the box. For instance, if you're writing a romance, ask yourself, "if I were faced with this very same problem but in a steampunk novel, how might I see it or understand it differently?" So for my problem, since my novel is sci-fi, maybe I would ask myself, "if this were a western, what kind of treasure would my characters be looking for?" And maybe the same kind of treasure would be useful to my sci-fi characters.

5. Meditate. Plug into some music and do something completely unrelated to writing, but with the problem you need to solve lurking somewhere just out of your conscious thought. Open yourself to input from any source and maybe something unexpected will pop into your head while you're playing Halo or watching the Food Network.

So what's your favorite way of breaking the block? How do you brainstorm for ideas?