Monday, October 31, 2011

Keeping an Open Mind

Happy Halloween!!! In honor of one of my favorite days of the year (I'll keep you guessing on the others), I am reviewing Susan Kaye Quinn's book, OPEN MINDS, which debuts tomorrow. Why this book on All Hallows Eve? Let me ask you - which is scarier? Someone with the ability to not only read minds, but control them? Or This guy? 
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Yeah, okay he's creepy, but I could take him. Or at least run away. In fact, he's the one I chose to interview about the book! And believe me he was difficult to get on Halloween. I had to promise lots of brai- uh, never mind, let's just leave it at he was tough to book.

Me: What did you think of the book OPEN MINDS?

Zombie: GWAAAAMAAWEEEEEEEGOOOOO. *thumbs up or at least some appendage pointing skyward*

Me: Very, um, descriptive. So did you feel it was an authentic teen voice with a good story arc and pacing?

Zombie: *lunges*

Me: *ducks behind furniture* Sorry! Sorry! I forgot - no big words. Was book good?

Zombie: MWAAAEEEEEEWWWWAAAAAA *Another thumbs up*

Me: Agreed. 

I thought Susan did a great job keeping the excitement coming while delivering on an authentic teen voice. This book was unique and that may be the best praise I can give because that is tough to find. She didn't pull any punches as we talked about the other day. Now if you'll excuse me, my guest is looking hungry. *gulp*

Susan Kaye Quinn is giving away an Open Books/Open Minds t-shirt, mug, and some fun wristbands to celebrate the Virtual Launch Party of Open Minds (Book One of the Mindjack Trilogy)! (Check out the prizes here.)

Three ways to enter (you can have multiple entries):
1)      Leave a comment here or at the Virtual Launch Party post
2)      Tweet (with tag #keepingOPENMINDS)
Example: When everyone reads minds, a secret is a dangerous thing to keep. #keepingOPENMINDS @susankayequinn #SF #YA avail NOW
Example: Celebrate the launch of OPEN MINDS by @susankayequinn #keepingOPENMINDS #SciFi #paranormal #YA avail NOW

3)     Facebook (tag @AuthorSusanKayeQuinn)
Example: Celebrate the launch of paranormal/SF novel OPEN MINDS by @AuthorSusanKayeQuinn for a chance to win Open Books/Open Minds prizes!

When everyone reads minds, a secret is a dangerous thing to keep.
Sixteen-year-old Kira Moore is a zero, someone who can’t read thoughts or be read by others. Zeros are outcasts who can’t be trusted, leaving her no chance with Raf, a regular mindreader and the best friend she secretly loves. When she accidentally controls Raf’s mind and nearly kills him, Kira tries to hide her frightening new ability from her family and an increasingly suspicious Raf. But lies tangle around her, and she’s dragged deep into a hidden world of mindjackers, where having to mind control everyone she loves is just the beginning of the deadly choices before her.

Open Minds (Book One of the Mindjack Trilogy) by Susan Kaye Quinn is available in e-book (Amazon US (also UKFrance and Germany)Barnes & NobleSmashwordsand print(AmazonCreatespace, also autographed copies available from the author).

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Making it Pay Off

The winner of Libba Bray's BEAUTY QUEENS is Vicki!!

We talked last time about instilling fear in the reader. Now I want to discuss following through with what I like to call the big showdown. It doesn't have to be a literal showdown. It typically IS the climax though. Maybe it's just a climax for your scene, or maybe it's for the entire book. Either way I want to outline some ways to get the biggest bang for your words. 

I read a book (I won't say which) where the climax came and was over so fast I almost didn't recognize it. Not cool. 

  • Keep an element of surprise. If we're biting our nails as the MC reaches for the door we're sure the killer is behind... Maybe the killer is actually sneaking up behind her? Or he is behind the door, but it looks like no one is there, and as she turns away -- keep us doubting and hoping. 
  • Make it a challenge. It's true, we want the MC to succeed. We've traveled this far with her. We even want to protect her. BUT ultimately if it's too easy or safe, we are disappointed and rightly so. This is the test you've built up to. Make it HARD. No skating by.
  • Give us a moment of doubt. If you've done your job the MC has the tools and know how to get through this even by the skin of her teeth. However, that doesn't mean she'll do it, right? Give us that moment of "Oh no she's not gonna make it!" Even if she does.
  • Pull in the clues. You've laid the groundwork. You've planted threads. Now's the time to bring them together. It's always fun when something you've forgotten about as a reader comes back and fits perfectly in place at the crucial moment. 
Any other tips to add?
Photo credit: I know, the pic isn't perfect for the subject, but it was too cute not to use. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Creating Fear in the Minds of Readers

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I love Halloween, don't you? And since it's coming up next Monday, I thought I'd do some scary posts in honor of this most creative of occasions. Whether you write horror or contemporary, fantasy or sci-fi, chances are there is a point where you want to frighten your reader. Fear is one way to be emotionally invested in a book, and if the payoff is done well (we'll talk about that next time) you have an excellent combination. 

So how do you do it? Do you throw in a scary monster? Not necessary, though I love a good monster. Here are some do's and do not's for setting up the tension. That's right! Tension = Fear, concern, worry, anxiety, nervousness - you get the idea. 


  • Put your MC is danger. Seems obvious, I know. But some of us have a hard time doing that to our beloved characters. Don't protect them.  
  • Keep that danger ominous. Yes you have to reveal information to your reader, but don't come out shooting. Think of some of your favorite books. Chances are the villain was built up over time so that his presence was a cloud looming over the MC. Voldemort is a great example. We see from other's reactions (just the fear that using his name instills in all but Dumbledore) that he is someone to avoid. Before he is ever seen, we are frightened of him.
  • Play with time. Huh? What I mean is, use your pacing to your advantage. Slow it down right as the tension mounts. Make the MC reach slowly toward that creaking door that you just KNOW the killer is hiding behind...
  • Make your MC helpless. Whatever he/she is facing should be the worst possible thing you can think of. Find his Kryptonite and use it to the villain's advantage. We should feel just as helpless when reading it as he does. 
  • Make it your MC's fault. If she feels responsibility for the heinous situation, we are doubly invested in her seemingly impossible attempt to right the wrong she created.
  • Be cliche. Walking down an eerie street in broad daylight can be scarier than a dark and stormy night. 
  • Make your antagonist a device. Give the villain some depth. Don't just throw in a mindless monster because it gives you reason to react. Yeah, zombies are scary, but what's scarier is the mad scientist who created them by experimenting on foster kids like your MC. 
  • Tell. Yeah I know, that whole show don't tell thing. But it's really helpful when you're trying to instigate strong feelings in the readers and immerse them in a scene. 
  • Pull your punches. Don't take it easy on us or your characters. This goes with putting your MC in danger. Dish it out fully. Don't be afraid, you can always clean up the carnage if you must during revisions. 
  • Underestimate the reader. Assume we get it. The more details we have to fill in with our imagination, the scarier it actually is. That's not an excuse to fail to describe things or plant the idea in the first place. Just be purposeful in where and how those details come. 
Remember it's that moment of suspense before the killer jumps out from behind the door that makes the difference. Also, if you notice, the majority of these tips aren't so much about the bad guy as the MC. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Case For Fantasy

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Obviously I love fantasy. All types really. Do I enjoy a good sci-fi or contemporary on occasion? Sure! But I always gravitate to the fantastic. Why? What is it about fantasy that captures my imagination beyond anything else? 

I think it's threefold. I'm sure there are more advantages, perhaps you'll point some out in the comments. But for me, these rise to the top of the list:

  1. Escape. Let's face it, life can be boring sometimes. I've always preferred to fly around as a superhero, or disappear into an enchanted forest full of unicorns (in my head of course) than do let's say... homework. Not that I didn't do my fair share. But if I had the choice with no consequences? No contest. Who doesn't want to be the hero?
  2. Safety of Symbolism. I don't like preachy books. Sorry. I don't want to be told what to do or think, no matter what the source. I prefer intelligent discussion and thought provoking ideas. So when a book showcases a very real issue or situation and explores some of the finer implications in an honest way, I'm hooked. And fantasy let's us explore these themes in relative safety by changing the setting and characters to something unfamiliar and therefore less threatening or obvious. 
  3. Playground for the Imagination. Yes any story builds a new world, but where else can the sky be purple and the butterflies poisonous? Hey that's kind of cool... *runs to write it down* The possibilities are truly endless. 
Everyone's taste is different, which is why it's so wonderful to have choices. Sometimes it's too hard to suspend disbelief. But I believe there is some fantasy out there for almost everyone. Many have read Harry Potter who claim to not like fantasy at all. What do you think? Do you see any additional advantages of fantasy as a medium? What about disadvantages? Share!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Beauty Queens Extravaganza and Contest!

Boy do I have a post for you! See, my writing compadres, Julie Musil and Leslie Rose, and I have all finished reading BEAUTY QUEENS by Libba Bray. This book is too amazing to be contained in a single post, so the three of us have come together this week to bring you an uber-awesome BEAUTY QUEENS Blog Extravaganza complete with our own beauty contestant profiles and a contest too fun to believe. So make yourselves comfortable for part one, right here, right now.

And with me to review the book I have none other than a beauty contestant, Miss Writer’s Block!

Me: So what did you think of the book?

MWB: It was pretty. *Smiles*

Me: *Cringes away from blinding reflection off teeth* How did the story make you feel?

MWB: Confused and awed. I mean, I can’t even finish my book, let alone come up with yummy stories that work together so well and actually mean something. That’s why I went for the Title. *fingers ribbon*

Me: Thank you, Miss Writer’s Block.
My opinion? Oh come on. You guys know Libba Bray is my favorite author. I may or may not have blackmailed her into taking this picture with me at the SCBWI conference. Either way, this book did NOT disappoint. I’d say lots of good stuff about the genius of it, but let’s leave it at: If you want to be my friend you should read this book.
Now to my fun facts page based off the novel:

Miss Teen Dream Fun Facts Page!

Name: Lisa Gail Green
State: Excited!
Age: Emotionally? Fifteen.
Height: Tall enough to reach most of my shelves.
Weight: More than I’d like.
Hair: Fiery red
Eyes: Green/blue
Best Feature: My smile :D <-- see?

Fun Facts About Me

  •         I can tickle myself. (I know weird, right?
  •     I actually almost entered a beauty contest as a young teen. Thank GOODNESS my parents refused to let me do it. I am aware that the Corporation may frown upon this answer but I thought it was relevant.
  •     Libba Bray called me a diva. I’m pretty sure it was meant in a good way. In fact, she signed my copy of the book to “Divalicious”. I want to be just like her when I grow up.

AND the contest!!! 
Do you want to win an autographed copy of BEAUTY QUEENS? It isn’t just any autograph either. It’s in true Libba Bray style, and you’ll just have to take my word for it. 

If you want to win simply leave a comment telling us one fun fact about you as if you were a contestant in the Miss Teen Dream pageant. You can enter up to three times by commenting on Julie’s blog tomorrow, and Leslie’s on Wednesday. You have ‘till next Monday (one week) to enter, and we will each announce the winner on our blogs next week. Nothing complicated. No extra entries for this or that, though we will give virtual chocolate for spreading the word. U.S. only please (we're poor writers).

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Making Sure It Doesn't Feel Forced

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I had a critique partner tell me a while back that something I'd written felt like a writer's device. Something I'd clearly dropped in to force the story in a certain direction. She was right. I had to change that, because if there's one thing I DON'T want, it's for the reader to feel like there's a puppet master standing behind the scenes manipulating the story. 

Pay no attention to that author behind the curtain!

If I've done a good job I will remain invisible. I'll be a name on the cover page, but the characters will have a life of their own. My favorite critique comments are the ones where the crit partner is speaking directly to my character. I'll paraphrase my favorite: "No! No! No! No! Don't do it!" Then I know I've done my job. 

So how? How do I take it from forced to engrossed? The first step is identifying the "device". One way is to have critique partners look at it. I wouldn't have seen it on my own. Another is to put the book away for a while so you can see it with fresh eyes. You hear these things over and over because they are so important. And they work. 

The next step is to ask yourself what would make that action feel natural. Remember it's key to understand that your character is used to her life. That she knows the contents of her room for example, or that her brother is going to be annoying. It may be a surprise to the reader, but it isn't necessarily to your character. 

Also, remember there's no such thing as coincidence. If you're writing a mystery, the killer should be someone we know, but that doesn't mean the MC should realize that. It's too convenient. There has to be a reasonable explanation. 

Have you run into this problem? How did you handle it?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Why Steve Jobs Could Have Been a Writer

Have you heard the commencement address Steve Jobs gave to Stanford? If not you should take the time to watch it. I felt through much of it that he was talking to me. To writers really. Here it is:

Others have noted the same. Here's a post from Julie Musil quoting the speech.

He put so eloquently the heart of what matters. That we shouldn't let worry or pressure from others dictate what we choose to do with our lives. That at the end of the day, we have to follow our heart. Bravo, Steve. We will miss you!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Don't Be a Zombie When You Write

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You're in the mushy middle, trudging along, plugging away at the keyboard. Maybe you have an outline you're following, maybe you're just pantsing your way through. But your brain feels as mushy as the second act, and you keep losing focus and checking your Twitter feed. You forgot about a blogpost you meant to check earlier, your kids need craft supplies for their school projects, your car needs an oil change...

Sound familiar? You're turning into a writing zombie.

We've all been there. It's hard to focus, especially when you feel like you're trudging uphill through sludge. 

What can you do to prevent staggering around your neighbors lawn searching for flesh? Or at least becoming lost in your manuscript and never making it out?

  • Take a break. Go take a walk or watch your favorite show. Read a good book! Anything to have some you time.
  • Throw something bad at your MC. What can you toss in there that will make her life that much harder? Go for it! See what happens.
  • Be a method actor. Try doing something your character enjoys that you don't. Singing? Running? Cooking? Try bonding with them. Maybe you'll figure something new out about them based on your experience. 
  • Take a detour. Do you outline? Do you have an idea where you're going? Change course. Ask your character to do something unexpected and see what happens. Don't think he would? Give the choice to another character and see what happens. You can always take it out, but it might get you thinking along a brand new line.
  • Change your routine. Do you normally write at night? Wake up early and write for an extra half hour. Take your laptop or a notebook to the park or a coffee shop. Switch your chair. 
  • Call a friend or critique partner. There's nothing like writer peeps to help you out when you're down. 
What else can you do to prevent turning into a writing zombie?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Feed Your Senses

We've been told to use all our senses in our writing, but what about while we're writing? Many writers use tools for inspiration. Take a look at the five senses below and see what you already use, and what you might consider trying in the future.

  1. Sight. I do searches for just the right face for each of my major characters and make a power point presentation for the manuscript. It can make them feel more real. The same can be done for settings, either with pictures or maps.
  2. Sound. I have playlists for each manuscript I write. Songs that either make me think of the story or a particular character. Some of my playlists are long, and some have only a couple of songs. See the photo credit above for another great blog on this.
  3. Touch. We write for long periods of time (when we have our way), so it's important to be comfortable. Make sure you have a good area to work in with a comfortable and supportive seat, the keyboard at the right height and the room at the right temperature. Sometimes the tactile change of switching to longhand in a notebook or going outside to sit in the breeze can make the difference when you're stuck in a rut.
  4. Taste. When I settle in to write in the morning, I have to have a nice cup of coffee with me. Sometimes I get so pulled into the manuscript that I forget I have it next to me and have to reheat it. But that's okay because there's something about having it there to sip on. If I'm having rough times, I go to my good friend chocolate for help. :D And in the evening on occasion I love to sit with a nice glass of red wine. 
  5. Smell. My blogging buddy Meredith did a great post the other day on this. Check it out! She points out that certain scents inspire memories and feelings. 
What do you think? Which ones do you use and which would you or wouldn't you try?