Mental Health Monday–Self-Evaluation

Part of mental health treatment includes identifying goals and monitoring progress. Having objective measures helps. Why? Well, it’s hard to see how far you’ve come when you’re neck deep in the mire of day to day life. It’s also hard to see improvements when your eye is focused solely on whittling away at the negatives. I dare say it gets demoralizing and exhausting after a while.

So what’s the solution? Stepping back to look at the big picture. Assess how far you’ve come. Compare where you’re at now to where you were “before.”

Writers need to do this too. (I’ve recently been reminded of this, hence the post.) I stew and stew over how much work I have left in front of me to improve my writing. It makes me tired…and whiney (sorry, crit partners, you are the poor saps super supportive peeps who get to listen to me grumble).

What better way to celebrate progress than through a blogfest? Yup, that’s right, a blogfest. Check out Christine H’s blog, The Writer’s Hole, for deets on an upcoming blogfest/contest comparing “before” and “after” writing skills. Read her tale of working on a WIP for FOUR years and how she managed to stick with it.

On Saturday, February 5th, I’m ponying up and sharing some “old” writings (pre-“training”) and sharing lines from a more recent WIP to show the difference.

Who’s with me? Go on then, sign up! *nudge nudge*

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Don’t forget to check out Lovely Lydia’s post on Medical Monday.

Be sure to pop on over to Sarah’s blog for her super awesome psychology post!

It’s Your Turn to Pitch!

Hey, gang, I don’t usually post on Tuesday’s, but I thought I’d throw a curve ball atchyas!

So, VB Tremper has been working over her logline (and it’s pretty darn good, IMHO!) and wants to share…so check it out & add yours to the comments–heck, we can give each other some feedback along the way!

Sine I’m rewriting TB, the YA dystopian (oh yeah, I tossed the whole thing and am giving it a real plot ;)), I’ve rewritten a pitch too. It’s rough–like super rough–but what the hey, it’s a start.

My pitch: In a world where vaccine-induced immortals languish in eternity, seventeen-year-old Justin Talent’s blood may be the one thing that will bring them to life. Justin must risk everything–his life, his family, his people–to help the immortal who harmed him.

M’kay, gang, whaddya think? (Don’t forget to head over to VB’s blog.)

Logline Blogfest!

I know, I know, TWO posts on ONE day? But this one’s pretty neat. Check out Steena Holmes blog, Chocolate Reality, for the deets. Bottom line, post your logline, check out and comment on the other participants and you could win a query critique or a critique of the first 5-10 pages of your manuscript by none other than Michelle McClean!

Seriously, I couldn’t pass this up.

So, my logline:

A genetic mutation makes seventeen-year-old Justin Talent an outcast—it also makes his anemic blood a drug that can kill his sister’s murderer.

Operation Awesome also has a super cool Mystery Agent Contest. So get your one line pitches ready and go check it out! 😀

Blogfest–Creating Compelling Characters

Elana Johnson (OMG, Have you seen her book cover for POSSESSION?! GORGEOUS!!!!!!!!) is hosting a blogfest today about writing compelling characters. Check out this link to read the other posts of some fantastic writers and bloggers!

You know what? I’m still working on how to create compelling characters. You see, my characters are pretty well-formed in my head when I dream them up, but somehow, they just don’t quite come to life on the page. At least, that’s how it felt as recently as a month ago.

Since then, I’ve been communing with writerly buds, picking the brains of beta readers, and reading as many blog posts as I can. I’d like to share my findings (at least from the perspective of the main character).

1) Compelling characters aren’t perfect. Come on, admit it. We all like characters with flaws. It gets ’em in trouble. It makes them seem approachable. It helps us to identify with them and therefore root for them when they’re facing their foes.

2) Compelling characters use all their senses to tell their story. Visual description of the setting, the BFF, the love interest, the antagonist is important, but allowing a character to use his or her other senses makes things come alive. Do they cringe at the stench of a dumpster? Do they smile at the homey warmth of baking bread? Do they take a sigh of relief at the soothing taste of a cup of hot chocolate?  Do they startle at the icy sound of a wolf’s howl? Do they obsess about the itchiness of their wool sweater rubbing against their dry skin?

3) Compelling characters interact with other characters. Seriously, you can learn a lot about a character by how they converse with others. Use their body language and their reaction to news, whether it be good or bad, to show the reader who they are.

4) Compelling characters drive their story. (I can’t highlight this one enough!) I’ve been reading Percy Jackson (great series, by the way!) and though he’s caught in a whirlwind of circumstances out of his control, he still makes it a point to make his own decisions and take control of his own fate.

The main character in first draft of my most recent project was quite reactive to his environment, but he didn’t really take control of the situation. He just sort of went along, rolling with the punches. Bor-ing! It was hard to feel for him, hard to root for him, because he was coming of as: “Ho-hum, oh well, guess I’ll just go along with this and hope for the best.” DON’T DO THIS. Thanks to fanTAStic betas, I’ve since restructured the MC so he is quite directive in his path to reach his goal. Sa-weet!

5) Compelling characters have a cast of compelling secondary characters. For real, who wants to read about a dude with flat friends? The best advice I can give for this: Avoid stereotypes, unless they have a twist. Like, a really cool twist.

6) Compelling characters have a compelling antagonist. Okay, so a bad guy is a bad guy, right? Be careful! If your antagonist doesn’t have some redeeming quality, or a soft spot, or a character flaw, then it’s more difficult to build tension with the main character. It’s too easy to be like, “Oh, yeah, good guy, get ’em!” I think that’s almost too simple. You want the MC to hesitate before giving the final blow don’t you? I don’t know, maybe I’m overly sympathetic, but I think it really ratchets up the tension.

7) Compelling characters have a set of seemingly impossible circumstances thrown at them, but they keep going. Isn’t this what keeps us reading? The thought, “How in the world is MC gonna get out of this?!” Plus, what makes you root for someone more than when they show perseverance? ‘Nough said.

All right, well, that’s a pretty good list, if I do say so myself. Tell me, what do you think? Did I miss anything?

The Blogfest of DEATH!

Oh, this is so cool! Tessa Conte is hosting a Blogfest of Death today where writers share scenes they’ve written showcasing a character’s death. Morbid, ain’t it?

Anyway, I figured this would be a great oppotunity to share the opening pages (about 1200 words) of my new WIP, SHARP’S BLOOD. (It’s a YA dystopian where vampires are once again badass.) Oh, yeah, and if you would let me know your thoughts on the term “Sharpie”–I’m looking for a substitute (something other than vampire), but haven’t found it yet.

Enjoy, and click here to check out the other fabulous entries!!!

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A siren signaled a warning. I drew Sammie to me and stared at the dim outlines of bunk beds and chairs, scanning the darkened room for movement. The other Anemies—outcasts based solely on their low red blood cell count—huddled in pairs on their mattresses, crouched lower, as if curling into living meatballs would prevent the Sharpies from finding them, tearing them out of their beds, and burning them alive.

The siren’s call came to a crescendo. My heart hammered a traitorous beat while I tried to deprive my lungs of oxygen. Breathing lowered my ability to hear the stealthy movements of the Sharpies. I squeezed my eyes shut, praying the horrid sound of the raid call passed us by.

It didn’t.

“They’re stopping here, Justin.” Sammie huddled closer to my chest, trembling.

“Shhh.” I smoothed my little sister’s golden hair. Maybe this was our time to die. Surviving three years beyond our parents was unheard of anyway, especially with the Sharpies raiding sanctioned safe houses.

Safe houses. What lies they spread. Nowhere was safe. How could you hide when they heard your heart beating, when your scuffling movements sounded like thunderstorms, and your decay oozed out in waves? No matter how much you tried to cover your scent, they could still smell fear. The building was rife with it. As the sweat trickled down my spine, I grimaced at the salty, dank odor emanating from my pores. No wonder they hated us. Our stench. Our weakness. Our frail humanity.

The shrieking of old hinges followed by the splintering of wood meant our stronghold—a converted school building—was breached.

Screams echoed from the first floor. At least I’d secured a spot for Sammie and I in one of the second floor classrooms. It meant we had time to attempt escape while the Sharpies busied themselves with torturing the victims below.

“To the roof, like I showed you,” I hissed in her ear.

“You’re not going out there are you?” A boy, no more than seven, grabbed my arm. I remembered him taking the only spot left by the door. The worst place to be, but he had no family to help him. Not that it mattered. His life was about to end anyway.

“Come with us,” Sammie extended her thin, pale hand.

“No. We go alone.” Sure, I felt bad for the kid, but he’d slow us down and then we’d all end up dead. No way I’d sacrifice my sister for some stranger, even if he was a child. Besides, it was hard enough keeping two mouths fed, let alone a third.

The boy cried. It yanked my heart out to leave him, but surviving proved more important.

I shoved Sammie into the hallway. Our bare feet slapped against the cold tile floor as we ran. My sweaty grip around her slender wrist slipped.

“I can’t see, Justin,” she cried.

“Keep going anyway.” Please God, don’t stop. Don’t pitch a fit. How many times had we run drills? Do this now. I wanted to clamp my hand over her mouth, but the Sharpies heard us anyway. Our heartbeats called to them like homing beacons. Our scent drew them like vultures. The ultimate predators chasing after weak prey. And I really thought an escape plan would work?

The cries of fear echoing behind us turned to screams of agony. The Sharpies enjoyed inflicting pain and our less fortunate hideaways no doubt suffered beyond comprehension.

I glanced over my shoulder in time to see an orange-yellow glow flickering at the edge of the stairs. “They brought flame-throwers. Sammie, come on! You must. Go. Faster.”

“I’m scared.” How her arm didn’t escape its socket from me tugging at her, I’ll never know.

Finally, we reached the end of the hallway. It took all my weight to push open the metal door leading to the roof. Outside, heavy rain sheeted down. We’d be blind if it weren’t for the city lights glowing all around. We ran to the edge of the building and looked over. Two stories. We could make twenty feet.

I swung a leg over the ledge.

“No, Justin, we can’t jump. They’re down there.”

“And they’re chasing us. Look, the alley is empty. We still have time.”

Sammie yanked out of my grasp. “I can’t. It’s too far.” She stepped away.

“Come. Here.” I hissed, scanning the roof. In seconds, we’d be overrun with Sharpies. They inflicted pain thoroughly and efficiently, which was not something I wanted to endure.

“No.” She shook her head and crossed her arms in eight-year-old defiance.

My hands clenched into fists. “We don’t have time to argue. This was the plan.”

“You said there’d be a fire escape. A ladder.”

There was. Yesterday. The Sharpies day workers had torn it away from the brick façade. I should’ve known they were planning a raid and not “making repairs” like the men said. How stupid of me to trust a “chosen slave.” The bite marks at his neck should’ve been warning enough, but no, I had let my guard down and we were gonna die because of it. Seventeen year olds shouldn’t have to make these decisions.

“Come on!” I lunged at Sammie, but she slid out of my grasp, wet and slippery from the pelting rain.

The door we’d just come through burst free from its hinges. A Sharpie, tall and darkly clad, stood in its wake, his body backlit by the flames overtaking the building.

Sammie screamed. I grabbed her shoulders.

“Going somewhere?” The monster’s deep voice echoed in my ears despite the heavy downpour.

“Cover your ears!” I pressed my hands to either side of my head. Listen long enough and the Sharpie’s voice triggered a trance. It would be impossible to run or fight, no matter how much you wanted to.

Sammie didn’t move.

The Sharpie kneeled. “Come here, little one.”

She stepped forward.

“No!” I caught her shirt collar and tugged. “You can’t have her, blood sucker.”

A throaty laugh embraced me. “My, my. Such energy for an Anemie. But really, what makes you think you can run from us?” He extended an arm. “Come here, Samantha.”

Sammie turned to me and slashed my arm with her nails. The sharp burn of it raked through my body and I let go. Freed from my grasp, she ran to the Sharpie and he collected her in his arms, lifting her above his head. One twirl. Two twirls.

She giggled.

“Stop it! Let her go.” I yelled. Why didn’t my legs move? Why did I just stand watching?

The Sharpie set Sammie down. “You’re brother doesn’t like to play, does he? All right, then. Fun’s over.” He put his hands to her neck and twisted. A sick snap crashed against my ears. Sammie slumped to the ground, dead.

“No!” Tears blurred my vision, racing down my face, matching the river of rain falling over me. Pain seized my chest, cutting my cry short. Air refused to enter my lungs. The already frigid rain became icy, each drop striking my skin like a liquid razor blade.

“Your turn, Justin. I promise not to make it so easy for you. It will ease some of your guilt for not helping your innocent little sister.”

The coldness of his words matched the chill of the night. I shivered. What would it feel like to have fangs burrowing into my flesh and my limbs torn away, one by one?

Flake-out Friday–Break the Rules Blogfest!!!!!

My blogger peep Elizabeth Mueller is hosting a “break the rules blogfest” today and I’m happy to participate by posting an early, “pre-educated” draft of a previous WIP. This was before I really learned about killing redundancy, showing versus telling, eliminating back story, and creating tension.

So, where’s the flake out? It’s really anxiety provoking to post a rough, unpolished version of a novel I trunked over a year ago! Anyway, here goes…

Completed in 1384, the Castle Kirkwood stood as a symbol of the wealth and power of the local Lord.  Construction had started seven years earlier, but the time had finally come for his Lady Ruth Kirkwood and their infant daughter Arianna to move in. The wait was worth it.  Lord William Kirkwood basked in its magnificence.  Most of the other local Lords had built manors in which to live.  That, of course, was not good enough for Kirkwood.  His castle was a true reflection of his greatness and grandeur.

Lord Kirkwood, tall and solidly built, watched with pleasure as his beautiful wife, elegant and erect with her long dark locks braided into a tight bun atop her head, entered the threshold and took in the interior.  Her bright green eyes took in the expansiveness of their new home.  A great hall opened out to the right of the entrance, while a steep stair surrounded by thick walls ascended to the second level.  To the left of the centrally located stair, the space was broken up into smaller rooms.  A study for the Lord, where he would plan his conquests, took up most of the space.  Smaller rooms to the back were parceled out to the servants.  There was a door leading out to the back where a semi-detached kitchen stood.  Despite being built with stone, having a separate kitchen respected the tradition of having a safety measure against fire.

Of course, the great hall had a long, rectangular dining table at its center and a large fireplace along its outer wall.  The fireplace was flanked by tall windows, which were made of many smaller glass panes.  The lady especially liked this feature as it made the large echo-prone hall seem “comfortable.”

Upstairs, the space was divided into several bedchambers, the largest of which was dedicated to the Lord and Lady.  It was off to the right of the stair.  To the left and front of the castle was their daughter’s bedroom.  She was as of yet too young to sleep in the room on her own.  Children grow fast, the Lady would say, and soon enough Arianna would be able to sleep in her own bed.

Since the castle faced the east, the room would be filled with the warm rising sun of dawn.  An ideal place for a child, the Lady thought.

Lord Kirkwood was pleased that his wife was happy.  Together, they watched their daughter grow through infancy and toddlerhood.  She was happy and inquisitive and her lively chatter brought warmth to the cold stones.  It was well known that Arianna shared many of her mother’s features.  Most obvious of which were their dark hair and striking emerald green eyes.

In the five years that they had lived in the castle, Lord Kirkwood prospered as the nearby city of Dartford developed into a commercial center.  Dartford had the premiere location of acting as a hub between London, Canterbury, and the Kent Coast.  Trade flowed down Dartford’s mainstreet and the people of the city benefited from the constant stream of commerce.  It seemed only natural that the Lord’s success would match that of his city.  He was also pleased to see that his “neighbor” Lord Beckwith was sharing the same prosperity.  And the neighboring Lord had plenty of sons.  Lord Kirkwood did not waste time in setting up a betrothal between his daughter, now five years old, and Lord Jeffrey Beckwith’s eldest son, Hugh, who was nearing manhood at fifteen.  When the Lord learned that his Lady was again with child, he dared to start planning for the birth of a son.  His heir.  Things were going so well, how could he not expect to be blessed with a son?

The higher you are, the harder you fall.  He was blessed with a son, but his wife, his beautiful wife, hemorrhaged and died only moments after the newborn was placed in her arms.  Her anguished cries were seared into Kirkwood’s memory as she mourned her stillborn infant before her own body gave out.  Anger flared in him as he looked into her eyes, those clear green eyes that he so loved, as they glazed over.  Fate, how cruel!!  He thought.

Coldness descended on the castle then, setting in like a dense fog in late fall when the leaves have fallen but not yet the snows.  The Lord’s heart turned brittle with bitterness.  His clear, ice blue eyes became hard and cruel.  He busied himself with leading armies and warmongering.  Battles were easy to find and he had his share.  It was in his blood.  So much he thirsted for war.  It was the only thing that sated his rage. Mentioning his name struck fear in the hearts of the people of Dartford.  Since his Lady’s demise, he no longer had a check on his cunning and ruthlessness.  People became pawns.  They were objects.  A means to an end.  To see a human beneath risked hesitation in battle, a risk he could not afford.  Nor would he abide by it.

Alrighty, gang. So how many faux pas do you see? (I think I hit most of the heavy hitters on Elizabeth’s list. Don’t believe me? Check out her post here. You won’t be disappointed. Plus, you can find links to all the other brave bloggers taking part in the fun. Thanks, Elizabeth for such a fun idea!)

On a side note, I came across this post via Karen Gowen–it’s hilarious!!! (Thank you, Evonne, you took the words right out of my mouth!!)

Logline Blogfest!

Hey gang! Bryan, author of the Time Guardian Blog and the Time Guardian Saga series is hosting a blogfest on loglines! Of course, in my fashion, I’m coming to this late and just cutting under the wire, LOL!

So, without further ado, I’m offering versions of my logline (my one sentence hook for DARK PRIDE) for your comments. Truth be told, I’m not officially sold on any of ’em, so I’m really looking for honest, constructive feedback.

  1. When sixteen-year-old Nickie Leone discovers her missing father is still alive, she not only has to follow the clues to find him, but she has to develop her shapeshifting abilities in the process to save both their lives.
  2. When a mentor for all things shapeshifting arrives in the form of handsome and evasive Xavian, sixteen-year-old Nickie Leone must learn how to manage her skills and figure out how to find her father before he’s killed.
  3. Sixteen-year-old Nickie Leone is the only one who knows her father is still alive until hottie Xavian confirms her beliefs—by teaching her how to shapeshift and how she can use her ability to save him.
  4. Shapeshifting into a cat is the furthest thing on sixteen-year-old Nickie Leone’s mind because she needs to save her missing father before his rival kills him and adopts her into the pride.
  5. After sixteen-year-old Nickie Leone’s father goes missing, Nickie is left to navigate the world of feline shapeshifters on her own to save him.

Yeah, so any of these make sense? Are ya drawn in to read more, or just utterly confused?