WFMAD 2013

Last year I caught the tail end of WFMAD.  I didn’t know what it was, just that Laurie Halse Anderson was writing great inspirational posts each day.  They were wonderful to read, so yesterday, when WFMAD, Write Fifteen Minutes A Day, began again, I knew I wanted to be a part of it.  It took me a little while to get started, though, as I wasn’t sure I could find fifteen minutes to focus on writing new pages for my work in progress.  But I realized that for me, what I need to be doing is writing anything each day – blog posts, snippets about my trip that will help me capture each city’s unique sense of place, and character sketches.  It’s okay if the new words don’t go directly into the manuscript, as long as they keep me writing, keep me focused on making words (ideally good words, but I’ll take any words right now).  So I’m starting today, putting in my fifteen minutes even though I probably ought to be getting ready for bed.  It’s so little time; I can wedge it in.  All I need to do is commit.

Even though the month has already started, you can join in too.  Go here for Laurie Halse Anderson’s kick-off post, and check her blog daily for new posts on writing, finding time, and craft.  Each day she’s posting writing prompts to help you get going if you don’t have a project in mind, so there’s no excuse for not writing (she really makes it hard to find any excuse at all).  What are you waiting for?  Go on, get to your writing!

Odds and Ends, and a Boatload of Links

Hello Again!

I know, I know, it’s been more than a little while since I’ve posted, not for a lack of topics but rather a lack of time.  Since I posted last here, I cleared the 70k word mark on the first draft of my latest work-in-progress and am now deep in the revision stage of the manuscript.  I attended one retreat – the Big Sur Children’s Writing Workshop – and three (yes, three!) SCBWI conferences.  I’m hoping to write a post or three on my takeaways from the conferences, and on the amazingness that is the Big Sur workshop, so check back for those in the next few months.

Yes, it may really be a few months, because next month I’m going to be researching my current WIP in a whirlwind trip around Europe.  I’ll be starting in Prague and gradually making my way to Dubrovnik, then catching a plane to London for a few days before heading home.  I can’t say much about the manuscript yet, but I can tell you I’ll be visiting a lot of churches, especially those with catacombs, and checking out former Cold War spy hangouts in Vienna.  I’m hoping to be able to keep up on twitter and post a bit to instagram while overseas, but I’ll likely be fairly quiet otherwise, as I’ll be writing, ideating, and photographing everything I can.

In the meantime, I started a project this summer that will hopefully benefit not just me but a lot of writers.  Last winter I realized how many tweets I’d favorited – over 5,000(!) – and most of them were links to articles on writing craft.  Twitter doesn’t provide an easy way to go through that many favorites, so I set up an export to the bookmarking site, Diigo.  I finally got around to looking through the links last month, and started to re-tag them with meaningful categories.  I’ve kept the unreviewed links private, but as I’m reviewing them I’m making them public.  I’ve got a little over 200 available right now, so if you’re looking for revision techniques, great tools to get to know your characters, or just about anything else writing-related, you can find links from around the web to help you do just that.

You can find the link database at https://www.diigo.com/user/Katebranden.

How have you spent your summer?  Do you have any big plans for the fall?

Book I Heart: The Archived by Victoria Schwab

The Archived by Victoria Schwab

Title: The Archived
Author: Victoria Schwab
Genre: Young Adult
Publisher: Hyperion

Back Cover Copy:
Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books.

Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures that only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive. Da first brought Mackenzie Bishop here four years ago, when she was twelve years old, frightened but determined to prove herself. Now Da is dead, and Mac has grown into what he once was: a ruthless Keeper, tasked with stopping often-violent Histories from waking up and getting out. Because of her job, she lies to the people she loves, and she knows fear for what it is: a useful tool for staying alive.

Being a Keeper isn’t just dangerous—it’s a constant reminder of those Mac has lost. Da’s death was hard enough, but now that her little brother is gone too, Mac starts to wonder about the boundary between living and dying, sleeping and waking. In the Archive, the dead must never be disturbed. And yet, someone is deliberately altering Histories, erasing essential chapters. Unless Mac can piece together what remains, the Archive itself might crumble and fall.

In this haunting, richly imagined novel, Victoria Schwab reveals the thin lines between past and present, love and pain, trust and deceit, unbearable loss and hardwon redemption.

Why I Love It:
“The Narrows remind me of August nights in the South.”

This book drew me in with the very first line. Victoria Schwab has the rare gift of being able to fully immerse the reader in the world she’s created. For me, the first line, and the first two pages of not-quite-prologue before chapter one starts, did just that. I could feel the heat and the thick night air wrapping itself around me and pulling me onto that porch with Mackenzie and Da.

This is a book about grief and loss, and about secrets and the loneliness they bring. But it’s also a book about learning to live with loss, about learning to open up and share, and to trust. I don’t know that I’ve read another book that captured the longing and emptiness of grief so well. The Bishop family, especially Mackenzie, is so well written that the grief is palpable. Even the Coronado, the former hotel that provides a backdrop for the story, longs for better days. I could see the peeling wallpaper, the cracked molding and worn carpet. And the Archive, the library of the dead, comes alive on the page.

The heart of the plot is a mystery, and it’s well-developed and intriguing. The clues and discoveries fold seamlessly into the narrative and the reveal is both surprising and, in hindsight, inevitable. There’s also a very yummy boy and a bit of romance that elevates the plot rather than simply running along side it. Basically everything that I adore in a book is in this book. Beautiful writing, well-woven plot, and characters to fall in love with. And let’s not forget gargoyles, guyliner, and a very cool librarian.

I was fortunate to win an ARC of The Archived in a twitter contest – thanks Victoria! – so I got to read all of its deliciousness early. The hardcover of The Archived releases tomorrow and the ebook will be out on the 29th, so place your pre-order or mark your calendar to hit up your favorite bookstore. You don’t want to miss this one.

Goodbye 2012, Hello Twinkly 2013

Storm Kitten

A new year is a chance at a fresh start.  It’s a new beginning, if that’s what you need it to be, and that’s exactly what I need.  As far as years go, 2012 was not my favorite.  I struggled with my writing, my day job, and my health, and I lost my best friend and kitty of thirteen years, Storm.  So, goodbye, 2012, don’t let the calendar hit you on the behind on your way out!

These last few weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about resolutions, commitments, and what I want for this year of my life.  I decided that 2013 is the year for revision, the year that I take one of my unfinished or rough-around-the-edges manuscripts and rework it, polish it until it shines.  And this is the year that I’ll submit that manuscript to agents.  I decided that my word for the year would be AGENCY, as in, I’m determined to land an agent, but I’m also determined to take more control of my writing, my health, and my time.  I need to have agency in my own life.

So that was my plan, and I thought it was a darn good one.  And it was, until the morning of Wednesday, January 2nd, when I got to work and opened up my brand new moleskine.  New year, new notebook.  Blank pages galore.  What would I fill them with?  I could write anything.  I was the one with the pen in my hand.  I was the one in control.  Except, I didn’t want to be in control; I didn’t want to be the girl with the plan.  I wanted to put the pen to the paper and be surprised about what came out.

A new year is full of unwritten days.  Days that I could plan down to the hours and minutes and fill with structure and commitment.  And I know, without question, that I need to do more of that.  But I also need to be careful not to over-plan, to over-structure, or I’ll miss all the great surprises, the things that happen when you’re not expecting them, the twists and turns and spontaneous moments of squee.  Those are the best parts, after all.

Life is full of unlimited possibilities, like stars in the night sky.  There are so many we can’t even see them all, and they’re so much bigger than they look from here.  So my word for 2013 is STARS, to remind myself not to limit, not to hold back.  To shine brighter than I ever have before.  So come on, 2013, I’m looking forward to seeing what you’ll bring.

Stars, and the glow over the Halemaumau crater of the Kilauea volcano on Big Island, Hawaii by LoveBigIsland, on Flickr

Short Story - First Draft Done!

The short story I was working on, secret project “LS”, is done.  Well, done as in the first draft is done, and it’s with two beta readers.  I should hear back from them at some point over the weekend.  I hope.  I’m very antsy about it.

A few notes on how I wrote it, and what I learned from the experience:

  • I used a checklist to track all the things that I needed to tell the reader.  It was a working list, and as I found things to add I added them.  I found this really, really helpful in planning scene-to-scene.
  • This is the first time that the final conflict clicked with me.  Now that doesn’t mean it didn’t need revisions, and doesn’t need more revisions, but it was as if all the parts clicked into place, the way they should when writing a scene.  I expect this was because I actually took a few days before I wrote it and made sure that the villain was the right villain, and that I knew how the confrontation would go down.  Well, I thought I did, anyway, but -
  • Each scene I planned in advance, and each scene came out at least a little differently than I’d planned.  Instead of trying to fix this, I went with it, and trusted the instinct.
  • Each day I started with revising what I’d written the previous day, then checking the list and assessing whether or not I was on track.  If I wasn’t, I took some time to do some planning to get back on track.  This ultimately meant that I wrote less, but what I ended up writing was of a higher quality, because I gave myself permission to get it right, and because if it wasn’t right, I gave myself permission to mull it over and fix it the next day, rather than pushing forward with the “I’ll fix it later” attitude.  The next day the writing still felt like soft clay, still moldable.  It also meant that I put less pressure on how much I had to get done each session, which made it easier to start.
  • Some days I didn’t write at all, I just revised, researched and planned.  But each day I worked at least a little on the story.

As this was a short story, the plotting was simplified, there were fewer characters to develop, and it was easier to keep all of the story elements in my mind.  But I think the lessons I learned from the process that I used will help me in my novel revisions and in writing my next first draft.  I’m still learning this craft, and I think the biggest learning curve is learning what works for me.  It’s learning how to work within my personal limitations to allow the story to make it to the page in its truest form.  And I’m finding that what works for me is slow and steady, as opposed to the quick and dirty first draft.  I’m surprised, but I’m just going to go with it.