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Monthly Archives: February 2012

Don’t Eat Sugar Before Bed

In the end of the first chapter of Ethan’s tale, Stealing the Crown, everyone dies. Ethan returns to the thieves guild to find all his fellow thieves, those that he lived his daily life with, brutally murdered.

At the delivery of my first chapter to my critique group, the top complaint I got about this scene was that they didn’t know enough about those characters to care that they were all dead.

Never fear! I will give Ethan nightmares, throughout his journey, for two purposes: 1) Ethan needs to be more tormented. 2) You get a better sense of those he lost at the beginning as you get to see them in his dreams.

Yesterday, during my push to get to 10k, I wrote his first nightmare. Here, you get your first look at Stealing the Crown, without heavy and major revisions. Read it, let me know what you think. Is it understandable as a dream? Is it too terrifying? Keep in mind, the dreams will only get worse from here on out.

 

***
“Ethan, what’s going to happen to us?”

“What do you mean, Harris?” I stretched out in my hammock, rolling my head to pop the muscles in my neck. I cracked an eye open to peer at him across the dimness of my room.

He sat in the corner opposite me, his knees drawn up under his chin like they always were. For the life of me, I didn’t know why he’d sought me out rather than staying with the others in the next room. A sleepy man who’d just gotten back from a heist couldn’t be much fun to hang around. But then, Harris never really had wanted to be around others.

A big chunk of his black hair slipped out from behind his ear to cover his face and he didn’t bother brushing it away. “When you leave us. Who’s gonna do your job?”

I frowned, feeling the skin across my forehead wrinkle in that way I really hated. “Who said I was going anywhere?” Maybe he’d mixed me up for Matthew and Nathan, who were planning to set out on their own next month.

He scuffed the heel of his boot across the floor as he looked anywhere but at me. “The men downstairs. The smoke-bringers. They said you wouldn’t be with us anymore.”

I sat up, my bare feet scratching against the rough floor of my room. “What men?” Smoke-bringers? I’d never even heard of a term like that.

Before he could answer me, a curl of smoke wound its way under my door. Harris watched it dissolve in the air for a moment before looking at me with scared and sad eyes. I moved to the door, throwing it open. The troop of kids that had been playing in here a moment ago, climbing over the tables and chairs, had vanished. Joan stood in the corner, stirring a pot of soup over flames that had lost their color. Without even looking up at me, she sighed, pounding the spoon against the rim of the pot. “It can’t be helped; you’re too late to do anything about it, you know.”

I stared at her as thick smoke filled the room. Coughing against the weight and heat, I stumbled towards the far wall. Real fire, burning red and hot, was climbing the stairs. The familiar roar was doing its best to mask the screams from the missing children. I tried to run down the stairs, tried to find them and get them out of the building, but the fire pushed me back up to the second floor.

A large crack behind me made me turn around. The floor between me and my bedroom had caved in under the heat. Black smoke billowed into my view, blocking out the rest of the floor. I pressed against the back wall, coughing into my arm. As the air cleared a little, I could see Harris standing in the doorway, back to me as he looked out the windows. “Harris! Get out of here!”

My words cut off as he turned. A line of red crossed his neck, spilling blood onto his shirt. He held a hand out to me, a hand that was already smoldering like the logs of a dying fire. “What’s going to happen to us, Ethan?” His words echoed in my head, pulling me towards him.

“It’s going to be alright, Harris. I’ll get you out of here. I’ll—” The floor beneath me caved in, dropping me towards the fire below.

I jerked as the cart beneath me hit a rough bump. The sweat across my face had the hay sticking to me. I swatted it away, trying to untangle the cloak from around me. Sitting up in the cool night air, I groaned as I rubbed at my eyes. So much for getting a decent night’s sleep.

***

You get a very small glimpse into life in the thieves guild here. More nightmares will expound more on how they all relate to one another. Does this fit the bill for an introductory nightmare?

What’s the most terrifying nightmare you ever had? What made it scary? Regal us with your tales of horror in the comments below. And remember, don’t eat sugar right before you go to bed. It’s not a recipe for a happy night’s sleep.

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Chocolate Chip Cookies & Query Advice

Every writer serious about their craft, fiction or non-fiction, knows this one simple truth: Query letters are the devil. It’s hard to condense your whole work, which you spent months or years laying out into a XX,000 word masterpiece, into one paragraph to fit on a one page query letter.

There’s no getting around it. Unless you are going to self-publish (and I’ll admit, I’m no expert in the area so I don’t know how self-publishing works), you have to sweat through writing out a submission or query letter to agents, editors, or publishers, only to get a healthy stack of rejection letters.

In lieu of fresh chocolate chip cookies, which I have yet figured out how to share on a satisfying level through the internet, I’ll share some of my favorite advice on query letters that, while not making the process any more pleasant, will, I hope, calm some of your distracting fears.

Dumb down your pitch. Make it simple. They get hundreds of these a day; no one wants to slog through complicated language and too-lofty prose in order to get to the heart of the matter. Keep it simple, showcase your writing style while telling what your book is about, and move on. But don’t be condescending. That’s just stupid of you.

Put the problem and a generalization of the world in the first sentence. Don’t mistake this for what your story is about; just get it out there quick so that you can get to what your story means.

Do not use platitudes and empty phrases to convey what your story is about. Write from your heart.

The point of a query letter is to catch attention. Only include information to this effect. It’ll help keep it short while still giving you a better chance to catch attention.

Do your research on the agents. Know who takes what. Take the time to research the works they represent, and make sure yours will fit in there. If you mention in the letter that you know something about them (in specifics) and love X work that they represented, you’ll get farther.

Don’t use the same email to send to multiple agents. While they assume you’re sending it out to multiple people at the same time, they don’t want to see who you’re querying. If they see multiple recipients, they’ll automatically delete it.

Who? What? Where? Why should you care? These questions will help you get a clean pitch that is relevant and will catch attention.

Take the time to get your work in the best shape possible before you submit it. Agents remember when you’ve submitted to them. If you send them something sub-par, they probably won’t give it another look after you’ve polished it up more. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Take your time.

I repeat: SAVE YOURSELF FROM PREMATURE SUBMISSION!

Never apologize if you don’t have credentials. Just display confidence in your writing (because you clearly believe in it if you’re bothering to submit it). Find a unique way to present yourself, and it’ll all work out. Agents love new authors!

Your query letter is not forwarding your letter. Think of it more as a showcase of your potential as a writer. That is the first thing the agent sees. Wow them with that. Take the time to make it and your work fantastic. Enjoy each rejection letter as a step closer to getting published.

Another suggestion an agent dropped at San Francisco Writers Conference was to team up with your critique partner and write each other’s pitches. When you’re the one who took the time to write that many words, it’s hard to sum it up in a few. But your partner, who only worked with you on those words, is less attached and would have an easier time of chopping it down, and vice versa.

So team up, take a deep breath before you start writing your letter, get yourself a big pile of emergency chocolate, and relax. It’s not the end of the world, and you do have time to get it right.

P.S. Check out my links for authors tab. There are other blogs out there, like Query Shark and Nathan Bransford’s post on writing pitches, that are fantastic resources for authors struggling to put a pitch together.

Flirting with Danger

I attended the San Francisco Writers Conference last weekend. I learned a lot, and met many fantastic people. It was definitely worth the price to go.

My favorite panel emerged clear and brilliant on Saturday morning. Robert Dugoni, author of Murder One, Bodily Harm, Wrongful Death, and a number of other crime novels, taught a session on creating conflict in your novel. Everyone needs conflict. That’s why we read a book. Every time I go to my critique group, telling them I’m bored with a certain part I’m writing, they tell me to add more conflict. Usually in the way of “You’re bored? Well have someone stabbed or kidnapped.”

I took the most notes in this session than any others of the weekend.

He emphasized a few obvious points, like the first thing writers need to do is to create empathy for the character. Even before you bring conflict into the story, no one is going to bother reading it. There is so much out there to read, you have to be taken with the writing or the characters in order to continue almost immediately. You definitely need to have an identifiable character in order for the reader to make it through to the end.

He laid out the steps to creating conflict in order: Create empathy, concern, impending danger, then escalating tension.
 

Concern
The concern comes naturally if you’ve created empathy. It’s the natural response of readers when the first stirrings of trouble reach the character. What’s going to happen to them? Oh, I hope they’re alright. Now let’s see some pain.

Impending Danger

This is when things start getting hot. Rather than a vague stirring of troubles, the Forces of Evil are directly challenging the character or someone he/she cares about. There is no veering off the path now. They may get rebellious and try to refuse to be the hero, but something is coming and they cannot run far enough to get away from it.

Escalating Tension

This is the capstone. This is the apex. This is the moment all readers read for. Things get so thick with tension and danger that, although it’s two in the morning, you’re still hiding under your blanket with a flashlight reading frantically. Climax is what you build towards the entire book. It’s present in every novel. It’s what readers read for. Torment the characters. Make them suffer. Make them look like they will almost fail. Make the readers continue turning the page. “Five more minutes!” is futile here. You’re trapped.

The key to tension is setting your character up to fail from the beginning. With most novels (except those twists that come out of left field), the reader can probably guess the ending. What they’re reading for is how you get from point A to point B. The more helpless you make the situation, the more you can add tension in.

PLEASE NOTE: MELODRAMA SHALL NOT BE ACCEPTED IN FICTION WRITERS WHO CLAIM TO HAVE BRAINS.

Flirting vs. Teasing
The thing I loved the most with this session was his explanation of flirting versus teasing. You want to flirt with the reader. You never want to tease them. Teasing leads to frustration. Frustration allows the reader to put the book down. Do not let your reader put the book down.

Now what is the difference between these two? Let’s go to the bar for an example. There’s a beautiful woman sitting there. A man asks her if he can buy her a drink. She agrees. “So, what’s your name?” “Why do you want to know?” All the woman wanted was the drink. She sits there, teasing the men, only to infuriate them. SHE WILL NEVER DELIVER. That is teasing.

Flirting is fun. Flirting takes intelligence and carefully crafted plans and entrapments that keep them coming back, keeps them chugging forward. But at the end of the day, the flirt is held up. The flirt will deliver on what they’ve been hinting at all night. If you flirt away with the information readers want to know, but deliver it, you’re flirting. If you keep it going on and never give the readers the information they want, then you are teasing.

Flirting is about five pages. You lead the reader up to a conflict. Then you either cut in time, or cut to a different character. You leave them wondering what will happen to that conflict as you show them something else (of course, it must always be important and serve a purpose). After about five pages, you go back to that original conflict. You give them some answers. More than that, you raise more questions. Questions are the reasons readers turn pages.

Here’s a list of key ways to create conflicts. Feel free to steal/borrow/blatantly plagiarize/make it work in your own novel.

Torment your characters (obviously. I’m of the opinion that all good writers are sadists. You have to have fun driving your characters to a mental breakdown. Otherwise, it’s not fun to read.)
Put them in a place they’re not familiar with (or in a place that works differently than what they’re used to. How funny is it to see college students in Mexico on spring break demand their constitutional rights?)
Introduce a new character
New circumstances come up (The man we all thought was guilty actually isn’t because the DNA evidence just came in?!)
Twists
Love at first sight
A moral lapse
A murder/death by some other means
A breech of a solemn oath
Nature gone wild (deadly storms are always good)
Someone standing up to corruption
Heart-crushing event (A son swears revenge; the father wanted him to be a judge, and uphold the law)
Betrayal
Forgiveness
Life-saving attempt
Battle
Seduction
Caper

So to summarize, conflict makes everything yummier. Conflict is the home-made chocolate chip cookie that readers go to books for. To make a happy, sugar-stuffed reader, always flirt but never tease. If you’re going to withhold information to keep them reading (and you should), you better deliver eventually. End a chapter with a cliffhanger. At the beginning of the next, go to a sub-plot. Then when the sub-plot gets to a cliffhanger, go back to the original event. Keep your readers turning the page. Don’t let them put the book down. And go get some sugary delights to reward yourself for a conflict well done.

Redoing the Undone – Time for Chocolate

I flew all the way from Utah to San Francisco to attend the San Francisco Writers Conference (that is a seven hour trip starting at 5 a.m. I really do not want to talk about) last weekend. I learned so much, but at the cost of my brain exploding.

One thing I learned is that I now get to redo something I previously undid.

My first novel, working title A Captive Mind, started as a medieval fantasy. The characters were fairies. There was magic in the world: rare, but it was present. The magic was the first thing to go. While I loved the idea and it was unique, I felt it served no purpose to the story. It was prevalent in the beginning, disappeared in the story, and then reappeared at the end (because I suddenly remembered that I’d forgotten it). Then the fairies went away. My fairies were so human-like, people would forget they were not humans. Any mention of wings would jar them from the story. So I made them human.

While I still stick by the decision to make them human, because the publishing world isn’t quite ready for my brand of fairies, I’ve been reconsidering the magic thing.

My book really needs something to make it stand out. And a woman who is able to read your mind by touching you, whether she wants it to happen or not, is pretty unique. So now I’m going to shelve it for a while and spend some time developing and solidifying how the magic in the novel works.

I also had the opportunity to meet Valerie Gray from Harlequin’s Toronto office. She is an amazingly kind and helpful woman. Harlequin/LUNA/MIRA is also a company I [not so] secretly would love to publish with. She gave me some very sound advice about developing it some more and possibly splitting it into multiple books. That is a fantastic idea, seeing as how long it’s turning out to be.

But anyways, the point of my rambling is this: I’m going to shelve the project while I think more on how to develop it. Instead, I’m going to work on my other book, Stealing the Crown, with Ethan. Ethan is a thief who has to rescue a princess. Look forward to it. He’s so hedonistic and egoistical. His voice is very strong. He’ll be happy that I’m going back to him, because he’s of the opinion that it’s all about him anyways. He will be making an appearance here on Spell it in Sugar, I guarantee it. And he will definitely shower the fans with sugar, whether they want it or not.

Sugar-Coated Dreams

Greetings, everyone!

My name is Sami. I’ll be your tour guide through this lovely factory of sugar, chocolates, and dreams. If you’ll keep both hands and feet inside the posts at all times, we’ll proceed nicely.

Spell It In Sugar is a new blog that will follow my endeavors as I hammer out the many storylines chugging along in my head, fight with my characters who think they know everything, and toddle along in the publishing world without an agent or a publisher.

To your left, you’ll see the two projects I have underway: A Captive Mind, a YA fantasy novel about Princess Zeponine’s struggle to get back to her throne and regain her own power (without falling for Prince Vedo, who wouldn’t hesitate to kill her if he knew who she really was). The other is yet untitled, because Ethan demands a killer title and nothing proposed is good enough. His book will be a cross-over YA/Adult fantasy novel about Ethan, a thief good at what he does who has to rescue a kidnapped princess purely for the profit *cough*that’swhathetellshimself*cough*.

To your right, you’ll catch glimpses of rants on Uni life, occasional peeks into the Tech Writing world, and my struggles with moving from a state I’ve always lived in to the Northwest Coast.

I hope you enjoy the tour and please feel free to ask questions as they come up.