Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Free Range Peas: Holiday Word Association

Due to the holiday week, we're doing something a little wild, a little random, a little non-committal, but mostly we're feeling the freedom of Pea-dom. Enjoy the little word association we passed around during a recent critique group meeting and behold the first installment of Free Range Peas. Can you guess the order we went in?

tea, cookies, monster, mash, potatoes, gravy, train, thought, memory, board, game, sport, bottle, blonde, hair, band, mate, sex, hair, razor, sharp, thing, animal, magnetism, earth, shaker, salt, Angelia Jolie, lips, Rocky Horror Picture Show, fishnet stockings, A Christmas Story, BB gun, ouch, Band-Aid, hospital, gown, ball, bounce, dryer sheet, laundry, work, book, ninja peas

Happy Holidays to all! And have a terrific New Year. We'll be back to our regularly scheduled programming in January.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Guest Pod: Reader Interview - Andrea Beard

Andrea Beard, 20 year old Junior at Mizzou, majoring in Accounting.

Hi all!! I'm back! {and butting in front of M this week to post}.
For our first reader interview, I chose my sister. While she and I have many differences, we have one very important thing in common {aside from our DNA}: our love of books.

Now, as a writer it might be obvious why I would foster a love for the written word. But what about an accounting major deep in the college experience? What number-loving party-goer has time for such a solitary {and right-brained} activity as reading? Well, I've always said that my sister was smart. And while sometimes I'm referring to her being a smart ass, there's no denying the girl is intelligent. So, in my personal opinion, the fact that she's smart is why she's a reader. And I don't mean nerdy smart. In fact, I think you'd put her in the category of "cool" smart. As in, she'll put you in your place without the "popular girl" snobbery, but rather by saying something clever that illustrates how much smarter she is than you. And more often than not, illustrates how much more she's read than you, too. But that's just my opinion. So, read on, and form one for yourself. {But I'm right}.

Okay, Andi. We'll start off simple. What do you read?
        Books. Obviously.
*laughs*... *deadpans*... now seriously.
        Oh, fine. *grins* I read mostly Young Adult or Sci-Fi. But I really like things based on true stories and real people. I don't know if they're actually factual, but... *shrugs*... And I read whatever you say is good, too. {By you she means me}. And books from lists of what to read before I die -- just to say I've read them.
Good reasoning! *laughs* So... why do you read?
        Because I'm not illiterate. *chuckles* Even though I can't spell *she adds under her breath*
Funny! ...And true *I add under my breath* 
Now the non-smartass answer, please? Why do you read -- what do you want from a book you choose?
        I want a completely different reality. I want to be transported to different worlds but have it all still be completely possible. I want a book I'm going to still think about, years after reading it, for no reason.
I like that. That's a good reason. So then, what are your favorite books of all time? The ones you still find yourself thinking about afterward?
        I really like the Maze Runner, Narnia, the 7 Realms, Stephen King's Everything's Eventual, and His Dark Materials. But I love the Hunger Games trilogy, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and my very favorite book(s) of all time: Harry Potter!
*nods in approval* Okay, so what makes Harry Potter your favorite ever?
        More than any other book, I can enter my own world and completely feel the emotions of each character. 
I know exactly what you mean! I also take on the emotions of the characters of the books I read.
        Yeah. And by the way, DON'T try and talk to me while I'm reading the Order of the Phoenix. I get really defiant and pissy! 
*chuckles knowingly*
        Hard to imagine, I know. No really -- more than usual. Someone should warn my boyfriend.
*laughs* Order of the Phoenix is my favorite book in the series. And I get the same way! {Thankfully, I've learned to control it when real life butts in while I'm reading}. 
I miss those books. I think it's time for me to read them again... again. Ha. How many times would you say you've re-read the Harry Potter series?
        The first four, well over ten times. The last three, probably eight or nine times.
So when you do decide to venture out and find something new to read, where do you go? What route -- if one were to lose you in the bookstore -- would you say you generally take?
        YA first, which is usually by the Children's section, so sometimes I'll go look for authors I know there. Then, over to the books on war, then usually over to the Sci-Fi/ Fantasy section. After that I wander around and look for really pretty books.
*laughs* That sounds like mine! Minus the section on war. Though, I usually get distracted by the discount/gifty books at the front first! ...*looks at word count*... well, I should wrap this up. I'll leave our audience with my favorite question: How important is reading in your life?
        Reading is my life. I can't imagine life without reading. That would be a very boring life indeed.***
Well said! Thanks very much for agreeing to be interviewed! {Not that you could say no. I'm your sister, after all *wink*} 

Next week... well, I'm not actually sure... so... get ready for a surprise! In the meantime, have a happy holidays!! Peas out!

***I received the following text from my sister post-posting, and I told her I'd add it to the interview, so here it is {with autocorrect accidents fixed, because I'm a nice sister}:

"Looking back at your questions I realized I didn't fully answer the last one. Where reading ranks in my life, somewhere between water and food. I would rather read than eat but they tell me I wouldn't survive without eating. And the why {which I edited out because she didn't answer it... to be fair, I texted her early tuesday morning - right before posting - for the last question, knowing she would be sleeping in...} would be because the real world isn't nearly as exciting as the ones I create in my head and I can live the lives of other people, know their thoughts and emotions, and know that real or fictional I'm not the only one to think or feel those things."

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Pick a Pea: Jeannie - What is Urban Fantasy?

We're one Pea short this week and next. (No, that isn't a euphemism to say we're insane...although it could be.) A is off visiting family so M and I are picking up the slack and hosting Pick A Pea posts! Basically, this is when we get to post anything and everything about whatever topic we choose. Recycling old posts from other blogs is also fair game. I mention this because that's precisely what I'm doing this week: recycling.

I posted the following articles "What is Urban Fantasy?" about a year ago on my personal blog, Wayward Muses and Shiny Objects, which is no longer being updated but has tons of posts on a variety of subjects so feel free to check out the archives. If you're familiar with the urban fantasy genre, you know it isn't easy to define. Everyone has their own opinions of what makes urban fantasy and what kicks a book over to the paranormal romance aisle or horror or mystery or whatever. Here is my take on the subject:

What is urban fantasy?

Urban fantasy is often defined as having supernatural/paranormal elements layered over our recognizable modern or near-future world. The setting is a large city such as Los Angeles, New Orleans, or St. Louis. Often the main character is female and the story is told in first person point of view. The story can have elements pulled from other genres such as science fiction, mystery, horror, and romance and woven together in a cohesive manner with varying degrees of emphasis placed on each of these genre elements. Primarily, the plot will consist of a mystery to be solved or a problem to be corrected before some great calamity strikes. Romance, if present, is usually a secondary plot. Character and story arcs often carry for multiple books. These are "The Rules" of urban fantasy.

We could spend hours if not days debating the finer points of what is or isn't urban fantasy. That is time we could spend doing more productive things, like writing the next book in a series or even the first book in a new series. For me, the definition hinges on the romance and if it's the main focus of the story or not because it's the easiest way to separate urban fantasy from its cousin, paranormal romance.

Where did it begin?

Most "experts" will point to the initial release of Laurell K. Hamilton's GUILTY PLEASURES (Book 1 in the Anita Blake series) in the early 1990s as the beginning of the genre's mass appeal to readers. However, I believe Anne Rice's INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE would also qualify as an early example of urban fantasy, even though the point of view character is male and much of the story is told as Louis's memories, the actual "interview" takes place modern times.

However, one could make a strong argument for finding urban fantasy's roots in the Romantic Movement in works such as Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN, Bram Stoker's DRACULA, Charles Dickens's A CHRISTMAS CAROL, and Edgar Allan Poe's MASK OF THE RED DEATH, to name a few. You're probably thinking to yourself "But these are classics! How can they be urban fantasy?" The answer is simple: At the time they were written, they were set in the modern era, in urban centers, and carried an element of the supernatural. Time moves forward but the written word doesn't. It's fixed on the page.

Pinpointing the start of urban fantasy is difficult and open for debate. Suffice it to say the genre has steadily gained popularity is now one of the most widely read genres because of its broad appeal to readers of other genres.

What are some common elements?

The most common element is the supernatural. Whether the supernatural takes the form of vampires, werewolves, fairies, zombies, aliens, shapeshifters, or something else isn't set in stone. Nearly any creature can make an appearance in urban fantasy.

What is the difference between urban fantasy and paranormal romance?

The two share 90% of their genre DNA. However, the main differences are this: Urban fantasy focuses on an issue outside of a romantic relationship between two characters. Paranormal romance focuses on a romantic relationship between two characters and how outside forces affect that relationship. The best litmus test to determine if a story is urban fantasy or paranormal romance is to ask the following question: "If the romance between Character A and Character B were removed, would the plot still stand as a viable storyline?" If the answer is "yes," chances are good it's urban fantasy. If the answer is "no," it's most likely paranormal romance.

Okay, so that covers the basics of urban fantasy. Are we clear on what is and isn't urban fantasy? We've all got "The Rules" firmly fixed in our minds? Good.

Now forget everything I just said.


Because it's fiction. When Mary Shelley wrote FRANKENSTEIN, she wasn't concerned with a genre. She wanted to write a ghost story. She wanted to write fiction.

You want to write urban fantasy with a male protagonist? Do it. The "rule" that says you must have a female protagonist hasn't stopped Jim Butcher, nor did it stop Mary Shelley.

You want to write urban fantasy set in a post-apocalyptic world? Do it. Stacia Kane's Downside Ghosts series is a wonderful example of the broken "rule" that says it has to be a modern day or near future setting. You can even write a story set in the past. Edgar Allan Poe did. THE MASK OF THE RED DEATH uses the backdrop of the Black Plague for its setting even though Poe was writing in the 1800s, long after the plague had all but disappeared.

You want to write urban fantasy set in a small town? Do it. Look no further than the popularity of Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse series to see that small towns can be just as intriguing as large metropolitan areas. Charles Dickens's London wasn't the sprawling urban center it is today. Yes, it was still a large city but reading that story has the feel of being set in a smaller London.

You want to write urban fantasy with multiple character view points? Do it. Faith Hunter's Rogue Mage series began with BLOODRING and featured both first and third person points of view. Bram Stoker's DRACULA has multiple points of view and each is necessary to convey the story. This is important: The story dictates its needs. If it can be told from one character's point of view, great. However, if more than one is required, don't sweat it. There is no actual "rule" that says you can't have more than one.

My point is this: Urban fantasy is a label used to identify where a book falls in the publishing spectrum. At the end of the day, it's fiction. Aside from the basic rules of writing, such as grammar, spelling, and the structure of story, there are no rules. Some of the best fiction ever written has broken "The Rules." Urban fantasy as a genre has broken rules from Day One and it will continue to do so. In fact it'll be necessary for the next generation of urban fantasy writers to break even more rules.

Will we see urban fantasy set on distance worlds and trekking through the stars? I think so.

Will we see urban fantasy set in the Roman era with gladiators battling werewolves for the entertainment of thousands? It's possible.

This is fiction and in fiction, anything is possible.

Tune in next week for M's Pick A Pea! Until then...

Peas out.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Game Pod: Dissection - Manuscript Edits Revealed

Editing a manuscript is hard work, even more so than writing the first draft. When you’re writing that first draft, you’re in the creative zone. Ideas are popping up left and right. Things are happening and you’re watching the events of the book unfold before your eyes. It’s fun.

But as much fun as the first draft can be, editing can be a nightmare. You’re literally taking apart this beautiful, perfect (in your eyes) creation and cobbling it back together like some kind of freakish Frankenstein’s monster. Will it be hideous or will some rich, handsome movie star want to take it out as his latest arm candy? These questions will plague your mind, your dreams, and eventually consume every ounce of your thought processes until you are left drained like last week’s special at the zombie all-you-can-eat buffet.

To illustrate the hell that can be editing (and to show how those quirky little typos can slip in the final product), I’m offering up a sample of BLOOD LAW. I’ve given a passage to Alexis and Michelle, and they have edited it as if it were a new project. (And, yes, we are this thorough and brutally honest every week when we meet.) They’re providing their overall comments and any additional notes can be found on the actual pages.

{click images to view larger}

From March 2009, when BLOOD LAW was still titled “Crimson Swan” and the editing process had just started. This version {above} isn’t the first first draft but it’s pretty darn close.

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Most of my overall comments are generally short. I say what I liked, what was working for me, and what wasn't working if there's any overarching issues I don't address in my edits. Otherwise, the margin notes pretty much explain any concerns. As you can see, I write whatever I'm thinking at the time of the edit, so I mostly reserve overall comments for the more positive feedback. Unless Jeannie has specifically asked for feedback on something {plot, emotions, action, whatever}. My overall comments for this would be: "Great start! Really intriguing relationship. Varik has some minor POV issues at the start but otherwise he felt believable. Alex seems like she is trying to be stronger than she is. I like that. Reminds me of me. The banter is great between them, too! Can't wait to read more!"

{click images to view larger}

Overall comments:
I really like the character development and conflict shown in these pages. This section does a lot for cultivating some great tension between Varik and Alex. However, there are some places where I felt too distanced from Varik's internal thought. This section is in his POV -- therefore needs to be grounded there every step of the way. I showed places where internal thought, reactions, or a bit more description of what Varik is seeing and thinking that could really pull this into sharper focus. I also felt there were a few places that paragraph breaks could speed up the pacing of the dialog and internal thought. People tend to digest more quickly what they're reading with visual cues. I think this could help in these pages. Lastly, there were some environmental, spacial details that seemed extraneous. I struck these out. Sometimes too many specific details can get your reader trying to figure out where everyone is standing versus what's actually happening in the scene. Overall, great passage and makes me want to know why Varik and Alex are so feisty toward each other.

While Alexis and Michelle were not actually included in this stage of this book, they have been in other works. You won't necessarily see their advice/edits taken into consideration, therefore, in the coming section. But know that this is where they would have been involved, and have been involved in other works.

I’m providing edited versions of the same scene from various points along the publication road. The first being from March 2009, shown above.

After my editor provided feedback, comments, and suggestions, I made some changes and resubmitted it to her. She came back with more comments and suggestions. I sent my changes in August.  A few weeks later, my editor asked for a few minor tweaks and my final revision was submitted in October.

At this point, I’d finished the major revision and now it was time for the copyeditor to step in and make everything cohesive and coherent. Copyeditors are lifesavers. They catch the small typos, the plot holes that may have been overlooked due to the extensive revisions, and make everything pretty. Of course, the pages may not look so pretty during this process, but believe me, it’s for the good of all.

Once the copyeditor is done, the first pass of typeset page proofs are sent for author review. Small changes can be made, such as correcting typos, omitted or added words, etc. This is when the manuscript starts to look like an actual book. It’s also the last chance the author has to make changes.

The final stage, or second pass, is the last chance the publisher (not the author) has to make very minor changes before everything goes to print. If it’s not fixed at this point, well…that’s when readers get to play Spot the Typo.

And that, dear readers, is how the Ninja Peas operate as a writing group and how a manuscript becomes a book. It’s a long, arduous journey and before the book reaches the shelf, authors are often wondering why they chose to start the journey. But then once the book is in the hands of readers and we hear from people across the globe that they enjoyed the words we committed to the page, that makes all the pain go away.

Peas out.