Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Game Pod: Creation -- Flash Fiction Mad Lib Remix

This week, the Peas wanted to have a little fun. So we took a flash fiction prompt idea from Alexis's husband, Josh, and did these stories Mad-Lib style. They certainly aren't going to be works of literary genius, but they promise to be entertaining! Also, each Pea will be color-coded to help you decipher which of us contributed what.

Jeffery the Lichtenstein zoo's only Okapi was mildly strange. He was also very lonely. There were only 423 left of his species in the entire world. He had tried his luck around the zoo. But the cow never seemed fuzzy enough. The Gila Monster was rusty. The budgie was flaky... she liked to dance, but otherwise, was quite lazy. And Kevin, the zookeeper, was completely out of the question (as she was 64 years old, looked like a juicer in purple, and smelled of something cloudy). So, one day, Jeffery decided that he would escape in search of romance. He changed his name to Nikita, turned a bedskirt into a mustache, tied an ascot around his head as part of his disguise, then broke out of his cage. He'd stolen plenty of kroner and maps off the tourists over the years, and because he was so flashy, his plan succeeded. He was free to find love.
Which he did, when he was cast on the latest season of American Idol, despite being an Okapi from Lichtenstein.

Dear Great grand nephew,
Having a great time at broccoli. Spanking a lot of stuff. Astronomy is boring but astrophysics is great. My English professor, Dr. General Custard, wants to publish my short story, A Tale of  237 Pterodactyls, in the campus journal. Balls! huh? My roommate, Mercedes, is frumpy but has an annoying habit of skipping everything in the frankfurter. The semester is articulating in a few weeks and some of us are planning a trip to the Big Ben. If you could please send $45 for camping equipment, pickles, and travel expenses, you would be the glossy third cousin in the ink.

Thanks and love ya!

*instead of writing a new work, I grabbed a scene from my trunk novel -- a YA romance I wrote several years ago. Enjoy!*

Stacy opened her eyes and threw up as she noticed a young man perched atop a round bird watching her. She was smashed and confused about where he'd come from. His eyes didn't tap hers as he startled, revealing a shiny chiseled torso and faded underwear. He waved and she noticed his delightfully thin ninja that seemed to have it's own agenda. It gave him an edgy almost rock star image. He climbed onto the beach and smelled toward her. Oh God! Why is he coming over here? Stacy was mortified and felt like she was walking in front of him completely in the fluffy. A bit scared and unsure of his intentions, she couldn't think of anything to do but take off her foot, look desperately at her pen and make a feeble attempt to crash herself with her parasite.
He was amused. He stood near 89 foot tall and had dainty plasticized eyes that glimmered red in the sunlight. His easy smile was set into a haphazardly chiseled bone structure. He sported cheese in both bellybuttons, 5 on the left and 207 on his right. His dim grin and tossed posture made her feel momentarily oblivious of her happiness until she made herself remember what he had just witnessed. He was the most playful guy she had seen in a millisecond and her ease diverted to panic again. She wanted to swallow her dagger in the donkey.
But she couldn't stop climbing at him.

As Josh was the mastermind of this week's flash fiction {and was awake when I was filling in words for M}, here is M's story again, this time, with Josh's words:

Stacy opened her eyes and licked up as she noticed a young man perched atop a smelly toenail watching her. She was grabbed and confused about where he'd come from. His eyes didn't smack hers as he poked, revealing an expensive chiseled torso and faded sweatband. He waved and she noticed his extremely hairy potato that seemed to have it's own agenda. It gave him an edgy almost rock star image. He climbed onto the beach and pooted toward her. Oh God! Why is he coming over here? Stacy was mortified and felt like she was fondling in front of him completely in the itchy. A bit scared and unsure of his intentions, she couldn't think of anything to do but take off her ghost, look desperately at her airplane and make a feeble attempt to sleep herself with her robot.
He was amused. He stood near 1 foot tall and had ugly shiny eyes that glimmered pink in the sunlight. His easy smile was set into a woefully chiseled bone structure. He sported goats in both femurs, one bajillion on the left and 3 on his right. His smooth grin and smoked posture made her feel momentarily oblivious of her blah until she made herself remember what he had just witnessed. He was the most shiny guy she had seen in a month of Sundays and her ease diverted to panic again. She wanted to crack her crack in the funion.
But she couldn't stop climbing at him.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Guest Reader Interview: Twelve Questions with Lauren Ladner

As you may have deduced, Lauren Ladner is related to me. She is my thirteen-year-old niece. I can attest that she has been an avid reader since the beginning. My fondest memories of her toddler-dom was watching her carry more books that she could hold, then, dumping them on the floor in front of me before she plopped down into my lap, demanding, "Read!" It's no surprise. Both of her parents are intelligent humans and avid readers, so in a way, she was born and groomed for it. She's my favorite person to book talk with because she's always got a thoughtful and fresh, untainted perspective. And we read a lot of the same books. From the mouths of babes, right? Well, she's a brilliant, well-read, and a mature young lady. And I'm not saying that just because I'm her aunt -- her teachers think so too. Here's what she had to say.

M: What authors (or stories) do you return to again and again? Why? 

Lauren: I return to the stories and authors that leave me with a sense of resonance. They make me feel like a changed person. I consider myself a reader who will read anything. I will give anything a try, and am not afraid to read new kinds of books.

M: As a reader, what do you expect out of the author and the story you are reading?

Lauren: I expect a good story (which isn't as easy to come by as you think). If it got published, it should be a good story. I expect the author to move the story along and not get too caught up on one thing.

M: What makes you pick up a book or author you've never read before?

Lauren: One of two things: #1 Cover. I don't like it if it has a face on the cover. The only book that I will buy if it has a face on it is a book that is part of a series I already own. #2 Recommendation. If it is recommended to me I will normally pick it up, if only to try it.

M: With so many books to read, why do you choose the books you do?

Lauren: Mostly by the genre and the cover. I keep myself (in personal, non-recommended reading) inside a fence of things that I like. I will hardly ever read friendship and family books, and I usually keep myself inside the Paranormal/Science Fiction romances.

M: Film before book, or book before film? Why?

Lauren: Book before film. That way, I can imagine the characters MY way.

M: List the five books that stick with you and tell why they do.

Lauren: The Tale of Desperaux sticks with me because Desperaux's undying love for Princess Pea, a girl he can never have, touches me in a way. Also, the death of Gregory made me so upset. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is a SUCH a good book. It stays with me because Edward has such a good character arch. He starts out clueless and conceited, and finishes, although several years later, as a selfless, new rabbit. You just need to read Stolen. When I finished reading it, I was emotionally exhausted. Just... go and read it. Unwind stuck with me because the way Neal Schusterman narrated and pulled off the whole thing. It was amazing.

M: What makes a book disappointing to you?

Lauren: If the main character or another favorite character of mine dies or gets everything he/she wants.

M: If you are reader of different genres, what attracts you to each and what does each give you the others don't?

Lauren: I’m attracted to Science Fiction because, to me, I believe it is a future of our world that is indeed possible. Each Science Fiction book that I read gives me a new perspective on what our world MAY be like in a future I will not be here for. I’m attracted to Thrillers because they make me feel like something is always just around the corner (which it usually is). Thrillers are the kinds of books that I could stay up all night reading. I adore Romances. While I may not enjoy straight-up romance, I enjoy romance peppered with science fiction or paranormal things. Romance keeps me coming back because I to believe in a perfect romance like the ones in books and movies.

M: Does the Internet (Facebook, Twitter, Good Reads), book reviews (Blogs, Amazon, and B&N), or any media buzz influence your desire to read a book? How or how not?

Lauren: It does not. Spending a large amount on social networking sites is not something I usually indulge in. I usually hear about books through word of mouth or by seeing an enticing spine on the bookshelf.

M: Do author blurbs, cover jackets, and awards seals matter to you when choosing a book to read?

Lauren: Very much so. I usually don't pick up a book if I don't find the cover jacket or blurb very enticing. If there is an award seal on the cover that usually ups the likeliness of me picking it up.

M: How has the eBook revolution changed the way you read and how you buy books?

Lauren: It has not changed me at all. If anything, it makes me buy more books. It makes me think: "I'll show all those e-Bookers how good REAL books are!"

M: What does reading give you in your life that nothing else can?

Lauren: A world that is better, newer, and (in a way) nicer than ours.

Lauren Ladner is a 7th grader and honor roll student at Ocean Springs Middle School in MS. She enjoys reading, astronomy, and cooking. She’s also a Mathlete and a piano student. She hopes to one day read every YA book that her aunt owns, but since her aunt keeps buying them, it proves to be a much bigger challenge that one might think.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Licorice-flavored Brain Slugs and Faulkner

*Warning: This week's post is NSFW due to language. (In other words, it's J's turn!)

I have the Pod to myself this week. A is off giving a tour of an uncharted world. M has a queue of characters lined up for therapy. So this week you, dear readers, have to contend with the Resident Evil. Muwahahahahahaha!!!

What shall we discuss? Autopsy procedures? Crime scene screw ups? Sadistic serial killers and the women who love them? My hatred for the color pink? All of these are worthy topics but I'd actually like to offer up a bit of an explanation behind something that has been mentioned a few times on the blog already. If you read A's post in which she bared her writerly soul (and you should), then you undoubtedly read the following quote from yours truly:

"Pull your head out of your ass. Trust the story. Trust yourself, and WRITE, damn it!"

Yes, I said this. Yes, I stand behind it. I even have a version of it taped to my laptop as a reminder. While the meaning behind the statement is obvious, I still feel the need to explain how this simple phrase has become the unofficial official motto of the Ninja Peas.

It all started about a year or so ago when M was having a minor meltdown as all writers have from time to time. We all reach a point in a project where we hate everything we've written, everything we're currently writing, and everything we're going to write. In short, self-doubt slithers in like an alien slug, crawls undetected up our spines and burrows deep into our brains until we wake up one morning and question everything we've ever done, thought, planned, or plotted, and all we have left is a sudden and inexplicable love of elevator music, licorice jelly beans, and Faulkner. (If you know me then you know I detest all three. Yes, a former English major doesn't like Faulkner. Oh, the horror.) In an effort to help my friend and writing partner, I offered the best advice I could give...in my own way, of course. She has since passed this along to A and thus the unofficial official Ninja Pea motto was born.
Motto on J's laptop

Now this may sound like a bunch of self-aggrandizing bullshit. It's not. I'm fully aware of my insignificant place in the publishing world, and in the universe as a whole. However, I do know a thing or two about self-doubt and how it can kill a writer. So I'd like to offer up a little bit of hard-earned wisdom, not because I feel the need to stroke my own ego, but because if I can soften the blows for someone else (especially my Peas) then I will. No one can spare any writer the hard knocks. Those come with the territory and must be experienced. That's reality. But that doesn't mean you have to face them unprepared.

1. Pull your head out of your ass. Basically, as writers who actually want to see our names on bookstore shelves, we can't afford to have an obscured view of the publishing world. We can't have romanticized ideas of what it means to be a writer. We don't lock ourselves in a room for a few hours and fart out a manuscript. We write. We edit. We rewrite. We break down. We cry. We wail and gnash our teeth. We curl into blubbering balls of goo. It's normal. Writing is work...and yes, it's fucking hard work. It's not easy to live in your own head with imaginary people in a fantasy land for hours, days, weeks, months, or even years. But it is easy to get caught up in the minutiae of plotting, character arcs, and world building and forget to actually move the story forward by throwing words at the page. We have to pull our heads out of our asses and remember why we do this to ourselves so that when the self-doubt slugs creep into our brains and start doing the Electric Slide to elevator music we can blast them with AC/DC. Self-doubt slugs hate AC/DC.

2. Trust the story. The story knows where it needs to go. It's your job as the writer to guide it and make sure it's hitting certain check points. This is where the fucking hard work comes into play because you may not know all the check points. Yes, you've planned them out in advance but as often happens, the story wants to go in new directions. Don't fight it. Let it happen. Everything can be fixed in the rewrite phase, which by the way is more fucking hard work. Let the story do the Macarena. Unleash the screaming monkeys. Just don't stop throwing words at the page.

3. Trust yourself... This is the hardest part for many writers, thanks to the self-doubt slugs. Those little buggers feed on licorice jelly beans and leave slimy black residue in their wake. This residue eats away at the brain and causes the writer to question her ability to not only tell a story but to even form a coherent sentence. The slime cripples. Every writer has a different way of combating the slime. For me, walking away is the best defense. When the slime reaches critical mass, I shut down the laptop and walk away. I close up shop and spend a day or two on the couch either reading or watching Disney movies. Self-doubt slugs hate it when we read. Books are salt and it shrivels the slugs and dries the slime to a flaky and easily vacuumed powder. Disney movies are also great for this and not as big of a time investment as a book for when you're in a deadline crunch. Oh, deadlines...slugs love them. Have a liberal supply of salt handy.

As I Lay Dying
(Oh, dear gods, kill me now.
Don't make me read this crap!
Salt! I need the fucking salt!)
4. ...and WRITE, damn it! This is self-explanatory. Throw words at the page. They don't have to be good words. Those come in the rewriting phase. But you can't rewrite what you don't have. The self-doubt slugs are going to try to turn you into Faulkner. They will try to make you write like this:

"The path runs straight as a plumb-line, worn smooth by feet and baked brick-hard by July, between the green rows of laidby cotton, to the cottonhouse in the center of the field, where it turns and circles the cottonhouse at four soft right angles and goes on across the field again, worn so by feet in fading precision." - (As I Lay Dying 3.2)

Do. Not. Listen. To. The. Slugs. They. LIE! This is not good writing. This is the work of an overrated hack. (Yes, I said hack.) Just write the path is straight, worn by years of foot traffic, and cuts across the cotton field. BUT only if it's important to the story! Move the action. Move the characters. Move the story forward. Don't get caught up in the minutiae.

The first draft should be dirty and gritty and raw. You clean and polish and cook it later. The best way to combat the slugs is to write quickly and not give them time to burrow into your brain. Once they've become entrenched, they're hard to get out.

So... Pull your head out of your ass. Trust the story. Trust yourself, and WRITE, damn it!

Peas out,

Friday, May 18, 2012

Guest Reader Interview: Twelve Questions with Lee Mayet

Next at the Reader Roundtable with M is Lee Mayet. I was actually introduced to Lee by our common friend Melissa Garrison. (Funny how we all find and connect with each other – us reader types.) Give Lee the floor and find out how a nonreader became a reader.

M: What kind of a reader do you consider yourself?

Lee: I swore after college that I wouldn’t read another book. And for years that was the case.  Besides technical manuals and business books for work, I didn’t read a single book.  Then a friend of mine, Melissa Garrison, let me borrow Fablehaven by Brandon Mull. I read it on a cruise and caught the reading bug right away. Since that time, I go through about a book a week and consider myself an avid reader.

M: What kinds of books do you read and why? 

Lee: Most of the books I read are in YA fiction. I guess I’m a still a kid at heart and the fantasy and discovery of YA still appeal to me. I like a few of Terry Goodkind’s books for adults but I keep finding myself YA section. I pretty much will read anything Brandon Mull and Rick Riordan. Their stories are a good mix of fantasy, folklore, and just cool story telling.

M: As a reader, what do you expect out of the author and the story you are reading?

Lee: I have to be able to picture the book in my mind. If I can’t get a good picture with my mind’s eye, I’m done. After that the book has to flow. I have to get angry with the turns a book takes. If I’m not a little agitated that the author did something bad to my favorite character then I’m either not emotionally invested enough in the story or the character is not being challenged enough to make the victory worth it. I like being surprised with a book. If I can figure out the ending a hundred pages into it, I’m usually disappointed at the end.

M: How has the eBook revolution changed the way you read and how you buy books?

Lee: None. I like to turn a page so most books I read are in print. In fact I prefer a good hard cover if I can get it. Have no current plans on changing that.  

M: List the five books that stick with you and tell why they do. 

  1. Dragon’s Eyes by Stephen King.  This was the last book I read in college before I quit reading for fun.  I can still picture the story in my mind and that was 20 years ago.  I need to find a copy of it and re-read it.
  2. Fablehaven by Brandon Mull. This book blew me away. Its mix of fantasy and quick moving story had me hooked from when they drank the magic milk. It got me interested in reading for fun again.
  3. All Quiet on the Western Front by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Read this in college and loved it.  It was one of those books where I just felt the despair in the writing.  It was a powerful book.
  4. Candy Shop War by Brandon Mull.  Read this with my son.  We both loved the action and the thought of mixing magic with candy and wizards with candy shops.  
  5. The Hunger Games by Susan Collins. I loved the pace of this book. It is a great story and awesome start to the series. 
M: If you see yourself as a genre reader, what about that genre keeps you coming back and why do you fell others don't attract you? 

Lee: It is where my true mental state lies. I don’t believe I ever grew up, so I continue to read Young Adult.  I have tried a few adult titles and I just didn’t care for the themes.  I find the YA writers have more freedom with what they can write about.  Most Adult titles I have read have been too eager to use profanity, sex or violence for my taste

M: Does the internet (Facebook, Twitter, Good Reads), book reviews (blogs, Amazon, and B&N), or any media buzz influence your desire to read a book? How or how not?  
Lee: Not at all. I understand their job is to hype and sell a book. I put little stock in what they say. A recommendation from a friend carries much more weight.

M: Some people read, some people don't -- why do you think you ended up becoming a reader?  

Lee: I was part of that “don’t read” crowd for nearly fifteen years and then I was given a book that I was really able to relate with. I think most people would be a reader if they would just take the time to get a good book.  But, I think places like Barnes and Noble and Books-A-million are part of the problem. If you are a non-reader, those places make it a bit intimidating to figure out where to start.

M: Have you ever read a book that surprised you, one you didn't expect to like but did?

Lee: Laws of Nine by Terry Goodkind. A friend recommended Wizard’s First Rule to me and I read it but wasn’t too thrilled with it. After another friend recommended Goodkind again, I unenthusiastically picked up Laws on Nine. It was one of those “I need something to read” decisions. I read it and liked it. It flowed so much faster than Wizard’s First Rule, which was what put me off on that one.

M: Favorite Protagonist of all time. Why?  

Lee: Seth Sorenson. He is one of those kinds of characters that cause ninety percent of the problems. But when the chips are down, he gives everything he’s got. Not the biggest, strongest, or most popular, but the average everyday guy who reacts to bad situations. (Even though he accidentally caused most of them).

M: Have there been books you didn't finish reading? Explain yourself.  

Lee: Yes. The Spellman Files. I just didn’t get into that book. I had hoped it would be funny, but the humor just didn’t hit home. I still plan on trying it again. I try to give any book I buy a chance.

M: Favorite villain of all time. Explain yourself.

Lee: The Sphinx. I liked him as a villain because he is shrouded in secrecy and deceit. He is not evil in the purest sense but by his warped point of view. I like villains that if they were given different circumstances they could just as easily be the guy shooting pool next to you. Always makes you wonder what it was that made them snap.

Lee Mayet was born in Cut Off, Louisiana and resides in Gulfport, Mississippi. He has a B.S. from Nicholls State University in Computer Science and has worked in the technology field for twenty-two years, mostly in the banking industry. He’s currently unpublished and working on his second novel. (He says he probably owes Michelle twenty red pens from editing his first attempt at a novel). And, he loves to read.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The First Hurdles

In the spirit of sharing which Alexis began last week, I decided I would offer a piece I wrote for Court Street Literary Collective (I don't imagine J.G. Walker will mind). 

The First Hurdles
The first hurdle of becoming a writer is to call your self a writer. It’s much harder to do than it seems. Even now, having been out of college for nearly three years it’s my biggest struggle. There are all these hurdles all over the place in my mind, fencing me in. As soon as I jump one there is another right behind it.
I haven’t finished a story, so I’m not a writer.
I haven’t published anything, so I’m not a writer. 
I have published a short story, but it’s only one, so I’m not a writer.
I haven’t published in a renowned publication so I must not be a writer.
I haven’t gone on for an MFA in writing, so no one (even myself) believes I’m a writer.
I haven’t finished my novel so I’m certainly no writer.
I have finished my first novel, but haven’t gotten an agent, so I can’t be a writer.

All of these doubts and arguments roll around in my head everyday. So I try to quiet them by saying to myself: If you write, you are a writer.  If you’ve written, then you’ve authored and no one can take that from you but you. And the only measure of your success is that in which you place value. So quit whining.

It doesn’t always help. But it’s as good a philosophy to stick by as any. Especially when I’ve chosen to embark on an endeavor that promises rejection after rejection. Hurdle after hurdle. I figure there’s no need to reject myself before I’ve really even started – or stop myself before I’ve actually tried. Though what I know and what I allow myself to believe don’t always align.
Of course, it’s the starting that then becomes the issue. Sometimes those hurdles are a little higher than I’m capable of jumping. I have to remind myself that I have to make those jumps in my own time and as I’m ready. And I have to know that if I jump before I’m ready, I risk hurting myself. 
Then, if I do hurt myself, I have to remember I will have to heal. Though I can jump again, I might have to take the time to restart. So I just have to keep trying to jump.

I was watching this documentary on Bobby Fischer. One of the interviewees said something to the effect of: the one thing that all experts have in common is that all of them have logged over 10,000 hours of practice. I’ve heard this before. My sister-in-law is a professional flutist and instructor and she’s studied this idea. Even most child prodigies start with some raw talent but the ones that make it have logged thousands of hours of practice and have obsessed over their passion. So, by this measure, the great ones start with a propensity toward something but what actually catapults them into greatness is the hours spent in practice.
Strangely. This comforts me. I’ll tell you why.

Because with every word I write, I’m practicing. I’m learning. And I’m logging my 10,000 hours. I’m choosing to jump that hurdle everyday that makes me a writer.

There’s always going to be another hurdle I can measure myself by -- whether I put it there or someone else does. And there always should be. It’s not about the hurdles -- it’s about the act of jumping. I want to be a writer that continues to write so I have to continue to write. When I jump the hurdle that gets me an agent, then I want to write well enough to jump the hurdle that gets me a publisher, and then, a book deal. And the race doesn’t end there because then there’s the second book deal, and the third, and the fourth. I have to keep writing if I’m to get a chance at all those hurdles.
The hurdles don’t ever stop. It’s only me who decides to stop jumping them.

With that, I want to point out that I dropped the ball last Friday on my weekly reader interview. *frowns*  I'll ensure I'm back on track this week. Apologies.
Peas to you.

***This piece also finally made it up at Court Street Literary Collective here.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Alexis Bares Her Writerly Soul

Today I'm opening myself up. I'm going to share with you a writing process in which I'm currently submerged. I'm sharing the good and the bad... and the embarrassing. This process has been arduous, uplifting, depressing, at times overwhelming. It has taken research, planning, a willful refusal to give up, and a certain inclination toward OCD. The process to which I refer:
Submitting Your Work.

In early March of this year, I completed {for the sixth time... don't judge me} my manuscript. It's something I'm proud of {most days} and something that, despite my best efforts, refuses to let me give up on it. {I've written and re-written it over several years, learning for the first four re-writes, then fixing my mistakes and paying for my hardheadedness for the next two}. I realize that as my first novel its chances for failure are high. But I truly believe it has potential to be something great. I'm passionate about this story, and I believe I'll have readers who feel the same.
My only hurdle? 
Translating that passion into something I can convince agents and editors to invest in.

So, in July 2011, I attended Thrillerfest with my fellow Peas, where I pitched my story to a number of agents. It was an incredibly intense experience.

Now, I'm the first to admit, I can get in my own way when I'm speaking about anything important to me. No matter how much I prepare, no matter how well I know what I want to say, inevitably, in the moment I'm supposed to speak, my emotions go on attack. Nerves build nests in my throat. Adrenaline sparks behind my eyes, short-circuiting my brain so that the message meant to pass to my tongue comes through static, and falls jumbled off my lips. My heart climbs toward the nerve nests like a cat hunting a bird, as an evil voice starts running commentary on scenarios, all negative, of how this will play out. I scramble to ignore all of it -- to remember the wording I worked for hours to perfect in the hope that I can salvage it from the scraps I've already spewed into the open air...

But somehow, on that day, after one or two flubs and desperate scrambles {that still resulted in requests for partials, thankfully} I got my shit together. By the end of the two hours, having seen a total of twelve agents, I had ten requests for pages, and two requests for the full manuscript. It was exciting. Thrilling.

I had never had this much success in pitching my book before. I'd submitted queries for version three or four back in 2008, but I'd known they'd fail not long after I sent them out {thanks to the criticisms of members at AbsoluteWrite}. And fail they did. But that was 2008. I'd been through several revisions and one very deep self-relfection-inducing writerly-wake-up-call since then. I know now the importance of a synopsis -- for myself as much as for the pitch -- and how the hell to describe my story in a single paragraph. {And hearing, in person, those Agents' reactions to certain parts of my pitch was a huge help in perfecting it}. And it seemed to make all the difference.

So, in August, after some major polishing to the requested pages {just, ya know, to be sure} I sent off my work to the first ten agents.

Over the next few months, I racked up six rejections. I took it in stride {for the most part}. Each rejection praised my characters, the world I'd created, and, most importantly, my writing.
...With the exception of one, whom I could only describe -- even before the rejection -- as scary and kindof a *insert bad word here*. This agent addressed me as MISTER Lampley, then had the audacity to say I was rejected for my writing, which, based on his excellent attention to detail *I'm being sarcastic* he definitely did not skim *still being sarcastic*. {Like I said, "for the most part"}.

They just couldn't risk a chance on the story because of the market.

Now, I'll be honest, even though I was prepared for rejections, and even though they were {all things considered} really positive ones, I started feeling rather dejected. How do you fix that? Tell me there's a gaping hole in the plot or you hate a character. I can work with that. But how do you fix, "I loved it, but the market..."? I still had a re-working of the end of my book to deal with, but instead of dealing with it, I slumped. Despite my rock-solid conviction {built over years of work and dreams} that I was doing what I love, that the hard work was worth the reward I still couldn't see on the horizon -- I started questioning myself. I let doubt in. And that doubt led to several months of inactivity. I started a couple stories, momentarily filled with the excitement of a new project. But I never got past the first few pages.

And then, on February 28, M sent me an email.
Subject: "Do this!"
Inside was a link to a contest, for which the deadline was just two weeks away. The contest was open to those with a completed manuscript in any genre, hosted by an agent who, I knew, was on my list of potentials. I still had those edits for the last chapters on my to-do list, and wasn't feeling totally confident, given that I would need to go through the entire thing for proofing with M's notes {which she'd nearly finished on the entire manuscript} but I knew the opportunity shouldn't be passed up.

So I asked her the one question I needed to know: "But is my book actually finished?"

To which M responded {in short}:
"Alexis, my writing partner, my dear, my friend. I do this with utter compassion and love.  *slaps you once firmly across the face* Please, wake up!
I mean... you've finished it 212 times!  ...  Make one push through for proofreads -- tighten and clarify just a tad (something you could certainly do by March 15 if you set your mind to it -- I've seen you accomplish much more in shorter time).  ...  And in the immortal words of Jeannie Holmes... Pull your head out of your ass. Trust the story. Trust yourself, and WRITE damn it!"

Whether it was the metaphorical slap in the face, or Michelle's innate confidence in me, or Jeannie's immortal words of writerly wisdom... I did get my head out of my ass and write.

It took almost the full two weeks and one "sick day" to finish the chapters and proof/edit the entire thing, but I did it. And I felt really good. Scared. Nervous. But good. I was once again confident in my ability as a writer. I entered the manuscript into the contest, and, since I'd finally reached the milestone of completion {again}, I sent the manuscript to the two agents who'd requested it at Thrillerfest.

The contest winner has since been announced, and it wasn't me. I've heard back from one of the two agents with my full manuscript, and am waiting, with hope, for the other's response.

In the meantime, with hope for the future but being mindful to stay realistic, I had begun the exhaustive task of writing out my Agent List. I went through my Writer's Digest Guide to Agents {not the actual title} and wrote out all the Agents I could potentially submit to, including what they were looking for and how well that fit with what I wrote, where to contact them, submission guidelines, etc. Though I started the list more than a month ago, I'm still not finished. I wanted to be sure I picked the right agents and agencies for me, so I've been going back through the list, looking up each agency, and gathering more/up-to-date information on each one. It's a time-consuming process. And an interesting study in how quickly my emotions can change. Looking through agency submission guidelines and agent bios has become a reflection of the entire process. One agent bio will have me thinking I'm sure to be exactly what they want. Another will have me thinking my big break will be with that other book I've started. A third will have me questioning why, on earth, I'm even going to all this trouble in the first place.

But if this process has taught me nothing else, it's that this flux of emotion and belief are just that: fluctuations. You're gonna have your ups and downs. It's a roller coaster. And it's up to you to decide if you want to take the ride. No matter how down I get, no matter how hard things are or how bleak my prospects look sometimes, I still want to take that ride. Even if all I gain is the memory of the experience {and a solid metaphorical slap}.

*Peas Out*

Friday, May 4, 2012

Guest Reader Interview: Twelve Questions with Melissa Garrison

Welcome to the reader interview roundtable. I’ve accosted and bribed several people I know, pressuring them into answering a list of questions that I could then turn into Reader Interviews for your (my imaginary readers) joyful consumption. I hope you enjoy the journey. I certainly have.
First on the roster is Melissa Garrison. She and I have been friends and fellow book nuzzlers for almost twenty years.

M: What kind of a reader do you consider yourself?

Melissa: I consider myself to be a “non-academic/eclectic” reader. I don’t read for the edification of my intellect but the delight of my soul. I read for the mere ability to be transported into a different time and place. I read to gain a different view of the world. I read to adventure. I read to travel on wings of fancy… literally to indulge in a few minutes of gleeful escape from reality.
M: What kinds of books do you read and why?
Melissa: I read all kinds of books but most specifically I find myself reading Young Adult Fiction and Paranormal Romance. These kinds of books engage the reader in a different sort of adventure. YA books are generally written for the ADHD person in us all. They generally have suspenseful plots and move quickly. They suck you in from the first line of the book and you are riveted to the storyline. They also reveal a little of us all in their characters. YA books expose what being a young adult is and all of us see something of ourselves in the characters they present. They give word to the unique struggles of adolescence and vindicate our own experiences. Paranormal Romance is a category of writing that is so far out of reality it allows the reader to take a little vacation without leaving the living room. It puts words to the indescribable joy of falling in love with a guilty pleasure… sometimes it’s literally falling in love with a different species. It pushes the boundaries of conventional thinking. It makes you wonder: what if shape-shifters really exist? What if vampires really do live next door? It gives the mind more to ponder than, "Who killed the butler?"

M: As a reader, what do you expect out of the author and the story you are reading?

Melissa: Entertainment and adventure! I expect them to take me for a ride -- give me many different possibilities. But I don’t want the eventuality revealed until I’m on pins and needles. I guess I want the thrill ride of not knowing how it all will end.

M: How has the eBook revolution changed the way you read and how you buy books?

Melissa: It hasn’t. I still like the feel of a book. I like the way they smell, look, and I like that I can open one and immediately have a story. I don’t have to wait for it to “boot up” or download. A trip to the library or bookstore is an absolute thrill for me. Decorating with books is my main form of interior design for my house and office!

M: What makes you pick up a book or author you've never read before?

Melissa: The first line. I want to write more here but that is ultimately what hooks me. The front cover may get me to pick the book up but the first line will tell me if I want to read that book or not. What will keep me reading is the advancement of the plot and the changes to the characters. There is a fine balance between adventure and plodding along with no particular direction.

M: With so many books to read, why do you choose the books you do?

Melissa: I like an adventure, an escape from reality! My job is extremely stressful and an immediate break from the stresses of the day is provided for me in these kinds of books. I also, guiltily, think of these kinds of books as candy because they are not overly verbose or hard to read. They don’t make you guess what characters are thinking but tell you up front.

M: List the five books that stick with you and tell why they do.

  1. Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins -- Not one single word is wasted. This book is a thrill ride from the title page to the last word of the book. I literally read the entire book in one sitting. It made me realize what an impact a good, suspenseful, interesting book could make on a young child. I am currently making the sixth graders at my school read all three of these books...they are so excited about it! 90 percent of all the students in that grade are making progress toward their reading goals…that is impressive!
  2. The Secret Garden Helped me realize others long for a secret place of retreat a spot that only a few know about. This was the first book that helped me "see" things in my head... my imagination was sparked by the copious amounts of detail and things a child would notice. The dialect of the dialogue made it difficult to read but it helped to paint the picture of the setting.
  3. The Princess Bride “As you wish!” This book was the most non-traditional book! It started with a narrator telling me what was going on and there was a sick boy whose grandfather was telling him a fabulous tale. During the “story” part of the book the boy would often interrupt and ask questions about the plot. It was most “non-traditional” and it really stuck with me. This was also the first time I realized that reading a book could be a funny experience!
  4. Ring of Endless Light by Madeline L’Engle This is a beautiful book about a teenager finding love, experiencing loss and discovering a psychic power to communicate with dolphins. L’Engle blends several subplots brilliantly while keeping the girl’s experience in the forefront. The reason this book sticks with me is the feelings and emotions that she describes are feelings that I have felt; emotions I have experienced. My favorite scene is of all the children in the attic of their grandfather’s house (an old barn converted into a home) and they are all on their cots watching the lighthouse light illuminate the wall, they hear the waves crashing on the beach and soft conversation of their parents… yet they each feel emptiness. It is a beautiful book.
  5. The Giver and Number the Stars by Lois Lowry both stuck with me because I couldn’t believe that there were people so cruel and villainous. These books presented a very real evil facing the characters and it has stuck with me because I would hope to have the courage that they did to take a stand for what is right.
  6. Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko was a brilliant book about the children (yes, children) that lived on Alcatraz. The main character’s sister was autistic. Without giving away the plot, this book made me stop and think about how people with special needs are often left out of books or painted in a way that isn’t complimentary. The author did a beautiful job of creating a character that had special needs but was made to feel like part of the community.

M: Some people read, some people don't -- why do you think you ended up becoming a reader?

Melissa: I am curious. Curiosity killed the cat but it made me a reader…what other way do you find information out? I love to know little tidbits of trivia. I love to know what makes things work. I love to know stuff. More than just knowing “stuff” I love to be taken on an adventure. I was not a reader until I read The Secret Garden. I identified with the characters but at the same time I began to picture what the characters saw. This made a world of difference!

M: What makes a book disappointing to you? And have you ever read a book that surprised you, one you didn't expect to like but did?

Melissa: Long, wordy, overly descriptive books are disappointing. Books with movement in the plot for no reason (e.g. Iron Daughter has a lot of movement but for no apparent reason. I am on page 132 and I still don’t know why the girl had to go to Faery). The Boy with the Striped Pajamas was a very surprising book to me. It was simple but poignant. I knew that the potential for a plot twist like the one in the book existed but I never thought it would end the way it did. Since I read for “non-academic” purposes I sometimes blow past clues to things like that. I think it also bothered me that the plausibility of the plot was surprisingly feasible. A little boy is common sense’s worse enemy. I could really see that happening. That in itself was so surprising.

M: Do you judge a book by its cover?

Melissa: I try not to but I admit there are some covers that I seem to like more than others. I’m drawn to covers that are simple or unique in their design. I don’t particularly like covers that have people dressed in current fashions. I like covers that have a timeless feel. I like covers that tell a story in their design… they kind of hint seductively at what is between their pages (e.g. Hunger Games).

M: Do author blurbs, cover jackets, and awards seals matter to you when choosing a book to read?

Melissa: Not really. A friend telling me to “read this book” speaks much louder than anything else. I do like to see authors that I read on the cover of a book saying, “read this book” but the seals don’t matter to me at all. Often those seals are for the academic appropriateness or for breaking new ground in literature. I couldn’t care less about those things. When they come out with a seal for “action-packed adventure with a twist of romance, sarcasm and wit” then I’ll start paying attention to the seals.

M: Have there been books you didn't finish reading? Explain yourself.

Melissa: Yes. If a book has a great beginning but then the plot doesn’t move OR if it constantly moves it doesn’t make a good story to read! I have been trying to read a book titled Iron Daughter about the faery courts in which the book constantly moves but doesn’t really tell a story. The characters move from place to place in this book without enough backstory… I understand starting the first few chapters of a book that way for the purpose of gaining interest. However, fifteen chapters into a book you need to reveal something of the plot to your readers!

There you have it: Twelve Questions with Melissa Garrison. To learn more about this reader, check out her bio below. Next Friday… I’ll have a new victim in my clutches.

Born thirty-something years ago to two avid readers, Melissa Garrison grew up to be a fanatical reader. She loved reading so much she became a teacher in 2000 so she could teach children her love of reading. She obtained her Master’s Degree in Educational Administration in 2008 so she could get children, parents, AND teachers excited about books! Somewhere along the way she got married and had a beautiful daughter named Jenna Grace. She lives in Gulfport, Mississippi with her husband, daughter, and an adorably dim-witted dog named Pretzel. She works as an Instructional Literacy Coach at Lyman Elementary School and longs for the day when her dream of being a writer can be fulfilled. She loves to garden, read, teach and cook.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Guest Pod with Kristall Burke: Part Three

I’m having a hard time trying to think of a good way to start this third blog post. I want people to be interested in screenwriting without boring them to tears. So I thought I’d start with my most recent screenwriting experience.

Last weekend I attended the 45th Annual Worldfest – Houston International Film Festival. I had the opportunity to meet a lot of other screenwriters from all over the world. It was great to congregate with other writers, and comical that we all have the same questions…

“What are your methods?”
“What are you working on now?”
“Have you had any luck in finding an agent or having one of your films optioned?”

All these questions made me think, am I in the right business?

Can I continue to write knowing that the possibility of someone making one of my movies may be on the same level as being struck by lightening?

Ultimately the answer was… YES.

I really enjoyed the Awards Gala and meeting other filmmakers, but in thinking about writing this blog post I realized the one thing that keeps me going is creating my next story and my next set of characters.

At my core, I just want to write.
And I love the medium I have chosen.
Of course I would love to see one of my screenplays on the big screen (but I may have to learn how to operate a camera to actualize this). * smile *

I guess what this last weekend made me realize was that I enjoyed the film festival, being awarded for my work, and that is enough for me. And I was thrilled that my screenplay ‘The Spectacular Spectacles’ received a Gold Remi at the 2012 Worldfest. I actually feel lifted, like the pressure is off. I’m going to continue on my way, keep writing, keep entering film festivals and let my work speak for me. I love my work.

So let’s touch a bit on one of those questions that were so frequently asked at the festival. “What are your methods?” I feel everyone probably has their own writing method and their own ways of coming up with new story ideas. It’s interesting to me that we always want to know how someone else’s process works (probably because it can be daunting to first get started on a new story). For me? It’s more questions. What do I write about? Who will me characters be? I’m currently between projects and asking myself these very questions.

So where do I start?

I have a file that I always keep with me on my phone and computer, titled Screenplay Ideas. When an idea strikes me, I jot it down and file it away until I’m ready to start a new project. When I’m ready to start a new screenplay, I go through my ideas, choose one, and begin a rough draft paragraph based on what I think would make this idea a good story. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t -- in which case I choose another idea and begin again. Hopefully, in the end, this process leads me to my next screenplay. * smile *

But… I never want to force it. So if it doesn’t feel right, I move onto another idea.

Once I have a rough draft paragraph that I like, I do a rough outline. From there I’m ready to begin writing. Knowing that the first page is important -- because it’s the first page everyone will read! -- I usually try to skip it my first go around. There are cases that my rough draft page one will make the cut, but I just don’t want the pressure when I start.

With that all said and off my chest, I thought I would include some samples of my screenplays for those of you who may be interested in screenwriting. As I’ve said before, the format is everything. There is no deterring from it. Once you learn to work inside these parameters creativity can take over. Know your characters; love them for all their imperfections. Don’t be afraid to dig deep and write something unexpected. If it feels right…write!

Here we go…

I chose to include the first page of my first “finished” screenplay ‘Split’. I feel it is a good example of how to set up scenes that don’t contain dialog, and how new characters are introduced before they begin their dialog. With it being the first page, my intent is to give some brief background on events that will be prevalent to the story as a whole.



Fertilized egg begins to separate into two identical eggs.  They begin to grow and form two unborn babies.


Two five year old twin girls, MEGAN and MADISON WINSTON are playing around one of the oil rigs while their father, WILLIAM WINSTON, 35 and MIGUEL PIZANO, 35 work with the crew.  MADISON is dancing, spinning and climbing around on the equipment.  MEGAN is digging in the dirt and looking at rocks under a magnifying glass.


Destructive 8.1 earthquake hits and destroys most of Mexico City.


The ground shakes and oil begins spewing out of the rig, covering MEGAN and MADISON WINSTON.  The crew, WILLIAM WINSTON and MIGUEL PIZANO rush to contain the flow.  MADISON runs for shelter while MEGAN stands enjoying the rain of oil until her father picks her up and carries her off.


Black luxury car pulling from the curb of Arrivals.  Follow car away from airport, through Mexico City to a five-star hotel.


This is the eleventh page of ‘The Spectacular Spectacles’. We’re right around that very important ten-minute mark of the movie. I chose this page (so as not to give away the hook) but to show how one might switch between locations and time periods in history. This would also work for flashback scenes. If my character, Spencer, had been traveling a further distance than from outside to back inside the house, I would’ve included the word MOVING between the scenes.


Mr. Murphy slides the barn door open and shows Spencer where he would like the hay stacks to begin.  Spencer quickly goes to work as Mr. Murphy heads into the house to unload his supplies.  Working hard, Spencer’s mind begins to wander, without even thinking twice Spencer removes the glasses to wipe the sweat from his brow.

                                            CUT TO:


Instantly swept back to the present day, Spencer sits alone in his Grandmother’s dark basement.  A stream of sunlight pours in through a tiny basement window.  Spencer bounds up the stairs, leaving the glasses lying on the floor.


Spencer bolts out of his Grandmother’s house, taking in his surroundings.  The house and the barn both show the wear of a hundred years past.  Running to the side of the barn he finds the same farm implements, rusted and sitting unused for decades.  He runs his hand along the side of the barn, amazed.  The crash of lightening and the sound of thunder startle Spencer and wake him from his moment of daze.  Rain begins to pour down on top of him and he races back to the house.


Spencer rushes back towards the basement stairs, being stopped short by his Grandmother, with towel in hand.

               At least it’s raining!  Having any
               luck in the basement?

Spencer nods vigorously trying to break free of his Grandmother’s rub down with the towel.  She sets him free and he hurries down the basement stairs.  His Grandmother smiles, as if she knows something.

There you have it, a sneak peek into the world of screenplays.

For those of you who’ve been following these posts, thank you so much! I hope I’ve been helpful to anyone who might be interested in writing a screenplay. If anyone has any questions or ideas and would like to read more about screenwriting, please let the Ninja Peas know. I would be happy to guest blog again on the subject. Happy writing!

xoxo - Kristall Burke

Kristall Burke lives outside of Austin, Texas on beautiful Lake Travis. She's a stay at home mom of two kids and is celebrating 15 years of marriage with husband, Bryan. In 2006 she was awarded a Silver Remi for her screenplay ‘Split’from Worldfest Houston - The International Film Festival. And in 2012 she was awarded a Gold Remi for ‘The Spectacular Spectacles’.