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Pikes Peak Writer's Conference 2018!

I spent the weekend at the Pikes Peak Writer's Conference. It's always my favorite event of the year. I get to see old friends, meet new ones, and learn tons from the amazing speakers.

This year I actually got to be faculty and teach a couple classes like writing disability in fiction, and a comparison of story structure. I got a lot of requests for the notes, so if you were in either of those classes, or if you're listening to the recordings, I'll post those here. If you're really ambitious and you'd like the transcript I used, feel free to email me and I'll send you a copy.

Walking on Eggshells: Writing Disability Without Offending the Disabled

The Story on Story Structure: A Comparison of Save the Cat, Story Engineering, The Snowflake Method, and The Hero's Journey

PPWC Changed My Life!

I registered for the Pikes Peak Writer’s Conference yesterday. This is the one I go to every year and while I was trying to justify the expense to my husband (it’s a little pricey to be honest), I realized that it’s kind of changed my life. Not in that sappy infomercial way, but it’s changed the way I see myself as a professional writer. Writing is a lonely, solitary activity. Sure, you can get together with other authors to write but it mostly looks like this:

nano write in

It’s something you do by yourself in your own head. Especially if you’re in the stage I’m in now, plugging away perfecting your craft, waiting for someone to notice. I don’t have an agent or an editor, I don’t have fans. The only contact I have with the outside world in a professional capacity is through critique partners and beta readers. The conference gives me a community, a chance to connect with peers and gain perspective on the industry I’m trying to shove myself into. It was at my first conference that I decided to call myself a writer because that was when I finally felt like one.

I mentioned last week how important goals are in the writing process. I can set myself goals and in fact I do, but without the outside influence of an editor or even a whip-wielding friend, I don’t have any impetus to make goals let alone keep to them. But the last couple years I’ve found my professional life revolving around the conference. I’m usually pitching my work to an agent or an editor, so I spend the first half of the year editing, polishing, and writing my pitch. The second half, I’m putting everything I learned at the conference into practice and sending out queries for the final draft. It’s completely reshaped the way I work as a writer.

So this year I’m working frantically to get A Shroud For My Bride ready to pitch in April. It needs at least another draft if not two before then and I need to write the pitch for it. A cadet cop with OCD has to reconnect with her vigilante father in order to catch a murderous enchanter? Maybe. I guess I’ll work on it.

WritingKendra
2014 Here I Come

Last week I took a look at all I'd accomplished last year, which got me thinking about what I want to accomplish this year. Years of physical therapy have taught me that goals are very important. I do a lot better when I have a goal to work toward. Not just physically. Months of Delve Writing goal sessions reminded me I tend to wander aimlessly when I don't have a deadline. So this year, I plan to:

  • Finish the final draft of A Shroud for my Bride and have it ready to pitch by April 26th
  • Attend the Pikes Peak Writing Conference, so excited for my fourth year
  • Pitch A Shroud for my Bride to Sara Sargent from HarperCollins
  • Write the second draft of Skin Deep
  • Write the first draft of either By Hook or By Crook or A Matter of Blood
  • Read five books a month- four fiction and one on writing (need to whittle down the stacks)
  • Finish the Minecraft model of my fictional city (this is too work, you're just jealous you can't call video games working)
  • And finish one quilt every month (start an Etsy store cause, you know, that went so well last time)

Looks like I've got my work cut out for me. Ah! What am I doing here? I ought to be writing.

WritingKendra
A Year in Review

In the spirit of the season, I've been looking back at 2013 and looking ahead toward 2014. I always find this time of year depressing. It's too easy to compare where I am now where I was this time last year and see very little difference. And apply that to a lifetime. What have I accomplished? What has my life been worth? I tend to find my self-worth in output. And when I work eight hours a day, five days a week and see no measurable profit at the end of the year, it's a serious blow. I know all that work resulted in something, but with no agent hooked, no publisher interest, I'm not sure I believe it.

So I'm going to try something to convince myself my time has worth. Maybe I can visualize this year's accomplishments.

This year I:

  • Finished the final draft of By Wingéd Chair 
  • Pitched By Wingéd Chair and queried over thirty agents about it
  • Finished both the first and second drafts of A Shroud For My Bride
  • Wrote the first draft of my seventh book, Talon Force during Nanowrimo
  • Increased my online presence through Facebook, Twitter, and this blog
  • Attended my third writer's conference
  • Joined Delve Writing to hone my craft with a great community of writers
  • Read forty-four books. Okay that's depressing no matter how I look at it considering I usually read 100 books in a year. I'll give myself a bit of a break since I wrote so much this year, but I'll have to step up my game in the future.
  • Spent a month world-building for my series and created an encyclopedia for the details
  • Not to mention all the personal things like my sister's engagement, joining the youth group staff, cleaning the basement, numerous vacations, celebrating my seventh anniversary, and discovering gnocchi

Wow, when I look at it that way, I accomplished quite a bit this year. There's a lot on that list to be proud of. And a couple things to improve on next year. Next time I start to doubt my progress, I can look back and see just how much I'm doing.

WritingKendra
Hearts on our Sleeves

Writing is a solitary profession; honestly, it’s one of the things I love about what I do. But the greatest irony that goes along with that is how much of ourselves we end up sharing with the world. I just finished some polishes on By Wingéd Chair and I’ve sent it out to a couple beta readers. I meet with a critique partner regularly, but there’s something different about sending your work to readers you respect and want to impress. Critique partners are supposed to tear your stuff apart if only to make it better. But by the time it goes to a beta reader, it should be marketable, if not publishable. So it’s a bit more nerve-wracking, especially since these are friends and family members I’m going to have to face again.

Writers put everything into their work whether they intend to or not. Our ideals, hopes and fears leak into the story even when we’re using our imaginations or playing devil’s advocate. I reread my novel and I’m amazed and a little embarrassed by how much of myself ends up on the page. So when I send it off to readers, I can’t help wondering what will they see when they read it? Will they see my insecurities? Will they read more into this than I intended?

We’re taught to develop a thick skin if we want to be better, but you can’t pretend a novel doesn’t mean everything to you. And it’s easy to see this as discouragement, to refuse to let your novel go for fear of what other people will say. Because when you send it into the world, you’re laying yourself bare, hanging your heart on your sleeve.

It’s scary to be so open with complete strangers, but there’s something truly special about being known. And in the end, isn’t that why you wrote the book in the first place? To give the world something of yourself?

WritingKendrawriting
A Nano Defense

Nanowrimo 2013Well, last week I finished up Nanowrimo 2013 with 60,000 words of a book I’m calling TALON Force. It’s a middle grade urban fantasy with kind of a Warehouse 13 flare. Except instead of magical artifacts, Nate and his team manage magical creatures. This year, through Delve Writing, I was in contact with a lot of writers who were new to Nanowrimo. I found myself explaining Nano and its purpose in a writing world, which made me look at the process in a new way.

There was still the argument that Nano is a way to help you get words on the page, especially if you’re a perfectionist or you struggle with commitment. But then there are the people who argue back saying, what’s the point, if everything you’re writing down is crap?

I have a rebuttal — but wait, Ernest Hemingway said it best: “The first draft of anything is shit.” Anyone who tells you otherwise has never written more than the first draft. So doing Nano just gets the crap out faster so you can get to the making it better part sooner. If you want to be a real writer, you’re going to have to suck it up and do that anyway. Don’t believe me? Ask E. B. White. “The best writing is rewriting.”

But that can be discouraging, too, to be told to have low expectations. I’ve always said Nano is about quantity over quality. Except this year, I started realizing it’s closer to finding quality in quantity. The more you write the better the writing will be. You’ll find genius ideas buried in the excrement, beautiful turns of phrase will pop up in unexpected corners of sludge. And it’s funny, but the more you look at the crap, the more you realize it’s actually a pretty solid foundation that just needs to be swept and mopped.

It is nothing less than amazing to write a novel. Even if you have to spend months or even years (guilty here) making it worth other people's time. Never underestimate that experience.

WritingKendrananowrimo, writing
Nano Update

So, I'm deep in the third week of Nanowrimo, and with 20,000+ words still to go, the creative juices are spread thin (how's that for a mixed metaphor?). I figured for today, I would share some of the diamonds that have appeared in the rough draft (get it? get it? oh my gosh, I'm so tired). The book I'm working on is called TALON Force for now and it's about a fourteen year old hacker who is recruited into a covert government agency that protects magical creatures called phenomenals. Enjoy.

                                                                                                                            

His mom looked up and squinted at him. “Don’t forget school starts tomorrow. Lights out by 11:30, okay?”

Nate’s stomach flipped. How could he forget? After five years of learning physics and calculus around this very table, he’d be headed to the local high school for ninth grade. But that’s what happened when your dad agreed to more hours with the Bureau and your mom was offered a position in the lab of her dreams.

“We’ve talked about it, I know," she said. "But it bears repeating. No working outside the curriculum. If you’re bored, read the next chapter or something.”

“No reprogramming the computers,” his dad added.

Nate opened his mouth to protest but his dad waved an S tile at him. “Not even to make them more efficient,” he said.

Nate snapped his mouth closed and scowled.

“And no building killer robots,” Jessie put in with a smirk.

“That wasn’t my fault. If Vince Price hadn’t messed with my power regulator everything would have worked fine.”

“Tell that to Mr. Holland.”

“How is he?” his mother asked.

“I hear his therapy is coming along really well,” Jessie said.

                                                                                                                              

"Dr. Demarco, Mr. Demarco, your son has seen too much,” the man said.

Nate gulped. “You mean they’re real?” he said.

“What’s real?” his dad asked.

The men glared and Nate snapped his mouth shut.

His mom sighed. “We said no more hacking, Nate. You promised.”

He hung his head. Jessie had her elbows propped on the table and she was watching intently.

“So what are you going to do with him?” his mom said. “Hard labor? The gallows?”

The men eyed her sideways and one of them said, “He has two choices. The first is a maximum security facility designed to hold people like him where he will be locked away unharmed and he can never tell anyone what he’s seen.”

His mom raised an eyebrow. “Sounds cozy.”

“Mom,” Nate said. Even when things were dire she couldn’t help cracking jokes. It was embarrassing.

“Just be sure to feed him his vegetables.”

Nate really really didn’t want to go to prison. Especially one without computers or the Internet or Teen Titans. “What’s the other option?” he said.

One of the men crossed his arms and looked down at Nate who still sat at the dining room table, limp green salad pieces littering his plate and the floor under his chair.

“Join the agency that was created to protect and conceal what you saw.”

“Protect?”

“Yes, of course.”

“I’d be working with them? Like up close?”

The man inclined his head.

“But that’s, I mean they’re—” He looked at his interested family and rephrased what he was about to say. “Is that safe?”

“You could always choose the other option,” one of the men said. He looked kind of hopeful. Like he really wanted to lock Nate away in a little room with no Internet. “It is safer, as you say.”

Working with monsters? Real life ones? Nate had always thought it would be cool to get a job with a game developer programming the creatures he fought in video games but this was entirely different. He’d be coming face to face with them, maybe fighting them. No, the guy had said protecting. But that girl in the video had definitely been fighting that snake lizard that looked just like the one in Slayer.

The corners of Nate’s mouth started to lift as he thought about it. He’d be a slayer in real life. Maybe he’d even get a sword.

“Well?” his mom said. “What’ll it be?”

Nate grinned up at them. “I, uh, choose the not jail thing.”

“Really?” the one man said looking disappointed. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I choose the agency.”

                                                                                                                                 

He realized he was sitting in water up to his waist, no big deal, but the hands were still clutching at him. He dug his own hands into the bottom of the bay and hung on so whatever had him couldn’t drag him any further.

The hands surfaced, long delicate fingers clinging to his jacket. They were attached to slim pale arms. A head covered in long blond hair appeared and a solid body pushed him back into the surf.

Nate found himself looking up into the most beautiful face he’d ever seen. Even Mei’s dark eyes and hair couldn’t compare to the perfect features of the girl who was lying on top of him.

Naked.

Nate flushed before he realized all the interesting parts were covered by her wet hair. Even still, he raised his hands, keeping them out to his sides where they wouldn’t touch anything by accident.

“Hi,” the girl said and smiled. Dazzlingly.

“Nate!” It was his dad who skidded to a stop beside them, pebbles showering both Nate and the girl.

Nate held up a hand. “It’s okay,” he said. At least he thought it was okay. She didn’t seem to be trying to kill him. Yet. But his encounter with the kelpie had made him wary.

“Hello,” he said.

She beamed even brighter, if that was possible, as if he’d said the nicest thing in the world.

More feet clattered on the beach behind him and he heard a gasp. He tried not to groan. Because he really needed his mom and his sister to witness his humiliation as well.

“I knew they were real,” Jessie whispered somewhere over his head. “I just knew it.”

Uh oh.

“Um,” he said to the perfect girl who now had her fingers twined in his hair. “So what are you?”

She ducked her head with a shy smile and he felt her weight shift. He saw a tail emerge behind her head. A fish tail.

Oh god, he’d found a mermaid.

“Are you a sailor?” she said.

“What?” He tried to wriggle out from under her, but apparently five feet of fish and woman weighed a lot.

“You look like a sailor,” she said and bit her lip coyly. “Will you be my sailor?”

“Nate?” his dad said again.

“Uh,” Nate said. “Give me a second. I’m not really sure what’s happening.”

“She’s a mermaid, gnat,” Jessie said with a “duh” she didn’t say but he could hear anyway. “They’re always seducing sailors to drag down into their underwater kingdom.”

The mermaid smiled again and nodded. “Wanna come?” she said.

The Saint and The Curmudgeon

Blank pageThere really aren’t enough disabilities represented in fiction, especially when the ones that are there tend to fall into unflattering stereotypes. This is damaging to both abled and disabled people; those of us with disabilities are baffled and even insulted by these depictions. And those who are “normal” assume these portrayals are accurate and try to treat us like the poor souls they read about in their books. Bad news all around. The first stereotype I see the most often is The Saint. This character has been disabled all their life. They don’t know what they’re missing so of course they can put on a brave smile and greet the world with that unique strength that comes from obliviousness. They just keep swimming, unaware of the countless millions their story inspires, amazing their readers with their ability to get out of bed in the morning and face life. You can recognize this character by the adjectives used to describe them. Words like brave, undaunted, inspiring, or my personal favorite, stoic. Watch for these characters in minor roles, quietly compelling the hero to bigger and better deeds, because if she can sit in that chair all day without complaining, well, then, gosh darn, I can save the world.

Walking hand in hand with The Saint is The Curmudgeon. This character has only been disabled a short time, a few years at most, which means they remember what it was like to run free. So their bitterness is understandable. Look at all they’ve lost. What’s the point of moving on? they moan. Their pain is cathartic because things can’t possibly get any worse for them, and we’re reminded that our lot isn’t really that bad. This character doesn’t get nice round adjectives, just a dark, foul living space and the occasional caustic remark. You can find them occupying secondary roles, providing a foil for the bright, hopeful hero, because we can’t recognize the light without the miserable reminder of what they might become.

Now, I’ve written this with tongue firmly in cheek, but the thing is, stereotypes exist for a reason. There is a grain of truth in both the Saint and the Curmudgeon. Heck, I’ve represented both in the same day before. That “just keep going” attitude and the bitterness come from very real reactions to disability. But people (all people) are so much more that the 2D façade these stereotypes perpetuate, and the same goes for characters. I want to see the crumbling worldview behind the stoic smile and the steely strength masked by the caustic comments.

Disability, WritingKendra
Gearing up for Nanowrimo

So it’s October and that means I’m gearing up for Nanowrimo. I’m plotting and scheming like any good villain, throwing every enemy and roadblock I can find at my characters. But it also means brainpower is at a minimum for anything not novel based. So today I’m going to share the new WIP with you. Because you’re soo interested, I know. You might recognize this format from last October, but hey, like I said, brainpower at a minimum.

What is the working title of your book?

Right now, I’m calling it TALON Force, but in the long run that might be the name of the series. I’m not sure I’ll be able to name it until I get to know the characters and the conflict a little better.

Where did the idea come from?

I was watching a video by Corridor Digital online (this one to be exact; go check it out, they’re excellent). In one particular scene a teenage programmer is kidnapped because she managed to do something she wasn’t supposed to. I loved the idea of someone so young being so valuable for their skills. The image really took hold of me and I couldn’t stop worrying at it until I had a character and an exciting problem for him to solve.

What genre does your book fall under?

I’d call it Middle Grade Urban Fantasy.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I really don’t cast my books. I know some authors will tell you we all do it, if only in secret, but I promise I’m not one of them. See this post for my opinion on the subject.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

A fourteen year old hacker uncovers a secret that lands him a place in a covert government agency. Or Agent Cody Banks meets a fantasy Men In Black. Whichever gets the point across.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I am currently looking for an agent. The process is slow and incredibly painful to my self-esteem but to quote a character from A Shroud For My Bride, you can’t go back, you can only go forward.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I’m going to write this one for Nanowrimo this year, so it’s not done yet. Or even started. But I’m planning on it being between 60,000 and 70,000 words, a little shorter than my normal, so there’s a good chance I’ll get it done in the month.

The Lightning ThiefWhat other books would you compare this story to within your genre?Artemis Fowl

I’m going to say Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson  and  the Olympians series for the whole fighting monsters aspect, only, you know, not Greek. And Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl for the whole kid genius thing.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I think this one came from a workshop I attended at the Pikes Peak Witer’s Conference where Darby Karchut talked about writing books for boys. I’d rather there weren’t “boy books” or “girl books”. I want kids to feel comfortable reading whatever happens to interest them, but I recognize the idealism in that. And Darby is so good and enthusiastic about what she does, I couldn’t help but catch the bug.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

This is a left turn from the disabled fairytales I usually write, so we’ll see how it works out. Nate has Cerebral Palsy, but it’s much more understated than Merry’s paraplegia, or Kallan’s OCD. It will affect his character and the plot, because how could it not? But it won’t be a major theme of the book.

WritingKendrawip, writing
What's in a Name?

Last week I talked about book covers and which ones worked for me and which ones didn’t. Becca made the comment that if we didn’t have covers to look at, we’d judge a book by its title. So of course I decided to do the same thing but looking only at a book’s title instead of the whole cover. And in keeping with that, I’m not going to post the covers at all so you guys can see what you think. Oh, all right. I’ll link to their Goodreads pages so you can check out the ones you really like.  

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

  • One of the tricks of writing compelling sentences or plot elements is to break expectations. I think this one does that very well. It's very ordinary until suddenly it's not.

Sex, Lies and Online Dating

  • You just know this is going to be fun

Miserere: An Autumn Tale

  • I picked this book up because it sounded like “misery” and that was too intriguing to pass up. I think some of the best titles are the ones that mean more after you’ve read the book and know all the implications.

The Deed of Paksenarrion

  • What deed? What awesome thing does this chick do to get a book named after her? Actually, it’s the title of the series, but still great.

Anna Dressed in Blood

  • You don’t need to see the cover. The title says it all.

The Shifter

  • This is a sad story. Originally Janice Hardy called this book The Pain Merchants. So unexpected and intriguing, right? The publisher decided to go with The Shifter which turned it into just another fantasy novel. Sigh.

Sabriel

  • As much as I love this book, I’m just not a fan of titles that are names.

I Am Number Four

  • You are? Where are numbers one, two, and three? I picked this book up just to answer that question.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth

  • Was there ever a title with a less deserving book behind it?

Warbreaker

  • It’s hard to name a fantasy without sounding vague or cheesy. Brandon Sanderson’s got it down.

The Dollhouse Asylum

  • I have no idea what this is about but I have to read it.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

  • Probably my favorite title of all time. 

 

So what titles grab you and make you want to pick up the book?

WritingKendra
Judging a Book

Recently at Delve Writing we had a class on cover art, and -- entirely separately -- my friend Becca is revisiting her cover for Break From You. So I've got covers on the brain. The thing is, covers, like any kind of art, are extremely subjective. What works for me might not work for you and vice versa. And there are so many styles and designs in the world. I thought I'd highlight a few and see why they worked for me -- or didn't in some cases.  

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

  • Great book, but I felt like the cover was really misleading. I was expecting a creepy ghost story and got a generic urban fantasy. Covers make promises that should be kept within the book and this one didn't.

 

CinderBeastly

  • Aren't these beautiful? Color on black really works for me. Very striking.

 

TransformRestore

  • Transformation: Dear God, what were they thinking? Glow in the dark wings are not sexy no matter how drunk you are.
  • Restoration: They must have sobered up because this one's much better.

 

BreathGirlQueen

  • I didn't realize it before but these have some superb similarities. Evocative, just slightly creepy, and so representative of the book and the disabilities of the characters. The Queen's Thief series has some fantastic covers, but this one was a satisfyingly bold choice.

 

miserere.finalcov.indd

  • Not just a pretty face, this cover captures the main conflict and the choices and growth of the characters.

 

BlueFantasy

  • Sometimes fantasy landscapes just work. Especially when they're blue.

 

AnnaNecklacePoison

  • Breathtaking.

 

WitherBeauty

  • I am so done with emo girls in pretty dresses.

 

WinterfairKomarr

  • Winterfair gifts seems cool and romantic until you've read the series and you realize Miles is 4'9". About a foot shorter than Ekaterin. 
  • Komarr: This one's much closer to the truth.

 

UnwindReplace

  • So chilling. I'm learning I have a thing for creepy.

 

Flesh and Spirit

  • And finally my favorite. I love the mood. So evocative with imagery that exactly matches the books. 

 

Which ones do you like? What are your favorite covers?

WritingKendracovers
Something A Little Different

   

Catching Cinders

All her life, Cindy has been told she’s worthless, kicked into the shadows so often that she believes the lie, but with her father inexplicably dead and the Prince far too interested in her story, she must decide whether to accept the way the world sees her or to prove she’s someone worth fighting for.

Catching Cinders Word Cloud 2

By Winged Chair

For years Merry has helped her father study the OtherRealms and the creatures that live there, but now Merry's attitude and razor wit has gotten her kicked out of yet another boarding school. When OtherRealm creatures show up in the last place they should be and begin stealing memories from the people of Woodshire, Merry must team up with an outlaw mage in order to return the lives that have been stolen.  She has to choose between the anger her disability instilled in her and the strength she can take from it, because a crippled mage might be just the hero this fairytale needs.

By Winged Chair Word Cloud 3

Skin Deep

Young Lord Léon’s carelessness maims a young girl and lands him a curse from her family, but years later, trapped as a bear, Léon comes across  a disabled enchantress in the forest who promises to free him. What he doesn’t tell her is that he recognizes her as the girl he wronged so long ago, and as he starts to fall in love with her, he realizes he must keep his secret if he wants to keep her.

Skin Deep Word Cloud

A Shroud for my Bride

Seventeen year old Kallan has been the Reaper’s personal hit-woman since she was twelve. But no more. She wants to catch criminals the right way, and after telling Reaper to take a long ride in an empty airship, she seeks a place with Namerre’s police force. But growing up in the world of murderers and vigilantes has left her with debilitating anxiety, and she has to hide her obsessions and compulsions from her new partners and friends. When a serial killer begins stalking the city streets, masking his crimes with magic, Kallan must seek help from her past, from the Reaper, a father who forced her to murder.

A Shroud For My Bride Word Cloud

WritingKendraword clouds
A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words

The movie adaptation of John Green’s book, The Fault in Our Stars, is currently in filming, and it started me thinking, why is the question always “Will your book be a movie?” and not “Will this movie be a book?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-3H1T3xqzZY

As a kid there was a particular type of conversation I hated. It went something like this:

Me: Well, what about Harriet the Spy?

Friend: Oh, I loved that movie.

Me: I meant the book.

Ex-friend: Same thing.

I’m not a book Nazi, declaring genocide on anyone who doesn’t agree the book is always better. Because, it isn’t. Not always. The Scarlet Pimpernel anyone? But there’s still that nagging annoyance with anyone who doesn’t know the movie was originally a book, or worse, thinks they’ve seen the movie so why bother reading the book.

Why do good books “have” to be made into movies? Well, as much as I hate it, movies are more accessible. It only takes a couple hours to watch a movie as opposed to days and weeks to read a book. Movies are visually stimulating which a lot of people find more engaging. And finally it’s easier and quicker to portray a scene in a film. A picture really is worth a thousand words (unless you really do the math in which case a movie is actually 216 million words).

But is all that better? There is something to be said for taking the time and care to peruse a good book. A movie has cinematography going for it, but a book has language and voice. It allows you to use your imagination and life experience to visualize the details of setting and characters an author gives. And it allows you to get inside someone else’s head in a way a movie never could.

Again, is that better? In the end, they’re two different media with which to tell a story. Neither “wins” over the other. But the question persists. Will the book be a movie? And I’ve never heard the vice versa.

To be fair there have been a couple instances of movies spawning a book or two. Case in point: Star Wars. Huge expansion on canon there. And there is fan-fiction which, while an entity in and of itself, can’t be ignored. Or look at Twilight which spawned a movie, which spawned fan-fiction, which spawned erotica. Oy. But still the phenomenon is very rare.

So what’s the deal? Are movies still such a novelty compared to the thousands of years of fiction that are out there? I can’t deny that, like John mentioned, there is a thrill to seeing your characters come to life. But there's a large part of me that’s resistant, that says I’m writing a book and hoping or assuming that book will one day grace the silver screen cheapens what I’m doing. I don’t know. I have no answer. What do you think? Why do we insist on making our most successful stories into movies?

WritingKendrabooks, movies
Is Merry a Person First?

Once Upon a Time Last week, I talked about writing characters with disabilities and finding a balance between the two extremes. Because it would be easy to overplay your hand so a character is nothing except their wheelchair, or treat it with kid gloves so the disability is just another window dressing that fades into the background. Then I posed some questions for writers to really dig in and examine their characters and their motivations for writing them in the first place.

And I’m going to share a secret with you guys. Lean closer. Closer. Okay, you can’t tell anyone…I…write…characters with disabilities. Shocking, I know. So I decided to put my money where my mouth is and ask myself these same questions about Merry, the heroine of my young adult fantasy, By Wingéd Chair. So let’s see if she’s a person first.

Merry is a seventeen year old student who suffered a spinal cord injury three years prior to By Wingéd Chair. She uses a manual wheelchair that her father built.

  • Is she more than her disability? A lot of Merry’s flaws come from her experience in the wheelchair. She is defensive to the point of hostility. She does not accept help gracefully, and she hides her vulnerability behind layer of snark and self-sufficiency. But there are other things that define Merry that have nothing to do with her disability. She is goal-oriented and persistent. She is courageous and funny. And her knowledge of the OtherRealms is second only to her father’s, which is what leads her to team up with Robyn Hode eventually. All of these things are affected by her disability, but they aren’t a result of it. They’d define her even if she was able-bodied.
  • Is she more than one detail deep? Since I’m writing from personal experience, I tried to give readers many things that would ground them in Merry’s situation as well as her head. And I tried to stay away from stereotypes and tropes that are damaging to the character and reader alike. I did touch on going to the bathroom but that was more a nod to the time period and setting, not the stereotype. Movement is a huge consideration for Merry, and as a result, for me as the author. For instance, how do you navigate a fight in a wheelchair? And what happens when you’re kidnapped or stranded without your primary means of locomotion? Merry is faced with these questions and many more. And I consider her fears another detail that help round her out. There are the expected ones: who does she ask for help? Will anyone ever find her attractive? But there are others buried deeper. Merry is afraid of new situations. She’s afraid of losing what little control over her life she has. There are plenty more details, if you’re interested, over in the Accessible Excerpts series.
  • Do they have heroic qualities above and beyond their ability to adapt? One of the things I love about Merry is that her strengths keep moving her forward despite the obstacles I throw at her. She doesn’t take no for an answer. Whether this entails dealing with her disability or not, Merry goes for what she wants. And she runs toward danger – well, rolls toward danger – disregarding the consequences. And she is loyal, even when presented with a temptation most in her situation would have to seriously think about.
  • Is she healed at the end of the book? Hell no. Just as in real life, Merry will have to deal with her disability for the rest of her life. She is in a much better place emotionally at the end of the book, but physically she is the same. Even in fantasy reality has its limits.

So, all in all, I think Merry is a person first. Her disability plays a large role in her growth as a character because that was the story I wanted to write. But she is so much more than the sum of her physical abilities and by the end of the book she’s confident in who she is.

Person First: Just Happen to Be Disabled

"Just Happen to be Disabled"

Disabilities in SF/FI see requests all the time for books about characters with disabilities where the disability is not the main conflict, characters that “just happen to be disabled”. The thing is, I understand where this is coming from. I talked about it last week. People with disabilities are first and foremost just people. Our struggles are not the most important – and certainly not the only – things about us. But we still want them acknowledged. We want to be “normal” and normal requires representation, doesn’t it? No one will recognize us as normal without first recognizing us. But to be completely honest with ourselves, disability tends to be pervasive. I mean, it’s exceptionally hard to define, but I believe a major part of disability is it changes your life. As okay as I am, as much as I’ve accepted my limitations, the truth is, I would live differently if I could walk better. No chair, no crutches. Those are obvious, but there are others, too. No constant low-level anxiety about how I’m going to get out of this folding chair. No putting my back to a wall so I don’t have to worry about being jostled from behind. No blog about disabilities in fiction, and no writing fairytale heroes in wheelchairs. Life would be different.

Then what’s the difference? Why do we read about certain characters and cringe at their portrayal? What does it mean that they “just happen to be disabled?” If it means that a character should be a person first, then I agree. But if they’re saying they want to see a character that’s in a wheelchair and the chair doesn’t play any part in the main conflict or the character’s arc, then I feel like that’s unrealistic.

A disability is going to affect the way a character thinks, feels, and reacts. The same way their race or socioeconomic class would. We’re taught to take these things into account about the characters we create so why would one who’s disabled be any different. It may not be the main conflict (and honestly, I’m struggling to figure out exactly what that means), but it’s going to affect it. Just as much as it will affect the character’s arc. No matter how hard you try to write the book so it’s “not a big deal”, if you’ve done it right and the disability feels real, then it’s still going to feel like a big deal because it’s always there.

So in the end, it’s a balancing act. How do you recognize the life changes and still write a character who is a person first and disabled second? Especially when that second begins to feel like a pretty big first.

The questions I’m starting to ask myself while I write are:

  • Are they more than their disability? Disabled characters are going to have quirks and flaws and strengths unrelated to their disability, just like every other character in the book.
  • Are they more than one detail deep? No character should be limited to one characteristic, just as no disability is defined as one trope or stereotype. An author loses a lot of points by repeating the same detail over and over again as if that makes the disability more real. We got it, she needs help going to bathroom. You’ve beat that dead horse to death.
  • Do they have heroic qualities above and beyond their ability to adapt? Yeah, sure being adaptable is a good thing, but when left with no other options, most people will bend before they break. I want to see the heroic qualities of Aragorn or Luke Skywalker in a character with a disability.
  • And my least favorite, are they healed at the end of the book? This is just plain insulting and unrealistic and damaging to all people with disabilities everywhere. By healing a character of their disability, an author is saying, “There’s something wrong with you that needs fixing.”

These are my questions. What are yours? I’m realizing that everyone is going to read my books differently. I cannot please everyone, but I can’t enrage everyone either. All I can do is write my characters with as much reality as possible. They will have strengths, and flaws, and they will have disabilities.

Person First                                                     Person First: Is Merry A Person First?

Progress Report: The Writing Process

Remember progress reports? Mine always said: “Kendra excels at spelling but could really use some work on her times tables.” Unfortunately, this is as true now as it was when I was twelve. And just like those recurrent times tables, sometimes the writing feels like I’m running the same track over and over again, wearing down the soles of my shoes. But apparently, readers/followers/anyone-else-who’s-listening like to hear about The Process. So I’m going to indulge myself and y’all a bit and give you an update on my writing process. I’ve been working on my young adult fantasy novel, By Wingéd Chair, in its various stages for about three years now. It was the fourth book I wrote, it’s the second book in the Valeria series, and it’s the third book I’ve tried to sell.  It’s been written, revised, pitched, rejected, revised, pitched, rejected, and revised some more. My last rejection was particularly positive, telling me I’m finally starting the story in the right place, my character is well-balanced and interesting, and I’ve locked down my voice. So now I just need to find the right agent and the right editor for this project. Unfortunately, that’s a big “just”.

So this week, I will be polishing my synopsis and query letter. I already have a growing list of agents to try for my next wave of submissions. And if I exhaust those prospects, I have a list of small press publishers I think would be a good fit for my book.

And while By Wingéd Chair is out on submission I’ll be working on the fourth book in the series, A Shroud For My Bride (Skin Deep is broken and is going on a back burner until I have time to fix it). I also have a couple short stories that go along with both books in the works. Those will go out on submission as soon as they’re polished.

It’s funny how rejections lead to a flurry of activity. The next couple weeks are going to be pretty busy with revisions, submissions, and heavy edits. Not really my favorite part of the writing process, but every step moves me forward.

Worthy of Rejection

Last week, I received another rejection letter, only this one was different from the others. This was the infamous praise-rejection. It read something like this: “Dear Kendra, I really enjoyed your MS. I especially liked your character and world-building. But this publishing house hasn’t had much success with this type of MS in the past, so we’re going to have to pass.” I’ve collected a lot of these over the years, but I was really happy when I read this one. You see, there is a hierarchy of rejection letters, and an author has to climb through the ranks as they advance in their craft. First is the form rejection every writer becomes familiar with, the one that says: “Thank you for your submission. We do not feel it is right for us at this time.” Apparently, at this point, you don’t even warrant an original composition. If you get this one, consider it a badge of honor – you are a writer worthy of rejection – but don’t dwell on it. Keep writing, keep revising, and keep submitting.

Then there is the critique rejection which sounds a little like this: “Hey, I like your premise, but why don’t you try this, this, and this.” Wow, you’re moving up in the world. Don’t take this lightly. It means someone liked your work enough to sit down and write about how to make it better. Congratulations, now you have to decide whether you agree with their critique or not. If you do, go to town on those revisions, wait six months, and then send it again. Be sure to mention you took their advice to heart. There’s nothing wrong with a little pandering.

And that brings us to the praise rejection. Not only have they taken the time to write you a lengthy letter, but they also have a lot to say about it – mostly good things with some critique thrown in. But in the end they just can’t use it. A bit of a bummer but how can you stay upset with all those ringing endorsements just above the “but?”

So I’m feeling pretty good about this one. It means an expert thinks I’m close, and he’s given me a couple things to work on in the meantime.

What do y’all think? Am I missing any other kinds of rejection letters? What do you do when you get them?

Under the Coffee Table

So, I've always said I started writing when I was fourteen because that's when I started Blue Fire, my mammoth 160,000 word epic/young adult/sword and sorcery fantasy novel/catastrophe. But while going through some boxes after a recent move, I discovered proof that I was an official storyteller long before that. DSC_3335

 

Yes, that is my first novel. The Mice in the Toy Factory. Dear God, I wish I was kidding. I wrote this in Singapore when I was ten and some nice librarian helped me put it together and provided lovely plastic binding. Look, it's even got a copyright. So you can't steal this masterpiece.

DSC_3336It has some of the classic blunders of a first novel, like starting the story in the wrong place, an overly developed sense of melodrama, bad self-drawn artwork, and excessive lamination. But it also has some redeeming qualities. Even in fifth grade I had a good grasp on complex sentences and story structure. My opinion of what readers should consider funny was a little off, but hey, I was ten.

DSC_3337

DSC_3341

 

Yeah, it should be a coffee table book. It's the right size, the right amount of shiny. Well, maybe an under the coffee table book. Way under.

WritingKendra
A Writer's Truth

Last night I met with the local writing group at our library and as usual we shared our responses to a writing prompt. One of the things I find amazing about writers is how we can look at the same picture and all see something different. Our work reflects our senses of humor, our backgrounds, our writing styles. Each experience molds and shapes us as writers and only becomes obvious once our words are laid out on the page. So I thought I would share a couple pieces that came from the same inspiration. The picture was our prompt. The first response is mine, and the second, my sister, Arielle’s.

Mirror Reflection

Alex shuffled her feet, heedless of the dew that soaked through her shoes as she made her way across the garden. Her throat burned as she fetched up against the side of the old wishing well, but she fought the tears with everything she’d gained from years of quiet perseverance.

Her fingers gripped the crumbling stone and she leaned over the still water as though she would leap into the depths. Her pale face stared up at her. She dropped a rock into the water, shattering her reflection the way Rob had shattered her that morning.

When the water smoothed, Alex gasped and jerked back. There were two reflections below her now.

She looked up at the figure beside her, only just stifling a scream. Her own face stared back at her, her own eyes slanted in satisfaction, and her own lips quirked in an unpleasant smile.

“What-?” Alex started. “Who are you?”

The other Alex cocked her head. “I am you,” she said. Her eyes narrowed. “The only you.”

She shoved Alex with a vicious grin and Alex stumbled back…over the low stone wall. And down, into the cold and damp.

Above her the other Alex laughed.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

I have been many things, and I have been none of them. I’ve been you. When you smile, I smile. When you frown, I frown. When you talk to me, my lips move with yours. I see you, but you don’t see me. You look at me and see yourself. I am you, but only when you’re with me. When you leave, I cannot follow. I am left to wait for your return. Then silently I will show you yourself again. You will hate me for it. You will use me to make yourself better, but I will always tell you you’re not good enough. And you will never know I didn’t want to. It’s only what I was made for.

 

We both managed to turn out something fairly creepy (and to be fair, we are related, with similar backgrounds and influences), but there were other responses in our group that were amusing, nostalgic or passionate without the darker shading. I liked how some of us saw the girl looking in a mirror, and others saw her looking at her reflection in water. Some saw her as a tomboy, others thought she seemed fragile or abused.

At first, it may seem like there is only one truth here. There is a little girl, well dressed, looking down at her reflection. And this may be the one truth. But there are many stories.

Inspiration in Sneakers

It's been a while since I've posted a response to a writing prompt, and since I've got a new one in my portfolio, I figured I'd share it with y'all. I met with my local writer's group this week and we all wrote on the same subject: a picture of a man's feet in seriously beat up sneakers. Honestly, I had a hard time with it. Didn't find it as inspiring as I felt like I should have. But I pressed on and came out with something I actually kind of like. Not really sure where I was going with it, but the character seems really interesting.

I'm going to kill the next person who offers me a free meal. Just cause I like to breathe through my toes don't give you the right to think I live in a cardboard box behind the dumpster on Sixth Street. If I could afford those fancy loafers imprisoning your tootsies, I'd rip the toes off those too. I've got to have room to wiggle, got to feel the breeze airing out the spaces between my piggies. Got to evict the fungus before I start charging it rent.

Like I've said before, I can be resentful of the challenges prompts present, but I usually get something out of them. I learn something. I like to think that stretching my brain around problems like this on a regular basis will serve me well the next time I'm staring at my screen suffering from writer's block. If I can find words to write about old beat up shoes, a story that's been haunting me for years shouldn't be a problem, right?