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At First Sight

In the spirit of the holiday I have a special post for y'all. This is a short story I wrote back in September as a response to a prompt that said "write something that takes place in a public restroom". I'm not sure how a romance fell out but it did. I think it could use a couple more drafts but the foundation is there. I hope y'all enjoy, and happy valentine's day.  

The door of the restroom swung open. A young woman limped in, her flats shuffling across the tiles and her crutch clicking with each uneven step. She stopped and leaned against the cool wall, looked down at the bridesmaid's dress she wore, and burst into tears.

She should never have introduced them. Kara sniffled and reached into her purse to grab some more tissues. The wads in her fist which she'd been using all night were too soggy with tears and snot to do her any good now. Her fingers found some loose change, a tube of chapstick, and four pens, but no Kleenex.

Dammit. Her nose was leaking like that stupid kitchen faucet she still hadn't fixed. She ducked down to make sure the stalls were empty and limped across to the counter. She winced when she saw her blotchy face reflected in the mirror. That shade of red definitely clashed with the coral of her dress. She turned from the horrifying visage and propped her crutch against the counter so she could snatch up a few paper towels.

Really, this was her fault. She shouldn't have introduced them, she thought again. Or at least she should have refused the dubious honor of standing next to them as they tied the knot. Then she wouldn't have had to come at all and wouldn't have had to watch her best friend marry the only guy who had ever looked past Kara's crutch to see her.

Kara froze as the door to the reception hall swung open, letting in a burst of sound from the party. Oh God, if it was Emily, she'd just go ahead and die on the spot, public restroom or not.

But it wasn't Emily. Her gaze met startled gray eyes in a distinctly masculine face.

Kara squeaked and darted into the back stall, but her drooping foot caught the edge of a tile and she stumbled. Ready to start crying again, this time with frustration, she slammed the door shut and collapsed onto the toilet.

“Oh crap, I'm sorry.” His voice came over the stall door.

“What are you doing in the women's restroom?” she said. Her voice sounded too high, and she concentrated on bringing it back into a register discernible to humans.

“I didn't notice the sign,” he said.

“It's a chick in a dress. How could you not see it?”

“I just didn't.” He paused. “Are you okay?”

She blew out her breath. “I'm fine. Go away.”

“Your face is all red.”

“Gee thanks.”

He didn't apologize but there was an awkward silence where it kind of felt like he wanted to. “I have a confession,” he finally said. “I didn't come in here by accident.”

“You didn't,” Kara said, her voice flat.


There was another pause. This one went on a bit longer. “Are you still there?” he said.

“I'm trying to decide if you're some creepy pervert.”

He laughed. She liked the sound of it ringing off the walls of the restroom. “Not a creepy pervert,” he said. “I swear.” She imagined him holding up his hand as if swearing on a Bible. “I'm Paul. Emily's brother.”

That's right. She'd met him last night at the dress rehearsal, but she'd been so worried about not being bitter and not ruining Emily's wedding that all she remembered of him was a brief impression of light eyes and dark hair. But wait, if he was her brother...

Kara groaned. “Emily sent you in here, didn't she?”

“Yeah.” He sounded kind of resentful and weary at the same time. Guess he didn't like being sent to comfort the third wheel any more than she liked being recognized as the third wheel.

“Well, you can tell her I'm fine. I'm not angry, or upset, or-or anything, all right?”

She heard him shift and it sounded like he was leaning against the counter. “I don't think she expected you to be in here crying,” he said.

“Why else would she send you?”

“Maybe because she thought you could help me.” His voice was quiet.

Kara closed her eyes and pounded her forehead with her fist. Not everything's about you, stupid. Well, maybe if she helped him with whatever problem he had, he would go away and leave her alone. “Why do you need my help?” she said.

“I don't.” His response was too quick and too loud. “I'm fine. Emily's just overprotective, and she thought since we both have disabilities... you know, instant connection.”

Kara sighed. “Why does everyone think that crippled people are automatically attracted to other crippled people?”

“I don't know. It's insulting really.”

“It is.” Kara narrowed her eyes and thought back. She didn't have a great memory of him from the night before, but she knew she would have noticed if he'd been in a wheelchair or had crutches like hers. “Wait,” she said. “I don't remember you having a disability.”

“You're assuming you can see it.”

“So, you mean like vertigo?”

“I mean like PTSD.”

“Oh. Were you in the military?”

“Nothing so heroic,” he said. “I was a hostage in that bank robbery last year.”

“The one on 6th street? Geez, I remember that.”

“Yeah, nothing like being in combat or anything, but it kind of messed me up.”

She was getting better at reading his voice. He sounded embarrassed with something deeper underneath. Shame? “Paul, they kept those hostages locked up in that safe for three nights. And a couple people were shot, weren't they.”

She heard him swallow. “Yeah.”

“I'm not trying to remind you or anything, I'm just saying, that would mess anyone up.”

“Yeah, well, I'm better now I've got Warden. He keeps me sane. I'm usually too worried about him sticking his nose up women's skirts to be worried about myself.”

“Who is Warden and why hasn't he been arrested?” she asked.

“He's my service dog. And most of the girls forgive him once he looks up at them with those big brown eyes.”

“You have a service dog? Why didn't you bring him?”

He paused. “I did.”

She leaned over and looked under the stalls and saw Paul's feet in his dress shoes. Right next to him were four paws and the tip of a wagging tail.

“Sorry, I didn't see him.”

“He's big and slobbery and wears a bright red vest. How could you miss him?”

She heard the smile in his voice and couldn't help smiling in return. “I just did. Besides you startled me.”

“Yeah, sorry about that. So why are you in here instead of out there eating cake?”

Her smile disappeared at the reminder. “I'm being pathetic,” she said, going for a light-hearted tone. “I didn't want to ruin Emily's wedding by bursting into tears during their first dance.”

“You don't approve of the groom?”

“Oh no. I know he's a really great guy. That's the problem.”

“So you're in love with him,” Paul said.

“No.” The stall door made the perfect barrier to hide behind, so she found it easier to say, “I just thought he might be the kind of person who could love me. And those are hard to find.”

“Well, now it just sounds like you're fishing for compliments.”

Kara knew he was trying to lighten her mood, but she'd had a rough couple days and just wanted a moment of self-indulgence. “Oh, that's what it sounds like to you? Well, that's the reality I live with. Every guy I meet I have to wonder if he's going to be one of the ones who only sees my disability. Half of them have a hero complex and the other half get that glazed look right before they run away because I'd be too much work.”

“At least you can leave your house without having some kind of breakdown. Every day I wonder if I'll actually be able to step out the door. At every store I have an argument with myself about whether there are enough exits or too many people inside.”

“But no one knows what's going on in your head,” Kara said. “You can smile and nod at people and they won't be able to tell you have problems. I get judged before I even open my mouth. Everyone can see my weakness as I step out of a car or stand up from a chair.”

“And that's a bad thing? Do you know how long it took me to realize that I actually had a serious condition? This is something treatable, but only if you recognize that it's there. Once I finally acknowledged that I needed help, I had to convince the rest of the world there really was something wrong with me and it wasn't all in my head. You don't have to convince anyone.”

Suddenly, Kara was laughing, the tension and the anger spilling out until she felt loose and free. “Are we arguing about who's disability is more disabling?” she said.

His chuckle was warm. “I guess so. Is it weird that I kind of feel better?”

“Not really. I feel better, too. Maybe Emily knew what she was doing.”

He was quiet while she fished in the toilet paper dispenser for something to wipe her nose. The plastic rattled.

“Drat,” she said.


“It's empty, and I'm out of tissues.”

A package sailed over the stall door, and she reached up to grab it just to keep it from hitting her in the face.  It was one of those pocket size packets of Kleenex.

“Really?” she said, her breath huffing out on a laugh.

“Brother of the bride, you know. I have another confession,” he said. “Emily might have asked me to talk to you, but that's not why I came in here. I've been trying to get up the nerve to ask you to dance all night.”

“So you followed me into the bathroom?”

“I didn't want to lose my chance. I guess I got a little carried away when I realized you were alone and no one would overhear my awkward attempt to ask you out to dinner tomorrow.”

“First it was just a dance, now you want a date too?”

“I wanted a dance cause you're pretty. I want a date because you're interesting and I'm really enjoying our conversation.”

“Hmm. Are you sure you're not one of those guys that only sees the disability.”

“I don't know. It's hard to tell since I haven't actually seen you in a while. Why don't you come out and you can judge?”

“My face might still be splotchy.”

“Warden doesn't mind, do you? He says he doesn't.”

Kara suppressed a giggle and levered herself to her feet. She took a moment to smooth her dress and make sure her mascara hadn't run before she opened the stall door and stepped outside. Paul leaned against the counter, his lips curving up in a smile, a German shepherd grinning at his feet.

“Well?” she said. She turned like a model on a runway, hanging onto the stalls for support. Where had she left her crutch?

He shook his head. “No disabilities. I just see a beautiful woman.” He cocked his head. “Is there hope for me?”

Kara pretended to consider. “What do you think, Warden?”

The dog's tail thumped against the tiles.

“I agree.” She spotted her crutch propped on the counter opposite Paul, and she limped to grab it. Something cold and wet touched the back of her knee, and she felt the back of her skirt lift. She jumped, slipped, and caught herself against the counter with her hand in the sink.

“Warden! Sorry, sorry.” Paul was yanking the shepherd's harness.

Kara laughed. “I suppose you did warn me.”

“What did you agree with?” he asked the dog and then looked up at Kara. “Do I get a dance and a date?”

Kara opened her mouth just as the door opened and an older woman wearing a burnt orange sweater and a lime green skirt swarmed into the restroom.

Paul started guiltily when her eyes widened and she stopped short.

“Paul Jay Sherman. What do you think you're doing in the ladies room?”

“Aunt Phyllis. I was just-”

“You were just leaving, is what. Stop bothering this young woman and get marching.” She pointed to the door, and Kara had to cover her smile.

Warden stepped in front of Paul and leaned against his legs. Paul seemed to soak in the dog's strength and stood up straighter. “Not until I've heard her answer.” He turned to her and held out his hand. “So, what will it be Kara?”

His eyes stayed locked on hers. They didn't stray toward her crutch or her legs.

She placed her hand in his. “A dance then,” she said.

“And dinner?”

She smiled. “And dinner.”

They walked out of the women's restroom, letting Aunt Phyllis seek out a stall in peace.

The restroom door swung open. A young woman limped in, the clicking of her crutch muffled by the fabric of her wedding dress. She stopped by the mirror and took a moment to check her makeup. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a plastic package of Kleenex propped up by the sink. She smiled as she reached for it.

“Kara?” A girl poked her head around the door. “Paul says hurry. Emily's about to start her toast, and he says he can't live through it without moral support.”

Kara curled her fingers around the tissues. “I'm coming,” she said.

“Okay. Oh geez! Warden, no.”

Kara laughed and left the restroom.

Nano Wrap Up

Today is the last day of Nanowrimo so I thought I'd give you guys a rundown on how it went. I was pretty solid with my word-count for the first couple weeks and I even managed to get ahead before Thanksgiving (after four years I know full well that family plus turkey does not equal much writing time). But despite that head-start I somehow hit the second week slump in my fourth week. I managed to reach 50,000 words on Monday but it was an uphill slog. And since my personal goal was to write 75,000 words this month, I didn't quite make it. At least I learned something. I have a very hard time working on two projects at once. Whaddaya know? I'm human after all.

One of my favorite parts of Nanowrimo is the community. My writing partners and I get together once a week at the library and have our own write-ins. Hard at work above are my sister and Rebecca Green Gasper, who was kind enough to answer some questions for us last week along with Susan Oloier. Becca's been one of my critique/writing partners for a couple years now. If you haven't checked her out yet, you should take a look.

So, I'm coming out of this side of November with half of a new novel and about 8,000 words of a devotional (that was supposed to be 25,000, I told you the dual projects thing didn't work, right?). Not bad all things considering, and I'm really looking forward to finishing up The Robber Bridegroom. So far it's been a blast to write. The devotional has been more of a battle but just as rewarding. Looks like I've got my work cut out for me this next year.


Here's a sneak peek at The Robber Bridegroom:

"The building was large and imposing. Until now it had always meant fear and danger to me. Along with the rest of the Reaper’s crew, I had avoided it for the last ten years. I swallowed and mounted the steps. One, two, three, four, five steps separated my past from my future. Such a small distance for such a huge leap of faith.

I couldn’t keep myself from turning one last time to glance behind me. Across the street, Clarence and Aalan stood watching. Clarence’s lips were twisted in a contemptuous sneer but Aalan’s eyes were wide with horror and disbelief. Like the Reaper, he didn’t believe I would do it. He didn’t think I had it in me to throw away my whole life, everything I’d ever known, all the family I had, just for an ideal.

This was the end. If I took this step, I’d be hunted. I’d go from being the Reaper’s employee to being his next target. No forgiveness, no leniency, no second thoughts. I’d made my decision a long time ago but this was the moment it would become real.

I lifted my chin and stepped into the police station."

The Lovely Ladies from Moxie Writers

Today I’ve got a couple special guests over from Moxie Writers. Rebecca Green Gasper and Susan Oloier are both young adult authors out on their Break Out Against book tour.

Rebecca is the writer of young adult fiction. Before becoming a writer, she was a high school special education teacher working primarily with students with emotional disabilities. She also worked as a tutor and coach. Rebecca grew up in the mountains of Colorado. She now resides outside of Denver with her husband and two children.

Susan is a mom, a wife, and a writer of YA and Adult fiction, as well as non-fiction. She has been published in Inside/Outside Magazine as a columnist, at, and in Cliterature Journal. She just finished a travel memoir about her family's year in the national parks.

Rebecca and Susan take on some of the tougher issues in young adult fiction nowadays and I thought you might like a closer look at what they write and how they go about writing it.

Where did you get the idea for your book?

Rebecca: Break From You started with a dream about a fire and a cowboy, and another element I can’t tell you about because it will give away the book. Eventually the idea developed into a story about dating abuse and became Brooke’s story. I did a lot of research about dating abuse, abusers, and victims.

Susan: Outcast has been a part of me since junior high. I was the victim of bullying in both junior high and high school. The experience of being picked on and singled out has been with me my whole life. It was a book I needed to write. Initially it was for catharsis, but it later turned into something more.

How long did it take you to write?

Rebecca: It doesn’t take me long to write once I get going. Break From You took around two or three months to write. The editing and publishing took a lot longer.

Susan: I started Outcast in 2001. It went through many drafts, edits, and revisions over the past 11 years.

Are you a planner or a pantser? (do you plan your novel before writing or do you write by the seat of your pants)

Rebecca: I plan, but not always on paper. I will make notes and write some scenes. I also write out a brief outline, but for the most part, when an idea comes, I spend a lot of time brainstorming and developing the story in my head long before I start writing. I also spend a lot of time researching. For Break From You, I did research on dating abuse, victims, and abusers.

 Susan: When I have an idea, it brews in my mind for 4-6 months. The characters become real to me in that time, as do the details of their lives and situations. Then I begin taking notes and write a rudimentary outline. With two of my books, I wrote detailed outlines (Outcast being one of them). So I’d say I’m a plotter, but I always leave room for the characters to do what they want—as they always seem to do.

Do you edit as you write or wait until the first draft is finished?

Rebecca: I do some editing as I go, but most is done when the story is finished. I find that I need the whole story laid out in front of me before I can start working on the editing.

Susan: I am notorious for editing as I go, which is why it takes me a year or so for a “first draft” to be finished. I always go back and reread what I wrote, then revise and edit before the version is ever complete. Writers as a whole seem to frown on this, but it’s a process that works for me.

Was there any part of this project that gave you more trouble than the rest?

Rebecca: Brooke’s emotions gave me the most trouble. Brooke has strength, but she also displays a lot of weakness and showing why she made the decisions she did was a very difficult task.

 Susan: I didn’t like a lot of Noelle’s choices. They weren’t things I would do in a million years. So letting her get involved in decisions I didn’t approve of and allowing her to plot revenge were really hard for me.

Where can we find your books?

Love shouldn’t hurt this much…Brooke Myers wants to believe she has it all: the perfect guy, the perfect relationship, the perfect life. She wants to believe it so much that she's willing to overlook the fear, the isolation, and the pain her boyfriend has caused her. She knows it isn't right but tells herself that love isn't always easy. However, when a fire destroys the restaurant during homecoming dinner, she forms an instant bond with the boy who saves her, one her boyfriend wouldn’t like. With the pain of a concussion reminding her of how bad things can get, she is forced to re-evaluate the relationship she has with her boyfriend and face the ghosts that haunt her. Brooke once believed love was all it took…but is it enough? Is it truly love when you've lost yourself in it?

Amazon- Smashwords- Barnes and Noble-

Website- Twitter- @rgreengapser

Noelle dreams of a different life, one where Trina Brockwell doesn’t exist. Trina has bullied Noelle since junior high. Now she’s tired of it. With the help of her black-sheep aunt and a defiant new classmate, Noelle seeks revenge. But vengeance comes with a price: Noelle risks friendship, her first love, and herself to get back at those who have wronged her.

Amazon- Smashwords- Barnes and Noble-

Website- twitter- @narrawriter

Thank you, ladies for stopping by. If you want to see more from Rebecca and Susan, stop over at and be sure to follow the rest of their tour as it's sure to be interesting.

WritingKendraguest post, writing
Nano Pep Talk

So, how is everyone doing on their nano novel? I figured it was time for an update myself, and time to spread a little encouragement to my fellow writers. Miraculously, I'm on target. But the next couple days are going to be hard as I try to get ahead for Thanksgiving. We have family coming into town and I know myself well enough to recognize that I won't get any writing done while they're here. With that on the horizon: full steam ahead.

We're coming up on the end of the second week, which means we're still making our way up the hump. Week two is probably the hardest part of Nanowrimo. You've lost some steam after week one, you're staring at the blank page thinking "I have no idea what happens next". And in week three everything starts to sound like it was written by a drunk zebra. But don't despair. Remember it's quantity that counts in this race, not quality. If you're behind, there's still time to catch up. And it gets better. By the end of the month you'll be taking charge again. In that rush you'll remember exactly why you wanted to write this novel in the first place, and the going will be easier.

So, keep plugging along. Don't let the mid-month slump discourage you. And above all. Keep writing.

Ready, Set, Nano!

So, if you haven't been paying attention, yesterday was the first day of Nanowrimo. I got off to a good start, met up with some friends for a write-in, met my word quota (though didn't get any extra written like I'd planned). If you were thinking about joining in but feel like it's too late now, think again. In 2008 I started my first Nanowrimo nine days late. I heard about it at church and decided that afternoon that it was something I couldn't miss. I finished on November 30th with about 50,200 words of a book called In the Company of Pirates. Still hoping to do something with that one someday. My point is, you can still take a flying leap onto this bandwagon. Roll call in the comments, who's in? If you're already taking a chance with all the rest of us, you're probably feeling excited and maybe a little overwhelmed already. Here are some last minute tips I forgot to include two weeks ago.

  • Don't write in OpenOffice. OpenOffice has this weird word count voodoo where it counts quotation marks as words, inflating your word count and causing a panic on the last day when you realize you're three hundred words short. Not a happy moment. Don't do it. Use Scrivener or Microsoft Office. Avoid panic whenever possible.
  • Update your word count on Nanowrimo's website often. Multiple times a day if you can manage it. This can be a bit distracting (especially if you get sucked into the "procrastination station") but I find it really helpful to see progress and Nanowrimo makes this tangible with a handy dandy status bar. Super cool to watch it fill up. Scrivener's project targets dialogue box is great for this too.
  • Word padding is a completely legitimate, accepted, touted, effective, and overall not cheating strategy. This is your chance to get away with all those pesky things you're not supposed to let sneak into your writing. Throw in as many adverbs as you want, give your readers a lecture about the mechanics of REM sleep, repeat descriptions until you're so sick of them you can't help but come up with new and interesting ways to say flying, purple, gyrating kangaroos.
  • Tell everyone you know what you're attempting. That way you'll be too embarrassed to quit halfway through. Sounds kind of shallow but it works.
  • Never end a day not knowing what comes next. It feels all nice and neat to wrap up at the end of a chapter or a thought, but it's very hard to get started the next day when you have no idea what the next scene or even sentence is going to be about. Some people say end in the middle of a sentence, but I have a little OCPD in me that makes this maddening.

So, what are you waiting for? Get busy and I'll see you in a month.

A Month of Nuts

Two Thursdays from now is November 1st, meaning Nanowrimo is less than two weeks away. Aah! For those who don’t know, Nanowrimo stands for National Novel Writing Month. The challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel (really more of a novella) during the thirty days of November. That’s 1667 words a day or approximately six double spaced pages. If you hit 50,000 words by the end of the month, you win! Your prize: the right to say “I’ve written a novel”. I know it sounds daunting – 1600 words a day? Are you nuts? Well, yes, some of us are a little nuts when November rolls around. But you can be nuts too. What about that idea you’ve had burning a hole in the back of your head for year? Maybe it’s about time you go it on paper. Even if you have no idea what to write about, you’ve just always wanted to write a book, this is a great opportunity to get started.

And you won’t be alone. With over 300,000 writers participating around the world, you have a great support network and a community to cheer you on. You can check out nano activity in your region and join other local wrimos for write-ins. Once or twice a week you’ll get pep talks from other writers and published authors.

If you’re still in school and 50,000 words really is too much, there’s the Young Writers Program designed specifically for kids who want to write a book. They can participate individually or with their class and they set their own word count goals.

Thinking about jumping on the band wagon? Here are some tips to help you get started.

  • Get in the habit of writing every day now. You’ve still got a little less than two weeks. If you get used to writing just a few paragraphs a day, it’ll make those 1600 words seem a lot less daunting come November.
  • You can’t start writing the book until Nov 1st, but you can do as much planning as you like. You can jot down ideas, figure out major plot points, you can have the whole story outlined in color-coded marker if you want. I’m a pantser (I write by the seat of my pants). I go into Nanowrimo with very little structure. But even I benefit from doing a little research and getting the big stepping stones figured out before setting pen to paper.
  • Don’t edit as you go. The whole point of this is quantity, not quality. You’re trying to see what happens when you just let go. This is going to drive you nuts, guaranteed, but you have to ignore the little voice wailing in your head, otherwise you’ll never hit 50,000.
  • You’re going to get stuck. It’s a fact of life. The key is not to panic. Find some tips for writer’s block – here’s a couple to get you started. And if you’re really hurting, there are some tricks of the trade. Like adding something unexpected. How about a flying purple ninja. You can play with your character’s reaction for a couple pages until you get back on track. Who knows maybe the flying purple ninja will end up saving the day.

So, who’s going to join me on this crazy endeavor? If you need a writing buddy, look me up on Nanowrimo’s website. I’m kendramerritt85 and I’d love to see you there. I’m still on a fairytale kick. Last year was Beauty and the Beast. This year it’s going to be The Robber Bridegroom/The Singing Bone. Well? What’s yours going to be about?

WritingKendrananowrimo, writing
Kendra Does The Next Big Thing

I was going through my Google Reader last week and found an awesome surprise on my friend Becca’s blog. She tagged me for “The Next Big Thing”, and I’ve been having fun hopping around and reading about what everyone’s working on. Since you guys have heard plenty about By Wingéd Chair already, I figured I’d give you a look at a brand new project. So new it’s not even on my WIP page yet. Save your gasps of awe till the end, please. The rules for “The Next Big Thing” are simple: answer a few questions about your book and tag more people who write, whose current WIPs you want to hear more about!

What is the working title of your book?

Right now I’m calling it The Robber Bridegroom because that’s the fairytale it’s loosely following (that and The Singing Bone, but it can’t have two titles). Not terribly exciting, I know, but titles are tricky things for me. Sometimes they’re the first thing I know about the story, but most of the time they don’t show up until I’m halfway through the book (Skin Deep didn’t show up until the last line, obstinate little bugger). At least The Robber Bridegroom is better than Magic Cop which was the file name for years.

Where did the idea come from?

Usually it’s easier for me to pinpoint the idea that spawns a whole book, whether it’s a scene like Blue Fire, or a concept like Catching Cinders. But this one is more of a patchwork of different thoughts and feelings, and it’s actually a really old idea. It’s been sitting in my futures notebook for several years waiting for a story to go with it. I wanted to write about a world where magic and technology have evolved side by side through an industrial revolution resulting in a setting that looks very similar to New York or London in the year 1900. A certain important plot element and its accompanying feelings came from a dream, one of those where I wake up scrambling for a pen. And some of the tone and themes were inspired by Boondock Saints.

What genre does your book fall under?

Young Adult Fantasy with kind of a thriller vibe

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

I’d really rather there was never a movie version. Sorry. I write novels, not screenplays.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

A seventeen-year-old cop with OCD must reconnect with her vigilante father in order to catch a serial killer. What do you think? Is this any good? I think it sounds a little generic, and I can’t figure out how to fit the magic in without making it too long.

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

Kind of a cart and horse thing considering the stage of the project, but I’m nothing if not goal-oriented. I’d really like an agent and a publisher. I’m good at the writing stuff, but the legal and marketing stuff? Yeah, not so much. By Wingéd Chair is currently on submission to the first batch of agents, so we’ll see what comes.

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

Um…wait. It’s supposed to be done? Heheh. This is my newest project, and I haven’t actually started writing it yet, just getting it all in order. Lots more research than any of my others so far. But if it follows the normal patterns then I’ll get most of it (at least 50,000 words) on paper this November for Nanowrimo, and then I’ll spend the next two or three months hemming and hawing before I write down the end. I’m not sure why but this always happens.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Hmm. I hadn’t actually thought about this yet. I’m going to go with Tamora Pierce’s Terrier (because of the cop element and because Tamora Pierce is probably my deepest influence) and Maria V. Snyder’s Poison Study (because there are some lovely secrets and horrible pasts to conceal and discover and Snyder pulled this off with gut-wrenching style).

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Same thing as the rest in the Valeria series. I feel a need to read (and consequently to write) about unlikely heroes, characters who don’t fit the mold yet who still reach out and touch something in all of us.

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

This is my first novel to feature a character with a disability entirely different from my own. Aschen, Merry, and Anwen all have trouble walking. Kallan has what we would recognize as OCD. So not only does she have to overcome a questionable past and a manipulative (and slightly psychotic) father, she also has to work around obsessions and compulsions that continually screw up her attempt to straighten out her life. The prospect of writing Kallan is both exciting and terrifying. I can’t wait to meet her.

WritingKendrawip, writing
Bow Chicka

Recently, I was reading an article about JK Rowling, and I came across a quote that made me laugh and die a little inside at the same time. I decided I couldn’t leave this rather shallow and idealistic view of fantasy without a rebuttal. Rowling probably isn’t looking for an amateur writer’s opinion, so y’all get to listen to it instead. Rowling was talking about her upcoming release, The Casual Vacancy, a contemporary adult novel, and how she was excited to branch out from the fantasy genre. I guess because she felt restricted. “There are certain things you just don’t do in fantasy,” she said. “You don’t have sex near unicorns. It’s an ironclad rule. It’s tacky.” Maybe I’m taking this the wrong way, but to me, she’s saying sex has no place in fantasy. Really? I’m sure Jacqueline Carey, Anne Bishop, and Marion Zimmer Bradley would love to hear about this rule they’ve obviously overlooked for the last fifty years or so.

I don’t know what rulebook Rowling is reading, but I’ve never felt like sex is taboo in fantasy. In fact, in my experience, it’s a genre where the boundaries can be tested and the envelope pushed without the social mores of the real world getting in the way. I’m talking about books like Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels series where magic is not so subtly bound up in sex and gender roles. Or Anthony and Lackey’s If I Pay Thee Not in Gold with a character who’s an incubus until the act of sex transforms him into a succubus. Or there’s Valen in Carol Berg’s Lighthouse duet who is addicted to a drug that converts pain into pleasure (not always in the context of sex, but it’s a good example of the envelope I’m talking about). There’s even a subgenre of erotic fantasy now, as illustrated by Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart.

Wow, from this angle my shelves look positively pornographic. Even if Rowling is talking specifically about the genre of the Harry Potter books, middle grade and young adult fantasy, her claim doesn’t make sense. Middle grade books probably shouldn’t have sex in them whatever their genre. However, plenty of young adult books, both fantasy and contemporary, deal with adult issues. Look at Tamora Pierce’s In the Hands of the Goddess and Simone Elkeles’s Perfect Chemistry. I don’t necessarily think that teenage characters should have sex, but that’s another issue entirely.

Fantasy is by definition fantastic. Full of magic, fairies, wizards, other worlds, whatever floats your boat. But it still has to be grounded in reality. We need anchor points, things we can relate to, otherwise we drift through the story without letting it really touch us. The themes, the morals, the emotions we’re supposed to be feeling sail right overhead because we can’t imagine how it applies to us. I’m not saying sex is required to make fantasy realistic. I’m saying that sex is real. It should be utilized as all other tools and plot elements are utilized: tastefully and appropriately, where a story calls for it.

Excluding sex seems very limiting for a genre that’s supposed to be the ultimate imagination getaway. And it’s naïve and incredibly silly to exclude it just because you think unicorns are too innocent for such worldly pursuits. So tell me, where do baby unicorns come from? And if unicorns are perceptive enough to tell the virgins from the deflowered, doesn’t that mean they’re well aware of sex and all its accompanying drama, if only to choose those who haven’t been touched by it?

I feel like Rowling hasn’t read very much at all in the genre she dominated for ten years. Not really a great way for an author to portray themselves. If she wanted to rectify the situation, I’d recommend she start with Mercedes Lackey’s Fortune’s Fool from the Five Hundred Kingdoms series where unicorns and sex share space in a single scene. The effect is hilarious and not at all tacky. Or even kinky.

First Lines

First impressions are everything. At least, that's what everyone says. Now, I don't think that's entirely true. You can recover from a bad first impression...eventually. But I can't deny they're important. Which makes the first line of a novel equally important. Let's say the first page of a book is like a job interview and the reader is the boss. They're saying, “All right, here's your chance. So, entertain me.” That means your first line is like your suit and your smile. Important, right? In The Breakout Novelist by Donald Maass (intense book, I'm sure I'll talk about it at some point) he has an exercise for first lines. He says “Try this at your next critique group session or chapter meeting of your writer's organization: Ask everyone to bring in two opening lines: their favorite of all time, and the first line from their current manuscript. Mix them up in a hat. Read them aloud and ask people to raise their hands if they want to hear the next line. I promise you, you will see the intrigue factor at work again and again – or not!” See, didn't I say it was a good idea to learn from the masters?

Let's do that here. I'm going to take the first lines from some of the books in my library and see what it is that makes me want to go on. Normally, I give authors more than just the first line before I'll put the book down. In fact, I'll usually read the whole thing telling myself it must get better on the next page. That's something I need to work on but not today. Today we're just going to look at the first lines.

“When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.” The Fellowship of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein

You know, I respect Tolkein but I don't think this one works. I recognize he wrote in a different time but this doesn't make me want to know more (except maybe how he can be that old, but this is fantasy, the genre is full of ancient wizards and wizened dwarves).

“I'd never given much thought to how I would die – though I'd had reason enough in the last few months – but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.” Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

I'll preface this with: I really don't like Twilight. But I thought it deserved a look since it's so popular. I have to admit, it's not a bad first line. Really melodramatic and a little cliché (not to make excuses, but that's setting the tone for the rest of the book), but I definitely have some questions. Why is she dying? What's been happening the last few months? And what kind of person doesn't think about dying, especially if she had “reason enough”? Well, someone who seriously has no imagination.

“When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.” The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Another popular one, though it can't be because of its first line. This gives me no sense of the character, and I think waking up in the morning has to be the least interesting way to start a story. Though, I'll admit, once I got past the first couple pages, I couldn't put it down.

“Your grandfather,” said Vanyel's brawny fifteen-year-old cousin Radevel, “was crazy.” Magic's Pawn by Mercedes Lackey

This is one of my favorite books but not one of my favorite first lines. This doesn't tell me anything about the protagonist. I know I'm supposed to be thinking “Why is the grandfather crazy?” but what's actually going through my head is “Why is the grandfather important?”. And the thing is, he's not. We learn pretty soon that he's dead and his craziness only matters right here in the first paragraph. It has nothing to do with the rest of the book. Kind of misleading, if you ask me.

“People...they do the craziest shit.” Nightlife by Rob Thurman

This one just makes me smile. As you read on, you realize this is a perfect introduction to Cal's character. And it raises questions. Who are the people and what are they doing?

“That fool of a fairy Lucinda did not intend to lay a curse on me.” Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Oh, so many questions. And what a great intro to Ella's voice.

“I am not as I once was.” The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

What a great promise to start a book with. I know right off the bat that this character is going to grow and change and not necessarily in good ways. The tone of the voice is almost one of regret or forgetfulness, but in just a few words it gives us a sense of Yeine's character.

“On my seventh birthday, my father swore, for the first of many times, that I would die face down in a cesspool.” Flesh and Spirit by Carol Berg

This is one of my favorites. How could you not keep reading? The language is beautiful, the sentiment is shocking, and I already have so many questions about the character, I'm not sure which one to pose first. Maybe: What is up with his family? That actually turns out to be one of the most compelling things about the book.

So what I've learned from this exercise is that I expect the first line of a book to give me a glimpse or a sense of who a character is. I expect questions to be raised, otherwise why would I want to go on? And those first words should set the mood or the tone of the entire book. Something I didn't realize before I started was how important the promise of the first line is. In the case of Magic's Pawn, I felt misled. But The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms stayed true to its promise, though not exactly the way I'd imagined. That isn't something you can tell until you've finished the book, but it is definitely something that your readers are going to notice if they go back and read it again. Something we all hope for.

Character, tone, questions, promise. That's a lot to scrunch into one sentence. What do y'all think? Anything you look for in a first line? Did you disagree with any that I talked about? I think these elements are important but writing is still subjective. A line that works for me may not work for you, and vice versa. In the end you need to know what would keep you reading.

Learning from the Masters

I've said before, I don't have a degree in writing. I took one creative writing class in high school, that's it. And I'm not really planning on going back to school. Yet I can study under masters of my craft like Mercedes Lackey, Tamora Pierce, Lois McMaster Bujold, and Terry Pratchett without budging from my library. I can improve my writing by reading and studying the authors I admire (not to mention practicing what I've learned). What amazes me is how many people out there think to themselves “Hey, I could write a book” without having read anything but the morning paper over the last five years. Do you think Jacques Cousteau said “Hey, I could be a marine biologist” without ever having been to the beach? Reading familiarizes you with genre requirements, reader expectations, and above all, feeds your imagination. That last sounds cheesy, I know, but think of it like a linebacker. It can't do its job unless you feed it four course meals full of carbs and protein. Agent Kristin Nelson has said on her blog that she wishes she could demand authors submit a receipt with their manuscripts proving they've bought (and hopefully read) a book in the last month.

You can learn directly from your favorite authors. Study their words, their language. Francine Prose calls this “close reading” in her book Reading Like a Writer (though I don't recommend close reading this book unless you really like literary fiction and classics and/or plan on writing literary fiction).

What books did you absolutely love? What was it about them that made your heart beat faster? Why do you pick that one particular book up over and over again like a favorite blanket? How can you recapture the feeling you get from those pages? Reading isn't supposed to be a chore but if you keep these thoughts in mind as you read, you'll start to see the details that slipped by the first time. You'll notice the mechanics that make the story work this way and not that way.

One of my favorite books is Mercedes Lackey's Magic's Pawn. My copy is worn and dog-eared from so many readings. Finally, I decided to figure out what it was that had captured me the first time I read it as an ignorant high schooler and kept drawing me back over and over. It didn't take long, since I was so familiar with it already (seriously, I read it about once a year). It was the character. Vanyel is strong and appears unapproachable, but as the reader you can see the vulnerabilities that he tries to hide from those in his world. That fragile strength that could break with just one wrong word made Vanyel so real and tangible.

Elizabeth Haydon has written a series that kept me up at night. The Symphony of Ages is a long read, but I found myself losing hours flipping pages. After some study, I figured out that it was one specific plot element that made this such a compelling read. At the very beginning, the two characters cross paths and diverge again, and they go on operating under a false assumption. They believe they've lost each other, but the reader knows the truth. Through three fairly hefty books I watched and waited and squirmed, knowing a secret that was killing me. I could not physically tear myself away from them because I had to see when and if they would learn the truth. Oh, such sweet agony.

These authors are obviously doing something right, and I hope that maybe some of that will rub off on me. I try to take what I've learned from them and apply it to my own writing. Right now, it's just baby steps, but maybe one day, someone will be reading my work and thinking “Hey, I could write a book”.

GUTGAA Meet and Greet

So I'm posting out of order and on a different day than usual for a special reason. I saw this really cool event going on and decided the timing was just too perfect. Deana Barnhart is hosting a Gearing Up to Get an Agent blogfest. Very awesome and timely. I could have waited to post this until Friday but that's the last day of the meet and greet, and since half the point of this is to make new friends and connections in the writing world, I wanted to get this up a little earlier. Hope y'all don't mind that there'll be three posts this week (oh my gosh the world is coming to an end).

And in keeping with the meet and greet portion of our program, here's a little about me. I'm a 27 year old writer, and I live in Denver with lots of books, a husband and a service dog. If I'm not writing, I'm reading, and if I'm not reading, I'm playing a video game, and if I'm not doing any of the above, I'm trying out something less nerdy. I've been writing since I was fourteen but for the last six years I've been concentrating on retelling fairytales about characters with disabilities. It's been a blast.

-Where do you write?

At my desk in my library, surrounded by books. And in restaurants, at the dinner table, on the couch, at a friend's house, or anywhere else where I figure out what happens next.

-Quick. Go to your writing space, sit down and look to your left. What is the first thing you see?

A bookcase full of writing books and my editorial calendar. And a wall.

-Favorite time to write?

Uh, am I supposed to stop writing sometimes?

-Drink of choice while writing?

Vanilla coke. But I had to cut out caffeine so...

-When writing , do you listen to music or do you need complete silence?

No music, no TV. I'm too distractable. On the rare occasion that I'm possessed and I have to have sound, I'll listen to the Lord of the Rings soundtracks. But nothing with words ever.

-What was your inspiration for your latest manuscript and where did you find it?

The one that I just finished polishing? Or the one I just thought up and haven't written down yet? I'll go with the first since it's more interesting. I got the idea while sitting in rehab (in a wheelchair) that I wanted to read about fantasy characters like me, so I wrote the first page of what came to be By Wingéd Chair.

-What's your most valuable writing tip?

Just write. It's impossible to edit something that doesn't exist and you'll never get better if you don't practice. Get out of your head and just put pen to paper.

That's it for me. Click here to blog hop.

Don't forget to stop by tomorrow when I start my new series Accessible Excerpts.


What's in a Name?

A little while ago, I wrote a post about ways to beat writer's block and a friend commented about how she had a problem coming up with names for her characters. I had a hard time condensing my reply because I felt like I could write a whole blog post on the topic. Well, I finally got around to putting my thoughts on paper, and here it is: "What I've Learned About Naming Characters". Catchy, right? Maybe I should work on "What I've Learned About Titles". Not to freak anybody out right off the bat, but names are pretty important. Whether you're trying to make a statement by hiding subtle clues in a character's name or you just want to come up with something you can wrap your tongue around for the length of a novel, some work must go into the choice. And that work is one of the first things you have to do before you can even get the first draft down. I've found it's very hard to start a novel not knowing the protagonist's name and at least the basics of their personality. For me, the process usually falls into one of three difficulty levels: Easy, Medium, or Cursing at the page. Unfortunately, this isn't a video game where you can just turn the difficulty down whenever the bad guy is kicking your butt. You've just got to deal with what your creativity hands you. Though there are some tools and tricks which can give you a leg up.

Every now and then, a character walks into my head fully formed, wearing a name tag. “Hello, my name is Isol.” For some reason she was holding hands with Anella, so I got two out of that deal. But that's usually only once or twice per book, so for everyone else I keep a list of names I've come across (or thought up) that I like and think “Hey I might want to use that one day”. “One day” always comes sooner than I think it will. So when a character shows up in a scene without a convenient tag, my first move is to my list. Are there any that just seem to fit? I know it's arbitrary, but sometimes it's just a gut feeling. You probably already have an idea who this person is going to be, so find a name that invokes a feeling that matches. In By Wingéd Chair I wanted the leader of their group to be a well-respected warrior, and to me, the name Lans felt big and strong and protective. To contrast him, I wanted Merry's love interest to be a bit more spindly and bookish and the name Whyn made me think clever rather than brawny; exactly what I was going for.

Sometimes you want something a bit more specific. You want names that mean something or sound like they're from a certain place. I like because you can search their database by meaning or by country of origin. In Skin Deep I wanted the setting to have a kind of medieval France/Wales feel, so that's where I got Anwen. Not only is it a pretty name but it's Welsh for “very beautiful”. Fitting for the beauty in Beauty and the Beast. Same thing for Léon. I was looking for something both French and animalistic. Léon turns into a bear, not a lion, but I think the parallel still works.

When all else fails and the character is refusing to give you ID, start with a letter of the alphabet. Have too many K names already? Try a B. Then add another letter. What works? What doesn't? Sound it out until you've got something useable. That's how Merrin, Vinny, and Renny got their names in Catching Cinders. Michael J. Sullivan talked about naming some of his characters this way.

And remember, you're not sitting there with a stone slab and a chisel. If you give someone a name and a few pages later you think of something better, you can always change it. Vira-we in By Wingéd Chair has had three different names so far, and Merry started out as Lori. Although, be careful, because if you slap a temporary tag on someone and leave it too long it might end up sticking like last night's mac and cheese. For five chapters, I didn't have a name for Cinderella's prince (he was particularly picky), and finally, I just threw one at him. It was only supposed to be temporary, but by the end of the book, I couldn't even imagine him with any other name. Vóila, Prince Nickolas was born.

I feel like I should add one more thing since it's my mom's pet peeve, and she's very generously passed it on to me. If you write fantasy and you're into those teeth-cracking, tongue-twisting names (like me), please follow accepted spelling and pronunciation rules for the country of your choice. If you must make up very own language, fine, just be sure everything makes sense and is consistent. No one wants to recommend a book saying, “Yeah, that one guy with the A and all the i's and x's is really cool. Unpronounceable, but cool.”

Go have some fun with it. I think naming characters is one of the most rewarding bits of our art. Seeing a character come to life on the page with all their cool traits fitting together topped with a name like a really great hat. You can't deny how cool that is.


I've got some cool things planned for the near future, so stay tuned next week for an exciting update.

WritingKendrawriting tips
A Taste of Potatoes

We're always told that first impressions are the strongest, and it's true that as writers we need to be aware of what impressions we're giving the reader in the first pages (I'll go into this at another time), but as a reader, I've noticed that there are lots of places I form opinions about a book. Not just the first pages. I often have preconceptions about a book before I even crack the cover. Especially if it's an author I'm familiar with or a subject I feel strongly about. Then, of course, there's whether or not I want to keep reading after the first couple pages, but this one's not as important for me as I tend to be a patient reader. I'm willing to give the author the benefit of the doubt (and another twenty pages) so long as I'm not bored out of my mind or absolutely hating the characters. Now if the story is told by a gruesome serial killer, then he'd better save the cat by page five or I'm putting it down.

More importantly for me than the beginning is the ending. Was it satisfying? What taste did it leave after it was all over? As a rule, I try not to eat my books, but taste is a pretty good word for the feeling I'm left with on the last page. Am I licking my lips thinking Carol Berg tastes like chocolate mousse, something to take my time with and savor? Or am I gagging because Catcher in the Rye tastes like that little green steroid pill I had to take in the hospital, bitter and best swallowed quickly with lots of jello? Those reactions tend to be the most powerful for me.

However, I've noticed those aren't necessarily my last impressions. Books mellow in my memory. I may put it down thinking it was the best book ever, but over time I'll remember all the little things that I ignored because I was so caught up in the story. I'm not saying it's a bad thing to be so sucked in that the imperfect details fade away; in fact, quite the opposite. However, I know I think about a book more objectively after my emotions aren't so wrapped around a character and their story.

Which of all of these is the truer impression? I don't know. I thought I'd have an answer by the end of this post, but I don't. If anything, I think I'm more appreciative of the complexity of the novel and its ability to manipulate me better than Pinocchio's puppet master. But is that enough to base a blog post on? I like to make some kind of greater point so y'all will come away feeling like you didn't waste your time. Otherwise it's jut me muttering to myself. Maybe that is the point. If we're going to engage in the hugely manipulative art that is novel writing, we should at least be aware of the feelings and impressions we're trying to make our readers feel with every word we type.

So, I'm curious now, what kind of taste do my posts leave you with? I'm hoping potatoes.

Clumsy Clichés

It was a dark and stormy night.

“There she blows!”

Captain Amab clicked his spy glass shut and spun on the tip of his wooden leg.

“After that whale, you scurvy sea dogs. That's the beast that ate me leg.”

The sailors shuffled their feet while the first mate and the bosun looked at each other.

“Is he always like this?” the bosun asked.

“Oh, this is just the calm before the storm,” the first mate said.

“Captain,” the bosun said. “We haven't seen shore in months.”

“Avast that talk. You'll not rob me of my revenge.”

The first mate and the bosun exchanged another look that said, “we're all in the same boat”. Or maybe it was “sink or swim”. They nodded to each other.

They grabbed Captain Amab by the arms and chucked him over the pin rail.

His peg leg disappeared with an unassuming bloop.

“Not so hard after all,” the bosun said. “Turns out he was just a drop in the bucket.”


That was written during a writer's group meeting where we talked about clichés. The general consensus was that they're bad and no self-respecting writer would ever stoop to using them. However, I disagree. I think there's a time and a place where clichés can be used effectively. For example, spotlighting the ridiculous, as seen above. Disclaimer: I'm a sailor and I'd have thrown him overboard too. What is a scurvy sea dog anyway?

The thing is, clichés are cliché for a reason, usually because there's some truth in them. I'm not giving you free rein to go out and use all the same tired phrases and cheesy situations you can think of. I know it's really easy to fall into the cliché trap when creating your characters. Half the work is already done for you when readers can easily imagine the crusty sailor with a peg leg, or the PI with a smart mouth and a drinking problem, or the romance heroine with a sordid past. But readers can also easily get bored with such tropes. Maybe stop and think about what you want to get across to your readers and figure out how you can use clichés without making them cringe and throw your book at the wall.

I write fairy-tales and what's more cliché than happily ever after? One of the reasons I love fairy-tales is because they're so familiar. Everyone knows that Cinderella loses her shoe at a ball. I use the familiar to bring out and highlight the differences in my characters and my stories. My Cinderella doesn't lose a glass slipper, she loses an ankle-foot orthotic. Still just as unique to her (I mean, Prince Charming still has to be able to pinpoint her, right?), but not nearly as uncomfortable as glass footwear. Or what about a character that twists clichéd metaphors or uses them wrong. A guy says, "I beat that dead fish to death". Tells you something about the character, doesn't it?

I also write about disabilities. Just like everything else there are clichés associated with the handicapped, and like I said, they're clichés because they're at least a little bit true. My characters have the expected feelings of anger, bitterness, and uselessness because I had to go through those myself. But I try to write beyond them as well. There are deeper reasons behind the emotions that are far more interesting to read about than just “she's angry because she can't walk”. We're capable of feeling so much; can you really justify assigning just one emotion to a character? My Maid Marion is angry, yes, but it's a mask to hide her self-loathing and protect her from pity. She hates the people around her for not understanding her and then hates herself for hating them. So I've explained the cliché and moved past it, creating a deeper character we can understand and relate to.

So before you ax everything that sounds even remotely familiar, consider how clichés could actually help your writing.

Breaking the Block

Today was supposed to be the review of Darby Karchut's Griffin Rising and Griffin's Fire, something I've been looking forward to writing for a while. But I really wanted to take my time with it, and between the dog going lame (he's fine, he's just copying me) and my house being on sale, time became that mythical creature you glimpse between the tree trunks before realizing you just ate some bad fruit. So instead I'll talk about writing some more. Y'all will just have to wait with bated breath for the other.  

There's a disease all writers get from time to time. There is no vaccine; there aren't any pills to take. Symptoms include fixation on a blank page, finger paralysis and that nagging feeling that you can't possibly be a writer if you can't think of what to write. If you experience any of these conditions, calm down and take a deep breath. Writer's Block isn't fatal, although it may feel like it, especially if you're depending on your manuscript to bring in the next paycheck. Of course, if you're getting paid to write, you've probably already conquered The Block, so this isn't really for you. But for those of you still staring at the keyboard wondering why your fingers won't move, here are a few treatments you can try.

Take a break. This may seem counter-intuitive – I thought I had to write to be a writer – but seriously, getting away from your work can give you a fresh perspective. Staring at the page is obviously not helping, so go do something else. I do some of my best thinking in the shower. Or if it's the middle of the day, I take the dog out and mull over a problem while he chases the frisbee. Writing is work, give yourself time to rest and recoup your losses. But after your break, be sure to go back to the keyboard. Don't let your frisbee time turn into a sabbatical. You've all heard my 'just write' rant. Take all that fresh perspective and turn it into words.

Prompts anyone? Sure. Why not? Try exercises for writers, if you're into that kind of thing. I thought I wasn't, but turns out they're kind of fun. Maybe take your character out of your book and put them in another. See what they do, how they react. Can you use that?

Try writing by hand. Or if you're already old fashioned, try a keyboard or a typewriter. Changing mediums resets your brain and could jump start something on the page too. I write all my blog posts by hand first. For some reason, it feels less permanent that way. I can just jot down ideas without worrying whether they're really going to work or not. I know that's completely opposite of real life but shh my brain hasn't figured it out yet.

I've heard change locales. Normally work at home? Try setting up in a coffee shop. Or vice versa. Go people watching in a park with just a notepad and a pen. Personally, this doesn't work for me because I get super distracted. I swear I'm writing until all of a sudden, I realize I've been staring at that dog for five minutes wondering if it's owner knows it looks like a pig. But writing someplace else might work great for you.

Outline your characters. Maybe one of the reasons you're stuck is because you don't know your characters well enough to write how they'd react to a situation. Take a moment to figure out what makes them tick. This is probably a good thing to do in general but I try to save it for moments I'm stuck. Digging deep into a character's past and motivations really helps get the ball rolling, Indiana Jones style.

When all else fails, type harder. Yeah, tap the keys so you can hear them click. Don't look at me like I'm insane. This is my default Block Buster. When I'm distracted or feeling like I'm not getting stuff on the page the way I want, I arch my fingers and tap the keys harder, more deliberately. I like how it sounds. It sounds productive. It's soothing and makes me want to write more. Seriously, stop looking at me like that.

There are millions of ways to break The Block and everyone has their own tried and true method. These are just a few that I jotted down one day. Feel free to develop your own. How about it? What do you do to break your Block?

Writeful Blogging

I may not be a published author but I consider myself a writer. I've worked at my craft hard enough and long enough that I think I can claim the title “writer”. I have several complete manuscripts ranging from first drafts to final drafts (final until I decide to tweak it again) and I try to write every day in order to get better. If someone else has a different idea of what it means to be a writer, I'd like to hear it. So what I'm saying is I'd consider myself pretty far along that subjective scale, but I'm still learning. I read a lot, go to workshops and follow blogs that have some great advice for writers. Books and workshops are great but a lot of times you have to pay for them (unless you utilize your library and your local writers group) but blogs are free. At the most you might have to ignore some ads. So I thought I might spotlight a few of my favorites. My Name is Not Bob

Robert Lee Brewer is a father, a poet and one of the editors at Writer's Digest. His blog is chock full of advice for writers trying to navigate the digital world. In April he did a whole month of posts about how to build an online platform. Take a stroll through his archives and you'll find help with things like time management skills, wading through social media like Facebook and Twitter, and what you really need to know about SEO (search engine optimization). Robert's posts were invaluable to me while I was setting up my blog. They really helped me get a handle on what I needed to concentrate on and what I could ignore. I even participated in his April Platform Challenge. I've only noticed a slight increase in my site traffic so far, but I feel so much more confident about my efforts on the web now, and to me, that's worth it.

Writing While the Rice Boils

Debbie Maxwell Allen is a homeschool mom, a writer, and a blogger. Her blog is a treasured resource for people like me who have a hard time finding things on the internet. I don't know what my problem is, but I can never find what I'm looking for. Some people can't whistle. I can't Google. But Debbie makes it easier by finding new, interesting, and above all, helpful tools for writers on the web. Each post focuses on a different topic with several links to great articles that flesh out the idea and really give it some meat. It's like a best of the web for writers. She's also been doing it for a while so you can find just about anything you might need in her archives. As a bonus, I've met Debbie and she's just as sweet and encouraging as she seems online.

The Other Side of the Story

Janice Hardy is a blogger and the author of The Healing Wars trilogy. I like to follow the blogs of my favorite authors and while I was reading The Shifter I looked Janice up. Little did I know that instead of just a well-kept author's blog, I would find an Aladdin's cave for writers. Janice has been blogging about writing almost every day for three years now and you can see her expertise and her passion in every post. She takes submissions from unpublished writers and breads down her critique of their work. She has guest posts by published authors who talk about how they write and manage their careers. Not to mention endless posts that teach the craft of writing to any level of aspiring writer. The amount of information on her blog is a little overwhelming at first (I gave up on trying to read everything and settled on searching for the most relevant posts) but it's worth having bookmarked as a reference.

Just as every writer should have reference books on their desks, I think they should also have a Google Reader full of writerly blogs.

Lucky 7 Meme Challenge

My critique partner, Becca, tagged me in the Lucky 7 Meme Challenge. It looks like a lot of fun so here it goes. Here are the rules as I've heard them: 1. Go to page 77 of your current WIP 2. Go to line 7 3. Copy down the next 7 lines – sentences or paragraphs – and post them as they’re written. No cheating! 4. Tag 7 authors 5. Let each and every one of them know

I'm working on final edits for my young adult fantasy, By Wingéd Chair. It's about Merry, a teen struggling to make sense of her disability when the local lord tries to kill her father, drawing her into a plot that encompasses family betrayal and otherworldly magic. In order to save the day, she must team up with an irritating outlaw who she doesn't know if she wants to kiss or run him over with her wheelchair, all the while learning to accept her limitations and embrace her strengths.

"I can understand that." And I did. So often it felt like I hated the world, and I had to defend myself against everyone in it. But I hated myself more. I hated the person I'd become.

"I thought you might like to know it's not you, and I'm going to try harder not to be so..."

"Asinine?" I said sweetly.

"I was going to say surly." He gave me a sheepish smile before returning his gaze to the surrounding woods.

The light-hearted moment was gone, and I glanced up to the wagon bed and swallowed. Papa looked too much like a corpse in the darkness.

There's a brief snippet. I got lucky and hit a good excerpt. Let me know what you think. Hm, I guess I'll have to come up with seven more friends to tag.

What Now?

Rejection lettersSo agents and editors have the notorious slush pile while writers have the drawer or shoe box full of rejections. Actually mine are in a folder; the hard copies, that is. There are plenty more that are archived in my email, and it's hard to collect the ringing silences that are most rejections today. My friend Debbie posted on her blog on Monday, “How do you react when you hear 'no'? Have you heard it yet? Is it time to start accumulating some rejections?” Well, this question seemed very timely for me, so here's your answer, Debbie.

I first started trying to get my books published when I was nineteen, many years ago now, so I'm pretty familiar with rejections. I had no idea what I was doing, and I made lots of rookie mistakes. I just wanted to get the novel that I'd slaved over for five years out into the world. It's like launching a ship. You smash that bottle over the prow and let it slide down into the water, hoping and praying that it will float, that it will glide majestically out of the harbor on its maiden voyage.

Let's just say, my ship sprung a leak. It's lying on the bottom of the harbor, making a nice home for fish. But that first rejection was like a badge of honor. I was a writer. I had a letter from a publisher that said so. Actually, it said, “Thank you for your submission. We do not feel it is right for us at this time,” but same thing, right?

Now that I've been doing this for years, it gets harder and harder to hear 'no'. I feel like my work is the best it's ever been, and if that's not enough, then maybe I'm just not cut out for this business. I know that's not true, but it's so easy to believe the lie.

After months (years if you count writing the book) of preparation, I sent Kristin Nelson my first thirty pages. A week ago, I got her reply. Since this is a post about rejections, you've probably already guessed she said 'no'. It wasn't devastating, but there was that flash of disappointment and descent into self-doubt. This was my best work and she said 'no'. What now?

Sending your work out into the world is scary, whether it's to a publisher, an agent, or even just a critique partner. As writers, we wear our hearts on our sleeves. We bare our deepest selves right there on the page. With experience we develop a thick skin, a coat of armor.

But every rejection, every 'no' tries to poke a hole in it. When my first 'no' came back, it stung, but I shook it off, saying that wasn't so bad. But then one 'no' becomes ten, and then fifty, and then I realize I've exhausted my whole list of possible agents and editors. What now? How long can I keep doing this before my armor is so riddled with holes, it falls apart? When do I give up on my dream and decide to self-publish?

It's at this point that I have to step back and remember why I write. Yes, my dream is to one day see my name on a book cover. Yes, I want my stories to touch people's lives and change them for the better. I know I'm not the only one who feels these things, but the world isn't going to notice if my book never appears on a shelf in Barnes and Noble. I didn't start writing because I had narcissistic desire to see my name in print or because I had a message to get across. I started writing because I had stories in my head. I kept writing because I realized I loved it. I can't stop putting words on a page anymore than I can stop reading (it's been tried, the result was fugly). If someone was to say, “I can see the future, and you will never be published”, would I stop writing? Hell, no.

So I guess that's my answer. What now? I'll keep writing. I'll keep putting words on the page, keep telling my stories if only to myself (and my sisters who never get tired of hearing them). When I've exhausted my list of agents and editors, I'll send out the next book. I'll keep working, keep making them better. And I'll keep collecting the rejections. Maybe I'll make a collage.

More Than Just Ground

I don't like setting. I don't really like reading about it or writing it. Terry Goodkind had those long paragraphs in Wizard's First Rule that described the trees and the hills and how the light fell just so and... yeah, I skipped all those. In a lot of my first drafts you're not even sure where a scene takes place because I avoided mentioning it. My characters could be floating in space – or in a lake – but you have no idea because I haven't described it well enough. Or at all. As a writer, I realized this is probably something I should get over and learn to do, and since I'm trying to write about writing, I figured I'd detail some of the slow, painful learning I've been doing.

Setting is more than just the ground your characters walk on while they're solving the mystery of the painted chicken. Setting can be a critical reason for character development. Miles Vorkosigan would not have faced the same trials or overcome them the same way if his story had not taken place where it had. It can be an active component of the plot. If your novel takes place on a small island during a hurricane, you bet your characters are going to have to deal with all the problems that come with too little space and too much water.

Even if all you want to do is tell a human story while transporting your readers to a beautiful land similar to – but not exactly like – our world, you can't get away with dumping lengthy paragraphs of description where nothing happens into a reader's lap. Those places where the hero pauses in his hike up the mountain to survey the surrounding landscape with it's carefully researched vegetation and painstakingly lyrical prose about the sunlight and the birds- those are the things I skip. I don't care how beautiful the language is, I'm bored. And I'm a writer too, so I know how much work went into that paragraph and how much you love the imagery. But what does it matter if the reader never sees those words because they've flipped ahead to where the hero actually starts doing something besides sightseeing?

I tend toward the other side of the scale. I dislike reading description so much that I avoid writing it altogether. I'll tell you that my characters are sitting in a room or traveling through a forest and that's as much as you're going to get because I'd rather concentrate on why she's glaring daggers at him or the ninja that's about to jump out at them and ruin everyone's day. Readers have enough imagination that they can come up with the setting by themselves, right? Wrong. It's your story. They want to hear and see and smell what you want them to hear and see and smell. So my approach doesn't work either.

Well, then what's a struggling writer to do? I sat in on one of Donald Maass's workshops two weeks ago at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference, and he said to throw out traditional description. What? Really? Yup. No one reads it anyway. Well, some people do. But most admit to skipping it.

A story is told from a specific character's point of view (well, usually, there is also omniscient POV, but that's not what I'm talking about). Sometimes there are forays into another character's POV, but every story needs a protagonist. Since the story is already being told from the protagonist's POV with their voice, then the setting should be as well. Show the reader where they are through a character's eyes. Let their upbringing and emotions color the description.

In another workshop, the presenter gave us an exercise: Describe a building from the POV of a girl who just lost her boyfriend in a car accident, without mentioning the girl, the boyfriend, or the accident. This was my attempt:

Black stains crept up the cracked brick walls, and windows stared back like accusing eyes that knew all the secrets of the world. Water streamed from the sky and down the glass, making it seem like the building itself was crying.

The next exercise was to take that same building, same weather conditions, and describe it from the POV of a boy in love, without mentioning the boy or his emotional state.

Water poured down the brick facade, running through the cracks and over the black stains as if washing away the building's dark past, cleansing its iniquities and raising it to new life.

 Now, I could have written it:

 The rain pinged off the dirty windows and ran down through the cracks in the brick, over the black stains.

Can you see the difference? The first two are colored with the emotions of the characters, what they've experienced, how they're feeling in that moment. Instead of getting a boring line about the building – which could be really important, but how would we know because we skipped it – we get a closer look at the character and what's important to them.

If you're writing about a disabled character, this could be especially useful. Instead of giving the reader a lecture about how your girl in a wheelchair is supposed to feel, show them by including details only someone who has to navigate in a wheelchair would notice. The sidewalk is tilted so she feels she has to lean way over to keep her chair from falling over. There isn't enough room for her to get from one side of the room to the other. People's toes are in the way (toes and bookbags, I'm always running into toes and bookbags).

In this last exercise, we were supposed to take a character from our current work in progress and stick them on a horse ranch a half-hour away from the nearest store. Merry is from a fantastical world similar to Victorian England, so I had to wrap my mind around it first, but here's what I came up with.

Manure. Did they really expect me to roll through manure? They knew I steered with my hands, right? “Do you have any wipes?” I asked.


“Well then we have to get wipes. I'm not going any further without wipes.”

“Nearest store's half an hour away.” He eyed me. “Just use your jeans. Nothing wrong with them.”

You may not get a great picture of time of day or what exactly it looks like from this little bit, but you certainly know how she feels about the place. You know she's probably in a wheelchair and which specific detail she's worried about. And as a bonus you can see some of what the secondary character is feeling from the dialogue.

It's not easy. I have lots of places to go back and rewrite or add description from a character's POV, but in the end, your story will be much richer and your reader will have a better idea of who your characters are and what they care about.

Honing Craft at a Conference

The problem with having set the standard with well thought out, well edited and well written blog posts is that you have to continue with the well thought out, well edited and well written posts, even when you're tired and the well is dry and the dog is groaning at your feet because he wants to play frisbee. (Y'all might not think this blog is all that, but I do, and you're still reading, so there) But I had a heck of a weekend and the rest of the week stretches out before me like a giraffe trying to reach that last branch, so I'm going to cut myself some slack just this once and talk about one of the reasons why I feel like the antagonist from Zombieland. This last weekend was the Pikes Peak Writers Conference down in Colorado Springs. My very first writing conference. I felt very official. I had business cards. They said “Kendra Merritt: Novelist” so I guess that makes me a professional, right? No? Well, I'll keep trying then. PPWC is considered one of the friendliest conferences in the country, and it really is. I swear every staff member knew my name by the end of the weekend and every published author I talked to was really excited about my pitch and wanted to hear about how it went. For the first time since PT school, I felt like I was part of a professional community. I belonged there. When I tell people that I'm a writer, I get a variety of responses, but the inevitable “Are you published” always sinks my boat. At PPWC it didn't matter that I wasn't published yet. I was still respected for pursuing my writing goals and honing my craft.

Carol BergThursday was filled with an entire day's worth of Young Adult workshops. I spent hours immersed in the world of writing and marketing for teens. I met Bob Spiller, author of cozy mysteries who made me laugh so hard I had to excuse myself from his workshop on humor to go pee. And one of our speakers, Darby Karchut, has inspired me to try my hand at books for boys (I don't usually write boy books, but I want to be Darby when I grow up, so I'm darn well going to try). Friday, Saturday and Sunday were other various workshops on writing and publishing. I can't list them all, but I will mention that if you ever get a chance to listen to Carol Berg teach, don't miss it. Or Donald Maass. Dear God. You'll leave with your brain coming out your ears, but it will be well worth the cost of paper towels.

One of the things that makes a conference worth every penny is the opportunity to rub elbows with the giants (and the up and coming) of publishing. And one advantage of being in a wheelchair is that I got into the banquet hall early for every meal, meaning I got to scope out and pick the best seats (hey, I'm not above taking advantage of the disability when I can, I think I've earned it). I sat next to Debra Dixon, who runs her own publishing house, Amanda Luedeke, another agent I'm considering, and Lou Anders from Pyr Books, who kept Josh and I entertained with Star Trek stories all through the banquet.

My pitch appointment was scheduled for Saturday morning, around ten. Perfect for me. Not first thing in the morning, but before lunch so I could actually eat without feeling nauseous. During the first workshop of the day I was actually really nervous. I looked down at my watch and had that moment of panic when I realized I was pitching in less than an hour. This was my big chance, I'd been preparing for months. What if I blew it? So after the workshop, instead of going to another panel until my appointment, I went and sat in the lobby to calm down. Darby Karchut was sitting nearby and I had her book in my bag, so I zipped over to ask her to sign it for me (as distractions go, books are always my go to). She managed to wheedle my pitch out of me (confession: it didn't take much wheedling) and got so excited when she heard about my novel that I forgot to be nervous. I had a great idea that I could articulate and who wouldn't want to get on this train as it leaves the station.

By the time I got up to the room where all the pitches were held, I was still confident (thanks, Darby). As I rolled out of the elevator the coordinator met me and told me she was moving my appointment up to … right then! So I didn't have time to sit and stew in my own juices, and now that I think about it, it was a very good thing I was right on time.

Kristin was very good about putting people at ease and leading with easy questions. She asked how my conference was going, and we gushed about how much we love Carol Berg. And then I gave her my pitch. For those of you that are interested, my first logline was “By Wingéd Chair is a young adult fantasy that is a retelling of Robin Hood where Maid Marion kicks butt from a wheelchair.” Scripted, “Ah”, and my second logline was “It's about a teen struggling to make sense of her disability when the local lord tries to kill her father, drawing her into a plot that encompasses family betrayal and otherworldly magic. In order to save the day, she has to team up with an irritating outlaw who she doesn't know if she wants to kiss or run him over with her wheelchair, and along the way she must learn to accept her limitations and embrace her strengths.” I've thought of some improvements I could make to it but it's too late now. And she said she wants to see it so it must have been all right to begin with. Success Story So as soon as I got back from the conference, I went back to work on the first thirty pages of my manuscript, implementing all the things Carol Berg emphasized in her workshop on revision and wrote my query letter, keeping Weronika Janczuk's tips in mind. It's done, it's sent, now all I can do is sit back and twiddle my thumbs and hope that the writing is as good as my beta readers have said (I can't tell anymore, I've seen it so many times it all looks inane to me). Whatever the result, I am one step further than ever, so I'll take that as a win.

I try to have a take home message for each of my posts, but I didn't write this with one in mind. I guess what I learned this weekend was that if you're passionate about something, you're never done learning about it. You should keep getting better, keep honing your craft, and most of all never give up. As Susan Wiggs said at the farewell lunch, “the only sure way to fail is to quit”.

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