Friday, April 27, 2012

Author Affirmations with Stuart Smalley

by Jordan Dane

“Because I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggoneit, people like me.”
Stuart Smalley, Saturday Night Live (Al Franken)

I’ll be on a panel at the Romance Writers of America annual conference in Anaheim in July – “The Care and Feeding of the Writer’s Soul.” Ever since I committed to doing it, I’ve been pondering my contribution and examining my own practices when it comes to nurturing my writer’s spirit.

But I wanted to open the topic up for discussion here to get your input. If you could create a box of affirmations for the writer, what would be your personal contribution?

On my computer I have been collecting sayings that have meant something to me over the years. These have come from author speaking engagements, emails, or things I’ve found online that inspired me enough to post it where I could see them every day. Affirmations can be reminders of author craft you want to repeat or they can be a way to keep a positive attitude or make progress in your career.

Here are a few sayings on my computer that mostly deal with author craft:

“Stick with the action.” Romance author Dana Taylor
When I muddled an intro action scene with back story, Dana wrote these words in an email after she critiqued the scene.

“Be there.” James Patterson
Patterson was a speaker at am RWA conference in 2004. He filled a ballroom, standing room only. By these two words he meant to put your reader into the scene using all their senses. He also said that he puts as much care into the first sentence of each chapter as he does the first line in any book. (I wonder if all the James Patterson(s) do this?)

“Trust the talent.” Robert Crais
I heard Crais present this on a video he sent via email in one of his newsletters. He talked at length about how he writes in constant fear, but that he trusts the talent that has brought him his success. It reminded me that all people have doubts. That’s human nature, but when you have a natural storyteller inside you, you should trust it.

“Get in, make your point, then get the hell out.” Robert Gregory Browne
Rob spelled this out when he explained ELLE on a blog post. Enter Late, Leave Early. The method is best explained by the TV show “Law & Order” where the scenes are sharp, concise, and don’t over-explain to slow pacing. The barest essentials of the scenes are captured to move the story along and a viewer’s mind fills in the gaps in action. The same works for books.

Here are a few that would be my contribution to keep a positive mental attitude:

“The next pair of eyeballs to see this proposal will be the ones to say, Yes!”
“I strive to be better with every book. My best story is always my next one.”

“I touch new readers with every story.”

“My books are unique because they are filtered through me and my personal experiences. I’m not in competition with anyone, except me, to be the best author I can be.”

Here are a few silly ones:

“I never get my page numbers wrong. I must be good at math.”

“When I kill people on paper, they stay dead. Booya!

As for practices to keep me positive, I have a shredding ritual for any rejection to expel the negativity from my house. Try it. It’s liberating. When I complete any project, I also treat myself with something that isn’t food—time off, vacation, fun evening with friends or family, attend a book signing, buy a new outfit. I used to think that each positive step in my quest to become a published author was only a small part of a longer future—that celebrating too much is a distraction that can swell your head. But now I celebrate everything. Life’s too short not to cherish even the smallest of pleasures.

Please share your thoughts. What would you write and contribute to an author’s affirmation box? What practices do you have to keep your mind positive and your writer’s soul nourished?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Special Thanks to TLA & YART!

I love the Texas Library Association annual conference & YART, the Young Adult Round Table. The annual conference and TEEN DAY are amazing events that makes me proud to be a Texan. Getting connected with librarians and authors and teen readers is a real plus.

This year for the first time they had a Librarian Tea. We didn't know exactly how the thing would work, only that it was compared to SPEED DATING. A huge room packed with 8-10 librarians at each table and authors got paired up to rotate through a section of tables to meet everyone, pitch our books and chat. If you were a Texas author, you got a special straw cowboy hat to wear - fake moustache optional.

My publisher - Harlequin Teen - did a great job at donating FREE BOOKS for me to sign at severals events focused on the Librarian Tea, the Young Adult Round Table signing and another signing in the exhibit hall of the George R Brown Convention Center.

Rachel Vincent (the amazing Soul Screamer series) joined me as a fellow Harlequin Teen author. It was great to see her again since we were once Okie authors before either of us were published. The gorgeous Rachel is on the right. Pictured with us is Lindsey Cummins in the middle. She'll be an exciting new debut YA author in 2013 to watch out for with HarperCollins Green Willow.

Be sure to check out TLA for upcoming conferences. You won't be sorry you did. It's a real celebration of books.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Hook Your Book

High concept story lines are based on an intriguing premise or hook. A hook is the same thing as a logline, best described as a 1-2 line TV guide listing. A short pitch line takes a complex book plot and summarizes it down to an enticing teaser. Generally this teaser is the first step to conveying your novel idea to an editor or agent, whether in a query letter, proposal, or during a pitch session at a conference.

Elements of your hook line should include:
Main Characters
Unique Qualities
Setting/Time Period
Main Action
Emotional Element

Important questions to ask in order to define your hook:

Characters – Who is the main character? What does he or she want? What is their goal?

Conflict – What is the obstacle in the way? Who will play the part of the villain? Does the main character have a flaw that adds to the drama of why he can’t get what he/she wants?

Setting/Time Period – What is unique about your setting or time period? Does it contribute to the conflict for the character?

Main Action – What is the most compelling action in the story?

Emotional Element – What is the most gripping emotional element to your story?

Even if your story has been told before, you can add a fresh take or twist on it. An effective hook can make it seem new. High concept hooks can also be based on “what if” questions like:

· “What if man could clone dinosaurs?” (Jurassic Park)

· “What if there was a place that stayed dark and vampires never had to interrupt their feeding to sleep?” (30 Days of Night)

· “What if a defense attorney couldn’t lie?” (Liar, Liar)

Sometimes a high concept idea can be only in the title. So even if a movie or a book doesn’t get top reviews, people still buy it because they “have to” experience it.

· Snakes on a Plane

· Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter

I’d like to share the hook on two books that I enjoyed reading. These represent daring authors who didn’t take the easy road in determining their plots. Imagine the craft it would take to write these two novels. Better yet, read them and enjoy.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – The story of a 14-year old girl living during the time of the Holocaust, narrated by Death. The hook is the author’s narrator choice. The time period is very compelling and the fact that the girl steals books to teach herself to read during a time when books are being destroyed is a gripping period piece, but to have Death be the narrator puts this book over the top. The New York Times is quoted as saying this book is “life changing.” All I can say is that it changed me.

Thirteen Reason Why by Jay Asher – This is the story of a girl who commits suicide but sends 13 audio tapes to the people who contributed to her making that fatal decision. The audio tapes are an effective hook, but the writer chose to tell the story through one boy who got a recording. He was the one person who had a secret crush on this girl, but did nothing about it. The story is told one night as he listens to the intimacy of her voice in his ear as he follows the map to all the locations she sends him to. Recorded flashbacks mix with the present, but the reader never loses track of what is taking place.

Here is the hook for my latest series with Harlequin Teen – The Hunted series. In this series, kids who can’t speak out, without drawing attention to who and what they are, make the perfect victims on the streets of LA. A covert faction of a church hunts them under the guise of doing God’s work—to stop the abominations from “becoming.” The tag line on the cover will be: They are our future, if they survive.

A fanatical church secretly hunts “Indigo” teens feared to be the next evolution of mankind. These gifted teens are our future…if they survive.

For those of you writing a project now, please share your hook. Take up to 3 lines. Even if you don't have a current project, make something up that you'd like to write and have fun using the questions above. You never know what might pop up.