Showing posts from 2013

NaNoWriMo Retrospective: Flexing Wordcount Muscles

Wow, NaNo was such a positive experience for me!

Confession: I was in a little bit of a writing rut before November.  After having a baby in July, I had a hard time getting back into the swing of things.  It was starting to get to me, and that was why I decided to do NaNo.

Previously, the most I have ever written in a month was maybe 25K words, so I wasn't sure I could actually reach 50K.  But why not try?

I'm so glad I did! Since I ended up not writing at all for 9 days while traveling, I had to make up for it by writing 3500+ words on some days.

Increasing your word counts is like exercise: you have to build up to it.  The first day, I was exhausted after only writing 19K.  I had no idea how I would keep it up!  But once I started flexing those muscles, I got better at it.  I learned how to really let go and not over-think each scene.  Instead, it was very much free writing for me, a way to let my creativity flow.

Since I'm a discovery writer or pantser or whatever you…

NaNoWriMo Diaries, Day 26: Does It Work For You?

So, we all know that the concept of "winning" NaNo is a bit arbitrary.  50K is an arbitrary goal and the real prize is finishing a manuscript.  That said, it's a great motivator.

Except when it isn't.

We love seeing the little chart our word-count going up, up, up.

Except when life gets in the way.

I went out of town last week, and told myself I would at least write a little bit while I was there.  But I didn't end up getting in front of the keyboard at all.

I took 10 days off but on the writing days I've been writing well past the 1667 words.  So I think I can still make it.  Also, I can be a bit pig-headed about reaching certain goals.

My story is of course total nonsense.  And not chronological in any way.  For some people, that would be horrible.  But I don't mind the concept of a zero draft, which is totally what this is.

I've seen writers get frustrated when they get too far behind.  There are also the lovely contrarians who find the entire …

NaNoWriMo Diaries, Day 10: Rapid-Fire Writing, Quality, and the 20K Slump

Hey Nanoers,

While writing like crazy, here are a few things I noticed:

1. Writing Quickly Can Lead to Spit-Fire Dialogue & Great Action Scenes.  I like writing in sprints.  On Friday, I challenged myself to write all 1667 words in one hour.  And I succeeded.  You might think that it was all crap, but I don't think it was.  Writing lightning-fast actually works really well for action scenes and rapid-fire dialogue.  I didn't have time to stop and describe things, or write a bunch of dialogue tags.  Result?  Some really fun, sharp dialogue that has a great rhythm to it.  Also, a fast-paced action scene that reads boom, boom, boom.  So who says writing quickly is all bad?

2. Skipping to the Good Part Means You Keep Things Moving: When things get boring, I think it's best to skip to the next scene you're excited about writing.  You can go back and fill in the build up later, and besides I found that I didn't need as much build up as I thought I did.  In fact, I en…

NaNoWriMo Diaries, Day 5: Finding the Character, Finding the Story

It's my first attempt at NaNoWriMo.  Previously, I've always been convinced that I wrote far too slowly to ever manage to 50K words in a month.  A month where I'm usually traveling, no less.

But this year I decided to go for it.  I just have a hunch that it might be the best way to attack my next novel.

Honestly, NaNo is great for pantsing since it forces you to write at a pretty break-neck speed. You can truly write and write until you discover your character and your story.  It isn't about getting the plot or pacing right.  It's about finding out who your character really is. What is making your character tick? Who is she and what is her heart's deepest desire?  And why does it conflict with the world around her?

And once you've figured all that out, you'll quickly find the heart of the novel.

So you just start writing.  Stuff happens.  It might be boring, it might be filled with info-dumps and dreadful dialogue.  But it's going somewhere.  It'…

Bring Back That Lovin' Feeling

Remember when you wrote because you loved books and had stories of your own that you wanted to tell? Bookmark that feeling of excitement in your mind, grasp it in your heart, and go back to it whenever you get stuck -- whether it's because of rejections or your own inner critic.  Remember the magic and you will be able to write something you love and are proud of.  Go forth and conquer!

Three Craft Books that Turned My Writing Around

I've read a lot of books on writing.  Sometimes I just read them to procrastinate doing actual writing! :) But there are three books that have really influenced how I write and my process.  So here are a few of my favorite writing books:

Story by Robert McKee is by far the most intense and most rigorous book I've read on how to understand the art of storytelling.  It is not for the faint of heart! The first time I tried to get through it, I gave up.  Seriously, I read the part about writing a scene in beats, felt my creativity shrivel up, and put the book down.

The next time I read Story, I had a completed manuscript in hand.  It was good, I thought, but it could stand to pack more punch.  Story helped me take flat scenes and an almost-there ending and really make it something I could be proud of.  Thanks Robert McKee!

But one thing I don't agree with Mr. McKee on: outlining.  Outlining can be a great way to make sure your WIP is going somewhere.  But sometimes, it can als…

In Search of the Great Premise

How did you come up with the premise for your WIP? If you're anything like me, coming up with an idea is not a problem -- you probably come up with them all the time.  But how do you choose the one that will stick? It takes a lot of time and commitment to complete a novel, so you have to pick the project that will drive you to finish, the one that's you're so passionate about that you can't NOT finish.

And then there's that whole thing about whether anyone else will want to read it.  Not that you should care about that.  Supposedly.  Until you have to care.

Premise envy can sneak up on you.  That's when you hear about a new novel coming out and think, why didn't I come up with that? Usually it's a simple idea, but powerful and full of possibilities.

It can be paralyzing trying to grasp for that great next premise, even if you've completed a novel or ten.  Because the further we get into this writing gig, the more we want to succeed.

To start with, I…

How to Write with a Newborn

So, I've acquired quite a few new talents during my social media hiatus.  I've learned things like how to carry 9+ pounds of squirming mass around like it aint no thing and how to change a diaper on a fallen log.

But now I'm trying to get back into writing, and I've got a few ideas on how to do it.  I thought I'd share with the rest of the world, in case I'm deluding myself missing anything. Let me know what you think!

Write in Sprints: You don't have time to spellcheck! You don't have time to revise! Oh, she's making that choking noise while she sleeps again; you'd better go check on her now.Learn to Type While Feeding: Your knee can support her head, right?Okay, Okay, Plot in Your Head While Feeding: You'll totally have time to bond after your first book tour.Use Your Dialogue as a Lullaby: What's better than reading your prose aloud? Singing it, obviously.Use Baby's Cuteness to Snag Cool Research Interviews: Airforce pilots and dru…


Taking a hiatus from social media due to some very tiny feet that require my attention!

Also...happy Indian Independence Day!

Success Story: Peggy Eddleman and her MG Novel SKY JUMPERS

Hello everyone!  This week I'm interviewing Peggy Eddleman, whose MG debut Sky Jumpers will be released on Sept 24 by Random House Books for Younger Readers!  I first encountered Peggy's success story when she appeared as a guest in Brandon Sanderson's 2012 lecture series (yes, I've raved about those often).  Peggy's savvy querying advice really helped me a lot in my own search for an agent, so I definitely owe her one! Here's the dish on her fabulous sounding novel and her writing journey.

Hi Peggy! Congrats on the upcoming release of SKY JUMPERS! What's the genre and one-sentence pitch?

Thanks so much, Maya! It’s a middle grade adventure about a girl living in a post-apocalyptic town where she can’t do the most important thing— invent, but when bandits invade, inventing won’t save them, but the daring and risk-taking that usually gets her into trouble just might.

What inspired the premise?

The setting. My family and I were flying home from Disney World on a c…

Success Story: Krista Van Dolzer and THE REGENERATED MAN

Hello everyone! I'm delighted to continue our success story interviews with Krista Van Dolzer, MG author.  Her amazing blog is a must for aspiring writers: full of agent interviews, pitch opportunities, and more.  When I heard that Krista's novel THE REGENERATED MAN sold, I was so thrilled because she's done so much for the writing community, and also because it sounds awesome. Here's the scoop on her novel, her blog, and her writing journey!

Congrats on your recent sale of THE REGENERATED MAN to G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers! What's the genre and one-sentence pitch?

THE REGENERATED MAN is an MG historical with a dash of science fiction. As for a one-sentence pitch ... I never wrote one of those:) So I'll just refer you to the summary on my blog if you want to know more.

How did you get the idea to write about a regenerated Japanese WWII veteran?

The first line came to me as I was falling asleep one night: "Mama said it was plum foolishness t…

Interview: Literary Agent Katelyn Detweiler

Hi everyone! I've got a special treat for you: an interview with a fabulous agent, Katelyn Detweiler at Jill Grinberg Literary!  Find out what she's looking for, which authors excite her, and how best to catch her attention!

Hello, Katelyn! Thanks so much for taking time out from agenting for this interview! What was your background prior to joining Jill Grinberg Literary Management?

I was an English major in college, emphasis in creative writing, and had the vague notion from the end of freshmen year or so on that I wanted (needed, really, since no other career seemed fathomable to me) to be in publishing – though “publishing” to me at that time meant being an editor, because it was hard to really have a sense of the opportunities and roles much beyond that. 

I worked as an intern at Penn State University Press for two years, and then moved to New York City a few weeks after graduation for the Columbia Publishing Course, a fairly intensive 6 week program that throws you into th…

Success Story: Jenn Marie Thorne and her Novel SPIN

Today I'm interviewing Jenn Marie Thorne, whose debut novel SPIN will be published by Dial/Penguin in fall 2014.

(Update: SPIN has been renamed to THE WRONG SIDE OF RIGHT)

Hi Jenn! Thanks so much for the interview. I'd love to hear more about your debut novel, SPIN! What's the genre and one-sentence pitch?

Thank you, Maya! SPIN is a YA Contemporary novel that deals with the fallout after a sixteen year old girl learns along with the rest of the country that the Republican nominee for President is her father.

What inspired the premise?

Well, we had a whole lot of political sex scandals in a row for a while there, didn't we? John Edwards, Mark Sanford, Anthony Weiner. But when the Schwarzenegger story broke, it seemed different. He had a child, old enough to really be impacted by the media attention and the scandal surrounding him. That got my "What If"s whirring: what if it were a girl, and what if she wanted the chance to get to know him, to be a real part of h…

Discovery Writing and the Alpha Reader

In a previous post, I discussed why the “Go! Go! Go!” approach for writers may not make the most sense for discovery writers. Discovery writers are discovering their story as they write, and I concluded that finishing a draft without revising could lead to a lot of wasted time and energy. Revising my opening chapters has definitely helped me make sure I'm heading forward on solid ground, hopefully saving me from writing a draft that I will end up throwing away.

Another important part of my process is the alpha reader, someone who reads my chapters before I complete the entire draft. Alpha readers either reassure me that my beginning is solid, or they advise me that I'm taking a wrong turn. I had two alpha readers for SKY MAHAL and they both provided me with valuable guidance that made a huge difference in how the book turned out.

If you're worried about showing people your first draft, you're not alone. I actually never show my alpha readers my first draft of anything…

Success Story: Rachel Solomon and Her Path to Landing An Agent

I'm so excited to announce that my friend and writing buddy Rachel Lynn Solomon has recently signed with literary agent Molly Jaffa at Folio Lit!

Rachel and I met at a writing critique group a little over a year ago. Since then, we've met regularly to support and encourage each other as we stare at the dreaded blank page. Rachel is just so smart and dedicated to the craft that I knew it was only a matter of time before she found success as a writer. Here's the scoop on her novel TWITCH and how she landed her agent.

What's your genre and one-sentence pitch?

TWITCH is YA contemporary. It’s about a sixteen-year-old girl with Tourette’s syndrome who gets wrapped up in a small-town political scandal, while trying to balance her politically obsessed family and a romance with a boy with OCD.

What inspired you to write about a character with Tourette's?

One day last year, I got sucked into a YouTube black hole watching videos of teens with Tourette’s talking about their …

The 20K Roadblock and Discovery Writing

There appears to be a consensus among writers that 20K is the magic word count where they hit a roadblock. This just happened to me. I was sailing along, content with hitting my word count goals, not worrying too much if everything I was writing was terrible. Hey, it's a first draft, right?

And then I couldn't go on anymore. I mean, I could, but I wasn't sure that I should.

I had gone far enough to realize that too many things weren't working. I didn't like the tone of the novel—it was getting too dark. I hadn't introduced enough complexity and subplots so it seemed like it was going to end too quickly. And quite frankly, it was boring. I write YA science fiction, and it definitely needed more cool world building.

I could have continued with the daily word count and pushed forward with my rocky first draft anyway, but I decided to hedge my bets and revise. With my previous novel, the second half of the my first draft ended up in the garbage. I had fo…

Query Tips: End With the Heart of the Conflict

What is the heart of the conflict in your book? What's truly at stake? It's bigger than just defeating the bad guy—there's the battle that your MC is facing within herself, the battle to become the heroine she is meant to be.

In my previous post, we discussed the MC's internal goal versus the external goal. I think the heart of the conflict, the true conflict, is usually found in the relationship between those two goals. The internal goal might be in direct conflict with the external goal, or perhaps the external goal simply doesn't help with the internal goal. Sometimes, they do go hand in hand, but not in the way the MC expects. Exploring this relationship is a strong way to end a query because it's often the very thing that motivates readers to keep reading the manuscript.

Let's return to our Harry Potter example from the previous query tips posts. Harry's internal goal is to find family. He actually has two external goals: a long term goa…

Query Critique Winners Announced!

Thanks so much to everyone who entered my query critique giveaway! The three winners are...

Marlene M.! Zoë M.! And Heather D.!

Winners should have received an email from me.  If not, feel free to contact me via my contact form or tweet me @mayaprasadwrite.

To all of the other participants, I do hope that my query tip posts are helpful to you.  Go forth and query boldly.  Thanks again, everyone!

25 Ideas to Freshen Up That Query

Today, I'm guest posting over at kick-butt urban fantasy writer Tina Moss's blog.  I've got 25 ideas to help you freshen up your query and look at it from a whole new light.  Check it out!

Query Tips: Be A Tease Without Being Vague

So, you have a great plot twist in your novel.  How can you best utilize it to capture the agent's attention?  How can you frame the big secret so that she just has to read your book?
Let's continue with last week's Harry Potter example. What if our query read:
At Hogwarts, Harry enters a world of magic and mystery. When he and his friends discover a three-headed dog in a forbidden area of the castle, they realize that something strange is going on. It's up to the three of them to stop it.
While this might accurately describe the plot, it's also pretty vague and boring, right? We might as well have written “Harry discovers a shocking secret.”  Unfortunately, readers aren't going to take your word for it that your secret is shocking—you'll have to be a lot more specific than that to grab their attention.
But we don't want to give everything away either (um, spoiler alert in case anyone hasn't read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone!):
At H…

Query Tips: Introducing Your Character With Subtext

Why is your character the main character of your story? Why is he/she the person that can kill the bad guy, love this man, or overcome whatever your main obstacle is?

Very often, I see writers begin their queries with a statement about how ordinary their character is. I understand they want to make their character relatable and an “everyman.” However, your space is better utilized if you skip to the good stuff.

After all, your character is not truly an everyman. There is a reason why she is the protagonist of the story, why she is uniquely situated to overcome the conflict.  When you introduce your character in your query, try to hint at this. Also consider her internal goal. Regardless of whether your character even realizes what her internal goal is, there are probably things you can establish that will help the reader guess at it.

For example, we know that Harry Potter's internal goal is to find family, as evidenced by the Mirror of Erised. His external goal is to stop …

Query Critique Giveaway!

Enter now to win a free query critique from me!  I promise to nitpick with encouragement.

When I was working on my own query, I showed it to anyone who would look: my critique group, my husband, my family, random strangers who seemed interested, the postman, etc.  (Okay, so maybe not the postman, but yes to anyone who seemed interested.)  I was also fortunate enough to win a blog contest and receive a critique by Natalie Whipple, author of Transparent.

Ultimately, all of it helped me land my agent, Katelyn Detweiler at Jill Grinberg Literary

I'd love to pass on the pearls I learned to you.  I also have some general query writing advice posted here.  Good luck and happy querying!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Strong Heroines: Proactive, Not Reactive

For me, Katniss Everdeen is a hit-and-miss character. I loved her in The Hunger Games, but I liked her less and less as the series progressed. Why? It's simple: she went from a proactive character to a reactive character. Let's explore the difference.
In The Hunger Games, Katniss is established as a proactive character from the beginning. When her father dies, Katniss's mom is so overcome with grief that she can not provide for the family. So Katniss takes it upon herself to do so. She learns to hunt, she learns how to make a living for the family, and she even takes over as a mother-figure to her younger sister.
You might argue that she is only reacting to her father's death, but the difference between Katniss and her mom is clear. The mother only reacts, but for Katniss the tragic event is a stepping stone to becoming an expert huntsman and survivor.
Similarly, when her younger sister Primrose is picked for the Hunger Games, Katniss takes matters into her ow…

Strong Heroines: A Romantic Side

A strong heroine doesn't have to be tough-as-nails down to the core. She can have a romantic side. One of my favorite kick-butt female protagonists is Rose Hathaway of Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy series. Rose is very urban-fantasy tough; she knows how to take down evil paranormal creatures.

Yet, her romance with Dimitri is so compelling and heart-wrenching. Typically, a girl who follows her boyfriend across continents and is still hung up on him after he tells her doesn't love her might seem kind of lame. But with Rose, you totally get her reasons and you know that she's right. She ends up saving Dimitri from a fate worse than death and she does a lot of crazy stuff to accomplish it. Even when the rational advice would be Get over him, chica.
Not that Dimitri is some boring guy. He's a strong, silent type, the kind of lone wolf you know you don't want to cross—which brings me to another point. Do strong heroines need an alpha male to keep thing…

Strong Heroines: Room to Grow

Another one of my favorite strong heroines is Tally Youngblood of Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series. Some might not consider her a candidate for a strong heroine because she starts off so very normal and clueless. She desperately wants to be “Pretty” and she doesn't really question the system.
In fact, her best friend Shay drives a lot of the change in Tally. It is Shay who shows Tally how to sneak out of the city, who first questions the ethics of the operation that makes everyone look perfect. Shay starts off as a very strong and self-aware character, while Tally is still caught up in petty concerns.
I can see why Tally is the main character, however. She has room to grow. She transforms from normal teenager to crazy bad-ass by the end of the series. On the other hand, Shay starts off so strong that the only interesting thing to do is have her succumb to her flaws, which she does beautifully.
Tally's shallowness at the beginning might lead some to never finish the…

Strong Heroines: Girls Can Do Anything Boys Can Do

Feminism is a tough thing these days. Feminists are pretty harsh about each other's decisions regarding working, child rearing, taking their husband's last name, etc. We disagree on whether high-powered execs such as Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg can be considered role models when they have access to so many more financial resources than the average woman.
In YA lit, there's also plenty of disagreement. One person's heroine might seem like a wimp to another. So what makes a character a strong female? What makes them weak? How much butt does a girl have to kick to be strong, if any? What is over the line in a romantic relationship? And can we please discuss without the Twilight comparisons?
For me, a feminist is simply someone who believes that girls can do anything that boys can do, and often better. Not necessarily on average, but as individuals certainly. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. A female bodybuilder can easily beat up a skinny nerd w…