Pitch Wars Mentee Bio: A Spiffed Up, Giffed Up Introduction

If you’re looking for the dry, third person professional sounding bio, it’s on my website and Amazon page, but this is where I’ll dish the real dirt on who I am as a writer, reader, and all-around nerd in my attempts to woo you into considering me as a Pitch Wars mentee. I’ve written enough dating profiles that I ought to be good at this. Then again, I am still single.

Writing oddities:

  • I’m old school. I handwrite my first drafts. I can’t explain why. My process just changes when I sit in front of a screen. I need that first draft on paper. In the long run this method benefits me because by the time I type a manuscript it’s on its second draft; I make significant changes as I type. The downfall to this, of course, is that I carry around notebooks in gallon Ziploc bags, terrified I’ll spill my coffee and lose half a book!
  •  When it comes to writing, I’m OCD. I write in green Pilot pens. Only green Pilot pens. I hoard them and stash them all over my house, car, and classroom. There is a least one in every purse and book bag I own. I also chew cinnamon gum when I write most nights. It needs to be cinnamon. I got the gum chewing from my Gram, who even at 92 always has a pack of Freedent by her side.

Reading habits:

  • I hated fantasy as a kid; now it’s my go-to, especially if I can sink my teeth into a series. (Thank you, J. K. Rowling.) My favs include Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games, Black Dagger Brotherhood, Sookie Stackhouse, Matched, Golden Compass, Outlander, and the early Maximum Ride books. These are a mixture of YA and adult, because I read and write both (though my current manuscript is YA).
  • The characters come first, always. An author can plot twist and world-build until she’s blue in the face (maybe her characters actually are blue in the face—Avatar? Smurfs?), but if I don’t love the characters, or love to hate the characters, she’s lost me.
  • I’m a dialogue whore. At least two members of my book club snorted wine through their noses when I first publicly proclaimed this, but there it is. I adore witty, gritty dialogue. This definitely carries over to my writing. I often write just the dialogue to a scene as it plays out in my head and then go back to fill in the narration later. And I’ve been known to skim long chunks of exposition in books I’m reading to get to the next conversation. (The Outlander series comes to mind here.)

Yes, this gif was just an excuse for some eye-candy. You’re welcome.

Additional strangeness:

  • Continuing the theme from above: I was a hooker my first two years of college. . . . It’s a rugby position. Seriously.
  • I teach middle school English, because I enjoy books and body humor as much as any 13 year old.
  • I had a teensy *cough* obsession with Harry Potter. I loved the books and characters so much I even named my cat after Dobby the house elf. Only I call her Doby, because hooked on phonics did not work for me, apparently.
  • I’ve been known to not only allow, but initiate long debates during my classes about who A is from Pretty Little Liars. Guess the last episode ruined that Wednesday tradition.
  • I have a girl crush on Abby from NCIS and turn to my very own Bert the Farting Hippo when life hands me lemons, or gas, or anything unpleasant.

If all of the above hasn’t scared you off, and you’re still considering this weirdo as your mentee, let me give you a few more reasons.

  • I’m good with criticism. I give it and take it as a teacher all year long. I even let the little buggers beta read my work. If you’re thinking they’d just be nice about it because I’m their teacher, you need to hang out with middle schoolers more.
  • I’m not afraid of hard work. I finish what I start and want to do it well. I earned my black belt. I’ve written four novels, a novella, and countless blogs in the last five years. I’ve also earned my Masters+60, all while teaching fulltime. (If that sounds braggy, I’m sorry. Teachers in my state are required to turn in evidence binders thicker than a Diana Gabaldon book to prove we don’t suck; it’s now become a habit.)
  • This ain’t my first rodeo. (And, yes, I’m itching to change that to isn’t. Humor aside, bad grammar irks me.) My first two novels were indie published by a small publisher. They were new. I was new. I’d written a vampire novel when the market was flooded with them. Signing seemed like a good idea at the time. And in a lot of ways it was. I learned a great deal about the process, good and bad. I worked with editors—not as much as those first books needed, but the experience was still great for building a thick skin, learning when and how to politely disagree, and when to just kill my darlings.

But now I’m ready to ride with the big boys (or girls!).

I’m ready to work, learn, and grow—and I hope to do it with a kick-ass mentor like all of those in this competition!

For the rest of my fabulous potential mentees’ bios check out Chris’s #PimpMyBio post.

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How Harper Lee Just Inadvertently Released the Hottest NA Book Since the Genre’s Creation

The most popular New Adult book since the genre emerged has recently been released. Even before its publication it received accolades and had the greatest pre-order sales of any book in recent years.

And why shouldn’t it? The young 20-something protagonist faces conflicts that echo those of NA readers, albeit more dramatically at times. Our beloved heroine battles issues of identity, independence, insecurity, family, and relationships. It has readers rolling in laughter, silently sobbing, and at times wanting to smack her upside her head.

The only thing surprising about its success is that it was written half a century before the genre in which it so perfectly fits ever existed. Quite possibly, its eighty-nine-year-old author, Harper Lee, hasn’t even heard the term New Adult literature.

Go Set a Watchman, the sequel, or parent book as Lee herself called it, to To Kill a Mockingbird, caused tremendous controversy when early reviews leaked revelations that rocked the reading world, most notable that Atticus Finch was a racist. Mockingbird fans who had idolized Atticus and raised him to a level of godliness, as much as Scout herself had done, said they’d refuse to read any book that painted him as anything less than perfect.

Ironically, this is the true conflict of Watchman. It’s not a book about race. Yes, it’s set in the South during a time when racial tension was turning even more violent. Yes, the protagonist’s main conflict surrounds her and her father’s seemingly irreconcilable views on race relations. (Although Jean Louise makes some questionable statements herself for someone who is so-called ‘color blind.’) And yes, the book offers readers plenty to talk about concerning our country’s history of racial divide, the reasons behind it, and how we can learn from the past to begin to mend the country’s current problems. And to miss an opportunity to talk about such important issues would be a shame.

But at its heart Go Set a Watchman is a story about a young woman’s coming of age. While To Kill a Mockingbird has been called a coming-of-age tale, it certainly wasn’t Scout’s, who was only age nine by the end of the book. Though both she and Jem learned hard lessons about life in Mockingbird, a true coming of age moment launches the character out of the innocence of childhood and forces her to find the strength to stand on her own—defending her own convictions and recognizing, as well as reconciling, her own flaws and the flaws of others—especially those she revered. That is the story Lee tells in Watchman.

Although it was written long before the New Adult genre existed, Lee’s novel can be described as such because it is a riveting tale of the struggles we face as we find ourselves and our places in the adult world—a world that struggles with issues of race just as it did in Scout’s time. The Atticus of Mockingbird was the elevated idol of a little girl. The Atticus of Watchman is the father of a young woman who is beginning to see life, including her hometown, her long-term romantic interest, and her family, in her own terms. Atticus, like the others—no, more than the others—had to be flawed. He had to be real. Without discovering these sides of him, Jean Louise could never have separated herself from her history and her family to find herself.

Yes, for fans of that idolized Atticus, the disillusionment is painful. It is also productive, not just because it provides us an opportunity to talk about an important problem our country still faces, but also because it provides the catalyst needed to tug our protagonist firmly into adulthood. Jean Louise learns to embrace who she is, starts to consider what she wants, and comes out of it a stronger character. And not entirely at the expense of Atticus, who is certainly more complex at the end of Go Set a Watchman, but just as loved—by his daughter, and, I expect, by most readers.

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Reinventing the Rules of Writing

reinventing the rules pic

A month or so ago I was once again struggling to write an opening chapter that worked, one that followed all the rules and wowed the reader. Searching for inspiration, I downloaded samples of half a dozen popular young adult books onto my Kindle. I hoped seeing how other YA authors started would provide some insight into how I could improve my own opening, which I knew needed work.

As I was researching how to begin my book the ‘right way,’ I began to notice something: none of the books began the ‘right way.’ Nearly every opening chapter I read started in a way at least one agent, editor, or writing book has said to avoid. One started with a second person appeal to the reader. That’s right, an “Imagine you…” sequence that although it did set up the premise of the plot, did not directly introduce the characters or start the sequence of events for a good three pages. Another started with an entire chapter describing the setting. Then chapter two started with the ever-dreaded dream sequence. Oh God! Agents and publishers should have been running away screaming.

But they weren’t. In fact both these books are from popular series that each were made into television shows on major networks. So did these authors just get lucky in finding agents and publishers who were willing to look past these rule-breaking beginnings? Are the agents and editors at writing conferences giving bad advice? Perhaps. But I think there’s a better explanation.

Great books can break rules, because great authors break them in a way that is interesting. They put a new twist on an old trope, or turn a cliché on its head, or snag the readers’ heartstrings so tightly they don’t care what method was used.

The two books mentioned above? Well, the one that started with a description of the setting happens to use that setting almost as a character itself. The description is written in a manner that instantly sets the tone for the novel, and if one reads into it, the potential for conflict is there. The second person appeal worked because it hit a chord with its audience. Teenage girls reading that opening would absolutely be able to imagine themselves in the situation described. The untraditional narration has them hooked into the story before they know the characters, because they could be the characters. Both authors knew what they were doing when they set out to start their stories.

So why can’t we all break the rules of writing? Why tell wanna-be authors at writing conferences not to send in opening pages with prologues, second person appeals, or dream sequences? Because, if we’re being honest with ourselves, we’re not all great writers—yet. And if we rely on over-used openings and cookie-cutter plots, we never will be. For most of us, writing within the rules for that first book or two is where we’ll shine and where we’ll grow.

And as we get to be great writers I think we’ll begin to see it’s not about breaking the rules, it’s about reinventing them.

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And Introducing… (part 2)

Unbound eBook Version

Here are two more new characters from Unbound, the final book of the Alex Crocker series.

As I said in yesterday’s post, I don’t think any of the passages I picked are major spoilers, but I suppose they might give away a little, so read at your own risk!

Charlie – I always tell my students, pay attention to any seemingly unimportant characters an author takes the time to describe or develop. Chances are they’ll reappear and be far more important than they seemed at first glance. This is certainly the case with Charlie, who actually appeared, though was unnamed, in Unveiled. Here’s an excerpt with Charlie and Alex.

When all the mundane moments—dinnertime banter, tea with Sarah, Tuesday nights with Rocky, and just about every pleasant moment with Markus—were stripped away, what was left was a highlight reel of tension and terror.

“It really wasn’t as bad as all that makes it sound,” she said, unsure whom she was trying to convince.

Charlie looked up from the last notes he’d scribbled down. “Funny, isn’t it, how both species have the same survival instinct to persist even when all the evidence tells us it’s not worth the effort?”

“Maybe it’s our hearts that tell us to persist for the sake of those we love, those who make it worth it.” It was just another part of being interdependent. She thought back to her web of loved ones. She told Darian her feelings would get her killed, but they’d saved her more than a few times, too.

Charlie dropped his gaze back to his notebook. “Maybe, but as we both know, that list dwindles the longer you’re a part of this life.”

Sensing a grief only one kind of loss could evoke, her hand went to her mouth. She glanced at Rocky who nodded.

“Charlie, I’m so sorry. I only meant to help that night. I never thought—”

“Of course you didn’t. No one apart from a few monsters in my coven could have predicted that. I didn’t when I stepped forward.”

Alex’s jaw dropped. He had volunteered to take the beating that nearly killed him? “You meant to take the blame for all of them,” she said. His mild manners and unassuming dress hid so much she never could have predicted, even after sensing him for the last ten hours.

He nodded. “But Leonce knew I was doing it for the very reason you said, to protect those I loved.”

“So he took the one you loved the most. Sick bastard,” Rocky spat as he paced the cell.

Torie – Torie’s story first appeared in “Unknown,” a short story from the series that I wrote while still drafting book two. I always knew she’d play into the series, I just wasn’t sure where. Unbound not only had a place for her, the story required her.

Torie stood with Alex and the two males on the bank of the river that ran through the center of Bristol feeding into the bay. There was a layer of ice over its surface. It looked deceptively safe, which was why every other winter someone lost his life trying to cross it. Bodies were rarely found. Winter searches were dangerous, and the current this close to the ocean was swift and strong. This year it was going to be a foolish teenage girl, walking home alone in the dark at the start of a nasty snowstorm.

Sage turned to Torie holding a rock the size of a basketball. He made eye contact and held it. It was uncomfortable, but she knew if she couldn’t answer the question forming in his head with absolute certainty, he’d walk away.

“You’re sure about this?” He was thinking of the million reasons not to help her. She kept thinking of the one good reason to follow through. It was the right thing to do. For her, sure, and her family. But also for the people she didn’t want to hurt but knew she’d have to if she remained with the Vengatti. And for the people she could help if the Rectinatti could learn to trust her and were willing to train her. They did it for the human. Why not her?

The human willingly runs into danger to help other humans as well as her coven. And she’s old enough to understand the responsibility that comes with her gift and her place among us. Sage answered Torie’s unspoken question in matching silence.

I’m running to keep myself from becoming one of those dangers. And I’ve kept what I am a secret since I was four in order to protect my family. I know a little about responsibility.

Sage held her gaze. I’ll buy that. But you’re still a kid; I’m not sure you can really understand what you’re giving up until it’s too late.

“I’m sure,” she answered aloud. The certainty of it stole her breath away. But Sage seemed to understand the difference between pain and doubt.

He nodded, took her coat from her and wrapped it around the rock to give the divers something to find. He hurled the boulder to the center of the river where the ice was thinnest. It crashed through the surface leaving a hole large enough for a slender teen to have fallen through.

That’s it for new characters, at least important ones. But there’s plenty of action for some of the minor characters from other books in Unbound, too!

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And Introducing…

Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 9.47.09 AM

I loved writing a series for so many reasons. One of the biggies was because I could continue to develop and write my favorite characters. Let’s face it, over the course of five years and over a thousand pages (yikes!), you get a little attached. But some of the fun is also adding new faces to the mix with each new book. Unbound was no exception. Over the next couple days, I thought I’d give you a taste of some of the new characters in the final book of the Alex Crocker series.

I don’t think any of the passages I picked are major spoilers, but I suppose they might give away a little, so read at your own risk!

1. Liam – Oh, if it weren’t for editing. Liam and Sage actually had a much deeper side-story in my first draft, but as the book began to grow to unruly proportions, it needed to be trimmed. He’s still present and important, but not nearly as much as this backstory lovin’ author would have liked. Here’s a scene he shares with Alex.

“We had a call that there was a possible assault on a female in the area. Is everything alright, Miss?” the darker haired officer questioned.

Alex glanced back quickly to the convenience store clerk who was peering nervously from behind the counter. She began to calm him and the officers as she explained.

“Yes. Genius here is a friend. He recognized me and thought it would be a riot to sneak up behind me. I assure you he’ll rethink repeating the stunt if he ever wants to have sex again.”

She looked to Liam. Her gift could only get them so far. Luckily, he had caught on and cringed.

“I should’ve known better than to mess with an East Bristol chick. They’re all ball-busters—literally.” Liam adjusted himself, faking a wince. Alex hid her surprise as one of the officers, obviously a local, laughed. “Sorry if we scared the clerk in there,” Liam finished.

“It’s alright. He calls at least once a month with some story. This was one of the few believable ones,” the first officer responded, his hand no longer on his weapon. “So long as no one’s hurt too badly.” He nodded to Liam.

“I’m married with two little girls. If my masculinity can handle princess parties, it can handle just about anything,” the hulking warrior replied. Alex rolled her eyes. It was a good thing she hadn’t let up on her influencing. If she didn’t buy that, they sure as hell wouldn’t.

Both officers shook their heads and wished them a good night as they headed back to their car. As soon as it was out of sight, Liam pulled out his knife again and began dragging her quickly towards the club.

“Princess parties, really? That’s the lie you chose? And how’d you know I was from East Bristol?”

“I remembered your sweatshirt the first warrior meeting you attended. Besides you do fit the profile—mouthy and tough.” Alex stomped on his foot, but his steel-toed boots kept him from missing a beat. “And the princess parties are true, but, ah, that can stay between us right?”

Yeah, right, ’cause our favorite heroine is so good at keeping her mouth shut!

2. Abby – Another example of a character with a Sage story just itching to be told—but not in this novel.

“Sage Matthew, to what do I owe this displeasure?” Abigail sashayed out from behind the counter. Her honey colored waist length hair swinging just above the curve of her hips.

“Karma’s a bitch, witch. I suspect a couple centuries of poisoning people with your magic mumbo jumbo could be coming home to roost. But I’m not here for a social visit,” Sage said. He avoided eye contact by scanning the shop’s modern merchandise with a look of distaste. He was disgusted there were enough humans who bought into this occult crap to legitimize the storefront that enabled her to sell potions, pills, and ‘spells’ to the few remaining witches and the far too many remaining vampires who hadn’t embraced modern medicine and science.

“No, I don’t suppose you are. Though I hadn’t heard you and the tiny mill girl you manipulated into feeding you had gotten mated, never mind had young.” She looked first at Torie then at Rocky. The young warrior became very interested in a candle on the shelf behind him, but Sage heard his tittering.

“They’re not mine,” he spat. “This one’s technically not even Rectinatti. But you know that. You know exactly who she is.”

Abby knows far more than she’s sharing in this book, but that’s another story for another day!

If you haven’t already checked out the book (or any of the books) they’re all on my Amazon page. You can also find them all on Barnes and Noble.

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New Blog, Old Habits

Thanks to a change at GoDaddy, my blog literally disappeared last spring. Luckily, with some help from the customer service guys, I was able to transfer what I hope is all of my posts and all the comments. Unfortunately the formatting was lost in the transfer. I now need to go back and fix each post individually. Frankly, my current writing takes precedent over writing new posts, never mind fixing old ones, so you’ll have to be patient with me here! This sounds like the perfect summer project. Until then I’ll try to get back to more frequent posts here on the adventures of writing, teaching, and life. For more about my adventures in trying to become a single mother, check out Merely Mothers where I’m now a regular contributor.

Thanks for understanding!

Lauren

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Turning on the Tap


 

What’s this? A blog post? Before noon on a Monday after vacation? With sentences? Paragraphs even?

Ah, yes, it’s been…well, let’s not get into how long it’s been or my million and one excuses. Let’s just say I’m back to pursuing my daydream (while at my day job—oops). I can’t promise weekly posts (especially with GoDaddy changing my blogging platform soon!), but I can promise that my mind is back in my books. Where that leads, who knows? But it starts with putting one word after another.

*

 “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until
the faucet is turned on.”

Louis L’Amour

But what if the water is rusty, very rusty? What if it reeks, filling the room with a pungent sulfuric miasma like the water in a cheap Florida mobile home? Is it really worth running the faucet for that?

I suppose to the man dying of thirst it wouldn’t matter a drop. But modern readers aren’t lacking in clean water or good literature. In fact, one might argue in the world of ebooks and self-publishing they are drowning in choices. So why bother writing something not worth reading? Why bother writing at all knowing that your work will likely sit on the bottom shelf like the store brand bottles in their cheap plastic, forever overshadowed by the big blue designer drinks at eye level? For this reason: even the most purified water, at some point in the water cycle, was probably pure piss. (Now there’s a pitch line for Poland Springs.) 

Great writing is like that too. Some days you tap into crap. The words dribble from your pen painstakingly. You know they’ll need to be revised, refined, reworked. You may dump them down the drain altogether. But other days you hit the tap and what springs forth in a gush is pure liquid gold. You marvel at your own genius. You wonder if anyone before you has ever strung together words as wonderfully as you just did. (Clearly there was
something else in your water that morning, but it’s nice to enjoy a brief moment of grandiosity every now and then.) 

And that’s why you need to come back to the faucet—daily, if possible. You need to get the water running. You need to let it flow to wash away doubt and insecurities and excuses. If you write enough, the rusty, smelly stuff that drips out every now and then won’t seem so toxic. It will be a few pages among many more which are readable, possibly even enjoyable, potentially even wonderful. And anyway, unlike with water, nobody ever died from writing (or reading) murky words. 

*

For all the good it’s done me, that quote from Louis L’Amour has been on my writing wall for months, but it wasn’t until someone else (my mother, of course) commented on what a great quote it was that I realized it was time to act upon it. Whether it’s writing, running, or some other goal or dream, the best way to get to the end is to keep at it—one drop, one step, one word at a time. So this morning as I forced my bleary eyed-students to write—write badly, write well, just write—I forced myself to join them. Some of us produced swamp water, while others turned the tap on a Poland Spring of prose. In the long run, though, both are not only acceptable, but necessary.

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