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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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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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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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The 5th Blog of Christmas: Five Golden Things


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(Yup, still going. Almost caught up, too. Mailbox getting full yet? Sorry ’bout that.)

Twenty-four karat bling.
Warm beach sand. Sweet Twinkies. There are some 
wonderful golden treats in
life. What makes life truly golden, though, is harder to find in stores than that Twinkie. Here’s this year’s
list of the things that make it all worth it.

Vision. You don’t have to
have it all. You just have to know what it is you 
want and be willing to
work for it.

Inhibition. Life’s too
short to worry about what the rest of the world thinks. Be polite, be kind, but
then be yourself.

Perspective. When the
little things loom large, turn on the news. There’s always someone who has it
worse. When the world’s problems drag you down, turn off the news. There’s
always something or someone close at hand to cheer you up. (If you’re having
trouble finding that something, call me. I’ll loan you Bert the Farting Hippo.)

Contentment. ‘Happiness’
is subjective and can be fleeting. Contentment is appreciating what you’ve got
and accepting what you don’t. Don’t worry, be content.

Hope. You won’t always
have physical health, or monetary wealth, or everything else you think you
need. But if you hang on to hope, you’ve got more than enough.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Golden New Year!

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The 9th Blog of Christmas: Season Misfits


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Christmas celebrations
vary between different ancestries, geographical regions, and simply between
families. I love that Christmas in America is a hodgepodge of traditions: some
religious, some pagan, some old, some new. I even think it’s great that we add
new ‘classics’ over the years. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas if I didn’t hear,
“Ral-phy!” at least once. There are some things, which we’ve adopted into the
Christmas season, however, that just don’t fit.
 

I think it all started
with Jingle Bells. This was a song originally written for Thanksgiving, but
who’s ever heard of Thanksgiving Carols? No one wanted to deck the halls with
turkey gizzards, and since with global warming the idea of a Thanksgiving
sleigh ride anywhere south of Santa’s village seems preposterous, Jingle Bells
slid into the Christmas season without a complaint to be heard.

Next My Favorite Things
starting appearing on Christmas albums. Sure, this Sound of Music
tune mentions snowflakes and silver white winters,
but it also mentions kittens and schnitzel. Is there anything particularly
Christmassy about schnitzel? One could argue there is a Christmas scene in the
movie (although this particular song is during a thunderstorm). So does that
mean every movie that has a late December setting is a Christmas film?

Well, yes, actually.

I don’t
particularly oppose the Harry Potter movies slipping into this category.
Although outside of one Christmas scene in each, they have little to do with
the holiday, they are family-friendly and based on the themes of love,
friendship, and self-sacrifice, which are all very much a part of the Christmas
season. And it’s pretty obvious Santa is a wizard employing a flying charm, an
invisibility cloak, and probably a time-turner. Duh.

What about
the not-for-children flicks, though? Why is it that every Christmas season
includes a Die Hard

marathon?
I know, movie one was set on
Christmas Eve, and McClane’s wife’s name was Holly, and the terrorist, like the
schnitzel, was German, but aside from that there’s no real connection to the
holiday. I love Bruce, baby, as much as the next
gal, but I’m not about to sign my Christmas cards, “
Yippee-ki-yay,
motherf—“

For our final Christmas
misfit, we have Gremlins
. Yup,
another flick that starts on Christmas, with a teenage boy being given the best
and worst present ever, Gizmo. Gizmo’s adorable and obedient and almost
perfect, until he gets wet and spawns evil offspring that attack and eat half
the town leaving a trail of blood as red as Santa’s suit. Not doesn’t that
sound cheery?

How on earth we devolved
from adopting Jingle Bells and Julie Andrews to embracing blood and gore, I’ve
no idea. It’s one thing if ABC Family wants to fill eight of their 25 Days of
Christmas with Harry Potter; this Potterhead and Christmas lover is all for
that. I think perhaps, though, we need to reexamine what really makes a movie a
holiday film, before airing every R-rated, carnage-filled, action flick, which
mentions Christmas, and calling it a seasonal classic. 

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Pulling out the Purple: Election Day flash fiction


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(Image from: www.katiehatz.com)


Listen to
political ads long enough and you start to see politics in everything. As I was
working on putting together a glossary for the Alex Crocker Seer series to post
on my website, it occurred to me I had assigned blue to the Rectinatti and red
to the Vengatti. Although I know this wasn’t a conscious political statement (I
don’t think any of my Republican friends have considered sucking out my
conscience lately), it got me to thinking more about where my main character
Alex might stand. I have plenty in book two about her views on the two covens,
but little on her views of issues in the human world. So in keeping with my
NaNoWriMo (Nap No, Write Mo) pledge for November, I decided to have a little
fun last night and this morning before school. This scene is not from any longer piece.
It was just a fun writing exercise for me, and hopefully a fun way for you to
pass the time until the polls close. Besides, after a contentious election, we
can all use a little purple in our lives!

 

It’s
Not as Simple as Red or Blue

 

“They
still going on about that crap? It seems like one just ends and they start
talking about the next.” Darian had paused on his way to refill his coffee mug
for what had to be the third time this evening. He stared at the small screen
of the t.v. in the kitchen which Alex had been watching while picking at a bowl
of granola topped yogurt.

As
she watched his expression, she tried to determine if it were early evenings or
democracy that disagreed with the Rectinatti’s Regan most.

“That
crap, which we call an election, is going to determine the next leader of the
free world.”

The
Regan looked skeptically at the smiling headshots of the two candidates
flashing across the screen. “Is that what they tell themselves? Maybe I should
warn them it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.”

Alex
shook her head and pointed to the television with a yogurt-covered spoon. “That
guy’s been president––of the entire country––for four years. I’m pretty sure
he’s figured it out.”

Darian
scowled at the insinuation that running a country of humans was somehow harder
than ruling a coven of vampires. Alex didn’t apologize, but she didn’t argue
either. She was glad to leave both jobs to others older, if not wiser, than
her.

“And
the other one? Is he optimistic, naïve, or just plain stupid?”

Sliding
the now clean spoon from her mouth, Alex grinned. “Are you implying anyone who
chooses to lead is one of the three? Which are you, Regan?”

The
coffee mug being slammed on the counter rendered his answer redundant, but it
didn’t stop him from giving it to her.

“Annoyed.
And considering this is not
a
democracy and you do not
have
freedom to speak to me that way, you ought to zip it.”

She
shrugged. “You were the one asking questions.” She pretended to ignore his
glare as she turned back to the evening news. His mood was more related to the
time of day than her teasing.

Rather
than return to his office, Darian was once again sucked in by the commentators.
As a Seer, Alex could sense he had another question, but was too proud to ask
it after telling her to shut up just seconds earlier.

“The
red states are those projected to win the Republican vote. Blue usually go
Democratic. And the white are contested,” she explained, since it was the
appearance of the electoral map that had spurned the curiosity she sensed.

He
mumbled something she couldn’t quite hear with her measly human hearing.
Catching her name and Sage, the Knower’s, she could guess the gist. It annoyed
the Regan to no end to be living with a mind reader and emotion detector. She
didn’t bother to tell him it was no picnic for them, either. Stick your fingers
in the cage too many times and you’re bound to get bit, so she bit her tongue
instead.

“Massachusetts
is blue, huh? Too bad nobody told the Vengatti.” Darian’s expression was as acidic
as the strong black coffee he drank.

The
Rectinatti used sapphire and silver to symbolize their pure heritage, while the
Vengatti chose blood red ruby to signify their willingness to drink from
humans. Darian was equating an all blue state on the map to a Vengatti-free
Bristol.

“I
don’t think our politics are as simple as yours.”

Darian
refilled his mug from the carafe and leaned against the heavy butcher-block
table. He eyes strayed from the screen to linger on her engagement ring with
the two sapphires on either side of her diamond. Sapphires which represented
her new place in their coven.

“And
whose blue is that?”

Alex
nudged his pant leg with her bare foot. “You know what I mean.”

“No.”
Darian shook his head. “I don’t think I do. To me, someone’s wrong and
someone’s right. Black and white, or red and blue in this case. You’re
the one who keeps telling me otherwise.”

“Covens
are different. You’re born into them. You don’t get to choose whose ideology
you think is ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ Assuming every Vengatti is evil would be as
foolish as assuming everyone in a red state is a Republican, or every
Republican believes the same thing.” Alex paused. Darian wasn’t comprehending
the references to human politics. Perhaps tax codes and foreign policy didn’t
compare well to the issue of whether or not to slaughter innocents or drain
someone of their very soul. She was pushing her luck to spell it out for him,
but she was in a mood to be pushy with him lately. “It’d be as naïve as
believing every Rectinatti’s goal was to serve the greater good of the coven
and to protect the humans.”

Darian
ran his hands though his hair, a habit he had when he was angry. Alex’s sense
confirmed, however, that his anger wasn’t with her, but rather with the truth of her
statement. He was well aware that there were as many self-serving families in
the coven as selflessly serving warriors. She wanted to think that maybe he
was also starting to believe the Vengatti members had as many shades of gray. But perhaps she was the one being 
naïve now.

“So
what would you have me do, Miss Independent, emulate your
fine leaders’ acts of bipartisanship?”

Alex
startled at his smirk and his correct use of human political terminology.

“I
watch the news, too, and have been reading about this country’s government
since it was formed, remember?”

She didn’t miss a beat. “Sorry, you’re just so hip that it’s hard to remember
sometimes that you’re older than dirt.”

“Would
it be easier to remember from the cell in basement?”

“Probably
not, but way to embrace the democratic attitude of Election Day. Answering your
question about what I’d have you do, though, is easy.” Alex stood so he could
see she was no longer joking. “Offer them a choice, Darian, and not between the lesser of
two evils, which is all we are if we continue to kill them without providing
them another way out. You told me when I was first taken in that the name
Rectinatti came from rectitude or righteousness. Being righteous isn’t
necessarily the same as being ‘right.’”

Alex
dropped her bowl in the sink and headed out of the kitchen.

“Did
you vote yet?”

At
the bottom of the stairs, she turned back to him. “Yes. Rocky took me earlier.”

“When
it came down to it, how’d you vote?”

He
motioned back towards the television, but Alex sensed he was asking her more
than the names of the candidates whose circle she colored in. She smiled.

“Well,
shockingly your name was left off the ballot, so I went with the other ‘blue’
guy––for president, anyway.”

“Meaning?”
Darian was too accustomed to this type of response from her not to recognize
there was more to it.

“I
look good in purple. You should try it some time; it’s very regal.”

With
that she padded up the stairs, so that she hardly heard the Regan’s snort, or. . .chuckle?

*

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Freaky Friday, week 2: Sweet Insanity


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Release day for Unforeseen! My vamps are flashing their fangs in paperback glory today, while I’m celebrating another Freaky Friday.

With the full moon upon us and lunatics popping up in every corner (or email, in my case), Jamie B. Musings is here make our heads spin even more. Jamie is writing about a blast from our pasts, the craziest moments in a book series many of us grew up reading. Enjoy!

Insanity at Sweet Valley High

Anyone who has followed my blog and read my social networks
knows that I am really into Sweet Valley High. It was one of my favorite book
series as a kid/teen. I’ll stop here a sec to let anyone who doesn’t know much
about it to pop on over to Wiki if they’d like to get a rundown. Ready? Great! 

I think the craziest plot ever to come out of a series
filled with crazy ones came around book #95: The jungle prom and evil twin
saga. What isn’t to love about it? Here are my five most insane (even for Sweet
Valley) moments:

1) Jessica spiking Elizabeth’s punch and then letting her
take the fall when things go horribly wrong. Okay, anyone who read the series
knows Jessica has some sociopathic tendencies, but still! How much lower can
you get than letting your own sister go down for something so horrible when you
were the one who did it?

2) Mr. and Mrs. Fowler get back together. Why on earth would
someone want to remarry the same guy who basically sent you packing and kept
you from your child for most of her life because you didn’t want to stay
married? Are all the parents in Sweet Valley on drugs? Something has to cause
that bad judgment, right?

3) Margo wanting to be Liz. I mean, really? Why on earth
would you want to be the prim and proper twin when your personality is more
along Jessica’s lines? Like people aren’t going to notice the change in attitude?

4) Margo just happens to look exactly like the twins. Of
course, she does! This series was basically the kid’s version of a daytime
soap. It actually makes sense in a world where one set of twins constantly
manages to get themselves targeted by killers on a regular basis, your mother
almost married the parent of one of your classmates and some strange woman who
has never actually met you can fool your own parent into thinking they’re you.

5) Finally… Ned and Alice are totally insane to not have
seen through Margo’s trick “business trip” much, much sooner than they did.

Blogger Bio:

Jamie B. Musings is a music addict, book lover, pet servant
& NaNoWriMo survivor. When she’s not busy writing posts for CultureShock,
she’s taking pictures for her new obsession (That Photo Blog) and spending time
with her husband and pets. Her first book, The Life and Times of No One in Particular was released in May 2012. She’s also an avid tweeter, new pintrest
convert and live posts shows and other things on Facebook.

       

Thanks, Jamie! Anyone else have a Sweet
Valley
memory? I’m pretty sure I read some of the Sweet Valley Twins series
first, since the SVH books were ‘too mature’.

Well, while Jamie’s been
tempting us to return to the books from our past, I’ve been over on her site
previewing the fantasy shows and movies returning to the screen this fall, in
hopes of recruiting a few more fans of cheesy, but fun fantasy. 

Happy Friday
and be sure to howl at the moon for me tomorrow night!

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