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Looking for the Save the Cat Beat Sheet for Novels? Click here!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Save the Cat Beat Sheet Spreadsheet for Novels

A while ago, I talked about how I use the Save the Cat beat sheet to roughly plot out new projects before drafting. The problem for most people, though, is that the beat sheet is for movie scripts that are around 100 pages, and books are significantly longer.

So I decided to share with you my little beat sheet spreadsheet:

Click here to download from Sribd! (Be sure to chose .xlsx format!)
Click here to download the file directly! (For those of you who hate Scribd!)

All you have to do is fill in your title, logline, and projected word count, and it will handle the rest. You can also mark which chapter the beats happen in, in case you need a quick reference.


Friday, April 1, 2011

Blogfest: This Was Me, Then

I'm postponing Friday Reads until tomorrow in order to take part in a blogfest hosted by fellow writer (and fellow Elizabeth) Elizabeth Poole. The gist is this: post a piece of old work--from a year or two or ten ago--to show how far you've come.

And once you see some of this old stuff, you'll understand I seriously had nowhere to go but up.

So without further ado, let us begin!

From April 12th, 1997

This is one of the very first stories I wrote. I was fourteen, and while I don't remember being in love with vampires or high fantasy, I wrote this. Ironically, its original name was TWILIGHT, but I changed it to FIRST LIGHT because I didn't think a book called TWILIGHT would sell.

That is not an April Fool's Joke, by the way. That's the pathetic little truth.

Anyway, it was about this girl who was a vampire and she was a total Mary Sue, even though I remember not really liking her very much at the time. I can't remember what her name was--"Keavy" sticks out for some reason--but she went by the name Mayrnagh, which I guess was her vampire name.

Actually, I'm pretty sure I explained all that in the first three chapters (ETA: this isn't a typo, FIRST LIGHT had a prologue), but since they're a friggin' snoozefest, I've decided not to torture you with them. Instead, we'll start where it gets good, at Chapter Three, where the WTF-ery is so thick you can cut it with a knife.

Chapter Three – Wolfsong

Rain is pouring down; I can hear it on the roof. [I find the use of first person present very peculiar, seeing as how it makes my eye twitch nowadays.]
I’ve never liked the rain; it’s wet. [That is the real problem with rain, isn't it? All that WATER it's made of.] It takes forever to dry my hair, as long as it is, when it gets wet. I have a shower each morning, but I choose not to get wet otherwise if I can avoid it.
Some vampire lore states that vampires have the power to transfigure themselves into animals. This is not a vampire power. This is magic. And it isn’t secluded only to vampires, themselves. Any ordinary human could very well learn this magic, if he or she had the determination, skill, and time to learn. [Stupid humans. Stupid humans and their VAMPIRE LORE.]
Of course, transfiguration magic takes much longer to learn than the basic magics: potions, candle magic, and divination being only a few. Most humans don’t live long enough to master the art of transfiguration; the ones that do usually don’t have the desire or inner-strength to perfect it. And even then, there are very few that know it exists.
One of the perks of being immortal is time; there’s plenty of it. Being that a vampire is a natural hunter – humans have long suppressed their killer instincts, unless directed at one another --, [random punctuation #1] animal transfiguration comes easier to us than other creatures. Even Grimmas, who are born magical, study many years to transfigure themselves into other beings.
I have been studying for over one-hundred years.
Tonight, I am a wolf; [random punctuation #2] white, with blue eyes. There is a nice wooded area behind our home. I am joined by Naunie, an ancient Sephiroth that had given up his human form completely for that of a wolf some fifty years ago. He lives in a cave by the river, where food is easily accessible. [Translation: China Wok delivers] He visits us whenever he pleases, though he much prefers the solitude; [random punctuation #3] especially when the moon is full and the night is clear.
Tonight, it is neither, and I have called upon him, as he is one of my oldest and dearest friends. We speak telepathically, so as not to draw attentions to ourselves, or his cave. [Also, we don't want to accidentally set off all those bombs he's been mailing to his Congressman.]
“Welcome, Wolfsong,” he says inside my mind. Wolfsong was what he had deemed me upon successfully completing my first transfiguration into wolf. “To what can I owe this surprise?”
“Good evening, Wolfguard. I’m afraid I cannot stay long; it will rain soon.” [And rain, you know, is WET.]
“Aye, it will,” he said. “I’ve had word from the Grimma’s [random punctuation #4] in the lake. Well, go on, child, don’t hold yourself up. What is it you’ve come all this way for, eh?”
“I’m being watched, Wolfguard. I think I’m being hunted.”
“Not in wolf-form, I hope,” he said uneasily. He was cautious about his privacy; I would’ve never come to him if I thought he was in danger. I think he knew this, though he felt he needed all bases covered.
“No,” I replied, “as Wolfsong I am safe. I wasn’t followed.” The old wolf breathed a sigh of relief; he had not placed his trust in me in vain.
“But as Mayrnagh, you feel threatened? Have you seen this threat yourself, or do you just feel its presence? You dabble in divination, do you not; have your readings turned up any clues?”
“They have.”
“Witches,” I replied.
“But not Trioch?” Wolfguard was one of the wisest Sephiroth. In often times, he knew the answers before the questions were asked. He would not give them away, however, as one could not learn by being told; they must find the answers for themselves. I knew he would help me find them. [What. The. Shit.]
“No, not Trioch,” I replied. “The readings unnerve me, but they do not show any immediate danger. Trioch don’t often guard their intentions.”
“Then what is it you fear, lass?” I pondered this question in my head. What do I fear?
“Myself,” I answered hesitantly.
“And what are you?”
“Vampire,” I answered.
“What are you?” he asked again. My answer had not satisfied him. More accurately, my question had not satisfied myself, and the answers that I sought. I thought some more. What am I?
“Asanti.” It made sense. The Asanti were the hunters, and I was the hunted. But why?
Before I could ask any more questions, I was lead to the cave entrance. There was a light mist of rain in the air. “You’d better go now, child. The rain will not let up tonight and I know how you do not like to get wet. [!!!] Go back to your home; stay there until the moon is new.”
“The Asanti are hunting me; why?”
“You know better than to ask questions, Wolfsong. The answers will come to you when you’re ready to find them. In time, they will find you.”
And with a soft nuzzle to bid farewell to the old wolf, I was off, dashing through the forest that led to my home.

Yeah. I know.

And the thing is, I really loved this book at the time. I thought it was AWESOME. I even sent queries out on it. (I don't think I need to tell you that the queries did not generate a lot of interest, probably because the queries were as bad as, if not worse than, the actual story.)

But FIRST LIGHT is the kind of story that everyone needs to get out of their system. I'm not talking a melodramatic teenage vampire story--although if you want to write one of those, feel free--but a bad story. A story that has stupid characters and no plot and is poorly written.

(And sometimes you have to write more than one).

Because the thing about writing is this: you'll never strike gold until you dig deep, and you can't dig deep if you're always hesitating because you're afraid of sucking all the time.

And thinking you suck? It's not something you grow out of when you become an adult. It's not something that magically goes away when someone says something good about your blog/short story/essay/novel/idea, or when you get an agent or a book deal or land on a bestsellers list.

My secret (also not an April Fool's joke) is that I think I suck. A lot. And that feeling of sucking kept me from striking gold for a long time.

Eventually, though, you learn to ignore that sucky feeling, and when that happens, you stop letting what's on top of the gold deter you from digging for it anyway.

! [random punctuation #5 ;-)]

Be sure to check out all the other participants' entries here!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

F--- 'Em

I've gotten quite a few emails over the post I did on how the YA Mafia (whether real or fictitious) feeds on fear an insecurity. Most of these emails ask one question:

How do you stay so calm?

The short answer--I don't.

Truth is, there are a lot of things that bother me, worry me, or otherwise throw off my groove. And between you and me, I hate having my groove thrown off. I hate sitting down to write and being so excited about a story, and then seeing a passive-aggressive jab from a "friend" on Twitter and feeling like crap for the rest of the day.

But you know what? Those things happen. And they're going to continue happening. Because that's life for you.

Of course, those things--albeit few and far between--used to bother me a whole lot more than they do now. I guess I can attribute a portion of my mellowing out to age and experience, but honestly, much of it came from adopting a mantra:

F--- 'em.

Someone wants to have nothing to do with you because you prefer CSI: Miami and she believes CSI: New York is by far the superior crime procedural?

F--- 'em.

An employer doesn't want to hire you because her husband's cousin's sister dated your half-brother and doesn't want anything to do with either of you?

F--- 'em.

An old writing friend stops talking to you because you were offered representation before she was, even though she has an MFA and you didn't even graduate high school?

F--- 'em.

(And believe it or not, those are all real reasons why people have rejected me in the past. Even the one about CSI: Miami).

I know the f--- 'em mantra probably sounds rude, maybe even a tad bit arrogant. But really, who would want to be involved with anyone so petty as the people I've described above? Why enter into a relationship--be it work-related, romantic, a critique partner, or a friend--where the default setting is always set to Walking on Eggshells? I mean, who cares what they can do for your career, think about what they're doing to your psyche.

I spent most of my childhood being bullied for who I am, what I like, the people I befriend, and the things I want to do. I grew up a scared, timid, insecure, miserable, self-loathing child. It's taken me years to find my backbone and put it to good use. So believe me when I say, there isn't anyone or anything in the publishing industry I covet enough to entice me to live that way again. No agent. No house. No award or list. No amount of money. Nothing.

So I guess that's where the calm comes from--knowing who I am and that it's OK to be that way, and understanding that if someone rejects me for me, I'm better off without them.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The YA Mafia is Watching You

But first, a Public Service Announcement on how you can help the people affected by the earthquake in Japan:

Shelterbox in Japan

Shelterbox is a non-profit organization that provides shelter, food and drinking water, and other things needed to help reconstruct areas affected by disasters. For example, the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that devastated Japan this morning. Author Maureen Johnson explains in this blog post how you can help. Every little bit counts. So go there. Give what you can. And if you don't have anything to give, that's OK, too. You can always help by spreading the word.

And in other, much less important, news:

The YA Mafia is Watching You

OK, that's a lie.  There is no YA Mafia.

I don't think.

Unless there really is, in which case, I meant no disrespect. Honest.


It's just that some of you think Monday's post, in which I talked about why being in a clique and actively excluding people from your precious group is a rude and foolish thing to do, had something to do with there allegedly being a group of YA writers out there controlling the social hierarchy.

Truth is, that post was more inspired by my own bad behavior than anyone else's, which I'm kind of ashamed to admit. Lesson learned: you're never too busy or too popular or to anything to be nice to someone. Ever. So be nice, even when you don't feel like it. You never know whose life you may influence (or whose feelings you may hurt) otherwise.

But is there a YA Mafia calling the shots?

I guess that depends on what you think a YA Mafia is.

I mean, is there a group that call themselves the "YA Mafia" and do they go around killing authors' careers before they begin?

Probably not.

But are there people out there--whether acting as a group or a group of individuals--going behind peoples' backs, making deals that they'll never blurb so-and-so or never invite so-and-so to retreats or read so-and-so's books or otherwise being not nice to so-and-so?

Yes, there are.

Because no matter where you go, you will find people like that. I ran into them when I worked at CitiFinancial. I ran into them when I worked for Embarq and TransNet. I ran into them when I volunteered at the hospital and at church and even at the gift shop where I worked when I was a teenager. And guys, only three people worked there. 

I know we all have this Pollyanna view of how the world of books works, because we all love writing and love books and where could there be room for any bad? But the sad fact is, there are mean people everywhere, and publishing is no different.

For example, when I wrote mysteries, one particular New York Times Bestselling author's daughter used to demand a certain author's books be pulled from the stores where her mother was signing, because her mother did not like that author and did not want to see that author's books while she was there. Pretty rude, right?

Or when I wrote romance, there was this big brouhaha about the awards, because it was said that people tend to vote for their friends over what they feel is really the best book, which meant the same people kept winning over and over again while the less popular authors never got any credit.

I could tell you even more stories, but I think you get the point: some people are just plain mean.

But that doesn't mean everyone who writes YA is mean. I'm not mean. None of my friends are mean. You're not mean. Are you?  I didn't think so.

We're talking a handful of bad apples out of hundreds of thousands of good ones. And for what it's worth, in the fourteen or so years I've been writing, I've only run into two of the bad ones. Neither of them came from the YA genre.

So if you're one of the people worried about whether or not a group of mean girls is going to blacklist you and keep you from reaching your dream, take my advice and stop worrying.

And if you can't do that, stop reading Twitter and blogs that mention "YA Mafia" until you can.

(Except for this one. You can keep reading this one. This one is exempt.)

Because the real danger of the YA Mafia--whether it's real or not--is that every minute you spend worrying/thinking/talking about the YA Mafia is a minute you're not spending on your book. You know, the one you need to write before you can get blacklisted and/or published.

So do yourself a favor and stop worrying. I mean it. Just stop.

Because there are plenty of other, more healthy, writing-related things you could be worrying about. Like maybe your plot, or how you can make your characters even more awesome than they already are, or whether or not you're going to get a headless torso on your book cover.

I once read about a guy who got fired from his workplace because he was playing Farmville all the time. Only when he got fired, he was in a real bind, because not only had he depleted his savings, but he'd also maxed out all of his credit cards...

...on Farm Cash.

Don't look at me like that, y'all, 'cause you know you can't make this stuff up.

Anyway, I don't think this guy ever intended on paying $35,000 in real money to own a virtual farm. He probably had his eyes on a promotion, or maybe he was using his current job to pad his resume for a better job he wanted with a nicer company.

I don't know for sure.

What I do know is that this kind of drama is a lot like Farm Cash--a virtual product in exchange for real currency. Only in this case, the currency isn't money. It's something much more valuable. Farm Cash Guy may very well hit the lotto tomorrow, thus ending his financial woes. But the time and creative energy you invest in drama is gone for good.

I want to say that again, because I don't think everyone who read it got it:

The time and energy you spend worrying about drama is gone forever.

And if you think about it that way, then maybe the YA Mafia really does exist. Because if you invest all of your time and energy into the YA Mafia, you become the YA Mafia.

The only person who can keep you from achieving your dream is you. Don't be your own worst enemy.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Earlier today, while I was eating lunch, I somehow found myself in the middle of a study group. Not my study group, but just some random study group. I don't even know what they were studying, just that somehow, for some reason, the topic got turned around to writing and before too long, they were all looking at me like I was Yoda and they wanted me to show them the ways of the Force.

I'm not exactly sure why this happens. Not that it happens a lot, but every now and then, it's like I accidentally walked out the door with a neon sign across my boobs that reads I WRITE BOOKS! ASK ME HOW! And even though I feel like I know a lot about writing, I don't always feel qualified to give advice on the subject. I mean, why should anyone take advice from me? I can't even write a five-page essay without freaking out.

But there we were, talking about writing, when a shaggy-haired dude looked at me and said, "I have an idea for a story, but I don't know how to put it onto paper."

"You sit down and write it," I said.

"But I don't know how."

"Yes, you do," I said. "You sit down and write it."

"But I don't know how."

"Yes, you do."

He looked at me like I was confused, and shook his head. "Naw, man. It's like, I get writer's block, or whatever."

"No," I told him. "You give up on yourself and call it quits. That's not writer's block. That's doubt."

Dude went quiet for a moment. Then he said, "So how do you get rid of doubt?"

"You tell it to f--- off," I told him. "And then you sit down and write."

Doubt is universal.

I have it. You have it. Bestselling, world-famous, published-in-sixteen-countries-in-thiry-languages authors have it. We've all had it at some point. Doubt is that sudden, sobering realization that everything we've been hoping for, everything we've been working toward, it's never going to happen.

"Things like that don't happen to us," we tell ourselves, and for a moment (sometimes even a long moment), whether we want to or not, we believe it.

Different people believe different things, but for me, I like to think of doubt as an Internet troll: some unemployed bald guy sitting bored in his parents' basement, looking for a fan site where he can stir up some trouble, at least for a few hours, until something good comes on TV.

There's only one way to deal with an Internet troll: ignore it and eventually it will go away.

Yeah, you might be thinking, that's easy for you to say.

But the truth of the matter is, I'm no better at this than anyone else is. I feel doubt every day. I may not always succumb to it, but I feel it. It's always there, trying to find a way around my mental firewall so it can stir up some bullshit flame war between my proverbial Team Jacob and Team Edward.

For those of you who know me well--and by "well" I mean sobbing on the phone late at night because I completely suck at writing and have nothing else to live for--know that what goes on here, on this blog, and what goes on behind the scenes, when I'm hyperventilating because my one-sentence pitch is too wordy, are two very different fronts. Sometimes it is very, very difficult to find something positive to say on my blog. It would be much easier to post about the other stuff, like rejections and unfavorable critiques and the people who've said nasty things about my writing for no reason other than they don't like me as a person.

But if you engage the crazy, you become the crazy, a lesson I've learned all too well in recent years.

So if you feel Doubt nagging at your noggin, do yourself a favor: ignore him and do it anyway, and eventually he'll go bother someone else.

Monday, January 31, 2011

How to Make Lemonade

When I first sat down to write this post, I had totally planned on talking about how demoralizing one of my classes has been, and what a struggle it is to write happy things when someone in your life is trying his damnedest to make sure you know just how horribly you suck.

But then halfway through I realized that focusing on the muck is what keeps you in the muck, and what I really should blog about was how to get out of the muck.

Ready? Here goes.

When life hands you lemons, send them through a juicer

Since toxic people bear toxic fruit, it can be dangerous to try and digest their special kind of feedback, skin and all. Instead, you have to separate the bitter/inedible parts from the juice, which might otherwise be useful. I like to do this by blacking out--either literally, with a Sharpie, or mentally--those things you think are invalid, unfounded, or just plain mean.

Can't find any juice? Don't worry about it. Some people are just mean for the sake of being mean.

Dilute, dilute, dilute

Being the designated whipping girl isn't fun, especially when it seems like every move you make is met with a smack on the rear. But the truth of the matter is, even though a person's ire may be directed at you, it's usually not because of you or anything you've done. Toxic people are experts at finding faults in others they think will deflect from their own insecurities.

Pour some sugar on it

Let's face it: rejection stings, even when it's from someone you don't like. Take the hurt out of it by revising their demoralizing feedback with something a little more constructive. For example, if someone accuses you of rambling inanely, make a mental note to double-check for cohesiveness.

Serve it ice cold

Never, never, never try and tackle a nasty critique right away. Let it sit for a day/week/month, until you can read it without over-analyzing every little thing.

And when you're done, put it on ice permanently by tossing it in the wastebasket where it belongs.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Room of One's Own

I love my office. For starters, I love that I have an office, because very few people do. I can't remember a time I haven't had an office, thanks to my mother having gotten sick of my books being all over the house by the time I was nine.

But there are times when my office is too confining, either because there are too many distractions or too few, and that's where the library comes in.

Of course, some libraries are better than others.

The library at school, for example, is pretty sweet. It's got the right amount of bustle to it--just enough so that you know other people exist, but not enough that you're distracted by what everyone else is doing. Unfortunately, I only get to that library on days I have classes. The rest of the time, I'm stuck at the bad library. The public library.

Don't get me wrong, I used to like this library. I even volunteered here when I was a teenager, and as soon as I got a job, I began donating both books and money to ensure it sticks around for the next generation of kids who like the smell of real books.

But like most things in this city (the city that wanted to spend $150,000 we don't have on NO OUTLET signs because the mayor thinks DEAD END sounds low-class), the library has turned into a pretentious little piece of shit. It's OK to browse the Internet for porn; it's not OK to send a text message. It's OK to sing to yourself with your iPod in your ears; it's not OK to cough or sneeze. It's OK to bring in a hand-held gaming device and turn the volume up to annoying; it's not OK to have your cell phone on, even if it's on vibrate.

The straw that broke the camel's back, though, was when two of the librarians huddled together and called for the downstairs Rent-A-Cop to come confiscate my Dasani.

Yes, you heard me. They stoled my water.

"You're not supposed to have that here," he said. "Because of the computers."

"But," I said, "this is my computer."

He didn't say anything after that, but I begrudgingly put the water away, anyway, thinking to myself that a) I was really, really thirsty, and b) Internet porn hurts the computers way more than sealed bottles of water do.

Not that I have anything against the Rent-A-Cop. I mean, rules are rules, and if water isn't allowed, water isn't allowed. And really, what a sucky job it must be, having to take water away from teary-eyed college students whose throats are so dry, they're already coughing, who really--really--need to get their essays done, like, yesterday.

But it seems to me that some rules are, well, stupid.

Like outlawing bottled water when you should be more concerned with that section of roof that has caved in on the third floor.

I'm just saying.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

4 Months

So this week I'm stuck writing an essay, so today you get KITTEH PICTURES!

Here's Nathan Fillion at four (and a half!) months old:

He still gives the best snuggles you can imagine. He's still a bottomless pit. He still sleeps on my pillow (technically, though there isn't much pillow left for me at this point). He still kisses me goodnight.

This is his brother Ephraim:

Ephraim has the best belly of the bunch. Too bad touching it tends to launch the worst stink bomb you can imagine.

I also decided to redo my office (again) a few weeks ago. It's still a work of progress, but the painting is done:

And thanks to Elvis and Nancy, so is most of my interior decorating:

I also found this way cute rug at Pier 1 at 90% off:

I know, right? Just how cute is that rug?

But it's not as cute as Emma, AKA my new seat cushion:

Happy Wednesday! And if you're feeling particularly generous, I wouldn't mind a prayer or two for a snow day tomorrow!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Stephen King on Short Stories

I've spent the hour writing a follow-up to yesterday's post, but it's running long, and my hour is up, so it'll have to wait until tomorrow.

In the meantime, here's one of my favorite interviews with Stephen King, in which he talks about writing short stories (which just so happens to be my ROW80 goal for this session):



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