What’s Your Greatest Fear?

I didn’t enter the Nightmare on Query St. contest because I don’t think my manuscript is ready to submit to agents yet. (My greatest fear is submitting something before its ready. ) But have no fear (ha!) what I wrote for that contest will not be in vain.

I’ve decided to share some writing with you today.  Its Halloween week, so in the spirit (pun intended) of the season, I’m going to share some of my characters greatest fears with you.  These are 100(ish) word answers to the question, “What is your greatest fear?”

I’m not ready to reveal specifics yet, but I hope these will give some hints about the characters and the world they’re living in.

Happy Halloween!

I’m easily one of the smartest guys in the room, no matter which room I’m in.  I’m not bragging-it’s the brain upgrade.  It’s strange that I’m able to dismantle and reassemble any kind of technology you put in front of me, but I can’t seem  to figure out something as simple as telling a girl I like her.  That…terrifies me.  Every time I’m about to say something to her, my mind conjures an image of her laughing at me.  Then I’m tongue-tied. Maybe if girls would come with instruction manuals, they wouldn’t be so scary.

*

Soldiers don’t fear.  Our training teaches us to face our fears and overcome them.  So no, you won’t get me to make a list of things that could scare me like snakes or spiders or heights.   But if you really want to know what scares me I’ll tell you. The people who refuse to do what is right for our country-the unvaccinated-they’re the only threat there is. They turn my dreams into nightmares.  Understand this-I will do what I can to eradicate each and every one of them.  Maybe then we’ll all sleep better at night.

*

I’m scared we won’t find an answer.  What if this is how it all ends? They say we’re hurting them. We know they’re hurting us.  I feel like we’re playing a cosmic game of tug-o-war between two cliffs and whichever side loses tumbles into oblivion.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to go like that.  I want to find a way for us to all get what we want without hurting each other.  Maybe I’m dreaming too big-it wouldn’t be the first time.  Part of me wonders, though, if I’m not dreaming big enough.

*

My parents snuck me in to Coney Island for my sixth birthday.  It wasn’t hard since the place was abandoned after the outbreak.  My dad rigged it so we could play boardwalk games like SkeeBall and ring toss. It was awesome until we got to the game where you squirt water into clown mouths. Those clowns wore these creepy grins that had been chiseled into their frozen faces.  One look and I was too petrified to squeeze the trigger.  The squad would laugh if I told them about it now.  But since that day, clowns are no laughing matter to me.

*

I’m not afraid of dying-been there, done that. I’m pretty sure I won’t feel it when I die the next time anyway. What I’m really afraid of, what lurks in my regenerated heart and forces tears out at night is, the thought of being alone. Not like afraid to be in the dark alone, but the other kind of alone. The one that says you’re not bound to another person. The one that says your existence is like a doll left abandoned on a playground.  Unwanted. Unattached. Alone.

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Common Threads

The Arkansas SCBWI retreat has come and gone and I’m left with a bittersweet feeling. I tweeted that it felt like I was leaving summer camp. I was tired, ready to be in my own bed, but filled with fond memories, new friends and things I learned. (Plus I did get some kind of bug bite behind my knee while I was there.)

It was a privilege to meet Alex Arnold, Editorial Assistant at Katherine Tegan Books/HarperCollins. Not only was she totally adorbs, but she shared a wealth of information about the industry, as well as helped us with the craft of writing. It was great to feel like we were getting this information from someone who truly is invested in helping us succeed. This was the first time I have gotten any critique on this WIP and her suggestions for improvement have me excited for the revision process. It was great to know that my instincts are good and that I’m moving in the right direction. I have a new goal to finish revisions and start the submission process by December.

I also got the chance to meet some great new friends and colleagues. I have to admit I was a little nervous about walking into a group of people whom I didn’t know, especially when I realized I was one of only two people there who had never attended the event. My nerves were calmed before the end of dinner. What a wonderfully supportive and helpful community I have found. It means a lot to be included so quickly. I can’t wait to meet with everyone again soon.

We worked on our loglines during our sessions. Loglines are meant to strip your story down to its most basic form and tell the reader (agent, editor, publisher, person in the elevator) what the core of your story is. Imagine the movie voice-over guy saying, “In a world where…” That’s your log line.

If you are a writer who has tried to do this, you know it’s not as easy as it sounds. I was one who thought “I’ve just written 80,000 words, what’s twenty more?” Indeed, those were the hardest to get correct and probably the most important. You never know when your story pitch will turn into an offer from an agent or editor or reach just the right ears to help you along with your career. So, writers have to be ready with their log lines.

There were writers working on a variety of things ranging from picture books to middle grade to YA. They spanned all genres-contemporary, fantasy, humor, sci-fi. As we worked in our sessions, I noticed something-a lot of our common themes were the same. We had a few books dealing with death/suicide. There were some that were about recovering from a loss of some kind. There were some in which the main character was coping with being different in some way. There were works that dealt with growing up. It’s fascinating how different each work can be from another one, yet they seem to have common threads that run between them.

I think that’s pretty cool. One of my favorite quotes is from Edmund Wilson. He says, “No two people read the same book.” I think that’s true and wonderful. And now that I’ve experienced a writing retreat I can say that no two writers write the same book, even if they cover the same subject.

And I think that’s pretty wonderful too.

And now I’m off to eat some Dauntless cake. Happy ALLEGIANT Day!

Retreat

This blog will be short today. I’m wrapping up my current WIP in order to prepare for the Arkansas SCBWI Retreat this weekend. So consider this Diet Blog. Or if you prefer, Blog Light-same great taste, now with fewer calories.
I’m excited for the retreat this weekend. I can’t wait to meet other YA/MG writers in my area. I have the most supportive family and friends there are, but sometimes the things my brain comes up with are incomprehensible to them. Quite frequently, I find myself thinking, “another writer would understand this.” I hope to meet some this weekend who will.
I also look forward to hearing what a professional editor has to say about my story concept/synopsis/first pages. I’m nervous about it, but looking forward to it anyway. I find myself imagining how that meeting will go. Sometimes I picture her praising me for my brilliance, demanding to read my full MS, and calling every agent she knows to tell them to represent me immediately. I also picture her patting me on the arm, offering to drive me home, and telling me not to quit my day job. Ever.

The actuality of the situation will lie somewhere in the middle of those. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Meanwhile, I’ve got one hand on my laptop revising and the other one stuffing my comfy clothes in a suitcase. Retreat, here I come!

Everything I Know About Writing, I Learned from Tim Gunn

Not too long ago I was able to hear Tim Gunn from Project Runway speak at a local college. I found him to be exactly as I expected-articulate, captivating, and engaging.  I left the auditorium a bigger fan than I had been before.

I would love to have Tim Gunn as my mentor. The big problem with that is that I can barely sew on a button. In fact, the likelihood of me making it to Project Runway is roughly equal to the likelihood that monk robes worn with combat boots will come into fashion.  (If they do, you heard it here first.)

 As I’ve watched Project Runway this season, it occurred to me that I didn’t have to suffer through the stress and anguish of a reality show for Tim Gunn to be my mentor-a lot of his advice can apply to writing as well as fashion.  I’m using these Tim Gunnisms to help my story be articulate, captivating, and engaging. 

  • A good designer can mix fabrics.  Translation: Stories can cross genres. Don’t be afraid to throw a little Romance into your Sci-Fi, or some Mystery into your Horror story.  Your story will be broader and richer for it.  But be careful-throwing a plaid with a polka dot with a floral could end up looking “bag lady” if you’re not careful.
  • Raw edges can be beautiful when done in the correct way.  Translation: Often times the best scenes are full of raw emotion. Those can be the hardest to write, but when you “get it” you know. If you’re wiping the tears as you type, then your readers are likely going to wipe them as they read.
  • Step back and look at your garment; know when to edit.  Translation: Know when to edit.  It’s not always easy to remove a great scene or snippy piece of dialogue.  But if it isn’t necessary to move the plot along, cut it out with a big ole’ pair of scissors. Keep the readers engaged, not bored with unnecessary detail and wandering plots.  (Save those little snippets that you cut in a remnant file and use them as embellishments in future stories.)
  • Move elements on your garment to other places to enhance the look.  Translation: Be flexible with your scenes.  Don’t be afraid to move things around to find the best way to tell your story.
  • Use the accessory wall thoughtfully.  Translation: Too many bells and whistles and gold cobra arm bands can confuse your readers and throw your story out of balance.  I wrote a scene for my WIP that involved a crazy man, a pit full of pointed sticks, a ninja move by my protagonist, and a first kiss.  Was the scene awesome? Of course. Was it necessary? See also: Know when to edit.

 Creating a story is like designing a garment-start with a fantastic fabric (story premise), make a pattern (plot), then stitch together great dress (write your story), finish the hem (polish and edit), let the stylists design the perfect look (work with editors, agents and publishers),and send it down the runway (publish your story).

 Now in the words of my mentor, Tim Gunn,  “Make it work!”

Potent Quotables

For writers, there is absolutely nothing as thrilling as writing a scene, or line, or even a word that you just know is right.  In those moments when the stars align, we bask in the glory of accomplishment and satisfaction.  And it is good.

But then there are other moments when we know things aren’t clicking and the writing process stalls, and stutters, and we want to hurl our computers across the room. (Or is that just me?) Because let’s just face it, writing is hard, y’all.

Oftentimes when I hit a frustrating patch, I turn to the source of my writing passion – words.

I like to use my favorite books as inspiration.  I’ve found myself re-reading books a lot more since I made the decision to actively work toward publication.  I’m not reading them to steal ideas or mimic writing styles because I want my works to be all me.  I refer back to them because I enjoy reliving those moments when I was enraptured by the stories.  I’ve found that every time I’m stalled or frustrated, reading unlocks something in my brain and the words come easier and I’m far more productive.

One of my favorite quotes is from Stephen King.  He says, “Books are uniquely portable magic.”

They are.  They take me away and they lead me back again.

Just for fun, here are some of my favorite go-to quotes of the moment (from some of my favorite books!)

Like and equal are not the same thing at all.  –Madeleine L’Engle,  A Wrinkle in Time

Becoming fearless isn’t the point. That’s impossible. It’s learning how to control your fear and how to be free from it.   –Veronica Roth, Divergent,

I spent my life folded between the pages of books.  –Tahereh Mafi, Shatter Me

Fall off your own roof. — Veronica Rossi, Under the Never Sky

The lie took form as she spoke, pulling on as many strands of truth as it could reach. –Scott Westerfeld, Uglies

And because I’m me, here’s one more Divergent for the road:

Then I realize what it is. It’s him. Something about him makes me feel like I’m about to fall. Or turn to liquid. Or burst into flames. –Veronica Roth, Divergent

What are your favorite book quotes?