Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Making Characters Come Alive

There is still so much about writing that I'm learning. I'm always learning, everyone is. But one thing I've been working on lately is making my characters, including the minor characters be more than one dimensional cut outs.

How to do this?

There are a couple of ways. One, for characters who play a significant role in my story I go online and find pictures of what I think that person looks like. Now I have a concrete visual that I can use in description.

Another way is to find out things about the character, even if it does not seem relevant to the story line. What job does the person have? What sports do they like? What things do they carry around in their pockets? What music do they listen to? The more I know about my characters the more real they become and the easier it is to make them come alive on page.

As a very minor example. In my newest book, Honestly, Ali, leaves the headmaster's office and runs past the secretary at her desk. I could have just left it at that. It's a minor point, but I describe it this way.

I hurried out, through the outer office, past Mrs. King who always had a smile for everyone and a big bowl of candy on her desk.
This tells us something, however small about Mrs. King and makes her more real.

A tactic I use with major characters is to have them tell me who they are. I assign them an essay entitled "Who I Am". What the character tells me in that essay doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the story at hand, but it gives me a better feel for who the character is over all. 

For example, the fact that although Ali's mother is a movie-star, Ali is fashion-challenged, is a running joke throughout all the Ali books. In fact the first book starts with Ali realizing that her Mickey Mouse t-shirt may not have been the best choice to wear on that particular day. It's a minor point, but it helps to keep Ali real throughout the books.

What tactics do you use to make your characters come alive?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Guest Author Post

I thought I'd share my latest guest author post from Lachesis Publishing:

**Originally posted athttp://lachesispublishing.com/?p=3338


Our guest blog today is from Lachesis Author Kim Baccellia. Kim writes YA paranormal with a mixture of humor, sass, and spookiness. Her book Crossed Out (book 1 in a series) follows a teenage girl who can see dead people and has to get them to cross over. But an evil force is trying to stop her from doing this.

Our ongoing topic is: what inspires your writing? Over to you Kim . . .
Inspiration for me really depends on what I’m working on at that time. For my YA paranormal Crossed Out, I watched a lot of TV shows like Joan of Arcadia, Dead like Me, Medium, and Ghost Whisperer. My favorite TV series had to be Joan of Arcadia as I loved the idea of God speaking to a teen through other people. Stephanie shared the same conflicts and struggles of Joan whenever she had to go on a heavenly quest.



** Joan of Arcadia photo courtesy of TvTropes.org

When I start a project, I love to totally get involved. I even went to a psychic or two to get a real feel for the paranormal world. I admit I’m a huge sucker for anything that deals with the paranormal. I blame my love on my mother who used to write down the horoscope signs of her Sunday school kids on this huge bulletin board in order to get a real sense of their personalities. **Yes, this didn’t go over too well with the Mormon community but that only encouraged me to read up on astrology. As a teen I would buy monthly horoscope books to find out what ‘might’ be my own path. I used my findings to put a spin on a horoscope column in my middle school paper. It was a hit! Oh, if anyone is curious, my sign is Aquarius.


Music is a huge part of my writing process. For Crossed Out, I listened to lots of Linkin Park. The song, ‘What I’ve Done’, is Stephanie’s theme song and reflects her struggles/conflicts of her calling as a Rescuer—someone who helps murdered teens cross to the Other side. ‘Numb’ is another song that reflects how Stephanie feels toward her mother’s secrets and expectations of her. To get into Dylan’s head I listened to lots of Christian Pop groups including Casting Crowns. The song I listened to during his confrontation with Mark in the basement of a coffee house was ‘Set Me Free’. At first Dylan has a hard time accepting the idea that someone like Stephanie can interfere with the Other Side. **My own childhood experiences with the church warnings about not messing with the paranormal are seen through Dylan’s eyes.


I also love to use Pinterest to post photos of characters, scenery, and other fun things. You can follow me there.
In my current project, a New Adult multicultural thriller, I have photos of my Latina protagonist and her love interests set in a harsh desert backdrop. I purchased iStock photos to use on my Pinterest boards.


My other project takes place in Paris with a fifteen-year-old Audrey Hepburnolic who finds herself a goddess magnet, but not in a good way. This is the second book in my goddess series. The photo on the right is one pic that I use for my inspiration.



Image courtesy Istock.com

Here’s a glimpse at my work station:


Yes, and I can’t write unless I have one of their yummy drinks. My all-time favorites have to be any of their ice tea lattes with sugar-free chocolate powder. Right now I love their Blueberry Pomegranate ice tea latte with a shot of espresso.


Books inspire me too. I seriously get withdrawal pains if I don’t have a book or two close at hand. I love to do research for all of my novels. For Crossed Out I read One Last Time by psychic John Edward.


And another huge plus for doing research has to be the Internet. I love Google Earth as it takes me to places I otherwise couldn’t visit. I’m currently exploring the streets of Paris!


Inspiration doesn’t stop there. I’ve been known to use other artist’s talents


Image courtesy artist Liz Jones

such as this painting done by the very talented Liz Jones! It shows characters from my novels Earrings of Ixtumea, a YA multicultural fantasy, and Crossed Out. On the bottom right hand corner of the painting are illustrations of Stephanie with her cross talisman and Dylan with his trusted surfboard.

Finally a big shout out to my local chapter of the RWA (Romance Writers of America) OCC RWA that helps inspire me to continue writing by being very supportive and encouraging. I love the events. Here I am getting into the Mardi gras spirit at the last RWA Birthday Bash:


Inspiration can come to me in many different mediums and places. Instead of waiting for the so-called Muse to work magic, I go out and find it. You never know when a song, movie, book, or even tea latte might get the creative juices flowing! And dark chocolate doesn’t hurt either!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

When All Else Fails - Research!



Currently at work on the third book of my Bridgeton Park Cemetery series, I just reached a point where the story branch I was following has disappeared into a wall, and nothing else is occurring. When I had a little less writing experience, this sort of speed bump would throw me into a panic. It took some time before I realized that getting stuck occasionally was not necessarily writer's block, but was more like a re-orienting to what part of the story needed to be told next. So now when inspiration becomes hard to find, I have learned that the best trick up my sleeve, my most efficient, fall-back, writing-related activity -  is research.

Now for me, that can come under the guise of googling a detail for my story (Lorado Taft's stunning but frightening grave marker "Eternal Silence"), reading (all writers must read, mustn't they?), or watching one of my favorite paranormal reality shows (Ghost Hunters, The Haunting of...., Celebrity Ghost Stories, Paranormal Witness, etc.), or -and best of all- looking up ghost tours for upcoming travels (we're going to Williamsburg, VA in a couple of months).

Because I am obsessed with the paranormal, I don't have a difficult time entertaining myself with what can easily be found, whether in books, on TV, or on the Internet. I happily waste, er, use up hours on my research.

The thing is, though, when I'm doing this sort of digging around, all kinds of details start suggesting themselves to my muse, whispering bits of inspiration into the back of my mind, giving me glimpses of the sorts of hauntings my characters will face, even just suggesting particular words and phrases that I know are good for giving me goose bumps, and therefore good for unsettling my readers.

I also find interesting items that just may turn up in the next book or, even better, kick off an entirely new story that will hopefully find a home in one of my future works. And once my mind is free to play with that, then the flood of details and dialogue and situations I have been seeking bubbles to the fore and I can continue working on my current project, excited all over again to sit down at the keyboard.

Research, like music, seems to help me find a way to tap into that part of me that sees stories and needs to share them. Sometimes when I am slogging away on a novel, I forget about that inner excitement and urgency that results in what I hope will be a great read for someone else. Research helps me calm down my inner panic and work my way back to productivity. Is that true for you as well?

Friday, March 28, 2014

YA Steampunk

Last weekend I was on a panel at MidSouthCon 32 about YA Steampunk. The panel description was “How to use/write steampunk in YA”, with an additional comment that “Steampunk is huge, especially in YA.” Panelists were Missa Dixon, Jennifer Mulvihill, Sharon Rawlins, Kimberly Richardson, and Kathryn Sullivan (me). Three authors of steampunk stories, a YA librarian and an editor (also author) of steampunk anthologies brought several different outlooks to the panel.

Like YA, Steampunk can cover so many other genre: alternate history, science fiction, mystery, romance, pirates, adventure, thriller, or Westerns. Even fantasy can be steampunk. I’ve read both those with a magic versus machines theme and those with just magic elements or beings. Dragons as well as elves and dwarves appear often in both versions. (Just to mention that I have a short story, “The Taste of Treasure” in Clockwork Spells and Magical Bells which has a competition between an elf and the Dwarfking’s children) Steampunk is usually associated with the Victorian age, but the stories don’t always have to be set in that time period.

The appeal of Steampunk is that the science is understandable. Steam power and electricity are not as complicated as, say, nuclear power, and much easier for do-it-yourselfers to figure out how things work and visualize how to construct things (and I’m not just referring to the costumes, though the panel did get slightly distracted on that point). Materials needed to construct a steam-powered or electric-powered machine are also easier for the average person to obtain or make, rather those in modern day science fiction stories (which requires the character to be a millionaire or backed by the government of a small country at the very least). The heroes of a steampunk story (both male and female) can be not only the good fighters and adventurers, but also (depending on the story) the engineers and the inventors, the MacGyvers and the Teslas, the people who “fix things”.

Sharon Rawlins provided a handout of YA Steampunk titles, which included Gail Carriger’s Finishing School series, Cassandra Clare’s Infernal Devices series, Kenneth Oppel’s Airborn series, Philip Reeves’ Larklight series, and Tiffany Trent’s The Unnaturalists, just to name a few. The panelists mentioned other titles they could recommend. The Friday Society by Adrienne Kress and The Jupiter Pirates series by Jason Fry are ones I can add to the list. Girl Genius is an example of a steampunk webcomic of interest to many ages.

There have been television shows that embodied steampunk before the term ever existed: The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne with Michael Praed, Legend with Richard Dean Anderson and John de Lancie, and even The Wild, Wild West with Robert Conrad and Ross Martin. A example of a show today that has steampunk elements is Warehouse 13.

Writing YA Steampunk means focusing on both YA and Steampunk. Good YA (and Middle Grade) has characters that do things rather than just letting things happen to them. No matter how dark things became in A Series of Unfortunate Events, one panelist pointed out, she could always count on Violet rolling up her sleeves and taking charge to put things right.

All three authors as well as Kimberly Richardson (editor and author) are published with Dark Oak Press, so we all had experience with one publisher that publishes Steampunk. Anthologies allow for more varieties of approaches. Kimberly Richardson mentioned what she looked for in stories submitted to her, both in terms of believable technology and characters.

What YA and Middle Grade Steampunk stories have you enjoyed?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

THE WRITING LIFE

Sometimes the writing life is exciting. New books coming out. Tours to take. Book Blasts for fun.
Sometimes writing is a lot of work. Drafting a new story. Revising an old one. Editing for the editor.
Then sometimes writing is waiting. Waiting for final edits. Waiting for a cover. Waiting for reviews, and so on and so on. Today, I'm in all of these stages.
Ah! What a life!
In the meantime, since my mind is on overload already, I'm cross posting a little more about the writing life from my BlogSpot, which I cross posted from the MuseItYoung and MuseItUp blog. Enjoy.
 
First, here's my desk where my creative mind goes to work. Or doesn't.
 
 

 
How I write!

I seldom make an outline. When a little voice whispers in my ear, telling me his/her story, I sit down at the computer and start writing. I let the character(s) show me the way. I ask them questions, and hopefully they give me answers. Sometimes I jot down what I think will happen next or in a later chapter. Sometimes the story happens that way; other times not.

I work better when I have a schedule. Since I usually write more than one story at a time, each day I plan which story to work on that day. On a yellow tablet I list my goals for the day. I do not always reach them. No problem. I circle the ones I did not accomplish to work on the next day.

Writing brings me joy. When the final two words, THE END, are written, I've accomplished my goal. Then the revisions start. In the meantime, I may be editing a forthcoming story for my editor. If that's happening, I set aside time to edit.

Writing is also stressful at times. When I spend all morning on one paragraph, and it still isn't right, frustration sets in. Time to put the story aside for another day. Also, waiting to hear on a submission can have me biting my fingernails. Does the publisher like the story? Does it stink? Should I give up and go back to teaching? All sorts of doubts about my ability as a writer surface.

Do I quit? No way. I suck in a breath and face my characters, hoping they have wonderful ideas for me today.

Happy Writing!


 
 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Life at 900 Miles Per Hour




It's been pretty busy around these parts of late. Not really with the new book, though we've sent out some electronic galleys to writers in order to gather some cover blurbs.Giving them time to read the book while they do all of THEIR own writing stuff. I thank them for whatever effort they can give.

I've been writing, of course, though it seems to be going slowly. And I've been doing a lot of other stuff for book promo, all the pre-pub stuff that needs to be done. Mostly booking appearances. My May looks like a maniac's calendar. So far I am booked at the following places:

May 10-11: Maryland Faerie Festival
May 17-18: Steampunk World's Fair
May 24-26: Balticon

If this isn't enough, there's also a chance of my heading up to BEA the weekend after Balticon, just to hang out with other Strange Chemistry people and maybe meet my editor, Amanda. We'll see if that happens. These events above, I'm mostly doing promo for the book -- handing out postcards and bookmarks, and maybe some other goodies if I can get my crap together. I need something really cool. But since the cover isn't ready yet I can't quite do that. Hopefully soon!!! Once that cover comes out, I'll be doing a cover reveal at YABC and all over the place!

Oh, and at Balticon I'll also be launching GASLIGHT AND GRIMM, a Steampunk anthology coming from Darkquest Books, where I have a story, as well as (hopefully), Alma Alexander's new YA book RANDOM, and the new Steampunk YA, ALI BABA AND THE CLOCKWORK DJINN, both coming from Palomino Press.

THEN, I'll be on faculty for the NJSCBWI conference at the end of June. And finally, I'll be at CONvergence July 3-6. Or mostly July 4-5, since the 3rd and 6th will be travel days. Now, at THAT convention I WILL be signing ARCs of the new book, stationed at the Strange Chemistry book in the dealer's room. There may even be some kind of SCB reception/meet-the-readers kind of thing. Not sure yet.

Yes, the schedule is packed. And somewhere in there I will also be working on the launch party for A CURSE OF ASH AND IRON, which looks like it will probably be in a Haddonfield, NJ in September, and then booking up some signings after that, before I go to the Baltimore Book Festival at the end of Sept.

And, if that that wasn't enough, in the middle of all this...I got a new job. I haven't really been talking about it too much because it sort of happened in Slo-Motion. First I sent a resume, then I had an interview, then another...then I got the offer, then I had to wait for their school board to approve me, then I had to submit my resignation at my old job and give my notice. Now it's all paperwork to be finished.

I am really happy about the new job. I will miss the people and the kids where I am now, but in the end it's the right choice for me for about a million reasons. Older kids and older kid books (its a K-8 school). Structure. Dependability. All kinds of other things that would take another ten pages to explain. It's not any closer to my house, the money is slightly less, but in the end it's what I need to do.  And, of course, the timing is terrible. I'll be starting right in the middle of state testing, right at the end of the year...and right before my writing life goes from 0-60mph in about 2 seconds. I start April 30.  I know, I must be an idiot, but this is the way it had to go.

I WILL make it. I won't bail, or fall. And in July, I will sleep. And sleep. And hopefully have enough of the new books done that I can spend the summer revising and turn them in in the Fall. Sigh.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Spring is Right Around the Corner...no, really!

For those of you who live in Southern climes perhaps you don't anticipate Spring in much the same way we do who have been battling snow and cold all winter long. I think I can speak for most people in the Northeast when I say, we are ready for Spring.

Besides warmer temperatures and open windows and lack of snow on the road, Spring is a time of new beginnings. A time to see things fresh again. We revel in the flowers and green grass and we feel ambitious and start Spring cleaning.

Or Spring editing as the case may be. I've been busy working with my publisher on edits for Honestly, Ali, the third book in the Ali Caldwell series. At the same time I'm going over the first draft of book four of the series and revising and fixing that. It's rather invigorating. It's time to throw out what doesn't work and polish what does - just like we go through our closets and get rid of clothes we no longer wear.

So, while I wait for actual spring-like weather to show up, I will look at old pictures of flowers (like the one above) and let my editing bring Spring's newness and freshness to me.