Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Query Take Three

The major feedback from Monday was "need more plot" but "love the last line" (which I do too!). So here is my second attempt at the query. What do you guys think? Too much? Not enough? Would you read it?

So keeping in mind Krista's reminder about needing to establish character, conflict, and stakes in a query, what do you guys think of the following:

Take Two:
Chris is doomed to life as a Norm--a normal 17-year-old, that is--until his wizard father develops an amulet that grants even the most un-magical of people wizard powers. After years of being the family pariah, as the only Norm in a family of wizards, Chris has the power he always wanted and his father is finally proud of him.

Finally a wizard, Chris is now allowed to attend Southeast Paranormal High School with his siblings and best friend. At Para High, popularity and power are intrinsically linked, and after Chris saves his classmates from an attack by a vicious spirit, he takes his places as the most popular student at the school.

However not everyone is happy with the development of his late and unexpected powers. The beautiful, MIT bound Marilla rebuffs all of Chris's attempts at friendship with suspicion, and when Chris's best friend, Jeremy, discovers Chris's powers are unnatural, he demands that Chris give up the amulet, which he views to be a threat to Norm and Para kind.

But Chris won't go back to the way life was before: being a reject in his own family and a second-class citizen. And now he's the most powerful wizard to ever live--powerful enough to tweak the minds of those who confront him.

After all, what's a little mind control  between friends?

THE DESCENT OF CHRIS CHAPPELL is an 81,000 word YA paranormal fantasy told from the viewpoints of both Chris and Marilla.

OK! So due to mid-day feedback, TAKE THREE!

Chris Chappell is doomed to life as a Norm--a normal 17-year-old, that is--until his wizard father develops an amulet that grants even the most un-magical of people wizard powers. After years of being the family pariah, as the only Norm in the Chappell family, Chris has the power he always wanted and his father is finally proud of him.

Officially a wizard, Chris is eligible to attend Southeast Paranormal High School with his siblings and best friend. At Para High, popularity and power are intrinsically linked, and after Chris saves his classmates from attack by a vicious spirit, he takes his place as the most popular student at the school.

However, not everyone is impressed with Chris's limitless powers. The beautiful, MIT bound Marilla rebuffs all of Chris's attempts at friendship. Being scientifically minded, Marilla is naturally suspicious of people who rely on magic to get them everything, but as she gets to know Chris, she finds her defenses weakening.

When his best friend, Jeremy, discovers Chris's powers are unnatural, Jeremy demands that Chris give up the amulet, which is a threat to both Norm and Para kind. But Chris will not go back to the way life was before: being a reject in his own family and a second-class citizen. And now he's the most powerful wizard to ever live--powerful enough to tweak the minds of those who confront him.

After all, what's a little mind control between friends?

THE DESCENT OF CHRIS CHAPPELL is an 81,000 word YA paranormal fantasy told from the viewpoints of both Chris and Marilla.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Query Help!!

My dear, lovely, wonderful readers, today I need your assistance. I recently finished revising The Descent of Chris Chappell. It's down to a beautiful, lovely 81,000 words. (Uh...well beautiful, tragic 81,000 is probably a better description). And my beta readers have their hands on it as we speak, trying to turn it into a masterpiece.

But you see, I really hate query writing, and if I'm ever going to get published, I need to have a killer query. So below is the query for my story, and I would really really appreciate it if you guys could give me your reactions and feedback.

The most important question one must ask themselves when giving query feedback is: would you want to read the story the query is describing. So if you could especially help answer that question, (and why or why not) I would greatly appreciate it.

Any other advice/nitpicks/thoughts/feelings/concerns are greatly appreciated.

So without further ado, the QUERY:

Chris is doomed to the life of a Norm—a normal American 17-year-old that is—until his wizard father develops an amulet to grant even the most normal of people wizard powers. It’s all Chris ever wanted. With the amulet he becomes praiseworthy, popular, and powerful.

But not everyone is happy with the development of Chris’s late and unexpected powers, including Chris’s best friend, Jeremy. He thinks being a Norm is nothing to be ashamed of and realizes the dangerous implications of the amulet. It allows Chris to draw his power from the world around him, instead of from himself like a true wizard, giving him unlimited power. If it got into the wrong hands, the wielder of the amulet would be unstoppable. The amulet’s very existence is a danger to both wizard and Norm kind. Chris, however, is not willing to go back to being the shame of his family. He won’t go back to being on the outside looking in. And he’s now the most powerful wizard to ever live—powerful enough to tweak the minds of those who confront him.

After all, what’s a little mind control between friends?

The Descent of Chris Chappell is an 81,000 word YA paranormal fantasy told from two points of view.

So would you want to read this story? Why or why not? Other thoughts?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving? Already?

The other day at work, I was on the phone for a telecon. I was discussing scheduling stuff, trying to make sure we had time to get everything in, when someone said, "You know Thanksgiving is next week, right?"

No, I didn't. Somehow, I thought we had an entirely extra week in November and that Thanksgiving wasn't [what is now] this week but rather the week after. I feel like I've lost an entire week somewhere, guys. 

This week is Thanksgiving!

Which means Christmas is only like a month away, and that a HUGE HUGE HUGE work deadline is shortly after that, and A MEMORY OF LIGHT is only weeks away! (No longer months! We can talk in weeks!) 

And I'm not ready for any of these things. 

I still have Christmas presents I haven't bought, which is highly unusual for me. Normally, by Thanksgiving, I have all the presents I need to buy hidden in my closet. (Though why I hide them when I live alone and there is no one around to find them, I don't know). I don't have my plane ticket for flying home for Christmas purchased (which means it's going to cost me an arm and a leg). And all in all I'm just unprepared for it to be Christmas.

Let's not even get into how unprepared I am for the work deadline. Might be working some long hours coming up.

So are you guys ready for Thanksgiving and Christmas? Am I the only one it snuck up on this year?    

Friday, November 16, 2012

City of Bones Movie Trailer

Despite the fact I tend to write YA, you guys know I'm not a huge fan of it. Don't get me wrong, I love a lot of YA books, but unlike "adult" or "MG" books which I generally always like, YA books and I have a long and tortured history.

So when I say I'm super fan-girl excited about the City of Bones movie (being billed as "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones"), you know I don't say that lightly. But I loved the book. And this trailer looks seriously amazing:

Now if you haven't read the book I know what some of you guys are thinking. It just seems like another Twilight ripoff. The trailer seems all "girl and guy inexplicably drawn to each other" and "only this girl can save the world" and "blah blah every YA trope ever made into existence. I know guys. I know. 

But that is not what this book is like; go read my short review of the book and come back.

Read it? Good. I know the review was also vague. So let's get into some enticing clarifications.

Imagine a villain who has all the ferocity and power of Voldemort, topped with the suave and charm we're told Voldemort had as a younger man. The sort of villain who doesn't just attract your regular "evil" types, but also decent people with his words and ideas. A revolutionary if you will, whose revolution turns out to be darker than anyone expected.

And imagine that villain is played by Jonathan Rhys Meyer. 

What? That's not enough for you? Ok, I get it, you want to actually know what the plot is about. 

Clary, a regular average girl, witnesses two teens murder another teen in a dance club. When she freaks out and tries to report it, no one else sees what she's talking about. Shortly after, her mother goes missing and Clary is attacked by a strange creature in her own home. She is saved by the a fore mentioned murderer--an enigmatic boy named Jace--and taken to his home, the "Institute", a training ground for "Shadowhunters".

Shadowhunters are half angel/half human, also known as the Nephilim. They essentially police the fantastical underbelly of our world: where werewolves, vampires, and demons live. By all rights, as a "mundane" (i.e. muggle, normal person), Clary shouldn't have been able to see the murder of the demon in the club. And neither should have mother been kidnapped. 

There must be more to Clary than there seems to be. And as everyone will soon discover, Clary is not the only one with a hidden past. No one is who they seem to be. And there is a villain who has been orchestrating everything from the shadows.

In short, it's going to be awesome.

And you should totally read the book.

(P.S. Remember when I mentioned Magnus Bane as a member of my Alien Response team a while back? Magnus Bane is from this book.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Draft Zero

Since tomorrow marks halfway through the month of November, it seems appropriate to post about how NaNoWriMo is going for me. And long story short it’s harder than I expected.

I expected NaNoWriMo to be easy. You’re talking to the girl who once busted out 10,000 words in four hours. I live and breathe writing. I have loved writing since the sixth grade when I wrote that first terrible Star Wars story. (Note: It wasn’t terrible because it was Star Wars. It was terrible because it had no plot. Also, for the record, though it probably does count as fan fiction, all of the characters were completely original. It just took place in the Star Wars universe. Basically, I shortcut world building). Writing is what I do. All the time. For fun.

So I thought getting 50,000 words in a month would be no problem. Instead I’ve found it to be intensely painful every step of the way.

The words didn’t flow like I was used to. I realized that as much as I knew about my main character, Zeke, I actually didn’t know him. I only knew the text book facts of his life. I didn’t know him as a person. I didn’t know his voice. And it wasn’t just him, my main character, I didn’t know. It was everyone. Every side character, every friend and enemy Zeke has. I didn’t know who these people were.

And that’s when I realized something.

I was trying to write a Draft One, when I wasn’t ready to. I needed to write a Draft Zero first.

“Draft Zero” may be an unfamiliar term to you. I’m not sure it’s something I’ve ever heard someone else use, though in my head I use it all the time. I’m just going to go ahead and blame my boss in my day job for this one, since he’s talks a lot about “Zeroeth Order Success”. Essentially, a level below the level that should be first…

So why do I say “Draft Zero” instead of “Draft One”? Well, because I’ve discovered there are two different kinds of first drafts.

The kind of used to dealing with recently is what I’d call a Draft One. It’s a draft of a new story in a world I completely understand with characters I completely understand. Sometimes, that’s because it’s a sequel (though I tend to not write too many sequels as of right now). With a sequel, I’m writing in a world I already completely created. I don’t need to stop every too pages and ask myself if people would behave a certain way in that world or what sort of technology they have. I already know that. Often, I already know most of the characters too. They are the same people from the previous story, or people closely involved with the people in the previous story. I know who these people are. I understand their world.

But sometimes it’s not a sequel. More often than not, for me, it’s a world I created a long time ago and wrote a (terrible) story in when I was younger. I was an extremely prolific writer in my middle school and high school years. I created new worlds all the time, and I wrote down as many details and thoughts about them as I could. Most of them I even wrote stories about. And they were pretty terrible. Epically terrible even. However, in college I re-discovered a lot of those old stories, and I re-imagined them. This worked very similar to any sequel work I’ve done. In many ways I already understood the worlds. I might have to redefine an aspect or two, or sometimes I even mashed two old worlds together to create a new world which required a lot of rework, but for the most part it was like smoothing out something I already created. More like the revision process than the draft process, even though essentially every word I wrote was brand new and nothing like what I wrote in my younger days.

A perfect example of this would be The Descent of Chris Chappell. The idea for that story had been in my head since I was fourteen. And I finally wrote a first draft last year, literally ten years after I had the idea. For ten years that idea was stewing in the back of my mind, pulling in all sorts of awesome creative juices. For ten years I had been writing random scenes and sequences, figuring out who these characters were. And then one day it just clicked. Thus the 10,000 words in 4 hours. I wrote a first draft. It wasn’t beautiful. It needed a lot of work. (Still needs a lot of work. I’m almost done with Draft 2). But it came to me fairly easily. Because these characters were people I’d known for ten years.

Which brings us to the idea of a Draft Zero. This is a completely new story. I had the idea for the setting for this world maybe a year ago, and didn’t play around with it much. I just wrote it down somewhere that this would be a cool world. And then for NaNoWriMo I decided to write a story in that world.

And it’s not going well. Because I’m expecting it to work like a Draft One. And it’s not. It’s a Draft Zero.

In a Draft One process, I know things are going to need to be revised but that for the most part they are working in the right direction. In this Draft Zero process, I don’t even know that. I’ve written ten chapters (20,000 words!) and I’m just now beginning to know who these characters are. I don’t even know them fully. Essentially every sentence, every word, and every idea I’ve written is going to have to be completely thrown out.

What I’m learning is that this draft is completely crap. Completely. And I’m going to have throw the whole thing out.

Just like I did with those old drafts in high school.

This crappy draft is what my old drafts in high school were to my recent stories, as in it barely counts as existing. Hence, Draft Zero.

Before NaNoWriMo began I never realized how long it had been since I’ve done a Draft Zero. In undergrad I worked almost exclusively in one world, the world of Spirit Riddled, which I’ve written about fairly often here. I created that story, from scratch my sophomore year. It wasn’t based on anything from high school, but that sophomore was extremely creatively productive and I essentially created a Draft Zero. It wasn’t a pure draft in many ways. I wrote well over 80,000 words on just random scenes between characters and events that I thought might come to pass. And then I went back and wrote a draft one. Then I revised it. Twice. Revising it for a third time before shopping it around has been on my list of things to do for quite some time.

Then I began to focus on Descent. Which had tons of Draft Zero work done in high school on it.

There was one other original story I began to work on in undergrad and I would argue it’s still in the Draft Zero phase. I’ve written tons of backstory and what I think might happen, but I haven’t actually started on a Draft One yet.

And I guess this NaNoWriMo has really taught me that the Draft Zero is critical to my writing process.

I just can’t sit down and write 50,000 continuous words in the same story and expect to feel good about it, and expect to call that my first draft. That’s not how my process works. I need to give myself more freedom than that. I need to write 80,000 words of what might be, what could be, just to develop the world and how the characters interact with each other. Those 80,000 words don’t need to be continuous. They can be fun scenes. They can be pointless scenes where characters do nothing but talk and interact. They can be nothing that will ever, ever make it into a finished draft.

And that’s ok. That’s my process. Because I’m a weird mix of a gardener and an architect. I can’t write a story without a plan, without a vague outline. But I can’t write an outline without having detailed knowledge of who my characters are and what world they live in. And I can only create that knowledge with free form writing. So I make a test garden, where I plant whatever the heck I want and watch how it grows. Then when I see what those seeds become, I go back and I design a brand new garden.

If I get nothing else out of NaNoWriMo this month other than it has taught me this critical fact about my process, then that’s ok. And from this moment on, I’m going to go forward with my NaNoWriMo in a different way. I will write 50,000 words, but I’m not going to feel rushed to make it a story, to make it coherent. I’m going to have my characters walk in a corridor talking back in forth just to see what happens. I’m going to isolate them in a room just to see what happens. I’m going to write about characters who will never appear in the story just to explore the world.

And that's ok. 

So how about you, what's your process?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Happy Veteran's Day!

Happy Veteran's Day! I would like to give a big shout out to all the vet's who have served our country and the people who are currently serving our country.

On this day, I give a shout out to my dad, who was a Commander in the Navy as well as to my many friends who are in the Air Force, especially Kelly who is currently deployed overseas. We miss you here in Albuquerque and can't wait for you to come back.

I'd also like to take a moment to remember my friend Mike McGahan, who gave his life for this country.

And when I think about people fighting and dying for their country, I always think about Les Mis. So in honor of Veteran's Day, here is the latest International Trailor for the Les Mis movie, which comes out this Christmas.

Look beyond the barricade, dear readers, and fight for freedom.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Avenge America!

Click here for the Shirt this Image Comes From

I don't like talking about politics, but since tomorrow is the presidential election, it's sort of the topic of the day. So I want to talk about the presidential candidate I would love to endorse. If he was real.

Steve Rogers. With running mate: Tony Stark.

You laugh because well...they're not real and they're Avengers. But honestly, if these two men were real and ran for president, I would vote for them in an instant.

Let's put aside the fact that if we lived in the world of the movie Avengers, both men were critical in saving us from an alien invasion and the nuking of New York City. If that doesn't make you a shoe in for office, I don't know what does. But that's not why I would vote for them.

I would vote for them, because I think these two men would stand for pretty much everything I believe in. America and Science. 

Steve is the All-American. He is freaking Captain America. He stands for truth, justice, and the American way. He's a legitimately good guy and he grew up as a Brooklyn underdog. Essentially he's one of the 99%. 

Some might argue that Steve would be a little too old fashioned for office. He was a young man in the 1930's and 1940's. But I would argue, who would better understand the importance of getting America's economy straight then a man who was a teen and young adult during the Great Depression? 

He's a Christian, which would win him the South, but a New Yorker, which would help bring in the Northeast. People might be afraid he'd be a little backward. A man from the 1940's...might he be a little bigoted and backwards? You forget that Captain America led a strike force made up of men of multiple ethnicities and nationalities. You forget that he fell in love with a woman who was a trusted agent of the British Government in a time when women weren't trusted to do much. You forget that this is the man who doesn't judge Dr. Banner on the fact that he occasionally turns into an uncontrollable rage monster. Steve Rogers is exactly the sort of man who judges you based on your actions and merits, not on your history, ethnicity, gender, or even sexual orientation. And he's the sort of man who believes that the American Dream should extend to all of these people.

Which makes Steve a little bit of an idealist, which is not necessarily the perfect man for an office. But that is why he needs Tony Stark to balance him and to keep him in touch with the modern world. Tony would also bring in the vote of the wealthy, since as a billionaire-himself, the wealthy would trust him not to completely screw them over. Of course, Steve is the presidential candidate and not Tony. Steve would not forget about those of us who are less wealthy and would understand that the wealthy made their wealth on the greatness of America, and that means they need to help support America.

Tony would bring practicality, pragmatism, and the ability to deal with the dirty side of politics to the administration. Steve is a little too good to deal with that sort of thing, so Tony could do all the behind the scenes dealing.   

And when it comes to balancing the budget, both Tony and Steve would not allow our nation to forget the importance of science. Steve's super human strength and ability was created by science. Tony's entire life has been founded on technology and going further. They would not allow America to fall behind, but they also wouldn't allow us to become Hydra or double deal weapons under the table. Something I think we can all agree is a good thing. 

This is just a high level description of why I would vote Rogers/Stark tomorrow, if it was possible. And being superheroes, they would be up to the task of avenging America, of fixing this nation so that it is the land our forefather's lived and died for. 

Alas, neither is a candidate. But one can dream.   

Friday, November 2, 2012


The month of November is National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo. (Which for some reason I always pronounce in my head as Nano-rammo instead of Nano-rye-mo as it probably should be). Rather than just being some sort of "compliment a writer and give them a new journal" sort of thing, NaNoWriMo is instead presented as a challenge. This is the month when everyone is encouraged to write a novel, or rather 50,000 words. If you reach 50,000 words by the end of the month, you are said to have "won" NaNoWriMo.

Normally I don't "participate" in NaNoWriMo. Which isn't to say I don't write novels during the month of November. I've just never much cared to label it or push myself to get to 50,000 words by Nov 30. Being in school messes with your priorities like that. Last year, I accidentally won NaNoWriMo. Between finishing my thesis and finishing The Descent of Chris Chappell as a de-stress while writing my thesis, I think I actually managed to write somewhere around 70,000 word in the month of November. It was intense. 

For the record, I don't recommend writing technical theses and novels at the same time. It's not good for your health. 

So NaNoWriMo has never been at the top of my priority list, but this year a local friend of mine wanted to do it and asked if I would do it with her. So of course I said yes.

I say "of course" for two reasons. 

(1) WRITING BUDDY! YAY! I have so few writing buddies, and I have none outside of the internet that I know as real every day people, so I'm super excited to have someone local I can talk to about all the kinks and foibles of writing, and who gets it when I lament that I feel like I'm forcing everything and I just can't find Zeke's voice. (Also, she's awesome, my writing buddy. She's writing a YA travel novel.)

(2) I've had a terrible time getting into my writing groove now that I'm out of school. Sure I have a ton of free time, but for some reason, I just find myself not writing. I don't know if it's because my computer is in a separate room from my TV now (which is actually a big problem. I'm thinking I'm going to have to fix that this weekend, because I really need to be able to see the TV while I write) or if it's because my work has been crazy lately (working on weekends = not fun). So I'm hoping this NaNoWriMo will jolt me back into full writing mode. 

So NaNoWriMo started yesterday and I managed to write about 1200 words, which puts me under pace, but this month has two work holidays in it. I think I can catch up. 

If I can find my character's voice. *sigh*

Anyone else out there doing NaNoWriMo?