Nov 15, 2012

Guest Post: My Parents’ Library by AmyBeth Inverness

The room I’m in seems strangely devoid of books. Most of the horrid green wallpaper has been steamed away, revealing a very dirty shade of light green underneath. It’s been this way for a couple of years now; we intended to remodel the closet and repaint the room when we moved in, but the baby’s room took precedence and, well, real life intervened.

This room, which is now hubby’s and my bedroom, used to be my parents’ library. They moved here to Vermont when I was nineteen years old and away at college. I never did get to go home to Colorado; going home meant getting in an airplane and flying across the country to a state I’d never even visited.

I love this house, and so did my parents. They bought it as empty nesters, ready for grandchildren.
Sure enough, four grandchildren did come along while they lived here. It has six bedrooms; quite huge for empty-nesters, but that meant that my mother could have a sewing room and my father could have a library.

The ugly wallpaper didn’t matter too much back then because it was mostly covered over by floor-to-ceiling bookshelves that were specially built exactly for this room. It did have a bed and doubled as a guest room, but it was always called “The Library” just as if it was a formally designed room in the mansion of some hero in a historical romance. There were plenty of those Romances on the shelves, although they were overshadowed in number by the Science Fiction. Paperbacks were stacked two deep, as a four-inch softcover doesn’t take up much room on a ten inch deep shelf. My father’s collection of Analog magazines was well picked over, as various family members browsed the room and I only saved the Analogs from the year I was born when my parents decided to retire to a warmer climate. Most of the books were donated, as were the shelves. There was some argument for leaving the shelves in place, as they had been built specifically for the room, but in the end it was decided that the room should look as generic as possible for a potential buyer. Re-enter the green wallpaper.

It was bad timing to try and sell a house. In the end, instead of selling, my parents agreed that it would benefit us all if my husband and I would move in and rent from them.

Even empty, I still looked at this room as “The Library.” I certainly had enough books to fill it. But we had a growing family, and other needs. Three of the four upstairs rooms, including the library, were in desperate need of renovation or at least a coat of paint. We put our oldest kid in the only room that had already been stripped of old wallpaper and repainted. The baby moved around a little as we changed which room we were working on. She turned three, and then four, and now five. We still haven’t got around to steaming off the last of that ugly green wallpaper.

There are books all over this house. We trip over them. My youngest uses my paperbacks as building blocks. Yet, none of the six rooms is a library. I have fantasies, not of this house, but of another dream house someday. It will have a library with a vaulted ceiling so you have to use a mounted, rolling ladder to get to the books at the top. Behind that highest wall I want a hideaway for the kids, a loft space with pillows and bean bags where they can curl up and read. To get there, they can climb the ladder and go through an opening in the bookshelf. It will have another more normal entrance, too, and the shelves directly below the opening will have secure toe-holds so you can climb up as well.
There will be a large fireplace that really functions, not just for show. Besides the usual furniture of comfy chairs, there will be a table or counter with power available so that family and guests easily use their laptops. I will have unusual areas for seating, too. Maybe a window seat, or out-of-the-way nook where the reader can escape the real world for a while.

And I will be organized, with a database that lists all our books and where they can be found. A special area will showcase the signed copies of books I’ve collected from my friends and interviewees, with pictures of us together from some writing convention where we finally met in person. And my own books would be there too. Not showcased, nothing big. Just a simple shelf, so that when a new guest comes over, someone who doesn’t really know me yet, and they ask “Oh, are you a writer?” I can smile, and say “Why, yes. Yes I am.”

What are the must-haves for your own dream library?


AmyBeth’s short story The Peanut Gallery Rebellion is entered in the America’s Next Author competition! Please read it, and if you like it, click VOTE. It does not require a log in to do either. If you are feeling especially generous, leaving a review is also greatly appreciated.

A writer by birth, a redhead by choice, and an outcast of Colorado by temporary necessity, AmyBeth Inverness is a prolific creator of Science Fiction and Romance.  With short stories coming out in two different anthologies in 2012, she can usually be found tapping away at her laptop, writing the next novel or procrastinating by posting a SciFi Question of the Day on Facebook. When she’s not writing, she’s kept very busy making aluminum foil hats and raising two energetic kids and many pets with her husband in their New England home.

Sep 12, 2012

How to Write a Novel Part 5: Rest and Revisions


Now that you’ve got a first draft done…. Walk away.

This is the part a lot of people hate, but I cannot stress this enough:


Wait a month (or at least a week if you’re really that impatient) before you look at the ms again.
The book needs time to rest; your mind needs time to rest. If you jump back into the book now, you’ll end up reading what you think you wrote, not what you did. Give your mind a break from the book. Forget the story, so when you read it again you can come at it with a red pen afresh.

I distract myself at this point by going back to the beginning and starting something new… I guess you could say I write books like you would sing a round.

But seriously…. step away from the book, give it time to settle and then, return to it with a fresh mind ready to slice it to bits.

Self Editing
At this point, you’ve got a draft that is ridiculously befitting its title of “sloppy copy.”
Personally, I think I’m awful at self-editing. Mostly because myself edits tend to result in me adding upwards of 10k words. Sometimes this is good… sometimes… it means I have to do a second self edit and end up doing quite a bit of cutting again.

Self editing is a time to: discover plot holes, fill them in with your red pen backhoe; realize you forgot about a character after chapter three, decide whether to ditch him or work him into the rest of the book; find out that you really love the words “granted,” “egalitarian,” or “cavort,” and cut down the 345 times you’ve used them to about 10; and so many other things.

My editing arsenal includes a host of different colored pens and highlighters, post-it tags, paper-clips and a lighter (for those really bad pages – believe me, it is helpful)

Here’s what edits tend to look like for me…


Betas & Crit Partners
Betas are the people you let read your book, trusting that they’re willing to tell you when something’s wrong with it. If you hand someone a book and their only offer in return is “I really liked it.” There are sites online where you can find anonymous critiques, and through the blog-o-verse you can find a plethora of talented authors who are willing to help you. But one thing is certain you HAVE to have someone else look at your work.

I’m lucky enough to have a mother who will read one of my books, say “I really liked it,” and then hand me back a manuscript with 5k change notes… if you think I’m kidding, this is the track changes from Novel #5:
And sometimes... I get revision notes that look like this:

It was around Halloween
 I’m also lucky enough to have a crit partner (all the way across the country) who reads my stuff and points out things I was too caught up in the story to notice – or points out places where a detail needs to be added.

Basically what I’m saying is: Find people to help you, love them, because even if what they say isn’t what you want to hear, it’s what you need to hear.

This step might take a few repetitions.

And ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS remember: If someone doesn’t understand a part of your novel… it’s not because they’re dumb, or they “obviously didn’t read it well enough,” it’s because you haven’t done your job well enough yet.

Sep 5, 2012

How To Write A Novel Part 4: Drafting

I know that seems like a silly thing to say, but let’s face it. All the planning and scheming in the combine multiverses won’t get you any closer to a complete draft unless you put your butt to the chair and your pen to the paper (or fingers to the keyboard). If you want to write a novel you have to actually write it. And yes, I realize this might sound silly to some of you, but it’s the truth. So, get to it. Write something. Do it now. I’ll wait for you to come back.

Write Some More
Already have something down? Or are you back from that little jaunt? Honestly, it doesn’t matter. You need to write and you need to do it consistently. Don’t get me wrong. If this is your opus, and if it takes 10 years, that’s great… but it’s no way to turn being an author into a career (just saying). So, sit down. Write. Find the time: in the wee hours of the morning, on your lunch break, after you’ve put the kids to bed. But write. Do it every day. I don’t care if you get in 100-words, 1,000-words, or over 10,000-words. You have to keep going, or you’ll never get there.

In that way, writing is like running, whether you’re a sprinter, or a long distance runner, you still have to put sole to pavement to reach the finish line.

Write Crap
I was explaining to a friend the other day that in the first draft I honestly go for quantity over quality… because you can’t edit a blank page.  Write, your first draft isn’t going to be amazing. In all likelihood it’s going to be utter drivel, but that’s why we have drafts 2… and 3… and often times 11.
Get the story out of your head. This is birth, people. It’s not a pretty thing. It’s messy and it’s painful, but the reward is amazing.

Have Brilliant Moments
There will be those moments when you write something that just tickles you pink. Hold on to that. Highlight it in your word doc.
And then move on.

Write More Crap
Don’t get mired in the pitfalls of brilliant moments. Don’t try to duplicate that stroke of genius in every sentence thereafter. It will bog you down and you’ll get nowhere. (Where you going? Nowhere.) Cherish what you had for that fleeting moment and then dig back in and get to it.

Starting a novel isn’t enough. You have to write consistently and you have to buckle down through the things that are tough to write. There will be scenes that will make you smile… there will be scenes that threaten to rip your heart from your chest. Three may not be any crying in baseball, but there certainly is in writing.
Buckle down, and write until your story is finished.

Aug 29, 2012

How To Write A Novel Part 3: The Planning Stage

Know Your Numbers
At this point, you know what sort of a novel you want to write, right? So you should have a good idea of the genre and category (MG, YA, Adult, etc.) There are certain rules to the size and shape of things in the writing world. 50,000-words is fine for a middle grade novel, but it’s not even close to an Adult novel’s requirements, and 250,000-words is just too long for anything (unless you happen to be George R.R. Martin or J. K. Rowling – which you’re not. Not yet, anyway.)

As a general rule there is a number and then there’s a range. For most adult novels the number is 100,000-words, while the range is 90-110k. Basically, you have a 20,000-word leeway around the number. So, plan accordingly. (Epic Fantasy will have a higher number as you have to worry about epic world building, but it’s still likely to be in the 110,000 range)

Outlines can be done in a myriad of ways… We all remember them from high school no doubt. I myself have had outlines that were two or three words for each chapter/scene, and then I’ve had outlines that were really in depth. (I’ve even used a previous draft as an outline on occasion.)

But, the point is, as a plotter, you’ll need a road map. So, Outlining is the best way to do that.  

Sorry about the bluzziness. Here's an example of what a less in depth one looks like. 2-3 words per chapter (if you ignore the bottom) just to get my bearings and know the general direction I want to take.

Most of the time, for a first draft, I have a set w/c goal I want to reach – but I’m a serial adder, so my goal is always really low – and I usually I have a series of plot points I know I want to address, so I build from there.

My first outlines are pretty vague, and as the novel progresses, I re-outline several times (this is usually the point at which the outlines get really detailed). Sometimes they’re a few words for each chapter… sometimes they look like this:
(Each chapter has been color coded, and thoroughly outlined in this case – This is a complete re-write draft. Note: that is four pages of an unfinished outline that is already seven pages long)

 Character Development
I love writing up character sheets. Any of my day-to-day betas can confirm that with you. I’ve actually gone from step one (the idea) straight into character development with my outline and come up for air 14,000-word later (though, when that happens, you have to go fill in a huge number of holes).

A lot of writers use what is called a world bible – some start this after the book is written, I do it in spreadsheet form and start as soon as possible. Having this information on hand keeps you from writing Sally with blue eyes on page 3, brown eyes on page 42, and heterochromia on page 135… unless of course she has color changing eyes, then, by all means, have at it.
Here are some examples of what mine look like in-process.

 And of course, there was this one from a few weeks ago...

Start Chapter Maps
You don’t need to get a degree in cartography for this sort of map making. This is a step above your general outline.
When rehersing a play, scenes need to be blocked before they’re performed. You need to know where you’re going, when you have to be there, and when you need to leave. Chapter maps are very similar to that. It’s blocking out the scene, so you don’t end up standing in the middle of the stage, staring at the audience dumbfounded, when you should be backstage for a costume change. (or your characters should be, anyway)
I hand write my chapter maps. It’s a different kind of flow from typing, and whle it takes longer and is much messier, I find it easier that way to keep from falling into my default “writing” mode.

Chapter maps can be anywhere from a few sentences to a few pages long, depending on how much detail you want to put into them. Mine are usually a half page, to three quarters of a page long.

They’re not huge, but they’re much more detailed than my outlines are in the beginning (wih the exception of the colorful re-write up top – I’ll be interested to see how long the chapter maps are for that one!)

Until next week, happy writing!

Aug 15, 2012

How to Write a Novel Part 2: The Initial Burst

As a plotter, it might sound a little strange to start the writing portion of a novel before you get to the real meat and potatoes of the planning. But I’ve found that that initial burst of idea, needs to be capitalized on, so at this point I write.

I may only end up with a handful of disjointed paragraphs that are pulled from all over the story, or I might end up with 10,000-words from the front end.

This is the stuff that gets piecemealed together, or pulled apart and reworked more often than not, but it’s a really good way to get things out and thought about… because the next step requires that you know what general direction you want to take the story in.

Sometimes this initial burst comes months, before I end up starting the actual first draft – and that’s usually because I don’t have time for it. A plot bunny bounds into my head and I’ll take a day or so off from what I’m working on to make sure I get what needs to be gotten down on paper and then I go back to what I need to get done at that point. But the initial burst of momentum is something I have to have if the book is ever going to make it’s way around to priority #1.

< Part 1: The Idea

Aug 8, 2012

How To Write A Novel Part 1: The Idea

***This is how I go about writing a novel, it’s probably different for other people and if you do it differently, feel free to tell me how in the comments. This works for me. Something else might work better for you.***

This might seem like a no-brainer, but in order to write a novel, you need some idea of what you plan to write.

I know, I know, you’re rolling your eyes at me right now, but it’s true. And here’s why:

Plot requires conflict > Conflict requires thought > thought requires thinking.

In today’s publishing industry, writing a hundred thousand words isn’t enough. You have to have a coherent story and you have to make it brilliant.

So, why waste time writing out languid lines of prose describing the verdant hues of a forest…. when you don’t have a plot. First things first: you have to see the plot for the trees. (Sometimes, I write things down like that and I think, what are you on??? Anyway, that’s why we have editing! But that’s for another post)

But is an idea enough?
The answer to that is somewhat convoluted. Short answer: Sometimes? Long answer: You may have to build off of it, but if your high concept idea leads to a sprouting of ideas, then sure.
Let’s take a rather simple idea: A secret school for wizards
(Hint: unless you bring something amazingly unique to the table with this one, don’t try to use it. J.K. did it first, and she did it better.)

In and of itself, that idea, does not a book make. There’s no conflict there, but it’s a start. And you build from there.

So, here are some questions you should ask yourself at the start.

First: What do you want to write? (This could be as simple as genre, setting or it might even be the beginnings of a plot)

Second: What is the problem your main character is going to face? (This is your Conflict: Someone is trying to kill him/The amulet has gone missing/Tony Hunk asked her best friend to the prom and that backstabbing b said yes even though she knew the MC has had a crush on him for EVAH)

Third: How are they going to fix it? (This is your resolution, you don’t need to get super in depth with this, and by the time you get to it, it might change drastically, but before you start, you should have a goal in mind. Your plot, or your characters might lead you in a different direction, but focus requires and endpoint)

Fourth: What other things are going to stand in their way? (These are your plot points: The killer takes out the one person who believed him/The MC winds up polishing silverware when he should be looking for the amulet/Your nerdy best friend helps you pull a prank on your best friend that goes terribly wrong!)

Those four questions aren’t going to write the novel for you, but they’re a starting point.

See you next week for Part 2!

Jun 6, 2012

RIP Ray Bradbury, 1920-2012

"That's sad," said Montag, quietly, "because all we put into it is hunting and finding and killing. What a shame if that's all it can ever know." - Fahrenheit 451