Success only flourishes in perseverance -- ceaseless, restless perseverance.
--Baron Manfred Von Richtofen

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Back Story That's Not Boring

I have blogged before about how tricky it can be to get in the back story without boring your readers. So, I was watching Cars with my two-year-old (an almost daily occurrence), and I noticed how skillfully they slip in the necessary back story with the sports commentators. We get all the information we need about the cars, the race, Dinoco, etc, complete with flashy pictures and sound effects, in a way that feels completely natural because we see that sort of thing at the beginning of nearly every sporting event on TV. It's brilliant really.

You have to hand it to those folks at Pixar. They are amazing storytellers. Their other movies have great back story too. Like in UP, in a sort of silent movie, they sum up Karl and Ellie's entire life together without a single word. There's a TV commercial in Monsters, Inc., and Finding Nemo has a terrific little prologue that immediately sets up a such a sweet relationship between Marlin and his wife that when it's taken away, we are just as heartbroken as he is, and understand at once why he's such an overprotective father.

Of course, movies have an inherent advantage in being able to show the back story without telling. It can be much trickier with books. In the Mistborn trilogy, Brandon Sanderson uses chapter headings in a way that is absolutely genius. With little snippets of journal entries, he reveals the necessary back story and also creates tension in the actual story. It's perfect.

Terry Ervin uses chapter headings in a similar way in his novel, Flank Hawk. At the start of each chapter, he puts a scene from the distant past, revealing what happened to make the world the way it is in the present day of the story. As the action builds in the novel, the action builds in the chapter headings too, until they come together for the climax of the novel. He could have put all those chapter headings together into a prologue, but that wouldn't have worked nearly as well as the way he's done it. It's very impressive.

Do you have any examples of back story well-done? What's your favorite way to handle it in your own stories?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Goodbye, July

The summer is slipping away. Soon it will be time for registration and open houses and meeting new teachers, getting new school clothes and new school supplies (hooray for new supplies!). I'm feeling a bit melancholy watching the summer glide past. I've been having a lot of fun, though, and I know that the fall will hold new wonderful memories and great experiences.

I haven't been writing as much this month, but that's okay. I think I can still finish the Christmas story I've been working on by the end of the month. (A short story in a month? I didn't used to think that was possible.) I guess what I'm trying to say is that if I'm not around the blogosphere as much as I'd like, it's because I want to soak every bit of summer and not let a moment go to waste.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Happy Birthday, Ali Cross (My First Interview!)

I have an exciting post for you today. I'm interviewing one of my favorite people, the amazing and talented Ali Cross! (It's her birthday today.) Her blog is delightful, and so is she. Ali writes YA and MG Fantasy that transcends the ordinary.

Hi Ali, welcome to the Writing Chair!
Thanks so much for having me! I'm sooo honored.  :)

I'm honored to have you. Let's get started.
Tell us a little bit about you and how you got started writing.
Well, I'm a girl who's been busy pursuing a dream her whole life.. First, I wanted to be a singer--and I did perform for Opera Idaho for a few years, so I guess you could say I fulfilled that dream. Then I decided it would be cool to be a photographer, so I did that for a few years. I had to give it up because it was too much work and I wanted to be a mother first, photographer second--but I just couldn't say no to people so I ended up being way too busy. But, there was another dream fulfilled! Now I'm dreaming about being an author--the jury's still out on whether I'll fulfill that dream or not, but I think I will. It just takes time, right?

From what I know of you, you will definitely fulfill this dream too.
What is your biggest fear when it comes to writing?
 That I'll never get published and I'll have to admit that this thing I dedicated myself to for so long will just end up being a big, fat failure.

I share that fear, too, Ali. We must banish it!

What is your greatest joy in writing?
My greatest joy is meeting the characters as they reveal themselves to me, coming to know them and seeing the good ones have some happiness. It makes me happy when I can make them happy.  :)

I know you've faced setbacks and discouragement. How do you overcome that and find the will to keep going?
Sure I've had setbacks. I had a contract to be published (in fact, my book would have come out this past weekend) but it didn't work out. That was hard. I've had lots of interest in a particular manuscript, but it's never been enough to get me over that hump. I overcome such setbacks with the helpof my blog-friends in particular, but also by looking to the future instead of dwelling on the past. We can all learn from any situation, so after the hurt fades a bit I try to see the good in the situation and focus on that. Focus on how I can improve my work so that it's less likely to attract rejections.

Your best piece of writerly advice?
Hmm, My best writerly advice, eh? I think it would be that if you have a desire to write, just do it. Don't second guess whether you're talented enough or any of those things--most everything can be learned over time with hard work. But the trick to getting to that awesome point is to not give up and to keep learning and growing until you've completed a beautiful manuscript and feel that sense of accomplishment. I guarantee once you get to that point, you'll be hooked!

 Where is your favorite place to write?
I really love to just write in my office. I love to write in the afternoon when the sun is shining into the room and it just feels warm and cozy, like a cocoon. I can immerse myself there and really be in the moment with my

That sounds wonderful. 

What are some sources of inspiration for you?
 Oh wow, good question! Movies inspire me. I love seeing visions come to life on the big screen and they never cease to unlock my own dream reservoir. Also, day-dreaming. I don't check my wandering mind. I let it  explore ideas until I happen upon something that I can just sort of noodle over for a while until it becomes an IDEA. And I love to play "what if" with myself and with my husband. I've come up with the best ideas that way.

Favorite writing treat?
Haha. Well, it used to be chocolate covered cinnabears, but I'm trying to train myself that I don't, in fact, need to eat chocolate while I write. So far, so good, but now I have this big box of grape Mike 'n Ike's and I'm
thinking they might be a really great addition to my writing time!

Thanks so much for this fun interview Angie! You were my first and I feel all twitterpated over the attention. Thank you, thank you!

Happy Birthday, Ali. Thanks for joining me today. Thanks for all the advice and insights. You are a wise woman! Be sure to check out Ali's blog and wish her a happy birthday. You won't be sorry!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Speaking of Rejecion

The other day I came upstairs to check my email and found a rejection letter in my inbox. A form rejection. I was bummed. I had getting personal rejections from them. It was quite discouraging. But in the same batch of email, I also had this:

"Perseverance means to continue in a given course until we have reached a goal or objective, regardless of obstacles, opposition, and other counter influences...Perseverance is a positive, active characteristic...It gives us hope by helping us realize that the righteous suffer no failure except in giving up and no longer trying."  Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin

I admit, at first I was feeling so depressed by the rejection that I only gave the quote a cursory glance. But later that night while cleaning out my inbox, I opened it again and read it more carefully. I knew then that God was looking out for me. That He was aware of my discouragement. That He wanted me to keep trying.

And who am I to argue with God?

You've seen the quote at the top of the blog right? It bears repeating:
"Success flourishes only in perseverance--ceaseless, restless perseverance."
That's from Baron Manfred Von Richtofen, aka: The Red Baron.

So, to leave you with some encouragement today:

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Notes From the Editor's Chair: How to Avoid a Rejection

Mindflights is open to subs again! I'm so pleased with the number of submissions we have received. It's got me thinking about the difference in mindset that I have toward rejection when I'm reading subs as opposed to when I'm submitting my own work somewhere. Obviously, I'm a lot more detached when doling out rejection than I am when receiving it. I thought I'd give some advice on what I look for in the stories that I want to accept.

1. Solid Prose. You know what I'm talking about. Watch the adverbs, show don't tell, etc., etc. I like to read a story written well enough that I don't even think about the prose. I just get lost in the story.

2. Believable characters. It's usually the characters that sell me. I want people I can connect with and care about. People who feel real.

3. Conflict. Yeah, it's got to be there. I don't like stories that don't have any real tension or where everything is solved too easily.

4. Emotional Resonance. I really want to feel something about the story. I want it to move me in some way, even if it's just for a few minutes of fun.

Now, a story might have all those things and still get rejected. Maybe it's not a good fit for the magazine. Maybe they just can't afford it right now. Maybe the editor is having a bad day. Or maybe your story doesn't resonate with me, but it might with someone else. Maybe I can relate to your characters where someone else wouldn't.

The sad truth is that once you've submitted something, the rest is out of your control.  And really, there is no way to avoid rejection. We're all going to face it, probably many times. The trick is to remember that it's OKAY to get rejected. It really is. It doesn't mean your a bad writer or that you'll never make it. It just means that this particular story/novel/query/article isn't right for that particular editor/magazine/agent/publisher. Yes, rejection stings. I hurt every time I get one. But it's not a reason to give up.

Never, ever give up!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Guess What I Did This Week...

I broke out this notebook (Ooo, pretty snowflakes):

And I started writing a new story--a Christmas story! I thought I was going to let the tradition die after fifteen years, but here I find myself in July and in need of a new project, so a Christmas story it is.

It's so fun to start something new. New characters to love. New scenes to daydream about. The only problem is The Doubter. You know him, right? That nasty little voice that keeps saying, "That's stupid. Who's going to want to read that? You're not starting the story that way are you? Are you kidding me? I've never heard anything more cliche in my life!"

Argh. Shut up. Shut up! SHUT UP!

Sigh. I'm trying not to listen, but sometimes it's hard. How do you banish The Doubter?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

My First Official Book Review: American Midnight

I've talked about what books I've read, but this is my first official book review. (Ooo, exciting!)  American Midnight is a suspenseful Christian political thriller from authors Brandon Barr and Mike Lynch, published by Silver Leaf Books. From the website: 

A family torn apart, a country under siege from within, terrorist plots that will shake society to its core, and it’s all coming to a head in a quiet little town in Iowa...

...At eighteen, Tania Peters still carries deep scars from her mother’s tragic death, and when she’s betrayed by someone close, pain and confusion threaten to swallow her whole.  But underneath all the hurt, she senses the hand of purpose on her life and finds hope in an exciting new political movement.

But not everyone sees the movement as good. Tania’s own father fears that this promised “unity” is a threat to Christian churches across the country.

Pitted between the Party’s utopian promises and the Christian friends and families who soon find themselves on the outside of this new American dream, Tania must choose between her long dormant faith in God and her future with the Party...

...But that one decision could cost her everything—even her life.

I think it was appropriate that I read this book just before the July 4 holiday. American Midnight grabbed my attention right from the start. The well-paced action, with lots of suspense, danger and intrigue, along with a little romance, kept me eager to find out what happens next.

In this sort of book it would be easy to rely on stereotypes: pure, long-suffering Christians pitted against power-hungry, godless villains. American Midnight, however, contains characters that are real people with depth and complexity, characters that I could relate to, characters I could root for or against, and sometimes wonder which I should be doing. (I did find one character, General Aristides, to be a bit over the top, but he was a relatively minor character and filled his role well.)

American Midnight poses some timely questions, and doesn't fall back on quick and easy answers. I have found myself pondering the themes of the book--family, faith, unity, freedom--and thinking about what I might do if I were caught up in Tania's situation. It's the kind of book that makes you wonder, "Could this happen to me?"

American Midnight is a great read, and does not contain offensive content. I can highly recommend it. Learn more about American Midnight on Brandon Barr's website and blog.

*I guess I have to put the disclaimer that yes, I did receive a free copy of the book from the authors to review. Lucky me! I was asked to give my honest opinion, and that is what I have done.*

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Time to Announce the Lucky Winners!

A big thank you to everyone who joined in the 200 followers celebration, and a huge welcome to all who've stopped by to follow the blog since then! Check out the comments to read the party game pitches. Such funny and imaginative ideas! I wouldn't expect any less from my awesome followers.

And now to announce the winners: Drumroll please!

Winner of Prize #1--The Science Fiction/Fantasy Reading Pleasure package: 
 (Email your address to angloft-at-gmail-dot-com, and I'll get it in the mail.)

Winner of Prize #2--Christmas in July: 

(Email your address to angloft-at-gmail-dot-com, and I'll get it in the mail.)

Winner of Prize #3--Manuscript Therapy: 

(Email your 50 pages to angloft-at-gmail-dot-com in doc or rtf format, and I'll get right on it.)

Congratulations, ladies! And once again thank you to all my followers. I hope you continue to enjoy Notes From the Writing Chair. Don't miss this month's featured story, "Among the Silent Stars." The link is at the top of the sidebar.

Stay tuned for my first official book review. I'll be reviewing American Midnight by Brandon Barr and Mike Lynch.

Also coming up: My song set to music by my incredible, talented son!

So keep coming back. I'm always delighted to have you!