Archive for June, 2014

Working on your own novel? Then join me at next month’s Novel Writing Bootcamp. It’s a free month-long online workshop for writers who have a partial manuscript.

Hope to see you there!

Ellen Brock

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Novel Boot Camp is only a week away! Before we all get absorbed in the excitement and chaos, let’s make some writing friends and snag some critique partners!

**Note: This meetup does not end at any specific time. Feel free to post here throughout Novel Boot Camp!**

Writing Friend: Someone to chat with about writing and publishing. Someone to give you a nudge (or a shove) when you fall behind on your goals. Someone to laugh and cry with you about your writing ups and downs.

Critique Partner: Someone to exchange full or partial manuscripts with in order to offer critiques of each other’s work. Must be polite, courteous, constructive, but also honest.

There are two ways to connect:

Twitter Meetup

Tweet your request for writing friends or critique partners to Twitter and tag it with: #NovelBootCamp

Sample Tweet: Looking for a critique partner. A YA writer would be great!…

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Photo Jun 16, 1 19 43 PM

So I’ve taken a rather unique approach to parenting, as you may have read here before.  I’m not especially good at relating to my children – or at least not as good as I wish I was.  However I have tried to latch onto those interests I share with each of my children and emphasize them.

With my oldest son it was paintball and basketball and lately the things he’s studying in college.  With my daughter it has been fantasy and superheroes.  She and I have seen all of the Avengers films together as well as Spiderman, Superman, X-Men, and such.  And we never miss an episode of Once Upon a Time.  Until she stopped letting me read to her we shared a deep mutual interest in The Sisters Grimm books, the Narnia books, the Disney Fairies, Harry Potter of course, and so on.  So now we’re writing a book together aimed at her age group (she was 12 when we started), and all about heroes and fairytale creatures, using ourselves as models for the main characters.  And we’re having a wonderful time.  She has even started writing her own novel, in collaboration with her best friend.  I couldn’t be more proud.

My younger son, on the other hand (who also appears in our book) has broader interests.  Superheroes, of course.  But also anything that flies, anything that goes in the water, anything that has wheels, anything that transforms, and anything built out of Legos or Lincoln Logs.  Or pretty much anything.  Oh, and pirates.  We make paper airplanes together, play with wooden trains, and fight with invisible light sabres almost every day.

So I got to thinking….

Part of the idea behind The Last Princess was to earn college money for my daughter, plus if she ever wanted to pursue a career as a writer she would have her foot in the door and representation before she even wrote her first book.  And now we’re thinking series because middle grade publishers are buying more series than individual books these days, and … because I like to plan ahead.

Steampunk boySo why not write a series for my son?  He’s only five, now, and his particular market is not one I feel comfortable writing for.  I would need an illustrator, for one.  And I tend to write long.  I can’t even imagine writing a book with only a few score of words – I need tens of thousands of the damn things for the stories I want to tell.  So – thinking ahead like I like – what if in a few years I write a spin-off series from The Last Princess, but about the younger brother?  This time for a more male audience. About an 8-9 year old boy who builds all kinds of amazing gadgets that fly and shoot and transform, for fighting bad guys because he lacks the faerie magic his older sister has.  I’ve wanted to delve into steampunk for awhile now, and here’s the perfect vehicle but for an audience to which steampunk is mostly brand new.

The idea has lurked in the back of my mind these past several months, but suddenly stood up and started doing jumping jacks when I read a listing in Writer’s Market for a publisher who was looking for steampunk stories not set in the Victorian time period.  I swear the clouds parted and rays of sunlight beamed down upon my head.

Obviously, it’s going to be several years before this idea comes to fruition, but that just gives me time to plan it.  And to start reading every steampunk novel I can get my hands on.

Any suggestions?

pants-on-fire

When I started writing The Last Princess with my daughter, I considered myself to be what is known in the writerly vernacular as a “pantser.” No, this is not a reference to a popular fraternity activity; it is, in fact, a very common approach to writing for many very prolific authors. It means to write by the seat of one’s pants, or in other words without an outline or a firm direction. It’s kind of like working without a net.

As time went on and we moved further into our story the way forward began to materialize, and a plot developed. Mind you, this technique isn’t for everyone and standing, as I am, at the other end of a nearly complete novel, I don’t think I would feel comfortable doing it this way again. Ordinarily I love structure. I crave it. I make little shrines to it with matching pen and pencil sets and monogrammed notebooks, and the like. Structure is safe, friendly, familiar. Absence of structure is alien and scary. But when we started this project I only knew I wanted to write a middle grade novel with certain characters and a very basic idea for a storyline, and I knew if I didn’t just start putting some words on the page I was never going to be quite ready to begin.

Sort of like having children.

But here’s the thing about pantsing: sometimes the very best ideas come from chaos, from that unstructured morass of random thought. Sometimes you have to defy structure to find the magic in the universe. Let me give you some examples.

WorfAre you familiar with Star Trek – the Next Generation? That show was developed with a great deal of structure; you have to have a lot of structure in place for an on-going television series, particularly a hard science fiction series with a large cast and established technologies. But the character of Worf, the Klingon bridge officer was a last-minute addition, thrown in on a whim. And Worf has been in more episodes than any other character from any of the Star Trek franchise.

minionsYou’ve seen Despicable Me? The minions are the best part, right? What would Gru be without his minions? Thrown in at the last minute.

Sheryl Sandberg of Lean In fame sparked a movement largely based on a personal anecdote she tacked on to the beginning of her famous TED talk speech at the last minute.

What the universe is telling is: you can’t plan a Eureka Moment.

In The Last Princess, while I was pantsing chapter 2, I needed to invent a best friend for the main character, and on a whim I decided to make her rich and pretty. At the time the only reason for this was because I wanted her to have access to lots of make-up samples and scarves and gloves and such for all of the girls to do makeovers. There was no plan any further than the end of that paragraph and justifying the mechanics of the scene.

Now that we’re nearing the end of the novel, the complex relationship between Cat and Rose is one of the primary driving forces behind Cat’s thoughts and actions. In fact, the way Cat sees herself in comparison to Rose is the main reason she chooses the hero’s path and triumphs in the end.*

So embrace the unknown. Make a wild brush-stroke in an unrelated color, pound out a discordant note, pinch in an extra ingredient. You never know what you’ll end up with. In the course of writing you novel you will delete and rewrite thousands of words or sentences or entire scenes, so don’t be afraid of trying something that may not work. But that spark of magic that turns the mundane into the exciting? You can’t always plan that.

 

NEWSFLASH: We’re getting close to finishing the first draft of The Last Princess.  If you would like to sign up to be a beta reader, please use the “Beta Reader Sign-Ups” tab at the top of this page.

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*Sorry for the spoiler, but did you doubt it?

bad parenting

This is an odd kind of cry for help.

Those of you who are regular readers of this blog, or even occasional readers, should be familiar with my situation and the book I am co-writing with my daughter. If you are new here (welcome!) this should get you started.

We’ve reached a very critical part of the story, the part where everything looks bleakest and our young heroine, 12-year-old Cat, is on the brink of giving up her dream and letting the bad guy win. And it all stems from her discovery that her fae (fairy-tale creature) heritage that has made her special and started this whole adventure turns out to be this: Her dad is a troll.

Not a slob who farts during dinner and butts into private conversations, but a descendent of actual trolls. He has a big nose, a pot belly, he’s kind of clumsy, and he likes to make things out of clay. Interbred with humans and a few generations removed from his club-wielding ancestors, but a troll nevertheless. He happens to be out of town when Cat has this revelation and her world falls apart, so she has a few days to really wallow in the new tragedy her life has become by the time Dad comes home.

And this is where I need your help.

In The Last Princess, Cat and her dad are very close. She has always wanted to be just like him, and in fact likes most of the same things he does. And she’s a little tomboyish because of it. Her dream is to be chosen as the princess of all the hidden fae still living in our world, and the fact that it turns out she is troll-born utterly ruins her chances and her dream. And she hates her father for that.

These characters are loosely based on my own daughter and myself, however she and I don’t have quite the same relationship. My daughter takes after her mother much more than me (thank God), and although we like many of the same things, we disagree on just as many. Strongly. The thing is, as far as I know I have never ruined her dreams and she has never hated me. So neither of us really have the life experience to draw from in order to write this aspect of the story.

How do I phrase this, delicately? I need to hear from any of you who are the victims of bad parenting, or who are themselves parents who have done something – real or imagined – that has caused your child to hate you, if only briefly (hopefully only briefly!). I’m not talking about abuse or neglect, but that moment that happens in a tween’s life when his or her parents’ mere existence breaks their fragile heart. A betrayal of trust, a moment of tragic uncoolness, the “I can’t believe I’m related to you” phase.

I want to get inside Cat’s head, and I want the reader to really experience it when she tells her dad, “I hate you!”  What does that feel like?  Bonus question: What does it feel like to be the dad in this situation, who has no idea what he’s done?

Go ahead, pile it on; I can take it. And I promise to keep it on the down-low.