Tense about Tense

I’ve written several novels in present tense. The only time I’d written in past tense was when I’d have a flashback, letting the change in tense signal to the reader that we were going back in time. It seemed to work pretty well for me. Felt natural to write that way.

Some of you may know of my historical fiction novel about the circus. The novel had several incarnations in present tense. It was making the rounds of agents. I thought, like we can all foolishly believe, it was done. Then I got some feedback from an intern at the literary agency which turned the story on its head in a fantastic way.

I don’t really know why, but when I started the rewrite this time, I changed to past tense.

It’s been a struggle. I’ll write some bits of dialogue and action and realize I’ve just written a page in present tense. I don’t think though, that that’s my main problem.

Past tense feels distant. Like maybe I’m watching what happens from across the street. Let me clarify this statement. When I’M writing in past tense, it feels distant. Maybe I’m doing it wrong, or maybe it’s just not right for me.

According to http://thewritepractice.com/past-tense-vs-present-tense/ most novels are written in past tense. That doesn’t seem right to me, but maybe most adult novels are in past tense because in kids lit, present seems to rule the day.

Thus begins the rewrite of a rewrite of many others. I’ve tried searching for obvious past tense verbs like was, anything ending in ‘ed, and the could/would combo.

It does feel better. Feels more like me. And most importantly, I think the reader will like it better!

What’s your favorite tense?

Themed Thursday: What’s Your Favorite Sport?

Jonathan: Favorite sport? It’s baseball, and nothing else comes even close for me. Baseball has the most strategy of any sport. You can’t run out a clock on an opponent, so both teams must get the same number of chances to win. It’s a sport where you play as a team, yet it’s also about the individual. I don’t get as engrossed in any other sport as I do in baseball. Unfortunately, the team I root for is terrible, but that’s another matter…

Cathy Castelli

Cathy: When I was growing up I played tennis three times a day all summer long. Although my parents hadn’t seen me play, they thought I must be on my way to Wimbledon. Not even close.

Faran Fagen

Faran: Just keep striking out trying to think of a sport I like the best. This one’s going to be hard to hit on the sweet spot. Nothing seems to hit home. I need a sign. Or some relief. Not a single thing comes to mind. This is driving me batty. Can you help me think of a sport I might like?

Melody Maysonet

Melody: My favorite sport is baseball, mainly because my brother Harrison and my nephew Peyton are so good at it. My brother was on a traveling team when he was young, and his son Peyton has now picked up the torch. I swear this kid is going to be in the major leagues some day. I am in awe of how good he is. At ten years old, his talent is extraordinary.

Joanne Butcher

Joanne: My favorite sport is snow skiing. I learned to ski going down the hill to the river in my backyard when I was ten years old. I didn’t have my own skis, but I really wanted to learn so I strapped my snow boots into an old pair that my dad used to use. The old pair was wooden, with no edges (just like the turn of the century kind you see on the walls of ski chalets). There were two metal pieces you put the toe of your boot into and a large strip of leather with a buckle that held the boot in place more or less. I skied down the hill and sidestepped back up for hours learning to control the skis. Good thing it was soft powder, not hard-packed snow, because I never would have been able to stop if I was going fast.  When I got my own pair for Christmas, they were so much easier to control. They came with a pair of ski boots made to fit the snap-down bindings, they were about two feet shorter than what I had been using, and they had edges. I was in heaven.

Wrap it Up Wed Stacie Style

Hello Tuesday readers,

I know I’ve been a little scarce lately, but I’ve been working on major deadlines, revisions, and, oh yeah, the whole getting my MFA thing. Whew. Life is full. But enough about me. You guys are here for the wrap up, right? Ok. So let’s pull back the curtain on the Tuesday critique group yesterday.

For those of you who did NOT follow us on Twitter during the class, may I ask why not? Jonathan will probably ask you for some kind of note excusing your absence. Want to know a secret? He really can’t require that. Seriously. He’s been spoken to by some of the Tuesday Writers higher ups and he’s actually been sanctioned for doing that in the past. But….even if his methods have been a bit brutish(that’s what the complaint said), I sort of agree with the sentiment. Because we are giving you a rare opportunity. To see inside a functioning, successful critique group. Three of us are published, the other three are so close, it’s going to be any time now. So you might want to watch and learn.

But for those of you with legitimate excuses (you had to work, you had appendicitis, your dog needed a bath) and you missed our Tuesday Tweets, I will tell you how it went down.

First up, an anonymous person wrote in and requested a change in the reading order: so we read, according to this anonymous source’s request; in alphabetical order. Yup. Crazy right?

So Joanne was up first. She has been working on this possession story and for many of us Tuesdays we felt she’d really turned up the heat on the possession angle. Way. To. Go! We did give her feedback for ways to continue to make the main character be a more active character, but she definitely stunned us with this chapter.

Next to read was Cathy. She read an opening to a Circus story featuring a young trapeze artist. The first line was so perfect, as was the last line. Melody said she’d bookended the chapter perfectly, and she was right, but the thing is, the rest of the chapter was also pretty tight. Way to go, Cathy!

Melody read next from her contemporary realistic Young Adult novel about a girl whose mother is grappling with addiction. I have to tell you, this chapter was almost perfect. She nailed the emotional arc, and kept it tight and active. We were with the main character the entire way. Way to go, Melody.

My read was supposed to be next. Well, here’s where we had to go off program a bit. I had nothing to read. I know. This never happens, but like I said earlier, I’m in the middle of a revision and my first semester of a MFA program, so really I just needed to talk through some of my revision decisions, discuss a new project I might be undertaking, and get help on writing a note to my readers that my editor is going to put into my next book, The Secrets We Bury. So the Tuesdays lent an ear and gave me some great ideas for how to start my letter to readers. I can honestly say that their input today was so helpful.

The last reader was Jonathan. He likes to go last and with this new alpha order thing, he got to keep his coveted position. He read from a brand spanking new book, and of course it was hysterical and so smart. None of us Tuesdays know how he keeps this writing great books from the get-go, but one day we are going to kidnap him and take him to a scientifical location and do largely non-invasive tests on him. Mostly non-invasive. Well, some might actually have to be a little invasive, but it’s all for the greater good, right?

Anyway, that’s what happened in the famous Tuesday Writer’s critique group. Tune in for real next Tuesday because I will not be wrapping it up and you don’t want to miss all the fun.

Ta-ta for now,

Stacie

(P.S. Parker picked out the images for today’s post)

Querying for the soul

Tuesday Tips

Faran Fagen

Recently, I returned to query mode, and as I hit the send button to each agent, I reflected on the evolution of my query letters.

Here are ten tips I picked up over the years.

1. Start off with a hook that illustrates your interest with the agent. If you met the agent or heard them speak at a conference, lead with that. If it’s a referral, lead with that. I usually try to merge my connection with the agent with a tease to my novel (this usually involves a baseball reference for me) 🙂

2. Spell the agent’s name properly. Seems simple, but if you get it wrong, no matter how good your book is, it will get tossed aside. I never fell victim to this blunder, but I have caught this mistake in proofreading my query a few times (phew!).

3. The hook should be one or two sentences and then get right into a brief synopsis. Here, I follow the advice of one of my writing idols, YA guru Chris Crutcher, who told me in an interview that you reveal to your audience just enough so they want more.

4. An agent once told me that the best format for a synopsis should be two meaty paragraphs about 3-4 sentences each, followed by a 1-2 sentence paragraph that serves as a kicker. Since I tried that format, I got more requests, so guessing that formula works.

5. For the part about yourself, another agent said to keep it short and sweet. You list profession(s), any publishing/writing credentials, and any writing organizations like SCBWI.

6. I usually end with thanking them for the opportunity, and depending on submission guidelines, either “manuscript attached for your convenience”, or “manuscript available by request”.

7. Check all spelling and grammar before sending. I usually read each query three times once it’s finished before I send.

8. Learned this one from my mentor Joyce Sweeney: Send out queries in batches of five. Easier to keep track of so you can follow-up.

9. Research the agent before querying. Some agents are only open to submissions at certain times or have certain requirements.

10. My mom has a phrase: “If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.” Querying can get monotonous, so try having fun by spicing up your hook or adding a cool teaser to your synopsis. I know that’s helped me stay in the batter’s box over the years.

Hope these tips are helpful, and best of luck to you on your publishing journey.

Book Launch Help!

Hello Tuesdays!

We sure have been seeing a lot of each other, lately! Now, we’re bookending the weekend! Isn’t that great? I know, I know. You’re torn, because, while you like these posts, you’re, also, probably dying for something from Faran, by now, and I am too. But, I have a dilemma, so I needed to post. It’s a good dilemma, but a dilemma, nonetheless.

You see, I’m not sure if you’ve heard this or not, but I have a book coming out. August 1st, to be precise, and I’ve been worried, since I had no idea where or when to do a launch. I’ve gone back and forth, between a couple of places, unsure of where to finally make it. Well, last week, the decision was finally made. I’m going to have the launch on Thursday, August 10th at 7 p.m. at the Barnes and Noble in Plantation, 591 S University Dr. and, I’d love to see all of you, there!

This is a very special and emotional time for me, and I’ll tell you why.

My dad’s birthday, was August 13th. He passed away, a couple of years ago, on August 12th. So, I was trying to have my launch on that date. I figured, that would be a nice way, to pay respects, honor his birthday, as well as make the 12th, something positive in my life, also. Well, after thinking about it, I started to realize, that the Thursday before, would just work out better. Especially, since that weekend, would be the last, before school started here, in south Florida, and I thought parents would want to spend that final weekend getting things organized.

So, the 10th, it is.

Anyway, this book has taken a long time to come to fruition. Years, of hard work. There were many people, who have been a part of this, for me. And really, I’d love to share this with as many friends and family, as possible. I promise, this one isn’t motivated by anything other than wanting to have as many friendly faces as I can. It would mean a whole, heck of a lot, to me. So, I really hope you all can make it.

But, back to my dilemma.

The problem is, I have no idea what to do. Okay, that’s not true. I have a little idea, but it’s only in the formative stages. It’s not like I’ve ever done this before.

So, other than shameless self-promotion, this post, actually, has a purpose for me. I need your help. I don’t care, if you’re someone who has been published many times over, just once or twice, or never, or not an author at all, but creative, and brimming with great ideas.

I need your help.

What would you suggest that I do at the launch?

In case you forgot, my book is called, Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies. (And you were worried that I wouldn’t sneak it in!) I had several bunny-related ideas, but am welcoming . . . no, let’s be more realistic, I’m, actually, begging for help. Let’s remember, that it’s in a bookstore, but I’m sure there are fun things, which could be done. Budget-friendly, would also be on the preferable side.

Toss them all at me. My kids are already coming up with some cute things, but the more ideas, the better.

Thank you, and I’d love your help in making this a fun and memorable launch.

Until, next time, my fellow Tuesdays!

Feeling Fortunate

Hello Tuesdays!

Hope all of you are well! Can you believe we get each other to bookend the week? Yay for us!

Anyway, I suppose, I should probably get right to my post, since my mom and my other two readers, are waiting impatiently for it! Let me start by saying, that I had this magnificent post planned for today. Some would call it, perfect. Pulitzer-caliber, perhaps. Not me, I would never. I leave that for others to say. But, alas, my dear Tuesdays, I have decided to shelve it.

Will it resurface? I’m not sure. Maybe, somewhere down the line, I might submit it, when we release our special edition, The Tuesdays: The Lost Articles. Until then, you’ll just have to trust me, that it was exceptional.

So, right about now, I’m sure you’re saying, “Gosh, Jonathan, if you’re not posting that wondrous, once-in-a-lifetime, piece, then, what are you going to post?”

Well, I’m glad you asked that. You see, my fellow Tuesdays, sometimes, things happen in life, which force us to scrap what we had planned, and instead, just roll with what life brings. Today, was one of those times.

You see, for some time now, I’ve been very quiet, but I was sitting on the news, that I sold a sequel to my August Debut, Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies (Isn’t it disgusting how I worked that in? Seriously, I’m ashamed, but since it’s already on the page, I’m too lazy to backspace it, so I’ll have to leave that there). But, anyway, back to the sequel. I, mostly, kept it to myself. Didn’t tell too many people. I’m very superstitious in some ways, and don’t like to talk about things, until they’re official. I know superstition is silly, but in sports and publishing, it’s a real thing, so I had to obey the jinx laws.

But, now, I’m happy to say, it’s official!

In a business, that moves at a snail’s pace at times, this happened pretty quickly. I signed the papers on Wednesday and on Thursday, the official announcement came out in print.

 

The sequel, will take the same characters and deal with vampires instead of cuddle bunnies, this time. And honestly, I had so much fun with the first book, that I’m glad that I can keep going with these characters, in this world.

And to get even more serious, I’ll say that, I feel really fortunate and blessed, right now. Writing is a lot of hard work. It takes years of honing, before you can put down anything that’s worth reading. But, after you do it, it’s nice to have someone validate your effort, and appreciate what you’ve done, and that’s where I feel fortunate.

And as for feeling blessed? Well, how about saying, I just feel, both, grateful and blessed. Something, that I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid, has somehow come to fruition, and I still have a hard time believing it.

So, while I’m sure, that besides my mom, everyone cringes when they see the word, bunnies, and soon will, at vampires, you’ll have to indulge me a little more, since this is all very new and exciting for me. Just wait until my Killer Tomato book!

Anyway, thanks, Tuesdays!

I’ll see you all, next week!

What Song Makes You Happy?

Melody: This is going to sound strange, but the song that always makes me happy is Never Tell by the Violent Femmes. My sisters and I used to act out the song, to the point where we were tumbling on the floor and slam dancing during the crazy, cacophonous ending. Of course that was when we were younger and less likely to hurt ourselves. Country Death Song, also by the Femmes, is a close second. It’s so outrageous and wrong that it’s funny.

Faran: Definitely a toss up between AC/DC “highway to hell” and Ozzy Osborne “the road to nowhere.”

 

Cathy: Happy is a relative terms. I love the Fall Out Boy song called, “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark.” It’s a song my husband covers with the band Private Stock, and I love hearing him sing it and how the crowd reacts. It’s also an awesome title.

 

Jonathan: There are so many songs that could fall under this category, but for the sake of the exercise, I’ll just pick one. This isn’t my favorite song, but it is up there. I’m saying Escape (The Piña Colada song). I love it, and it brings me back to my youth, when I heard that song a lot. The nostalgic aspect is huge here, but it’s also so catchy, that I can’t help but smile, when I hear it.

The song that always makes me smile is “Radar Love” by Golden Earring. My sister first played it for me on one of our sister outings. I fell in love with it, played it over and over again. I It was the one I danced to at clubs in Gainesville. And the song I requested at The Phyrst in Penn State. How can you not smile when you think of someone loving you so much that you two have Radar Love?

Joanne: One of the many songs that make me happy is “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” by Cyndi  Lauper. It reminds me of fun times in the 80’s dancing and singing it at the top of my lungs to my husband and friends.

Checking my Character Arc

I’ve been very careful to watch the arc of my protagonist as I’ve progressed through my novel, but haven’t paid as much attention to his sidekick. This secondary character is presenting an unusual solution to a problem that the main character has. Because it’s a different way of looking at things, I’ve struggled with how much information to trickle in and to tie a credible thread to the concept.

For months during critique, the Tuesdays have been saying things like “It doesn’t feel scary enough for the characters here,” or “It’s like the information is being given, but it doesn’t fit.”

 

I discovered that my issue was in the arc of the secondary character. I had not shown the underlying reason (guilt) for her to be doing all the things she was doing to help the main character. When I brought this tidbit out, the Tuesdays loved it. In our discussion afterward, I realized that I need to intensify the arc of my secondary character all the way through the book by planting hints in earlier chapters which will make everything fit in a better place. Woohoo!

I can’t wait for next Tuesday!

Tuesday Tips for Teaching Writing

 

Last week  I gave a class for future authors.  This week I have another. It’s one of those rare treats when you get to speak to kids about what you love to do, when you know they totally get what you mean.

I’m always really nervous about these sorts of sessions. I’m never sure what each person needs to hear from me. Encouragement? Maybe. The key to success? That’s easy; love what you do and keep doing far past when you love it, until you hate it and still can’t do without it. But honestly writing as a middle school or high school kid doesn’t have to be so extreme. The authors of the future have tons of time.

So once again, what to tell them?

If I imagine that I’m giving this talk with the full Tuesday group, I’m pretty sure I know what my critique-mates might say. Or at least I could guess. Comes from knowing them pretty well and also having sat on panels with them in the past.

Cathy would give them inspiration in the form of a quote about writing or a great Ted talk. Cathy is very inspirational.

Melody might talk about how meticulous her process is. And then about how she tries to break out of that sometimes, is surprised with the results of that experiment, but then continues  to work away, using order and scrutiny to make her way through the meat of the manuscript. With a starred Kirkus  review and an award under her belt, it’s hard to argue with those results.

Faran would probably give them a sports analogy. Then he’d talk to them like they were his kids, I’m sure. And he’d metaphorically ruffle their hair and send them on their way. The kids would smile after meeting, Faran, I’m sure. He’s like that. All the kids love him.

Joanne is our best detective. She’d ask them a bunch of questions they wouldn’t mind answering and they’d leave feeling like the most interesting people on the planet. She’d probably also tell them to add conflict into their stories. I know she’s working on that and she’s very generous with sharing her knowledge.

Jonathan would act sheepish, but would be entertaining as hell with his snarky-boy one liners. He’d tell them hard truths but by the end of it, he’d have everyone wanting to write what he writes because he makes it look so easy. It isn’t.

So what did I tell these kids? The truth is I’m not entirely sure how I write what I write. For me, It all starts with characters, of course. So we did a bunch of character work.

We broke down character into the convoluted way I see it. It’s all about deconstruction and reconstruction. Of taking characters/or people you know and putting them in different settings and different stories. Putting them in a time machine and see where they are spit out. Before they were in this story. After. Depending on the character.

I’ve got no idea if this was helpful to anyone, but I hope it was. I know that by the time you read this, dear Tuesday Reader, I will be preparing my read for my favorite critique group, The Tuesdays. I haven’t been able to attend as regularly as I would have liked to these past few months, but next week I’ll be there. Notebook in hand. Reading. Waiting for Faran to find the humanity in what I’ve written, Joanne to find the conflict, Melody to help me plan, Cathy to inspire me. And Jonathan, hopefully will help me be entertaining.

It’s a lot to ask for, but I’m asking anyway.

See you in group!

 

Back from the Conference!

Hello Tuesdays!

Hope you all had a great Father’s Day weekend!

I’m back from the Orlando SCBWI conference, and had a great time. I always love going to conferences, because it’s a time to hang out with your writing friends and refresh your energy toward your own projects. Every time I come back from one, I’m all excited to get back to tackling my own stories.

I got to see friends, I hadn’t seen for a while, and met some new people as well. I, also, met some people, who I had only known from online, which was pretty cool. It’s nice to finally be able to see someone in person, instead of just their onscreen persona.

And above all else, there was some learning of writing knowledge to be done.

The problem, for me, at these things, is there are always so many interesting looking workshops to choose from. Every single time, I have trouble deciding. This time was no exception. I was debating between the Middle Grade and the Humor tracks. Both had great presenters, and from the looks of it, great agendas listed, but in the end, I went with the Humor track. In part, because of the presenters, author, Bruce Hale and editor, Francesco Sedita, and I have to say that I was not disappointed. The workshop, itself, was a lot of fun, had a very relaxed atmosphere, and as expected, a lot of humor.

They encouraged participation, made everyone feel comfortable,  and even managed to get me to step out of my shell, and provide some good material as well. (I’ve been working on overcoming my shyness). By the end of the day, there was a lot of laughter in the class, and you can’t beat that.

If anyone has been on the fence, I, definitely, recommend going to the next conference. It’s such a great way to meet people and hone your craft. The next Florida one, will be in January, in Miami, and if you’re still unsure, let me give you a huge incentive. January, is when they have the Debut Author panel, and guess what . . . Yes! You’re right, I’m going to be on it! This is your chance to hear me speak, and see, for yourself, just what my mom has been raving about for years! And please remember to applaud, it’ll help me overcome my shyness.

Until next time, Tuesdays!