A Jurassically good feeling…my 4 favorite Crichton reads in honor of Jurassic World

I’m obsessed. Just like my two-year-old, I am giddy for dinosaurs. Specifically? Dinosaurs originating from Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park.

It doesn’t hurt that I love dabbling in genetics in my own young adult SciFi work. Last week, when I first saw the new trailer for Jurassic World, I felt that old stab of excitement that would come as a teenager/young adult whenever a new Crichton novel made its way to the big screen. Here’s a rundown of my top five.

big-jurassicparkJurassic Park – I was a nerdy seventh-grader when my family went to see the movie version in London. London, you say? Yes, London. My dad’s job nearly moved our family there, and we were in the UK house hunting (we ended up staying in Atlanta, which is cool, because I started competitive figure skating). While I was petrified during most of the movie (I have never been good with the idea of gore, my empathy for characters sometimes getting the better of me), I LOVED it, and when it came out on video–remember video?–I watched it until it ran scratchy. Oh right…and I read the book, you know, a million times–noting it was even better:)

big-congoCongo – Okay, its not that the lead actor was totally dreamy or Amy the gorilla was astonishing. It was the crazy suspense I discovered in the second Crichton book I read. He had me on the edge of my seat again…and again and again! I realized it wasn’t just the magic of Jurassic Park. This was my first introduction to an author’s style. Crichton combined science and thrilling plots that made me happy in my nerdy ways, and also craving so much more.

big-sphereSphere – The movie version almost ruined this one for me. Also, I had to hide the book so my mom wouldn’t pick it up and realize the “F” word had been used liberally. I felt so dangerous for reading such a novel in a rather conservative home. There’s so much mystery in this novel! Who is talking to them? What is going on? Is anyone at all going to make it out of this underwater tomb? My fear of being trapped under the surface of the water and caustrophia only added to the thrill of this novel. The worn version I inhaled still sits on my shelf (I’ve bought shinier, newer copies of most of the others, because most were from the library).

big-timelineTimeline – Another MC novel where the movie tried to ruin the shockingly good plot and characters Crichton put together . (However, I miss you, Paul Walker – another person leaving us far too early.) Not only did Crichton take on quantum physics (I don’t know if he did it well; I make no claim to understanding physics), but he took on history in the form of time travel. It was like he opened a fan letter from my mind that read, “Dear Michael. You Rock. Science is awesome. But could you dabble in time travel?” With that mix, and hints of Wells’ Time Machine, this novel easily made me remember why Crichton’s work would always be a favorite of mine.

I miss you, MC. You rocked!

A note to readers…three rules for reading

I had such a great opportunity to hear a fellow young adult author speak at a recent conference. She had written a riveting book, one that had won several awards, and I ate up everything she said about character development. However, toward the end of her speech (and I can’t even remember exactly what she was talking about at that point), she said something about Amazon reviews sometimes being toxic.1338696071187_6291332

Of course I was puzzled. Had people slammed her book, one that I had thought had a fantastic mix of intriguing plot and deep characters?

It seems that they had.

And I thought, what makes some people so small and petty that they must skewer a book that has been through all the best gates–an author with an agent with an established traditional press that hires first-rate editors? I understand when people rally against a book that has grammatical errors, poor plotting, and other things that are sometimes not addressed if a self-published author doesn’t take the necessary steps to make sure their book will stand up to the crowd. Your audience then becomes the gatekeeper for quality. No one wants to waste his or her money. But this was a good book, not only in my estimation, but in the estimation of expert panelists who had judged it worthy of awards, as well as many happy readers who had given it stellar reviews.

So here, in no particular order, are three things you might think about while you consume a novel. Whether you read for pleasure, are an established or aspiring writer, or function as a beta reader or editor helping someone get work ship-shape, think on this as you digest a writer’s work.

1. It’s not your story. Maybe you like robots. Maybe you think robots should be in every book that ever was. With fiction, we sometimes judge the author more on what wasn’t in the book than on what was. Authors must be mindful of word counts (when was the last time you read an 800-page novel?), and sometimes actions and events must be streamlined. If the story makes sense and has appropriate tension, then quit your whining. You wouldn’t ask Maya Angelou to add robots to I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, so let an author of fiction tell you his or her best story too.

2. Style is an artistic choice. Maybe you like stories written in first person, maybe in third. Maybe you don’t like diary-type novels or books written as email entries. Before you decide to hate something, remember that authors can spend months considering their “voice” for a novel and even rewriting one that doesn’t work, because a story or character might demand to have the tale told a certain way. Enjoy the diversity. I love impressionist artwork, but I don’t want every piece on my wall to be a Monet.

3. Realize that writing  a (great) novel is hard. If I had a nickel for every time someone told me he had the BEST idea for a bestseller but just couldn’t find time to write it, well, you know. It is easy to imagine a story in movie format, the high tension scenes and scintillating dialogue, but the challenge is not in the concept, but in stitching it together and getting thousands and thousands of words on paper while you avoid clichés, catch numerous typos, and make sure characters evoke the right emotion. That’s what we authors spend sleepless nights pondering, so remember, we’re working hard to give you the best story ever. If you doubt that, start your own novel, and it will grow an amazing amount of respect for your favorite writers.

Then read on…:)

Author Blog Hop! (boing, boing, boing)

I love hippity hopping for author blog hops, so imagine my excitement when author and friend L.M. Fry asked me to participate in one. Hooray! Besides, who doesn’t like answering questions about him or herself:) Hope my answers give you some insight into this crazy land known as my writer’s brain! And check out the author springboarding off my post…children’s book author Susan Meyers.

1. What am I working on right now?

I’m in what I call an “editing break.” I recently completed a young adult contemporary that covers hate speech, and I’m gearing up for a science fiction novel with series potential that will include some complex world-building, as well as a contemporary YA thriller collaboration with the aforementioned Fry. So, to relax, I edit older works of mine that haven’t been published yet. Yep. I know. Weird-o.  Oh! Also, I’m working with my exceptionally awesome agent, Kaylee Davis, to edit one of my YA contemporary novels and prepare it for pitching.

2. How does my work differ from others in the genre?

I like to write conversationally. I want my characters to feel like someone you’d meet at a high school, so when the fantastic happens, it’s more believable. My style’s just a bit on the unconventional side, but I really believe in finding your own voice in this biz.

3. Why do I write what I do?

The young adult genre is like a big bag of awesome. Action? Check. Romance? Check. High stakes drama? Check. The need for humor? Check. Check. I may dabble in some adult fiction next year, but I’ll never leave those teen years behind (insert song from Peter Pan about not growing up here). My teen years defined so much of who I am now (I also fell in love with my husband of twelve years–and counting–at age nineteen), so I really enjoy exploring the decisions and situations that influence that time in our lives.

4. How does my writing process work?

Usually, an idea simmers for over a year before I take it on (because I’m writing ideas from the year before!). Then, when I’m on an “editing break,” I outline it–about five to six intense pages of plot and subplot points. Next, I write like a maniac for about eight weeks straight. Then it goes like this for another two months or so: Edit. Work on something else. Edit. Work on something else. Send to my personal editor (my mom, people!–she’s pretty tough) for any stealthy typos or plot holes. Read on my Kindle. Maybe run some pages by my critique group. Revise, revise. It’s never done until I send it to an industry professional and it’s out of my hands.

And you thought novel writing was easy peasy. (Pffft!)

But man, people. This is the life. And next week, hop on over to Susan Meyer’s post, as well as John Davidson’s, who is spring boarding off L.M. Fry’s post.

Cheers:)

A writer’s pick me up…

Every once in a while, you need to hear you’re doing a good job. Once upon a time, when I went to an office building every day, I could find fulfillment through working hard and gaining positive feedback from my bosses. Then I became a mom, and through an interesting turn of events and a move across country, I found myself given the opportunity of staying home while my children were little as I wrote part-time and worked on my novel career.

I’ll say one thing. Performance reviews for a mom aren’t the same. There’s Mother’s Day, where the kids and hubby go all out, but most of the other days of the year, I’m just trekking along. Not unappreciated, but no one is checking any “outstanding” boxes either (not that I usually earn an “outstanding,” I realize, as my kids ate ice cream for dinner tonight;). Plenty of times though, the kids cry and whine at me, but it’s the little moments, the hugs and kisses and the “I missed you Mommy,” that are my best indication I’m doing a few things right.

Then there’s writing. My part-time work for various publications is pretty straightforward. I get the job done, and usually it needs to get done quickly. The novel writing? Well, that’s more complicated. Ever since pitching my novel to a small press three years ago, I’ve found that although I started with a good toolbox for writing fiction, I have a lifelong journey of improvement ahead.

But, two Saturdays ago, I got to enjoy one small moment of “Atta girl!” Accidental Mobster, my first published novel (and the second one I’d ever written–the first is floating around somewhere on my computer), won an award from a group of women educators, The Creative Women of Oklahoma Award for Young Adult Book. I had the opportunity to receive the award at a banquet and talk to a room full of women about my writing story. The way I was treated and the response to my books was an overwhelming lift to my spirits.

Awards push me forward. They make me want to get better, to prove I’m deserving of what’s been given. That’s always been how I’ve seen any achievement in my life–a mark that I’m headed the right direction but can always keep striving. I’m excited for the road ahead. I can’t wait to share the stories I have and let the audience into the souls of new characters.

But for just a few moments, I’m going to take a breath. Atta girl.

Cheers.

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Doing my best to form a coherent thought during a brief little speech at the banquet.

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Getting ready to talk. Happy to report the trilogy sold out before the discussion began!

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Husband didn’t get my “House of Cards” reference to my outfit until he took this picture:)

 

What is steampunk?

Steampunk. If you’re a writer, you may have run across this cute little term in an editor or agent’s “interests” section. As a reader, your thinking, “Say what? Punk?”

Yeah, I know. Makes me think of pink Mohawks too.

But don’t get confused here. Steampunk is a blenderized combination of the late 1800s/early 1900s, industrialization, and, you guessed it, a punk rock feel (click here for Wikipedia’s more in-depth, more technical, and more helpful description). While discussing this theme with another writer, she and I decided (scientifically and on our very strong authority) that this isn’t a genre so much as a thematic element of a story. Difference? Steampunk can be implemented in so many stories, making it a creature all its own.

steampunkSo, what is considered steampunk? Well, going back to the beginning, when the late 1800s was contemporary, you had the oh-so-talented Jules Verne writing books like Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and H.G. Wells’ Time Machine. There you go. There’s steampunk in its infancy, in probably its most original form.

In modern days, the element of steampunk may look like the new movie versions of Sherlock Holmes, or something of that nature. It could almost be described as sci-fi meets historical fiction…or something like that. But steampunk doesn’t have to take place in the 1800s. Oh no. It just has to have the look and feel of Victorian times and industrialization. So you can set it in modern times and the future too!

Don’t ask me how. I haven’t been able to generate any ideas on those two points.

But I do have some thoughts swirling now. So I best get started. If the book industry has taught me anything so far, it’s that as soon as something’s made into a movie–wizards, vampires, dystopian, etc.–it goes out of vogue for a while.

So I better get cracking. I don’t mean to be rude, but excuse me while I go pick up my copy of Around the World in Eighty Days.

What the fudgcicles? To cuss or not to cuss in YA fiction…

In every writing workshop I conduct, the topic of using swear words in teen fiction is a huge issue of debate, with people as polarized over the subject as the American legislature on the Affordable Healthcare Act. And I have to say, I’ve found both sides (on the swear word debate) to have valid reasons for believing the way they do.

On the pro side, I’ve found that teens in my workshops shrug their shoulders and often tell me that they use bad language all the time. “Why not use it in writing? It reflects reality,” they say. And I see so many aspiring writers who appear to do just that–have their characters use bad language in an effort to make them seem real. Cool. Edgy.

Then, on the other side of the debate, are those (often parents) who say, “Why expose my kids to this? They get enough of it every day.” Still others say it’s lazy writing, that curse words are used when the writer wants to sound tough but can’t think of any other way to achieve it.

I like to take a step back from the argument. I mean, I’m breaking up fights between toddlers on a daily basis; by noon each day, I’ve usually done a year’s worth of refereeing. I don’t like to take sides when I don’t have to. I’m a “let’s look at the situation” type of gal. So where do I weigh in on this issue?

After writing twelve novels (and counting) and having both used language and shied away from it in the past, I’ve learned this: your character and target audience will make the difference. For example, in the Teen Mobster Series, my target age range is eleven and up. Of course, it is the Mafia, which isn’t known for it’s, uh, gentlemanly behavior. But I found a way around it, telling my audience that men are “cursing” in the story without writing the actual words. Realistic, but still appropriate for the age range.

But in other books, especially more mature teen books (14+) that deal with contemporary issues (sexuality and bullying, for example–follow my Twitter handle to learn more about upcoming releases), sometimes a character displays his or her personality through the use of a curse word, or a character’s reaction to cursing tells the audience more about him or her. I try to use swearing sparingly, but with discretion, always wanting a novel that deals with critical issues to feel authentic to the readers it’s meant to touch.

So the decision is yours. Just remember what Ernest Hemingway said:

“…Try and write straight English; never using slang except in dialogue and then only when unavoidable. Because all slang goes sour in a short time.”

Cheers.

How many words to write…a creative person’s lesson in time management

I am a writer. That means that while I do many things, my mind is in Never Never Land, working out the stories in my head. If it sounds a little crazy, that’s because…well…it is.

I discuss my writing habits with many people, and because I have small children and several endeavors in development, the fact that I have completed no less than seven novels in two and half years may sound impressive (twelve overall, with six under contract with Bluewood Publishing and the rest of my work now represented by Dee Mura Literary). But the thing is, anyone can accomplish certain word counts. The tough job is ensuring that what’s coming through the tips of my fingers is quality. This doesn’t always happen on the first go around, and usually the editing process hones the story and makes it sing.

However, even though I’m a creative writer, I am organized. That doesn’t mean my house is filled with perfectly stacked, labeled storage bins. If only. But it does mean that I make lists, and plenty of them. And generally, except for the grocery list that disappears to its own version of Never Never Land right before I reach the store, these lists help me organize my wild and crazy life.

But whether you’re the OCD poster child or more of a “What? It’s midnight already and I just got out of my pajamas!” type , managing time, especially time for writing, can be achieved. Here’s a few methods for fitting that book into your life–no matter how busy.

Review your free time – Think of it this way: the time of day you’d be watching your favorite shows or surfing social media is free time. Try to calculate how much time you spend doing it. This is time that can go directly to your writing. Now, I’ll caution that you should definitely set time aside to read, especially in the genre you’re writing. And, if you absolutely must watch the finale of the Bachelorette, just DVR it. Those commercials are stealing your life away.

Organize your story – From my experience, if I know where I’m going, I’ll get there faster. You don’t have to possess a comprehensive outline, and actually, spending too much time outlining can distract from what really needs to be done–yeah, writing. But when I know what big scenes are coming and a good idea of how I want to reach them, the words flow faster. This also pertains to research–taking time to get it done (visiting locales, interviewing specialists, reading nonfiction material) will only speed up the storytelling process.

Take a break; strengthen relationships. I could always be writing. It’s a hard switch to turn off. In fact, I carry a notebook everywhere to jot down ideas as they come to me. But I need to turn off the brain faucet from time to time–and I do. My family and friends, my health, and my other odd-but-awesome jobs (Edmond Sun‘s Mom Around Town and Metropolitan Library System writing classes) are priorities that can’t be shirked. Developing strong relationships as a writer sits at the top of my list, because not only can writing be a lonely profession, but I write better people when I spend time with people. I also write more hopeful stories from living a full and positive life (despite the setbacks, heartbreak, and tragedy that are inherent in life), and at the end of the day, that’s the kind of thing I want to put out there.

So don’t worry. Be happy, and write on:)