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Spring Cleaning

This could also be titled “pick up your bags and truck on over to Blogspot”.


I did it.

I moved the blog to Blogspot.

I have absolutely nothing against WordPress (actually I’m rather nostalgic about ditching my very first blog) but several things hooked me into Blogspot.

1. Followers. Yes… I am lame like that. I need followers to prove to the world that I don’t ramble to a deaf world. I also thought it would be easier to follow other people’s blogs if I had a Google account.

2. Pages.
Actually this was the one reason it took me so long to get here. I love the WordPress Pages feature, and I didn’t think Blogspot had it. Until this morning, when I sneaked into Google and created this account just to test things out… and discovered that Blogspot has an all-new Pages feature! I was sold.

3. People. I started hinting at this change on Twitter this morning, and the replies were instantaneous and unanimous: make the move!

So change your links: is the new place to be. Don’t forget the “joy” part — that’s new and improved and also very important, because Kirsten Joy Rice is going to be the name you’ll see on bookshelves someday.

And… to be nostalgic, just because change makes me sad sometimes, thanks to all you lovely people for contributing to “A Romantic” in its first form. Onwards and upwards!

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The Beach Salvage (tension, part two)

Building tension is one thing. You can craft all the craziness you want, and ramp up the stakes in every conversation, but it’ll mean nothing if you don’t create a satisfying climax.

The other week, a string of storms blew several large, 30-40 ft sailboats onto one of the beaches here. I just so happened to be playing volleyball on the next sunny day when a crew of men were trying to pull one of the boats out of the sand. This boat was buried. Really, really buried. The keel probably shot 10 feet or so into the ground and wet sand filled the cabin.

The crew had decided to loop a chain around the base of the keel. The chain was connected to a tow truck that was in the beach’s parking lot. Of course my friends and I headed over to check things out. A bunch of other spectators had gathered around the boat with cameras and frowns and lots of curiosity. As people crowded to closer to watch and whisper, a security car showed up to keep things under control.

“Stand back!” one of the crew guys shouted. “When the tow truck pulls, this whole boat’s gonna blow up!”

We were stoked. What a cool afternoon!

“Stand farther back!” the crew guy and the security car told us. “The debris might fly fifty feet, and you don’t wanna get hit with any of it.”

Wow. Danger? Possible death? We moved back, but not too far.

As the tow truck started up, the crowd hushed. This was it. The boat was going to blow! The crew gave the signal and the tow truck shifted into gear. The chain made a grinding noise against the keel —

Then —


Lots of silence.

And then the security car drove up and told us to go home; the crew was giving up and the fun was over.

Lamest story ever?

Yes, I’m sorry I put you through it, but it proves the point.

When you make your book sing with tension, you’d better deliver. Build to a satisfying climax that tests your characters’ strengths and changes them forever. Don’t just wrap things up with a couple of hugs — or, in this case, a “just kidding”.

Maybe this seems obvious, but I can think of several books that ended with a huge anticlimax — okay, mainly the fourth Twilight book — and it can be tempting to reach the end of your book and just want to be done. Don’t do that. First blow up the boat, scatter some debris, and make the evening headlines. Then pack up and go home.

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Say what’cha need to say (tension, part one)

Do you ever notice our conversations? Real life, normal conversations?

We don’t push buttons. We play nice and say good things and generally avoid conflict. At least I do. I really don’t like tension-filled conversations — they make my palms sweaty and they twist up my tongue.

In novels, however, conversations have to snap with tension. There’s no other way. Characters can’t talk about the weather or ramble about their days; they must say things that make other people uncomfortable or angry, they must bare their souls (or hide their souls), argue and gossip and lie.

Take, for example, this excerpt from FELL. Birch, having just gotten on the bus, sees Harley, this kid who doesn’t seem to have a home and also always appears on her bus routes. She sits down next to him. The scene doesn’t have much momentum yet, and it makes total sense for Birch and Harley to say hello. I mean, I would say hello. But “hello” doesn’t establish tension, start things off with a bang, or make me want to read (or write) any further. Instead:

“You’re early,” he says.

“Do you have my schedule memorized?” I choose not to be creeped out by it.

“It’s an easy schedule.” He rolls his head to one side so we’re almost nose to nose. He looks exhausted, shivery. His hair’s greasier and his eyes are darker, sadder, smudged with circles.

“Were you waiting for me?”

Now that is interesting (I hope). When your characters say unexpected things, push buttons, and dive into taboo subjects, your readers will get glued to your scenes.

But don’t try this at home — save it for the books.


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Book cover giveaway!

Want to win a cover design for your WIP? I definitely do. SophistiKatied is hosting a contest — head over there to enter or to just peruse her awesome graphic design skills.


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AW Exposed: Jim Clark-Dawe

I’m so excited to introduce this week’s interviewee. Rather famous on AW for his critiquing skills, he prowls the query forum, fondly known as Query Letter Hell (QLH), to poke and prod our shapeless messes of words into things that resemble query letters. Today, he talks about his own journey to publication, his “results-oriented” approach to critique, and the best way to craft a perfect query. Thanks for dropping by, Jim!

AW Identity:
Screen Name: jclarkdawe
Post Count: Somewhere around 5k. About 80% of them in QLH.
Favorite Forum: You need to ask?
What’s the best lesson AW has taught you? It’s hard to separate out. Most things are learned from a variety of sources, combined with past knowledge, to form a new whole.


In real life, you are… You mean AW isn’t real life? I’m going to have to talk to Mac about that.
Book title(s): EQUINE LIABILITY, published back in 2001. It’s sold through and my publisher and I discussed a reprint about two years ago. However, in looking at the market and economy, we decided it probably wouldn’t be a good idea. Unfortunately for the nation’s economy, our decision turned out right.
Genre: Legal/Animals

You’re AW’s query king. All of us (including myself) have been in your debt at some point or another for tearing our query to shreds — and making it lots better. What’s your best advice for a stunning query?

A stunning book. It’s that simple. A query isn’t going to be much better than the book, unless you fake it. Most people are trying to query their first novel, and they’d do better putting it in a trunk and starting a new one. Then again, I tried selling my first book. Query sucked, book sucked. When you’re ready to start sending out queries, put your manuscript to one side and ignore it while you write your second book. It’s going to be a lot better than your first one.

Meanwhile with your query, just keep sending it out. You’re either going to sink or swim, and most likely sink. But you try drowning enough times, you’ll probably learn how to swim. Or give up.

On the flip side, what are the most common query mistakes you see in Query Letter Hell — or, excuse me, the Query forum?

Thinking that 200 words is easy. A lot of people have a schedule where they allot time to edit their book, then figure 200 words, maybe a week, then query, and in three months they’ll have a publisher. It’s not likely to happen, although it can. If you are writing commercially, as opposed for your own amusement, you need to start thinking about marketing from the beginning.

On average, how many drafts do you see writers working through before their query is ready for submission?

Absolutely no idea. And most people don’t post all of their versions, which is a good thing. Some people do it in a couple, others can be back and forth for a year or more.

Any encouragement for writers who are struggling through the millionth one?

Queries come when they’re ready. The more you try to force them, the less likely they are to come. As with most writing, queries involve a mixture of conscious and subconscious thoughts. But people in QLH are usually trying to force it, and that doesn’t work.

How has critiquing others influenced and improved your own writing?

Simple answer is when you look at someone else’s writing and think something is crap, you realize the same thing in your book isn’t going to smell any better.

It’s hard to distance yourself from your own writing. But analyzing someone else’s work can help you learn how to do it to your work. As you critique someone else, and see something that isn’t working, you have to ask yourself why. And then when you look at your own work, you can apply it.

Parts of editing can be easily taught and learned. Grammar, sentence structure, and POV are rather mechanical and have certain rules to guide you. Pacing and voice though are difficult concepts to explain, and even harder to figure out. Until you start criticizing someone else because the author had an inconsistent voice, or you tell someone that something is dragging, do you start to develop the ability to see that in your own work.

Talk about your own query letters. Are you on your own quest for representation? If so, how’s it going? If not, what stage are you in right now?

With EQUINE LIABILITY, I didn’t use an agent. There were only five publishers who would have been interested in it, and all were small. The numbers generated from it weren’t going to be amazingly high and there was no possibility of foreign sales. So the contract was very straight-forward.

After that, I tried writing a couple of novels, even finishing one. About the only positive thing I can really say about it was it got finished. About three years ago, I started writing THE NEXT STEP, which I felt had some serious potential. Queried it to about 130 agents, and landed Irene Kraas. She submitted it to editors at Penguin, Warner, Harper, Holt, and a few others. Response was consistent that the writing was good, but the lack of plot would make it hard to sell.

So last August, we stopped submitting it, and I started rewriting it. I took the 48k in THE NEXT STEP, sliced another 8k from it, and then added another 38k and renamed the sucker ASHES TO ASHES. Right at the moment, I’m getting comments back from betas. By mid April, those suggestions will be incorporated into the manuscript. At that point, I’ll be running through it at least twice, including reading it out loud and another time having the computer read it to me.

I figure in May it will be going back to Irene. I’m hoping and expecting that her changes will probably be minimal, and that it will be back on submission in June. I think it’s going to be different enough to go back to the editors who liked the writing, and the plot problems are solved.

Net result of all this rejection is going to be what I think is a much better book.

When you critique a query, you get to the bottom of the problem — without sparing any words. This snarky, definitely blunt technique works, but it’s not the “compliment sandwich” that many people recommend. Firstly, why this method?

I tend to prefer results-oriented approaches. Bottom line is no matter how nice or mean I am doesn’t matter. A poster is going to get a lot more satisfaction from an agent requesting a partial than anything I can provide them with. And rejections are going to be a lot meaner than I’ll ever be. QLH should be all about results, not how good you feel.

Secondly, QLH gets a wide variety of critiquing methods, ranging from yours to the nicest compliment sandwich kind. What do you think works best, and in the end produces the best query?

Depends. But the depends is more about the writer than the style of the critique. People should focus on the message, not the presentation, of any critique. My way you have to focus on the negative, and there’s not much room to hide. Sandwiching can cause the person to focus on the positive and hide the negative. The net result should be the same, but it isn’t. But for some people, without the positive reinforcement, the negative overwhelms them.

My assumption, however, is that anyone entering QLH is ready to be professional. And although some agents and editors are good at hand-holding, many are not. Most of them are results-oriented people, looking to get through editing as quickly as possible. I can do an entire query’s line-editing in under five minutes, and most of that time is spent typing. Spending time to make a person feel good is frequently not in my schedule, and it’s the same thing with agents and editors.

Interestingly enough, when you talk with results-oriented people, like top level athletes, musicians, business people, and other people at the top of their professions, they recall the person who didn’t worry about how good they felt, but kicked their butt from here to there.

For a writer, especially with commercial interests (i.e., they want to get paid for their work), satisfaction should only come from seeing their work in print. And the satisfaction you get from seeing your words in print, and receiving an actual check, will quickly reduce to meaningless the comments on an online forum that your writing is the most wonderful thing they’ve seen.

But I’m well aware that for some people, anything negative is devastating. For these people, some of them do succeed through their natural abilities. However, they need to develop some sort of security blanket from the world. When a review gets published in PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY that your book is the worst piece of crap the reviewer ever read, not only is it going to hurt, but it’s going to kill your career. If you have the internal ability to pick yourself up, great. If you have a security blanket to pick yourself up, great. If you lack both, then you’re just going to roll over and play the dead cockroach.

Without naming names if necessary, share a story from your time in QLH…

That would require that I actually remember something. That’s not likely to happen. Most of the amusing things in QLH occur off stage, in the comments and private messages (PMs) that are exchanged. And those are private. Mostly, QLH is just sad. Success is few and far between.

But I love it when I get a PM that says, “I cried when I read your critique, but thanks to QLH, I’ve now got an agent.” That’s the positive side to QLH.


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You know you’re a writer when…

You know you’re a writer when you use plot structure tools like Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet to analyze your love life. Is the dark night of the soul over yet?

You know you’re a writer when your friend says something hilarious and you say “WAIT! Can you say that again? I need to write it down so I can stick it in my novel” and they just roll their eyes.

You know you’re a writer when you almost tell your professor, “I don’t need to write this paper; I wrote a novel“, but don’t because you can’t bear to get anything lower than an “A” on a writing assignment.

And you know you’re a writer when you get all shivery and excited when one of the writers you follow HOLDS THEIR BOOK FOR THE FIRST TIME! Alexandra Bracken is hosting a contest to win a copy of her debut novel BRIGHTLY WOVEN on her blog. You should enter. Or buy a copy. Or just be happy for her — because her book’s gonna be on shelves in one month!

“You know you’re a writer when…” is open to submissions. Got something funny or creative, send it over to me at madisonwrites (at) mac (dot) com, and I’ll feature it on the blog!

PS: tomorrow’s interview is going to be AWESOME. One hint about the interview-ee’s identity: starts with QUERY and ends with KING. Be here.


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Teaser Tuesday

Drumroll, please.

Here is the much anticipated, completely unedited, possibly horrible opening to FELL.

I see him again on the northbound 17 express: rush hour traffic and nowhere to sit, rain spattering the windshield, and that boy standing in the aisle ahead of me, pretending to read Steinbeck like yesterday but never actually flipping the page.

And it scares me. The day before yesterday, he was just another passenger. Yesterday he was cute, and once I stared back when I caught him looking, fluttered my eyelashes and smiled like a fool. Today, he is terrifying. I don’t know why. I zip my raincoat, five dollars at Goodwill, up to my chin.

He doesn’t normally ride the metro bus. I pick that up right away. Number one, he doesn’t have a bus pass. Number two, he always tries to pay as he enters, even during peak hour when everyone knows to pay on the way out. Number three, he can’t keep his balance.

We stop on Market street. Almost half the bus floods out into the February rain. Shoes squeak, umbrellas pop. I squish to the side of the aisle, half leaning on some poor old lady with a million shopping bags as a bunch of people push past. The second I move, the boy pops out of his Steinbeck. He pretends to drift his gaze toward the side window, toward Ballard blurred by downpour and headlights, but his eyes flick to me. Just once. My heart sends electric shocks through my chest — oh gosh this kid is weird. His eyes are brown, brown to match his hair, which is swoopy and kind of emo. He doesn’t break the stare, and that’s the fourth reason I know Steinbeck’s not used to metro buses. Metro buses have rules: only look people in the eye if you want trouble. Steinbeck is trouble. I feel it in a tingling in the tips of my fingers and a crawling across the back of my neck.

I grip my umbrella, seventy-five cents at Goodwill, ready to use it.

The bus jerks forward and everyone shifts, grabs handholds, sits down. Windshield wipers swish faster as we move into the rain. Like magnets my eyes snap back to Steinbeck. Is he watching my reflection in the window? Or only watching the flickers of night between the reflection of my raincoat and the reflection of the passenger behind me?

Birch, I tell myself, shivering, stop being stupid.


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