Why did it have to be a series?

Last night, I finished reading Alexander Gordon Smith's dark and harrowing Escape From Furnace. And maybe I should have known, especially since it's right there in the YA section, but as I closed in on the last few pages and came to the realization this was a TO BE CONTINUED deal, I was less than thrilled. It was a good less than thrilled, because I'll be right there when the second book, Solitary, comes out later this year in the U.S. By the way, check out the unbelievably cool Furnace web site.

Actually, this was like James Dashner's, The Maze Runner all over again. I must be a moron, but I had no idea when I picked up that book that it would be a series. I only wish I had an effing clue when I started reading.

Man, am I dense. It's always the same thing. As I reach the final couple chapters, I start to wonder how on earth (or under earth in the case of Furnace) the author is going to resolve everything. Then, I hit the last chapter and with each page, I get that sinking feeling, until.... WHAT???? You're leaving me here? No no no no NO! Harumph. Arms crossed, feet stomping, I solemnly swear to never let it happen again.

But it does. I guess some of these series books stand alone better than others. Hunger Games and Catching Fire had complex, major plot-lines to resolve, and did so in each case. Sure, there is still a major story arc and character conflicts to deal with, but I know that's part of the series and will be resolved in the end. I came away from each of these two books satisfied. The same can be said for each of the Percy Jackson books. So far so good on the Bartimaeus trilogy. Christopher Golden's Veil trilogy worked well, too, almost like the Lord of the Rings, actually.

But these two. Maze Runner and Escape From Furnace. I love these books and the authors, but they are Lucy Van Pelt and I am Charlie Brown trying to kick the darn football. ARGH!!!!!

I can't wait for both sequels!



As ever, I'm remiss in accepting and doling out blog awards. I'm catching up right now. First off, there's this spring-like Sunshine Award, courtesy of Harley. Her blog is really great for writers - check it out. Thanks, Harley!

I'm going to hand this out to some rays of sunshine.

Mary, who is eminently awardable.
Shannon, who seems to have every imaginable award, but not this one!
Rachel, because this will get her to update her blog more frequently.
Kristan, because her words raise flowers skyward.

Then, there's this way cool blogger buddie award from the eminently awardable, Mary. Love this pic. I hereby award this to my bestest buddies and big toes:

Mireyah - yeah, I can pronounce you now!!!

Pass 'em along, peeps!


The Long Running Apex

I've been a bit quieter than normal on the sharpened pen. Every day this week I've been working on Mythos, either writing, scribbling notes, daydreaming, or having arguments with myself. On one or more occasion I've mentioned that writing pure action scenes is difficult for me. I need dialog to keep things moving. People need to say stuff about what's going on around them. I'm no big talker - okay, well, get me going on something I care about and I don't shut up so easy - but engaging me in the first place is a challenge. I'm also not accomplished at kicking off conversations because my mind is always wandering. I do not shmooze.

Yet, I need the rhythm of conversation in the chapters I write, otherwise I'm as uncomfortable as the family potbelly pet at a pig roast. (Yeah, I went a long way for that one.)

Here's the deal. Mythos reaches a fairly substantial climax, followed by a denouement you will count in paragraphs. I'm probably midway through that climax.

Hey you, stop that snickering!

As I was saying before the juvenile in you (and me, actually) interrupted, I'm halfway through the big, humongous, all encompassing, incredibly complicated, hard-to-choreograph, super-important, page-turning capstone of the book. It's a whopper! And I don't mean it's incredibly impressive, although I sure hope it is. No, what I'm saying is this sucker is huge. It's really a long, long scene. It's chapter-spanning. Holy mackerel, it's taking a lot of words to get it done.

So, that's why I'm not up here blogging that much, or up on twitter, tweeting, or visiting everyone's blogs, commenting. The good news is that when this apogee of apogees is behind me, there'll only be a couple of paragraphs I need with which to conclude the book, and then I'm done with the first draft. Then I can go back to publicly making a fool of myself instead of doing so only before family and friends.

Oh, and the picture has nothing to do with this post. I just quite enjoy it. And in case you wanted to know, Tinkerbell was not served the steak we were grilling that night.


Night off plus some contests

Although tonight I'm taking time to read, blog, watch American Idol (Go Crystal & Lee) and Glee, I'm knee deep writing the final two chapters of Mythos. It's the climax and is all action, twists, and tension. The Evil Inner Editor has found himself encased in a lead lined box in orbit, and is unable to steal my mojo. The end is in sight and I couldn't be more excited.

I've received two awards I just haven't had time to figure out who to pass them along to as yet, but I'm definitely going to get to it. Mary and Harley - I still owe you thanks. People, follow them on the blogosphere and twitter and everywhere virtual... just don't stalk them. The supermarket is a private place.

In other news, a kitten/duck stare-off.

And of course some contests!

Over at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, they've got a first lines contest. If you win, you'll get a full manuscript considered by Jim McCarthy without even having to query. Hurry up, though, the contest ends Thursday, 4/22.

Check out Elana Johnson's blog for info on an agent judged contest at QueryTracker.net next Tuesday, April 27th. This is your chance to send in a one sentence pitch of your young adult or middle grade novel to Chris Richman of Upstart Crow Literary. There is absolutely no limit to the number of entries he's considering, so be sure and get your pitch polished and perfect!


Birth of a Novel Part 15 - Choreography Part I - Violence

This is the twentieth entry in my Birth of a Novel series of posts, where I talk about the development of my new YA urban fantasy. Yes, twentieth, even though the post is entitled Part 15.

Two chapters later, and with American Idol and Glee on television tonight, it's clear I won't be getting much writing done tonight. Having readily admitted this weakness, I can move on to a BOAN post.

There I was, writing and writing and writing. This is the point at which Zydeco has to haul his cookies to "the site" for the big showdown. Approximately 183 ideas came to me as I began writing - all sorts of twists and turns - that I rapidly jotted down in my green sasquatch notebook. It's pretty cool, I have to say. I always love the "big showdown". And I find the choreography challenging and rewarding. Some of it is purely stage direction - get everyone to where they need to be to make the scene work. But it's also making sure everyone is emotionally where they need to be, which is a larger challenge, and often involves the entire book.

These last two chapters were about getting Zydeco and company to "the site". So, yes there was plenty of choreography getting him from Octavio's hidey hole, along with another character who reappears causing all sorts of tension. Along the way, they try to recruit Ted the Yeti and Alice the Sphinx, who were introduced a few chapters ago.

I looked around, catching movement in the shadows behind the doors and windows of the nearest buildings. Urgent whispers carried in the quiet, and broke only when Ted spoke.

"But I don't understand. Why does Phineas Malice care about us? Why does he care about any of us? Any of you?"

"I know he hates me, especially," said Octavio. "He blames me for his exile, which is actually quite accurate. When I was on the council, I saw to it he was sent away. He was a no good thief, consorting with the worst element. Goblins. The occasional imp or demon, too. Awful."

"More reasons for me to dislike the guy," I said. It also explained why he wanted Octavio so badly. "You're like the detective who puts the bad guy in jail, then winds up in the same cell with him. But I can't believe this whole thing he's doing--sending mythos into exile again, grabbing every one he can get hold of-is just because he hates you."

Ted cocked his large, furry head in confusion. If it weren't for the killer teeth and fangs hanging from his mouth, he'd be as adorable as an enormous, confused puppy. Behind him, Lex was hugging herself while keeping her eyes on Alice, who chose that moment to speak.

"There is a most elemental answer for that riddle, is there not?"

"That he's a tool?" I replied.

She narrowed her eyes and shook her head.

I didn't like her very much at that point and shot a pleading look at Octavio.

As the gang of three approach the site, things go terribly awry, and his results in Zydeco finally getting an ass-kicking. I couldn't just have him wander into the site and save everyone (Blaine, Magenta, etc.) easily. He may be able to put a hurtin' on Hunter, but he's not invincible, especially when a well conceived attack takes place.

Here's what surprised me about the whole deal. It didn't bother me one bit to deal Zydeco some serious violence. I mean, I wasn't going to kill him or anything. The fun part was choreographing the one-sided violence. How was I going to bring him down? I needed an element of surprise. Given the setting at the time, how would I do that? And once Zydeco was surprised, what would I do to him to get him on the ground? And how would I keep him there? Broken rib(s) are nice and debilitating, and having someone inflict the breakage in a savage and planned manner should hopefully give the reader pause.

Now, about those scribbled ideas in my little notebook. I came up with a brilliant twist if I do say so myself. It's awesome-tastic because of my tendency to leave "stuff" in the chapters as I write, in case I think I can use it later. If you are in my critique circle and have read my first drafts, you have likely complained about all the open questions I've left hanging. By the end of the first draft, I've answered many of them, and by the end of the second and third drafts, I've hopefully eliminated most of the unanswered questions. Well this twist is so very cool because you won't see it coming (I hope) but there are hints along the way. I love it when things just sort of work out.

To read about the last chapter, journey back to the previous entry.

The next couple of chapters have their very own post right here.


I Don't Like Mondays (Tell Me Why...)

It's Monday, don't you know, and I realized that the chapter I've been working on is approximately double the size of my standard chapter length. So, my evening has been spent on splitting the chapter up, and then thinking about what to blog. I could do the Birth of a Novel thing. Alas, I shall not do so. Instead, I choose to ruminate on how I don't much care for Mondays. Hence, the sad song with attached House video. Note who plays the piano with Dr. House!

And now to get some more writing done.

Happy Monday, and see you Tuesday!


Too funny

Whether you like Lady Gaga or not, this is hilarious.


A Diatribe on Dialog Tags

Some time ago, I posted an Analysis of Adverbs. While writing that entry, the notion of adverbial dialog tags kept coming up and reminded me of some of the more, um, flamboyant dialog tags I've seen employed. And this is funny to me, because I've received critiques from other writers who complain that I use he said/she said too much, and that I should mix it up with shrieked, argued, intoned, begged, demanded, pleaded, and I can't even tell you how many more.

Let's start with the two most fundamental points as regards dialog tags because if you buy them, everything else flows naturally.

1) Dialog tags should do nothing more than advise the reader who is speaking, in case it's not obvious.

When you watch a conversation between three people, you know who is speaking by sight, sound (tone and a spatial sense of where the voice is coming from)  When you eavesdrop (don't lie now, you know you do), you rely on sound. When you read, you rely completely on context. I'll come back to this.

2) Dialog tags distract the reader from the story.

There. I've said it. Plain and simple. Stories are about your characters and what happens to and because of them. Your characters do stuff, see stuff, feel stuff. They don't do, see, or feel dialog tags. Authors do. If you want your readers caring about your characters, keep the focus on the stuff your characters do, see and feel. If you want your readers caring about the author, write an autobiography.

Right, then. Context. Readers need to know who just said those precious pearls of dialog on the page. Dialog tags work, but, IMHO, the best way to convey such a context is to have the character do something prior to speaking. Action beats. You can't always do it, and sometimes it's just silly if you do it for the sake of doing it, but when you can, you should. Check out this tedious bit of dialog.

"Lovely day, isn't it?" asked Sally.

"Oh," replied Alfred. "Smashing. Truly."

"I wonder if we'll ever see the rains again," said John.

"I highly doubt it," replied Alfred. 

"Oh, stop whining already," said Sally.

Well, there's no doubt you know who is speaking. But this exchange suffers from a case of talking-head-itis. Nobody is doing anything. As far as you know, there's just some dismembered heads on a table babbling. How do I make it better?

Sally leveled the pistol at Alfred's chin. "Lovely day, isn't it?"

Alfred swallowed hard, casting a sideways glance at the barrel of the gun, while trying to keep the car  from barreling off the road. "Oh, smashing. Truly."

In the back seat, John made a few more feeble attempts to free his wrists from the fishing line binding them together. He blew a mop of sweaty hair from his eyes and peered out the window. "I wonder if we'll ever see the rains again."

"I highly doubt it," replied Alfred. 

Sally shook her head and smirked. "Oh, stop whining already."

It's no longer a bunch of talking heads, is it? And I didn't put an action beat or full-on action around every bit of dialog. Tags are okay. One more note about context, before moving on. When there are only two characters having a conversation, context often becomes more obvious. If the conversation were strictly between Alfred and Sally, and you were relying on dialog tags for some of the exchange, you wouldn't need to repeat those tags because it would be obvious who is speaking as long as you observe the basic rules - new paragraph per speaker and such. For example:

"What?" she asked.
"Nothing," he said.
"Are you sure?" she asked.
"Yes," he replied.

Technically, could be rewritten as:

"What?" she asked.
"Nothing," he said.
"Are you sure?" 

Now, onto my favorite part. Dialog tags as distraction. Remember, these things are supposed to be utensils, not the condiments, much less the food. Once you get going with that knife and fork in your hands, you don't much notice them anymore. Pursuant to that thought, when you use dialog tags, if you stick primarily to the garden variety - said, replied, asked - like the knife and fork, very shortly the reader doesn't even notice them there. They somehow ... work. The diner remembers the meal. The reader remembers the story.

Rather than listing the eight million ways to say said, I will point you to Aaron Lazar's excellent post from last year. Here's a great line from his post, and I whole-heartedly agree.

Never use anything but “said,” “asked,” or an occasional “whisper” or “mumble.” Once in a great while, if you feel you really need it, slip in a “spat” or “croaked.”

I'm personally okay with a "replied". And if you want to throw in the occasional flowery dialog tag, that's fine, but keep it rare. The thing is that when you do this:

1. "I don't wanna," he whined.
2. "You bastard!" she shrieked loudly.
3. "Don't do that," he lectured.

It does several things. First, the reader stops and reads the dialog tag. It's a distraction. Second, we are telling the reader how to interpret dialog whose intent is self evident. Readers like to use their imagination at times. Third, it appears that the writer is a novice, which doesn't help get you published if that's what you care about.

Now let me dissect what bothers me specifically about each of the above and make a suggestion.

"I don't wanna," he whined.
The dialog sounds like whining. I don't need the tag to tell me.
Better - He hung his head and kicked a pebble across the sidewalk. "I don't wanna."

"You bastard!" she shrieked loudly.
This is, O M G, this is too much. And I've seen this exact line somewhere. First, there's an exclamation point. Definitely tread lightly there, but given that it is there, it implies the speaker is shouting. So, shrieked is unnecessary. On top of that it's an adverbial dialog tag that happens to be redundant. I'm not aware of anyone who can shriek quietly. There's not much wiggle room there. So, we have an implied shout via an exclamation point, a beauty of a dialog tag, and an adverb.
Better - Her face was red and her hands balled into fists. "You bastard!"

"Don't do that," he lectured.
First. like #1, it sounds like the speaker is lecturing. But second, and more importantly to me, if you are going to use a dialog tag, make sure it is a form of speaking. Whispering, muttering, mumbling - those are forms of speaking that imply the tone - quiet and/or unintelligible. Lecturing is something a person does, not how a person speaks.
Better - He waggled his finger in front of my face. "Don't do that."

So endeth the diatribe.


Tourists in D.C. and a Man Eating Plant

We just got back from a whirlwind four day weekend in Washington D.C. I am BEAT! We went everywhere, getting around on the Metro, by foot (with a pulled leg muscle - ouch), bus, and once by car... I'll come back to that. Let me just say these two words before I continue: Cherry Blossoms.

'Nuff said. The place was as crowded as Manhattan during Christmas week.

We arrived Thursday, checking into our hotel in Arlington, then grabbed the Metro (D.C.'s very clean, very nice rail/subway system) to the Smithsonian stop. We hoofed it over to the Holocaust Museum, where we'd fortunately purchased our tickets to the permanent exhibit in advance for a buck each. If you are in Washington, this is a must-see, head-shaking, mind-numbing place to visit. It should leave you with these words in your head: Never again.

When we were done, we wandered over to the park around the Washington Monument and checked out the Cherry Blossoms. They are indeed gorgeous, and only in bloom for a couple of weeks. After meandering among the blossoms, we grabbed the metro across to Union Station where we boarded a bus for a 3 1/2 hour "Monuments by Moonlight" tour. We were able to get off and check out these national parks: Jefferson Memorial (breathtaking), FDR Memorial (stirring), Lincoln Memorial (doubly breathtaking), Vietnam War Memorial (sad), Korean War Memorial (equally sad and a little freaky), and finally the World War II memorial (huge).

We wound up taking the metro back to our hotel, getting there close to midnight. The kids were pooped. So were mom and dad.

Friday, we metro'd ourselves over to the U.S. Capital, where we got through security just in time to get on our tour. Having read the Lost Symbol last year, I couldn't wait to see the rotunda, particularly the Apotheosis of Washington. The entire place really blew my mind, and momentarily restored my faith in our elected leaders. Momentarily.

After the tour finished, we hiked over through the sculpture garden beside the National Gallery of Art, and then into the Natural History Museum. We saw dinosaurs. We saw the Hope Diamond. We were rammed in with a million other tourists there for the Cherry Blossom Festival. It wasn't entirely pleasant, but this is an excellent museum. After a brief respite with ice cream from one of a bazillion street vendors, we set out for the Spy Museum, which was AWESOME! This was so much fun, except for our feet aching like you wouldn't believe.

Saturday, we metro'd back into the city and took in the Air and Space Museum. The plan was to do this in the morning, then head over to the American Museum of History, because I wanted to see Archie Bunker's chair. Well, we were plumb tuckered, so we stayed at the Air and Space Museum for a while longer before checking out the sculpture garden at the Hirshhorn Museum. The wife loves these things and they do have some interesting sculptures, including some by Rodin.

Saturday night was the most stressful and most fun. After dinner, we were going to see Little Shop of Horrors at the Ford Theater! Yes, the Ford Theater, where Lincoln was assassinated.

This.... is not from the Ford Theater.

We got down into the metro station below our hotel and waited. And waited. And heard the announcements that the Pentagon stop was closed due to a police situation. There was a shooting of some kind at that stop and that for the next 1 1/2 hours, no trains would be going through. So, we had no way of taking the train. The hotel told us not to drive to the theater, because it's the Cherry Blossom Festival!!!! We couldn't get a cab, so armed with the family truckster, we ventured from the hotel anyway. The directions were bad, and we went around and around in Arlington for quite some time until we found our way.

Let me just say this. Yes, there was traffic. But, I'm used to driving in New York City for pete's sake! This was nothing. In fact, I got the brood there just in time. I, meanwhile, parked and missed the opening song, but they sat me shortly after. The show was great - I highly recommend it. What a great time - great music, funny, beautiful little theater. The presidential balcony is still there, by the way. And, we found our way back to the hotel.

This very morning, we set off for home, stopping at the National Zoo for some Panda time. That was cool. They are cute and cuddly, are they not?

And now I am exhausted and my feet are killing me.