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Beta Readers: Do You Have Them?

imageOne of the most surprising things I heard at this summer’s RWA Conference was from a panel of published YA authors who said they did not have any teenagers as beta readers.  I still think about this because, though I do have critique partners and beta readers, I don’t haven any teenagers reading my books…yet.  

Yes, there are a significant amount of adults who read YA–including me–and adult beta readers are great for giving feedback on how that audience will see the book.  However, I don’t want to rely on adults alone when my primary audience would be younger.  A younger beta reader might bring something up an adult would never think of because they aren’t immersed in that culture anymore.  I don’t mean slang and fashion because we want our books to have a timeless quality, but I want to make sure my characters act and think like authentic teens.

The problem an author runs into here is the same problem they have with adult beta readers, and that is: “Who can I trust with my book?”  I love hearing stories of authors with teenage children who are a wealth of information and inspiration.  I also love hearing about teenagers who writers and trade with their friends.  I’m not lucky enough to be in either of these situations, but I do have teenagers in my extended family who I might begin with.  It’s just a matter of being brave enough to ask. 🙂

Whatever you write–do you have beta readers?  If so, are they close to you?

Michelle Joyce Bond

Stick Figures

Woot–I’m a Finalist in the 2015 Orange Rose Contest!

imageI’m taking a break from doing the Charleston to write this.  Just a few minutes ago, I found out I finaled in the 2015 Orange Rose Contest for Unpubilished Writers!  I tied for third in the YA category for my time slip romance, STARCHILD.  This is the first time I’ve ever finaled in a writing contest–so exciting!!

Stick Figures

To Scrivener or Not to Scrivener?

imageWhat are your thoughts on this software?  I’d love to hear them along with any advice you can offer!

I just started using Scrivener because getting organized wasn’t a problem–it was maintaining organization once I started changing things in my manuscript.

I am a plotter who turns into a pantser about half way through my first draft.  This is fine.  In fact, I know a lot of writers who think a mix of plotting and pantsing is the bee’s knees.  What’s not fine is failing to go back and change my supporting documents.  I typically have notes across several notebooks, index cards, Word documents, and on stray bits of paper I reach for blindly in a writing haze.  If I made changes to the plot or characters, there would be no way I could find those original documents.  I was trying to hold it all in my head.

I’m doing my best here not to sound like a commercial for Scrivener, so I’ll keep it brief.  The thing does what it’s meant to do–help me organize and stay that way. I won’t lose characters halfway through the book by confusing their major goal or struggle to invent new reasons for characters to complete actions that don’t make sense after changing X, Y, and Z.  Well…at least I won’t do this while writing the actual scenes.  The idea is to revise plot cards, characters sheets, etc. so that I can get a handle again on the big picture and tighten every screw.

How does that sound?  Any part plotters, part pantsers out there who feel my pain?  What organizational tools do you use to keep on track?

Michelle Joyce Bond

Stick Figures

Attack of the Killer Words and Phrases!

imageWhat words and phrases do you seek and destroy in your writing?  Which annoy the heck out of you in books you’ve read?

I’m compiling a list of words and phrases that may be considered weak, fatty, passive, cliché, or redundant.  Of course, writers can’t always eliminate these words.  We use our own discretion, but often when I find these weak words, I find my weakest sentences and will spend quite some time revising and rebuilding that text.  It isn’t just a matter of using the delete key.

Here are my top favorite seek-and-destroy words and phrases:

  • very
  • there was/there were (my biggest offenders when it comes to passive voice)
  • then
  • filter worlds like those related to: hear, see, smell, taste, touch

There are other kinds of words that I try to weed out in general as well.  I love adverbs and will still use them though often I know a sentence is much stronger without the extra descriptor.  Trading “ing” verbs for “ed” verbs makes for yet another long slog through a manuscript with the search box, but the result is worth it.

Help me out my listing some of the words and phrases you love to hate below (with the exception of fowl language please).  I can’t wait to hear your pet peeves!

Michelle Joyce Bond

Stick Figures

Shameless Deep Thoughts: Beneath the Words

imageWhen an achingly good song ends, there is the silence in which I consider why this sound had such a powerful effect on me.  Music can be deceptively simple.

I think about the bones of the song–the structure, the melody, and the instruments as well as the passion the musicians put into that music.  All the practice and change that went into it.

And then I imagine every other song that musician ever wrote–every scale and note she played in practice, the encouragement and criticism she’s received over the years, elation, doubt, and how she chose to keep going.

So here I am listening to “Only If For A Night” by Florence and the Machine, knowing every note that crashes into my chest has a thousand notes beneath it.  I’m writing in my notebook aware that what’s coming out needs a lot of work and will probably only be seen by a handful of people.  But I’m loving it because maybe, if I’m lucky, one day I’ll write a sentence like Florence wrote a song, and it will crash into you.

Michelle Joyce Bond

Stick Figures

May the Muse Be With You: What I Do When She Is

imageYes I do imagine my muse to be a tiny Woodstock-sounding thing, buzzing about my shoulders, and she won’t shut up.  Just before NJRW’s February writing challenge, she ripped me away from a speculative WIP to write my first contemporary YA since high school.  I won’t give specifics now, but I’m feeling very good about this one and thus owe a lot to that buzz in my ear.

Usually, I will take months to plan a book, but with the writing challenge so close and the muse so insistent (swatting the air over my shoulder), I decided to take the plunge and just write.  With only two days of intense planning under my belt, I wrote, mapping out scenes as I came upon them and then drafting in earnest.  This was how this book wanted to be written and written fast.

My last WIP, in contrast, felt like a long push uphill.  For this paranormal romance, I spent a long time mapping out characters, plotting, re-plotting, creating scene cards, etc., so when it came to the actual writing I felt constrained by that structure.  I had to tear everything down more than once and even started the manuscript over, dumping 15,000 words in the process.  Currently, I feel very good about this quirky paranormal, but it was a long haul.

Lesson learned?  Some books will be a push no matter what, but it helps to leave more breathing room than I’ve been as of late.  My characters will always find a way to undermine my best-laid plans because they want to drive the plot, and more power to ’em.

How insistent is your muse?  Is she monotone or melodic–does she push you in the same manner through every book?

Michelle Joyce Bond

Writing

NJRW’s 30K Writing Challenge Complete!

30k-write-a-way1I just cleared NJRW’s 30K writing challenge for the month of February–JeRoWriMo! Thank god for canned food and classic Nintendo which kept my husband alive while the laptop ate my brain.  Love you, Dave.  🙂

Also, thanks to everyone in the JeRoWriMo loop who kept me super motivated so I could stay up way past my teacherly bedtime and listen to my muse.

Michelle Joyce Bond

Stick Figures

Going Contest Crazy

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Alright, maybe not “crazy,” but I’m doing the Charleston because I’m really excited about entering these contests.  Until this point, I’ve been focused solely on craft and doing my best to stand out in the slush pile.  Recently, a writer friend of mine pointed out that another great way to set your writing apart is to participate in contests.  She even found her first agent that way.  So here we go. 🙂

This week, I entered three contests advertised in the RWA’s trade publication.  They are:

  • The Cleveland Rocks Romance Contest
  • The Fire & Ice Contest
  • The California Hooker Contest

There’s a contest through the RWA’s young adult chapter that I’ll submit to in March–very excited!

Now, I need your help!  I want to enter more contests, but I’m being picky because I know there are a lot out there–some more reputable than others.  I’m wary of reading the fine print when entering my work in anything like this (are you guys?).  I’d love to find a contest for unpublished writers–particularly those writing YA, romance, or paranormal.  If you know of any good ones, please post below!

Michelle Joyce Bond

Stick Figures

What Makes a Book “Good”: Complete Opinion from an Omnivorous Reader

imageThere is a lot of wiggle room when it comes to saying what makes a book “good.”  For me, it’s not just what the story is about but how it’s told.  I’ll do my best to explain that by unraveling two very different though equally incredible books I’m reading right now.

READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline is a masterpiece of 80s and video game geek nostalgia that takes place in a dystopian future where the only escape from reality can be found via the OASIS–a massive online video game that constantly references popular video games, movies, TV shows, and bands that were important to the game’s designer–a child of the 1980s.  This world-building makes the book really fun to read, but that is not the story.

The heart of the tale is the development of our ultra-introverted main character Wade, a boy from a futuristic trailer park who’s absorbed as much 80s culture as possible in order to win a contest created by the OASIS’s designer.  Wade, unlike the evil cooperation racing against him, loves everything about the 80s and will use both his brain and his heart to win the contest.  He is the underdog, smart, and openly flawed–it’s hard not to like him.

The writing itself including tone, voice, structure, ect. hold together well, and the book has its moments of “deep-reaching” with enough existential reflections about playing a game within a game to keep me satisfied.  It’s important for all this to come together in order for me to classify the book as “good.”  Otherwise, it would just be an excuse for a string of random pop-culture references a la Family Guy.

That said…the best parts of the story in my opinion are Cline’s clever combinations of 80s culture and science fiction.  I had typed some examples here then erased them for fear of ruining the book.  Read it.

Another excellent book I’m currently reading is LANDLINE by Rainbow Rowell.  It’s my third Rowell book in a row, and it makes me feel like I could read anything she’s written and love it.  I tried explaining the plot to one of my coworkers but gave up because this book is less concept and more character–the kind of character that must be experienced.  Georgie’s marriage is thrown against the rocks right around Christmas time, but when she plugs in an old landline phone in her bedroom, she’s “magically” able to communicate with her husband before he was her husband–her Neil from the past.  Through their conversations and Georgie’s surfacing memories, we learn more and more about these characters, growing closer to them as we read.

Rowell’s power in writing is in her ability to create intimacy.  Her dialogue is so on–her descriptions of the body so perfectly imperfect–I’m at a loss for words.  I don’t want to use the cliché “She brings the characters to life” because I think that descriptor is overused.  Until you read a book like this–that is as grounding as its title–you might not know what it means for characters to be real.  And if you haven’t read a book like this in a while–if you’re only choosing books based on their concepts–you may have forgotten.

So, I am happy right now to flip back and forth between Cline, a master of concept, and Rowell, a master of character.  Both of their books are “good,” well-written and whole, but what makes me ultimately say they’re good is completely different.  That’s based on the book itself…kind of like falling in love.  It’s sort of fitting how READY PLAYER ONE is the book I’m listening to at high speeds–rushing through the world, and LANDLINE is the book waiting for me when I come home.

What makes a book “good” in your opinion?  Shout out below!

Michelle Joyce Bond

Stick Figures

End of Summer Reading Spree

imageDo forgive–lack of posts due to continuous unabashed reading.

Books of note include:

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky — A classic not to be missed!

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins — Humorous, adorable, and romantic.  Seriously, why is this not yet a movie?   

And my favorite of the week that made me laugh out loud in an airport and totally freak out the family next to me: Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella

Happy end-of-the-summer reading,

Michelle Joyce Bond