Thursday, August 27, 2009

One Sheet - Conference Prep

If you’ve ever written a one-sheet or sell-sheet for a novel then you’ll know what I’m talking about.

When I go to the ACFW conference next month in Denver I need to have a one-sheet read to go so I can pitch my novel to agents and editors. This involves condensing my 95+ thousand word novel into a 150-200 word description. Amazingly enough, this is not the hard part. 150-200 words is actually quite a bit to tell a short story, especially when you want to leave your reader guessing about parts of what is going on. You only want to tell the joke, not the punch line (so to speak). A lot of what you want to do it to convey a sense of tone (whether your book is a suspense piece, or a romance, or a comedy, etc). I had something already more or less worked up, so I didn’t have to do a whole lot with that.

The second part, is a biography. Do you know how hard it is to write a biography about yourself when you really don’t have anything to talk about? I’ll be honest. I read a good biography on the back of a book, and I copied it, just taking out the author’s information and inserting my own. It didn’t end up looking anything like hers by the end (mostly because she had more to talk about than I did, so I mine is way shorter and in some ways less relevant), but that’s how it started out.

The hard part doesn’t really even go on the one sheet. The hard part is the “pitch.” What I mean by pitch is not actually talking to people and trying to convince them to be interested in my story. What I mean is the ~25 word description of your book (sometimes called a “blurb”). This is a painful process, not just because you’ve put so much time and effort into this project only to have it reduced to a couple of sentences, but because there are so many things you have to take into consideration. You have to think about what information is specific enough to actually say something about your story, but not so specific that you’re wasting words. You also have to look at the tone that your pitch is giving off, does it reflect the tone of your novel?

Summarizing my novel down to 25 words is what I’m really struggling with; it’s too complicated. This is not any sort of ego trip for me. I don’t think that my novel is any more complex than another writer’s. I’m struggling because there are three main facets that I feel as though I need to address in my pitch: Jenna (main character 1)’s relationship with her estranged husband, Amanda (main character 2)’s relationships with the men she’s involved with (not simultaneously), and Jenna and Amanda’s friendship. Because I have two narrators (first person) who are both protagonists I feel as though I cannot ignore one character’s story for the other. And to address these issues without using names (because those are specifics that don’t really tell a whole lot about the story, according to what I’ve read) seems almost impossible (because to me using “Jenna” instead of “A woman” seems like a better use of my 25 words – not to mention avoiding potential confusion).

So I’ve finally come down to this:

Their love lives have never been enviable, but when Jenna’s long-estranged husband shows up out of the blue and Amanda falls in love with a very engaged, very good friend, things go from bad to worse (or maybe better).

It’s 39 words, but I’m thinking I can risk the extra words because it doesn’t seem too long to me. It also doesn’t talk about Jenna and Amanda’s friendship, but the best one that I’ve got that does that is this:

While their love lives have never been magical, best friends find themselves falling for men they never expected. But secrets threaten to tear their friendship apart.

Or:

Best friends, Jenna and Amanda, find themselves falling for men they never expected, just when secrets threaten to tear their friendship apart.

These are shorter, but I don’t feel as though they represent the tone of my novel quite as well…

Decisions, decisions.

In a blog that I read about one-sheets it said to worry more about the manuscript than the one-sheet and business cards, so I’ve handed that over to a friend of mine who loves to work on design stuff and I’m mostly concentrating on the copy for them and the manuscript itself… hopefully it pays off.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Secret History of the Pink Carnation - Lauren Willig

This week I would like to talk about Lauren Willig’s Secret History of the Pink Carnation series. This is a series of five books (currently, the sixth book is set to come out in January). I originally found this book at an everything-you-can-fit-in-a-paper-sack-for-$8 sale and it was one of the best things that I got in the deal (though several of them have been good buys –and those that weren’t got put up on Paperback Swap).

It’s pretty interesting in its storytelling format because in each book there are two storylines. The first storyline is a continuing storyline throughout the series. It’s a modern story told in the first person perspective of Eloise, a grad student who is doing her doctoral dissertation in England on spies during the French Revolution and the Regency period in England. There’s a great tone to Eloise’s voice, and she feels like a real person with real struggles. It’s great to get the little pieces of her story throughout each book, though sometimes you want to hear more and more about Eloise (especially the farther along the story goes).

The other parts of the books are stories from the spies that Eloise is studying. They’re third person accounts that are mainly from the heroine’s point of view, though there are portions that are from that of the hero. They are told with great voices and the characters are so wonderful. They’re creative and the main characters are all unique from one another (though some of the periphery characters—members of the ton—can blend together). Their stories can be quite exhilarating, with carriage chases and fights and villains and love scenes from time to time (definitely not books for those who are easily embarrassed by romance—and by romance I mean sex). Each novel covers a different set of characters, though they’re all popping up in the other books as well (e.g. Richard, the hero of the first book The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, is the brother of the heroine of The Masque of the Black Tulip, Henrietta, and the best friend of the hero, Miles).

With each book that is released I find myself waiting with bated breath for the next one.

Lauren Willig is an author that I think pushes the boundaries of what is considered “chick lit.” While one aspect of traditional chick lit is that it has a contemporary setting, Willig’s books are written mostly from a Regency England setting. I think this is the only thing that keeps Willig from firmly grasping the “chick lit” descriptor. The portions of the book that are written from the first person from the perspective of the modern Eloise quite solidly fall within the chick lit description, it’s the main portions of the book that are set in the past that fall more into the romance category. As the genre of Chick Lit continues to evolve (because it is a fairly young genre, around 15 years by most reckonings) I think that eventually a category of “Historical Chick Lit” will arise (though some feel that it already has) Willig will be a staple of the category.

The books are:
The Secret History of the Pink Carnation
The Masque of the Black Tulip
The Deception of the Emerald Ring
The Seduction of the Crimson Rose
The Temptation of the Night Jasmine
The Betrayal of the Blood Lily
(Coming January 2010)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Fearing a Hero

I was watching Firefly the other day and I came to a realization… to be a hero, to be lauded as saving a person or a group of people from something else, you have to be feared.

This realization came while watching the episode entitled “Jayne’s Town.” For those of you who have never watched Firefly or its accompanying film Serenity and have no idea who Jayne Cobb is, I’ll tell you. Jayne Cobb is played by Adam Baldwin (not one of those Baldwins) who is currently costarring in the TV show Chuck as John Casey. Jayne is an interesting character. He’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer (I’d liken him to a plastic butter knife I believe) but what he lacks in brains he more than makes up for in menace. He’s crude and crass and more than a little grumpy. If someone is going to make an inappropriate comment, it’s going to be Jayne. Every so often he’ll say something particularly intelligent and you’ll be like “where the heck did that come from” but most of the time he can be relied on to be a “power-hungry maniac” and violent, and not a whole lot else. His favorite gun is named “Vera” and it’s about 10x bigger than any other gun on the ship.

In the episode “Jayne’s Town” he is his typical menacing self, but in this episode he’s put on about every layer of clothing he owns and is wearing a rather large hat and no one can particularly figure out why. He tells them that he was on that planet a while back and that he made some people angry and he would just as soon not be recognized. They’re in the process of telling him that it’s been so long that no one’s going to remember him when they come upon a statue of him. The doctor’s only comment is “This must be what going mad feels like.” Later, in a tavern, they hear that a folk song has been written about him and no one, Jayne included, can figure out why (The doctor comments, “No, this must be what going mad feels like”).

It is while they are in the tavern that I came upon my realization. There is a kid (about age 10) staring at Jayne, supposably* because he recognizes him. Jayne sees that the kid is staring, growls as Jayne is so apt to do, and the kid jumps and runs off. This made me think, “If Jayne is supposed to be this great hero, and he’s supposed to have saved the people at this town, and they’ve raised a statue of him and written a song about him, then why is this kid so scared?”

And that was when it hit me. He’s scared because Jayne would not be a proper hero to them if he were not. Think about it. Think about Batman, and the X-men, and all of those other superheroes like that (my friend says Superman isn’t scary, but I say that Superman isn’t a real hero – that’s just my own prejudices). If they’re enough to make the bad guys stop and think for a minute, they must be pretty darn scary, and if the big tough bad guys who run around and shoot people and pull kittens tails and try to take over the world think they’re scary, then what is this puny little 10 year old kid going to think?

I think that it’s a sad reality about heroes (fictional heroes like the ones I’m talking about here). They’re misunderstood, often called vigilantes (probably because they are) and the people they’re trying to help find them terrifying and would love to have them off the streets. And I don’t think it’s just fictional heroes either. Think about what the poor kids in the smoke of the fire thinks when he first sees a firefighter. There’s a reason they send firefighters to schools to talk to kids. They’re scary in all of their SCBA gear and whatnot.

So why was Jayne a hero? He’d been stealing money from a rich jerk who lived on the planet and his ship was losing fuel so he had to dump the money (along with his partner) so he could get away. The money landed on the poor town and they were able to be happier for a little while. Was he really a hero? You decide.

*also… for those of you who would like to argue about “supposably” and “supposedly,” look it up. I used it correctly.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Drama Queen Series

**Updates may become a little more sporadic over the next month. I’m preparing for the ACFW conference in Denver, and so all other writing is getting pushed to the sidelines a bit. I’m going to try to keep updating twice a week, but we’ll see.**

Today I would like to talk about Tracey Bateman’s “Drama Queens Series.” This is a series of three books about three best friends, Tabby, Dancy, and Laini. All written in the first person, each book follows one main character as she goes through job displacement (and replacement ) and romance. The characters grow as their lives change and they’re wonderful reads.

Book one, Catch a Rising Star, is about Tabby, a former soap opera actress who made an enemy of the wrong writer (Think Joey on Friends), but after a several year hiatus manages to get her job back (again, think Joey). She finds herself on set with a “husband” with bad breath, her “twin children” and their rather handsome, widowed, real life father. At the same time she’s fending off the advances of a man that her mother likes, though she doesn’t. It seems like everything keeps coming in between her “children’s” father, not the least of which is his seeming attachment to her archrival. It’s a story of reclaiming what you think you want, and finding out what really matters.

Book two, You Had Me at Goodbye, is a story about Dancy, an editor who very quickly gets fired. While she’s searching for a new job, at least a new one where she won’t get hit on by her new boss, she works as a waitress in a local cafĂ© and takes the time to work on her writing, something she’s always longed for but has never quite been able to allow herself to do. To make matters worse her family life is in shambles, between her parents’ on-again-off-again relationship and her newly discovered half-brother, she’s about to go crazy, and that doesn’t include the things that her brother’s best friend does to her mental and emotional state (albeit unintentionally). Will she be able to follow her dreams and will her family survive any more stress (a better question, will she?)

The final book is That’s (Not Exactly) Amore, the story of Laini, a former account-turned color-blind interior-design student that makes one mean pastry (actually she makes a lot of them). When she offers to help update a friend’s business she could never have expected that it would lead to attention from two different men, a new roommate with boyfriend issues, and involvement with the mob. When her mother, who has been in a 12-year depression after the death of her father, decides to remarry after only a few weeks, Laini isn’t sure she’d be able to take much more.

These books are all very well written and are great examples of Christian Chick Lit.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I'm Torn

I’ll admit it: I’m a bit torn. I’ve always been a bit of a purist when it comes to books. I love the feel of a hard cover or paperback in my hand. I love to turn the pages and to feel the number of pages at the back getting smaller and the number of pages in the front getting bigger. From the moment I first heard about the Kindle I was opposed. I’m not really much of a fan of the ebook. I understand their uses, and really enjoyed them while I was in college (it’s nice to do research in your pajamas from your bed or couch rather than having to drag yourself up to the stacks), but I’ve never been convinced that they’re the way of the future.

And then last semester I had a professor who was a believer that Amazon is going to be the end of the bookstore as we know it, and most definitely the end of the independent bookstore. She touted that the internet was going to be the downfall of reading (and definitely the downfall of the newspaper) and that everything that Gutenberg worked so hard for hundreds of years ago is going to disappear into antiquity.

I’m not sure I believe it. Part of her belief that the independent bookstore as it exists now is going to disappear is because one of the independent bookstores in Ann Arbor where most professors order their textbooks was going out of business last year. She always failed to acknowledge that Ann Arbor has something like the most independent bookstores per capita of any town in the United States. She also failed to acknowledge that perhaps it was the bookstores business practices (e.g. the fact that they charged 15-20% more for textbooks than Amazon and Barnes and Noble Online) that perhaps could be pushing it out of business.

But I digress…

Even as a college student you can only spend so much time staring at a computer screen before you want to go blind, so I was hesitant to trust that the Kindle would be any better, and reading is supposed to be about pleasure (regardless of what English teachers try to torture us with) and having to stop reading because of eye strain would be too disappointing a situation to consider.

But then last Sunday I sat beside a woman with a Kindle on an airplane. She really seemed to like it and it was different than I expected it to be. It was much thinner than I expected, and I’ll admit, I was fascinated. I didn’t take the time to borrow it from her, even though she offered, but I did ask her some questions about it. She said that she too loves the feel of having a book in her hand, but that there are certain benefits that come with the Kindle.

According to the website the Kindle can hold 1,500 books, and the books are cheaper than their paper companions, with hard-covers and paperbacks coming in at around $10 a piece and mass market books coming in between $4 and 6. Magazines are also pretty inexpensive. There are places where you can find classics and more unpopular titles for free.

So I’m torn. Free books. Cheaper books. There’s a lot of potential there. And having thousands of books at your fingertips on a long plane ride, or on a trip, would be great. I have a tendency to either over pack or to under pack, so it would be nice not to have to worry about that. And there are ways to add notes to the books that you read, like margin notes, which is perfect for a former English major such as myself. I’m constantly reading things that I want to mark up, to take notice of, and it would be nice to be able to do that without totally defacing the books.

So I’m torn. Well, not that torn. I’m pretty broke, so I’m not about to go and spend the $300 necessary to purchase one. But Christmas is coming… as is my birthday… so, we’ll see.