Monday, May 27, 2013

Friends Life Forever in Our Hearts - Poem

This is a poem that I wrote when I was 14 years old an had recently moved away from many dear friends. I wanted to share it now, because I think it's something that is always true no matter how old you are, where you live, or how many friends you've said goodbye to over the course of your life.

Friends Live Forever in Our Hearts

Poem and Illustration
by Melanie James

Sometimes life presents a rocky road,
A path not easy to take.
And I am forced upon this road
With no other choice to make.

When life seems hard to face
And I feel there’s nothing more,
I think of a warm embrace
From a friend which I adore.

This friend and I parted long ago,
But in heart they are still near
Which gives me strength to go,
And I know I never need fear.

Whenever I feel like giving in,
I remember the good things
And always find a reason to grin
And feel better about what life brings.

Friendship is reaching for a hand
And touching a heart.
Friends hold your heart and hand
Whether together or apart.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Funnier Than Fiction

They say that real life is stranger than fiction, and if you wrote it no one would believe it. I've found that to be true on occasion. In this case, the following tale is a true-life experience of a friend of mine (shared with permission). I bet if this were included in a novel, people would say the author was reaching, going over-the-top, and needed to get a reality-check. No one could be this clueless. Welcome to real life...

For the sake of a good laugh here's a stranger and funnier than fiction story!

(spelling and punctuation reflect actual texting conversation)
I got two calls from a number in Florida I didn't recognize. The second call I answered but heard nothing on the line, so I hung up. The number then texted me, and here follows our conversation. I am not making this up:
Florida Number (FN): Hey sam its savanna I tried calling u but it sounded like ur mom i thout u had ur own phone
Me: Sorry, you must have the wrong number
FN: Ill call u what is the right number give me and ill call u.
Me: Sorry, what I meant was this is not Sam. Nor Sam's mom. I have never heard of him.
FN: what
(I'm thinking, what do you mean what? what is not clear about this?)
Me: You must have written the number wrong, this is my number and I am in no way related to this Sam you are looking for.
FN: Text me ur right number
Me: *face palm

I gave up.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

IN AN INSTANT - Beta Readers Are Awesome!

Over the past couple of months, I've had the fabulous opportunity to have the manuscript of my novel,  IN AN  INSTANT, beta read by a group of awesome readers. It has been an exhilarating and illuminating experience.

First off, here's a little about the book:
Draft cover just to have
something to look at
At twenty-one, being diagnosed with leukemia is the worst thing Liz can imagine—but also the catalyst for better things than she'd ever hoped for. The fight for her life soon becomes a powerful force that touches everyone she cares for most and transforms their lives in unimaginable ways.

This novel also tells a parallel story, in alternating chapters, of what would have happened if Liz never had cancer. Without cancer, Liz prepares to graduate, lands the perfect job, and gets to keep her life as she thinks it should be. But, it turns out that life as usual just isn’t enough for Liz or any of the people she loves. Through the contrasting storylines, the effects of what, on the surface, seem to be tragedy are shown for what they really are: opportunities and perspective.
So now, what are the results from my beta readers? I'm still waiting on some feedback from a few, but here are just some of the comments I've received so far:
 "I am literally freaking out right now. I just finished your book in tears! It was SO good! Wow! So so good!" ~Callie
"Such a fabulous story! Everything about it is just so electrifying, well-written, engaging. What other words can I use?! I loved all you similes and metaphors, etc." ~Nona

"Great job! I like that it was different in the sense that it had two realities...I look forward to seeing it published." ~Kellie

"That was one heck of a book. And I'll admit that I finished it much faster than I thought I would. It drew me in from the very beginning...The characters were very well developed. I liked that you were able to convey their distinct personalities so well." ~Shalla
" I LOVED IT! Couldn't wait to finish it while I was reading it. When I would have to walk away I would get mad. Great job!!!" ~Trish
"Your style is very clear, immersive with tiny but intimate details and everything feels very real and immediate." ~Jim
Along with wonderful praise, I've received lots of feedback to make this terrific book that I love so much even better. I'm working on edits that I know will make the book's message more clear and the characters more real and dynamic than they already were. Even minor comments or questions from my readers have proven to be so invaluable in helping me see my manuscript and story more clearly and through different perspectives. 

I want to give a huge THANK YOU to all of my beta readers. Any that are still reading and have yet to give feedback, it is still very welcome and will be useful and appreciated! I value all of your time as well as your opinions and I can't say thank you enough for your kind words as well as your criticisms. Honesty is what I hoped for and appreciate most of all!

 If you're interested in beta reading my next draft, please let me know! It'll be ready soon.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Outlining: A Love-Hate Relationship

When starting a new writing project, should you make an outline or not? This is something that I have personally gone round and round about at different times. Clearly, there are advantages to writing an outline.

First off, you have a clear picture of how the whole story will unfold before you ever type the first word. This way you don’t get to page 100 and realize, let’s say, that it was actually the school teacher that kidnapped the president, and you should have been dropping hints all along the way. Now you have to go back and work these details in, which can be a lot of work and lead to inconsistencies if you don’t pay close attention and edit well. I’ve even had to go back and add in whole characters when I didn’t plan well. Not an easy task.

Another advantage of an outline is that you have a quick reference of your whole book at a glance. This can be helpful for submitting to agents and publishers, especially if you are trying to write the ever daunting synopsis. It can also be helpful when you think of something you want to change, but can’t remember what chapter Aunt Sue lit her hair on fire. It saves a lot of time from paging through the manuscript to find it. Admittedly, though, an outline for these purposes can be drafted as you write the book or even after it is complete.

Image by Stuart Miles
Something everyone tends to be short on is time, and writing an outline lets you do all, or at least a good chunk of the planning work up front. From it, you can write faster and have a better idea if the work is worth writing at all before you even start.

So with all of these advantages to outlining a book at the onset, why am I bothering to write this post? Shouldn’t it just be: Outlining – Do It! And I end the post right there? Well, to me, it’s been far from so simple. I have tried several times when starting a new book to outline the entire plot and subplots before I started chapter one. What I got had mixed results.

Once, I spent several days outlining a book that I was so entranced with I couldn’t stop thinking out it. As soon as I completed the outline I instantly lost interest in the project. For a long time, I thought the outlining had ruined it for me. As I reflect now, I think that I realized that my story wasn’t as interesting and complex as I imagined in vague snippets in my head, so it was a good thing I didn’t waste my time writing the whole book.

Another book I outlined went differently. I finished the outline, thinking that I had a pretty solid book and went to work writing it, still enthused about the project. But it didn’t take long for me to realize that the plot looked a lot more interesting all condensed in bare-bones outline form. Once I tried to flesh it out and write the story around the outline, I found that my plot was pretty skeletal. When I ditched the outline and just wrote the story from scratch, it filled in remarkably. This book still needs some major re-writes, but it’s not a lack of outlining that was the problem, but rather my lack of adequate vision until after I’d written it and set it aside for several months.

For a long time, my bad experiences with outlining, and the challenge they can be to write, made me think that I was better off not trying.

My most recent book that I am working on now, currently called TEMPO (you’ll hear more about this in the future, I am sure), has taught me a different lesson. This is, by far, the longest and most complex book I have written to date. I knew when I started that I had to outline, or I would get lost. I didn’t just make a skeletal and dry outline, I wrote a 29 page outline. When I thought of a line of dialogue or a perfect description or analogy, I wrote it in so I could include it in the final book. This kept it creative and interesting. I found that I really enjoyed the process because I got to discover what happens in my story, which is one of the most exciting parts, quickly. The process took a couple of weeks.

I feared that once I finished the outline, like my previous experience, I would lose interest in the book. On the contrary, I was anxious to start crafting my exciting plot-twisting tale into beautiful and full scenes, characters, and descriptions. Crafting language is fun, and I now knew that I had a great story to mold it into.

I am currently about one quarter of the way through the first draft, and it has been a great experience. I have made changes, which I update the outline to reflect, but they mainly deal with detail and pacing rather than substance.

Simultaneously, I'm re-editing IN AN INSTANT to finalize the manuscript. That is a book I did not outline, and that hasn't really been a problem except that I have frequently gone back to add new scenes that broaden understanding of the characters journey and the meaning of the book. But, I think that nothing short of time and experience would have brought those to light for me. With or without an outline, I would still be adding to this captivating and heart-wrenching novel.

So, my final verdict is: Outline! If you lose interest in the project afterwards, it probably wasn’t worth writing. If you’re having trouble writing from it, then it’s not complete enough and needs more work. I am positive I will outline all of my future books with scary-long outlines like the 29-page monster I am working from now for TEMPO.

Still, if an outline is preventing you from getting started, then forget it and just write. The most important part of writing isn't an outlineit's passion. As long as you have passion, you're writing is well worth the effort and will move your readers to feel, know, love, and hate right along with you.

Happy writing!