Jayme Woods

Writer. Geek. Adventurer.


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5 Songs That Make Me Want to Dance

To celebrate the release of Brooks Benjamin’s My Seventh-Grade Life in Tights, I’ve compiled a list of 5 songs that make me want to dance. Anyone who’s tried #5amWritersClub knows how tough it can be to drag out of bed before the sun, but these 5 jams get me on my toes every time:

1. Shake it Off, Taylor Swift
Let’s be honest, no dance playlist is complete without this one.

2. Take on Me, a-ha
Not only one of the best songs ever, but an epic piece of Chuck history. Win-win!

3. Run It Back Again, Corbin Bleu
The repeat button makes me feel like a time traveler, and this song gives me an awesome excuse to use it!

4. Better When I’m Dancing, Meghan Trainor
Who doesn’t feel better when they’re dancing? (This one’s for you, K)

5. Girls of Rock and Roll – The Chipmunks and Chipettes
If this one doesn’t make you dance, you might be Bruce Willis in the Sixth Sense. Maybe have someone check for a pulse.

BONUS NINJA FREESTYLE!
Thinking ‘Bout Somethin’, Hanson
Because every playlist needs more cowbell.

It’s by no means a comprehensive list, but hopefully at least one of those got your toes tapping.

Don’t forget to check out My Seventh-Grade Life in Tights and happy dancing!


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Eight Terrible Titles (with commentary)

I’ve been away from the blog for WAY too long, but there’s no better way to jump back in than with the #8TerribleTitles blog hop. A great big thanks to the not-at-all-terrible Brooks Benjamin for tagging me to join the ridiculous fun!

For those of you playing along at home, #8TerribleTitles is as easy as 1-2-3:
(1) Open your manuscript and scroll to a random passage
(2) The word or phrase where your cursor lands is your first terrible title
(3) Repeat until you have eight terrible titles

If you’re not ready to share your manuscript, that’s okay! Grab the nearest book and play along. Better yet, grab your friends and see if they can guess the book by its terrible titles. I think I just invented a party game…

But I digress. Here are the #8TerribleTitles for my MG pirate adventure, Double-Crossed, with a bit of commentary. Because what’s the point of terrible titles without terrible blurbs to go along with them? 😉

1. “Diana? Diana?”
One of Faulkner’s lesser known works

2. Wafted Down the Stairs
A scratch ‘n’ sniff book

3. Dressed like a Giant Shrimp
The memoir of a food court mascot

4. Some Rare Disease from the 1800s
Order now and get a free bottle of hand sanitizer!

5. Crossing State Borders
The secret world of truckers – EXPOSED!

6. Giant Bunny Ears
Cyrano de Cottontail attempts to woo the lovely Roxane despite his extraordinarily long ears in this Disney retelling of the classic.

7. The Difference between Ignition and a Deadly Jolt
Gritty YA contemporary banned by schools (becomes a bestseller anyway)

8. A Kaleidoscope of Branches
…and other fun DIYs for summer

Not enough terrible titles for you? Me either! Since this is #8TerribleTitles, I’m tagging 8 writers who are the exact opposite of terrible. You know, to balance things out:

Ann Marjory K

Kat Michels

Patrice Caldwell

S.P. McConnell

C.C. Dowling

Ifeoma Dennis

Jenna Lehne

Donald Capone

I can’t wait to see what they come up with. In the meantime, head over to Twitter and dive into the #8TerribleTitles hashtag for more terrible fun!


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The Power of Cliffhangers (a.k.a. FITZ LIIIIVES!!)

**SPOILER WARNING**

This post contains spoilers for Once Upon a Time, Castle, Sherlock, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Proceed at your own risk.

***I’M SERIOUS! SPOILERS AHEAD***

shield group

See there? Spoilers already.

So, let’s talk about cliffhangers. I have a love/hate relationship with these little devils. On one hand, speculating what’s going to happen next helps fill the time between novels, movies, or (for purposes of this post) television seasons. I mean, seriously, is there anyone who wasn’t stoked to get this little tease on Once Upon a Time:

elsa

Unfortunately, cliffhangers aren’t always just tantalizing glimpses of what’s to come. They often put characters we love in mortal peril. How did Castle escape that burning car? I DON’T KNOW, DANGIT! But I know he did. And I want to know how. It reminds me of a certain English detective who jumped off a building back in 2012. We all knew he survived. But how? HOW? Speculation kept the Sherlock fandom in full swing for two agonizing years.

As a writer, I respect a great cliffhanger. I still can’t hear the words, “Guys, I know Kung Fu,” without a twinge of jealousy that I didn’t write them.

And of all the cliffhangers this season, there’s none that’s got me more invested than the fate of one Leopold Fitz. For those of you who don’t watch Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Fitz was last seen bobbing unconsciously in the ocean after being hauled up 90 feet by his biochemist partner, Jemma Simmons. If you don’t know why this hurts my heart, grab a tissue and hold on tight:

And that’s the last time we see him conscious. THE LAST TIME, people. No happy reunion where the whole team gathers around his hospital bed. No follow-up scene with Simmons holding his comatose hand and vowing to do whatever it takes to save him. Nope.

That’s not even the worst of it. Once Simmons hauls him to the surface, they’re rescued by Nick Fury. Nick stinkin’ Fury! Think how bummed Fitz’ll be he missed a chance to meet the man himself. It breaks my heart, really, it does.

What’s next for Fitz? We get a few hints. Fury confirms Fitz’s “heart’s still beating, just barely” but warns his amazing little brain went “without oxygen a long time.” At the end of the episode, when the team asks about him, Simmons merely replies, “he’s alive.”

Of all the times for the sunshiny little know-it-all to go laconic on us!

So what does it mean? Well, I did a little digging. Here’s the short version:

THE SHORT VERSION:

FITZ LIIIIVES!!

monkeys rejoiced

THE LONG VERSION:

WARNING: I’m not a medical professional. Everything you’re about to read is the result of poking around on the Internet. If you are a nurse, diving instructor, or someone with expertise in the matter I’d love to hear from you! 🙂

Here’s what we know:
> Ward jettisoned Fitz and Simmons into the ocean somewhere off the coast of Peru.
> Fitz says they’ve sunk “at least 90 feet.”
> When the window blew, water rushed in with enough force to “knock the wind right out of [them]”
> Fitz rigged a device to “let out a burst [of air] at very high pressure” that “force[d] a breath” into Jemma’s lungs

Okay, so let’s do a little back of the napkin math. Average swim speeds are surprisingly hard to come by, so I’m just going to assume Jemma swam 0.5mph, which seems conservative for someone swimming for their lives, even if they are hauling a soggy Scottish engineer behind them.

napkin math

Assuming my ballpark speed is accurate, Simmons made the swim to the surface in just over 2 minutes. This, my friends, is awesome news given the Survival Rule of 3, which says, “On average a person can only survive for 3 minutes without air.”

But Fitz said “at least” 90 feet? At least! What if it was farther? What if Simmons didn’t swim in a straight line? What if Fury’s helicopter exerted pressure on the water and made it harder for Simmons to break the surface? Curse you, Fury, and your stylish shades!

saved my ship

In that case, here are a few more interesting time frames to consider during a drowning situation:

30 seconds to 1 minute – the airway closes. Child’s lips turn blue.
1 to 2 minutes – the child looses consciousness.
2 to 5 minutes – the heart can stop. The child has a chance of survival if rescued now.
5 minutes plus – permanent brain damage is occurring as each second passes.

Whatever the variables, we know Simmons made it to the surface on a single breath without blacking out (while towing said soggy engineer behind her). For an untrained diver who “didn’t pass [her] field assessments,” it’s unlikely she lasted long enough to put Fitz in the danger zone.

But wait! That’s not all. During my research, I also happened across a bunch of other cool stuff like the mammalian diving reflex , the benefits of near-drowning in salt water versus fresh water , and this fun little gem from The Doctor Will See You Now : “About 75% of near-drowning victims who receive medical treatment survive. Of these, approximately 6% will be left with long-term neurological problems.”

Does that mean Fitz is looking at a 94% chance of full recovery? I don’t know. So why am I telling you all this?

WHY I’M TELLING YOU ALL THIS

There’s no denying I’m a fangirl, but first and foremost I’m a writer. And, as a writer, it’s important to remember readers today have access to an unprecedented amount of information. The above is what happens when you give a fangirl an hour alone with Google. An hour. That’s someone bored in the doctor’s waiting room or looking to fill the S.H.I.E.L.D. shaped hole in their Tuesday night. Let that soak in. It’s more important than ever for writers to do our homework!

Second take-away: Once you’ve done your research, remember this is a creative decision, not science class. The perfect storm of awesome could bring Fitz back to our screens (unharmed) in the first episode next season. Or the perfect storm of suckitude could give him a whole checklist of near-drowning complications that spur Simmons to perfect GH-325. Or any scenario in between. As long as the writers deliver an equally awesome payoff when the bill comes due, I don’t think anyone will complain.

In the meantime, it’s fun to speculate. What do you guys think? Will Fitz make an immediate recovery? Or does he have a longer road ahead of him? I’d love to hear your thoughts (and theories) in the comments.


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Baby’s First Blog Tour

Morning, all! Last Monday, the awesome-tacular Brooks Benjamin tagged me to participate in my very first blog tour. It’s called #MyWritingProcess and it’s all about… well, my writing process. Before I go on, check out Brooks’s writing process – and congratulate him on his book deal (!!!!) – over at Pour the Coffee and Walk Away.

1) What am I working on?

Right now, I’m mainly focused on a project I’d describe as Buffy the Vampire Slayer for MG… at least, I’d describe it that way if comparing my stuff to BtVS didn’t give me hives. Those are some big (yet stylish) shoes to fill.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

It’s been said there are no new stories, but I believe there will always be new characters to filter those stories through. I check between all the literary couch cushions to find characters who’ve slipped through the cracks (or maybe hidden there on purpose). Then I shine the spotlight on them.

3) Why do I write what I do?

There’s a saying I’ve always loved: “Feed your imagination. Otherwise it might learn to hunt.” Personally, I’m not that sneaky or that athletic. My imagination would take me down fast, so instead of fighting it I’ve taken the How to Train Your Dragon route and made friends with it. Now we go on awesome adventures together, and I’d love nothing more than to take readers along for the ride.

4) How does your writing process work?

It’s a lot like The Emperor’s New Groove, actually. Observe:

STEP 1:

It all starts with an idea.

yzma 1

Whether or not it’s actually brilliant is up for debate.

yzma 2

Regardless, I let that idea run wild. I fill notebooks with doodles, character bios, snatches of dialogue, and pretty much anything else that catches my fancy.

STEP 2:

yzma 3

If the idea still refuses to let go, I roll up my sleeves and wrangle it into an outline. I block out conflicts, plot twists, and character arcs. I venture into the dark, tangled unknown and plant guideposts to keep my first draft from getting too far off track.

STEP 3:

yzma 4

Then I take that outline and flesh it out into a first draft. Along the way, there’s always a guidepost that’s disappeared into a bank of plot-hole quicksand.

kronk - by all accounts

I build a way around it only to discover there’s some troublemaker yanking up guideposts and tossing them into the river. Or the bushes. Or a cave full of bears. My neat little outline gets messy – and wonderful. It takes twists and turns I’d never imagined. Somehow, I survive (barely) and type the words The End.

STEP 4:

yzma 5 - Copy

In other words, I let the manuscript rest.

STEP 5:

yzma 6

That’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Once my manuscript is thoroughly destroyed, I put all the pieces back together again. I discard, rearrange, and rewrite until it all comes full circle Lion King style and I once again believe it is brilliant, brilliant, brilliant! Then I send the shiny new draft to my CPs and realize it’s actually…

kronk - yuck

So I rewrite some more. Send to more CPs. Rinse. Repeat. And finally there comes a day when it’s time to let it go…

tangled - light

Admit it. You were expecting Elsa there. But that’s writing for ya. Full of surprises! 😉

Whew! That’s about all the coherent thought I have left in me, but the blog tour doesn’t end here! If you need to distract yourself because your favorite television couple is currently submerged in a giant metal box sinking toward (un)certain doom…

fitzsimmons

… or, you know, if you just like interesting, useful things, dive into the archives on the #MyWritingProcess hashtag. Then steel yourself for the awesomeness coming your way next Monday (5/19). And because I always had to go last in school, here they are in reverse alphabetical order:

Lee Kelly

Lee Kelly

@leeykelly
Blog

Lee Kelly has wanted to write since she was old enough to hold a pencil, but it wasn’t until she began studying for the California Bar Exam that she conveniently started putting pen to paper. An entertainment lawyer by trade, Lee has practiced law in Los Angeles and New York. She lives with her husband and son in Millburn, New Jersey, though after a decade in Manhattan, she still can’t help but call herself a New Yorker. City of Savages is her first novel.

Ifeoma Dennis

Ifeoma

@IfeomaDennis
Blog

Ifeoma lives on a somewhat-tedious-to-climb hill in the caribbean island of St. Vincent but it pays off with a good view of the ocean and the boats. She is a medical student by day (and even at night), and a writer at all the odd scraps of time she gets. She loves fantastical worlds of magic and beautiful creatures, so little wonder that’s what she writes!

Patrice Caldwell

patrice

@whimsicallyours
Blog

Patrice Caldwell is a twenty-one-year-old introvert gone wild. Her love for reading has taken her all over the world from the Great Hall at Hogwarts to the depths of Mordor and to the dangerously romantic streets of Anne Rice & Lestat’s New Orleans and many other places she’d never have the time to name. However it was not until the summer after her first year at college that she completed a manuscript and began to call herself a writer of all things but mostly those with a speculative twist.

She currently studies Political Science and English (with a concentration in Creative Writing) at Wellesley College and recently won the SCBWI Student Writer Scholarship for her writing.


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NaNoWriDOH!

November has been a crazy month – and not, as the blog title suggests, because of NaNoWriMo. I’ll get to NaNo in a second, but first some context.

My month kicked off in rather epic fashion. For starters, I visited FOUR castles.

Not pictured: Prince Eric’s castle. Also: yes, Rapunzel’s tower totally counts as a “castle” ;)

Not pictured: Prince Eric’s castle. Also: yes, Rapunzel’s tower totally counts as a “castle” 😉

On top of that, there was the little matter of the best concert ever. All of which was awesome, except very little (read: no) writing got done at the Most Magical Place on Earth. Which would’ve been fine except I also came back from vacation with a tickle in my throat.

Famous last words.

How disgustingly ill was I, you ask? I still haven’t seen Thor: The Dark World. Anyone who knows me knows how sick I’d have to be for that to happen. I blinked and a week of my life vanished – an entire week. Another seven days where writing fell to the wayside while I babysat Flu Jr.

If you’re wondering, I call it Flu Jr. because it wasn’t as bad as the full-blown flu, as evidenced by the fact that I’m typing this. But it still made me feel like this:

GIF credit to the fantabulous Chrissy

GIF credit to the fantabulous Chrissy

Only worse.

So there I was. Two weeks. Limited writing. That may not sound like the end of the world, but I was kind of crushed. Why? Because this year I’d made up my mind to attempt NaNo. I knew my vacation might throw me off a bit, but I’d still decided to write my little guts out in pursuit of that elusive 50k. That goal seemed pretty unlikely when I woke up on November 11 with just 2k fever-induced words. That’s right. 2,000. As in, 4% of 50k. Not gonna lie, I was a little discouraged.

Then I stumbled across this: How I Won NaNoWriMo in 9 Days . That’ right. Ava Jae hit 50k in 9 days – and her friend Taryn hit that mark in just 3 days. Do not adjust your monitor. You read that correctly. 50k in 3 days. My mind was officially blown. I’m still not sure I can churn out 48k in two weeks, but I’m sure as heck going to try.

So here’s my challenge, fellow writers*: forget about the last 15 days. Maybe, like me, your word counts haven’t been what you’d hoped. Maybe you’ve been watching from the sidelines and you’re now ready to join the fray. Either way, the time is NOW!

And remember: you don’t have to “win” NaNo to come out a winner. We’ve got 15 days left, people. 1500 a day will mean 22,500 by the end of the month. Squeeze out an extra 500 words per day and you’re up to 30k. We can do this!

Do you have a NaNo war story? Are you ready to show the second half of November who’s boss? I’d love to hear from you in the comments or over on Twitter. #NaNoWriDOH

Until next time, WRITE ON!

*Unless you’re a fellow writer who’s already won NaNo… in which case, go celebrate. 🙂


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How Hanson Makes Me a Better Writer

I just got back from Orlando, and my ears are still ringing from the best concert EVER. Six concerts, actually. They spanned two nights and featured none other than my favorite band: Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem!

electric mayhem

Kidding. It was Hanson. They dropped into Epcot November 4-5.

Clearly I was too excited to hold the camera steady.

Clearly I was too excited to hold the camera steady.

For those of you who’ve never heard of Hanson (or if you haven’t heard anything since MMMBop), here’s the cameo-studded video for their new single, Get the Girl Back (yes, that’s Kat Dennings and Nikki Reed and Drake Bell and Drew Seeley and… you get the idea). The song starts at about :35. Consider it the soundtrack for this post:

Awesome, right? So now you all understand the depth of my excitement when I found out Hanson was coming HERE. To Florida. To say the wait was long would not do it justice. By 5:29 November 4th I felt like this:

This guy's from the The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow at Disney Hollywood Studios, btw.

This guy’s from the The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow at Disney Hollywood Studios, btw.

Only better fed because, you know, theme park food:

The soft pretzel loves Hanson... and that random dude in a baseball cap. But mostly Hanson.

The soft pretzel loves Hanson… and that random dude in a baseball cap. But mostly Hanson.

To top it off, my shiny new camera has [in my best Po impersonation] legendary zoom capabilities that are the stuff of legend!

Here’s a shot of all the guys:

group shot

Isaac killing a guitar solo:

isaac

Taylor making everyone jealous of that random person with the blue watch:

taylor

Zac going all Animal on the drums:

zac

Also, here’s one of Zac on piano. Because hair like this needs to be appreciated. Go ahead. Take a moment. I’ll wait.

zac piano

If you’re jealous of my mad photography skills, don’t be. 90% of my pictures came out like this:

blurry isaac

And all 90% of them are still eating up memory on my computer – because those blurs are HANSON BROTHERS! 😉

Which brings me to the “better writer” portion of this blog. Just before the very end of the very last concert – I’m talking end of the whole shebang – the lights went down. For a second, I thought it was over… and they hadn’t played my favorite song. My thought process went something like this:

I am a grown person. I can deal with this. An awesome time has been had. Epic poems shall be written. Or perhaps epic picture books. Because:

issac taylor

What’s one song to all that?

Then the lights came back up, Taylor whipped out a harmonica, and the band started in on – you guessed it – MY SONG!!! And I died a little. Okay, a lot. Just so we’re absolutely clear about the level of awesomeness involved, here are more exclamation points:

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

!!!!

In that instant, I was twelve again. When I left, I turned to my sisters and the exact words I’d used after our very first Hanson concert *cough, cough* years ago flew out of my mouth: THAT WAS AWESOME!

It’s in all caps because, by then, I was kind of deaf from loud music. It was totally worth it.

As someone who writes MG, experiences like these are golden. It’s easy to forget how powerful firsts are. The first day of a new school year. The first time your best friend betrayed you. Your first crush, first dance, first heartbreak.

And, yes, the first band that totally *got* you.

What about you? What songs/memories instantly take you back to a point in time?

Wishing everyone a Hanson-tacular weekend!


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Greetings from the Revision Cave!

I’m happy to report my first draft revisions are all wrapped up. I actually finished a few days ago *just* in time to meet my self-imposed deadline – the October 8 release of The House of Hades. If you’re wondering, “deadline” means I refused to let myself buy HoH until I finished. Motivation thy name is Percy Jackson.

With the revisions now in the hands of my trusty CPs, I’ve also had a bit of time to catch up on things like scrubbing my bathroom (joy) and throwing a proper viewing party for Once Upon a Time in Wonderland.

If that tablecloth looks familiar, it’s because it’s the playing card from my sister's Now You See Me  party butchered into what were supposed to be checker squares. Just go with it.

If that tablecloth looks familiar, it’s because it’s the playing card from my sister’s Now You See Me party butchered into what were supposed to be checker squares. Just go with it.

Unfortunately, my brain’s still in revision mode. While watching Wonderland, all I could think was, “Man, this could’ve used some editing.” I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy it. I’m sure as heck not saying I’m not tuning in next week. I think we all know I am.

What I’m getting at is this: the Wonderland pilot gave me clearer perspective on my own revisions. It was hard, painful even, to bring the ax down on some of my “darlings,” but most debut authors don’t have the benefit of an established world like Wonderland (or a franchise like Once Upon a Time). We’re inviting readers in for the first time. If we take a lengthy detour into the Mallow Marsh readers might not wait for us to get unstuck.

mallow marsh 2

Sometimes these little detours, while dear to the author, are more like speed bumps for the reader. They kill the momentum when the audience just wants to know when the heck Jafar’s going to show up.

While we’re on the topic of villains, one of the most common complaints I’ve read online is that the Red Queen on Wonderland was trying too hard to be the Evil Queen from Once Upon a Time. Don’t sell your characters short trying to make them the “next” Hermione Granger, Percy Jackson, or KHAAAAAAAN (sorry, couldn’t resist). Give us someone new to love/hate/ship.

But that’s enough shop talk for me. I’m going to enjoy the rest of these lovely white chocolate coconut bars…

If you're wondering why these aren't on a cute serving tray, it's because it is impossible to pick one up without eating it. Seriously good.

If you’re wondering why these aren’t on a cute serving tray, it’s because it is impossible to pick one up without eating it. Seriously good.

…before I hear back from my CPs and attack the Mallow Marshiest bits of my revisions with the ferocity of a feral Cheshire Cat.

Are you wrestling revisions? Did you enjoy Once Upon a Time in Wonderland? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.


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Query Lessons from City of Bones

WARNING: I am not an agent or an expert of any kind. Everything that follows is based solely on my experience in the query trenches and my personal taste. If everyone wanted the same thing, we’d all be dating your grandmother, as the saying goes. What works for me may not be what works for you or for others.

Confession time: I’m the only person on the planet who still hasn’t read City of Bones. Before I saw the movie trailer, it was a few books down on my TBR list. After I saw the trailer, it got moved to the vague “whenever I get to it” pile where TBRs go to die. The movie just looked so dark and heavy. So not my cup of tea.

Fast forward a few weeks. My sister goes to see the movie. Loves it. Drags me kicking and screaming. After the end credits, City of Bones jumped to the VERY NEXT spot on my TBR list. I’m also now the proud owner of my very own stele prop replica:

Oh so shiny!

Oh so shiny! 🙂

That’s right. I now own merchandise from a movie I didn’t even want to see.

This got me thinking. Movie trailers can teach us a lot about querying. I’ve heard agents warn you should never, ever, EVER pattern your query like a movie trailer. If, like me, you wondered what that meant, watch the teaser for City of Bones:

Before I saw this trailer, I was loosely aware of The Mortal Instruments, its characters and premise, etc. For the sake of argument, let’s say I wasn’t. If my sister had tried to sell it to me following the structure of the trailer, it probably would’ve gone something like this:

Sis: Imagine this. A random dude murders someone in a really crowded conspicuous place, but no one can see it except Clary. Not even her hot bespectacled friend.
Me: Why? Is she crazy?
Sis: No! She’s just not a Mundane.
Me: What’s a Mundane?

Okay, at this juncture my sister and I both would’ve replied, “A Muggle.” In fact, that’s exactly how we did describe the movie to our dad. But since you can’t exactly say that in your query, the rest of the conversation may have gone something like:

Sis: A Mundane is someone who isn’t human.
Me: I don’t know, man. Clary looks pretty human to me.
Sis: Well, she isn’t! She’s a Shadow Hunter.
Me: What the heck’s a Shadow Hunter?
Sis: Shadow Hunters are half-angel, half-human warriors locked in an eternal battle against evil!
Me: Ooookay. So… why do they need Lily Collins?
Sis: Because she’s different.
Me: [does double-take at trailer] Was that Kevin Zegers?!
Sis: Focus! Clary’s got a map inside her head, alright?
Me: Why didn’t you just say that? [glances back at trailer] Does the map lead to Kevin Zegers?

If you don’t know why this is funny, you need more Air Bud in your life.

If you don’t know why this is funny, you need more Air Bud in your life.

Do you see where I’m going with this? This particular trailer got so bogged down in world building that it didn’t get a chance to showcase what made City of Bones awesome. When agents say not to structure your query like a movie trailer, I think this is partially what they mean. My first query was a mess because I was so in love with the world I’d created I wanted to shove all of its beautiful intricacies into my query. But guess what? All that world building didn’t need to be there. It just ate up precious words that could’ve been used to showcase what really mattered: why an agent should want to read more.

I’m reminded of an article I read a few weeks back, What Separates ‘City Of Bones’ or ‘Divergent’ From ‘Twilight’ or ‘Hunger Games’? Simplicity. The author, Scott Mendelson, gives advice that lends itself directly to queries:

“You’re selling a movie [in the case of a query, a manuscript], not a rule book on the fantasy world in question.”

and

“Don’t sell the rules of the game, but rather sell why the moviegoer [reader] would want to play.”

If I may be so bold, I think this is the cardinal rule of querying. I’m not saying you should be vague and cagey in a query. That’s just as bad as being overly specific. However, I think you need to be able to distill the bigger picture into a brief, snappy hook so that you can spend the rest of your 250-300 words, as Mr. Mendelson puts it, “teasing the actual adventure being offered [not just the world where the adventure takes place] or offering character beats that might make me want to spend time with these people.”

In the case of City of Bones, I might’ve said: “When Clary’s mom is kidnapped, she must venture into the dangerous world of demon hunting to get her back.” Boom. Is it more complicated than that? Yes. Is the scope of the world grander than that? Of course. But by simplifying the hook you give yourself room to show how grand and complicated your manuscript is. If the trailer for City of Bones had hinted Clary’s first love might just be using her to get the treasure map inside her head, I’d have been all over it. Hello, internal conflict and potential heartbreak! Throw in a tease about the conflict Clary might feel trying to choose between her old safe life (i.e. her funny, loyal, awesome best friend) and the rush of something new and dangerous, and I’d have been like:

Why, yes, this is Tinkerbell from Once Upon a Time.

Why, yes, this is Tinkerbell from Once Upon a Time.

The moral of the story? Conflict is key.

I’m not saying a simple query tweak would’ve sold my first manuscript. It was just as messy as my query. But if your manuscript is in good shape and you’re still not getting the responses you’ve hoped for, you may need to approach your world building with a wider lens so you can really dig into the specifics that make your book unique and engaging.

Still here? In that case, here are my last two cents: it is imperative to capture the tone of your manuscript in your query. While watching the trailer for City of Bones, I found myself thinking: Why so serious? The movie is actually very funny in places, which I love, but the trailer is all gloom and doom and weepy violins. Don’t do that.

Above all, don’t give up. You CAN do this!

Thanks to everyone who’s read and good luck to anyone in the query trenches. I hope this post helped a little.

Also, for hanging around until the end, here’s a hula dancing snowman. Enjoy:

Frozen snowman


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Monday Motivation

Did you know the Eiffel Tower was only meant to stand for 20 years? Before it was built, some of the most respected French architects and artists fought its construction, calling it useless and monstrous. Today, it is one of the most recognized and visited monuments in the world. Never let other people’s expectations limit the way you see yourself. Even very smart people can be wrong.

With that in mind, I’m going to dive back into my writing. If you’re chasing a dream, today’s a new day. Forget about whatever may’ve held you back in the past and go for it! I believe in you.


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Warm Bodies and Writing: The Importance of Secondary Characters

When I mentioned zombies in my last post, it was just to give my sister a hint about her birthday gift:

kayce's gift 3

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized writers can learn a lot from Warm Bodies. An entire post could be devoted to the differences between the book and movie, but for this post I’m going to focus strictly on the movie. Specifically, I’m going to focus on the importance of its supporting characters: Nora, M, and Perry.

At first blush, it’s easy to think the magic of Warm Bodies is all about R and Julie. They are, after all, the main characters. However, I’d argue it’s the characters around them who really sell the story and, in many ways, endear R and Julie to us.

***WARNING: SPOILERS***

Take Nora. Sure, she fulfills the stock role of sarcastic best friend, complete with zippy one-liners and a makeover scene for poor unsuspecting R.

makeover edited

But Nora’s most important scene, to my mind, is one of her very first, when R and his zombie buddies ambush Julie and company. Why does it matter? Because, later in the movie, when Julie tries to fight her way out of a zombie infested airport with nothing but a weed eater, we might ask ourselves: why now? If she’s such a fighter, why not fight earlier, when she was much less outnumbered? One quick pan to terrified Nora, cowering under a desk, and we understand.

Nora edited

Julie goes with R to save her friend. This sacrifice immediately makes her more sympathetic without compromising the tough-girl side that makes her so awesome throughout the rest of the film.

Much like Nora, R’s best friend, M, instantly ups the humor ante. He also lays the groundwork for the ultimate redemption of the zombies. One scene in particular always kills me. In it, M talks about regaining his memories. His mom. Summertime. Then, like it’s some profound revelation, he adds:

cream... of wheat edited

The first time I saw it, I died laughing. Let’s be real, I still do. But, as trivial as it sounds, this was a profound revelation for M. He’s been so lost for so long that he’s completely forgotten what it is to be human, right down to the tiniest (and most hilarious) details. It’s this reignited glimmer of humanity – something we’ve already seen blossoming in R – that allows us to forgive the zombies for the otherwise unforgivable things they’ve done. Like eating people. Which brings us to…

perry edited 2

I’m probably going to catch some flak for this (yes, I’m talking about you, sis), but in my opinion Perry is the linchpin of Warm Bodies. Our opinions of R, Julie, and their entire romance rest squarely on his shoulders. Why? If he’s too unlikeable, we’d never believe Julie would put up with him. She’s tough. She’s hot. It’s the end of the world. She’s got to be getting other offers. We have to believe she and Perry have something special enough to fight for. Even though Perry is broken and pushing her away, we see him in flashbacks being a boyfriend worth having, possibly the first guy to ever tell Julie he loved her.

BUT – and here’s why I say Perry could’ve ruined the whole movie – he can’t be too likable. As the audience, we have to believe sweeter than pie Perry is gone, replaced by an apocalypse-wearied soldier. We have to be able to forgive R for, well, eating him – and we have to believe Julie would too. Otherwise, the whole movie falls apart. Ten minutes later, when Julie’s falling for R, we wouldn’t feel warm and fuzzy. We wouldn’t want to root for them. We’d be outraged.

retail therapy edited

That, my friends, is the magic of supporting characters. Sometimes they cower under desks or muse about breakfast foods. Sometimes they get eaten. But through it all they hold the story together and, in the case of Warm Bodies, make it an incredibly fun ride.