Jayme Woods

Writer. Geek. Adventurer.


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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.