Saturday, May 28, 2011

Familiar Strangers

You know who I mean - those people you see all the time, but never really know.

The man in the red truck you pass at the light every morning.
The lady with the bright pink running shoes you pass on your weekend walk.
The family who shops at the grocery store at the same time you do every week.

In our family, we make up stories about some of them. Our favourite was Herb. He was an elderly gentleman who sat at the picnic table outside his apartment building when I drove the kids to the babysitter's before work. We never spoke to him, but we looked for him every morning. I don't remember which of us came up with the name Herb.

It got to the point where the kids would wave. Herb never waved back. Not sure if he ever saw them wave. One day Herb was joined by a lady friend. Then she started showing up regularly. When it became a daily thing, we dubbed her Herbette.

Then one day, Herb wasn't there. Ever again. We looked every morning. We decided not to stop and ask. Herb and Herbette had obviously taken off to enjoy a vacation somewhere and liked it so much they stayed... That's our story and we're sticking to it. The alternative is too hard.

I discovered another familiar stranger in my life passed away over the weekend. We'd dubbed her Granny on the Go because she could make her wheelchair MOVE! We saw her at Tim Horton's on a regular basis. We saw her whizzing across the parking lot to the local grocery store almost every week.

We never learned her name. Only spoke to help her with her coffee or change at the counter. Yet we feel a loss.

Are we more likely to have these familiar strangers because as writers we tend to notice people? Do you have any familiar strangers in your world?

On another note ... thanks so much to the adorable Cherie over at Ready. Write. Go and the lovely Layna over at Layna Pimentel for awarding me the Irresistably Sweet Award! If you haven't met Cherie or Layna yet, do yourself a great big favour and pop on over for a visit. You won't regret it!! :)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Build a World with Elana

The always wonderful Elana Johnson is here. Her AMAZING debut novel Possession is coming out June 7th, and you HAVE to pick it up. It's that good!

Elana Johnson’s debut novel, Possession, will be published by Simon Pulse (Simon & Schuster) on June 7, 2011. Her popular ebook, From the Query to the Call, is also available for free download. School teacher by day, Query Ninja by night, you can find her online at her personal blog or Twitter. She also co-founded the Query Tracker blog and WriteOnCon, and contributes to the League of Extraordinary Writers. Elana is represented by Michelle Andelman of Regal Literary.

Here's a link to the Sampler book club website - very cool idea. You should check it out :)

If you haven't been lucky enough to read Possession yet, check out the first 2 chapters, free, on Elana's website. I know you won't be able to stop there, so here's the link to Amazon where you can buy the book!

Elana's here today to talk about world building. I'm in the middle of creating a world of my own so I can't wait to hear what she says. So, here we go...

Play God: Why It’s As Fun As It Sounds

Why, yes, as writers we get to play pretend! Especially if you’re writing in the fantasy or science fiction genres.

Because you get to decide what your world is like. You get to decide where the mountains go. If there are two suns or three. If cool tech gadgets exist, or if people can read each other’s minds.

You, in essence, get to play God.

And I think as writers, we like that. We’re control freaks, really. Ha! (Sad, but true.)

So today, I’m going to talk a little bit about world building, particularly the world building that went into my debut novel, POSSESSION.

The basics:

1. When? I knew I wanted the world of POSSESSION to be a futuristic world, but I did not assign a year to it.

When building a world, ask yourself if you need to assign a year. Or at least ask, “Is this near-future?” (25 – 50 years) or “Is this far-future?” (50+ years.) POSSESSION is far future, in my head. That’s all I needed to know.

2. Where? I also knew where in the US I wanted to set most of it, and I tried to stick to the geography that exists in that area.

When building a world, you need to have a starting place, especially for dystopian. It stands to reason that some landmarks and/or cities will still be standing in a few hundred years. In fantasy, I think you can do whatever your heart desires!

So ask yourself: “What will still be around in 100 years that can be a geographical clue for my readers?” You don’t have to name territories or countries or states. But in *your* head, you should know where your story is taking place.

POSSESSION starts out in what is now Utah, and yeah. From there, when you read the book, you’ll know where everything is. IF you’re a geography buff.

3. How? I knew I needed a “how” for my world. All dystopian does. Readers want to know how our world turned into the one they’re reading about. So in your head, as the author, you should know too.

I don’t think we need to know on page 1, though. Or even page 50. But I think the author should know, and the MC should probably know, and can reference it at crucial times.

In POSSESSION, the “how” is actually something paranormal. I just can’t help myself; I’ve never been able to write a complete novel without something paranormal. So POSSESSION possess dystopian characteristics, science fiction elements, and paranormal qualities.

Overall, when building a world, ask: “How did this world evolve out of the one I live in?” Of course, for fantasy, you might not need to do this. For urban fantasy, though, you need to know how your made-up world fits into the real world as we know it.

I think those are the three basic things that authors need to ask themselves to start building a world. In addition, you need a set of “rules” for your world. Things that always are. Laws. Standards. It’s good to make a list of these (do you really think I made a list? Ha! I did not. But some people might), and refer to them as you’re writing. (I had to make my list after and check for consistency.)

Have you written a novel set in a new world? What questions did you ask yourself to get started?

Me again! Thanks so much Elana. I'm really looking forward to playing like a deity now!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Obsession with Possession

Wow!!! Elana Johnson's debut novel Possession is stunning. I adored it. The world is awesome - so well drawn, you know you could pack up and visit it - if you're that brave!

Elana's use of language is beautiful - whether the mood is snarky or scary or steaming! Here's one of my favourite passages ...

Conversations passed between us, things we couldn't say out loud but that patched up all the holes in the silence.
The entire book is full of passages that I had to stop and read again - just to enjoy them all over again. Well done, Elana, well done!

There's another section about The End (and no, it's not at the end, but it's past the middle, so I don't want to quote it!) that is powerful.

And the ending? Wow! Just Wow!!!

If you're not on the Elana rocket, grab your luggage and jump on board - she's heading for the stars.

And before she hits those stars, she's going to drop by here on Monday to talk about world building. I know! I'm excited too. (Can you tell by the ridiculous amount of !!!! in this post?) :)

What's the best book you've read lately? I bet you can guess mine!

Saturday, May 14, 2011


As writers, we've got a lot of it. We need courage to take every single step of this writing process - from cutting a favourite sentence to letting someone else read our work, from finding a crit buddy to sending out a query letter, from getting that first form rejection to dealing with the rejection of a full.

We keep going. We keep learning. We keep growing.


I came across this video the other day. Courage is one of the themes we're discussing in my classroom right now. This is a Nike commercial that fits the theme. It's all about pushing through, getting back up, and doing more than you think you possibly can.

It's about a minute long. It's worth watching just for the guy who shows up in the last 3 seconds or so.

(sorry - had to remove the video)

Right now I'm using up all my courage working through this rewrite. It's a slow process, but I really do think it's making the story stronger. I'm not giving up. I'm pushing on through.

What are using your courage for these days?


(On a side note, more than a dozen comments from my last post got eaten when Blogger was down the other day. I can't seem to get them back up (or even find them) and of course, I deleted my emails. Thank you to those who commented and I'm sorry that I don't have the technical skills to recover the comments. I really hope THAT never happens again!)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Favourite Moms

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there! I'm a little late, but it's been that kind of weekend - lots of fun and very little computer time! :)

So who's your favourite mom? In the literary world, of course.

When searching for literary moms, my mind immediately turned to the books I enjoyed so much as a child. Anne of Green Gables. The Hobbit. Nancy Drew.

Hmmm. No moms in those ones. A lot of my favourite MG & YA books follow this pattern, no parents, or more specifically, no moms. There are often mother figures who aren't moms, and sometimes aren't even women (check out last year's post for more on that!), but where are the moms? 

Harry Potter's mom is an influence on him, but she's not around much. Ron's mom, however, is an awesome mother figure!

Katniss Everdeen's mom is mostly broken by her life and the loss of her husband.

In Ranger's Apprentice, Will is an orphan.

In fact, in many of the books I read aloud to the kid, moms are notably absent from their lives or at least from the story. The Giver. Dogsled Dreams. Maniac Magee. The Outsiders. Leviathan. Hatchet. Invitation to the Game. Underground to Canada.

I think it's because moms are such powerful influences in our lives. There are a lot of things we don't do because we can hear our moms saying, "Do you think that's such a good idea?" They are often our moral compasses, our guides. At least for us lucky ones.

Fiction for young people is often much more interesting when the main characters have to provide their own moral compasses, choose their own paths. It makes it more difficult for the character, and thus much more fun for us! Especially for kids who often wonder what it would be like to make their own decisions all the time. Kids who imagine themselves in charge. No wonder books with absentee parents are so popular!

So who's your favourite literary mom?

I'll be over at From the Write Angle tomorrow (Monday May 9th) discussing Info Dumps. I hope you'll find time to pop over and add your thoughts to the discussion!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

It's Back!

My computer has returned from Repair Land. With a new cord and a new motherboard. Thankfully it was under warranty so it didn't cost me a thing! :) Cue the happy dance!

So far, I've had to let it turn itself on and off about a dozen times while it downloads all the updates for security programmes and other goodies. It feels so good to have it back! I looked at my Google Reader to see how many blogs I have waiting for me...

... about 10 000.

Yup, you read that right. Ten-freaking-thousand. Really don't think that's going to happen. That Mark All As Read command looks pretty good right now!!

Congrats to all those A to Z Challenge bloggers. I obviously didn't catch most of the posts - but the ones I did were terrific! Way to go! I imagine most of you will be doing a bit of relaxing in May :)

I did manage to read a few more great books while I was laptopless...

Earthling Hero by Anita Laydon Miller. If you're looking for a fabulous MG adventure, this is it!! A quiet kid gets sucked into an adventure of a lifetime in which he's got to work with and against some aliens in order to save his parents ... and the world! Tons of fun in this one. I finished it in no time :)

Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr. If you're looking for an intriguing YA urban fantasy, you've got to read this one. A teenage girl sees faeries, invisible to most people. When she's chosen by one of them, her whole world starts to spin out of her control. Great fantasy with romance, adventure and lots of action. Loved it!

If you like romantic suspense, Reunion in Death by JD Robb & Cold Dawn by Carla Neggers were also fantastic reads! All this bonus reading time was a definite plus! :)

I hear Elliot Grace's book, South of Charm, is now available! I'm hoping the Kindle version's out soon too. Can't wait to read this one. Elliot's got a magical way with words and images! And that cover is perfect! :)

So, tell me, what did I miss? What should I be looking forward to?