A Camp NaNo Update

Hello, everybody!

The first week of Camp NaNo has come and gone and I have two exciting bits of news.

The first is that although she’s coming late to the game, E. M. McBride – my friend and co-author – is Camp NaNoing, so hopefully she turns out something as excellent as usual. Best of luck her way.

The second piece of news is that I’ve completed my Camp NaNo novel, have met my word count, and am beginning my editing of the first draft!

That’s going to go through nine rounds of edits before I send it over to Natalie Cannon for her miracle-working magic, but I’ll keep you posted. The first stage is going more slowly than I originally anticipated, mostly because it’s harder than I recall to read a whole novel out loud. Apparently, I can’t actually do it in a single sitting. I’m about half through, though.

I’ve got plenty of other projects to work on when I toss that Natalie’s way, so I’ll try to be good about keeping this updated.



Murder Mystery Planning

Like many voracious readers, I grew up on mysteries. Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys. Of course, that bleeds into murder mysteries  as you get older, and for me this led me to television and Agatha Christie.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself as a writer, it’s that murder mysteries – or even just mysteries – are a speciality and a love of mine. For one thing, it gives you a beautiful excuse to kill off characters, and to make everybody seem like suspect sorts of people. It also gives you excuses to dole out information to the reader very slowly.

As my poison-loving (as a writer, not a purveyor) editor and best friend, Natalie Cannon, has told me, the key to writing a convincing murder mystery is to know first of all, whodunit, and how, and why. Just like makers of jigsaw puzzles print the picture out as a whole and then cut it up and jumble the pieces, the writer of a murder mystery has to follow similar steps.

The first step, as I said, is figuring out what happened, what the mystery actually is that everyone’s trying to solve. What it is, what it looks like. Sometimes those are one in the same. Sometimes someone’s killed one way and it’s been made to look like something else. You have to know exactly what’s happened if you’re going to leave the right breadcrumbs. Sometimes, you’ll notice that mysteries will have multiple murders. Both mysteries I’m currently working on are like that, and the one I’m doing for Camp NaNo has two very closely connected murders, whereas my other mystery has about half a dozen murders, much more loosely connected, which makes it a longer and more complicated story. If you’re not sure you can keep all the clues straight, stick to one or two murders, and if you do two, make them very closely connected.

Once you have the murder all sorted out, it’s a matter of figuring out what would leave traces, especially traces that could be misinterpreted. This is the selection of breadcrumbs. It’s important, as well, to decide what sort of murder mystery you’re working with. Will the reader know who the killer is? Will there be a big reveal at the end to (hopefully) stun all but the most astute? In Those We Trust, which is something of a murder mystery, in a way, the killer is a regular voice, but I’m very careful to keep the identity completely secret until the very end. Even the characters never discover who it is, so the breadcrumbs left by the killer are actually deliberate, pointing fingers at everyone else. The reader actually gets to see the killer planting the breadcrumbs, although they might not realize what they are until they’re mentioned later, from a different point of view. This is something that you can play around with if you feel confident: how much are you giving away, and how? There’s even the crime-show motif of “we know who the killer is, now we have to prove it”, which means you have to have someone who can cover their tracks very well, and things that are very difficult to prove, like in the television show, Luther. Knowing and proving are different things, so that can be fun to play with, but requires very precise writing and planning.

The next step is one of the more fun steps: Who are you going to frame? You’ve got your misleading breadcrumbs, so they have to lead somewhere other than the killer, potentially. Whether someone is actually wrongfully arrested or the police just have a list of suspects to whittle through and someone looks uncommonly attractive, at least one red herring needs to muddy (or bloody?) the waters. If you’re going for an enclosed murder scene, like a boat or airplane, and “one of us is the killer” is your motif, then maybe you want multiple guests to look like equally promising killers. If you’ve got a more typical piece, maybe two or three people might fit the bill. In my Camp NaNo piece, I’ve got a handful of possible killers, but when I write murder mystery events, everybody’s got to have at least a small motive. Your needs will depend on your story.

Then, honestly, it’s just a question of writing the thing, weaving the plot and the breadcrumb dropping together. A little hint of this, a little smacking you over the head with a twist of that…. And then nuancing it in the editing process.

Editing is a really important part of writing a murder mystery, actually. If you have a couple of editors/friends read it and they all say either it’s too easy to tell who your killer is way too soon, or it’s absolutely and literally impossible to figure it out at all until the very end, you should listen to them. The worst thing a writer of mysteries can do is frustrated the reader with being overly obvious or impossible to deduce. If there’s a pattern, take the steps you can to fix it and toss it their way again. You’ll be glad you did.



Camp NaNo

It’s that time of year again: July’s Camp NaNoWriMo!

I think anyone who has ever tried or considered trying NaNoWriMo understands the appeal of dedicated a month to working on a novel. It’s sort of a pact with yourself, a dare, pushing yourself to the limit with an organized way of holding yourself accountable, and rewarding yourself with completion. The classic NaNoWriMo is a brilliant writerly tool, but having done all the different sessions, I have to say that the July Camp is my favorite, easily.

First of all, Camp NaNo sessions have a few legs up on the classic right off the bat. Because they’re based around the concept of summer camp, you get cool features like having a cabin assigned to – or, new this month, forming your own cabin with friends you know either from the internet or in your real life! – that gives you regular encouragement, discusses pitfalls, and just keeps you sane with company during the sometimes lonely act of writing.

Also, NaNoWriMo is limited to 50,000 word goals for novels. Camp NaNo is more flexible. You can edit a previously written work, expand on a previously written work, do a screenplay, even set your own winning goals! So if 50,000 seems like a steep chunk out of your summer, set it for 20,000 and write a novella! Or if you know that without the pressures of school you’ll churn out 50,000 like it’s nobody’s business, there’s people in my cabin with over 120,000 word count goals. Mine’s at 63,000, because that’s my minimum estimated amount for the project I chose to churn out this month.

Also, for those of you who know that there are two months of Camp NaNo every year, you might have also noticed that I specified the July camp as the best. I’ll explain why.

When Camp NaNo started a couple of years ago, it was in June and August. Which was great because they were both technically summer camp months. The problem with that, though, was that you had a NaNo every other month for half the year, and then nothing the rest of the year. So last year, they switch camp to April and July. This is good for people who want to space things out, especially people interested in screenwriting, because April is National Screenwriting Month, so they can use that for their first camp session.

But the problem with April, as with November, is that for those of us who are students and/or work within the school-year system or calendar, those are very busy months. Exams, papers, etc. Life bogs you down in those times of year, and the beauty of a summer camp experience isn’t just the weather: it’s about knowing that there’s nothing on your chest but camp during those weeks.

Of course, for people who work year round with no relenting time in the summers, this might not make a difference. But many countries other than the US have their vacations traditionally in July or August, so it’s sort of nice having a NaNo then, so you know you’ll at least have some time off.

Thus for me, someone who is likely to operate on the school-year schedule for the rest of my working life (woot?), the July Camp NaNo is the ultimate timing, the best set-up, and basically the epitome of Christmas in July.

I’ve written the first three chapters of my project already, putting my other novel project on hold until I’ve got the draft of this one done. I’ll be starting chapter four as soon as I post this blog post, and since I’m many words ahead already, I’ll be trying to give you regular updates on my personal and cabin progress. Should be fun.

Also, are you participating in Camp NaNo? Have questions about NaNoWriMo? Leave a comment! Get involved! Things like this are more fun when you’ve got people to do them with.



A Writer’s Guide to Wikipedia

Wikipedia, as we all know, can be one of those sticky life resources. You can’t use it for work usually, can’t use it as a school resource, can’t cite it on an academic paper. But on the other hand, it is a massive life blessing bringing all sorts of knowledge to you at any given time, and the ability to alter things you know to be wrong. What could be better than that?

As writers, research isn’t the sort of strenuous activity it can be for academics. You can use resources that aren’t permissible in a journal article or a term paper, Wikipedia being one of them. But for the same pitfalls that keep it from being a solid academic resource, it can be a misleading one for writers as well. Therefore, all writers should definitely use Wikipedia, but they should use caution and follow a few basic guidelines when utilizing it.

I have two basic scenarios in my research life that make me turn to Wikipedia. The first is when I know absolutely nothing about a general topic, person, or place and I need a starting point. Wikipedia is great for this, because especially on broad topics like Stockholm, pesto, or BDSM (to take a recent search of mine), you can learn a lot of information in one place. From the main article, you can branch out to related side-shoots you need more information on, and more importantly you can use the sources that are cited in the article for further research and information, as well as to double-check any facts from the Wikipedia article itself. This is the almost obvious scenario that most people use it for.

The second scenario is one I’ve encountered recently. BDSM, my recent search, is something I happen to know a lot about. It’s something I’ve studied in both a scholarly and writerly context for years now. But because it’s such a broad topic and I didn’t have any preconceived ideas of how to actualize this in the piece I’m working on, I turned to Wikipedia as a refresher to help me fold certain aspects into my outline and character profiling. Very little of it was new to me, but it helped me to organize a vast amount of information, like numerous types of bondage ties and a lot of different equipment that I couldn’t recall the names of. While I’d read literally all of this before (the Rousseau quote on the erotic spanking page was like an old friend that comes to my mind every time I think of the concept of erotic spanking, actually), it was immeasurably helpful to have such a vast array of information free and easily organized to help me make my own hand-written set of relevant notes.

And that is the most important thing to keep in mind with Wikipedia. It’s a great starting point, a quick reference, a guideline as a beginning of something. But it’s best not to use something on Wikipedia if you can’t find the information somewhere else. Any resources gathered from the source list should be doubled checked to ensure that they’re reputable sources, and if the page you’re reading on Wikipedia has a warning at the top, like one telling you that the article is a stub or the resources are suspected, or that things are improperly cited, pay attention to that and be extra careful.

Wikipedia, like anything else, is a resource. There are some great backdoors, as well, that can be especially interesting on controversial topics. If you can find the discussions on what should and shouldn’t be on the page by regular users, they can open your eyes to some pretty cool debates and how people approach them. On the page for Saladin, there’s a massive, multi-month debate about his nationality (Kurd, Turk, Arab?) that rehashes many of the same points over and over again, and people get very worked up about it. These can be as helpful or even more helpful than the articles themselves.

Remember to be responsible when you’re trying to be accurate, always double and triple check important things, and happy writing!



My Current Plans/Life

As I may have previously mentioned, I was not accepted into any of the MFA programs to which I applied (although I got a wait list from Indiana-Bloomington! Promising!). So now I’ve moved on to Plan B.

Plan B consists of getting a Masters of Arts in Teaching at Liberty University Online, because of all the many places I looked into they were easiest to work with by far. So with any luck, in a couple of years’ time I’ll have a job teaching middle school english (woot).

I’m also reevaluating my plans for where to apply for MFA programs in the future, including possible low-residency programs if I get a job in the meantime. I’ll be keeping you all posted on my MFA life, as usual. Hopefully the second round turns up something a bit more concrete. Of course, I expect that this will take multiple rounds of applications to get in somewhere I can afford. Such is life.

Whilst working out this, I’m applying to be an emergency substitute teacher at a local school district, since they’re desperate. You know it’s bad if they have to have a position for people without a license. I plan to get that application in soon, so cross your fingers and I’ll try to remember to keep you posted on that as well! I could really use a bit of spare cash, even though I don’t expect to work often.

In my writing life, I’m working on two novels, neither of which I’ve properly given working titles to, yet. One’s a murder mystery, and the other I’ve got classified as a sort of romance novel for lack of a better genre at the moment. When I’ve got working titles for them, you’ll all be the first to know! :D

An update on my USB disaster, I’m currently saving up money to get it fixed. It’s expensive, unfortunately, although I’m almost certain that the problem is a quick fix with the right (albeit expensive) equipment and experience. *sigh* Again, that’ll be up here when I’ve sent it off, and I will do a full review of the service I use, good or bad. Hopefully none of you have my terrifying experience, but if you do you’ll know who (or perhaps who not) to use!



Literary Agents Panel by Natalie Cannon

Hello, all! This is the final set of notes from Natalie’s visit to the Ventura County Writer’s Weekend. I apologize that it’s taken us so very long to send it your way, but life has this way of doing things. Like getting in the way of desired productivity. Nevertheless, we have finished it, so here it is, with only minor edits done by myself! Enjoy, and check out the other works in this series if you’re just joining us and want to glean more of her insightful commentary!




Happy June! So remember like 5,000 years ago when I attended the Ventura County Writer’s Weekend and promised to write up my notes? Well, it’s about to end! This is the final installment, and it’s all about what literary agents want.

The panel was compromised of agents, including Toni Lopopolo of Toni Lopopolo Literary Management and Dana Newman of Dana Newman Literary, and both spent most of their time talking about the ever elusive what-do-agents-even-look-for question before telling general advice. But before we get to that have some general rules of thumb:

  • With the internet, Google, and regular old networking, there are a half million ways to find agents and agencies. Any books or products connected to Writer’s Market or Publisher’s Marketplace are generally reliable.
  • Submit your query in the format and manner an agent wants.
  • Agents have fewer buyers because of the Big Six/Big Five, but e-books have ensured that more and more content is needed.

On a more personal note, if you want more information on how to approach agents and such, Chuck Sambuchino is like a god. Or even just read his “Secrets to Querying Literary Agents: 10 More Questions Answered” and you’ll already feel more confident.

And now:


What Agents Want From Nonfiction Writers: The big thing that was repeated over and over was that agents are looking for issue-based texts with an easily identifiable audience that will specifically buy this book. The more literary your prose (read: academic), the narrower your audience will be. Agents want to know what gap are you filling or problems you are solving with your book. Why are you qualified to write on this topic? Do you have a social media presence and are you engaged with your potential audience’s community? Trends take hold of cultural consciousness and run with it: does your topic contribute to a trend in a unique way? “Crossovers” or books that intersect two separate topics are also popular: think of those books that can be shelved in two different places in a library, like a cookbook that also discusses the history behind the recipes. On the flip side, the market is saturated with “recovery” stories. Overall, authors that have a strong platform, ability to contact/connect with their audience, and a marketing plan will be preferred. As far as you choosing an agent, keep your mind open to agents that focus on smaller publishers: they often have contacts with the specific markets your audience inhabits.

What Agents Want From Fiction Writers: The most prominent advice here was to have a good story that grabs a reader in the beginning; one where the characters, their emotion, their development, and the dialogue tap into the natural narrative instinct of the human brain. Use active verbs and keep up the pace. Make sure your grammar shines—though don’t use your old English teacher as your editor, but rather someone who works in publishing. Basically, agents want writers who know their craft. It was repeated over and over in this panel, for both fiction and nonfiction. The popular trends right now are paranormal, chick lit, and romance, but you must know your stuff no matter what genre you’re writing in. An online presence is a requirement. And, like with the nonfiction writers, keep your mind open to smaller publishers, who give more personal attention to their writers and are generally less overworked than their big publisher counterparts.

The rest of their advice goes to all types of authors, mostly about the legal and contractual aspect of writing. I put these in bullet points for ease of reading:

  • If you’re going to work with anyone involving money, make sure to get a contract, including with your co-author, ghost writer, or any other freelancers. A professional will have one on hand, or you can write your own.
  • If you have a really good idea for a book, but have trouble actually writing the thing, consider setting up shop with a co-author or hiring a ghost writer.
  • Always get your work copyrighted. Make it a priority.
  • A publisher should offer you an author contract when they sign you on. This is a written agreement between you and the publisher. Part of the contract grants the publishing rights to the publisher, and for this bit, make sure there is a time limit. Sometimes publishers buy the rights to a work, but then sit on it forever, particularly with e-rights—a time limit will ensure they do something before it runs out, as then the rights revert back to you, the author.
  • When you go to a publisher, set an advance. An advance is essentially a loan—a publisher pays you $XX,XXX, trusts that your book sales will make at least this much, and you pay them back through your royalties. If you don’t make that much, you have to give it back, unfortunately, but fairly. Large publishing companies usually take 25% of the net profits.
  • If you use quotes, photos, or other materials not created by you or featuring someone’s face, you may need to seek legal permission to use that other creative work/image. Gaining permission can be very tricky, but if the publishing company asks you to, please please please do your utmost to gain it. Speaking from personal experience in a real live Editorial Department, permissions is one of the most maddening and tedious parts of an Editorial Assistant’s job, and they love the author who helps them. If you want to avoid the process altogether, only use works and images already in the public domain and free photo websites.

Aaaaaaaaaand that was the end of the panel! Thank you for sticking with this series—I can’t believe it took more than year to finish!

My Writing Process Blog Hop

Hello, all!!! I’ve been tagged in this blog hop by the lovely Miss Natalie Cannon we all love so much. I’m continuing a chain of authors answering the same questions about our work.

I’m also doing this on my phone, so fingers crossed.

1) What am I working on?


No, but really I’ve been focusing a lot on my short stories, from necessity. I do them for class, for one thing. I’ve got a couple of murder mysteries I’m bouncing around for picking up when I’m home again.

2) How does my work differ from other works of it’s genre?

Hmm… Well I specialize in wrenching hearts and crushing souls. I would say that basically speaks for itself.

3) Why do I write what I do?

There are a lot of people suffering unfairly in this world. I try to give them a voice in a way people can’t comfortably ignore.

4) How does my writing process work?

Well, I’ve done a blog post on this before, so I’ll paraphrase here. I get an idea, I figure out its scope and take down any notes I need. I add it to my docket. I do any planning required for longer works (character profiles, outlines, etc). I then write them. Lately I’ve even been reading my own drafts and doing a round of edits before sending it off.

I then have other people read it and respond. Natalie always is one of those people, and the others vary depending on the piece and expertise. I put it through edits until nobody has any more to say about it. And then I push for publication.

That was lovely fun!!! I’ll be tagging the Invisible Ninja Cat and charging her to get a response up next Saturday!