[ Small Chirps ] Writers, if you won’t speak up for your writing, who will?

When 11-year-old Kahlo Smith saw that the rules of NPR’s Three Minute Fiction contest excluded minors, she had two options. One, and the one of least resistance, was to let out a deep breath of disappointment and close the browser. Instead, she sent the contest organizers a letter to them know about her interest, ask why they had the 18-and-over-only rule, and tell them about her 600-word story.

Today, All Things Considered featured her question and her short piece of fiction on their program. The age rule stays, but Smith will be receiving an autographed copy of Luis Alberto Urrea’s most recent historic novel, Queen of America, and some NPR-related items for her story. You can read her entry and the full story at the NPR article, Minor Details: Three-Minute Fiction’s Age Rules.

For every thousands of young (and adult) writers who look at the rules (or at the impenetrable design of a publisher site, or the distracted and busy life of an agent), there are one or two individuals who will be willing to put themselves out there and write that letter or ask that question. And in the end, that will set them apart.

So this Saint Patrick’s Day, make the resolution to make your own luck.

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Related Reads:

Pet Hates: Stop sighing and don’t get eaten

Small Chirp: Select Pet Hates from the Fantasy and Paranormal Genres

Sighing

When in doubt, make your character sigh.

In fact, make your characters sigh all the time! It adds depth to their already angsty personalities and highlights how tortured and put upon they are. It can also be used while daydreaming of that hawt actor look-alike across the room, to convey impatience with the police line that just won’t let the character ogle the corpse, or to express pure frustration when the villain, once again, slips out of a clever ambush. It can even convey boredom. It’s a very versatile act.

For an even better use of this elegant action, have your character (if female) fiddle around with the strands of her black-dyed hair as she stares about the bookstore sighing or (if male) glance broodingly around the coffee shop as he slumps in his seat with as sigh. Life is meaningless. This story is boring. The characters are deep.

Le sigh.

What age difference? It’s true love!

Sure the human girl may be super mature for her tender age of 13 (or 20, or 30) but you have to wonder what a 100-year-old (or 500, or 10,000 depending on how far out we’re going) immortal sees in her. Continue reading

Advanced Book Review: White Witch by Trish Milburn

Book 1 of the Coven Series

Publication date: March 01, 2012

“Hot tears burn my eyes as I watch the last of the black coloring disappear from the tips of my long, blond hair, draining away into nothingness. I swipe at the tears as I curse my image. Fate seems determines to smack me at every turn. Not only does my witch DNA evidently make my hair resistant to dye, but soon I’m going to have to use the inhuman power I want so desperately to leave behind.”

–Jax Pherson, on dying hair black. (pg. 1)

Jax is a 16-year-old  in hiding. The people after her? Her family: the dark, ruthless coven of powerful witches that wants to make her into a killer. But Jax is going to make a stab at her dream of being normal instead, enrolling in high school, making friends, and doing normal teenage things. But normal becomes a bit more complicated when she finds herself falling for a Hunter and dodging the vicious baseball throws of a jealous Mean Girl.

As a character, Jax is superstrong, Cursed with Awesome, superfast and model gorgeous–and would rather be anything but. The supporting cast includes the very handsome and edgy hunter, a young Joss Whedon fan with great hair, and a late guest appearance from Jax’s shadowy past. Continue reading

[ Pitch Slaps ] Weekend Picks

Part of the Pitch Slapped Series:

Blurbs can make or break the a book’s sales, especially if the reader hasn’t heard about the author before. A strong blurb is a must for query letters and getting the book read.

For this latest installment of Pitch Slaps, we’re going to do something different. We’ve talked about a lot of things that go wrong when an author writes a blurb. So instead, here is the cream of the blurbing crop from indie books recently submitted for review.

SECTOR C by Phoenix Sullivan

“Cloning Ice Age mammoths and saber-tooth cats for canned hunts seems like a good business venture — until it reintroduces the species-jumping pandemic that wiped out the megabeasts 10,000 years ago. Now history is about to repeat itself, with humans the next target for extinction.”

What works: In two sentences, the book blurb sets up the world (ours, futurist), genre (science fiction, speculative, medical thriller) and the conflict (extinction! corporation-style). It’s clear, concise, and clever.

What doesn’t: The truth of it is, I cut the rest of the blurb (not shown here), going from four paragraphs to the one (shown here).


The Phoenix and the Dream King’s Heart by James Monaghan

“The Phoenix is a cursed ship.

Exiled to the Darkland Expanse, on the fringes of the known galaxy, its captain and crew have spent the last decade struggling just to stay alive. In a galaxy full of cruel gods, terrifying monsters and treacherous allies, though, survival is far from an easy task.

When the King of Dreams offers them a bargain – retrieve his stolen heart in return for a key that may just get them home – Captain Asher Lee and his crew agree to launch a desperate mission across dimensions. When faced with an insane goddess and her army of quantum spiders, though, do they really have a chance?”

What works: This is an example of a blurb that does it all–dramatic tension, a hint at the plot, and a glimpse of the world. It adds an extra lure by promising to combine science fiction (space, dimensions…) with fantasy (gods, monsters…). And of course, who doesn’t like a story that has some treacherous frenemies?

Torn by Dean Murray

“Shape shifter Alec Graves has spent nearly a decade trying to keep his family from being drawn into open warfare with a larger pack. The new girl at school shouldn’t matter, but the more he gets to know her, the more mysterious she becomes. Worse, she seems to know things she shouldn’t about his shadowy world.

Is she an unfortunate victim or bait designed to draw him into a fatal misstep? If she’s a victim, then he’s running out of time to save her. If she’s bait, then his attraction to her will pull him into a fight that’ll cost him everything.”

What works: This blurb takes a different approach. It woos the reader with the very fact that it presents the traditional star-cross-lovers plotline with a dash of paranormal intrigue. There will be romance and there may be betrayal, it says, and in the YA PNR genre, what more can you ask for?

What doesn’t: As a reader, I would love to see what sets this book apart. There is safety in being generic in this genre, but give me a hint of something concrete.

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Do you have a pitch or synopsis that you’d like to send to the sacrificial altar?  Email it our way with the subject “Pitch Article Submission” at canarypost@gmail.com. 

Read more slapped pitches here.

[ Small Chirps ] Can you publish your NaNoWriMo novel?

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo or NaNo, for short) is in full swing, and hundreds of thousands of aspiring writers worldwide are hitting Week 2 of their attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days. This is my third year doing NaNo, and so far it’s going well: I’m over 2,000 words ahead, giving me a nice cushion in case I have an off day later in the month, and I’ve got a list of writing prompts to help ease me through the notorious second-week slump (for those new to NaNoWriMo, the second week is when the novelty of the story wears off, but the end is still nowhere in sight. It’s a dark time).

I do NaNoWriMo because I become a part of a great community, join a solid writing boot camp to kick productivity into high gear, and the pressure often results in my creative energy leaping off into directions far different from where it goes for most of the year. I do NaNo, in fact, primarily for the excitement of doing NaNo, but there’s always that voice that crops up, from a friend or family member, fellow writer or even that nagging voice in the back of my own mind.

What many of us really want to know at the end of the day is: Will this month of frenzied writing leave us with something we can publish?

Yes and no. Continue reading

[ Pitch Slapped ] The Importance of Genre

Long before a potential reader lifts your book to read the blurb, before they even spy your cover, they have to navigate the maze of bookshelves to find where your book is nestled. So before you even start to doodle cover art, you need to answer a fundamental question about your book: What genre is it?

Sometimes you start out writing with a specific genre (“I’m going to write a Victorian era romance”) or trend in mind (“I’m going to write a book like the Hunger Games“).

But other times, you’re crafting your story first, and it just happens to have magic or murder or robots.

Genre-fication:

When Robin Dempsey commissioned us to peck at her blurb, the first thing we zoomed in on wasn’t the story, but her description of it.  Who is the audience? we asked. Continue reading

[ Pitch Slapped ] On How We Missed The Point Completely

Part of the Pitch Slapped Series:

Blurbs can make or break the a book’s sales, especially if the reader hasn’t heard about the author before. A strong blurb is a must for query letters and getting the book read, and in this article, the canaries try to slap a pitch into shape.

As a rule, the canaries don’t accept stand-alone short stories for reviews (anthologies only), but when Terra Harmony sent us an inquiry about her recent story, Gleaming White, we bent our rules a bit.

I’m going to start with the official blurb we got:

What did you think?

First, let’s talk about what I think the blurb did right. Harmony made the good call of writing a short blurb for a short piece. A novel would have demanded a bit more meat, but when the piece is only 13,000 words and not part of an anthology (rather unusual, by the way, in terms of marketing), short is good. Still, it has two main weaknesses: an unclear story arc and shifts in focus.

So here is my feathery reaction:

Right now, here’s the story I’m seeing:

  1. Sister is murdered.
  2. Heroine is angsty and suicidal.
  3. Murdering vampire is sexy.
  4. “Your blood is yummy.”
  5. “Pease kill me, Mr Hawt Vampire!
  6. ???????
  7. PROFI—err, I mean, Happily Ever After.

Content Issues:

The blurb begs all sorts of questions, the biggest of which is this: if she wants to die, what that Mr. Hawt Vampire have to do with anything? If she wants to take her life, who cares what he wants for lunch?

Nowadays, most readers expect some vague presence of a spine in their heroines. Sure, the macho, domineering (yet oh-so-sensitive) male is an all-time favorite, but the girl better at least pretend to take a stab at having some level of independence. If she wants to kill herself, why is he deciding her “fate”? Personally, I’m irritated at the implication that the guy is only interested in the girl for her physical attributes (“her taste”) and that the girl refuses to do a thing unless the man tells her she can.

This might not be the story at all, but the core issue is that it’s what the blurb makes me think the story’s about.

Which details matter?

Our recent poll showed that’s one of the top questions for authors.

1. Does Twin Sister’s Death play a real part of the story, or is it the token trauma along the lines of “Oh no, they burned up my village!”? Does the main plot relate directly to this death, or is it background noise?

By placing the death in the very first sentence, the reader is told that this is one of the most important elements of the plot.

2. Does she want to die or doesn’t she? Our heroine is facing three conflicts by the end of the story: dealing with her twin’s death, dealing with Mr. Vampire’s interest, and wanting to die.

The only way I see the current story working would be if it were a careful and intense study of the human psyche and the grieving process—and perhaps elements of Stockholm Syndrome and that power dynamic of victim and captor.

But…this isn’t Literary Fiction. The length and the genre (paranormal romance) suggests that the story follows a plot along the lines of a Romeo & Juliet–girl-meets-boy, girl-realizes-boy-isn’t-as-evil-as-she-thought, boy-and-girl-lovey-doveyness. In that case, a different angle would probably be a whole lot more appropriate (say, she is in despair and wants to die when Mr Vampire finds her, and he shows her that maybe the entire world isn’t such a dark place. But will she be able to deal with her feelings for a vampire when it was a vampire who killed her sister? Dun dun dun.)

3. Whose perspective are we following in the pitch? This is a big question, so let’s hear more about it in the following section:

Ambiguity of perspective: What is our point of view?

The Blurb:

  • They stole from her.
  • A man is seduced.
  • She wishes.
  • He must decide.

We go from they to him to her.

The story from they-point-of-view: “They kill, and now they need to deal with this illicit romance crap between vampire and food.”

The story from his-point-of-view: “He discovers a girl who tastes really good. He’d like to keep her, but she’s been badly hurt by her sister’s murder and wants to die.”

The story from her-point-of-view: “She’s lost her sister when the vampires killed her. Now another vampire has decided she’ll be his food supply. She wants to die, but he won’t let her.”

See how the story shifts each time? A good rule of thumb is to make sure that the POV of the pitch matches the POV of the story. Here I’ll go with the assumption that the story is written at least 60% from the heroine’s perspective (most romance is).

The problem, though, is that none of these are particularly romantic. Blame the story? Or blame the blurb? We’ll blame the blurb. Let’s see if we can spin it.

The Revised Blurb:

Conclusion:

Now we have a clear speaker, a little more detail, and less of weak-willed heroine. The main thrust of the plot is still a mystery ( a good thing for a short story) but there is enough mystery to at least pull the reader into the first paragraph.

The difficulty for the author here was in taking those few steps back away from the story and examining, ‘What is the pitch actually saying to the reader?’ This, more often than not, is one of the biggest challenges for the writer. Here, all the picky details that put me off in the initial version are brushed over. Once the reader takes the bait, it’ll be up to the story to make those details work.

Post Script From The Desk of CanaryTheFirst:

We had finished the article, and were bouncing around title ideas (“Look Who’s Talking”, “Seeing What’s Not There”…)  when it hit me. The vampires had stolen “the life of her twin sister” and now the heroine wants to “join” her sister. We were coming at it from the wrong angle.

So so wrong.

This isn’t about a murdered sister and a revenge-vs-romance plot! This is about the sisters reconciling (maybe) and the heroine wanting to be turned into a vampire.

Oh. Oh dear.

Suddenly, the line about “he must decide her fate” makes sense. And theothercanary felt more than a little deflated–suddenly, this seemed like a run-of-the-mill vampire story. So what this blurb is truly missing, is that something special that would set this story apart from the undead hoarde.

But only the author knows what that extra spark is.

Do you have a pitch or synopsis that you’d like to send to the sacrificial altar?  Email it our way with the subject “Pitch Article Submission” at canarypost@gmail.com. 

Read more slapped pitches here.