From Sarah, With Joy

Writer querying two novels and some other word babies. I tend to effervesce.

New post every Monday

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Fan loyalty and the Muppets

So I went and saw the new Muppet movie yesterday.

It was beautiful :) It made me smile and laugh out loud. The heart of the original Jim Hensen stuff was there, and the wacky humor, and the cameos by a cast of random and hilarious celebrities. I loved it.

The whole thing was about the Muppets as a brand, and whether or not they still had the backing of a loyal fan base. Obviously they did. And do. And it got me thinking: what does it take for something to have that kind of fan loyalty? Like, what makes the difference between someone buying your book and someone waiting for and looking forward to and buying all your books?

Obviously the most important part is having something amazing to offer, or people won't have the emotional engagement it takes to become a rabidly loyal fan. The Muppets are amazing. Harry Potter is amazing. That's why people care so much.

But beyond that. There are plenty of incredibly amazing things that don't have that same kind of widespread, devout fan base (Connie Willis), and also plenty of less amazing things that do (*ahem* Twilight. Sorry.) So what is it that makes the difference? I really want to get my hands on a copy of The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, but what are your thoughts first?

Here are some of mine: to try and get some kind of answer to my own question, I thought about what makes me personally a fiercely loyal fan of something.

First, past experience. I love the Muppets because I remember watching them as a kid. I will always consider Walk Two Moons one of my favorite childhood books, because I remember how strongly it effected me when I read it. I will always love Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, despite my knowledge of it's and Andrew Lloyd Weber's many musical flaws, because I remember listening to it while my sisters and I ran circles around the living room naked. (That was our form of dancing. We haven't progressed much since then.)

Second, because someone we know and trust recommended it. I've never washed clothes with anything other than Tide, because that's what my mother always used. I will always love Stephen Sondheim, because my mom loves him. A River Runs Through it will always be one of my favorite books, because it reminds me of Mr. K, my high school English teacher. I love Listerine and the '500 Miles' song by The Proclaimers because they remind me of my dad. So does Steve Martin dancing. (And you wondered where my family got our dance skills.)

Third, herd mentality. I hesitate to mention this one, because for me and I suspect for a lot of you, when EVERYBODY likes something it tends to make me like it less, at least at first, and if I love it then I love it despite what everybody else thinks. Like the play Wicked. I love it because it's awesome, not because every theater goer and their dog loves it. But still, whenever anybody goes to New York, they ALWAYS see Wicked and Phantom of the Opera, because that is what EVERYBODY sees. So basically, even though herds are sometimes annoying and often wrong (I still do not understand how Phantom is still there and Les Mis is not), if they're going to be there, they may as well be in your field, right?

Anyway. As far as it goes for us writers and artists, all that really matters is that we create the best work we know how. With work and some luck the rabidly loyal fans will follow. Hopefully not too closely. But yeah, the psychological and business aspects of this are fascinating, at least to nerds like me.

What do you think? What makes you a loyal fan of something, and how do you think we can maybe apply that to writing careers?

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The End. Almost.


I've never written the end of a novel before. But now I'm 3/4 of the way through, and I'm starting to get to the wrapping up point. I'm trying to remember all the lose strings I've got dangling so I can tie up at least some of them, and have something somewhat complete. That will feel so amazing, to have finally finished a full-length novel.

The weird thing is confronting things I've only been thinking about for months/years and now actually having to confront them. Or at least just things I need to start thinking about for reals now. Major editing, finding good beta readers, researching and querying agents, trying my best to be contract-smart, that kind of thing. I mean, all that's still going to be a while yet, especially anything to do with signing contracts, but I'm getting to the point where I almost have something ready to try with. And that is exciting.

As far as actually writing, though, I could use some tips and advice from those of you who have actually done this before. Finished a novel, I mean. I want to make sure I wrap this thing up right. Of course it's not going to be perfect and it's going to need major changes anyway, but I want to get it as good as I can the first time around. So what can you tell me about making a successful ending?

I'm also finding myself arguing with whatever part of my brain controls motivation. I want this done so bad, and I'm working and everything, but I feel so...slumpy. It's still coming, but it's going slow again, and taking a lot more effort than usual. I hit that kind of thing before, at around the 53% percent mark, and then I got over it. I'm hoping that happens again, that I get even closer to the end and I get some kind of last cross-the-finish-line energy boost. I'm also trying hard not to think too much about what I'm going to do next. Because guys, I have so many ideas, and they are going to be awesome. Next year is going to be awesome. But in the meantime I've got what I'm working on now, and I still love it and will feel so much better about myself and my life and my presumptuous attention whoring from all y'all and people all over the interwebs when its done. So I'm going to just keep going and hopefully get it done this year, but any ideas on how to make that easier or get through it with more smiling and less teeth gritting would be greatly appreciated.

Those of you doing NaNoWriMo, I hope the ending is working out for you. We will make it to the end.

Sarah Allen

Thursday, November 24, 2011

101 Things I'm Thankful For (in no particular order)

1. Candied pecan yams
2. God
3. My yellow bedroom
4. Windowsills
5. My family. I wouldn't be without them.
6. Pansies. I like their faces.
7. J.K. Rowling
8. Chapter 33, 'The Princes Tale.'
9. England
9. Jane Austen
10. Jazz
11. Colin Firth
12. White Chocolate
13. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
14. Frasier
15. My luck with roommates. I've never had a bad one.
16. Black-Eyed Peas on the radio
17. Thursday night dinners with my mom
18. Reeses Puffs and Waffle Crisp
19. My computer
20. My car
21. Blogs and blogging
22. Being as far as I am on my WIP
23. The amount of butter and sour cream my mom puts in the mashed potatoes
24. Meryl Streep
25. My parents marriage
26. The letter Captain Wentworth writes to Ann Elliot at the end of Persuasion
27. Mathew Macfayden in the rain in the new Pride and Prejudice
28. Having ward prayer and FHE at my apartment. It forces me to socialize.
29. Sweaters
30. Farmer Hogget in Babe
31. Taming of the Shrew
32. My best friend who introduced me to awesomeness like TNG and Doctor Who
33. This poem
34. Friends who I can argue with and they still love me
35. Midnight showings of anything. Even Twilight.
36. Alan Rickman's voice.
37. Dr. Benjamin Linus. Don't think I'll ever get over him. Don't judge.
38. My cell phone.
39. My green leather purse I've used so long its chipping on the bottom.
40. Indoor plumbing. It's big.
41. Pixar
42. Josh Holloway's dimples
43. Hooker boots
44. Gum
45. John Green
46. Peach flavored Fresca
47. 100 calorie fudge bars
48. Dishwashers, especially because my apartment doesn't have one
49. Dollar theaters
50. The smell of Listerine and after-shave
51. Colin Mochrie
52. My adorable preschool kids
53. YouTube
54. This song. And this one.
55. My playbill of 'Gypsy' signed by Patti LuPone
56. Holly Flack for Michael Scott
57. Niles Crane
58. Vincent Van Gogh
59. Post-it notes
60. Converse shoes
61. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
62. The Book of Mormon and the Bible
63. Fingernail clippers
64. Rain
65. Sonnet 130
66. Zoos
67. Secondhand book stores
68. Construction. Not really, but I'm trying.
69. My ginormous Gone With The Wind poster
70. Brian Regan
71. This dance from Sasha and Twitch, or this one from Melanie and Marko.
72. Gustavo Dudamel's hair. Also Josh Groban's.
73. Toby Stephens as Mr. Rochester
74. The part in Two Towers where a muddied, bloodied Aragorn bursts through the big double doors.
75. My teddy bear named Russ.
76. Having at least one X chromosome
77. C. S. Lewis
78. Pinterest
79. Laughing
80. David Tenant and Catherine Tate
81. Stephen Sondheim
82. Pajamas
83. Treadmills with TV's
84. Animal Planet
85. Pina Coladas and getting caught in the rain
86. Black trench coats
87. Google and Wikipedia
88. Paychecks
89. Duotrope.com
90. Brigham Young University
91. Disneyland
92. Eating frozen chocolate covered bananas, churros and funnel cake by the Rivers of America waiting for Fantasmic to start
93. Waking up ridiculously early on Christmas morning and talking with my siblings until it's time to go upstairs to open presents
94. Amazing high school teachers
95. Guys with beards or curly hair
96. People who need people
97. The Bronte sisters, especially Charlotte
98. Airplanes and road trips
99. The smell of sharpies (should explain a lot)
100. Jim Hensen
101. The word 'chimerical'

What would you add to this list?

Happy Thanksgiving!
Sarah Allen

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Five Cookbooks for Writers


So we all know what tomorrow is. Stuff our faces day. To help with the stuffing, here are 5 cook books made especially for writers and readers:

The Write Ingredients

The New Great American Writers Cookbook

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen

The Book Lover's Cook Book

The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook

Pretty fun, huh? I'm definitely not one for cooking, but I think if I had a few of these it might make it a little more fun for me. I may actually invest in that.

Do you know of any cookbooks for writerly people? What are your favorite general cookbooks and recipes? Any that you're going to be using tomorrow?

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

So Nike Was Right

The past few days I've stumbled upon something that is quite a novel concept to me, though for the rest of you its probably very old hat. The concept is this:

Just do it.

Its so incredibly simple. I don't know why I've made things so complicated in the past. It's like I let myself float from thing to thing, distraction to distraction and do some writing here and there when it happens. I get some done that way, but only a little some. (Pun very much intended).

Here's the thing. This weekend and yesterday (and hopefully today) I just quit the goofing off. I've set aside morning writing time, which typically works out well, but I've wanted the after-morning time to be more productive too. So the past few days I get home from work, get a quick snack, and then say, ok, now its time to write. That's it. Nothing else. I turn on a classical iTunes radio station, turn off the internet, and just write. Doing that I've gotten 4000 words out in the last three days, which for me is huge.

See, the mornings work for me because I tell myself its writing time. But the afternoons its been more like "stuff" time. Like email and reading blogs and eating and going to the gym and maybe writing a paragraph and playing on Pinterest time. It's pretty obvious that, for me at least, I don't write unless its WRITING TIME. It's not that I didn't know that before, it's just that I'm discovering how much I can get done when I apply it across the board. Because I want this book DONE, dang it.

Its amazing what a little mental manipulation can do. Do you have any mental tricks to help boost your creativity or productivity?

Sarah Allen

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Things I Miss

Zebra patterned bubble gum.

Dexter's Laboratory and Rugrats.

Benjamin Linus.

Eating desert without thinking about it.

Reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for the first time.

My English 319 fiction workshop class.

Niles and Daphne.

Disneyland.

The smell of New York.

Being young enough to make my teddy bears age appropriate.

Staying home from school sick with a Jamba Juice and Animal Planet.

Being in high school plays.

There have been some good things and good experiences in my life. I'm grateful for them, I miss the ones that are gone, and hope and pray for more goodness in the future.

What do you miss?

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

E.J. Patten and Popular vs Literary


MG author E.J. Patten (Return to Exile) came and spoke to the creative writing class today. It was pretty awesome. Seeing and hearing from authors in real life can be such a refreshing experience.

Anyway, he read a bit from his book (which I highly, highly recommend for the MG readers in your life. It's supposedly in the same vein as the Percy Jackson series, though from what he read I think its a lot better. You can check out his website here.) He also answered a bunch of questions that the students had.

He talked a little about his experience in the publishing industry. He has a lot LOT more of that then me, so I was listening. He said he had an idea for a YA book a while ago, but was told it was unpublishable just because of the way the YA market is. He obviously found a way to work it out, a way that worked for him and the publisher, but I asked him what he would suggest to people if what they want to write is "unpublishable."

He said pretty much everything is publishable, but you have to keep the market in mind. He got into the whole popular vs literary question, and said that to make a good living as a writer, you pretty much can only do that with "popular" genres. He mentioned Michael Chabon and Jonathan Franzen as a few people who are doing pretty well within the literary genre, but that it's just the way things are that in general literary fiction doesn't sell that well, definitely not as well as the popular genres.

You know, I used to get really bugged by the Popular vs Literary debate. I always thought, can't a book be both? Popular and well-written? I mean, take Harry Potter. One of the greatest literary achievements of our time, and one of the most popular. I still think they can, but I think its just a fact that we have to deal with that really literary books that sell well are the exception. Straight up that's just the way things are, generally.

It's unfortunate, but not disastrous. It just means we have to make some decisions as writers and accept and deal with what those decisions mean. Writing is hard and takes a lot of time and effort, no matter what genre you write in, and there's a lot of luck involved too. There's a little better chance you can make it big writing in popular genres, and if you write more literary fiction, you should probably be prepared with a second career/day job.

The most important thing, though, is that we write what we want. That's all it comes down to. Just write whatever the heck you want and write it the best you can. That's what's fun about being a writer anyway, isn't it?

Sarah Allen

Monday, November 7, 2011

So someone I know is going to read this?

As I get closer and closer to finishing my book, I've been thinking about this more and more. The goal is to get your work published, right? That means out there for everybody to see. And that everybody includes your friends and family.

Mostly, that's just fine. There's just a couple things that worry me about that. One that worries me a little, and one that worries me sort of a lot.

When you read something, you can't help but make judgments about or connections to the author and the authors life. So when people read our work, they make assumptions about us and our lives. Whether they are correct (which they probably aren't) is beside the point. And you know, that's all ok, that sort of comes with the territory of being an artist. Of course people are going to judge you and your work, but only we know where it all came from, and even that's a little iffy. It's a little more complicated when the readers know you personally. When they know your life a little more intimately, and they make connections or judgments or think that you're making certain points or using certain details based on your life and who they know you to be. Does that make sense? Basically what I'm trying to say is that by letting people in your life read your work, its a bit like letting them in to your head, and whether what they see is accurate or to the point, it can't help but shift/change/alter, even if its only slightly, the way they see you as a person, or the way they've seen you up to that point. And I kind of don't want it to change anything. I'm still me, I'm still the person I've presented to them, but now they know a little more. Or they think they do.

But all that is okay. I can deal with that. It's expected. The bigger deal for me, related, but not an aspect of this issue I've fully thought about until recently, is this: People in my life who read my work will not only make assumptions and judgments about me, but perhaps also about the other people in my life. Say I write about a father, a mother, a sister. Can that be kept separate from real life to people who read it and know my actual father and mother and sisters? Even on a more general scale. Say I address certain issues or topics: Does that mean people are going to make judgments about my family as a whole and the way I was raised or something like that?

It seems like those kinds of connections and judgments are inevitable. What bothers me most is that if this type of judgment is passed, which it will be, then I've dragged the people in my life into something they did not ask to be dragged in to. That seems a little bit presumptuous to me.

This is where I come to those of you with more experience then myself. Obviously this is something every writer and every artist has to address, somehow. How did you deal with this? Is it best to just be true to your own inner-artist, move forward, and trust the support of the people that matter most? I'm thinking that's the only thing you can do, if you're going to be honest and truthful with yourself and not compromise your inner artist. And you know, even if the people who matter most don't quite understand, which they might not, they still love you and support you. Sometimes it's scary to rely on that, but that's why they are the people that matter most.

What are your thoughts on this? How do you write without shaking up too badly your own real life world?

Sarah Allen

Thursday, November 3, 2011

3 Steps to Fame, Glory, and Eternal Life

Are you a writer disenchanted with blogging? Are you a new blogger wondering how you're going to make a difference anyway? Are you intimidated by all the social media outlets writers are supposed to know how to juggle, and juggle brilliantly? If you answered yes to any of these questions...

Ok, enough of that. But seriously though, there are so many posts about how different writers feel towards blogging. Like Roni Loren's post about the life cycle of a blogger from yesterday. I'll admit that's the post that got me thinking, but like I've said, I've seen similar posts all over the place. So I figured I might as well add my two cents to the conversation. Halloween was my two year blogiversary, so I have a little experience to back me up.

I feel like there is so much drama llama trauma that eventually pops up with blogging. Which for me, kind of defeats the whole purpose. I feel like things could be a lot more emotionally smooth and satisfying if people just kept three things in mind from the very beginning.

1. Set those lofty goals, but keep them personal. I am the first person who will tell you to dream big. Shoot for the stars. Go whole hog, go for it, all those cheesy, sentimental cliches. (I annoy people sometimes...)But I really mean it. Its no fun and just not as meaningful if you don't have buckets full of gold and rainbows as your end goal. But. Be self-aware and realistic in how you plan to move towards those goals. 3,000 followers on your blog? Sure, why not. But you're not going to get there in a day, a month, even a year, no matter how often you post or what marketing you do or whatever. Its a very slow building process, so know yourself and know what kind of pace and efforts you are comfortable making on a daily and weekly basis. Remember, you're doing this for you. The rest will come.

2. Determination. Stick to it. Grit your teeth. Suck it up. Just do it. Muscle through. However you want to say it. Even if you're very careful in how you set things up, and make reasonable short-term goals for yourself, there are still going to be times when you feel like chucking your computer at the wall. When you're sitting in front of a blank post at one in the morning with no clue what to write about. This is when you have to try and remember why you're doing this in the first place and just do it. This is where you show how badly you really want it, whatever 'it' is. Good things come to those who never give up.

3. Rejuvination. Sometimes you just get burned out, and sheer determination only gets you so far. Don't be afraid to take some time for yourself to get yourself feeling alive again. Sometimes for me all it takes is belting my lungs out to a really good song. Often going to the gym makes me feel better. Sometimes I just need a night of kettle corn, diet Dr. Pepper and a couple good chick flicks. It's kind of like filling up at a gas station, and then you've got the umph to get you through the next few hundred miles. Do what you need to do so you don't burn your engine out completely.

So there you have it. Those are my thoughts on the subject, take them for what they're worth. What are your thoughts on the whole writers blogging thing? Worth it? Too much effort? What have you felt about your own bogging experience?

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

NaNoWriMo: And the next plot point is...


So. Even though I'm not doing NaNoWriMo, I couldn't let November 1st go by without addressing what would be causing me by far the most grief, were I doing NaNo.

Plot.

It's never been my strong suit. I love characters and thoughts and dialog and description and scenarios, but putting those all together into a novel-length cohesive story is tough for me. I've talked about this before in various ways, but its definitely worth talking about again.

Let's say the first segment of my MS is plot points A-G. The way my mind works, I get the major plot points--A, D, G--down okay. But hitting B, C, E, and F along the way sometimes gets me stuck, even though I know they need to be there. Does that make sense? It's like crossing a river on stepping stones, and finding the smaller steps between the bigger, more obvious boulders is tricky.

This can cause problems during NaNo for people like me, who don't have the luxury of a long time to think things through and search and search for that tiny needed step. And its a problem for me in general, so I could really use your ideas.

I have come up with a few things. When I'm starting an idea, I start with a very basic outline with those more major, A, D, G points. I come up with as many plot points as I can just within the story in my head, but it still ends up fairly sparse. Then I start a kind of accumulation process. I start a list. I go through my old creative writing notebooks, see what ideas they can give me. I stare at my bookshelf and try and think what major plot points from my favorites could maybe give me ideas for something in my story. I take that list and integrate it with the outline and flesh it out a little more. Then I go through and see if I can spot any holes and try and fill those in. By then I've hopefully got something workable and its time to start.

Inevitably, though, new things are discovered as the story unfolds, more holes are uncovered, new ideas pop. Then the outline changes and you're left without a step, without an E where you thought there was one.

That is where I get stuck. That is the biggest problem I have personally so far encountered in the novel-writing process. After a period of thinking and agonizing I generally find a way to get myself unstuck, but if I could get your advice to make my unsticking a lot more stable and graceful, so I don't feel like I'm flopping my way to the next boulder, that would be great.

So what do you do? How do you get from A to D? I mean, some people--the "pantsers"--write whole novels just one step at a time, feeling their way forward with their characters, with only the vaguest notions of where they're going if any at all. It's that exact "feeling your way forward" process that I could use help with.

So. For my and the NaNo-ers sake. Help?

Sarah Allen
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