From Sarah, With Joy

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

New post every Monday

Monday, April 30, 2012

Z is for Zucchini Bread

Z is kind of a hard one, isn't it? But anyway, everyone who's finishing the challenge or stuck around here this long, it's time to give yourself a treat. And this is one of the best treats there is. The recipe is from AllRecipes.com Hope you enjoy! (p.s. Today is the last FREE day for XO: From Turner Syndrome and Me, so if you haven't picked up your copy, swing on over. Blog reviews and Amazon ratings are good too *hint hint). Anyway, pick up your free book and make some yummy bread and enjoy your Monday.


INGREDIENTS:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
2 1/4 cups white sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini
1 cup chopped walnuts
DIRECTIONS:
1.Grease and flour two 8 x 4 inch pans. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).
2.Sift flour, salt, baking powder, soda, and cinnamon together in a bowl.
3.Beat eggs, oil, vanilla, and sugar together in a large bowl. Add sifted ingredients to the creamed mixture, and beat well. Stir in zucchini and nuts until well combined. Pour batter into prepared pans.
4.Bake for 40 to 60 minutes, or until tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on rack for 20 minutes. Remove bread from pan, and completely cool.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED © 2012 Allrecipes.com

Thursday, April 26, 2012

W is for Wasting Time

It's all a waste of time.

Writing a novel that might never be published, that no one may ever read. Starting another one.

Jumping on my parents trampoline. Taking my seven year old sister on our usual date: movie, In'n'Out and a stint at Barnes and Noble with the only other person I know who wants to stay as long as I do.

Staying up until two, okay three in the morning, kettle corn and peach Fresca on my nightstand, catching up on Downton Abbey or Sherlock or Person of Interest because I Just. Have. To. Know. I have found myself alone in the middle of the night watching Vertigo or The Notebook, neither of which is probably a good idea for an alone at night movie. I cried. A waste of time.

Sitting at my window, late at night again, listening to John Coltrane and watching the moon and cars go by.

This blog post. Watching John Green YouTube videos. Playing on Pinterest.

Auditioning for plays I probably won't get cast in.

Watching Chopped with my mom until one in the morning. A bowl of fruity pebbles with my brothers before bed.

Looking for jobs. Aren't all jobs a waste of time? What about teaching at my old school? Coming in to the classroom at lunch where the little boy in the Cars sweatshirt shouts "Sarah bearah!" sounding more like "Thawa beewa!"

Who was the first to say time is a thing that can be wasted? If I watch Frasier and write never-published poetry while you go on dates or to business meetings does that make my time more wasted--less valuable--than yours?

That's the thing about it all. Eating churros and funnel cake while saving spots for Fantasmic on the cobblestone streets of Disneyland. Buying five-dollar movies at Walmart, watching the Biography channel documentaries of Johnny Depp and Andre the Giant. Reading novels.

It's all a waste of time.

Maybe.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

V is for Vlogging

So I feel like I've put up a lot of videos lately, and I apologize if that's annoying. But I'm going to do it again today, although I'll try and back off for the next few posts at least :)

Anyway, anybody else do a vlog? See, the thing is, YouTube has made video sharing incredibly easy. And if you look at site usage, YouTube is growing and growing in popularity, while blogging is on a downhill slope. I still love blogging and don't plan to change anything there, but in trying to do whatever I can to make a writing career, I figure one may as well use every tool available that we can. And YouTube is one of them, and besides, it's fun.

Besides big potential marketing power, it's also just fun to connect with people in this kind of visual, more personal way. Actually seeing their face and hearing them talk brings a whole new type of connection. One worth trying for, I think.

If you're looking for stellar examples of phenomenal YouTube vlogs, my first stop no question would definitely be Vlogbrothers by John and Hank Green. They are hilarious, generous, and incredibly, incredibly smart. Another vlog I would highly recommend is by Jackson A Pearce. She is also awesome and sweet and funny and smart.

With that, here's me doing what I can. My vlog is called Dear Muse, and I try to give tips and story ideas to get the muses back to work. If any of you are YouTubers, I would love to connect with you. (Subscribe/comment, hint hint!). Anyway, the latest installment of Dear Muse, more soon to come:
Hope you enjoy :)

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

U is for Unspoken

I like to think of really great writing as words that successfully say what words can't say. I mean, when you think of poetry, it's saying things with words, but it's really saying so much more.

Here are some quotes whose words add up to so much more than the sum of their parts:

"If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence." -George Elliot, Middlemarch
"Eventually all things merge into one and a river runs through it." Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It
"Serve God, love me, and mend." William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing.

I think when language works as well as it does in these examples its meaning is too much for words, and so the words have to mean something more then themselves. I know its kind of abstract and convoluted, but does that make sense? It accesses something close to a Universal Truth that hits chord deep inside us, even when we can't comprehend the full meaning of the words in our heads.

How do you put something like this in words?


And here is one of the greatest scenes ever shown on television, all about the "unspoken." I mean, the words 'I love you' already carry such a complicated web of meaning, there is absolutely SO much that Niles is saying in just three words.


What do you think? Do you think writers can try to use words to say what words can't say, and how do we do it?

Sarah Allen

Monday, April 23, 2012

T is for timing and taking yourself seriously

Timing is sometimes a difficult beast to deal with. I keep thinking I've sort of figured things out and then I haven't. My life is pretty awesome, I'm not saying otherwise, but I sometimes feel like I've been working and working towards something for a long time and can't catch a break, and granted I have a lot of work still to do, and I'm going to do it and it's totally worth it, for sure, but sometimes it feels a lot like slogging and banging against brick walls, especially compared to friends and family my age who appear to be jumping ahead with their lives in easy leaps and bounds.

I'm not complaining. Even the people who I think are moving forward quickly have problems, and I wouldn't want what they have anyway. I have different goals, that takes a different kind of work and timing. The point is that everyone has their own timing, whatever their goals are, and trying to compare one life and it's timing to another is just ridiculous.

So I'm not going to lie and say that my little sister going on a mission and my other little sister getting married in the next little while doesn't have anything to do with feeling like I'm somehow comparatively behind. I know I just said comparing is ridiculous, and I know that in my head, but it's still hard not to do it sometimes, isn't it? And like I said, I don't want to go on a mission or marry the guy my sister is marrying (even though he's great), so it doesn't matter. I want different things, I am working for them, and they will come. I absolutely believe that, it's just hard to remember sometimes.

Even without the comparison thing, the other uncomfortable thing is trying to BE a writer without having a book out. BEING a writer is my Goal, the thing I'm working towards that will come eventually, and this is just a phase we all have to go through. But it's still kind of awkward trying to balance the desire to work towards and do as much as possible to create a writing career as soon as possible, and the discomfort of feeling like you're trying to push yourself onto people without anything really to push. It's all about creating friendships and relationships anyway, and everyone has their own story and things to say, but somehow I don't feel quite validated yet. I find myself wondering why people read this blog anyway when I'm just another wannabe not-yet-published writer.

The thing is, nobody is "just another." We're all unique. Everyone has their own story and things to say, we just have to let that show. I don't know if I can truly get rid of this not-yet-validated feeling short of getting published, but the key is to not let it stop me in any way. I have a very bad habit of talking down my writing and myself, because I'm scared of people thinking I'm some lame untalented wannabe, thinking something like, "Ok Sarah, you have fun living in your cardboard box with twenty cats writing terrible novels." But I have to have confidence in myself regardless of the mean voices in my head. If I take myself seriously, I will be taken seriously. Every dog has their day.

My life is pretty darn awesome, and I hope this isn't too ridiculously me whining about myself type of thing. I'm only trying to be honest here, and using myself as an example because I know for certain I'm not the only one who sometimes feels this way. That in fact a lot of people/everyone feels this way at some point. We feel like we're not quite grown into our superhero costume yet, we're scared of people laughing at us because maybe our muscles aren't fully grown. But they will be one day and the work will be worth it. That's all I'm trying to say here, for anyone who feels the same way. Because like C.S. Lewis said, "We read to know we're not alone."

Sarah Allen

Friday, April 20, 2012

R is for Robert Carlyle & Rumpelstiltskin

So I'm not sure how many of you have heard of Robert Carlyle or watch the show Once Upon a Time.

He's basically brilliant.

Here's the thing. The show is pretty cool, the premise is intriguing and exciting. But really, it's not a fabulously well-done show. The writing sometimes gets pretty kitschy, honestly, and so does much of the acting. However, I am so totally emotionally invested enough in
to keep watching.

That's kind of what I want to talk about. We worry so much about having an interesting story and complex and well-executed sub-plots and brilliant settings and all that jazz, when really, all you need to bring in and hold a reader is a character they care about deeply. It's more than a given that I'll love anything with a pining lonely older man played by a fabulous actor, so there's Rumpelstiltskin for me. That's just my particular quirk, but any character the reader really cares about will keep them with you.

This isn't the first time this has happened. In fact, my experience with Once Upon a Time has some pretty strong correlations with my experience watching Lost. Very cool premise, but some pretty campy acting and even writing at some points. Lost is definitely the better show all around, in my opinion, but I still watched it for basically one reason. Rumpelstiltskin has become my new

Strangely, in a way I don't even understand myself and maybe you'll make fun of me for it, both very beautiful men.

Anyone else experienced something like this, not caring about the book/show in general but caring enough about one character you stick with it?

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

O is for Originality

"Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it." -C. S. Lewis

As usual, our good friend C. S. Lewis has the answer to everything. We all worry so much about being original and standing out, when really worrying about it is the last thing we should do.

Really we just need to live and tell the truth of our experience. We need to be utterly honest with ourselves, even when its scary and vulnerable, and that's when people can connect with us and when we become original. Because all of us are already. Original, I mean. We're us like nobody else is. It's when we try to be something not us that we lose that originality.

This has been interesting to think about as I try and brainstorm my next idea. The way it happened last time was that no matter what I did, I had this character in my head that had to get out, and had to get their experience and perspective told. It's happening that way again, except this time with a seventeen year old redhead girl instead of a burly forty year old man. She has something to say, something I need to say, and kind of the only thing I can say right now. So I'm going to write her story and say it, whether its been said before or not. Then next time I'll say whatever the next character in my head needs to say. Hopefully originality will happen in the process.

Do you agree with our friend Lewis? What makes you original?

Sarah Allen

Monday, April 16, 2012

N is for Niche Market

This ones a bit hard for me. I am, and I believe most people are, interested in a wide, eclectic variety of things, so it's hard for me to narrow down my target audience to a specific type of person. Of course we all hope for a wide and varied readership, transcending this kind of stereotyping. But publishers don't like that kind of talk, and for good reason; you need a narrow focus for a successful marketing campaign.

So, niche readership. Once you've found yours, you can go from there. Find out where your target audience spends its time and focus your resources on those areas. For example, if your target audience is women in their 30's and 40's, you're probably going to want to go for ads more in Elle than in Petersen's Hunting. You can use sites like Alexa.org to find out what sites your demographic is visiting and spend your time there. Find the Facebook pages and groups that cater to your type of reader and spend time there too. Once you find your niche, it's easier to be creative and spread the word.

The hard part, for me at least, is figuring out your particular niche market. Sometimes it's fairly clear. For example if you're writing a high school romance, then your target audience is teenage girls, and if it's a political thriller, then probably men age 30-50. Maybe I'm just too close to my own book and can't get objective, but I'm having a bit of trouble defining my target audience.

See, okay. My MC is a 40 year old man named George who takes care of his teenage niece, which makes basing my target audience on my MC sort of confusing. But there is a romance strain throughout the book as well, which might narrow the audience down to women age 30-50, as well as a paranormal thread as well, which might narrow it down even further. Does that sound about right? Even thought my main character is a middle-aged man, my target audience is probably 25-50 year old women who like a bit of fantasy. I'm hoping to be able to chat about this with my beta readers pretty soon which is probably be the most helpful thing one can do in terms of determining target audience, but again, that sound right?

That means, even though my book is absolutely nothing like Twilight, I might do well to spend a bit of time talking to the readers of TwilightMoms. Find sites where moms spend a lot of time.

What about you? What is the target audience for your book, and what are some ideas for finding it?


Sarah Allen

Friday, April 13, 2012

L is for Lurve


I have a dilemma.

But first, a thought. Or a few. Sorry, the picture of Colin Firth is distracting me.

So I'm one of those saps that definitely believes the saying "Every story is a love story." Really though. Think about it. Ultimately, stories are all about a character trying to find love. Romantic love is the big one here, obviously, but we're talking all kinds of love. I mean, just look at what Shakespeare wrote.

I just don't care otherwise. Is that way dramatic and sentimental of me to say? Of course Snape is my favorite character in Harry Potter. Yes I've stopped watching House now that Cuddy/the romantic interest is gone. Yes Niles-and-Daphne is the sole reason I watched all 11 seasons of Frasier. Even with Pixar, where there is basically no romantic love relationships ever (except Carl and Ellie. Guess which Pixar is my favorite) you still have the love of Woody for his boy and Sully for his little girl. Doesn't the look on Sully's face at the end of Monsters, Inc. just make your heart want to burst?

Am I the only one who feels this way? Can you think of examples of when you were drawn into a story and character through something other then love?

Ok, then here's my dilemma. Stories without love don't interest me, so of course I'm not going to write any. I'm not saying all my work would be categorized as 'Romance', but it definitely has it in there. Except I pretty much have no experience. With romantic love in general, I mean. (Unless you count Colin Firth, which for some reason people usually don't). I'm just being open and honest here.

My question for you all, then, is how does one write love stories when one hasn't had one of their own? Has your personal experience with love changed the way you write?

Those are my thoughts for the day. I'd love to hear some of yours.

Oh, and happy Friday the 13th :)

Sarah Allen

Thursday, April 12, 2012

K is for Kiva and Kickstarter

I should say first of all that I have not used Kiva and Kickstarter. Yet. But I know of them and what they do and definitely plan to use them in the future. I totally see Kiva and Kickstarter as the way our worlds economy is heading, and I'm okay with that. 

On the one hand, we have Kiva. Just in case you haven't heard of it, Kiva provides a way for investors to give micro-loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries, and it has an almost 100% payback rate. So you donate a little bit of money so a shop owner in Columbia can buy more merchandise to grow their shop and they pay you back quickly and completely. This isn't giving someone a fish, or even teaching them how to fish. This is helping them start a fishing business. Then they can hire people and contribute to their own countries in economy and it's just a growing snowball of awesomeness. In terms of giving to the world, this is one of the best ways I can think to do it. 

And also there is Kickstarter. In my mind this is the opposite end of the spectrum, the first place I would go to grow a career or business. Or you can donate here as well to budding artists, so its another good use of money. Anyway, Kickstarter is a website for what is called crowd funding, which means that instead of going to a tiny group of wealthy investors who give you a big lump sum (and take things over in the meantime), you make it generally available for the "crowd" to fund you with smaller donations. So on Kickstarter you have a bunch of artistic people working on documentaries or art projects or a bunch of other cool things who have to fund their projects, and you can find ones you like and donate a little money. Enough people donate and boom, you're funded. 

Again, like I said, I haven't used these sites yet myself, so I'm not sure on the specifics and more research is warranted. But definitely look into these sites, because they are just plain awesome. Check em out.

Also, in yesterdays comments it turns out a lot of people haven't heard of John Green. My assumptions were wrong :) But anyway, I wanted to make sure to clarify. John Green is, obviously, a writer, who writes young adult contemporary that is AWESOME! (Which is what the A in DFTBA stands for. The other letters stand for "Don't Forget To Be") He also vlogs with his brother Hank, and his vlogs are awesome. I wanted to leave you with my favorite of his videos, so here goes: (The yellow chart and boxes are from when he signed every pre-ordered copy of The Fault In Our Stars, which, when you have as many preorders as he did, is a major feat)


Enjoy :)

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

J is for John Green

So I'm not writing this just because I'm a fan-girl. I mean, I totally am (I just want to give him a hug. Or touch the puff) but John Green seems to be someone who has things figured out. We all worry so much about making a writing career for ourselves with grace and awesomeness and he's someone who has done it. Basically he's someone who's example we could do worse than to follow.

Here are some lessons from the life of John Green:

1. Create good work. It really just comes down to that basic thing. We're in this because we care about putting beauty into the world. The work and study and practice that it takes makes more sense when we have that in mind. And dang John Green's work is beautiful.

2. The power of collaboration. And I'm not just talking about the vlog with Hank, although that is a major one, and very very awesome. I think that's where it started, but look at all the other stuff too, like CrashCourse with a bunch of cool people, or making a Kiva group also with a bunch of awesome people, or all those cool projects in collaboration with cool nerdfighters. Working with talented cool people can bring about some great stuff.

3. Be yourself and be it a lot. I think that has been the key to John Green's internet success, in a way. He did the videos as himself, how he wanted to do them, because he thought it would be cool. Not just that, but he also uses Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr. He's done the work of putting himself out there.

4. It helps to be a nice person. What's not to like about John Green? He's smart and funny but also just a nice guy, not someone fans have to be afraid is going to treat them badly. I know he said in an interview that he has that dark snarky author side of him like Peter Van Houten from TFiOS, but he hasn't given in to it and that's what counts.

5. Marry someone named Sarah. That's actually the true key to all of his success.

Anyway, if you haven't read anything by John Green, it's definitely worth your while to do so. It's good, good stuff. Oh, and also...

DFTBA.

Sarah Allen
(Photo Credit)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I is for Inches

So inches. I mean that word in terms of progress. Progress in everything, but especially writing, a writing career, all that. I know I'm not the only one that feels like that progress is so...slow...

Inches at a time. And sometimes that is the most frustrating thing ever. Granted I am super, super impatient (another I word), but sometimes I'm like, hey, universe, I've been working for so long already and working hard and I know I still have work to do but I know what I want and where I want to be and whats with the getting there inches at a time thing?

There's pretty much only two things we can do. First, recognize that inches of progress is still progress and that's good, and if you keep working and work long enough when you look back you realize you've gone miles. Every book starts out with a blank page, every blog starts with zero followers. Have you ever heard someone say they found themselves an overnight success after ten years of hard work?

The second thing we can do is look for boosts, if and wherever possible. Sometimes all it takes to move us to where we want to be is the right help from the right person--the right book reviewer reading it, the right friend recommending it to the right movie producer, or other such fortuitous occurrences. We can't expect or plan for things like this, and have to work accordingly. But we can still look for them and do whatever we know how to do to put ourselves in the right possible places for these things to happen. Does that make sense? I mean, just by having an online presence we make it a possibility for the right person to discover us. What other boost things can you think of for us to do?

Mostly, though, we move in inches. And that's okay.

Sometimes there are some really pretty inches :)

Sarah Allen

Monday, April 9, 2012

H is for Habits (and Hobbits)

Our lives are run by them, both good and bad. The habits, I mean, not Hobbits. (Although that could be potentially awesome...) Anyway, that means our writing often happens or doesn't depending on our habits. Or our habits can make writing easier or harder.

Sometimes we get into the bad habit of putting things in the way of our writing time, like coming home from work and watching TV or doing the dishes right before bed instead of writing. Or we get out of the habit of blogging or tweeting as often as we know we should.

There are good habits, too. Some are simply the opposite of the bad ones, like sticking to our writing time. Sometimes they're good luck rituals that help us get in the mood, like a habit of having a bowl of Waffle Crisp before you sit down at your writing desk. If it helps, then it's probably a good thing.

A stable schedule helps me get in good habits more than anything else. When my day is laid out in front of me all nice and planned, then I can just move forward through the day, writing and blogging and gyming like I know I should and things don't tend to get in the way. But when I meander and get lax, then bad habits start creeping in.

So if you find bad habits getting in the way of your productivity, set a schedule for yourself and commit to following it. Maybe you can have friends remind you, or put up reminder notes around your desk of why you're committed in the first place, have a power song in mind to pump you up when you're feeling the laziness coming and motivation lacking.

What other habits should we be wary of? Any tips or experiences overcoming them?

Oh, and as for the hobbits, here's the best one of them all:

 Happy Monday!

Sarah Allen

Friday, April 6, 2012

F is for Fear

So, I don't know what happened, but a few years ago I knew everything and wasn't scared of anything. Now I know nothing and everything is terrifying.

I've felt like this for a long time, and it can be stressful, but it's just a part of growing up. Sometimes I forget I'm still doing that. I think we all are. It's really just fear of the unknown, because I'm being faced with making big decisions with some really big consequences that involve doing things and going places that I haven't done or gone before, and doing it by myself. I think the by myself part scares me more than anything else.

I'm scared of making the wrong decision. I'm scared of being by myself in the middle of nowhere with no friends. I'm scared of being stuck in a dead-end job and writing never taking off. I'm scared people think I'm totally lame.

This is where you have to let your mind take some control over whatever crazy emotional chemicals and hormones are flooding it. Yes, these things are scary, but they're not that scary, and we just have to decide what's worth it and not let fears get in the way.

Not only is that real life, but it's what drives a good story. At the heart of it, the protagonist is either trying to escape their fears (a serial killer or evil stepmother) or trying to conquer them (a dark wizard or fiery eyeball trying to take over the world.) And the climax is them in the same room with that fear, looking it right in the eye. Sometimes literally.

I've come to the conclusion that fear is okay. Letting it overpower you is like being in a tunnel and denying the light at the end of it. Even if right now you can't see it, it is always there. Stories remind us of that.

Sarah Allen

Thursday, April 5, 2012

E is for Edelweiss

You know, it wasn't until recently that I knew edelweiss was spelled with an 'E'. This isn't random, though, at least no more so than usual, I have a writerly purpose behind this.

Besides the attractiveness of Captain Von Trapp.


Ok, but really. Everybody knows the 'Edelweiss' song. And we all know that the edelweiss flower and the song were symbols of Austrian nationalism during the German occupation in WWII. And that, I think, is why the song is so lasting and has such an impact, to people who've never even been to Austria. Basically, it means more than itself. Edelweiss is not just a flower or a song, it is a flower and a song with a history, that symbolizes things we can all admire: patriotism, courage, loyalty, strength. It's like the mocking jay bird in Hunger Games. 

I feel like these kinds of symbols really give readers and audience something to grasp and hold on to. It's hard to talk about or illustrate abstracts like courage and loyalty and strength, but when you put those things into something concrete like a flower or a song, it's easier to take in and understand. We know what you mean when you sing 'Edelweiss'.

And I adore it when that happens, when someone says something but is really talking about something else, or something deeper. The Office does this brilliantly. When Jim says "Dwight, send in the subs," we know what he's really talking about it. But how much less effective and poignant would it have been if he'd said the words out loud? Or when Michael says, "Can I kiss you?" how many words are contained in Holly's one word, "Yeah." This kind of association is why just the word chimerical can almost make me cry (25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee anyone?) I'm getting off track here, but do you see what I mean? We can use symbols to mean things more than they mean, but that's where the greatest moments and greatest dialog comes from too. Can you think of other moments, book, movie, or tv, that are like this?


And now you're all going to have the song stuck in your head for the rest of the day :)

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

D is for Downton Abbey

Whew! Okay. I thought it had been long enough that I could be relatively calm and sane about writing about this show, but nope. Still giddy all over. I LOVE ALL THE DOWNTON THINGS!!!

Okay. But seriously. I know this show has gotten totally blown up huge, but I really feel like it was tailor made for my particularly quirks and kinks. The writing is in-freaking-credible, as is, of course, the acting. Of the entire bleeping cast. But right, I'll try and calm down enough to talk about why this show is so brilliantly fantastically amazing best thing ever and what we can learn from it.

Again, a brilliant entire cast. Every single character is complex and developed. They are generally sympathetic, but have flaws, sometimes pretty major ones, and even the very unsympathetic characters (Thomas and O'Brien) have small moments of potential sympathy inducing redemption. (Thomas and the blind soldier anyone?). This kind of character complexity is satisfyingly realistic, because we are all like that. We see people trying their best and sometimes doing the wrong thing and we can relate. The closest I can come to as full and complex a cast is Harry Potter.

The setting is absolutely gorgeous. Meticulously gorgeous.

The drama/story/plot is a really good mix of what I call world stakes and personal stakes. We have big world stakes like the Titanic and, you know, a world war, but we really care about these things and are drawn into them through the characters eyes and their "less" significant personal stakes like romantic drama and bickering old (hilarious) ladies and floral arrangement competitions and trying to do ones job with a limp. On a related note, why are limps so sexy? (see John Bates; Gregory House)

John Bates!!! Ah!!! Bates and Anna are my favorite thing ever. Every good story is at it's heart a love story, with lots of good pining and wishing and this show has it in spades. Mary and Mathew, Bates and Anna, and now we just need Edith and that boring old guy to end up together. And what about Lord Crawley's period of loneliness? Is he going to be okay?

It is all about characters, and caring about them, and this show proves it. This show would still be the awesomest thing ever if it was only this:


Enjoy :) And do yourself a favor, if you haven't already, and watch this show.

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

C is for Children's Books

So I had a never-happened-before experience last night. I fell asleep quickly (also sort of a first) and woke up from a dream at just before three in the morning. All I remember from the dream is a sparsely illustrated page of a children's book, blue lines and sort of in the style of Amos: The Story of an Old Dog and His Couch. (A fabulous book). Anyway, I remember the words being read "So this could never be a story about hunger". Though I suppose that isn't much to go on, I wrote it down in the notebook by my bed and had basically filled in the rest of the story in my head before I'd fallen back asleep. As Stephanie Meyer as it sounds, a book has come to me via dream.

And now, being me, of course I have to be all gung-ho find a publisher NOW about it. I mentioned a while ago how my sister and I were working on a children's book together. That's still happening, it's just that she has school and, you know, a wedding to deal with right now. But yeah, I want to take this new idea and do something with it, i.e. send it to the people one is supposed to send picture book ideas too. I'm still not as informed with the whole children's book business as I (hopefully) am with adult and young adult publishing, and so...advice?

Anyone know anything about where to send this thing? I do know that publishers like to match writers with publishers-choice illustrators, so I'm planning on just submitting my story and letting that happen. But where? In the research I've done so far, basically going down lists of picture book publishers, most of them don't accept unsolicited submissions, though some do. So should I just submit to the ones that will let me myself? Is it best to submit to agents first? What will that do when I'm ready to submit the novel to agents? I've even heard that the "no unsolicited submissions" statement doesn't really mean anything, that they'll read it anyway. Is that true? What's the best next step for this?

Sarah Allen
(Last year: C is for Cliche)

Monday, April 2, 2012

B is for Blog Incest

I love blogging. I think we all at least kind of like it, or we wouldn't do it. It has some great advantages. I love the knowledge and information that spreads around the blogosphere, and feel like I've learned a ton. There are so many awesome people to meet and interact with and learn from.

But here's the thing. As awesome as blogging is, when you really look at it, the blogging community is a bit incestuous. We join a group and basically blog for each other. Only certain people read blogs (usually other bloggers) and unless your some mega celeb blogger or something, you don't get huge numbers of visitors outside that circle.

There's nothing necessarily wrong with that, either, unless you're trying to use your blog to market a book. Sure you reach your blog niche of awesome people, but even if every single blog follower bought your book, most of us couldn't live on that. So what do you do? How do you break out of the awesome but incestuous blog circle?

  • Social Media: While the whole incestuous problem can sort of be applied to social media as well, its a larger incestuous circle and can still help. Especially the big sites like Facebook and Twitter and Google+ and now Pinterest. It's a good option, because it's fun and free, but still, only a small percentage of book sales actually come from social media sites, so try using other sources too.
  • Magazine ads: Relevant magazines, of course, Writers Digest or New York Times. Go specific too, like Elle for romance or maybe tech magazines for sci-fi.
  • Publicists: No reason to go crazy on this, but a wisely chosen smart publicist can help get you interviews and spotlight time. Could end up being exactly the boost you need.
  • Unique to Your Book: If your book is set in a zoo, find zoo or wildlife communities online, take out adds in zoo magazines, see if zoo's will carry your book in their gift shops. Find what is unique to your book and form a marketing campaign around those special things. 
  • Shoulders of Giants: If possible, getting some big-time sponsorship can definitely help. If someone big reads and likes your book, even a casual mention on one of their big-time social media presences can have big results. 
What do you think? Any other ways to take your book and blog to a broader audience than the niche blogging community?

Sarah Allen
(Last year: B is for Bowie)
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