Jul 28, 2011

It's an #amwriting blog party!

The #amwriting community turns two years old on August 3rd!  Yay!

I'm posting in three places to celebrate:

The #Amwriting Blog
Gem State Writers
Here at my Author Blog

It occurs to me that others might want to participate in a progressive blog party with me.

If you'd like to pay tribute to this awesome community and write a blog post for August 3rd, just leave us a link to your blog in the comments below.

To make this a progressive party, please come back here, retrieve the link in the comment just below yours, and add that link to the bottom of your #amwriting birthday post.

Possibilities for posts:

  • Tell us how being part of the #amwriting community has impacted your writing life.

  • Write a short story or a poem featuring the #amwriting hashtag.  (This can be a flash or a very short story or a haiku---anything! Extra points if you make me laugh.)

  • Describe someone you met through #amwriting & the impact that person had on you.

  • Tell us about a funny conversation on #amwriting. Pick a memory and share it.

  • Tell us about a spin-off.  Writers often meet through #amwriting and form smaller groups.  Have you done that?  Tell us about it!

  • Draw something related to #amwriting and post it.

  • Take a picture of your writing space with #amwriting in the background. Post the picture.

  • Double extra points: Yarn bomb something #amwriting-related and post a picture of it.

  • Do you have a picture of #amwriting peeps meeting in real life? I love to see those.

Did I mention points?  That's kind of a metaphor.  Which is a cheap way of saying there are no prizes.  Only fun.  I'll be linking to participants' posts throughout the day. And you may dance.

* If you do not have a blog of your own and still want to participate: set up a blog post on the #amwriting site!  Just follow the directions here (http://bit.ly/writerbio), but choose the category "Happy Birthday, #Amwriting!"

** Quick note:  My request for urls is making my spam filter work overtime.  I also get a ton of spam, so I don't want to disable it, but I am double checking all the posts now.  If you get caught there, I will rescue your post ASAP!  :D

*** The blog party will start at http://www.amwriting.org and the first link will go to Robert (first in the comments).

****Time differences.  I'm going to keep the party on my clock, which is Mountain Daylight Time (UTC -6).  Please have your post up by midnight, since that will already be late afternoon for some of our participants.

Questions?  Email me at johanna@johannaharness.com

Jul 19, 2011

When I say I #amwriting. . . (my process)

It always amazes me when I say I am writing (or I #amwriting as I often say on Twitter) and someone understands that to mean I am filling a blank page with new words.

Writing is so much more than new words---so much more than a flight of fancy edited to eliminate typos and grammatical errors.

Writing is a process of crafting a full piece of writing.  It is a labor of love (and torment) and it includes so many more steps than making new words pop up on a screen.

One morning a couple weeks ago, I sat down and constructed two flow charts to try to explain to a friend what it is I do when I say I #amwriting.

First, I give you my process of creating a rough draft:

When the rough draft is complete, I begin the adventure of major reconstruction. It looks something like this:

So when I say I #amwriting, now you know.  I'm somewhere on the path toward crafting a final piece of writing.  Am I writing new words?  I might be, but I wouldn't count on it.

Jul 12, 2011

Look what's available for pre-order!

Last winter I entered a YA mystery contest with Buddhapuss Ink.  I was one of the ten winners and now my short story, "Cherry Bomb" is being published in the Mystery Times Ten Anthology!  I'm really excited to be here with some other great authors, many of whom I know on Twitter.  How cool is that?  The official release date is July 22nd, but you can pre-order on Amazon.  Yay!

Here's the official description.  (I've added Twitter names and blog links for some.)

Mystery Times Ten

Chosen from over 200 submissions, these ten mystery short stories come from new and established authors alike. Never before published, they are gathered together in our First Annual Mystery Times Ten YA collection.Each story was read and rated by three panels of judges, which included book bloggers, teen readers aged twelve to nineteen, and YA buyers and marketing mavens from the largest book wholesalers in the United States. Each judge was given the same set of parameters to use; each brought his or her own unique talents and tastes to the task at hand.There is something here for every YA mystery fan, from hardboiled to paranormal. Each story is a small bite of mystery that will satisfy and delight even the most discerning of readers. So sit down and dip in.

We guarantee you won't stop at just one!

About the Authors

Cecilia Dominic supports her writing habit through the practice of clinical health psychology and behavioral sleep medicine. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and two cats. She is on the board of the Village Writers Group and is a member of the Romance Writers of America and Georgia Romance Writers. For fun, she blogs about wine, food, and life at random-oenophile.blogspot.com and about writing at ceciliadominic.blogspot.com. (Twitter: @RandomOenophile)

Wendy Sparrow spends most of her free time imagining how to get her characters out of the horrible situations she s dumped them in. When that gets dull, she parents two quirky kids with autism and glamorously washes laundry for her loving and supportive husband. She can often be found on Twitter spouting Mountain Dew fueled opinions or in her office the corner of the couch typing away on her next YA novel.  (Twitter: @WendySparrow)

Addie King has nine years experience as a prosecutor handling adult felonies, misdemeanors, juvenile delinquency cases, and appellate work. She holds a degree in criminal justice from Ohio Northern University and a law degree from the University of Dayton School of Law. She spends her spare time reading, writing fiction, and trying to wean herself from home improvement shows, cooking shows, and video games. During the day, she practices law in Urbana, Ohio.  (Twitter:  @addiejking + Blog: http://addiejking.wordpress.com.)

Johanna Harness taught college English for ten years before beginning the adventure of homeschooling her own children. She writes middle-grade and young adult novels in both northwest and fantastic settings (often forgetting which is which). She is the creator of the Twitter hashtag #amwriting and can be found posting there in her early morning hours.  (Twitter: @johannaharness + Blog:  http://www.johannaharness.com.)

J.A. Souders first began writing at the age of thirteen, when she moved to Florida and not only befriended the monsters under the bed, but created worlds for them to play in together. She is represented by the fabulous Natalie Fischer of the Sandra Dijkstra Agency, and blogs at Angels and Demons and Portals, Oh My! (jasouders.blogspot.com).  (Twitter: @jasouders.)

Kirsty Logan has visited many places and Tokyo is one of her favorites, though she has never been to Aokigahara. She currently lives in Scotland, where she writes fiction, edits magazine, reviews books, and works as an intern. She has a semicolon tattooed on her toe. Say hello at kirstylogan.com. (Twitter: @kirstylogan.)

Elyse Dinh-McCrillis is a former news reporter who currently works as an actress/writer/editor. She blogs about books, movies, and TV at Pop Culture Nerd (popculturenerd.com). She proudly admits to playing chess and knowing every line of dialogue from Star Wars. (Twitter: @popculturenerd.)

KC Sprayberry loves reading, but not as much as she loves writing stories for young adults and middle-graders. Her interest in telling her stories goes back to her high school years, where she excelled in any and all writing classes. After a move to the northwest area of Georgia, she dove into this pursuit full-time while raising her children. While she spends many days researching areas of interest, she also loves photography and often uses it as a way to integrate scenery into her work. (Twitter: @kcsowriter.)

Barb Goffman is a short-story mystery author whose work tends to focus on families. Twice nominated for the Agatha Award, she is a member of the national board of Sisters in Crime, a co-coordinating editor of Chesapeake Crimes: They Had It Comin and the forthcoming Chesapeake Crimes: This Job is Murder, and is program chair of the Malice Domestic mystery convention. She lives in Virginia with her miracle dog, Scout (a three-time cancer survivor!). You can learn more about her at barbgoffman.com.

Melanie Cummins is a busy college student and a full-time writer. When she s not typing away late at night, she studies criminal justice at the University of West Florida. While Melanie adores writing short stories, her true love lies in writing thrillers. (Twitter: @lea_mien.)

Jul 5, 2011

Three Reasons To Stop Head-Hopping

When I started writing my very first novel, the novel which shall never-ever-not-ever see the light of day, I head-hopped between characters all the time, shifting point of view whenever and wherever I felt like it.

I know why I did it and there's no writing theory behind it.  I head-hopped because I enjoyed the experience. Part of the thrill of being a new writer was knowing what all the characters were thinking and doing and feeling. Writing multiple POV was such a rush.

Some very nice writing friends cleared their throats and looked concerned and said, "Well, you know, this isn't the way most books are written."  Others said, "Maybe you should learn to play by the rules before you break them."

I didn't listen.  Why?  Because head-hopping was a fun, wonderful experience. When I envisioned my novel, I saw everything!  I knew every character's backstory and POV. I knew what everyone did and thought at every point on the timeline. I fell in love with this big picture and wanted to share every bit of it with readers.  In this way, I became involved in transferring the idea of a world rather than telling a story. 

The result was a novel that never ended, full of engaging scenes with no purpose.  Beautiful imagery and symbolism rolled through worlds where everything happened---for no discernible reasons.

I've since learned that many first novels turn out looking a lot like mine.  I don't even feel foolish about it.  Perhaps first novels should be a clearing of the pipes. Random analogies and purple prose burst forth alongside archetypes and dreamy visions and authorial baggage.

Too often new writers are given advice based on convention: "That's not how narratives are generally written."  Or sometimes: "A POV like yours isn't going to sell."

Artistic souls don't often respond well to admonitions based on conformity. Many are still working proudly on their Being-Different merit badges (often called "exploring voice"). Since I'm in favor of individual choices and I don't find conformity all that appealing myself, I give head-hoppers three reasons to consider limiting POV:

Providing a Place of Rest for Your Reader

When you choose POV, you're giving your reader a place to rest.  You're pulling up a chair, asking the reader to settle in and enjoy the delicious words you're serving.

If you tell the story from one character's POV, the reader stays at the same table throughout the entire literary meal.

If you tell the story from two characters' POVs, you're asking the reader to get up and change seating every so often, shifting between two tables, maybe every time you shift to a new chapter. This can be fun and enlightening and shake things up a bit.

If you tell the story from three characters' POVs, you're requiring more shifting around. Readers may start to feel burdened by switching to a new table between every course.

If you shift POV three or four times within a scene, the reader barely gets settled, lifts a bite of words to her brain, and it's time to move move move move move.  "But I didn't even get a taste of that last thought!" Too bad. Move.

So this is a first reason not to head-hop.  It can be rude. You set up your delicious feast, ask readers to listen, and then you keep moving them all over the place just when they get settled.

You do have another option, of course. You can keep all the POV shifts as long as you sit, godlike, over your story. Offer the reader a place at your fire. Together you stare into the flames and see the characters a long way off.  But, if you do this, it becomes reason number two not to head hop:

Distancing from Characters

If readers are buckled up next to one protagonist for the entire story, they'll feel everything that character feels as if they are that person.

If readers are sitting with the godlike narrator, considering the characters of a far-away world, they may sympathize with those characters and care deeply about what happens, but they won't feel the characters' story as if they're living it.  They'll identify with the narrator rather than the characters.  If the narrator cares deeply that the characters aren't burned at the stake, readers will feel the narrator's anxiety, but they won't feel the flames at their feet.


You're not required to tell your reader everything you know.  It's okay to flirt, to withhold information, to tempt your reader from one page to the next with promises of delights barely imagined.

Your characters are allowed to do the same thing.  In fact, sometimes the best thing you can do for a character is eliminate his point of view.  The cowboy with the jagged scar across his cheek may be more appealing if we're not inside his head dealing with post-traumatic stress.  The old woman who walks her dogs by the protagonist's house every day--the one who claims to be a spy?  She may be a better character if we think she's lying and then find out she's not. Go into her head and there's no mystery to uncover.

It's a matter of control.  I'm still not saying a writer should never head hop.  Eliminate all head hopping and I'd lose some of my favorite authors. I have found, however, that restricting POV often provides more freedom to tell my story rather than less.

It's much easier to get readers to suspend disbelief when they know their place in the narrative and identify closely with the protagonist. That means I can reach farther with my plot.

It's much easier to keep readers intrigued if I play on the mystery inherent in a single character's POV. That means some pacing issues evaporate.

Knowing all the details of our worlds isn't enough for novel creation. We have to tell the stories.  Limiting POV is one of the tools we can use to make our worlds come into focus in a way that leaves our readers wanting more.