What Music Can Teach Us About Revising

I was listening to one of my favorite songs, Mr. Brightside* by The Killers the other day, and I was suddenly struck by the proverbial bolt from the blue. There is much to be learned about editing from popular music.

Although I’m sure the same could be said about poetry, I’m going to restrict my analysis to music because…well, I get it. And most pop music is poetry at the level I can understand, whereas good poetry starts to get entirely too literary for my simple mind. A lot of literature is too literary for my simple mind, let’s face it.

But I digress…(it’s one of my special skills)

The point is, the musicians are story tellers, and they tell their stories with an economy of words that novelists would do well to pay attention to. To wit, I’ve got an uber-short story I wrote based on my interpretation of the lyrics of the afore-mentioned Mr. Brightside.** (Please don’t bother sending me e-mails with alternative interpretations. I’m well aware I could be wrong, but it works for me, so leave well enough alone, mmm-kay?) Below that, you’ll find the relevant portion of The Killers’ lyrics. My story doesn’t even cover every line of the song and is more than twice as long.

Now, I’m not a poet for a lot of reasons (unending suckitude being the primary), so I can’t say that I’ll ever adopt a free verse style of story telling, but I will certainly be thinking a lot about some of the great songs I hear and attempting to dissect what it is about certain lines that reverberate for all eternity. A fiction writer could die happy if even one of her sentences went down in immortality like some of the great song lyrics that run in our blood.***

MY STORY: (292 words, if you’re interested)

Her rustling movements were enough to wake me. She was getting dressed. I should have expected it, but I still couldn’t help looking at the clock. Not quite midnight. Earlier than usual.

“I have to go,” she whispered.

“Yeah,” I grunted.

She didn’t offer any further apology or explanation. We both knew where she was going. I sat up to watch her as she pulled on her boots. She sat on the edge of the bed, facing me with a soft smile.

“Thanks,” she said, and kissed me.

I caught the back of her neck and stole another kiss before she could pull away.

She smiled again, and scraped her nails over my late-day beard growth. “Bye.”

I said nothing, letting her go, as I always did. There was no point in protesting. She’d already called her cab, and she would stand on the street to wait for it. Enough time to smoke at least half a cigarette. The acrid smell of tobacco would cover the foreign scent and taste of me.

She had to get home to him. To reassure him with a smooth hand against his chest. He would kiss her, tasting only the brand they both smoked, and reach for the zipper on the back of her dress. She would let him, because she had to. I suppose it’s possible that she even wanted him to.

She didn’t leave him, after all. Just offered me a few hours and her body. I took it, like an addict, because I wanted her. I had brought into an affair with a promise of no commitment.

I never counted on the jealousy. I was too busy counting the ways I could get under her skirt. There was cold comfort in my victory.

THE KILLERS’ STORY: (117 words)

It started out with a kiss

How did it end up like this

It was only a kiss, it was only a kiss

Now I’m falling asleep

And she’s calling a cab

While he’s having a smoke

And she’s taking a drag

Now they’re going to bed

And my stomach is sick

And it’s all in my head

But she’s touching his-chest

Now, he takes off her dress

Now, letting me go

And I just can’t look its killing me

And taking control

Jealousy, turning saints into the sea

Swimming through sick lullabies

Choking on your alibis

But it’s just the price I pay

Destiny is calling me

Open up my eager eyes

‘Cause I’m Mr Brightside

So, what do you think? Who told the story more effectively? What song lyrics have stayed with you?

– Liz

*Incidentally, Mr. Brightside was partially the inspiration for my unpublished novel The Sorbet Guy, click here for a playlist of this and other songs that formed the soundtrack in my head during the writing of said novel.

**The irony of my increased verbosity in a blog about brevity is not lost on me. Or curable, apparently.

***Some prime examples here:
“And she’s buying a stairway to heaven.”
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.”
“Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone…”
“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”
“I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints. The sinners are much more fun.”

How to Be Interesting, or Everything I Need to Know About Twitter I Learned from Maureen Johnson

The key to “getting” Twitter for me, was following people who already knew how to use it. And the person I learned the most from the fastest was Young Adult author Maureen Johnson (@maureenjohnson on Twitter). To be fair, there have been others who have taught me a lot (check out my Twitter list of people I’m following for some prime examples), but Ms. Johnson is a Twitter tour de force. So, here it is:

How to be Interesting

1. Tweet often. Not so often that we know your every potty break or bite of sandwich, please, but keep your followers curious about what you might be up to.

2. Don’t be a Twitter Pimp. Don’t use Twitter purely to promote yourself as an author (or whatever). Tweet about funny experiences, current events, other people’s tweets, etc.

3. Share helpful information. Tweetdeck (and other platforms) are great for this, because they auto-shorten URLs. You can tweet about anything useful you stumble across that people with similar interests might like to know.

4. Share entertaining information. You can post photos, youtube videos, links…anything that gave you a good laugh is sure to do the same for someone else.

5. Don’t be too vague. When you share information, be sure to include a line in your tweet about what your followers should expect. No one likes a mystery link.

6. Interact. With your followers and people you follow. Maureen Johnson is a pro at this. She takes time (almost) every day to let people ask her four questions. And then she posts the questions with her answers. Sometimes she’ll give the Twitterverse a fill-in-the-blank just for funsies, too. Tweet to people you don’t know, say thanks for any mentions you get from someone else. Join the party!

7. Use hashtags. You never know who might be following a designated #hashtag and will want to comment on something you’ve said. Plus, they can be funny. I loves me some funny.

8. Be yourself. It’s hard to take off our protective armor and let it all hang out with a bunch of strangers, but in the end, you’re an adorable, likeable person. Be you and you’ll find people who like that sort of thing.

– Liz

Any other suggestions for Twitter Happiness?

Play It Again, Sam…Another Playlist

We’ll call this Music Monday!

It’s a late-breaking blog post, but it’s here. Another playlist for your listening enjoyment. This one features songs that helped inspire me as I wrote The Sorbet Guy. And for anyone who might be hearing about this project for the first time, I offer you the following:

Joss has had more than a few Mr. Rights turn into Mr. Wrongs. And whenever it happens, she turns to her friend Matt for a fresh start. It’s always worked like a charm. But, after eight years, Matt doesn’t want to be her sorbet guy anymore. If Joss gives him what he wants, she’ll lose what they’ve always had. If she doesn’t, she’ll lose a good friend. What’s a girl to do?*

Music Playlist at MixPod.com

* This project is on my to-do list for a major revision, so don’t be surprised if you start seeing some Teaser Tuesdays in a little while. Or, if the final project doesn’t exactly match the current description.

Play That Funky Music White Boy…Another Playlist

My playlist based on the characters Leo and Caroline from my story, We Should Meet.

Music Playlist at MixPod.com

Field Guide to Twitter

I was one of many who didn’t “get” Twitter. I signed up for an account ages ago, and I think I Tweeted (posted messages) all of three times before I let the account atrophy. Then, thanks to my friend JA Souders, I had my come-to-Jesus moment with all this social networking stuff and started on the road to having a web-presence of my very own. It started with a website and a Facebook fanpage, but I knew I was going to have to come to terms with Twitter.

My instinct was to say “I don’t wanna!” and stamp my feet like a child. And as Nathan Bransford so effectively said, you should only do what works for you as a writer when it comes to using social networking. On the other hand, it’s rare for me to think that I might not be able to figure something out (Unless there’s a ball involved. I don’t do sports involving balls.) (Get your mind out of the gutter.)

I started with the lazy girl method (remember my Excessive Grooviness Disorder?) by linking my Facebook fanpage to my Twitter account so anything I posted on FB would automatically post to Twitter. But, I wasn’t getting any followers and I still didn’t feel like I “got it.” So, what does any geeky writer do in her time of need? Google, my friend, we google. And I read every article, wiki and blog about Twitter I could stand. (Okay, maybe, like five.)

In the end, there’s not teacher like experience, and after some time in the Tweeting trenches, I’ve learned a lot.

I now present to you my…


Tweet – a message posted to Twitter, also the act of posting a message to Twitter (i.e. “I’m tweeting this!”) Limited to 140 characters. You can include links to websites, pictures, youtube…whatever strikes your fancy.

Retweet – when someone else has something funny or interesting to say, you can Retweet their message to all of your followers.

@messages – are messages directed to, or mentioning another Twitter user. The reason for doing it is so the other person gets the message directly on their feed (highlighted in one of a million ways depending on the platform you’re using). You can send an @message to anyone, even someone who you’re not following, or who doesn’t follow you.

direct messages – on the other hand, can only be sent between people who follow each other. They don’t appear on the main feed of Twitter, and no one else can see them.

Following – a form of socially acceptable stalking. You can follow anyone you like and they can’t really stop you. This doesn’t mean you should be obnoxious and send direct messages all the time and think it means you’re now “friends,” but it’s a great way to stand on the fringes of an interest group and gain information by osmosis.

Tweetchat.com – is a site that allows you to enter a #hashtag of your choice and follow a constantly updating scroll of everyone who is using that #hashtag. So, if you’re looking for people who share your interest in something, this might be a good place to troll (like fishing, not like the creatures that live under bridges). It’s also used to conduct scheduled chatroom-like discussions among groups with shared interests. Like, every Wednesday at 9pm EST, entering #YAlitchat will bring you a tidal wave of writers all tweeting about the same pre-decided topic related to Young Adult literature, writing and publication.

Tweetdeck – a little program that can sit on your desktop. It’s very customizable, so you can view your account in columns. You can set up different groups for each column, or designate one for direct messages and @messages to you. You can also send Tweets from here. It’s got bit.ly built into it, so any website you want to share will automatically get clipped into a short URL that eats up less of your 140 characters.

Twitteriffic – is just one of the many iPod or iPhone apps that acts as a Twitter client. The major downfall of this one is the inability to retweet from the app.

#hashtags – are small phrases placed in your message to help identify your topic. Examples would be during the Oscars, you will find lots of people putting #oscars in their messages which means other people can search the hashtag and find out who’s saying what.

I don’t know who started the trend, although it certainly could be Maureen Johnson, but hashtags are also used as funny asides in your own messages. You just never know when one of the #hashtags you create will be picked up by others. For example, if I wanted to tweet about this blog post, I could say:

“I just wrote a FIELD GUIDE TO TWITTER on my blog #thisneedsthememusic”

Some #hashtags I find useful – #amwriting, #pubtip, #YAlitchat, #askagent

In my next blog, I’m going to talk about what makes someone a good Twitter user. In other words, what the heck do I tweet about?

Did I miss anything? Feel free to leave suggestions or questions in the comments section. I can always put out a second edition. You know how I love to “listen” to myself “talk.”

– Liz

What’s In a Name?

“Once upon a time, there was a little boy named ________________.”

I’ve got names on the brain.

See, I just finished my last project (working title LAST CALL) this week (can I get a Halle-freakin’-lujah?), which means I’m onto my next project (more about that as it progresses), which means I am back in the business of naming characters.

The naming of characters is a difficult matter. A name should, like the title of a book, give us a clue about what kind of person we’re meeting. Now, that’s not always possible, and some names just don’t have that kind of personality-revealing clout, but there are a few things to consider when naming a new character.

1. How old is the character? Wouldn’t you, as a reader, get yanked kicking and screaming out of your suspension of disbelief if you encountered a character in the 55-75 age range named Bodie or Heather? It’s not impossible, maybe, but it sure would make me think the author didn’t know a thing about naming trends. Surprisingly, the Social Security Administration can be very helpful in this regard. Their website lets you search popular names by year and state.

2. What, if it matters, is the ethnicity of the character? If I’m writing a character who is a recent immigrant to the U.S., I sure as heck better find a name from that person’s home country. Similarly, I can give characters a quick hint about my character through his or her last name. Allison Duong, for example, is probably of Vietnamese descent.

3. Where is your story set? I set all my stories in the Midwest, where a lot people are of German, Polish or Irish decent. So, I try to make my last names seem realitic for the area.

4. Do you want your character to stand out? Maybe something unusual will do the trick. I have a Clementine in my list of characters, for God’s sake. I do, however, strongly discourage making up new names unless you happen to be writing fantasy. I also firmly believe that main characters should have an easily pronounceable name. Otherwise, the reader skims and thinks, Oh, that R-word again, that X person again…

5. To theme or not to theme? In A GAME OF RISK, my main character’s name is Gwenyth, and she has a younger sister named Efa–both traditional Welsh names. In LAST CALL, my MC is Clementine, and her siblings (adults in this case) all share virtue names–Honor, Merit and Prudence. I think it can work, but only if you’re using it within a reasonably associated group of people. Siblings are ideal, high school girls who form a clique because their names all start with A works, but an entire novel populated by people with elaborate an unusual names just makes me gag.

6. How do you feel about nicknames? In my worlds, characters get nicknames. Usually more than one. So, when I pick a name, I have to consider all the possibilities for what the other characters might start to call them. Because, frankly, my writing is like a mild form of schizophrenia, those people in my head seem to do whatever they want.

Here are some other great links for your name search:

Social Security Administration
Babycenter allows you to search by name meaning, syllables, first or last letter, or origin
Parentsconnect has an extensive list as well, with an advanced search like Babycenter. If you click More next to any name, you can get a pronunciation as well!
And, of course, you can’t be Google for a specific name search, like 14th century Dutch names, or precious gem names. You never know what you’re going to find!

Now I find myself with a whole, unformed world slowly taking shape in my head and I’m wondering who it is I’m going to meet there. So far, the only thing I’ve settled on is Sydney as my MC’s first name.

What does the name Sydney bring to mind for you? Does someone named Sydney look or act a certain way? Please share your thoughts!

– Liz

A Query Critique Contest!

Kathleen Ortiz of Lowenstein Associates is hosting a query contest at kortizzle.blogspot.com!
All you have to do is spread the word about this contest to enter!
If you want to learn more about what she’s looking for, try here.

My Lust List

After I saw a couple of drool-inducing products for the first time in the last week, I got to thinking. Isn’t there some validity to writing down your dreams? Motivational posters and all that, right? So, perhaps if I create a fully-annotated list of things I’d like to have, the Powers-That-Be/Fates/God-or-Goddess-of-your-Choosing/Crazy-Stalker-Fans-Who-Want-to-Anonymously-Fulfill-My-Heart’s-Desire-For-Nothing-in-Return/or possibly Me, would have an easier time procuring those items for me.

So without further ado, (how much more ado could she possibly muster, you are no doubt wondering…) I present, THE LUST LIST.

1. Twelve South has the most nerdtastic, lust-worthy protective cover for the MacBook in the history of nerdiness. I could just melt into a puddle of goo and trickle down the nearest drain I want this thing so bad. And each one is different! Could you die? I could die.

2. Mini Countryman is the new All-Wheel Drive version of the quirky little bulldog of the road, the Mini Cooper. I used to drive one (an S, actually, she said
with no small amount of shameless braggery), and the car’s biggest downfall was it’s unparalleled ability to suck in the snow. This is a big problem when you live in the icy north, as I do (no, I don’t know why, thank you for asking). I used to do 360s on freeway on-ramps. All-Wheel Drive makes my little speed machine of the past into a viable possibility for my speed machine of the future.
3. ‘Nuff said.

4. New work shoes from Crocs because in the end, I’m a simple soul, and I’d just like some shoes without the strap hacked off and treads worn to a smooth surface something like a portable upside-down ice rink. And red is purrrdy.
5. “Someday he’ll come along, the man I love…and he’ll be [Indiana Jones] the man I love…and when he comes my way, I’ll do [whatever it takes] to make him stay.” Indy will forever hold a place in my heart and on my list of freebies (thank you, honey, and you know I’ll do the same for you and Dark Angel). I don’t mean Harrison Ford, either–although, frankly, if he offered I’d be hard pressed to say no to him–I mean the scruffy, smirky, fedora-wearing archeology professor that makes my heart go pitter-pat. I love you, Indy. *blows kisses*
There. I’ve clearly done my part.
– Liz

Random Acts of Bravery

Today, I committed random acts of bravery. Well, for a writer anyway. See, as a breed, we are largely introverted (though general charming when you get to know us) and writing is by nature a solitary endeavor. To be fair, the very idea of querying was terrifying to me at first, because it meant I had to seek someone else’s approval [rejection].

But, I digress. To the list.

1. I did my first “pitch.” It wasn’t in person, but it was still an experience worth having. The competition is stiff, but we should have answers tomorrow.

2. I internet stalked a number of my fellow pitchers. Why? Because they, like me, are writing contemporary YA, or Women’s Fiction, and in the current market [all fantasy/paranormal all the time], it was nice to know I wasn’t the only square peg.

3. My stalking resulted in some new e-mail contacts, a couple new followers at Twitter and some fun new blogs to haunt.

4. I wrote a synopsis, which most every writer I have ever met/read about/can imagine dreads the way most people dread a root canal.

5. I sent out four queries. My hands didn’t even shake when I hit send this time. [Personal growth!]

So, now we’re back to our regularly scheduled program of waiting, obsessively checking my e-mail and trying to tamp down hope. Now if THAT was a career path, I would be the frickin’ CEO in no time.

– Liz

image courtesy of: http://www.supermanhomepage.com/images/george-reeves-biopic/s-cost-tb.html

Maestro, If You Please…

With credit where it is due, (Thank you, Tiffany, of www.peanutblossom.com fame) I am way excited to present you all with my first playlist.

These are ten songs that always make me think of my main characters in A Game of Risk, and that helped inspire me as I was writing. I hope you enjoy.

Music Playlist at MixPod.com