Monday, January 31, 2011

How careful of a reader are you?

Beta readers, like writers, each have their own strengths and weaknesses. As writers, it can be hard to pick betas who best suit what we're looking for in critique. I personally am not picky about my betas because I appreciate and value any critique, but I have heard of writers (and writer's) groups who do. To each his own, and I can see the reasoning, but I know that I can't pick the people who would buy my (eventual) book, so why bother trying to make sure only certain types of people can read it beforehand?

Thinking about betas has recently made ma analyze what kinds of betas are out there, and what kind of beta I am.

I think there are these major categories of beta reader:

The commercial reader:

This reader reads your book as if they picked it up in the bookstore. They read quickly, and tend to offer over-arching critique instead of specific examples.

The helpful reader:

This reader gives lots of notes, and has lots to say overall. They may fix typos or offer story critique, but either way you're sure to have lots to sift through.

The copyeditor:

This type of reader goes through your manuscript meticulously, giving as near to line edits and continuity critiques as possible.

Of course, readers can be in more than one of these categories, and I've probably missed some. But my overall point is that different readers have different styles, and it's up to you to decide which type you want to be, and which tye you'd rather use as a writer, if any, though I will again say that there is value in all of them.

I personally tend to be a copyeditor toward the beginning of the story, drifting toward helpful and then commercial through the majority of the MS (especially if the story is compelling and interesting). Usually, this tends to come across as "I loved this" and not much else. It's certainly true! I do love, love, love the stories I've read. But I tend to get caught up in the experience over the writing and I know some high-quality writers, so there isn't much to make notes on, a lot ofe time. Still, I am trying to work on staying careful longer, and offer more helpful notes.

What kind of beta are you? Do you have any suggestions for types of betas I missed?

(Once again posted from my phone so apologies for any typos!)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Luuuuuke...I am your [insert archetype here]

So, I'm not going to lie. Literary Criticism was definitely not among my favorite subjects in school. Deconstructionism, Marxism, Feminism...I understood why all these things were important in literature, I just didn't feel a passion for them.

That is, until we hit Archetypal criticism. Oh, be still my beating Joseph Campbellian heart. As writers, most of us have heard of the hero's journey; if you haven't, just go watch Star Wars or the Matrix. There, you now understand The Hero's Journey. Okay, maybe it's a little more complicated than that...but just a little.

But of course there's more to archetypes than Campbell had to say about them. Literature of every genre is nothing but swimming with them: the comic hero, the brave knight, the damsel in distress, the dark witch, the wise mentor, the lovable droids, the...wait. Well, you get the picture. In a general sense, they're eternal tropes. You can find them--sometimes completely unmutated--as far back as the Bible, the Popul Vuh, the Qu'ran and the early drafts of Star Wars (Luke Starkiller? Come on.)

And as much as I, as a reader, like things new and different and exciting, there's comfort in the familiar. As a writer, archetypes and tropes are, dare I write it, HELPFUL. They provide a base and touchstone for our readers and for all of our common experiences. We're just as free as anything to mutate them to suit our whims, but in all reality your story just might need to have an evil stepmother. Don't run from it, embrace it! Embrace it and make it yours. So what if your spunky girl just so happens to be red-headed? Alanna of Tortall, Anne of Green Gables, and Pippi Longstocking all were too, and we don't shout plagiarism at L.M. Montgomery or Tamora Pierce. There can be beautiful, subtle distinctions in archetypes and tropes and THAT makes all the difference.

TV Tropes
, that delightful time black hole of a site, said it best: TROPES ARE TOOLS. (Now that you've clicked over there and have spent seven hours on the wiki, it's good to have you back. Don't worry, it happens to everyone.) They can be dangerous if used wrong, but used right, they enrich our writing, expand our worlds and--most importantly for me--they are INSPIRING. Heck, every single page in Campbell's "Hero with a Thousand Faces" and every entry in TV Tropes houses a brand new shiny idea for a story.

Do you notice archetypes in the works you read or write? Do you intentionally add things that turn out to be a common trope later? How many people with red shirts have you killed, honestly?

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a few tabs open.

This and more delicious XKCD found here:

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Why It Doesn't Matter What You Write

If y'all haven't read L.T.'s great post about The Great Genre Debate (and why haven't you???), you should probably head over their first so some of what I'm saying makes sense.

Go ahead ... I'll wait.

*plays solitaire*

Everyone back? Good.

I'm going to let you in on a little secret: similar, but different to L.T., I write in a whole bunch of different styles for a bunch of different audiences. Except I don't always write novels, or short stories, or even things relating to fiction at all.

I write feature articles for websites, news articles for local papers, blog posts, movie reviews, book reviews, and sometimes even press releases. The point is that I write whatever I can whenever I can. Why do I do this? Well the answer's rather simple: I am a writer.

Writers write. In whatever form they can, for whatever reason they can. Being a writer doesn't mean you can only write novels or only write feature articles or what have you. Being a writer means, at least to me, that you love words and using them to communicate things to people. Writers are almost universally word-a-holic by the by. We're the folks who have lists of favorite words, love books like Weird and Wonderful Words, and spend time hunting through dictionaries and thesauri for the exact right turn of phrase to communicate what we mean.

It's immaterial whether you write speculative fiction, romance, or mystery novels. Or if you only write feature stories on health, travel, or entertainment news. If you're a writer, then you write. Whatever you can.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Great Genre Debate

So I'm posting from my phone today, as I've returned to the great hallowed halls of higher learning.

There's been a lot of debate going around the blogowebs recently about writers who write in more than one genre. I've been following this new sport with some interest as it's rather applicable to me. I would link to the other posts but I'm going to be a bad blogger and point my finger up there where it says I'm blogging from my phone today, and hope you'll forgive me.

Everyone who has already written on the subject has some great points. But I feel like I need to weigh in because I am in a unique position to do so: of the six novels I have done any amount of writing on (three complete, three in various stages of drafting/editing), none of them have been in the same genre.

*waits for you to pick up your jaw*

Now, see, this sort of thing seems perfectly rational to me. There's that old writing adage about reading what you write. Well, dang, I read EVERYTHING. My interests as a reader are far-spread, to say the least. I read for story, not genre, so any book that piques my interest will come home with me no matter who or what is inside.

I also read a lot (or at least I thought I did until I started hanging out with writers all the time). So, check-- I feel perfectly comfortable saying that I read what I write. And I write in the genre the story needs.

Next point: writing in multiple genres won't sell. Well, I have to admit having a serious advantage here in being an un-pubbed writer. It's true-- every time I hear of a well-known writer in one genre jumping to another, it just feels wrong. But sometimes it works. And I write because I love it, so unless there's a deadline saying I have to write something in particular over my head, I'm probably not not going to write an idea I have just because it doesn't fit with what I've already written. When sales are an issue, I'll reconsider.

In the meantime, I write the best stories I can until something sticks. To me, that "sticking" is another valid point-- writing in all these different genres is akin to me researching my strengths. Maybe I totally suck at commercial fiction but I'm not bad at YA. I'd be fine with that. But how would I know unless I tried both?

Even so, I can't promise that when something does stick I'll only ever write in that genre again. But I know enough about writing to know that right now, I am indulging myself because I can. Hopefully my stories will be able to find homes even if they don't all fit in the same box, but I'm willing to fill a certain box more than others if that's where my strength is, and keep the others a secret.

So there. Write what you want because you can. Even if no one else sees it, it still deserves to be written if you want to write it.

*All typos in this post are purely the fault of writing from my phone and having no time to spellcheck due to my next class starting right now. Sorry!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Let's hear it for the Cheerleaders! (silly outfits optional)

I love old books. I mean OLD books---not just the content, but the packaging as well. It doesn't matter if they're first edition, rare or what have you, I just love books with a long, well-loved history. Inscriptions a bonus, better if they have a sweet/weird/bone-chilling/heart-melting story behind it.

This one, LIGHTFOOT THE DEER by Thornton W. Burgess (1922), was a gift from my grandma when I was ten. It was HER favorite book when she was in 3rd grade (as seen by the inscription) and I seriously, with all my Bambi-licious heart, read it and loved it just as much as she did.

Grandma Iva (or Ijahawkiwa, as she was properly known) was one of my very first "creative cheerleaders." On our special days together, we wrote stories and painted pictures. She told me not just that I could be an artist but that I SHOULD. Everyone who created was an artist, whether it be a creation of words, paint, metal, numbers, technology, nature and so on. She taught me the world is made up on lines and circles, the simplest of shapes, but something beautiful and godly can come out of them. The same with simple words and powerful messages: "I have a dream" and "Jesus wept" and "Call me Ishmael" and "The end." Although she's passed on now, so much of what she taught me comes back when I write my silly stories, paint my weird pictures and read awesome books to my kid.

Since then, of course, I've had a gaggle of wicked awesome cheerleaders: any member of my family, who would dive into a new mushy manuscript at the drop of a hat, my beloved "Eat Write Period" crit group from Boston (who I can't think of without craving Panera shortbread) and my dear patient husband, who always has the right words whether I want to hear them or not. I owe pages and pages of thanks to every one of these people and more.

People who don't write often might not realize that a single book, a mere 50,000 plus words is a conglomeration of experience...and not just from the author. In another one of my favorite oldies---BLOW BLOW YOUR TRUMPETS by Seamus Frazer (awesome antediluvian sci-fi from 1945, by the way. Pretty scarce, but totally worth the search)---the author dedicates the book to his wife:

"This tale, written for you at odd moments during my exile in the East, is dedicated to you with all my love. You were with me when I conceived the story; and if there are defects in it now that it is finished, put them down to the fact that I had not the happiness of your wise criticism as I pieced it together in desert tents or under palm thatch in the jungle. There was the monsoon as pattern for the Deluge, and beyond the veranda chorus of the Ark. But memory and the uncertain mail had to supply me with a model for my heroines: remember this difficulty in their creation . . . Anyways, here it is---your book, bless you."

Who are your creative cheerleaders? Have you hugged them today? Or, at the very least, given them a cookie and a heartfelt bless you?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Insanity and Open Post

Hey folks! Sorry I missed last week, but it was teh craziness what with a whole bunch of non-blog-friendly family stuff that went on.

This week isn't any less insane, especially because I started a brand-new freelancing gig writing feature stories for My territory will include Portland, Maine; Concord and Manchester, NH; Hartford, Conn.; and Providence, R.I. among other cities. So that's pretty darn cool.

In that vein, I'm opening this post to any questions y'all might have for me about pretty much anything. Marketing, writing non-fiction, outlining, etc ... all of the stuff that I've blogged about here and at Free the Princess over the past year and however many months.

Well? What do you want to know?

Monday, January 17, 2011

I'm late! I'm late! For a very important . . . uh, blog post

Sorry about the lateness of this post, my peeps. Today has been a hectic day. Hubby's off of work, and we (read: I) got the brilliant idea this weekend to try and make the house look a little less freshly-moved into (I personally feel it's about time, nearly two years later). So off to IKEA, and then seventy-bajillion other furniture stores we went. And then we went back to IKEA. Because everyone knows no matter how much you hate IKEA, once you find something there that "will do," everything else won't. (That's probably actually just me).

The good news is, we will finally have a dining room table and chairs that match the rest of our dining room/ house. And a bookshelf that matches the rest of our furniture (which we need, given my recent ALA takings). And next are the bathrooms-- I am RIDICULOUSLY excited about the bathrooms, folks.

Just in case you're looking at the blog header in confusion, you're in the right spot. This is a collaborative writing blog, not a home improvement blog. But every now and then I like to take a time out from writing gab and talk about the other things I've got going on, because-- and here comes today's message, are you watching? Oh, whoops, there it went-- WRITING IS NOT MY WHOLE LIFE.

Gasp. I know. You are probably screaming and running around and tearing out your hair now, aren't you? (Even if you aren't, don't tell ME that. It's much funnier for me to imagine it this way).

No, there are definitely other things going on. Things like, home improvement. And two evil, miniature big cats that have devious aptitudes for trouble.

I've noticed that whenever I've got a lot of hope in something, the only way to stay sane and prepare for the worst (while I'm hoping for the best) is to distract myself. This is probably why I have so many hobbies. Which is why it's okay to admit that, despite the fact that writing blogs often make it seem that way, writing isn't my whole life. Because, as much as I love it, and consider it one of the things I am most passionate about, I do have other things going on. And those things keep me sane when writing has a lot of weight to it, just like writing keeps me sane when those others things are getting me down.

So there you have it. A totally insane, rambling, LATE post that hopefully makes some sense, because gosh-darnit, writing isn't all that's out there. We might make it seem that way sometimes, but that's mostly because we don't want people thinking they've got the wrong blog. You've got the right one. But some Mondays, at least, it won't be about writing at all.

What else do you have besides writing?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

And a winner is ... also, being a writer is WEIRD.

First off, the winner! Thank you all for stopping by and checking out the interview and for all of your RTs. It's awesome to see the growing excitement for not only Pam Bachorz's CANDOR, but DROUGHT as well! Even if you don't win, I hope you head out and buy one to a million copies. It's worth it. So! Who pleased the RNG (random number generator) gods most this week? Drumroll, please.

drrrrrrrrrrrdrrrrdrdrdrdrr... (how do you write a drumroll?)


Congrats, Sylvia! A winner is you! Send me your address at kmcriddle (at) gmail (dot) com and I'll get those to you right away. Now, onto some thinking.

I know this doesn't come as a surprise, but the life of a writer is weird. And sometimes sad. I remember writing a report on Jack London back in 5th grade (I loved me those wolves...and one of my career aspirations was to be a gold miner) and I was startled to see how unhappy his personal life was. Divorce, heartbreak, riotous drinking, imprisonment and early death. Pick any brilliant writer out from the list history gives us and you'll see similar stories. Heck, studies show that the creative writer is often more prone to mental illness than the normal human being; it's called the "Sylvia Plath effect". (I've written Sylvia so many times in this post.)

But I think some of this craziness, at least for me, comes from trying to horn my writing into the existing world in some way (read: publication). Querying, revising, submitting, BEING on submission--all of this is a way for someone to tell you NO. You're doing it wrong. That's not correct. No one will read this. This doesn't make sense. Let's put that one aside for now. I'm not sure the market's ready for this. This has been done a million times before. Am I missing any? We like to say "I write for myself and no one else" but our mind doesn't always accept that excuse and we're back to comparing ourselves to the rest of the world, trying to be the next best thing. Even if we are the next best thing, sometimes it comes from trying to live back up to that standard. Every success comes with more stress and handling it logically is not often something that creative writers can do...ahem...gracefully.

My recent way of dealing with this? I've taken to telling myself that I'm not just a writer. To put all my eggs in the holey, ever shifting, broken handled basket that is the profession of "writing" is just trouble. It's what I do, but it's not who I am. I'm a reader, a mother, a wife, an artist, a human rice cooker, a traveler...get it? You get it. Every bit of my experience in those fields might make me a better writer, but heaven forbid that such a small, fuzzy label can define me. When I tell myself that writing is not the end all be all in my professional life, the rejection is easier to take. It's still hard, but it's not the end of my life and sanity.

I think my rambling has squirreled off into parts unknown now. Time to go turn off the oven.

How do you handle the stress of being a writer? Do you even have stress over it? WHAT IS YOUR SECRET AND WILL YOU BOTTLE IT AND SELL IT TO ME?

Sigh. I'm off to feed the ducks.

Monday, January 10, 2011

ALA Mid-Winter 2011: Or, how come nobody ever told me about this before???

Man, you guys. Man. In December, my esteemed Alliterati colleague Marie and I were having lunch when she told me about this little event that was coming to town in January. (Yes, that's right-- we hang out outside the blog. Sup?)

She said it was awesome, because you pay like $25 to get in the door and then she said the magic words:

FREE BOOKS. Like, as many as you can carry. Literally.

I have been salivating ever since. (Yes, I salivate about free books. Don't you?)

So this weekend FINALLY came and we FINALLY got to go. OMG, you guys. It's everything I ever dreamed of and more!

I took my writer's group and we went for a couple hours on Friday night and then again Saturday afternoon. And here in a little while I'm heading back down for more, even though my legs felt like they were filled with lead yesterday. And I can't move my left shoulder. It's all good though. I'm TOUGH.

And the rumors? Totally true. I got as many FREE BOOKS as I could carry. Literally. Sometimes more than I could carry. Hence the leaden legs and jelly shoulders. Totally worth it, though.

And don't worry-- I'll be sharing the wealth! I'll be sure to have a contest or two with some of these ARCs as prizes. Yay prizes!

So, are you ready for this? Here's what I got in two days-- and keep in mind this doesn't include what I'll grab today.

That's the dramatic Godzilla movie angle. Here's a dead-on, though our layout makes it difficult to support bigger pictures so I don't know if you can actually read any of the titles on the spines.

(However, you may click to embiggen)

So yeah. If ALA ever comes to your city? Go. FREE BOOKS, yo.

Oh, and networking, and talking to people who, you know, work in publishing, etc. Ahem.

Great, now I sound grabby. Ah well. Looking forward to all these great reads and sharing some of them with you guys! Did you do anything interesting this weekend? Did any of our readers make it to ALA?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Author Interview with Pam Bachorz (CANDOR, DROUGHT) and another CONTEST!

Guys, guys!

Holy cow, do I have a special treat for you. So, ALA Midwinter meeting is fast approaching here in San Diego which means all those ruffian librarians are descending on my town in T minus one day. But ALA is not just for librarians! Authors, bloggers, people of a publishing ilk all find themselves drawn to ALA, the table after table of new and upcoming books. It's Nirvana, I tell you!

Last ALA in DC I had the great pleasure of running into author Pam Bachorz, where we quickly discovered our mutual love for Top Chef (particularly one tasty Spike) and a mutual alma mater. Pam is the author of the amazing CANDOR and the forthcoming DROUGHT...and she's been kind enough to sit down with us here at the Archives for an interview!

First, a bit about Candor (from

The picture-perfect new town of Candor, Florida, is attracting more and more new families, drawn by its postcard-like small-town feel, with white picket fences, spanking-new but old-fashioned-looking homes, and neighborliness.

But the parents are drawn by something else as well. They know that in Candor their obstreperous teenagers will somehow become rewired - they'll learn to respect their elders, to do their chores, and enjoy their homework. They'll give up the tattoos, metal music, and partying that have been driving their parents crazy. They'll become every parent's dream.

So my fellow writers of the Archives, where goes on in the mind that writes such a great story? Lucky us, we've got it here for the picking.

CANDOR's setting, not to mention everything going on within it, is incredibly unique! Can you tell us a little about your inspiration for CANDOR?

I was inspired to write CANDOR back when I was living in Celebration, Florida--a planned community designed and built by the Walt Disney Co., right outside of Walt Disney World! I was out walking the dog one night and the mosquito truck drove by, coating us both in a fine orange-scented mist. I thought, "what if that had Prozac in it? what if that's why everyone is so NICE here?". Brainwashing, and eventually CANDOR, was born...

You create such a detailed, believable society in Candor, Florida, not to mention some awesome meta-fictive extensions (check out The REAL Candor Florida here: What was the most exciting things about creating this world? The most difficult? And...inquiring fans and devotees of Team Oscar want to know...any plans for a sequel?

Glad you liked the setting! For me, books actually always start with setting. Until I know my world I can't figure out who lives there or what happens. I loved giving readers a peek into the "feel" of living in a planned community, but I wanted to make sure to "own" Candor and create unique spaces that don't really exist in real life--which was challenging but hopefully I pulled it off.
As for a sequel, I definitely wasn't planning one when I wrote the book. It was conceptualized as a one-book story. But I might be interested in returning to the world of Oscar and Nia in the future. It's just not anything I'm working on right now!

Your second book, DROUGHT, comes out January 25. Congratulations! Any particular boons or roadblocks that came with publication the second time around? Anything you wish you would have known the first time through?

Thanks, I'm really excited about DROUGHT's release. This baby has been a part of my world for a long time. As for roadblocks, I entirely rewrote DROUGHT after getting my editor's feedback about the story, essentially shifting the timeline BACK and changing the quarterpoint of the original story to be the climax, instead. It was totally worth it but whew, definitely a lot to do! Boons: every book teaches you so much. This one was a proving ground for writing a deeper romance and also an opportunity to learn about how to manage writing a longer book.

I wish I had known to trust myself and my process, the first time through. There are just going to be points when I freak out and want to ditch the whole thing. There are going to be points when I'm sure there's no way through to the end. Knowing that, the second time through--recognizing it--made a big difference. Not that it stopped me from living through those same difficult milestones again!

With the paperback of CANDOR having just hit shelves on Dec. 14th and DROUGHT on Jan. 25, you've no doubt had a crazy busy holiday season. What can we look forward to from Pam Bachorz in the future?

I'm working on another idea, an entirely new world with a very different cast of characters than what I've written before. I hope it will be thrilling, thought-provoking, and most of all FUN to read!

Finally, as a fellow Top Chef lover, who's your pick for winner of Top Chef All Stars? And will Marcel finally shave his head?

I am totally devoted to fellow DC'er Spike. I've eaten in both his restaurants and there's no better burger than his Colletti's Smokehouse. Although I have a soft spot for Carla, too, who manages her catering business in the next town over from where I live. I hear she's super nice. That being said, who will WIN? My money is on Angelo or Casey.

Pam, thank you so much for stopping by! And if you're in ALA this weekend, be sure to pick up an ARC of DROUGHT! You can also snag it any number of bookstores and online booksellers come January 25th.


Leave a comment on this here post!
On January 13th, I'll pick one lucky winner to receive:
an ARC of DROUGHT as well as a copy of CANDOR.
Easy Peasy Port Brindisi!

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some fine orange mist to spray around the house...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Contest Winners!

Here we are, a week after the ending of the Inaugural Secret Archives of the Alliterati Ten-Word Novel Contest and it is now time to announce the winners of that fine competition.

Drumroll please ....

The winner of the Inaugural Secret Archives of the Alliterati Ten-Word Novel Contest is ...

Wait for it ....


Ricardo wins for the following entry: General protection fault. Blue screen of death. Reinstall life. 

Second place goes to John Leavitt for his entry: Jack was unfaithful. Jill found out. Jill plead not guilty.

I chose two winners because both of those entries were so awesome. 

So! John and Ricardo, please email me with your choice of prize among the three offered using the link through my Blogger profile.

Thank you to everyone for entering! Let's do this again this December, all right?

Monday, January 3, 2011


If you're from 'round the internet, you may have heard the phrase "cannot be unseen." This phrase usually applies to pictures of horribly unattractive people, or the arrow in the FedEx logo, etc. However, I've noticed an application in my writing when I'm editing.

One of my favorite parts of writing is figurative language. I LOVE phrases like "he swept his hand across the room," or "she dropped her jaw." I use them a lot. And that's fine when I'm drafting.

But when I'm editing... I tend to look really closely at my writing, and that leads to me taking things too literally. I see the phrase "he swept his hand across the room," and I first picture what I intended it as, but then-- oh then-- I picture my character with a broom, sweeping his severed hand across the floor.

And when someone drops their jaw, I have a tendency to wonder why they were carrying it around in the first place. And think about how tricky it must be to chew with no jaw.

At least I can entertain myself while I'm editing.

Do you have any literal pitfalls in your writing?