Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

Monday Musings: Filtered Out February 23, 2015

Filed under: Blog,Publishing,writing,writing craft — chasingthecrazies @ 9:28 am
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Back in November, Wendy Higgins (author of the Sweet Trilogy) wrote a blog post titled, “My Unfortunate Writing Side Effect.” In the post she shared how being a writer made it hard to read for pleasure. Instead of letting a book captivate her, she found herself wanting “to change lines or cross out words.” The post struck me because lately I’ve been feeling the same way. The cause of my reading slump? Filter words.



When I first started seriously writing I had no clue what filters were. I wrote characters seeing and feeling things in a very mundane way. I was new. I thought this was the way you were supposed to write. Then I got my first critique. It was a bloody slaughter. While the writer was kind in their presentation, their message was clear – your writing needs help. My biggest problem? My use of filter words. Everywhere.



If you’re new to writing you may ask, “What is a filter?” Let me share by using some examples from my early writing:



“I noticed he had blue eyes and dark hair.”



“I watched as he removed the shovel from the ground.”



See a pattern? Filters direct the reader to see what the character is doing instead of allowing the reader to infer what is happening. With filters you are essentially saying, “Hey reader, take note. I’m now going to tell you what the main character is seeing, thinking or feeling.”



Some readers can breeze over this, but when I read a story littered with filters it pulls me out of the narrative. Every. Single. Time.



Now to be honest, I never noticed filters in my writing until someone pointed it out. I tried my best to avoid them, but alas it kept happening. Frustrated, I couldn’t figure a way around the issue until I read this great piece on “thought verbs” from Chuck Palahniuk. The light bulb finally ignited. As a writer, I needed to crawl inside the head of my character and share what he/she was feeling. The trick? Don’t let the reader know I was doing it.



So how do you get around filters? Well, it’s not easy. It takes time and a lot of practice to perfect your craft. But if you keep working on it, you slowly learn how to present your narrative without them.



Let’s look at the examples from above:



“I noticed he had dark hair.”



How can you lose the filter but still convey your message? Try adding movement.



“Adam focused on removing the bolt from the tire. Cranking and pulling on the wrench, a single black hair fell across his forehead.”



Do we now know the character has black hair? Yes, but in a way that keeps us in the narrative. You’re not shouting, “Hey look, this guy has black hair” rather using action to allow for the description.



What about the next example?



“I watched as he shoveled soil from the ground.”



By removing the “I watched” you can still pull the reader into the scene by using description.



“The sharp end of the shovel dug into the soil. With brisk movements, one pull after the other, he lifted the wet earth from its resting place.”



Does the reader know the character is shoveling? Yes-but without you directly telling them.



In many cases I think of filters like adverbs. You don’t want to use them, but sometimes they are necessary. And that’s okay. The key here is to use your craft to pull the reader into the narrative. Share critical information without actually saying to them, “Look, I need you to pay attention to this detail.”



Filters are the bane of my existence. I still overuse them in my writing, but I’m hyper aware of it. They come out in herds when I write my first draft. It’s something I constantly struggle with and work at. Recognizing them in my writing is half the battle. Once I see them, I try to use more active verbs, better descriptors. Every time I do, I make my manuscript that much stronger.



What about you? How do you weed out filter words in your writing? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.



W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with Stacey Lee February 18, 2015






Today’s W.O.W. features one of the kindest writers I know, Stacey Lee.  Not only is Stacey an amazing writer, but she is also a big part of WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS where she is currently the Legal Director. What I love most about this interview is what Stacey shares about her dedication to the craft of writing. Since a very young age she knew she wanted to write. Through many life changes, she stayed the course and eventually signed with an agent. Now, her debut novel, UNDER A PAINTED SKY will hit bookshelves this March!



Many thanks to Stacey for sharing her writing odyssey today…




Amy: I love the story on your website about writing your first manuscript on a typewriter when you were very young. Have you always had the writing bug?



Stacey: Yes. My third grade teacher hung a poem I had written about Thanksgiving on the classroom wall. I was the shyest kid in the class, and was astounded to be recognized this way.



Amy: What was the most challenging thing in writing your debut, UNDER A PAINTED SKY?



Stacey: For me, it was not being episodic. My main characters, Sammy, a Chinese girl, and Annamae, a black girl, are fleeing down the Oregon Trail disguised as young men. There were a lot of adventures that I had to ‘cut’ from the main journey as it didn’t move the main story along. For example, there was one baseball scene where the girls are forced to play baseball, and have to do it ‘in character’ as boys. I hated to cut that, but it had to go.



Amy: How laborious/frustrating was the query process for you?



Stacey: I started querying in 1984 as a teenager, and back then, everything was so slow. I would often give up querying because it was just too daunting a process to send manuscript after manuscript, then wait for the SASE (self addressed stamped envelope) to come back, which could take months. Email made things a lot easier!



Amy: How many agents did you query for UNDER A PAINTED SKY?



Stacey: Around 20, I think!



Amy: Did you receive instantaneous response or did you have to wait for requests/rejections?



Stacey: Not instantaneous. A few requested right away, but then it took a few weeks for them to read. Once I got the first offer though, things did start moving – other agents began requesting to talk to me. I was on my way to Lake Tahoe and my phone connection was really spotty. I felt sure I was going to mess it all up and no one was going to want me.



Amy: What was your call like with your agent, Kristin Nelson? How did you know she was the right fit for you?



Stacey: I had always enjoyed reading her blog posts, and knew she was a great agent. (She had previously rejected another of my manuscripts.) She was at the Romantic Times convention when she offered, and so it was a super busy time for her, too. Our ‘call’ wasn’t long. Basically – she told me what she liked about my MS, and I said, okay, thanks, let’s do this.



Amy: Was there ever a time you thought about giving up on your writing dream? If so, what motivated you to keep writing?



Stacey: Absolutely. Sometimes it happened after querying a big project and getting nowhere. Sometimes it happened when I got busy with other things in life – like having kids! And pursuing other interests. But I always naturally came back to writing. I think it’s the same with a lot of writers – it’s instinct, like how salmon swim upstream. Without the dying part at the end.




Amy: The writing process is grueling and querying even more difficult. What one piece of advice can you impart to aspiring writers to encourage them to keep working towards their dream?



Stacey: Do it because you love to do it. Because you can’t NOT do it. Then you’ll stick to it.





Under painted

(Available March 17, 2015)



Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush. Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.




Stacey LeeStacey Lee is a fourth generation Chinese-American whose people came to California during the heydays of the cowboys.  She believes she still has a bit of cowboy dust in her soul.  A native of southern California, she graduated from UCLA then got her law degree at UC Davis King Hall.  After practicing law in the Silicon Valley for several years, she finally took up the pen because she wanted the perks of being able to nap during the day, and it was easier than moving to Spain.  She plays classical piano, wrangles children, and writes YA fiction. For more on Stacey, checking out her website, or follow her on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook or Pinterest.



Monday Musings: Taking A Chance February 16, 2015

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As many of you know, for the last couple of weeks Michelle Hauck and I have been running a little contest called, Sun versus Snow.  This is the second year Michelle and I have hosted this event, and just like last year it was a blast.


One of the things that caught me off guard was how quickly our 200 spots filled up…in six minutes. Neither Michelle nor I expected it. In fact, we were pretty sad to have to turn people away.


While I was shocked at how quickly the spaces filled up, it also made my heart very full. Why? Because it meant there were writers out there willing to take a chance. Take a chance to put themselves out there. Take a chance to share their work (which can be terrifying). And lastly, take a chance they may be rejected (the hardest one of all in my opinion).


Sharing your work can be a daunting thing. There is always that seed of doubt in the back of your mind that whispers what you’ve created isn’t good enough. That your writing, or story, isn’t strong enough. But those who entered, or even wanted to enter, were brave enough to push past doubt and try. And to me that is incredibly admirable.


So the next time you think about entering that beloved manuscript in a contest, be like those 216 that took the leap and entered. Yes, you may not get picked, but the experience and friendship you may find will be well worth it. I promise!





Here we go…Sun versus Snow Agent Round! February 9, 2015

Filed under: Blog,contest,Literary Agent — chasingthecrazies @ 5:56 am
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Today is the day our 15 amazing agents can begin reading the Team Sun entries and making requests. Not only will they see the amazing entries here, but they can also make requests for Team Snow over at Michelle Hauck’s blog!


As the agents move through the entries, please remember that contests are subjective. Our agents have a definitive idea of what they would like for their list. If they do not request, it DOES NOT mean the entry was not worthy. No matter what happens, you’ve got to keep querying and NEVER GIVE UP!


Before Team Sun totally blisters Team Snow, here are some guidelines to remember:


There is no commenting in this round except for agents. Sorry, but no cheerleading as this may lead to an unconscious bias.


We are happy to see and retweet your thoughts and cheers over on Twitter under the #sunvssnow tag! That’s the place to hang out and have fun! I hope to see my Team Sun members present and waving their pom poms! We have some scorching hot entries that are going to completely melt Team Snow!


Watch both my and Michelle’s Twitter feed as we will be tweeting when an agent makes an appearance!


Agents will consider entries at both the blogs regardless of whether they are Sun or Snow fans. Michelle and I are hoping the agents go crazy with the requests! There is amazing talent on both our teams!


Good luck to all! And get out the sunglasses and sunscreen because the heat is coming for Team Snow!



SVS 1: The Secret at Seachase – Middle Grade Mystery

Filed under: Blog,contest — chasingthecrazies @ 5:54 am
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Category/Genre: MG Mystery

Word Count: 40,000 words




My Main Character would prefer to live in: 


Bonnet’s Harbor. Sand. Surf. Sun! Dad would say, “You shouldn’t make big life decisions at your age.” What he doesn’t understand is that I’m very mature for twelve. I’ve already made up my mind about lots of things. Like being a detective when I grow up. And never, ever leaving this island. I’m not saying I won’t ever visit anywhere else. I’d like to see real snowflakes fall. Maybe even try snowboarding. But I belong on this upside-down shrimp of an island in the Gulf of Mexico.






Dear Gracious Agents:


By the time seventh grade starts, Ellie and her best friends are going to be rich and famous. They’re busy making a prize-winning video about island life when Ellie’s half-grown collie wanders away from their movie set. Ellie tracks Madog all the way to the shadows of the island’s most luxurious high-rise, where he’s snuffling something gross. Something that looks like a severed human finger. Before Ellie can summon help, he wolfs down the evidence.


Without proof of Ellie’s claim, the sheriff reckons her pup must have eaten a discarded chicken wing. Her dad is sure the tale is a product of her overactive imagination. But Ellie is not making things up. Somewhere on the island, an unknown victim deserves justice. Ellie consults the Nancy Drew mysteries left behind by her absentee mom and begins her own investigation. With Madog by her side, she searches for witnesses and suspects. Her inquiries annoy tourists, amuse locals, and terrify a group of teenage immigrants who work at the island amusement park.


The facility’s owner is more alarmed than anyone when he learns about Ellie’s meddling. She ventures alone onto his no-dogs-allowed property and into a trap. Unless she finds a way to escape, no one will learn the truth about labor trafficking on the island. And Ellie will disappear from her home forever.


THE SECRET AT SEACHASE is a stand-alone novel with series potential. The story would appeal to fans of John Grisham’s THEODORE BOONE series or Carl Hiaasen’s environmental mysteries for young readers.




First 250 words: 


Madog is the only person in the whole world who trusts me. Except he’s not even a person. He’s a collie. He sits on the floor beside my stool at the breakfast bar, his head level with my knees, his deep brown eyes turned up to me with unwavering love.




What he loves is the bacon I’m crumbling over my grits. His black nose quivers. He places a rough paw on my leg and whines.


I glance at Dad. He’s listening to another call from his office, swiveled away from us so we won’t distract him from what’s important.




I heap my fork with scrambled eggs and grits and bacon. Halfway to my mouth, I tip the load sideways. Madog snaps the food right out of the air.


Chomp. Gulp. Gone.


Dad ends his call and says to me, “No more table food for Madog.”


I chug the rest of my orange juice, wondering how he sees so much.


“What are you and your friends doing today?” Dad asks.


I swirl everything on my plate together. “Working on our movie. If I had my own cell phone, I could call and let you know exactly—”


He interrupts. “Ellie, where’s Madog’s leash?”


I glance at the hook by the back door. The leash isn’t there. Biting my lip doesn’t help me remember where I left it.


“And you think you can hold onto a cell phone?”


My eyebrows lift a bit. I almost promise I wouldn’t call Mom. But we both know that’s not true.





SVS 2: Dropped – Middle Grade Contemporary

Filed under: Blog,contest — chasingthecrazies @ 5:53 am
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Category/Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary

Word Count: 52,000



My Main Character would prefer to live in: 


Thirteen-year-old Carson has never seen snow. The eighth grader from Southern California doesn’t get why anyone would want to live where you can’t skate or surf all year round. Carson picks sun. Hands down, easiest question ever.





Dear Agent,


Thirteen-year-old Carson’s always been too young, too scared, too whatever for his estranged dad’s annual surf expedition down the Baja. So when his dad finally invites him on a road trip in search of the best waves in Mexico, the eighth grader leaps at the chance—even if it means dropping into gnarlier waves than he’s ever imagined.


During the thousand-mile journey from Cali to El Secreto, Carson discovers a hidden letter in the glove box, giving him a sneaking suspicion that his father might be kidnapping him. But Carson gives his dad the benefit of the doubt because they’re connecting for the first time in forever.


While they’re shredding the epic surf break, the storm of the century slams straight into the beach and his dad gets caught out in the double-overhead waves. Carson needs to face his fear of drowning and fast.


But if his suspicions about his dad are true, Carson might have even bigger troubles than a killer riptide and waves that are bigger than a house.



First 250 words:


“Just promise we won’t get arrested or killed.” Carson looked down at the half-filled backpack by his feet. “Then I’ll decide.”


“That’s not really a promise I can make,” Link said. “But I can totally guarantee you’ve never been on a trip like this one.”


Link almost never guaranteed anything. That’s the kind of dad he was, the kind of dad he’d always been. And the few times he did promise something, Carson swore he’d never believe him again. But this was different. This time, a monster summer swell was on its way. Apparently, every buoy between Australia and California was pulsing off the charts.


Carson glanced toward his house. His mom would be home from her night shift any minute, and school started in half an hour.


“Come on. It’ll be a blast.” Link tossed a nylon strap across the stack of surfboards on the roof of his Jeep Cherokee and stretched it tight. “Live a little.”


Link’s jeep didn’t look like it could make it the hundred miles to San Diego, never mind the thousand miles to his favorite surf break in Mexico. The jeep had been up and down the Baja highway at least twenty times, and Link always pointed out how everything still worked besides the odometer, which had been stuck on 199,999 since 1999.


Carson stared at the stack of seven surfboards on the roof, each one a few inches longer than the one on top of it. He was probably at the beach on the day they handed out parenting skills.



SVS 3: Lost in Never(Wonder)Land – Upper Middle Grade – Magical Realism

Filed under: Blog,contest — chasingthecrazies @ 5:53 am
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Category/Genre: UMG Literary Fiction/Magical Realism

Word Count: 60,000



My Main Character would prefer to live in: Sun


Only favor snow ever did Licey was help her tell if people were real or not. Hallucinations never left footprints in the white stuff. Otherwise, sun played the lesser of two awfuls. Packed like medicated rats climbing the walls of the dilapidated group home, even mentally unstable kids knew outside meant escape. Conditions just short of a typhoon were fair game. Air like wet wool blankets in your throat tasted better than air conditioned silence. Besides winter breath hovered behind like wispy clouds of obsessive thought. If she left a trail to follow, why bother escaping in the first place?







Eleven-year-old Licey lost her mind—the voice in her head told her so.


When she’s diagnosed with amnesia and schizophrenia, Licey ends up at Joy House—a ramshackle group home where the young and demented have two choices—either get better or get sent to Arcadia Children’s Asylum.   Scrawny and strange, Licey seems like an easy target. She’s not. The loner wields her illnesses like weapons; telling stories to fight back against the kids’ tricks, the grown-ups’ indifference and her own painful unanswered questions. Never knowing where her stories stop and her schizophrenia starts, Licey sets out alone to solve the mystery of why she forgot.


Then Pete—a boy as wild as Licey is unbalanced—saves her when she tumbles from a hiding spot high in Joy House’s huge oak tree. There’s only one explanation how he caught her in midair. . . Pete can fly.  Hoping to find more clues with his help Licey folds to Pete’s pestering for explanations of how she sees the world. Soon the other kids aren’t hanging around to harass her, but to listen.  When impossibilities appear— talking cats, never-ending stairways, mermaids in the back pond—everyone, including Pete, finds answers to their own problems hidden in Licey’s flourishing tales of wonder.


But Dr. Bander, the ‘Bandersnatch’ of Arcadia, fears Licey’s fantasies signal a final plunge into madness. When he arrives to take her to the Asylum, Pete hatches a dangerous escape plan to fly away with Licey in tow. But Licey’s torn between her forgotten past and an unknown future. To learn the secret of who she was—a truth so terrible it triggered her amnesia—she’ll have to risk forgetting everything again. Or if she flies away with Pete and gives up on reality, Licey might lose herself forever in her own imaginary world.


This novel will appeal to fans of contemporary themes found in PICTURES OF HOLLIS WOODS, OUT OF MY MIND, and BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA as well as the classics this project drew inspiration from, ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND and PETER PAN.




First 250 words:



“This place is only pretending to be ordinary,” Licey muttered.


Just like you, the voice in her head laughed at her.


“Be quiet for two seconds so I can think.” Licey ignored the fact she didn’t really have anything to compare ‘ordinary’ to anymore. Her memory stretched out white and empty as blank paper.


The crooked building sat back from the street like a dollhouse forgotten in the woods, overgrown by rose brambles and faded by thousands of days of sun and rain. A huge oak tree blocked out the other half of the sky, twisted limbs poking at the clouds. From its branches hung hundreds of sun-bleached plastic eggs tied on with bits of yarn. They swayed and clacked.   High above the rustling leaves a round turret spouted from the roof, a curtain flapped in the wind. Something else moved behind it and Licey’s stomach knotted.  Not normal.


You should never have followed those chalk arrows.


She glanced back, her dark braids slipping over her shoulders. The colorful trail on the sidewalk wove back towards town like a dusty snake. “What else was I supposed to do?” the girl grumbled. She hefted her battered suitcase and shifted a stuffed rabbit under her scrawny arm.


You should have stayed put! That’s what a normal kid would do.


“Normal? Are you kidding? I’m talking to myself like a psycho.”


Psychos don’t worry about being psycho.


“That makes me feel so much better.”




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