Author Truths

I posted a medium-sized writing rant on Facebook and my friend asked me to post it here, so I did. I tweaked it. And I added gifs. Because that’s what I do. Enjoy!

I get asked writing and publishing advice on a pretty regular basis. I love to help where I can. Really. Helping other writers is one of my favorite things. But I can’t count the number of times someone has asked for advice and then shrugged it off. I write books for money (not a lot, but I’m working on it). I have a literary agent. I’m traditionally published. If you ask for my advice, listen!

But because they won’t, the burden falls, my hapless readers, on you. Here are a few truths about writing and publishing people don’t love to hear:

1) Most authors don’t make enough money to quit their day jobs.

meme artist crying money poor

2) You aren’t just going to write a novel with no training/practice and make money. In fact, the odds are slim that you’ll make money at all. See #1. Writing fiction will NOT make you rich quick.

3) Your first novel will likely not be published, because your first novel is terrible.

tv excited good computer new girl

No it isn’t, Nick. No it isn’t.

Sorry, fact of life. If you have an idea for a story you just know will be your magnum opus, write something else first so you have some clue what the heck you’re doing. Or two or three something elses.

4) You MUST read. If you don’t take the time to read, both in and out of your genre, both classics and new releases, your writing will be out of touch and/or out of date and/or your story concept will have been done a million times. Which you would know. If you read.

book read beauty and the beast

5) Research fiction writing before/during/after you write your book. In fact, never stop. Keep learning. Just because you can write papers for school does not mean you can put together a coherent piece of fiction, let alone a compelling one. So take a class or start Googling.

6) Your spouse/mom/bff is great for encouragement, but is not going to give you adequate feedback on a professional level. You need to meet other writers.

7) Go to writing conferences. I’m not kidding. Yes, they cost money. But take it from someone who understands money struggles: the cost is worth it.

8) If you want to be a professional writer, you MUST master basic grammar.

meryl streep writing english grammar bane of my existence

Your story might be fantastic, but there are a lot of people out there who have good grammar AND write fantastic stories. Agents would rather represent those people. Editors would rather buy books from those people. Be one of those people.

9) Don’t take too long to write your story.

writing

Authors who actually support themselves generally write one or more books per year.

10) If you want to be published by a large publisher, you need a literary agent. Large publishers won’t even look at a manuscript unless it’s sent to them by an agent. Small publishers will, but it’s also a good idea to have a literary agent when you work with them to make sure you don’t get screwed. If you’ve made it this far into this post, are interested in publishing, and don’t know about agents, you get them through a process called querying. Google it.

If you have any questions about writing or publishing that I haven’t covered here, feel free to ask.

rant end rant rant over

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Romance, Fun, and Princesses

So, I should be writing right now. Really. I need to write. But I was cruising Twitter, as one does when one is staggering beneath the weight of a quickly-closing deadline, and I saw a tweet that basically said this:

“Heroes in romantic stories are wealthier than their girlfriends because if the girl is self-reliant she could dump her man and people who read romance have smallish minds and like it when women are dependent on men.”

RealityTVGIFs snl saturday night live drinking real housewives

That’s not what the tweet said, obviously. Too many characters. But that’s what it said to me, and this isn’t the first time I’ve heard it. I’ve actually been thinking about this lately: common tropes in romance, why they exist, and why people think it makes them look enlightened to make fun of them.

I mean, it’s 2017, right? Women can be powerful and wealthy. Women can fulfill themselves. Women can save themselves! You won’t find any damsels here, sir. As you can see, I am clearly wearing pants. And I am wearing them well.

flip trick pants

This is not an all-encompassing post about society’s current relationship with romance readers and the tropes they love. But I feel like the writer of this tweet is missing the point of this particular idea, and I wanted to address it.

Giving a female character a wealthy love interest isn’t about her self-actualization or independence, and it definitely isn’t about female readers not wanting those things. Women don’t read and write books with scrappy working-class heroines and wealthy men because we have tiny minds and can only imagine ourselves as the barnacle on some rich dude’s yacht of life. We read them because we’re scrappy working-class heroines, and it’s fun to take a couple of hours and imagine how nice it would be to fall for someone who showers us with paid bills and financial security.

That’s it. There is no deeper meaning.

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For me, this relates strongly to the cultural movement that has declared heroines in fairy tales stupid and useless in the sense that, for some reason, we don’t think of princesses as strong, independent, capable women. “Don’t be the princess, be the hero.” First of all, I won’t even address what that says about devaluing femininity because it will make me angry. Second, those princesses are the heroes, that’s why the stories are named after them. No one had a problem with them also being heroes until someone pretended those words were mutually exclusive.Third, you know what women in fairy tales did? Whatever the heck it took to get them out of that nasty scullery. And they succeeded. Wildly.  Because back when these stories were written, there was no option for, “And then she got the promotion to Senior VP of Marketing and lived happily ever after the end.”

movies deal with it sunglasses the devil wears prada business woman

An ending for the ages.

Relative to most women, princesses and queens held positions of power, authority, and respect. Fairy tale heroines literally climbed the quality-of-life ladder to its top rung (or climbed back up after being knocked to the bottom, in the case of the ones born royal). Don’t try to tell me they were hauled up there by the prince just because they were pretty. I’ve owned a copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales since I was eight. They went through hell first. Nobody in those stories is happy until they’ve suffered. Those princesses earned their happy ending. Are the cultural values that made marriage to a powerful man the only way to improve their lives problematic? Yes. But that sounds like society’s problem, not the problem of women who pwned society and took their power anyway.

John Williams Waterhouse, “Lancelot and Guinevere”

It’s kind of twisted, when you think about it. Princesses (aka the epitome of femininity) have been made a joke and a scapegoat. Can we not? Because it’s possible to be feminine and all the other things we want to be: intelligent, hardworking, creative, assertive, and wealthy enough to never need the financial support of a man.

Anyway.

Tropes in romance and fairy tales aren’t evidence that people who enjoy them are backwards or small-minded. They’re evidence that everyone needs an escape from a hard life. They’re evidence that those stories–the stories where the characters aren’t financially secure, no matter how hard they try–are stories a lot of women can see themselves in, and have seen themselves in for hundreds of years. They’re evidence that, hey, most people would be cool if their financial burdens were suddenly lifted by someone sexy who loves them.

Personally, I don’t find it enlightened to mock women (or men) who enjoy this trope. Then again, the bandwagon of intellectual smugness has never been my favorite ride.

Life is hard. It’s okay to dream the dreams that make you happy in your downtime. It’s okay for some things to just be fun.

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Speed Write Your Novel

Today I taught a class  called “Speed Write Your Novel” at LTUE, and a few people requested the slides. Here you go! Personal use only, please. Thank you to everyone who attended! This is the third class I’ve taught on writing and I really loved it.

In class, we had some great ideas for sites/apps/etc. people use to help them be accountable, increase their word count, or keep their inspiration handy. If you didn’t get to comment in class or you know of a really great website/app/community (or have anything else helpful to add) please include it in a comment on this post.

Talking to you today inspired me to finish my own WIP, so I’m going to go write!

Best of luck, everyone!

Image result for may the odds be ever in your favor katniss

 

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Cover Reveal! “The Hundredth Queen” by Emily R. King

Hey! It’s been a while. A long, long while. But one of my goals for 2017 is to get back in touch with the internet, and what better way to kick it off than with the cover reveal for a book you’ll all want to read?

The Hundredth Queen, the debut of my agency sister, Emily R. King, will hit virtual shelves on June 1st of this year. If you like YA fantasy, you’re not going to want to miss it! Check out the back cover copy:

As an orphan ward of the Sisterhood, eighteen-year-old Kalinda is destined for nothing more than a life of seclusion and prayer. Plagued by fevers, she’s an unlikely candidate for even a servant’s position, let alone a courtesan or wife. Her sole dream is to continue living in peace in the Sisterhood’s mountain temple.

But a visit from the tyrant Rajah Tarek disrupts Kalinda’s life. Within hours, she is ripped from the comfort of her home, set on a desert trek, and ordered to fight for her place among the rajah’s ninety-nine wives and numerous courtesans. Her only solace comes in the company of her guard, the stoic but kind Captain Deven Naik.

Faced with the danger of a tournament to the death—and her growing affection for Deven—Kalinda’s only hope for escape lies in an arcane, forbidden power that’s buried within her.

In Emily R. King’s thrilling fantasy debut, an orphan girl blossoms into a warrior, summoning courage and confidence in her fearless quest to upend tradition, overthrow an empire, and reclaim her life as her own.

Sounds good, yes? And it comes in such a pretty package!

TA DA!

the-hundredth-queen

Congrats, Emily! I can’t wait to get my hands on it, and I’m excited to see what you do next!

 

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Judge the Judges: Sample PitchSlam Entry

Image result for stars

Hey guys! I’m helping out with PitchSlam again this year. Seriously, reading the slush and discovering up-and-coming writers is one of my favorite things. You’ve gotten our feedback, and now it’s time for revenge. 😀 Kim has written a marvelous introductory post here, so go check that out. She’s also got links to several other team member’s entries.

While I find this a bit nerve-wracking, I also look forward to sharing my own stuff, because nothing helps me improve like good feedback. In the past I think I’ve posted the beginnings of books that are already published, so I knew no matter what people said they couldn’t actually be that bad. This is a brand-spanking-new unfinished WIP. These pages have only been seen by two of my alpha-readers (and are currently awaiting feedback from betas). And the title is a working title, as I don’t really settle on a name for my books until they’re finished.

Anyway, it wouldn’t be fair if I told you more (though my nervous desire to ramble is strong), because it’s not like you get to tell the judges or agents more. So, without further ado, here it is!

NOTE: I  am blog-ican’t change the font to Times New Roman without changing the font of my entire blog. But YOUR entry MUST be in 12 point Times New Roman.

Name: Caitlyn McFarland

Genre: YA Fantasy

Title: ZODIAC

Word Count: 75,000

If your main character could be any Star Wars character, who would they choose and why?: Evangeline would be Han Solo–so cocky she’s clearly overcompensating for something. Piper would be Rey, because she hasn’t quite come to terms with her own power.

35 Word Pitch: Seventeen-year-old Zodiac Guardians Piper and Evangeline are closer than sisters—they’re blood-bound warriors. When they capture the man whose death will abolish dark magic, Piper’s empathy and Evangeline’s ambition could tear them—and Earth—apart.

First 250 Words: 

Piper glared at the diamond points of starlight that dulled and faded in the quickening sky. A purple gleam flashed across the eastern horizon, the angle of the not-yet-risen sun catching the energy of the darklight shield where it arched over the stratosphere.

A hook of longing set in her chest and dragged at her as the stars disappeared. She wished they would stay gone. Or undergo some sort of cosmic shift while they were out of sight. If a catastrophic event knocked the constellation Leo out of place, maybe the power granted by the unlucky timing of her birth would disappear. Maybe she’d become an ordinary. Find the family she’d been taken from at less than a year old.

Be normal.

Normal, Evangeline’s voice was in her head, affectionate and mocking. You don’t want normal, Pi-face. You just think you do.

Piper wrinkled her nose and leaned through an open window into the back seat of the Jeep, knocking empty water bottles, chip bags, and a pair of Evangeline’s dirty jeans off the tan upholstery to the floor. She extracted the crumpled paper from the pocket of a denim jacket—stashed purposefully at the bottom of the pile—and leaned against the dusty white door.

Mountainridge University marched across the top of the page in stern, gray caps. Piper smoothed out the pamphlet on the leg of her torn jeans, then peeled it open, keeping her back to the truck stop where Evangeline was grabbing caffeine and ice.

 

That’s it! Please leave your crits in the comments and hop back to Kim’s blog for more links!

P.S. Today is the one-year anniversary of the release of book #2 in my trilogy, SHADOW OF FLAME!

Shadow of Flame Final

To celebrate, here’s a link to #1, SOUL OF SMOKE! It’s only $1.49. If you like fantasy and romance, check it out!

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WriteType CP Match

**The WriteType CP Match is over and all of the entries have been removed. If you were part of the event and need information from a post or a comment, please feel free to send me an email. Thank you so much to everyone who participated! If you’re looking for a critique partner, please follow this blog or find me on Twitter (@CHMcFarland) so you’ll know when we’re organizing our next event. At this time, we plan on doing another match-up in December 2016.**

 

Hi guys!

You know what my favorite thing is? Expensive chocolate.

music dancing jennifer lopez jlo nodding

Do you know what my other favorite thing is?

CRITIQUE PARTNERS!!

reaction happy party birthday excited

That’s why my friends and I are hosting the WriteType CP Match! We do it twice a year,  and one of those times is RIGHT NOW. If you don’t have a critique partner and think you need one (HINT: YOU DO), check out the official blog here and the instruction post here. The more entries we have, the more likely you are to get matched with the CP that will help you make all your dreams come true. You don’t have to have a finished manuscript, you just have to be a writer!

Go forth and submit!

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Steam and Simmer, Part Three: Sexual Tension

The recap:

I taught a class at LDStorymakers 2016 called, “Steam and Simmer: Writing Sexual Tension without Crossing the Line.” People asked for notes from the class or for me to post my power point for download, but I thought it might be better for me to convert my power point into something a little more coherent (considering they would not also be able to download me to explain it). 

To see Part One and my thoughts on “the line,” go here. WARNING: that post is more of a theoretical discussion about whether or not it’s okay for LDS writers to include sex in fiction and not so much practical writing advice. For that, keep reading this post.

To see Part Two, which contains a few thoughts on romantic tension, go here.

Now let’s talk about what you all came here looking for: how to write sexual tension.

First, remember that attraction has nothing to do with how objectively beautiful someone is. Novels are filled to the brim with people who are so pretty they don’t know what to do with themselves, and I think it’s a little silly. Your characters don’t have to be insanely beautiful people for their relationship to  sizzle. Attraction is nothing more than how desirable one character finds another, regardless of popular opinion.

Now, let’s get down to it.

The basic building blocks of sexual tension consist of two things. First, your characters must notice each other (observation). Then they have to be affected by what they’ve noticed.

Human beings center our orbits on the things we desire. We live our normal lives, but we’re always aware of The Thing We Want Desperately. We think about it, daydream, try to accidentally run into it at its work, etc. The desire for that thing colors our thoughts, actions, and interactions with other people. Characters who desire each other should be hyper-aware of their love interest at all times, especially when he or she is present. Make sure when your characters are noticing each other that they aren’t just seeing–use all the senses. And if you’re intertwining your romantic tension well, you’ll also have them notice non-physical things like talent and intellect.

The other half of making observations is reacting. Unless you’re depicting a relationship that’s purely physical, make sure your characters react emotionally to each other as well as physically. It takes both types of reactions to build good sexual tension.

In class, I used examples from contemporary romance novels to show you what I mean when I say observation/reaction. Because I’m not sure what the rules are, I don’t know what or if I can share of other peoples’ works of fiction on the internet. So you’re stuck with mine. Sorry! Here’s a notice/reaction moment from my book, Soul of Smoke.

“Rhys!” He still didn’t turn. Kai marched over and inserted herself between him and the wall.

Mistake. She knew it as soon as he looked down, his surprised, electric gaze locking first on her eyes, then her lips. The scant inches of air between their bodies grew so hot Kai expected it to spark and steam. Her breath caught. This close, he took up the world. 

In that example we see Kai, my female MC, notice that Rhys, my male MC noticing her (which is totally a legit thing when you write sexual tension). She also observes how close they are. Then she reacts, first physically with a hitch in her breathing (yes, yes, it’s a cliche, but this was my first book) then emotionally with the feeling that he takes up the world.

This is one of several observation/reaction moments in this scene. Which brings me to one of my main points. Sexual tension isn’t a complex construct, it’s as simple as stacking these moments on top of each other and steadily raising the stakes. And by that I don’t mean you have to get more explicit. I’ve been told this is a pretty steamy scene, and you know what? They barely touch. That’s another important thing about sexual tension. It comes from the things characters DON’T do, not what they do. I’ll talk about this more later, but doing can often diminish sexual tension.

Now let’s talk about the stages of physical intimacy.

*snort*

Author Linda Howard has talked about 12 Stages of Physical Intimacy (CONTENT WARNING), but because I was teaching at LDStorymakers, I wanted to keep the discussion at PG-13 or lower. So I compressed Linda Howard’s 12 stages into my own eight stages.

1. Eye to eye/eye to body

The characters see each other. They start to notice things about each other. Keep in mind that what they notice is important and reveals a lot about their character. Do they see a smile, or mile long legs?

2. Voice to voice

The characters speak to each other.

3. Platonic touch

This includes hand to hand or hand to arm. It’s the completely non-sexual way you’d touch pretty much any other human being on the planet.

4. Flirtatious touch/Intimate platonic touch

This includes putting an arm around the shoulders, touching the waist, touching the small of the back, and a woman putting her hand on a man’s chest. We do touch our friends this way, but generally only the ones we’re very close with. This is can also be a confusing stage for characters–they might not be sure if their love interest has their arm draped around them because they like them or because they like them.

5. Romantic touch

This includes a hand to the face or back of the neck. Unless you’re a parent wiping food off of your kid (or, as was pointed out in class, you’re slapping someone), we don’t touch other people’s faces often. It’s a very intimate act. Generally if there’s face touching it’s closely followed by…

6. Kissing

In my opinion, this covers everything from a peck to hardcore making out. As long as hands aren’t wandering anywhere normally covered by underwear, you’re still in stage 6.

7. Sexual touch

This is the wandering hands (and/or mouths) stage. It’s pretty broad, but I’ll spare you the details, as this is a post aimed at LDS authors. Most adults are well aware of the goings-on of this stage.

8. Sex

Self-explanatory.

So, how do you go about applying these things?

Pace your story according to the stage you want your characters to reach. If you’re writing a clean romance that builds up to a kiss, your characters are going to spend a lot of the book really wanting to touch but not touching. Clean romance is about 98% not touching. But if you build up the tension right with your observation/reaction building blocks, well-rounded characters, and a well-intertwined romantic plot, people will be just as satisfied by the kiss at the end as they are by other books that go a lot further.

Basically, choose the stage you want to get to and spend the book putting the characters through what I’ll call “the Cycle of Almosts,” increasing the magnitude of their observations and reactions over the course of the book.

THE CYCLE OF ALMOSTS

  1. Give your characters a taste of what they could have.
  2. Allow life/plot/a person (including the characters themselves) to interrupt.
  3. The taste has left them addicted. Their resistance to the romance drops and/or their desire for each other increases.
  4. Give them a little more.
  5. Interrupt them again.
  6. Desire increases again. Emotions deepen.
  7. Repeat indefinitely, raising the magnitude of the interactions and romantic/character stakes as the story goes on.

Or, more simply:

Cycle of almosts

This is the cycle that makes readers go

baby book reading interested lesson

And authors go

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Remember, once characters–and readers–get what they’re after, much of the sexual tension disappears. Generally speaking, the longer you make your characters wait (within reason) the more satisfying the payoff is for readers.

Every time your romantically involved characters have a moment, let them move up a stage or show that they’ve become more emotionally invested. The quicksand of love has sucked them a little deeper and they’re finding it harder and harder to escape.

You can extend readers’ tolerance of tension by sprinkling little micro-payoffs throughout the story–say a scene where the characters hold hands or have a moment of romantic connection. In other words, a scene where the MOMENT in the cycle above is allowed to play out. Never enough to satisfy, just enough to whet readers’ appetites and give them hope.

Just beware of making readers wait too long. If you do, payoff can feel anticlimactic. Tension can be overdone.

Well, that pretty much covers the things I talked about in my class except the different heat levels of romance, a concept thoroughly and humorously covered here (CONTENT WARNING). If you attended the class, this is the article I adapted examples from. There’s also a less humorous but just as informative article here with a slightly different take on heat levels. They’re useful if you plan to write contemporary adult romance, but I don’t know that you’d need them otherwise.

There were things I came across in my research that I didn’t have time to share in class, like a more detailed breakdown of the romantic plot and a hard look at the meet-cute (the scene in which the love interests meet for the first time). I think I’ll call that last bit Part Four and post it sometime soon. Until then, thanks for reading! I hope it was helpful! If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me on Facebook or Twitter, or email me at caitlyn.h.mcfarland@gmail.com.

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