Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Managing ALL the Things


First up, I'm apologising. I know, I know. I'm late with my blog this month and I've missed my blogging spot for the past couple. This pains me, truly it does. Because I hate mucking up; I hate letting people down; and I hate not meeting my own high expectations. So much has been going on in my life since Christmas; family stuff, moving home, juggling multiple jobs. A lot of things I didn't account for when planning the first few months of 2016 last year. Luckily, I've been working with some extraordinarily patient people who have, not only allowed me to go over deadlines, but also offered me support. Which really, in my opinion, sums up the writing community. Kind and generous.

But, this blog, short as it might be, is really me telling you guys that it's impossible to do everything. Life gets in the way, and often in the most unexpected format. You can't plan everything to the dot; although you can try. I do. But there simply has to be some movement, some give. And those that might not allow any flexibility or patience with unexpected personal issues, well, you have to ask yourself if it's worth it. Other opportunities are always around the corner if you keep looking.

So, when times like these hit, here's what I do:

Prioritise. Don't try to do it all at once.

Seems obvious. But it's actually pretty difficult. You have to push work or writing further down the line. Family comes first. It does. Or at least it should for most. Unless you don't have any, then maybe friends. And if you don't have any of those, maybe go make some. Because it's during the tricky times that true friends are golden, and make you realise how lucky you are to have them. Mine have shone like jewels lately, and I couldn't be more grateful. Even new friends have stepped up and helped me out. If you ask nicely, they might just take a few things off your list too.

Once you've dealt with family, then care about you. Make sure you're healthy and happy, at least as happy as you can be depending on what's going on. There's no point trying to clear obstacles if you aren't in the right frame of mind, because then you'll add more stress to the pile. Be sensible.

Then make a list of all the things you have to accomplish, with highlighted deadlines if applicable. Generally, there are always one or two items that stand out; that make you wince; that speed up your heart beat. These are likely to be the important ones to tackle first. Star them or highlight them, so they stick out and don't blend in with the mass. Although, you probably won't be able to ignore them if you try!

Some of the items on the list will be small, others big. I like to work a few smaller ones in between the bigger ones, so I can cross through as much as I can as quickly as I can. This does wonders for my outlook, and makes me stronger, keen to press on. It's also amazing how short some of those pesky jobs are once you focus entirely on them, then sit down and actually action them.

So you might lose editing jobs, or writing opportunities during these times of life; you might not meet deadlines; you might only add 500 words to your manuscript in a couple of months. No point stressing about it. Really, there isn't. Because there will be another opportunity further down the line; a better one waiting just for you. The time you haven't had to write might allow your brain to kick up new ideas, new twists, or find the missing link in your flawed novel. Don't dwell on 'I need to's' or the 'I have to's'. Keep moving forward, keep doing what you can. Dory got it right. And look what happened to Marlin, he found Nemo!

Cry if you want to. Throw stuff and kick things. It doesn't tick anything off the list, but your tension will reduce. I'm all for throwing a tantrum!

Ask for help. Don't be proud.

Forget about social media. It's time consuming, and this is what you need to manage right now.

Things will always come to an end at some point. They have to. Just like a 24-hour flight to the other side of the world. Horrible and boring as it is, you will land at some point, it won't last forever. So stressing about it and getting your pants in a twist will change zilch.

I realise this blog isn't particularly writing related (I hope the GIFs made up for this a bit), but for me and my recent life challenges, it has impacted on my professional life massively. My writing has had to stop, so my commitments to others and my clients could be kept in some way or another. My manuscripts aren't going away; I do miss them and am dying to get stuck in, but right now, it's not going to happen. So what am I going to do?

I'm going to...just keep swimming.

Next month, I'm going to blog about Show, Don't Tell as a special treat to make up for my terrible performance of late!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Keep sharing the love - GIVEAWAY!

Valentine's Day may be over, but you can still share the love with the WORDS WITH HEART anthology.

It features a few YAtopians and all profits go to GIRLS NOT BRIDES.

The stories include:

WORDS WITH HEART is a Valentine’s Day inspired anthology, but that doesn’t mean the stories are all about love. Featuring a mix of genres, this anthology includes:

These authors have all donated their stories so please show them some additional support by following them on their social media.
Find it on Goodreads & Amazon
So we keep sharing the love, YAtopia is giving away two copies of the anthology. To be eligible you need to be prepared to post a honest review on Goodreads and Amazon. To enter, post in the comments on your favourite love story! Two winners will be drawn at random on 28th February. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Reasonable Research

I lead a very adventurous life. No, I’m not an Olympian or a soldier. I’m an actor with a bad case of wanderlust, a willing husband, and a love of writing. I’m incredibly fortunate to have a job that allows me to travel for work all the time. I’ve spent three summers in Alaska, toured the country on a bus, and right now, I’m performing down in Southwest Florida.

Being able to travel has always been a huge source of inspiration for me. My husband and I managed to run away to Thailand for a few weeks in January, and I came back bursting with so many ideas, I now have the rest of my writing year planned out. But what do you do when beautiful scenery meets an epic idea and the details need to be perfect? Research.

For The Tethering series, the research I did was mostly travel times from one place to another, geography and topography of specific locations, including a nice (and slightly brutal) hike to the top of a mountain, and looking through a lot of legends of magical creatures. Perhaps a little extreme with the hiking through the wilderness, but standard research.

For the ballet novella I released last Christmas, I was able to draw upon the years I spent in pointe shoes and leotards as well as my experience as a professional music theatre performer. And the gaps I needed to fill I pulled from a college classmate who is now a professional ballet dancer.

But the new project, the one that complicates it all, is a little more difficult. I needed to learn about plants, and greenhouses, and conservation, and a dozen other things. Not that I want to describe to my readers exactly how to pollinate plants in a closed environment, but it’s little details like that that solidify world building.

I’ve been to atriums, bio domes, and even the greenhouses of Disney’s Epcot, trying to make sure that the smell is right and the light feels right in the book. And I’ve loved all of it. I will never be a botanist or an architect, and I’ll probably never create my own underground irrigation system. But getting to learn the details of creating suitable environments for exotic plants is so cool! And now I really want to build a vertigrower and grow plants without soil just because it’s possible.

Maybe somewhere deep down I already knew that sustainable living within a bio dome was a fascinating subject and that’s why the story came out. Maybe greenhouses are just super cool. But having the opportunity to research a new field or world is one of the greatest things about being an author. Even if it’s just a fantasy, I can create a greenhouse for my characters to live in. And I have a new obsession that may eventually turn edible-hobby to boot!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

When Authors Game

I am not a gamer. Not really. I attempted to game as a teenager. Turned out I was exceptionally skilled at dying. And getting lost. I played Duke Nukem for a bit and even tried Half Life. My gaming days came to an abrupt end when I spent more than hour running around in circles in Half Life utterly lost and totally inept at reading maps.

Not much has changed since I was a teenager except that I've spent a lot of time watching others game. I've always been more interested in the story world and narrative rather than actually gaming. I adore Final Fantasy, I love the world of Morrowind and Skyrim, and have read all the EVE: Online games. But I've always felt like an outsider... until recently.

In the last two months or so I've spent 128 hours playing Borderlands 2, a hilarious cyberpunk post-apocalyptic first-person game that has had me utterly captivated. Now that's 128 hours I didn't spend on writing, or reading, or doing just about anything I usually do. I've abandoned all but my most beloved TV shows in favour of running around the Borderlands killing bandits and saving rainbow unicorns (yes, really). When I think about all the hours I spent gaming instead of writing I want to weep, but then I remember how much fun I've had and it makes it all okay. Also, I've learned a lot about story-telling.

1) Mission-orientated narrative. Every scene in a story should do something: expand character, set the scene, or advance the plot (preferably all three) while also being exciting and keeping the reader engaged. While the mission-stories in gaming tend to be somewhat episodic, the idea of keeping the story goal-orientated has really made me pay more attention to my own scenes and chapters in terms of their function and what they add to the overall arc.

2) Backstory reveal through character interaction. This seems obvious but I know I have a tendency to want to info-dump up front, but through gaming and having my character interact with various other characters and gradually piece together the complete narrative of the world, has made me more aware of how I can better use character interactions to shed light on shadowy pieces of the story puzzle.

3) Subterfuge. Twists really are cool and fun and I need to use more of them. In fact, it was the 'twist' in Borderlands 2 that made me rethink the entire plot of my current WIP! I definitely want to incorporate what I've learned from gaming about leading readers down the 'wrong' path, surprising them with the unexpected, in my own writing.

4) Humour. Really, really dark humour. One of the reasons I loved Borderlands 2 so much was the humour - from the names of certain races clothing plug-ins to the delinquent missions an explosive-happy adolescent had me run - and I want to incorporate more and more of this in my own writing.

I'm now starting to tire of Borderlands 2 and have started looking for a new game to explore (feel free to recommend games in the comments). While this may seem like time away from writing - and it definitely is - it's also proven to be a huge learning curve for me and is teaching me invaluable lessons about different approaches to story-telling, ones I hope to incorporate into my own writing.

Do you game? Do you think gaming has influenced your writing at all?


Sunday, February 14, 2016


Happy Valentine's Day!

I thought we'd play a game today.

No, not a kissing game.

I'm going to grab a book at random and post the first line here.

Will it make you fall in love?

In this game, "fall in love" means you want to read the book.

Ready? Set. Go!

1) I believe in ghosts. (Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline)

2) Mrs. Rachel Lynde lives just where the Avonlea main road dipped downing a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladies' teardrops and traversed by a brook that had its source away back in the woods of the old Cuthbert place; it was reputed to be an intricate, headlong brook in its earlier course through those woods, with dark secrets of pool and cascade; but by the time it reached Lynde's Hollow it was a quiet, well-conducted little stream, for not even a brook could run past Mrs. Rachel Lynde's door without due regard for decency and decorum; it probably was conscious that Mrs. Rachel was sitting at her window, keeping a sharp eye on everything that passed, from brooks and children up, and that if she noticed anything odd or out of place she would never rest until she had ferreted out the whys and wherefores thereof. (Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery)

3) It is the end of a summer afternoon and the sun will be setting soon, our favorite part of the day. We're eating popsicles, cherry ones. (Hug by Jenny Han)

4) At dusk they pour from the sky. (All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr)

5) I used to want to forgive, but now all I want is to be let alone. (Sweet Water by Christina Baker Kline)

6) There is a moment, just before every storm, when the entire world pauses. (Siren's Fury by Mary Weber)

7) I hate First Friday. (Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard)

Want to hear my results? (Or is that cheating?)

1) Great first line. Great book. (Okay, I already read it, so maybe that is cheating.)

2) I dearly love Anne of Green Gables (could you guess by the THREE pictures I included?). Doesn't this lengthy sentence (which lasts the entire first paragraph) make you take notice of how differently we write today? Now, it's "shorter sentences, shorter paragraphs, and shorter chapters" --or, at least that's the norm (and, of course, varies by genre).

3) I did cheat here, because the second sentence is so cute, which is exactly what I've come to expect (and love) about Jenny Han's books.

4) Sounds ominous. Perfect!

5) Sounds tense. Can't wait!

6) Love it. Perfect intro to book 2.

7) Brings up all sorts of questions: What is First Friday? Who is talking? Am I going to hate First Friday, too?

Hope you enjoyed the game!
Happy Valentine's Day!

Of course, I welcome your thoughts (please comment below) on my rather non-romantic Valentine's Day game.

About the Author - Ann M. Noser

Growing up an only child, I learned to entertain myself. During summer vacations, my greatest form of exercise consisted of turning the pages of a book. Now I'm all grown up and full of stories half-written in my head. I have to write them down so I can find out what happens next.

Contact info/how to find me:

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Why subplot?

Hola! It's time for me to stick my oar in and offer my insight into this little corner of the writing world, and today I'd like to talk about subplots and what their purpose is. Let's get right to it:

1) A subplot is not filler.
2) A subplot is used to compliment the main plot, whether it's to add additional obstacles and conflict, add in extra dimensions to your world building, showcase your characters in a more three-dimensional way, or help bring release of tension so the reader can take a breather.

Let's take a look at this closer.

Filler in a book is bad. Your subplot shouldn't be there just to add some extra word count, or because you can't think of anything else to get to your desired book length. So if that is your plan, then back up buddy.

Subplots have so many wonderful purposes. For example, say you have a balls-to-the-walls thriller or action and your character is kicking ass left, right and center. Awesome. But if we don't see another side of him/her then they're gonna be pretty one dimensional. So this is where you can throw a subplot into the mix. Maybe s/he falls in love and it shows his/her softer side (and complicates the main plot as now he has something else to lose).

Okay Fiona, but I don't write action. I'm a romance gal/guy. Same deal. Maybe an ex-boyfriend turns up in the middle of a date, maybe a character loses someone important in their life, loses their job, decides to find a new religion, has a best friend who pressures them to come on a cruise around the world. Whatever it is, use it to showcase their other pressures and personality traits.

Okay, so pretty sure you're with me so far. Are you with me?

Word building - this is not just for fantasy writers. Every book needs a world. They need a physical place in which to exist (duh). So what can your subplot do to help? It can weave in other elements - maybe there's a political uprising that affects your character's ability to navigate in society, maybe a tsunami hits in your romance book washing away (boom boom) the lovers so they need to fight to find each other, maybe you have glorious mountains that your main character explores as a hiding place, maybe, maybe maybe. Go find that big bad world of yours and make it real and vivid so your reader can have a poke around too.

Let readers breathe. High paced actions is awesome, but if that is all they get it will become blah and all the same intensity level. Throw in a change of pace using a subplot and BOOM you have a place to let the reader recover and then a sneaky way to make them gasp when you turn it all up in the head. The romance writer? Well, your characters are all angsty and stuff and loving and stuff, and then booyah - there's a mystery in the village and they're a suspect, or they're promoted and asked to leave the country, or war breaks out. The point is it's not a main plot, it's just something to add a fresh taster of something new.

What I'm getting at here is that it doesn't matter what your genre is, what matters is that you give your reader fully formed characters, diverse situations, additional obstacles and room to breathe in between your major plot points. And this is where subplots are your friend.

Now go find that subplot and hug it tight and call him squishy!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A Surviver's Guide to 2016 Writers Contests

I love contests. One of my prayers for the last five years, after I seriously started pursuing this writing thing, had been to win ACFW's Genesis Contest. ACFW is the American Christian Fictions Writers organization and winning or even finaling in their Genesis Contest for unpublished authors in one of the biggest honors in the Inspirational writing world. I know it's silly to want to stay unpublished/uncontracted to win a writing contest—after all, publication is the REAL goal, right?—but that win was still my prayer. 

And last year, in 2015, I won the YA category. Which sparked my willingness to change focus in my career and look toward indie publishing.

Now the 2016 contest season is here. Among my favorites are Genesis and the Rosemary. So it's time to polish up those opening pages!

I always get excited about the submission part. I'm eager to get feedback. And then, three or four months later, the results are in. The scoresheets are returned. And as I drown my emotions in a pint of Ben & Jerry's Chubby Hubby, I ask myself, "Why do I subject myself to this again and again and again?!?!?"

My scores may come back respectable. 96. 88. 92. 84. But somewhere in there, I'll get a 55. A 62. One lousy score out of a half dozen great scores, and that one failing mark leaves me questioning everything I thought I knew about writing and, more importantly, about my ability and my future as an author.

Despite positive feedback from the majority of the judges, that one low score is the only I fixate on. For some reason, I believe that judge is the only one being honest. That judge is the only one able to see that I am a failure as a writer. That judge is the only one I should listen to.

A big. Fat. Lie.

I'm guessing I'm not the only contest-junkie who fixates on the negative instead of the positive, even if the positive outweighs the negative. And even though I still haven't conquered that voice claiming the negative is the real truth, I have developed a survival guide to help me yell back at that voice.

1: Judges are Human

Because judges are human, they are subjective in their critique. Sometimes even in areas like mechanics their scores can be subjective. They may decide that two difficult-to-diagnose comma errors in twenty pages is grounds for a low, definitely-not-ready-for-editor-eyes score; while another judge may mark off much less because they believe the comma errors to be extremely minor. 

And in the bigger areas? Personal preference can play a huge role. Maybe the judge prefers first person POV over third person and has difficulty connecting to characters in a third person POV. Or something in the story bugs them in a way that clouds their positive-vibes and prompts lower scores. Or maybe the judge is struggling with frustration and bitterness about all the rules and doors slamming in their own face on this publishing journey, so they feel a little harsher toward the world without realizing it. 

If one random judge out of three or five or eight claims the story lacks conflict, emotional depth, deep story-telling techniques, while every other judge praises you in those areas, don't rent head-space to that negative judge! Scan the low-scoring, negative judge's comments, and hide them in the deep dark, forgetful place in your mind. A place where, if other, less-harsh judges point out similar weaknesses, you'll know those judges' suggestions need consideration. But don't waste energy—or delicious Ben & Jerry's ice cream—obsessing over one judge's scores.

2: Lean On Your Critique Partners (Not Ben or Jerry)

This advice goes along with the previous. When you get that super, insanely negative scoresheet, share the comments with someone you trust—a critique partner or an editor you've worked with. Someone who you trust to be honest, yet gentle. Someone who isn't emotionally invested in the manuscript. Someone who knows the craft. This person can talk you off the ledge—or out of the Ben & Jerry's carton. They can weed through those comments that to you sound like, "Your writing sucks! You're a hack! No one will ever want to publish this horrible, sticking, mess!" and see the compliments, the positives, and the valid suggestions. 

More than once, my critique partners have helped me find the positives in what sounded like haters-gonna-hate feedback and provided suggestions on how to implement valid points. I can see now that the negative feedback has made my writing better, but I needed the assistance of people I trusted to point out where and how.

3: Remember to Thank Your Judges!

Most contests will allow you to email your judges, through your category coordinator, a thank you. Please, please, email your thanks. I'm not saying this because it's polite or good form—which it is—but also because judging is anonymous for both the judges AND the entrants. The judges don't get a name attached to an entry. But what happens when the judge reads a good one? An entry they love? An entry that leaves them yelling at their computer screen, "I NEED MORE!"? 

Sending a thank you email allows the judge to attach an author to that jaw-dropping, heart-stopping, eye-popping entry that they want to finish. Now the judge can stalk—er, I mean follow—the author on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and everywhere authors hang out. When that entry gets picked up by a publisher and the publisher changes the title, the judge will finally have an opportunity to finish the story. Closure, it's all about closure.

Even after winning Genesis the rejections and negative feedback crawls inside my brain and puts down roots. I don't think that will ever change. Even after I'm published I'll face negative reviews from readers who hate something about my books. But I've got a plan and a circle of supporters who will help me through the negatives. And with their help and contest feedback, my writing will get better and better.

Any other advice for contest survival?