Thursday, April 28, 2011

Is it Chick Lit? Or Romantic Comedy?

First of all, I loved, loved, loved Erynn's post this week about the horrors of public speaking. That is also something I wasn't exactly thinking about when I was writing my first manuscript.

Everyone who knows me, even a little bit, knows that I'm not exactly shy in the least. In fact, I've been accused more than once of a being a "chatty Cathy." My seventh grade English teacher even took it a gruesome step further, once declaring that I had "diarrhea of the mouth." Ick. But as much as I love to talk, there's still always been something about getting in front of a big crowd of people (even if it was just making an announcement in church) that downright terrified me.

So naturally, when it came time to promote my book, I found myself very, very nervous whenever I knew I'd be talking in front of a crowd. I couldn't eat beforehand, and I desperately needed coffee to ward off that sick feeling in my stomach. But most of the time, that pre-speaking caramel macchiato only made it worse (hello acid reflux).

Strangely enough, though, a funny thing always happened after I was introduced and actually started speaking into that microphone—suddenly, my nerves went away. It was all the anticipation, the knowing that I was going to speak in front of a crowd, that ultimately freaked me out.

I spoke at a writer's event one evening and like a good author, I had this whole elaborate thing written down about market trends and what people should keep in mind if they're hoping to get published, only to ditch the entire thing once I reached the podium. For whatever reason, it simply didn't feel right (not exactly the time to be changing your mind, but I went for it anyway), so I ended up telling my story about my crazy road to becoming a journalist and author instead. And it was a big hit...

So I guess the lesson there (just like with your writing) is to always go with your gut. Funny enough, that's the perfect segue into what I was actually going to talk about today. A loyal Scribble Chicks reader e-mailed me this week and asked if there was a difference between chick lit and what I call my work...namely, a romantic comedy in book form.

Well, as promised, here's my secret, Tonya—not really.

Like all good things, the term "chick lit" had a pretty great run before everyone deemed it "so yesterday." I guess like anything else, people had their fill of pink books with shoe-obsessed protagonists. And while I'll always maintain that happy endings with smart female protagonists will never go out of style (hello Jane Austen), I quickly realized that when my books released that I needed to intentionally create a little distance between them and the word "chick lit."

For whatever reason, when your book was classified as such, people had a hard time thinking of it as anything but a sugary trifle, the proverbial "beach read." Of course, I have no problem with either because sometimes, you just want to freely enjoy your reading without thinking too much. But since I'd put so much thought into the characters, the conflict, the storyline for my novels, I didn't want to market my work as "chick lit" when it had so many negative connotations.

So what could I call my work that would have more mass material? Suddenly, I started thinking about all those romantic comedies that I review on a regular basis. For a good long while, there had been so many that fell way short of anything that I'd watch over and over again. The storylines were so tired. The dialogue so banal. And then it clicked. What I was really writing is a romantic comedy that I happened to enjoy—a rom-com with a little food for thought.

Hmmm, I seemed to be on to something there.

After that lightbulb moment, I officially stopped calling my work "chick lit" and referred to it as romantic comedy instead because really, it was just that. There was plenty of romance but it was funny to boot (or at least I thought so). But at the end of the day, it wasn't just that either. I think the best romantic comedies say a little something more, too.

In Harry Met Sally we ultimately learn that friendship is integral to any successful relationship and that sex is shallow without actual living, breathing commitment. In Runaway Bride, we learn that we have to figure out who we really are, not merely adopt the likes and dislikes of whoever we're dating because it's easier that way. And in Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers, I hoped to leave readers with the message that we should never settle—whether it's in our career dreams, our friendships, or even more importantly, with whom we choose to spend the rest of our lives with.

I guess what I'm saying is, whenever you're thinking about what you're writing, don't be afraid to think outside the marketing box, too. With so many novels clamoring for people's attention these days, it's crucial to make sure your work stands apart. But instead of ditching the genre you love writing in just because it's considered passé, why not reimagine it instead?

After all, if you try and tailor what you love writing to whatever's trendy at the moment, it may not be the impression you really want to make anyway. Plus, there's a good chance it'll be out of fashion before it even hits the shelf. A better track is to write what you love and give it your very best, and I believe there will always be someone who'll want to read. You just may have to get clever with what you actually call it...

Monday, April 25, 2011

A fate worse than death

Happy Easter, everyone!! I hope you guys had a great weekend!

This Friday, I'll be speaking at a modesty fashion show in St. Louis and so needless to say, I've been doing some prep work, writing down my bullet points for the talk, figuring out what I'm going to wear (I think it's a valid concern considering it's a FASHION show), and doing a little bit of um, worrying.

Because you know what they say. More people fear public speaking than they fear death.

Which never sounded quite right to me, but oh well.

Actually, I'm very much looking forward to it. It's going to be primarily teen girls there and I love, love, LOVE talking to teen girls.

However, I've got to tell you that when I first decided I wanted to try and be a writer, I never in my life thought that the title of Public Speaker went with that. I like writing. I love to hole up in my office, sit at my desk with a hot cup of coffee next to me - and maybe a few chocolates - and spend the day writing away.

But speaking in front of large groups of people? Kind of intimidating.

This isn't the first time I've done a talk and my prayer is that it won't be my last. Writing, speaking - it's all connected by communication and the one thing I want to communicate is that Christ loves you.

Whether that's with my laptop or with a microphone.

How about you? Are you ready for the double duty as a writer and a speaker?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Easter bunnies, time management, and all that jazz...

This just made me laugh, especially after Erynn's true-confessions-mommy-post on Monday. How true is this? Sort of like with Santa Clause ;)

But aren't you glad we get to play a part? Even amidst the chaos, the tissues, the sippy cups, the throw-up-on-the-side-of-the-Arkansas-mountain (yes, read my blog on my personal blog from Tuesday and the tears and mismatched socks and spit-up stains and lost stuffed animals and the watching of Lilo and Stitch 72 times in one weekend...we are parents. We are needed. We are even better than Santa and the Easter Bunny :)

And hey, even if you don't have kids, you can relate to this, because everyone needs a little outsourcing help. If the Easter Bunny can't do it alone, how can we?? ;)

So think. Is there anything you can do today to allow more time to your writing? Can you delegate a chore or task or responsibility to another willing soul? Carve out more time for what you're supposed to be doing for you?

I've had SO many people tell me they feel any time the church asks them to do something, or anytime there is a good cause at stake, they think they HAVE to say yes - even if they truly don't have time, or even if they don't feel it's right for them. Because who can say no to a women's minister or church pastor or sundayschool teacher in need?

Here's the thing - if you take on a task that God hasn't intended for you, you're not only making yourself miserable but you are also robbing the intended person of that blessing. So think twice. I'm not saying never volunteer again! But pray about your time and your responsibilities and commit it to God. That way, whether you're a mommy at home grooving to a Disney movie and heating up hot dogs, or you're a full time employee struggling to find time to write, or you're a stay at home writer overwhelmed with people who think you have an abundance of free time, you can know that your time is in God's hands and you'll know when to say yes and when to say NO.

And maybe you can sneak some Easter candy in the meantime! Because outsourcing has perks... ;)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Yodeling Veterinarians and Such


It is 10:30ish at night and this is the first chance I've had to write my Monday post for Scribble Chicks. I've told my son "NO" roughly 372 times as he tried to pull the clock, the Netflix player, the DVD player and the picture frame off of our entertainment stand. I've had a Veggie Tales song stuck in my head most of the day. I've held his hands as he pretended to walk around the room, chased him down as he tried to make a break for the dog's food dish while crawling and gotten a dozen sloppy kisses.

It's been a good day. :)

All that to say, not a lot of writing or writing-related things happened here today. We practiced saying "Mama" and "ball". We played with his Duplos firetruck and I took pictures as he ate his first graham cracker.

Not a lot happened, but a lot happened at the same time.

When I first decided I wanted to be a writer, I started off writing suspense. I thought that was what I wanted to write, that it would be my genre of choice. So I went to writing conferences, I talked to editors. Want to know what they told me when they found out I was 20 years-old trying to write a suspense story about 30 year-olds?

They told me there were plenty of 30 year-olds who could write a novel about 30 year-olds. And there were plenty of people older than 30 who could write a novel about 30 year-olds.

There weren't, however, a lot of 20 year-old writers. And especially not who were writing about people their own ages doing things that they did on a normal basis.

I started thinking about that. And I was sitting in a friend's wedding when I suddenly got a great idea, about a girl my own age who would have experiences like I had and would be involved in a college/singles' group like I was.

And Miss Match was born.

So maybe it's my new hobby to make as many silly faces in a ten minute time frame as I can. Maybe I'm spending my time cleaning up sippy cup dribbles, wiping a snotty nose and trying to quiet an overtired baby to sleep instead of writing.

But tomorrow, there will be a nap time. And I'll get to write. And instead of letting my fictional work take over my real life, and wishing I was older/prettier/more exciting/more suspenseful/more whatever, maybe I'll do the opposite and let my life overflow into my writing.

Because you know what they say. You should write what you know.

He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Title Time

Let's talk titles today! I know we have in the past, but I'm excited because I just got my official title for my new Love Inspired novel releasing April 2012, and it's...drumroll please... HER FAMILY WISH. It's about a fiesty female photographer who is scarred (inwardly and outwardly) and longs for a family of her own, and a hunky, yet overprotective single father/junior-high-school-principal who is struggling with his 12 year old daughter and healing from the wounds of his ex-wife. Titles are always fun because it makes the contracted book that is coming out a YEAR in the future seem much more real. :) Fellow Scribble Chicks or loyal published readers, do you get to pick your titles with your publishers? Do you submit suggestions and hope they choose one? Or is it typically left to the marketing department at your publishing house? With Love Inspired, we are required to submit multiple titles that the publishing team can choose from or brainstorm off of. HER FAMILY WISH was actually on my list of suggestions that they liked. :) In regards to my Barbour YA novel coming out January 2012, they kept the title I submitted (YAY! Because I love it!) Addison Blakely: Confessions of a PK. As for our pre-published loyal readers, did this surprise you to discover about titles? Did you assume the author had all the say? How do you choose a title for your WIP? Do you tend to get more metaphorical or literal with your titles? Share with us!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

How to Handle Dream Smashers

"Whoah. Someone's been hitting the candy a little too hard."
- One of my middle-school students, after eyeing my pregnant belly

I'm sixteen weeks pregnant and I've only gained four pounds (thank you, morning sickness). Tell me, then, why I look like I've swallowed a small house. This phenomenon recently led to the above comment... which led me to laugh so hard I thought I would upchuck the said small house.

In the eyes of my student, I'd simply increased my calories. That is what leads to getting fat, right?

Wouldn't life be wonderful if the answer to everything was so black and white?

But life isn't black and white. There is always something more to someone's circumstance than can be immediately seen. Life is like a window pane -- you can look through someone else's glass, but you'll never get all the way inside. You'll never get the whole picture.

That's why other people make seemingly insensitive comments about your writing. When they ask why you don't have a book contract yet, it's probably because they've never been through the effort to build an audience, draw an editor's attention, and survive at least three editorial meetings at a publishing house. To them, you wrote a book -- you're pregnant with purpose -- your belly has swollen.

So where's the baby?

Babies take time. Just like dreams. So next time someone misunderstands your dream, feel free to pull back the curtain -- just a little -- and share your heart.

Or you could just let others accuse you of hitting the candy a little too hard... It's up to you.

B.J. Hamrick writes for teens and for you at Real Teen Faith.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Writing By Your Own Watch

First off, a quick apology for my virtual disappearing act as of late. I actually just got back from the vacation I'd been dreaming about since my teenage years. The hubs and I went on a little Spring getaway to London, Paris and Rome, and now, four days after our return, I think the jet lag is finally wearing off. Whew!

I've been to London twice before and absolutely loved it, but Paris and Rome were always tops on my proverbial bucket list. Naturally, the trouble with something you've idealized for so long is that it often doesn't met your lofty expectations. But even as sky-high as my hopes were, I can say that certainly wasn't the case for how much I ended up loving the real Paris and Rome. It was even better than the one in my head that was cobbled together from various rom-coms and travel books I've enjoyed over the years.

Before I left DFW and ventured across the pond, I prayed that I'd get re-inspired while I was away. For reasons I couldn't quite pinpoint, I'd been in a bit of a funk recently and not really moving forward on my novel. Sure, I'd written a few lines I liked, fleshed out a couple of intriguing characters—and then nothing. Yeah, N-O-T-H-I-N-G...a word that's not exactly filled with promise.

But now that I'm back, I'm please to report that the time away from the familiar really did me good. Not only do I feel full of fresh inspiration for my project (with a few new tweaks to boot), but I'm practically chomping at the bit to get it all down. Now to finish those pesky work deadlines first, so I can officially get going...

And while I was walking down the cobblestone streets a stone's throw from Rome's famed Spanish steps, I even got an idea for what I'd write about this week on Scribble Chicks, namely writing by your own watch.

In the publishing world, or really any industry where creative output is the order of the day, there's a pretty high premium on producing consistently. And since my last novel released just shy of three years ago, I've been asked on several occasions by well-meaning writer friends and thoughtful people who've enjoyed my last books when the next one is hitting store shelves.

Now trust me, it's a great problem to know, people being interested in what you're up to. But sometimes as a writer, it can also make you play the dreaded comparison game and ask questions like "Why don't I have my third book out yet like so and so does?" Or you end up feeling guilty for not hurrying things along because in our here today, gone tomorrow A-D-D culture you worry that people will forget that you exist once you finally get around to having a new novel out.

But one day, in the midst of one of my internal freak-outs about when my next book would finally be ready for press, something so obvious but so encouraging occurred to me: Ultimately, we have to write by our own watch. In the same way that Abba's wristwatch has a tick-tock all its own when it comes to how our life's big plans play out in reality, our writing's timing may be different than someone else's, too. After all, merely being prolific is quite overrated if the quality simply isn't there—or if the story isn't complete. And for everyone, the process looks a little different.

So all that to say, I'm forging forward with a new perspective. I'm writing by my own watch. Do I have a goal in mind of when I'd like to submit the proposal for my latest work? Absolutely. But instead of comparing myself with what so and so is up to, I'm focusing on making my manuscript the best it can be, however long that takes...

So how about you? Do you find it difficult to write by your own watch and often compare your progress to someone else's? How do you combat those feelings and make progress in the meantime? Trust me, I'm all ears...even with a new outlook.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

How do you know?

A reader recently emailed me and asked: How do you know when you've fallen into writing a story that is predictable or cliche? And how can you avoid that?

Good question! In a world of forbidden cliches, this one can be tricky.

See, I just used a cliche there and didn't even realize until I closed the sentence! ha!

Avoiding cliche phrases can be hard enough, but its often even harder to avoid cliche or predictable IDEAS. I think the main thing to remember is to keep it fresh, and keep it true to you and your voice. If you do that, you won't be repeating a worn-out idea.

If you think about it, romance novels all follow the same pattern or formula. Boy meets girl or re-connects with girl. Boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl again, boy and girl live happily ever after. Of course there are variations, such as maybe the girl loses the boy, or maybe the boy only gets the girl once at the end, instead of twice in a book, etc. But the premise is the same. Yet how many THOUSANDS or more romance novels exist today that would be considered fresh, enjoyable, unpredictable reads?

I've heard it said before that everything has been done. There truly is no completely unique idea anymore for novels. I find it hard to believe in one regard, but in another, it does make sense and is probably true. The reason it doesn't seem this way in the industry is because each author has her/his own unique viewpoint, outlook, perspective, and voice keeping their idea and their story fresh. And you do too! :)

I think if you've started writing a novel that seems to you to be cliche or predictable, then it probably is. So if you recognize that, change it! Add a twist. If its suspense, kill off the person that seems the obvious culprit. If it's a romance, create a love triangle. Add some surprising element of backstory that deepens the plot and gives the character new motivation or conflict. Take time to plot and see where your story is lacking. Then brainstorm a cure.

If anyone has any specific ideas/plots they are concernred about and feel comfortable sharing them, feel free to do so in the comments section to this post. I'll try to answer each one as best as I can. :)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What if I Haven't Published Anything Yet?

Your dreams are as big as the sky. Your book. In print.

One roadblock.

Publishers are asking where you’ve been published previously. But how do I get published when you keep sending me rejection letters? you wonder. Is this a cruel secret sorority where I have to find the location of my own hazing?

The good news is that getting published is not as hard as it sounds. You don’t have to start with a book – in fact, you probably shouldn’t. And even if have a favorite national magazine you’ve always dreamed of submitting to, I recommend you start even smaller than that.

Take a look at your local newspaper if you live in a small town. Chances are, reporters are stretched for time and ideas. Cover a sporting or social event from the perspective of a local citizen. Or do a profile of an outstanding person in the community (think unsung hero). Be willing to do all this for free if necessary.

Once you’ve published in a smaller facet, you have one foot in the proverbial publishing door. You can add more local publications to your list of credits while also targeting national or international publications.

This process is how I drew the attention of my agent. Since I looked young, the agent thought I was 17 when I first approached her at a conference. She told me she didn’t take me seriously until I noted that I’d been published over 50 times in various local and international publications. Three days and one book proposal later she offered me a contract.

If all of this seems unnecessary to you, think about it from the publisher’s or agent’s perspective. You are proving two things to them by building your writing credits:

1) Your writing doesn’t stink.
2) You are building an audience through frequently publishing articles.

Does this make sense? Too much information? Too little? I’d love to hear your feedback because we’re here to help you!

B.J. Hamrick writes for you and for teens at Real Teen Faith.