Monday, February 28, 2011

Deleted Scenes and Alternative Endings

Hi. I’m Sam and I’m a Special Feature Junkie.

It all started back when DVD players were twice as thick and ten times more expensive. I bought the Matrix Special Edition DVD Boxed Set and was promptly doomed.

I’ll never forget my first glimpse of The White Rabbit. It was a special feature that allowed you to sneak a peek at the special effects of selected scenes when a white rabbit icon appeared. Keanu Reeves. Trench coat. Wire harness. Awesome.

Since then, I’ve gotten my fix via The Princess Bride’s “As You Wish” Documentary, The Lord of the Ring’s “Abandoned Concept: Aragorn Battles Sauron” and Harry Potter’s “Conversations with the Cast.” The list goes on.

I’m the same way with books – which is why I was thrilled when I won the code to EVENFALL author, Liz Michalski’s hidden pages on her website through a contest over at Petit Fours and Hot Tamales. What can I say? I’m on a lucky streak.

I’d love to know how you feel about book “bonus features.” As a reader, does it spoil the magic if you discover what the Magician has under his sleeve or does it make you appreciate the illusion more? As a writer, do you enjoy sharing your secrets with the world or would you rather keep them close to your chest?

p.s. And speaking of bonus features, as promised, here are more photos from my Singapore trip. (For those of you who are snowed in, I hope this helps thaw you out :D )

Singapore Friday Field Trip from Sam Yambao on Vimeo.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday Field Trip: Greetings from Singapore!

Hi, Campers! Glad you could make it to our field trip today! I'm in Singapore for a quick getaway and I'm taking you with me. Follow the red umbrella to see some initial glimpses of this awesome place.

I'll post more photos when I get back from the trip next week. See you then! :)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Six Writing Tips on a Tube of Toothpaste

Everything I know about writing a novel, I’ve learned from Crest Extra Whitening Toothpaste. What? You don’t believe me? Ow. That hurts. Okay, okay. I’ll prove it. Give me a sec while I run to the bathroom and grab a tube…

I’m back. Ta-dah! Come closer and see for yourself.

1.) Brush teeth thoroughly after meals at least twice a day or as directed by a dentist. Supervise children’s brushing until good habits are established.

"The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair." Mary Heaton Vorse

If I waited for the perfect mood or lightning bolt of inspiration to strike before I sat down and wrote, I would never have finished Before Ever After, or perhaps even started.

A huge part of writing the book was just about showing up, sitting down, and putting one word in front of another. It was important for me to follow a schedule and be as disciplined about it as though I were clocking in at an office. Whether I came up with five words or five hundred, it was still more than what I had the day before.

2.) For best results, squeeze tube from the bottom and flatten as you go up.

"The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense." Tom Clancy

One of the things I like about writing is the freedom to create worlds within the pages of the book – but while these worlds spring from our imagination, it must come alive in someone else’s. Twists and turns in the story are great, but if it leaves readers going back and forth between pages to understand what’s going on, then the writer has failed. Doing the Cha Cha is fun – but not when you are reading.

Writing with the end in mind is essential – each sentence you put down must take you closer to that goal. If it doesn’t, take it out.

3.) Questions? 1-800-699-3974

"Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go." E. L. Doctorow

The common advice is to write what you know. I believe, however, that that shouldn’t stop us from exploring what we don’t. There are treasure troves of information to be found out there and experts who are more than willing to share their knowledge if you just ask them. For me, half the fun of writing is in discovering something new.

4.) Whitens teeth by gently polishing away surface stains. Leaves teeth feeling slick and smooth.

"The great thing about revision is that it's your opportunity to fake being brilliant." Will Shetterly

Polish or die. To fall in love with your first draft is to guarantee doom. The best thing to do with a first draft is to stuff it in a box and forget about it. Dig it up only when the rush of typing “the end” has faded, then don’t forget to lay newspapers on the floor. Adverbs and adjectives tend to bleed a lot when you kill them.

5.) Net wt 8.0z (226g)

It helps to be aware of the word count guidelines for your genre BEFORE you write your book. I didn’t, and wound up with a first draft that was 120,000 words long. The draft I queried with was trimmed to 86,000 words. The final book’s word count is 92,000. I’m all for letting the words flow, but keeping in mind the industry standard will be a big help in making sure that your story is progressing at the right pace.

6.) Do not swallow.

Um, yeah, because that would hurt.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Friday Field Trip: Time Travel and Blog Hops

Hey, campers! We’re ditching the van today and taking the…wait for it…TARDIS! The good Doctor let me borrow his time traveling police box when I told him that we had a lot of stops on our itinerary and that it was simply impossible to get to all of them using the VW.

Why so many stops? Well, it’s because Kelly Hashway just handed me my very first blog award - The Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award - which comes with a very sweet treat: A BLOG HOP!

Okay, you can stop licking the screen now.

Here's how the award goes:

1. Thank and link back to the person that gave this award. (Thanks, Kelly!)

2. Share 4 guilty pleasures that you have.

3. Pass the award along to 6 other sweet blogs.

Guilty Pleasures:

1. American Idol - My journey to publication made me appreciate this show more. The auditions remind me so much of querying. A dream rides on that one performance in the same way it rests on the shoulders of a query letter. (Thank God there’s no group performance week in publishing…)

2. Ube ice cream – if you don’t know what this is, you’re missing out.

3. My mom’s bread pudding – she makes it out of PANETTONE. Enough said.

4. Gerard Butler’s abs in 300

Six Sweet Blogs:

1. Impudent Hatchlings: Ramblings of urban fantasy author Hillary Jacques

2. C.M. Villani: Inside the heart of a storyteller

3. Scrollwork: Mid-life quirkyisms from a tropical transplant to California's Central Valley

4. O.C. Mom in Manila: It’s a dirty job but someone’s got to do the disinfecting

5. The Insatiable Pillowbook of Cathy Kozak: A peek into the insatiable pages of one woman's pillowbook

6. Wonderings, Wanderings and Writing by Jennifer Walkup

Are you ready, campers? The TARDIS awaits. (Don't worry. We'll fit. It's much bigger on the inside.) As The Doctor says, allons-y!

Oh, and for the record, Doctor Who was the show that inspired me and kept me sane while writing the book. Campy Brit fun at its best!

Thanks again to Kelly Hashway and The Doctor for today’s field trip!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Welcome SheWrites Blog Hoppers!

Welcome, guys! Glad you stopped by. Feel free to look around. *Passes around cupcakes*

Coffee and Q&A with my Agent PART 2

Hi, all! As promised, my wonderful agent, Stephanie Kip Rostan, is back on the blog to answer the second batch of questions we've drawn from the hat. Grab a seat guys and I'll make the coffee. :D

Q: I am 3/4 of the way through the first draft of my first novel and a small local agency has shown interest in representing me when the novel is complete. This agency has a quiet track record. My question is this: with greater faith in my work than I, a friend is suggesting I submit to some higher profile agencies. Comments?

SKR: Without knowing anything about the novel, I can’t really say what its potential is for a larger agency. But I would offer two comments: first, why not try? If you query other agents and don’t find what you’re looking for, you will know that the smaller agency is your best bet. Yes, being rejected or ignored are not great experiences for anyone (and agents don’t really enjoy rejecting people, nor do they usually intentionally ignore authors), but publishing is a tough business and it’s important to take the risk of letting others read your work – after all, when it’s published, that’s what you want to happen! And second, a smaller agency can become a lot bigger with one great client – more important than their track record is how well they know the business and the editors in it. If they are good at those things and have a passion for your work, there’s no reason they couldn’t make a great sale for you.

Q: I have a memoir manuscript about the stillbirth of my son 7 years ago. I wrote it in part because there was little on the market at the time my son died that was from a parent's perspective and I desperately needed to know how other families survived unbearable loss. I think the manuscript is good and I have made the rounds of agents with some nice comments but no bites. I know how to market and sell this book and I know that people in the stillbirth community will buy it. My question is: When do I give up on the agent search and either go to a small publisher, or self publish? (At least two agents have recommended going with a small publisher, but I would prefer to be agented!)

SKR: Sometimes publishers or agents turn down worthy projects not because there is no audience for them, but because they perceive the audience at any given time to be small. There may not be a lot of people (relatively speaking) at any one time experiencing what you experienced. Large publishers need to be able to reach a certain sales volume to offset the cost of their operations. So a smaller publisher that knows how to reach a specific audience and will support a book’s steady but not enormous sales year after year could be a good choice for you. Alternatively, with a topic like this one, I think a lot of your audience will be online searching for information, so self-publishing an edition that is available only online could satisfy the need – one of the big reasons to work with a larger publisher is to get store distribution. If you end up selling a lot of copies of a self-published edition, a larger publisher may be interested in taking the book on then (and an agent could help negotiate that). But I think getting your story out there will be helping people whether you have an agent and a large publisher or not.

Q: Writers are always being told to "write the next book" while we're querying and subbing manuscripts, but what should the "next book" be? Do you recommend writing something similar to what a writer's already written, or trying something new?

SKR: I don’t think there’s any one answer to this question – it depends what you are writing now and what you want to write. There is a benefit in being able to offer a follow-up idea or even a few chapters of a follow-up manuscript to an interested agent (and an interested publisher), so it makes sense to me that you would work on something in the same vein. This could help you get a two-book deal. On the other hand, if you have a strong desire to write in two genres (or more), you may want to use some of your waiting time to develop a second possible path for your writing. Sometimes one area is easier to break into than another. I know editors and agents say this all the time and it gets annoying but you should write what you are most excited about writing. This usually comes out on the page and makes for a better book. Your question isn’t really about trends but there were several others Sam received that were and it is somewhat relevant here, so I’ll just give my two cents on that, too: it is and always has been very difficult for authors to time the market – it generally takes long enough to write a book that things will change by the time you’ve written to the latest trend. And of course, trends usually start with someone who wrote something out of the ordinary!

Q: Are you a "no response means no" agent or do you eventually respond to all submitted manuscripts?

SKR: I try to respond eventually to all submitted manuscripts. But I’m not perfect and I do get overwhelmed and behind on reading. Sometimes I have long stretches where I just don’t have time to take on any new clients, but if I see good queries during that time I will still request material and try to get to it. It is totally fine to follow up by email once a month on a complete manuscript. Likewise, if you sign with another agent or agree to an exclusive or decide to self-publish or just for any reason want to withdraw the manuscript, it is important to let me (or any other agent) know. Otherwise you will be making someone else wait longer than they have to for a response, as I will waste time reading something that is no longer available.

Hope you found Steph's answers helpful, campers. Stay tuned for her next visit. In the meantime, I hope to see you on Friday for our next field trip! (Oh, and you might want to bring a space suit and some snacks. The trip will be "out of this world.")

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Literary Agent Q & A Part 2

Hey, campers! My awesome agent, Stephanie Kip Rostan, is stopping by the blog on Thursday to answer the second batch of questions we've drawn from the hat. See you then!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Meet Max and Shelley

“Chicken and eggs were Shelley’s next hurdles to a semblance of normalcy. In her case, it was the egg that came first. She had banished eggs from her kitchen when Max was killed. It was how she had managed to survive Sundays without him.

Sunday mornings had once been her favorite time of the week. It was only then that not waking up in Max’s arms made her smile. The sight of his empty pillow meant one glorious thing: Paris was bubbling in the oven.

Shelley had fallen in love with Max’s baked eggs and cheese almost as soon as she had fallen in love with Max himself. They were in Paris when he first made the dish for her and the tour group she had hastily joined. Since then each forkful tasted like that morning—warm, buttery, and bursting with full-fat promise. But Max was gone, and now Sundays coated her mouth with ash and gritty bits of grief.”*

- p.8, Before Ever After

Happy Valentine’s Day, campers. However cliché or cheesy we may think the day is, it’s still a good reminder to hug our loved ones a little tighter - for no reason other than that they’re there.

*Copyright © 2011 by Samantha Sotto-Yambao

Saturday, February 12, 2011

And The Winner is...

Me! I got a neat surprise when I checked the comments section of yesterday's post - I actually WON something - a really, really, really cool something! If you want to find out what the contest was and see the prize I got, check out OPERATION AWESOME. (And while you're there, don't forget to watch the video. It's hilarious!) Happy weekend, everyone! See you Monday!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday Field Trip: Finding Awe

“The grass was still wet with dew when they emerged from the Petit Trianon. Dawn was Antoine’s favorite time of day and the sprawling grounds of Versailles did it justice. The dim light veiled the garden’s colors, but Antoine could already smell the flowers flitting in the air along with the gurgle of distant fountains. Yellow. Pink. Peach. Everything was still so new, he thought. It was easier to be happy.”*

This is from another scene in Before Ever After. It takes place at the Palace of Versailles just outside Paris. The name Versailles is said to have come from the Latin word versare which means to “to turn over and over.” In medieval times, this term was used to refer to plowed lands that needed to be “turned over” in preparation for the next planting season.

In 1788, there was a proposal to change the palace’s name to Berceau-de-la-Liberté (Cradle of Liberty). I’m glad they didn’t. Versailles, I believe, does exactly what its name suggests: It turns you over and reveals something new.

I first visited the palace with my family when I was sixteen. Back then, like most sixteen year olds, it took a lot to impress me. A passing glance and disinterested mumble were the most I would bestow upon anything that wasn’t on MTV (Yes, young readers, the myths are true. MTV has been around for a while and it was actually a channel for – wait for it – music videos * gasp * and not Jersey Shore.) Versailles, however, was the exception. It taught me the meaning of awe – which I later learned was a rather tricky thing. Awe was addicting.

Feeding my addiction led me to my second visit to Versailles. I was in my early twenties then with a backpack filled with dirty clothes, a guidebook, and a crumpled Eurail pass. I went back hoping to recapture the way I felt the first time I wandered through Versailles’ sprawling grounds. Instead, something very different struck me. I felt small. Lost. I was twenty-two with a stale baguette in my bag that was going to serve as two of the day’s three meals. I was twenty-two and I had no idea where I wanted to go. Versailles had turned me over again.

The third time I visited Versailles was on my honeymoon. I remember sitting on the grass eating crackers and cheese that looked better than it tasted. I also remember no longer feeling lost or overly impressed – at least not by the palace. I was older and found awe in smaller things: the ring on my finger, two toothbrushes in the sink, a hand to hold for the rest of my life.

I’m in my late thirties now and I’m still addicted to awe. Fortunately, it’s gotten easier to find. It giggles and laughs and runs around my home on two pairs of little feet.

Still, Versailles will forever be close to my heart. I discovered awe there and I hope you will find some there too. Let’s go! Leave your things on the bus and follow the red umbrella!

*Copyright © 2011 by Samantha Sotto-Yambao

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Slow Me Down

*Runs in* Guys, you have to listen to this. My friend, C.M. Villani just shared this great song on her blog. It just KILLED me. I love it! It's just perfect for a scene in Book 2 that I'm writing today. Enjoy! *Runs out*

Monday, February 7, 2011

Is Today Your ONE DAY?

“That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But, it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.”
– Charles Dickens, Great Expectations.

I read a wonderful book not too long ago called One Day by David Nicholls. One Day is the story of Emma and Dexter who meet for the fist time on the night of their college graduation. Choice and circumstance force them to go their separate ways the day after they meet. Readers follow the trajectory their lives take from that fateful moment to where Emma and Dexter find themselves on that one day twenty years later.

After recovering from the hangover that all good/funny/heartrending stories leave me with, I realized that Nicholls’ book left me with something else. It made me think about my own paper chain of days and consider if I had already had my own “one day,” that one moment where the course of my life was altered forever.

Having more than thirteen thousand days to choose from made that somewhat difficult. Was it the day I was born? Was it the day I got married? Was it the day I sold my car, bought a plane ticket to Europe and stuffed my backpack with a borrowed copy of “Frommer’s Europe on $50 a day?” It seemed like an impossible choice. To make such a decision would mean deeming one day more important than another. Did my life change more the first time I gave birth than the second?

I also wondered if such a day had to be memorable. Might it not be a day filled with tiny nothings? Did spilling my coffee on my shirt yesterday and leaving ten minutes later than usual save my life? Did flossing two seconds faster last night doom me?

In the end, I found that as objective as I tried to be, it was impossible to weigh one day versus another. Each was inextricably linked to the next – which made me think: What if our “one day” was not “a” day, but every single one that we live? What if we steered the course of the rest of our life from the moment we yawned, woke up, and stretched our hands over our head? Would the day look, feel, smell or taste different?

What does your day taste like so far and what are you planning to do with it?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

"Luke...I am your father."

Sneaking in on Sunday morning for a quick post to leave a special treat for the "Sunday Stragglers Club." I think it's a nice little reminder of what moms and dads are for. Children believe in magic. Parents should help them believe as long as they can - or is it the other way around?

"Truly wonderful the mind of a child is."

- YODA, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Caffeine, Chocolate and a Cup of Curiosity

It's Saturday morning on this side of the planet and I'm popping in for a quick post even if I'm not supposed to be here. Curiosity killed the posting schedule.

I saw this article on fave Super Bowl Snacks on The Huffington Post and it made me terribly curious about what your go-to food/drinks are for reading or writing.

Coffee with a dash of cinnamon is my brew of choice for reading and writing. When I revise, I've got to have a ridiculously large glass of Coke Zero on ice. Chocolate is my reward for hitting my wordage goal for the day. How about you?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Friday Field Trip: A Scene from Before Ever After

"She loathed cemeteries. They broke her heart like posters for missing dogs and ice cream cones dropped by little kids. But it wasn’t the yellow Labrador puppies, vanilla melting on the pavement, or the dead beneath the gravestones that made her sad. What tore her up was the thought of the people who lost them. That, and soggy grass—the kind your heels sank into after an hour of steady rain."*

This quote is from a scene in Before Ever After that takes place in the Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise in Paris. I thought that the cemetery would be a nice place to get lost in on our Friday Field Trip. Shall we go? Don't forget to follow the red umbrella!

Are there any places that continue to haunt you?

*Copyright © 2011 by Samantha Sotto-Yambao

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

First Lines and Last Thoughts

I know. It's Tuesday and I'm not supposed to be here - but I was catching up on my backlog of FRINGE last night and there was a part of one episode that struck a chord with me:

"There's a lot you can tell about a person's last day. He doesn't know he will die. He leaves a lot of things behind." - Walter Bishop

It made me think about the first lines of Before Ever After:

"Jasmine. It was not Max Gallus's top choice for his last thought, but it would have to do. He wondered if there was time to say it out loud."*

How about you? Any thoughts on last thoughts? What would you leave behind?

*Copyright © 2011 by Samantha Sotto-Yambao