Miranda Kenneally

Mexican Food Cures Writer's Block

Archive for January, 2010

Whatever Happens, Happens

We use this picture at work to show the importance of communication.  If everyone isn’t on the same page and doesn’t have the same attitude from the get-go, projects are most likely to fail, or may eventually succeed, but will have cost $$$$$$$$$.

When I look at this picture, instead of thinking about tax dollars and project planning, I think about outlining novels.

Everything I plan to write changes drastically by the time I’ve finished it.  Sometimes my original idea changes completely by the time my outline is finished!

What I’m trying to say here is that with novel writing, sometimes you just have to go where the story takes you.  It may not end how you thought it would (say, a really sad ending vs. a happy one), but I think stories tend to write themselves in the end.  Once you completely know a character and put them into a situation(s), generally everything else sort of falls into place.

One time, my dad met Ann Patchett.  He asked her, “Why did Bel Canto have to end the way it did?” Her response? “It’s the only way it could end.”

So while you may start out planning to make a tire swing, you might actually end up with a rope and wooden panel swing.  And that’s not really that bad if you think about it.

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A Great Example of Showing, Not Telling

Today, I sent an email to a good friend of mine. (Said friend has a very overactive imagination, and would be a fantastic writer, but he usually sticks to hobbies like building iguana habitats, learning to play the accordion, and canning his own condiments – he recently did an exquisite spicy BBQ sauce and a tangy mustard.)

Here is the email I sent:

“Huge news – a bigwig at work just asked me to be in charge of the Washington Convention Center for the upcoming Nuclear Summit!  I’ll have a staff and will be in charge of millions of dollars of contracts… this rocks.”

This is what my friend wrote back:

Awesome news, Miranda!

I’m already imagining the summit’s Opening Extravaganza. The world’s leaders are assembled. The lights in the auditorium go down. Suddenly, there is a huge rumbling from the stage. Smoke is pouring everywhere. And then, rising up from the floor, is a giant Intercontinental Ballistic Missile! Alarms are going off, people are screaming!
A woman’s voice counts down from ten.
But the doors are locked! We’re trapped! We’re all going to die!!
PANIC

Then, the woman’s voice gets to “Zero” and—–

nothing.

It’s all a hoax.

The room gets quiet.

And a small blonde haired woman from Tennessee walks onto the stage.

“Ladies and gentlemen and leaders of the world! Welcome to the 2010 NUCLEAR SUMMIT!!!!!!”

To recap why this email is a great example of showing, not telling:

1) You can actually see this scene in your mind – the lights go down, the stage floor is rumbling, smoke rises, a missile rises up, a woman’s voice is counting down;
2) You can feel the conflict, and you get nervous as you read this scene;
3) I liked how he seamlessly described the “small blonde woman walks onto the stage” (I love showing descriptions while showing action at the same time)’

My coworkers and I laughed for about 10 minutes straight after reading this. Showing usually makes you “feel” something. A freelance editor I work with sometimes says, “I get why your character feels this way, but because you haven’t completely set the scene for me, I’M not feeling it.”

And if your readers aren’t feeling moved, then you have a big problem, right?

Here is what his email would’ve looked like if the scene was told, not shown:

“Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of an opening speech, you act like a nuclear bomb is going to go off, and you freak everyone out, and then say it was all a hoax? And then you say, ‘Welcome to the 2010 Nuclear Summit!'”

What does showing, not telling mean to you?  How do you work to avoid it as you write?

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New Year’s Resolutions and Not Giving Up

Since it’s that time of year when everyone decides to make huge changes to their lives, I feel like it’s time to talk about not quitting.  Challenges have driven my entire life.  If someone challenges me to do something (or questions something I want to do), I usually won’t stop until I’ve achieved that goal.

I’ll never forget when my high school guidance counselor told me that I shouldn’t leave Tennessee to go to school in Washington, D.C.  I’d already gotten into a great school in D.C., yet the guidance counselor called me in to tell me I’d probably “be more successful if I went to Motlow State Community College” in the next town over.  And really, there’s not anything wrong with going to school there, but I’d already gotten into my dream school!

The guidance counselor just automatically thought I was going to fail.  She didn’t even look at my test scores or my GPA, I’m pretty sure she was thinking about how I wasn’t as good as her daughter at softball, so therefore, I must suck at everything.

When I got to college, I told a girl that I wanted to get an internship at the State Department.  The girl said, “Only like 5% of applicants get in. You never will.”  So what did I do?  I put in an application, and they called me up and offered me an internship in the EXACT office I wanted to work in.  It turns out that they loved how I had “real world” experience – working at kids’ camps and Cracker Barrel.  If I had taken that girl’s word that I wouldn’t get an internship, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

When I decided to run a marathon, people said, “Well, I hope you don’t die.” (Yes, some jerks actually said that.)  But I worked hard and prepared by learning everything I could about running, shoes, the trails, the course, etc.  And on the day of the Marine Corps Marathon, I finished in a respectable amount of time, and didn’t die.

So, just to recap:

  1. I am not dead from running;
  2. I did not fail out of school; in fact, I graduated;
  3. I now work at the State Department in a cool position where I find myself in all sorts of strange situations and meeting neat people;
  4. It’s a pretty good thing I didn’t quit at any of those things!

In terms of writing, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  Trying to get an agent takes so much time and research, not to mention needing to develop a tough skin to deal with constant rejection.  If I’d given up after the first time a partial was rejected, I obviously wouldn’t have an agent now, and I wouldn’t have ever learned how important it is to keep writing, and revise, revise, revise until you can’t revise anymore.

Sure, not everyone is going to like your work.  Not everyone is going to connect with your writing style or voice, but you shouldn’t give up, because you might find one agent or editor who actually likes your work.  Hell, my own father doesn’t like some of the stuff I do.  (I really do appreciate the honesty, which is crucial to writing.)  But that doesn’t mean I should quit.

Here are a few of my favorite rejections I’ve gotten that have almost driven me to pull my hair out (excuse the cliché) in frustration/confusion, but that have made me just work harder:

“Thank you so much for the opportunity to review your manuscript.  While there are many things to love here, I just didn’t feel that “spark” – the special connection that I need to feel in order to take on a new client.  There is no doubt that you are a good writer, and I am sure that I’ll be kicking myself for this when you sign that big book deal!  But you deserve an agent who will feel just as passionate about your work as you do.  Very best of luck, and I look forward to reading all about your successes.”

“I’ve read your sample pages, and while I think you show great potential as a writer, I’m sorry to say that I just didn’t connect with the voice as much as I’d hoped I would. I’m sorry I don’t have better news, but I wish you the best of luck in your search for the right agent and publisher. Keep writing!”

(I’ll spare you from stuff like when I was told, “Your writing is obtuse and your chapter breaks suck.”)

If your resolution is to finish a novel, my advice is to never give up, but keep writing as much as you can.  My New Year’s resolution is to stop beating myself up over crappy first drafts.  I’ll never quit writing, and I hope you don’t either.  And keep reading everything you can get your hands on.  As John Green has said, and forgive me if this is not the exact quote, [“Reading is the best apprenticeship a writer could ever have.”]

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Original Query letter for SCORE

Dear Ms. Megibow:

My name is Jordan Woods, I’m seventeen, and last year, I blew it in the final seconds of the Tennessee state championship football game. This year, I can’t let that happen or I’ll never get a scholarship to play ball in college. I have a lot to prove, what, with an NFL star for a father – a father who doesn’t think I should be playing football. Why wouldn’t a famous quarterback want his kid to follow in the family footsteps?

I’m a girl.

But I’ve been playing quarterback since I was seven, so everyone’s gotten used to me by now. I’m a normal teenage girl. Well, as normal as I can be. I mean, obviously I think Justin Timberlake is a mega hunk, but I’m also over six feet tall and can launch a football fifty yards.

Other ways I’m not normal? A girl who hangs with an entire football team must hook up all the time, right?

Nope.

I’ve never had a boyfriend and most people think I’m gay. Hell, I’ve never even kissed a guy. But that might be about to change because the hottest guy, Ty Green, just moved here from Texas. Just the sight of him makes me want to simultaneously fly and barf. It turns out that he’s also a quarterback, and he’s a hell of a lot better than me. Last year, Ty led his team to win the Texas state championship.

And I’m scared. What if Coach gives my position away? What if Ty isn’t interested in me? The worst fear of all? What if Ty distracts me from my dreams of playing ball in college?

And why is my best friend, our star wide receiver, acting so strangely all of a sudden?

SCORE, my 67,000-word YA novel, explores when it’s okay to make compromises in life, and when to take risks. My protagonist writes poetry (it’s a hobby that she keeps hidden from her teammates), so some sections of the manuscript are written in verse. While Catherine Murdock’s DAIRY QUEEN series also focuses on a female football player, my novel is different in that my protagonist doesn’t just decide to play football one day. Football is the only life my protagonist has ever known. When this new guy moves to town, she begins to explore the femininity she has rejected her entire life. She also faces a serious struggle with unrequited love, though not in the way you might expect.

Since your agency represents Ally Carter, I thought you might be interested. I also believe you’ll enjoy the love story. I attended American University, where I studied creative writing and literature. As a tomboy who grew up playing football during recess and didn’t get her first kiss until the age of sixteen, embarrassingly, I am highly qualified to write this novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

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