A Free, Easy Backup Plan

You need to backup your stuff. Not because your computer might get stolen or your house might burn down. But because your hard drive WILL fail within a couple of years. Someone in your house WILL, somehow, put a virus on your machine. You WILL accidentally-but-permanently delete your work in progress.

I am the most tech savvy, obsessively careful person I know, yet all three of these things have happened to me. They'll get you too.

I'm also supremely lazy. So if my backup plan requires any maintenance from me, it just won't happen. Here's how I do it then.

You guys know about Dropbox, right? You can store 2 GB for free online with very little work. That's not enough to keep all your pictures and music, but it's more than enough to protect your writing.

Make an account and download the app to your computer. That's it. After that, Dropbox will auto-upload anything you put into the special Dropbox folder, anytime it changes.

"But wait," you say, "Don't I have to manually copy my stuff into that folder as I work?"

Well, yeah. One solution is to work directly within the Dropbox folder, but you don't want to do that (especially since Dropbox can sync two ways -- if somebody hacked into Dropbox, or you had multiple computers linked up, you might lose everything accidentally again). The other solution is this:

Create Synchronicity is this nice little program that will automatically copy files from anywhere to anywhere, on a schedule. It's free, lightweight, versatile, and smart enough to only copy files that actually changed.

Just install it on your machine and set up a profile to copy your important files wherever you want them -- an external hard drive, another computer on the network, or (in this case) your Dropbox folder. Schedule it to run once a day and bam, you never have to think about protecting your work again.

Is this helpful to you? What's your backup plan?

First Impact: JUMPING ANTS by Lori Goldstein

It's time for another First Impact Critique, where I take a look at your queries, first pages, back cover copy, etc. You want to make an impact right from the start. We're here to help you do that.

If you'd like to submit your first impact material, send it to firstimpactAE@gmail.com. Details here.

Remember, anyone who offers their comments is eligible for either $10 for Amazon or B&N OR a 20-page critique from me.

Here, in Lori's own words: I'm submitting two takes on a pitch that would go in my query letter for my upmarket novel, Jumping Ants.

These posts aren't usually double-pitches, but I did say anything under 300 words, so let's get to it! Remember, this is all just my opinion, so take it or leave it, as you will.

Query Pitch #1
If he was already unpaid and broke
anyway, why do his parents suddenly
get fed up just because he's fired?

I get lost at the "older, rounder
version of himself." Can't tell if it's
literal or not.
At twenty-nine, the charming but aimless Max Walker is too old to be an unpaid intern at a Manhattan advertising agency. He’s also too old to be single, broke, and living with his parents. But he is. When a raunchy photo of a drunken night between the sheets with the busty HR assistant gets him fired, Max’s formerly indulgent parents kick him out onto their suburban New Jersey lawn. A chance stop at a fast-food drive-thru presents Max with a much bigger problem when a stranger opens his car door, puts a gun to his head, and orders him to drive. The weekend-long adventure with this desperate, older, rounder version of himself leaves Max with a black eye, a crush on a feisty bartender, and the truth that the unfazed grin he’s been honing hasn’t fooled anyone, least of all himself.

Query Pitch #2
The opening question made me laugh
(though maybe because I just read
Pitch #1).
Who gets fired from an unpaid internship? The charming but aimless Max whose has a talent for self-sabotage that gets him hired, fired, and evicted from his parents’ house in the same week. The twenty-nine-year-old is waiting in line at a fast-food drive-thru assessing which friend’s couch he’ll now call home when a stranger opens his car door, points a gun at him, and orders him to drive. The weekend-long journey with this older, rounder, more desperate version of himself leaves Max with a black eye, a crush on a feisty bartender, and the truth that the unfazed grin he’s been honing hasn’t been fooling anyone, least of all himself.

Adam's Thoughts
First, a query basic: paragraph breaks. These both need some.

So, personally, I like the second pitch better, primarily because it doesn't raise the question of why his previously-indulgent parents suddenly get fed up with him. (Remember that, guys: When people have problems with your plot or your world, sometimes the best solution is to cut whatever raised questions.)

But both of them have the same last sentence, which is where I have a couple problems. A minor problem is the one I mentioned in my comment: I can't tell if the "older, rounder version of himself" is meant to be taken literally or figuratively. Likely this is due to all the spec fic I read, so you might be able to ignore it.

The more major problem is that this is all setup. His firing and eviction is the inciting incident, with the gun to his head as the turning point. But that leaves 3/4 of the novel that we know almost nothing about.

I've noted before this is a common problem. The solution is to get to, and through, your turning point as fast as possible, then use the rest of the space to lead up to a sadistic choice -- two compelling things Max must choose between that will make the reader go, "What will he do?!!!"

What do the rest of you guys think?

When You Open Your MS for the 1,000,000th Time and You LOATHE It

Thank you for indulging my forced vacation last week. I actually didn't mean to time it with Thanksgiving (I often forget about American holidays out here), but sometimes things just work out, don't they?

So. You sit down to write. You open the Word doc that you've opened a million times before, see the chapter heading or title page and . . . you hate it. You hate that chapter title, that opening paragraph, that scene that you've revised twenty billion times.

This happened to me a little while ago. I've been revising Post-Apoc Ninjas for like ever, and I was so frigging sick of seeing this screen every morning:

Single-spaced, 10-point font, baby. That's how I roll.

But hey, writing's hard, right? We just gotta deal with it and move on.

But this was affecting my mood (and my predilection toward distraction) every single day. It was making a hard thing harder. So with the help of some basic psychology, I fixed it. Now I see these instead:

Emo Billy, but lots cooler.
Alternate view: a map prettier than any I could ever draw.
I found pictures related to my story, pictures that got me excited about it, and pasted them all over the first page. Now I don't have to see any text until I'm ready (and with the Document Map, I don't have to see the opening text at all, if I don't want to).

So that's your tip for today: When you open your manuscript for the millionth time and you LOATHE it, drop some awesome pictures on the first page to remind you why you still love it.

What about you? When you hate your manuscript and don't want to see it ever again, what do you do about it?


I'm taking a week-long break from blogging for this reason. Things should return to their regular schedule next Monday.

Here's a picture of Batman riding an elephant.


Probably my favorite muppet (with the possible exception of the Swedish Chef). Here, have a drum solo. Cross-posted from Anthdrawlogy's Muppets week.

Who's your favorite muppet?

First Impact: A QUESTION OF FAITH (first page)

It's time for another First Impact Critique, where I take a look at your queries, first pages, back cover copy, etc. You want to make an impact right from the start. We're here to help you do that.

If you'd like to submit your first impact material, send it to firstimpactAE@gmail.com. Details here.

Remember, anyone who offers their comments is eligible for either $10 for Amazon or B&N OR a 20-page critique from me.

Last week, we had a YA paranormal query from Nicole Zoltack. This week, we're looking at the first page of that manuscript. My inline comments are to the side, with overall thoughts at the end. Everything here is just my opinion. As always, your mileage may vary.

First Page
I like this image.
The attic door was always secured and padlocked, but now the stairs hang down into the hallway like a lolling tongue from a particularly dark and dusty mouth.

"Crystal! Why aren't you doing your homework?" Mom stands at the top of the stairs, her arms crossed, two trash bags dangling from her hands.

My chance to finally see inside the attic thwarted. Of course. Mom's the attic ninja.

"I wanted to see—"

Mom hurries down the stairs. "Can you take these bags down to the living room for me?" She forces a smile.


She hands me the bags, then lifts the steps, closes up the attic and locks it before I can even get a glimpse inside it. Now I'm even more curiositycurious to go up there.

Not sure if this last line is supposed
to be internal thought or what.
After another glance at the attic, I do as she asks and drop the bags near the living room desk. Wonder what's inside them.

My temple tingles. Great. A headache. What else could go wrong today? I rub my eyes and sit down in front of the computer when Mom comes into the room.

"I'm sorry for snapping. You just caught me by surprise." Dust is sprinkled throughout Mom's dyed hair, covering her strawberry blonde strands with gray.

"What were you doing up there?"

"Just a little cleaning. There's so much crud up there it isn't funny. I don't know why I kept so many doubles of pictures… We're lucky the house hasn't caught on fire, but at least I'm making some progress."

"Do you want me to help?" I ask eagerly.

"Oh, hon, you don't want to go in the attic." She shudders. "There are mice up there."

Ah, the mice. Her mMom's reason for locking the attic. Or excuse for keeping me out.

Adam's Thoughts
This is a great opening, Nicole. It's got a clever voice and just enough tension to keep me reading.

I . . . can't think of anything bad to say. If the next few pages move as well as this starts, I think you've got the beginning of something good.

But who knows, maybe one of our more-intelligent-than-me readers can give you something to improve. Thoughts, guys?

What's Your Personality Type?

You know the Myers-Briggs personality type, right? If you don't, take this (strictly non-scientific) test and look up your type here.

Me, I'm an INTJ.

From Urban Dictionary: "Otherwise known as the Mastermind. INTJ's are emotionless juggernauts that have no respect for you and don't care if you don't like them."

Also this via Wikipedia: "Personal relationships, particularly romantic ones, can be the INTJ's Achilles heel ... This happens in part because many INTJs do not readily grasp the social rituals ... Perhaps the most fundamental problem, however, is that INTJs really want people to make sense."

The really scary thing is I understand that diagram.

Now you know what you're dealing with.

What's your type?

Using Foreign Words in Foreign Settings

On the post 5 Tips for Using a Foreign Language, Linda asked a very good question: "[What] if the characters are only speaking/thinking one language which is not English but the narrative is in English[:] which words should be in English and which, if any, should be 'foreign'?"

One of my very first writing tutors was Orson Scott Card's How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, and I'm pulling straight from that. If you're a world-builder of any sort, I highly recommend finding a copy of this book.

Technically, any story outside a modern English-speaking setting requires all dialog and narrative to be "translated." This is obvious for a story set in modern-day Japan (where the characters are speaking and thinking Japanese), but it's just as true for stories set in a fantasy universe, medieval Europe, or any setting more than a few hundred years in the future. So this is a common issue.

Tip #1 in my previous post was that someone speaking their native language doesn't throw in foreign terms unless it helps them to be understood. It reads as pretentious. So:

If there is an English word for what you want to say, use the English word. If hobarjee means "duck," then your narrator and characters should say duck.

Only use the foreign word if it refers to a concept for which there is no English word. If hobarjees look and act like ducks, but later on in turns out they shoot laser beams from their eyes, you are fully justified in calling them hobarjees. The word has meaning now that cannot be expressed in our language.

Though I guess you could call them "laser ducks."

Photo by Richard Bartz, released under Creative Commons
Frigging hobarjees

First Impact: A QUESTION OF FAITH by Nicole Zoltack

It's time for another First Impact Critique, where I take a look at your queries, first pages, back cover copy, etc. You want to make an impact right from the start. We're here to help you do that.

If you'd like to submit your first impact material, send it to firstimpactAE@gmail.com. Details here.

Thank you so much for your submissions and critiques in October. Through randomology, I have determined that the critiquer who wins a 15-page critique from Jodi Meadows is Fiction Writer!! Send me an e-mail, and I'll put you in contact with Jodi right away.

November's prize will be winner's choice: either $10 for Amazon or B&N OR a 20-page critique from me. Anyone who offers their comments on First Impact posts in November is eligible.

This week we have a YA paranormal query from Nicole Zoltack. Thank you, Nicole! My inline comments are to the side, with overall thoughts at the end. Everything here is just my opinion. As always, your mileage may vary.

This first line is nice, but I feel like
the rest of the paragraph wanders a
bit. Could we skip tracking down the
witches and go straight to the truth?
Fifteen-year-old Crystal Miller isn’t a Bible thumper, but how can she not believe in God when He answers nearly all of her prayers? Learning her birthmother sought the help of witches to conceive her shakes her previously unwavering faith. Since curiosity isn't a sin, she tracks down the witches and learns she's the incarnation of magic. Supposedly, that makes her the only person whose magical potential is limitless.

BIG paragraph. Better break it up.

I don't understand how this is
nonsense. She gets whatever she
asks for, right? Sounds cool to me.

I think you can trim this paragraph.
It flows, but it feels more synopsis
than query, and I'm not clear on why
certain events are happening.
Crystal can’t believe her birthmother fell for such nonsense and vows to forget about magic, but when her boyfriend’s mom is seriously injured, she’s tempted to do more than just pray. Surely God won’t mind if she’s using magic to help people. After her boyfriend's mother miraculously recovers, Crystal doesn't know who saved her. Despite worrying her magic will damn her to Hell or, worse, that she doesn’t even have a soul to condemn, she sets out to master her power. Unfortunately, flying and playing with fireballs attracts dangerous attention. When a witch hunter captures her boyfriend and shamans snatch her aunt in an effort to control her, Crystal can no longer ignore who she really is. But she’s still new to magic and if she can't figure out what she's capable of, forget about saving those she loves--she just might start the apocalypse.

A QUESTION OF FAITH is an 87,000-word YA paranormal novel with series potential.

I am the author of a fantasy romance trilogy, Kingdom of Arnhem - Woman of Honor (2009), Knight of Glory (2010), and Champion of Valor (2011) published with Desert Breeze Publishing. Fifteen of my short works have appeared in various anthologies, including Mertales by Wyvern Publications, and many collections by Pill Hill Press, with one more to be published next year, as well as another novel from Desert Breeze Publishing.

Nicole Zoltack
~Where Fantasy and Love Take Flight~
The Kingdom of Arnhem trilogy: Woman of Honor, Knight of Glory, and Champion of Valor
Available from DBP ~ Amazon ~ ARe ~ B&N

Adam's Thoughts
I like the opening line. It made me smile and got me intrigued. 

But I think I interpreted it wrong. I thought that God answering nearly all her prayers was actually her magic powers manifesting. But Crystal's later conflict between her powers and God got me confused.

Does God really answer all her prayers? I'm having my own faith crisis right now wondering if I believe that or if it sounds like fantasy (and wondering what it says about me that my first thought was that was part of the fantasy). If God does answer her prayers (and it's not magic), I think this might raise the same question with other people, which distracts from your story.

If it's not really God (if it is her magical abilities manifesting), then I feel like her inner conflict of staying faithful vs. using her powers is a false one. They're the same thing. Shouldn't that be her inner conflict (i.e. are these powers from God or have I been believing a lie my whole life)?

The story sounds cool, but I'm not sure I'm clear on the central conflict. It's sad (and like I said, crisis-inducing) that I let this one phrase confuse me so much. I wonder if it's just me. What did the rest of you guys think when you read this one?

State of the Writing

It's been a long time since I've given you guys anything like a regular status update. I mean, there's my Works In Progress tab, but (a) who reads that? And (b) that only covers things with names.

So here's where things stand.

AIR PIRATES (being the novel that got me my beloved agent) is on submission. I've gotten some very pleasant-sounding feedback, but you know. When I have an announcement here, you'll hear it.

POST-APOC NINJAS (being the novel I talked about last month) is being revised. Of course the novel I drafted the fastest would take the longest to revise, but at least it's moving.

EVANGELION-ISH is a sci-fi novel I'm going to write after the Ninjas are revised (and the Pirates, if necessary). It has an outline. The two people who have read that are excited, so I guess that's a good thing.

SECRET FANTASY PROJECT is something I can't talk about yet. But it's cool. Unfortunately it's also back-burner, which means I'm spending as much energy trying not to think about it as I am actually working on other things.

TOP SECRET PROJECT, the nature of which I cannot even tell you. But rest assured it's awesome and exciting, and with luck I'll be able to talk about it in a couple of months.

This is on top of getting kids to school, making them food, and sometimes sleeping. I don't know how I got so many projects all of a sudden, but at least it increases the odds you'll get to read one of them eventually. Though it does mean a lot of drawing and remix posts. Sorry :-/

(And to answer the question "How do you do all that?": awesome wife + very poor single-tasking*).

So what are you up to?

* Being the more accurate term for "multi-tasking."

Stormdancer Sketch

A scene from Jay Kristoff's STORMDANCER, based on the excerpt you can read at Tor.com.

This is one of my sell-out sketches, drawn trying to win an ARC of the book. I didn't get the ARC, but I did get a copy of THE LITTLE STORMDANCER, which is easily the next best thing. My kids love this little book.

If you haven't heard of STORMDANCER, here is everything you need to know about it: Japanese steampunk with griffins.

Yeah, that's how I felt about it too.