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Quitting!

No, I’m not quitting writing! I’ve decided to stay with blogger from now on. I love WordPress, but Blogspot is more convenient for me.

For those who don’t like Blogspot, thank you for reading my posts here and commenting.

For those who still want to read my entries, welcome to my http://www.tessyquin.blogspot.com/ 🙂

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The Rach Writes Inaugural Writers’ Platform-Building Crusade

Crusade

That’s a mouthful! But brilliant.

I’m cheating today since I won’t write a post about writing. Well, I suppose this has to do with getting published in one way or another. I’m introducing my friend’s Rachael Harrie’s Crusade to help bloggers build their online platform. I joined the Crusade only two days ago and I’ve already gotten five new followers – some very nice people whom I’m excited to get to know better. Rachael still hasn’t compiled the list so that we can go crazy and follow our fellow Crusaders, which means that people are already excited and are following commenters.

Why is it important to gather followers? Even though online presence isn’t a requirement to get a fiction published (it is important for non-fiction), numbers are numbers, and if you have thousands of followers, it could tip the scale in your favour when you query an agent with a good story idea and a good story.

Will all those people read your blog? Probably not all of them, but many will, if you’re interactive in turn and read their blogs. This is an opportunity to make more friends. There are so many cool people out there, and they all seem to be gathering in the Crusade 😉

I’ve copied and pasted Rach’s requirements to join:

Let’s work it like this:

  1. Follow along with my site if you don’t already (I want to build my online platform too of course) 🙂
  2. Become a Crusader by leaving a comment to this post (include your blogging name and a link to your blog)
  3. Write about the Crusade on your blog and link back to this post
  4. Encourage your followers to come to Rach Writes… and join up (it will help them too!)
  5. Tweet about the Crusade, including a link to this post (http://bit.ly/9kMySK) and #WPBC1. Encourage re-tweets. I’m @RachaelHarrie if you want to follow me in the Twitterverse too
  6. Pop it on Facebook
  7. Generally, spread the word…

I’ll publish a list of all the Crusaders on Rach Writes…, and I’ll update the list as people join in on future Crusades.

That’s it! I encourage all my readers to join this project. It’s an amazing concept and Rachael is just the person to pull it off.

Goal for the day: Finish writing my MG!!!

Iceland Reports: Ghosts!

That’s right, ghosts.

Iceland is a dark, cold piece of rock, surrounded by deep, freezing ocean. There is little daylight in the winter. On the darkest days in December, there are max 3 hours of not-so-bright daylight. This is countered in the summer where a month or so is daylight 24 hours. But the summers are short, and the winters are long.

Turf house

It was only last century when the last person stopped living in “turf” houses. Most stopped living in them around 1900, though. As you can see from the picture, there are not many windows. In the darkest, coldest nights, people would get together and tell stories, since there wasn’t much else to do. Many of those stories were ghost stories. People genuinely believed in ghosts, and Icelandic folklore is packed with such stories.

Icelandic Legends : Collected by Jón Arnason

My favourite is “Djákninn á Myrká” or “The Deacon from Dark-River.” The deacon was courting a young woman from another farm. Her name was Gudrun. He had invited her to a Christmas party and was on his way to pick her up when a bridge broke under him and his horse “Faxi”. The night after, a man came riding on his horse to pick Gudrun up. Gudrun couldn’t see his face because the moon was obscured by clouds. They rode silently until they reached a river. The deacon spoke:

“The moon travels, death rides. Don’t you see a white spot on the back of my head, Garun, Garun?” [he couldn’t say her name properly, because “Gud” means “God”, and ghosts couldn’t say “God”]

Gudrun lifted his hat and saw his skull glinting in the brief light from the moon. When they reached Dark-River (Myrka), they dismounted and the deacon said:

“Wait here, Garun, Garun, while I move Faxi, Faxi, into the graveyard, graveyard.”

When the deacon took his horse into the cemetery, Gurdun got scared as she watched him open a grave. She ran to ring the church bells, but at the same time, the deacon grabbed her other hand. Before they had left Gudrun’s home, she’d only had time to put her coat on one arm, and so the last thing Gudrun saw of the deacon was when he fell into the grave with her coat, and dirt poured over him from all sides.

That wasn’t the end, though. The deacon haunted Gudrun for weeks, and she couldn’t be left by herself. Her parents hired a sorcerer (yup! A whole bunch of those magic folks here too!). He hid until the deacon came for Gudrun. When the deacon stood over her, the sorcerer jumped forward and exercised him back into the ground. He rolled a big rock over him and told him to rest there forever. It is said that the deacon still rests under that rock.

I love this story for three reasons: It used to scare the hell out of me as a kid; Margit Sandemo, a Norse author, used it in one of her 43 series Isfolket books (Icepeople), and those are my favourite series of all time; and there’s a very cool Icelandic song, with very cool lyrics about that ghost story.

There are loads of other stories as well. Places were far between, landscape raw, and weather bad. There were very few roads, and those that were were often narrow paths that got lost in the snow. Travelers would get lost on their way and die. They’d haunt the living that crossed their path. Sorcerers (wizards? It’s hard to call them wizards, because I keep picturing guys with pointy hats in starry robes – Discworld, anyone?) conjured them up in cemeteries to do their bidding and such.

The fun thing is that Icelanders generally still believe in ghosts. The tales are so imprinted in our society, that I’ve only met one Icelander in my entire lifetime who truly doesn’t believe in ghosts (he’s very scientific-minded). You’ll hear some people say that they don’t believe, but then they dive into discussions about that one time they thought they heard something, or how their brother went berserk once because he thought he saw a ghost, or how their grandmother can see ghosts all the time. Those people are also likely to have gone to a psychic medium.

I believe in ghosts. If I didn’t, I’d be calling my grandmother a liar. She’s been able to see ghosts ever since she was a child. She used to play with one on the farm she grew up in. I’ve probably said this before in my blog, but it’s amazing when she tells me about these sightings. She walks into a church with only a few people inside. She sits down and looks back to see that the church is packed with people. She also wants her body to be cremated after she dies, because she sees so many ghosts lingering by their graves after they’ve been buried, but when she goes to the “cremated sites” she doesn’t see any ghosts or feel any sort of presence. Oh, and she doesn’t really call them “ghosts”, more like “dead people.” She only talks about this to her family, she’s not one of those people who go out and make money out of it.

Do you believe in ghosts?

Grammar Hampers Voice

I got my first peer review for my character sketch today (I‘m taking Creative Writing at Uni). My hands shook with excitement as I waited for my internet to download the document. My eyes tuned out and in focus before I started reading. Clear description of character…dialogues are clear…use less emphasis on the narrator…good development…good pacing at the beginning, needs to slow down at the end…tenses kept changing back and forth (Me: What? No way! Of course it‘s past when he‘s thinking back and present when he‘s in the now. The distinction is clear!)…There were some grammatical errors!

Grammatical errors? Okay, so I haven’t learned as much English at the Uni as the other students in this class (it’s a master’s degree class, but I got an exception because of my enthusiasm), but, in my opinion, there was nothing wrong with the grammar. I even posted the character sketch on my crit-group forum and no one said anything.

That leaves me with the question: Should novels be strictly grammatically correct? And (like the debate on TV/videogame violence) is it the author’s responsibility to provide reading material that is grammatically correct?

My answer is no and heck no! Misspellings and non-intended errors should be eliminated, of course, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with flexing grammar a little to provide a good story. The author’s purpose is to provide the reader with entertainment and emotional experience. At least that’s what Randy Ingermanson says, and I hereby take that up as my motto. If that means bending the rules of grammar to better suit the holy purpose, then authors should do that!

I’m also a strong believer in “grammar interferes with Voice” (yes, capital V). Which has more voice in it? “I don’t want to be here!” or “I so don’t want to be here!” I’m gonna say the second and break the grammar in this sentence to inject some voice into my blog. Most people speak with grammatical errors, so why shouldn’t the people whose PoV we’re reading from do so as well? And I’m not just talking about dialogues – internal monologue and overall action as well. Doesn’t that make them more real to us?

I’ll be the first to admit that I read the Twilight series in 10 days and fell in love with it. I didn’t know anything about writing until long after that, and I have read countless books since then. Looking back, I see that the grammatical correctness of Twilight is enough to put an insomniac to sleep, whereas series such as Sookie Stackhouse and House of Night would keep the insomniac entertained during his hours of suffering. There’s a reason those series have the most memorable characters! Those books are packed with grammatical errors – probably all intentional – and I don’t care one bit. I don’t even care much about most of the unnecessary adverbs and the occasional passive tense, even though I try all I can to exclude those  in my own writing. The books are entertaining, emotional and fantastic.

If I want to learn “proper English” I’ll read books on English grammar!

Away for a bit

I’m sorry I didn’t post yesterday, and I’m afraid I won’t be able to post tomorrow either. We’re going to a funeral the day after.

I’ll be back and kicking next Monday.

Iceland Reports: The Funny Mayor

Jon Gnarr, Mayor of Reykjavik

That’s right. Gnarr.

According to some, Jon Gnarr, originally Jon Gunnar Kristinsson*, is the funniest man in Iceland. He’s done stand ups, acted in movies, had a show on the radio, and written and starred in popular TV shows. I have to admit that it took me a while to understand his humor. In fact, I didn’t like him one bit at first. His humor is crude, often offensive. But he grew on me, and I now “get” his Gnarrism.

It came as a surprise to the nation when he formed a political party in 2009 for the upcoming Reykjavik elections. Up until the day of the elections, people kept asking him if it was all a big joke. He had campaign promises such as to put a polar bear in the Icelandic Zoo (of farm animals), give stuff to “weaklings”, and a drug-free parliament in 2020.

Jon Gnarr at work

His election campaign was hilarious. He gathered his actor/singer friends, who also signed up for the party, and they wrote and sung lyrics to Tina Turner’s Simply the Best. Why? Because his political party is called the Best Party. You can watch the video here.

The members of the Best Party are mostly artist: singers, actors, producers of various sorts. Augusta Eva Erlendsdottir who role-played Silvia Night in Greece 2006 during Eurovision has the 18th place.

Silvia Night

What came as an even more surprise was that he was actually elected as mayor. Some days later, a stuffed polar bear that usually sits outside a shop in Reykjavik disappeared from it’s place and was found in the Icelandic Zoo. I still don’t know if Jon Gnarr and the store owner planned that, or if it was the act of someone else who thought it would be funny.

I sometimes can’t help laughing when I hear his interviews on the radio. They try their best to ask him all sorts of complicated questions about various issues to try to throw him off. He readily admits that he has no idea where some of those issues stand. He says that there are other people in charge of those things. He also makes a lot of jokes to steer away from topics.

Is it bad to have a comedian in charge of the city? I don’t think so. On the contrary, actually. He brightens the heavy atmosphere that suffocated the city after the financial crash. He lets the specialists handle the complex projects while he makes his people smile. Examples? Sure! This is how he showed up on Gay Pride:

The mayor on Gay Pride

He also addressed his coworkers like this in a video one day, where he suggested they celebrate that particular day yearly as the “‘Good Day’ Day”:

The "Good Day" Day

The people of Reykjavik like him as their mayor. I think every town should have a copy. Specialists should take care of the real work (you know, people educated in that special area), mayors should be there for the people. I just hope he’ll sign up as a candidate for the next parliament elections – we need him there!

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Jon Gnarr. A few years back, he and his sons took taekwondo lessons with us for about a month. I even coached one of the training sessions (plus, I was the cashier – I’m always the cashier for some reason -.-). Jon Gnarr may be the funniest man in Iceland, but he is also the most serious man I’ve ever met.

Jon Gnarr

* If you say Gunnar really fast, it comes out as “Gnarr”. I’m pretty confident that that’s how he came up with his last name.

On Word Count and Querying

Attempt One:

Before I started on my manuscript, I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to write enough words for a full length novel. I tried writing a novel when I was 15, and it ended up being 3,000 words. I did a little better on a fan fiction that ended up in 74,000 words (16 chapters), which I think is quite amazing. It’s packed with adverbs and other no-no’s, but it’s a good story with a good plot and sub plots. I was 26 at the time. Today I find that the more I write, the longer the word count. It is a challenge for me to keep it low enough, because there’s just so much to write about. The first attempt at full manuscript ended in 125,000 words. I queried it as such, and got an auto-rejection. It may have been because of the word count, or because the query letter was horrible, or because the writing was terrible and packed with no-no’s. Probably all of the above.

Attempt Two:

At the time, I had no idea there was such a thing as “appropriate word count” for young adult fiction (or any other age group, for that matter), I just thought that more words equaled better writer. I compared my manuscript length with Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones, and Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, by doing formulaic count of words I was taught while learning to type. I remember the day I learned about appropriate word counts. I sat in the black chair in my office, curtains pulled closed to shield the tiny room from light, desk cluttered with books, print-outs and stationary. The silly little text on my screen said 110,000 max for YA novels. I felt like giving up. How could I possibly cut a single word out of my novel? Every single word was important. But after a lot of research, a reading of a book on how to write, and a second look at the manuscript, I realized that there was quite a bit I could cut out. The revised 125,000 worded manuscript became 111,000 words. Much better, or so I thought.

At WriteOnCon, I discovered that 111,000 is way too much. There was an agent who went over queries live. She began by plucking out all the manuscripts over 90,000 words and tossing them into the bin. She said that the manuscripts with higher word count have to be truly exceptional. She said that 90,000 words +/- 5,000 is max in YA (apparently opinion on this differs, possibly because my novel is Fantasy, which means a little more leeway with some agents). That means I’ll have to cut it down to at least 95,000 to avoid such auto-rejections from agents. Before the WriteOnCon, I had submitted queries to a lot of agents. I also received quite a number of rejections. The reason could be because of the word count, or because the revised query letter was terrible, or because the revised writing wasn’t quite up to snuff yet. Probably all of the above.

Attempt Three:

I learned from this that you should only query a few agents at a time, because of the learning curve. If I had submitted to all the agents I’ve now submitted to with my horrible first query – all of them would reject it. If I would submit to all the agents I have yet to query with my terrible second query – all of them would reject it.

In other words, to avoid auto-rejections based on word count, I have to slice my manuscript even further. I’m doing that with the aid of critique partners – something I never had before – something I should have had before. I have also tried to be honest with myself, and cut out pieces that I knew, deep down, were not supposed to be in the story. With the first 6 chapters rewritten/revised, plus a whole chapter later in the manuscript removed, the word count is already down to 104,000 words. After WriteOnCon, I have a formula for a fantastic query, along with amazing critiques from Elana and Casey that I won at the conference, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to produce a kick-ass query before I continue my agent querying next year. I also realized, during WriteOnCon, that I have to take a second look at adverbs, and other tics that are frowned upon. The reason I’m not querying until January next year is not only because agents are generally less likely to sign new authors late in the year, but also because I’m taking Creative Writing at university, and I’m learning heaps.

We’re reading Sol Stein’s Stein on Writing. Chapter two is so inspirational that I had to put down the book and jolt down ideas. He talks about the importance of the first line and first paragraphs in a book. He gives fantastic examples (real examples are so rare in those educational books on how to write!), and I now know that I have to change the beginning of Book of Black. In fact, I’ve been inspired to change the whole first chapter with a whole new concept to dive the kids into the other world faster. He helped me see how my first chapter is a bit distracting. It’s a good chapter, but there’s a misleading story that doesn’t set the tone for the rest of the book. I see now that this first chapter is material for a different story.

So, with all these new discoveries, and with the aid of the amazing WriteOnCon, that was a revelation to me, I hope that when I start querying again, I won’t get auto-rejected because of word count, I will have a catchy query letter, and that I will get a contract because of my new and shiny writing skills.

Blog Awards

I have often seen people get blog awards, but I never, ever expected to get one myself. Especially after such a short time of blogging. It has taken time to find my own blogging voice and to figure out what kind of information I wanted to share. I started out in the middle of my querying process, so I wrote tips. My tip-blogs developed into article/subject-blogs over time. I like to stick with blogging about writing – my writing and writing in general, but I’ll also throw in other stuff as well. Because of lack of time, I’ve been forced to reduce my blogging to one day a week. I have now decided that I should blog at least two times a week (I’ll probably add to the days as weeks go by – blogging is just too much fun), and…

Ta-daa!

Next Wednesday I will blog little tidbits about Iceland. A lot of you seemed to like my Fun Facts about Iceland, so I thought I’d do something similar. Something short and sweet. I’m calling it “Iceland Reports“. It will be anything from fun facts, to odd news casting, to interesting subjects in Iceland – maybe even interesting people. We’ll explore phenomenons such as Iceland’s Eurovision craze each year and the comedy actor who got elected as the mayor of Reykjavik (and as a joke, he calls himself “Nonni bæjó” – something like “Jonny Meyo”). I will post these Wednesday evenings, which should be around mid-day in USA EST.

Back to the awards! Lovely Lisa Rivero awarded me two awards a couple of days ago! Lisa is an amazing blogger, and I would award her one if she hadn’t been the one to award me. Her blogs are very inspirational to me. She has fantastic ideas (like the new habit resolutions!), and she’s just genuinely lovely and sweet.

I am going to pass these on to fantastic bloggers. Some of them have already gotten these awards before, but I’ll award them anyway.

There are rules! But they make this even more fun.

The Rules for The Versatile Blogger Award:

  1. Thank and link back to the person that gave you the award.
  2. Share seven things about yourself.
  3. Pass the award to fifteen bloggers that you think deserve it.
  4. Lastly, contact all of the bloggers that you’ve picked for the award.

One Lovely Blog Award Rules:

  1. Accept the award, post it on your blog together with the name of the person who has granted the award and his or her blog link.
  2. Pass the award to 15 other blogs that you’ve newly discovered.
  3. Remember to contact the bloggers to let them know they have been chosen for this award.

Here are the seven things about myself:

  1. Icelandic is my native language, but English and Danish are languages I’m fluent in. I also learned German, but I have to brush up on that a little.
  2. I have two well-known role play characters in World of Warcraft. I don’t play anymore to focus on my family, writing, and university.
  3. I lived in Denmark for two and a half years.
  4. I’m an only child. I was content being one until I grew up.
  5. I have three-year-old twin boys whom I love with all my heart. They make me smile every day.
  6. I have visited 12 different countries, some of them several times.
  7. I have a black belt in Taekwondo, plus several gold medals from the USA.

I could go on and on!

Lisa wrote such a lovely peace that I’m going to quote her for the next bit:

“I would like to award both the One Lovely Blogger award and The Versatile Blogger award to these fifteen terrific blogs and bloggers. I love how Kelsey added to the rules for the awards “if you can or have the time” (no wonder I enjoy her blog so much). To all award recipients, please know that I only wish to express my admiration and appreciation for your time and talent, and the last thing I would want is for anyone to feel pressured to do anything that is not comfortable, so please do with the award what you will. All I ask is that you continue to blog!”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Melissa Gill (Amazing person through and through. Her blogs are such a delight and bring a smile on my face every time)

Ted Cross (I know you’ve had these before! Ted has the most interesting job ever, and he’s an excellent writer)

Miles McG (A fellow writer-in-struggling)

Rachael Harrie (She’s basically doing the same thing I am: writing tips on getting published. She’s also such a fun-loving person)

Krystey Bell (Her blog entries are always amazing)

Cherie Reich (She’s the first horror writer I’ve ever come in contact with! I’m reading her book right now)

El (Overall fantastic and uber blogger/website owner)

Lunaleo (She not only used to have the same blog design I had, but I really enjoy reader her versatile blogs)

Marieke (Snarky, funny, fabulous – a girl who lives “somewhere, not far from nowhere”)

Cassandra Jade (She’s going on a blog tour! Enough said)

Madameduck (Because she’s wonderful and I really love her blogs)

Faith (Because of her awesome self-editing tips)

Aubrie (She has great books out there, and the covers are drool-worthy)

Lisa M Potts (Overall marvelous blogger)

And finally, although he’s a super busy agent, I thought he deserved the award for his outstanding, time-consuming, well thought-out blogs: Nathan Bransford! (Agents are people too, you know – and no, I don’t have a query waiting in his mailbox, nor will there be one on my current project)

Congrats to the fifteen above. I really enjoy following your blogs, commenting, and lurking.

New Blog

Just a quick note: I decided to create a blog and post about contests and giveaways. I named it Contests and Giveaways, because I’m not very creative this morning.

My Life of Crime

In the Creative Writing course, we have several assignments. One of them is a memory flashback called “As a child…” I’m supposed to write a memory flashback from my childhood. I immediately decided what to write about when I read the description. Aaaand today I wrote it, although it’s not due until September 24th. I understand that I might have to change it as I learn, but this is what I have for now:

My Life of Crime

When I was ten years old, I stole for the first time in my life. I was at a school-buddy’s house and we were playing with her dolls. When she went to the bathroom, I snuck this Lego-sized rubber baby-doll into my pocket and took it home. She later accused me of stealing it, but I denied it. She had no proof, so I got away with it. Needless to say, she didn’t invite me back to her house. She wasn’t my best friend, anyway.

That doll was precious to me. It had a tiny little head, tiny limbs and a teensy body. The hair on its head was also rubber, but it still had a stylish “hairdo”. I made it tiny little clothes to wear, I built it a home out of Lego blocks, and I even gave it a holiday home in one of my ceramic Christmas house that’s supposed to hold a candle inside. I’d wrap up tiny little things before Christmas, and then I’d unwrap them before I went to sleep at Christmas Eve, making my doll jump up and down in excitement. It was always the baby in my doll games, but it could also be an adult in other games. In every game I played, this doll had a major role. Of all the dolls I owned, I loved this one the most.

I did other things considered illegal. I broke into a building with a good friend of mine. It was a construction site with locked doors. There was no glass in the windows, so my friend managed to help me climb inside. We’d play in the seven-story high building for hours. Looking down the gaps next to the stairwell had my stomach in a knot, so I would go down the stairs on my bottom, much to my friend’s amusement. As a boy, he wasn’t afraid of heights.

I also broke into a patched-up hut, built by a kid in my neighbourhood. With the same friend-in-crime, we crawled through a hinged-flap on the roof. There were no doors or windows. There was nothing of interest inside but soggy wood and spiders, so it wasn’t as much fun as my friend had made it out to be.

At school, a different friend of mine and I were sometimes allowed to go to a separate room to study. I’d have my crayons in my backpack. She’d ask me to fish them out, and together we’d go to the furnace and melt the crayons on it. By the end of the year, the furnace was very colourful – a piece of art! One day, I was on my way outside when I heard the teacher discover our little secret project. My friend was still inside. I was scared, so I didn’t go back to confess that I had taken a part in the vandalism. I doubted the teacher would let me leave if I told her that it was all my friend’s idea. My friend had to spend the rest of the afternoon scrubbing the wax off the furnace. I got away scot-free.

The break-ins, and single act of vandalism were initiated and encouraged by my friends. If it hadn’t been for them, I wouldn’t have done any of it. But the doll-theft was my own little act. My own little spontaneous act to obtain something I wanted, no matter the consequences or the hurt feelings of another human being. An act I made to prove to myself that I wasn’t the blonde, longhaired, pink-coated, quiet little girl everyone saw me as. I wasn’t the goody-goody only child, who never caused any trouble. Not really. I was capable of doing bad things just like anyone else! No one needed to know that I had it in me, as long as I knew it.

My life of crime didn’t last. I doubt there’s a straighter arrow two hundred miles away. I have never been stopped by the traffic police, because there’s never been any reason to. I always give back excessive change – even that extra 5000 kr. bill I once got by mistake. I turn in valuable jewellery I find to the lost-and-found desk – even though that pearl ring was absolutely gorgeous. I don’t cut in line. I don’t lie. I don’t cheat. Not even in cards.

But deep down, I know that I once stole a tiny little item, and that memory is precious to me.

Now you have something to distribute to the tabloids if I ever get famous 😛

Edited to add: Of course I feel guilty about stealing the little doll (today, even though I didn’t feel it as a kid – kids do stupid things). I even wish I could go back and undo it, but that’s not possible. Instead I just smile at that single act of rebellion of always being thought of as the good girl.