Monthly Archives: August 2015

Returning to ordinary

So at least two good things happened on vacation 1) I survived the flight to the Atlanta, and 2) I survived the flight back to Newark. Yay! I’m alive – even with all the red lasers being aimed at the pilots coming in on midnight flights like ours to Newark – so you know, double happy. Of course, vacation was wonderful on many levels, but as the daughter of a pilot, I’m kind of uber aware of the perils of flying. And, considering good ole’ dad was the first guy to survive a backseat ejection out of an S3-Viking into the shark-infested waters of the Pacific Ocean, I figure he knows a little on the subject. As you can imagine, I much prefer road trips and holding it for hours, to security lines and tiny plane toilets. Give me a gas station bathroom any day!

But I did get a road trip out of it. We picked up the grandparents and a rental van at the airport and hightailed it to the panhandle of Florida. Our destination was a beautiful spot called Santa Rosa Beach on 30A (which all Southerners know about. Just ask one.) So ensued 7 days of … thunderstorms! At least that’s what the forecast said. I did spend Monday (#PitchWars day people) huddled under a blanket, working on my query and first chapter just one more time, before submitting them to the contest. It was storming that day, which was perfect. No guilt for this mamma bear.

We did get a few showers throughout the vacay, but the rest of the week was spent on the beach or in the pool relaxing (and checking the #PitchWars Twitter feed – sometimes surreptitiously, other times not so much). This brings me to good thing 3) No one got eaten by a shark, although PBS assures me they were swimming unseen all around us. However nearly all of us were stung by a jelly fish. And while I’m glad I didn’t get kissed by a shark, those jellies are brutal lovers too.

So, armed with a new tan and several jelly fish hickeys, we packed our bags, loosened our belts (thank you seafood restaurant paradise), and hopped a midnight flight home. Road weary and bleary eyed, we found our car, battery dead, in the garage. Disaster averted, a nice man came in 2 minutes and got us going. Home at 3 am, one child now definitely ill with a fever, we return to ordinary.

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Writers beware. Don’t lose your voice!

Here’s the thing about us writers; we all have a voice. Our own voice – a unique voice. We each have a way to group words into something someone else (hopefully) wants to read. There are lots of voices out there. Yours might be a long, flowing poetic voice, a crisp and sassy voice, an aloof voice, or a warm-as-honey draw-me-in kind of voice. Whatever yours is, it’s yours alone. Be proud of it.

So here’s my word of caution to authors out there tonight. Maintain your own voice! As you reach out to others in your community for critiques and help with queries, chapters or a synopsis during #PitchWars, be thoughtful as to how you use the feedback you are given. I came at this tonight, not because I was frustrated at someone else’s critique of my own work, but because of my own thoughts on another’s. This author’s voice is light, airy and crisp. It’s a little punchy and not afraid to take a risk. I loved it. And while I did have suggested edits like any good critique partner, I worried they were too much, too out of character for this author’s work.

That’s when I wrote this person and shared with them what happened to me when I took someone else’s suggestions too far. In writing and critiquing my original query, I joined an author’s group whose many commentaries and suggestions eventually watered my query down to a semblance of my original voice. In the end, this query was perfect. And completely boring. Yes, it touched on the set up and the plot and the stakes. Someone may have even found the idea intriguing, but I’m guessing they passed over the query wishing the voice had been stronger (or even there at all.)

So, if you do agree with the nature of the changes that are given to you (and you certainly don’t have to), make sure you find a way to put them into your own voice. No one wants a watered down version of something that should scream, YOU! It’s your voice that will sell your story, not someone else’s you might respect.

It’s yours.

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Monkey see. Monkey do.

What’s up buttercups? Nothing munch, Captain Crunch? Then stay a while and get to know me! In the spirit of the #PitchWars Mentor blogs, I’ve decided to do a Top-10 on good ole’ me. If you’re a fellow author stopping by, a mentor, a friend, or an agent, I think this is a great way for us to get to know each other outside of 140 character Twitter tweeting. I like to write BIG, and 140 is small.

As for me, I’ll be pitching my YA SFF Romance, HalfWorlder in #PitchWars August 17. It’s best described as alien (the loveable human kind) Indiana Jones with a tug-your-heart-out love story. It’s also a big romping adventure through the heavy sands, suffocating heat and ancient temples of Egypt … well, that is until it starts snowing on the Great Sphinx. But hey, this is fantasy, right?

TOP-10 Things you should know about me.

  1. If you didn’t catch the Big Bang “Penny” quote above, say because you haven’t watched thousands of episodes of the most incredible show on TV (ahem, Big Bang Theory) over and over like me, then we can still be friends. But you really ought to consider setting your DVR. Truth be told, if I could be those boys’ neighbor, I totally would be. Not just because they crack me up, but because I’d want to pick their brain about the nature of the universe. Maybe I should have been a physicist, but alas I snagged a B.A. in journalism instead. But still, I’m happy. And Google can answer some of my questions even if Sheldon can’t.  And my friend who worked at the Large Hadron Collider can answer the rest.
  2. I was raised on Star Trek and Jane Austen and anything in their related genres in equal doses. I used to stay up reading said novels until 4 am with a flashlight, hiding under my sheets. I’m pretty sure my parents knew what I was up to, but figured if that’s all I was doing wrong, they didn’t have much to complain about. Then my uncle introduced me to Dune and I got wrapped up in the infuriatingly heart-rending Little Women. And the rest is history. I guess that’s what made me want to write Spec Fi with a historical / mythological grounding. I love them both.
  3. I’m sort of a nerd. Don’t judge me. I like my A’s all neatly lined up. I graduated college with a nifty little 4.0, and got to give the commencement speech because of it. But don’t think I just sat around studying the whole time. I’m not boring. I write SFF adventure stories after all! In college, I loved playing laser tag at Frost Chapel. I once had to ride in the back of a “campus police” car for swimming in the reservoir (naughty, naughty), and I did this thing called “running” that college girls tend to do to stay slim enough to catch a boyfriend. Though unfortunately for me, it worked. I caught one. But I had to throw him back one month before graduation when he started to stink. I also loved mountain biking on my beautiful campus with the wind racing back against me, and I pretty much joined every committee they would let me on. Yes, overachiever. Also, Waffle House lover. That’s where I did most of my studying — over hash browns scattered, smothered and covered.
  4.  If I were a plant: I was potted in California (If you can’t infer what I mean here, I can’t help you), this while my Navy pilot dad flew anti-submarine warfare missions a la Tom Cruise. (He had the glasses and everything.)  My roots are in the South. (I was raised near Atlanta, the “diverse, respectful, friendly” Atlanta). But my branches found the sun in the Northeast. (Where my manly man of a husband and I potted our own little garden — again, not helping.) Oh, and speaking of him, you should know the “Nothing munch,” quote above came from hubs. He’s quite funny when he wants to be.
  5. I’m jealous of the person behind the idea for a time travel mailbox in the romantic movie, The Lake House. Then I googled it to see if I could read the book, and found out it was taken from a South Korean movie called Il Mare. 1) Not so jealous anymore since it wasn’t from a book, and 2) If I find out the directors of Il Mare did get it from a Korean novel, my best friend will have to read it to me in English. Also, I like kimchi. Also, she has a southern accent and she is adorable.
  6. In first grade, I won a blue ribbon for a writing contest. It’s one of the most precious memories of my life, that and what it felt like to read Charlotte’s Web or The Box Car Children for the first time. There’s nothing like those first books that captivate you and transport you, or those first teachers who motivate you. I hold those memories quite dear. It’s been my dream to be a writer ever since.
  7. When I got my first job editing, my boss told me the college professor she called for a reference told her she should hire me because of my humor. “It’s different. You’ll like it.”  I wasn’t sure what I thought about that statement at first, but different can be good, right? RIGHT?! So, now I like to use my odd (is that a better word? probably not) humor in my writing, in my novels, etc., because it balances the serious. And balance is what most people want in life. And who wants to write something no one wants to read? I like to think “marketable.”
  8. I’m one of those people who opens their mouth and says the second half of their sentence before the first part comes out, when I’m nervous. For goodness sake, please let me write things down rather than have to talk. It’s sorta’ my thing.
  9. Did I mention I like Kimchi? I’m convinced that hot hOT HOT, spicy foods are the best kind on the planet. Sweet gets second place. (And they go well together.) I cry when I have to eat pizza without Tabasco or copious amounts of hot pepper (powder). Of course, I still cry when I eat the pizza covered in the hot peppers too, but then the tears are the happy kind. Give it to me hot. (And no, I don’t write in THAT genre.)
  10. I play the piano. By ear mostly, though my old Southern Baptist pastor’s wife of a piano teacher did try her darndest to get me to memorize the notes, God rest her soul. Try as she might, nothing stuck but the rhythm and the emotion (the woman had some passion). And somehow I figured out that you could tap into that and then the keys would write their own music. I like to create beautiful things. The piano helps me do that.

I’d love to get to know you too! If you write a Top-10, please come back and comment with the address so we know where to find you!

-Ali

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#PitchWars Mentor List by Category

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“Blue Sparks” Kind of Love

Here’s an excerpt from my novel HalfWorlder.

It’s Gil Scott’s destiny to save the Earth from destruction, but he never thought winning the heart of a girl would be harder than saving the world. Though every once in a while, Alexandra shows her true feelings. And what they have is “blue sparks” kind of love. Read on..

Alexandra lay hunched over a small wet body that wriggled with life, but another large one lay unmoving under a white sheet nearby that revealed what lay below it perfectly well.

A mare had given birth. Recently.

The foal was so new it hadn’t yet stood up.

But something had gone terribly wrong. The door was hanging open on the scene, but there was nothing left here that could escape.

Alexandra looked up, her face red and wet with so many tears. I stood there unmoving, looking down on her with shock. She wiped quickly at her face, still staring at me, like she could cover up what was there.

“Hey! Don’t do that,” I said suddenly, grabbing her hands together and kneeling down in front of her. The way I stopped her from trying to dry her eyes was almost a little rough. Enough to shock her into reality. “You don’t have to do that. It’s okay. I’m here with you now,” I finished.

She stilled herself, and her eyes transitioned from strong to pained in four seconds, her eyes and face seemingly collapsing in on themselves the way a face does when it tries but can’t stop the tears that hide just below the surface. Great lolling drops rolled slowly down her still-pretty face. Even pained as it was, tears sometimes do more to reveal inner beauty on an outer surface than anything else can. This was a soul that truly loved. And lost.

Looking into my eyes, she let go, and collapsed into my arms, her body wracked again by tears and heaving sobs, until she was too spent to cry anymore. She pulled back and wiped at her running nose with the back of her hand, absentmindedly wiping it in the fresh hay we sat on – hay that smelled sweet and earthy just like her. She pulled at her eyes with her hands trying to erase the tears there again, though this time not because she was trying to hide them, but because she was finally done.

“She was mine,” Alexandra said quietly. I looked over at the mare’s body lying just below the white sheet she had used to cry into. Her wet tears still marked the spot near the horse’s neck where she had buried her head and wept.

“Dakota,” she said, sniffing toward the dead horse, her nose still runny from crying. “It was only her first foal.”

The baby, who glistened solidly black, was still very much alive and rocking back and forth on the floor trying to find its legs. Alexandra got up and closed the stall door.

“I’m so sorry Alexandra,” I said as she sat back down and gently touched the little animal.

She sniffed again. “I just wish I could have done something differently. Called the vet sooner? Maybe it would have helped?” Her eyebrows rose. I looked over at the little horse. Looking back, I found Alexandra’s eyes intent on mine, wanting answers, her restless spirit quiet for once.

I sighed. “Dakota knows you loved her and did your best, Alexandra. It’s okay for you to feel the way you do though.” I had some experience in this. “We always question when we lose someone … what we could have done to change it, if we did this or that, would it have helped? But you can’t change what happened. You can only remember them and try to go on.”

My thoughts drifted away to my dad.

“I’m just really sorry this happened to you.” Too, I thought.

I took her hand in mine and she actually let me, sighing. I felt something electric, and probably blue, dance quietly between our hands but it was hidden between them. She looked up knowingly but didn’t pull away.

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The Oracle at the Temple of Amun

Here’s an adventure-filled excerpt from my novel HalfWorlder.

Having just careened into the cold waters of an underground lake below the Siwa Oasis, with nothing but massive phosphorescent fish for light, Alexandra is injured as rocks begin to fall on them from above. A patch of square light calls to them from the bottom of the lake. A way out. But can they make it?

I swam over quickly, and just in time too, because something above gave way and rock began to careen into the lake from above us. Alexandra started to come to and I pulled her quickly to my side, throwing my hand out to form a shield above us like Ryan. I was surprised by the weight of the rocks. They bore down on me, slowing crushing against my powers. Alexandra realized this. Her eyes were alarmed. I was too new at all this and I was already exhausted.

Her eyes fluttered. She didn’t look well. “You have to let me go,” she said quietly into my head.

So, she did realize.

“This is too important. The answers are down there.” Her face looked slack and unnatural. “We’re on the right path. You know it now. We can save the Earth. You can save it still, Gil,” she corrected. Her mental voice went quieter with that realization.

What was wrong with her to talk like this?

“There. Down there.” She tried to nod her head in the direction of the square of light below our feet, but it just rolled. Her eyes brimmed with tears, and she tried to pull away from me. But I held her tightly.

“Are you kidding me? I’m not letting you go!” I yelled out loud. “Good ancient false gods, you are fatalistic!” Adrenaline surged through me and I pushed out through my hand. She made me angry. There was no way I was losing her. Not for billions of lives. It was hers alone I wanted to protect. I couldn’t lose her. The rock above us rose slightly at this burst of heated energy.

Her eyes fluttered and she looked up at me as I held her in the cold water. She reached her hand for my face. Wounded as she was, she acted without her usual restraint. “You never give up do you?” she asked.

“Not when you’re involved,” I answered honestly, looking down on her. She said nothing, but she had heard me. Her eyes fluttered again and half closed. I was desperate. My Bau was fatiguing. I looked around frantically. I had to save her. There had to be a way.

“Can you help?” I asked her, looking down. I had to jog her just slightly to get her to wake and even hear me. She just looked at me. This was so unlike her. She must be really hurt. She was practically limp, I realized. I wasn’t even sure she was still conscious anymore. Her eyes hung open glassy this time.

Oh, God, please let her not be dead.

All around me, falling rock, choking water, giant fish. All of it was capable of killing us. None of it could help.

Unless.

I wasn’t so good at the telepathy thing. I could talk to ships, mumble to Alexandra. Could I catch the mind of a simple fish?

I tried it.

I focused my attention on a massive whale of a creature far down below and waited. It shot up through the water, its mouth open in a gaping hole.

Ah! Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea!

The fish’s massive body was translucent. Its guts and veins bulged purple, red and black under its scales as it approached. But it also glowed phosphorescent too, allowing me to see it in all its horrible glory. It seemed to turn its eye on me at the last second and then swallowed the two of us whole. It closed its mouth tight, so we had the privilege of air along with a great view of the other titan fish swimming around its clear body as we rocketed back down to the bottom of the lake.

The fish was fast moving and avoided the falling rocks by swimming zigzag through the water, sending an already hurt Alexandra tumbling around its massive tongue. The air wouldn’t last forever and I willed it to swim quickly for the square of light below. I didn’t know what would happen when we got there, but I felt sure it was our only hope.

The fish stopped in front of the light and I tried my best to thank it. I think it was confused at first we wouldn’t be a permanent meal, but its mind was simple and it accepted without much fuss. It swam in front of the doorway of light and let me take it in a moment before expelling us. I was pretty sure I could see something behind the blue light, and the material looked similar to the stuff that made up the mini dome we practiced in, so I was confident for the first time in 20 minutes.

It was something at least.

Alexandra was semi-conscious now and looked around in wonder realizing where she was at. A slow smile spread across her face and she accepted my help. “Hold your breath, Alex,” I said gently taking her in my arms. She pinched her nose lazily and took a deep breath. The look on her face was slightly spacey. Our fish friend opened its mouth and we burst across the barrier into a dry room filled with air.

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“If he fails, I lose you forever.”

Here’s an excerpt from my novel HalfWorlder, which sets up the premise:

It was the dead of night and the girl was running. She was older now. Behind her, the young man panted and ran hard, looking back over his shoulder. Their pursuers were lean and muscular men, reaching with their hands and making the earth rise and fall in front of the seemingly doomed couple.

The girl looked back at her suitor and cried out. Her eyes were full.

“It is the only way,” he mouthed to her.

They kept running.

“No!” she pleaded with him, the words only a whisper on the wind.

“I’m sorry, my love, but I must protect you.”

He stopped running then and turned to face the assassins. He called out, “Ra commands the sun!” And light so dazzling it blinded came rushing from the heavens and filled the sky. The men stopped and covered their eyes. The girl fell and covered hers too, but Ra stared into the light, his eyes gleaming with kinetic energy, those eyes of his still seeing but totally white like they were blind.

The men withered on the ground like they were in pain, but the girl stilled herself as Ra approached and knelt beside her. He placed his hands on her eyes, and when he removed them, she stared up at him, both their eyes now white and startling to look at.

Tears filled them as they knelt and held each other. “There’s no time now, Isis. We must do this now. It is the only way. The Oracle has said so. You know we must obey.”

“No, Ra. We must not. You know what this fate may bring. You risk us in doing this. I cannot lose you forever to the Aten. The boy may not be able to finish it. She said so. And if he fails, I lose you forever.”

“I will lose you forever now,” he said and looked back to the men, “if I do not.” And with that, Ra grabbed her hair and the nape of her neck and kissed her. It was a kiss of desperation. A last kiss.

He pulled back and their white eyes cried. He took the locket from where it lay across her neck and opened it. Something like the sun, though certainly smaller, rose from it and swelled and catapulted into the air above Ra until it was wider than his broad shoulders. The orb was as powerful and bright and as alive as the white-eyed people it now hovered over. It waited as if it already knew what they would ask of it.

Ra took one single breath, and did: “Aten, accept this gift of man and tie the knot of Isis.”

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