Tag Archives: Sammy Bina

Saturday Grab Bag: Mashup

2 Jul

Mashup

Here are some great links on writing, the industry, and all things book related. Some are serious, and some are just downright hilarious. We highly recommend you read them!

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July Debut Novels

THE BOOK OF THE CONCEALED by Sang Kromah (July 4th)
LOST VOICES by Sarah Porter (July 4th)
CHARLIE JOE JACKSON’S GUIDE TO NOT READING by Tommy Greenwald (July 5th)
BESTEST. RAMADAN. EVER. by Medeia Sharif (July 8th)
BAD TASTE IN BOYS by Carrie Harris (July 12th)
WILDFIRE by Karsten Knight (July 26th)

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What We’re Reading

Sammy: ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS by Stephanie Perkins

Sarah: OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon

Vee: SUPER SAD TRUE LOVE STORY by Gary Shtynegart & LOVE IS THE HIGHER LAW by David Levithan

Savannah: SLATHBOG’S GOLD by M. L. Forman & SAINT CITY SINNERS by Lilith Saintcrow

Julie: DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth

Susan: MISTWOOD by Leah Cypress

Jenn: A STORM OF SWORDS by George R. R. Martin

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Happy Saturday, everyone! We hope you’re all enjoying your summer! And curious minds want to know what books are on your summer reading list.

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Writing in Style (Or Style in Writing?)

15 Jun

By Sammy Bina

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Anyone who knows me in real life (or just follows my inane ramblings on twitter or tumblr) knows that my not-so-secret second love in life is fashion. Every morning I wake up and check the publishing blogs I subscribe to, then immediately move on to the style blogs. My writing may be influenced that day by some tips I picked up, and my outfit may just be an interpretation of something I saw online. Either way, my day has been impacted by the two things I love most.

But what does fashion have to do with writing, you wonder. Besides the obvious fact that your characters wear clothes (or maybe they don’t. Maybe you’re writing about a nudist colony, in which case, this post may not be relevant).

As writers, we’re told to infuse our characters with personality. No one wants to read an entire novel where the main character is as bland as a piece of burnt, unbuttered toast. We’re told to give them quirks, a distinct voice, and maybe a few defining physical features. Clothing, I think, falls into the same category. Maybe it’s just me, but I pay close attention when an author takes the time to describe what a person is wearing, even if it’s only a passing sentence. Suzanne Collins doesn’t really waste a lot of words on Katniss’s dress for the opening ceremony. In fact, this is all we get:

“I am dressed in what will either be the most sensational or the deadliest costume in the opening ceremonies. I’m in a simple black unitard that covers me from ankle to neck. Shiny leather boots lace up to my knees. But it’s the fluttering cape made of streams of orange, yellow, and red and the matching headpiece that define this costume. “

“My face is relatively clear of makeup, just a bit of highlighting here and there. My hair has been brushed out and then braided down my back in my usual style.”

It’s pretty vague, if we’re being honest. We have absolutely no idea what the headpiece even looks like. But that’s okay, because we’re given an impression. In our minds, we’re able to understand that the dress is, in a lot of ways, like Katniss herself: simple yet powerful.

Period pieces require a little more effort than a contemporary novel. Instead of saying a character’s wearing jeans and a t-shirt, you’ve got to worry about historical accuracy. I took a class on the history of fashion in college, just so I’d have the basic information if I decided I ever wanted to write in that genre. The text book is actually a really great reference for anyone who’s looking for one: Survey of Historic Costume. There’s also a great website (the KCI Digital Archives) that has a lot of fantastic images compiled for your perusal. If you’ve read any historical romance novels, you’ll know that fashion plays a bigger role than it does in contemporary stories, if only because a person had to change so often, and a specific garment meant a specific thing in a specific situation. These days we don’t really have that problem; at least, not to such a degree.

Taking characterization into consideration, I think clothing is a totally legit way to help your readers understand them. I mentioned once how black clothing doesn’t make your leading man a bad boy, but it’s still making a statement. Same goes for that girl who’s always wearing frumpy clothes inspired by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Maybe she’s poor and can’t afford nice things. Maybe she doesn’t believe in wearing pants. Maybe she thinks she’s stuck in the 1800s. Whatever the reason, it speaks to her character as a whole.

Lately I’ve been trying to pay more attention to my physical portrayal of people and places. I’ve made a conscious effort to include some sort of clothing description where it’s necessary, and one of my CPs mentioned the interior of my main setting seemed a bit lackluster. Needless to say, I took the time to spruce it up. I realized she was right — initially, it was just a standard house. There was nothing defining about it. Now, as I go back and edit, it’s begun to take on a personality of its own. Which goes to say that clothing doesn’t just belong on people — you can dress up a setting, too!

If you’re anything like me and prefer a visual to help you with your descriptions, the above websites should be pretty helpful. Also, take a look at polyvore.com. Not only can you create visual representations of outfits, but interiors as well! I’ve definitely found it to be a very helpful tool in certain situations.

What about you guys? Do you think clothing can be an important aspect of characterization? I’d love to hear what you have to say!

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Sammy Bina graduated with a degree in Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and interned for the Elaine P. English literary agency in Washington D.C.. She is currently editing her YA dystopian, SILENCE. You can follow her blog or find her on twitter.

A Musical Secret

8 Jun

By Sammy Bina

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We’ve had plenty of articles about the importance of outlining here at LTWF, but today I thought I’d throw one more at you. Something a little out of left field, if you will. Something different. Because when it comes to outlining, I’ve never been a fan. In fact, I pretty openly despise it. Only recently have I been somewhat converted to the monstrosity known as the Detailed Outline (meaning I’ve only done it for one book); in every other instance (including the novel I actually made a Detailed Outline for), I’ve gone about things a bit differently.

My secret? I outline using music.

Writers are inspired by all sorts of things. Maybe for you it’s a conversation you overheard on the subway, or a really incredible piece of art. Maybe your ideas come to you while you’re in the shower, or in the middle of taking an exam. For me, music’s always been my muse. I tend to write my novels as if they were movies — I can see them play out in my head and, more importantly, can imagine the soundtrack playing faintly in the background. Ironically, I can’t write with music playing, but it’s a huge factor in actually getting me to write.

Allow me to explain how this all works.

Step 1: I get an idea for a novel. For realism’s sake, we’ll use my current WIP as an example.

Step 2: I open iTunes. That’s right — before I even open Word, I’ve got to get a playlist started. I even come bearing an example:

As you can see, this is the playlist for SILENCE. It’s still growing, but the initial playlist, before I even began writing, consisted of about 20 songs. Because the story’s very melancholy and quiet, I put together a compilation of songs that I thought would work well to set the tone. For example: William Fitzsimmons, Peter Bradley Adams, and a bunch of instrumentals.

Step 3: Start writing.

Step 4: Add songs to playlist. As new scenes are written, I try to imagine what song might be playing in the background if it were actually a movie. Most of the time the song actually inspires the scene, but sometimes it’s the other way around. For example, I consider SILENCE’s theme song to be If You Would Come Back Home by William Fitzsimmons, which is at the very top of the playlist. It isn’t directly related to any scene, but I always listen to it before I start editing. It really helps me sink back into the story and how I felt when I was writing it. Some people set the mood for a romantic evening at home. Me? I set the mood for a romantic evening with me and my computer.

Pivotal scenes often get more than one song. In the first chapter of SILENCE, the main character has a flashback to the night her parents died. The scene initially starts with a song from Yann Tiersen’s Amelie score, but as the tension grows, it turns into a song from Mansfield Park. Different instruments lend themselves to certain feelings, and in some cases, instrumentals aren’t even good enough. Sometimes you need lyrics. My soundtracks are so random and mismatched, but somehow, it just works.

By the time I’m done with a story (written and edited), the playlist is usually between 30 and 50 songs. It really depends on how scene-specific I get. SILENCE is a bit more like that, while my playlist for THE AGE OF NEVER GROWING OLD is more generic and mood-setting than anything. It all depends on the story. All I know is that this is the only real way I can outline. I start associating songs and lyrics with specific scenes or characters. The first novel I wrote had a pretty short playlist (short being 25 songs), but every time one of those comes up on my shuffle, I’m still reminded of scenes I wrote nearly a decade ago. Music sticks with you, which is why I think it’s been such an effective tool for me. So for those of you who are like me and are having trouble outlining, maybe give the musical route a go. If anything, you’ll get an awesome playlist out of it!

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Sammy Bina graduated with a degree in Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and interned for the Elaine P. English literary agency in Washington D.C.. She is currently editing her YA dystopian, SILENCE. You can follow her blog or find her on twitter.

Book Review: Bossypants

23 May

By Sammy Bina

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I admit, I do not religiously watch 30 Rock. In fact, I’ve only seen two episodes in my entire life. And while I watch SNL on occasion, it’s a very rare occasion. I can, however, quote Mean Girls with the best of them (“You go, Glen Coco! Four for you, Glen Coco!”) and really respect Tina Fey. I think she’s incredibly smart, hilarious, gorgeous, and totally in charge of her life. When Bossypants came out, I was hesitant to pick up a copy because I don’t really follow 30 Rock, and thought a lot of the humor would go straight over my head.

Boy, was I wrong. In fact, if anything, I think I took away some very important lessons after reading this book.

Some things I’ve taken away with me:
– Make sure I know where the lifeboats are when/if I ever go on a cruise.
– My Sarah Palin impersonation could use some work.
– If you even remotely look like someone famous, use it to your advantage.
– I should’ve spent more time with theater kids after high school.
– Never hike up a mountain at night to impress a boy.
– Don’t provide my children with informational packets meant for adults.
– It will be a huge hassle to get Oprah to appear on my future Emmy-nominated reality show.
– I need to be in more professional photo shoots.

Bossypants is essentially a memoir detailing the (not-so) finer points of Tina Fey’s existence. It covers her awkward childhood, reminding me of some of my own mishaps. Of course she talks about her time with SNL and her current place at 30 Rock. But above that, it’s incredibly empowering. The feminist in me fist-pumped at many points throughout the book. Tina Fey sets a great example, not just for women, but for anyone (especially the awkward and average) trying to do something with their life. After I finished, I felt like I could go out there and do anything. Except maybe fly.

Tina Fey tells it like it is. She encourages people to be who they are and nothing less. If there’s one thing I took away from her book, it’s that.

Also, to have a box of Kleenex nearby. To wipe away the constant flow of tears caused by endless laughter.

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Sammy Bina graduated with a degree in Creative Writing, and is an intern for the Elaine P. English literary agency. She is currently editing her YA dystopian, SILENCE. You can follow her blog or find her on twitter.

How to Major in Awesome and Fun

17 May

By Sammy Bina

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Well, it’s official! I graduated. I’ll never have to write another thesis, worry about being late to class, hike up a ridiculously large hill to turn in a bunch of useless forms, or do homework. As of Sunday morning, I’ve stepped into the real world. And you know what? It’s scary.

For the last five years I’ve been waiting for the day when I’d no longer have to worry about school. Since 2006 I’ve attended four different universities, each one a bigger challenge than the one before it. And while I accumulated a decent amount of knowledge from one very large stack of textbooks, I also learned a lot about myself. So, while I’m feeling nostalgic, I thought I’d take some time today to share a little of what I learned over the last few years in regards to being a Creative Writing major.

I’d like to preface this story by saying I’ve always known I wanted to be a writer. I began my college career as a journalism major, spawned by my love of Kirk Cameron (who played a journalist in that one movie, Left Behind). It sounded like such a glamorous lifestyle — jetsetting to all these foreign countries and interviewing important people. “I could totally do that,” I said to myself.

Well, it turns out I couldn’t. That was the first (and most important) lesson I learned in college: I wanted to write for myself, not because other people told me I had to. It was the reason I switched to Creative Writing and transferred colleges. Both of those decisions were key to getting me to where I am now. So I urge you all to remember, when you get frustrated with your writing, remember you’re doing it for yourself. What other people think doesn’t matter. If writing makes you happy, then that’s all that matters. Never let someone tell you differently.

As someone majoring in Creative Writing, it’s safe to say that you’re going to be asked the following question more than once (probably way more than that, actually): “So… what, uh, do you plan to do with that?” I was asked that so many times that, for a while, I really began to doubt my choice. What was I going to do with my degree? Being a writer wasn’t going to pay the bills. Hell, I didn’t even have an agent, let alone a book deal. I just knew that writing was what I loved to do and I learned to be satisfied with that. It wasn’t until after I figured that out that I really started looking into publishing.

And these days, I am satisfied. Quite satisfied, in fact. College was certainly a trip, and it had its ups and downs. But I can honestly say that I had fun. The Creative Writing department at my school was awesome. I learned so much about writing, characterization, setting, plot, and most importantly, how to put together a story the night before it’s due. I made great writer friends that I still have to this day. Which leads me to my next lesson: never turn away a fellow writer. Because no matter what, you’ll always be able to learn something from them. And you’ll probably make some really great friends in the process.

Another key piece of wisdom I’d like to impart would be this: don’t be discouraged. People are going to doubt you, including yourself. You’re going to get ripped apart in workshops, or by others who read your writing. You’re going to get ridiculously stressed out and wonder why you even bothered to go to college in the first place. There were definitely times when I considered dropping out and just looking for a job. But you know what? I stuck with it. And if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have this totally awesome picture to show for it:

(Yes, we’re 23 and still play Harry Potter in our caps and gowns.)

Some more advice: get involved. It’s so cliche, and everyone tells you how important it is, but it’s true. Most universities have some kind of newspaper, or magazine, or literary journal. Find out what your options are and sign up. I worked for my school’s literary journal for over three years, and I probably learned more from that than I did from my workshop classes. I saw so many different styles of writing, in so many different genres. I learned what worked and what didn’t. I also made writer friends which, as I said, are totally awesome. Tuesday nights will never be the same, knowing I don’t have a meeting to go to. But the 3+ years I spent with those kids and the stories we got are some of the best memories I have of my time in college.

Being a Creative Writing major also taught me not to be afraid to ask for help. I’ve always been pretty independent, but the last few years I’ve accepted the fact that sometimes I need help. Those writer friends I made? They were the people I turned to. When I couldn’t think of a word, or a name, or needed help with my effed up plot, they were there for me. And not just when it came to writing. They were indispensable in other areas too. When my work got plagiarized, when I moved halfway around the world, when I wrote my thesis, when I began querying, they were there. I’ll never forget that.

There are lots of other things I could say, but they don’t really have a lot to do with writing, so I’ll leave them out. But I can say this: two days after graduating college and I feel on top of the world. I’m still struggling to figure out what I’m doing, but I’m okay. I’ve got some time to make plans. Sure, the job market is terrifying right now. And I’m sure I’m going to be doubting my degree again in the near future. I’ll just have to remind myself that I majored in awesome and fun, and that if I try hard enough, I’ll find something. You guys will too.

So I know it’s cheesy and cliche, but I feel the need to remind all of you of one very important thing: Don’t ever let someone tell you you can’t do something. If you want to major in Creative Writing, do it. If you want to be a writer, do it. Don’t major in business if you’d rather be plotting novels. Do what you love. I turned out okay, and you will too.

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Sammy Bina graduated with a degree in Creative Writing, and is an intern for the Elaine P. English literary agency. She is currently editing her YA dystopian, SILENCE. You can follow her blog or find her on twitter.

The Procrastination Queen

28 Apr

By Sammy Bina

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I’ve been trying to think of something to write for today for a while. I made a list of potential topics I could discuss, but none of them seemed quite right. I considered writing you guys a book recommendation, or talking to you about all the exciting novels coming out this summer. I thought about comparing books vs. their television counterparts, but I decided to save that for a day when I’m more coherent.

So what did I decide to write about?

Procrastination. (Even as I write this, I’m putting off a paper that’s due tomorrow. I know. It’s sad.)

I’d like to take this moment to go on record as saying I’m a huge fan of Glee. Yep, that’s right. I’m a Gleek. But I’m sure I’m not the only one, so how many of you watched last night’s episode, Born This Way? For those of you who didn’t, the premise was to come to accept something about yourself you cannot change. Then the kids wore t-shirts with those things written across the chest. I rather liked the idea, and decided this would be mine:

(Yes, my photoshop skills are boss.)

(Not.)

The last few weeks have been insanely busy for me, due to the fact that I’m graduating soon. In the midst of all the school chaos, I had to worry about applying to grad school, jobs, and finding somewhere to live. I got so wrapped up in worrying about things that were going to happen that I forgot about the things I currently had to deal with. Like papers and that one thing we all have in common: writing.

It’s funny. It seems that whenever I have time to write, I put it off and work on other things, and when I have absolutely no free time, I find myself glued to Word. It’s a horrible, vicious cycle of me procrastinating. I never seem to want to do the things I have time for until the time to do them no longer exists. It makes for a really awkward, unreliable writing schedule, and it’s proven to be quite the inhibition.

I love writing. This should go without saying. But as many of us here at LTWF have expressed, we have our doubts. And when I doubt myself, I procrastinate. If that scene isn’t turning out right, I put it aside and say I’ll come back to it later. Only later stretches further and further until I’ve psyched myself out so much, I don’t want to even look at it anymore. Even if it isn’t that bad.

Sometimes I have a hard time nailing a character down. I can see them in my head just fine, but they don’t come out on the page that way. So I rewrite everything. And then I do it again, because I’m still not happy. Then I get frustrated and walk away, come back, and tell myself I’ll just keep writing and fix it all later. Which proves to be a problem because then I end up with an entire story written with one majorly flawed character. And not in a good way. By procrastinating, I’ve given myself even more work to do.

I’ve been waiting for some free time (or lack there of) to come up so I could get back into my current WIP. The problem is, I’ve been away from it for over a month, and now I’m almost too scared to go back and look at it. What if it’s not as good as I remember? What if those scenes I left hanging are even more of an enigma? What if that one character I couldn’t get quite right remains a total mystery? By putting things off, I’ve psyched myself out. I’m left feeling rattled, and I haven’t even seen the manuscript in weeks.

The point I’m trying to make, dear readers, is that procrastination is not your friend. This may seem obvious, but somehow I still get wrapped up in it from time to time. I let doubt push me toward other, less productive things, like baking or marathoning 90s British TV. And while baking and television are all well and good, they aren’t the thing I love the most. I’m not trying to make a career out of cookies or laziness. So this week I decided to put a note beside my bed that simply says ‘WRITE! (Even if it scares you.)’ Because putting it off hasn’t done me a lick of good. I’ve been stressing myself out needlessly over a story that I love. That I hope, one day, other people will read and love. So I’m going to dive back in. I’m accepting the fact that I was born this way, that I can be a major procrastinator when I want to be, and am trying to overcome that and all the doubt it instills.

And on that note, I’d like to leave you with some parting words of wisdom:

Procrastination: don’t do it.

~~~

Sammy Bina is finishing up her last semester of college as a creative writing major. She’s currently revising her YA dystopian, SILENCE, and is an intern for the Elaine P. English Literary Agency. You can follow her blog, tumblr, or find her on twitter.

Book Recommendation: Wither

12 Apr

I was lucky enough to get an ARC of this a few months ago and have been anxiously awaiting its release so I could tell you all to go pick up a copy!

But before I even try to put into words how much I loved this book, let’s just take a moment to admire the cover, shall we? Lizzy Bromley did an INCREDIBLE job. The art nerd in me geeked out over this image. There are so many textures in the photo, the coloring is subdued but pops against the pink geometric patterns (I’m not sure if they’re supposed to represent the lines architects use, which would be especially cool), and I, for one, appreciate the symbolism with the bird in the cage. The fashionista in me also just loved the dress the model’s wearing. The geometric pattern continues throughout the book, so every time I turned the page, I couldn’t help but smile. If you want an aesthetically pleasing book, look no further. WITHER takes the cake, hands down.

But cover aside, the story itself is fantastic. Here’s a summary, taken from goodreads:

What if you knew exactly when you would die? 

Thanks to modern science, every human being has become a ticking genetic time bomb—males only live to age twenty-five, and females only live to age twenty. In this bleak landscape, young girls are kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages to keep the population from dying out.

When sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is taken by the Gatherers to become a bride, she enters a world of wealth and privilege. Despite her husband Linden’s genuine love for her, and a tenuous trust among her sister wives, Rhine has one purpose: to escape—to find her twin brother and go home.

But Rhine has more to contend with than losing her freedom. Linden’s eccentric father is bent on finding an antidote to the genetic virus that is getting closer to taking his son, even if it means collecting corpses in order to test his experiments. With the help of Gabriel, a servant Rhine is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to break free, in the limted time she has left.

That description was initially what drew me in. As a dystopian writer/lover myself, this sounded like something right up my alley. Weird age requirements? Check. A mildly effed-up love triangle? Check. Strange, freaky science stuff? Check. Add to that one of the most gorgeous covers I’ve ever seen, and I knew I had to have it.

A word to the wise: pick up a copy of this book as soon as you get the chance. Once I started, I couldn’t put it down. And that hasn’t happened to me in a while.

In the past year or two, I’ve had a hard time suspending my disbelief while reading some YA novels. That wasn’t the case with WITHER at all. In fact, I bought the story hook, line, and sinker. Though we’re never given a specific date for when the story takes place, we’re told it’s in the very near future. I’ll throw out 2100 as my guess. The world Rhine lives in operates very much the way ours does, with a few exceptions (for starters, the destruction of NYC boroughs, and Gatherers that snatch girls up to sell to the highest bidder). The idea of Gatherers freaked me out so much, in fact, I actually jumped when a gray van drove past me the day after I’d read it. Vaughn’s basement was especially terrifying. Perhaps because we see so little of it, but are left with Rhine’s speculations, or because DeStefano describes it with such haunting detail. You feel trapped inside the house as much as Rhine does, and I applaud  Lauren DeStefano for that. As a reader, you feel totally submerged in this bleak, dreary world, and it leaves you stunned for a while after you’re done.

The prose is absolutely phenomenal. The descriptions are spot-on and unique. I found quite a few phrases I wish I’d come up with myself. Things were described in ways you’d never think would be accurate, but were frighteningly astute observations once you actually thought about it. The description of the autumn leaves really stuck with me, and I doubt I’ll ever see them the same way again. I’ll be looking to experience them the same way Rhine did. The sign of a great writer is when they make you rethink things you take for granted. This book really made me appreciate some of the little things in life I never really considered important.

The characters were just as great as the cover and descriptions. The sister wives (not to be confused with that awful, yet addicting show on TLC) were girls I constantly wanted to hug. Cecily is endearing, despite being a brat, and Jenna’s fiercely loyal beneath a hard exterior. Even minor characters, like the cooks, or the bumbling servant, were charming in their own ways. Vaughn wasn’t the stereotypical villain I was expecting because, underneath all the horrible things he was doing, you knew he was doing it because he loved his son. And poor Linden, who was so utterly clueless about the world and how his wives came to him. I wanted to hate him, but I just couldn’t. He’s almost more of a child than Cecily, and you just want to play mom and tell him everything’s going to be okay. Gabriel, though we don’t see him with Rhine all that often, is charming in his own way. And when he’s in trouble, you understand Rhine’s panic and wish you could help him, too.

But above all, I loved Rhine. She’s a great heroine for a story like this. In some ways, she reminds me of Katniss from THE HUNGER GAMES. She comes from a place where family members have to constantly look out for each other, and a home without parents (Katniss had a mother, but you know what I mean). Throughout her captivity, all she wants is to get home to her brother. And while we never meet Rowan, I like him, and I like their relationship. Rhine does whatever it takes to fool those around her to get what she wants – to get back home. She’s driven, and she knows what she wants, but she has doubts. The fact that she’s human, that sometimes she doubts her resolve, really resonated with me. It made her relatable, and it made you want her to succeed even more. She’s been forced into this terrible situation, but she manages to find pockets of light amongst the darkness. She makes friends. And when it comes down to it, maybe even love. And despite how much she wants to escape, she still wants to protect those around her. She’s strong, but she’s flawed, and I think a lot of readers are going to like her once they can get their hands on this book. So go out, get a copy, and join me in anxiously awaiting the second book!

~~~

Sammy Bina is finishing up her last semester of college as a creative writing major. She’s currently revising her YA dystopian, SILENCE, and is an intern for the Elaine P. English Literary Agency. You can follow her blog, or find her on twitter.

Why We’re Not As Cool As You Originally Thought: Sammy Bina

29 Mar

Hey ladies and gents! I feel exceptionally lazy — I was going to do a vlog for this, but realized my room was far too messy to show you guys (and didn’t want/have time to clean it up). It literally looks like a tornado blew through it. And my camera is lost (and potentially destroyed), so you get this lovely post instead!

*Events are not exaggerated.

Wake Up Time:
When I should wake up: 9am
When I actually wake up: Between 10 and 11…  1 if I’m feeling special.

Breakfast:
What I should be eating: Cereal and milk, a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, perfectly browned toast, and bacon. Because you always need bacon.
What I’m actually eating: Nothing. Or leftovers from the night before.

Shower:
Optimum time spent in shower: 8 minutes and 32 seconds
Actual time spent in shower: 15 minutes and 97 seconds

Time between shower and class:
What I should be doing: Homework. Definitely homework.
What I’m actually doing: Checking twitter, tumblr, facebook, and all the fashion blogs I follow. Then I watch a few installments of A Very Potter Musical, maybe catch up on the show(s) I missed the night before. I probably bake, too.

Lunch also occurs during this time. And I actually know how to cook, so one of my roommates and I (I have eight) make an elaborate lunch based on recipes we found on tastespotting (aka the best website in the entire world. Next to LTWF.) Dessert is always included.

Class:
Attending either: History of Fashion (Clothes Class), The Nude in 19th Century French Art (Art Class), or Women and Our Bodies (Vagina Class).

Work:
What I should be doing: Making coffee.
What I’m actually doing: Plotting how to write my phone number on someone’s cup, just like in the movies.

Time between work and bedtime:
What I should be doing: Homework. Definitely homework.
What I’m actually doing: Watching Law & Order: SVU or Hoarders marathons, reading (for fun), window shopping online, watching youtube videos with my roommates.

Bedtime:
When I should go to bed: Midnight
When I actually go to bed: 3am

So, as you can see, my life is pretty uneventful! Sometimes I manage to find time to write, and on Sundays I go out for brunch. Exciting, I know.

~~~

Sammy Bina is finishing up her last semester of college as a creative writing major. She’s currently revising her YA dystopian, SILENCE, and is an intern for the Elaine P. English Literary Agency. You can follow her blog, or find her on twitter.

Writing With Immediacy

22 Mar

By Sammy Bina

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For the longest time, I had no idea what passive voice was. You’d think, as a creative writing major, a professor would’ve explained that at one point or another. I learned a lot of things while taking workshops in college, but passive voice was somehow always passed over for lessons on condensing plot and the importance of realistic dialogue. And while those lectures were incredibly useful, I wish someone had taken the time to tell me why passive voice can be so destructive to your writing.

I found this nifty worksheet a while back, which defines passive voice as the following:

A passive construction occurs when you make the object of an action into the subject of a sentence. That is, whoever or whatever is performing the action is not the grammatical subject of the sentence.

If that didn’t make any sense to you, it also included the following example which, I find, is much easier to understand.

Take a look at this passive rephrasing of a familiar joke:

Why was the road crossed by the chicken?

Who is doing the action in this sentence? The chicken is the one doing the action in this sentence, but the chicken is not in the spot where you would expect the grammatical subject to be. Instead, the road is the grammatical subject. The more familiar phrasing (why did the chicken cross the road?) puts the actor in the subject position, the position of doing something—the chicken (the actor/doer) crosses the road (the object). We use active verbs to represent that “doing,” whether it be crossing roads, proposing ideas, making arguments, or invading houses

I’ve come back to this sheet numerous times when trying to spot my own passive sentences. Susan’s fantastic post about using filter words has also become a go-to resource. Why? Because my first drafts are riddled with passive voice and filter words. Though I know not to use them, they somehow always creep into my manuscript, hiding until I come back for revisions. Maybe it’s because I’m so focused on getting the story down that I don’t pay much attention to what words I’m using. But now that I’m well into revising my current WIP, I’ve had to edit out a decent amount of filter words and passive sentence construction. I’d sent my manuscript to a friend to look over, and she pointed out that a specific event in chapter one wasn’t immediate enough. Want to take a gander as to why?

That’s right. Passive voice and filter words.

Weeks later, I’ve gone back and hopefully corrected all of my earlier slip-ups. In the hopes of teaching by example, I thought I’d share a small excerpt of my current project, SILENCE. The first will be from before revisions, and the second is the current, updated version. I think you’ll be able to see and feel the difference!

Original

We were running, my lungs burning as I sucked in the frigid November air. My eyes were stinging, and I couldn’t stop the tears as the wind continued to pummel us. My parents were on either side of me, hands clenched into fists as we sprinted up Bridge Street, the rest of the rebels only steps behind. In the distance, we could hear the Guard calling out to us, demanding our immediate surrender.

None of us stopped.

The chase continued for what seemed like hours, though it couldn’t have been more than a few minutes. My entire body ached, and I could feel the others losing momentum as we pushed against the gale. Snow stung my skin and turned it pink, and my feet slipped on ice as we rounded the corner, the bridge only a few hundred feet away. I could see the woods and felt my heart soar – we were going to make it! I’d grown up in the woods; I knew how to hide. If I could get there, I’d be safe.

But I didn’t make it. None of us did. The sound of high-powered rifles filled the night. Pop-pop-pop. I saw someone to the right of me go down in a spray of red.

“Go!” Papa yelled, shoving both my mother and I.

Pop.

I turned around just in time to see my father fall face-first into the snow. I opened my mouth to scream, but my mother grabbed my arm and dragged me forward.

“Run, Neva.” I felt two hands on my back as she shoved me, propelling me toward the trees. “Whatever you do, don’t stop running.”

Pop.

And I did exactly what she told me not to. I stopped. Right there, in the middle of the bridge, not thirty feet from the treeline, I stopped. My mother was lying in the snow, one arm outstretched. It was almost as if she were reaching for me. I couldn’t see her face, but I could imagine the desperation and fear that still lingered there. Something inside my chest shattered, and I took a step forward, desperate to get to her.

“Mom?” I whispered, hesitant. I knew she was dead, but part of me just couldn’t believe it. I needed to see for myself. I needed to know for sure.

After Revisions

I was running, my lungs burning as I sucked in the frigid November air. My eyes stung and I couldn’t stop the tears as the wind pummeled my body. My parents were on either side of me, hands clenched into fists as we sprinted up Bridge Street, the rest of the rebels only steps behind. In the distance, the Guard called out to us, demanding our immediate surrender.

No one stopped.

I pushed myself even harder, arms pumping at my sides. My entire body ached. Sleet pricked my skin and turned it pink, and my feet slipped on ice as we rounded another corner. The bridge was only a few hundred feet away, swaying dangerously back and forth. I saw the woods beyond it and my heart soared. If I could make it past the tree line, I’d be safe.

But I didn’t. None of us did. The sound of high-powered rifles filled the night. Pop-pop-pop. Someone to the right of me went down in a spray of red.

“Go!” Papa yelled, shoving both my mother and I.

Pop.

The driving force behind me fell away. I turned around just in time to see my father fall face-first into the snow. I opened my mouth to scream but my mother grabbed my arm and dragged me onto the bridge. I stumbled, reaching out to steady myself. The rope left a splotchy, crimson burn on the palm of my hand.

Mom had stopped to signal the others to disperse but she was too late. Most of the rebels were lying in the snow, scattered across the clearing. My heart dropped into my stomach as I stood there, my breath forming tiny puffs in the night air.

The planks beneath my feet shivered as she came back to retrieve me. “Run, Neva,” she ordered, propelling me toward the woods. “Whatever you do, don’t stop running.”

We took off in the direction of the trees, their branches like open arms. The green patches untouched by snow were welcome mats, inviting me closer. Cold air burned my lungs but I pushed forward, desperately seeking the cover the woods would provide.

Pop.

And then I did exactly what I’d been told not to. I stopped. Right there, in the middle of the bridge. I was less than twenty feet from the tree line, but I couldn’t take another step. My mother lay in the snow, one arm outstretched toward me. Red curls fanned out across the snow, long tendrils whipping back and forth in the breeze. Her coat was red, but it didn’t match the spray of muddy crimson around her. I forced myself to move toward her.

“Mom?” I whispered. She was dead – I knew it – but acceptance was slow in coming. I needed to see for myself.

Hopefully I’m not delusional in thinking the second one is more immediate. I cut some passive phrases and pulled as many filter words as I could catch. I think it’s really important to read your own writing back to yourself. Out loud, if you can. For some reason I have a much easier time catching awkward phrasing when I’m actually speaking.

There aren’t really any hard or fast rules for writing with immediacy. However, passive voice is definitely a no-no, and filter words can also take away the importance of a moment. Certain scenes call for very immediate action, especially when told in first person (*cough*HUNGERGAMES*cough*).The way a scene is written can really make a difference for the reader. We may not have cared about Katniss so much if everything had been very ho-hum, “Hi, I’m Katniss. I like bows and arrows and boys who bake bread. And also boys whose names remind me of storms. Now I’m in this big ol’ arena and think I’ll go shoot some things.” I mean, come on. That would make for a really boring story. What drew readers in was how immediate everything felt. You constantly were in the moment with her, and thus  able to relate to her and her situation.

What I’ve been working on is really envisioning the scene in my head. I try to put myself in my character’s shoes and observe everything as they would. Obviously I saw something, so I don’t need to reference that every time something happens (ie: “I saw such and such happen.”) Things like that can be difficult to catch, but the more aware of it you become, the easier it is to spot. As they say, practice makes perfect. So make yourself aware of the problems that could detract from the immediacy in your writing. Know what to look for and work to avoid it as best you can. I doubt I’ll ever have a first draft that’s free of passive voice and filter words, but with each book I write, I’ve been able to catch more and more. I know you’ll be able to do the same.

~~~

Sammy Bina is finishing up her last semester of college as a creative writing major. She’s currently revising her YA dystopian, SILENCE, and is an intern for the Elaine P. English Literary Agency. You can follow her blog, or find her on twitter.

Workshops: A Survival Guide

10 Mar

By Sammy Bina

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Ah, the workshop. Something the Creative Writing major fears, yet simultaneously adores. It is a place where our work is torn apart, then put back together by esteemed (or not-so-esteemed) classmates and professors. Where we are able to hone our craft in the hopes that it will someday lead to publication.

Yet so many people are intimidated by it. The other day I spoke with some freshmen at my college who were considering majoring in Creative Writing. The reason they had yet to declare? Fear of workshops. Before my first one, I felt like I was walking headfirst into the zombie apocalypse (hence today’s picture), so I can understand their anxiety. However, I will tell you what I told them: don’t let your fears hold you back.

So, for those of you still on the fence, or who may be dreading your first workshop, I’m here to give you the 411 on how things work. Keep in mind each school runs them differently, but I think the basics are all pretty much the same.

1. Class sizes are small. My school caps a workshop at 15, and I’ve had one as small as 10. This is good news for you because the smaller the class, the more opportunities you have to share your writing. The more you share, the more you learn. It also means that, yes, you will have to speak.

2. Participation, as I mentioned, is kind of mandatory. On the weeks people critique your work, you may not be allowed to speak for the entire period (I’ve heard a few people say this), or you may be invited to ask questions of your peers based on their comments. Conversely, when it’s someone else’s week, you’ll have to give them feedback. A lot of times this will come in the form of marking up the pages they gave you, or turning in a critique.

Critiques themselves can be a bit tricky. Sometimes you’re going to come across a piece you didn’t like, made no sense, or was obviously thrown together the night before (trust me, it happens). And while you need to be honest, be nice about it. Constructive criticism is what people look for in workshops. Be sure to tell your classmates what you did like! Even if it’s just the character’s name, or the title, you can always find something nice to say. I had a professor whose rule was to write a paragraph talking about the things you enjoyed, and then a second detailing what you thought could be improved upon. This way the writer didn’t go home feeling craptastic at the end of the day. The one guy in my class who never once said anything nice about anyone’s work? Well, he never got nice comments in return. Give and take, people.

3. Know that you’re not always going to agree with what people say about your work. Workshop is essentially a giant group of beta readers and, as we’ve talked about here before, you’re not always going to agree with people. And that’s okay. Keep an open mind during workshop. I learned some really valuable techniques and advice from people who gave me some tough love. I also learned when to pick out and toss aside comments that didn’t matter. At the end of the day, it’s still you’re story. Never forget that.

4. Writing styles vary, so be prepared. One of the things I enjoyed most about workshops were the varied writing styles I came across. My favorite class had a mix of horror writers, a satirical writer, one girl who loved to imitate gothic literature, and a taxi driver whose stories stemmed from wacky conversations he overheard in his backseat. I read some really fantastic things that semester, but there were also a few experimental writers whose pieces I could never understand. It’s okay when you don’t get something; chances are someone else didn’t either. But it’s still a learning opportunity.

5. Be prepared to do some reading. Not only will you be reading work by your classmates, but you’ll probably be reading some short stories or novel excerpts as well. Hemingway, Joyce, Poe, Updike, and Oates are all names I’ve come across when reading for class. Read from the best, learn from the best.

6. Expect to see people of all ages. I’ve been in classes with freshmen as well as middle-aged and old men. The varying ages mean varying life experiences, and some really interesting stories and life lessons. Discussions don’t always wind up revolving around the written word, so you might pick up some valuable tips along the way. Take note!

7. You don’t always have to write short stories. I was petrified when I joined my first workshop because I am a terrible short story writer. My first one was torn to bits, and I went home feeling totally defeated. Then I found out I could submit chapters from my novel instead, and my love of workshop increased ten-fold. I can’t guarantee that your school follows this rule, but I’ve talked to a fair number of people where this is allowed. So if writing short stories is what’s scaring you off, just ask!

8. Sometimes there’s food. And free food is always a good reason to go somewhere. I had one summer workshop where we’d occasionally meet at the campus bar. That, my friends, was a good time.

9. Like any class, you can’t always pick your teacher. You might wind up with a lousy instructor, in which case you might feel as if you’re not learning anything. But if the instructor isn’t fantastic, just pay attention to the other kids in class.  You can always learn something from them.

On the other hand, you might wind up with a fabulous instructor. I’ve studied under some really fantastic people, and I wouldn’t trade my time with them for anything. My writing definitely improved because of them and I still see them around campus. Because of the small class size, you get to know your professors pretty well and they can be invaluable resources when you need letters of recommendation, or even just advice.

So hopefully that’s taken the scare out of the dreaded workshop. I can promise you you’ll learn an insane amount if you pay attention, and your writing’s definitely going to improve. If you’re considering signing up for one, I encourage you to do it. Having your work critiqued is never an easy thing, but you can’t really improve until someone tells you what you’re doing wrong. So take a chance. Live a little. Learn a lot.

For those of you who’ve taken workshops before, did you enjoy them? Learn anything particularly useful?

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Sammy Bina is finishing up her last semester of college as a creative writing major. She’s currently revising her YA dystopian, SILENCE, and is an intern for the Elaine P. English Literary Agency. You can follow her blog, or find her on twitter.