Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Adventure Mantra 2011

Soon it will be 2011, an entire decade from the maelstrom of 9/11. The creator of facebook has been crowned man of the year. Email is rendered uncool, as it's all about texting, apps and iPads. The economy is creaking uphill, and the book industry is in a chaotic swirl. As Vampire lit is trending out, Aronofsky's luminous film, Black Swan cements the trending in of magic realism, and the subsequent blending of horror and magical realism. Conan's back, and his holiday set has been designed by a freaky New Agey guy living in the California desert and sporting a beard and a shalwar kameez.
Life in the good ole US of A. Weirdness, color and adventure.

Which brings me to thinking about dreams and wishes for 2011. I'm not really interested in New Year's resolutions, as they tend to be dropped after a couple of weeks. I'm thinking more along the lines of an overarching dream.

Adventure! Go places that fire up your imagination and inspire your writing. For me, that's traveling to places less familiar to Americans. For me, it was India, Russia, and now China. In 2011 it may be Istanbul. Take a notebook and fill it with sketches, ramblings, observations.

Pamper yourself between stints of hard work. Go for that massage, that spa visit, a day hike, a leisurely bike ride with friends.

Make a new writer friend. Have lunch, dinner, or a cuppa joe. Establish a pen-pal back and forth. Exchange ideas!

Subscribe to a foreign online paper. The Shanghai Daily? The Guardian? Expand your tight circle of where you get your info.

Make a gratitude list of all of your accomplishments of 2010. Don't fall into the trap of thinking about what you didn't accomplish. For a warning on this, check out Kelly Hashway's great post on Finding Balance:

Above all, don't take yourself so darn seriously! Have fun with what you do.

Seek adventure, take calculated risks, and more adventure! That's my mantra of 2011.
What's yours?

I'll think of you all fondly when I'm standing on the Great Wall of China, and freezing my ___ off as the Mongolian wind roars over the mountains. Cheerio!

Monday, December 20, 2010

book giveaway!

Today was our very first snow here in Boston. I find writing in the winter particularly satisfying, because I don't have that feeling that I should be doing something else. Are you kidding me? It's freezing out there! Why not stay home in my cozy socks and sip tea? As long as I get some work done, of course.

And work is exactly what I have ahead of me. If the draft in my bag at the moment is any indication, there are global revisions on the horizon. This is enough to give me a writerly crisis, but as it is a holiday-ish time of year, I'm trying not to stress about it. Too much. Where will the doubt and worry get me? Nowhere. Just wound up like a peppermint twist by the time I actually sit down and work on my new draft.

As a distraction from my current writing woes, I've got a book giveaway to share with you! To enter, follow my blog at it's new home: I'm giving away Lauren Strasnick's new novel, Her and Me and You; The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan; Bewitching Season by Marissa Doyle; and, of course, signed copies of The King's Rose and The Blood Confession. I plan to send the books out next week, after the holiday rush. Please check it out.
I'll be sure to blog again soon about my revising (rewriting) adventures. Until then: deep breaths. Cozy socks. Lots of tea.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Demise of the mega-bookstore?

Barnes and Noble and Borders are both reporting troubling numbers. B&N seems to be holding on just barely, but Borders is closing yet more stores. I was talking to another writer friend of mine, and we had some interesting thoughts about why this might be happening, beyond the looming bugaboo of e-books.

I've always thought it strange that, even though young adult books are the fastest growing and most lucrative genre going right now, Barnes and Noble stores dedicate comparatively little space to this genre. Fiction for adults takes up easily more than three times the room, even though YA novels sell like hot cakes, and not just to the target audience. Lots of adults read YA too. Seems as though B&N isn't quite keeping up with the trends in the marketplace. What's more, they stock a very limited selection of YA novels, dedicating huge amounts of shelf space to best selling writers and very little to the well-reviewed midlisters. So a voracious reader might easily exhaust the selection at the local B&N and instead resort to ordering books online, or going to the library, where there is a wider selection of quality writing.

My friend also had a very interesting thought. She feels that the larger stores neglect regional needs. There are plenty of writers, like her and me, who are very well known in their own geographic region because we tend to do events near our homes to cut on travel costs. Word gets around about local novelists, and people go to their local bookstores looking for their books. But try to find one of our books at the local B&N or Borders and you can't. So all the benefit of the publicity we do regionally is lost on the megastores, and the slack is taken up by independent bookstores (and more power to them) as well as online sales. 

Ask any ten readers about the threat of e-books to the printed tome, and the majority will tell you they are too attached to the sensory experience of holding a book. The smell of printer's ink, the feel of the rough paper under our fingertips --they're part of the pleasure of reading. Perhaps these megastores should stop looking at the scary boogie man outside their doors, staring through their windows with digital eyes, and instead focus inwardly on improving how they go about peddling that ancient technological innovation: The good old book.


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Thrilling Holiday Gifts for your Author Friends

The holidays are fast approaching and you need to find those perfect gifts, including ones for your writer friends! Susan Kaye Quinn’s fun post on her Ink Spells blog about holiday presents for writers got me inspired to research and think up more great gifts.

You could buy your special author friend a party dress made entirely out of paper—specifically, out of phone books, designed by the awesome Jolis Paon. What a cool way to recycle! How about a gift certificate to a day spa for a massage, focusing on your writer buddy’s troubled neck. Or what about a tropical cruise? Neal Schusterman, the YA thriller author swears by cruises, and says that’s where he writes his best novels! Does your friend like jewelry? What about custom jewelry for writers? Tickets to hear your friend’s favorite author speak will, no doubt, be appreciated. A chocolate keyboard? Or simply some random keys? If your beta reader has a philanthropic streak, you could donate money to his or her favorite scholarship fund., for instance, funds Freedom to Write and prison writing programs. Or you could donate to an scholarship fund, such as the work in progress grant for a needy author. A gift certificate to your friend’s fave indie bookstore is always a sure bet. Does your friend like to entertain as well as write? Then how about a great authors coaster set? Cups that say “Be careful or you'll end up in my novel” are always conversations starters. Finally, for the fanciful cook or writer of historical fiction, you could always gift a digital Medieval cookbook, with recipes from 1390, some from Richard II’s own kitchen!

What is your dream present? Any other great ideas to add to the list? Feel free to list as many as you want! And don’t get too distracted by putting up the tree and making sprinkle cookies to keep on writing!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Are MFA programs really such a scam?

I just read this article in the Huffington Post about MFA programs. The main thrust of the article is to go after James Frey, who has created his own packaging business for young adult novels, and is courting writers by going into MFA programs and making presentations. I completely agree with this blogger when she says the programs shouldn't let Frey in, but I'm not sure I'm down with her take that many MFA programs are out to soak their students for money, without giving them the skills they need to survive as professional writers. I think more depends on the student than depends on the program. Here is the full text of the article:

And here is the comment I wrote in response:

I agree that these MFA programs shouldn't let James Frey in for his song and dance. Nor should those students let themselves in for it. But in defense of MFA programs, I will say that I made connections in mine that have been invaluable to me professionally. And yes, I have published, and I've got a sustainable career as a writer. I may be in the minority, but I think that's because I didn't give up when the going got tough, and I've had a few lucky turns, for which I am very grateful. If not for my MFA program, I doubt I would have been in a position to be "lucky," and I might not have had the wisdom to avail myself of opportunities. MFA's aren't the only way to go, not by a long shot, but they're not all bad, either. (And incidentally, word to the wise, if you're planning on going for an MFA, get a job at the university you're attending if they offer a tuition benefit. Most do. My MFA was basically free. I had to work my butt off, but that's good prep for being a professional writer anyway.)

What do you think? Is Hillary Rettig being too hard on MFA programs, or am I being too easy on them? 


Thursday, November 18, 2010

This makes me think I'm with the right publisher.

My publisher is St. Martin's Press, which is a subsidiary of MacMillan, a company that is taking the lead in standing up to the e-book thugs of the publishing industry. Read this excerpt from an article in STANFORD MAGAZINE, written by Bridget Kinsella:

Macmillan moved to institute a different pricing model—one that reflected, as Sargent wrote in his blog, a belief that "the first release of an e-book is worth more and people will pay more for it." In general, Macmillan insisted that Amazon was an agent for its titles and the publisher had the right to withhold the release of e-book editions unless Amazon agreed to sell them at a price the publisher deemed fair. Under this plan, the e-book price of a new release generally would start at about $15—with the expectation that the price would fall to about $10 as demand waned.

Amazon responded immediately by stealthily removing "buy" capability from its listings of all Macmillan titles. Furor among authors and customers followed. (Bemusement, too. Macmillan, highlighting what was often perceived as Amazon's pettiness, took out a full-page ad in the New York Times to boost an important title likely to suffer from an Amazon "blackout" at the moment of its publicity push. The ad, for The Checklist Manifesto by surgeon Atul Gawande, '87, drolly noted, "Available at booksellers everywhere except Amazon.")

Within days, Amazon backed down. The result was the ascension of an "agency" pricing model friendlier to publishers and one that kept the playing field somewhat more level for booksellers. It was an audience of about 500 national booksellers, at a February meeting in San Jose, who rose to applaud Macmillan.

For full text, go here:

I'm glad I'm with MacMillan. I'm also glad that the publishing industry is being proactive about the e-book phenom. (I think they learned something about it from the music industry.)


Monday, November 15, 2010


I liked Amy's last post about taking time to reflect in the midst of the writing process, getting your bearings before barreling ahead to the end of your draft. I've been doing my own brand of reflection lately: the kind that comes when a draft is done (for the moment) and it's time to put it aside and take a break.

So what do I do during this break? It's time to read as much as possible. I've got a too-long list of books to read, and I'm always eager to hear suggestions, if you have any! I'm also eager to watch movies and television programs that might spark a little something in my imagination. I am contemplating another project, of which I have an intriguing opening (at least, it intrigues me) and an outline that's not quite working yet; it's suffering a murky middle. I need to read and watch and think a lot to help clear this problem up.

Taking a break is fun, rejuvenating. But I can get a little twitchy - why am I not writing? I've got SO MUCH to do, so little time to do it. I should get going, shouldn't I? But this non-writing time is part of the process, too. Best not to rush it.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Taking stock.

After a long haul of writing at a breakneck pace, I've run out of steam. The scene I've had in my mind for months, the big turning point that leads to the grand finale is now written. From here, I work my way toward my ending.

But at the moment, I'm taking a pause. I'm at the crest of the hill and I'm looking around before I get back on my scooter and head down the curving road. I'm reading, thinking, imagining. I always feel as though I'm wasting my time at moments like these, but I try not to get too down on myself about it. Most of the time I can write, and I can write fast. Sometimes, though, I can't. I need to let my subconscious replenish. But there is a pattern to these pauses, I'm beginning to realize. The problem is I'm between acts.

I tend to subscribe to the three act mode of writing fiction, borrowed from the dramatic structure going all the way back to Shakespeare, and before. I use it because it works, and it gives me a framework for thinking about my story. The three act structure goes something like this:

First Act Begins- This is the hook you use to set up your main characters. 

First Act Break - Your heroes set off on their journey, also known as, "The point of no return."

Second Act - Your heroes begin their journey.

Mid Point Break - All is lost. The heroes are at their lowest, on the verge of giving up, but they pull it together and forge onward.

Second Act Break - Heroes make a decision that brings about the final challenge to vanquish the forces that hinder them.

Third Act - The Hero faces the antagonist and risks all to accomplish goal.

Ending - Hero either accomplishes goal or fails.


Always between acts I have to take a little caesura and retool my thinking. Right now I'm at the Second Act Break. All my characters are about to compromise themselves in ways that will cost them dearly. It's always my favorite point in any book I'm reading, but when I'm writing, I have to proceed with caution. 

Leading up to now, I've been giving myself the tools I'll need to write a bang up climax and a stirring resolution. Now I have to take stock of those tools, decide which to use, which ones need spiffing up, and which ones to discard. It would be wonderful if this were an entirely conscious process; then I'd have some control. But I find, at least for me, my themes are largely under the surface, working in ways I don't consciously manipulate. I've got to let them line up they way they need before I can start writing again.

Or maybe all this is rationalization. I'm writing a book I enjoy, and I'm afraid of finishing it, because then I will have to get down to the difficult work of revision, which always takes me about twice as long to do as the actual writing of the book. But I don't think this is all rationalization, because of that pattern. Always between acts, even if I don't realize I've reached the end of an act, I mysteriously run out of steam. As long as I get back to writing soon, I'm willing to accept this pause as a part of the process.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010


National Novel Writing Month is here, and I want to give a shout-out to all of those brave, wonderful writers out there who are setting to the task of a 50,000 first draft in one month's time. Sadly, I won't be participating this year - I still have to finish up this revision, and then I need to read and recharge. But that doesn't mean I won't be thinking of all of you, and looking forward to joining next year. In fact, the novel I'm currently revising was my Nano project last November. It's gone through a few changes over the past year, and I'm thrilled to still be working on it.

So, how goes it, so far? I want to hear about your mad first-drafting, so that I may live vicariously!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


I apologize for the re-post from my blog, but it's Halloween and I want to talk about monsters. Please comment and share your favorites!

Inspired by a post on the Enchanted Inkpot, as well as Halloween, I want to talk about monsters. I LOVE MONSTERS! I love reading about them and writing about them. Erzebet in The Blood Confession is about as monstrous as you can get – so obsessed with her own beauty that she’s willing to kill and bathe in her victim’s blood. In The King’s Rose I had some very different monsters to write about: King Henry, and – perhaps even more so – the dowager Duchess of Norfolk. I knew that whenever the Duchess swept into the room and appraised Catherine with her ice-cold eyes, sparks would fly.

As implied above, it’s the human-variety of monster that intrigues me the most. As for my favorite monster from literature, the first that came to mind was Carmilla, the titular character in J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s vampiric masterpiece. Carmilla’s monstrous identity is concealed behind a pretty, endearing facade. Carmilla’s affection for the main character makes her true nature that much more unsettling: they’re constantly walking arm and arm or whispering secret confidences. That’s awfully close proximity to a monster. And the blood-drenched nightmares “warning” the narrator still give me chills!

What about the monsters that are ourselves? I read Stephen King’s Carrie as a teenager, and I think it affected me so profoundly because the sad sack, depressed, troubled Carrie White was so sympathetic and repulsive – she was everything I feared I was, worthy of ridicule. What could be worse than our own fears about our true selves? And then, when she cracks and unleashes havoc on her tormenters – sweet revenge! Also, quite terrifying. The movie, in particular, scarred me at the age of thirteen.

Speaking of fears of self, I’m so glad that Ellen Booraem mentioned the Dementors and their connection to depression in the Inkpot post. This is much scarier than the scaly skin or eyeless faces: “Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself…soul-less and evil. You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.” (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)

And speaking of Potter, I love a monster that has a connection to our hero. Voldemort’s mind-connection to Harry manifests itself in terrifying dreams. Also, Harry fears that he inherited some of Voldemort’s powers during their first face-off. Likewise, Wilhelmina Harker carries the mark of Dracula (the bite marks on her neck, the burn of a holy sacrament on her forehead) which is both danger and boon – they use this connection to track Dracula down. But they must be wary of any changes in the brave Wilhelmina; the evil aspect taking over her otherwise pure soul.

This comes up in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, too: she’s the good guy, slaying vampires. But that makes her sort of magical, not like a normal human – and therefore maybe a bit more like her fanged enemies than she would like to admit. Could she really belong to the night, like the demons she slays?

So not only do I love a good monster – especially one in a human guise, with true evil lying beneath the surface – but I also love a hero with some monstrous aspects, as well. It’s all a metaphor for the human condition: there is the potential for true good or true evil in all of us. Sometimes the scariest thing on earth is the face staring back at you in the mirror. We could all be monsters, if only to ourselves.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Working weekends.

As a full time writer, I work the normal week, Monday through Friday. I start my day attending to emails, checking sales ranks, publicity stuff, and other business involved with writing. Then I get to my five pages, which can take anywhere from 90 minutes to many hours, depending on how things flow. Then I spend time reading, because I consider reading to be part of my job as a writer. I never feel I'm wasting time if I'm plunged into a good book, reacquainting myself with modes of story telling that are different from my own approach. Sometimes my best ideas come from other books. This describes my average work day, with room for messy schedule changes. Ever since I became a full time writer, I've taken the weekends off.

But lately I've come to realize that always, my Monday mornings are slow. It takes me forever to get back into my book because over the weekend I lose my fire. And sometimes I don't get it back for several days.

Usually this isn't a serious problem. Until recently I've always been one of those writers who takes as much time as I want to write a book, and then when I feel it's ready, I submit. But having sold my science fiction series, now titled THE SKY CHASERS, suddenly I'm a deadline writer. I've got a year to turn in Book Two when it took me two years to write Book One. When I'm in the midst of a slow Monday morning, I feel as though time is ticking twice as fast, and I just can't type speedily enough. I'm starting to think I need to take a page from On Writing by Mr. King, who advises the new writer to write every day, even on weekends. That's what he's been doing for decades, and clearly it has served him well.

So for the first time since I gave up my day job, I'm a weekend writer. I did my five pages yesterday, a Saturday, and I'm about to settle in for five more today. Surprisingly, I'm finding that working more actually decreases my stress. With my momentum a constant, I feel that this book is writable. I'm willing to give up my days off for the next several months in exchange for the peace of mind. 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

my writing process

I am sinking (slowly) into my revision process. I've typed up a bunch of notes, typed up an outline of the current draft (what the book is right now), and will now attempt to apply these notes to this outline. Ideally, this will create an outline of what I want the book to become.

Then I have to actually write this new book.

I often wonder if there are better ways to go about this process. Do other authors sit down, struck with inspiration, and start typing their novel on a blank page, with no notes to guide them? Is my devotion to my outlining process just a way of being lazy, or a control freak?

That said...this process has worked for me in the past, so why doubt it now? Maybe because I'm in the thick of it, staring at a lot of brightly highlighted notes and feeling daunted by all the work that lies ahead. It's exciting work, but it can make an author sink a little bit in her chair to think of it.

I'm planning on spending a lot of time on the book this weekend. I'll let you know how it goes.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Laughable Author Photos!

OMG!!! I stumbled across the funniest blog post I've seen in months. posted a bunch of hackneyed author poses. It seems that authors tend to do the "Thinkers Pose" with a hand propping up their chins (hiding saggy necks?), or pose at their writing desks, with pithy gazes, or--yick--pose with a smelly cigarette dangling from their lips. Do you have an author's photo on your jacketflap?
If so, what photo crime are you guilty of?
I'm a genius and I know it
Deep, tortured thinker
My studio is way cooler than yours
I'm a mess and that's awesome
Pretty Polly
Downer Debbie
Arrogant Adam
Keep scrolling down to see every category and get your daily belly laugh!

writing community

I went to an event for writers last week - a chance to chat and mingle with other children's/YA lit writers, all of us at varying stages of our careers/projects, etc. It was really nice to talk to other writers to feel like I'm not alone in this crazy publishing endeavor. In fact, it made me think of what I advice I would give to writers just starting out - what advice I would give to myself years ago. Here are a few thoughts:

* Join a group like SCBWI, especially a regional chapter. Attend conferences.
* Connect with other writers online. Read blogs, friend people on facebook, follow them on twitter.
* is another good resource - writers swear by the message boards, which offer a wealth of information about writing.
* Start a critique group. Workshop your writing.
* Other places to find readers:,

Mind you, I'm still struggling with putting myself "out there" in this way. It's difficult to keep up with all of the online stuff. But I can really see the value of it now. Writers need each other for encouragement, and for help promoting each other's work, and spreading the word about new books, in general. Even if you're just starting to write, that doesn't make it too early to become a part of the community. And if you do - look for me!

And if you're a teenager, there are a bunch of publications that accept ONLY submissions from teens. I created a list of them on my blog:

Sunday, September 19, 2010

monster in the box

Hi all - sorry for the long hiatus. My day job has conspired to keep me away from all things extracurricular this summer, but I'm trying to get back into the swing of things!

That said, I'm contending with a different kind of monster at the moment - the monster of my current draft. I've been away from this project for a while now, and it's time that we meet again. It's time that I print out my novel-in-progress and sit down with a red pen and start diligently making notes about what I should fix and rework. But wait - I have to do laundry. And buy groceries. And maybe this evening I'll bake a batch of cookies for no apparent reason...Yeah, I think you get the picture. There are some real life issues that keep me away from this book (My full time job for one, plus a distracting little book entitled Mockingjay) but that doesn't entirely solve the issue. Were all things to miraculously disappear from my schedule and I was packed off to some writer's retreat in a sufficiently pretty woodland region with nothing to distract me - well, I would be thrilled, but I think I would also be terrified of what I would find on the printed page. The words that are trying - and failing - to evoke what I see in my head.

So, I think I'll give myself a deadline: one week to get my act together, get back to blogging regularly (mea culpa) and then get on with it. And now I've made this statement public so I'll have to stick to it. Or else bake more cookies. It's really a toss up.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Visiting an old friend: A Wrinkle in Time.

I've been rereading A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, reacquainting myself with the awesomeness of this book. L'Engle does so many things in those pages that must have been pretty unusual in her day. Some of them are STILL unusual. For one, her heroine isn't particularly attractive, though she is saved by having "dreamboat eyes." Otherwise she has unruly mousy hair and garish braces on her teeth. Even better, she is clumsy, recalcitrant, unfriendly, and disliked. Remember, this was written when people were watching almost nothing but "model families" on TV. Imperfection was most often hidden away, but L'Engle celebrates it, showing how Meg's stubbornness is the very thing that is most needed to save her father, who is being kept imprisoned on a distant planet by an evil entity.

When I was a kid I must have read this book about ten times. I read all kinds of books all the time, but this was the one that kept me coming back. There's something comforting about Meg's family life, a nice escape when my own family life seemed less than wonderful. I was a kid who often felt awkward and unsettled, like I didn't fit anywhere, like I could do nothing right, so to see a heroine like Meg in a book made me feel so much better about being me. What a gift L'Engle had! She wrote thrilling, imaginative stories that were somehow also enormously reassuring.

L'Engle died a few years ago at a ripe old age, but I still think about her from time to time. She's not the only reason, but she's a big reason why I write for kids. I don't know how successful I am, but I always try to write books that will make kids feel at home, and will also make them feel better about being the gloriously imperfect people they are. Thanks, Madeleine, for being such a good writing teacher. And thanks, A Wrinkle in Time, for being such a good friend.


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Yay! A Girl's Best Friend Debuts Today

Today is more than the first day of September, it’s the debut of A Girl’s Best Friend the book I wrote for the fabulous, new Innerstar University series from American Girl. You’ve heard of those “Choose Your Own Adventure” tales, where you interact with the story, and have a say in where you venture off to. Traditionally, most were adventure stories aimed at boys, where it was a matter of creeping into the snake-infested cave, or choosing to stay on the path, only to be confronted with a snarling Grizzly.

A Girl’s Best Friend is more about friends and school and figuring out what it is to be really loyal. All, of this, with a scoop of pure fun… and a snaggle of puppies—cuddly, drooly and dashing off faster than you could ever catch them.

Innerstar University has an online gaming aspect too. There are more than twenty endings, which was a challenge to write—like figuring out a jigsaw puzzle. Some of the endings go online, where the party continues!

Don’t take my word for it, dear readers, explore for yourself.

I’ll be at the Brooklyn Book Festival, in the vendor section (because we signed up too late to be in the author group *grumble, grumble* ), on Sunday, September 12th, so come on down and say hi, and check out A Girl’s Best Friend, while you’re there.

How might I bore you today?

Too much time has passed since my last blog post, and that's because I have nothing interesting to say. So, for your edification, here is a list of complaints:

1. My cup of green tea turned out disappointingly weak.
2. I'm almost out of olives.
3. I forgot to buy avocados at the supermarket Monday, and now all our sandwiches are dull.
4. I'm not exactly sure how crazy to make my protagonist.
5. I would love to be writing outside, but CURSE MY FAIR SKIN!!!
6. I wish I could write like Margaret Atwood. 
7. I dug up all our carrots yesterday and spent the afternoon freezing them. Now, for the next six months, I have to concoct soups and stews that will require frozen carrots.
8. When I turn to the left, my neck pops. I consider this to be a harbinger of my eventual desiccation and demise. This is probably why I am a writer.
9. I had not read Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire until last night. It was good. This isn't really a complaint. I just needed the filler.
10. I have not met my page quota yet today. I would give you more of this. I know you're sitting on the edge of your seat. But I have to go.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Hello, it's James Kennedy. I'm the author of the YA fantasy The Order of Odd-Fish. This is my first post round these parts, but by no means my last.

So far on YA-Tribe we've seen some great posts and discussions about the future of publishing, the challenges of publicity, and technical aspects of writing. But the casual reader of this blog might think, "What do these writers do when they're not on the job?"

For me, the answer is simple. I spend my time entering contests that I have only a thousand-to-one shot of winning. It brings me back to "my roots," i.e., sending out dozens of query letters and getting rejected by almost one hundred agents (until one finally bit). That is to say: I feel most at home with the long shot.

So, what's the contest?

Chicago's amazing Museum of Science and Industry is holding a contest to find someone to live in their museum—for someone to eat, sleep, and breathe nothing but science and industry for thirty days. Seriously! From their website:

We're looking for someone to take on a once-in-a-lifetime assignment: spend a Month at the Museum, to live and breathe science 24/7 for 30 days. From October 20 to November 18, 2010, this person's mission will be to experience all the fun and education that fits in this historic 14-acre building, living here and reporting your experience to the outside world. There will be plenty of time to explore the Museum and its exhibits after hours, with access to rarely seen nooks and crannies of this 77-year-old institution.

Here's the digs you'd be sleeping in:

Further requirements: "sleeping in confined or 'untraditional' spaces" (ooh, do we get to sleep on the U-505 submarine? the lunar lander?) To apply, you have to fill out a detailed questionnaire, write a 500-word essay about why you want to do this . . .

And most fun of all, make a one-minute video explaining why you should be chosen. My video is at the top of the post.

Semifinalists will be notified by August 25 -- that is, tomorrow. If I haven't heard from the Museum people by then, I'll let you know. If I have heard from the Museum people (and I haven't been sworn to secrecy) of course I'll let you know that too.

If I get this, it will be the most spectacular excuse for procrastinating writing my next novel EVER.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The future of publishing.

This excellent article in New York Magazine provides a fascinating and scary window into the future of publishing. Is the good old fashioned book here to stay? I say yes it is. But e-books are going to take a big bite out of the market, perhaps replacing the paperback as the prime source of inexpensive reading entertainment. This article describes how the founder of Barnes and Noble, and the man who seems poised to take over that company, are battling for control over how the future of publishing takes shape.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Censorship: 2011 Teen Lit Fest in Humble, Texas

The story, in brief:

Noted YA author Ellen Hopkins is invited to attend the 2011 Teen Lit Conference in Humble, Texas, and graciously accepts. A middle school librarian gets a bee in her bonnet about Ellen's presence, deems it "inappropriate," and some parents get involved. They take the matter to the school superintendent, Guy Sconzo, and Ellen Hopkins is rudely, crudely uninvited. Once again proof that a few people can ruin a great thing for everyone.

I've had the pleasure of hearing Ellen Hopkins speak on numerous occasions, and she RAILS against drug abuse. WIth passion she speaks of the tragedy drugs have brought to her own family, so generously sharing her heartbreak in the hope that she can keep other kids from going down that self destructive path. Her books about the devastation that methamphetamine use brings to a human life are probably the greatest drug deterrent I can think of. But goodness gracious, let's prevent kids from reading them!

Because kids are so much better off NOT knowing about the negative influence of drugs! It's best if kids get their information on the street, from their peers, about the effects of meth, crack, pot and the like! In fact, let's get rid of all books for kids that deal with sex and drugs! Let's pretend these things don't exist and let kids find out about them on their own through trial and error while reading wholesome novels about puppies. Good plan folks.

To show support for Ellen Hopkins and to protest censorship the following authors have pulled out of the festival: Pete Hautman, Melissa De La Cruz, Matt De La Pena, and Tera Lynn Childs, and probably more will follow. I applaud Ms. Hopkins for bringing this issue forward instead of going quietly into the night. She's standing up for herself, for literature, and for kids, and we should all stand with her.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Under the Dome.

Every so often I like to sink my teeth into a good Stephen King, and I'm so glad that I picked up Under the Dome in an airport bookstore. Under the Dome is classic King: Weird otherworldly events conspire to bring out the best, and the worst in people.

The premise: a mysterious, indestructible dome engulfs a small town in Maine, trapping the residents inside with their sins. But really, the premise is never what makes King compelling so much as his characters and their choices. The hero of Under the Dome is an ex army officer so sickened by his combat service that he wants to be a drifter with no ties and no obligations. The villain is a sociopathic used car salesman who spouts scripture while committing unspeakable crimes, all in the interest of self preservation. He's willing to sacrifice an entire town full of people to protect himself from his richly deserved comeuppance, and our hero becomes increasingly determined to stop him. Along the way, a rich cast of supporting characters provide entertainment, pathos, and sometimes inspiration.

King's prose is smart, whip-quick, and lucid. He paints a picture with such sure brushstrokes that you can read an entire book of his without realizing that he is one of popular literature's great prose stylists. That's because like any good writer, he gets you to focus on the picture he's painting, the story he's telling, and not on how he's telling it. Still, I frequently find myself rereading his sentences, asking myself, "How did he do that?!" And being impressed. The guy uses words very well.

If you've got the time for a long, involving read, pick up Under the Dome. I'm surprised to find myself saying that I think it supplants The Stand as King's finest novel. Under the Dome will make you think about good and evil, how they often live side by side in the same skull, and how sometimes all it takes is the right combination of outside events to turn a peaceful town into a seething hotbed of panicked violence. 

One caveat: If you find yourself asking whether a cute little town could turn this bad this quickly, I suggest you turn on the nightly news. It happens all the time.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Next Gold Rush for Publishers & Superagents--or perhaps, for you

Ebook rights? In the past, it was almost an afterthought. No more!

Check out this cautionary Writers’ Guild article by Victoria Strauss about your ebook rights. Think carefully whom you choose to assign them to! In Strauss’ words; “The fact that e-rights--which until recently had very little actual value, despite persistent predictions of an imminent tipping point--are publishing's new gold rush; and the fact that the lines between agents, editors, publicists, and publishers are becoming more blurred by the month, with more and more agents taking on more and more functions outside of just brokering rights and guiding careers.”

A book by any other name...

Am presently in the agonizing process of trying to come up with a title for my sci fi series, along with a title for the first novel. Oh gosh, is it ever painful!

I think coming up with a title must be akin to writing poetry. You have only a very few words, and every word has to be the perfect word. For a novelist who is used to a long yarn, this is not easy.

I started out loving THE EMPYREAN CHRONICLES, but it turns out I'm the only one who loves it. I'm mulling over titles like HEAVEN'S BRINK, THE STAR CHASERS, THE SKY CHASERS... oh the list goes on. I'm not sure if I can hold out for the one title that everyone jumps at screaming, "Yes! That's the one!" because that could take years, and we don't have years. We have a week at the most, because my publisher has to start rolling it out, putting it on lists and posters and promotional materials, pitching me to conferences, etc... They need a title to do all this.

I think my problem is that I send out books with "working titles." This basically means that the title isn't good enough, I know it's not good enough, but I assume my publisher won't really like any title I come up with because they almost never do and so I don't invest too much in the title I submit with. I think this may have been a mistake, and it's one I'm going to try to learn from. Even a working title should have the potential to be the perfect title. Sure, there's a chance the publisher will change it anyway, but that's no reason not to try your best before you submit.

Writers (mostly) know how to write books, publishers (hopefully) know how to sell them. Writers are supposed to be good with words, but publishers know the market. I think most book titles are the result of much debate and compromise, and my series will be no exception. Stay tuned!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Asking Nicely: The Problem of Willpower.

Today in Scientific American I read an interesting article about the paradox of willpower, and how sometimes the more determined you are to do something, the less likely you are to do it.

The article provides a wonderful little trick for writers: Instead of sitting down and sternly ordering yourself to write 10 pages today, sit down with the attitude that you're open to writing as many pages as you can. In other words, instead of telling yourself "I will," ask yourself, "Will I?" This little trick could turn out to be my saving grace.

My agent has managed to negotiate the kind of deal for me that doesn't come along too often in a writer's life, and I need to make the most of it. It's a three book deal for a science fiction series that we've now tentatively titled The Star Chasers. I have about a year to come up with a 400 page sequel, and I'm finding the task somewhat daunting. This is the first time in my career that I'll be dealing with this kind of pressure.

I was just at the Jackson Hole Writer's Conference, an intimate little gathering in the heart of the Tetons where lots of writers, agents and editors come together to talk about writing. One of the speakers was Craig Johnson, who turned out to be one of the funniest writers I've ever heard speak. Mr. Johnson, who is a bona fide Wyoming cowboy including shit-kickers and sweat-stained straw hat, turns out a mystery series that enjoys much critical acclaim and a wide audience. He is quite familiar with the concept of writing a whole lot in a short amount of time. After his talk I raised my hand and I asked him timidly, "How do you deal with all that pressure?" 

He said very wryly, "If you think that sitting on your butt and writing every day is pressure, then you've never had a real job."

In other words, I'm so very lucky to be a writer who actually gets paid for my work, complaining about the "pressure" really is quite unbecoming. Some people dig ditches for a living. Some people hack their way into burning buildings. They don't worry about being in touch with their creative process. They just do it.

But now I feel I've contradicted myself. Which do I do? Ask my subconscious brain nicely to please come up with 400 pages by my deadline a year from now? Or do I tell the whiny parts of me to shut up and be grateful that I'm not still doing dictation for a living?

Whichever it is, I need to get back to work.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

On Inception and similar ideas

So I saw Inception last night, and thought it was great. But I have to admit I was struck by several connections between this movie and one of the story lines in my book, The Secret to Lying.

In some ways, this was a relief, because when I wrote The Secret to Lying, I didn't know if people would get the level dreaming, and the dreams within dreams. I thought I might have been one of the only people to dream that way. But after seeing Inception, it seems pretty clear to me that other people lucid dream and level dream like this as well (even using some of the same tropes, such as the elevator to go down into deeper levels, falling to wake up, not being able to differentiate dreams from reality, etc...). There are other similarities between my book and the movie that I don't want to mention right now, because I don't want to give anything away. Still, it's interesting to see the connections. If you liked Inception, you'll probably really get into this story line in my book. And if you didn't like Inception, no worries —the dreams form only a small part of the book, and The Secret to Lying goes in a very different direction from Inception.

As a side note, I'm often worried when I have a new or interesting idea that someone else will publish something similar first, and people will think I ripped them off (in this case, my book came out before the movie, so I'm in the clear). But I've noticed that this happens a great deal —that new ideas, or thoughts even, seem to come in waves. So as soon as one person has a break-through idea, other people seem to have it as well. I think this says something interesting about our collective unconscious. Whether it's because people are reacting to similar social forces and events, and thinking up similar reactions, or because thought itself spreads, like strings on a guitar showing sympathetic vibrations when you hit the same note (so the E string vibrates when you hit the same E note on another string) is unclear. But what does seem clear is that our shared humanity runs deeper than we often realize.

I think it's an astounding and wonderful experience to read something in a book, or see something in a movie, that you've thought before but never imagined putting into words. It's how we recognize ourselves through others. And by that same token, if you know yourself (as Socrates suggested) —if you peer deeply into yourself— then you probably also see deeply into others.

For writers, this means that if you write the story you want to read, and let your self be your guide —seeking out the things that resonate with your self on a deep subconscious level— then your story will probably also resonate with others. At least, that's my hope.

Best wishes,


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Selling a book.

Hurray! Hurray! I have a publisher for my next book! It will be the beginning to a science fiction series, tentatively titled THE EMPYREAN CHRONICLES, and I'm ecstatic. In this climate, I'm lucky to be publishing at all. It's rough out there these days.

Creating a relationship with a new publisher is always a daunting proposition, more so considering that this is going to be a series, if all goes as it should. For the next few years, these folks are going to be my partners in crime, my compadres, my defenders and my face before the world. So signing this contract will be a bit like getting married. The stakes feel almost that high to me.

I've been watching the flurry of emails between my brilliant agent and the crackerjack editor I'll be working with, butterflies in my stomach even as my hands are clasped 'neath my chin in a Shirley Temple pose, my dimples in full relief because I'm just so happy that this book, dear to my heart, is going to be snuggled into a binding and sold to hopefully eager readers.

Yes, indeed, today I am the lucky one, the belle of the ball so to speak. My dance card is full. There is champagne in my glass and a skip to my step. Soon I will buckle down to a fairly brutal writing schedule, but right now it's celebration time. Hurray for me and my sci-fi saga! Hurray for THE EMPYREAN CHRONICLES!!!

Monday, July 12, 2010

When the Writing Retreat is Over

The weeklong Cape writing retreat is over and I’m back at my writing desk at home. I’m lethargic and unfocused, and trying to figure out why, since this is not a normal occurrence for me. I know I miss the camaraderie of my fellow-retreaters—our two-hour shoptalk over breakfast and coffee on the porch, our long dinners with more shoptalk, word games and readings. I miss the feeling that we’re all slogging through our manuscripts together (well, from our different spots on the porch).

I don’t miss the heat or the lack of TV and Internet, though that was surely good for me too. My first night home I watched about three solid hours of TV, which only left me feeling guilty with a slight headache. Ew.

I do go to a writing space, so I shouldn’t complain too much. That’s probably the place to go tomorrow. I’ll hear the tapping of fingers on many laptops, and see people snoozing on the collective sofa and chairs. I’ll even get a chuckle when I pass by a few cubicles and see people sneaking facebook, and youtube and all of the many permutations of avoiding work, or letting the work percolate while feeding the brain online garbaggio.

Do you attend a writers’ retreat? What do you think about them? For more meditations on the joy and claustrophobia of writing retreats:

Adventures in Book Trailers!

Inspired by Amy, and her wonderful book trailer for Zen and Xander Undone, I decided to try my hand at this new-fangled video stuff. Unfortunately, I don't have John Green's gifts for video charisma. So instead, I decided to make the anti-book trailer trailer.

For all those who dislike book promotion or book trailers, here's my video on what doesn't work for selling books.

Secret to Lying Book Trailer:


Sunday, July 11, 2010

What makes a book "good" or "bad"?

I apologize for another cross-post, but I am really curious about your thoughts on this. I'm afraid I'm a little bit rant-y on the subject - I'm not even really clear (as you will see) where I come down on this subject. Though in the end I think it's up to the reader. Here's the post:

I finally listened to the “Summer Reads for Kids” episode of On Point that aired earlier this month. Visit the website to listen to the interview: It’s a great discussion which raised a lot of questions for me.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins came up in discussion. Interviewee Pete Cowdin felt that, though he enjoyed it, he considered it a “guilty pleasure” but not necessarily a good book. Theoretically I can see his point (though admittedly I really enjoyed it) but does that mean that all guilty pleasure books are inherently bad?

Huge blockbusters influence the entire publishing industry – we’re wading through mountains of paranormal romance novels about girls dating vampires, werewolves, zombies, pixies, demons, etc. I get irritated at the huge stacks of Twilight in big bookstores while so many other books aren’t getting much attention, or even a space on the shelves. Big sales certainly does not mean good writing and exemplary literature. But what is the criteria of great literature? I have my own ideas of what works for me, but that doesn’t mean that I know what deserves to be labeled a good or bad book. And if readers are to make up their own minds, is there really any use in making this distinction?

The market influences writers, too. I can’t imagine that SO MANY authors just happened to be writing about vampires in time to jump on the Twilight bandwagon – not that I blame them for doing so. In the NPR interview, Esme Raji Codell expressed the sentiment that children should come first for the author, not the marketplace. I agree: if every writer catered to the whims of the marketplace then publishing would stagnate – there would be no growth, no freshness. But if our readers are salivating for more indulgent, guilty-pleasure stories, how bad is it for us to indulge that desire if that is what we truly want to write?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Guest post from Robin Brande

Please forgive the cross-post, but I wanted to share with you this guest post from Robin Brande, author of Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature.

Writing rituals: It’s all about the dog walk and the oatmeal and the Starbucks. Until I have all of those handled, I can’t write a word. And then even though I might start writing in the morning and not finish until ten at night, I plan plenty of breaks in between to exercise, watch Top Chef, and do other important stuff. I also tend to bake a lot when I’m feeling anxious or stuck in the plot. A loaf of chocolate zucchini bread, and I’m back on track.

What I wish an interviewer would ask me: What one thing did a teacher do for you when you were young that made you believe you could be a writer? My fifth grade teacher Mr. George not only gave me plenty of opportunities to write stories that I then read to the class, he also at the end of the year gave me the book “The Writer’s Market” with listings of every magazine and book publisher that bought stories. His faith in me was really, really essential in making me believe I could grow up to be an actual, real-life writer. I tracked him down about a year ago and told him so! Big, teary phone call–it was so excellent.

What inspired me to write when I was a kid: Movies. I was a total Disney junkie. I’d watch “The Wonderful World of Disney” every Sunday night, and then go to any and all of the Disney live-action movies that came out: Kurt Russell movies like “The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes” and “Now You See Him, Now You Don’t,” animal movies like “Incredible Journey” and “The Biscuit Eater,” action and fantasy flicks like “Escape to Witch Mountain”–the list goes on and on. Those movies got me psyched about storytelling. I still re-rent them sometimes to get re-inspired–and they always work!
Many thanks to Robin for her answers. I agree that baking is a great way to give your brain a rest if you’re feeling stuck. And it’s delicious. I have a few other guest blogs on my blog:

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Fine Points Between YA Dystopia and Sci-fi

Normally I don't double post (Yes, it's up on my blog today too), but I'm kind of proud of this piece (and it took me a long time to research) so I wanted to share!

What distinguishes a YA dystopian novel from a YA sci-fi novel? And is there a difference between hard-core genre sci-fi, and creating a futuristic world, conceivable by scientific standards? What is the prevailing mood towards these genres?

Dystopias are almost always cautionary tales—utopias that have soured—and tropes for real life scary cultural trends such as fascism, climate change and technology run amok. Interestingly enough, the ancient translation of the word utopia is “no place”, which suggests that a utopia cannot actually exist.

A classic example of a dystopia that almost all high-school students read—and end up loving—is George Orwell’s 1984. Written in 1948, Orwell warned people of the dangers of totalitarian government a la Stalin’s Russia, and the loss of one’s personal independence in a repressive style of communism. Control in 1984 is obtained through mass brainwashing, and Big Brother’s ultimate desire is to have a person die loving the Party; this, so that there’s no danger of the “vaporized unperson” becoming a martyr and fomenting rebellion. Does Big Brother succeed? Ah! For the answer to that question, you must read Orwell’s very clever afterward.

Some current YA dystopias are THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins, set in an alternate USA, where teens fight to the death for the richest district’s entertainment, and BIRTHMARKED by Caragh O’Brien, a world where life is reduced to helping birth babies for the exclusive set inside the Enclave by “Unlake” Michigan.

So, what about YA sci-fi? I believe it’s slowly but confidently creeping into the YA canon, despite some editors fears that teens won’t “get” the science behind the stories, and therefore must be limited to YA fantasy where there is no steep learning curve. Quite the contrary, I think teens are itching for this kind of concrete, yet visionary material. After all, the classic authors such as Sir Arthur C. Clarke ended up inventing satellite technology. I mean, how cool is that?! In Clarke’s own inspiring words: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Who wouldn’t want to explore the magic of the real world?

There’s no need to fear that pages of details will overrun the genre on how to build a robot from scratch, or power a rocket. No current author wants to mimic the old-school adult genre. So, there’s no need for authors writing YA sci-fi to hide it under names like “futuristic thriller”.

Current examples of YA sci-fi run the gamut from Cory Doctorow’s LITTLE BROTHER, a sort of cyberfest for Internet geeks (And major nod to Orwell’s Big Brother), and THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX by Mary Pearson, which explores the ethics of using new science in medicine, and the nature of the soul.

And now, onto the difference between YA dystopia and Post-apocalyptic fiction… for this discussion, I will ferry you onto the excellent post by YA Highway:

But before running off, you may want to answer this challenging question: Is S.A. Bodeen’s THE COMPOUND post-apocalyptic, sci-fi, or simply a thriller?

Book Promotion Anxiety

So how do y'all deal with that pervasive sense that you should be doing more to promote your books (when you don't like doing promotion much at all)? The catch is that there's always something more you could be doing (like posting on blogs), but the more you do, the more time it takes away from actual writing, which is the whole reason you got into this gig in the first place. It's the endless hamster wheel of capitalism.

If anyone wants to chime in on what sort of promotion they feel is worthwhile, or how you go about balancing your promotion/writer life, I'd love to hear it. The hard part here is that to even get shelf space now at the big chain bookstores, your publisher either needs to pay for it (that's a dirty secret that I think many customers are unaware of) or your book needs to be selling like crazy. But if your book isn't in bookstores, how do you get it to sell? This part of the business drives me crazy. It makes me want to just go bury my head in a book, and well, write something.

BTW --I love the book trailer, Amy. I'd like to hear more about how you created that.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

books, please

I sent my pages off to my agent and thought, well I ought to get back to that Nanowrimo book. It’s still having plot problems and they’re not going to figure out themselves. And then there’s that other project that I’ve started; I have a lot of notes and it needs an outline and I need to start writing the first draft.

Then I took a breath, and went to the library. Because you know what time it is? It’s reading time. What’s the use of barreling ahead when I still haven’t figured out how to fix my plot? Beating a book into submission isn’t always the way to go. And as for starting a first draft…the mere idea makes my head ache. Let’s read for a bit, shall we?

I’ve got Marked, the first in the House of Night novels by P.C. and Kristin Cast. Also Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl and Castledown, the second book in the Tredana Trilogy by Joyce Ballou Gregorian. I have piles of books, a library across the street, and another within visible distance of my office at work, so anything is possible. Let’s all take a deep breath and ponder that for a moment: when you have a library close at hand, anything is possible.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Writing Tutorial: The Synopsis.

Writing a synopsis is one of those necessities in one's career that gets little to no attention in writing classes. This is ironic because I think it's harder to write a decent synopsis than it is to write a novel. That's because you're basically taking your entire plot, and all your character's motivations, and trying to express them on a single sheet of paper. What's worse, unlike an outline that simply gives a play by play meant to guide the writer, a synopsis has to make the novel sound exciting, fascinating, stupendous even. This is because almost always, a synopsis is a sales tool.

There are a few basic types of scenario that require a synopsis of your novel, and they are:
1. Your agent has requested one to include in a sales packet. S/he might be planning on selling the foreign rites to your novel, for example, and needs a simple sheet to hand to editors so they can judge quickly whether they want to take a look at your book. This is usually a synopsis of a book you have already written.
2. You might have written the first book in a series, and your agent will request a synopsis for the next book that she can show to interested editors. This is a synopsis of a book you have yet to write.
3. You might have been offered work for hire through a packager or a publishing house that wants a book on a particular topic. A synopsis and writing sample may be enough to land you a contract for a novel you have not yet written.

Caveat: You should never include a synopsis of a novel with a traditional submission of a book you've already written. Allow the editor or agent to read the story in a natural way so that they can judge whether it will have market appeal. They don't want to know the whole story ahead of time anymore than a regular reader does.

So what makes a synopsis good? I've tried writing them several ways, and the only way that works for me is to sit down and write it in narrative form. I just tell the story as succinctly as I can. Once I'm satisfied that I've made it as exciting as possible, I break it into short paragraphs. I arrange the paragraphs into turning points. Every time a character or the story takes a turn, that's a new paragraph. (As I write the book, I expect I'll find that these paragraphs work themselves out to be the chapters of my novel.) Once I've done this, I look for extra words, or bits of description or action that I don't need. I think the enemy of a good synopsis is too much detail. You don't want to bog the editor down as they read, and you definitely don't want your editor to begin editing the story before you've even written it. So keep your synopsis to broad strokes, and your options are more likely to remain open as you write the book. As far as length, I always try to fit the entire synopsis on a single sheet of paper. This isn't absolutely necessary, but I think having this limitation helps you avoid bogging it down with too much detail.

A final and sensible step is to have someone read it for you before it is submitted. Edit accordingly!

Anyone out there have other tips for writing a good synopsis? Please share them in the comments!


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Social (Media) Anxiety

So, I'm probably about the worst blogger ever. Actually, scratch that. I'm the worst social media person ever. I'm the only YA author I know who doesn't have a website. A couple of years ago, I started a MySpace page when my first book came out, then promptly forgot about it. And I hardly ever post anything on Facebook. (I think my fear of public speaking somehow extends to wall postings).

My most successful attempt at social networking is probably Twitter, only because the 140 character limit makes it seem more manageable. Since I first signed up over a year ago, I've posted 86 whole tweets. Which seemed like a lot, until I applied a little math to it. Apparently, that's a whopping average of 1.3 tweets a week. Not terribly impressive, I know.

I've seen the effects of social media on many people's writing careers, and I fully realize that it can have a huge effect. But I also find all these outlets a bit overwhelming. Life is busy enough without having to keep up with a Twitter feed, right? And whenever I do manage to find some time outside of my day job, I end up using it to write the same books I should probably be out there promoting. I know I'm not the only author with this dilmema, and I'd be interested to hear other people's thoughts on the subject...

But in the I am. Blogging! (Baby steps, right?)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Grow garden grow.

How is a garden like writing, let me count the ways:

1. If you don't get your hands dirty, you're not doing it right.
2. If you don't pay attention to it, it dies.
3. Just when it's ripe, the pests move in.
4. Writing and gardening can both be bad for your back.
5. The more obsessed you become, the better it thrives.
6. Sometimes you don't want to do it, but you have to anyway.
7. You must thin out your rows, as much as it hurts to do so.
8. It never quite turns out how you think it will.
9. It nourishes you.
10. It is HARD WORK!


Monday, May 31, 2010

For the past week I have been home from my day job, revising my work-in-progress. I've been writing, drinking mass amounts of green tea, not doing laundry or dishes, and generally living like a hobbit nestled in her hobbit-hole. If not for my basset hound, I probably wouldn't leave the house.

If this doesn't sound glamorous, then...well, you're right, it's not very glamorous. It's challenging work. I could revise a scene a dozen times only to cut it entirely in the next revision. I've written and then discarded dozens of pages—at one time a full 190 pages—in my gradual, sometimes painfully slow efforts to make a book better. But all of those pages that I deleted from the manuscript weren't entirely wasted. That experimentation is part of what writing is, for me. That's how I get to know my characters, figure out what they want most and develop their narrative voice.

Do I wish that it took me less time and fewer drafts to write a book? Yes and yes. In fact, it's probably my number one writing complaint. But wishing that my process was different doesn't make it easier, and in fact I'm convinced of the opposite. There are days when I get very frustrated. And there are other days when I embrace my process in all of it's slow, inefficient, haphazard glory. I take a journey with the characters I write about, and on the way we get to know each other very well. When we arrive, the landscape has changed, and I like to think the book is better for it.

Summer Reading

Now that summer is unofficially upon us, it's time to tackle some summer reading. My list is a mixture of YA and non-YA. I'm making my list modest, because (1) I already have a lot of half-finished books on my plate, and (2) I often fail to meet even the modest expectations I set for myself. Sigh.

But here's some of the books I'm hoping to devour this summer!

The Turning: What Curiosity Kills by Helen Ellis. Okay, a confession: Helen is one of my best friends, and this is her first YA novel! It's about some prep-school kids in New York City, the first in a series. But these aren't your usual gossip kids. Indeed, some of these kids have a cool
ability: they can turn into cats. Meow.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson. The books (this one of the first in a trilogy) that everyone seems to be talking about--and that everyone raves about. Time for me to jump on the bandwagon.

Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick. This YA sounds like a gripping historical novel. A kid sits in an isolated cabin in the Arctic wilderness, his father's frozen corpse beside him. Then, out of the darkness, comes a stranger . . . Isolated cabins, dead bodies, strangers knocking on your door. Sounds terrifying! Sign me up!

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. A new novel by one of my favorite writers. It follows--in non-linerar fashion--the interconnecting lives of a fascinating cast of characters. Hard to summarize, but I've been blown away by excerpts I've read, many of which appeared in The New Yorker. There's even, apparently, a chapter written in the form of a Power Point presentation!

Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers. Okay, this is the book that my book club chose for June. But I've always wanted to read Myers. This one is set at a juvenile detention facility. Should be nice and gritty.

And finally, Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man by Bill Clegg. Definitely not for faint of heart, by all accounts. This is the story of Clegg--a hot-shot young literary agent in New York--and how he got addicted to crack and watched as his world implode around him. It's been getting a lot of press lately. Sounds like just the kind of lurid trainwreck-type story that is hard to resist. Sorry, this one isn't for the kids! But Go Ask Alice is, and I want to read that as well.

Now that I've shared mine, what's on your list?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Ten Ironies of Writing.

1. You spend all day sitting in a room by yourself writing about people who are out in the world doing exciting things.
2. You are an introvert but you're expected to give speeches.
3. When people find out you're a writer they think you must be famous, though they have never actually heard of you.
4. Some writers actually are famous and have won awards, and most people they meet STILL haven't heard of them!
5. You have to be arrogant to expect anyone would want to read your brain-dribbles, but lots of the time you face ego-squashing criticism.
6. Some people think that a writer's life is glamorous, but in truth you spend all day in your pajamas with pencils stuck in your hair.
7. By the time your book comes out, the money you made writing it is all gone.
8. If other writers like your writing, oftentimes the general public finds it boring, and vice versa.
9. Most writers could make tons more money doing almost anything else.
10. Writing is the most fun you can have, and it is the hardest work you can do.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The power of the written word.

Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga have been imprisoned in their home country of Malawi because they are two men who fell in love with each other. The social pressure to adapt oneself to the 'norm' is a reality in modern courts, stone-age cultures, and school cafeterias alike. But I don't think it has to be this way.

To me, Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalang are heroes. They probably knew there would be repercussions for the traditional engagement party they threw to celebrate their union. Still, they chose to be true to themselves, and to each other. They are making an enormous sacrifice, enduring alleged beatings from the police and mistreatment in their prisons because they want to stand up for their vision of how the world should be. Amnesty International heard about their imprisonment, wrote about it in their many media outlets, and now thousands of people are writing letters and emails demanding the release of these two men. (See

The written word strikes again.

As a writer, I think about written language all the time, and how powerful it is. Perhaps more than any other technology, (and writing is a technology,) written language liberates people from the barbarism of primitive thinking. Written laws, written news, written letters, written books... These are the greatest marks of civilization.

Personally, the written word has liberated me from the little world I lived in. Books opened me up, helped me believe in love, and a future for myself. Writing has, many times, quite literally saved me. Hopefully writing will save Stephen and Tiwonge, too.

How has writing saved you?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Girl Writes Guy, Guy Writes Girl

I’ve written from a teen boy’s perspective now a few times, and I often wonder why this feels natural for me. Is it because I was close to my father, or that my brother and I have always been the best of friends? The fact that I have two boys surely factors in, and I can’t discount the influence of my brother’s five boys or my sister’s one.

I know guys well, that’s for sure, including the loudmouthed, wisecracking hordes my son brings home, who lounge in our living room, playing Grand Theft Auto, watching Spike TV and inadvertently dropping Dorito pieces and sports gear around the coffee table.

Some women scriveners writing YA in the first person male voice only use their first initials, such as K.L. Going (FAT KID RULES THE WORLD and KING OF THE SCREWUPS) and L. K. Madigan (FLASH BURNOUT). I’ve considered this form of penname. Seems a shame though, to think that in order to accumulate a substantial male readership one feels she must hide her true identity. Besides, with Amazon’s Author Pages, readers can easily see that K. L. Going is a spunky carrot-topped young lady

and Madigan is an older woman with a friendly, wise smile.

The inverse of this “girl writes guy” is revealing. Kevin Brooks doesn’t shy away from using his full name, even though he’s written multiple female protagonists. Consider his young heroines: Caitlin (LUCAS), a young girl caught up in a dreamlike web with the mythical Lucas, and Dawn (DAWN), who struggles with a father who turns from religious fanaticism to worshipping drugs.

I think about my guy protagonists. With Johar (REFUGEES), I was writing about a guy who was a cultural aberration—a pacifist, expert weaver and wool artesian in Afghanistan where guys get their first guns at five. In my current project, a YA dystopia, FIRESEED ONE, Varik is a very reluctant hero. He’s saddled with his dead father’s vast sea farm, when all he really wants to do is become a doctor. Are these guy issues? Not completely…

Time after time, I reach the same conclusion after a series of connect-the-dot logics. That is, it is the author’s privilege, gift and job, to breathe unique DNA into characters and make them sing. An author’s sex or age doesn’t matter nearly as much as how gifted he or she is in inhabiting a character completely enough to make a Johar or Caitlin real.

Oddly enough, my next character, starting to speak to me is—gasp—a young woman. Her voice is loudly demanding that I tell her story. I just may have to comply.

In the mix.

When you're a beginning writer, your career is a constant struggle, but the struggle is an internal one. You're not yet published, you have no reason to think you ever will be published, and everyone you meet tells you, "You'll never make any money doing that." Despite all these excellent reasons not to write every day, you dutifully go to your desk (kitchen table, corner of the couch, floor of the broom closet...) and you pound out your thoughts on a keyboard (notepad, series of index cards, rock wall of a cave...) You write your first novel, realize that it's terrible, then you rewrite it, and rewrite it again. And again. And again. It takes YEARS to become skilled and disciplined enough to be a published author. That's just the nature of the game, (profession, obsession, masochistic compulsion...)

After years of querying agents and publishers, after loads of rejection and ego-choking indifference from the industry, you finally get your contract, and you're over the moon! You run around your office, (home, back yard, insane asylum where you've been committed by concerned family members...) leaping in the air for JOY! You're PUBLISHED! You've ARRIVED!!!!

And then your book comes out... and you realize that you are competing with thousands of other first time authors. And then you realize that your book is competing with every award winning novel ever written. And then you realize that even if your dream has come true, and you are a published author... Very few people have actually noticed. (Unless you're one of those people who wins the Pulitzer with their first publication, but let's be real. You're not.) And so after years of struggle just to write your first publishable manuscript, you realize that you've got years more of struggle fighting to stand apart from the crowd.

Writers, readers... How do we do it? How do we make sure our voice is heard in the cacaphony of the publishing industry? What do you do to get your 'brand' out there? Is it all in the writing? Or is there something more?