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: http://alisamlibby.wordpress.com/category/guest-bloggers/.

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 meantime...here 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!