Thursday, November 20, 2014

Not Gone Girl

With the premiere of Mockingjay, Part 1 just days away, it's a great time to celebrate the female protagonist. Be they strong, sweet or somewhat controversial, we're witnessing a surge in stories that finally show the many faucets of women. 
Creating Strong Female CharactersFrom Katniss (Hunger Games) and Hazel (The Fault In Our Stars) to more adult fare like Amy (Gone Girl) and Cheryl (Wild), we're seeing more and more of these complex female characters translating into big bucks both from book sales and on the big screen.  

A recent NY Times article with Gone Girl and Wild authors Gillian Flynn and Cheryl Strayed discusses their similarities - creating bluntly authentic, deeply engaging stories through characters that defy stereotypes.

While those are more adult fare, here is a list of inspirational YA heroines - perfect gifts for the upcoming holidays.  

Joss Whedon QuoteBut strong females don't just come from books, they also come from real life.  This is no more evident than in a recent article I read about Emily Wright, a girl who went from living an affluent private school lifestyle to homeless on the streets. Hers is a real story of struggle and triumph.  

So let's take this week to celebrate the complex girls and women in our lives, because the last thing we want is more of this

Monday, November 17, 2014

YA BOOK PICK: Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

Once a month, we choose an outstanding YA book to review. We want to spotlight books of interest to aspiring writers, as well as highlight some of our favorite books and authors!

This month's book pick is Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater, though this is really an ode to the entire Raven Cycle series.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue is the third book in what (I think) will be a four book series called the Raven Cycle, which started with The Raven Boys followed by The Dream Thieves.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):  There is danger in dreaming. But there is even more danger in waking up.

Blue Sargent has found things. For the first time in her life, she has friends she can trust, a group to which she can belong. The Raven Boys have taken her in as one of their own. Their problems have become hers, and her problems have become theirs.

The trick with found things though, is how easily they can be lost.

Friends can betray.
Mothers can disappear.
Visions can mislead.
Certainties can unravel.

Highlights:  It's hard for me not to get all fan-girly when I talk about Maggie Stiefvater's writing. She is, without a doubt, one of my all time favorites, and the Raven Cycle series highlights the many reasons why.

In The Raven Boys, Stiefvater does a flawless job of setting the stage and the world for the books to come.  The story is set in Henrietta, Virginia, where Blue Sargent lives with her psychic mother and their associates. The Raven Boys is the nickname for the boys attending the wealthy and prestigious Aglionby Academy, and Blue has spent all of her youth avoiding them. That is, until she meets Gansey, Adam and Ronan.

Stiefvater is the perfect example of a confident writer. She expertly places readers into the southern town of Henrietta, never explicitly telling readers about the undercurrent of magic, the ley lines or Gansey's quest to find and wake the king that may be buried somewhere in the Henreitta hills. She shows us these things little by little, letting the world unravel for readers one page at a time, until you're completely immersed and accepting of the magical elements in the story. While concepts like psychics and magic are commonly used in YA, this story feels completely unique, and the elements of magic are used in ways I haven't experienced in other paranormal/magical realism books before.

Stiefvater is also an expert at character development. Every character in the book is layered and distinct, with clear motivations and unique voices.  Which is no easy feat given the number of characters she introduces us to.

With series, so often I find that the second and third books never quite live up to the expectations set by the first. Not so with The Raven Cycle series. Blue Lily, Lily Blue was as good, if not better, than The Dream Thieves which was better than The Raven Boys, which on its own was a phenomenal read. And each story, while building on the central plotline developed in the first book, has it's own distinct sub-plot, which I found to be a refreshing approach and made each book independently enjoyable.

My only criticism is that I still have to wait a year to find out how the series will end.

Notes for writers:  Pay attention to the way Stiefvater introduces us to the magical elements of the story. There's a lot to be learned from her effortless way of world building via showing.

A good read for: Fans of paranormal and magical realism looking for something new and different.  Writers looking to get a better grasp of world building, showing vs. telling, and confident writing.

Have I mentioned how much I love this series?  And while I'm gushing about Maggie Stiefvater, let me also recommend The Scorpio Races, The Wolves of Mercy Falls, Sinner, and pretty much anything else she has ever written.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Thankful for the Backstory?

November is a time to be thankful, so that concept has been on my mind most of this month.   Of course, like many people, I am thankful for my friends and family.  I think that their stories are important and that they themselves help shape me.  Even though I love my family and friends, in my real life, they are often the backstory of me - important, but not always in the moment - not always what people want to know about me.

Thus, while loved one are important to us, they may not be so essential to others.  The other day I found this out the hard way.  I came across a man's professional website while trying to research his credentials. All I wanted to know about this person was his qualifications.  However, I had to read, or at least skim, through five whole paragraphs before I found my answers.  Even worse, the opening paragraph was all about his family.  I might have enjoyed all this information on the man if I had been able to find my answers up front.  But no, for nearly five paragraphs, he gave me his backstory.  At first I was a bit irritated, but then it made me realize that I am also horribly guilty of giving way too much backstory.  Oops!!  I did it again didn't I?!

Okay, okay.  So what's the deal with the backstory?!  I'm not going to say that there is anything wrong with the backstory.  I love the backstory!!  It can create meaning and understanding, but . . . it can also slow the story's pace and well. . . irritate readers.  Thus, I've heard many in the writing community caution against it.  Ah shoot, what's a writer to do?

Well, for starters, find out just how important the information is to your story.  If it isn't relevant, cut it.  I know, I know, that hurts, but your readers will probably thank you for it.  Next, make sure each scene has more current action than past action.  Give the readers what they want - action - and then sneak in some background history.  Weaving the past into the story from time to time will help create a balance between depth and pace.  Finally, putting the "meat" of the story up front will satisfy your readers making them curious to find out more.  Just don't make the readers work too hard for what they want; believe me they'll get irritated!

So, as you are busy writing and/or editing this month, remember to be thankful for all that is in your life, or even for that which is in your characters' lives, but don't get too bogged down in the backstory.  You have a story to tell and it is yours.  Now go out there and tell it!  And FYI, I really do love backstory so if you ever want to share it, I'd love to hear it! 
Nothing like a good backstory!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Announcement: New Team Members!!!

With great delight, I'd like to introduce you to a couple of fabulous writers who will be joining the Thinking to Inking team: Karen & Mitchell Clayton!

This dynamic mother/son writing duo is here to give us some tips from the inside of the teen world (Mitchell) and what it's like to write with a partner.

So, to get to know them a little better, here is a note from the wonderful Karen Clayton:

I am a stay-at-home-mom of three very active boys.  When I am not scraping cereal off the walls, planning classroom parties, or taxiing kids around town, I enjoy hiking, Tae Kwon Do, scrapbooking, quilting, and of course writing.  I have a BA in Anthropology from Baylor University and have either taught or subbed for grades K through 12, thus I am familiar with kids of all ages. 

Mitchell is a typical teenage boy.  He enjoys Tae Kwon Do, football, hiking, windsurfing, sailing, SUPing, shooting, longboarding, Theatre, and Choir.  Although he prefers sports over the arts, he has won awards for both Theatre and Choir.  He has even been invited to sing at Carnegie Hall.  When he isn’t out being a boy, he likes to apply his expertise into his writing to help bring his characters to life. 

As a family, we enjoy taking trips to National Parks and then writing about them.  Working together is both fun and challenging, but always interesting!  That’s our story.  What’s yours?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Writer's Conference Basics

scbwi logo

I'm off to the Western PA SCBWI conference in Pittsburgh this weekend (with my husband and four-month-old baby in tow—wish me luck!). This will be the fifth writer's conference I've attended. I feel like I'm finally starting to get the hang of them.

If you're a long-time reader of Thinking to Inking, you might remember the conference survival guide I posted last year. This time, rather than advice on nerves or particulars of etiquette, I want to focus on the basic three things that I think are needed for a successful conference.

1. Do some research.
I've seen this over and over again at each conference I've attended. Do at least enough research before you go to know how traditional publishing works, what an agent or editor does, and what type of book you're writing. I've actually heard people ask agents questions in seminars like, "What genre is my fiction novel about my life?" or "Why do I need an agent? Don't you just want to take a cut of my money?" Trust me, you don't want to be THAT guy/girl.

2. Don't be a jerk.
This one is similar to #1, but it gets its own number because it's just as important. Agents, editors, conference organizers, published writers—they're all people too. (A friend of mine wrote an excellent blog post about agents in particular.) They have good and bad days, times when they feel overwhelmed, and times when they really just need to go to the bathroom or go outside for some air. You'll get your chance to talk to them. Treat them politely.

This one gets all capital letters because it's really, really important. Follow the rules. If the pre-conference materials say to print out ten copies of your first five pages, DO IT. Supposed to be there at 10:30 am for registration? That's when you should arrive. Someone tells you that you have a certain time slot to pitch to an agent? Be there on time, ready to go. Conferences are set up to work as smoothly as possible, and it's people who don't follow directions that create snags and problems.