Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Prom Scene Update: The Death of Romance???

In Shakespeare’s day, if you wanted your play to be classified a comedy, you needed to wrap up act five with a wedding. For the past fifty years, if you’re going to create a TV show, movie, or novel for a teen audience, it seems that the ultimate crescendo for the work must be prom.
From Glee’s recent Dino-themed party in the gym to the 50+ (I stopped clicking through at 50) YA novels that feature “prom” in the title on Amazon, clearly our fascination with prom-ing not going anywhere, but some of the details seem to be evolving.

So it's a good thing I happened to chaperone prom last weekend. Here are a few updates of the Southern California variety on the tried-and-true trope...

Major News: Word on the street is that prom has “lost its romance.” Most kids seemed sad about this one, and it made me wonder if prom ever had as much romance as its hype, and whether future prom scenes will head in this direction as well. 
"Monte Carlo" Prom May 2012 (San Diego, CA)

When asked further about the demise of romance, the girls complained that their dates didn’t pick them up at home anymore unless they were a couple, and even then it was rare.

Generally all couples in the group gather at a family’s house with their parents for a massive photo-op.

From there, the “cool” groups all pile into party vans (rumor has it some have “stripper poles”). Limos? A few, but they’re mostly another casualty to the death of romance. Lower in the social prom caste drive themselves to prom.

Corsages? Yes. Boutonniers? Yes. Tuxes? Mostly. Vests co-ordinated with date’s dress. And for those more fashion-forward (or those feeling crafty): matching home-sewn vintage Hawaiian shirts, and a tux jacket made entirely out of duct tape were sighted.

Another tragic prom-tradition casualty? Formal photos. It’s been years since the school has been able to get a photographer to come out as the kids opt for iphone shots at the event, and a parent’s D-SLR camera’s work earlier in the night. And no wonder I haven’t received any of the wallet-sized photos of couples standing awkwardly in front of a plastic flower arrangement lately since the vintage-inspired photo booth replacement only produces a strip of four photos.

While not always the case, this year’s venue was outdoors and featured draped lounges surrounding a water feature, impeccable lighting, gambling tables (theme was Monte Carlo), a tasteful white tent for dancing, a coronation of prom King and Queen, Mac&Cheese and Fry bars with toppings like bacon, cheese, and various forms of onion, a chocolate fountain, and Bond films playing on repeat.

As for the scandalous stuff?

Attendees were breathalyzed at random before entering keeping most from risking an attempt. Rumor has it that other places kids have attempted to smuggle in alcohol (often unsuccessfully) via Ziploc bags tucked in boots, bras, etc.

This year’s dancing was the most tame I’ve seen, but most years it makes me blush. Another nail in the coffin of romance: students reported not hearing a single slow song. And many were sad.

Sex? Reports claim it wasn’t much different than after normal parties (honestly though, who knows? I am their teacher, and I really don't want that intel. Did get inserviced by campus police on the uptick of using "sextacy" aka viagra & ecstacy a few years ago; no clue if it's popular now.). Most kids seemed more excited about the classic In & Out burgers tradition post-prom.

And finally, the moment you've been waiting for...the best part of prom? “Having fun with friends” (mostly the gentlemen), and “getting ready” (mostly the ladies). 

After writing up these details, I’m wondering if prom really is less romantic now. Back in the day, I was picked up at home, took a limo, ate chocolate-covered strawberries, tilted my head in front of a swirling backdrop, and swayed awkwardly to slow songs, but my favorite part? Getting ready. Second favorite? Having fun with friends. Sound familiar? Am I alone? Have books, movies, and TV created unrealistic expectations? What do you remember about your prom? Any current trend updates from other locales?

More romantic? Not for me.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Writer's Resource: AgentQuery Connect Part 2, Community Resources

LogoAs I mentioned in my last post, AgentQuery Connect is an incredibly valuable resource that should be in every writer's toolkit.  Last time, we focused on query writing resources.  This time around, we're going to chat about some of the writing community resources and tools beyond query writing.

If you're new to the site, make sure to introduce yourself.  There is also a great section where newbies can ask questions to the group via the guppie pond.  Think your word count may be too high?  Want someone's opinion on how best to follow up to an agent?  Not sure where to start?  Post your question and let the vets respond.

In addition to writing resources, the site is an excellent way to connect with other writers.  Had a bad day or just need to vent some frustrations?  Check out the litter box.  Finally made it through your revisions, or received your first partial request from an agent?  Share your good news in the good news boast bar.  There are even boards for genre specific topics, where you can connect with other writers from your genre.

If you're starting your agent hunt, check out some of these handy sections:

1.  Agent Updates - this section includes updates on agency moves, blackout periods, new agents, etc.
2.  Agent Submission Process - this section allows you to post any and all questions about the submission process.  I'd recommend scrolling through the existing content before you post your question - there's a good chance you'll find your answer in the existing archives.
3.  Contests and Conferences - here you'll find posts about upcoming contests and conferences.  It's a great resource if you're interested in getting involved with some of the agent blog contests that happen each month.

If you're looking for a critique partner, or just need someone to review your first few chapters, check out the wanted ads.  There, you can post an ad or respond to other posts.  I've found a number of beta readers this way, and every one of them has been fantastic!

Every time I login to AgentQuery Connect I find something new - this post only begins to scratch the surface.  I hope you'll spend some time exploring the site and the wonderful community of writers you'll find there.  And don't be a lurker!  You'll get so much more from the site if you join in.

Happy Writing!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Pop Goes The Culture

Pop culture Bubble

It’s been a sad couple of weeks in my pop culture bubble.  We’ve seen some very talented artists pass away.  From Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys, to Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are and let’s not forget Donna Summer! She worked hard for her money and even harder for her art. 
Beastie BoysI look back with fond memories, watching the Beastie Boys’ rise to fame in the 80’s, then spending late nights dancing to Intergalactic in the 90’s.  Reading Where the Wild Things Are as a wee lass and wanting to take adventures like Max (but happy my parents never sent me to bed without supper). 
All this got me thinking, fifteen years from now, looking back, who would our YA readers remember as their pop culture influences? I asked and was delighted by their answers. I’ve included a few below and since this is a YA blog, I also asked which were their favorite YA novels.  Surprise, surprise, Harry Potter still reigns supreme!
So what are your fondest pop culture memories?  Who did you rock out to in your bedroom or listen to when that boy in eighth grade didn’t feel the same way (Somebody by Depeche Mode on repeat anyone? Anyone? Don't leave me hanging..).   
Feel free to post your pop comment in the box below!
K-Pop Band ShineeTalia L.T., 16, (Brooklyn, NY)
The Red Hot Chili Peppers.  I have always loved their music and my dad used to play it a lot when I was younger.
Serena L., 15 (La Costa, CA)
I’m into Korean & K-Pop.  So my icon is the band Shinee because they’ve trained for many years, love what they do, and care about themselves.  They’re not just doing it for the fame, but because they have a passion for it.
Jamie S., 16 (La Costa, CA)
Dakota Fanning – she just seems very intelligent, different, can cool.
Dakota FanningBri T., 14 (Toronto, Canada)
Ed Sheeran because his music is actually real and means something. 

Juliette U. & Charlie T. (Manhattan Beach, CA)

Lady Gaga because she pushes the boundaries of society.  She's the Madonna of our generation. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Shifting Conventions, or an Ode to the Oxford Comma

I started writing seriously a few years ago, and one of the first things I noticed was that some grammar, spelling, and punctuation rules had changed since I learned them in school.

The Who: TKAA

For example, the word "alright." When I critiqued a friend's manuscript for the first time, I confidently drew a big circle around the word in red--because of course the correct term was "all right." As far as I knew, "alright" wasn't even a word, just a misspelling.

Sure, The Who sang "The Kids Are Alright" as far back as 1965, but they were The Who. They could pretty much spell things however they wanted.

 I was pretty much the guy writing to the newspaper in this comic:
Pearls Before Swine: Alright

Then my friend pointed out that many dictionaries now include "alright" as an acceptable spelling of the word. Merriam-Webster even goes so far as to say, "It is quite common in fictional dialogue, and is used occasionally in other writing."

After my initial reaction (betrayal! Merriam-Webster, how could you?) had died down, I got to thinking about the shifting nature of what I had always thought were iron-clad rules. I read several excellent articles on the subject, most of which pointed out the obvious: languages evolve. We don't spell things the same way or use the same grammar and punctuation rules as we did two hundred years ago, so why should we expect things to remain static now?

Another rule I had to wrap my head around was the slow phasing-out of my beloved Oxford comma. I used to argue it was necessary in all cases. I would point to absurdities like this:
Oxford comma: Washington and Lincoln
But the real, honest truth of the matter is that almost every sentence makes sense without it. That doesn't mean I won't keep using it in all cases--it avoids ambiguity, and frankly I just think it makes the sentence look nicer and more balanced--but there's room for other opinions.

Another rude awakening for me was the modern publishing convention to use only one space after a period instead of two. When I learned to touch-type in middle school the satisfying "thwack thwack!" of the double space was an essential part of the rhythm. 

Two spaces wrongBut this one is more open and shut: the publishing industry has come down on the side of only one space between sentences. Just about any reference you check agrees that in the post-typewriter and monospaced fonts era, there isn't any need to use two spaces after a period--and your published book almost certainly won't.
Changing habits of many years isn't easy. I don't think I could ever write "alright" in a manuscript, and I'm going to keep using the Oxford comma... but I've embraced one period after a sentence. I'm also working on being more accepting (or, to put it another way, not instantly judgmental) of those who choose to move with the times. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Writer's Resource: AgentQuery Connect Part 1, Query Resources

Today's post features a resource that every aspiring writer needs to have in their tool box:  AgentQuery Connect The site has everything from query writing tips, to forums for venting frustrations and celebrating successes.  In fact there are so many phenomenal tools on AQC that I'm going to use more than one post to get through them all!

Today's focus will be on the AQC query writing resources.  Many new members join the site just for this purpose, and end up sticking around for the wonderfully supportive community and the myriad of other benefits the site offers.

The query critique forum lets you post your query for peer feedback. Before posting, make sure you've reviewed the post about how to write a query and the query posting rules. You might also want to check out some examples of successful queries to give you an idea of what success looks like. The AQC community is extremely supportive and always willing to help you build you query, but you need to make sure you've done your homework before posting.

If you're brand new to the query writing world check out the query question & conversation section.  You will not only find answers to many of the common query questions, but you can post your own questions and let the experts respond.  And believe me, they will respond.  Everyone on the site was a beginner at one point, and they are always happy to lend their advice.

After posting your query, make sure to pay it forward by critiquing other queries on the site.  It doesn't matter whether you're an experienced query writer or a novice - everyone has something valuable to offer.  And the more you crit the more crits you will get, as noted in the handy section about how to get other AQCers to critique you work

In many ways I've learned more from critiquing other queries than I have from reading my own feedback - learning to identify what works and what doesn't work will only make you a stronger query writer.

I'd also recommend perusing the posted queries to see how they've evolved.  You'll find my early drafts buried somewhere on the forum - see how many faux pas you can count in my early drafts!
Happy writing!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Industry Month In Review: For The Love Of Fiction

Industry News In Review
We’re rolling out the red carpet for the first “Industry Month in Review”.  Brought to you every last Monday of the month by moi (curses, there’s that Canadian in me again).
For this IMIR, I’ve chosen an article I found particularly interesting.  One whose question dates back hundreds perhaps thousands of years.
The article is slightly older, April 29, 2012 to be exact but I think still relevant a month later.  It’s entitled "Why Fiction Is Good For You", written by Jonathan Gottschall and published in the Boston Globe.

For the Love of Fiction This is the article you can use as backup when you tell others you’re writing a book - a fiction novel no less and they give you that lifted eyebrow – you know the one. 
Who needs fiction and story telling in their lives?  From the studies in this article it looks like all of us.
Fiction has its haters, as Gottschall notes but new research in psychology and broad-based literary analysis shows that fiction molds us, influences us and for the most part (here’s the good news) for better, not worse.
 “Fiction enhances our ability to understand other people; it promotes a deep morality that cuts across religious and political creeds.  More peculiarly, fiction’s happy endings seem to warp our sense of reality.  They make us believe in a lie: that the world is more just than it actually is.“
Modern FamilyEnjoying your weekly dose of Modern Family or Glee?  Gottschall cites studies that show that:
“Reader attitudes shift to become more congruent with the ideas expressed in a [fictional] narrative…..So when we watch a TV show that treats gay families nonjudgementally, our own views on homosexuality are likely to move in the same nonjudgmental direction.
It’s a feel good read that'll have you singing the praises of fiction and thinking about how your view of the world has been influenced by the stories you love to read and the shows you love to watch.

Still looking for more novel news in review?  Check out Nathan Bransford’s May 15th blog post where he highlights a number of newsworthy items including the cultural phenomenon known as what else, Facebook, a nice debate on the future of publishing and (more good news!) the 72% uptick in Chidren’s and YA book sales (yay!).

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Things I Learned In Improv Class, Volume 1

Improv comedy is a form of live theatre in which the plot, characters and dialogue of a scene are made up in the moment, without a script.

In this series of posts I'd like to share some of the tools and creativity exercises I learned during the three years I studied improv comedy in Chicago.

In each post I'll start by explaining the tool/exercise, then show you how I apply it to my writing process.

Today's lesson:  saying "yes, and..."

The principle of "yes and" is simple - never deny anything you are given on stage.  No matter what crazy idea your partner throws at you, you must never, never say no and must always run with their ideas.

Why?  Because saying no brings your scene to a screeching halt and prevents you and your partner from reaching new, uncharted territory.  Saying yes is so much more interesting.  Saying yes creates unexpected scenes that lead to big laughs from the audience.  And saying yes just feels so good.

Here's an example:

Imagine you are on stage.  You have no script and no idea what's about to happen.  All you know is that you and your partner are about to invent a scene together, and someone needs to kick things off with an opening line to establish the starting point.

You develop a loose idea in your head - you're going to be a self-important investment banker on your way to work.  You get into character, and just as you're about to open your mouth to start the mystery scene, your partner says:

"Good afternoon magical unicorn."

Oh, poop.

According to the principle of "yes and" you must accept your partner's idea and build on it.  But how can you be a self important investment banker when your partner just told you that you're a unicorn? 

Light bulb! What happens if you're a self-important investment UNICORN on your way to work?  Now that could be interesting.  In fact that sounds way more interesting than your average everyday self-important investment banker.  That could even be funny.

Instead of saying no, you say:  "Yes, and if these leprechauns don't get off this troll bridge I'm going to be late for my 8am meeting."

Voila!  You've established a scene with the potential for something interesting, unique and funny to happen. That, my friends, is improvising.

Saying "yes and" to critiques:

I've had a number of beta readers review my manuscript, and they've all given me fantastic advice.  They've also made suggestions that I didn't agree with.

Initially, my instinct was to ignore the critiques I didn't like.  After all, I'm the writer.  I know what's best for my story.

But then I remembered what I learned in improv class - saying "yes and" to unexpected ideas can result in something better than what was originally intended. 

So I tried it.

The results?  95% of the time the rewrite was stronger than what I initially wrote.  That's not to say I always took their advice verbatim, but sometimes by simply exploring the idea of changing a section loosely based on their recommendation, I ended up with a stronger manuscript.

It's easy to brush off advice we don't agree with.  Instead, try 'yes anding' it.  Try not to think about all the reasons you don't agree with their advice and instead see what happens if you take it at face value and  incorporate it.  The worst thing that can happen is you end up back where you started.  The best thing that can happen?  You end up somewhere better.

Saying "yes and" to your writing

I'm a pantser when it comes to writing, so writing without an outline is in my wheel house. But I still have moments of over analysis.  I've had ideas come to me and thought, "there's no way that will work," and ultimately put them back on my mental shelf to rot.

But what would have happened if I 'yes anded' my own idea?  Maybe I'd prove my initial theory - the idea doesn't work - but what if I was wrong?  I might have walked away from something really great without ever giving it a shot.

Here is your challenge:  stop saying no to yourself.  The next time you feel that niggling urge to squash an idea before it's seen the light of day, try saying 'yes, and..." and see where your writing takes you.  You might be surprised.

Spoken like a true panster, eh?

Happy writing!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Writer's Resource: Literary Rambles

Literary Rambles logo

Literary Rambles, the brainchild of literary intern Casey McCormick, is an invaluable resource for YA and MG writers. Even if you already know about the website, read on--there may be more to it than you think!

First and foremost, the website hosts an extensive database of literary agents who accept YA and MG submissions, called Agent Spotlight. Each entry contains info about what the agent has stated they're looking for, what they definitely are not looking for (just as important), submission guidelines, links to blogs and interviews around the web, and more. I use their profiles as an excellent jumping-off point for the rest of my agent research.

Over on the blog, there's a regular feature called Tip Tuesday where they share reader-submitted writing tips. Some previous tips I've found particularly helpful include one on how to search Twitter for specific agent information and one with rules for writing magical fiction.

Casey and her blog partner Natalie Aguirre also host interviews with authors (such as Kim Harrington), interviews with preteen/teen readers (today's is with a twelve-year-old blogger), and loads of book giveaways (like this one, which unfortunately ended yesterday). Presumably Casey and Natalie find some time in there to sleep, but I wouldn't put money on it.

Thanks to the constant addition of new agent profiles and regular interesting blog posts, Literary Rambles will continue to hold an honored place in my blog subscription list!

Every Tuesday, we post a review of a tool--website, book, software, etc.--that we think might be helpful for writers. See previous Writer's Resource posts here.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Curious Lives of Teenagers: Love?

The subjects (15-16 yo San Diego honors teenagers) were posed the question: "What is love?" in preparation for beginning William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. They wrote anonymously, and had five minutes to turn in an answer. Here is the raw data for what they wrote:


Cool I guess sometimes

The puppy that jumps into your bed at night, snuggling and shaking while a storm roars outside, but you don’t move your legs long after they’re numb.

A dangerous necessity, and the world’s greatest mystery.

“Tyler will you go to prom with me?”

Like spinach. It’s unhealthy and can give iron poisoning.

Evil. Spell it backwards. I’ll show you.

Not having to wear makeup or give a crap what you look like.

Not good for your health. Emotionally draining yet that undescribable feeling you get when he says  your name or makes you smile.


The family restroom at Disneyland.

I’m not sure. Tell me 760-XXX-XXXX (yes. a real number was used. A student called it immediately)

Our warm up exercise in class.

It is impossible to watch any popular movie without seeing someone falling in love

“the closest thing we have to magic” –Aquamarine


Contagious, spicy, and dangerous. Love is innocent and both strong and demure. If hate is an illness then love is the cure. Love is kind, strong, and forgiving. Love is solely reserved for the living.

Eight equals D.

Not really working out for me right now

The boy with the bread.

Jake & Emily.

Catching the Benedick.

The 6th month of the year on the 9th day.

The motivation.

A poop sometimes. It’s fun but painful.

Giving someone the power to destroy you, but believing that they won’t.

Will never have a specific definition.

A bucket of fried chicken.

Jake wanting Emily’s number.

The right hand man.

The start of the end.

Stupid. It makes you fall for a person you would never think to be together with. It makes you stumble, mumble, and blush furiously at random times. Love permeates your thoughts, invades your dreams, changes your life. It distracts you, immobilizes you and frustrates you. And worst of all, it makes you unbelievably, indescribably happy.
**Names and phone number have been changed. Otherwise, there were no alterations. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Villain of the Month: Cancer in The Fault in Our Stars

The Dictator’s Handbook (a non-fiction work in which two economists study trends in “successful”dictatorships throughout history), was released only four months before John Green’s latest masterpiece. TDH begins and ends with the quotation from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, “the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in us”, which oddly also happens to also be the inspiration for the title of John Green’s absolutely brilliant most recent novel, The Fault in our Stars.

While The Dictator’s Handbook studies the way a few deeply flawed villainous men can ruin a society (the great problem is in their flaws, not the situation), Green’s novel depicts the situational villain I’ll be taking on this month.

Cancer is definitely a villain, as anyone who has seen the devastation it leaves in its wake, and it is inside a person, but the characters don’t do anything to deserve this villain, and no person is at fault. Nobody. Nobody to blame. No one to psychoanalyze. No one to sue. Nothing. 
 And so, while most great classic villains have layers, depth, etc. to explore -- How did they get that way? What are their quirks? etc. making them fascinating to read about and to write -- disease, as a villain, does not. And that provides Green with certain opportunities.
In Green’s work, all of the central characters are teenagers with cancer. He adeptly milks the opening scene to introduce us to our characters via the carnage of the villain’s dark power. Great for showing us who’s boss right up front (mental note: introducing all new characters via a similar characterizing point can work wonders for an intro.)
He sharply juxtaposes this horror with the most ordinary of settings, a rec room at an ordinary midwestern church. The teenagers’ initial characterization tags spill out in a support group: ball-less-ness, a missing leg, lungs that require assistance to breathe, a boy preparing to have his last eye removed; looking around, our protagonist even runs numbers on the odds of dying. There is more than enough real danger present to up the stakes. But here is the beauty of Green’s balance. They’re broken, but they’re also in a place of support.
And this scene is hilarious.
And that, too, is the power of disease as a villain. Since it’s a villain that never leaves its victims, the characters may embody the best of gallows humor. Mankind has a tendency to laugh at awkward times.
With so much heaviness in which we will be unrelentingly trapped throughout the novel, we can’t help but crave a laugh to lighten. Green’s jokes are spot-on throughout, almost brutally so, but it’s not only his facility with language that makes us laugh out loud in that first scene, it’s also that we’re primed to need relief.
Under Green’s masterful hand, the villain becomes the indifferently malicious reminder to all of us that our bodies will fail us. That our most intimate asset, that which has sustained us since birth will eventually just stop working.
But by experiencing the hazy humorous terror through Hazel’s half-adult/ half-child’s insightful eye, it allows the reader license to laugh at his own inevitable mortality and to see each moment as a gift.
By making even the worst of the characters, a remote author, "good" on some level, Green removes the "fault" from man. And that allows for a kind of hopefulness in humanity. Maybe, we could, in fact, live in a place where the villains are not our own kind. Unlike in The Dictator's Handbook (also an excellent work and one I highly recommend for those looking to write an external villain,) Green’s optimism for humankind shines throughout.

Green takes us on a journey through a nightmare and gives us humor and hope and bravery as deeply as he gives us terror and sadness, and we thank him for it. NYT Bestseller thank him for it.

To see a real (no longer living) dictator looking at things go to: 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

John Green Speaks at the L.A. Times Festival of Books

     The L.A. Times Festival of Books is the largest annual book festival in the United States and thoroughly dominated the campus at USC April 21-22 so, of course, the four of us had to be there.
     While I was disappointed to have to miss DJ MacHale and the like at the YA stage with Jen, I did get to hear one of my heroes, John Green. Having just finished reading The Fault in Our Stars (I will be blogging about its villain tomorrow for my first installment of The Villain of the Month series), I was excited to hear him talk about a book I believe to be his best and a work that can hold its own against any modern classic. In any genre.

     For anyone who missed the absolute delight of hearing John Green in conversation with the charming Lev Grossman—and most of you did since the guy working the door told me that tickets to see him were near impossible to get—here are my favorite tidbits from the interview. Enjoy!!!

11 Highlights from THE John Green

11. He used to work at Mental Floss and would spend 14 hrs. a day researching trivia.

10. When he was a student Chaplin at a children's hospital he played a lot of video games with terminal patients.

9. He sends (what he claims to be) bad first drafts daily to his editor. His wife and editor are his first readers.

8. He was obsessed with David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest in high school inspiring the idea of Hazel's obsession with An Imperial Affliction. He also liked the idea of a book so perfect it is impossible to the books in his head before he tries to actually write them and they are ruined  by becoming real. 

7. He loves that high culture and low culture are more easily blended for teens.

6. His advice for readers? Read a lot. Broadly.

5. Why the name of "Gus" in TFIOS? It's a name that could be the name of an Emperor at first "Augustus" and then the name of a boy by the end "Gus". Hazel? Hazel was an in-between name. It's the name of someone who is in between dying and not, illness and wellness, kid and adult.

4. He's not interested in writing "adult" literature. He likes how kind and supportive everyone is in the young adult world, and doesn't find the genre limiting as a writer at all.

3. The original title of TFIOS was The Hectic Glow. He kept "The Hectic Glow" as name of a band. It is a reference to Thoreau's description of the hectic glow of consumption. He agreed when his editor suggested he change it to The Fault in Our Stars.

2. He tried to write TFIOS many times, and kept coming back to it, but couldn't find the right story until he met an inspiring young adult named Esther at Leaky Con.

1. My favorite thing he said: "true stories are hopeful" and "hope is not easily achieved or won."
(Another bonus of the festival: the authors are just walking around like normal people at a place where they are likely to have their picture taken by not-so-sneaky camera phones like any other L.A.  celeb. The guy in the blue button-down is John Green. )

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

On Writing First Chapters

Hey, look at me! I’m blogging. I’m a blogger!

Now that that’s out of the way, on to my inaugural blog post. And what better topic for a first blog post than a post about first chapters? I agree. It’s genius.

It’s also been the bane of my existence for the last six months.
I initially thought my current MS’s first chapter was a sparkling example of literary genius at its finest. It was full of witty insights into my character’s snarky persona. It dripped with back story. Similes and metaphors exploded off the page in Times New Roman wonder. It was funny. It was dark. It was clever.

It was all wrong.

Turns out I’d fallen victim to many of the faux pas writers succumb to when starting out their stories. It took me six rewrites, five beta readers, three fabulous critique/blog partners and one workshop to finally get it to the right place...I think. (Head, meet wall.)

The reality is, first chapters are hard. They’re also arguably the most important part of a story, because they need to entice readers (and for those of us aspiring writers, agents) to read more, while simultaneously setting a reader’s expectations for what’s to come.

It was somewhere around revision four that I stumbled upon this useful list of first chapter faux pas from Writers Digest: What Agents Hate.

Let’s just say I could relate to a few of the items on the list.

The article was a light bulb moment for me. Thankfully, I discovered I’m not alone in my struggle for the perfect opening and there are tons of resources out there that helped me wade through the chapter one muck. Below are a few of my favorites.

This post does a nice job of outlining how to approach first chapter revisions: The All Important First Chapter

This post has some handy tools to help you work through where to start your novel: Where To Start

In these posts, agent Kathleen Ortiz reviews the first 5 pages of several MS and outlines where (and why) she stopped reading: First 5 Pages Part One, First 5 Pages Part Two, First 5 Pages Part Three

More on what not to do: Don’t Do This, 13 Ways Not To Start A Novel

More on where to start: Opening Your Story

Have other great first chapter resources? Post them here!

Happy writing!

Monday, May 7, 2012

YA Book Pick: LEGEND

On the second Monday of every 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!

Legend book cover
This month's book pick is LEGEND by Marie Lu.

Synopsis (from Goodreads): What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic’s highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths—until the day June’s brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family’s survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias’s death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.

First Line: "My mother thinks I'm dead." 

This is a great first line for several reasons. First, it makes you want to read on. Why does this person's mother think he's dead? Why would he allow his mother to think that, since it's (obviously) not the case? It also immediately establishes the protagonist as someone who has family who would care if he's dead, which isn't always a given in dystopian fiction.

Highlights: I loved the whole book. I took it with me on a five-hour plane ride, along with my laptop, some knitting, and a magazine. When I sat down, I pulled out the book, thinking I'd read for a little while, then work on other things. When I landed, the laptop, knitting, and magazine were untouched, but the book was done!

June and Day's relationship was fascinating and layered. June's belief that Day was the one who killed her brother gave them a very good reason to dislike each other, even though they had a lot in common (and an immediate physical attraction). This was a believable way to prolong the tension between them, something that isn't always done well in books with a romantic plotline.

I also really liked the fact that the book didn't spend much time talking about what happened to change society. There were enough clues given to make me curious about the backstory, but the main focus was what was happening to those characters now.

Prodigy book coverNotes for Writers: This is the first book I've read that uses different colors (and fonts) for each POV character. When I first started reading, I honestly wondered if it would annoy me, but after the first couple of switches I really appreciated the visual cue that we were in the other character's head. I'm usually not a huge fan of switching POVs in the first place, but it didn't bother me at all here.

A Good Read For: Fans of/writers of dystopian fiction, science fiction, and action-adventure. The novel is very well-paced, with an excellent mix of tense action scenes and quieter, more contemplative moments.

The next book in the series, PRODIGY, has a release date of January 29, 2013. I can't wait!