Thursday, August 30, 2012

An Ode to Scrivener

If I were asked which tool I find most important for writing, my answer would be my laptop. Duh, right? But my second most important tool, the one that makes it possible for me to happily plan, outline, draft, and revise, isn't such a duh.

It's Scrivener, a word processing program from Literature and Latte.


Scrivener is for writing, first and foremost, but it's also a management system for research, notes, and drafts. Like many people, I used to make notes and outline on paper or on my computer and then type my pages and do my editing in Microsoft Word.

Now my writing process has changed. I do all of my drafting in Scrivener, and then I export my work to Word.

Scrivener has virtual notecards, so the first thing I do when I outline a new story is to enter a brief description of each scene. Here's a screenshot of the notecards for my current novel:

From this screen, I can move the cards around and check out the flow of the novel before I start writing a word.

Then comes the writing. Scrivener lets you break down the draft into bite-size chunks or scenes, which works fantastically well for me. Each scene has its own notecard (visible on the right side in the drafting view), and each scene can be grouped into a chapter folder.

I find this chunk-by-chunk method a great deterrent to writer's block. Knowing I'm sitting down to write a finite scene is so much easier than trying to face endless blank pages.

Scrivener is also great for editing. Before, I would save each new draft with a name like "LongTimers v3.28." I ended up with dozens of files and the job of remembering which one had that descriptive paragraph I cut but wanted to put back. But Scrivener has this awesome feature called snapshots. When the little camera button at the bottom right of the screen is pressed, it saves a draft that's linked to that scene. I can switch to other incarnations of the scene easily from the same page.

The program also has folders and files set up for notes and research, which is fantastic for speculative fiction writers. I have all of my character and worldbuilding notes organized in one place--alternate timelines, character bios and backstories, continuity notes, and science notes. I even have a file of ideas for possible future books.

My Notes section of the current novel. I've got a lot of stuff in here!

There are tons of features I haven't mentioned (the ability to set word count targets for daily writing, outline view, flags and markers that can be used to indicate character arcs or multiple POVs, to name a few).

But in the interests of space saving, I'll close with this: Scrivener is only $45, it's available for both Mac and PC, and there's a free 30-day trial offered on the Literature and Latte website. I don't have any affiliation with the site, but I'm a very satisfied user. Try it. I have a feeling you'll like it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

More Lessons from LA SCBWI - Confident Writing

While attending the LA SCBWI there was one theme that continued to percolate for me – confident writing.

I’m not talking about confidence in your actual writing ability (although every writer needs to be confident in their story telling craft to be successful.) I’m talking about having confidence in your reader, and letting that trust shine through by what you don’t say in your story.

How often as a writer do you feel the need to explain something to the reader? Perhaps it’s an emotion you want to share with the reader, so you tell them how your character is feeling. Or maybe there’s a recurring theme you want your book to have, so you tell it to the reader. Several times. Because you really want to make sure they get it.
writing with confidence

Often times it’s referred to as telling, but it’s also a perfect example of a writer that doesn’t trust that their reader will figure things out on their own.

A confident writer believes in their reader. Confident writers trust that if they paint the details, the reader will be able to see the whole picture.

Take The Golden Compass as an example. In the first few chapters we are introduced to Lyra – a curious little girl. But Philip Pullman never actually says “Lyra is a curious little girl” so how do we know she’s curious? We know because he shows us.

In the first scene we see Lyra snooping around the dining and retiring rooms of her school. It’s in her simple actions that we start to uncover Lyra’s curious nature, not in the explicit words Pullman uses. She flicks a glass. She studies the table setting. She explores her surroundings. She eavesdrops. These are all actions that demonstrate curiosity without once ever using adjectives associated with the word curious.

Pullman very easily could have used a dialogue tag to explicitly tell readers about Lyra’s nature:

“What d’you think they talk about?” she whispered curiously.

But he never does this, because he never needs to. He has confidence that his reader will pick up on her character traits through her actions.

writing with confidence
Another fantastic example of confident writing can be seen in the first chapter of The Hunger Games. Suzanne Collins never expressly tells us that Katniss is a survivor, or that she feels responsible for taking care of her family. Instead, she shows us Katniss’ hardened persona when she describes her reaction to the cat. What kind of person wants to drown a kitten so they will have one less mouth to feed? What kind of person spares a kitten’s life because her sister begs her not to drown it? It is through these actions and reactions that we come to see who Katniss is as a person, not simply through adjectives, adverbs and explicit explanations.

The next time you’re reading through your manuscript, ask yourself – what am I explicitly telling the reader that they can figure out on their own? Is there a way I can showcase that emotion or character trait through actions and reactions versus explanation? Are there explanations I can take out that won't take away from the story?  If so, you may be over-telling.

Go back and reread the first chapter of your favorite books with an eye for confident writing. The more you can develop an eye for what works in other stories, the more you'll be able to apply those tactics to your own writing.

Most importantly, have faith in your reader. Give them a beautiful story, and trust that they will be able to read between the lines. (Pun intended!)

Happy writing!

Monday, August 27, 2012

From Book to Screen (and back again): Let's Roll!

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss

Young Adult fiction continues to be a hit with kids and adults alike and with the success of The Hunger Games, Twilight and Harry Potter, entertainment companies are quick to option new properties in the young adult space. 

The LA Times recently published a list of newly optioned young adult and middle grade fiction.  These include Veronica Roth's Divergent, John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, and Veronica Rossi's Under the Never Sky.  It's great to see the variety of projects that are being optioned and should the one's I've mentioned make their way from development to production, they show great promise because they are after all, based on great books. 

I've had the pleasure of interviewing a number of bestselling authors for Thinking to Inking's From Book to Screen (and back again) series including D.J. MacHale, Holly Goldberg Sloan and Lauren Kate.  All have been gracious with their time and provided thoughtful and informative answers to my questions. 

Wondrous Strange by Lesley LivingstonStarters by LIssa PriceThirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

This Fall is gearing up to be no exception. I'm excited to announce that I will be posting From Book to Screen (and back again) interviews with authors Lesley LivingstonLissa Price and Jay Asher prior to the New Year.  

Starling by Lesley LivingstonAll have had their first published novel optioned and are currently in the process of transforming their babies from the written word to the big screen. 

This is an especially busy week for two of these authors as Lesley Livingson will be launching her new novel Starling in the U.S. (launched last week in Canada) and Lissa Price will be at Chicon's Sudden Inspiration Panel - How Do You Get Your Ideas?  If you're there, be sure to check it out!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Industry Month In Review: Back To Basics

It's been a great August so far with sun, surf, and the SCBWI LA Conference and with everything that's going on, it's easy to forget about the little things reading a good book on a lazy summer day.  

Wrigley's Little Free Library, Toronto
Wrigley's LFL, Toronto
If you don't know which book to read, good news, the NPR just released their favorite 100 best ever teen novels list.  It's filled with classics like The Catcher In The Rye, To Kill A Mockingbird, and The Hobbit, fan favourites like The Hunger Games and Harry Potter as well as contemporary gems like Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (whom I'll be interviewing later this fall for a my Book to Screen interview series).  Take a look at the list and see how many you've read to date.

Don't have a library within walking distance to borrow that book you just read about on NPR's website? There may be a little free library in your neighbourhood.  I'm proud to say that in my home city of Toronto we have quite a few.  Cute little wooden boxes (some built to mimic the bricks and mortar libraries nearby) that generous home holders have placed on their front lawns and filled with an abundance of reading material for kids and adults alike. 

The other fun thing to do this summer - write, write, and more writing of course!  What all the novels on the NPR list have in common is that they're all written by writers who've done what F. Scott Fitzgerald told aspiring young author Frances Turnbull to do: they sold their hearts.  

F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald
For those of us who aspire to be great writers and are inspired by great writers, this letter is a reminder of what it takes to be just that.  We need to push the boundaries of our writing, dig deep into the characters and bring out emotions, experiences and actions that aren't easy.  Fitzgerald puts it best when he writes "you wouldn't be interested in a soldier who was only a little brave."

The nice thing about enjoying the little things is that we can do them all year round.  Next up: curling up on the sofa beside a warm fire with a good book.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Writer's Resource: Write or Die

A few weeks ago, I talked about programs like LeechBlock, Freedom, and Anti-Social and how they could increase your productivity by forcibly removing you from social media sites.

Here's a program that takes it a step further: Write or Die.

WOD window

From their website's About section: "Write or Die is a web application that encourages writing by punishing the tendency to avoid writing. Start typing in the box. As long as you keep typing, you’re fine, but once you stop typing, you have a grace period of a certain number of seconds and then there are consequences."

The consequences can be toggled from Gentle--a box pops up when you haven't written for a little while, reminding you to keep writing--all the way to Kamikaze, where the program will start unwriting the words you've written if you don't keep typing!

Their tagline ("Putting the 'Prod' in Productivity") says it all. The website touts WOD as the best cure for writer's block around, and I have friends who swear by it. To be honest, I don't suffer from writer's block much--writer's extreme wordiness and need of editing is more my problem--so I haven't tried it.

But if you're someone who often sits in front of a blank screen, wishing you had some motivation to make the words come out, WOD might be just the thing for you.

writer's block

The program costs $10 and is available in both desktop and iPad versions. If you've tried it before, or you decide to give it a shot, come back and let me know how it went!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Curious Lives of Teenagers: Inspiring

Disclaimer: Normally I attempt to adopt a more neutral mock-scientific tone for this column, but I can't be neutral on this one. 

In June when most of the graduating seniors at the high school where I teach were out celebrating the close of their secondary education, a couple of my lovely former students headed down to Sinaloa Mexico to do medical humanitarian work.

Their plane crashed.

 In a river. The pilot was killed. The two girls--best friends-- and another young man from a different school were heavily injured and left to fend for themselves. One of the girls became unconscious. Her best friend managed to get her to some kind souls, fishermen who were on the river. The fishermen saved them from there.

This is not a teen novel I'm reviewing. Not a Lifetime made-for-TV-movie. These are my former students, and they were always well-behaved, lovely, and gracious no matter what Crime or Punishment I threw at them. So, naturally, it was really hard to hear about this story, and to think about the pain they must be in. It hurt everyone who knew them to think about these lovely girls in pain. But, of course, the worst thing we can do is underestimate anyone, especially the perpetually underestimated teenager. These girls have been blogging about their experiences with recovery, and wow. I'm so honored to know them. Check it out, and if you get a chance, you may want to help them send their rescuers to get an education (yep. of course they use their pain to help others.)

And next time you're writing about teens, remember that some of them are as strong, and noble, and kind as this.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

What to Read Fall 2012: Part 2

ALA ARCs are oh so much fun. Too bad I have to slow down my reading of them as I head back to school, but then again, I get to go back to teaching. Yay! So here's more of how I spent my summer:

Here's the scoop:

Reading over tacos at my favorite
 local taco stand.
1. Blessed by Tonya Hurley

""Agnes!' My mother wailed, clutching the pale arm of her only daughter. 'Is he really worth it? Worth this?'" Begins the chic new trilogy by the author of the Ghostgirl series (also former personal publicist to the George Michael, Prince, Morrissey, The Cure, and the Olson twins among others. Wow. BTW Her coolness level is definitely reflected in this book.) And from there, it's a fast-paced, edgy, and twisted dark adventure into the lives of three girls who are given matching bracelets by a mysterious hot guy while checked into a Catholic hospital. After that the girls are pulled deeper and deeper into the lore of ancient Catholic Saints, and into a modern world where they are the Saints. Really original idea. I loved the concept, and the thrill of the book, and recommend it for those who are comfortable in an edgy, dark YA world (I tend to be a bit of a wuss), enjoy exploring religion in a fresh way, and like a fast-paced adventure. Watch for it 9/25/12. Simon & Schuster.

2. Before You Go by James Prellier

Heading out on my sweet
beach cruiser to find a nice
spot to read.
"Jude squeezed his eyes shut, blinking away the sun's glare, and waited for the eight-fifteen-in-the-freaking-morning bus." Eight-fifteen as freaking early? I wish. Such a teenager. And he is. Jude is moody, complex, and has a right to be. He's been quietly dealing with the guilt of having been on duty when his little sis drowned years ago. Unfortunately, we know that she won't be his only tragedy. The book begins with a preface that alerts the readers that there will be another traumatic event at the end, and we spend the rest of the book building up to said tragedy. Throughout the work Jude becomes a richly complex character who falls in love with a complex real human girl, and makes good friends as he spends a summer working a crap job on the beach. But we all know something's coming, and it does. And it's sad. I recommend this one for anyone in the mood for rich complex characters facing problems for which they should be far too young. It's out now (Came out July).  Feiwel and Friends (Macmillan).

3. Colin Fischer by Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz 

At my desk 
"Colin clutched his precious, dog-eared Notebook to his chest." Is not the sort of first line I expected from the screenwriting duo behind X-Men: First Class and Thor!, and neither is this delightfully quirky mystery whose crime-solver has Aspergers and needs a collection of facial-expression notecards to tell him what people are feeling. I know that the autism narration thing has been done, and done well before (I absolutely love Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time), but this one doesn't feel derivative. The characters are well-drawn as Colin navigates freshman year without the help of his aide, and ultimately sets out to solve the mystery of who brought a gun to school. I recommend this book for anyone who wants to re-experience high school from a naively logical perspective, loved Encyclopedia Brown, or just wants a sweet and engaging mystery. Look for it November 2012. Razorbill. (Penguin).

Happy Fall (into) Reading Everyone!!!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Writer's Resource: Voice Lessons (not the singing kind) From LA SCBWI

So I almost forgot that I had a post scheduled for today, because I've been spending every single free second stalking the WriteOn forums.  There are so many great writers out there!  Hop on over and take a look if you haven't already.

Also, quick announcement about an upcoming query workshop - Brenda Drake and three other fabulous writers will critique 40 query letters on August 20-24.  Check out her blog to learn more.  Winners will be chosen on Friday, 8/17.

Now on to my regularly scheduled (but almost missed because of WriteOn) post.

Voice Lessons (not the singing kind) 

Developing a character's voice is a tricky thing, and while at SCBWI's LA conference I had the good fortune of attending several workshops that addressed the topic of voice.

Voice is more than the words your character says or the actions/reactions your character has to their situation.  Voice is in how your character sees the world around them - every detail about your character should act as a filter for what your character comments on, be it through dialogue or internal monologue.

Picture three different characters walking down the same street - a cement layer, a florist and a bird watcher.  The cement layer would probably notice cracks in the concrete, or uneven places in the pavement.  The florist would probably not comment on the street at all, because he is too busy admiring the foliage that lines the road.  The bird watcher wouldn't notice anything below her neck, because she's too busy looking up at the sky.

Think about who your character is and how those details might affect the way he or she sees the world, then bring that world view into your writing.  If you are writing in first person or third person close, you should never deviate from that world view, because it is a reflection of who your character is.

A few exercises that may help develop your character's world view and voice:

1.  Write a series of journal entries from your MC's POV. What kinds of things are important to him/her? How do they spend their day?  What language do they use? How do they feel?  Start thinking of your character as more than a person from your story - think of them as an actual person, and start to put yourself into their shoes.

2. Write down a series of adjectives that describes your character.  Now start replacing each word with an antonym. How would these words change your character's actions? Their dialogue? The word choice?  Understanding what your character shouldn't do can often help you make smarter choices about what they should be doing.

3. Go back and read the first few pages of your favorite books.  What did the author do to set up the story? The character? How quickly did you get a sense of who this new person might be?  How does one character feel versus another character from an entirely different story? Why do they feel different to you?

4. Read the award winners, both in your genre and out of your genre.  Pulitzer prize winners are often a great place to start, because they almost always have rich, complex characters that hop off the pages right from the opening paragraph.

The key takeaway for me was that developing voice takes practice and patience - it can't be forced. Practice, read, and practice some more.

Now back to the WriteOn forums...

Happy writing!

Monday, August 13, 2012


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!

Bitterblue (Graceling Realm, #3)
This month's book is the long awaited BITTERBLUE, the follow up to GRACELING, by Kristen Cashore.

Synopsis (from Goodreads): Eight years after Graceling, Bitterblue is now queen of Monsea. But the influence of her father, a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities, lives on. Her advisors, who have run things since Leck died, believe in a forward-thinking plan: Pardon all who committed terrible acts under Leck's reign, and forget anything bad ever happened. But when Bitterblue begins sneaking outside the castle--disguised and alone--to walk the streets of her own city, she starts realizing that the kingdom has been under the thirty-five-year spell of a madman, and the only way to move forward is to revisit the past.

Two thieves, who only steal what has already been stolen, change her life forever. They hold a key to the truth of Leck's reign. And one of them, with an extreme skill called a Grace that he hasn't yet identified, holds a key to her heart.

Reviews of Fire and Graceling by Kristin Cashore

First Line: "When he grabs mama's wrist and yanks her toward the wall-hanging like that, it must hurt."

I love this opening for several reasons.  It's been a while since I read Graceling, and with a single line Cashore threw me right back into the action and the terror that Bitterblue and her mother experienced while King Leck was in power. 

It also does a nice job of setting up the confusion that Leck creates with his Grace - why is this little girl so nonchalant about this? It's a perfect set up to the mystery that unfolds in the rest of the book.

I've read many times how agents frown on the use of a prologues, but I think Bitterblue provides the perfect example of how they can be extremely effective.  In this case, it re-grounds the reader in Leck's reign of terror, and sets up the journey that Bitterblue must take as queen.  


Queen Bitterblue is a rich and well thought out character. Chashore does a brilliant job of developing her flaws and showcasing her as a real person, versus someone regal and queenly from the get-go. Readers get to discover her faults and strengths alongside Bitterblue, and it makes for a rich and layered character study as we watch Bitterblue grow throughout the story.
Graceling (Graceling Realm, #1)
I was pleasantly surprised by the mystery angle that the novel took. In many ways it reminded me of a Sherlock Holmes story, or similar mystery where complex secrets are unraveled by the main character.  The twists and turns made for an exciting and engaging read, and I found myself staying up later than intended so that I could read one more page.

Prior to reading Bitterblue, I read Fire, the second book in the Graceling series meant to be a standalone. While the book does indeed stand on its own, it provides clues and insight  into the mystery that Queen Bitterblue works to unravel. I would highly recommend reading Fire before Bitterblue.

Fire (Graceling Realm, #2)

Notes for Writers:  

Cashore builds a rich and complex world without spending pages and pages explaining the details to readers. The Monsean world comes alive through action and character development. It's a must read for any writer of fantasy struggling with world building.  

For anyone working on a mystery, Bitterblue provides an excellent example of a well-paced, well thought out, multi-layered mystery. 

A good read for

Fans of the Graceling Series and fantasy fans/writers. I'd also recommend it for anyone attempting to write a mystery, or anyone who enjoys complex, layered mysteries in the vein of Sherlock Holmes.  

But before you read Bitterblue, make you sure you check out Graceling and Fire.  The entire series is beautifully written and hard to put down, whether you're a writer or just a fan of great stories.

Happy reading!  

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Reminder: WriteOnCon!

We've said it before, but we still thought it important to remind you that it's the eve of something great. WriteOnCon is amazing for oh so many reasons like:

*It's free
*It's all on-line
*Great people
*A contest where you can earn $$$$$
*Perceptive writing tips from greats
*Tons of free feedback
*Ninja agents. (very misleading. I was really hoping to see Jen Rofe in black with nun chucks. Not that, but it's still awesome. Agents lurk the boards and request partials and fulls from unsuspecting authors)
*It's free
*Great insights into the publishing world from top professionals
*There is now a Thinking to Inking group anyone can join so you don't have to feel like you're attending it alone & we always like to make new friends for future conferences, too :)
*You can participate in your pjs while eating chocolate and no one will judge you.
*It's free

So if you haven't registered and said "hello" yet, what are you waiting for???

PS Contest closes today so get on it ASAP, and Ninja Agents start prowling tomorrow so you'll want to make sure you have your query, first 250 words, & first 5 pages posted in the forums.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Things I Learned in Improv Class, Volume 4: Getting Into Character

What's improv comedy and why the heck am I writing about it? Check out the intro of Volume 1 and Volume 2.

TODAY'S LESSON: Getting into character

Before an improviser steps on stage, they make a decision about what character they will play. This can manifest itself in something obvious like an accent, or something more subtle, such as a shift in the way they walk, a tiny tick in their right hand, or a slight change in their breathing. 

The simple choices the actor makes about their character will dictate how the scene moves forward, and how their character will react to their partner's character.

Learning how to create a character: The walking game

Everybody leads with a different part of their body when they walk.  Don't believe me?  Sit on a park bench for a while and watch people walk by. You'll notice that very few people walk perfectly erect - they typically lead with one part of their body, and it varies from person to person.

Shifting the leading part of your body is a very simple way to make a physical transformation into a new character. 

Acting and improvising
That's me, getting into character during a rehearsal.
To practice, start by walking around the room. Once you're comfortable, shift your weight so that you are leading with your head.  You can do this either with a slight shift forward or an extreme shift forward, depending on how extreme you want your character to be.

Walk around like this for a while. How does it feel? 

Ask yourself the following questions:

1. What kind of person might walk like this?
2. Are they male or female?
3. What might their name be?
4. What kind of day do you think they are having?
5. How old are they?
6. Are they married? Single? Are they happy about this fact?
7. What do they do for a living?

Now try shifting your weight so that you are leading with your knees. How does walking like this feel different from leading with your head? Ask yourself the same questions as above. My guess is you will come up with very different answers.

Keep shifting your weight to different parts of your body - you nose, your chest, your shoulders, your toes, your hips.  Alter the extremity. Can you see how a slight change in the way you walk can create an entirely new character?

so what's this got to do with writing?

Whether it's a character on stage or a character in a book, they are made up of more than the words they say. How they feel and what they think affects everything they do, and using physicality is a simple way to demonstrate emotion and other character traits.  It's also an easy trick to help you avoid 'show versus tell' pitfalls.

How might a brave person walk? A shy person? An angry person? 

Instead of the dialogue tag 'he said angrily', how might you demonstrate that anger through the character's physicality? Through their actions?

Leverage more than words to create your characters - think about their movements, and use those actions to create rich characters that can live outside of the pages of your story.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

SCBWI LA 2012: The Highlights

The hostess with the mostest.
Lin Oliver & Stephen Mooser rock.

We'll be covering many gems from SCBWI LA later, but here are some pics and a few highlights from my incomplete notes from the sessions I attended (when I still had battery left in my computer.)

*Arthur Levine tells us to tap into the deepest needs we have as humans in order to create a timeless work.

*Tony Diterlizzi keeps objects from his youth nearby so he doesn't forget what it's like to be young.

A sea of amazing people
*Jordan Brown wants writers to study the market to find the gaps. He's also drawn to people who are telling old stories in new ways, a younger version of an adult hit, a sports story that isn't just about the sport like Friday Night Lights, an alternate version of history "what if", or a darkly comic religious story.

*Sara Shepard worked writing for others before starting her own series, and learned how to write quickly and efficiently. The hands-on experience taught her more than her MFA. She also says that people love to read about seemingly good people doing bad things.

*Patricia MacLachlan reminds us to always remember that children experience life beside us-- not in front of or behind us.

Chocolate makes listening even better.
Thank you Chuao!!!!
*Emma Dryden says that the key so social media is that it's about relationships. Also, Twitter and Facebook are great for networking, but it's tough to reach kids that way.

* Dan Gutman tells us to break rules and just keep going. You're going to get rejected a lot. Be a boxer. Take your beatings and keep going.

* Karen Cushman suggests there must be production and repose. Discover the world through writing, and know who you are.

*The editor's panel wants you to read all you can, be wary of too much advice, be aware of the market, create what is authentically you, and don't be afraid to finish and get out there.

*Bryan Collier went to art school, got a day job, and spent the next seven years taking his portfolio in for review once a week to publishers whose work he liked.

* Jay Asher says that the key to suspense is anticipation. Anticipate more wise words from him coming soon!!!

*It took Clare Vanderpool 16 years to be published. Then she knocked it out of the park with a Newberry win. She says "discipline" doesn't count if you don't have to battle through screaming kids to write.

*Deborah Underwood talked about the need for quiet and pondering time in the creative process.

* Ari Lewin gave an inside scoop on what goes on in an acquisition meeting. They all need to love it, and then look at the P&L (profit and loss) statement to see if they can sell it. She highly encourages new writers to avoid going out too soon.

* Deborah Halverson gave an encouraging snapshot of the marketplace. Character-driven picture books (but less positive for first day of school, grass is always greener, or books lacking character development or voice). There is a lot of room for growth in chapter books and middle grade seems to be the sweet spot right now. Teen is still going strong (with ebook numbers still rising), but mid list is still struggling, and over trends are dying down. Realistic fiction is on the rise. Overall, there is room for debut authors, and agents find most clients at conferences.
Ducked out to Thinkspace gallery &
saw this right after Ruta Sepetys
phenomenal keynote. Almost cried.
* Ruta Sepetys brought the house down by encouraging writers to go to the emotional places they really don't want to go. Stay a while, and go from participant to observer. For research, she went to a re-created Soviet prison, was beaten up, and had to face her savage side to write her award-winning novel.
* At the agent's panel, they suggested things like: follow your own path, read a LOT of books, houses don't want books will compete with ones they already have, once a trend is identified it's too late, you will need to market yourself, be aware of book scan (tracks sales and will often determine whether or not they can sell your next book, make decisions based on having a long-term career -- not a quick sale,  and have confidence when you write (it shows up on the page.)
Hippie Hop dancing with the (literary) stars!
Having fun, but missing Triona
* Tim Ditlow chatted candidly about Amazon taking on Marshall Cavendish, and how when considering who to take on, he wants to his as many key markets as possible: Institutional, Trade, ebook, & box stores. Books should work for all channels.

*Jennifer Bosworth is an introvert who believes that great publicity comes in all forms; you just need to be true to who you are. Her sincerity in the first video made a bigger splash than the uber-fancy super super cool trailer her director husband made so play to your strengths, and watch her videos. :)

* Gary Schmidt ended the conference beautifully with his keynote where he reminded us that "surprise is the only gift God gives us that he, himself, cannot experience," and that we have a great responsibility to our young readers to help anchor them in the truths of being good.

All in all, it was a phenomenal experience. Really inspiring.

Signing lines almost as long as bathroom lines :)
Jay Asher

Sara Sheppard
Jennifer Bosworth

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Writer's Resource: Absolute Write Forums

absolute write logo

Absolute Write is a writer's resource extravaganza. Arguably the most helpful part is the vast online community of the Absolute Write Water Cooler.

Working on a novel in any genre, nonfiction book, short story, or freelance pieces? There's a section of the forum for each at the link above. There you'll find tons of information on writing, editing, and publishing your work. A tip: if there are stickied threads at the top of a forum, read them through before posting a question. The regulars sometimes get a little testy if they're answering the same question for the eighty-ninth time that month.

Another area to check out in the Water Cooler is Share Your Work (SYW). Free registration is required to view this part of the forum. Here you'll find hundreds of people sharing their query letters, synopses, and pages for peer critique. Once you accumulate 50 posts, you can post your own work for critique.

A very important word of caution: SYW is not for the faint of heart or thin of skin! People will be completely, sometimes brutally honest about their reaction to your writing. Keep in mind that a lot of it will be subjective--but if you get more than one person posting the same comments, you would be wise to consider their suggestions.

edit your face

The Absolute Write Water Cooler isn't right for everyone, but it can be a great way to connect with like-minded writers and find critique partners. Check it out and see what you think!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Villain of the Month: Everyone in Titus Andronicus

I attended The Cedar City Shakespeare Festival a few weeks ago and they performed the play that was the most popular in Shakespeare's day: Titus Andronicus. The masterpiece is not given the same kudos today and is often seen as a “lesser” play, but its pervasive villainy and the toxic darkness of revenge were so well acted and directed by the company that I could see why it was so popular at a time when people routinely watched hangings for sport. After watching, I was inspired to study the villainy of this work further to apply to the writing of modern revenge themes. 

The basic plot: Titus kills the son of Tamora the Goth as revenge for the deaths of his sons in battle with the Goths. The murder tumbles into a play of back and forth espionage for gruesome revenge with numerous killings, the chopping off of hands, cutting out of a tongue, and even the murder of Tamora’s two sons who are then chopped up and served to her in a meat pie (yes. I’m creepy, I did buy and eat one of the concession’s delicious meat pies before entering the theater).

So what writing lessons did I get out of this?

1.     Know your character's motivations: As horrific as it is, we are still somewhat sympathetic to the architects of villainy in this feud. Each has lost children/siblings/friends at the hand of the other. While some villains skew to sociopathy, most are deeply broken at some point. Shakespeare only lightly alludes to the pain of Titus losing his sons at the start of the play when Titus first kills Tamora’s son, but it's there. And we are definitely sympathetic to a woman who is forced to watch her own child murdered. Later, when she plans to have her sons rape then have Titus’s daughter’s tongue cut out and hands chopped off, we may hate her, but we understand. A little. She is a round character.

2.     The devil is in the (background) details: The most haunting image for me—by far—was when Titus kills his daughter as a mercy act. The daughter knows it’s coming and accepts. The father stabbing his own daughter is the height of tragic, and was beautifully performed, but my memory is of the background. Unlike everyone else on stage or in the theater, Tamora is cold to the mercy killing. So cold she’s just sitting there eating her pie. And the dramatic irony of us knowing she is unknowingly eating her own children coldly while her enemy kills his child is played out so subtlely and beautifully here I will never forget the scene. Its total degradation of everyone highlights the epitome of the inevitable results of revenge. And it reminds me that an intense scene can be rendered sublimely poetic by layering a small detail in the background.

Spielberg's first film: my mom is the one on the left. Isn't she beautiful?
3.     Stop just before the absurd: I attended the festival with my delightful mother who attended high school with Steven Spielberg and was even in his first film. When she met up with him after filming Jaws, he commented that the trick to horror was to go to the point just before the terror was so extreme the viewers could only cope my viewing it as comical. This performance nailed that line, and Spielberg’s advice will forever haunt me. 

If you live in Utah or nearby, I highly recommend that you get to see Titus Andronicus before it closes & I Hope your Monday is far from horror-filled. Come back soon to get highlights on the AMAZING SCBWI conference three of us just attended.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Meaningful Small-Talk and the Art of Networking at SCBWI

Alert: I will be handing out free gourmet chocolate to Thinking to Inking readers at the conference. If you find me, please let me know so I may thank you in Chuao's finest. To find out how I got my hands on said chocolate, keep reading. 

Tomorrow SCBWI kicks off SCBWI's annual Los Angeles conference, and one of my esteemed colleagues will be bringing you fantastic coverage of it. But, on the eve of the conference, I am remembering my first SCBWI (this will be my fourth), and how terrified I was to attend. I even blogged about preparing myself for it as it was in NYC, I knew no one, and their round table would be the first official critique of my completed work. Yikes. And, to be fair, it was rough. I was used to marketing/ working trade shows for my brother's company, but found everything more tough when I didn't have his products to hide behind. 

This time, after a few conferences of applying my trade show techniques to conferences,  I thought I'd break down my core strategies for networking/conferencing/ trade show-ing/ etc. after over a decade of numerous events a year (I do freelance PR, and have rarely attended a conference where I wasn't offered several jobs).

1. Care about the person in front of you. It seems like a no-brainer, right? But, if I'm not aware, I can slip into a mode where I'm more worried about what idiot things I'm doing that I barely even see the person in front of me. Or, worse, if I'm out to "network" as a goal, I can see complex beautiful human beings as a means to an end. Neither of those has ever turned out well for me. On the other hand, actually caring about the person has ended in hearing hilarious/ fascinating stories, and deep long friendships with really cool persons I never would have met otherwise. And, as a bonus, by knowing what people need/have to offer, I can often help "matchmake" friends with other friends solving problems and deepening relationships.

2. Have things you're sincerely passionate about to talk about. I hate small talk. HATE. HATE. To keep from a series of questions that don't matter to anyone, I prepare. At a conference, when I'm taking notes, I'll often star a few key ideas I really like, and have pertinent questions prepared that will prompt a longer discussion. I also have a few topics I can talk about endlessly without getting bored. Many do well talking about sports, but to me, my favorite is chocolate. I'm obsessed! I always have a generous supply  of chocolate of various flavors on hand so instead of small talk, I can be critiquing the benefits of single-origin beans over a mixed variety. 

3. Get/give contact info. In our earlier post, the lovely Stacy showed how to prep your business card. Now, don't forget to hand it out, and to acquire the card of your new friend. I like to jot down key points of our conversation on the card as soon as I get it and tuck it into the back of my name badge. Once home, I collect them all, and write quick notes to each person referencing specifics to our conversation. You may want to also adding the person to Facebook if you hit it off, and/or following them on Twitter to keep up the new friendship depending on your/their feelings on social media. 

How I got my hands on said chocolate: I'm a regular at San Diego's finest chocolatier (Chuao), and am friends with all of the cashiers, manager, etc. So when the VP of marketing came in, we had a delightful chat about his new product line, I offered to work a trade show for them for their divine chocolate (had already done it once before), and mentioned that I use their Chocopods to make it through conferences. He asked when my next conference was, I told him, and then he offered to give me some to make it through. When I went to pick up the box, there were 160! Soooo....chocolate anyone???? I'm taking it as an omen for an exceptional conference, and I hope you come see me for a bite of chocolate and some delightful conversation.