Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What I Hope to See More of in YA in 2014

As we say good-bye to 2013 it is a time of reflection, but also looking forward. Here are some of the things I'd love to see in YA Lit in the upcoming year.

10. More smells. I've always thought that smell was the most under-utilized of the senses, which is a shame because it's been proven to trigger memory the best.

9. Animals. Real animals. Wild animals. Not mythical creatures, or hybrids, or any of that. I'm not even craving a good girl/pet horse story, but something more primitive and raw. If nothing else, the covers could be gorgeous as a lot of pop art has gone to realistic animal pieces.

8. Similes that make me laugh. 

7. Fascinating interiority. Not the simplistic happy/sad/frustrated, etc., but the really odd and nakedly revealing free associations man makes when looking around. I can watch carefully and see most of what you "show" me, but I'm always looking around wondering what's going on inside when someone has a glazed-over look. Books are the only way to poke around there.

6. Diversity. But not diversity for diversity's sake, or anything too culturally charged. I want my students reading books where they find other races, religions, sexual-orientations, perceived disabilities, etc. as their equals/the norm, and not some oddity to put in the box of "other."

5. Wide open spaces. 

4. Layered phrasing. I love subtle uses of puns, even heavily-overused terms like "darkness," "weight," etc. if they are used in a fresh way.

3. Crisp quick details so specific that I know the brand of chocolate bar the character prefers. I especially like food details. Love knowing the very specific dietary habits of the characters I read about. Is that strange? Maybe. But you can learn a lot about a character by what he eats. I once heard a journalist say that all she needed to do was to look in someone's fridge to know who they were. I think it's true.

2. The best piece of life-wisdom the author has gleaned in his/her 20-30-40-50-60-whatever years on this planet thrown haphazardly into the work. Perhaps even by the most foolish character. Maybe as a joke. Shakespeare was great at this technique.

1. More writers slowing down and enjoying the ride. When I went to hear Yann Martel speak at The LA Times Festival of Books (btw if you haven't ever gone, you should go) he said that the happiest time of his life was the period when he was poor and struggling and writing Life of Pi. I've heard several established authors talk about the soul-killing work of peddling your published books. If you aren't published yet, it can be a lucky thing to have a room of your own and time to think about words, their sounds, their meanings, and creating worlds with only the rattle of keystrokes as your guide.

Love you all. Thanks for reading in 2013! 


Monday, December 23, 2013

Industry Month In Review: Oh What A Year!

Season's Greetings

As we close in on another year, I can't help but reflect on some of the great successes and sad losses. From the release of highly anticipated YA movies like The Hunger Games: Catching Fire end Ender's Game  and novels like Jacqueline Garlick's Lumiere to the recent passing of acclaimed author Ned Vizzini. 2013 was definitely a year of change. 

Here are some of the highlights, check it out!

New Blogs:

Here are two new blogs that are sure to tickle your YA fancy!

Write On Sisters

Hollow City, Ransom RiggsThis blog features a perfect mix of perspectives.  From a television writer to a historian to a teacher and an agent/editor, you're sure to get just the right dose of insightful learnings and entertaining tidbits.  

YA Series Insiders

What's more exciting than having released your first book in 2013?  Releasing the first in a series in 2014! This new blog features authors who all have lead YA series starting in 2014.  Want to be in the know or win fabulous prize packs? This blog has it all. 

New Books:

Speaking of new books, there are simply way too many coming out in 2014 (see YA Series Insiders to name just a few!).  

Epic Reads had done the dirty work for us and highlighted 15 of the most anticipated YA Books to be published in January 2014 alone!

I for one can't wait for Veronica Rossi's Into the Still Blue or Ransom Rigg's Hollow City.

The Fault In Our Stars, John GreenUpcoming New Movies:

2013 has seen its fair share of YA adaptations and 2014 looks to be no different.  Here are four that I know will be on your "Must See Movie" list.  

Divergent, Veronica Roth

The Fault in Our Stars, John Green (which has already garnered some criticism from it's poster tagline).

The Maze Runner, James Dashner's

If I Stay, Gayle Forman

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Friday, December 20, 2013

LIFE, A.D. Blog Hop & Giveaway!

I'm excited to wrap up the year with another amazing new release - Michelle E. Reed's LIFE, A.D!

Synopsis:  In Life, A.D. you have two choices: join the program or face the consequences.

Seventeen-year-old Dez Donnelly crashes headlong into fate on the side of a rural highway, her life ending in a violent collision of steel and screaming brakes. The train that delivers her newly departed soul to the crossroads of the afterlife won’t be carrying her to the sweet hereafter until she accepts her abrupt end and learns to let go of the life she’ll never finish.

Her new reality is conduct manuals, propaganda, and unrelenting staff, all part of a system to ease her transition from life to death, while helping her earn her way out of limbo. Atman City, beautiful and enticing, is an ever-present temptation that is strictly off limits to underage souls. The promise of adventure proves too strong, and beneath the city’s sheen of ethereal majesty, Dez discovers a world teeming with danger.

Welcome to Life, A.D. where being dead doesn’t mean you’re safe, and the only thing harder than getting out of limbo is getting through it.

I'm a sucker for afterlife stories, and this one doesn't disappoint. Reed paints a vivid and unique look at what awaits us when we die, and explores the other side of loss as Dez attempts to come to terms with her too-short life. Dez's limbo is wrought with strict schedules and rules, where young adults not yet ready to let go of life must find a way to reconcile who they are with who they wanted to be, all while avoiding the temptations of nearby Atman City. In life, Dez was a straight A student and star athlete with Ivy league dreams.  But in the afterlife, rules and Dez don't mix, and moving on proves tougher than she ever imagined.

Win a FREE copy via the rafflecopter below or click here!
Add it to Goodreads here
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Michelle E. Reed was born in a small Midwestern town, to which she has returned to raise her own family.
Her imagination and love of literature were fueled by a childhood of late nights, hidden under the covers and reading by flashlight. She is a passionate adoption advocate who lives in Wisconsin with her husband, son, and their yellow lab, Sully.
Connect: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Writing for Multiple Age Groups

As a follow up to my post on age categories and word count guidelines from last week, I thought I'd address a frequently asked writer question: is it possible for an author to write fiction for multiple age groups?

The short answer is: yes. Many authors have published fiction for different age groups. Notable authors who've done this very successfully include James Patterson (adult and young adult), J.K. Rowling (middle grade, young adult, and adult), and Suzanne Collins (middle grade and young adult).

James Patterson YA

JK Rowling adult

Suzanne Collins MG

The long answer is a little more complicated. The best advice I heard from an agent in response to the question was this: start out by focusing on one age group. That is, if you're querying a young adult novel, it's probably best not to mention the picture book, middle grade novel, and adult novel that you are have in progress. The agent is better able to sell multiple books to publishers if the audience is cohesive.

Another factor to consider is that most literary agents tend to specialize in one or two age groups. An agent who is interested in middle grade novels may not be willing to also represent your adult novel, since they may not have the publishing contacts to sell it. So multiple agents might be required if you want to go the multiple-age-group route.

That's not to say that you can't eventually branch out into other age groups after you've made some sales in your first age category. Some authors choose to do this by using a pen name (this causes less confusion for their middle grade fans if they write an adult novel full of sex and violence).

Of course, the advice above may not be true for everyone. I know a lovely gal whose agent sold her first book, a middle grade novel, and then turned right around and sold a picture book she'd written. So as always, there are exceptions to every rule.

Are you interested in writing for more than one age group?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Age Categories and Word Count Guidelines for Fiction

Whether you're working on your first novel or have written many, you probably have some idea of the age group you're targeting: adults, babies, or any age in between. But writers are often confused about where precisely their work falls in these categories. They also wonder what length is appropriate for that age range.

Here's a handy cheat sheet of common fiction categories (word count information comes mostly from this helpful Literary Rambles blog post):

Note: In the publishing world, length is determined by word count rather than pages, since the page count will change depending on how your manuscript is formatted.

  • Board Books: Books with thick cardboard pages, intended for babies and young toddlers. Generally under 100 words.
  • Picture Books: Books written for children from ages 3-8. Illustrations are very important to the story (and are often on every page). Generally 400-900 words in length.
    Where the Wild Things Are cover

  • Early Readers: Books designed for children who are beginning to read on their own, or from about ages 6-8. There are only a few sentences on each page, and they usually feature color illustrations. Generally 200 to 3,500 words in length.
    Early readers
  • Chapter Books: Books for independent readers who are a little older, about 7-10. Sentences are a little more complex in these books, and they may have no illustrations at all. Generally 4,000-10,000 words in length.
    Chapter Book

  • Middle Grade: Books for readers from ages 8-12. The word count starts to vary a little more widely here. Generally 25,000-45,000 words in length, but sci-fi or fantasy books that might require more world building might go up to 70,000 words or even higher.
    Middle Grade

  • Young Adult: Books written to appeal to readers over age 12. (Notice there's no upper age given for YA--that's because this genre appeals to a lot of adults, too!) The word count for YA books is generally in the 45,000-70,000 word range, but speculative fiction books may go as high as 100,000 words.
    Young Adult

  • Adult: Books written for the adult market can be all over the map. This Writer's Digest blog post suggests that 80,000-90,000 words is a safe range, but also mentions that books as low as 70,000 or as high as 110,000 will probably be all right. As with Middle Grade and Young Adult books, sci-fi and fantasy novels tend to run a little longer, so acceptable word count for these genres is probably more in the 90,000-125,000 range.
    Adult Books
There are a few categories I didn't touch on above (for example, Hi-Lo books, which are designed to be high interest books for older readers with a lower reading level), but this list covers the age categories you'll probably hear most often.

Check out the linked blog posts above for more information!

Monday, December 9, 2013

YA Book Pick: Ender's Game

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!

This month's book pick is ENDER'S GAME by Orson Scott Card.

Synopsis (from Barnes & Noble):

Once again, the Earth is under attack. Alien "buggers" are poised for a final assault. The survival of the human species depends on a military genius who can defeat the buggers. But who? Ender Wiggin. Brilliant. Ruthless. Cunning. A tactical and strategic master. And a child. Recruited for military training by the world government, Ender's childhood ends the moment he enters his new home: Battleschool. Among the elite recruits Ender proves himself to be a genius among geniuses. In simulated war games he excels. But is the pressure and loneliness taking its toll on Ender? Simulations are one thing. How will Ender perform in real combat conditions? After all, Battleschool is just a game. Right?

For this month's YA book pick, I decided to go back a bit to a classic book that is now reaching a new generation of readers thanks to the recent release of the feature film based on the novel starring Harrison Ford and Asa Butterfield as Ender.  

It's an oldie but a goodie.  Perhaps more middle grade than YA (did they even use those terms in 1985?). Still it's worth taking a look at what continues to remain consistent traits of a great novels and what sets them apart from the pack. 

First Line: "I've watched through his eyes, I've listened through his ears, and I tell you he's the one."

Wow, can a first line get better than this?  It tells us so much and it's not even through the protagonist's voice.  The answers it gives and more importantly the questions it raises makes us want to know more. We know our protagonist is not just being watched, but watched very intently and carefully, and through his own eyes and ears.  What does that mean? Is there some type of futuristic monitoring equipment at use? Is there a mind meld? But more importantly why is he being watched? We know, above all, our protagonist is special.  

Second Line: "Or at least as close as we're going to get." All of a sudden, doubt is raised.  Our protagonist is not perfect, he has flaws.  We have in these first two sentences the key question that ties the entire novel together: whatever the situation is, will Ender be able to prove that he is, in fact, the one? 

Highlights: There are two things that stick out in ENDER'S GAME for me.  The first is something that I feel is hard to find in many MG and YA novels these days. The Harry Potter series does this well, which is probably why it's one of the best selling series of all time. What I'm referring to is the keen use of strategy.  The entire novel is a game within a game within a game. Ender develops strategies to outsmart opponents during simulated war games, beats bullies in school, manages adults and defeats aliens.  Survival means overcoming the odds constantly.  Whether it's lunch in the battle school cafeteria or facing a thousand enemy ships, Ender always finds answers that make both strategic and tactical sense.  

The second is the way Card speaks about the future.  It's always interesting to see how authors develop their ideas of what the world will look like.  Fast forward almost thirty years and we have some of the technology that Card speaks of.  His reference to the "net" of course is obvious, but I love the students use of their "desks" which might be similar to what we now commonly refer to as tablets.  I wonder though if Card ever dreamt that the desk could be even smaller (perhaps an iPad mini?).   Olivia Aldridge writes a similar assessment of George Orwell's 1984 and M.T. Anderson's FEED in her article in The Red & Black.

But I digress, we're here to talk about ENDER'S GAME.

Notes for Writers: Card is a master when it comes to creating tension on every page.  If you step back from the page, each scene shows escalating tension not just by action but also by how Ender reacts and thinks about his environment.  With each step, we know not only what is happening externally but also how Ender feels internally.  

Each chapter opens with a conversation between two adults (often Colonel Hyrum Graff and Major Anderson).  There are no dialogue tags and sometimes it's difficult to determine at first who is speaking. However, the intros are very effective in that they set the stage and raise questions we hope will be answered in the chapter.  Often times we're asked in workshops to write dialogue without tags, each chapter of ENDER'S GAME shows great examples of master dialogue at work. 

A Good Read For: Those who enjoy Sci-Fi and Dystopian novels but who also enjoy a great game of chess.  

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Villain of the Month: The Grinch

Five Reasons Why the Grinch is Such a Delightfully Sympathetic Villain

5. He's green. Christmas Green. Green with envy.

4. Let's face it, the Whos down in Who-ville are annoying. They're always singing. Might as well have called the town Karaoke-ville. Those bug-eyed stage hounds  could use a good shaking up.

3. He's not really that evil. He didn't kill anyone, didn't maim them, didn't even write cruel epithets about their singing on the walls. He just took their Christmas away. He let them get a glimpse of his Christmas-free life for a minute. One might call that a kind and constructive lesson to help them develop empathy. And beyond that, without him, the Whos may never have realized that they didn't need stuff as long as they had each other. Really, he might've been doing them a favor.

2. He's alone at the holidays, but is forced to hear the aforementioned non-stop singing. Nobody likes that feeling. There are even songs written about how annoying it is to watch everyone else happy while you're by yourself like this one

1. He changes! How can we not love a good dynamic character, especially one whose heart grows three sizes in one day. Makes us believe that even the most hardened of society can be good, too. At least those who villains-out-of-envy/discouragement, and not sociopaths. Makes us believe that we can change too and all it takes is a chance encounter with a small child.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Getting Our Research On

Dictionary: Research

We've all been there.  Sitting, typing away, happy that our last few pages have so far gone smashingly. Then it hits us. Our protagonist must do something, be somewhere, act somehow that is totally outside of our knowledge base.  It can be as small as visiting a building we've never been to or as large as our main character's profession.  Of course there's our imagination, but there also needs to be some understanding of the environment and experience for us to speak truthfully about the events and actions that are about to take place. For our readers to take the journey with us, they must feel that as far fetched as the ideas may be, it could happen. 

Cue the process called "research".  I can't begin to imagine what writers did before the Internet though I'm sure they spent less time falling down the research hole (don't tell me you haven't spent hours clicking on wikipedia link after wikipedia link).  But the internet can only go so far.  Sometimes, you need to experience that which you are researching for yourself. 

Between Shades of Gray Novel by Ruta SepetysI remember listening to Ruta Sepetys speak at the 2012 SCBWII LA Conference about the research she did to write her NYT Bestselling debut novel "Between Shades of Gray".  The novel was partly based upon the stories she heard from survivors of the Genocide of Baltic people during a visit with her relatives in Lithuania.  Hers was one of the most inspirational speeches of the conference and you could tell that she was sincere and honest in everything she said. On her website, she outlines some of her research process:

"I took two research trips to Lithuania while writing the novel.  I interviewed family members, survivors of the deportations, survivors of the gulags, psychologists, historians and government officials.  The experience was life-altering.  I spent time in one of the rain cars that was used for the deportations.  I also agreed to take part in an extreme simulation experiment and was locked in a former Soviet prison."

In her speech, Ruta went on to describe in detail the simulation experiment.  It's safe to say they gave her the real deal experience - no holds bar. 

While not everyone needs to be imprisoned in the former Soviet Union as part of their research, it is nevertheless valuable, enlightening and may just be the kick start you need for your novel.  

My protagonist is a rising star Special Agent.  I watched numbers videos, read articles and books.  But nothing was as helpful as going to the local DEA office and speaking with experienced agents.  I was amazed at how friendly and helpful everyone was.  I wanted to make sure my manuscript stayed true to the department's operations but what surprised me the most was my interviewee's understanding of the hypothetical.  This is after all, fiction. 

Woodstock on top of pumpkinsI came out of that experience knowing more than I could ever have from reading books or searching the web.  I was also able to test my ideas and get real time feedback as to whether certain situations could be possible and what other issues to consider.  I had a spring in my step when I left those interviews knowing that I was on the right track. 

So enjoy the research process.  Ask people questions.  The worst they can say is no, but the best thing they can do is provide you with information you would never have access to otherwise. 


Monday, November 25, 2013

Writer's Resource: Scrivener Help and Tricks

I've gushed about Scrivener enough here that you might know it's my writing software of choice. (See my Ode to Scrivener post here.)
Scrivener logo

But since Scrivener is absolutely packed with features, it's easy to get overwhelmed--or just overlook many of its uses. I was surprised to discover recently that there are all kinds of things I can do in Scrivener that I had no idea about.

Here are a few resources if, like me, you're just scratching the surface of this amazing program:

1. Literature and Latte, the company that puts out Scrivener, has a video tutorial section on their website. The tutorials range from simple to esoteric. Bonus: you get to enjoy the narrator's British accent.
Keep Calm and Love That British Accent

2. My good friend Dee has a great series on getting the most out of Scrivener as part of the Write a Book series on her blog, I Write for Apples. She delves into things like labels, comments and annotations, and project targets.

3. If you really want to get into nitty-gritty details, the Everything Scrivener blog has loads of posts on just about every aspect of the program. The author of the blog isn't affiliated with Literature and Latte--he's just a fan, like me.
Scrivener for Dummies book cover
4. Gwen Hernandez is the author of Scrivener for Dummies, which I haven't read myself, but I've heard is really good. She also has a series of tips on her blog, The Edited Life.

Hopefully these links will help you get the most out of Scrivener!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Industry Month In Review: "I Think I Can!, I Think I Can!"

Turkey writing comic

We're midway through nanowrimo and while I've decided not to participate this year (it's been quite an epic first half of the month personally for me so far!), I'm sitting on the sidelines with pom-poms in hand, cheering on my fellow writers brave enough to follow through with this tough assignment. Go team, go!

As we make our way to the end of the year, many things slow down.  Cold weather, holidays and the abundance of turkey and gravy are just a few hurdles that stand in our way.  It's easy to make excuses, to put gift shopping in front of writing (who wants to be that guy who brought the box of convenience store chocolates to Christmas) but for some, this is the time when things really pick up.  It's the pre-holiday season and books need to be out there to be bought, gifted and read.  Timing is everything. 

Over the past few months, I've had the opportunity to witness first hand a few close friends and their foray into the indie scene.  Self publishing is not just about uploading your manuscript online and praying for fame and fortune.  It's about discipline, marketing and making sure you surround yourself with the right team.  Author Allison Winn Scotch provides some fantastic insight into her journey into self pub and if you're thinking of moving in that direction, her article on Writer Unboxed is a must read. 

The Hunger Games: Catching FireBut what if you're not at the stage where you have a final manuscript ready for the masses?  What if you're only at the beginning of your story when the log line is still something that causes you great anxiety?  Not to worry, take a deep breath. There's no rush to make the black Friday deadline.  Heather Jackson of Write On Sisters just posted a great article on the importance of theme.  Grab a coffee and have a read, then sit back and take some well deserved time to think of what the theme(s) of your manuscript are.  It may feel like a lot of time just "sitting" but trust me, it'll save a lot of valuable time when it comes to "writing".

Finally, what's the holiday season without holiday blockbusters and with the recently released Ender's Game and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire coming out this Friday, what better excuse is there to put down the pen (I promise, it won't hurt), relax the brain and enjoy some eye candy for a few hours?  Still hungering for more YA blockbusters? Simon Reynolds of Digital Spy talks about how YA Lit is Reshaping the Hollywood Blockbuster and highlights four highly anticipated eagerly anticipated YA adaptations.

Happy Thanksgiving to my American compadres! 

Friday, November 15, 2013

SCION OF THE SUN: Bloghop and Givaway!

Hello readers!  It's my pleasure to bring another amazing new release to you - Nicola Marsh's SCION OF THE SUN!
Synopsis (from Goodreads):  When she least expects it, sixteen-year-old Holly Burton’s unremarkable life is shaken to the core. A vision of the mother Holly never knew leaves her questioning everything she believes. 

Eager for answers, Holly enrolls at a boarding school for highly gifted students in Wolfebane, New Hampshire. But Holly's complicated life worsens when she accidentally transports to a parallel existence where she's confronted by a dark and ancient evil.

With the help of Joss, a sexy alpha warrior sworn to protect her, and her new BFF, the equally swoon-worthy Quinn, Holly faces her fears and an unlikely adversary in a showdown that is worse than anything she could’ve possibly imagined …

Publication date: November 5, 2013
Publisher: Month9Books, LLC.

Holly, the main character, is full of spark and spunk, making SCION OF THE SUN a fun and voice-packed read.  Not to be missed are Joss and Quinn, which add an engaging and page-turning which-one-will-she-pick romance to the story. And who can deny that beautiful cover?

Win a FREE copy via the rafflecopter below!
Add it to Goodreads here
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About the author:
USA TODAY bestselling author Nicola Marsh writes flirty fiction with flair for adults and riveting, spooky stories for teens.

She has published 43 contemporary romances with Harlequin, Entangled Publishing and indie, and sold over 5 million copies worldwide. Her first mainstream romance BUSTED IN BOLLYWOOD was nominated for Romantic Book of the Year 2012. Her first indie romance, CRAZY LOVE, was a 2012 ARRA finalist.

Her debut young adult novel, a supernatural thriller BANISH, released with Harlequin Teen August 2013, and her YA urban fantasy series kicks off with SCION OF THE SUN, November 2013, with Month9Books.

She’s also a Waldenbooks, Bookscan and Barnes & Noble bestseller, a 2013 RBY (Romantic Book of the Year) and National Readers’ Choice Award winner, and a multi-finalist for a number of awards including the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award, HOLT Medallion, Booksellers’ Best, Golden Quill, Laurel Wreath, More than Magic and has also won several CataRomance Reviewers’ Choice Awards.

A physiotherapist for thirteen years, she now adores writing full time, raising her two little heroes, sharing fine food with family and friends, and her favorite, curling up with a good book!

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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Few of James Joyce's Tips for Writing and Art

Around a hundred years ago, nerdy and pretentious little James Joyce read Aquinas and Aristotle then penned some of the most intriguing definitions for what art should be, and I think it’s worth remembering a few of his key points.

Static vs. Kinetic: Joyce asserts that pornographic art moves the reader in a kinetic fashion by pushing only one emotion or idea the way that porn has a single clear reaction in mind.  On the other hand static art, the finer art, pulls the reader in several directions so that he is tethered from so many places he cannot move. The dark and the light. The joy and the pain. The humor and the sadness. The infinitely brilliant and the infinitely stupid. While writers are constantly encouraged to make an audience FEEL, the best writers don’t limit that feeling to a single emotion. Is your work only a fun work? Sad work? What could you do to tease out other sentiments?

Great art has Aquinas’s principles: Wholeness, harmony, and radiance.

Wholeness: “The work should be selfbounded and selfcontained upon the immeasurable background of space or time which it is not.” Essentially, are you writing to a trend? Could the work stand alone or does it require a movement to support it?

Harmony: “You apprehend it as a complex, multiple, divisible, separable, made up of its parts, the result of their parts and their sum, harmonious.” Does your work have subplots/smaller character arcs working individually whose rhythms/peaks are timed to enhance the key driving force? Does the setting work both individually and enhance the tenor of the piece? Do all of those pieces feel cohesive?

Radiance: “You see that thing which it is and no other thing. The radiance is the scholastic quidditas, the whatness of a thing.” This one is by far the toughest. Is your work really unique? Could it have been written by anyone else? And, more importantly, does that shine? I have no other questions to ask for this one, but as Malcolm Gladwell suggests in his book Outliers that it will take about ten thousand hours of practice to create what Joyce might call “radiance.”

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Writing Isn't for You

Upon the urging of several friends, I recently read this blog post by Seth Adam Smith: Marriage Isn't For You.
marriage fingers

Despite the provocative title, it's actually a very romantic look at marriage from a different perspective. The author argues that marriage is about wanting to make the other person happy, rather than thinking about what you can get out of it.

After I read the blog post (which I agree with wholeheartedly), I got to thinking about how much this applies to writing, too. There's a tendency amongst writers (aspiring ones, anyway) to focus on how writing makes them feel.
a lot of feelings

Sure, writing can be fun. It can also be exasperating, cathartic, joyful, hilarious, heart-wrenching, and infuriating. But to some extent, this is missing the point.

Writing isn't for you. It's for the reader.

That might seem fairly obvious, but it immediately hit home with me. How many times have we heard phrases like "kill your darlings," or been told by critique partners, agents, and editors to change things we loved? The truth is, they are assuming the point of view of the reader. You are the writer, and no matter how good you are at putting your manuscript aside and coming back to it with a fresh perspective, there will always be things you want to keep because they were fun to write, because they have personal meaning for you, because you think it's a particularly good turn of phrase.

Sad about writing notes

In the future, I'm going to try to keep this idea in mind. Writing is for the reader. If a reader who understands the genre and the mechanics of writing doesn't think something should stay, I'm going to try to curb my knee-jerk reaction (What? But I love that part!) and look at it more objectively. If it interferes with the reader's understanding or enjoyment of the book, then out it goes.

I think keeping the end goal in mind will help me accept legitimate criticism, and therefore be a better writer.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Villain of the Month: D.C. Comics and the Claim that "Heroes Are Lame"

Comic Con 2012. Jabba the Hut: NOT a hero.

On the D.C. Comics website there is a post by Kevin Mahadeo entitled "5.2 Reasons Bad Guys are Cooler Than Good Guys." Since I do have a bit of an obsession with character villainy, I had to check it out. While a simple list post, I must admit I was bugged by the first point: "1. Heroes are lame." 

Really? So that's why we've seen such a non-stop tidal wave of superhero movies/ culture post-9/11??? FYI I live in San Diego, and went to Comic Con pre-2001 when it was mostly just a handful of geeks in spandex. Huh. And now San Diegans need illuminated traffic directives during Comic Con because heroes are lame??? Or was the post just written now because we're starting to feel safer, because people have forgotten the dull ache of what it was like to crave superheroes? I was mulling over all of these when I got to the final line "Plus, they're always so predictable. They'll strive to the do the right thing and save the day and help people. You know who isn't predictable? The Joker. Who knows what that guy will do? One minute he's standing right next to you laughing at what you're writing and the next he could stab you in the face" 

Okay. Okay...so maybe Mahadeo has a point; I don't worry that any of the heroes I know will stab me in the face. Maybe heroes aren't complex enough to be anything more than boring.

Maybe the traditional model of hero as predictable isn't working for us anymore. Maybe we need to let our relatable, good, trusted, characters, the ones with whom we identify, shock us a little more. Allow them to embrace their darker natures. Even if those darker sides scare us when they aren't tidily placed in the "villain" category. The success of Gone Girl with its foray into the darkness of an initially-likable character certainly shows American readers will eat it up and beg for more.

Or maybe the whole "heroes are lame because they are predictable" argument just plain sucks. 

While I know that great writing requires that our characters surprise us with their complex blends of good and evil, I feel as though I live in a world of predictable heroes who are far more complex than anyone gives them credit for. 

I'm a teacher. 

And I'm a teacher at a public school where many of my colleagues have highly competitive CVs (degrees from Princeton, UC Berkeley, Harvey Mudd, UCLA, etc., one colleague even left a very successful company he'd founded to teach). Every day I'm surrounded by a pack of these men and women who eschew the monetary rewards they might've earned and will always "strive to do the right thing and save the day and help people." 

And the more I get to know my colleagues the more I find the "predictable" heroes far more fascinating than any villain.

We live in a world where the easiest path is one of basic self-centered living, as Mahalo points out, "Clark Kent would have to work for a year to make the kind of money that the Rogues earn for one heist. Just saying." and as I learned from reading The Dictator's Handbook the best way to be a "successful" dictator is to always do what will be the best for you, it seems to me that those motivations are the most dull/predictable because they are the most infantile  responses.

Why be a predictable metronome of goodness when it goes against all basic self-interest, even coolness? Now that's interesting. Complex. Not predictable.

And I believe that teasing out the answer to that question is what makes the writing of a hero great, but (and this is a very big but) can't be limited to the origin story alone

What makes a hero good initially and what makes him/her slosh through the myriad small/large battles of life and stick with it are often two, or three, or four, or countless very different stories.  If I've learned anything teaching beside a pack of heroes for the past decade, even the motivations are complex and ever-changing arrangements and, based on my experience, is far less predictable than one might expect.

And I believe that this is the key to writing a good hero. Your reader might not get the rush of constantly being at risk of getting "stabbed in the face," but maybe there's a different kind of rush in pulling back the curtain to see that ever-changing sea of motivation behind what makes a man "super."

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Wow. Just, wow.

If you've read some of my older posts, you probably know I've been lacking on the writing  motivation front.  It's not that I don't love my WIP - I do. It's just that I'm tired. After two years of diligently writing, revising and submitting WHERE THE STAIRCASE ENDS, I was in major need of a break. So I took one. And ever since then I've been writing at a snail's pace.

But every now and then I have a moment of pure inspiration, usually triggered by reading a book that's so well written it makes me get off my @$$ and write. (Most recently this happened while reading Maggie Stiefvaten's The Dream Thieves. So. Effing. Good.)

But a few week's ago my inspiration came from an unexpected source - Youtube.  My husband sent me the below video and all I can say is...wow. Just, wow.  It's such a great reminder that words are for more than stories - they can be cause for change. For expelling emotion. For bringing real world problems to life in a relateable way. For making people stop and take notice.

So without further ado, here is my most recent cause for writing motivation. I hope you're as moved by her vivid words as I am.

In case you need the direct link, click here.

Happy writing!

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Curious Lives of Teenagers: Religion

The subjects were asked their thoughts on religion, here is what they responded:
  • Philosophy is the wise man's religion. We know the lack of knowledge of the purpose of everything. Yet we accept that we don't know, instead of accrediting it to a big man in gold.
  • I think religion is great for certain people, but not a fit for everyone. I also think people should not criticize others for what they believe, no matter what it may be.
  • I did not fear the Emperor, the Emporer feared me. --Wutang
  • I'm a Christian, however I have huge interest in philosophy, be it normative, skeptical, or critical. Critical literature about identity is interesting, as well as power. I love reading Hume, Hegel, Foucault, Nietzsche, Kant, Butler, Derrida, etc.
  • To be honest, I couldn't tell you because I don't know.
  • I myself am not a religious person, but I feel like if a person gains a sense of value or finds happiness through a belief system, that is all that matters. We can't dictate what each person wants to believe in.
  • I think that all history textbooks should teach equally about each religion not 5 pages on one religion (Islam) or 1paragraph on another (Christianity).
  • I believe that we will win.
  • Religion is used as motivation.
  • I grew up without a religious influence in my life; without believing in God, but entertaining the idea of a higher power. I do not believe in fate. Fate is too often used as an excuse by those who are afraid to take control and make decisions. Saying that I believe a certain philosophy, however, is also inaccurate, and I would like to believe that I take elements from different philosophies and tryly analyze and adapt them.
  • God is so good.
  • I'm not saying you have to believe in one certain religion, but just in something bigger than yourself.
  • I don't judge off of Religion because I think it's amazing how many beautiful beliefs there are in our world. But my view regarding my own religious values is truly confused. I'm not quite sure whether I will believe in a God or just simply in others.
  • Catholic all the way!
  • I don't believe in God, I believe in Science. Haveing a close family friend pass recently, I have turned to questioning religion and how now is the time I want to believe, but I can't, and that scares me. I believe in hope, though, and the feeling of peace.
  • I've been taught not to hide my religion. I'm a Christian and I'm proud of what I believe in. I believe being a Christian is more than going to church every Sunday but spending time in the word and being a light to others. It's more than just a religion to me; it's a lifestyle. I believe that I'm forgiven and that Jesus is my Savior.
  • I believe that religion causes too many problems in the world. Not for the religion itself, but people disagreeing with a religion that isn't their own. Worry about what you believe in. Not others. Less conflict.
  • Everyone shoudl be free to live. Peace. Happiness. Food.
  • I believe that religion is very important to society because it teaches people morality and gives them a purpose and something to look forward to. I believe that religion can make each individual a better person.
  • Religion has never been a game changer in my life. Like God is not the answer to all my problems. That doesn't mean I don't believe in a God but it is not a huge contribution to my life. Some people will do anything for a diety or a god just to get in to Heaven. Als o if there happened to be a God (still not saying I don't believe) he would not be and create terrible things like plague, hunger, war, and other things. In all religions they create problems for others (Christians & Jews), (Muslims and Jews), etc.
  • Science.
  • Why not believe in God? Why be Athiest? Athiesm confuses me.
  • Who gives a crap what other people think! Do what makes you happy! HAZZA!!!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Digging Deep...Real Deep

Cartoon Girl Writing and Thinking

It's been almost a month since I attended Donald Maass's Break Out Novel Workshop and I'm still reeling over all the things I learned (and I suspect I'll be reeling for quite some time). If you're looking for a workshop that will blow your socks off and challenge you to achieve your best, this is it.  

While I learned numerous tools and tips of the trade, I think by far the most important, and at the same time, most difficult is to make my work personal.  What does that mean?  Everyone can write a story, something with a plot and developed characters.  What makes a good story, a great story is not just the twists and turns or hitting the mark in the genre of the second.  It's what the story reveals about the author.  

There's the hero's journey, and then there's your journey, and a truly great book must have both. How does the story you're writing reflect what you believe, your experiences and what you want to say?  Why are you writing your manuscript in the first place?
Open book showing landscape with castle and road
Now I know what you're thinking.  "I'm writing a story about a fantastic new world in 2075, how the heck is that about me?" Now my story wasn't about a futuristic universe, but the way I stared blankly at Mr. Maass during our one-on-one pretty much said the same thing. 

This is where the fun part begins.  Is your protagonist a girl, a boy, an alien?  What type of family do they have.  What do they want?  Now think of your family.  Who are they, what are they like?  How do they make you feel?  What do you want?  Now is there an experience with your family that brings up strong emotions?  Can you look at your manuscript and see a point in time where your protagonist might feel the same way?  Now write those pages with your feelings.  It's not a simple activity and you may even fight against the process, but hey, no one said writing was easy, right?  If you keep at it, you'll discover things about your character that you never knew, and perhaps a few things about yourself along the way (it's way cheaper than therapy!). 

There are a lot of exercises that you can do to bring "u" out in your manuscript.  For more amazing tidbits and great writing advice, check out Donald Maass's Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook and Writing 21st Century Fiction. I promise, you won't regret it!

Monday, October 21, 2013

YA Book Pick: FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell

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 FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
A coming-of-age tale of fan fiction, family and first love. 

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . .

But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?

Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

First Line: "There was a boy in her room."

This is a great first line, because it sets up the conflict immediately. Our viewpoint character is someone who isn't comfortable having boys in her room. The next few lines make it clear that Cath has just arrived at her new dorm and is sort of freaking out about the newness of everything.

Highlights: Gosh, where to start? First, let me say that I devoured this book. I literally couldn't put it down. My YA fiction taste tends to skew more speculative, but this contemporary novel completely won me over (much like ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS and LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR by Stephanie Perkins--also highly recommended).

I gushed about Rainbow Rowell nailing the teenage voice in my review of her last book, ELEANOR & PARK. This book is even better. Cath, her sister Wren, the boys in her life, her roommate Reagan--any one of them could have stepped right out of life and into her book. The central romance is sweet without being cloying or sappy. Cath's fears and doubts about her love life will ring true for anyone, not just eighteen-year-olds.

The author's take on the subject of fandom and fanfiction writing is gentle, but also realistic. As someone who spent her teenage years obsessed with the TV show The X-Files, I saw a lot of myself in Cath. I think a lot of readers will be able to relate to this, no matter what their age.

A Good Read For: YA contemporary/romance writers searching for great examples of teenage voice or a slow-build romantic relationship. Although the book was marketed as YA rather than New Adult, it is set in the first year of college and therefore might be of interest to NA writers as well.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Very Superstitious - Blog Hop, Review and Giveaway!

 Guys, can I tell you how excited I am to be a part of the very Superstitious Blog hop and reveal?  And just in time for Halloween!

Synopsis (from Goodreads):  The stories are based on urban legends, myths, tribal tales and superstitions from around the world. A charity anthology to benefit SPCA International with stories by Shannon Delany, Jackie Morse Kessler, Stephanie Kuehnert, Jennifer Knight, Marianne Mancusi, Michelle E. Reed, Dianne Salerni and Pab Sungenis.

Win a FREE copy! (See Rafflecopter Below)
Buy it on Amazon now!
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It's been FOREVER since I read an anthology, and this one reminded why I need to read more of them. I forgot how much fun short stories can be, especially during my work commute when I usually only have time for a chapter or two. And I love that there's a charitable cause associated with this one - sales benefit the SPCA, and many of the stories have animal-related themes, which made for a nice touch.

The eight stories link to a myth or superstition (hence the title) and cover everything from werewolves, ghosts and Chupacabra to Noah's Ark.  In truth, there wasn't one story I didn't enjoy, although there were a few standouts for me, including The Silverfoot Heretic, by Pab Sungenis, which had a unique and wonderfully creative twist on the Wizard of Oz, and The Rescue, by Shannon Delany, based on an old Fae myth where a man must choose to believe his longtime best friend or a local superstition.

Here's a little more about Shannon Delany, the author of one of my favorite stories in the anthology, The Rescue.  And don't forget to enter to win a FREE copy of Very Superstitious using the rafflecopter below!

About Shannon Delany:

 Shannon Delany's newest novel, WEATHER WITCH (St. Martin's Press) is already available for pre-order (which both stuns and delights Delany)!

Shannon Delany has written stories since she was a child. She began writing in earnest when her grandmother fell unexpectedly ill during a family vacation. In 2008 her greatly abbreviated version of 13 to Life (written in just five weeks) won the grand prize in the first-ever cell phone novel contest in the western world through Textnovel.com .

Shannon was thrilled when St. Martin’s Press offered her a contract for a series about her 13 to Life characters. She expanded on the cell phone novel version, adding the subplots and characters she didn’t have time to during the contest. As paranormal as werewolves seem, the grief Shannon used to build Jess’s character is something she personally experienced with the loss of her own mother. Focusing on Jess and Pietr’s story of loss, love and dramatic and dangerous changes, Shannon came to better grips with her own struggle. The resulting novel has earned her blurbs from authors she respects most.

The first novel in Shannon’s YA paranormal series, 13 to Life, debuted June 22, 2010, and was followed by Secrets and Shadows, Bargains and Betrayals, Destiny and Deception, and the Rivals and Retribution (August 2012). Shannon has also debuted with interactive science fiction in her short story ("To Hel and Back") for Spirited: 13 to Haunting Tales (Leap Books) and will make her high fantasy debut with Month 9 Books' charity anthology titled Two and Twenty Dark Tales (October 2012, "Pieces of Eight" with musician Max Scialdone).

Shannon's new series (a steampunk trilogy titled WEATHER WITCH, also with St. Martin's Press) will launch June 25, 2013.

Connect with Shannon: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

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Check out the rest of the blog hop leading up to Halloween by clicking here:

Happy Reading!