Monday, April 29, 2013

Villain of the Month: Regina George

Though it may have come out in 2004 (has it really been that close to a decade already???), Mean Girls is still a staple film for the high-school set. In fact, I hear it quoted more than any other movie by my teenagers. I will contend, that much of its enduring popularity is due to its fantastically fabulous and equally brutal villain: Regina George.

Here are my TOP TEN reasons why I think Regina George makes such a fantastic villain:

10. She looks angelic with those long flowing locks and rosebud lips.
9.  Her compliments are vague and served with a smile.
8. Her cruel assessments of the receiver of the compliment the minute she turns her back are equally specific and brutal. And still served with a smile. 
7. She has stolen her parents' bedroom (such a small detail to convey such dominance. genius.).
6. She can and does date the hottest guys in school. (Even if she has to lie, cheat, and steal to do it.)
5. Her car. Her house. Her waistline.
4. She falls. When faced with a rival, she actually stumbles thereby gaining our sympathy. How can one fully demonize a beautiful girl in a back-brace who has been secretly fed weight-gainer by a "friend"?
3. She fights back. At a time when it is incredibly difficult to navigate girl-world, she doesn't let others determine her status -- no matter how far she has fallen.
2. She's funny. Cruel-funny, but funny.
1. She does what so many great lust-worth villains do: she fulfills in the reader the hidden desire to say what one wants to say regardless of the cost. And is often rewarded for it. Such a silly lot of us: to crave/desire to be the ones we despise the most.

She's such a great villain, in fact, that "Regina George" even has her own Twitter account with almost half a million followers. Check it out any time you want to get inspired by/inside the head of the original mean girl: (Twitter handle: "ItsReginaG"). You're welcome.

Why do you think she makes such a great villain?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Thinking Beyond the Page: Musician/Writer Collaborations

A friend I met on Twitter, Kelsey Macke, made a big announcement a few weeks ago. Not only did she sell her debut novel, but she and her husband are also writing, recording, and producing an album as a companion to that novel.

I think the GIF Kelsey used in her announcement post says it all:

Model fainting GIF

In addition to making me absolutely thrilled for (and okay, a bit jealous of) Kelsey, this news got me thinking about ways music and novel writing can complement each other.

The Real Tuesday Weld Last Werewolf

For example, author Glen Duncan and musician Stephen Coates of The Real Tuesday Weld collaborated on the novels and albums I, Lucifer and The Last Werewolf.

While in these cases the soundtracks were authorized and official, there are also plenty of instances where musicians were simply inspired enough by works of fiction to create music that (hopefully) complements the book and enhances the reading experience.
Ben Folds Nick Hornby Lonely Avenue

On the other side of the creative spectrum, one of my favorite musicians, Ben Folds, teamed up with author Nick Hornby a few years ago. The result was a full-length album featuring lyrics by Hornby and music by Folds: Lonely Avenue.

It sounds like an odd combo, but it really works. The album has become one of my favorites!

The Chicago Sun-Times has an excellent interview with Ben Folds where he explains how the collaboration came to be and how their process worked.

Have you ever considered fusing music with your writing (or, for that matter, writing with your music)?

Monday, April 22, 2013

It Took Stephen King 4 Novels...And Other Inspirational Publishing Examples To Keep You Going When The Going Gets Tough

that kid in sixth grade who gave you a wedgieHi Writing Friends.  Ever have one of those weeks?  Or hell, one of those months?  You know the one I'm talking about - where your computer starts to look like that kid from sixth grade who atomic-wedgied you in the bathroom, and publication sounds like the name of an invite-only party you conveniently never received an invitation for (but you bought the dress, the shoes, and the purse to match and now you have no where to wear them to.)

I've heard the urban legends - So And So wrote 50 novels and submitted eighty bajillion queries before landing their Dream Agent and subsequently their Dream Publisher and then went on to become a universe-crushing best selling author. But are the stories true? Or are they just urban legends?

Turns out they are totally, 100% true.  So for those of you who are having one of those my-computer-is-an-asshole-and-why-did-I-ever-think-I-could-do-this weeks, I thought I'd share some of my favorite totally true stories of publication inspiration.

Stephen King Threw Carrie Away.

Carrie was not SK's first attempted novel, but his 4th, and it almost never saw the light of day because he tossed the type-written pages into the trash.  Thankfully, his wife saw the potential and fished them out.  Carrie became King's first published novel, went on to become an international best seller, and now he's the literary King Of The Universe. If it wasn't for SK, I wouldn't have my gut-wrenching fear of clowns, but who cares?  Those things are creepy as hell anyways.

Dean Koontz Wrote 4 Novels That Never Sold

Koontz attributes his own self-doubt to his early novel writing struggles.  He'd had some early success with short stories, but ended up shelving 4 manuscripts before his novel-writing career took off.  According to interviews, he will never publish the shelved works. The beauty of hindsight taught him that they weren't ready for publication, and he now knows that he needed those early attempts to help build his craft.

It Took Over Two Years to Sell The Sookie Stackhouse Books

A world without True Blood?  Say it ain't so.  Lucky for all of us, Harris's agent was tenacious in his quest to sell Dead Until Dark, the first in The Southern Vampire Series.  Harris published several other mystery series before writing Sookie's story, but according to her they were only mildly successful and she was always at risk of being cut from her publisher. Her desire to write something different lead to the creation of the Bon Temps-based series, but it took over two years before her agent sold it to a publisher.  Turns out it didn't suck after all.

*Looks around room.  Realizes no one is laughing. Scuttles off to pun in shame*

The Help Was Rejected By Over 60 Agents

No joke. Stockette was rejected over 60 times before she landed her literary agent. It took her 5 years to write the story and countless nights locked up in a hotel room feverishly revising before she struck gold.  It went on to sell over 5 million copies, spent over 100 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list, and I'm sure the whole movie/Oscar thing didn't hurt either.

It wasn't Always Happily Ever Afters for Danielle Steel

Love her or hate her, no one can argue with Steel's prolific career. I've had the pleasure of walking past her castle, er, house, in San Francisco, and trust me when I say she is doing just fine. But it wasn't always HEA's for Mrs. Steel.  As she said on her blog:  "I was very lucky that my first book published - but the next 5 weren't, and were never sold or published.  But my 7th book was.  If I had given up before that, I would never have had the career I have today. So you just have to keep at it and not give up (as with most things in life), and keep writing."  What would the Lifetime network have done if she'd given up before that 7th book?  My Sunday afternoons would be much less entertaining, that's for sure.

Nora Roberts Was Rejected, And She Turned Out Just Fine

According to an interview, Roberts had three years of hard work and several rejected manuscripts behind her when she finally published her first novel in 1981. She's since written over 200 novels and was the first author inducted into the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame. Not too shabby for someone who received a boatload of form rejections from Harlequin before hitting gold.

Somewhere In The World There's an Agent and an Editor Who Said No to Harry Potter

True story - a friend of mine in the publishing industry sent a form rejection to J.K. Rowling. She didn't read the manuscript, but someone in her office did and they made the decision to pass.  In fact, it took almost a year to sell Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone. And as for Ms. Rowling's quest to find an agent, she too fell victim to the infamous form rejection before she met her match.  It just goes to show you - the business really is subjective, and one person's trash is another one's treasure.

Keep writing, people. It's the only surefire way to make your publishing dreams come true.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Curious Lives of Teenagers: Our Secret Quirks?

When asked what they thought YA writers would want to hear from them, my high school students suggested that the writers should know the things teens do to make individual teens unique. The students thought a sampling of real-life quirks might help flesh out characters/ inspire new side characters for writers with writer's block. How considerate. These quirks are anonymous, and the kids have given permission for you to use with abandon. So here are their secret quirks/ a bit of silliness for a Wednesday afternoon:

  • I shower with my socks on
  • When I was little I used to "cook" things in my belly button
  • I eat Oreos with lemonade
  • I look in two different mirrors with two different lightings to see if I look okay
  • I will read for hours and try my best on tests, but I never do my homework
  • I secretly watch the science channel
  • I jump over every sidewalk crack so I don't break my mother's back
  • I eat lemons whole
  • I have to brush my hair 100 times before leaving the house every day
  • I set my alarm for 6:36 am, take out my retainer, and go back to sleep until 6:44
  • I put ketchup on my Mac & Cheese
  • I feel the automatic need to wink at people when I don't know what to say in passing
  • I hint at people to invite me places
  • When I go to restaurants, I ask waiters with mustaches for pickles
  • When I was little, I stuffed my American Girl dolls into a doll-sized tent to see how many would fit in
  • I'm waiting for my own Godot
  • I lose weight to get concert tickets
  • Things Rick Astley will never do: #1-Give you up #2-Let you down #3-Run around #4-Hurt you #5-Make you cry #6-Say goodbye #7-Tell a lie #8-Desert you (fyi you've just been Rick rolled)
  • I eat Doritos with peanut butter
  • I like turtles
  • I rub my fingers through my hair to think
  • When I eat apple strudel, I eat the filling first, then the pastry part
  • Eye contact makes me feel uncomfortable
  • I read Dictionaries in my free time
  • I can have fun with anything from a broken highlighter to an empty wrapping paper roll
  • I like to make people feel as uncomfortable as possible by saying really awkward things. If someone is talking about what they will eat for lunch I will then interrupt with a random statement such as "aborted fetuses are surprisingly interesting" and then I will walk away
  • I like rubbing people's earlobes
  • I have to drink one and a half glasses of milk before bed every night
  • Quirk?..I'm perfect.

And finally, a hint for writers from one precocious student: "To make any title better add a question mark at the end." (See title above. Did it work?)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Are You A "New" Adult?

Fallen Too Far by Abbi Glines
While I don't consider myself an old adult, I'm definitely not a new one (mind you, I'll always be young at heart!). With that being said, I'm not one to shy away from a good New Adult book. This somewhat new segment of fiction has sprung up to define that age category of characters who are in their late teens or early twenties. That time in life after high school (I promise you, life isn't all downhill after graduation). When love is more than crushes and stolen kisses and protagonists are dealing with bigger issues than the need to break free of family and childhood rules.  

ABC News has likened New Adult to Smut Fiction but there is definitely more to this new genre than just a bridge between Young Adult and Erotic Fiction. 

Cora Carmack's Losing ItTwo authors who have provided succinct commentary on this new genre are Ellen Hopkins and Abbi Glines. You can find an interview with both authors on the subject here at the Sony Reader Store Blog.

But if you think this is a new fad, think again. The term was first used by St. Martin's Press in 2009. This recent Modern Manuscript post provides a brief history on the beginnings of this new term and it's rise in popularity with the help of popular blogs such as NA Alley and authors Colleen Hoover (Slammed) and Cora Carmack (Losing It).  

If you're interested in reading New Adult novels, check out Goodreads' New Adult Book Club.  It boasts 1749 members....and counting.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Why Being a Jerk is Bad For Business

Bring a jerk is bad for business, unless your Steve MartinI've read some disturbing posts recently about people who aren't playing nice during writing contests. Everything from agented writers entering contests designed for unagented writers, to general snarkiness when providing feedback to fellow contest entrants.

I don't want to turn this post into a rant, but clearly the don't be a jerk for the sake of not being a jerk argument doesn't always resonate, otherwise the interwebs would not be a buzzin' with stories of writers behaving badly. So I thought I'd make a different argument.

Being a jerk is bad for business.

If you've read any of my previous marketing posts, then you know that in the writing world your name is your brand.  And like any brand, if it's tarnished with negative feedback it will negatively impact sales. Said another way, regardless of how awesome you are at your craft, behaving badly can lead to negative feedback that will have an adverse affect on your brand and your future sales. Period.

Let's use the Oscars as an example.

Anne Hathaway's controversial Oscar dressIf you lightly follow celebrity news, then you know that Anne Hathaway was slammed in the press throughout this year's award season for seeming disingenuous and annoying during interviews and acceptance speeches.  Then after she won the Oscar, word got out that she threw a hissy fit because Amanda Seyfried planned to wear a similar dress as hers to the Oscars, resulting in Hathaway swapping dresses at the last minute for the now infamous white nipple-dress.  See the, dress, on the right.

Winning an Oscar should catapult Hathaway's brand into the celebrity stratosphere, but instead her award winning performance was overshadowed by bad press, even garnering the new nickname Anne Hathahate. Will people still go see her movies? Sure. She's a good actress. But the negative press has damaged her brand enough that there are former fans who won't be willing to see her next movie simply because they don't like her. That means less ticket sales, less revenue for production houses, and over time that can snowball into less movie deals for the Oscar-winning actress.

Here's the deal - in a world dominated by social media, your online behavior is public. As an unpublished author you might not think that matters, but if you use social media then you have a social media persona, and regardless of your publishing status, you are already beginning to build your brand.  And that pre-publishing reputation can follow you into publication.

The thing every writer needs to remember is that writers are readers too.  In fact, they're probably some of the most engaged readers because they're actively involved with social media, and likely read a lot of books and review a lot of the books they read. That means that the person you just p*ssed off during a writing contest is your future target market. Do you really want to p*ss off your future target market? I really hope the answer to that question is no.

And like it or not, some day you might need your fellow writers to help you promote your book - whether it's through blog tours, positive reviews or positive word-of-mouth. People like to help people they like, and if your fellow writers remember your bad behavior, the simple fact is they aren't going to want to help you. And they probably aren't going to want to buy your book either.

Don't be a jerk. It's bad for business. Instead, be like Jennifer Lawrence at the Oscars. Be humble. Smile after you trip on the stairs. Say please and thank you. And always, always remember that social media platforms - blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, tumblr - are public forums, and what you do and say on those forums will directly impact your brand.

*steps off soap box*

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Golden Bologna!

Bologna Children's book fair logo

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Bologna Book fest and while I regrettably (extremely regrettably!) was not able to attend, I have been following it closely for all the ups and downs and turnarounds that this festival bolds for the industry as a whole.  Below are a few of the highlights of the festival.

Brightest Books

Pandora's Key by Nancy Richardson Fischer (Self Published)
The Kissing Booth by Beth Reekles (Random UK)
Half Bad by Sally Green (Puffin)

Biggest Trends

While there is still interest for dystopian and fantasy fair, there is definitely am uptick in interest for more contemporary YA and middle grade fiction.  That's not to say that you should abandon that vampire novel you're writing, but just make sure that the story is fresh and the voice is distinct.

What's Coming Up

Above all, quality of the content remains number one, but expect a shift in the children's market as industry heavyweights begin to focus on what the kids really want.  We're seeing more and more that children are driving decisions and adults are purchasing books based on what their kids are asking for, not what they think their kids want.  The ultimate end customer is indeed driving the decision-making

Monday, April 1, 2013


What's Left of Me Book Cover
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 WHAT'S LEFT OF ME by Kat Zhang

Synopsis (from Goodreads): I should not exist. But I do.

Eva and Addie started out the same way as everyone else—two souls woven together in one body, taking turns controlling their movements as they learned how to walk, how to sing, how to dance. But as they grew, so did the worried whispers. Why aren’t they settling? Why isn’t one of them fading? The doctors ran tests, the neighbors shied away, and their parents begged for more time. Finally Addie was pronounced healthy and Eva was declared gone. Except, she wasn’t . . .

For the past three years, Eva has clung to the remnants of her life. Only Addie knows she’s still there, trapped inside their body. Then one day, they discover there may be a way for Eva to move again. The risks are unimaginable-hybrids are considered a threat to society, so if they are caught, Addie and Eva will be locked away with the others. And yet . . . for a chance to smile, to twirl, to speak, Eva will do anything.

First Line: Addie and I were born into the same body, our soul's ghostly fingers entwined before we gasped our very first breath.

So much is said in just a sentence.  We know it's about two characters sharing one body and that they share a bond that is stronger and deeper than anything we can imagine - it's something they've been dealing with all their lives.  But more than information, the way Zhang has structured the sentence - it's lyrical and sets an almost haunting stage.  

Highlights:  While there is a romantic subplot, at the end of the day, it's a story about sisters and that was a big bonus point for me since I have a sister and I'm writing about sisters. Zhang has been conscious to build not just strong main characters but also secondary characters who's roles really help to further the development of Eva and Addie.

Notes for Writers:  I've often been taught when writing that you should write like you're sitting on your protagonist's shoulder, seeing and feeling things the way they would see and feel it.  In Zhang's novel, she's successfully perched her protagonist not on the shoulder but in the mind of another character. Zhang was able to develop characters with distinct voices but also seamlessly intertwined their conversations with visual cues.  I was never confused about who was talking when.  

Another thing that Zhang has done well is "showing not telling". One example is when she used a field trip to the history museum.  The scene not only provides the reader with some background information but also Eva and Addie's reactions to what's happened in the past. 

A Good Read For: Fans of dystopian who like more family less romance.