Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Wow! I come back from a week of sickness after a weekend of chaos and conference, and as I was sorting through all my favorite blogs, I discovered that I'd been nominated for this award!

Part of the award is spreading the love and sharing the award with others. For my part, I'd like to nominate:

Sheri for keeping us all on focus with priorities and writing.
Keri for using her blog to give away free books!
Lisa for showing us a slice of published writer's life.
Angela for going in depth with real life and cultures.
Angela for giving great book recommendations.

Conference Notes: "Our Greatest Children's Books," part 4

A continuation of the opening speech on Saturday at the SCBWI-C conference by Anita Shipley on the stories behind some of the greatest children stories of America.

Here are some more of the highlights from the speech. Click for parts 1 and 2 and 3.
  • Where the Wild Things Are was originally a book about wild horses, but Sendack couldn't draw horses, so he drew wild things. His inspiration was his family: his aunts and uncles would pinch his cheeks and says "you're so good, we could eat you up". Side note: This was the first American picture book that made the Europeans sit up and notice America—and begin to take American children's literature seriously.
  • A Week With Willi Worm was never published—the editor didn't like worms. However, the editor did like caterpillars...and so The Very Hungry Caterpillar was made. It now sells 1 copy somewhere in the world every 7 minutes.
  • Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day was written about the author's son, Alexander. The author had been a poet since the age of 4, when she wrote an ode to her dead parents...which wasn't approved of by her very much still alive parents.
  • When an illustrator presented a book about a gargoyle beauty pageant to an editor, the editor said he didn't like the story, but the gargoyles were wonderfully drawn. So the illustrator developed a series of books on architecture, starting with Cathedral. This author/illustrator brought nonfiction to the forefront by adding interesting pictures and kid-friendly information.
  • Bridge to Terebithia was written by the author for her son, who had just experienced a similar loss.
  • The Westing Game is a book that we can really see the writing process by the author. It is the only children's classic with drafts available online through the University of Wisconsin. We do not, however, have many editorial comments. The author was the editor's hairdresser, and they discussed the book while doing hair.
  • For Hatchet, Gary Paulson went into the wilderness. Anything written about Brian in the book is something Paulson did himself: including eating raw turtle eggs.
  • Lois Lowry wrote The Giver after having already established a good career as a writer—she already had 35 books published. Although her editor said that it would hurt her career, Lowry insisted that The Giver be published. The editor basically said, "If this is a book you have to write, this is a book we have to publish." The editor always thought that Jonas died at the end, but Lowry never did; the thought never even occurred to her as a possibility.
  • Lily's Purple Plastic Purse was written by a 19 year old author, Kevin Henkes, who made a list of his favorite publishers and went down that list presenting his book to editors until he had a publisher.
  • Karen Hesse always used photographs of people who reminded her of her characters as she wrote her books. She never told anyone this—it's just part of her writing process to have these photographs. The editor of Out of the Dust decided to put a photograph (instead of art) on the cover, and chose the exact same photograph that Hesse had used to write the main character.
  • Shipley called Karen diCamillo "a classic author in the making." Di Camillo's writing was rejected over 4,000 times before anything was accepted. Because of Winn-Dixie sat on an editor's desk for two years before an editorial assistant picked it up, loved it, and helped publish it.

That was basically Anita Shipley's speech...an hour speech spread out over four days! I hope you enjoyed this as much as I have...it was an amazing, inspiring speech that really made me consider how much of a business writing is, and how important it is for an author to believe in her work outside of business.

To conclude this massive, four part series, I'd like to leave you with the image Shipley left with me: She showed us a picture of a copy of The Secret Garden that has been passed down her family for generations. When she touches the book, she says, she feels the women of her family with her. "That is the power of a classic book."

Monday, September 29, 2008

KL Going: Writing Advice

We're interrupting our daily conference notes (to resume tomorrow!) with a short article I found on the SCBWI list-serv. KL Going is contributing to a workshop on writing and the hero's journey. If I had an extra $1k, I'd go. Going sounds like a dynamic presenter, and her book is one on my TBR pile. Anyway, one of the SCBWI list-serv posters shared this snippet from Going that, weeks later, is still ringing true with me:

One of the questions I get asked most frequently is "What's your best advice
for aspiring writers?" My answer usually surprises people. It doesn't have
to do with reading or editing. On the surface it doesn't even have to do
with putting words on the page, but dig deeper and it has everything to do
with crafting great stories. Here's my best writing tip:

Live your life to the fullest.

Sounds like something that should be in a self-help manual, doesn't it? But
how many of us forget that it's our own experiences as we travel through
this world that will infuse our minds with new, exciting ideas and our
writing with rich and evocative details? The hero's journey isn't just for
our characters, it's meant for us, too. The call to adventure is ours.
Whether it's the adventure of becoming a published author or the adventure
of becoming the best human being we can be, it's our own experience pushing
through obstacles and finding resolutions that will infuse our writing with
that undefineable quality called "heart" that elevates a story from fiction
to truth.

So today, do something unexpected. Plan that vacation to someplace you've
never been. Surprise your spouse or your kids or yourself. Visit someone you
consider a mentor. Try a food you've never tasted. Step away from the
keyboard and give yourself permission to explore.

Still Catching Up

Some of you might have noticed that, with the exception of posts, I've been a bit quiet on the online world. I've been sick for the past week, and although I had posts scheduled, I've been unable to get online. I should return to a more reliable schedule soon, and sorry I've not been responding to comments! :)

As for everything else....I'd forgotten just how much more work it is when you're absent--especially from a school! I think I'm going to be catching up until midterms!!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Conference Notes: First Pages

A feature that I loved in the conference was the First Pages session. Editor Martha Mihalick, agent Alyssa Henkin, and published authors Stephanie Greene and Anita Silvey (who also worked in publishing) sat around a table and read random first pages of conference attendees and commented on their immediate first impression of the work.

Mine was not, unfortunately, drawn from the box to be commented on, but I still learned a few pointers about writing.

The biggest thing was how important that first page is. Editors and agents may stop after the first page. It really must grab them. In some cases, a good (or bad) first line made or broke the entire work for them. Silvey referenced Charlotte's Web's powerful first line as an example. Titles were also important—a boring title made them think the book was a bit boring.

What happened in the first scene mattered. If the character was doing something boring, like weaving, then that invited boredom onto the page. A mundane task influenced the entire scene, despite an interesting character or dialog. Just moving the boring task back to later pages helped keep the integrity of the important first page.

The most helpful suggestion is to go back and look at the first page by itself. After it is written, look at just that page: analyze the structure, the rhythm. What happens in that first page? What is the first—and last—line on that page?

A good first page seemed to make the editors/agents more willing to forgive mistakes in the second, third, etc., pages—a good first impression made them more lenient to other things in the text. Likewise, a bad first impression made them much more likely to not even turn the page and look at anything else.

Conference Notes: "Ouhttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifr Greatest Children's Books," part 3

A continuation of the opening speech on Saturday at the SCBWI-C conference by Anita Silvey on the stories behind some of the greatest children stories of America.

Here are some more of the highlights from the speech. Click for parts 1 and 2.

  • My Father's Dragon is a picture book I'd never personally heard of, but a story I envy. The author wrote the story in two weeks during college break, her mother-in-law illustrated it, and her future husband, a book designer, helped the book get published. Literally an overnight success, the book is still in print. What I loved about the story was Silvey's commentary. She said, "there's always one book that's a gift" for an author—there's one book that just flows and is perfect and easy and brilliant to write.
  • Charlotte's Web was written after the author had done an article for Atlantic Monthly on the death of a pig. He wished he could write a story where the pig could live, and knew that it would have to be a children's story. When he walked passed the barn and saw a spider's web, he had his story. The editor said he only changed one thing about the manuscript: the chapter title called "The Death of Charlotte" was retitled to "The Final Days" as the word "death" was considered too harsh for children. Reviewers hated the book—perhaps because of the powerful message about death—and influenced the Newbery Awards to give Charlotte's Web the runner-up slot. Of course, the winner is now in obscurity and Charlotte's Web is one of the best selling paperbacks in America...
  • And to Think I Saw it on Mulberry Street was rejected over 20 times before Dr. Seuss almost gave up. He was on his way to his apartment to burn the manuscript when he ran into an old college friend...who'd just been promoted to children's book editors. He took the book sight unseen. When Seuss asked if he even wanted to read the book, the new editor said "I wouldn't know a children's book if it bit me on the ankle" and he just needed something, anything. Before this time, picture books tended to be message-laden and serious, but this was different—and a success. Seuss helped revolutionize the entire children's book world...and to think it all started with Mulberry Street.
  • Scott O'Dell was in his fifties when he finished Island of the Blue Dolphins, but the story was one that "he always had to tell." He had not intended it to be a kids' book, but his publisher relabeled it as such after submission. Silvey said of O'Dell's writing of the book: "This was a gift to Scott, and he then wrote it and made it a gift to all of us." When O'Dell died in his nineties, a group of friends sailed into the Pacific to scatter his ashes. On the voyage home, 18 blue dolphins escorted the boat back home.
    • An interesting note about O'Dell, by Silvey: He loved librarians. "He married one, and that was the problem: he could only marry one."
  • A Wrinkle in Time was written by L'Engle after she'd published before, but her publisher wouldn't touch this new manuscript: it was too different. L'Engle's mother had a tea party for her, invited the editor Farrar (of Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux fame), and basically forced the manuscript on him. They had a small print run (which could have been bought up by L'Engle's mother and friends if it flopped). Everyone was shocked when they discovered what a huge success the book became. As Silvey said, "Great books eventually find their way; you just have to give them time."

Coming tomorrow (are you sick of the subject yet?): Wild Things! Terrible Days! Raw Turtle Eggs!

Conference Notes: Martha Mihalick: What is a GOOD Voice?

This is a continuation of my first post about voice. After defining what voice is, Mihalick went on to describe what a good voice entails: cohesiveness and authenticity.

A cohesive voice means that all parts are complimentary. You must have energy, authority, and trust. Even if the pace of the story is a bit slow, the narrator needs to be engaged and interested in the story—energetic. The narrator needs to be clear and assertive (we have to trust that the narrator is an authority of the story and can tell it well).

Even in a work where the narrator isn't trustworthy, such as in The Thief, it is essential that we still trust him to tell the story well. We don't have to know all the details to trust the narrator, we just have to trust his story-telling ability.

An authentic voice is realistic writing from the heart. Writers tend to emulate other writers. Don't try to copy Harry Potter or Twilight; don't write to a trend. Write a story the way you hear the story. Check the sound of your story, and make sure that it sounds right.

Mihalick used a quote by Emma Bull to illustrate this:
A book makes friends with people.
Readers want to become friends with the storyteller. We seek the voice of the storyteller and strive to have the sort of intimacy with a book as we have with our friends. The premise of Harry Potter wasn't knew—the voice was. Likewise, Twilight is nothing more than a forbidden love story, but the voice invited new readers to that old story. When editors say they want something that sounds fresh, that's what they mean: a voice that is fresh and new. A good voice will make an editor forget other similar stories.

You know you've got a good voice when you can make readers (editors) hear that voice in their heads, think in that voice, consider what a character in that voice would do in a situation.

So how do you learn how to have a good voice? You don't. You "can't teach someone to have a voice; a voice can only be found." Her suggestion is to listen. Listen to others, listen to the way things are written. Find your favorite passages in books and analyze what made them so memorable in your mind. In the case of children's books, also listen to children's voices—how they talk and what they talk about—and integrate that into your writing.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Conference Notes: "Our Greatest Children's Books," part 2

A continuation of the opening speech on Saturday at the SCBWI-C conference by Anita Silvey on the stories behind some of the greatest children stories of America.

Here are some more of the highlights from the speech. Click here for part 1.

  • Hans and Margaret Rey were German Jews living in Paris with the Nazi front coming. They couldn't get out on the trains, but Hans made bicycles and they packed up a basket with their winter coats and a children's manuscript and pedaled their way down the coast away from the Nazi army that was only 36 hours behind them. On the way, a soldier stopped and interrogated them. When the Reys said they were children's book authors, the solider asked to see the manuscript. He read it, said "my kid would like this," and told them to go on. The Rey made their way to America using Brazilian passports and escaped the Nazi regime with their copy of...Curious George.
    • A few notes on George:
      • The original art was in watercolors, not the primary colors we've come to associate with George.
      • George was originally a female named Fifi, modeled after Margaret Rey. Rey was proud of being the role model for George and often bragged about it.
      • Rey modeled her living room with George memoriablia, and would tell visitors, "Isn't it amazing that all of this came out of that little manuscript we brought over?"
      • Silvey also pointed out that "some of our most incredible American icons were created by immigrants."
  • Make Way for Ducklings was based on a true story that the author/illustrator wanted to turn into a picture book...but he couldn't draw ducks. He drew thousands, but eventually decided the only way to really get the ducks right was with close observation...so he bought 12 ducks, filled the bathtub for them, and followed them around the apartment with "a sketchbook in one hand and a tissue in the other." The ducks moved too fast for accurate drawings, so he and his roommate gave the ducks red wine to drink so they'd slow down and he could draw them (although he does note that he was in his 20s at the time and would never do it that way now). Eventually, the male mallard grew to love wine so much that he expected it at every dinner!
    • Silvey made a very good observation about the end of the book: it ends with all the ducks reunited and going to a safe haven. Silvey said that when researching books, it is integral to looks at the copyright date and analyze what was going on at the time. In Make Way for the Ducklings, many children's fathers were going to World War II...and the end, with a safe haven for the entire family, really resonated with these children in a powerful way. She suggests this book for kids today with parents in war.
  • The Carrot Seed was a testament to revision: it was originally 10,000 words long and cut down to only 107 words. The author said it took "my whole life" to write over 100 drafts of the picture book.
  • Misty of Chincoteague involved quite a bit of research. The author actually went to the island with her illustrator and sketched out exactly what type of illustrations she wanted him to make. In fact, she actually bought Misty and kept her in her studio while she wrote the book! She took the horse with her during book signings and on her book tour!
    • Silvey noted that, as with all the classics, all the authors were willing to go that extra mile. "If you need a horse, you need a horse."

Coming up tomorrow: A dragon! A pig! A doctor!

Conference Notes: Martha Mihalick: What is Voice?

My first workshop was conducted by Martha Mihalick about voice. What I found helpful was how she used different works of literature to show voice—a method that really spoke to the literary analysis part of my mind.

Voice, essentially, is what makes your book stand out from the rest. Voice is an instrument, the "medium through which every other part of your writing filters through." Mihalick broke voice down into segments, and then talked about each individually.

  • Language: your vocabulary, syntax, rhythm, tone. This is, basically, the actual words you write, and they have a huge impact on how your voice sounds in the work. Her example of good language in voice was A Northern Light.
  • Structure: plot, dialog (amount, types, sound), characters (types of characters, number of characters), pacing. This is the way you used those words in your language to make a story. Her example of good structure in voice was Love that Dog (a book which I now plan to buy).
  • Imagery and themes: metaphors, similes, hyperboles, other literary devices, symbolism, emotional themes for characters/story, world view. An example of this is something that your characters care about—Mihalick read from Ida B to show how the main character's concern for the environment came out in the voice of the text.

There are also two kinds of voice:

  • Authorial Voice: Your voice as an author shines through in every book. You can't help it—you wrote the book.
  • Narrative Voice: This exists even in a 3rd person POV book. It is the "voice of the book." Mihalick used Robin McKinley's two versions of the Beauty and Beast story: Beauty and Rose Daughter to show this. The author is the same, the story is the same, the scene is the same, but each sounded very different. That difference is the narrative voice. Some of the differences were straightforward, such as 3rd person vs. 1st person POV, but there was also a difference in narration vs. dialog, allegory vs. practicality, complex vs. simple language, lofty word choices vs. more grounded word choices, etc.

The narrator of a work must have a voice, even in a 3rd person POV work. Neil Gaiman once said that the narrator of Stardust is a person sitting at a desk with a fountain pen. It doesn't need to be any more specific than that—but the narrator must be some sort of a character.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


For fantasy writers, the first part of what looks like a long (and good) ongoing series.

For anyone in the slush pile, a interesting (and probably very accurate) look at the slush pile from the agent's perspective. Really helps you understand the importance of the query...

Douglas Adams is writing a book, despite being dead? Oh, wait, it's just fanfic.

What's a summer in the publishing world like without Harry Potter sales? Duh.

Conference Notes: "Our Greatest Children's Books," part 1

The opening speech on Saturday at the SCBWI-C conference was by Anita Silvey on the stories behind some of the greatest children stories of America. In her words:

Every book tells a story, but every book has a story behind it.
Here are some of the highlights from the speech (it was a good speech, so I'll add more of it later...).

  • Anne of Green Gables was almost never published. Montgomery eventually took it to a small publisher, and an editorial assistant loved the book. The publisher, however, didn't expect it to sell well and offered Montgomery a deal that wasn't good—$500 flat for Montgomery, and the publisher would own the rights forever. Montgomery loved her book, however, and insisted on 9 cents a book—which proved quite good, actually, as her first royalty was for over $1,000.
  • Side note: This new information was just posted on bookshelves of doom about Montgomery.
  • Wind in the Willows was given a very small print run because the publisher didn't believe in the book and wanted it to basically fade away so that Grahame would write something else. Teddy Roosevelt, however, loved it, and, as Anita Silvey said, it was the "only time in American history when a president affected publishing in a good way."
  • The Secret Garden was considered the least of Frances Hodgson Burnett's novels—Little Lord Flaunteroy was her famous work. Burnett was something of a JK Rowling of her time, but her two biggest books—The Secret Garden and The Little Princess were not mentioned in her obituary. Which leads us to an interesting question: which books will stand the test of time?
  • Ferdinand was the first banned picture book. The author said he "wrote about a bull because bunnies and kittens had been done to death," but because there was a war in Spain at the time of publication, people thought there was some sort of political message behind the story. There wasn't, of course, but the resulting controversy and censorship led to a huge financial success: the book made $1,500 the first year, $80,000 the next, and the following year topped Gone With the Wind on the charts. Of course, Silvey also noted that "censorship can launch a book, but it can never keep it in print" and that the positive message of the book—as well as good writing and illustrations—was what keeps it popular.
  • A note on censorship: Silvey mentioned that "When I was in publishing and censorship came up, we broke out the bubbly...[we would] cry all the way to the bank."
  • Little House in the Big Woods (part of the Wilder series) was called "The book that the Depression could not stop" and is still as popular now as it was during the Depression. This book was a collaboration between mother and daughter, but during that time period, co-authors were considered substandard—so only the mother's name is credited with writing the books.
  • The Trials and Trails of Jonathan Lint was a book about a dust bunny...that was never published. 14 editors rejected it, but one editor told the author/illustrator that the drawings were good, but the story boring. The author/illustrator read the book to her children...and they fell asleep. So she then analyzed what things did interest her kids and wrote Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel. A note about the ending: she knew her original ending was bad, but had trouble coming up with a good one. A local boy gave her the idea for the ending, and she footnoted him in the book, giving him credit for it. Silvey spoke with the boy—and a man in his 80s—and he still thinks that helping with the ending of the book is the greatest accomplishment of his life.

Coming up tomorrow: An Irrepressible Monkey even the Nazis Couldn't Contain! Ducklings in a Bathtub! Horses at Book Signings!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

What I Learned on Day 3

Well, no wonder I thought my head was going to explode. It was the strep throat virus making my fever rise! Silly me, here I was just thinking that thinking so much was making my head all splody. Nope, just a virus.

Anyway, on the down side, my throat's on fire and I've got a huge guilt complex that I might have passed on sickness to others in the conference. But at least I'm a pretty fervent hand washer, and I didn't start coughing till the ride home. On the up side, I'm taking the day off work tomorrow and sleeeeping, of which I had almost none at the conference.

Friday, September 19, 2008

What I learned on Day 1

-At Pam Zollman's speech: I can turn my fiction writing into nonfiction magazine articles for fun and profit!

-At my personal critique with Alyssa Henkin: My writing is technically good, but would be improved with an injection of more emotion for the main character. In other words; I've got good plot but need better character development. Also: I'm definitely MG.

-At the red-eye critique sessions with other writers and the discussions following: The difference between publication and obscurity might just be listening to others. It is pointless to go to a critique if you're not willing to at least listen to others' suggestions and comments.

Conference Notes: Pam Zollman on Jump Starting Your Writing

The first event at the SCBWI Carolinas conference was Pam Zollman's talk on "Jump Starting your Writing."

Some of it was a bit more of the same that writers typically hear, but some highlights that really stood out for me include magazine writing and philosophy on submissions.

Magazine Writing
Zollman considered magazine writing to be a bit of an overlooked market--writers should take advantage of the opportunities magazine writing could include. She particularly notes that nonfiction writing is beneficial. 100% of magazine who accept freelance writer submissions will consider nonfiction, while only 30-40% will consider fiction--despite the fact that most submissions are fiction.

One does not need be a nonfiction writer to write nonfiction magazine articles. Zollman pointed out that as writers, we all do some level of research for out writing--and could turn that into a non-fiction article. She gave an example of a fiction book she wrote based on the gold rush, and a nonfiction book about the gold rush that she wrote using all the research she couldn't include in her fiction book.

My favorite quote from Zollman was about rejections:
A manuscript that is in the drawer is rejected. A manuscript in the mail isn't.
She suggests having 10 different things in the mail at the same time--and 10 copies of the same manuscript doesn't count. Whenever one comes back rejected, add another into the cycle. Her theory is that with 10 things in the mail at one time, an author is bound to get an acceptance just based on sheer numbers.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


I had to stay after school today to give a make-up test to a kid who'd been sick on the test day. I write all my own tests--we rarely even use the textbooks.

Anyway, about halfway through the test, the kid looks up at me, all frustrated.

Kid: Mrs. Revis, I'm mad at you!

Me: (surprised) Why?

Kid: Because every time I read these test questions, I can hear you!

Me: What?!

Kid: I can just tell you wrote these questions! They sound like you! And it's driving me crazy! Get out of my head!

Me: *suppressed laughter*

This kid was basically saying that the test I wrote for the class had my own personal "voice" to it--that elusive thing that authors struggle to achieve and editors tend to give speeches on. And while he didn't know it, that kid had just made my day. I may painstakingly try to figure out how to inject an entertaining voice into my fiction writing, but at least this kid can see it in question 42.

Coming Soon! SCBWI-C Conference!

On Friday, I'm off for the SCBWI-C Conference! I am very excited...like borderline need-a-paperbag excited. For your info, here's my schedule. I plan on updating the blog with info I learn during the conference while there, but who knows what will actually happen in real life.

-Wake up at the butt-crack of dawn and drive 4-5 hours to get to the conference. Love living on the wrong side of a long state.
-First event: Critique session on the first 10 pages of my upper MG fantasy, The Amnesia Door, with agent Alyssa Henkin! Talk about going straight to the big stuff!!
-Speech: Pam Zollman-- "Jump Start Your Writing Career"
-Pitch practices on an open mic
-Red-eye critique session--I've exchanged the first three pages of my work with two other writers, organized through the conference, and we'll be meeting and exchaning ideas.

-Speech: Anita Silvey-- "Our Greatest Children's Books and the Stories Behind Them"
-First workshop: "Voice: What is it? Why does it make editor go gaga?" by Martha Mihalick, who I hope to have the chance to accost and throw my book at.
-First pages critque session
-Second workshop: "Tension: Where the Story Begins" by Mark Johnston
-Third workshop: "Scouting Locations: Using Research to Bring Your Fantasy Setting to Life" by John Claude Bemis.
-Speech: "A Talk with Stephanie Greene and Martha Mihalick"

-Fourth workshop: "MG vs. YA" by Alan Gratz (which, for those of you who've been reading my blog for awhile, know this is a big subject for me)
-Speech: Alyssa Henkin-- "Show Me the Sunny, the Money, and the Funny" (on what attracts an agent to a manuscript)

I promise to have notes and posts up as soon as I can. Maybe not during the actual conference--as you can see, I'm going to be tight on time!!--but I will be doing quite a bit with the information I gain here (including writing an article on one of the workshops for the SCBWI-C newsletter!).

Any tips for conference, pitches, and/or critique sessions? Any questions on one of the subjects that you'd like me to ask?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Who I'd Like to Meet

Heather had a great post recently about people she'd like to--but probably won't ever--meet. I thought this was a good idea, and it got me thinking about who I'd like to meet sometime in my life.

Joss Whedon: This man does everything I want to do with character, voice, and plot. Seriously. Watch Firefly and it's movie, Serenity. It has it all: unique characters (rather a lot of them, too!) all with unique voices all doing unique things to create a wonderfully unique plot. *sigh* I have such a literary crush on Joss Whedon.

Cory Doctrow
: Really, I just think his whole concept of giving away books is amazing. I'd love to really have a talk with him about it.

Diana Wynne Jones and/or Patricia Wrede: These ladies have the kind of career that I want. Consistently good, creative books that have a dedicated following. They might not be household names like the next lady on my list, but they're amazing to me, and have just the kind of career that I aspire towards.

JK Rowling: OK, seriously? I just want to look at her in her castle rolling around on her millions like Scrooge McDuck and sigh in wonder for a moment. Also: I'd like to go back in time and meet her during that time between when she wrote the first book to when she got accepted for publication.

The Writers of Doctor Who: Doctor Who is amazing. Particularly David Tennant. Particularly David Tennant in a kilt. But I'd love to sit in on a writing session for the show. I wonder how much they have planned in advance, and how much is just episode to episode writing. I wonder how jokes/scenes/series are developed. I'd just love to see their writing process in action. (PS: Fans of Doctor Who and/or Shakespeare and/or Neil Gaiman: Read this now.)

So, who would you like to meet?

(As for me, between Joss Whedon and David Tennant in a kilt, I need a cold shower.)

Monday, September 15, 2008

World Building

You know you're a writer when you know exactly what a "MG 63k SF" is. Love those abbrev.

Anyway, I found this article a really great one that inspired a lot of thought about the genres in general.

The article makes a good point about world building (among other things; I think I might use that article to make a series of posts...) Anyway, to the quote:
What specifically draws me to science fiction/fantasy is the integrity of the imagined world and its fundamental principles. ... Each establishes coherent, consistent worlds that work according to immutable laws.
I'd also add that it is necessary for fantasy/SF to not get too caught up in its own world. Personally, I think a story is enhanced more when the world is there, fully formed, but still in the background. World building is like makeup: too little makes you look old, too much make you look cheap. However, if you can wear makeup so naturally that it just looks like your face (only better), then you're gold: likewise, if you can write in worldbuilding that is so naturally a part of the story that you don't notice it, but it's there, well, then you're a good writer.

Take Tolkein. God, please take him, I can't stand him. I know he's a brilliant writer and the founder of modern fantasy literature and whee. But I find him mind-numbingly boring. (Please, put down your pitchfork and torch.) The man made a world so complete that there is a fully functional elf language in it.

My eyes cannot roll inside my head enough for you to fully grasp the sheer imbecility I find in this endeavor.

Who cares if you have a fully functional elf language in your book? It's a languge for elves. Fictional elves. The only people who care are the cousins of the guys speaking Klingon.

If your writing has enough in it to let nerds decifer your elf language, then you've got more world than story. That's Tolkein's problem: he's got more descriptions of mountains and sparkling rivers and elf language and dear Lord, the snow, the snow! ...anyway, there's much more of the background than the play, if you know what I mean. I read the books when the movies came out--and after seeing the epic battle in the end of the last movie, I was disappointed that the characters in the book actually took (about a hundred pages) longer to get to the battle than to actually fight it.

Conversely, a story that subtley weaves in the background of a world into the plot makes the world not only more real, but the story itself better. For this, I refer to the brilliant Joss Whedon's television series Firefly and movie Serenity. And, ironically enough (because I just thought of it literally this second as I was typing it), the world of Serenity has it's own language: a mish-mash of slang and Chinese. If you're nerd enough (like me) to watch the commentaries on the DVDs, then you'll know that Whedon originally sat down and thought logically about where language would be in hundreds of years--his logic was that the two super-powers of the world would be America and China, and developed a language that combined the two, with a few invented words thrown into the process.

Did I know this when I first saw the show/movie? No. I just thought it was cool that there were these words in the show that obviously meant the language had progressed from out time. I might not know what they all meant, but I picked up on context clues. The words made the world more real--it was more as if I were there, instead of on my sofa with my dog in my lap.

Whedon put just as much work in his language as Tolkein did in his--Whedon even hired Chinese linguists to make sure the words worked in the context of the language. But Tolkein failed because there was more language, more world building, than there was story and character. Whedon places more importance on story and character and uses language and world building as an accessory--and it works.

PS: Working on worldbuilding? Patricia Wrede has a good site for that.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Query Project

My plan was to read all of the queries posted on The Query Project and comment on them. But as I tried to read all of them, I think I somehow started to possess the body of a query-swamped agent. I started skimming for plot; I found my attention drifting in the first paragraph. I began to imagine myself looking for the next big thing, and after reading all of these successfuly agent-landing, deal-getting queries, I only found one that really appealed to me.

The Scene: I'm at my huge mahogany desk, with a neat little Mac in one corner, and a neat little stack of queries in another. My gin swirls in my glass: I am an elite agent with a stack of well-referenced queries--I have only to pick one and make a writer's dreams come true.

First in my stack is a query by Josh Palmatier. It's a bit formulaic----straight to point, following the typical 3-paragraph format (basic info, plot synopsis in five sentences, bio, thanks). I appreciate the simplicity, the clear structure of the letter, but it doesn't really grab my attention.

I pick up Simon Haynes's next, and almost immediately want to put it back down again. It is painfully long and convulated, and I'm still not sure what the story is about, but, apparently, that doesn't matter too much as he had referrals and luck on his side (self admittedly--not me being presumptious). As an agent, though, I just get a sense that while other's like his writing, I don't.

Diana Francis's starts off with exactly the stuff I'm told not to do: compare it to other writers, say it's part one of a trilogy (albeit that it could stand alone), etc. As I writer, I'm hitting my head on my desk, knowing that someone who did the exact same thing that I've been reamed for is now published. As an agent, it was decently written, but didn't really grab me. This is something that drives me crazy when agents say that (I'm always mentally screaming: "Then what grabs you! Why?! WHY!?) But, after having read a few of these, I just feel ready to plow on to the next query, not read more of hers.

Chris Dolley's
rambles in a casual sort of way and tells me more about the premise than the plot--as a matter of fact, other than the characters and the fact that it's based on real life, I really don't know what it's about at all. In fact, as I was reading it, I thought at first that it was a "character" query where the character is the "voice" of the query. If I were an agent, I'd probably have dropped this one after a few sentences.

Jackie Kessler's works for me absolutely--it starts off with the story, has a great sense of voice, and makes me want to read even though I know it's a genre that I don't particularly like. If I were an agent, I'd request pages immediately.

Glenda Larke's is so laughingly short that even she admits that it won't get a writer far today.

John Levitt's is good--but would only work for someone who had already been published before. As an agent, I might sit up and take note of the names dropped, but I'm just not sure about it.

I sat up at Janni Lee Simner's query mainly because it was a genre I write in--YA fantasy. It was well structured, much like Josh Palmatier's (the first one I read). In fact, I think the only difference here is genre. Palmatier's isn't a subject I care that much about; Simner's is. So I like Simner's, but not Palmatier's. Just another reason why researching an agent is essential to success.

Edward Willet's answered a question that I've had as a writer--do you just jump right in and tell the story? Apparently so; it worked for him. Anyway, with my agent-goggles on, I look at the letter as a whole and think "Boy, that's long." Scanning down the page made my heart sink a bit; it just seemed inexorbantly long. However, despite being long, it got straight to the point, and much of length was a series of excellent writing credentials.

I didn't read the rest of the queries in the project--mainly because of time and my crappy 56k modem. But still, I think I got my lesson from them. Often when reading these queries, I wondered what Query Shark or Evil Editor would do. I've been reading their blogs so long that I could spot the instantaneous wordiness that Query Shark always strikesthrough, and the plot hole questions that Evil Editor constantly brings up.

Furthermore, from the entire list, there was only one--Jackie Kessler's--that really interested me and made me sit up and take notice. Some where good, such as Janni Lee Simner's, but the only one I got really excited about was Kessler's. If I were an agent swamped with work, hers would be the only one I requested.

I started reading these queries hoping to find the one formula that worked. I wanted to find similarities between the queries; I was searching for the Mystical Key to Queries. But what I found was that a large part of it all depends on taste. Every one of these queries landed either an agent or an editor; every one is successful. But many of them did not work for me at all. Some of them, to be honest, I didn't even read all the way through; my eyes glazed over and I just skimmed. But that exact same letter made someone else sit up and say "Let's publish this!"

I guess in the end, there is no one way to write a query. Some things are a given: lists of publishing credits, some sort of synopsis. But beyond that, it's a roll of the dice with the right person finding the right query.

And also: a couple of these letters were interesting, but not attention grabbing. I did pretty much skim for genre and plot. If there was a genre I liked and a plot that sounded decent, I would have read sample pages...and that would have told me more than anything else about whether or not the book was worth my while. Miss Snark famously (and repeatedly) said that the writing is what's important, not the query, and that's true. Part of me wishes that there was just one form query for all of us to use where we could fill in the blanks (word count, genre, etc.) and let the pages stand on their own. But I figure that most queries aren't much more than that, anyway.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Tagged! I'm it!

I've got tagged for a meme! Which is pretty freaking cool as, between this and the spam I got earlier this week, it's official: I'm famous :)

Rules of the meme:
A) People who have been tagged must write their answers on their blogs & replace any question that they dislike with a new question formulated by themselves.
B) Tag 8 people to do this quiz. These people must state who they were tagged by & cannot tag the person whom they were tagged by. Continue this game by sending it to other people.

Hmm...who can I tag? How about Sheri, Heather, Keri, Angela, Rebecca, Christine, MM, and any of the other girls over on Wunderkin or my fellow critiquers on Blue Diamond. Of course, just if you want to be tagged :)

1. What are your nicknames? Beth IS my nickname. Although my best friend (known her since 1st grade) and I have nicknames for each other: she is Sunshine and I'm Moonbeam.
2. What do you do before bedtime? Usually write. I'm a night owl, so I'm most creative when it's late...kind of a catch-22 during work days, though.
3. What was the first movie you bought in VHS or DVD form? I know this! I'm such a freak. My first VHS was bought by mom for me: Snow White, also the first movie I ever saw. And when I got my first DVD player (in college), I consciously went out and bought Elizabeth, even though I'd not seen it yet, just because the title was my name.
4. What is your favorite scent? Lavender.
5. If you had a million dollars that you could only spend on yourself, what would you do with it? You say that "only spend on yourself" thing like that would be hard! OK, I'd pay off the bills and the mortgage, then I'd buy a ranch out west and give it to my parents. The rest: half for writing stuff (i.e. professional critiques, computer upgrades, maybe an MFA); the other half for travel.
6. What one place have you visited that you can't forget and want to go back to? I could never go back to those places because what's special about them isn't the place, but the feeling: triumph in climbing a beachside cliff in Malta, fierce independence in going to Bath by myself, sauve-ness in walking the streets of Paris and being mistaken for a Parisian, pride in showing my friends around London, chutzpah in wandering New York at night. Those were one of a kind moments that couldn't be recreated.
7. Do you trust easily? Depends on the thing. I'll hand anyone who's willing a copy of my book for a critique, but in general I'm a private person when it comes to myself.
8. Do you generally think before you act, or act before you think? Again, depends. If I set my sights, then I plot like a Russian general to take what I want. But if an opportunity arises, I'm off like a shot without another thought--which led to a weekend road trip to Miami (I live in NC) and a bit of an unexpected adventure during Mardi Gras.
9. Is there anything that has made you unhappy these days? Eh, that's what the gin is there for. I'm pretty positive.
10. Do you have a good body-image? See answer to question 9.
11. What is your favorite fruit? Real fruit: strawberries. Fake fruit (such as in Skittles or snow cone flavors): cherry + grape combo.
12. What websites do you visit daily? See list on the side of my site.
13. What have you been seriously addicted to lately? Nothing?
14. What kind of person do you think the person who tagged you is? Tabitha is thoughtful and insightful--she's always got great things to say about reading and writing!
15. What’s the last song that got stuck in your head? OK, so this is weird. I've been waking up lately singing random songs. I don't know where they come from. They just invade my brain, and then they're stuck there all day.
16. What’s your favorite item of clothing? Crocs. Love 'em.
17. Do you think Rice Krispies are yummy? Yup, with an inch of sugar on top.
18. What would you do if you see saw $100 lying on the ground? If no one's looking for it and no one says they're missing it for a few weeks, I'd spend it.
19. What items could you not go without during the day? Intarwebs. Also: computer--it's the only way I can write.
20. What should you be doing right now? Grading student papers. Progress reports are due Tuesday, I've got a stack to grade, but I'm gonna blog and surf the web and work on my book and not do what I'm supposed to. Ha! Take that, responsibility!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Yes, it's been done before...

...but, oh, is it good.

Hemingway started it. Write a story in six words. His was:
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
Then I found this article when looking for science fiction short stories (any suggestions on some good ones would be welcome!). It showcases some great 6-word stories:

Gown removed carelessly. Head, less so.
- Joss Whedon

Longed for him. Got him. Shit.
- Margaret Atwood

It’s behind you! Hurry before it
- Rockne S. O’Bannon

The baby’s blood type? Human, mostly.
- Orson Scott Card

- Harry Harrison

Epitaph: He shouldn't have fed it.
- Brian Herbert

He read his obituary with confusion.
- Steven Meretzky
Dare I add one? I daren't.


OK, for serious, I'll share mine if you share yours:
Epic battle. Both die. Vultures win.


Not linkspam, but for serious spam! Got my first spam in comments today, which, of course, makes me realize that now I'm famous.

But if I get more, I'm switching on that annoying type-the-incomprehensible-letters-in-the-box thing. Sorry!

Query Links

This is worthwhile for all those query writers.

On Science Fiction

I don't really like sci fi. I don't read it, I never did, and the best sci fi in my book is Star Wars, which, apparently, doesn't count as real sci fi.

But I'm writing one now.

Which has been interesting, considering how I don't know what I'm doing. Fortunately, the husband loves the sci fi, and so I often go bother him on subjects like cryogenic freezing and the speed of light. He has been very helpful, so I guess I'll keep him for another year.

Meanwhile, I found the text of Robert Heinlein's form fan letter rejection (much like query letter rejection, but for his fans). In it, he mentions a definition of science fiction:
Science fiction: stories that would cease to exist if elements involving science or technology were omitted.
OK, so admittedly, that's a bit obvious. But also, it's not. Think about my beloved Star Wars*. Are lightsabers necessary to the plot? Not really. The story could have been just as easily set in the Middle Ages as in outer space. Replace hyperspeed with Spanish galleons and light sabers with swords, and we're there. Leia's metal outfit in the second movie probably wouldn't have flown so well in the Middle Ages, but... The science/technology isn't particularly necessary.

Meanwhile, you have books like The Adoration of Jenna Fox, where, without science, the story simply would not exist. The story revolves around science. That is the plot. There is no possible way for the story to exist without the scientific elements.

Or, how about a story such as Ray Bradbury's "All Summer in a Day." It's brilliant, and if you've not read it, go here. Read it first, you'll like it better that way.


So, see how the story wouldn't exist without science? The entire plot exists because of the scientific reasoning behind the sun being visible only one day every seven years. That's the plot. What the characters do with the science is essential--but you cannot have the plot with the characters without the science behind them. Science fiction, by definition, requires this formula: characters + science = plot.

*Please note: the only acceptable, worth viewing Star Wars in existence is the original three. Return of the Jedi is the best. It's a fact. Look it up.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


For those of you who are already published, a quick and easy way to help promote your book.

For those of you who aren't published, a list of agents who should be on your radar.

If I had the money for it, I'd sign myself up for the critique serves or workshops provided by these folks. Seems like some really quality stuff that makes me wish that rich uncle I never knew I had would hurry up and die and leave me my millions.

However, some interesting takes by an agent about whether or not to hire outside freelance editors to perfect a book:
One of the cautions I have given to authors using editors is that you might need to be prepared to pay that editor not only for helping you with this book but also for helping with your next books. ...Your career is only as good as your last book, and if your hired editor was able to take your first book to a level that you aren’t sure you can do on your own, it’s very likely you’ll need to consider hiring that editor for each subsequent book. ... Now many of you will say that’s a small price to pay for publication, but is it really if it means paying out most of your advance to an editor? Certainly something you’ll probably need to consider.
The Man Booker award winners are described as "intensely readable." A comment like that is almost worth the prize itself. Almost. I mean, I ain't sneezing at no $88,700.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Author Interview: Keri Mikulski, author of Screwball

I was recently given the honor of interviewing the lovely Keri Mikulski, author of Screwball, the first of a series of book starring softball hero Ashley Clarke. Here's what she said about life, writing, and books.

Keri Mikulski
We can all read about your bio from the back of your book or your FAQ online. So, what's a completely random fact about you that most people don't know?
Do you remember the eighties game show “Double Dare”? When I was in the fifth grade and I was sporting a short perm, the Double Dare producers visited our school and I was chosen, along with three classmates, to compete on the show. I slipped in beans during the obstacle course and tripped up the host Marc Summers in the process. Unfortunately, we didn’t win the trip to Disney World, but we did win a bunch of cool stuff. I still have the show on VHS tape.

Your plane crashed on a deserted island, and Sawyer wasn't on it. You only have one book to entertain yourself with until the rescue comes—if it ever comes. What book do you wish you had with you on the island?
Hmm.. Fiction– probably Megan Mccafferty’s “Second Helpings” because it’s hilarious. Nonfiction – the Bible. I’ve always wanted to read the whole book from cover to cover.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
It depends on what I was feeling at the moment. I went through stages when I wanted to be a police officer, Wonder Woman, a gymnast, an author, a vet, a professional baseball player, a singer, a nurse, a teacher, and a librarian.


How much of you is in your book? Is there a character like you? Is a situation in the book derived from real life?
My characters are a combination of different traits of different people I’ve met over the years. People that know me and read the book often ask me: Is Jake this person? Is Andrew this person? Is Christy this person? The characters and situations are completely fictional. But, out of all the characters I’ve created so far, Ashley is probably the closest to me. When, I was a pitcher in high school, I definitely dealt with some of the same issues Ashley deals with.

The situations are partly, like the characters, derived from real life. I’ve been to a tattoo parlor. I grew up in New Jersey. I rode on the back of motorcycles. My dad was a police officer. And I did date athletes. ☺
What was your timeline for the book? How long did it take to write, revise, submit, and finally, get published? How did you feel at these stages?
I came up with idea of Ashley Clarke during a wrestling tournament (my husband is a coach ☺). I was doing research for a writing assignment and a girl wearing a softball sweatshirt, caught my eye after she ran down the bleachers to talk to a wrestler. I started writing the first scene as a short story. Then, the ideas continued to flow, so I approached FASTPITCH FOREVER magazine with a series pitch. Kim, the publisher, loved it, added it to her next issue, and asked for more. After three scenes, she approached me to turn the series into a book. So, from Ashley’s birth to the finished product, it took about nine month. The revisions took about three out of the nine. The second book of the series, which should drop this winter, also will end up done in nine months. Weird. Writing books is like a pregnancy. ☺

The stages:
1. First draft – Excited and in the zone.
2. Revisions – Still excited and in the zone, but my brain is fried.
3. Submission – Nervous. Like I’m about to pitch a big game.
4. Publication process – All the decisions tend to stress me out – like what to cut, how edgy we should go, etc.. Then, I always have a moment of what if this doesn’t happen and it never becomes a book. But when I see the ARC in the mail, I’m excited again.
If your reader could only take away one emotion, theme, or idea from the book, what would you want that to be?
This is tough to narrow down to just one. But, the most important one to me? Don’t judge someone by his or her past, his or her family, or their situation. Get to know someone first, then make a decision. If you don’t, you might miss out on the love of your life.

What are your goals as an author? Where do you want to see yourself as a writer in 5, 10, 15 years?
My goals are to continue to make money doing what I love. In five years, I hope to have four books published. In ten years, I hope to have a non sporty book published. In fifteen years, I hope to be somewhat satisfied with my writing career.
What's the most surprising thing you've learned since becoming a writer?
Don’t laugh. But, I learned that writers travel. I had no idea writers have to go on publicity tours. I’m scared to death of airplanes. So far I’ve dodged the airplane for publicity. But this spring, I’m going to Texas at some point, so I have to do it. And do it ALONE.
Beyond the typical—never give up, believe in yourself—what would be the single best advice you'd like to give to an aspiring author?
Write the book you always wanted to read.

What do you consider to be your strongest talent in writing? Your weakest?
I’ve been told that I can set up a scene well and my characters are believable. To this day, I’m not completely sure how I do this. Writing to me is like playing pretend. ☺ On the other hand, I always get snagged for lack of transitions, over using the word ‘amazing’, and adding way too many conflicts.
What's a writing pet peeve that you have?
Generally, my biggest pet peeve, whether in writing or not, is selfishness. Honestly, every book I’ve ever read, I can pick out something I like about it, so I really don’t have a writing pet peeve. I guess it’s the teacher in me.
Thank you, Keri, for the wonderful insight into your writing life!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Setting Goals

I read on Hip Writer's Mama's blog recently about setting goals, and she'd heard the suggestion of writing 1,000 words a day. I thought I'd try it out, and I've liked it so far: 1,000 words is doable, and even if I know I won't be able to keep that pace every day, it is nice to think that writing a 1,000 words a day would mean a finished manuscript in two months.

Of course, we should all just not mention how I've totally put one manuscript that needs revisions on hold while I dash off to write another. Darn my schizo-writing mind!

An Author's Take on MG vs. YA

I recently discovered cynsations and The Purple Crayon through Gottawrite Girl's blog. I've started reading through some of the archives when I found this interview with Saving Juliet author Suzanne Selfors.
How is it different writing for the upper YA audience (as opposed to middle graders)?

... What is different? Middle graders are all about adventure. They believe anything is possible. And so writing fantasy for them is the ultimate fun ride.

Teens want an element of romance, which is always the most difficult part of the story for me to write.
This struck a bit of a chord for me. I'd been struggling with MG vs. YA in my own manuscript for quite a bit now--and I'd been a bit angry at the fact that it seems as if the only dividing line is magic = MG and sex = YA. That's oversimplification, but it's also how I'd begun to view the whole situation.

In a way, I'm not wrong. What I'd forgotten, however, is that I shouldn't blame the market for the categorization. It's not just that some mighty publisher dude decides this is the dividing line...but that the kids buying the books decides what the dividing line will be. I don't know why I hadn't really thought of it in those terms before, but I hadn't.

I think part of my problem is that I teach high school (typically 15/16 year olds). Teaching high school is a gold mine for YA authors--I'm constantly surrounded by a wide variety of teens and all their slang, culture, attitude, etc. It just makes it easier to write about them. But also, I use them to gauge what's popular in teen literature. I see Kelsi reading the Twilight series under her desk as I'm teaching Joseph Campbell (she's reading fast--she read Twilight and in one week). Josh keeps bringing up Star Wars and superheroes when we discuss The Hero's Journey--Michael brings up Remember the Titans and Coach Carter. It's a good way to gauge what they're reading, and get a sense of what types of books are popular with teens.


I forget that teens don't always talk about what they read, especially what they read now. They all mention Harry Potter--but they all also read Harry Potter when they were in middle school, and they just remember it. Books like the Harry Potter series are wildly popular--but they are the exception to the genre rules. Narnia is often mentioned in my class--but because of the YA-geared movies, not the MG-geared books. I often forget that just because a kid mentions a book doesn't mean that s/he read it that year...in all likelihood, the books they're reading now are books they won't mention. A few years ago, I had a girl who was always talking about some of my favorite authors, such as Patricia Wrede and Garth Nix. But after school, I saw her reading Sunshine. I asked why she hadn't mentioned that book in class before, and she got embarrassed. There's sex in that book--she was embarrassed to even be seen reading it; she'd never mention it in class, despite the fact that she'd passed the book around to nearly every girl in the class. Likewise, there is a wildly popular African American series of books that my African American girls pass around--seriously, these books have tattered edges and broken spines. And they are almost entirely erotica. And they are never mentioned in class, and they are hidden from the teachers (most of whom confiscate the books).

The other part of my problem is that I don't read what I'm supposed to read. I like the cute fantasy books--I pick up MG/YA books expressly because I don't want to read about sex--I'd rather read about magic and adventure. And I tend to think that everyone's like me (I do this constantly--I'm shocked when I discover other people like mayonnaise, for example, because I find it so repulsive).

I'm not sure why I never really thought of the MG/YA label in these terms before, but there you are. It's starting to make more sense to me...

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Well, crap

I wrote two pages of the new book yesterday.

In present tense.

Oh no, I cannot let this last!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Poetry Friday

Don't usually do the poetry thing, but this poem is brilliant--it's about my favorite fairy tale of all time, and it's told from an unusual point of view. Check it out...this is one of the best poems I've read in awhile, and I'm a tough poetry critic :)

Trying New Things

It's important for a writer to try new things. This means experiences--I never could have set my most recent work in Malta, for example, if I'd never been there (I hadn't known it existed before the trip!). But this also means writing new things, too.

I'll admit, for a girl in a creative profession, I've got a hard time coming out of my writing box. You know old people who talk about walking uphill (both ways) through the snow to get to the one-room school house and they actually seem to miss those good ol' days? Yeah, I'm like that. YA fantasy is the only genre worth my time. I shudder at the thought of writing in first person POV. I get physically sick thinking about extensive outlining. Don't even get me started on present tense. I write my third-person fantasies with the smallest amount of outlining in imperfect tense, thankyouverymuch.


This novel I'm about to start, the one just makes my little spawns of mind juice just squee! with delight...yeah, it's not fantasy. It's sci fi. And it's going to be told not only from a first person POV...but from two alternating first person POVs. And it's going to be a murder mystery set in space with a twist out of this world (get it? get it?), and I've begun chapter by chapter outlining. With much detail.

And that rut I hit somewhere about the last third of my last work, that dragging feeling I'd slowly started to develop for the past few months in writing...it's lifting. I'm getting all tingly and excited thinking about this new book...and all those writing styles I've never tried before are adding goosebumps to my goosebumps.

But I'm not touching present tense. Let's not get too wild here :)

I'm just putting this out there...

...politics + books. Read as you wish.

Thursday, September 4, 2008


Lots of interesting stuff out on the intrawebs now:

An excellent list of new and current YA books. (with themes that define edgy, and remind me that I'm probably dipping my toes more in the MG genre)

A new YA publisher on the scene.

Holly Hobbie was a real person?! And she's writing (another) book?!

Among other things that Nathan Bransford says he doesn't want in a query (most are pretty obvious), this one stood out as a mistake that I'd be likely to make if I weren't careful:
- The themes of your novel (this should be clear from the description of the plot)
And, Nathan also identified the sweet spot in length for queries:
Well, after doing this for a week I basically decided that there is a sweet spot in query word count between 250 and 350 words.
Mine is 276. Sweet!


Heh, my 200th post was an apology! Well, my 201st will be questions:

1. Do you think it's easier to revise a manuscript or write an entirely new one?

2. Which would you rather have happen: one huge bestseller that you know will never be topped (by you) or a life-long career as a mid-list author?

3. Let's pretend that I can tell the future with 100% accuracy (ha!). I read your manuscript, and I can tell you whether it will ever be published, or whether it won't. Do you want to know? Do you want to work on it, or do you want to move on to a new manuscript to start? (in other words, how much value is in revising a work that is unpublishable? at what point does revision become counter-productive?)

...and speaking of questions, I'd just like to announce:

Coming Soon!
Author Interviews!

I've got two author interviews lined up now, but if any of you have suggestions on where to dig up more, please let me know! :)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


..about having something of a funny post just before something of a serious post. But I posted the funny first, and then read Maureen Johnson's blog, and I thought about Kim, the girl I was writing about and, well, I just had to say that. Didn't mean to be so jarring.

If you are a woman, know a woman, or have any interactions with women...

...in other words, YOU, go read this. It's got nothing to do with writing or reading or anything like that, but it's still very worthy of your time. It's not political, although it seems that way at first...it's just the way it is, and the way it could be.

...and after you read, here's why it matters to me:

I had the brightest child I ever taught four years ago. She was black, and she was poor, but I looked at her and thought, You, you can make it.

And then she got pregnant. And her life was no longer about rising above her poor home, but about staying in it, where the baby was, because that was all she had left. That happened my first year of teaching. I remember, I *remember* how I thought she could be anything, how I thought my teaching her grammar and literature would make a difference, how she'd use what I taught her in her doctoral thesis, how one day she might come to the school and visit me and show me, her teacher, her degree. I looked at this kid, and my dreams were her dreams, and I believed in her as much as I believed in anything, and I knew with all my soul she could be more than what she was.

She dropped out her senior year, when her baby was one. It had gotten to be too much.

I'll just say this: while it is wonderful and beautiful that she brought a life into the world, I cannot help but believe it was at the cost of her own.

The Premise Phase

Ok, so I've got this idea, right. It's cool, trust me. There's this space ship, and a kid, and some people in a cryogenic sleep, and it's set in outer space during an interstellar evacuation. Oh, and here's the kicker: it's a murder mystery. Oh! And there's a twist. A good 'un. Trust me. It's cool.

Gawd, I love the premise phase! I lurrve my little spawns of mind juice just before I start writing a new story :) I lurrve them.

'Course, I hates 'em during revision...but I lurrves 'em now!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Pitching Links

I am gearing up for the SCBWI-Carolina's fall conference (only 19 days away!). I've sent my pages for critique, I've signed up for red-eye crit sessions, and now I'm turning my attention to the pitch practice.

Some helpful links:

The SCBWI-C Pitch Practice Worksheet

(Not sure if this link will work if you're not signed in as a member of SCBWI-C)

Christy's Creative Space
On the importance of pitches (with a great analogy):
Lets play pretend. Look at each scenario. What would REALLY happen?
1. You are at the bookstore. You have no idea what book you want, but you want a book that will draw you in and captivate you. To make your decision you . . .

A. Take every book off the shelf, read the first chapter, maybe two, of every book. I mean hey! There's only thirty books in your pile and you've got all day. Right?

B. Place each book next to your ear to see if one "speaks" to you

C. Read that jacketflap, maybe the first page too.

Helene Boudreau
With some pretty good ideas of constructing a pitch (with some good examples):
So, it seems to me that when perfecting your pitch paragraph (pes-ghetti!) your goal is to distill your story in three to five sentences with these three things (character/conflict/hint of outcome) in mind while maintaining the personality of the story in the pitch.

Monday, September 1, 2008

I'm Turning Into my Mother...

...but there is something deeply satisfying about a clean house. Maybe it's because there comes a point where I'm done. Really and truly done. There aren't any clothes to wash except the ones the husband and I are wearing. There aren't any more dishes to wash. The furniture is dusted and the floors vacuumed. There is nothing else I can do to clean without acquiring an obsessive compulsive disorder.

In one profession where it may be years, if ever, before I find out if I made a difference to my students, and in another profession where I have to honestly face the fact that I might never achieve my goal of publication, it is nice to do something and be complete, know it's the best job I could do, and that there is nothing more to do. In teaching, there's always a better way to teach; in writing, there's always another revision.

At least I can clean the house!

PS--Keri Mikulski's sponsoring another Yay for YA giveaway. Go to her blog and sign up for free books!

I'm such a rat

You're Reepicheep
You're Reepicheep
Take Which C.S.Lewis Character are you? today!
Created with Rum and Monkey's Personality Test Generator.

Writing Process

I'd never really before thought about the writing process, but between the creative writing assignment my students did and the fact that I'm revising a current manuscript (which means, of course, all I want to do is write another one), I've been thinking a bit about how my mind actually works when I write.

1. Premise: This is just the idea. It can be as simple in my mind as "talking cat," or "witch teacher," or "magic addiction." Right now, it's "ark spaceship." This is usually just an idea of a unique character or setting.

2. Twist: I try to think of what's the worst thing that could happen with the premise. In The Amnesia Door, I had a teacher who was a witch, but she was a prisoner. What could make the unique character or setting be put in a dire situation?

3. Plot: What's the story? How can I carry the premise and twist out the whole way through the book? For The Amnesia Door, I added a character, a student named Belle, who wanted magic. She's the narrator--she is the story: we follow her as she discovers her teacher is a witch, and we see all of that from her perspective. Which leads directly to...

4. Character: Belle is my main character. Her thoughts and wishes drive the story. So, I defined her character to fit the story: she is bored with life and wants magic of her own.

5. Conflict: This is the driving force of the story. Belle wants magic. Her teacher has magic but wants freedom. I threw in another teacher who was an alchemist and could offer Belle the magic she wanted...but at the cost of her magical teacher's freedom.

6. Resolution: This is the end, how the conflict will be resolved. I hardly ever know what the resolution will be before I start writing; it usually comes to me about half-way through the book. I like to make life difficult on my characters, so difficult that I can't figure out how to solve their problems for them...and then when I get to that point, I have to stop writing and figure out the ending.

In the end, this makes the book. I'm notorious for not liking outlines, but I will admit that this is what I do as pre-writing. I don't necessarily even write any of this down, but these five points are essential for me to have at least thought about before I write. Once I've got at least a vague idea of the first five points, I can write a story.

These usually change as the story develops, but I do maintain at least a semblance of the original idea for each of the points above, even resolution (although that one hardly ever stays the same while I write the book).

One thing I often add either early in the story, or as I go is:

7. Meaning: I don't like hit-you-over-the-head kind of themes, but I do usually have an idea of a deeper meaning that I want to add to my story. It can be as simple as "addiction is bad," but more often than not, it's a Bible verse or lesson, such as the power of love, or refusing temptation. It's not preachy, I hope, but it is usually there in my writing.