Friday, July 30, 2010

Do's and Don'ts from Jon Scieszka

Alright, the first day of SCBWI-LA is over (sort of) and it was awesome! Let me just go on record as saying that children's books authors are some of the funniest and most awesome people on the planet. Srsly.

I learned a TON today, and I will be sharing a lot of it with YOU. Because I think you are awesome and many of you can't be here. I know a lot of you had questions about the nerdy boy comment I made below, and I promise to explain that all eventually in a whole post dedicated to MG boys. But today I'm going to give you some publishing DOs and DON'Ts from Jon Scieszka!

In case you're not familiar with the awesomeness of Jon Scieszka, here are some books he wrote that you should read right away, because they pretty much defined my childhood:

He also wrote some other fabulous books, but these are probably the two most well-known. (And here's a tip to the most fabulous of you out there! I bought a copy of The True Story of the Three Little Pigs to have signed and then giveaway here on the blog! So watch out for that when I get home :) And if you're not currently following me, you might want to clicky-click that little follow button, because you'll get extra points for being a current follower once the contest gets underway!)

Anyway, Jon was hilarious and had a lot to say about publishing. He offered the following do's and don'ts that he wished he knew when he started out:

  • Congratulate yourself for actually doing something. Because there are so many people (his dentist, his neighbor) who tell him they have so many ideas for children's books but never actually get to writing them. 
  • Read every book you possibly can in your genre. Just go to the library and wander around in your section. If you're a picture book writer, he suggests the New York Library's list of 100 Best Picture Books (which, consequently, VCFA also sent me). 
  • Read the worst books out there, because they're kind of educational. He thinks the best ones to look for are the celebrity books. 
  • Read children's trade publications: School Library Journal, Publisher's Weekly, and kidlit blogs such as Educating Alice and 7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast.
  • If you write picture books, cut it in half. It's called a picture book for a reason - leave room for the pictures. 
  • Once you start writing, don't let the stuff you read in the trade publications drive you crazy. It will make you wonder, "Should I be writing about pirates?" or "Who got translated into Korean this week?"
  • Don’t beleive everything you hear.
Then he shared photos from his favorite picture books, which totally brought back memories from my childhood. Books like The Stupids and George and Martha were ones I just loved growing up!

He closed by talking a little about the creative process. He told the story about how he was inspired to write a book where trucks had the personalities of elementary school students. (This book would eventually be the Truck Town series) After meeting the kids, he gave all the trucks personalities based on the children he met. He described the personalities to the illustrators, who drew the trucks without having met the kids. But then he showed pictures of the kids next to the trucks they were matched to and the resemblance was uncanny. So, basically, illustrators are awesome.

In closing, Jon Scieszka had this to say: "Don’t listen to everything to everything you hear, including me. If you write write write, the spirit can move you and you might write the best vampire princess fart rhyming book ever.”

Posting Live from SCBWI-LA!

Woot! I'm posting live from SCBWI-LA! I only have a few minutes, but I hope to post a full update tonight! (Though I'm learning so much that I will have material for at least a week's worth of posts! Get excited, people.) So far, I've learned the following things:
  • Jon Scieszka is hilarious.
  • M.T. Anderson has a fabulous singing voice (I will be providing proof of this later.)
  • MG boys don't like nerds, unless they are nerds, and then they like them just fine.
  • Editors do read things in the slush pile, despite what their "official policy" says (well, their summer interns read it anyway).
  • Don't be shy about saying something to the author who is staying TWO DOORS DOWN from your hotel room, because chances are she's actually really nice. 
  • SCBWI is awesome.
So, just my quick update :) Hopefully I'll have time to post something more detailed tonight! Until then, get the latest from my tweets: @HeatherTrese

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Book-Crush Wednesday (2)

Yay! It's Wednesday! Every Wednesday, I highlight a book I loved and want to share with my blog followers. Today's book crush is on an MG series by an author that everyone reading this blog has heard of...but I bet many of you haven't read this MG series (and you definitely should).

Today's book crush is on The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins! Yes, that's Suzanne Collins, of HUNGER GAMES fame! But before she wrote Hunger Games, Collins penned this fantastic five-book series about a boy who falls down a sewer in his laundry room and finds an incredible world full of giant rats, bats, roaches, spiders, and strange humans living under New York City.

I found the Underland Chronicles after finishing Catching Fire. I was dying for another dose of Collins, so I headed to Goodreads to see what else she had written. At first, this series didn't interest me much. But my library had it on the shelf, so I picked it up the next time I was in. And wow.

The main character in the books is Gregor. Gregor is a little bit funny, but most of all he's strong and pretty smart. He doesn't worry too much when he gets into dangerous situations (which happens constantly), and he always puts the safety of his little sister in front of his own.

And speaking of his little sister...her name is Boots, and she is THE BEST CHARACTER IN THESE BOOKS. Seriously, Boots makes these books awesome. She is wonderful and funny and so sweet. She has her own little storylines that are just fantastic, and add to the overall mystery. Since the books are spread out over a period of time, you get to see Boots grow up a little bit - both emotionally and mentally. Watching these small victories is really a testament to how far her character comes. She makes me smile every time she's on the page (particularly because I switched to audio for books 2-5, and the narrator did a fantastic job with her voice.) And since Gregor & Co.'s adventure occasionally put them in situations where they're low on food or other supplies, you see how difficult it is to have such a small child along. But you also see how the innocence of a child can help in tough situations.

The Underland Chronicles is a fantastic choice for MG boys. I know that there is a slight "boy problem" (more so in YA than with MG), and this is an excellent choice to combat that. There are giant insects, sword fights, battles, and a ton of mystery. (OMG THE MYSTERY!!! The suspense and drama in this will keep you guessing for sure. Collins does an incredible job weaving the riddles in this story throughout the plot.)

There's also a subtle romance in the books that develops beautifully. I won't give away how it plays out in the end, but it's perfect and uhm awesome and since it's MG it's all done in this very age-appropriate way.

The Underland Chronicles are awesome. There is fighting, loss, heartbreak, love, adventure, mystery, some kooky characters, and an awesome story about finding yourself and learning to accept who you are. In short, an awesome precursor to what we know Collins is capable of thanks to The Hunger Games series.

And, in case you were wondering, the order of the books is:
Gregor the Overlander
Gregor and the Prophecy of the Bane
Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods (probably my favorite, in terms of plot twisty-ness)
Gregor and the Marks of Secret
Gregor and the Code of Claw (an absolutely perfect end for the series)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What to Do When You Find Out Your Book Has Been Written By Someone Else

So last night I was in my weekly writer chat. And in a slight lull in the conversation, I started gushing about how excited I was about my new project, about how I couldn't stop the ideas from coming to me, about how I had notes in my notebook, on my laptop, even in my phone because everywhere I went I was just getting smacked with scenes, dialogue, and whathaveyou.

Everyone said, "That's so great, Heather!" They know I am a freak of nature who likes first drafting more than revising, and since I am thisclose to finishing my current WIP, I am almost ready to start my next book.

Then someone in the group asked, ever-so-innocently, "What's your book about?" I told her, and she said,

"Oh. That sounds like a book SUPER-FAMOUS YA AUTHOR just sold. :("

And she was right. She pulled up the Publisher's Marketplace listing (of which she is a paid member and I only get the lame free emails) and, with the change of a minor detail, it was pretty much my book. The book I'd been sitting on and plotting, letting it simmer and researching for months.


So what's a girl to do? I had playlists started, scenes plotted, even the first 1,000 words written in a frenzy of inspiration I got a few months back. I felt pretty heartbroken.

But this, blog-readers, is why having a support system in place is awesome. Instead of letting me cry my sad tears, she immediately jumped into "Let's solve the problem" mode. Of course, the first thing she said was the writer's old favorite stand-by, "It's OK. Really, how many books with the same basic plot are out there? It's how you write the book, how you make it your own, that matters." She even brought up vampire boarding school novels and vamp romances, of which there are apx. 6 million.

Now, while I totally, 100% agree with this, I was being irrational. So I said, "That's normally true. But this is SUPER-FAMOUS AUTHOR, not no one's ever heard of them author. They're going to sell a MILLION COPIES and no one will buy my book!!!!" (Apparently I have never heard of Stephenie Meyer or any of the people who have managed to sell vampire romance books after her success. Then again, this isn't a genre, this is a pretty specific plot, so...)

So then we moved on to, "How can we salvage this plot?" We talked about new character motivations, other reasons the MC would behave that way, and in the end I have a NEW idea which has the opportunity for an AWESOME TWIST.

Am I still a little hurt over the loss of my original SNI? Yes. But I think this is the best way to deal. And I'm glad I found out now before I actually started writing.

The point is, when you find a book that is so similar to yours that it might as well BE yours, all hope is not lost. You can pick up the pieces. Think of a new plot twist, different motivations, or change a few key elements. Who knows? In the end, it might end up making your story even stronger.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sunday Funday (34)

Happy Sunday everyone! I hope you all had a great weekend. I spent today visiting my sister-in-law (it's her birthday! Or was a few days ago.) and eating the delicious food her boyfriend/life partner makes (OMG curry chickpea salad? YESPLEASEOMNOM) and reading The Sky is Everywhere, which is rocking my FACE OFF with the awesome writing. I don't know whether to laugh or cry thanks to all the awesome, but I do know that you should all read this book like yesterday. I also started packing for SCBWI-LA today, and wondered if five pairs of shoes was too many for a five-day trip. I decided it wasn't. 

Anyway, here are some great links from around the Interwebz this week!

Literary agent Jennifer Laughran asked (via Twitter) for the most common publishing myths, then debunked them in this fantastic blog post.

Hannah Moskowitz asks, "Why don't boys read YA?"

Many bloggers freak out about how many comments they get, analyze their Google analytics, and obsess over their Twitter followers and RTs, and Anne Riley explains why.

Jody Hedlund asks who deserves the title of writer, and who should be called an author?

Slush Pile Hell hosted a Twitter contest to find the worst children's book name. There were over 1,000 entries, and the winners were awesome.

With SCBWI coming up, I thought this post from Writer's Digest, on why writers should attend conferences and how to make the most of them, was especially timely.

Steph Bowe explained why real, living boys should never be compared to Edward Cullen.

Wondering how to write really, really, really bad fiction? Holly Lisle has you covered with her guide to writing suckitudinous fiction.

Have a great week everyone!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Vlog! What to Bring to a Writer's Conference

Hey! I made another vlog! It's a little on the long side (7 minutes!) because I ramble sometimes (though I cut a lot of the rambling out). And even though I'm wearing makeup this time it apparently wasn't enough because man those dark circles are kicking. But I think there's some good advice in there (and I added some amusing comments for those of you nice enough to actually watch the video and not surf the Internet while just listening...but frankly if you do either I think it's sweet.) Plus you get to see some of my wardrobe! So that's awesome. Anyway, here it is! (Links below are either mentioned in the video or just good general advice).

Links mentioned in the vlog:
My post on the importance of having a pitch, which includes links to other great posts (written by agents, authors, etc.)

Inexpensive business cards: (May I suggest springing for the premium designs, otherwise you get a very non-professional logo on the back of your cards. If you sign up for their emails they will send you coupons often, including ones for free premium cards.)

Out of Print Clothing

Good advice:
Frankie's post on packing for a writer's weekend
Rachelle Gardner asks if you should even go to a writer's conference
Hey! WriteOnCon is FREE! And online so you can do it in your PJs and don't need business cards or need to travel :)

And since I forgot to ask in the vlog, feel free to share your tips and tricks in the comments!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Book-Crush Wednesday (1)

I'm starting a new feature on my blog! I know, I know, you're dying with excitement.

I think one of the most important things a writer can do to become better is read. Read any and everything they can get their hands on. They should especially read good books. That's where this feature comes in.

Often, I read a great book, but I don't have a space to talk about it. I might mention it on Twitter, or casually say I read a great book in my Sunday Funday post. Or, once in awhile, I might find something the book is a great example of, and highlight the book by talking about that aspect of writing - I did that after I read Hex Hall and discussed the importance of using an authentic teen voice.

But sometimes I just want to talk about a great book. And from now on, that's what I'll use Wednesdays for. I know Wednesdays are "Waiting on Wednesday" in the book blogging world, but I will only be highlighting books I've read and loved, and want to share with you. Because books are amazing, and the truly great ones make me want to be a better writer.

I'll be focusing on kidlit books - everything from chapter books right up through MG and YA - but it's possible that the occasional adult book might pop in. I can't be sure. It might happen. I'm not making any promises.

OK, down to business...or the fun stuff :)

My first book-crush is on a picture book! I started reading picture books in preparation for my master's program in creative writing, and let me tell you, they are awesome. While I was looking through the PB section in Borders the other day, a particular book cover caught my eye. The book wasn't on my list of 100 picture books, but something about the book spoke to me, so I pulled it off the shelf to read anyway. And I am so, so glad I did.

The book was The Pigeon Wants a Puppy by Mo Willems, and from the very first page I was totally sucked in. I couldn't take the smile off my face. The book is about a pigeon who wants a puppy, has dreamt of having one his whole life. He tries to convince you that it's the best thing for him, but what happens when he gets his wish? Hilarity.

I loved the book so much that I went back to the display and saw that there was a whole series of pigeon books - including a Caldecott for Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! There's The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog and Don't Let The Pigeon Stay Up Late! and The Pigeon Has Feelings, Too! I enjoyed each book as much as I enjoyed the first, and in those few minutes spent reading the picture books, I became an instant Mo Willems fan. (And I knew what I would be getting for my brother, who is expecting his first son in a few months.)

The pigeon is sassy and fun and temperamental, but in the end he always does the right thing. He dreams big and is funny and tries to get his way. I love him.

And the artwork! It's deceptively simple. Don't let the thick black lines and clean background fool you - the emotion Willems puts into the drawings is incredible. Even if you took the words out of the books, I think it would still be perfectly clear exactly what the pigeon was trying to say. Take a look at this artwork from Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! and you'll see exactly what I mean:
That conspiratorial whisper in the second panel, the pouting eyes in panel 5, the pleading look in the seventh picture - it's so simple and yet so effective. It communicates clearly to children and yet fills people like me, a 25-year-old childless woman, with joy.

So if you know any children, or even if you don't, I definitely suggest looking into the pigeon books. And the best part of all? The Pigeon is on Twitter. I mean, come on. All the cool kids are on Twitter, so the pigeon must be cool.

Monday, July 19, 2010

I'm a Bad Writer.

Sometimes, I feel like my book is terrible. I read it and I think everyone will HATE it and I will NEVER be successful and I may as well throw myself off a CLIFF because all of my hopes and dreams are being DESTROYED AS I SIT HERE in my gray cubicle in this ADORABLE NEW SKIRT THAT WAS ONLY $5. (Oh actually there was no reason to yell about that one. $5 for a skirt is a really great deal.)

I think everyone struggles with these feelings at one point or another. Everyone gets to that weak spot in their manuscript, or reads a particularly awesome book and thinks, "What I wrote will never, ever be this good. EVER."

What's a writer to do? Here are a few of my favorite options:
  • Whine. You probably have a few writer friends, or perhaps a few supportive IRL friends. So...try a little complaining. It's not very effective at solving your problem, but boy does it feel good! And if you don't have any friends (Aw...) join Twitter! Then the whole Internet can listen to you complain.
  • Read your favorite scene in the whole book. If you want to be productive, make it a line edit. Remind yourself of your best writing, and the things you are capable of doing - those scenes that make you say, "Wow. I wrote that?" Then, you can jump back into your revisions revised and ready to go. 
  • Take a break. Eat some chocolate. Exercise. Just get out of your head for a minute. Sometimes you just need to quiet the mean, critical voice.
  • Revisit past accomplishments. Think about the biggest thing you've achieved so far in your writing career. Maybe it was getting into a difficult writing workshop, or landing an agent. Maybe it was just a really nice blog comment on a blogfest entry or even on a regular entry. Maybe you got an A++ and a gold star on your third-grade spelling test. (Impressive! I once got a 100%, but misspelled my name. #HeatherWIN.) Whatever it is, revisit a past accomplishment. Remind yourself that you are AWESOME and you CAN do it. My accomplishment is reading my VCFA acceptance letter, because I honestly never thought I would see that white envelope come in the mail with my name on it.
  • Edit until the bad writing is GONE. When none of these things work and you still feel like your book is bad, there's only one thing to do...make it better.
I can't lie and say that this banishes all my doubts. I still have them. I still worry if I'm a total failure, if my acceptance into VCFA was an admissions fluke and they're just too embarrassed to admit it, if everyone who's ever read anything I've written is lying through their teeth with any compliment they give. But you have to push those fears aside. Because living in doubt won't get you anywhere.

And now, blog readers, a question...What do you do when you feel so much doubt about your writing abilities that you want to set yourself on fire just a little bit (or maybe just eat an entire gallon of ice cream)?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sunday Funday! (33)

Happy Sunday Funday! It's late, and I spent all day reading MATCHED by Ally Condie, which was graciously sent on an ARC tour through my writing group by the lovely Shana Silver. Now I know that I previously mentioned not reading any dystopians until I finished my WIP (which is a dystopian), but after getting approval from a crit partner that Matched would not send me into hysterical fits of crying thanks to similarities to my own book, I was approved to participate in the tour (because I can't pass up a chance at an ARC.)  I'm so glad I read this book because it was awesome. Seriously. It reaffirmed my love for dystopian novels and made me want to write a better book so that I can do the genre justice. Thanks, Ally Condie.  And blog readers, please, please buy this book, get it from your library, or borrow it from a friend when it comes out on November 30. That's all.

ANYway...on to the links! Here are some of my favorite links from around the interwebz this week! 

OK, so you landed the what? Debra Schubert from Write on Target reminds writers that landing an agent is absolutely not the last step in the novel-writing process - in fact it's just the beginning.

Are you using a pen name? Here are some things you might want to consider - including when to tell your agent - courtesy of Getting Past the Gatekeeper.

Are you a young writer? Please read this excellent advice.

OMG! It's Eclipse! In 15 minutes! Woot!

My friend Julie shared this awesome(ly hilarious) page of things bookstore employees have overheard while on the job. (My favorite? "I'm looking for a book but I only know the title, not the author. It's called 'Dante's Inferno.'")

Holly Bodger posted some great advice on plot lines and how to know if you have too many.

Rachelle Gardener invited readers to finish the sentence "You might be a writer/agent/publisher if..." In the comments, hilarity ensued. 

From Got YA...I'm sure you've gotten one of these faces before when you told someone you write YA. (I'm pretty sure I got No. 2 from my brother, followed by a discussion of how I intended to use YA to get published and then springboard into "real" writing. No, brother. I love you and respect you and your law degree, but I like writing about prom and boyfriends and kissing. Especially kissing.)

Have a great week everyone!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

This Post Has Nothing to Do With Writing.

My mailbox is a breeding ground for spiders.

A month or maybe two months ago, I opened my mailbox, even though I knew it was probably empty, only to find that it wasn't empty at all. It was FULL. OF A GIANT SPIDER!!!!!!!!!!

(OK, in reality the spider wasn't actually giant. Its body was maybe the size of my thumbnail. But that's GIANT to me.)

I cried. I pouted. I screamed. The spider stayed where it was. I slammed the mailbox shut and vowed never to get the mail again, even though getting mail* is probably my favorite part of the entire day.** When hubs came home, I told him what had happened and he agreed to spray the mailbox. When he came back, I asked if he had seen the spider.

"No. It was hiding."
"Heather, I put half a can of bug spray inside that mailbox. If anything manages to live inside of it, especially what I'm sure is the world's smallest spider***, I will be incredibly impressed."

So I took his word for it. I waited what I thought was an appropriate amount of time for that little jerk to suffocate on the bug fumes, and about two weeks later I started collecting the mail again.

All was well.

Until today.

I'll admit it's my own fault.

A few days ago I noticed that a thread-like white substance had appeared inside my mailbox. I ignored it. It was in the back, and I pretended it was innocent. Perhaps bits of clouds had floated inside. Or dental floss. Maybe all those socks that had gone missing over the years had unraveled and made their way to my mailbox. Regardless, I pretended like it wasn't a problem, as the amount of puffy white material grew more and more abundant as the days went on.

Then today I went home for lunch. I knew I had season 2 of True Blood waiting for me via Netflix, so I was excited to settle down with a salad and a DVD. I opened up my mailbox and pulled out a small stack of red envelopes, followed by a mass of mailers promoting crap I don't need. The mailers flew out of my hand when a passing UPS truck drove by, and the papers fluttered to the ground. Not being one to litter, I bent down to pick them up.

They were in my hand when I saw a BIG BROWN THING within their depths. OH NOES!!! A SPIDER!!!!!! THAT WHITE STUFF WAS A WEB!!! I WAS SO NAIVE!!! AND NOW THE SPIDER IS IN MY HAND!!!

But it wasn't a spider at all. It was just a clump of dirt or something, stuck to the mailers. *phew* Crisis averted.

I recycled the mailers and flipped through the DVDs, curious to see what SUPER lame movie the hubs had chosen this time****, and THEN!!! WHAT DO YOU THINK HAPPENED, READERS??? (I'm sorry to yell but this was very upsetting.)

A SPIDER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! FOR REAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! IN MY HAND!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! CRISIS NOT ACTUALLY AVERTED AT ALL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


A screech (heard 'round the neighborhood) and several vigorous shakes of the DVDs and the little guy was scurrying away on the hot cement, as I contemplated squishing his body with toe of high heels. But...I really like these shoes. And once he was on the ground and not IN MY EFFING HAND YOU CREEPSTER he didn't look all that bad. And he was nowhere near my mailbox (things are a lot farther away when you're only two centimeters wide.)

When hubs came home, I told him he needed to either spray the mailbox every week or ask Terminex to add "mailbox spraying" to our invoice, because I like getting the mail too much to skip it.

So that's my spider story. Hope you enjoyed it, and obviously I did it without including a single picture of a spider, because I am not an evil person (unlike some people who maybe talk about were-spiders on Twitter and scare their followers *coughShannonMessengercough*)

If you enjoyed this story, you will like Allie Brosh's spider story about 6,000 times more, because she is way, way funnier than me, plus hers has drawings.

*Email included, but that's inside my MacBook or my Blackberry, not outside where there are spiders.
**Unless it's bills or junk mail, which I pretty much think is the same thing.
***He hadn't actually seen the spider, he just knows me very well.
****Recent choices include Midgets vs. Mascots, Steam boy, and pretty much any lame cartoon movie of a Marvel comic-book. Also the Hercules TV show. Yeah. Really. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

So, What's Your Book About? (Or, Why You Need a PITCH)

On Saturday night I was chatting with a friend about my book. (THAT'S RIGHT NICOLE, I'M MENTIONING YOU AGAIN! Twice in a row, aren't you lucky!) This friend is not a writer, an agent, an editor, or anything like that. She's a part-time bartender and (way, way more importantly) MLS student who also works at the library (and is loving her time in the children's/teen's section, much to my enjoyment.) So I have to admit I was totally blindsided when she asked me, ever-so-innocently,

"So tell me what your book is about!"

OK, I thought. I can handle this. I have a pitch written. I actually have a great logline that I crafted with the help of my writing group! So I took a deep breath, got the first eight or so words out, then promptly lost my train of thought.

Apparently, those pitches are no good whatsoever unless you actually, uhm, remember them.

Fortunately, my friend is awesome. More importantly than that, she gets books. And she loves them. She let me start over again, and stumble here and there, until I hit my stride. Then she told me it sounded really interesting, and I could have squeezed her, because I don't think people realize how hard it is sometimes for writers to explain their concepts to others.

But the point of this story is this: You need to have a pitch/logline ready ALL.THE.TIME. Because you won't just be asked what your book is about by agents and editors. You might never go to a writing conference in your life (why not? Can't afford it?? Go to WriteOnCon! It's free and online!). But as long as you are writing a book, you will always have people asking you what your book is about. Maybe people will ask you while you're on the subway, or at work, or while you're sitting next to a stranger on an airplane. And if you can't answer them in 20 seconds or less, you'll probably lose them.

Not sure how to craft a great one-sentence pitch? Here are some awesome resources to get you started (though the thing that helped me most was brainstorming with writer friends, so if you have some of those, turn to them! And if you don't....well, I'm a writer, and I'd like to be your friend! Feel free to email me :) )
And REMEMBER!!! Once you create the sure to remember it. That's kind of maybe a little bit slightly important.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sunday Funday! (32)

Happy Sunday everyone! Here are some great links from around the Web this week (and maybe some from last week too):

Need a reminder to keep writing, even when you feel like giving up because your writer neuroses are getting the best of you? Grab this poster from etsy seller KeepCalmShop and remember to KEEP CALM and WRITE ON. (Also available in READ ON and several other sizes and designs.)

Maggie Stiefvater talks about the odds of getting published, in a post that is both incredibly inspiring and informative.

Have you visited the Forever Young Adult blog? I heart it. They wrote what is pretty much the only review of the Eclipse movie you will ever need to read in your entire life. They also developed the Eclipse drinking game, which is fabulous and amazing and makes me want to head to the theater immediately with some beverages stowed in my purse. (Note: SeeHeatherWrite does not condone underage drinking for those readers under 21, nor does it condone drinking illegally in movie theaters, especially if you do it loudly and get caught.) See also: the New Moon drinking game and the Twilight drinking game.

Speaking of Eclipse...OK, so I saved this link at the beginning of the week to post here, because it is SO hilarious. And then it showed up on Janet Reid's blog, so now everyone and their mom has seen it, obvs. But I don't care, it's still hilarious, and I'm sharing it with you anyway, on the off chance that someone out there hasn't seen this via Twitter, Facebook, or Janet Reid.

(See also: New Moon with Cats and Twilight with Cats, though neither is nearly as funny.) 

Last week, my friend Nicole suggested I start a blog. She didn't know I had one already, so I gave her this address and maybe she's even reading this right now. (Hi, Nicole!) I told her it was a writing blog, and she thought that was great. Then she said I should have a fashion blog. Which made me LOL. Because I am so NOT fashionable. But, as it turns out, some writers actually are fashionable. And they blog about it. 

Emilia Plater (OMGSHE'SSOADORABLE) talks about the three possible reactions you might get from people when you tell them you're writing a novel.

OK, so you submitted your manuscript to an agent, but then - for one reason or another - made some revisions to it. How do you handle re-submitting to the agent with those changes? The Agency Gatekeeper has the answers, complete with a great example.

Presenting Lenore announces the coming of Dystopian August! Woot!

Do you think aspiring writers should have book review blogs? The question was tackled on Twitter a few weeks ago, and the YA Addict continues the discussion on her blog.

And finally, the fabulous Lauren Oliver discusses how to stick with writing when you get that great idea.

Have a great week everyone!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Look Around and Smell Those Daisies! Writing Using the Senses

Oh, hai. I know it seems like I've forgotten you. But I haven't. I've just been super busy getting ready for SCBWI (!!!) in a few weeks (!!!!!) that I haven't had quite the usual amount of time to dedicate to blogging. But I really heart you guys, so I'm resolving to change that.

In between frantic rewrites, Zumba and spinning classes to sharpen my mind (the jury is still out on the "Does exercising more help Heather concentrate?" experiment. I think I might prefer a nap but I lost 2 lbs so...yay.), and wondering what I'm going to wear every day of the conference, I've been reading Connie Epstein's The Art of Writing for Children. This was on my list of recommended reading from the VCFA faculty, so naturally I wanted to read it before January (I am clearly an overachiever.) So far, the book seems to provide a nice overview of writing for children (picture books to YA), and gives good examples when pointing out how to look at things from a child's point of view. (The example so far are mostly from MG or chapter books, so if you're considering this read but you want something geared more toward YA, this might not be the book for you.)

The second chapter, which has so far been my favorite, was about using the five senses in writing. Epstein stresses the importance of childhood as a time of discovery, when everything seems a bit larger-than-life. So while the adult author might not notice certain details about an experience, the child/teen protagonist definitely will. In order to make your prose stronger, the best thing you can do is use as many senses as possible to describe the experience - particularly if it's something the character is dealing with for the first time, or has a strong emotional reaction to. She pointed out that one strong, well-chosen word or phrase can do a lot more than a long paragraph of specific details. She also notes that it's important to do all of these things to set a certain mood, and not fill your book up with details just for the fun of it.

This chapter really got me thinking about how I use senses in my writing. I think I use them pretty well. For example, there is one scene in my WIP where my MC is tasting fruit, and that was one of my favorite scenes to write - I remember closing my eyes and imagining every detail of the experience of eating fruit, then trying to find just the right words to describe it without going overboard. It took a few revisions, but in the end I think it came out great. Thinking about my own experience of something helped me describe how my character would react.

But I also tried to think of some of the weaknesses in my sensory descriptions. I think perhaps sometimes I go for the easy/obvious description, and don't read out and try to think of the not-so-obvious way to describe something. I want to start incorporating that more, and I think it will bring some unique perspective to my writing.

And now, a writing exercise! (I know, I'm like Shannon Messenger over here, giving you assignments.) Write a scene where you have to describe something, but don't use the obvious choice in sensory detail to describe it. For example, your character gets caught in a rainstorm, and instead of describing the way the rain smells or sounds or feels, maybe she opens her mouth and tastes it. Make sure the descriptions serve a purpose in the scene, and try to draw on your own experience, when possible.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

To quote my Wise and Sage friend Jessica...

"Writing a novel is hard."

That is all.

(Except for this plug for Jessica's YA book review blog, which you should definitely visit, because it is awesome.)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Revisions and Reading Aloud

A few nights ago, my husband had a stomachache. He always prides himself on being someone who "never gets sick," and mocks me endlessly whenever I get sick. But as he was getting ready for bed, he started getting queasy, and a few minutes later he was curled up in a little ball on our bed, practically crying. This makes me giggle a little because he's a third-degree black belt, and he's so pathetic when he's sick that he turns from this guy:

Into this guy:

So hubs is there, curled up and whining, and I offered to rub his back and read him a story. I had a ton of picture books at the time since I've been reading them for VCFA. But since I was trying to put him to sleep, I knew I needed to keep it dark in the room. So, for the first time ever, I pulled out my MacBook and read hubs the first chapter of my WIP.

I have to say there is nothing that will bring out the flaws in your manuscript than reading it aloud. Suddenly, all those repeated words, adverbs, and awkward phrases will jump out when you're actually saying the words. Since I was reading the story to someone else and wanted him to actually enjoy it, I had to prevent myself from stopping mid-sentence and editing out the words I thought didn't work. It was SO hard! As a writer, whenever you realize that something isn't working, you want to fix it as soon as possible. But I held back, though I vowed to read the chapter aloud to myself again at another time. I'd heard of people doing this before, but I'd never done it myself.

In the end, hubs enjoyed the chapter. His stomachache was gone in the morning. And I came up with an excellent way of revising my WIP. So if you've never read your MS aloud to yourself, I definitely recommend you include that as part of your revising process. I thought my first chapter was more or less done - but reading it aloud helped me find those last few places that were especially weak. I read the chapter aloud to myself last night and let myself stop to mark the things that needed to be fixed. The words flow much more naturally, and I think, finally, chapter one is done. Hopefully the rest of the book will be done by the end of the month (eek!). The very last thing I'll do before I consider the book completely finished will be read it aloud, start to finish, without stopping.
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