Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Famous People Get Rejected, Too!

I'm inching closer to querying (but it's still off in the distance, not even close enough for me to grab...yet.), which of course makes me think about rejection.


What an ugly word.

We writers like to soothe ourselves by saying the usual things:

"My manuscript isn't for everyone."
"Just because this agent rejected it doesn't mean that one will!"
"I didn't really want to work with that agent anyway!" *sticks tongue out*
"Everyone gets rejected! Even the really, really, really famous authors!"

Fortunately for our sanity, that last statement is actually true! For awhile now, I've been collecting information about the rejection stats of some famous writers. Read them and feel slightly better about yourself. For today, anyway.
  • The original title of Catch-22 was Catch-18, but Simon and Schuster planned to publish it during the same season that Doubleday was bringing out Mila 18 by Leon Uris. Doubleday complained, and Joseph Heller changed the title. Why did he choose 22? Because Simon and Schuster was the 22nd publisher to read the manuscript. Catch-22 has sold more than 10 million copies, and the title phrase is now a part of the English language.
  • Stephen King received many, many rejections in his lifetime, including dozens for his first novel, Carrie (as you know if you've read On Writing, which you should). He used to keep them piled on a nail in his bedroom. King was told, about Carrie, "We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell." (HA! Can you imagine someone saying this today. Yeah. Right.)
  • John Grisham's first novel, A Time to Kill, was rejected by 30 agents and 15 publishers.
  • Judy Blume says she received nothing but rejections for two years straight before finally becoming a published author. 
  • Dr. Seuss's first book was rejected 24 times.
  • Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time received more than 30 rejections.
  • The first Chicken Soup for the Soul title received 33 "nos" before it finally got a yes. 
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was rejected by 14 publishers. Bloomsbury, a small London publisher, only took it on at the request of the CEO’s eight-year old daughter, who begged her father to print the book. 
  • So many publishers rejected The Tale of Peter Rabbit that Beatrix Potter published it herself.
  • Thirty-eight publishers rejected Gone With the Wind before it finally sold, went on to win the Pulitzer, and was adapted into an Academy Award winning movie.
  • The classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig was rejected 121 times. It went on to sell 4 million copies.
So the next time you get a rejection (or are prematurely and irrationally worried about one, like me) just remember - you're not the only one.

Published or soon-to-be published authors that happen to stumble over here, feel free to add your stats, if you want to discuss them, in the comments, and I can add them to the post! Or if you happen to know the stat of a famous author I left out.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sunday Funday (38)

Happy Sunday! Every Sunday, I feature some helpful links from around the blogging world/Internet. We have a lot of links this week, so I could ramble a bit like I usually do, but I think it would be better to just get down to it! Here are some of the best links I found this week. (Feel free to add your own in the comments!)

So you all might know my friend Jessica Love. She describes herself as tall, blond, and pretty sarcastic. All of which are totally accurate. She is also awesome. Here is a picture of Jessica and I at SCBWI-LA.

If you met me there, chances are good that you met her, too, because we were doing the "stick together like clueless noobs" routine.  Well Jessica started a writing blog, which is awesome because now in addition to stalking her on Twitter, sending her 12 emails a day, and reading her fabulous YA review blog, I can now also read her writing blog. And you should too.

Amna from Girl in Between is working on a collaborative project about WHY WE WRITE. She is awesome and has entertained me on multiple occasions. So you should help her out. 

Wondering how to start a novel? Maggie Stiefvater shares her 7 Super Sekrit Steps. (OK, they're not really secret, but I thought that sounded fun.)

Kate Hart, in a follow-up to her awesome agent story, talks about some of the things you should ask an agent.

Writer Ian Hocking discloses why, after years of working with his agent and sending multiple novels out on sub, he's decided to retire from writing. (Not really an inspiring post, but certainly enlightening.)

Literary agent Mary Kole, who runs the awesome blog KidLit, talks about mature/sarcastic/snarky voice in YA - and when not to use it.

Speaking of KidLit...ever wonder about Slush Pile fatigue? Do agents just pull out some queries because the other queries around them suck so much that the queries they pulled are better by comparison? Find out here.

Your minor characters are just as important as your major characters, but sometimes - especially in the first draft - they fall flat. Wondering how to make your minor characters shine? Check out these 5 steps to creating dazzling minor characters, from WordPlay.

Working on your final polish and seeing a lot of the same words? How about taking a look at this list of synonyms for commonly used words and seeing if you can replace a few of those repeats. 

There are two great posts on writer envy this week. One, from author Steph Bowe, (in a truly beautiful post) talks about how she doesn't really understand the envy. Another, a guest post over at Pimp My Novel, discusses how writer-envy is normal, and how even though we help each other we can all only go through the gate one at a time. Hm...

Having some plot troubles? Janice Hardy helps you figure them out by asking a few simple questions.

It might seem like, in the grand scheme of your huge novel, one sentence doesn't make a difference. But YA Highway sees it otherwise. (And it seems like these sentence strengthening posts are going to be a series, so, yay!) 

And finally...an epic contest from Emilia Plater! She's giving away critiques from agents, signed books, candy, and more! Check it out here. Or don't. Because I really want to win this one. So I think no one else should enter and that will just make me the winner. Done and done.

Hope everyone has a great week!

Can you believe how early in the day I posted this week? Get this - I actually scheduled this post in advance! It's a Sunday Funday miracle!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Is the #Queries Tag Really Good?

OK, so I've had this post in my "drafts" for a month and a half now, but when I saw Nathan Bransford post a similar question on his blog the other day, I decided it was time to let my thoughts on the topic out. Of course, since he beat me to it it looks like I'm copying him. Or maybe it's more timely now? Whatever.

Imagine this: You've started querying agents, and, like the diligent social networking guru you are, you start paying attention to the agents you're querying on Twitter like a hawk (which you were probably doing before you queried, but now that you've queried you really upped your game), and then you notice something that makes you stop in your tracks.

DreamAgent007: Next up: Great query! It's a mermaid-unicorn retelling of Hamlet! Just what I'm looking for. #queries

You get excited. You know that's YOUR query. How many other mermaid-unicorn Hamlet retellings can there be out there, and the timing is just about right. Your palms get sweaty. This could be it. Your BIG BREAK. Until you read the agent's next tweet:

DreamAgent007: Ugh. Remember that Hamlet mermaid-unicorn query I was excited about? The pages sucked. Pass. #queries

Can you imagine finding out your dream agent rejected you...over Twitter?

OK, I'll admit that example was WAY more specific than #queries (usually) gets. But I think the question is worth asking (and this is a different question than Nathan Bransford asked, which was really about 100% snarky websites, so I'm cool with it): is it fair to post any specific information about a query when the author doesn't know it could happen?

Writers are sensitive people. We are delicate flowers who often go a little bit crazy. We maybe think that word counts over 250,000 are justifiable, or that our not-so-original idea is actually WAY original.

OK, yes. The publishing industry is tough. And we need to get thicker skins. It's true. I'm not denying it. But is the best way to make that happen for us to be blind-sided on Twitter? (Particularly when some of the people doing #queries are interns who don't say where they intern, so there's not even a way to avoid showing up on that feed at all costs?) Yeah, it's true that no one else will know that the tweet was about you. But YOU will know.

Furthermore, writers are encouraged not to post anything about their rejection stats on their blogs or Twitter accounts. It's tacky, we're told (and I 100% agree. I'm sure I'll be ranting about this later.) And yet it's totally OK for someone in the industry to say, "I'm rejecting this query!" and give a little tidbit of what the book is about? It's totally possible - even likely - that no one else is paying attention, and that the tweet won't affect anything. But it's also possible - though much less likely - that someone else will see that and think, "OK, have to remember that DreamAgent007 hated that Hamlet mermaid thing. Don't even bother with the pages even if I like the query." Is that terribly likely? No. Is it possible? Yes. And that's what troubles me.

And here's the worst thing of all: the people who actually need to see the things that are being posted in the #queries tag probably aren't following the tag. Because if they were, they wouldn't have made those mistakes in the first place. If they were following the hashtag, they would how to properly format a query, or that addressing a letter to "Dear Agent" isn't OK, or that they probably should have had a few beta readers look over their work to make sure it was halfway decent before they started querying. So even though the idea behind #queries is good, and the people doing it really honestly do want to help (and I know they do, trust me - every person I've ever seen tweet a #queries tweet has the best intentions, I cannot stress that enough), I don't think they're reaching the people who would benefit most from the specific information they're giving out.

So, how can we improve the #queries tag? Let's not talk about personal queries anymore. I don't care if it's as simple as a word count or as complicated as a story premise. (Though it's really the story premise ones that kill me - many writers I know guard their premises with their lives.) Instead, let's open a dialogue. Invite writers to ask questions, like in #askagent, but only about queries. (QueryChat is great for this, but it's only been every other Wednesday night or so so far, so if you can't make that time period you're sort of out of luck.) Or instead amass a list of tips that will help writers, but don't attribute them to a specific query.

Yes, it's true that a bad example helps the point stick. But good advice sticks, too. Here are some tweets from the #queries hashtag that I think serve the purpose well, give a great piece of advice, but don't point out a specific query or writer.

@LauraKreitzer FYI: Don't resubmit a query letter or manuscript within a WEEK. That's insane. Give it at least 6 months with major editing. #queries
(Was this probably in response to something that really happened? Yes. But I feel OK about it because it isn't presented that way.)

@WeronikaJanczuk I've been reading #queries for a while and two partial requests so far! That's a lot for one day.

@CA_Marshall @jenduffey @authorjdbrown Format it as plain text, most query reading programs strip formatting. #queries (This was in response to a question about how to format the materials when asked to C&P everything into the body of the email. Great, helpful advice and a perfect example of what I think #queries should be about.)

OK, but here's what I want. I really do want to know what you think. I will admit I follow the #queries hashtag (and recently #queryslam), and do like reading what people have to say, and even seeing what gets rejected and what makes it through. So I'm totally a hypocrite. And I respect the agents and interns who work on the queries because man...that's a lot of work. BUT the thought that I could be querying and see something that makes it obvious that the query they're talking about is mine, then see PASS, and know that all of Twitter is thinking, "Yeah. That stupid writer should have known better and her book sounds LAME." kills me inside, and makes me wonder if it's really the right thing to do, since I didn't sign up to have hundreds, possibly thousands of writers on Twitter reading about my business. And that's what I think about.

Thoughts, readers?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Teenagers are More Successful Than Me

Let's talk about motivated teenagers.

When I was in high school, I thought I was a motivated teen.

I was president of the National Honor Society, vice president of the drama club, captain of the academic team, secretary of Youth in Government, and had a GPA higher than 4.0.

Apparently, being motivated = being a total dork.

I also watched a lot of TV, goofed off on the Internet (which was BRAND-NEW and SHINY and also slow because it was dial-up...ah, the bad old days...), played hours upon hours of Harvest Moon and Zelda on my N64, and cruised around Clearwater in Dave Mink's '88 Ford Whatever. (My memory isn't that good. This was like 10 years ago.)

Sometimes, when I look back at all those hours wasted goofing off, napping, doing nothing, I think, "You know, I could have gotten a head start on this whole novel-writing thing and been awesome and successful by now!" Then I remember the crap my 19-year-old self wrote and I want to smack myself upside the head with a blunt instrument, because no one, not even my blog readers, should be subjected to that (unless it's for entertainment, and snarky comments are included.)

I think it's better that I waited until I was an (im)mature adult before I started taking my writing seriously. Fortunately for the universe, book publishing, and current teenagers, not all teenagers suck as bad as I did. In fact, some of them are actually talented.

Last week, I read The DUFF by Kody Keplinger. The book has a frank discussion of sex, one that I think teens will relate really well to and appreciate (and will probably make adults across the country call for the book to be thrown out of homes and libraries alike). And the voice is dead-on and honest. I think this is one thing that teen authors have that adults authors don't. When I attended SCBWI-LA, many of the workshop sessions suggested interviewing teenagers to get a good hold on voice or emotions. Teen authors can totally bypass that step because, well, they are teens. They have that voice and emotion, and their friends talk to them constantly about their own feelings (or don't, and hey, that's a relevant character trait, too.) They don't have to visit high school because they're in high school. In fact, many of the authors below admit that events in their high schools inspired the works that eventually got them published.

Here are some examples of some of those talented writers who just happened to have been in high school when they published their first books:

The aforementioned Kody Keplinger, who wrote The DUFF when she was a senior in high school.

Steph Bowe, who landed super agent Ginger Clark at the age of 15.

Though he's older than me, Christopher Paolini penned the first book in the Inheritance Cycle - Eragon - when he was just 15. (I will note that he might be a bad example, because the book was first published by his parent's company. However, when Carl Hiaasen's stepson found the book and loved it, Hiaasen brought the book to Knopf and Eragon saw its second print run before Paolini's 19th birthday. So, still a success story, just not by the traditional formula.)   

Hannah Moskowitz, who has a fantastic blog and published Break when she was 18 or so. What's more, she's got three more books coming out: Invincible Summer (April 2011), The Animals Were Gone (Spring 2012), and the MG Zombie Tag (Fall 2011).

And I have to include S.E. Hinton. Even though she's not a teen anymore, her classic The Outsiders is taught in schools, and well-known by even people who don't read a lot. And she was 17 when she started writing it.

OK, but here's the thing - even though these writers are younger in age (except for Hinton, obvs), I don't think any of them are short on talent. I'm sure some of them don't appreciate having their age pointed out at every turn (in fact, I know one in particular is looking forward to leaving her teens behind so she can just be an author-author instead of a teen-author), but I don't think the fact that these individuals were published when they were teen-aged means that they wouldn't have been published had they been middle-aged. Many of them probably didn't even mention their age in their query letters, which was probably smart - let the writing speak for itself.

I have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for these young go-getters. Justine Larbelastier posited that anything younger than 30 was still very young to be a published author. So I guess I still have four years and four months to prove that I'm not a total slacker.

As for authors who are teen-aged? Well, I guess they're just getting a head start.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Happy Mockingjay Day!

Woohoo! It's here! It's here!

It's a day that's been on my calendar for so long that I marked it in pencil, knowing that the publishing world is often fickle (read: hoping they would move the date up), and all it says is "3rd HG release!" because the title wasn't even announced yet! And now it's here and I'm super pumped!!!

I have a pre-ordered copy coming my way, courtesy of one Ms. Frankie Diane Mallis, but I have no idea if it will get here today or tomorrow or next week sometime. I'm giving it until I get home from work, since I can't really read until then anyway, then I'm caving and buying a copy. I figure I can donate the extra copy to orphaned children or my teacher-friend's classroom or the library or host a giveaway or something. I'll find a place for it. Because I think the world could use a little more Mockingjay.

HEY! Speaking of MORE MOCKINGJAY! Have you seen this video of Suzanne Collins reading from the first chapter?


Happy reading everyone! (And if you're not reading Mockingjay I assume it's because your eyes have been ripped out of your head by mutations. You should really get that fixed so you can read the series. Like, yesterday. You can thank me when you're done.)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Suggested Activities for the Waiting Period

Many of us have been there. You've finished your latest round of revisions (for me, it's round five...maybe six? Possibly seven? Who can keep track anymore.) and have fired off emails to some readers to get that all-important feedback. Is your WIP awesome? Does it suck? Does it make any sense AT ALL? Will you have to rewrite that make-out scene YET AGAIN? (Are you intentionally failing miserably at writing it in the first place because you love writing make-out scenes so much? Hm...)

Of course, your readers have lives (stupid them) and they won't be able to get back to you overnight. I mean, sure, it should be quick and painless to provide feedback on a 60,000 word document, but not everyone has perfected the art of speed reading. So while you sit on tenderhooks waiting for the feedback so you can dive back into revisions, here are some activities you can participate in that might be more enjoyable then waiting for those crit comments (I also believe these activities will work well when you're waiting to hear back about MS requests from agents.)
  1. Deep-sea fishing. OK, so you don't know anything about fishing. And you get a little bit seasick. But there's no email in the ocean, so it will prevent you from obsessively checking your email while you wait for those all-important comments. Also, you might just catch dinner! And then you can cook it! Deboning fish is hard and messy, cooking it can be time consuming if you want it to be, and eating it is yummy. Sounds like a great, time-wasting way to spend an evening!
  2. Ostrich riding. Apparently, this is a real activity. One which you must train for vigorously, then fly to Africa to compete in. Sounds like the perfect time-killer to me!
  3.  Wallow in self-doubt and loathing. This seems to be the perfect activity of choice for writers (and, indeed, any artist) waiting to get feedback or news of any kind. Sister activities include binge drinking, not bathing, not eating (see also: binge eating), and collapsing in on oneself like a dying star. 
  4. Start a Twitter account dedicated to Bieber. Because there aren't enough of them already, and because paying him his due homage will obviously take up all of your time.
  5. Bungee jumping and/or sky-diving. While neither of these activities will last longer than an afternoon, they're both moderately dangerous and may even result in injury that could lay you up for a few weeks - just enough time to get the feedback you've been waiting for. Will you take the risk?
OK, chances are good that you might not be interested in those activities. So you might opt to just do some CP reading of your own, read a book (For example, it's really convenient if you time the sending of your WIP with the most highly anticipated book release since Deathly Hallows....yeah, I didn't get into Twilight until after Breaking Dawn came out, and I'm kind of glad because I would have been disappointed by that conclusion.), or watch Veronica Mars. But really, are any of those as exciting/awesome as riding an ostrich?

I think not.

Alright, I admit this post was kind of silly/pointless. But no one's really reading it anyway, and my mind is so NOT on the blog today. We're all too consumed with MOCKINGJAY FEVER that we can hardly stand it. THE ANTICIPATION, PEOPLE. IT KILLS.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sunday Funday (37)

Happy Sunday!! It's been a busy week at the Trese household. I've been revising a TON (hence the lack of updates - oops!) and doing some CP reading. I also got to go back to WWoHP this week with my friend Crystal, and it was just as amazing as the first time! (Sidenote: I am an annual pass holder, so all of you blogging friends who are making the trip down to Orlando sometime in the next year should totally give me a buzz.) 

But enough about me. Let's talk about the other great things that have been going on in the blogging world!

Amna from Girl in Between had a whole post dedicated to awesome, awful, and awfully awesome rejections.

HEY! MOCKINGJAY is only TWO DAYS AWAY!!!! Forever Young Adult celebrated by suggesting some great HG merch (and an HG drinking game). Amna, on the other hand, traded hilarious texts with her cousin, a first-time HG reader, and then posted them on her blog for all the world to enjoy.

Wondering how to write a novel? Nathan Bransford explains.

OK, so you've written the novel...now you need to edit it. (Knew you were forgetting something, huh?) Kiersten White's got you covered!

So, your novel is written, it's edited...time to move on to beta readers! Got YA? discusses how to be a better beta, while a group of bloggers led by Sarah Enni participated in a Battle of the Betas where they betaed online so you can see their process.

Pretty soon, you'll be ready to query! Kate Hart posted her agent story and it's amazing and inspirational - keep working and yours could be just as awesome.  

And if all of this sounds way too intimidating, you might want to start here, with some tips for getting the ball rolling.

Have you decided to give up? Still facing rejection? As it turns out, there are some perks to being unpublished, according to Query Tracker blog.

And finally...have you seen this video? Grammar School with Snooki. OMG IT'S AWESOME AND MAKES ME LOVE JOHN GREEN EVEN MORE. Watch it. Love it. (Actually, watch pretty much all of the VlogBrothers videos, because they are all awesome.

Have a great week everyone!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Book-Crush Wednesday (5)

So two and a half weeks ago I was sitting in a ballroom filled with other writers, having just consumed some semi-gross gnocchi (and gnocchi should never be semi-gross, it should always be delicious) and weird chicken substance, awaiting the start of the SCBWI Golden Kite luncheon presentation. To be totally honest, I was assuming the presentation portion was going to be kind of lame. I'd been to these luncheon things before. Often. I have to go to them all the time for my day job, and it's always some dude yapping about something I don't care about and blahblahblah. I figured this would be much the same. I was in it for the food.

Which just goes to show that I'm really, really stupid.

The Golden Kite luncheon was awesome. Some of the best inspirational speeches I heard during SCBWI-LA took place during that lunch, including one by Allen Zadoff, author of Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can't Have (which won the Sid Fleischman award for humor). He talked about some of the issues he faced in high school, and how he wanted to capture that experience in his novel. He talked about how he didn't write Food, Girls to be funny, he wrote it to be truthful, but sometimes the truth is funny - and sometimes it's sad. He talked a little about his road to publication. He encouraged us to keep at it.

Basically, he was awesome, and I wanted his book.

It was a good thing I snatched it up right away, because after his speech, every single copy sold out. (But don't worry, you can get it at IndieBound and major bookstores.) I had him sign it and he was very nice, so I was looking forward to reading the book.

Naturally, it didn't disappoint. Sometimes when I read "fat kid" stories, they kind of bug me. They tend to follow a pattern - fat kid hates him/herself, decides to make a change, then either ends up changing and feels great or accepts him/herself for who he/she is. And although there is definitely some of the "acceptance" theme here, it's done in a very cool way. Andy, the main character, doesn't really hate himself. Maybe he hates himself a little, but no more than the average teenager. He doesn't like the way he looks, but his food is his comfort and he has so much going on that he needs that in his life to cradle him. The point is, while Andy might dislike himself, he needs food more. And we see him take comfort in food in this way that I can SO identify with, because I am definitely a comfort eater (says the girl who ate Swedish Fish for dinner last night.)

Andy has a sense of humor about himself and the rest of the school that is just killer. The narrative voice in this book is awesome - it really was like being inside a teenage boy's head, which was pretty disturbing but also awesome (fortunately Andy is smart and sometimes sweet so it wasn't a bad head to be stuck in). But the funny lines were also mixed in with some heartbreak - stuff happens to him and you're just like, "REALLY? Did you really just do that to Andy? Jerk!"

And the other characters, as seen through Andy's eyes, are fully developed and have stories of their own. The football coach is kind of a riot. April, the girl Andy has a crush on and spends the novel trying to impress...well, I won't say anything about April because I don't want to spoil it, but I will say that some of the things you find out about April make for an intriguing commentary about the people we choose to be. I also adored the character development in Andy's family - they all interact with each other (and food) in such a crazy way that it's kind of fascinating.

If you're looking for a fun yet poignant novel with lively characters and a wonderful male voice, definitely check out Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can't Have by Allen Zadoff!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

In Which I Shamlessly Promote an Awesome Conference

I sometimes get emails from readers, and this totally makes my day. Often, one of the questions in those emails is, "I'd like to attend a writer's conference, but I don't know how to find out about one. Where can I learn about awesome writers' conferences?"

Well today, you can learn about one right here on my blog.

If you've been following me for awhile, you might remember back in January when I attended the Eckerd College Writer's Conference in St. Petersburg, FL. I had a bunch of posts about what I learned, including:
And all of those lectures (plus the others I attended, including some on agents and publishing) were awesome. But absolutely the most valuable thing I got out of the conference was the afternoon workshop session. 

See, this is how ECWC works. It's a week-long conference focused on craft. In the morning, there are lectures. In the afternoon, you head into breakout sessions divided by genre. (Then in the evening there are readings and signings with wine and cheese. Srsly. AWESOME.) There are about 10 people in each group, and it's basically a critique group where you get and give feedback on your WIP. I learned so much that my head wanted to EXPLODE. I credit ECWC with being the first time that I got feedback that sent my story in a whole new direction. The revisions I did based on my ECWC crits were the first time I looked at my WIP and said, "Uhm, wow. This is almost good."

The experience was invaluable, the people were awesome. They have workshops in poetry, novel, short story, memoir, the middle of your novel (meaning you bring the middle part of your book, not the beginning), and!!!! For the first time EVER they're starting a YA/MG workshop!!! (Last year I just twiddled my thumbs with the Big Kids, but they were still nice to me.)

This will be epic, people. EPIC.

And I have to miss it, because it coincides with the last three days of my very first MFA residency. LAME. (OK, not that lame, because I am WAY pumped about VCFA. But I am a total dork and wish I could do both. My ideal life would be like some sort of writing conference nomad.)

BUT! Here's the good news, dear readers. YOU don't have to miss it! YOU should go. Oh yes, you should. Applications are available NOW! You can come to sunny St. Pete, FL in JANUARY, and it will be warm and you can visit the beach on the day off! (Because the conference is a week long, they give you a day off. They're nice like that. And the college is about, oh, 5 minutes from the beach? One of the optional activities is even a boat ride. A BOAT RIDE. WITH FAMOUS AUTHORS.) The price seems high at first, BUT they offer generous scholarships, and last year they said many of the people there were on scholarship, so don't let the cost stop you. Plus it's a week long so the cost is justified. So just apply. Go. Trust me. If you're looking for a great conference focused on craft (not schmoozing with industry professionals), this is a great one for you.

Plus, if you are awesome and nice, I will probably come and visit you in St. Pete, because it's only like 20 minutes from my house.

OK, that's all. I'll stop now. And I promise that I am in no way affiliated with ECWC and am not getting paid for this post. I'm just a happy alum who wishes she could go back and SO wants someone to blog all about the YA workshop so she can live vicariously through you.

EDITED: To add that the dates of the conference are Jan. 15 - 23, 2011. I was so excited I forgot to include dates. Oops. 

Monday, August 16, 2010

Tapping Into My Crazy

I'm a little bit crazy.

It's OK. I'm a writer. I'm allowed to be.

Every writer has those slightly seriously crazy habits that they will never admit to having - unless, of course, they have a blog, in which case they'll tell everyone on the Internet about their secret weirdness.

Which leads me to today's post.

You see, readers, I have a tendency to talk to myself. I guess that's not so weird. But you know what IS weird? Having fake interviews with yourself where you talk to a non-existent "reporter" about the inspiration behind your book, and what you're planning for your characters in the next installment.

Not only is this totally INSANE because I'm literally TALKING to NO ONE (like this conversation isn't taking place in my head. I'm actually saying the words. Aloud. To NO ONE. CRAZYTOWN.), but it also might be crazy because:
  1. I haven't sold a book yet.  (I mean I don't even have a representative to sell it on my behalf.)
  2. Probably because I haven't even finished revising my book. (But oh BOY am I close, readers. Like it's palatable.)
  3. So not only are journalists absolutely NOT lining up around the block to scoop my story, but they certainly don't care about what's going to happen in the next installment.
  4. Because there isn't a next installment.
  5. And if there WAS a next installment, I wouldn't be telling all my secrets to a journalist.
  6. Because I don't like spoilers.
  7. Also because I AM a journalist, and I know better than that.
  8. Watch out for journalists. We are smarter than we look. 
And yet. I still bring the crazy, by living out my future dreams and interviewing myself. Usually these interviews take place in the car when there's a song on that I don't like. But today it took place in the kitchen, where I have decided all the MAGIC happens because my fake interview totally helped me put the final pieces into place for the greater plot-arc of my potential series!!

So you see!! There's a reason writers are crazy! It helps us think. And plan. And figure things out. So that when (not if - when! - you must believe, dear readers) my book sells, and when my Awesome Agent scores me a totally Sweet Deal with an Excellent Editor, and all my dreams come true, and my book becomes a series, I won't be staring at my Mac going, "CRAP! But that's a clue I needed to leave in the FIRST book! STOP THE PRESSES! REDACT! RECALL! ETC.!" Instead, I will say, "It's cool. I've got this covered. I went all crazytown in my kitchen for a reason."

So, basically, readers, what I'm saying is this: It's OK to be crazy sometimes. Writing is hard. It's exhausting. Sometimes you're living on little more than coffee/tea and chocolate, which is pretty much a diet of caffeine and sugar, and possibly no sleep, so if you didn't embrace the crazy you'd be in trouble. So go a little crazy, have your great ideas, then come online and write blog posts that make little to no sense whatsoever.

Tell me readers! Have you ever embraced your crazy and ultimately had it work out for the best?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sunday Funday! (36)

Happy Sunday everyone! Hope you all had a wonderful week! Here are some great links from around the blogging universe:

Jade, a YA writer from Australia, knows that sometimes it sucks to be an unpublished writer, thinking you'll never, ever, ever, EVER make it. Here, she talks about how to make that feeling suck less.

Over on The Urban Muse, learn 5 mistakes that weaken your writing. Although the blog is geared toward freelance writers, there's always good info on there for fiction writers (and it's a great source of information if you're considering getting into freelance writing!)

The lessons from SCBWI-LA keep rolling in! This one, posted over at Children's Publishing blog, is basically all about the aggregate lessons they learned from the conference, and how it all boiled down to one thing - how to sell your novel.

It's Dystopian August over at Presenting Lenore! Head over for reviews, giveaways, autho interviews, discussions with dystopian readers, and more about my favorite genre, all from the lovely and talented Lenore!

Rachelle Gardener has a great post about all the questions you want to ask an agent before you sign with them. (You mean you don't just immediately say OMGOMGOMGYESYESTHANKYOUPLEASEYES!!!! ? No. No you don't.)

Mockingjay is almost here! (And apparently in some stores it's here already. Say what?) To celebrate, my friend Julie hosted a week of Hunger Games-related posts, including a haiku day, featuring bad poetry from yours truly!

Dear Emilia Plater, You are so cute that you kill me a little inside. Especially when you make adorable videos where you rewrite the lyrics to pop songs and make them about publishing. Love, Heather

An interesting article from The Huffington Post about what motivates the book buyer.

The YA 5 explains how everything they need to know about life they learned from YA books.

Have a great week!

Friday, August 13, 2010

I Respond to the Google Searches that Missed the Mark

Like most dedicated bloggers, I have analytics set up for my blog. I like to see who’s stalking me (apparently, people actually are finding my blog by searching for “Heather Trese,” and I can’t decide if that’s totally awesome or a little creepy. Probably both.), how long you folks hang around on the site, which of my posts you think is most interesting (the long-standing winners are still, after months and months of awesome content, my kissing day blogfest entry and my post on female characters who kick butt.), and, most hilarious of all, which search terms you use to find my blog.

That last one always cracks me up. Sure, there are the normal ones – See Heather Write, writing advice, adverbs are evil (yes, really a search term used to find my blog!), SCBWI. There are the ones that are weird, but still make sense – teenagers vocabulary, how to write a murder scene, crippling fear of rejection, Jessica is funnier than Heather (You see that Jess? You’re funnier than me. YOU WIN AT LIFE.)

And then there are the ones that are just…weird. They make no sense at all, and I have no idea why those people would have ended up on my site from those searches. But I’d like to address those people now, since apparently they are in need of help and are, I suppose, ending up on my blog in search of it. Here goes.

Inappropriate Google Search Terms that May Bring You to Heather’s Blog (According to Google Analytics):

I’m in love with Severus Snape
It’s OK. So am I.

(There is another one I want to post SO BAD but it’s a spoiler for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and I just can’t bring myself to do it, because sadly there are people in the world who haven’t experienced the awesome. So I’m blaming you for keeping my blog readers from reading this cheesy and awesome line that apparently led someone to my blog.)

I’m a bad writer/So I’m a bad writer/I feel like a bad writer?/I want to write a journal but I’m not a good writer
So this search appears in my analytics…a lot. Are you trying to tell me something, Google? I think I’m getting a complex. (On a side note, if you really do think you’re a bad writer, but you want to start a journal or even a novel, my advice is: start it. You can only get better. The more you write, the better you’ll get. Write until you have little keyboard-shaped calluses on your fingers, then keep on writing. Eventually you’ll be mediocre, then good, then awesome, then you’ll be the next J.K. Rowling and maybe you can get together with the guy in my next search term. Just don’t unleash that wrath on the world. Please.)

Erotic Harry Potter
I don’t know who you are or what you’re doing here, or when the word “erotic” ever appeared on my blog aside from these two times, but I would really like you to drag your mouse to the upper left corner of your screen and back out of here. Now please. Weirdo.

Sexy language used by teenagers
OK, seriously? What kind of site does Google think I’m running here? You can follow Mr. Erotic Harry Potter right out the door. Kthxbai.

Writing a story about Heather
Oh, you’re writing a story about me, hm? And I see you were on the blog for…10 minutes? So you think you can get all of your background research done in 10 minutes, do you? Well, I don’t think 10 minutes on my blog will tell you that I have a silver Honda named Hannah, and I named it Hannah because I like alliteration. And it won’t tell you how many freckles I have, or the way it sounds when my laugh fills a whole room, or what my tears taste like. I’m a person!! TASTE MY TEARS! 

What are some of the weirdest search terms that have led people to your blog?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Book-Crush Wednesday (4)

Woohoo! It's Wednesday! Time to talk books!

Before we get started, have you been over to WriteOnCon? Amazing things are happening over there. Crits, sessions, chats, and lots of learning. Major props to the organizers - I'm getting a LOT out of the conference! And it's FREE! Yay! So if you haven't been there...go. NOW.

OK, where were we? Oh yeah. Book-crush Wednesday. Today's crush is on a fabulous book called How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford. I read this book earlier this year and my mind was blown. BLOWN, people.

First of all, let's talk about the cover. It's PINK. Pink is pretty much the best cover ever. If I didn't think it would drive readers away, I would have an all-pink blog background with pink text, a pink header, and pink active links. Also, the chapter headers are PINK. I would like to hire Natalie Standiford's design team to work on my book, please. (Because pink is obviously the best choice when you are trying to attract people to a dystopian book. Clearly.)

But what really made me love this book was the voice. The main character, Bea, can definitely be unsympathetic at times, but she's also quirky and made me laugh. And the cast of characters that surrounds her absolutely jumps off the page with life. All of them have their own stories, their own characteristics, even if not all of them get the chance to play out on the pages of the book. Particularly the radio show participants - Don Berman, Myrna, Larry - are so wonderful that I can see myself scanning the AM stations at midnight, hoping for a Night Lights of my own to whisk me away on a carpet ride one lonely night.

I also loved that Bea and Jonah, the male main character, could have a true, no underlying chance at love, real best friendship. As someone who had a male best friend in high school, it was totally refreshing to see that on the page. I feel like so often in YA books it's easy to let the best friends of opposite genders become love interests (and it's natural, too), but for Bea and Jonah it didn't even seem to be a possibility.

How to Say Goodbye in Robot is not a light read. In fact, I would even say it's heartbreaking, gut-wrenching at times. And yet the writing is so excellent that Natalie Standiford can pack an emotional punch while she's describes the hottest guy in school or a batty old lady. And the ending? One of the most amazing and tragic and hopeful things I've read in a long time.

This book is wonderful because it's not about boys, or crushes, or school, or any of that. It's just about the power of friendship, and how a beautiful friendship can simultaneously repair and destroy two very damaged people. I know last week I talked about The Sky is Everywhere, and many of you said you loved that book. I think fans of Jandy Nelson will probably enjoy How to Say Goodbye in Robot, as well.

Monday, August 9, 2010

On Boy Middle Grade (More from SCBWI!)

Alright, now that I'm sort of rested(ish) and caught up from my trip to LA (read: my suitcase is still laying all over the floor with my clothes in it, but my laptop is out of its case), I thought I would share some more notes from the SCBWI-LA conference!

So many editors and agents were talking about how boy middle grade is The Thing. It's what everyone wants. And since I happen to have an idea for a boy middle grade project, I thought I would attend a session on boy middle grade fiction with Courtney Bongiolatti, associate editor, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

What did I learn? Basically, middle grade boys like genre fiction, so it's good to be very specific about genre with boys. Middle grade boys are often much more reluctant readers, whereas girls will pick up anything. You need to know your genre in order to write for it and be successful.

What are the main genres for MG boy fiction?

  • Action: No paranormal, no magic, just a regular kid who is in a crazy situation. Examples: Alex Rider books by Anthony Horowitz; H.I.V.E. series by Mark Walden
  • Adventure: These books are different from action, though the genres are similar. Usually adventure is more based in reality. The main character is often not the cool kid with a lot of friends like they are in action - they’re still trying to figure themselves out while getting into a lot of trouble. Typically with action the kids are choosing to do what they're doing, but with adventure they were forced into that situation. Examples: Holes by Louis Sachar, Hatchet by Gary Paulsen.
  • Fantasy: Harry Potter changed the industry so much, particularly the MG fantasy genre. Often with fantasy there’s a great goal at stake other than your own life or your own happiness. Fantasy is also appealing to boys because they like the idea that one day it could be them fighting gods or becoming a wizard. A lot of readers of fantasy need that. But it still needs to be obvious why your character is doing that - what's the motivation? Harry found a home in his new world, even though it was difficult. Often fantasy readers are more shy, already more of a reader than say an action reader. You try not to generalize, but you still need to sit down and think about who the reader is. Examples: Harry Potter, Percy Jackson 
  • Mystery: This genre leaves room for a nerdy protagonist. a lot of times with MG, they don’t want someone nerdy for a protagonist, but in mystery it works. Often these kids who are already reading John Grisham’s adult novels, even at this age. The books take a lot of the aspects of an adult formulaic mystery novel and apply them to an MG book, which makes it comfortable for people who are familiar with reading up. Examples: Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer by John Grisham, Encyclopedia Brown
  • Humorous Mystery: Takes the mystery and adds something most MG boys love - humor. Examples: Belly Up by Stuart Gibbs, Brixton Brothers by Mac Barnett (I have to add that Courtney said this one works because it's a humorous update to the Hardy Boys, where the kids are accidentally solving mysteries. So parents give their children these outdated Hardy Boys books, then the kids find the Brixton Brothers on their own which totally make fun of the books their parents loved.)
  • Sports: These books can range from the simple to the complex, but always revolve around a sports story. They work well for a simple reason - 12-year-old boys love sports. Examples: Return of the Home Run Kid by Matt Christopher, Heat by Mike Lupica
  • School stories: For MG kids, the classroom is their life. It’s their home. They are with those same students and friends all the time, so that’s who they hang out with. School stories are mostly set in the classroom; the characters are hardly ever seen at home. Examples: Frindle by Andrew Clements, The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
  • Historical fiction: One of the toughest sells in MG. You will often have girls who read it even if it has boy protagonist just because they like that genre. Example: Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
  • Combinations: Use of graphics and text combined are growing much more popular with the male MG audience. Examples: Diary of a Wimpy Kid, The Invention of Hugo Cabret
  • Relatable: There are a ton of books that deal with kids that are bullied, and that’s who your audience is in these books - kids who are being bullied. But you need to be truthful, particulary with the ending. Don't throw in a popular kid to widen your readership. the same thing with . that book is aimed at them, you’re not going to help yourself by throwing in a popular kid to widen your readership. Examples: Loser by Jerry Spinelli, The Misfits by James Howe, So Hard to Say by Alex Sanchez, Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos
  • Out of the box: MG is a good place to experiment. It's a more difficult sell, but if the writing is good you can get an agent behind you. Examples: Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going, Staying Fat for Sarah Bynes by Chris Crutcher, I Am a Genius of Unspealable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President by Josh Lieb
Other things to keep in mind when you're writing MG for boys:
  •  MG books should be aspirational
  • They should have series potential. Editors often like MG series because it's so hard to find successful books for boys that they want to buy a series. Courtney's boss will almost always ask her, whenever she pitches an MG book, "Great, can it be a series?"
  • Experience. MG boys will throw a book aside the second you get a word wrong or if a character is wearing the wrong thing. So you have to know everything - not just dialogue and what they're thinking, but the whole experience of being an MG boy. If you have sons or nephews or cousins, watch them.
  • Honesty. MG boys don't want an after-school special. They want you to stay on-camera for the gross-out things. Don't write a book that caters to their parents, with light bulling and a lesson at the end. They want to see a book about what really goes on at their school.
  • Voice voice voice voice voice! You can work on it by READING, especially aloud, just to make sure it sounds like an MG boy.
Hope that helps! Are any of you working on an MG book?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Sunday Funday! (35)

Happy Sunday everyone! Today was just about the laziest day of my life. And why might that be, you ask? Two words:

Veronica Mars. In some twist of evil/awesome, Netflix decided it would be an EXCELLENT idea to put this show, which I had heard a ton of great things about, on their Watch Instantly queue, so I could get it direct to my TV through my Wii. So what was going to became a controlled watching of the show a few episodes at a time via the old red envelope model has suddenly turned into the "Heather stays in her lamb-print PJ bottoms until 2pm" model. I'm almost done with season 2, but I'm not deleting these from my Watch Instantly queue because they are SO GOOD. People. Seriously. If you have never watched Veronica Mars, do it. Now. I was skeptical at first, and it definitely took me a few episodes to warm up to it, but I am obsessed. And my friend Shana is having a watch-along with discussion on her blog. Shana attributes everything she learned about writing mysteries to studying Veronica Mars, and I can definitely see what she's talking about.

Anyway, so now that I'm done talking about how totally lazy I am and admitting my love of the lamb-print PJ pants I've had since the ninth grade (yes, really, but I love those things to death), here are some great blog posts from around the Internet that you should check out while I watch more Veronica Mars!

Agents and editors always say they want a book that's "high concept." But what the heck does high concept mean? Agent Elana Roth explains in this post from Adventures in Children's Publishing.

YA author Michelle Hodkin gives some excellent tips on how to get noticed at a writer's conference! (Note: tips may or may not be served with a healthy side of sarcasm.)

If you're looking for legitimate tips on attending conferences, check out this post by Kiersten White. Who is extremely awesome, by the way, so if you do happen to meet her in real life, please do say hello and don't let her super awesome author status stop you (so, in short, listen to her first piece of advice, which may or may not be a reference to me and my friend. I have no idea what you're talking about. Let's just watch some Veronica Mars and we can forget this ever happened, hm?)

Literary agent Jennifer Laughran has an excellent post on why you shouldn't be too mad that the Justin Biebers, Popes, and Hillary Duffs of the world are publishing children's books so easily while you wait and wait and wait for your Big Break.

The lovely Amna had an excellent guest post on YA Highway about how your taste in books doesn't make you better than anyone else. Since I've dealt with this phenomenon often, I have to say...well done, lady.

Natalie Whipple writes about why you shouldn't really care about trends (even though you obsess over them) because there's nothing you can do about them anyway.

Jodi Meadows reminds us not to give up, in a guest post on Corrine Jackson's blog.

Write on Con starts on Tuesday! Are you ready? Are you signed up? Head on over here if the answer is no! It's free and it's online!

I was also going to link to a bunch of great SCBWI-LA posts, but I think YA Highway did a wonderful job of picking out the best in last week's Field Trip Friday. So just go there if you want to see a list of some great SCBWI posts.

OK, have a great week everyone!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Book-Crush Wednesday (3)

It's Wednesday! So I debated about whether to continue with SCBWI posts or if I should keep up the book-crush posts and postpone my next set of notes for tomorrow. But since I just sent a rambling cra-cra email to the author of the book on today's book-crush Wednesday, I figured I had to go through and continue telling everyone how AWESOME the book is (though I guarantee you have heard it from about everyone else under the sun.)

My current book crush is on The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson. And let me tell you, blog readers...I am crushing on this book hard. Like so hard that I'm hyperventilating thinking about how awesome it is, and I might have taken it with me to SCBWI on the off chance that the author would be there and I could run up to her and scream "OMG I LOVE YOU SO MUCH PLEASE SIGN THIS AND BTW BE MY BEST FRIEND." She wasn't there (which is probably good because I would have seriously embarrassed myself), although it turns out bringing books like that was not that crazy of an idea because a lot of awesome debut authors were there, just in attendance like regular people (THEY'RE LIKE ME! See, I've gone super crazy. That's what this book does to me. I bet Jandy Nelson gets Google alerts with her name in them and is reading this post right now and backing away slowly from her computer thinking I'm a psycho.)

Anyway, this book took the blog review world by storm, and there were several weeks where I saw the cover art all over the place. But I have to admit that it didn't really grab me. (The UK cover, pictured below, is far superior in my opinion and is WAY cooler inside.) The big heart, floating in the sky...it seemed kind of chic-lit-y, and I just wasn't into it. But then the reviews were so positive, and my friend Jessica spoke highly of it, then Tahereh over at Grab a Pen wrote this review/letter to Jandy, and since Tahereh is one of my most favorite bloggers ever, I finally gave in.

And, uhm, WOW. WOW.WOW.WOW.

Listen, people. This book will change your life. The writing is like painfully amazing. It makes you laugh and cry, sometimes in the same sentence. I would be smiling because the word play was wonderful, or there was a great exchange or sweet scene, and suddenly there was HEARTBREAK and TRAGEDY and I wanted to cry. The main character, Lennie, writes poetry and leaves the poems all over town. The way the poetry is used to move the plot forward and give a little back story is really smart - Jandy Nelson has an MFA in poetry, as well as an MFA in writing for children and YA from VCFA (OMG THAT'S WHERE I'M GOING! We'll be bffs, I know it.)

The teen voice in The Sky is Everywhere is very true, and I think that's why the book is so funny. I think Lennie was just a funny girl, particularly before her sister died. But her sister's death overshadows her humor and then she has to struggle with questions like - is it OK for me to be happy even though I'm supposed to be grieving? What kind of normal person wants to kiss boys at a funeral? Am I moving on too quickly? (Things are about to get real, so let's put on our emotional caps.) My mom died when I was 18, and I can tell you first-hand that the grief Lennie experiences is so real. It was like Jandy Nelson was inside my head, reading the mind of my teenage self. Lennie thought things that I thought, and even though my relationship with my mom was complicated, and in some ways Lennie deals with things I couldn't relate to, in other ways I felt like the pain Lennie was experiencing was totally real. I could feel it in my bones, in my head, and in my heart. This book is just real, and it stays with you.

So. I know a lot of you have read this. But some of you probably haven't. Some of you are probably rolling your eyes, thinking, "Ugh. Another review of The Sky is Everywhere. How good can that book be?" AWESOME.* That's how good.

*I know I throw that word around a lot on this blog. I mean if you did a wordle of my blog, I'm pretty sure awesome would be the biggest word. But if ever a book or post or topic was deserving of that word, that phrase meaning "full of awe," it would be The Sky is Everywhere.
**If you still don't believe me, go here and read chapters 1 and 2. FOR FREE. Then go here and buy the book and support your indie book store and your favorite new debut author.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Carolyn Mackler’s Four Keys to Creating Characters (SCBWI Post!)

Well, I am officially back from SCBWI! It was awesome. Being surrounded by all the inspiration and learning so much was incredible. And children's book authors and illustrators are some of the funniest people I've ever met. I'll post some photos and a general conference review (including overall conference tips) in another post, but I thought I would continue posting notes from the conference sessions I attended since I have enough to make days and days worth of posts.

One of my favorite sessions was Carolyn Mackler's breakout session on creating characters that come to life. Not only is Carolyn Mackler totally adorable and down-to-earth, but she gave some great advice on how to create distinct voices for each of your characters (this came in particular handy when she was writing her novel Tangled, which has four distinct characters, and which I will be giving away a SIGNED copy of on the blog at some point in the next month. I have epic, epic contests in store, people.)

So, here without further ado, are Carolyn Mackler's four keys to creating characters:
  1. Think about the character's quirks. Every person on the planet has a quirk. Fun Heather fact! (Which is also potentially gross) I chew my cuticles when I get anxious or nervous. Not my nails, my cuticles. Little mannerisms like that are inherent in all of us - and since your characters are people too, they need to have quirks as well. Who is your character? What do they do? If you think you're running low on material, head somewhere and people watch - this can be a great way to  find some new quirks to give to a character. Alternatively, think about some people you know now, or people you knew when you were in high school. What were their quirks? Did they collect bobble-heads? Nod whenever someone else was speaking? Those are the kinds of things you can incorporate.
  2. Nail their specific language. When I was in high school, I had an excellent biology teacher. Seriously. The best (and only halfway decent) science teacher I'd ever had in my life. Unfortunately, she ended up being the butt of a lot of jokes in the hallway because she said, "Mmkay?" at the end of almost every sentence - and this was right when South Park first skyrocketed to popularity, with an annoying guidance counselor character who had the same unfortunate habit. It's sad that her speech issue overshadowed her incredible knowledge (at least at first until us smart-ass teenagers wised up), but my point here is that people have language ticks - and so should your character. Does your character talk in questions or statements? Do they swear or not? Do they say "I mean" or "like"? (Because some teens say those things, but not all of them do. And some adults, like ME, are perpetually stuck in our teen years and also say those things.) To really test your language, read your book aloud so you can see the rise and fall of the dialogue and how often you're repeating words.
  3. Research. For Tangled, Carolyn Mackler had to write her first male POV ever. She felt pretty daunted by the task, so as she was giving talks she would say, "By the way, I'm looking for some male teens to talk to for some research for my new book." And at one of her presentations, a guy who was the spitting image of one of her characters came up to her and offered to chat. She set up a series of phone interviews and they chatted for hours. Carolyn asked how he viewed his body, what music he liked, what he did when he worked out, what he thought of his friends - everything she could think of to get into his head and create a unique and truthful character. Another one of her characters is an actress and goes on an audition, so she was able to get permission to sit in on an audition process, and afterward she interviewed a teen actress. All of her research - because fiction books do require research - added to the authenticity of the voice in her novel.
  4. Ask questions about your character. Get to know them and get inside their head. I talked about this a little yesterday when I discussed Rachel Vail's voice workshop. But think about things like, what is the first thing they do in the morning? What does the inside of their closet look like? What do they keep hidden in their underwear drawer? Who would the character contact if something good happened, and what would that good thing be? What do they do when they’re anxious? What are they proud of? What are they ashamed of? How do they feel about their family? What is their family status? Carolyn likes to go for walks to get her character questions answered. I prefer drives. You find whatever works for you, as long as you make it happen.
And remember, when you're thinking about character, that it's not just your main characters that need to have depth and quirks and language - it's all characters.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Revising with Gennifer Choldenko

Since I’m painstakingly rewriting my WIP, I thought Gennifer Choldenko’s workshop on rewriting and self-editing would be an excellent choice for my morning break-out session. She talked about Do’s and Don’ts, tips for revising, and gave us a list of questions that we should be asking ourselves as we rewrite our manuscript. At the end she took questions, and I took notes and posted my favorites/ones I thought would be most helpful.

(OMG these intros are painfully boring. I’m so mentally tired I can’t be as humorous as usual. But hopefully the post is helpful and awesome. It was a great session! Also this post is super long, but it's mostly lists.)

Do’s and Don’ts
  • Do get time away from your manuscript. One option for this, if you don’t feel like taking time completely off (you overachiever you) once you finish a draft, start researching your next novel
  • Don’t be lazy
  • Do remember that good work takes time
  • Don’t be defensive
  • Do know that every writer needs an editor - so get someone else to read your book
  • Do be patient with the process
  • Don’t be a good girl. Make mistakes and be ready to do things that might not make the everyone happy, but are right for your characters.
  • Do have the goal to make your book better, not check off every item of your critique letter. If you’re not sure you agree with the crit comment, don’t take it.
  • Do follow your instincts - you can’t write without them. Aside from crit groups, you might also want to send out your finished novel to 3-5 readers (brand-new readers, and maybe they’re readers, not writers) who you really trust. Get their critiques back and see where there’s overlap.
  • Do revise as creatively as you can
  • Do have courage
  • Do believe in yourself
7 Ways to Build a Strong Protagonist
  1. Protagonist needs to be active. It’s difficult to create a good protagonist who is on the sidelines or overshadowed by a sidekick character.
  2. Protagonist needs to be warm and likable - or if not likable, we need to have compassion for him/her because of his/her circumstances. Or at the very least, we need to understand why the protagonist behaves the way he/she does.
  3. Protagonist needs some complexity to his/her personality. In other words, protagonist needs to be interesting. (Have depth.)
  4. Protagonist needs to want something.
  5. Protagonist needs to reveal things to us about ourselves.
  6. Protagonist needs to take things farther than we would.
  7. Protagonist needs to be flawed.

33 Questions to Ask Yourself
  1. What is the single biggest problem this manuscript has? You have to think in terms of the biggest thing you can to improve because you only have so much time. Think BIG.
  2. What am I avoiding? Often you write around the most emotional thing. You’re writing toward it and your writing slows.
  3. What will my reader wish was there?
  4. Is there an off scene interchange that needs to be on scene?
  5. Where does my mind wander when I am reading?
  6. What is my least favorite chapter? How can I get rid of it or develop it to the point it isn’t my least favorite chapter anymore?
  7. Are my best crit sources in agreement about any one point?
  8. What is the climax of the main plot? Ideally this happens around both plot and character. If your book is about Hurricane Katrina, obviously the hurricane would be the climax. But if your character can interact with the hurricane somehow, that’s ideal.
  9. What is the inciting incident? This is the thing that sets the plot up. In HP 1, it’s Harry’s birthday. In A Wrinkle in Time, it’s the father’s disappearance (even though it happens before the book starts, that’s OK.)
  10.  Is my protagonist the same person at the end of the manuscript as he was at the beginning? The protagonist doesn’t have to do a 180 - it can be a small change.
  11.  Do character traits of my protagonist drive the plot to at least some degree?
  12.  Are any of my characters stereotypes?
  13.  Do my subplots add to the book?
  14.  Where do my subplots climax? One way to deal with the middle of your novel not being as tense as you like is to have your subplot climax in the middle. However, make sure that your subplot adds to the book instead of taking away from it.
  15.  Do I have too many characters?
  16.  Have I done a search for each character’s name and checked to make certain dialogue from one character doesn’t sound like dialogue from another character?
  17.  Have I missed an opportunity for humor?
  18.  Can research better this book in any way?
  19.  Is there a way to strengthen the domino effect of my plot? This will help up the tension in your book. Not everything in the book will be a pure domino, but usually there will be one main domino for the plot. 
  20.  Is there a consistent style in my book? Have I violated that style in any spot? Often the troublesome chapter in a book is in a different style or a different voice than the rest of the book - it doesn’t fit in with the rest of the book. Usually the style will come out of your writing once you start, you can’t force style onto a book. But it’s important to recognize it once it shows up.
  21.  Where does the text need grounding?
  22.  Are there soliloquies? Can I get rid of them?
  23.  Have I used setting to convey feeling? You don’t want to just say, “I am sad.” if the character is sad. Using setting can be a great way to convey mood, particularly in first-person narratives. If the narrator is feeling desperate, they won’t head to the fair, they’ll head to the moonlit dock by the foggy bay.
  24.  Have I left room for the reader?
  25.  Will applying the rule: show don’t tell strengthen any part of this manuscript?
  26.  Have I read the entire novel out loud?
  27.  Have I searched for my pet phrases?
  28.  Do I care deeply about my protagonist?
  29.  What is fresh and original about this novel
  30.  Are there plot holes? Can I fix them?
  31.  Are there clear motivations for each characters behavior?
  32.  Is the world I’ve created completely believable?
  33.  What is this book trying to say?
Q: I can make people laugh when I talk, but I’m having a tough time putting humor in my writing. Do you have any tips?

A: I think I’m not funny in person [Heather note: not true] but I am on the page, so I need to get everyone out of my office. So maybe you should try the opposite. Look and take notes on when you’re making people laugh in real life and see what it is that people are laughing about. Maybe it’s the conversation that’s stimulating it. There are also some things that are just inherently humorous. So I just look through and try to see those chances for natural humor.

Q: I find over and over again I hear the same thing about wanting to start the action quickly, but I tend to like to start a story slow. Do you have advice for the beginning?

A: I would look at the big changes first. The tendency is to do 400 revisions of chapter one and then, “Wow! Does that shine!” But you really need to look at it on a macro level. So avoid that chapter one revision and try to look at the whole thing. But in the end it depends on what you like better, so try it both ways - try the fast revisions and then see which you like better.

Q: Do you feel like as a debut novelists editors are looking for something that’s ready to go or were they willing to work with you?

A: I will say that my first novel had the fewest amount of revision notes. A lot of authors don’t revise well. They can’t handle the emotional part of it. And I think some editors, depending on the working relationship, don’t want to deal with writing a long revision letter. But if they find something that could be great, they’ll put the time into it. It’s the most important skill for a working author to be able to revise.

Q: Can you talk a little more about show vs. tell?

A: Show don’t tell just gives the reader room to experience your story. If you’re narrating your life, you don’t say, “This is a sad moment.” You just experience the moment. So if you describe experiencing that moment, we can experience that moment. But if you say the feeling, you’re keeping us out. So think about how you’re narrating your day. That’s the key. You want the reader to feel as if they were there, inside them, not outside them being told.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

How to Nail Voice (According to Rachel Vail)

Today, I attended a workshop session with Rachel Vail. The session was all about voice, and how to create a different voice for each of your characters. The house was PACKED and with good reason - with more than 30 books for children under her belt, she knows how to create unique voices that match each of her character's identities. Better still, she has a background in acting, so even before she was writing she was mastering voice.

Rachel actually uses her acting past to help her when she writes. When she needs to get into the head of one of her characters, she'll think about the way they walk or sit, and she'll walk or sit that way - for example, one of her characters was a ballerina, and in researching Rachel learned that ballerinas don't cross their legs when they sit down (something to do with messing up their turn-outs or otherwise general awesomeness. I watched "Center Stage" as I was packing for the conference so I know how important it is to keep all that in tact.) And they sit up very, very straight. That same character also talked very slowly and deliberately because she used to have a speech impediment. So when she was getting ready to write, she would sit up straight, uncross her legs, and drop her fast-talking ways. And she noticed an immediate change in the voice in her head. Her character came much more naturally, and the voice on the page sounded more accurate.

If you're having trouble getting into your character's head or keeping it fresh, Rachel has a list of questions she suggests you answer. She calls it her "Form to Form a Character." When she first started listing these, I sort of sighed a bit. Haven't we all seen lists like these before? But after a few lines I got it - the difference here is you shouldn't answer as you, answer as your character. Fill out the form as the character sees themselves. A 12-year-old girl who has watched her friends develop before her wouldn't describe herself as "thin," but she would say she was "flat-chested." Think about those intimate details, and more importantly remember how you thought about yourself when you were that age, because that can be a great clue to getting inside a child's head. (You can also eavesdrop! I love doing this, especially at the mall, where girls will talk endlessly about how they feel about their looks. Just try not to get too close and be sure to look inconspicuous enough that you don't look like a creepy stalker.)

Here are some of the questions from the form:

My name is
My name came from
My nickname is
My name means
My age is
I look...
I can’t stand...
I love my mother but...
My friends...
I wish...
If I could change one thing about myself...
My favorite food is...
I love to wear...
When I grow up...
The worst thing I ever did was...
The best part of school is...
I wish I were more...

At the end of the day, remember that the character won't come out in the first draft - of course it won't. That was the first thing that came out of your brain, so it's bound to be cliche and boring. As you go through and revise, pay attention to giving each of your characters as distinct a voice as each person has in real life (because your characters are like real kids), and eventually you will nail it.
Copyright 2009

See Heather Write
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