Friday, September 24, 2010

Creating Compelling Characters - The Ones You Love to Hate

For The Great Blogging Experiment, I thought I would focus my post on a character study - characters you love to hate, hate to love, but still can't get enough of. (That sort of rhymes! But not on purpose.) These characters are mean, but funny. They're jerks but they still make you swoon. This kind of dichotomy of character is one of the best ways to get something compelling, to show the deeper layers of a character and prove that there's a lot more to them than what the other characters in the book (or TV show, cause I have one of those) initially see.

1. Logan Echolls. Here's a little story about my relationship with Logan Echolls, from the absolutely brilliant show Veronica Mars. My friend Shana Silver (who hosts Veronica Mars discussions on her blog) encouraged me to watch the show, and she kept talking about how great Logan was, how he was so swoon-worthy (not to mention that Veronica Mars has killer writing and plot development). So when I saw that Veronica Mars was available to stream instantly on Netflix, I watched. I waited. I waited to like Logan. Episode after episode went by, and though I immediately saw the sheer genius in the writing, I thought Logan sucked. He was a JERK. He had few redeeming qualities and I couldn't figure out what was so great about him. Then something very specific happens in one episode, which I can't mention because I'm not the kind of girl who posts spoilers on her blog. (But it's this thing. And then this happens. Yeah.) Then I sent Shana a tweet along the lines of OMG AWESOME YOU WERE RIGHT I BOW TO YOU. (Paraphrasing there.) Anyway, Logan is an ass most of the time. Even after he softens up, he's STILL an ass. But he's so complicated and twisty and has this dark past and he gets drunk and says the world's most romantic speeches and you just can't help but love him. Even when he's being a jerk.

2. Parker Fadley: Parker is the main character in Courtney Summers' debut CRACKED UP TO BE. I think Summers is really good at writing the kind of character I'm talking about here - the mean girl that you still like. Parker is a jerk to everyone around her. She pushes everyone away, she alienates herself, she does things that she knows will hurt other people. And yet...she cracked me up. I loved Parker almost immediately because she was so funny. Yeah, she used her humor to make fun of other people, and of course that's mean...but it was true, too. And it was great. And I could see that she was tortured, too, which obviously important to the overall mystery in the book.

3. Samantha Kingston: Sam is another mean girl that I loved. In BEFORE I FALL by Lauren Oliver, we really got to see her be mean from day 1. She and her friends rule the school with their superior attitude, and although Sam occasionally seems to feel bad about it, she shakes it off pretty quickly. But after she dies and her days start repeating, Sam starts to change. She gets angry, then she gets nicer, then she grows up. She turns into this whole other person, someone who I could actually like. So even though I don't think I could like the Samantha at the beginning of the book, I think I would probably get along with the one at the end - maybe we'd even be friends. 

4. Severus Snape. I can't talk about him without posting spoilers, so if you haven't finished the series, skip past this paragraph and get thee to a bookstore or library. I don't think there can possibly be a more perfect "love to hate" character in children's literature. I mostly just love Snape. But there is no question that he's a creepster. He's a jerk to the kids. Repeatedly. He openly displays favoritism to people in his house. He's mysterious and sneaky and he starts out as a bad guy. He betrays the Potters! He betrays Lily, the love of his life! But as soon as he realizes what he's done, he dedicates his life to fixing it. He worked so great as a character because we were all constantly questioning his motives - which side was he on? Who was he working for? I was a firm believer in Snape's innocence the whole time. But I had many friends who believed otherwise, especially after the whole killing Dumbledore thing. He sparked discussion and debate and loyalty. He was mean on the outside but in his heart, he was soft and did it all for love. He is a compelling character if ever one existed.

So, in all of these mean-girl (and boy) characters, what are the common threads that make them compelling? Growth. Humor. Mystery. Weakness. A complicated past. That's what it takes to create compelling characters.

Who are your favorite love-to-hate characters, and what is it about them that makes them so compelling?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Book-Crush Wednesday (8)

So I waited until the nighttime to write this week's book-crush post. And I am SO glad I did.

You know why? Because I'm an aunt! My brother's wife had a baby today, and so another tiny adorable human has entered the world with 10 fingers, 10 toes, and a cute little fuzzy cap on his head. (Well, maybe the cap wasn't on his head when he was born, but it was in the picture my brother sent me so that's how I'm remembering him now.)

I won't get to meet my little nephew probably for a while. They live on the other coast, and newborns don't really like to fly. So to make sure he knows how much his Aunt Heather loves him, I bought him some BOOKS that I'm sending in the mail (and I can totally talk about them here because my brother doesn't read this blog.)

The first book I bought is Mo Willems' Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! And as wonderful as that book is, I've already talked about it in a book-crush post (in fact, it was my very first one)! So we're going to skip it today (even though it's still awesome and you should still read it.)

Instead, I'm going to talk about the major crush I have on the other book I purchased for my little nephew. It's a book I've had a crush on for so long that my original copy (which has the price marked on the front cover - 89 cents!) is missing the back cover and has tape on the pages. And some coffee stains. (All of this can be viewed closer to the bottom of the post, along with the new copy so you can see what it should actually look like.) And also I'm pretty sure that this is the second copy of the book I owned, because I think the first copy ended up missing both front and back cover at some point.

That book is The Monster at the End of This Book, and to Childhood Heather, there could never, ever be a better book. Ever.

In the story, Grover reads the title page of the book and discovers that there will be a monster at the end of it. Oh noes! Grover is scared of monsters. He does everything he can to prevent you from getting to the end of the book - he ties the pages together with ropes, he bricks them up, he nails them together - but in the end, you make it, and who is the monster? --SPOILER ALERT!!!-- Why, it was just lovable, furry old Grover all along! And boy is he embarrassed...

I don't know what it was about this story that spoke to me so much, but I couldn't get enough of it as a kid. I begged my dad to read it to me every night, and he happily obliged. It's one of my best memories of him. He didn't do a Grover voice, but he did act like he couldn't pull up the pages, to which I would huff, roll my eyes, and help him. Of course, if he simply flipped the pages, I don't think I would have loved the book nearly as much, and I would have lost interest quickly. But I didn't lose interest. I loved it so much it was the first book I could read on my own. And by read I mean "recite from memory at the age of 3."

I think in the end that's what's so wonderful about this story. It begs to be read aloud, to be shared, to be enjoyed together. I don't think it's the book itself that I remember so fondly, but the memories surrounding it. Memories that I know my brother will love sharing with his child (though I can't imagine him doing a Grover voice, either.)

I learned from M.T. Anderson at SCBWI-LA (in one of the best lectures on literature I have ever attended) that the story is a strong example of metafiction in children's literature. (Incidentally, the pigeon books also use metafiction.) Metafiction is any element in a story that addresses the fictional work. Picture books do this a lot because young children like to interact with their books. In Monster at the End of This Book, Grover actually tries to impede the forward momentum of the narrative by interrupting the turning of the page, but that in itself becomes the narrative:
Look closely on the left and you can see how the pages are stacking up behind Grover as he goes! He leaves debris everywhere.

Anderson also brought up this exciting dichotomy present in this book - we fear the monster along with Grover, because we trust Grover and he fears the monster. Yet we desire it, we're curious, so we keep turning pages, even though our trusted friend tells us, begs with us to STOP. But in the end --SPOILER ALERT!! -- it works out. This book is way more complex than my little 3-year-old self ever knew. (Dude, all of this is from M.T. Anderson. HE'S A GENIUS, I KNOW. And this is just what I remember, as I didn't take notes because I was too busy basking in all of his awesome, so I'm sure I'm mucking it all up.)

Anyway, if you haven't read The Monster at the End of This Book, you should. But more importantly, if you haven't read The Monster at the End of This Book to someone you love - complete with "I can't pull this heavy page back" motions - you're truly missing out.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Fun Non-writing Sites Every Writer Should Know

As writers, we use many resources to help us in our quest to create perfect prose - support groups, forums, editing software, etc. Today, I'd like to highlight some of my favorite sites to use for character development, plot research, and the like that I think every writer should know. (OMG most boring intro ever! But I'm too tired to be creative and I don't want to skip this entry until I have time to write something better. So, yeah. Lame intro it is.)

Polyvore. Polyvore is great for people who like to create character boards or people who like to play with fashion or character clothes/setting (read: girls.) The site allows you to make your own style boards by pulling fashion elements, background designs, faces, etc. from around the Internet, and even uploading your own if you can't find what you're looking for. They have a great selection of stuff and the site is extremely user-friendly. I actually made a style board for my next project, but I left it on my other computer and I can't access that right now. Plus its kind of boring. So instead I'll show you two examples straight from the Polyvore site:


My summer
See how these images bring to mind two very different ladies? To use the style creator I'm talking about here, click on "Create a Look." To browse other style boards, click on "Explore."

Playlist. I personally can't listen to music while I'm actually writing, but I do think it's fun to create playlists that match the mood and theme of my novel. And that's where Playlist comes in. Although there are many other music sites, I think Playlist has a pretty good selection (because I can sometimes have obscure taste, and Playlist seems to usually have what I want...usually), and I like that it's all online - no download required, and it integrates easily with blogs and other social networks. Of course, when I find something I love or when it moves from my "experimental playlist" to my "official playlist," I take a cue from Maggie Steifvater and pay the 99 cents to download the song. Support the artists! But until then, Playlist works well for introducing me to new songs and artists, and helping me rearrange my list from anywhere. 

Picnik. Ever wanted to experiment with a book cover, graphic element in your novel, character face, or other image, but don't have the fancy photo editing software required? Look no further than Picnik, an online image editing site that's easy and free. It has a TON of features and makes complicated tasks like resizing, messing with the saturation, etc. super simple. I even used Picnik to make a super awesome lame banner for my 2009 NaNo project, which I'm still editing and trying to make awesome.

OK, so those are my non-writing sites you should know! What are your favorites? And come back on Thursday (because tomorrow is Book-Crush Wednesday!) for the writing sites everyone should know!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sunday Funday! (41) AND The Winners!!

Happy Sunday everyone! Today I'm going to announce the winners of my signed Sisters Red and Audrey, Wait! giveaways! But before I do that, I'll give you the Sunday Funday links! And before I do that, we'll talk a little about book banning.

I know I've been getting really good at posting these things in the morning instead of super late at night, and tonight's post is totally ruining that. But I got off to a late start today, and then when I finally did turn my computer on, my Google reader was just absolutely INUNDATED with posts in reaction to this article discussing how the rape scenes in Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak are pornographic. Other books attacked in the op-ed piece include Slaughter-House Five and Twenty Boy Summer.

Oddly, the writer does say that we (as a society) should be holding up Christian ideals, so I assume he finds the Bible to be acceptable reading material, but last time I read the Bible there were scenes depicting war, orgies, drinking, prostitution, etc. Is his argument that those scenes are meant to teach, to prove a point? Aren't the ones in Speak also meant to help, to prove a point, to show things how they really are? The article goes on to say that middle school children shouldn't be taught about homosexuality, condom use, or oral sex (I'm sorry, but if this guy doesn't think that some middle schoolers are experimenting with sex, with or without that education, he's an idiot. People I knew were experimenting with sex when I was in middle school, and that was 12 years ago. And my have times changed since then.)

I'm not going to go on and on about how Speak isn't pornographic, because many others have said it better than I ever could, or say that Speak has helped many, many, many teens work through their own sexual assault. Instead, I'd like to point you to the excellent responses on the topic. (Thanks to Reclusive Bibliophile for the link list, and to Kate Hart for directing me there.)

The point of all these posts is this: "Reading a book cannot hurt you." Duh. And with slightly less press, but also in Missouri, another extremely popular and excellent YA book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, was recently banned. This interesting post, from non-book blogger The RRoy Report, discusses the issue, and how, uhm, duh, kids are doing things like masturbating (gasp!) and using swear words (egads!) anyway, whether or not they've read Alexie's National Book Award winner.

OK, now here are the rest of the Sunday Funday links! (The one about Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was always going to be included, but I bumped it up because it seemed relevant.)

Beth Revis, the author of the can't-wait-to-read book Across the Universe, talks hooking readers with your first chapter over on the dystopian author blog League of Extraordinary Writers.

If you're at all like me or even a little bit cool, you love the If You Give a _____ a _____ stories (or you have children who do, and your children are awesome.) Jennifer Daiker wondered what would happen If You Give a Writer an Idea.

Agent Mary Kole lets you know that not only does your day job not really matter to her, but you will probably have to keep your day job after you sign with an agent.

Ever wonder what an editorial letter from a major publisher looks like? Mandy Hubbard shares tidbits from her Prada and Prejudice letter (which, at full length, was 11 pages long! Yikes!)

Let the Words Flow has a great post about writing good...well, BAD...villains.

Wondering how to find the time to write? The answer is simple - either do it or don't.

Good news from Kiersten White! Writing never gets easier, even when you're published and have an agent! (Wait, that doesn't actually sound like such good news after all...)

Dear Internet: Don't date a writer.

Finally, the hilarious Amna has created a Burn Book for literary characters. WIN.

 Alright, and finally....the winners of my giveaway!!! After all the extra entries were tallied, etc., there were 202 entries for the books! Woot! Awesome. I used Google docs to keep track of everything (assisted by Google forms for data capture), and I promise everyone got their extra entries counted. Then I headed over to to choose the winning numbers. And those numbers were...

7 and 107

Which means nothing. BUT according to my form, it means that...

JESSICA HARWOOD won a signed copy of Audrey, Wait!

and ERICA won a signed copy of Sisters Red!

Congratulations ladies! I'll be emailing you for your addresses shortly! 

If you didn't win, don't be sad! I've got a stock pile of goodies, including signed books and SWAG, to give away for my one-year blogversary, which will be coming up at the end of October! So get excited!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Giveaway ends tomorrow!

Just a friendly reminder that tomorrow is the last day to enter to win a signed copy of either Sisters Red, signed by Jackson Pearce, or Audrey, Wait! signed by Robin Benway!

Fill out the form to enter! *

And I'll see you tomorrow with a less lazy post!

*Please remember I'm trying to let my humor show through on the options. I hope you new followers don't think I'm weird.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Book-Crush Wednesday (7)

Today's book crush is on a book that pretty much everyone in the country is crushing on. So many people, in fact, that in its VERY FIRST WEEK, this book, by a DEBUT AUTHOR, made it to number SEVEN on the NYT Bestsellers list for children's chapter books. (The fact that this is my seventh book-crush Wednesday? Mostly a coincidence. OR IS IT??)

That's right, readers, today we're talking PARANORMALCY, and all its awesomeness. I thought instead of me rambling for paragraphs on end like I normally do, I'd list the

Seven Reasons Why I Loved Paranormalcy

1. PINK.As I mentioned in my discussion of How to Say Goodbye in Robot, I'm not above loving a book based on its color. And Paranormalcy is just FULL of pink. There's pink on the cover, pink in main character Evie's wardrobe, pink sparkles on a bleeping TASER. I mean, come on. How much more bad-ass can you get? Yeah, not even a little bit more. That's what I thought.

2.The WTF Factor. Seriously. This book will keep you guessing. I mentioned the other day how being a writer has basically ruined my ability to enjoy reading, and part of the reason is because I can often spot the plot twists and turns - I know to look for them, so I can guess when they're coming. But as I was reading Paranormalcy, I kept formulating different theories. "OMG. That person is the bad guy." "No, wait. THAT person is the bad guy." "Uhm, DUH!! That person is SOOOO the bad guy!!" And for a book to keep me guessing the whole way through? Yeah. Bleeping awesome.

3. Witty dialogue. Earlier this year, I read Hex Hall, and my blog (and brain) had an explosion over the awesome voice that Rachel Hawkins gave Sophie. Evie is similarly awesome, and I can see why Kiersten and Rachel have said that Sophie and Evie would be OMGTOTALBFFs - except they would never talk like that, and would probably be making fun of me right now for saying something that lame in the first place. (Ugh, I would be SUCH a loser in the paranormal world.) Seriously, though. For awhile now I've been wanting to go out and get a notebook to write down memorable passages for inspiration...well, I didn't make it to the store until after I was three-quarters of the way through Paranormalcy, but then I had to go back through and find all my favorite moments. Because I knew my notebook wouldn't be complete without them.

4. Swoonage. Kiersten manages to make things like hand holding, kisses on the forehead, and television watching totally swoon-worthy. I had no idea how, but it's done, and it's awesome. I got that fluttery, first-crush feeling all over again, which I first felt when I was majorly crushing on David Smith in middle school. (He totally broke my heart, by the way. But that's a different angsty blog post altogether.) Plus, there's a character who is literally a DIFFERENT HOT GUY every time he's on the page, so no matter what kind of hottie floats your boat, Kiersten's got you covered.

5. It's totally fresh. I'll be the first person to admit that I'm not into your average paranormal adventures. Actually, that statement isn't really true - paranormal adventures I LOVE - paranormal romances on the other hand? I'm getting tired of them. Just about the last thing I want to read is yet another story about a totally average girl who falls in love with a handsome-but-dangerous immortal who is, for some reason, attending high school for the 1,000th time, and the mayhem that ensues as a result of their forbidden love. But Paranormalcy is different. It's not a paranormal romance, but there is romance in it. It's not a satire of the genre, but it's funny as all bleep. It's not a mystery, a thriller, a suspense novel, or a Stephen-King style horror - but it has elements of all of those genres. Basically, it's awesome and unique and will change the way you think about paranormal books.

6. Evie. Have I mentioned my dogs before? Yes? Once or twice? Well one of my dogs is named Evie. When I met Kiersten, of course I mentioned this to her, and she kindly informed me that her Evie's name is pronounced differently than mine (mine is Eve-ee, hers is Ev-ee). But still. Anyway, that's not really the point. (I just wanted to mention my dog again. Because look how cute she is!) The point is that Evie? Kiersten's Evie? She is WOW. She's a girl and not ashamed to be one. She loves shopping and pink (though I think we covered that) and cares about her appearance and worries about normal girl things like making friends. But she's also tough when she needs to be, stands up for herself, kicks some paranormal butt, and is so loyal. And then she's vulnerable and asks for help when she needs to and is so HURT and complicated. And she's so bleeping funny. I think she's a great female main character, strong but not too strong, approachable and someone people can relate to but still totally messed up and twisty on the inside. 

7. Kiersten. You guys. Kiersten White is awesome. And not just because she's written a totally amazing book, but she just is awesome. We met at SCBWI - she was staying on the same hall as my roommate and I, along with her roommate Stephanie Perkins (who, I'm sure, will be getting her own book-crush post in the future with her lovely Anna and the French Kiss). We ran into Kiersten everywhere - in the elevator, in workshops, getting coffee, at the cocktail party. I mean, she was pretty much stalking us. But she was a totally adorable and gracious stalker, and every time she had a friendly smile and witty remark for us. She was totally approachable and humble. Also, her blog is great. I really couldn't be happier for her, and if anyone was going to be successful with their debut book this month, I'm so, so glad it's Kiersten. (But I'm also glad that more than one person can be successful this month.)

So, in short...Paranormalcy is awesome. It's pink (or some of it is, anyway.) You should buy it. You should read it. You should talk about how awesome it is to everyone you know.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Best Word Games for Writers

I love word games. They're a great way to increase your mental clarity, and sometimes I'll stumble across a word I'm not familiar with, look it up, and realize it's exactly the word I've been looking for - and it will end up in my story. So today I thought it would be fun to do a post about my favorite (FREE!) word games, all available to play on the Internet without downloading anything. 

As if we needed more distractions.

Oh well. It's sort of related to writing....right?

Text Twist: One of my all-time favorite word games is Text Twist, and now there's Text Twist 2. We used to play it in my copywriting class, but I was playing it before that, too. In high school, my friends and I would gather around the computer in the drama department's green room and all play together. Later, after college, when things were slow at my first job, my co-workers and I would play on the giant computers we had at the photo studio - the ones that we were supposed to use for showing our customers their pictures. So Text Twist and I have a long and fun history together. The concept is simple - it's basically a word jumble, but you can only advance to the next round if you find the seven-letter word. In the timed version, you have two minutes to get as many words as possible. It's fun and addictive and a good way to kill some time while you're working through that plot hole.

What Word: What Word is another favorite of mine. In this game, you get between one and four words that you have to find in a jumble of letters. You find the What Word by rearranging the jumble to form actual words, saving letters in the What Word until you have them all. But there's definitely a strategy - if one of the what words is, say, PHONE, and you put the ONE together without the PH first, then the ONE will register as a word and disappear, and you'll have to start all over again. Likewise, if you're saving the H and then happen to stick a T above it and an E below...well, there goes your H.

Word Descrambler: Writer's Digest has a few fun games on their site, including this one, Word Descrambler. It takes a little while to play because you have to play for 15 rounds, but since you can only mess up twice before it boots you off, I never make it the whole 15 rounds.

Word Bubbles: This last game I found one day when I was poking around on Hyperbole and a Half, which is quite possibly most definitely the most hilarious blog in existence. She called Word Bubbles "the most addicting game ever," and while I don't think it's quite as addicting as some of the other ones I mentioned, I do think it's challenging and fun. The site that hosts it also has a ton of other fun mind games to keep you from dying of boredom if you, like me, happen to have a boring day job. In Word Bubbles, you get three letters - say sta - and you have to come up with as many words as you can that begin with those three letters. BUT you can only give a certain number of words with the same number of letters before it won't let you guess anymore. So once you get, say, four 5-letter words, you can't guess any more. There are only three rounds that last about 30 seconds each, so it's good for a quick pick-me-up when things are a little slugish in your brain.

Now, you tell me - aside from crossword puzzles, because I know where to find plenty of those - what are some of your favorite word games (or just general games)?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sunday Funday! (40)

Happy Sunday, everyone! Before we get started today, I want to talk to you about an awesome writers' conference. I know, I know, I do that a lot. What can I say? I honestly worry that people are missing out on incredible opportunities in their own backyard simply because they don't know about them. So if just ONE person is helped from this, then, awesome.

So this conference is called the Auburn Writers Conference, and it's only about a month away! It's in Auburn, Alabama, which according to my friends who live there is an absolutely a-dorable town. And I'll be there!! And so will Rachel Hawkins, Holly Root, Irene Latham, Julianna Baggot, Judy Troy, and more awesome people. You should go! And say hi to me! But also learn a lot. It's only $150 for both days, and if you're a student it's only $25! WOW! That's pretty much the cheapest conference EVER. And the workshop sessions are amazing. Plus did I mention that I'll be there? Because I will. And I like to meet you people, because I think you are awesome.

OK, on with the links! 

This insightful article from my future alma mater's literary art's journal, VCFA's Hunger Mountain, talks about why children's books with multicultural characters aren't just for multicultural children.

Mary Kole, literary agent with Andrea Brown, discusses her full manuscript evaluation process on her awesome blog

Nathan Bransford talks about how to make your dialogue sing (is there a pun there? If there is, it wasn't intended. Maybe.)

What's more important to an agent - a writer or a Twitter feed? Bookends Literary looks at the question - and explains why her answer probably won't change your opinion of agents who tweet anyway.

Judson Merrill, a writer trying to find a home for his stories, responds to some of the more confusing phrases in the form rejections he receives. (Via DGLM)

OK, so I have a job, and a life, and a in the heck do I have time to write?? Kate Messner, who has written nine books in the past three years, answers that age-old question.

Natalie Whipple wants to know...are you being a writer, or are you just throwing icing on a cardboard cake?

Adorable bookish jewelry over on Jennie's blog, Life is Short, Read Fast.

Rachelle Gardener takes you behind the scenes at an acquisitions meeting...and it is hilarious and terrifying.

OK, folks, I think that's all for today. Hope you all have a great week! 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

How Writing Has Ruined My Ability to Enjoy Anything, Ever.

So last week, I was watching The Princess Bride with the hubs.

This is one of my most favorite movies ever. I mean, come on:

Cary Elwes!
Cary Elwes!
Cary Elwes!
True love!
Cary Elwes!
OK, so I probably watch this movie once a year, at an absolute minimum, but probably more like 5-6 times. It's my happy movie that I play when I've had a bad day. My sister and I used to walk around our block reciting lines from the movie. And yet somehow I'd never noticed it before but...

Princess Buttercup is totally a wuss.  

(OK, there are plot spoilers coming up, but if you haven't seen this movie then you FAIL AT LIFE so I'm going to pretty much disown you anyway.)**

OK, so they're in the fireswamp. And Westley gets attacked by an R.O.U.S. And instead of DOING ANYTHING like grabbing a a rock or whacking the thing with a tree branch, home girl literally stands by and watches as the love of her life gets eaten half to death. Lamesauce.

Then later, she tells the Evil Prince Humperdinck that she won't marry him, and he's like, "It's cool, sugarpie. I'll send out some ships to look for your BF." The fact that A: She believes that Westley would actually leave in the first place and B: She believes for even a second that Humperdinck would do as he says makes her a TOTAL idiot.

Look, I get it. Buttercup is supposed to be a classic damsel in distress. After all, it is a fairytale. And I'm used to ass-kickers like Katniss and Katsa and Hermione who don't stand idly by and watch their boyfriends get attacked by giant rodents. But Buttercup was so flat and annoying that I had to wonder...WHAT does hotty-mctotty Westley see in her anyway? I mean, one minute she's like ordering him around the farm, and the next they're OMGTOTALLYMAKINGOUT?? No way. Westley's way too awesome for that crap.

So I ranted and raved throughout the whole movie, driving my husband crazy about my complaints on the weak characterization and how Buttercup was the only character who wasn't remotely funny. Until finally hubs told me to shut up and enjoy the movie.

And then I realized that we'd had this conversation before.

The fact of the matter is, as writers, we're always looking at our characters, analyzing them, trying to figure out how to make them better. I know one of the main things I need to focus on in an upcoming round of revisions is characterization of two of my characters, because they're falling shy of where I'd like them to be.

But since we're always looking for how to make our own work better, and then we CP read and try to seek out the flaws, we start to lose a sense of how to just read and watch for fun. I've noticed that my critical reading skills have improved greatly, but my ability to escape into the world of a book has drastically decreased. I'm always questioning, always asking WHY? Why would a character act that way? Why would the plot go there?

I'm not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, I'm a more active, conscious reader. But on the other, I can't just zone out with a book. And I miss that.

What about you? How has being a writer changed the way you read or watch TV/movies?

*Yeah, I skipped a few. But that would be a lot of pictures. For the record, it's: "Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles!" And Cary Elwes. 

**OK, that was a joke. Except it really wasn't. No really though, this movie is more than 20 years old and one of the most classic and quotable films of my generation, so I think a few spoilers are allowed.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Decatur Book Festival and a GIVEAWAY!!!

I know you all are only here because you saw the word GIVEAWAY in the title, and you really don't give a crap about the rest of this post. So if you want to be a lame person and skip all the AWESOME that is inside of this post, then you can scroll down to the bottom, because that's where I talk FREE SIGNED STUFF. But if you stick around for the rest of the post, that would be cool and awesome and you'll certainly be glad you did.

So I spent this Labor Day weekend in the charming town of Decatur, GA, which is sort of part of Atlanta, but sort of not. It was the 2010 Decatur Book Festival and HOLY CRAP YOU GUISE. It was awesome. There was enough fat kid food (fried candy bars, funnel cakes, gyros, sausages, corn dogs, and italian ice) to feed a large army, and more famous authors than you can shake a stick at. (But why would you want to shake a stick at famous authors? They are famous and write awesome books.)

Here are some of the people I met this weekend. (I have more pictures on my camera, but my battery is dead and I can't find my charger and plus my uploader cord thing is way on the other side of the house. So most of these pictures are stolen or from my phone, which isn't the greatest quality. But I digress.)

Here's me (in the green) with friends Crystal, Natalie, Anna, Leah, and Julie, and author-friends Rachel Hawkins and Nancy Werlin! I'm so excited I finally got to meet Rachel, after exchanging witty banter with her on Twitter for months. Have you read Hex Hall? It is awesome. Srsly. READ IT. Nancy Werlin was also wonderful. She and Rachel were in a panel together about Real Issues in an Unreal World. They talked about how teens like books with paranormal elements because they allow them the chance to escape and see themselves in these characters, even when their own lives are totally crazy.

I also got to sit in on a panel with David Levithan and Terra Elan McVoy (I KNOW! Cue hyperventilation). I loved this panel because it was much more a dialogue between the two authors than a moderated Q and A (though they did accept some questions from the audience at the end). Both Terra and David were just ADORBS, and they read from their books. When David read the "smiley face" in his IM scene in Will Grayson, Will Grayson, I wanted to die a little because it was so effing cute.

They talked about writing realistic romance scenes, and how both of them pulled from their real life but then added something extra. For example, David mentioned how the scene in Love is the Higher Law where two characters go on a date a few days after 9/11, but aren't sure if it's OK to be on a date or what the attacks have changed, is based on something that happened to him. Terra said that when she's actually kissing someone it might just be about OMGOMGOMG I'M GETTING KISSED!!! But that's not fun to read, so you have to go back and really think about what the kissing feels like. Both of them said that the truth in romance comes from writing not just the parts where the romance succeeds, but from writing the parts where it fails a little, too. (Which can be funny, but also sad.)

I also got to meet Carrie Ryan and Alyxandra Harvey, but sadly I have no pictures because we were wayyyyy in the back and I'm still shy/awkward about asking for pictures as I fangirl. (Probably because my camera is huge and embarrassing.) But the session was fun, and I learned that Alyx doesn't outline when she writes, and Carrie thinks that this can be an effective way to work, because if you as the writer  don't know what's coming up, you might keep your reader guessing, too.

Up next we have the awesome Noni Carter, who is only 19, and started her book, Good Fortune, when she was 2. OK, really she was 13. Seriously. She's currently a freshman at Harvard. She makes me want to cry because I am so unaccomplished. Next to her is Christina Diaz-Gonzalez, author of The Red Umbrella, a YA historical fiction about Operation Pedro Pan which I gobbled up in the 24 hours following the festival. I met Christina at SCBWI and she was sweet as pie, and it seems that she hasn't soured in the last month or so. Both of these debut authors are women to watch for.

That's Anna, Natalie, Crystal, and me (this time in blue! And I'm not super short, I was just apparently the only one who did the Sorority Squat) with Robin Benway, Jackson Pearce, and Michelle Zink)

I have to admit, though, that my absolute favorite panel was the one with Michelle Zink, Robin Benway, and Jackson Pearce. It was called "Sibling Rivalry of the Best and Worst Kind" and these ladies had me rolling. All of their books have been on my radar - and I've already read Audrey, Wait! and loved it - but nothing like meeting the authors in person and seeing how fantastic they are will get you to want to take the rest of your life off from work and just readreadread. Robin Benway did tell me I should quit my day job. (No, really, I swear she did.) Anyway, here is the advice that these ladies had to offer:

From Jackson Pearce: Do whatever you want to do. You can be a writer and people will pay you for it. You might have to eat Ramen for awhile, but you can make it happen.

From Michelle Zink: Finish something. Writers are consummate starters, but actually finishing a project - from first draft through to revision - is better than any quick-start writing exercise there is. Don't let that new idea pull you in. Finish something.

From Robin Benway: Live. The experiences you will have by just being out in the world will make you a better writer.

OK, and now the part that you all actually care about! The giveaway! YAY!!!

Alright, so I'm a bad blogger. I teased last Friday and also at one point on Twitter that I would have a signed copy of Clockwork Angel to give away. And I totally thought that I would. I bought the book in advance, got all excited to have such an awesome prize to give out, only to find out that Cassandra Clare would only be able to sign books if you purchase her most recent title at the festival. The decision, handed down to her on high, is explained logically on her LiveJournal, so I'm not mad or bitter or anything, just sad that I didn't know in advance. Because I didn't plan to spend an extra $20, so sadly I didn't have it in the budget to make that prize happen.

BUT!!!! I have other awesome prizes to give away, so no one should be sad.

What's up for grabs, you ask??

A signed hardcover of SISTERS RED by Jackson Pearce*
A signed hardcover of AUDREY, WAIT! by Robin Benway

Dang. Those are some awesome prizes!!! I have more but I'm saving it for my blogversary, which is coming up in October! (Yeah. I'm a prize-hoarder. I'm weird like that.)

There will be two winners. You can choose if you want to enter to win one or both, so if you already have one or the other you can totally still enter. And you don't have to be a blog follower to enter, but you will get extra entries for being one, as outlined on my ridiculous entry form. And I'll like you more. Plus my blog is awesome.

Click here to fill out the entry-thingie! Contest closes on Friday, September 17. If you want to tweet about it, feel free (but not obligated), to use this convenient Twitter-sized tweet:

Win signed hardcovers of Sisters Red and Audrey, Wait! in an awesome contest from @HeatherTrese! 

Winner will be announced on either Saturday the 18th or maybe in the 19th's Sunday Funday edition - for extra fun! (OK I think it's past my bedtime here.)

*(OK, I should tell you that there is a small, tiny amount of tearing on the first 10 pages of this book. It's just like a little slit, about an inch, at the bottom. It's not my fault, it was totally like that when I bought it, but of course I didn't notice it until I got to Atlanta, which of course was too late to ship it back. So I got it signed anyway. But honestly, it's still a signed copy of an awesome book. For free. So it's not that bad.)

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sunday Funday! (39)

I'm still in Decatur, at the book festival, but thanks to the magic of blogger scheduled posts, I can bring you Sunday Funday as regularly scheduled! Here are some awesome links from around the blogging world this week.

Here's a wonderful post about writing for children and YA from Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Yay! Amna and her cousin exchanged texts during Mockingjay, too! (My sister and I did this too, but I have to admit they weren't quite as funny/entertaining as these. Sorry Holly.)

YA Highway has an AMAZING post about what The Princess Bride (an amazing movie, and also a good book) can teach you about querying.

Do you post book reviews online? Literary agent Rachelle Gardener offers her advice/opinion on writers who review books.  

So you know how much I love when writers rewrite the lyrics to pop songs and make them relevant to my life? A LOT. Here's Jen Hayley with I GOTTA FEELING: The Writer Remix! 

Ever wondered how to write a novel? Never fear! Tahereh breaks it down for you in 100 easy (and hilarious!) steps.

Jessica Love explores the boy question in YA lit from a new angle - what's up with the high ratio of dorky boy narrators?

New blog alert! That Cover Girl will discuss covers of YA books - the good, the bad, and the ugly. I knew there were similar blogs out there for adult/general interest books, so something like this is awesome and right up my alley! 

OK, I think that's all! Have a great week and tune in tomorrow for my DBF recap - with prizes! 

Friday, September 3, 2010

I (heart) Book Festivals

This weekend, I'll be heading to Atlanta to meet up with my dear friends Julie, Crystal, Anna, and Leah for the Decatur Book Festival! I could not be more thrilled about this! I've been looking forward to it ever since MARCH, when I emailed them all (they live mostly closer to Atlanta than I do) and asked if they wanted to go with me. And they did! But even if they'd said no I still would have gone...because here are just some of the AMAZING authors I'm going to meet over the next two days:

David Levithan
Cassandra Clare
Rachel Hawkins
Carrie Ryan
Jackson Pearce
Nancy Werlin
Robin Benway
Christina Gonzalez (who I've already met, but she's SUPER nice and I'm looking forward to seeing her again!)
Kirsten Miller
Michelle Zink
Terra Elan McVoy

and more!! Woot!

So I will be reporting back on Monday. With information. And pictures. And PRIZES. Of the SIGNED BOOK VARIETY. Like maybe THIS BOOK RIGHT HERE:

Get excited!

(And if you want to hear all about it now, I'm sure I'll be tweeting about it as often as possible!)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Should Writers Talk About Their Rejections?

Most writers I know have blogs, Twitters, or some other kind of public forum onto which they can vent all of their feelings and thoughts about the publishing world. (This is probably because most of the writers I know, I've met online. But I digress.) They'll talk about frustrations with their own WIPs, characters from pop culture that annoy them, weird people they meet in real life, email woes, and more. It's nice to have a support system there to tell us that we're not crazy, and to remind us that we're not going through this alone.

But when it comes time to query your novel, how public should you be about the process - particularly your rejection ratio?

I have seen many writers discussing their rejection stats very publicly. To me, that always seemed counterproductive. I've heard repeatedly that pretty much the first thing an agent will do when they think they might be interested in representing you is Google your name. What if they do, and they find a blog or Twitter feed full of rejection stats? Even if the mention seems harmless - maybe something as simple as a running total in your sidebar - it could be potentially damaging, and color the opinion of the agent who was about to fall in love with your work.

I think sometimes we forget that the querying process is about professional communication. During the discussion about the queries hashtag and its various benefits and drawbacks, I read on another blog a commenter who said, in no other industry would it be acceptable to pull actual quotes from business cover letters (which are personal communications) and post them in a public forum, regardless of intent. I thought that was an excellent point, and I think it can be applied in this case, as well. If you were applying for a job in a traditional - but highly competitive - field, would you want to attach your name to the number of people who had turned you down? Absolutely not! You would want the HR managers at AwesomeCompany to think that every company you were interviewing with was champing at the bit to offer you the position. And I think the same rule should apply here - keep quiet about your rejections, and let the writing speak for itself.

I'm not alone in my opinion on the matter. I've heard agents say that's not a smart idea (both in real life and on Twitter), but when I turned to the Internet to try to find some evidence/quotes for a reader, I came up short. Being a journalist by trade, I didn't think that was right. So I contacted Weronika Janczuk, literary agent with D4EO Literary, and asked if she would mind sharing her opinion on the subject. Because she is seriously awesome (I mean, really, really awesome), she graciously agreed. I think she worded it perfectly, so here's verbatim what she had to say:
I think this is one of those odd reverse-psychology things.

If I saw, for example, that someone had a 75% request rate based on the query and the sample pages, I would totally want to read that submission and, if I loved it, try to get in the race for the writer.

If I saw that the request rate was 5%, I would immediately go into reading the submission with a 'this will probably be terrible' mentality, and it will be harder for the writer to amuse me.

Of course, there are always those stories about writers getting 100 rejections before they find the agent and go on to be bestsellers, so a simple statistic wouldn't keep me from falling in love with a story if I did, in fact, love it.

My suggestion is for writers to not share the details. I'm not an agent who's going to go through a potential client's blog entirely, but I will skim a few posts and the one thing that could really turn me off is a really snarky/negative attitude. Anything else is okay (for me), but that means nothing when other agents may feel turned off by the sharing of such details.

I totally think it's okay for writers to share after they sign with an agent, and I think it's totally okay for writers to be like 'Been querying for three weeks, one partial request, hoping,' but a really detailed breakdown can be kind of unnerving and off-putting.
I think Weronika's last paragraph brings up a great point - I love those post-signing stories, where we hear all about how many queries it took. Things like that keep me going, and I know they keep my writer-friends going as well. And once you've signed, there's absolutely nothing damaging about admitting that it took you 50 rejections to get there - in fact, it might just help encourage a fellow writer who is close to calling it quits.

But until you actually sign on with an agent, it's probably best to keep your rejection talk to a minimum. If you need to let off some steam, email your crit partners, or get a group of writing friends together for coffee and trash the agents who rejected you in the privacy of your own home. If you don't have anyone to vent to, there are a ton of great communities out there that you can dive into to find some people (just remember that everything you say on forums can probably be attached to your name, too, so keep it professional. Mostly I'm suggesting that you find friends/support groups here and then take it to a private chat or email if you want to complain about anything. Also I've only used about half of these so I can't speak to the level of awesome/not awesome):
If all of those fail (though I honestly can't imagine that they would), just join in the conversation on blogger or Twitter! I've made great writing friends that way, and come my time to query, I know they'll be there to listen to me if I need them. But of course, I'll keep it all out of public view. (When I manage to snag an agent, though, I promise to let all you lovely readers know.)

Special thanks to Weronika Janczuk for answering my email so quickly!    

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Book-Crush Wednesday (6)

Every Wednesday (well, except last Wednesday, because last Wednesday I was busy reading Mockingjay), I highlight a book I recently read and LOVED and want to gush about to all of you.

Today's book crush is on Matched by Ally Condie, which I had the pleasure of reading thanks to a little ARC tour thrown together by my friend Shana Silver.

OK, let's start off by talking about the cover.

Yeah, I made it extra big, because it is pretty much one of the most striking covers I've seen recently. And it fits the story perfectly. That green dress is significant, and the way the girl - presumably main character Cassia - is trapped inside that bubble, but obviously pushing to break free? Yeah. Awesome.

The absolute best thing about this book is the world-building. I love the dystopian genre - it's one of my favorite ideas to explore in literature - but it's also one of the most challenging to pull off effectively. And although the initial idea of the story - that people in a society have a huge ceremony where their life partner is selected for them by the government - might seem improbable, I never for a second doubted that it was real for Cassia. Everything in the society is totally regimented, and there are so many details - from what the people can eat to what they're allowed to read and listen to. I'm sure it most have been a ton of work for Condie to decide on all of these elements, but it was totally worth it.

And the character development! Cassia transforms in this really incredible way throughout the book. She starts out as this totally trusting person, blindly following her government and believing that what they're doing is right, and by the end we've seen her trust break down so slowly that Cassia herself hardly even realizes it. But it's happened. And it's amazing.

But, in the end, Matched is a love story. And a damn good one. To me (and to a few other people I've talked to who've read the book), there is no contest who the correct choice for Cassia is, but I can see how some people might be swayed the other way. There are a few things that happen in particular between Cassia and her love that made me just SWOON. Like literally SWOON. But I can't talk about them because they are SPOILERY, so you will just have to read the book for yourself when it comes out in November and SWOON for yourself.

Matched is a pretty quiet story overall, but it ends on a cliffhanger which promises a pretty action-packed sequel. And even if the sequel matches the tone of the first, I'll be there to SWOON and read along.
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