Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sunday Funday! (44)

Happy Sunday! It's Sunday Funday on See Heather Write, which means I'll share some of my favorite links from around the Internet. Here are this week's links:

Agent Mary Kole from answers a reader question - just how hard is it to sell a contemporary YA manuscript right now?

Lindsey Leavitt, author of Princess for Hire, talks about how writing is hard and awful - but also awesome - and shares a GloMo. (You'll have to click through to find out what a GloMo is. Trust me, the story is worth it.)

Natalie Whipple says all the things she wants to say to new writers (OMG THEY'RE ALL SO AWESOME.)

Author Cristin Terrill gives away her super-amazing secret for revising a manuscript. Seriously, people. It's awesome. (And colorful! No, really.)

Lynda R. Young shares her five causes (and solutions to) writers' block. 

Over on the Dark Angel's Blog, you can see a list of cliched dialogue that you should never include in your MS. 

Literary agent Jennifer Laughran fills us in on some of the pros and cons of skipping the agent and working directly with the publisher. 

Finally...I'm dorky (yet awesome) because I think this video is MADE OF WIN.

(Thanks to Jessica Love and Anna Parker Brittain for sharing!)

Have a great week, everyone!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Eavesdropping for Action!

I think I've mentioned before what an effective tool eavesdropping can be for getting authentic dialogue. That's not to say that you should include, verbatim, every conversation that you hear, but heading down to the mall and just listening to the way teens (or adults, if you don't write YA) talk to each other can really help you write more authentic dialogue. Take the best of the best of what you hear and stick it in your book.

But lately, I've started a new (and much creepier) kind of eavesdropping - observing for emotional action. As I go through my MS, I'm focusing on getting rid of any of the instances of "telling" and making them all "showing" - for a basic example, changing something like "fear rose up in me" to "a chill ran up my spine." Taking the actual emotional word out of the phrase and focusing instead on how the emotion makes the character feel - the character's physical reaction to the emotion - makes some of the bumpier scenes better.

Usually, I get the ideas for emotional reactions by thinking about how I would react in those situations. I close my eyes and imagine a time when I was scared, or happy, or nervous, then think about what my body was doing. Of course, that doesn't always work because 1. I'm not my characters, and we don't react the same way, and 2. Eventually, I run out of reactions, since I tend to do the same things. So I've started looking at the way people react physically as well as their dialogue.

And I'm getting so much great material!

Yesterday, I was in my local Super Target grabbing a coffee, and two women nearby were discussing the recent divorce proceedings one of them had gone through. They were going through the judge's or lawyer's report line by line, reading it out and reacting to (and dishing on) and it said. (Why they chose the cafe in Super Target to do this? No clue.) It was fascinating to watch, because things had obviously gone in the woman's favor - she was jiggling her leg, clasping her hands in front of her smiling mouth, and looked as if she were going to explode out of her chair at any second. I took my time pouring my cream and sugar into my coffee so I could watch their excited reactions and make a mental note of their physical clues, then when I came home I wrote the actions down in my writer's notebook. Now, when I need a character to act happy or excited, I can refer to my list, and maybe, if it fits the character, she'll be modeled after the woman in Starbucks.

So, yeah. I'm a creepy stalker. But hey. It's for art. And it totally works.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Book-Crush Wednesday (12)

Back in August, I attended SCBWI-LA. And during one of the keynote presentations, I was fortunate enough to witness this:


Later in the conference, I attended a workshop on literary experimentation in children's literature by the very singer featured in that video - the venerable M.T. Anderson. It was like a crash course in AWESOME, mostly because I loved hearing someone speak so intelligently about children's literature.

One of the things Anderson touched on in the lecture was metafiction, or when an element in the story addresses the fact that the story itself is a fictional work. Anderson said that it was hard to pull off metafiction in novel lengths, but that picture books were often great examples of metafictional works. And he discussed a little (I mean really a little - he didn't brag or anything) about how he included metaficitonal elements in some of his books.

So that, combined with the awesome Delaware state song, and I knew I had to try Jasper Dash and the Flame-Pits of Delaware. I'd read other works by Anderson, but never anything in his Pals in Peril series. I knew the books featured humor, but more "smart kid" humor than slapstick or gross-out humor. And I was ready for it.

Jasper Dash was unlike anything I've ever read. The characters were quirky, the story was insanely original, and the narrator was kind of stoic but still somehow funny. And I loved it. I loved how the humor was unapologetically  weird, and how the narrator totally broke the wall and encouraged readers to participate in the narrative. I loved the metafiction parts, where the narrator straight up said, "These characters have been in other books before, you should go down to your local bookstore and buy them!" or "The author has never been to Delaware, so all the descriptions of mountains and monsters had to be made up. If you're not happy, here's the address for the governor of Delaware. Let him know!" (Clearly, not direct quotes. It could not be more obvious that mess is not M.T. Anderson prose.) I loved the mystery, the adventure, the smooth way that M.T. Anderson tells a story. At SCBWI, Anderson mentioned that, though he'd never been to Delaware, he did Google Map it, and saw that there was a Dragon Creek (which was obviously infested with dragons) and a town called Sandtown (clearly, in the middle of the desert), so he felt that was as much as he needed.

Also, Jasper Dash has an amazing external, interactive website - the Tourist's Guide to Delaware. On it, you can view a map of Delaware, view a letter from the governor, sing along to the state song, and more.

So, yeah. This book is fun. And (bonus!) it's especially fun for boys. But I think anyone who's interested in seeing some really different things you can do with writing and novels should check this book out (I'm giving Whales on Stilts a try next - can't wait!) I feel especially lucky that Anderson is going to be at VCFA in January giving a guest lecture...wootwoot! I'm so stoked for it I can't even stand it.

Trailer for Jasper Dash and the Flame-Pits of Delaware:

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Writing (and Revising) the Hard Scenes

A lot of bad stuff happens in my WIP.

I mean, that should really go without saying. It is a dystopian/sci-fi. There are very clear villains. And the premise involves killing.

So. Yeah. A lot of bad stuff happens.

But when I started writing the book, I never realized how hard this stuff would be on me. Because it's not just the villains who suffer in my book. The good guys suffer, too. They go through some painful stuff - physically and emotionally. There's one scene that makes me cry every time I read it - and when you put your very first word on the page a year ago, you end up going through a lot of readings. There are other scenes that make my stomach turn because...well, they're kind of gory.

Every time I read some scenes, I consider changing the outcome. Even though I've always planned for things to turn out that way, even though I know they work better if I leave it as is, I can't help but think to myself, "What if I just tried it another way?" And maybe I even let the result play out in my head...but it never works as well.

And that's how I know I'm making the right choices. Because even when it kills me to do mean things to my characters, I know, ultimately (as strange as it is) it's for the best. Kids don't grow up if they're coddled, and the same goes for characters. You have to let them deal with the hard stuff, with the heartache. And it's so rewarding to see how they change because of it. (Did I just compare my characters to children? YUP.)

So don't be afraid to write the hard scenes. Let your characters suffer. You'll be glad you did.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sunday Funday! (43) (Plus, winners!)

Well, hello there! It's Sunday, and I got an extra hour of sleep last night. And somehow it's still already 2pm, and I have accomplished literally nothing today. (I'm still in my pajamas. True story.) BUT I have compiled this AMAZING list of links from around the Web, with some great advice/news/general awesome for you to enjoy. I've also chosen WINNERS for my blogversary giveaway!

So I guess I have accomplished something, after all.

I'm not participating in this year's NaNoWriMo, because I'm busy revising my face off. (See my face, over there on the other side of the room?) But there has been quite a kerfuffle (what an excellent word) around the topic this year; Salon writer Laura Miller said NaNo was kind of lame and pointless. LA Times writer Carolyn Kellogg said that Miller, in fact, was the lame one (I might be paraphrasing there), and that NaNo is actually awesome. Maggie Steifvater wrote an anti-NaNo pep-talk.

Should you tell agents who offered representation when they're considering your manuscript? Agency Gatekeeper says the question is pushy and should be a sign to run away. Janet Reid and Jessica Faust say she's ridiculous, that the question is a normal professional one, and that you - the author - don't even have to answer it. What do you think?

Do you sometimes think that, with all the overwhelming positivity out there on the Internet from other writers, that you're the only one struggling or worrying or totally freaking out? Shannon Messenger assures you - you're not.

Are you struggling writing a particular scene? Never fear - Jody Hedlund has five great tips to help you write the perfect scene!

Super-agent Nathan Bransford says "so long, and thanks for all the fish" to publishing, and hello to CNET.

Synopsis blues got you down? Agent Suzie Townsend gives some advice on how to makes them easier.

Writer Jennifer Walkup tells other writers to just be nice to each other already. 

Writers, agents, and editors are always talking about voice. They want a book that shows voice, characters with a unique voice...and you might be sitting at home thinking, "Great, but what the heck does that even MEAN??" Author Elana Johnson's post over on the Query Tracker blog gives some insight as to what voice is, and how to use it well.

Need some tips on being a better beta? Here are a few things to look for when beta-reading, courtesy of Write Brained.

Also LOOK HOW AWESOME THIS IS OMG I WANT FRIENDS WHO WILL DO THIS WITH ME. (This is why I want to move to New York. Because stuff this cool doesn't happen in Clearwater. We just stay in our PJs all day.)

(Thanks to YA Highway for sharing!)

And now...

The winners of my blogversary contest!

I went into my spreadsheet in Google docs and used to calculate the winners. I went in order, but my plan was if whoever was drawn didn't want the prize I was on, I would give them the next prize on my list. Fortunately, I went in order and everyone wanted the prize they were drawn for. (Does that even make sense? It does to me, and I think that's all that matters. Maybe.)

OK! For prize number one, the signed copy of The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, the winner is...

Shannon O'Donnell!!!

For prize number two, signed copies of Boy Meets Boy and Tangled, the winner is...

Kristi Faith!!!

And for prize three, the swag pack, featuring stickers, bookmarks, and other goodies, the winner is...


Congratulations, everyone! I'm emailing you shortly for your address! If I don't hear from you within 48 hours, I'll have to pick a new winner! 

Friday, November 5, 2010

Copyright Infringement & Bad Magazine Editors (Or, Things That Piss Me Off)

I get kind of ranty in this post. And it has nothing to do with novels or books. But it's important to me, and it has to do with writing, so I'm talking about it. But we'll be back to our regularly scheduled programming with the next post.

Most of you are probably already aware of the controversy surrounding Cooks [sic] Source magazine and how they steal articles from writers on the Internet.  So you have to forgive me, but as a writer AND magazine editor, I'm doubly infuriated by this. And I need to vent.

If you have no idea what I'm talking about, here's the run-down: Monica Gaudio, a writer, got word from a friend that her article about apple pie, originally published on the Godecockery website, had appeared in Cooks Source magazine. But Monica never gave Cooks Source permission to print her story. So she emailed the editor, Judith Griggs, and asked what was up. Long story short, Judith swiped the story from the Web, thinking that was totally fine. She said it was "her bad" and asked Monica what she wanted.

Monica requested an apology in print and on the magazine's Facebook page (where the article appeared), and a $130 donation to the Columbia School of Journalism. Judith refused, claimed what she did was fine because the Internet was "public domain," and insinuated that Monica should pay her something for "editing" her article (her edits involved correcting traditional medieval spellings in old recipes.)

So Monica went public with the incident, and posted Judith's rude email on her LiveJournal. And the Internet exploded.

Turns out, Cooks Source took stories from other people, too - people like Martha Stewart, Paula Deen, the New York Times, Cooking Light, and NPR. And if it hadn't been for Monica, who knows how much longer this tiny regional magazine would have gotten away with it?

I know I usually keep it pretty light over on this blog, but I really need to talk about how much this pisses me off. As a writer, my articles are ALL OVER the Internet. Google my name and, after my Twitter account and blog, pretty much everything you get is stuff I wrote for my job or reviews I write freelance. And I got paid for all of it. If I ever had that story reprinted anywhere else (which, by the way, neither my freelance job nor my full-time position would be cool with), you bet I would want to be paid for it. Or at least told about it. (No. I would want to be paid.)

But here's what makes me the angriest of all - if Cooks Source needed free content to keep their magazine going, and that's why they felt they needed to turn to stealing to make it happen, it's EASY to get contributors to send free articles in. That's why people have PR managers. There are entire websites dedicated to connecting editors with PR reps. So if Cooks Source wanted a story about apple pie but couldn't afford to pay for it, they could have gone to a PR news site and submitted a query asking for a contributed article. Instead of stealing one. Chances are their inbox would have been FULL of pitches, all from PR people happy to submit an article to help promote their company. Eventually, they'd build up a store of trusted PR reps, and they wouldn't have to turn to the websites anymore. Which makes it clear that this whole thing is about laziness more than anything, because if you look in the right places, the content will come to you. 

They also could have contacted local journalism schools to see if there was anyone looking to build a portfolio by writing some stories. When I was in college, I would have JUMPED at the chance to see my article in a professional magazine (though at this point, Cooks Source is far from professional.) In the email, Judith Griggs said she had several young writers, all happy to work for her for free. If that's the case...where are they? And why didn't she call on them...ever? (Of course that was probably a lie to save her butt.)

I was recently laid off. I've been kind of keeping that in because I didn't want to get too depressing, but this is my last month at my job. My boss fought to keep me, but in the end...the parent company did what it had to do. Being in journalism is hard right now, and everyone is working to keep their costs down. So when I see irresponsible people doing irresponsible things, it makes all of us look bad. It makes her look ungrateful for having a job when so many people in the field can't find - or keep - work. And it makes me angry that someone who apparently has three decades of journalism experience doesn't know something I learned my sophomore year in college.  

I guess the good thing about all of this is that pretty much every publishing professional will know that woman's name (oh, man, I feel sorry for any other magazine editor with the name Judith Griggs), and likely her face (her picture was up on her Facebook profile for awhile), so after the inevitable downfall of Cooks Source as advertisers pull out and lawsuits roll in, Griggs isn't likely to find another job in this field. And I'm sure she'll think twice next time she wants to refuse giving a much-warranted apology to someone.

On a happier note...
It's the last day to enter my giveaway! Click here for signed books, swag, and more!  

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday

I know. I know.

I usually reserve Wednesdays for book crushes. I feel like I'm totally cheating.*

BUT I really want to talk about Bumped by Megan McCafferty, because, well...just read the synopsis:

“When a virus makes everyone over the age of eighteen infertile, would-be parents are forced to pay teen girls to conceive and give birth to their children, making teens the most prized members of society.

Sixteen-year-old identical twins Melody and Harmony were separated at birth and had never met until the day Harmony shows up on Melody’s doorstep. Until now, the twins have followed completely opposite paths. Melody has scored an enviable conception contract with a couple called the Jaydens. While they are searching for the perfect partner for Melody to bump with, she is fighting her attraction to her best friend Zen, who is way too short for the job.

Harmony has spent her whole life in religious Goodside, preparing to be a wife and mother. She believes her calling is to bring Melody back to Goodside and convince her that “pregging” for profit is a sin. But Harmony has secrets of her own that she is running from.

When Melody is finally matched with the world-famous, genetically flawless Jondoe, both girls’ lives are changed forever. A case of mistaken identity takes them on a journey neither could have ever imagined, one that makes Melody and Harmony realize they have so much more than just DNA in common.”

Yeah. The awesome. It will be brought. Especially because Publishers Marketplace describes the book as "sharply funny and provocative," and Megan herself describes it as a cross between The Handmaid's Tale and Heathers (that's me!! And also a fan-freaking-TASTIC movie.).

As you all know, I'm a big fan of Megan McCafferty's first series, the Jessica Darling books. And if Bumped is even half as good (and I suspect it will be even better...I mean, it's dystopia! And the cover has pink on it!) we're all in for a treat.

Bumped will be released way too late for my lack of patience on April 26. I'm definitely counting down the days... 

*Full disclosure: By blogging about this, I'm entering for a chance to win an ARC. And I am so freaking PUMPED for this book I couldn't turn this chance down. I mean it doesn't come out until APRIL. That's like 6 months away!! Way, way too long. So that's really the reason why you don't get a Book-Crush post today. Because I'm greedy and want an ARC. Also, hopefully Megan is reading this RIGHT NOW and can feel my enthusiasm, but I didn't link it on her Facebook because I know she Google-blogs herself. Because she's awesome. So, i just want to say, "Hi Megan! You rock my face off."

Monday, November 1, 2010

It's NaNoWriMo! Some Tips to Get You Through

It's National Novel Writing Month! Hooray! Although I won't be participating this year (I'm dedicated to finishing up my revisions on last year's NaNo...SEE? It takes more than a month, people!), I did win last year, with hours to spare. I posted a pretty nice set of tips/lessons/"what I learned" after winning, but since the blog was pretty new at the one really read them. Plus they were ill-timed at the end of NaNo so...that's not really helpful.

So I thought instead of leaving that post buried in the back of my archives, I would re-post it today, where my followers can actually enjoy it and get some inspiration. I've also added some cheeky comments (as I do), and those are in blue. But only because when I put them in pink they're too hard to read.

Heather's List o'Awesome NaNo Lessons, v. 2.0 (originally posted here, on 11/30/2009)

1. Old habits die hard. I'm a big procrastinator. I like to say I work well under pressure, but really I just think that I'm lazy, then all of a sudden my deadlines come up and I'm like OH CRAP. Case in point: I am really excited about my novel, and got off to a great, super ambitious start with the word count. But once real life started to interfere, I feel behind. I caught up a little in the middle of the month, but then I feel fell* behind again. Finally, with less than 48 hours to spare, I decided I couldn't let my six adoring fans down and put fingers to keyboard and cranked out the last 10,000 words. (Which is why I was starving tonight - I wanted to finish up right away, so I came home without dinner. Like a misbehaving kid.) If you think I'm making this up for the purposes of good blogging, here's graphical proof, in both line and bar chart form, because I know everyone learns differently:
*apparently, I didn't think editing was too important at the time. Maybe that's why I only had six readers...

I AM SUCH A GEEK. I can't believe I posted not ONE but TWO charts about my NaNo performance. But the even geekier part is I still think these are REALLY SUPER COOL.

2. Write as much as you can when you're excited, so that when you're not as excited, or when you're tired, or when you'd rather have a martini kthanks, it won't matter. See the charts above for a visual example if it didn't sink in the first time. (Which are still dorky/awesome.)

3. Knowing where you're going is half the battle. Since the idea for my novel came so close to the start of November, I didn't get to outline much before it started. I really only had time for the basic world building elements, character ideas, and first few chapters...maybe the first 10,000 words? I wrote the first 10,000 words in about 3 days, then took another 10 to write the next 10,000. Say, I wonder if another look at those charts would help demonstrate things... I cannot even stress to you how much an outline would have helped. My current round of revisions involve changing the plot around quite a bit and a lot of new scenes, so I did some heavy outlining, timelines, etc. And WOW. I'm flying through it. I also know my characters better and can hear their voices immediately. But still. Preparedness would have helped. I already have index cards stacked up for my next novel with notes all over them (dorkdorkdork).

4. Having a support system is extremely important.
I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all the women in my book club who did NaNo along with me, and everyone from my local group, especially those who came out to the write-ins I attended. Also everyone who reads this blog, because you people are awesome. Still so true!!! And those book club ladies are now my writing group. And I still want to thank them. Because they are epically awesome. As you know.

5. Sacrifices have to happen. I typically read somewhere in the neighborhood of 8-10 books a month, give or take. Last month, I read four, and two of them were books on tape so I feel like they shouldn't count, plus one of them I had already started when November kicked off. But I knew that, throughout the month, writing was more important than reading. (Even though reading is extremely important for a writer, too, and don't you forget it.) The good news is, I don't really sacrifice reading anymore. I've managed to get back up to my usual quota, even with a heavy revision schedule. Now I just sacrifice sleep and exercise and normal human companionship instead. 

6. When in doubt, write. Even if it's terrible and you know think you won't use it, even if it's the worst piece of crap ever, even if it's an ADVERB (!!) just write it anyway. You can always use a strikethrough font to note that you want to get rid of it, or just delete it in revisions. But you also might come up with the best scene/idea ever. (Unless it's an adverb, which is never, ever a good idea. Ever.) Man, I was hard on adverbs! Sometimes they're kind of OK. But only in small doses. Like, really, really small ones. But it is true that writing is the best way to get through writer's block. I totally stand by that. Current Heather is patting Past Heather on the back right now.

7. A working title is just that...working. I always knew I would part with my title, but tonight I decided for sure. It's got to go. I even posted a new working title on NaNo, but since I'm sure it won't stick for long, I'm not going to share it here. Once I have something I feel confident about, I'll post it. And then I'll post it again once I have to change it for my agent/publisher's fancy. This line item makes me laugh. I even broke up with my title in a very dramatic, public, and hilarious way. Then, a month later when no one was looking, I ran back to it. I heart my title.

8. It's not over til the fat lady sings. Which in publishing is when I see my book for sale. (And even then, it's still not over. That's what I've learned in the last year. That fat lady never, ever sings. Stupid hag.) That means, even though I won the NaNo battle, I still have to fight the novel war. I need to finish the book, then revise, revise again, revise a third time, cry myself to sleep every night, let some other people read it to get some opinions, wonder why my manuscript is bleeding (oh, wait, that's just red ink because the draft is so awful), fix all the mistakes, revisereviserevise, add some more steps I'm sure I haven't thought about yet, then send it off to all my favorite agents and watch as the rejections come pouring in. But it only takes one yes (well, a series of yeses, but let's not get picky) to get published. Actually, I think we will get picky, because it takes about 1,000 yeses to get published. That's another thing I've learned. Oh well. I'll still fight the good fight!

Hope all you NaNoers have a great month! 
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