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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Almost There (Sarah Porter)

It's a bit of a nervous time. Lost Voices is officially out on Monday the 4th, though friends are already seeing it around. And it's my first published book, after many years of slogging and frustration. And it transpires that not everybody sympathizes with killer mermaids.

I suppose, for those who are used to being published, all of this is quite familiar and even routine. But for me it's fresh and unsettling, and I can't really afford to get unsettled when there's still that looming deadline for the third volume in the trilogy.

More next time. For now, there's this beautiful book trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fvS_SF9mBNg

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A little help

Two of my prized possessions as an author are my brother, who is an emergency room doctor, and his wife, who is a physician's assistant. Book characters are always falling down the stairs, or running out into the street without looking for traffic, or getting bonked on the head. At least, mine are. It is wonderful to have these two experts to tell me what would happen next. For instance, when I was writing Forget You, I wanted to have the two main characters in a car wreck. If the heroine had amnesia the next day, would she have been released from the hospital the night before? Quite possibly. Would she have good pain drugs? Probably not, because they might mask the symptoms of a more serious concussion. Could the hero break his leg but heal quickly? Yes, he could break his [whatever bone I put in the book]. Best of all, when I run into problems making fiction and reality fit together, my brother and sister-in-law offer suggestions.

Not all my friends and family members are such a big help, though. My dad is a doctor, too, but in response to my questions, he has a tendency to say, "That would never happen." To which I say, "Of course it would never happen. It's fiction. But if it did happen, can you give me the likely circumstances?" Sometimes I can talk him through this, but sometimes he shuts down. Currently I'm writing a book about teenage pilots, and since he is also a pilot, he is my main source of information. He has very kindly taken me up in his airplane and showed me around the airport. However, when I asked him how to crash a crop duster, he did not want to go there, and I'm afraid I'm going to be on my own for that investigation.

I think the difference is that my brother and sister-in-law are avid readers of fiction. They know how stories "go." They can picture an author needing to go down one path or another. They understand how research can change the book. So they can help me invent alternative scenarios, whereas my dad, who does not read fiction, which is a waste of time "because it isn't real," can't make that mental leap from "that would never happen" to "how would it happen if it did happen?"

I'm also writing a book about majorettes--baton twirlers in the marching band. Two of my best friends from high school were majorettes. In a few weeks I'm going to take them to lunch, then make them show me some of their moves. If you see three fortyish ladies out in the yard doing thumb flips and vertical spins, do not be alarmed. It's all for a good cause. And lucky for me and this book, both of these friends love fiction.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Deadline Craziness (Joy Preble)

I’ve got a book due to my editor in two weeks. I’m entering the crazy zone. I alternate between thinking I can do this and thinking that I absolutely, positively can’t. Sometimes in the same five minute period. My brain bounces: Oh my gosh, that line I just wrote – it’s the best line I’ve ever created in my life. Yay! But wait. That line was good, but what about this one? This line sucks. I need to delete it. And the rest of that scene – that has to go, too. I’m a fraud. Maybe people haven’t figured that out with books one and two, but boy oh boy, when they read book three, they’ll know for sure.

There is, I’ve learned, only one sure cure. Gut it out, man up, and write. I can revise later, but only if I spit it out now. Do not check my email, do not log onto Facebook, do not pretend that I’m “researching Russian folklore” when I’m really surfing You Tube. Do not answer the phone. Or decide that the kitchen needs cleaning or the laundry needs doing – both of which are currently true but nonetheless distractions.

I thought that writing the third book of a trilogy would be the easiest yet. I know the characters. I know the plot. It’ll be like rolling off a log. (Actually, I don’t understand that saying. Rolling off a log is painful. You could hit your head. There could be a log jam, and you could be trapped and die)

It hasn’t been easy at all. *think root canal without Novocain* Okay maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. *think cartilage piercing without that second Margarita* It’s a third book, but I’d still like readers to be able to enter the DREAMING ANASTASIA series and read book 3 on its own merits, if that’s what they’d like to do. I don’t want them to pick up book 3 and say, hey, what a pretty cover. But I’ll read this next year after I finish the first two. (And by ‘I’ in this scenario, what I mean is ‘my editor.’ I agree with her. But she brought it up first) My critique partners are on permanent ‘is this too much backstory? Or maybe too little’ alert.

They agree that this is all harder than it looks. So many little details to tie up. That tiny moment I planted back in book one? I need to make sure I use it. This is my last chance to finish Anne and Ethan’s story. There will be no Anastasiamore where my readers all interact on line and buy audio books and ebooks and I rake in megabucks for all eternity.

The truth? I’m still having a great time. Even when it feels like I’m bleeding onto the keys to get those words out, I feel enormously lucky to get to create characters out of my head, give them a journey and see it through. DREAMING ANASTASIA sold as a one book deal. Only after it was out did my publisher contract for HAUNTED. So the fact that I am here, getting to whine about the pesky third book details – that’s nothing short of a miracle. Okay, no one’s going to declare it a holiday or anything. (although wouldn’t that be cool? You’d go to the grocery and see everyone lined up to buy their Joy Preble Day turkeys? And some lady in front of you would be saying, “I stuff mine with chopped up deep dish Chicago style pizza because that’s Joy’s favorite” Which would be gross, but totally flattering.)

Gotta get back to work now.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Meet the characters of Amplified (Tara Kelly)

I like to discover who my characters are in rather unusual ways. Today I'm going to share one of my methods, Facebook style surveys. Yep. I go to one of the many quiz/survey sites or just find a survey that's circulating on the Net and pull some questions. Believe it or not, I find this extremely helpful when I'm just getting to know my characters, especially secondary characters. Also, I find it really fun. It's great for discovering their voices too.

So I'm going to share a Facebook style survey for the characters of my upcoming book, AMPLIFIED. In this case, I just had the band answer some questions (note: I did not write these questions).

Key:

Jasmine Kiss (yes, that’s really her last name), 17, lead guitarist
Veta Ramirez, 19, singer + rhythm guitarist
Sean Ramirez, 17, bassist
Bryn Thomas, 19, drummer + producer
Felix Horowitz, 20, keyboardist + programming

What was the first thing you did this morning?

Jasmine: Begged for five more minutes
Veta: Danced like a fool
Sean: I woke up
Bryn: You probably don't want to know
Felix: Well, my mom called to complain about her psycho neighbor. She's threatening to sue my parents over a weeping willow tree. It's really stupid.

What is your favorite cereal?

Jasmine: That's easy. Cinnamon Toast Crunch
Veta: Bare Naked Granola mmmmmm
Sean: Cinnamon Toast Crunch
Bryn: That Reese's Pieces one is the shit
Felix: I like to take the marshmallows from Lucky Charms and mix them with Cheerios. It's kind of less sweet that way?


How old were you when you had your first kiss?


Jasmine: Dares don't count, right? 16...*sigh*
Veta: 12. Worst kiss EVER. Boys suck.
Sean: 15
Bryn: Can't remember, but I started early ;)
Felix: Well, 19 technically. But it would've happened when I was 14. Her mom walked in and she was super religious so I wasn't allowed over after that.

If you were the opposite sex for a day, what would be the first thing you'd do?

Jasmine: Probably freak out
Veta: Show Bryn up and steal his ladies
Sean: Ask Felix if he put acid in my cereal
Bryn: I'd feel myself up.
Felix: I kind of do that every day. I'm a cross dresser, minus the girl parts. If I actually had the girl parts, I'd invest in some bras I guess.

What is the scariest thing that has ever happened in your life (that you can share)?

Jasmine: When my dad kicked me out of the house...
Veta: I almost drowned and saw a ghost underwater. I get chills just thinking about it.
Sean: Nothing I want to share publicly
Bryn: When my mom OD'ed in front of me and my brother
Felix: Um...one time I woke up on the beach, and I didn't remember how I got there. But then we figured out it was this prescription I was taking. Apparently one of the side effects is sleepwalking.

If you could spend a day in another person's body, living their life; who would it be and why?

Jasmine: I don't know..that kind of creeps me out. I'd rather just stay in my own body.
Veta: Zia Martin. She's pretty much the most divine creature on the planet and an amazing songwriter. I'd love to get inside her head and see how she thinks.
Sean: I don't know. Who thinks about this crap?
Bryn: Trent Reznor like way back in the day. Can you imagine how much he scored?
Felix: Madonna. Do I need to explain why?

Who is the one person who can always make you laugh?

Jasmine: My best friend Jason. Sometimes he's the only person in the world who can.
Veta: Felix all the way
Sean: My little sister
Bryn: Felix
Felix: My mom

If you and a member of the opposite sex were the last people on earth, but they looked like Cruella Deville and Mister Ed had a baby, would you procreate? (Just to populate the earth)?

Jasmine: Are they smart and amazing? There's more to a person than their looks
Veta: It would take a lot to get me to sleep with the opposite sex. End of the world might do it. Dunno.
Sean: Again. Who thinks up this crap?
Bryn: Depends. Is she willing to wear a mask?
Felix: Probably. I'd kind of have to, right?

What are you passionate about?

Jasmine: guitar, songwriting
Veta: Life, baby
Sean: Marine biology, drawing, music
Bryn: Ladies and music, what else?
Felix: Anime!

Imagine you're an inmate waiting on death row.
What would you request for your last meal?


Jasmine: Pizza with like a pound of cheese
Veta: Bean and cheese burritos from Raul's Cafe. That's all I need.
Sean: Vegetarian sushi with extra wasabi
Bryn: A burger with cheddar, bacon, and heaps of guacamole.
Felix: Start with Caesar salad. Fried zucchini and mozzarella sticks for an appetizer. For the main course...this four cheese lasagna my mom makes. Loads of hot sourdough and butter. For dessert, I'd want a brownie with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, strawberry sauce, and nuts.

Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?

Jasmine: Still playing in a band, I hope. But I'd like to be a music teacher some day.
Veta: On stage, breaking hearts
Sean: I'm a shark biologist still living on the ocean
Bryn: Rockstar
Felix: Hopefully I'll have a girlfriend by then. Other than that, I'd like to be a graphic designer.

Have you ever made out with someone you weren't dating?

Jasmine: Yep. I've yet to find a guy who actually wants to be my boyfriend
Veta: Of course
Sean: Yeah
Bryn: Daily. I don't get people who settle down before they're 25
Felix: I haven't even gotten to 2nd base.

Do you have any interesting tattoos/piercings?

Jasmine: Nothing, but I'd really like to get a tattoo. Something musical.
Veta: Pierced tongue and belly button. Used to have a lot more pierced, but I got tired of it. Tats: An Anais Nin quote on the inside of my wrist, this amazing drawing Sean did of a guitar in flames on my shoulder blade, and a tramp stamp (yeah, yeah shut up)
Sean: A blue clover on my forearm and barbed wire around quarter notes farther up. My ex has a tattoo apprenticeship, so I let her practice on me if she used my drawings. My eyebrow is pierced too, but that's not all that interesting.
Bryn: Too many to list. Some I love, others I regret
Felix: I'm kind of anti-needle. I won't even get a flu shot.


Do you care what people think of you?

Jasmine: I wish I didn't...
Veta: Only if I love them
Sean: Depends on the who
Bryn: Nah, screw the haters
Felix: Too much

Would you call yourself smart?

Jasmine: Sometimes
Veta: I'm people smart
Sean: Yeah
Bryn: When it comes to music
Felix: Not really. It seems like I have to study much harder than everyone else.

Have you ever touched an elephant?

Jasmine: Not that I know of
Veta: No, but I'd love to see one in person
Sean: That was...random
Bryn: You're a sick bastard
Felix: Rode one at a zoo once. It was awesome

Would you kiss anyone on your friends list?

Jasmine: I could say no, but it would be a lie
Veta: A couple people, actually
Sean: Maybe
Bryn: I've already kissed half of them...
Felix: Yes :)

Do you have a good relationship with your parent(s)?

Jasmine: Let's just say no
Veta: My mom is like my best friend. Don't know my dad and don't care to
Sean: Love my mom, despite her vivid imagination. My dad took off when I was a kid.
Bryn: My parents aren't around, but my uncle is cool
Felix: Pretty much. My dad is cool, super mellow. I get along with my mom most of the time, but she's super conservative and a control freak. If she knew I wore girls clothes and make-up, she'd probably have a heart attack.


How many siblings do you have? Do you like them?


Jasmine: None..I always wanted a sister, though
Veta: A younger brother and sister. Sean can be a snarky butthead, but he's got a big soft teddy bear heart (don't tell him I told you). Zoey is pretty much the female version of Sean. I'm the black sheep, obviously. I love them to pieces, though.
Sean: 2 sisters--one older, one younger. Of course I like them. Most of the time.
Bryn: I got a little bro. He's awesome. Already charming the ladies.
Felix: Only me, thankfully.


Do you currently like someone?


Jasmine: No. Okay, yes. I'm trying not to.
Veta: Mmm hmm
Sean: I don't know yet...
Bryn: I like a lot of people
Felix: Yes, but I can't tell if she likes me. Veta thinks she does. I mean, she talks to me all the time. Sometimes we dance together at Club Neptune. Well, not together/together. That would be dumb. But she bumps into me a lot. I can't tell if its on purpose or she's just clumsy.


If you want to know more about the characters of AMPLIFIED, I'm holding a giveaway on my blog as part of my Realistic YA Revolution. Lots of signed books from other realistic YA authors are up for grabs too. Check it out: http://thetaratracks.com/blog

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Choosing a Story (Alisa M. Libby)

First, I want to thank Cheryl for her post "How Do You Know Which Story to Work On?" which is making me brave about this blog post. I've been struggling with this issue for a long time. I'm usually a one-book-at-a-time girl, but lately I've been floating around from one potentially promising idea to another, working on things in cycles. But I might not finish anything if I don't allow myself to completely inhabit the book I'm writing, pushing aside other distractions (as pretty and interesting as they may be).

It's scary to choose just one. A new idea is so shiny and filled with possibility. It's not until I start writing and hit that "middle muddle" and realize "wait, this thing needs a plot - what does all of this mean?" that things get difficult. And that's when my mind wanders over to that other shiny, promising idea. But the fact is this: an idea can be fantastic, amazing, wonderful. But an idea is not a book. A book requires dedication, focus, work. It's not all fun, magical words tripping over themselves and onto the paper. At least, it isn't for me. I need to commit to one book. I hope I've chosen well.

And now, a gift for you. A fantastic book trailer from my dear friend, Anna Staniszewski. Enjoy!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Where a Kid Can Be a Kid

Ah summer! As a kid, summer vacation meant empty days and travel with the family. In high school, though, it meant getting a summer job.

In Texas Gothic, my new book (which comes out on July 12, just saying), Amy Goodnight has a summer job farm-sitting for her Aunt Hyacinth, a literal witch. Amy thinks it just means feeding the livestock twice a day and lying around reading and relaxing for the rest of it. But then a skeleton turns up on the neighbor's property, and a ghost turns up in her bedroom, and a cranky (and hot) cowboy turns up in her front yard, and things get much more complicated.

Now, MY first paying job was working for Chuck E. Cheese. The pizza place. Where a Kid can be a Kid. Unless you’re a high school kid, trying to earn money to put gas in your car.

First I was on pizza making duty. That wasn’t actually so bad, as long as you were on the assembly line. I wasn’t so great working the oven. Let’s just say, wielding those paddle things takes a leverage that I found it hard to manage. For one thing, I’m petite, and the actual conveyor belt where the pizzas come out of the oven was about head high. It wasn’t so hard holding the paddle over my head like a lance and sliding it under the pizza. But bringing it down and around without tipping the pizza off onto the floor?  More of a challenge.

So they moved me to that’s costume character department. That’s right. I was Chuck E. Cheese. Frankly, assembling pizzas was a better gig.

You’ve been to Chuck E. Cheese, right?  Well, even if you haven’t, you’ve probably seen its clone on TV or in movies. Or, you know, if you’ve made a Dante-esque journey through the outer circles of hell. It’s auditory torture, full of bells, whistles, screaming kids, running around… Oh, the humanity.

Now imagine being in the middle of that dressed as a giant rat, with this big head with this little bitty space for you to look through.  It was hot and smelly, and the kids would always run up and give you a bit, sloppy hug and wipe their pizza and snot covered faces all over you. The best, of course, was when one of the taller ones realized Chucky E. is a girl. And then proceeded to feel you up.

Good times.

To top it off, our animatronic musical character was “The King,” a lion who sang Elvis songs. Only he was broken, so the only song he sang was “Viva Las Vegas.”

Bright lights shining in the *mumble mumble*
Gonna SET my SOUL on FI-er

Now I can never hear that song without having flashbacks to anchovy smell, oven burns, sweat stains and getting groped by eight year olds.

Good times. I'm not sure I wouldn't take a mysterious human remains and a vengeful ghost over that. I'm VERY sure I'd take a cranky (hot) cowboy any day.
So did you get a job this summer? Or what was YOUR first summer job?  Could it possibly have been as fun as wearing a giant rat costume in June in Texas?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Finding the beginning (Trish Doller)

With THE NEW NORMAL, there was never any question where the story would begin. I saw Travis coming down the concourse at the airport, his mother waiting for him at the end. In its earliest incarnations, he was in a wheelchair (but we didn't know it at the time) having lost a leg to a roadside bomb. In later, more permanent drafts, he was back on his feet, but his mother was always there with a sign and balloons and questions about whether he was hungry after his flight.

I've had a lot of trouble finding the opening scene for ALL THAT WAS LOST. And I don't know about you, but I find it difficult to move forward until I pin down the beginning. I can plot out scenes, but I can't really write them until I know what happens before.

I'm happy to say that I've found my starting point, but it leaves me wondering if anyone else has had this problem. Do you need to have a beginning before you can write the rest of your story? Or, like some writers I've seen, can you write out all your scenes and then put them all where they belong--like a puzzle? And what do you do if, like me, you get stuck on that opening scene?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Why I Need My Editor-CJ Omololu

That's my editor. She's cute, right? We've been working together since 2009 and I've met her exactly twice (once involved a diner, a very tall chocolate milkshake, a child and some vomiting, but that is for another post altogether). Right now, we're at the very end of a very long revision process for the new book that comes out in June of 2012. By my count, we've completely redone the ending four different times, switched five chapters into very different places, changed three character names and have yet to decide on a title. This is our second book together, and we've developed a process that seems to work well for us.

After I send her the manuscript electronically, she sends me back extensive revision notes. Usually two to three pages single spaced about all of the general things that need to be fixed, followed by a giant goldenrod envelope via Fed-Ex containing the printed manuscript with all of the smaller, written-in comments. You wouldn't think anything from this face would cause any kind of angst, would you? Don't let the sunny pink scarf fool you. Whenever I open one of these revision emails, teeth are gnashed, chests are thumped and heavens are cursed. My usual reaction is to read it through quickly, crying '"What?!?" and "Is she crazy?!?" the entire time. I usually sit for a while with my head on the laptop, silently rocking until I jump to life and send off a scathing email or text to one of my poor unsuspecting writer friends, looking for an understanding shoulder to complain on. Then I shut the computer down and walk away until the next day.

The next morning, with a big cup of coffee in front of me, I begin to see things differently. I read through each sentence slowly, and gradually, I start to acknowledge that what she's saying might make a tiny bit of sense. Maybe the pacing at the ending really isn't working. And she just might be right about the fact that Cole wouldn't really say that here. And perhaps the library scene is taking away from the breakneck speed we have in the last couple of chapters. At this point, I usually answer her email in blue ink. She'll answer back in orange, then I'll answer back in green. After just a few email exchanges, I print out the entire set of rainbow colored pages so that I can go back to them as I start the process of making our book different. Of making our book better.

I just turned in the third (and hopefully final) revision and I can't lie and say it's been easy. It's been many weeks of 10 hour days sitting in front of the laptop. Of switching index cards around on the bulletin board to make the story flow. Of moments of thinking that I just couldn't do it. But together we did, and the book is so much stronger for it.

When I sent my editor the manuscript for the first time many months ago I thought it was perfect. I thought it was the best book I could possibly write. But I was wrong. My editor managed to help me take the book to a whole new level, and there's no way I could have done it alone. I really think of the finished product as a collaboration between two people who both have a big stake in the outcome.

I think this partnership is missing for many writers who decide to go it alone. While I admire authors who take the process into their own hands, having someone along side of you who can bring out the best in your writing and your work over many long, laborious months is invaluable. Any editor can correct your comma placement and the fact that you constantly misspell the word grammar, but it takes someone with commitment to persuade you to question everything you thought you knew about your characters and your story in order to make it the best it can possibly be.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Character vs. Family (Lauren Bjorkman)

Basing a character in a novel on a friend or family member is not the best idea fraught with perilous peril. I’m not exaggerating. Every time I consider it, I remind myself about the downsides—possible hurt feelings and intensely awkward Thanksgiving gatherings from the date of publication until eternity.

Imagine the horror of borrowing a few details from a person’s life, but not all of them:

Yeah, Dad, you’re right. The dad in my book flies model airplanes like you do, has a mustache that twirls up at the ends like yours, and trekked across Tibet in his youth like you did, but my fictional dad is a jerk, which you are NOT. He totally isn’t you, okay?

So I make up most my characters, but sometimes I love to draw inspiration from a near stranger that I’ve enjoyed watching. I can visualize the person in my mind while I write, but am not confined by his or her true nature. I did this for Roz in My Invented Life—created Roz based on a young woman with unself-conscious high energy and intense joy for life, someone I’d watched off and on for two years. I’ll call her G.

Roz ≠ G

Still, long after My Invented Life came out, I ran into G and confessed to her that she’d inspired the main character in my book. After that I gave her a copy, and avoided her like dirty dishes in the sink. What if she hated it? Or much worse, found it insulting. After all, Roz is one crazy flawed girl (loveable, too).

Luckily G enjoyed the book. In fact, she told me that Roz and Eva’s sister relationship reminded her eerily of her own. *Twilight Zone theme music* Maybe I saw deeper than I thought I did?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The writing life and the ocean--they have a lot in common.

Next weekend I'm giving workshops at Summer in Words on the Oregon Coast. It's got me thinking about waves. About ebb and flow. One of those I like. The other, not so much.

Last weekend I went to my son's college graduation. It was everything I hoped, sharing this heightened time with family and with friends become family; seeing my son in the world he made for himself; even helping pack and clean the dorm room and drive carloads for his friends--all packed into three days. It was exhilarating. A high point was senior Todd Anderson's talk about times that become fat with noticing. In life and death situations, it seems, our brains record every single detail in case some obscure, tiny point is what we'll need to grasp in order to survive. Time gets so thick and rich with details, it seems to slow down. I'd just been thinking about this brain research for my workshop on "Paring it Down to the Truth," so it struck home to hear it again in this context. Where should our writing be thick and rich with detail? And how does that relate to what we notice at times of change?

And then there's the plod plod plod of everyday life. When I came back home after the glorious weekend, I couldn't do a thing. All that rich intensity ebbed back into the ocean, leaving me on sand still damp and sparkling with what had been.

Now I'm thinking about waves, hoping the image will teach me to welcome the thick times and the sparse with equal grace.

As in writing, so in the writing life. Those times when inspiration surges in over my ankles, my knees, my thighs--when it threatens to knock me over!--I want it like that every day. But each wave ebbs back to reach into the depths and gather up the next wave. I'm telling myself to wait here long enough for the words to gather and wash over me again, briny and cold and invigorating.

Friday, June 17, 2011

WRITING, TENNIS, AND TENACITY by Wendy Delsol



When I like something, I really like it, becoming—well—a little fixated. My late-in-life (at age 40, gasp) decision to write novels brought out his obsessive side in me. Tenacity served me well in the writing journey. It kept me at it, churning out novel after novel with no promise of publication.

In hindsight, I recognize a tandem personality trait that kept me on course: adaptability. I did not labor over a single manuscript. If forty agents (my personal line in the sand) passed on a project, I boxed it and moved on.

Tennis is another current compulsion of mine. I play doubles and have been registered on as many as three USTA teams simultaneously. About three years ago, I injured my right arm—yes, playing tennis—and have slowly and stubbornly fought my way back to the courts. I think a fair assessment of my game is that I’m not the most naturally talented player, but I put in my hours of practice, make an effort to learn from mistakes, and have a positive attitude. (Wait, did I just assess my tennis game or my writing? Hmmm.)

And then there’s the professional tour, which brings me to Wimbledon. As the child of English expatriates, I LOVE WIMBLEDON! I’m shamelessly addicted to its TV coverage. During the tournament, I have a rain-man-like ability to cite standings and a schadenfreude reaction to upsets. I will watch a top-name match live during the day and will later sit through the evening replay to hear it called by another channel’s commentators. (Yes, it’s an addiction.) I even have favorite commentators: John McEnroe and Brad Gilbert are as entertaining as the match itself.

And what kind of admitted tennis nut would I be without a favorite player? Roger Federer is, and has been for a long time, my idol. He’s a class act on and off the court.

All of the above—my writing, my own game, and Wimbledon—is coming to a head in the next couple of weeks. I have an August 15th deadline for book three (working title: Tide) in the Stork trilogy. Sigh. And gulp. I’ve just committed to a tri-level summer league. And the Wimbledon draws are out, and play begins on Monday. There aren’t sufficient hours in the next two weeks to do my obsessions and compulsions justice.

I’m counting on that flexible component of my personality to find a balance.

As a sidebar to this adaptability, I have—for the first time in YEARS—picked someone besides Federer to lift the cup at the end of the championship. Andy Murray, I believe your first major is achievable. (Sorry, Roger, I’m still a huge supporter. If it’s any consolation, your other biggest fan, my youngest son, may not speak to me for this mutiny.)

So wish me, Murray, and the many Wimbledon contenders luck in the coming two weeks. I often tweet about the tournament, so drop in @wendydelsol to hear a few highlights. If you’re a tennis fan, I’m providing a link to my Racquet Bracket pool; submit your picks against mine.

http://www.tourneytopia.com/RacquetBracketWimbledonATP/wendyd1/default.aspx.

(The deadline to enter is 6/20/2011 6:00 AM Eastern Standard Time.)

And have a great start of summer digging in to whatever it is that fuels you!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

How Do You Know Which Story To Work On (Cheryl Renée Herbsman)

I've heard aspiring writers and published authors pose this question: How do you decide which story to go with if more than one is poking its way into your thoughts? For me, the answer is
always whichever one has the most energy behind it. Sometimes that means the voice of the main character is constantly talking at me and insists upon being heard. Other times it's the story that is unfolding in my mind so quickly I almost can't keep up.

That doesn't mean I don't question my choice sometimes. I'll ask myself, is this really the story I want to tell next? Is this the right story? Does it have enough punch or meaning or suspense or romance or whatever? But the truth is I don't know the answer to any of those questions. Because for me, a first draft is me telling the story to myself. I don' t know it until it's been told. There's so much I learn in that first telling. I may not know what the themes will be or who the characters are or how the story will end the first time through. So I can't decide based on any of that. I just have to see which story feels alive and ready to roll. And trust that the character or the story itself will guide me.

So much of writing for me is intuitive. The story can change directions in any moment. And sometimes I stop myself, asking, really? That's where the story is going? But then I just shut myself up and go with it. Because if there's one thing I've learned about writing it's that my intuition tells a much better story than my rational mind. So when intuition speaks, I listen. And the same holds true for choosing the next tale to tell. Which one is making you feel it? Which one is whispering in your ear when you can' t fall asleep at night? Which one is grabbing you by the throat and won't let go?



Listen to that one. It's bound to lead you on a wild and glorious
ride!

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Writer's Quest for Focus and Balance (Stephanie Kuehnert)

So I finally sent a revised version of the Bartender Book to my agent on the 26th. (You may remember from my last post that I'd really wanted to send it on Friday the 13th because of my whole lucky 13 thing. Well, as my husband pointed out 26 is double 13!) The last week or so of revisions (the process of which is recounted in detail on my blog here) was intense. We're talking working from 9 or 10 am to 1 or 2 am (yes, you read that right 2 am, not 2 pm) on the revisions with breaks only to feed myself or my cats.

Since I'm a total masochist binge writer, I totally loved it. I was in my zone, progress was sometimes slower than I wanted it to be, but I was happy, in tune with my characters and my story. But now I am at loose ends. It seems that when I don't have a reason to be focused like a deadline (whether it's one I invented for myself or one I was given), I lose all focus. Also when I don't have one primary task like "finish revisions" and instead I have a bunch of smaller tasks like "try to write a new scene," "write a blog entry," "catch up on reading other people's blogs," and "make a grocery list," I become extremely overwhelmed.

The Bartender Book has been my primary focus for a year now. I was going back and forth between two books for a while, then my agent tried to sell one on partial, failed, and said I was going to need to write fulls for her to shop. Knowing that I'm a slow writer as is, I decided that I had to pick one project to finish. I chose The Bartender Book, a decision I spent many months regretting, but then I finally got in the zone and was pleased. During that time I've flirted with a couple of other ideas, had two "affairs" like April Henry described in her post (though those dalliances only resulted in 15 pages or so each and a bunch of jotted notes). And now it is time (I hope!) to begin working in earnest on either finishing that partial that didn't sell or one of those affair books.

Of course there is a massive difference (at least for me) in the way I write when I'm starting a project and the way I'm finishing. I am now used to spending hours on end in front of the computer screen, happily tapping away. I can't really do that on a new project. In fact now it's been so long since I've started a new project, I've kind of forgotten how that works. Plus I have a couple of things holding me back. The biggest one is that I don't know if my agent will thing my revised Bartender Book is as solid and ready to be shopped as I do, so part of me wonders if I'm just going to start something and then be called back. Part of me would find that incredibly frustrating, but there is a tiny little piece of me (really really tiny, but it's there), that would be slightly relieved because then I wouldn't have to take the risk of starting something new. You see that's my other problem. I learned the hard way that I really only can do one project at a time, but my self confidence has been shaken so much in the past couple of years that I can't decide which is best.

I took a long weekend away from writing and just read, hoping it would revive me. My plan is to write a solid 25 pages plus a rough sketch of both of my two "affair" books and reexamine the partial that didn't sell, then go over them with my agent and critique partners to figure out which to pursue next. I also had this glorious idea of leading a more balanced life than I have been as I finished up the Bartender Book. I will actually start seeing/talking to friends on a regular basis and responding to email in a timely manner and blogging again and reading blogs and magazines and I bought all these books on craft plus there is my massive TBR pile....

Ever since I left my full-time job in September of 2008, I've been seeking this kind of balance and a routine that left me feeling well-rounded rather than constantly playing catch-up. I only work 3 nights a week, so it should be a lot easier than when I worked 5 days (or before that when I was juggling grad school with two, sometimes three jobs), but it really isn't.

There are only two things I know for sure:

1. If I don't start the day by writing, I will either never get to it or if I do get to it, it will be sporadic and sucky.

2. Word count goals don't work me. I get hung up on them instead of focusing on the story.

I've tried to come up with a routine for myself that involves writing 5 days a week in two or three 1.5 hour increments with 15 or 30 minute breaks between. Then doing all the online stuff like blogging and emailing, plus carving out time for reading each day. Then I have one day a week to run errands and play catch up and one day a week to hang with friends or do something I want to do.

I tried this last week and it worked really well.... on Monday. The rest of the week totally crashed and burned and I got next to nothing accomplished. Part of this is because some seriously crazy stuff was going on in my personal life last week that made focusing on anything else next to impossible. So I'm going to give it another go this week (even though this week is already going to be thrown slightly out of whack because I'll be out of town on Friday and Saturday).

The problem is while I was so good at turning off my internet and hiding my smartphone during revisions, I'm having a hell of a time doing that to focus on my new ideas. I used to just plunge into a story, writing whatever scene took my attention, but now for various reasons (self-doubt, nervousness about what will come of the Bartender Book, and every book just being a new process), I can't really do that anymore. So I'm looking for tips, writing friends. How do you get the motor running on a new project? How do you bring focus and balance to your writing life?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Just Like Riding a Bike (Jan Blazanin)

If you are or were a teen growing up in a rural community, your transportation options are limited. Public transportation doesn’t exist, and any summer job you find probably won’t pay enough for you to afford a car. Unless your parents give you one, you either have to walk or ride a bike.

From the day Dad gave me a shove at the top of the big gravel hill near our house, I was a bike rider. From elementary school through high school graduation, my bike was transportation and entertainment rolled into one. I was a good rider, too. I didn’t jump curbs or do wheelies, but I could ride with no hands, handle steep hills, and turn super-tight circles without falling off.

So it was logical for me to put Aspen and Laurel on bicycles in A & L Do Summer. With their bikes they could sneak through town in the middle of the night without alerting their parents. Bicycles have their drawbacks, too, but every story needs complications, so that was a plus.

During my first year of teaching I saved money by riding my bike to school. I wasn’t one of those hardcore riders who brave any kind of weather, but I managed two or three days a week. Then winter came, I became serious about running, and life got the in way. My unused bike sat in the garage gathering dust and rust.

Years passed. Now and then I thought about riding, but I couldn’t bring myself to skip a day of running. I told myself I was too busy working out, teaching, gardening, keeping house, and—eventually—writing to make time to ride my bike. Until this March when my cranky Achilles tendon decided to erupt into full-blown agony. Nothing helped: physical therapy, bags of ice, cortisone, or orthotics. My tendon needed a rest, and that was that.

It was time to dust off the old bike. I took it into the bike shop for a tune-up, and the salesman did his best not to burst out laughing. Everything on it was either rusted or crumbling. I left the shop with a new, step-through hybrid bike, guaranteed to provide a smooth ride for the slightly older recreational cycler.

My first ride was humiliating. I knew how to ride--in theory. But I’d forgotten a few things, too, like balancing, steering, shifting gears, and using the brakes. When I tried to turn corners I either fell over in the turn or crashed into whatever shrub or wall was straight ahead and then fell over. Where were my training wheels when I needed them?

I refused to let terror, embarrassment, and a few bruises hold me back. The next weekend I tried again. I got off to a better start, too. I did a couple of practice loops in the YMCA parking lot before taking off on the bike trail. The morning was clear and cool, perfect for a Sunday ride. And what could be safer than the bike trail at 7:00 a.m.?

I’d ridden two miles when the trail intersected with a gravel road. We’d had a lot of rain, and I was a little worried about crossing the wet gravel. I slowed down at the intersection, which you wouldn’t have thought possible if you’d seen how slowly I was already riding. There were bushes on my right and a clear road on my left. I began to ride across.

A car roared out from behind the bushes directly into my path. I yelled, “Stop!” but whether the shout was directed at the driver or my bicycle is up for debate since I still hadn’t mastered the hand brakes. The driver was staring straight ahead and didn't see me. I saw him, but I couldn’t do anything about it.

I crashed my bike into the driver’s side of his car, and seconds later I was flying into the air. I landed on my butt in the middle of the gravel road and lay there wondering how many body parts I'd destroyed. My rear end and elbow were ruined for sure, and the rest was up for debate. I’ll fast forward through the remainder of the story. Police and paramedics, trying and failing to walk, riding in an ambulance to the hospital, ice packs, X-rays, and pain pills. Nothing broken, everything bruised. The car and my new bike escaped injury.

That was a month ago. Most of the bruises have faded, and I’ve finally gotten to the point where I can sit, stand, and bend without shrieking in pain. I’m able to walk short distances before the muscles in my rear end go into spasm. Physical therapy starts Monday.

Will I ever get back on my new bike? Yes. With lots of practice I’ll learn to turn corners and use the handbrakes instead of yelling, “Stop!” and hoping for the best. But if I'd kept up my riding over the years, I wouldn’t have to learn those things all over again.

It’s the same with writing. (I’ll bet you didn’t think I’d find a way to tie it in!) You can take weeks, months, or years off from writing and not forget everything you knew. But if you write regularly, your skills will improve instead of slipping away.

My suggestion: Write every day if at all possible. And throw in a bike ride once a week, too. You’ll be glad you did!


Thursday, June 9, 2011

Writer or Teacher?


I received an email from a reader recently taking me to task over one of my books. The reader, a sophomore in high school, was “deeply, deeply disappointed” with one of my books (she had read two). It wasn’t the characters or the relationships that disappointed her, she pointed out, but rather something that happened in the story – a character has an abortion. She said she felt that I was “condoning teen sex.” She pointed out that “lots of girls read your books, and look to them for guidance with boys and teenage life in general.”

I immediately emailed her back thanking her for her email and saying that every reader is entitled to her opinion. However, I don’t feel it’s my job as a writer to teach morals (that’s a parent’s job). And while I respect her right to have an opinion on the story line, I’d ask that she also respect my right as a writer to tell the stories I want to tell. I didn’t start writing books to be someone’s moral compass.

I don’t write instruction manuals, they’re stories. They have characters. Those characters do things I would never do and they’ve done things I’ve never done. Who am I to preach anything as right or wrong? I’m not an authority on rightous behavior. We all have our own barometers for what’s acceptable and what isn’t.

I’ve read a few comments about the abortion in this book and they’re all tinged with some degree of moral outrage. Other comments about the story don’t even mention the abortion but talk about the relationships instead. I guess the degree to which that event impacts the reader’s opinion of the book has to do with how they feel about the issue. While I don’t see myself as preaching the pros/cons of abortion in this book or putting forth any opinion what so ever, I guess the fact that it takes place and the character isn’t punished afterward might be perceived as saying, “Hey, it’s fine, no big deal.” I can’t believe that any reader would take that away, as the character was deeply impacted by her decisions even if she doesn’t persecute herself afterwards.

A few years ago I was visiting with Judy Blume at her house on Martha's Vineyard and she talked about being, "one of the most banned authors ever" (FOREVER was the second most challenged book of 2005 according to the ALA -30 years after it was first published.) Judy's books always incited outrage by dealing with issues that were happening in kids' lives even if those issues made people uncomfortable. It didn’t change what she wrote about or the characters whose stories she chose to tell. And an entire generation of young readers embraced her honesty.

I’d hate to have public opinions on “issues” change how I write - or how any author writes - or what we write about. While, yes, everyone is entitled to their opinion, I believe that authors are writers first. Let parents handle the morals lessons.

What do you think? Are writer’s expected to provide a moral compass or teach “acceptable” lessons to readers? How do you see your role as an author?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Relationship I Never Thought I’d Have (Holly Schindler)

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing, and I can’t think of a moment growing up when I didn’t dream of being a full-time author. I just always imagined myself making money doing the one thing I loved more than any…


But I never imagined, in all those years of dreaming, that I’d ever have a relationship with my readers. I mean, come on, writers aren’t rock stars—they don’t fill auditoriums with throngs of screaming fans who pass out at the mere thought of breathing the same air.


Sure, I figured I might sign a few books here and there. Shake a hand once or twice. But never did I ever think I’d ever know any of my readers by name.


Imagine my utter thrill, then, to find the book blogosphere. (I honestly didn’t know it existed before I sold my debut, A Blue So Dark, to Flux in early ’09.) Not only do I know many of my readers, but my readers are also some of my very best publicists! (Whoulda thunk?)


Throughout the Playing Hurt Blog Tour, my readers posted reviews and book recommendations, passed copies of Playing Hurt on to their friends, and hosted giveaways.


So I might not be a rock star, but my readers rock…


To find out just how much my readers rock, check out my video below (during which I run the “credits” for my Playing Hurt Blog Tour)…


Saturday, June 4, 2011

Validation as an Author by Janet Gurtler

I vividly remember the taste of wanting to be published. I remember the yearning,  the tightly wound knot in my belly -- wanting it so much it made me almost bipolar sometimes.  Hope and despondency seesawing in my head. I remember how sometimes it became almost unbearable how much I wanted it.  And wondered if giving up the dream would make me happier. But I wanted it so much. And I kept going. For me I think much of it was about validation. Well, validation and really, really wanting to see a book I'd written in a book store. And so I persevered.

There were agents to query. Agents who said no. Agents who said yes but the relationship wasn't right, and a scary search all over again.

And then I made it. I got a book published. And there was lots of joy and surprisingly, lots of heartache, too.

And then I found a new agent, and she found me a new publisher. And I feel so blessed. I have a wonderful publisher and an amazing editor and an equally amazing agent. I know how lucky I am. Sometimes it really is the right story at the right time. To the right editor. I have many writing friends who are talented, amazing writers still pursuing the cross over. And I want it for them too. Because I know they deserve it. And it's hard.

I credit myself with tenacity. Some might call it stubbornness and a refusal to give up. Believe me I came close to giving up the dream of being published , many many times. Sometimes I brooded and cried when rejections came in, and other times I was thrilled when a rejection was a good one and offered more hope. And so, I alwys went back to it. Laptop in lap. Writing.

But here's the thing. I am still me. I am still the same writer I was before a publishing company decided they wanted to publish my book.  Yes. I am deliriously happy that I am published. I love Sourcebooks. But I haven't changed. I hope my writing continues to get better. I still work on craft and having an agent, and and editor and copy editors really does help! But I still want.

And me, being me, well I do tend to have an inferiority complex.  I'm still in awe when I meet authors whose work I admire. Sometimes I feel like a fake, like I shouldn't really call myself an author. There are so many out there with more talent, more sales, more creativity, more!  Many who published younger, got bigger advances,  have bigger sales who've won awards and well, I'm still just me.

As a published author, things have changed in many ways, but in many ways, they are exactly the same. True, now I'm not always seen as a woman obsessed with writing and tee hee isn't that a cute little hobby she has, and oh my it's been a few years, and she's not published yet,  really, why is she still wasting her time doing that? (And that was from my husband lol)

But I learned on my trip to BEA, (where I was there mostly as a stalker/fan) that I am not always completely comfortable in my author skin.  I have insecurities and sometimes feel embarrassed or 'less than' other  authors. I am gobsmacked by people like Libba Bray and Sarh Dessen and David Levithan and Ellen Hopkins, (and THAT list goes on and on)

Yet. Having said that, the best moment of my trip to NY was at a party in SOHO  that was held by        Daniel Ehrenhaft, someone whom I admire (and always will love because he was the original editor to acquire I'M NOT HER)  Anyhow it was the coolest thing ever. The room was FILLED with literary types. Authors, editors, agents. All hobnobbing and circulating and I was THERE and I actually felt PART of it. It was if I dare say it, validating. So far removed from my little house way out in Canada where I sit by myself and write and only virtually converse with other booky types. So cool.

So when do authors feel validating, like they've made it? I guess, like most things in life, it's different for everyone. I guess I haven't figured it out for me yet.  But I think I'm getting closer.

The kind of affair that really doesn't hurt anyone

There's nothing quite like falling in love with a new idea.

A lot of times it will happen when you are in the middle of another book. A book that has gone from pure pleasure to write to a kind of muddy slog.

And then a voice will whisper inside of you:  "This book sucks. But your new idea - that would make a wonderful book. It would practically write itself."

Do not give into temptation.  Do not divorce your current book to run off and hastily marry your new idea. Because one day you will wake up and you'll realize you are stuck in the same muddy slog, only now it's with your once shiny new idea.

Does that mean you should give up on your wonderful new idea?

No. But what you should do is make it your affair book.  Yes, sneak off every now and then to write it. Write with passion. Leave when it starts suggesting you need to do the dishes or take out the garbage. Come back to it with presents of energy and excitement and insight.  Repeat as necessary.

Two of the best books I've ever written were not under contract, and I really shouldn't have been writing them. But I snuck out every now and then to meet up with them secretly. And I'm so glad I did.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Holding My Ground - Julie Chibbaro


This is what just happened to me.
I worked on my new novel, tentatively titled Aurora Borealis & Amazing, on and off for about ten years. I published parts of it in a literary journal. I read some at open mic readings. I brought it to my writing groups. I worked it, baby, hard and long until I got it just right. Then, my agent, who loves the book, submitted it to an editor. She said she loved it too, but wanted me to change it, vastly, in ways that I understood from a marketing standpoint, but not from an artist’s view. We spoke for a long time, trying to hash it out, but coming to no agreement. I got off the phone with her and sat in my office, staring at the manuscript, trying to imagine it in the way she suggested. I thought about what I’d been through with Deadly, trying so hard to please my editor so she would be happy, so she would publish me. I sat with the book for a week, thinking about how damaging that constant compromise had been to me.

I decided, finally, not to change it. I walked away. I held my ground.


Am I scared? Do I worry my words will never see the light of day? Yes. Yes. But I feel it was the right move. I feel that people WILL understand the book, that the right publisher WILL find the courage to publish it just the way it is, or with changes that make sense to me in an deep way. I know that my agent believes in me, and she’s tough to please.


The book is about a boy graffiti artist who meets a girl poet. It would contain his drawings. To the right is a self portrait he did. All drawings would be done by the artist Jean-Marc Superville Sovak, who also did the line illustrations for Deadly.


We are submitting AB&A again next week. Wish me luck. I’ll let you know how it goes. Anyone who wants to share stories of holding your ground, please do. That sure would make me feel better.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Get thee to New York, young writer!

This past week, I ventured forth from my comfy Pacific Northwest cave to go to New York for what is commonly known as New York Book Week, the centerpiece of which is Book Expo America, the ginormous trade show that draws all sorts of publishing and bookish people from around the world. In addition to the convention floor itself with its booths upon booths and swag out the wazoo, there are panels and seminars and signings and get-togethers and parties galore. And then there are all the other satellite events: the panels and seminars and signings and get-togethers and parties galore that abound outside the auspices of BEA, proper, but are still considered a part of Book Week.

It's wild and magical and kind of overwhelming, but if you ever have the opportunity to go, you really should. While it's a brave new world out there with all of the different publishing options that are presenting themselves, New York is still unarguably the center of the publishing world, plus, it's New York! No other city like it. [Disclaimer: I was born in the city even though I've never really lived there for any appreciable length of time. So I have a definite affinity for it.]

Mind you, I say this even as I acknowledge that prior to going this last week, I really didn't want to go. I was tired, more than a little burnt out, and feeling rather dog-in-the-mangerish about my future in publishing and really, what did I have to offer on any of these panels I was going to be on? Plus, every piece of clothing I owned made me look fat. But, I am a professional, not to mention, absurdly responsible, so I packed my professional clothes, shoes, and Spanx, and made my way east.

Boy, am I glad I did. That was easily one of the best weeks I've ever had, professionally speaking. I kicked off my week by participating in Teen Author Carnival, a series of panels and a signing held at one of the New York City branch libraries. Oh my stars and garters, I was floored. It was standing room only for all the panels, not to mention the panel I was on included the likes of Melissa Walker, Gayle Foreman, and David Levithan, and was moderated by none other than Ellen Hopkins. By all accounts, I acquitted myself well, which is to say, I didn't make a flaming idiot of myself.

One down.

Thursday, I participated in a signing at BEA, in the Romance Writers of America booth. First thing that blew my mind? People were lining up for my signing fifteen minutes ahead of the scheduled time. Second thing that blew my mind? I was out of books in twenty minutes. *pauses to boggle*

Friday, I was a participant at the Backspace Writers Conference. Backspace is a multi-genre writing community I've been part of for several years that is comprised of everything from beginners to New York Times Bestsellers and is as warm and supportive a community as I've ever belonged to. They will also kick your ass in shape and let you know what's what. I appreciate that.

Oh, and to kind of top off my week, WHEN THE STARS GO BLUE, erm, sort of won 1st Place, Young Adult Novel, English Language, at the Thirteenth Annual International Latino Book Awards..

To say I was shocked would be putting it mildly. And what made it even sweeter was that my editor, my agent, and my mom were all there to see me win an award I never expected to take home. It was the first time my mother has ever gotten to see me in author mode, so it was definitely a lovely moment.

The upshot of all of this, other than to exhaust you with the report of my frantic week, is to say, as much as I didn't initially want to go, I'm beyond grateful that I did. Yes, the validation from the award was very nice, but even more so was the energy I received from being around so many of my peers, so many energetic, smart, creative people who, when you say, "Well, yeah, I had to wake up and write some of this down so the voices in my head would shut up and let me get back to sleep," totally understand rather than backing away slowly and dialing Mental Health Services.


There's just something so inspiring about being amongst your tribe and never will your tribe be quite so large as it is at BEA or one of the other major trade shows or conferences. And if the show is held in New York, then the energy is magnified because you're there—where it all happens.

Yes, it's a brave new world out there and who knows what publishing will look like in a year or five or ten, but for now, New York continues to hold the energy and if you can harness some of that fire and life to keep you going when things are tough, I suggest giving it a go.