Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Change, Fear and Writing Without a Safety Net, by Joy Preble

In just a few weeks – six to be exact—I’m going to be writing full time. This is simultaneously thrilling and vomit-inducing. Will we be going backward to college days – my shopping cart filled with ramen and mac and cheese? Will I end up on the street corner, wiping someone’s windshield and offering to write a poem? It could happen.

But it’s time to leap. Teaching five classes of high school English and one class of creative writing, starting my day in the classroom at 7:16 AM and grading piles of research papers into the night – well, it’s fun and all, but to paraphrase my pal Rachel Hawkins, sometimes it sucks your soul out of your nose. Not to mention the hours out of the day. Somewhere in the middle of using up all my sick days while mini-touring for book two, I realized that I was willing to take the financial hit and see where I landed. Most likely, I will cobble together part time work to augment those advances that come when the contract gets negotiated – which can sometimes take months and sometimes even longer. But I will be moving on from the classroom and its routines and annoyances and deep pleasures. I leave with very mixed emotions. My seniors and I are graduating together this year, and when I chaperone their prom in May, it will finally be my last one.

My rhythms will change. I will miss the tears and the craziness and life and death angst of this one’s break up and that one’s family implosion. The people I write for will be more distanced from me than they have been. Even as I’m excited to go, this makes me sad.

But here’s the thing about writing: if you can’t push yourself to the next level because you don’t have time, you’re doing no one any good, most of all you and your career. I am finishing book three. It’s time to feel like a professional, albeit one who may have to give up her Starbucks habit.

So I’ve begun to prepare. The home office is now mine alone. I’ve got five pretty bookshelves on which I will organize my books and notebooks. A window that looks out into the trees. I will no longer walk into a school building every morning at 6:45 AM knowing that I might not leave until it’s dark again. Come mid August, for the first time since I entered kindergarten, I will not go back to school.

Change and fear are part of the writing process for me. I’ve got some of both coming. Cheers to that, I say!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tara Kelly's thoughts on setting

After a year and a half straight of working on my last book (and nothing else), I've finally finished! It has been sent into the world *fingers crossed*. Some people may say...why not take a break? But I'm not one of those people. Nope. I've launched face first into my next story, a very different type of book for me.

I'm in that honeymoon period right now. Every character is fresh and interesting and mysterious. The plot keeps changing by the hour, but I'm along for the ride because a blank slate means no domino effect. Yep, I bet you writers know what I'm talking about.

Still, I couldn't start the book until I visited the setting. I pretty much have to spend time in every place I write about. I need to smell the air, check out the houses, go into the grocery stores, roll in the get the idea. Setting might seem like a minor thing, but I have to say...I fall head over heels for books/TV shows/movies where setting is a character on its own. Where the town is so vivid and quirky that I dream about going on vacation there. Stars Hollow, anyone?

The setting for my next book is a resort town in coastal Oregon called Emerald Cove (yes, I made it up). Last week I drove out to this middle of nowhere town called Manzanita, stayed in a little house with an ocean view (and really cheap rates I might add--yay for off season), and I took pictures of everything. And I mean everything. Even the produce section in their mini-grocery store. Hell, I got the chip aisle too.

This is a house I'd love to live in. I mean, how adorable is that?

I'm debating between these as inspiration for my MC's house. She lives in a modest house with a cute porch. And it's blue. What do you all think?




The hoppin' town center on a sunny aftermoon.

I mean, who can deny the charm of signs like this?

Your turn. Do you have to visit the setting or are you able to make it all up in your pretty head?

Monday, April 25, 2011

My Perfect Writing Day - Alisa M. Libby

The basset hound and I are freshly walked; it’s cool outside, overcast. Now we’re safe inside as the rain starts. The basset is sleepy, curled up on her dog bed. I am refreshed, alert. Listening to music that fits the mood of the book I’m working on. A mug of green tea with honey steams in my hands. I sit at my desk—a table of polished pine—and set to work.

It’s not that the writing is easy—but there is an ease. Synapses are firing. Thoughts are connecting, looping in and through each other like a length of knit and purl. The words might not be polished, but I can see things improving with every word I type. The character’s voice is coming through more clearly. The plot points resonate. The secondary characters are intriguing. And the mood is there, in tone and the setting. I can feel it, as if I am sitting in the scene.

I write, and I don’t feel exhausted. I write some more. When I do feel tired I take a real break: another short walk for the dog (extremely short, if it’s still raining) and a snack. Maybe watch an episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” on Netflix and brew another pot of tea. The goal is to give my brain a complete break, but set a definite time limit. Once the episode is done, or even before, I return to the writing. I can take another break if necessary. On a good day I can work for longer this way, with periodic breaks, without feeling overextended.

When the writing is done for the day, I feel good. I’m in the mood to cook something delicious for dinner, or fold laundry, or some other domestic task that is useful but doesn’t require a great deal of thought. My mind is still on the book. On tomorrow, and my outline, and the scenes that I will write. On my character and her journey. I have a lot of work to do, but I’m getting somewhere. The feeling of progress, of a book transforming before my very eyes, is exhilarating. The kind of exhilarating that I can muse on quietly, without waking up the dog.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Taking it to the next level - Trish Doller

Recently I've found myself feeling restless about my writing. I think I've improved since my first (unpublished) attempt and maybe even since I started THE NEW NORMAL. At least I hope so! Lately, though, I've read some books that made me feel like I had something alive inside me that was trying to scratch its way out. Something that makes me want to be BETTER.

I've looked into residencies at writer's retreats and colonies, but the application scares the hell out of me! Letters of intent? 10 sample pages? That feels a whole lot like the querying process and the potential for REJECTION. But I'm still thinking about it.

My critique partner suggested gathering up a bunch of books that would set the mood for what I want to accomplish, then go somewhere quiet for a long weekend and just write. That certainly seems a lot less intimidating than a workshop (and a lot cheaper!). But in this scenario, I'm alone and without guidance should I hit a sticking point.

Then there's the whole idea that if I sell my second book proposal--rather than the full manuscript--I could get editorial guidance from my trusted, beloved editor while I finish the book. If, you know, my publisher opts to buy my second book on proposal. Or at all. Which is a whole other ball of insecurity, really.

So, I guess what I'm wondering is if any of you--YAOTL'ers or readers who write--have felt like you needed to stretch your literary wings, and how you went about doing it.

Please share in the comments!

Friday, April 22, 2011

On Permission, and a Shout-out to Someone Half-Forgotten (Sarah Porter)

I gather from the various reading blogs out there that this is Fairy Tale Fortnight. Not too long ago I read a collection of fairy tale-inspired stories called "My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me" (it's mostly awesome) and noticed to my surprise that the introduction made no mention of Bruno Bettelheim. Bettelheim's 1976 book "The Uses of Enchantment" is a major, and very beautiful, examination of the psychology of fairy tales.

Bettelheim's reputation has suffered because at some point he advanced theories on the genesis of autism that were grossly unfair to the parents, and especially mothers, of autistic children. But that doesn't make "Uses" any less great.

Anyway, his theory of fairy tales is more or less that, by reading or telling them to children, we give them implicit permission to own their darker feelings. Mother figures especially split in fairy tales: a kind, loving, sometimes magical mother on the one hand, a witch or evil stepmother on the other. By reading these stories to our children we let them know that it's okay to see us as a little of both, and that nothing terrible will happen to them because they have hostile impulses as well as loving ones.

The Dark Woods are there inside all of us, but the fact that we have to journey through them never yet stopped a fairy tale protagonist from completing his or her quest or from finding true love in the end. Fairy tales give us permission to go exploring in those dark woods, and confidence that whatever adventures befall us there we will someday emerge unscathed.

Of course, this isn't just true of fairy tales. I believe that one of the most important functions of literature is the way that it offers us implicit permission to feel things we might normally try to censor out of our inner lives. I'd guess this is the reason for the popularity of the "Twilight" books, for example: in a culture that often regards love as a kind of commodity, that thinks relationships should be subject to a careful cost/benefit analysis, they gave readers permission to love recklessly and without thought of the consequences.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

What's In a Name? - CJ Omololu

Behind Closed Doors, My Normal Life, Keeping the Secrets, The Other Side of Normal, Finding Normal, Faking Normal, Unmaking the Mess, Hiding My Normal.

These are some of the titles I came up with while I was writing what was ultimately titled DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS. The one I used on all of my notebooks and files was Living Like This, which I never really liked, but couldn't come up with anything better. DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS was sort of a 'hail Mary' title that I threw out there the night before my agent sent the manuscript out to editors and surprise, surprise, that is the title that ended up on the actual cover.

For me, finding the perfect title is the worst part of the process. This may sound crazy, but I always feel that the right title already exists and it's my job to discover it. Until I find the one that fits just right I drive myself nuts trying on different titles and rarely being satisfied. No matter how many books I write, the process seems to be the same.

The new book that is coming out in June of 2012 went by the inspired name of UNTITLED until just before we sent it to my editor. That's what it says on the notebooks and on the word files. I put a call out on the blog, I asked everyone I'd ever met, I searched song titles, Amazon and Googled words that resonated with the themes in the book. For months I came up with nothing. Then one night, I was folding laundry and tried to zero in on what the core of the book was about and decided it was about fate and destiny. I quickly grabbed the computer and searched - actually squealing when I found that nobody in recent years had titled a book DESTINED. Huzzah! It fit, it was intriguing - it was perfect. The deal for DESTINED was announced in PW, the manuscript with the title DESTINED went to my editor and there were even people marking DESTINED as a to-read on Goodreads.

And then came my editorial letter. At the very bottom of the (six-page single-spaced) letter was once sentence telling me that another far more famous and successful author was coming out with a book called DESTINED at about the same time, so we can't use it. Let's just say it was a good thing that the kitchen knives were out of reach.

As of right now, I'm waiting for my second editorial letter, the final manuscript is due in just a few short weeks and we're calling it...UNTITLED. Everyone says that we'll find the right title soon, that there is no way it's going to press without a title, and I'm sure they're right. I hope they're right. For now, I'm open to suggestions- if you have the perfect title, let me know and I promise to put your name on the acknowledgments page.

What were some of the other book titles you considered before finding that perfect fit?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Other people's opinions

Writers write because …

… if we don’t, our brains will explode

… we love it (when we’re not tearing our hairs out by the roots)

… we want to connect with readers, to entertain, get people to laugh, to cry, to help people make sense of their crazy lives

And connecting means getting feedback. Which can be delicious

or not so much ...

I consider writing a private activity. But suddenly, your novel becomes totally public!! It’s wild, when you think about it. Sort of like one day you’re safe in bed, and then the next you’re totally naked in a crowded place.

No matter how popular your book is, no matter how big your name is on the front cover, (even if you’re name gets to be the size of Jennifer Echols J), some people will not like it. And someone will inevitably talk about not liking it on the internet.

After devouring the first fifty or so reviews of My Invented Life, I have (mostly) stopped reading them. (To understand why, see below). Here are two examples.

When I read the description of this book, I thought it would be right up my alley. Unfortunately, it just wasn't. First of all, the characters. The main character--Roz--got on my nerves. Her way of talking and thinking just got annoying. And enough with her invented life scenarios (yes, I know this is the title of the book, but we got it).

I just finished reading My Invented Life. I couldn't put it down. What a great read. Bjorkman really captured the turmoil that goes on in teenage life. Wow. I just sat there hugging the book and let out a sigh. That is the highest compliment ever. Characters that breathe are the best ones. 5 stars!

If I ever get too full of myself (like yoda cat here) ...

I will re-read the first excerpt. And if I’m feeling a little blue ...

I can picture an awesome blogger hugging my book.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

My writing journey timeline by Danielle Joseph

I thought I would share some pivotal moments in my writing life and how I came to write teen fiction.

First Grade: Mrs. Peterson had the class write and illustrate their own picture books. This was my eureka moment: I can write whatever I want? Really? I wrote about a little girl who ran away to the zoo and couldn’t find her mother but met some great friends along the way. Mrs. Peterson was my first publisher. She typed up the text for each book and laminated them. I still have that book today and share it at my school visits.
Second Grade: I had another awesome teacher Ms. Shannon who did creative writing assignments with us and I wrote a story about bears. I thought I was really cool and this made me relish every creative writing opportunity throughout elementary school.

Eighth Grade: I did not find a lot of creative outlets in middle school and by the time I got to Mrs. Adler’s eighth grade English class, I was ready to burst. My friend Nell and I used to try and come up with the wackiest sentences we could think of for our vocabulary words. Then we started asking our teacher if we could act these words out in front of the class. And you would never believe that I was a shy kid!

Ninth Grade: I had a journal full of angst poetry. Looking back I did not have that much to be angst about but at the time I sure thought I did. I did not like to share my poems but really enjoyed writing them.
Tenth Grade: I got permission from my English teacher, Mrs. Fiske, to hand in humorous essays for extra credit that I called life observations. I basically wrote about people in my life and tried to do it without offending them. Note: In this class I did not really need the extra credit but I certainly wasn’t going to spend my time working on extra credit math assignments for my geometry class.

Twelfth Grade: I was allowed to write a novel for my senior project. For half a term I spent my mornings working on my novel. Visions of Liberty clocked in at about eighty pages and has never seen the light of day again but it was an awesome experience. At this point I knew I really wanted to be an author.

Sophomore year of college: I transferred to Emerson College in Boston and took an amazing fiction writing class with Andre Dubois III. He was very encouraging and I left the class feeling like I belonged at Emerson.
Junior year of college: I took a children’s writing class with Jessica Treadway and that’s where I really found my voice. I began writing about a fourteen year old girl named Clarissa and everything clicked.
College Graduation: I totally panicked after receiving my degree in creative writing and quickly did what all starving artist’s do, drum roll please……….I GOT A JOB AT THE SUPERMARKET DELI COUNTER. All I can say is it was gross and depressing and that’s why I quickly filled out the application to get my Master’s Degree. Plus, I did not look good in a hairnet!

Originally I wanted to get my MFA in creative writing but fearing that would land me right back at the deli I studied marketing and advertising. Luckily I was able to take creative writing graduate classes too in my program. Upon entering the work force, it took me about another three years to get back to my writing but once I did I never stopped again. I really credit so many teachers along my journey for helping foster my love of writing and reading.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Not For Poets Only, by Emily Whitman

Do you write fiction? Nonfiction? Do you keep a journal? Do you breathe? OK, you qualify to keep reading. Because in honor of National Poetry Month, I'm tossing out some quick poetry prompts. Whatever you do, don't sit down hoping to write a brilliant poem. That just leads to assuming dramatic poses and wondering if you'll ever be a true (insert sigh here) poet. The point is to write something - anything! - and maybe in the process surprise yourself.

Ready for playtime?
  1. Grab the closest book. Open it to page 7. Write down the first three nouns you notice on the page. Put them in a poem.
  2. Start a poem with the words, "I remember when you..."
  3. Look around your writing space. Grab something that has personal meaning or significance for you. Place it in front of you. Write an ode to it.
  4. Not every important activity, object or profession has its own patron saint. Think of something that could use one - patron saint of parking spaces, of lost buttons, of wishes better left unfilled. Write a hymn of praise or a prayer of desperation.
  5. Write a poem with exactly seven lines of seven words each. Now write the same poem as a ballad. Now write the same poem as a haiku.
  6. Think of a word that describes how you feel right now. Write the letters down a page vertically. These are the first letters of the lines of your poem. Now look around you and write a poem about your surroundings infused with that feeling, but never mentioning the feeling.
  7. Think of the first book you remember loving as a child. Write a poem that tells its story. Or about your experience reading it. Or in the voice of the main character. Or about the associations brought up by thinking about it. This was one of my favorites:
Please, post a comment with a favorite poetry prompt of your own! Or post a line from a poem you write using one of these prompts. Or a line from one of your favorite poems in the whole wide world. That would be delicious.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


by Wendy Delsol

My good friend, a critique-group partner, and talented writer of literary fiction—Kali VanBaale—recently penned a blog post: Who Do I Write For? I found Kali’s response fascinating. She picked a single person: a fellow writer and voracious reader with an honest editorial voice. Her piece got me thinking…

Who do I write for?

I write both YA and women’s fiction from a female character’s perspective. Additionally, my books have romance elements. With these things in mind, I imagine a fair response is that I write for women and teen readers who like a good love story. I haven’t narrowed things down much, have I?

I suspect this is because I’ve described a market, not a reader.

It’s best, I’m convinced, to leave the genre, shelving and overall “market” questions to publishers and booksellers.

For my part, the writer’s perspective—this particular writer’s perspective—the honest answer to the question is—me. I write for me: past, present, and future. I write for the sixteen-year-old girl who had ambitions and dreams and insecurities and doubts—and was at a crossroads. I also write for the adult woman who still has hopes and goals and misgivings and fears—but with a little perspective.

There is an adage in the writing world: write what you know. If you ask me, this is lousy advice. And potentially boring. I’ve always written what I like to read.

I’m currently writing my seventh novel, one of which has and three of which will see publication. When writing a book, I’m fueled and preoccupied (often to distraction, but that’s another topic). If I had to distill the essence of this zeal to a single concept, I would contend that it’s enjoyment. Once I’m into a story, the process is fun. I want to know what happens next, because I often don’t. It’s still evolving, and I’m both designing and delighting in the experience.

I know there are authors with much loftier goals. I recently had the honor of hearing Gary D. Schmidt talk about who he writes for. He spoke passionately of writing for disenfranchised kids. I think this is wonderful and commendable. Having witnessed his emotional connection to his faith and his compassion, I’d suggest he derives great pleasure in doing so. Again, the enjoyment thing.

Another interesting aspect of Kali’s blog was her MFA instructor’s suggestion that it’s worth pondering the relationship between readership and censorship. With a perceived audience in mind, are you losing any part of your story to pleasing them? Does your intended audience bolster you? Or silence you? Hmmm. Another angle to this worthwhile topic.

Having explored the question and having come to a shameless answer, it is, at any rate, the truth. The only way I know to write an engaging story and to keep the reader turning the page is to write the kind of book I would read myself. Writing is a journey; I honestly do enjoy the ride. When a reader is enthusiastic about my book, I invariably reply, “Thank you. It was fun to write.”

So who do you write for?

Friday, April 15, 2011

What Writing Teaches Me -- Cheryl Renée Herbsman

I read this really interesting post (by Erik Calonius) the other day that my friend Lisa Schroeder had linked to on Facebook. It was about the difference between "lucky" and "unlucky" people. And one of the key points it made was the idea that people who identified as unlucky go through life so focused on finding the specific thing they're looking for that they miss other opportunities that are right in front of them. In contrast, "lucky people are more relaxed and open, and therefore see what is there, rather than just what they are looking for." They take advantage of serendipitous finds, shift directions, go with the flow. They keep an open mind.

Keeping an open mind has been (and continues to be) one of the great lessons I've learned from writing. I may think I know where a story is going or what a character is like, but I have to be open to letting in other possibilities. It's the difference between a manuscript surviving and not. Over and over and over again I have to be open to seeing where it wants to go, even when it may not be where I thought we were headed. Rather than a strict adherence to following the yellow brick road, it's the staying open to other possibilities that gets us to the Emerald City, and the staying open that creates the magic.

And what I love about this experience in writing is that it teaches me to be more that way in life -- to trust life's coincidences, to be open to shifting directions, to notice when the path seems to be pushing or pulling me somewhere else. It's harder in life! Scarier. But so worth it. This teacher shows me the difference between listening to my head and listening to my heart. We've been taught to be smart and logical and sensible. But what if "lucky" comes from the opposite, from trusting intuition, going with your gut, being a little bit crazy?

Expectations and fear of failure and an effort to please others can weigh us down,

like poor Randy from A Christmas Story, making it hard for us to be flexible. All those expectations cause us to put our noses to the grindstone and plow ahead, which, as it turns out, might be causing us to miss some awesome opportunities. So maybe it's time to shed all those layers that hold us back -- both in writing and in life. Mr. Calonius quotes Steve Jobs as saying, "You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

I hated high school... but I don't mind visiting!

That photo on the right is me, Stephanie Kuehnert, as a senior... or maybe a junior, but either way, that photo pretty much sums up how I felt about going to school.

I'm sure it will come as no surprise that I hated high school. Usually the misfit types like me do. It was the high school environment that really bugged me though. I have always loved to learn and to read, but between not feeling like I fit in at school and feeling like I wasn't learning about anything that was interesting, important or relevant to my life and what I wanted to do, high school made me pretty miserable. As a result, I ditched a lot of classes sophomore year until I realized that I could graduate early if I actually went. If I hadn't fooled around as much as I did, I might of graduated a year early-- my friend who brought the whole concept of graduating early to my attention did--but I managed to have a senior semester instead of a senior year and as soon as I was done, I moved out of state. I didn't come back for prom or graduation, much to my mother's dismay--the graduation thing, not prom. I don't have my high school diploma because she refused to pick it up for me at the school since I refused to wear a white dress--yes, white dresses on graduation day for girls at my school, which as a feminist goth girl, I felt was wrong on *so* many levels-- and stand in the sun for four hours so she could clap when I walked across the stage. Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like to be "normal" and go to prom and look back on those high school years fondly, but for the most part I'm glad that I got out alive and it gave me a lot of angst to draw from when I write books.

However, I absolutely love visiting high schools. It's one of my favorite parts of the YA author job (though since my books are on the edgy side, I don't get a ton of invitations). Once I even went back to my own high school... That felt a little awkward--though I did get to see the teachers' cafeteria!--but going to other high school is always fun. Yesterday, I did a workshop on writing your own ballad, as in the confessional personal essay (or piece of fiction) like my characters do in BALLADS OF SUBURBIA. The high school where I was doing this had a whole festival of arts programming going on and I was seriously jealous. Maybe if my high school did stuff like that I would have liked it more!

The main reason I like visiting high school is reaching out to those kids who might feel like I did, like the girl in my workshop who timidly admitted that high school hadn't been a happy time for her, but talked about a song that gave her hope things would get better, or the girl who was my host yesterday, who I also met at the same event a couple of years ago and she's still as into writing as she was and now we got to talk about college choices for her. And I love that in my workshops, it always starts off silent, no one wants to open up, even about the songs that might inspire a story or a memory, but eventually there is a windfall of ideas and even the shy kids are speaking up and people are talking about things that you know from the looks on their classmates' faces that they don't usually talk about. Sometimes I fantasize about being that awesome Dead Poets Society type teacher and really impacting the way they think about books and life in general, but I know I'm just a small blip, hopefully a more interesting one than their regularly scheduled programming.

I did have a couple of cool teachers in high school. My absolute favorite was my senior year Philosophy teacher, who led great discussions, let us watch movies like Blade Runner and Wings of Desire and do presentations on things that mattered to us. I chose the philosophy behind animal rights and veganism. Then there was my Humanities teacher who let me write an essay comparing Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh.

What about you? Did you love high school? Hate it? Have a few cool teachers? If you could go back (or as a writer, do go back) and visit high school students what kind of presentation would you give?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A Little More Obsessed

Last month I let you in on a few of my past and present obsessions: Running (past and present), weight training (ditto), jewelry making (blessedly past), and, most recently, promoting my first YA novel Fairest of Them All (present and, hopefully future).

I could tell you about my prairie planting and guinea fowl obsessions, but the release of A & L Do Summer is May 10. Woo hoo! So I’ll keep my focus on my promotional ideas, gimmicks, and the book-related things I’ve been hoarding that aren't likely to sell a single copy. To understand—as much as anyone who isn’t obsessed can—you need to know something about the storyline:

In Iowa farm country, sixteen-year-old Aspen and her friend Laurel plan to get noticed the summer before their senior year and are unwittingly aided by pig triplets, a skunk, a chicken, bullies, a rookie policeman, and potential boyfriends.

As you can see, the story features several non-human characters. The bullies are barely human, but that's a different post. I thought it would be fun to have the animal characters on my table during book signings, so I went on a search for stuffed animals that could sit by themselves and were the right size to be noticed but not take up all my elbowroom. As you can see, I opted for just one pig because three would be too many. Moderation in all things is my motto.

There will be bookmarks, and I love a good tassel. Beaded is better. But farm animal beads have been hard to find. I thought these cute little pigs could be skewered and strung, but, at 35 cents per swine, I passed. A temporary setback. If you find reasonably priced plastic farm animal beads suitable for stringing, please let me know. If the price is right and the beads will work--without skewering--there’s a signed copy of A & L Do Summer in it for you!

The last obsession I’ll burden you with today started out innocently enough. I thought it would be fun to assemble a little silver necklace with the charms A & L. I’ve never been a charm person (Some would say "never been charming,” but what do they know?), so I was surprised when I saw the variety out there. Why, you can find a charm to represent almost anything: pigs, chickens, skunks, policemen, etc., etc., etc. Wouldn’t a few more charms be even cuter? A few more?

Here it is--a charm necklace any chiropractor would love. Can I wear it at book signings? Not without severe neck strain. But I’m thinking there might be a book giveaway contest here somewhere. Maybe I’ll have people guess what character or event each charm represents and the person who guesses the most correctly wins a signed copy of the book. The only drawback—in order to guess correctly you’d have to read it first.

Did I say drawback? Hmm.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Stacks, Spines and Bookstores

I have to admit, I'm a bookstore person.
I can only remember one time when I truly loved the library, and that was in first grade when my local library had a summer reading program where I earned an animal sticker for every book I read. They gave us a large sheet of paper with a
drawing of the wilderness and I could put my sticker where ever I wanted it to go. I thought it was awesome.

As a teenager I loved browsing my local bookstore and choosing new books to read. And when I wrote my first book in 2004, I wrote at a local B&N. I loved that they played music softly in the background and had large windows that let in lots of natural light (and the Cheesecake Factory cheesecake slices were a nice little bonus from the cafe).

And then a few things happened that made me leave that B&N and not go back. One day while writing I spotted a middle aged man stuffing books into his jacket as he shoplifted. By the time I told the cafe person, he was gone. From that point on I started looking at all of those secluded aisles differently. They weren't just stacked with books, they were a place where people could do things they'd never do in public. Which brings me to the second event. I was writing in a large leather chair in one section of the bookstore and a man sat in the chair across from me. I sat there typing for a while and finally looked up. Only to find the man had unzipped his pants, exposed himself and was touching himself while I was writing my book. I went nuts. I started screaming for the manager, yelling for them not to let this man out the door and to call the police. I remember my heart pumping and just not being able to control myself. I was so angry!! I followed him to the door and stood there so he couldn't leave until the police came. All I could think of was some young girl sitting there reading a book and what would have happened if she saw what I saw and how it would have affected her. Which brings me to the third event. Which involved a teenaged boy who sat across from me, pulled out a porn magazine and read it while he touched himself. And this, while two other people sat in the cluster of chairs with us.

Sadly, I've never viewed bookstores in the same way since. What was once a place to spend hours finding stories has been spoiled for me. Now I think about how those stacks give people a place to hide, a place to be alone with strangers and possibly young kids and to do things they couldn't do anywhere else. Bookstores are unlike any other store - which I once thought was what made them great. Bookstores are sacred places where you're choosing characters and places to let into your life, to spend hours engrossed in, and then let them live in your mind forever. Try doing that with a shirt you got at Abercrombie.

Today I still write in a bookstore, albeit an independent bookstore in a nearby town and in the cafe section, not the stacks. I love being surrounded by all those stories and the authors who sat hunched over a keyboard banging out what was in their head. But it's different for me now, and when I see kids browsing alone I can't help but think back to my experience. And I hate that those men ruined what a bookstore once meant to me. A place that was safe and welcoming and filled with possibility. I lament that ebooks will change the experience of so many people who once wandered book stores aisles looking at colorful spines and reading jacket copy. I wonder if one day soon kids will never have to enter a bookstore and pull a book off the shelf, they'll just download a file onto their iPads. And even though our reasons for staying out of the stacks will be different, both reasons make me a little sad.

Why I Retype Manuscripts (Holly Schindler)

Yeah, retype. Yeah, the whole thing. Retyping a manuscript is actually one of my tried-and-true revision techniques. I Tweeted about the technique, and even recently suggested to a fellow author that she retype her work-in-progress, when she asked for my input.

I retyped both A Blue So Dark, my debut, four times before it finally sold…And I retyped Playing Hurt, my second novel, even more…probably about five or six times, before selling it…

To be fair, retyping works for me, in part, because I’m a really fast typist. Reeaaaally fast. I often retype passages (even when I’m not in the midst of a novel-wide retype) because it’s faster to type than cut and paste. (I was actually a pretty good typist even before I went to high school…I took keyboarding as a high school student basically because it was a way for me to get an “A” for study hall—I could type up my assignment in 15-20 minutes, then spend the rest of the class period on homework…)

By retype, though, I’m not simply doing secretarial work. I’m editing and revising as I go. And I don’t retype every time I revise. Only when I need to do a global revamp. Here’s why:

* It forces me to think about every single word. You’d be surprised at how forgiving you are when you’re simply re-reading. But if you have to retype, you’re really critical of every sentence. (Even a fast typist doesn’t want to spend hours retyping something that’s too wordy or unnecessary.) That makes this technique fantastic for authors who need to significantly reduce the word count on a given manuscript.

* By moving through the manuscript at a slower pace than I would if I was simply re-reading, I also have light-bulb-over-the-head moments about the order of events. After typing a chapter, I can suddenly realize I need to bring in a chapter from the back…Or take the next chapter in my manuscript out, hold it for the end. And, because I’m retyping, I add sentences to help with the flow—the reordered chapters feel more like they belong, rather than cut and pasted.

* Retyping helps reconnect with a “voice” of a book, after a long absence from a manuscript. I recently retyped my current middle grade (which is in development at Dial) in order to reconnect with a younger character and to complete the global changes my editor was after.

I’ve also found that retyping really helps to focus my mind…Sometimes, I think I’m also encouraged by the rat-a-tat of keys, the drum beat of productivity… What about you guys? Any other retyping fanatics out there?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Why do I write for teens?

I don’t know that I do, actually. I don’t really sit down to consciously write “young adult” novels. I like to think that my books can be read by anyone old enough (or young enough) to enjoy them. But teen books—that’s just what tends to come out when I start typing. Or dreaming. Or wishing. Maybe it’s because I subconsciously don’t want to write about people with mortgages. People who hire baby sitters. Arrange play dates. Do taxes. Skip the steak to eat the salad. People who are tired because they don’t get enough sleep. People who are oblivious to the moon. Get their oil changed. Fill out paperwork. Floss.

As a father of four who has a mortgage and does his own taxes and goes to the dentist twice a year (whether I want to or not), some would say my writing is no doubt a subconscious need to temporarily escape an Über -responsible life. Live a little. Let my proverbial hair down. I disagree. For one thing, I have always lived—a lot. But I do seem to love writing about teenagers because they have the freedom to do so many interesting things. Scary things. Crazy things. Wonderful things. Because they live eternally (for a few short years, anyhow) on the cusp of so many possibilities, decisions, adventures.

No, I don’t write so much to avoid things, but instead to revel in them. I want to be Nine, the protagonist of my novel Teach Me, who likes to strip down to her bare essentials and sneak out in the backyard with her telescope for a little dangerous moon-gazing in the middle of a suburban night. I want to explore a dank and moldering pre-Civil War plantation cellar, like my character Ronald Earl does with his ghostly girlfriend in Days of Little Texas.

I want to hit the open road with someone I dearly love on the trail of a ‘monster,’ like my Frances does in Breathe My Name. I don’t know that I’ve ever wanted to be a vampire—but I have dreamed of running through the night faster than any human being alive to take a flying leap halfway across the Tennessee River. Which is exactly one of the many crazy things my half-human, half vampire character Emma does in my newest novel, Throat.

I write out of a sense of endless of curiosity. I write to explore. Both the world around me and—maybe even more so—the inner world, which in many ways seems even more vast and delicious. I’m desperate to find the places where these worlds—the inner and the outer—join in a breathless, blood-stopping intersection of mystery and wonder. The dishes can wait.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What Happens When Real Life Meets Fiction and Vice Versa - April Henry

It’s been six months since Girl, Stolen came out. 
Here’s the book description: Sixteen year-old Cheyenne Wilder is sleeping in the back of a car while her mom fills her prescription at the pharmacy. Before Cheyenne realizes what's happening, their car is being stolen--with her inside. Griffin hadn’t meant to kidnap Cheyenne, all he needed to do was steal a car for the others. But once Griffin's dad finds out that Cheyenne’s father is the president of Nike, everything changes—now there’s a reason to keep her. What Griffin doesn’t know is that Cheyenne is not only sick with pneumonia, she is blind. How will Cheyenne survive this nightmare, and if she does, at what price?
I’m starting to feel like this book and real life are tangled up in ways that none of my other books have ever been.
The real daughter of Nike's president
When I was finishing the edits for the book, I met a young woman (to protect her privacy, I’ll not say where nor use her first name).  We got to talking. Her mom, she said was a marathon runner. And her dad worked at Nike. “What does he do?” I asked.  
“Oh, he used to design shoes, but now he works in management.”  
And I just kept asking questions about him - until I figured out that her dad was actually the president of Nike. Just like my character's dad!
I told her, “Wow! I just wrote a book about you. Only you’re older and taller and don’t look much like my main character, and of course you’re not blind - but other than that, you are exactly alike!”

I ended up giving her a bunch of my other books (luckily I always keep some in my car) and sending her a Word document of Girl, Stolen. 
The real stolen girl
Girl, Stolen was inspired by a real incident that happened in 2005 much like the one in the book. Only in real life the bad guy forced her out of the car after just a few blocks. For years, I wanted to find that young woman who was accidentally kidnapped.  For a long while, I didn’t even have her name.  I hadn’t written it down all those years ago.  
Then when I did manage to figure out her name last year, it did me no good. It’s a kind of common name, and it’s also the name of a retired congresswoman. 
A few weeks ago, I thought of asking the Oregon Commission for the Blind if they knew her.
They did and facilitated us getting in touch.
And it turns out that the girl (a young woman now) wants to be a writer! What are the chances of that?  Plus she thinks it's cool that her real life experience inspired a book.
The real Cheyenne Wilder
The third weird coincidence happened this weekend.  I got an email from a teenager.  Her name?  Cheyenne Wilder.  

My Cheyenne is 16, five foot five, and 1/32 Native American.  The real-life Cheyenne is 15, five foot five, and 1/16 Native American.
Have you ever had fiction and real life seem to coincide?

[Of course, authors often work from real life.  I have a new book out today for adults (co-written with Lis Wiehl). It's called Heart of Ice, and it's about a sociopath. While I was researching it, I realized I knew two people who actually are sociopaths (just garden variety sociopaths who manage to screw up people's lives , not serial killers]. Knowing that has, for better or worse, has explained a lot.]

Monday, April 4, 2011

Flawed Characters (And Author) by Janet Gurtler

People who meet me these days think I’m sweet. (Or at least that’s what they TELL me.)  Truthfully it kind of cracks me up. Not that I consider myself evil or immoral, not really, but sweet isn’t a term I’d ever use to describe to myself.  I do consider myself thoughtful. Empathetic perhaps. But sweet. Hmm. I’d prefer quirky. Unique. But mostly I get nice. Sweet.
For one thing, I don’t drink.  Most of the people who are in my life now have never ever seen me drunk. They don’t know how lucky there are.  I make fun of it, but honestly when I did drink I became a different person. It was the dark side of my soul. I’m one of those people who has a personality make-over under the influence. And so not a good one.
But the thing about moving (and leaving some of the ghosts behind) is that most people I know now,  don’t know that about me. They assume that I don’t drink because I’m a) a prude b) deeply religious c) no fun at all.
It doesn’t bother me anymore. Well that’s not true. It bothers me when everyone around me is drinking and I’m the only one who realizes that the conversation isn’t really that funny. ;) When I’m the one not drinking now, people often assume I’m boring or conservative and probably a little bit lame.  But I get over it. And I really like waking up without hangovers. 
But I digress. I think I find the need to explain that I am in fact, not sweet, and one way is to come clean about the drinking thing.  I think it’s one of the reasons I’m drawn to contemporary teen fiction. My troubles with drinking started in my teen years. Actually you can read about it over at DearTeenMe, if you are so inclined.J
I am the type of writer (and parent) who believes that teens know dark sides. They see them or learn about them every day on the bus or in the schoolyard.   I don’t believe that not talking about issues will make them go away. I want my son to be aware of some of the things he will be facing as he hits middle and high schools. Drinking. Drugs. Sex. I believe knowledge can lead to better choices.  I know that there are going to be adults, parents, even teens who don’t like that these issues are in my books.  Diseases. Abuse. Addiction.  But I have a hard time writing any teen stories without some of the characters dealing with these issues. All the kids I knew growing up had skeletons.
The thing is, kids screw up. Not all of them do, but it happens. I’m not trying to judge and certainly not glamorize bad choices.  But here’s what I believe.  Teens are surrounded by harsh reality. But all teens that drink AREN’T going to end up alcoholics. The ones who have sex aren’t all going to end up pregnant or corrupt.  But bad things happen to good people. And good things happen to bad people. And people usually learn to deal.
Actually one of the things I LOVE about Tess, the main character in I’M NOT HER, is that she doesn’t drink, nor does she feel she has to. She doesn’t like to lose control and I totally admire that about her. I actually like writing characters like Tess, characters who are struggling or insecure but learn to deal without abusing food or alcohol or drugs or sex. They learn to sift through and make it on their own.  They find out who they are and what their strengths are over the storyline.  
I love hope and the books I write usually leave most of the characters with a chance to make it, no matter what they’ve done. I like to believe even the most flawed characters have a chance to one day become boring and old and maybe even to be considered sweet by the people who meet them.