January 2012 Archives

Powerful Story - After


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After (Viking Juvenile, 2009) by Amy Efaw is an unforgettable powerful story. At times it feels unbelievable, yet you know it's all possible. The author obviously did research for this novel. (There's extra info about Safe Haven in the book and on her site.)

Here's a brief introduction to After: 15-year-old Devon Davenport is arrested for killing her newborn baby, but she doesn't remember anything about it. And, it can't be true, since she was never pregnant.

I'd recommend this eye-opening story to anyone who has trouble understanding, or sympathizing, with someone who has done something wrong. It is now available in paperback as well as hardcover.

On her website Author Amy Efaw has background info for this novel. That includes newspaper articles she created for the story. You'll also see that she has other works, which I need to check out!

Memorable Story - Tell Me A Secret


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Tell Me A Secret (Harper Teen, 2010) by Holly Cupala is a story about choices. Rand (Miranda) doesn't know exactly how her bad-girl sister died 5 years ago. Mom disappeared into "drama and the prayer chain" and "Dad into his construction business." But, of course, when she gets in trouble, her mother thinks she should have learned something "after all we went through with Xanda." Like Rand knows what happened then.

This was author Holly Cupala's first book, which has now been turned into an audio book, too. Her second book, Don't Breathe a Word,don't breathe a word.png came out this month and is getting great reviews. You'll want to check out the secrets behind the stories on Holly's site.

Holly has also been a Readergirlz Diva. (This is a great site for teen girl readers.)

Don’t be in too much

Don’t be in too much of a rush to be published. There is enormous value in listening and reading and writing—and then putting your words away for weeks or months—and then returning to your work to polish it some more.
Sharon Creech

I like my first lines

I like my first lines short and declarative. No complicated sentences. Of course, that's not really a Scott thing. It's pretty classic grab-the-reader technique.
Scott Westerfield

Down with Discouragement!


(Thanks to Dave and morguefile for this picture!)pro_author.jpg

Do you ever get discouraged about your writing and/or illustrating? I do. Sometimes it's after reading a fantastic book and I think, I'll never be able to do that well. Or it might be after another rejection, or when I'm struggling with my work in progress. Or even seeing a published book I think is terrible.

I remember asked another writer if they knew about Madeleine L'Engel's experience with A Wrinkle in Time. They didn't. She got rejected, rejected, rejected. When the book finally got sold and published, it won a Newbery Medal (1963). I heard her tell how one editor told her, "I wish that had come across my desk." Madeleine answered that it did. Read A Circle of Quiet to learn about her ten year dry spell!

In the early 90s a friend and critique group partner of mine sold a book. We were all excited with her. She got her advance. An illustrator illustrated the text. Then, the book was cancelled! Can you imagine her disappointment? Suzanne Williams went on to resell Library Lil (published in 1997) and Steven Kellogg illustrated it!

Susan Patron talked to her husband about giving up . . . the night before she got the call about her Newbery Medal (2007) for The Higher Power of Lucky.

I know I could find many other examples. Instead, let's talk about what you can do when discouraged. Here's what works for me.

Hang out with your writing peeps! I have a group of writers who meet with me to write. We aren't collaborating per se, we're just holding each other accountable to show up and be productive. It's helpful to know someone else is struggling with a chapter or scene or query letter. We share, ask questions, encourage each other. I started out with only one writing partner, so all you need is one person to do this with you.

Make sure you are in a critique group. I know, you probably think I'm playing a broken record (kind of like a CD for you younger folk). I mention critique groups a lot. It's because I believe they are so important. My writing grows because of my critique group. My work in progress deepens because of suggestions from my critiquers.

Attend a workshop or conference or writer's talk. I'm usually inspired when I hear others talk about writing. Sometimes a magical thing happens and I suddenly "get it"--that thing I've been puzzling about for months or years. I meet and connect with fun people, which is encouraging.

Go on a writing retreat. Organized ones are great, but they can be expensive. A writing retreat can simply be a casual get together with others of like mind where you get to work and/ or critique. I went on one several summers ago. I met with ten other writers at a northern Missouri farmhouse. Our hostess, Patricia, provided beds, places to sit, and the internet. The rest of us provided the food and it was a very productive two days. Not only for us as writers, but for the cows as well--two calves were born while we were there.

Meet other writers online. Find your tribe wherever you can, whether it be list serves, writers' blogs and websites, twitter, facebook, or google+. I use all of these, plus reading writing newsletters. Often I get encouragement from them. A recent post on Shannon Whitney's blog was about the importance of "writing like me!" http://ramblingsofawannabescribe.blogspot.com/2011/11/writing-like-me.html

Try something new. Go somewhere you've never been before. Try a hobby or sport you've never tried. Read a book in a genre you don't usually read. Let new experiences stir your mind.

Write something. It doesn't even have to be on your work in progress. It could be something new such as trying a different genre, or writing a "how to" on something you've learned. It doesn't have to be intended for paid publication. Write an article for a newsletter, or write a blog entry. All writing is good practice. And you get the immediate reward of a sense of accomplishment.

Eat some chocolate. My preference is dark. Or I drink a cup of tea. Do whatever little thing lifts your spirit - a bubble bath, a silly movie, playing with a kid.

Give yourself some grace. I often feel discouraged when there are too many other things going on in my life, when I'm missing sleep, or I'm not feeling well. Don't expect too much when you are overwhelmed or stressed. Don't make a decision about your writing when you are discouraged--that's when you're apt to make the wrong one.

Keep going. Here's a quote I heard at a conference years ago: "In the end you can Give Up or Keep Going. Those are your only choices. The only good thing about giving up is that there's less competition for those who keep going." -Bruce Balan

I'm going to stay in the running. What about you?

The greatest part of a

The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over a half a library to make one book.
Samuel Johnson



clockwork-angel.jpgClockwork Angel - The Infernal Devices, Book 1 (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2010) by Cassandra Clare is a prequel to the author's Mortal Instruments series (which I haven't read yet, but now want to...).

16-year-old Tessa Gray takes a ship to London where she is kidnapped by the Dark Sisters, who train her in transformations. She ends up with the Shadow Hunters who promise to help her find her lost brother. The story has vampires, demons, magic, steampunk, romance (Will or James) and is fascinating and scary.

clockwkprince.jpgBook 2 is called Clockwork Prince and is now out. Book 3, Clockwork Princess, is scheduled to come out the end of 2012.

On Cassie's website I discovered she'll be touring Germany, the UK and Ireland this spring.

Twist after twist - White Cat



white cat.jpgWhite Cat (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2010) by Holly Black is the first book in a fascinating world of magic and mobsters.

17-year-old Cassell is living at Wallingford Preparatory to try to live a normal life. He's the only nonmagic member in a family of workers. Dad is dead, Mom in jail and his brothers Philip and Barron exclude him, although they did protect him 3 years ago when . . . But I can't tell you that!
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Here are the great opening lines:
"I wake up barefoot, standing on cold slate tiles. Looking dizzily down. I suck in a breath of icy air."

As you read on you discover those tiles are on a roof and there is no way for him to get down. *shudder* Talk about a nightmare! Humiliating for a teen boy to not only have to be rescued but for it to happen publicly in front of his peers? That's worse.

In August 2009, I heard Holly Black speak at the LA SCBWI conference about how readers must be able to believe the fantastical world. As she said "the real stuff has to be really real" and she's done this with this book.

red glove.jpgBook Two, Red Glove, came out in 2011 and you'll want to read it, too. The Curse Worker series has its own website where you can read about the books, watch a great trailer, and check out extras.

On Holly's regular site, she's got a "cover to be unveiled" picture of the third book, Black Heart. It'll be exciting to see the reveal.

That which is written without

That which is written without effort is read without pleasure.
Samuel Johnson

Do as I Say


(Picture courtesy of Mary R. Vogt on morguefile.com)frothocamel.jpg

Have you ever found yourself telling a kid, "Don't talk with food in your mouth," and then realized you were doing the same? I once caught myself out when I reread an article I'd written on character development. Among the suggestions were questions to ask yourself about the character. I realized I couldn't answer any of them for the main character on my current work-in-progress. Ouch! I wish I could say I was only on page one of my novel.

I know some writers write totally organically and learn their character as they go, but I know I need more. So why do I keep trying to do without the preparation? I wish I knew. I may have to make a sign to go above my computer, "Do you know who your character is?"

Or maybe it's that I always have to get to a certain stage in a story before I care enough about all those details of my character to find them out. Of course, that definitely can cause major rewriting.

I've heard writers explain how they write very detailed bios of their characters, major and minor, before writing any of the story. Others fill out complex charts. For me that would be telling the character who they are more than discovering who they are.

On one work-in-progress I discovered my main character's initials didn't stand for what I thought they did. I'd given JD his name a long time ago, when his story idea was only a glimmer of an idea. I decided the J stood for Joshua. When pre-planning a scene in my head, another character asked JD what his initials stood for. He answered, "Jonah David." Whoa! Time out! Where did that come from? But it felt . . . right.

So where does that leave me? Not totally in control.

But I think I need to work on a balance for this dichotomy. Some pre-planning, some organic, followed by more planning, followed by more organic. And, flexibility.

So don't do as I say, or as I do. Instead figure out the best way for you to work out this issue of character development in your own work. Though if you have any tips, I'd love to hear them.

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Authors and lovers always suffer

Authors and lovers always suffer some infatuation, from which only absence can set them free.
Samuel Johnson