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Use the comment thread of this post to discuss all that happens in Afterworlds. If you haven’t read the book, however, it might be wise to NOT LOOK AT THE COMMENTS.
Don’t forget what happened to this person back in May of 2006. I quote from the famous Specials spoiler thread:
oh god, i read the spoiler section before i read the book. i would have read the book by now but the bookstore doesn’t have it in yet! i got the first two before the sale date. why can’t i do that now!? crap i can’t believe i read the spoiler section . . . crap
This is an excerpt from a work in progress called How to Write YA. It’s a companion to my next book, Afterworlds about a young novelist living in NYC. Afterworlds launches Sep 23 in NYC, and you can pre-order it at the bottom of this page.
What Are Novels?
I’m not going to talk much about the history of the novel. Your local high school, university, bookstore, and library all have departments devoted to that subject. If you want to be a novelist, you should be reading lots of novels, new and old.
Go do that. Keep doing it your whole life.
For now, though, suffice it to say that the novel was invented somewhere between four hundred and a thousand years ago, and in the last century has superseded poetry, short stories, essays, and the rest to become the dominant form of literature.
Novels are powerful. They can help reform corrupt industries (The Jungle), start civil wars (Uncle Tom’s Cabin), and provide touchstones for decades-long political movements (Native Son). Novels are so successful that their DNA has invaded other forms, such as narrative history, true crime, and memoir.
So what are novels?
My favorite definition is “a long piece of prose that has something wrong with it.” I don’t know who came up with this, but its point is clear: novels are lengthy and lack the shiny perfection of shorter works. They are usually written in the rhythms of natural speech, also known as prose.
But not always! There are many novels in verse (in YA, most notably Ellen Hopkins’ bestsellers about troubled teenagers). And novels that are mostly prose often include other stuff: poetry, song lyrics, mathematical equations, computer code, “realia” like score cards and bus schedules, and even words twisted and transformed into visual art (Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man, 1953). Before the twentieth century most fiction was illustrated. So, yes, novels can have pictures too.
In other words, novels are big and imperfect and supremely rugged, like a battered old trunk that can hold pretty much anything.
Young writers ask me all the time, “How long should my novel be?”
The lower bound of the novel is fuzzy. Science fiction folks (like me) tend to use the Hugo Awards’ definition: forty thousand words or more. In lay terms, a novel should be more than a hundred pages. Of course, the Hugo categories below that length are “novella” and “novelette,” terms that simply mean “little novel.”
Far more important: there is no upper bound to the novel. Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time is four thousand pages long. It was published in seven volumes from 1909 to 1927, but it’s all one novel.
I am reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s answer to the question, “How long should a man’s legs be?” He quipped, “Long enough to reach the ground.” In other words, your novel should be long enough to get to the end of your story.
The artist in me doesn’t care how long your novel is. (But the commercial hack in me suggests that you stay between fifty thousand and a hundred-fifty thousand words. Okay? Are you happy now? You made me be a commercial hack.)
Here’s a much more interesting question: What are novels good at?
Every art form has its specific “affordances,” a fancy design term that asks of an object, “What can you do with it?”
Ropes are good for pulling things, but not for pushing them. Coffee mugs are good for hot liquids (the handle keeps your fingers from getting burned) but desultory for champagne (you can’t see the bubbles!). FaceBook is good for finding old friends, but terrible for keeping old friends (and advertisers) from finding you. Twitter is good for snarking at the Music Video Awards, less so for nuanced discussions.
So let’s compare the affordances of the novel to other narrative art forms, to find out what novels are good for.
Imagine the opening shot of a film: a dirty and decrepit room, years’ worth of old newspapers stacked against the walls, opened and half-eaten cans of beans everywhere, and one wall covered with newspaper clippings about the president of the United States, the eyes scratched out of every photo.
Within seconds, we know that we’re in the house of a crazed assassin. Tension!
This is something films are good at: establishing settings more or less instantly. A film can open in an alternative steampunk Bangkok in the 1930s and, even if you don’t know anything about Thailand or steampunk or the 1930s, you are there.
A novel would require a lot of text to create a setting of that complexity. The writer can’t upload a whole image straight into your retina, but has to introduce the elements one by one. Novels have no audio track; they can’t give the viewer direct experience of the music playing next door, or the tone of a person’s voice.
On the other hand, a written word can do things a movie can’t. Many details escape the camera’s view: the etymology of a phrase in Thai, the construction history of a Bangkok Airways zeppelin passing overhead, or the text of a newspaper clipping that the assassin tore from the wall yesterday and burned. And novels can engage smells, tastes, and textures in a way that films, being audio-visual, can only suggest.
Another cool thing about novels: they have infinite budgets. You can build a whole city for a one-page scene, then burn it down. Your only limit on extras and special effects is your imagination and ability. (Comics also have infinite budgets, with a combination of novelistic and filmic affordances. But that’s another book.)
Here’s a similar, but more subtle, affordance: novels can compel aesthetic reactions across boundaries of taste. What I mean is, a skillful writer can convince readers that a group of musician characters is the most awesome band ever. But in a movie a real band has to appear and play actual music, which will not please everyone.
We novelists reach into our readers’ head and make them create their own perfect music.
The same thing happens with descriptions of beauty and charm, which is why when books are made into films, the casting decisions invariably cause dissent. Novels co-opt the reader’s imagination to create whatever the story requires. Every reader constructs their own version of that graceful waltz, that gorgeous sunset, that irresistible face.
On top of what novels can show the reader, they’re also very good at hiding things. If we need to, we writers can mention “a car” without any brand, vintage, or state of repair. If a detail isn’t important, we can make it disappear. We can walk around in a character’s head for a whole novel and not find out how old they are, what they’re wearing, or what they look like. (In first person, we can even decide not to disclose their gender.)
Sure, filmmakers sometimes avoid showing the main character, but it’s clunky and obvious what they’re doing. In a skillful writer’s hands, the reader might not even notice.
Let’s be clear about something: you can attempt any narrative trick in any medium, and as a young writer you should be stretching the form. But the fact is, some things will work better in film, some in writing, some in comics, and some on the stage.
If you find yourself using a coffee mug as a champagne glass, or as a hammer, you might want to rethink.
Okay, we’ve talked about what novels are good at, but what are novels best at? What’s the thing they do better than any other medium?
Here’s one answer: When you read a novel, you can know the agony of a character’s stomach ache, the limitations of their colorblindness, what bacon means to them, or the way they feel when a loved one comes through the door. Their fears, hatreds, beliefs, prejudices, and the exact words they’re thinking can be laid out on the page. All the fragments of a character’s memories and knowledge can be accessed as easily as the facts in the reader’s own brain.
I would argue being inside people’s heads is the grade-A, number-one affordance of the novel. To never access anyone’s thoughts or feelings in a novel is like using a champagne glass as a hammer. (Artists like to do that sort of thing, of course. But if you try it, you should be ready for the broken glass and severed fingers.)
Here’s a crazy theory for you:
We humans have a superpower. We can look at another person, observe their facial expressions, words, and body language, then add this data together with everything we know about them and all the other humans we’ve ever observed, and make guesses about what’s going on inside that person right now.
Are they sad? Angry? Hungry? About to stab us?
This trick, called empathy, is a very useful day-to-day skill. It helps us know when to comfort someone, when to make a joke, and when to run away. But its long term consequences are far bigger, because empathy turns us into social creatures, who can cooperate to build tribes and cities and the internet. It’s the basis of art, ethics, and civilized society, not to mention a crazy little thing called love.
The novel is the outgrowth of this ability, because to read is to imagine what it’s like to be someone else. Just as movie cameras are modeled on the human eye, the novel is modeled on our empathy. It’s not about watching someone, it’s about being in their head. In other words:
Novels are machines for becoming other people.
As we read, we become someone else. Often this person has a more exciting and glamorous life than we do. They may wield magic or posses awesome technology, live in another era or on another planet. More important, they may think differently than we do, and see the world in radically strange ways, and yet we are still drawn into those ways of thinking and seeing. To read is to travel, not just geographically, but into other minds, other lives.
This is what the novel is best at. And that’s because—more than any other medium—novels are an art form grounded in point of view.
Between now and November, I’m posting excerpts from a work in progress called How to Write YA. You can’t buy it yet, but you can preorder Afterworlds, my book about a young novelist living in NYC, on the bottom of this page.
What Are Stories?
Okay, it’s time to get to the writing advice part of this book. Almost.
First we must talk about stories. Like, what are they?
Stories are a technology.
They’re a tool, one invented to inform, persuade, and entertain other humans. This technology is very old, probably created not long after humans came up with language itself.
Stories are also very powerful. Someone who remains unconvinced after a thousand pages of scientific data can often be swayed by just the right anecdote. Otherwise sensible people will believe absurdities as long as they appear in the context of a compelling tale, like an urban legend. We often recall the stemwinder version of an experience long after we’ve forgotten what really happened that day.
This is why some of the oldest things we posses as a culture are stories.
Here’s a little story with a very long pedigree:
There was once a donkey who found itself exactly halfway between a bale of hay and a bucket of water. The donkey was equally thirsty and hungry, so it couldn’t decide which to consume first, the water or the hay. As the day went on, the beast grew hungrier and thirstier in equal measure, so it stayed paralyzed, unable to choose. In the end, the donkey died of thirst and hunger, its decision still unmade.
News flash: this isn’t the world’s best story. It’s kind of silly (or sad, if you’re Team Donkey) and there’s not much rising action or character development. And yet this story has been told for over two millennia.
Back in 350 BCE, Aristotle used the donkey story to talk about physics. In his telling, the donkey’s desires represented the balance of forces in the world. If the donkey chose one way instead of another, nature itself would fly out of equilibrium.
In the twelfth century, the Islamic scholar Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali used the story to talk about free will. He argued that people can break stalemates like the donkey’s even if they have no reason to make one choice over the other. That’s what makes us humans special.
In 1340, the French philosopher Jean Buridan used the story to make the opposite point, suggesting that when facing two equally good choices, the only rational thing to do is wait until circumstances change.
Three centuries later, Baruch Spinoza disagreed with Buridan, but took a different tack than Al-Ghazali, saying that a rational person can always see a distinction between two choices. In other words, the world is complex and nuanced and full of differences, and if you don’t see that, you’re an ass.
Many other thinkers have weighed in since. I first heard a version of the donkey story in 1980, in a Devo song called “Freedom of Choice.” Devo’s retelling (featuring a dog with two bones) suggests that these days people have too many choices, and might prefer fewer. My teenage self could relate to Devo’s version, that the choices offered by present-day consumerism aren’t really the same as freedom.
Such is the power of this one very short story. It has been used to make countless distinct and contradictory arguments across two dozen centuries. And given that no actual donkey in that situation would hesitate for a second, this tale has managed all this despite being patently unbelievable! (This is an important thing for us novelists to remember: stories don’t have to be credible, true, or even to make logical sense, to have lasting importance.)
So why is this tale is so persistent?
Perhaps we all recognize ourselves in the donkey. We’ve all had the experience of being unable to make a choice, and of paying a price for our indecision.
And check this out: we never find out what kind of music the donkey likes, or what its politics are, or if its parents loved it enough, or what it had for breakfast. And even though the donkey isn’t involved in a hot paranormal love triangle or a million-dollar jewel heist or a revolution against a dystopian government—even though it isn’t a character at all in the modern psychological literary sense—we somehow still identify with this beast.
Crazy, right? Why should we care?
Here’s my theory:
We are all creatures who make decisions (or fail to make them) and then suffer the consequences. When you tell us stories about other creatures who make (or fail to make) decisions and then suffer the consequences, we listen.
My next novel, Afterworlds, is about a young writer reworking her first novel after NaNoWriMo. I thought a fun and useful promotion for it would be a series of writing advice posts. I got carried away.
So between now and November, this blog will host excerpts from a non-fiction book I’m releasing next year, called How to Write YA. You can’t buy it yet, because it’s not done, but you can preorder Afterworlds on the bottom of this page. It comes out September 23.
What Is YA?
Young adult fiction has exploded over the last two decades. Once a small and sleepy corner of publishing, YA has become a major part of the industry, the only category to have grown by double digits every year since the mid-1990s. YA is now a profit center that helps keep the rest of the industry afloat, and the primary engine for creating new readers. The massive sales of YA mega-hits like Twilight, Hunger Games, and The Fault in Our Stars have also help kept a lot of bookstores from going out of business.
I have some theories about why this sudden explosion of young adult literature came about, but I’ll come back to those later. First, let me clear up a really important misconception: The genre of YA is not “fiction for teenagers.”
Partly, this is a matter of fact. Studies suggest that about half the YA audience is adult. But more important, the idea that YA is for teenagers is a conceptual error about the definition of genre itself. Genres are sets of practices, techniques, and stylistic conventions. Genres consist of shared assumptions and shared canon. In other words, a genre is not an audience. When someone tells you that they write “novels for men,” or “novels for old people,” or “novels for urban youth,” they aren’t talking about genre.
So what are YA novels, then, if not books for teenagers?
They are novels about teenagers, from a teenage perspective.
It’s pretty simple, really. YA is the set of all stories about what it’s like to be a teenager. Not from an adult looking on (or looking back) but from inside the teenage years while they are happening. YA is literature (or movies, TV, comics, video games, ballet, or whatever) that takes us into the hearts, minds, and lives of teenagers.
So how did this particular genre get so huge? Why would so many readers want to inhabit the lives of people who aren’t quite children, nor really adults?
To understand that, you have to know what a teenager is.
What Are Teenagers?
A couple of hundred years ago, there was no such thing as teenagers. The word did not exist, nor did the concept. There were only children and adults.
When people turned thirteen or so, many joined the navy, or got married, or went into the mines and factories. Many young people worked sixty-hour weeks, and child soldiers were common. (Some were rather good at their jobs. In the US Civil War, an eleven-year-old named Willie Johnston won the Medal of Honor, the highest his country bestowed.) I spew these facts not to outrage you, but to make a simple point: teenagers didn’t always exist. We had to invent them.
It happened slowly. Britain, in the throes of industrial revolution, often led the way. There, the workday for eleven through eighteen year-olds was shortened to a mere twelve hours in 1833. (Progress!) In 1844, the age for joining the navy as a midshipman was raised to 14. The minimum age of marriage was raised to sixteen in 1929. Over two centuries, a space opened up between the complete dependence of infancy and the rigors and responsibilities of adulthood. We had to give this space a name.
The Oxford English Dictionary gives the first appearance of the word “teenage” as 1928. The word “teenager” did not appear till 1949. By then, things were changing quickly. In the decades after the Second World War the industrialized world created nothing less than a new stage of life. We invented teenagers.
So what the hell are they?
The legal definitions are too long to list here. In most countries, at some point in the teenage years citizens reach the age where they are allowed vote, consent to sex, drink alcohol, smoke tobacco, sign contracts, leave school, drive cars, marry, gamble, join the military, or work at other dangerous jobs. Exactly at what age these all happen depends on geography, and is the subject thousands of pages of law. These laws change all the time, buffeted by social mores, by new technologies, and by moral panics whipped into existence by some of the silliest people on the planet.
In other words, it’s all a bit of a muddle.
The cultural aspects of being a teenager are just as tangled. Whatever teens flock to—skateboards, file sharing, hoodies, rock music, rap music, MySpace—will soon become the subject of a moral panic. This is because teenagers frighten adults.
Five little kids in a store is cute. Five adults, good business. But when five teenagers gather, it’s loitering. It’s time for a curfew, or closed-circuit cameras, or a device that emits annoying high-pitched sounds that only teens can hear. (Seriously. Just google “mosquito teens.”) To put it simply, adults see teenagers as big enough to be dangerous, but not old enough to have been civilized yet.
They are uglies, if you will.
Here’s the weird thing: Despite this underlying terror, popular culture celebrates the teen years as carefree and happy, a time of consequence-free exploration. And in our youth-worshipping commercial world, teenagers (those with perfect skin and symmetrical faces, at least) are put on a pedestal. Images of teens are used to sell everything from clothes to food to music.
And let’s not forget the drama of those years—the time of firsts. Somewhere in all this muddle is when most people experience their first sexy kiss, tell their first meaningful lie, and suffer or commit their first real betrayal. Often for the first time, someone close to them dies. Most people drink their first beer, break their first law, and have their first political awakening as teenagers. These years see our first jobs, our first glimpses of independence, and our first life choices so serious that we can never completely undo them. And, of course, our first loves.
So let us recap. We have a global culture inventing an entirely new phase of life, engaged in a messy, noisy conversation about what it means to be an adolescent. We have an oppressed class, whose passions are harassed and banned, whose rights are curtailed, even while their customs are celebrated and their images ever more glorified and sexualized. We have an age of drama and emotion and reversal, where good days are transcendent, and bad days can feel like the end of the world.
Seems like there might be some pretty interesting stories in there.
Starting in three weeks, I will be on tour in the US and UK.
Here are the dates!
Tues, Sept 23
New York Public Library, Jefferson Market Branch
425 Ave of the Americas
New York, NY 10011 For this special launch event, I will be joined by Libba Bray, Maureen Johnson, David Levithan, and Robin Wasserman! Books will be on sale here, as at all events.
Tues, Oct 21
1378 Lincoln Ave
San Jose, CA 95129
Wed, October 22, 2014
7:00PM Books Inc. Opera Plaza
601 Van Ness St
San Francisco, CA 94102 This is a special ticketed event, where I’ll be giving loads of writing advice. Price includes a copy of the book. Fifteen percent of proceeds go to NaNoWriMo!
The schedule for my Afterworlds tour is slowly coming together, and I’ll be posting a draft of it here soon. But there’s one special event I want to mention now:
On October 22, I’ll be doing an event in San Francisco to benefit NaNoWriMo. In this special presentation, I’ll talking about the craft of writing, the importance of NaNo, and other stuff of interest to young and not-so-young writers.
This is a ticketed event, and you can buy tickets now! (See below.) The ticket price of $22 INCLUDES a copy of Afterworlds and a guaranteed place in the signing line. On top of which, 15% of the purchase price goes to support NaNoWriMo.
All the folks at Books Inc. are early supporters of my career, so I’ll make sure that this is the best event I can make it. Hope to see a ton of you there.
Below is my Gen Con schedule, but first some interesting news:
Early this year I returned to the Uglies universe to write a short story called “How David Got His Scar.”
David, of course, has a scar through one eyebrow, the origin of which is the subject of much discussion. In the novels, Tally asks him about it, and he says, “I’ll tell you how I got it one day.” But he never does. Because he and I are perverse that way.
In the Shay’s Story graphic novels, he STARTS to talk about it once, but only says something about being chased by a bear. Still perversely uninformative.
But now, dear readers, you can discover the unvarnished truth in this Barnes and Noble Exclusive edition of Uglies! Just look for this black sticker at B&N stores:
That’s right, you can pay money for a book you already own for the sole purpose of reading 4,000 new words! (Not even 4,000. Like, 3914 words.) You could also go into a store and just stand there and read it. (But you would never do that. You are a TRUE fan. Have I mentioned how great your hair looks today?)
You can also order this exclusive edition online right here.
The story is set in the time before David has met Tally, but after Shay’s runaway friends, Croy and Astrix, have reached the Smoke. It was fun writing in that world again, particularly from a new viewpoint, and it was weirdly easy too. (Read NOTHING into this statement. Unless you want to.)
Also, because someone is bound to ask, I hereby declare this story CANONICAL.
Anyway, here’s my Gen Con schedule. See some of you in Indianapolis!
Thursday, August 14
Writer’s Craft: Creating Story Arcs
The Art of Leviathan
Friday, August 15
Q&A with me
Business of Writing: Selling Your Stories
Saturday, August 16
Pushing the YA Envelope
Impact of Reader Gender on Your Writing
With Afterworlds coming out, I’ll be traveling and making appearances all year long. The tour in September and October isn’t set yet, but here are a few places I’ll definitely be:
American Library Association
Las Vegas, NV
Signing at the S&S booth (#302-3)
June 27 6:00 – 7:00 PM
Signing at the Baker & Taylor booth (#1333)
June 28 1:30 – 2:30 PM
(I’ll be doing other events, so check your schedule.)
San Diego, CA
“What’s Hot in YA?”
Sunday, July 27
1:00p.m. – 2:00p.m.
Signing afterward in the Sails Pavilion.
Also maybe more stuff, yet to be determined.
As you guys know, I’ve been matching donations to NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program. Today, Tuesday June 17, is the best time to donate, because folks who donate between noon and 1PM US Eastern (9AM-10AM Pacific) will be automatically entered to win one of five signed copies of Afterworlds.
That’s right, you get to read it NOW.
The YWP is revamping their website, refreshing their already excellent (and free!) curriculum guides for schools who participate in Nano, and expanding their outreach to correctional facilities, halfway houses, and juvenile detention facilities.
To all you folks coming to Book Expo America in NYC, I’ll be signing copies of Afterworlds and otherwise entertaining you! For you non-BEA attenders, I’ll also be at the 92nd St Y for the launch of Cassandra Clare’s City of Heavenly Fire. And there’s also a surprise on Friday. (Scroll down.)
Here’s the whole week:
Book Launch for The City of Heavenly Fire
With me, Maureen Johnson, Kelly Link, and Holly Black.
Lexington Avenue at 92nd St
Kaufmann Concert Hall
Monday, May 26
Talent Show and Silent Auction
River Pavilion, Javits Convention Center
Wednesday, May 28
Join the ABC Children’s Group and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) in supporting and protecting the free speech rights of young readers. More than 100 pieces of art from well-known children’s illustrators will be auctioned. Proceeds from the auction support ABFFE, the Kids’ Right to Read Project, and Banned Books Week.
The Craft of Writing Panel
Me with Brandon Mull, Kiera Cass, and Amy Ewing.
Uptown Stage, Javits Center
Friday, May 30
11:00 – 11:30AM
S&S booth #2638-9, Level 3 (not the cattle yard)
Friday, May 30
3:45 – 4:45PM
Afterworlds Trailer Revealed
Friday, May 30
Stay tuned for details on this. But here’s a behind-the-scenes picture from making the trailer:
Pretty cool, huh? More still coming in the next week.
And finally, I’m still matching any and all contributions to the NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program, the wing of Nano that assists teen novelists. The YWP is revamping their website, refreshing their already excellent (and free!) curriculum guides for schools who participate in Nano, and expanding their outreach to correctional facilities, halfway houses, and juvenile detention facilities.
Donate in the next month through this website, and Justine and I will match the first ten grand of your donations.
If you thought the strafing hawks in Leviathan seemed unbelievable, behold the 1912 French air force experiments with eagles:
Note that these weren’t engineered creatures like in my books, nor were they equipped with special razor talons. They were just regular eagles using their own claws.
Of course, in 1912 airplanes were barely reaching tops speeds of 160KPH (100MPH), and the world altitude record was about 4000 meters (13,000 ft) for heavier-than-air craft. Depending on the species, eagles can get close to that speed while diving, and have been spotted at higher altitudes.
I’m not sure what top airship altitude is in 1912, but it was probably higher than 4000 meters. But there’s no way an airship could go faster than an eagle back then. So the whole thing probably seemed feasible, except for the tricking business of training eagles to attack something much bigger, and to tell friend from foe.
I have no idea how long this program lasted, but it probably didn’t bear much fruit. (Lucky for the eagles, who got to stay out of the Great War. Though the pigeons wound up fighting.) By 1914, planes were flying at up to 200KPH and at altitudes of 6000 meters, beyond the capacity of any bird to hunt.
But as I often say, you can’t always tell what technologies are feasible before they’re invented. From way back then, walking machines and fighting eagles looked like a real possibility.
Okay, I’m still matching any contributions you guys make to the NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program, the wing of Nano that assists teen novelists. The YWP is revamping their website, refreshing their already excellent (and free!) curriculum guides for schools who participate in Nano, and expanding their outreach to correctional facilities, halfway houses, and juvenile detention facilities.
Donate in the next month through this website, Justine and I will match the first ten grand of your donations.
As a little kid, I understood by doing. I rarely listened to music without picking up an instrument, or watched TV without twitching along with the scenes, like those old guys whose shoulders dip and fists clench whenever a boxing match is on. More important to the ultimate course of my life, I couldn’t read without writing.
The word “fanfic” had barely been invented in those pre-internet days, but I spent thousands of pages cloning Tolkien, wrote many proto-novels channeling Joanna Russ, and still commit the occasional Raymond Chandler-esque simile.
Writing has always been a part of my reading. I think it’s a part of any writer’s reading. We understand books by making them.
But I’m here today to raise money. This year, the NaNoWriMo Associate Board is focusing on the Young Writers Program, the wing of Nano that assists teen novelists. The YWP is revamping their website, refreshing their already excellent (and free!) curriculum guides for schools who participate in Nano, and expanding their outreach to correctional facilities, halfway houses, and juvenile detention facilities.
This is all great stuff. If you love novels and writers, you should help out. And as a bonus, if you donate in the next month through this website, I’ll match the first ten grand of your donations.
Seriously. We all want to see the novel flourish in the future, right? We want young people to understand the form, to embrace its history and its future, and to continue the mad practice of creating these absurdly long, imperfect strings of text.
As you know, I’ve already revealed the cover of Afterworlds, three posts ago. But I also wanted to show you the cover of the special advanced readers’ copies (ARCs) sent to bookstore owners and the like, because it’s seriously my favorite promotional object of my entire career:
Now, I know that looks like the back cover, but it’s the FRONT, because the blurbs were so funny that Sales was like, “Put them on the front!” (And yes, they are real blurbs. Thanks to John, Maureen, and Shannon!)
Alas, only 200 copies of this were printed, and they are hard to acquire. I only own three, and you can’t have them!
For those of you in the trade, there will be many more ARCs with the real cover, at places like Book Expo America. (I’m signing there!) But I love that these silly ones are in short supply.
Also, I knew this thing was long, but now that it’s here in physical form and 599 pages, I realize how THICK that is:
As you can see it’s 5cm (2 inches) thick, almost twice as fat as Justine‘s next book, Razorhurst. Which is her longest book yet.
Of course, I’m cheating because it’s really two books (Darcy’s book and the book about Darcy). But still, I win.
Last July, Justine and I taught at the Alpha Workshop for Young Writers, a science fiction, fantasy, and horror writing camp for people 14-19. It was tons of fun (pic here) and we learned a lot. So when Alpha asked me if I would lend space for their fund-raising and young-writer-recruiting blog tour, I said yes.
So here’s a post by Sarah Brand, an Alpha alum, talking about how workshops and the communities they form help us all to become better writers.
In the summer of 2006, I attended the Alpha SF/F/H Workshop for Young Writers for the first time. As I boarded the plane to Pittsburgh, easily the farthest I had ever traveled on my own at that point, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Being a somewhat anxious, awkward girl, I didn’t know whether I would make friends. But maybe I would learn more about writing, or how to get published. Maybe Tamora Pierce, who teaches at Alpha every year, would look at my novel. (I had brought a printout of all 300 pages just in case.)
I was right about some things, and wrong about others. I did learn a lot about the craft and business of writing, enough to recognize that my novel still needed a lot of work. (Tammy didn’t look at it, which was definitely for the best.) And though I was anxious and awkward, and though minor disasters kept happening to me—getting stung by mysterious bugs, making my parents worry by forgetting to call home, and the like—I felt completely at home with the workshop’s staff and the other students. Something magical was happening.
After ten days, the workshop ended, and I went home. But something was different, something that had never happened to me after any summer camp before: I kept in touch with my fellow Alphans, regularly, via LiveJournal and email. We commiserated about school and traded drafts of stories for critique. Even months after the workshop, I felt as close to some Alphans as I did to other friends I had known all my life. Maybe geography had cruelly scattered us from California to New Zealand and everywhere in between, but we were united by our love of making stories happen, and bringing strange new worlds to life.
In 2009, after I had returned to Alpha twice more—once as a second-year student and once as a staff member—fellow Alpha graduates Rachel Sobel and Rebecca McNulty founded the alpha-crits community, which soon became the way many Alphans stayed in touch. In addition to trading critiques, we celebrate each other’s writing accomplishments and publishing successes. For four particularly memorable months, the moderators ran the “700 words a day or shame!” thread, which resulted in Alphans collectively writing 875,799 words in that time. Also, every year as the deadline for the Dell Magazines Award approaches, eligible Alphans frantically write and revise stories for the contest, and everyone pitches in to give critiques with an extra fast turnaround time. (A couple of months later, we all join in the nail-biting until the finalists are announced.)
Importantly, the members of alpha-crits encourage each other to write things and send them out, continuing the time-honored Alphan tradition of treating rejections from agents and editors as a badge of honor. (Rejections, we have all learned, mean that you are writing things and sending them out, and that is always a step forward, even if it doesn’t feel like it.)
Even if I had never attended Alpha, I think I would still be writing. The entire course of the last eight years of my life would be different, sure, but in the end, telling stories is part of who I am. But being part of a community of such fabulous writers—not only brilliant and talented, but also uniformly encouraging and kind—has made the journey much easier, and a lot more fun.
And lest you might think I’m the only one who feels this way, I reached out to other Alphans to get their thoughts. Alpha graduate Marina Goggin had this to say: “One thing I hear a lot that I would never expect out of a two-week workshop is that Alpha changes lives. This is absolutely true… Being part of Alpha makes you a part of the writing world—even if you haven’t been published yet, someone you critiqued probably has been. Someone you know just got an agent, or a job at a publishing company. While I’m working to improve my writing, I’m encouraged by the fact that other Alphans have already been through the same process and are there to help me through it in turn.”
“I have a whole community of writer friends who I can go to for advice or encouragement should I ever need it,” added Alphan Mallory Trevino.
If you are between the ages of 14 and 19 and love writing science fiction, fantasy, or horror, you should apply to Alpha! This year’s workshop will be held July 25-August 3 in Pittsburgh, PA, and applications are due March 2. Everyone else: if you like the sound of Alpha and want to help the workshop, please consider donating to our scholarship fund, which helps students who couldn’t afford to attend Alpha otherwise. All donors receive a flash fiction anthology, written and illustrated by Alpha graduates, as a thank-you gift.
Sarah Brand attended Alpha in 2006 and 2007. She writes young adult science fiction and fantasy, and her fiction is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.
Just wrote a post for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), the organization that compels tens of thousands of people to write tens of thousands of words every November.
For those non-November months, NaNo has a series about rewriting your first draft, called “What Now?” And given that my next novel is about a young writer who is rewriting her novel, it seemed sensible for me to contribute.
This might be useful for those of you who are rewriting, and for the rest of you, I briefly discuss the themes of my new novel, Afterworlds.
The piece has lots of interesting details about the book, and some bonus news about the super secret Uglies deal I’ve been working on for the last few months. (More on that in the next few weeks, right here!) Also news about my “How to Write YA” book, which also comes out this year, and which will be serialized on this very blog.
And just to round things out, here’s the lovely cover from the Hungarian edition of Goliath, painted by Richárd Vass:
There will be lots more in this blog about Afterworlds as the year goes on!
It’s a set of e-books (or video games) that are sold together to raise money for charity and for the creators of the books.
Here’s why it’s cool:
1) It’s super cheap. In fact, you pay whatever price you want. The only limit is, if you pay less than the average of all previous purchases, you only get four of the books. But if you pay the current average or more, you get the two “locked” books as well (one of which is Uglies). The average payment currently stands at US $10.87. Not too bad for six books! And if you pay $15 or more, you also get an audio version Cory Doctorow’s Homeland.
But wait! There’s more! A set of mystery books will appear soon, and you’ll get those books too if you pay the average or more. So many books for a bit over ten bucks.
A slightly helpful infographic:
2) Humble Bundles support charity. In fact, you can choose how much of your payment goes to charity and how much to the creators (and you also can tip Humble Bundle for providing the infrastructure). The charities for this bundle are WorldReader, a global literacy charity, and the SFWA emergency fund, which helps science fiction writers who find themselves bankrupted by medical bills.
3) All the e-books are DRM-free. You can use them on any device and make as many copies for personal use as you desire. (We are trusting you not to be pirates. Please do not be pirates.)
4) The books are good: The Best Days of Our Lives by Wil Wheaton Tithe by Holly Black Jumper by Stephen Gould Zombies vs. Unicorns edited by Holly Black & Justine Larbalestier Mogworld by Yahtzee Crowshaw Uglies by me Homeland (exclusive audio version) by Cory Doctorow
Plus bonus mystery books by mystery authors! (I am fancy and already know what they are and they are great! Note: Not actually mysteries in the genre sense. More like YA.)
In other words, a combination of classic and new YA, and some nonfiction to boot. Plus secret bonus books, which is fun.
As I write this, 12,950 bundles have sold, raising $136,889.60!
Anyway, to buy the bundle simply go to humblebundle.com and cough up some bucks. Do this within 12 days!
So why am I participating in this process?
1) I will get some money out of it. That’s cool.
2) Money will be raised for two fine charities. Global literacy means more readers in the world, which is good for me and for civilization, and emergency medical funds for sf writers are often needed. (I live in the socialist hellscape of Australia, so my medical bills are guaranteed for life. But I have lots of friends who might need this one day.)
3) People will read Uglies for this almost free price and then go buy other books by me for real money. (An old trick.)
4) People who come to buy Uglies will get exposed to the other books on the list, which will be good for those lovely authors! (The reverse is also true, but covered under 1 and 3.)
5) It seemed like the cool kids were doing this. And it’s fun to watch the counter go up and more money appear.
Still not sold? Because, like, all you guys already have Uglies? Surely this video will change your mind:
More Uglies TV show news here soon! (But not instantly, because Hollywood.)
I’ve already seen the cover, of course, and it’s quite awesome! The best thing is, it gets better once you’ve read the book. Like, there are meanings in this cover, which are subtle and cool.
The cover will appear on this blog shortly thereafter. Actually, it might be a couple of hours, because it’ll be super early here in New Zealand. (I saw a kiwi bird today. They are hilarious.)
Also tomorrow, but at 5PM EST, I’m doing an “Ask Me Anything” at Reddit, the front page of the internet. It’s most of the authors represented in Humble Bundle 3 (which you can still go buy right now by clicking here! Eleven books for $13!) So that’s me, Holly Black, Dia Reeves, Justine Larbalestier, and many more.
For the next week, I’ll answer any non-spoilery questions about my next novel left comment thread of this post.
Let me answer a few obvious questions, just to get them out of the way: Afterworlds comes out September 23, 2014.
It will be published by S&S in the US and UK, Penguin in Australia, Pocket Jeunesse in France, and Eksmo in Russia.
More countries/languages to come!
I will be going on tour (no firm schedule till late summer).
No movie or TV deals on Afterworlds yet.
Over to you guys now. Ask away!
(Note: Questions about other books will be mocked or ignored!)
Here’s a longer video from The Creator’s Project (a Vice and Intel collaboration), about the Future of Storytelling work that the USC School of Cinematic Arts World Building Media Lab has been doing with my Leviathan series.
What interests me about this project is that it’s a form of extreme rpg/fan fiction. They’re taking the raw materials of the world of Leviathan and building it into a digital environment that’s both interactive and useful for telling extended stories, often with different characters, altered timelines, and crazy new beasties. For me, it fires the same brain cells as when you guys write fan fic, that sense that my and Keith’s world keeps echoing out there somewhere in other people’s brains, where those characters (and new ones) get to have more adventures.
So thanks to the students at USC and their sponsors, and to all you guys who write fan fic and generally let your imaginations roam.