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I was thrilled to meet Jane Yolen at a recent SCBWI conference, and even more excited when Jane read my f&g of Where Are My Books? and liked it (see photo at the very end of this interview). Jane Yolen is the renowned author of many children's books, fantasy, and science fiction, including Owl Moon, The Devil's Arithmetic, and How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? Her books, poems and stories have won many awards, including the Caldecott Medal.
This lyrical bedtime book is an ode to baby birds everywhere and to sleepy children, home safe in their own beds. As a mother describes how different species of birds nest, secure and cozy with their mama birds, she tucks her own child into bed with the soothing refrain, “you nest here with me”—easing her little one and readers alike to slumber. Perfect for a young audience, this poetic text begs to be read aloud, and is accompanied by Melissa Sweet’s incredibly warm and original art.
Q. Could you please take a photo of something in your office and tell us the story behind it?
Photo: Heidi Stemple.
Like most writers, I have an enormous research library in my home and when I am working on a particular project, those books get scattered around my writing room.
As I am currently working on two very different manuscripts--one set in the Holocaust (the first section in the Lodz Ghetto) and the other a graphic novel trilogy set in 1930s Edinburgh, I chose to pick out a book from each of those piles to feature in the photograph. At the top is a day-by-day catalog of what happened during the ghetto years in Lodz, and in the second materials about Scotland through the ages. Fiction has to take the real and massage it into a story that nay (or may not) have actually happened. We recreate (hi)story and bring our readers along.
Photo: Heidi Stemple.
From Jane, about the photo above: "I can't seem to write without a cup of tea (British decaf with demarara sugar and a splash of Lactaid milk.) I keep making cuppas coming all day long."
Q. What advice do you have for young writers?
Read, read, read.
Write something every day.
Never take no for an answer.
Don't believe your reviews--either good or bad.
Heart on the page.
Know that books are not just written, but rewritten.
(Above: Listen as Jane reads and critiques her very first poem)
Q. What are you excited about right now?
Two of my old books recently splashed out big: HOW DO DINOSAURS GET WELL SOON (Scholastic) won the Colorado One Book Award, and BAD GIRLS (Charlesbridge)--written with daughter Heidi Stemple--won the Magnolia Award, Mississippi's Children's Book Award for the middle grades. Plus the latest book Heidi and I just published--YOU NEST HERE WITH ME (Boyds Mills) with amazing illustrations by Melissa Sweet--has recently had a tremendous start and after only a month is getting a second printing.
But honestly, I am always most excited about the manuscript I am working on now. That's where my heart is, where my soul is. That is where my tomorrow is.
Heidi Stemple didn’t want to be a writer when she grew up. In fact, after she graduated from college, she became a probation officer in Florida. It wasn’t until she was 28 years old that she gave in and joined the family business, publishing her first short story in a book called Famous Writers and Their Kids Write Spooky Stories. The famous writer was her mom, author Jane Yolen. Since then, she has published twenty books and numerous short stories and poems, mostly for children.
I had a chance to hang out with Heidi at the SCBWI Summer Conference last year. She's smart, she's funny and she's so supportive of others in the industry. Then partway through a group conversation, I also discovered that her mom is Jane Yolen (!!).
Heidi and Jane run a Picture Book Boot Camp (next one is Sept. 10-13, 2015), which is a Master Class in Jane's home:
This rhyming bedtime book is part lullaby and part introductory field guide for the smallest ornithologists. But, at its heart, it reminds baby birds and children alike that home is wherever you are safely tucked in with your family. If you look in the back of You Nest Here With Me , you'll see that part of the dedication is to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. If you want to know more about birds--including listening to owl calls, visit them at: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/Page.aspx?pid=1478.
Heidi's office. (The cat is named Romeo)
Q. Could you please take a photo of something in your office and tell us the story behind it?
I love birds. All birds. But, especially owls.
"Think I'm kidding about the owls? I even have owl nesting dolls."
I have about a hundred owls in my house. Actually, I’ve never counted them, but there are a lot.
Heidi's living room. "See the owl in the rafters? His name is Wilbur and he watches out over the house." My mother, author Jane Yolen, wrote a book you might know called Owl Moon. It’s about a little girl who goes out owling with her dad. What you may not know is that the little girl is me and Pa is my father, David Stemple, who was a great owler. He was the one who taught me to call owls and now, once a year, I lead a team of owlers for the Audubon Christmas Bird Count. On our best year (so far) we called down 67 owls from midnight to 7am.
These (pictured above) are probably my favorite owls—they make up a bookend that my dad had in his office. Now they sit on the bookshelf right next to my desk and remind me of him.
Q. What advice do you have for young writers?
When you live in a family of writers (my mother and both my brothers work in children’s books) you know that inspiration comes from everywhere. You never know when and from where an idea for a story will pop up. Keep your eyes, ears, and mind open at all times for those ideas. And, write them down because ideas are slippery little buggers.
Prep for the Owl Count
Every writer has all sorts of notes jotted all over the place with ideas for stories or poems or essays or speeches. I even have the beginning of a story on my iphone—you can’t really understand it because I dictated it with voice-to-text and it got most of the words wrong. But, it’s good enough for me to figure it out later when I am ready to write that story.
Q. What are you excited about right now?
I am always excited about my newest book and the book (or usually books) I am working on. So, besides the projects I am writing and researching right now (which involve pirates, the civil war, the Christmas Bird Count, cookies, the moon, monsters, and soup—yes soup) I am probably MOST excited about my brand new book You Nest Here With Me (co-authored by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Melissa Sweet). This is a book that took 12 years to get published. We sold it twice—to the same editor at 2 different publishing companies—and then waited 3 years for the illustrations. I am glad we were patient because we are so happy with the way it turned out.
Earth Day’s 45th anniversary could be the most exciting year in environmental history. The year in which economic growth and sustainability join hands. It’s our turn to lead. So our world leaders can follow by example. I have very excited … Continue reading →
2015 is my year for risks. I have risked speaking up. I have risked grappling in a tournament with people who were 20-40 years younger than me. And last week I took an Urban Escape and Evasion class in Los Angeles. It was amazing/scary/fun.
The first day, we learned how to get out of duct tape, zip ties, rope, and even handcuffs.
If you're duct-taped, hold your arms close together, then bring your hands high over head and and hit your elbows hard across your own ribs. I learned the hard way that if your arms are too far apart, this doesn't work. This trick also works for zip ties, although it can hurt your wrists (which is why the instructor made "Wonder Woman" bracelets out of duct tape first). If that fails, try rubbing your bound hands on a sharp edge like a door.. Above, author Hannah Jayne demonstrates the correct technique for breaking duct tape, as well as how you can use paracord (a lot of preppers replace their shoelaces with paracord, or wear it as a bracelet) to saw through paracord by bicycling madly in the air. Later, we practiced shimming or picking our handcuffs using bobby pins or broken off barrettes with pillow cases over our heads.
Here's what happens if you get handcuffs/duct tape/zip ties etc. wrong:
We also learned how to pick locks and steal cars, although we didn't practice that last one.
We learned how to figure out if you are being followed and how to weaponize anything. We learned that most people think they are in a survival situation if they miss lunch.
The last day, we were kidnapped, hooded, stun gunned (I still have marks!), and then your captors go for a “smoke break” and you have to use everything you just learned to make your way to a certain point, collecting information and photos along the way.
We learned that if you are full of adrenaline, you dont feel as much. At the start of the exercise, we got caught in a parking lot surrounded by 10 or 11 foot high chain link fences. And we were being chased by a real-life security guard. Hannah started climbing the fence, which meant I had to, too. At the top, the chain links had been cut off, forming a pointy barrier. I have some crazy bruises, one for each point, on one leg.
But we made it. We had been to GoodWill the night before and cached some outfits. (It is very hard to cache anything in Los Angeles and then go back and find it the next day. You always have eyes on you, and cacheing arouses curiosity). First I was a nurse (I even looked like a nurse even though it was just a plain pink Tshirt layered over a white Tshirt, and Hannah was a goth girl. Then Hannah was pregnant with some of her previous clothes, and I was her churchy-looking mom. Finally, we were both tourists.
Even though we were hunted by 10 people who had our picture, and we had to stay with proscribed boundaries, we were not caught!
I'm so glad I took this risk. I turn 56 in two weeks and I'm pretty pround of myself.
Some people say I’m a book pusher. I’m okay with that. I get impatient with friends when they still haven’t read that book I recommended at least A WEEK AGO, for heaven’s sake, so I just go online and send it to them. Pushy? Bossy? I will not apologize. People need to read certain books and yes, I do know what’s good for them.
Which is why I’m about to go full-on pushy once again, and not only recommend some books that you need to read RIGHT NOW to fulfill your need for kickass science fiction heroines, I’m also going to go the extra step of enforcing that by actually giving them away free to one lucky winner.
First, Diving Into the Wreck, part of the Diving Universe series by Hugo Award-winning science fiction author Kristine Kathryn Rusch. I’ve been a fan and student of Kris’s for about 13 years, and have always viewed her as a pretty badass woman and author in her own right. But she also writes amazingly complicated and strong women characters who are always so much fun to spend time with. Kris has generously offered to give the lucky winner a signed copy of the book. She also answered some interview questions for me that I’ll share below, so hang on. It’s always fun to hear how other writers think.
Second is Michael Crichton’s The Lost World, and if you were a fan of his Jurassic Park you may think you already know all there is to know about this sequel, but I think perhaps you don’t. Because the reason I’m pushing it is that it has one of my favorite heroines of all time, Sarah Harding, who is both scientist and never-say-die person-you-most-want-with-you-in-a-crisis, and I am so inspired by her intelligence and toughness I actually reread this book about twice a year just to pump myself up. I think once you’ve experienced Sarah Harding for yourself, you’ll be totally hooked, too.
Third is my own Parallelogram series. Why am I book-pushing my own series? Because I wrote it for a particular reason: to show two very different girls who are entirely kickass in their own separate ways. One is a scientific explorer, willing to try out all sorts of bizarre (and potentially hazardous) physics theories she’s come up with, and the other is a teen adventurer who has been raised by her very badass explorer grandmother to handle all sorts of physical risks with a cool head and a deep will to survive.
In my spare time I like to read a lot of true adventure books by real-life explorers, and I based the teenage adventurer Halli and her grandmother Ginny on two women explorers I really admire: Roz Savage, who rowed solo across the Atlantic (why not??), and Helen Thayer, who was the first person to ski solo and unsupported to the magnetic North Pole. When she was 50, by the way. So yeah, I think you should read Parallelogram for the same reason you should read the Rusch and Crichton books: because the girls and women in these books will entertain and inspire you.
I asked Kristine Kathryn Rusch a few questions about her own writing process and what inspires her to write the strong kinds of characters you’ll find in all of her work:
RB: What qualities do you admire in the heroine of your book Diving Into The Wreck? Did you write those qualities into her character on purpose, or did they develop over time on their own?
KKR: Boss is her own person. She only lets people call her Boss, and she won’t tell anyone her name, because it’s her business. What I love about Boss is that she is so secure in who she is. She knows what she can and cannot do, and she knows just how much she’s willing to tell/give in any situation. She admits when she’s wrong, and she analyzes everything. She’s very strong, but she also can be vulnerable.
My characters come fully formed, but they do reveal parts of themselves over time. Boss & I share a love of history, but she’s so much more adventurous than I am. She would go crazy in a room writing all day. I love it. I never add traits consciously. Subconsiously, who knows? I assume so. But the characters are real people to me, with their flaws and strengths, and that includes Boss.
RB: Who are some of your favorite kickass heroines in other people’s science fiction books and movies? What about them inspires you as a person and/or as a writer? (I’m a big fan of Ripley’s in the Alien series. When she’s rescuing the little girl Newt from the breeding area in Aliens and fighting off the queen alien and her posse–you’d better believe Ripley makes me want to be braver in real life.)
KKR: Favorite SF women. Honestly, that’s a tough one for me. Most of the sf I read is short fiction, and the characters are one-offs. None of the women in the stories I read rise to the level of favorite. I like Ripley–and she was inspiring to me–but is not someone who comes to mind easily.
In SF, my examples were always negative. For example, in Trek, I was so happy that Kathryn Janeway had her own ship. Then I saw the dang first episode, and when she was faced with a big issue that James T. Kirk could have solved in 45 minutes, she gave in, and made her crew suffer for **years** I think most of the sf films/TV suffer from stupid women problems.
The strong women I read about appear in the mystery genre. I adore Sara Paretsky’s VI Warshawski. I used to love Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Malone, especially when I encountered her in the 1980s. The female lead detectives were unusual women, who did their own thing in a man’s world. They’re the inspiration for my sf heroines.
RB: This is a chicken-or-the-egg question: Do you give your characters some of your own kickass qualities of bravery, wisdom, compassion, etc.–or do you feel inspired as you write their stories to be more like them yourself?
KKR: LOL, Robin. I love that you think I have kickass qualities. I think my characters are more articulate than I am, smarter than I am, more adventurous than I am, and more courageous than I am. I am blunt and stubborn and difficult, and in my fiction, those qualities are virtues, so there’s some of me there. But these folks are not people I want to be: they’re people I want to meet.
RB: Which character of yours has changed you the most as a person? Why?
KKR: The character of mine who has changed me the most as a person is Smokey Dalton, from my Kris Nelscott mysteries. He’s an African-American detective in the late 1960s. He’s a true hero, in my opinion. But his situations are beyond difficult. I always put him in the middle of a historical situation, and then ask him to respond. Some of those historical situations–I keep thinking, if I were there, would I have had the courage to do what he did? Would I have known what to do? And the thing I admire most about Smokey: His world, horrid as it is, doesn’t break him. It makes him stronger. That has had a huge impact on me and my thinking and my writing.
RB: What do you prefer in your favorite heroines, whether it’s the ones you write, read, or watch: More stoic than compassionate, vice versa,or a particular ratio of both? (For me, 80% stoic, 20% compassionate.)
KKR: Compassion first. I quit reading a mystery series set in the Middle Ages because our heroine–a smart and active woman–had a baby, and then abandoned that baby to go on a crusade. Well, this is the Middle Ages, and yes, she might have done that historically, but it would take 2-3 years to return to that child, and there would be no guarantee that the child was safe or well cared for. So I quit reading right there. The woman was too selfish for me to read about. Stoic, yes. But willing to sacrifice someone she loved for her own ends. Not someone I want to read about.
RB: Bonus question: I know you’re a big fan of the time travel series OUTLANDER, as am I. (I just finished the fourth book. What a ride!) If you were in Claire’s position, catapulted back to 1745 Scotland, what skills would you want to bring to the mix? I love her medical knowledge–it’s such a huge asset. But is there some skill you’d find just as valuable?
KKR: Great question. I have a wide variety of historical knowledge and weird trivia. I know how to make a match for example, and I know how to sterilize a room (even back then) and I know what’ll happen when in most of the English-speaking world. So I like to think all of that will be beneficial. Knowing outspoken me, though, I’d probably be jailed as a witch and executed. I also know that I’d be panicked as hell about dying of something preventable, like the cold that has felled me this week in 2015. If it became an infection in 1745, I could die. And I’d probably worry about that more than anything (except the food, which–yuck!) So as you can tell, I’m probably too much of a worrier to time travel safely.
SPEAKING OF TIME TRAVEL …
Kris and I both have novels in the Time Travel Story Bundle, which is on sale for just two more weeks. Here’s your chance to score a whole bunch of great fiction at an incredibly low price. Don’t miss it!
And as soon as you buy the bundle, head on over to my GIVEAWAY PAGE and enter to win those three fabulous science fiction books! I push them because I love–the heroines in those books and you, Dear Readers. Enjoy!
For some time I have been birthing -- in my head and on paper -- a new way of seeing, working, living, connecting, and being in the world. Why? Maybe it's turning 60, with the knowledge that there is less time before me than behind me for sure. Maybe it's recent disappointments and realizations. Maybe it's recent gifts and surprises. Maybe it's the on-going therapy, which is hard work. I'm sure it is.
Whatever it is, this shift in my thinking feels major, so I'm going to do something about it, and I will chronicle it here, March 20, 2015 to March 20, 2016 (start where you are, and I started with Saturday's post).
I want to see where this new energy and commitment take me and my work. I'll also Instagram my explorations, using the hashtag "theyearofexploration."
I'll label it that way here, too. I used the blog to chronicle my 2012 year off the road to finish REVOLUTION and called it "the year of possibility." You can read about it by clicking on the label on the sidebar. (or here. :>)
I'll tag some of these exploration posts "the home economics project." I've had a project in mind for a long, long time, and I want to start making it visible.
I'll chronicle book three of the sixties trilogy as well. I've already starting documenting photographs and research at Pinterest. You'll find a "book three hold file" and a "book three playlist possibilities" board as well as the many boards for COUNTDOWN and REVOLUTION... and I've started resource boards for my other books.. I'll get to them as I can.
I'm going back to the roots of what makes me happy. I'm going to write more. I'm going to use my hands more, which is something that grounds me and centers me and helps me understand my place in the great continuum.
To that end, I have purchased four cacti, three French lavender plants, and a mother fern. I'm going to take a class at Creativebug - line drawing with Lisa Congdon. Also, Lisa's sketchbook explorations work-along at Creativebug. I've got my supplies (which include these plants!) and I'm ready to go.
I have no expectations. I want to do what I ask students to do when I teach writing: pay attention, ask questions, make connections.
I'll be an explorer like Comfort Snowberger in EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS: Explorer, Recipe Tester, and Funeral Reporter. Like Dove, the 9-year-old anthropologist-in-training in LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER. I shall be an anthropologist of my life. I'll try to let go of anxiety about the future, and just stay in the day. I will work hard. I will try to uncover as well as discover. I hope to learn a lot. Wanna come with?
Happy Spring everyone! Since this season is all about new growth, renewal, and fertility it’s only fitting that I share a post that reflects the promise of better (and brighter) days ahead. The following is taken from a Hallmark® birthday card I received from my mom this year. Trust me it’s worth the read, and guaranteed to put a smile on your face…
Trust your instincts. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t…fun, tempting…maybe, but not right.
Remember your manners. It doesn’t cost you anything, but speaks volumes about who you are. Having CLASS starts with this.
Never let possessions “own” you. It’s just STUFF! The most valuable things in life—friends, respect, love, knowledge—don’t cost money… Hokey, but true.
Nurture your friendships. The investment you make in true friends will pay huge dividends all your life—remember, you can’t make an old friend.
Keep your hands clean. This is meant both literally and figuratively… It will save you a lot of regrets later…
Believe in yourself. Another hokey one, but you DO happen to be the only YOU in existence, and you’re also the only person in the world who can TRULY hold you back in life…
Be grateful. Don’t waste all your todays in anticipation of some grand tomorrow. NOW is all we’ve got. Live in it!
Treat others the way you want to be treated. Just because you’re smarter or richer or prettier than someone else doesn’t mean you’re BETTER. It just means you’ve been more blessed.
Always keep playing. Who says adults have to give up toys? Keep the little kid inside you alive… it keeps your imagination primed. Silly is good.
I’m kind of partial to the last one! Thanks a heap for reading my blog. If you have time, please leave a comment and share some of the things that have made your life a little better. Cheers and have a great week!
Most writers will get the “where do you get your ideas?” question at least once in their careers. Probably many, many times. Short of tossing out a snarky response like “J.C. Penney” or “the Idea catalog,” I usually reply, “From everything around me.” Helpful, right?
I’m not kidding though. I’m actually not the most observant of people and I have a terrible memory, which is why I became a writer instead of a consulting detective. (I know, these aren’t good qualities for a writer either, but I figure in the digital age everyone is going to carry their memories in their pockets or on their wrists one day, so I’m just ahead of the curve.) Truth is, I get ideas from all sorts of places: overheard conversations, misread words, images, other books, TV shows, etc.
My short story “All the Lonely People” (Shimmer #13, 2011), came from a billboard for a sports drink with the slogan “Don’t Fade,” which inspired a story about a woman who can see people who are literally fading from life and can either help them stick around or disappear entirely. The “Eleanor Rigby” references came in later.
I heard a friend refer to winter as “the time when everything dies,” which inspired me to write a story called “The Dying Time” (forthcoming) about a village where everyone becomes temporarily undead and hibernates during the winter, which is bad news for the guy who stumbles into town just as autumn is ending. Meanwhile, a fantasy short story mashup of Gilmore Girls and Supernatural began life as a Tweeted pun which led to “The Grimoire Girls” (also forthcoming). You get the idea. This is why I carry a notebook and pen everywhere; I write down anything that triggers inspiration in my brain, because you never know what it can turn into.
Naturally, the internet is also fertile ground for ideas. Online research (and books!) inspired and informed a lot of the hacking that appears in The Silence of Six, because I was striving for authenticity and plausibility. But one big plot point originated from a web article I read years ago — probably back in 2010, well before I started working on the book — about USB flash drives embedded in walls. These “dead drops” were in public so anyone could transfer files to them or copy files off with their laptop, as long as they knew about them. (Not really a good idea when you think about it, but still.)
An interesting thing about inspiration is you often can’t trace it back to the source. Minds are complex and ideas have a way of taking over and growing, so it’s difficult to untangle where it all came from. Everything I’ve ever written has essentially grown out of the books I’ve read, the films I’ve seen, my favorite TV shows, and so on. How can I acknowledge all of those influences? It’s one reason why some copyright theft and plagiarism accusations can be difficult to prove, because it’s possible for someone to unconsciously copy someone else’s work or ideas — to a degree. Again, do your research!
Where do you get your ideas?
By the way, if you’re fascinated by dead drops too, you can win a special The Silence of Six USB drive this week (through March 15, 2015) in Adaptive’s #ChallengeofSix digital scavenger hunt, with online puzzles and clues inspired by the book. Grand prize is an Xbox One! Watch this video for more info and to get the first clue.
ADDitude Magazine provides “strategies and support for ADHD and LD.” They reprinted my Huffington Post essay about my daughter’s struggle with Tourette Syndrome. The magazine is a wonderful resource, and I hope you’ll pass it along to anyone you know who could benefit from it. Thank you! Move Therapy: How Frozen Gave My Daughter Hope
In January 2009 I wrote a blog on ABBA about the Room in my Head.It went something like this -
The Room In My Head
As the new year begins I look inside my head to find that room where inspiration might be hiding….
In the middle of the room there is space, empty of life or furniture. Walls, accustomed to colour and pattern, stand bereft waiting for design - perhaps imprints of flowers, pattern or activity.
Underfoot boards made of wood and nails move to mark my passage and where the light floods though glass no curtains block its passage.
And yet the room is full of hope and joy because the sun is shining, casting summer against the emptiness. Sounds fill the space with anticipation - strains of mystery that fill my ears and delight my senses, holding me captive - wondering - what I will discover?
This year, many years and stories later, I find my year starting with the Room in My Head well populated by the book I am currently writing. There is still space in the room although it is well furnished with characters and places, ideas, textures and much activity.
Underfoot ideas are scattered on the boards like so many sparkling jewels - tempting and clamouring for attention. Terrified they might be discarded, their brilliance allowed tofade, dissipate and be condemned to become mere pebbles abandoned on the path to the finale.
Light flooding through the glass varies with each passing day, dependent on the story's progress, from dreary grey rain-clouds...
to breezy sunshine over water.
At the moment the Room in my Head is packed with a tapestry of thoughts, emotions, wrong turns and epiphanies. It changes daily and fills to bursting with the noise of those who inhabit the story, each with their own goals and intentions, duplicitous or discernible, but always fascinating. What fills the Room in your Head?
Linda Strachan is the author of over 60 books for all ages from picture books to teenage novels and the writing handbook Writing For Children.
Linda's latest YA novel is Don't Judge Me she is Patron of Reading to Liberton High School, Edinburgh. Her best selling series Hamish McHaggis is illustrated by Sally J. Collins who also illustrated Linda's retelling of Greyfriars Bobby website: www.lindastrachan.com blog:Bookwords
Note from Sooz: I’m DELIGHTED to introduce you all to the subrights and film/tv assistant at New Leaf Literary & Media. She has a great post today that I think will resonate with many of you just as it resonated with me. So many of us in writing and publishing got our starts working with fanfiction. But I’ll let Jess take it from here!
Up until a year ago, I thought I had a dirty little secret.
From the age of fourteen to thirty, I read, wrote, and beta read fanfiction. I didn’t know there was a name for it when I started (this was a world before fanfiction.net, message boards, and of course, Tumblr), but more than that, I never realized that these stories would end up changing the course of my life. I was a terrible student, but I was creative and happy, and the more I wrote, the more I honed skills I never quite knew I had. And when I ended up majoring in screenwriting, getting told by professors that my dialogue was too clunky and not realistic enough, I wrote more fanfiction. I watched more episodes (at that time it was hours upon hours of Law and Order: SVU), I listened harder, and I kept practicing. It wasn’t for a grade, there wasn’t so much pressure, and I taught myself to fix all of what was wrong. It was only months later when I started to get complimented on my dialogue and so I continued to switch back and forth between screenplays and fanfiction.
One was mandatory. The other taught me things school never did.
In the past sixteen years, I’ve spent time in three different fandoms religiously, and dabbled in a fourth. I hid it from the people in my everyday life, ashamed of a stigma that had been attached to fanfiction since it became whispered about like sin. Things like, “only people with no friends spend their time online, obsessed with a TV show”; “It’s just poorly written porn”; and any other number of insults that I’ve heard throughout the years. But in my secret online life, I started to get a reputation. I was a good writer, but more than that, I was an even better beta. I could look at someone’s work and see the bigger picture. I knew what was missing, what would make it better, but most of all, I discovered that as much as I liked writing, I loved writers more. I loved their enthusiasm and watching their work blossom and take shape and become something beautiful. The knowledge that I helped make someone else’s work stronger made me want to beta every story in every fandom, even if I had no time. I took on more than I could chew, started to write less, and fell in love with this life.
And then a year before I turned thirty, everything changed. A friend I knew through fanfic had written a novel and wanted me to beta it. I was flattered and excited, and I spent the entire weekend reading through it, making edits, and wishing deep down I could do this for a living. And instead of living a life that was no longer right for me, I left all my former dreams behind, including Los Angeles, where I had been living for the past eight years, and moved back to a city I swore I would never return to again. I took informational meetings at literary agencies and got an internship at the incredible New Leaf Literary and Media, Inc. It took less than three months until I was hired in a permanent position and where I’ve spent the last year. Every day is an adventure and every day I am grateful.
Without fanfiction, without those years of writing and editing, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I wouldn’t have discovered incredible people along the way who believed in me and made me better; I wouldn’t have gotten dialogue down to a science; and most importantly I wouldn’t have discovered what I truly love. I’ve grown up with fanfiction writers who have later become published and I’ve met people who liked the idea of writing, but didn’t discover their life dreams of it until they wrote and posted for the world to see.
I realize now, it was never something to be ashamed of. So whether it’s writing or editing, or even just learning, embrace the fanfiction. It might just change your life.
Before moving back to her home state of New York, Jess Dallow spent eight years working at a talent agency in Hollywood. Deciding books and cold New York winters were more her speed, she became an intern at New Leaf Literary & Media before being hired as the subrights and film/tv assistant. In her spare time, Jess can be found at either Sprinkles or Chipotle, stuffing her face with cupcakes or guacamole (thankfully, not together). You can follow her on twitter.
I've written over 25 books. Seventeen have been published, with two more coming out this year and three more in the works.
You'd think I'd have this whole novel-writing thing down. You would be wrong.
In January, I took Darcy Pattison's Novel Revision Retreat Workshop. It lasted three days and there was a lot of pre-work. Before it even started, you had to read two books on writing, and read three manuscripts from people you would be in a small group with during the conference. And of course you had to have your own book done so you could finish it with them.
I took the manuscript for The Girl I Used to Be, which I sold last Memorial Day and I finished writing the day I needed to turn it in to my partners. The book is super important to me, not just for all the usual reasons, but because I put my mom, Nora Henry, in it. I gave the character the name Nora, and she looks, acts and talks like Nora. Her house, her beliefs, her favorite things - they are all in the book. I have no idea if this is a good idea or not, but my desire is that people will fall in love with the Nora in the book and realize a bit what a loss it is that she is no longer in this world.
I learned so much at the workshop. One was that there was a decided lack of conflict in the early chapters. In the book, the main character is mainly trying to figure out who killed her parents. It's not a thriller (which is what I usually write) where she is on the run, but rather a mystery where she tries to collect clues. So in the last two weeks, I worked to put conflict in those spots - or cut them.
I also realized I needed to call out emotions more.
And that I had an opportunity for a symbolic object - in this case, a necklace that Nora gives the main character - and I didn't use it at all.
I realized my final scene did not make it clear that the character had come full circle, even while she had changed internally. Now her epiphany is there on the page.
This morning I killed someone. I got up early while the house was quiet and did it and then howled. It was tough. I hadn’t planned it. It came over me suddenly with huge conviction that it was the right thing to do. But it wasn’t easy.
I’ve known the person for two years or more and had never thought of killing her. But I did it. Now I’m bereft. But bad things happen. My story was too calm. Too stitched up at the end. How can one be working in one direction and then do such an about turn that you become a murderer overnight? And how can one feel so utterly sad about someone who is completely made up in your own head? Before writing them into the story, they didn’t exist, except in your deep consciousness. Is it the same deep consciousness that impels you to kill the person as well? I don’t know. All I know is that I hated doing it but the story is stronger.
I’m at my sea house… seems harsh to say this… when I know how cold it still is in the northern hemisphere right now… but I’m wondering if this house has an impact on my writing. In London I live so cramped and envy writers who have huge expanses of wild countryside to tramp while they solve their plots. Here I have nine kilometres of pristine sand and sea with a wild rocky outcrop at the end. As I write in the early mornings the salt air wafts in heavy with the smell of the sun on the wild indigenous coastal ‘fynbos.’
Do writers all have special places that unlock more – memory palaces not in the true mnemonic sense (I might be able to write that but can’t say it without stumbling) but places that make writing easier? Less about bricks and mortar and more about a space onto which we can project our dreams, hopes and fears? Like opening a drawer and suddenly the smell of it brings the memories and stories spilling out?
I’ve been writing this novel for more than two years now and I’m still polishing the stones of it that tumble around in my head and still finding the bleached bones buried in the sand. Perhaps now is the time to let it go? If Liz Kessler’s blog was The Spring of Ideas… perhaps mine is The Summer of Fruition.
I’ve posted this video below on ABBA before when I originally made it as a response to place. But perhaps a bit of summer sunshine might not be misplaced. It was my first attempt at stitching visuals and music together so the loop in the music pauses in the middle but then picks up again.
Matt Haig tweeted recently: ‘Fiction is just a dream we have that we try to externalise.”
ZERAFFA GIRAFFA by Dianne Hofmeyr, illustrated by Jane Ray, published by Frances Lincoln made the Top 100 Classics in the past 10 years List in THE SUNDAY TIMES and the Best Picture Book List for 2014 in The Times on Saturday.
Writing from multiple perspectives is often a very rewarding way to convey the complexity of a plot. In stories that involve a lot of world-building, like high fantasy, it’s a good way of expanding the world you’re creating. You can better develop concepts like the reality of social status if your story that includes slaves isn’t entirely written from the viewpoint of a princess. You can also mess with readers. You can have a blacksmith plan to manipulate a swordsman, but when the actual manipulation is happening, it’s told from the swordsman’s oblivious perspective. There are few better ways to create those exciting situations where the reader knows what will happen but the character does not. There are even fewer better ways to orchestrate an event in such a manner that even the reader is unsure if what they’re reading is true, which of course keeps them reading.
Platitudes aside, there’s a massive, massive trap that everybody can fall into (and I mostcertainly have in the past) concerning multiple perspectives: too many viewpoints.
Consider this. You’ve come up with a world, you have your map, you mostly know what you want to happen, and you start writing. The general gist is a classic “Let’s overthrow the Villain,” where a whole cast of characters is developed through the archetypes of Hero’s support, Villain’s support, collateral damage, etc.
First we meet the Hero. This is where you describe the Eastern Flatlands the Hero’s living in. Then we meet the Thief, who’s out picking pockets in the Central Capital. Then comes the Villain, scheming in a remote castle on the Northern Coast, then the Mercenary trudging through the Western Alps, the Hunter in the Ancient Forest in the south, the Peasant in the Bread Bowl that’s consuming said forest…
Well that’s a wonderful lesson in geography, but I can almost guarantee you that people reading won’t give a damn about a single person from whose perspective the story has been told so far. That means there will be no investment, and when bad things start happening, they won’t care.
Why? Because the story’s being spread too thin.
When people invest in something, they expect returns. The first thing introduced is the Hero. The Hero will obviously be important. Afterwards, we have the Thief, Villain, Mercenary, Hunter, and Peasant. That’s five people established in their own separate geographical locations. If each person gets around 1500 words, then that’s at least seven thousand words about random people we don’t care about in places we can’t relate to, because the places are all new and the people are not the Hero. Before you know it, nearly 10k of your story has already gone by and you still haven’t even gotten around to the point where the Hero’s mentor dies. Not that we’ll care, because the last time we met the hero was thirty pages ago. By now, we’re already in love with the idea of a romantically attractive killer-for-hire in the mountains and wondering why he was replaced so quickly by boring hunters and peasants trying to feed their families.
So what happened here? It could just be that kind of story: you have six or seven big players around the edges of the world symbolically traveling towards the centre where they will find each other, interact, and blow our minds with how masterfully their stories end up weaving together. After all, in the grand scheme of things, 10k isn’t that many words, and if you develop the other voices well enough and make us invest in all of them, we probably won’t care as long as it’s good.
Ooooooor you spent so much time coming up with your world that your plot fell by the wayside. Moving on to a different character is less of a conscious decision and more of a way to procrastinate. Less, “This is excellent! I know exactly what will happen when I come back to the Hero!” and more “Mmmmmlet’s see…what does the Hero want now…I wonder what the Thief is doing…”
Because you know your world better than the people in it, you’re taking more time exploring it than your characters, and you end up writing about what it’s like to live in the Flatlands, on the Coast, or near the Alps, instead of focusing on your Kill the Villain plot. There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with this, just that it results in you writing an exploration of a land instead of writing what you originally wanted: a gripping tale of adventure and intrigue.
The point isn’t to explore the world. …Well, it is. But the bigger point is to explore the plot, and then what you see of the world through that is the icing on the cake. Focus too much on your world and you risk making your plot stagnate.
Admittedly, what I’m saying heavily relies on all of those perspectives being disjointed travel diary entries by characters of various vocations. It’s difficult to explain this without actually showing you a piece of fiction, because the skeleton of the work still has potential. But in the event that the cause of all these perspectives is, in fact, the helpless floundering of a writer with a world too large for the plot, there are a few things you can do about it.
First, admit it. That’s always the toughest, because by this point, you probably like all the character’s you’ve come up with along the way.
Second, kill off those characters. Or at least tuck them away for now. Keep them alive in your notes, but cut them down for the moment.
Third, and most important. Choose one character that will be the theme of your story.
Say the Hero is your theme. Spend time establishing that character so that we have some understanding of their life and motivations. Give them dreams and goals, and then gradually, gradually, LIKE REALLY GRADUALLY, start introducing more and more characters. But only if their story can somehow relate back to the story of the theme character. For example, the Hero needs to find X, and the Mercenary needs to find X. However, the first hint we hear that the Hero needs to find X isn’t until 10k into the story, and then we don’t find out what that X is until 50k in. So when would you introduce the Mercenary? After 10k, when the Hero has discovered that X must be found.
The Mercenary, who was once just a random hot dude wandering the Alps, is suddenly the Hero’s direct competition for X. That’s what makes us care about him. Now, slotting him in from time to time to break up the voice of the Hero will not only be an effective way to develop the western part of your land, but also a way to tease the reader with what the hell X could be and how it relates to the Hero.
As your plot develops, do the same with the other perspectives. If the Hero’s reading a rare book 4k into the story, and the book is one the Thief, all the way in the Capital, desperately needs, there’s your in for introducing the Thief. Then 35k later when the Hero’s finally visiting the Capital with the book in hand, let the Thief be a Thief and have them make contact. This will also give you the fascinating opportunity to recreate the city from the eyes of the country bumpkin Hero after dozens of scenes of the city through the eyes of the savvy Thief.
The idea is that even though these characters are so far away from each other, even though they have no clue who the other is, they’re all connected to the theme character through their desires and ambitions. They all relate back to something about the Hero whose influence, like a catchy hook of a good piece of music, can be found even in the parts of the story focused on other characters.
Another thing this will do (just by virtue of it being done) is drastically improve the flow of your story.
Alternatively, if you don’t approve of the idea of a theme character, you scrap everything I’ve said above and do this instead: make it so that the multiple perspectives are from characters who know each other. This usually depends on them being in the same geographical location, but if you don’t want a theme character and you have the luxury of the characters being in the same place, here is a different way to write your multiple perspectives.
Pick up all your characters: Hero, Thief, Villain, Mercenary, Hunter, Peasant. Drop them all into one place. Create relationships between them: the Hero and the Thief are friends, the Thief buys meat from the Hunter, the Hunter also sells meat to the Mercenary, who works for the Villain, who owns the land the Peasant tills. This way, they all indirectly know each other. Which means that the first scene with the Hero can maybe include the Thief. The next scene with the Thief can include the Hunter, etc. If the Hero’s perspective includes a character who later contributes their own perspective, at best it’ll be freaking awesome to know what that character was thinking while you were in the mind of the Hero, and at worst it’ll be an interesting addition that adds depth to the complexity of your story. Also, in this way, you don’t have to worry about how people will remember who’s who since they’re ever-present within the perspectives of the others, not only within their own.
But, like I said, it depends on their geographical location. It also depends on if they know each other at all. It depends on the kind of story you want to write, and if you’re at all willing to bend to the idea of a theme character.
Moreover, it depends, as always, solely and entirely on your plot.
Biljana Likic is working on her fantasy WIPs and has nearly completed her MA in Medieval Studies, from which she can’t wait to graduate so she’ll finally have all the time in the world to write. You can follow her on Twitter.
In California, where you can have up to 8 characters, it would read:
So do you know what it means?
Although I like to think of it as "genuinely interested in people."
I'm starting on a sequel to Girl, Stolen. When I wrote that book, which is about a blind girl who is accidentally kidnapped when someone steals her step-mom's car, I was working full time and had a kid in middle school. I had zero free time. So I read books about what it's like to be blind and did research on the Internet.
Now I have the freedom to talk to people. Today I'm interviewing someone who is blind and here are some of the questions I want to ask:
Do you know Braille? How important is it? How many blind people really know Braille?
What apps do you use/what do you they do? Can you show me?
How has your life changed in the last five years in terms of technology?
Do you cook? How do you see how fine the pieces are when chopping or know if things are done?
Open the freezer - how do you know what’s in it?
How do you sweep or keep floor clean and know it is?
How would you walk in straight line across crosswalk without the cues of the sidewalk?
How would you find the bathroom in a strange building?
How would you find your locker at school and spin it?
Do you do any sports?
What smells do you notice the most?
Are there sayings people say all the time, like Love Is Blind or getting embarrassed about “see”?
What’s one thing people always get wrong about what it's like to be blind?
In the beginning, the page is blank--just blue lines and
It’s like looking into a mirror.
The page serves as the release mechanism, the trigger, the catalyst
But thought itself doesn’t take place on the page.
You may look at the lines and the spaces between the lines,
but what you see is the image in your head, the image that is not yet on the
Whether I'm working on my own writing (including the 250, 500 and 1000 Words/Day Challenge) or an illustration project, I find I'm able to better focus and be more productive if I can create a mental space in which I feel safe enough to do my best work.
Sean's advice: Set up a safe space in which you feel positive about yourself and your work, and in which you know that you WILL do great work. Surround yourself with positive, encouraging people. Try to avoid negativity as much as possible. Sean says he steers clear of reading reviews of his work, for example.
Part of the way I do this is trying very hard to STAY OFFLINE when I'm doing creative work. Even dropping in on Twitter or FB for a few minutes can end up being an energy-sucking black hole, often making me question whether I'm doing enough (especially in terms of promotion, networking, working on my craft, etc.) or doing it -whatever "it" is- the Right Way.
What do YOU do to create your own Bubble Of Happy Delusion?
Those of you who have no trouble saying no can just skip the rest of this post.
Some of you, however, may be like me. I like making people happy and don't like disappointing them. I also dislike conflict. So when people ask me for things, I used to usually say yes....even when I knew I'd probably regret it later.
I'm gradually learning how to say no.
While it's true that saying yes to one "just have a quick favor to ask, would appreciate just a few minutes of your time" is no problem, saying yes to a LOT of these favors accumulates. And in my experience, "just a few minutes" inevitably turns into hours or sometimes days.
What's hardest: saying no to projects that DO sound like a lot of fun and that I want to do. One of my challenges (and I suspect some of you feel similarly): I want to do EVERYTHING.
By saying no more often, however, I'm able to focus and enjoy the projects I say "yes" to more fully AND have more flexibility about when I do take on a new project.
I used to make elaborate New Year's Resolutions with 20, 30, even 40 things I was going to change, do, fix. I would be thinner and a better friend, run faster and pray more.
Often, the only thing that changed on that list was the year at the top.
This year, my resolution was a single word: risk. I'm increasingly aware of my own mortality. Time is flying by and I don't want to say "If only I had."
I got a chance to act on my resolution only a few days into the new year. A man I don't know well but respect often uses a series of funny accents as he makes his points: New York. Russian. Etc.
And one is a big campy gay voice.
That day, I looked around the room, trying to see if it made anyone else as uncomfortable as me. But I felt like I was alone. Still, I waited until everyone else had gone and told him how I felt.
The conversation took some interesting turns I hadn't expected. I think it was eye-opening for both of us.
And afterward I was glad I had taken that risk.
In a few months I'm going to be taking a class called Urban Escape and Evasion (I snagged the photo from their web site). You spend two days learning how to survive in a dangerous chanotic urban environment (say after a terrorist attack or being kidnapped in a foreign country), then on the third day you are “kidnapped: hooded, cuffed and taken somewhere dark and uncomfortable to start your day. You will be expected to escape, find your own transportation legally using your social engineering skills, and make your way to the first cache location, where directions for a series of tasks using all your new skills await.Meanwhile, expert trackers will be hunting you down, and if they catch you, you will have to start again from a more distant location."
I know this is going to stressful. As a writer, I'll be an outlier, surrounded by preppers and ex-military. My guess is I'll be older and one of very few women.
But for the risk, I'll have the reward of having so much amazing writing material. So it will be worth it.
Hey guys! I’m so excited to share this guest post with your from Danielle Barthel, a literary assistant from New Leaf Literary. She offers her own personal experience and insight for breaking into the publishing industry–which I’m sure many of you know isn’t the easiest thing to do.
I’m so happy to be doing a guest post here this week!
I recently read a comment on Alex Bracken’s “You Tell Us: What Do You Want To See” post asking us to talk about hard lessons we’ve learned. For me—and I don’t think I’m alone—one of these lessons was the importance of following my passions. This was most relevant to me when I was trying to find a job in publishing.
The truth is, this is not an easy industry to crack, and there were times that I felt like it was never going to happen. What kept me going was the simple fact that I’ve wanted to work with words forever. I remember the first time I finished a full length book all by myself—one of those big hardcover Disney books that were based off the movies. Remember those? I was so proud of myself.
Books were just my thing. Growing up, I was the kid who got in trouble for reading at night by the light of my yellow American Girl flashlight-lantern (it looks a little like the one here, but I couldn’t find the exact picture).
When I reached the age that I no longer got into trouble for staying up late reading, and I still wanted to do it even though it was no longer “forbidden fruit” (and this was about as rebellious as my conscience let me get), I knew that my obsession with books wasn’t going away.
I actively realized that this was more than a passing rebellious phase, but instead a passion for something greater, when I left for college. I went to undergrad at The College at Brockport, State University of New York. It was five hours from home and the biggest leap I had ever taken outside my comfort zone. My fears about homesickness, not making friends, and being unhappy battled with my desire to learn about all things book related. Now loving books was more than just a passion—it was moving me towards a career.
I majored in English and took entire classes dedicated to Shakespeare, American lit, British lit, and young adult lit—I couldn’t believe it was a requirement to read Harry Potter in a real college class!
And it turned out that Brockport had one of the best study abroad programs around. I could wax nostalgic about my love of England, and specifically the town of York, for hours, but I’ll spare you. Instead I’ll just say I hope everyone has the opportunity to do something that scares them (like finding your own way in a foreign country without Google Maps) at least once in your life. Because it’ll bring even clearer into focus both who you are, and what you want out of life. Or at least it did for me.
Coming home, I knew with certainty—books, words, and the people who worked on them were inspiring and I wanted to be a part of it. So I went to the University of Denver’s Publishing Institute, where I spent an entire month learning more about publishing. It was eye-opening and informative, and when I returned to New York, I set up a ton of informational interviews with wonderful, willing agents and editors to learn even more, before someone I will be forever grateful to suggested that I look into internships.
Even though it might sound like things happened quickly, they didn’t. I spent a few months doing interviews, both informational and for actual jobs/internships. I had this intense Excel grid of people I had emailed for interviews, what they were for, when I met with them, if they responded…
When I got my first real job rejection (for something I had been feeling so good about), I was pretty devastated. Wasn’t I doing everything right? English degree, Denver Publishing Institute grad, interviewing up a storm. Why was I still jobless?
Something I didn’t understand until after I’d been applying for jobs left and right is not to discount things completely out of my control, like being in the right place at the right time. I applied for an internship at Writers House, one of the biggest agencies in New York, after a recommendation from an informational interview. The Writers House intern coordinator initially called me because I was a Denver grad. I got the internship because of a mix of networking and timing and because I fit what they were looking for. All those factors together jump-started my career.
I’ve now worked in the industry I love, at a company I love, for three years as of this January. And after everything that’s led me to this place, it always goes back to my love of books.
So my lesson is this: follow your passions. Do what you love just because you love it. Don’t let those terrifying “what ifs” control your life. Thrive on challenge. And be open to the fact that you don’t have all the answers. That’s okay too.
Following her completion of the Denver Publishing Institute after graduation, Danielle began interning at Writers House. While there, she realized she wanted to put her English degree and love of the written word to work at a literary agency. She became a full-time assistant and continues to help keep the New Leaf offices running smoothly.
In her downtime, she can be found with a cup of tea, a bar of chocolate, or really good book…sometimes all together. Follow Danielle on Twitter!