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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Second Sight, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 21 of 21
1. Because I Needed SOME Way to Freshen Up These Announcements

There once was a podcast re: stories,
From action films to allegories,
Shared with tout le monde 
By a ginger and blonde,
Who each loved their narrative glories.

And as plotlines are most in the pink
When action and characters sync,
Behold: our new show!
(They're weekly, you know.)
You'll find it by clicking this link.

For more about this episode of The Narrative Breakdown -- which features material from the "Quartet:  Character" talk in Second Sight -- please visit the show page. And follow us on Twitter at @NarrativeBreak

3 Comments on Because I Needed SOME Way to Freshen Up These Announcements, last added: 9/26/2012
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2. Editor/Author Book Signing

Cheryl Klein, Daniel Nayeri, Adam Gustavson, and Leeza Hernandez will be doing a book signing at the Hyatt Regency at 5:30 pm on Nov. 5th. The books available are listed below:

Editor Daniel Nayeri at Clarion Books will be signing his book, STRAW HOUSE.

Editor Cheryl Klein at Arthur A. Levine will be signing her book, SECOND SIGHT: An Editor’s Talk on Writing, Revising and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults.

  

Author/Illustrator Adam Gustavson will be signing the books below.

Author/Illustrator Leeza Hernandez signing her book, EAT YOUR MATH HOMEWORK.

Great time to buy a book for the holidays and a great way to get a few more minutes with a faculty member.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: children writing, Editors, Events, News, opportunity Tagged: Cheryl Klein, Daniel Nayeri, Illustrator Adam Gustavson, Leeza Hernandez, Second Sight 0 Comments on Editor/Author Book Signing as of 10/30/2011 10:30:00 PM
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3. Writers: What Are Your Rules?

Want to know a secret?

Everyone who buys Second Sight gets not only the book, not only my never-before-published talks on character, principles of plot, and voice, not only my full list of Twenty-Five Revision Techniques in one handy place, not only some so-terrible-they're-funny pictures of me -- but, at the very end, a link to a secret page on my website where I'm compiling more resources like the ones in the book. While this does include links to all my past talks and a quasi-index by subject to this blog,  these resources aren't just things that I've written. Rather, it's craft stuff that I find all over the Internet that I think writers should read. I've basically indexed Jennifer Crusie's website, too, and I should do the same for Nathan Bransford, and then there's this great post by Erin Murphy on how to define success . . . I like having this page as a list of all the resources I return to again and again; having it available to Second Sight readers is just an added bonus for everyone.

Anyway, I started a new section tonight called "Other People's Principles." Basically, I'm trying to put together a list of all of those "Rules for Writers" articles by various famous writers, for instance:

I always love reading these and occasionally adopt a rule or two for my own, though at the same time, I think those principles are best applied to the work of the writers who espouse them. . . . Contra Monsieur Leonard, sometimes books need prologues. Anyway again, in looking at this list, I realized that everyone I have on here is a writer of adult fiction, and indeed the only people who tend to write these kinds of lists are writers of adult fiction, because generally writers of children's and YA fiction aren't accorded the literary respect that would lead to their being asked "Hey, what are your rules for writing fiction?" by a major media outlet.

And you know what? That is stupid, because God knows the children's/YA world has as many smart writers with interesting principles as the adult world does, and indeed the peculiar nature of writing fiction for children and teenagers should require our principles to be more interesting than, say, "Don't use adverbs." (Which is a good principle, but one that needs to be thoughtfully qualified, as it can lead to deadly dullness.) (And you see what I did there . . .)

Anyway again again, I'm asking:  Authors of children's and YA fiction:  If the New York Times came to you and as

14 Comments on Writers: What Are Your Rules?, last added: 4/29/2011
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4. Free Event Open to All SCBWI Members

On the afternoon of November 5th, we are having a Craft Day and booksigning with editor Cheryl Klein from Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine.  Cheryl will conduct a two hour writing class with members, followed by a booksigning of her new book SECOND SIGHT.  This will be offered free to any SCBWI member.  Space is limited, so you will have to sign up to reserve a spot and at some point we may have to close the doors.  Anyone who wants to stay and have dinner with Cheryl after the booksigning can do so, but dinner is not being offered for free.

The following day, November 6th, Cheryl will participate in our Mentoring Workshop and do one-on-one critiques along with three other agents and editors that attend.  At the same time, we will have our semi-annual Illustrators’ Day with two Art Directors.

It is all taking place at the Hyatt Regency in Princeton, NJ.  I will be posting more info about Cheryl’s class, the discount price to stay overnight at the hotel, and price of November 6th programs.  I will announce other agents and editors as I confirm them and provide all the details after the conference.  I just wanted you to know so you could save the date. 

Hope you find this exciting.  It is a way to reward you for supporting the NJSCBWI.

Thank you!

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: children writing, Conferences and Workshops, Editors, Events, need to know, News, opportunity Tagged: Cheryl Klein, Mentoring Workshop, one-on-one critique, Second Sight 10 Comments on Free Event Open to All SCBWI Members, last added: 5/13/2011
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5. For SECOND SIGHT Readers: Some Further Thoughts on Emotional Points & Patterns

I had a nice exchange over e-mail recently with a writer who read Second Sight and felt a little bit unclear (quite understandably!) about a couple of concepts promulgated in the book; and I decided to post our correspondence here to help clarify the ideas for anyone else who might be interested and/or confused. To wit, here's my correspondent:

At first I wasn’t sure whether you were saying a book needs both a thematic point and an emotional point or just one, but I believe you mean the book has a single point and it can be either of the two. 
 
Also, I was a little muddled about the emotional point itself. I wondered if the emotional point is the intended emotional response to the book’s resolution, or is it the reason a person chooses to read that particular book in the first place. Your example of the humor that is essential to Pilkey’s books makes me think it must be the latter.

I spent some time pondering the Compulsion vs. Obstacles section of “Four Techniques to Get at the Emotional Heart of Your Story” and wanted very much to hear you expound upon the “emotional pattern” that a character is compelled to repeat over and over. I’m not certain what an emotional pattern is. Is it something like a tendency to be impulsive, stubborn, zealous, etc.? Or is it the driving emotional force behind most of the character’s actions, like love or anger?
These were just tiny questions gnawing at me as I read Second Sight, but the *emotional pattern* I repeated over and over was exhilaration at the clarity and the little epiphanies I experienced and a bit of a brain fry as I tried to pin down the point of my story. That simple plot checklist was so helpful (thanks!)
My response:
Thanks for your questions -- they're good ones!

Actually, I think novels (literary fiction, anyway) should have both Thematic and Emotional Points -- a philosophical thought or idea or question driving the book (a question answered through its events), its intellectual heart; and then the emotional heart, which should be the Emotional Point.
 
When I'm working over a manuscript and I say "What's its Emotional Point?", my answers tend to go toward the overall emotional atmosphere of the novel, the key feeling the author intends the reader to take away at the end. (I make absolutely no claim to this being clear in the book.) In Pride and Prejudice, I would say its emotional point is humor, amusement, that sideways & smiling look at the foibles of intelligent human beings. In Twilight, I would say it's that feeling of being caught up in falling in love, and the reader's being in love with Edward too. In Feed, I would say it's that gaping, yawning, despairing feeling at the emptiness of the society and the lack of connection that Silas has at the end. (So yes, it's more of the intended emotional response to the book's resolution, as you put it.)

It's also often the author's intended emotional reaction to the idea espoused by the Thematic Point . . . For instance, in Pride and Prejudice, the Thematic Point is that even smart people sometimes get caught up in their own smartness and act stupidly, but rather than treating that with rage or despair (like, say, Dostoyevsky or Vonnegut might), Austen laughs at it and creates a happy ending. And that laughter, which she hopes to inspire in readers in turn, is the Emotional Point. In the classical Well-Made Novel, everything in the book should help add up to that feeling on the emotional side and the Thematic Point on the intellectual side.
   
As for the emotional pattern, I'd say it's a combination of those two things you describe . . . It's the outward behavioral tendency to hide, run away, be silent, be angry, fight, hit, whatever, which is driven by some inward emotional force (or pain, usually) in the character's nature or experience. In Speak, for instance, Melinda is silent

1 Comments on For SECOND SIGHT Readers: Some Further Thoughts on Emotional Points & Patterns, last added: 5/26/2011
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6. Nine Questions and Answers About Writing

As part of the Writer's Digest University event, I answered nearly fifty questions written by participants in the course of the webinar. Here are nine of my favorites (including a definition of the new Point I just named, the Experiential Point, in part because I wasn't satisfied with what I wrote in the blog post here).

8. Can you review the difference b/t emotional and experiential Points.

The Emotional Point is the emotional change that your protagonist goes through – how he or she develops from A to B emotionally as a result of the action of the plot, and how you would define that development from A to B. (The Emotional Plot is the steps through which she makes that change.) The Experiential Point is a loose summation of the dominant feelings you intend the reader to feel in the course of reading the book: scared, delighted, under stress, etc. Or, if you prefer, it’s a summation of the book’s overall atmosphere/attitude: funny, tense, relaxed, amused . . . again, what you’d intend a reader to take away.

9. What if the change is not something modern American readers appreciate? And what if the change is very subtle, again, that readers might not connect to?

If you’re determined on this change, and there’s no way to heighten it or make it something modern American readers might appreciate (if, in fact, the subtlety and strangeness of it are part of your whole intention, as sometimes happens): Then you need to accept that your book may have a limited audience among modern American readers. Which is not the end of the world – you can still find a publisher (just maybe a smaller one that appreciates this kind of change, and not a mass-market one); you can still find those readers (ideally the ones served by this publisher); and you will have written exactly the book you wanted, which is always a good thing, because people rarely get exactly what they want in this world. But if that is not something you’ll be satisfied with, then I’d return to the idea of heightening the change.

10. How do you feel about using modern terminology such as BlackBerry, iPhone, Facebook, etc., in YA novels?

As a general rule, I think it’s good to try to avoid brand names, because they also brand and date your character for the reader in a way you may not intend, and those companies don’t need the free advertising. The exceptions are Facebook and Google, because they’ve become such an ubiquitous part of everyone’s online lives, and an online life has become such a ubiquitous part of life in general for many people, and they don’t seem likely to go away anytime soon. . . . I feel as if you might as well use the real names of those programs, since if you use a fake name, readers will just see through to what you mean anyway. On the other hand, if you can come up with a fun fake name for those programs, that’s cool too, and it protects you from concerns about something getting outdated; for example, Sarah Dessen invented her own social network, Ume.com, that appears in all of her books.

18. Are there rules for how a novel is written such as in the 1st person.

Yes. I’m going to shamelessly quote my own book at length here:

With first person, the reader is inside the narrator’s head, looking out through his eyes. This means that we have an immediate and intimate connection with this character—immediate access to all of his thoughts; an immediate, you-are-there presence in the action. It is terrifically intense, because there is no escape from this point of view, and everything that happens to the character happens to us, the readers, as well.
However: That will only happen if readers find this narrator likeable or compelling in some way. If the narrator is really annoying, that greatly increases the chance that the reader wi

4 Comments on Nine Questions and Answers About Writing, last added: 7/3/2011
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7. Blogiversary and Book Cover!

Today, February 4, is a pretty significant day in my personal yearly calendar. In 2003, my dear Grandma Carol passed away. In 2005, I rejuvenated this blog, which had lain dormant for exactly two years. In 2006, I celebrated my first blogiversary, and I've tried to mark it every year since with a few brief words.


And in 2011, this is going to print:



And this is very much the culmination of all the February 4ths that have come before it: Second Sight is dedicated to the memory of my grandma (as well as my papa), and it would never have come about without this blog -- quite literally, as the blog led to my website led to writerly interest led to more talks led to the idea led to Kickstarter led to this finally happening. Thanks to all of you for your support through the years, on the blog and for the book: It is truly, deeply appreciated.

(I also owe a word of thanks to the correspondent who broke up with me in 2005, prompting me to restart my blog in the first place. If you read this, you know who you are, and sincerely, I say: Thank you.)

The cover was designed by Whitney Lyle, who is newly on staff at Scholastic, with much gadflyish art direction from me. (Seriously, editor + author + client in one person = designer's worst nightmare, but she has borne it with good grace.) I've been looking at versions of this cover for about three months now, and somehow posting it here and on Facebook today, e-mailing it to my book fulfillment people for my online shop, getting ready to send it to press -- it has finally become really real. Which I find a wee bit terrifying, I confess. But I so admire all you writers and illustrators for your daring and bravery, making things you imagined real in the world; and I'm excited to finally be taking that step myself at last. Hooray!
<

20 Comments on Blogiversary and Book Cover!, last added: 2/6/2011
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8. More on SECOND SIGHT

The Annotated Table of Contents and Introduction are now live on my website.

4 Comments on More on SECOND SIGHT, last added: 2/10/2011
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9. The Proof Is in the Pudding

(Mmm. Pudding.)

And the proofs are also in my hands, as you can see here:

(I imagine y'all might be getting sick of my nattering about Second Sight, but I'm going to talk about this anyway, as it's a nice opportunity for you writers to see a little of the behind-the-scenes book manufacturing process.)

So: This is the cover proof, which I have to approve for color and final text. Both at work and here, the cover proofs come with clear plastic overlays, one for each of the various kinds of cover effects. Here I'm just getting a gloss coating, so there's just one overlay; but if I were getting, say, matte lamination along with spot gloss (aka "spot UV"), then there would be two overlays, one showing the matte layer, one showing the gloss layer, each one positioned precisely to show what areas of the color proof that effect would cover.

And then there can also be overlays for embossing, debossing, foil color #1, foil color #2, printing on foil . . . all the myriad ways in which you can bling up a book, for better or worse. Each individual effect costs money -- an additional three to eighteen cents per effect, per book (costs quoted off the top of my head), depending on the effect and the amount it's used and the print run and so forth -- which goes directly to the unit cost of the book. So the more effects a book has, the higher the unit cost, and the more expensive the book itself might be as well; but that can also pay off, if the effects result in more attention from buyers or a more attractive package overall.

Here's something I don't see at work: an actual bound book proof for approval! At work we see "lasers" or "blues," which likewise provide an absolute last chance for any text changes, but which arrive either as loose pages printed on both sides of special laser paper, or on blueprint paper printed in signatures (hence the terms). I assume whether the proofs come bound or unbound depends on the printer and its arrangements with the production department. And I think I prefer unbound proofs, actually, as they're easier to lay flat, consider, and mark up.

(Which is not to say I am not THRILLED with this as a proof: It's a book! A real book! If my unit cost had increased every time I squeed over this today, I could no longer afford to print it.)

And here you can see the actual interior, showing a spread from "Words, Wisdom, Art and Heart." The pictures are printing very nicely, which was a big concern for me; sometimes you need heavier paper to prevent bleed-through, or more grayscale to render the tones of a photograph correctly, but that doesn't seem to be an issue here. I'm g

11 Comments on The Proof Is in the Pudding, last added: 2/17/2011
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10. La La La

I've always loved the rejected epigraphs for Dave Eggers's A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, one of which is:

"Ooh, look at me, I'm Dave! I'm writing a book!
With all my thoughts in it! La la la!"
-- Toph Eggers (the author's little brother)

With all due respect to both Mr. Eggerses:

Here I am! I'm Cheryl! And I wrote a book! With all my thoughts in it!

And I am happy. That is all.

13 Comments on La La La, last added: 3/10/2011
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11. All Aflutter

This has been a good and busy week, and promises only to get more so. Some quick things, first non-booky (for a change) and then all-booky:

  • I finished "Downton Abbey," and oh my goodness: What period, characterful, conspiracyful, Englishy goodness! Someday I aspire to wear dresses like Lady Sybil and bite off words like the Dowager Duchess. (And more immediately to write a blog post comparing the series to "Mad Men" for all the things they have in common: a large ensemble cast; of multiple social classes, with the attendant conflicts and resentments; on the cusp of (or even in the midst of) gigantic, sweeping societal changes they don't quite grasp, even as they inadvertently bring them about; also on the cusp of a war whose seriousness they cannot possibly foresee; with many buried secrets revealed over time, and liaisons right and left; all while wearing teeth-gnashingly envy-inducing* clothes (though really I suppose I should remember: corsets).)
  • * This phrase courtesy of Joanna Pearson's The Rites and Wrongs of Janice Wills, out in July. You read/edit a book enough times, its phrases naturally leap into your brain and writing. . . .
  • I'll be teaching a Master Class on Plot at the Kansas SCBWI conference the first weekend in May. There are, I think, exactly six spots left as of this writing, so book quickly if you're interested!
  • My other upcoming appearances: the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI Novel Revision Retreat in June, and Lit Day at LeakyCon 2011 in July. The Lit Day lineup is insane -- insane! -- and features Arthur's first appearance/speech at a Harry Potter fan convention ever, so it's well worth attending if you can make your way there.
  • And I loved, loved, loved the new "Jane Eyre" adaptation, partly for the fabulous period clothes and design, yes, but mostly because Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender bring terrific passion and intelligence to the roles of Jane and Rochester, and make Charlotte Bronte's sometimes unwieldy or ethereal dialogue sound perfectly natural in their mouths, sweeping us viewers up in their passions as well. When I reviewed the Keira Knightley "Pride and Prejudice," I contrasted what I called Romantic and Rationalist romances, and faulted that P&P for shooting a Rationalist romance as if it were a Romantic one. Well, "Jane Eyre" is a Romantic romance par excellence (and the film gives that all the brooding atmosphere it warrants, to delicious effect) -- but I had forgotten, till I saw this adaptation, how much it is a Rationalist romance too, how much its unique intensity derives from Jane's absolute control over herself, and how much hotter the love burns for it. I want to see it again already; get your own taste on the movie page here.
Now the Second Sight stuff:
  • When I go home to Kansas City for the Kansas SCBWI conference, I'll also have a public book party in Belton, Missouri, on Thursday, May 5th; e-mail me at asterisk.bks at gmail dot com if you're interested in attending.
  • Jennifer Bertman interviewed me for the Creative Spaces feature on her website, where I talk about my writing process, my workspace, and the regrettable lack of a magic bullet for making someone a good writer.
  • Donna at the First Novels Club and Kate Coombs at Book Aunt each reviewed Second Sight and said some kind things.
  • Apparently people have started to receive their books! I hope you enjoy them. If you find typos (sigh), please e-mail me with them at asterisk.bks at g

    4 Comments on All Aflutter, last added: 3/17/2011
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12. The Bookanistas love Cheryl Klein's new book, Second Sight


Cheryl Klein stops by to talk about her new book - Second Sight, An Editor’s Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults.


For those of you who have not heard Cheryl speak - I'm sorry :( because you are missing out. The woman is brilliant and I have many aha moments at each talk. But never fear, now all of her best, amazing talks are in this book.


I've had the pleasure of being on faculty with Cheryl and she was as fun and engaging as

A personal tidbit I learned - she loves music. Like goes to concerts all the time. That's how cool she is.


This will be a 2- part interview with a giveaway on Part 2.


Hi Cheryl, tell us about yourself.


Hi Shelli. I’m a narrative nerd of long standing: I love stories of all kinds—true, false, books, film, theatre, biographies, for children, for adults—and thinking about how a good story works or why the bad ones don’t. I’m lucky enough to get to work with lots of brilliant writers and stories in my job as a senior editor at Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of
11 Comments on The Bookanistas love Cheryl Klein's new book, Second Sight, last added: 3/18/2011
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13. A Ramble: Invisible Ink

(Continuing my series of monthly posts in which I write for an hour about more or less whatever is in my brain at the time.)

This has been a very good month--"an epoch in my life," as Anne Shirley would say--thanks to Second Sight and several other events. Trent Reedy's wonderful, world-changing Words in the Dust, previously featured here, has been named as the next book in Al Roker's Book Club for Kids on "The Today Show." You can read an excerpt of the book here if you haven't already seen it. (The campaign from that blog post raised $300 for Women for Afghan Women, by the way, and Trent and I both thank you for your support.)

And then Erin McCahan's I Now Pronounce You Someone Else was named as a finalist in two categories in the Romance Writers of America Awards: Best Young Adult Romance and Best First Novel (where it's competing against big old mean grown-up books too!). This really is a terrific recognition for a totally swoonworthy romance about what happens when you realize life can't always be lived as a totally swoonworthy romance. Plus other nice recognitions for Operation Yes and Eighth Grade Superzero and Marcelo in the Real World . . .

And then, yes, Second Sight came out at last, and was greeted with an ice-cream cake from my lovely boyfriend, many kind e-mails from people who have received it, and a ginormous sigh of relief from me. (Though the typo count is now up to four--grrr, arrgh.) Also a new kind of tension, though. I was talking with a writer at the wonderful Whispering Pines conference this past weekend about what it feels like to be an author; and having gotten over my terror at the book's initial release (or perhaps it's just mutated into this), the thing that keeps giving me pause now is that I like being invisible, often, and books are the opposite of invisibility. They are a claim staked, a space claimed (even if that space is just 5.5" x 8.5" x ~.8" in volume), principles declared, a flag planted, making oneself present in rooms where one has never been.

And this scares me for a very specific reason. . . . There's a talk in the book called "Morals, Muddles, and Making It Through," where I describe what happened when my best friends in fourth grade grew up much quicker than I did in fifth grade. I felt left behind, isolated, bewildered, all alone in a social world that suddenly seemed to be full of jokes I didn't get, focused on interests I didn't share. And I responded by doing my very best turtle imitation, avoiding anywhere I'd have to engage in social interaction, hiding in the library whenever I could (or the bathroom or a back bedroom if I had to go to a party--preferably a bedroom with a bookshelf). I don't have an Invisibility Cloak, but I long ago learned all the tricks available to Muggles for the same purpose: Know where your exits are at all times; don't look at the thing you're trying to avoid, because attention draws attention; wait for a burst of laughter, a noisy conversation, something to distract everyone, or better yet, leave the room at the same time as someone else, if the someone's bound for the bathroom or some such; move quickly and quietly, head down, eyes on your destination; don't look back. And then the deep breath once you're out, the return to the safety and lack of pressure of being alone. While I'm now a much more comfortably social person, someone who doesn't mind public speaking and can navigate a cocktail party pretty decently, my years of playing ghost gave me a taste for the freedom of invisibility . . . which is its own cage as well, I suppose, freedom being just another word for nothing left to lose and all that. But I was a

7 Comments on A Ramble: Invisible Ink, last added: 4/4/2011
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14. Emotion = Good Book

You know that feeling you get when you start reading a book and you just connect to it so well? It’s that same connection and empathy that compels us to revisit our favorites — the book that’s dogeared and has paragraphs that you know by heart.

As I reader, I didn’t think about the reason why I loved a book so much. I just knew that is was a favorite. Now that I’m a writer, I always try to find the strings attached behind the words. The craft behind the connection.

And one thing that makes a good book to me is emotion. It’s that connection with the character. And if a writer can do that then that writer is well on her way to making a good book.

I have tons of new craft books that I just can’t wait to start reading after Operation 50/50. I did read the introduction of one of them, Second Sight by editor Cheryl Klein. I had the pleasure of attending her revision workshop at the 2010 Springmingle Conference and this is what she had to say about what makes a good book:

“I think good fiction books (good art in general) create a deliberate emotion in the person experiencing it [...] The emotion is achieved authentically through immersing us in the character’s lived experience, not through cheap manipulation.”

And although I do loves a good plot, adding the emotion dimension is a bonus. A good example is a book I’m currently reading, The Dark and Hollow Places by Carrie Ryan. What has kept me coming back to this trilogy is not the awesome zombie apocalypse and the dark world but the emotion. It’s not all blood and gore — it’s also about connecting with the characters and how they are dealing not only with the need to survive against unrelenting zombies but also their inner conflicts, doubts, fears, and desires. Emotions that are universal.

For me, Emotion = Good Book. And this is coming from a plot chick. Ha.

What about you? Are you reading a book right now or have a favorite book that connects with you through emotion? Would love to hear about some of them. :)

5 Comments on Emotion = Good Book, last added: 4/6/2011
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15. BEAM camp at WORD

This week we rented out our store (mainly the basement) to a great group from BEAM camp. Emily (Clerk II) worked there this summer and had the time of her life. The camp’s purpose is to “explore creative problem solving and collaboration through fine and manual arts” and since Monday was a holiday, they organized a Halloween craft day for some of their campers. The results were two awesome Halloween decorations, one of which will be on display in our front window for Halloween.

If you’re interested in checking out the camp, their website is www.beamcamp.com.

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16. Charles McCarry Q&A in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran Scott Timberg's recent Q&A with the legendary Charles McCarry, author of two recent hardback reissues: Second Sight and The Better Angels. Here's a short excerpt:


Q: How do you achieve your style? A: I don't feel when I'm writing that I'm drawing from any other writer, but of course I must be. The writers I've admired have been not so very different from myself: Evelyn Waugh, for example, that kind of crystalline prose. And I've always admired W. Somerset Maugham more than any other writer. He also writes in an absolutely clear and conversational style. But I have to tell you, I write in a very peculiar way. I think about a book for 25 or 30 years in a kind of inchoate way, and at one point or another I realize the book is ready to be written. I usually have a character, a first line and general idea of what the book is going to be about. And I sit down and start writing, 1,000 words a day; it used be 1,500 when I was younger. And it just happens. I hardly ever read a thriller. I was very fond of Eric Ambler --- another one of my masters. I think he must be a strong subconscious influence.

Q: It's amazing that The Better Angels, along with Tears of Autumn and your other novels, spent several decades out of print. Do you have a theory about why, despite your reputation among people who've read you, you're so far from being a household name?

A: Frankly it's a mystery to me. I think it's maybe because I've always written against fashion. Also, from the beginnings the books were marketed as thrillers and they aren't really. I don't think Random House would have had the success with Cormac McCarthy that they've had if they marketed his books as Westerns.

Q: I think you've said that your time in the CIA was not glamorous or exciting.

A: That's correct. It was tedious and boring. It's like being in love: long periods of deprivation and loneliness and suspicion and anxiety, punctuated by moments of intense gratification. And then the cycle begins over again. It consists largely of waiting, in fact, I've sat around in hotel rooms waiting for agents to turn up for weeks at a time. And finally they do --- you're supposed to meet them on the Champs-Elysees at 11 o'clock on Tuesday and they think they're supposed to be in Copenhagen on that day. Because there's so much of the charade involved in tradecraft, there's continual misunderstanding.

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17. Charles McCarry's SHELLEY'S HEART Headed for the Big Screen

Variety reports that writer/director/producer David Koepp will adapt the Charles McCarry novel Shelley's Heart into a political drama called "Article II" that he'll direct for Columbia pictures! A new hardcover edition of Shelley's Heart will be published by Overlook in April.

Shelley's Heart was originally published in 1995 to great acclaim. The novel is centered on the first presidential election of the twenty-first century, bitterly contested by two men who are implacable political rivals but lifelong personal friends, is stolen through computer fraud. On the eve of the Inauguration, the losing candidate presents proof of the crime to his opponent, the incumbent President, and demands that he stand aside. The winner refuses and takes the oath of office, thereby setting in motion what may destroy him and his party, and bring down the Constitution. From this crisis, McCarry, author of the classic thrillers The Tears of Autumn and The Last Supper weaves a masterpiece of political intrigue. Shelley’s Heart is so gripping in its realism and so striking in its foresight that McCarry’s devoted readers may view this tale of love, murder, betrayal, and life-or-death struggle for the political soul of America as an astonishing act of prophecy.

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18. Charles McCarry's SHELLEY'S HEART in Kirkus Reviews

Kirkus Reviews takes a look at Charles McCarry's Shelley's Heart, coming next month in a new hardcover edition: "There's skullduggery afoot, and plenty of political intrigue, in this latest by accomplished mysterian McCarry (Christopher's Ghosts, 2007, etc.), whose overarching message might be that one has no friends in Washington, those who call you friend are likely to do you harm, and when Republicans call you friend—well, schedule an appointment with the undertaker. McCarry's setup is out of the headlines: A conservative presidential candidate wins office via electoral fraud. This time, however, his opponent has evidence. Enter the FIS—the heir to the CIA, replacing it "after it collapsed under the weight of the failures and scandals resulting from its misuse by twentieth-century Presidents." Enter spooks, defense contractors, lobbyists and assorted other denizens of the District of Columbia—and, to boot, a few deranged assassins and Yale graduates up to no good. The plot thickens and thickens—it has to, after all, since, among other things, part of it turns on a presumptive president's debating "the advantages and disadvantages of appointing a man he believed to be an enemy of democracy as Chief Justice of the United States." There's more than one clef in this roman, which has all the requisites of a Frederick Forsyth–style thriller but adds a few modern twists, some the product of a supersecret Moroccan-born agent whose stiletto heels are the real deal. She's not the only hotty, and there's the requisite steamy sex, too, told in requisite steamy language: "His great ursine weight fell upon her with a brutality that made her gasp with pleasure." Other gasps await good guys and bad guys alike, especially when drilled by tiny bullets to the thorax and other unpleasant means of dispatch.Will democracy survive? Readers will be left guessing until the last minute. A pleasing 21st-century rejoinder to the 1962 novel Seven Days in May, and a capable whodunit."

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19. Alan Furst Calls THE MIERNIK DOSSIER as a "Spy Tale Unsurpassed"

Charles McCarry's The Miernik Dossier is chosen by novelist Alan Furst as one of the Five Best spy tales ever written in The Wall Street Journal: "With The Miernik Dossier, Charles McCarry introduced us to Paul Christopher, the brilliant and sensitive CIA officer who would appear in a series of perhaps more widely known novels, such as The Secret Lovers and Second Sight. The book itself is the “dossier” in question: the reports and memoranda filed by a quintet of mutually mistrustful espionage agents, including a seductive Hungarian princess and a seemingly hapless Polish scientist, who undertake to drive from Switzerland to the Sudan in a Cadillac. It is a travelogue that bristles with suspicion and deception—but don’t listen to me, listen to a certain highly acclaimed spy novelist who reviewed McCarry’s literary debut: “The level of reality it achieves is high indeed; it is superbly constructed, wholly convincing, and displays insights that are distinctly refreshing. A new and very welcome talent.” Good call, Eric Ambler."

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20. Cover Concepts for My Book!

For a long time--right up until this afternoon, in fact--I thought I knew exactly what Second Sight was going to look like: a pair of glasses spanning the width of the cover, held by their outside corners by a pair of fingers, with the title type floating over them and my name below. Then my book designer stopped by my office with the bad news: This image was so thin that it didn't take up much space vertically, which left the cover looking really awkward and unbalanced . . . and altogether, it was not going to fly.

I was momentarily cast down, but like all bad ideas that get recognized as bad ideas, this helped clarify my priorities (particularly this: I REALLY want eyeglasses on the cover) and cleared the way for better ideas, of which I quickly had four. If you'll forgive the self-indulgence, I'm going to analyze these four ideas the way we analyze cover ideas in-house, for first what they say about the book in and of itself and then how the covers might connect with my intended audience (adult writers of children's and YA literature). Pardon the lousy sketching and type design.

A., Left. Glasses on top of a stack of books with the title written on their spines. This looks booky; the image fills the space well; it offers an opportunity for lots of good colors on the spines (and I love bright colors) and fun glasses on top. This kind of cover has certainly been done before, but the covers it alludes to (in my mind, at least) are all good ties for the kind of book this is: Reading Like A Writer by Francine Prose, which is a similar reading-and-writing book, and Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time by Lisa Yee and I Now Pronounce You Someone Else by Erin McCahan, which are both titles off my own list. So I like this one a lot.

B., Right. I think of this as the McSweeney's cover, as it would be mostly the gracious, formal type that's used on the inside of the book, with three or so small images of eyeglasses between the lines, most likely photographs (though it would be neat to find a cartoonist who could draw all of these glasses for cheap, if their style suited the font and the book). I was thinking a conventional or cats'-eye pair of glasses up top, a set of 3-D specs in the middle, and a Groucho Marx set down at bottom, to convey all the different ways one can look at writing, and also hopefully the book's blend of both seriousness and fun. OTOH, a pair of Groucho Marx glasses may convey not "fun" but ridiculousness or absurdity. None of those images say "books" or "writing" or "editing" directly, so a potential book-buyer would have to read the text for that, which slows down the potential buyer's emotional reaction, which slows down their buying reaction. And the images are really small, which means the cover might not reproduce well online, where it could be an inch tall on a computer screen. And as online will be one of the two primary ways I'm selling this book, it's important that it be instantly visually readable. Hrmm.

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21. My First Review of SECOND SIGHT!

Rose Green was kind enough to take me up on last week's offer of a review e-copy of Second Sight, and she just posted a wonderful review of it on her blog:

Who this book is for: the intermediate to advanced writer, preferably someone who has already completed (or at least is deeply into) a first draft. There is definitely a hole in the market for books for intermediate writers, the ones who are past the introductory stages of how a book is put together but who don’t yet have an agent or editor of their own to guide them. It’s full of practical suggestions for deep revision, for finding those “electric fence emotions” (as she describes the raw feelings of middle school) and pulling them forward to connect with readers in a real, believable way. The book itself is written with authority; not just because of Klein’s editor hat, but because she herself is an excellent writer, particularly gifted at pinpointing and expressing plot structure, voice, characterization—in short, the underpinnings of a novel.
Glory! Thank you, Rose.

The designer and I should hash out the final details on the cover this week, and the book will go to print as soon as that's done, making it available for sale in early February, I hope. If you have a blog and you'd be interested in hosting me to talk about the book -- a Q&A or a guest post or whatever you like -- feel free to contact me at asterisk.bks at gmail dot com. All very exciting!

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