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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: writing life, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 419
1. Take a Creative Risk – You Might Surprise Yourself


The ALIENS have landed!

"amusing. . .engaging, accessible," says Publisher's Weekly


I’ve been writing for years. (Let’s not discuss how many exactly!) It’s easy to fall into habits and to think about stories in certain ways. The best creative people, though, insist that they are constantly learning and to do that, they try something different. They take risks.

Let me suggest some risks you might want to take:

Take a creative risk today! Try a new format, genre, audience, or marketing strategy.

Take a creative risk today! Try a new format, genre, audience, or marketing strategy.


Try a different genre. If you’ve only written nonfiction, try a novel. Love writing picturebooks? Try a webpost. Good writing is good writing is good writing. But platforms DO make a difference in length, diction (your choice of vocabulary to include/exclude), voice and more. Why not try writing a sonnet?

Try for a different audience. Stretch your genre tastes and try a different one. Write a romance for YAs. Or a mystery for first graders. Are all of your protagonists female? Then try writing from a male’s POV and try to capture a male audience.

Try a different process or word processing program. I took a class on Scrivener this spring and am continuing to explore what this amazing program can and can’t do. I’m also learning Dragon Dictate to lessen the ergonomic strain on my hands. I know that these programs have potential to change not just my writing process, but also the output. I’m just not sure HOW they will affect it. It’s a risk.

Market to different places. While we often separate the writing from the marketing–especially when we think about the creative process–I think you can still take creative risks with marketing. For example, identify a market FIRST, and write specifically for that market. In this case, you are letting the market sculpt your creative output. If you write a short story for Highlights Magazine for Kids, it’s got to be 600 words or less. If you write an op-ed piece for the Huffington Post, everything is different in your creative output. If you decide to self-publish, you may find yourself suddenly taking the question of commercial viability much more seriously.

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2. Are Your Scenes Causing an Effect?

Writing Life Banner

By

Janice Hardy

Janice Hardy small RGB 72Last month I shared a tip on how to keep your scenes moving. This month, I’d like to take a step back and look at the bigger picture aspect of scenes and plotting. Once you know what’s moving your scenes forward from a plot perspective, consider how that scene affects your entire novel.

What is the cause and effect in your scenes?

No matter how well written a scene might be, if it isn’t doing anything to make the story happen it probably doesn’t belong in the story. Scenes happen for a reason, and a good scene will cause an effect that changes the story in some way.

Take a look at one of your scenes–either a finished scene or a rough outline if you’re still in the planning stage. What’s the point of that scene? Why is it in the story? You’ll probably have two answers to this:

  • The goal of the protagonist
  • The goal of the author

The protagonist will be driving the scene, either trying to achieve something or trying to avoid something–sometimes both.

The author will have a reason for writing this scene that relates to the overall story or plot. She chose this scene to dramatize at this point in the story for this reason.

Next, ask: what effect does this scene cause? How does it change something in the story?

Whatever happens in this scene, no matter how big or how small, should effect what comes next. It might be a direct result, such as breaking into a house (cause) and getting caught by the antagonist (effect), or it could be indirect, such as breaking into a house (cause) and leaving behind a clue that will alert the antagonist the protagonist was there and make him retaliate at the worst possible moment (effect).

In essence, it’s “When protagonist does X, Y happens.” If you describe your scene and all you have is, “Protagonist does X,” that’s a red flag that your scene isn’t moving the story forward. Try looking for the Y (the effect) to get that scene back on track.

If that effect eludes you, pull back and consider why you as the author put that scene in the book. What’s your reason for it being there?

Be wary if that reason is of the “to show X” variety, such as “to show that the protagonist is afraid of commitment.” Showing an aspect of a character is great, but on its own it doesn’t cause an effect. Instead look for ways to make that character aspect cause something to happen, or be the result of something happening. “To show the protagonist’s fear of commitment by having her start a fight with her new boyfriend so she doesn’t have to go meet his parents later at breakfast, which causes things to be strained between them at breakfast and this makes his parents decide they don’t like her.”

A little convoluted, sure (sometimes that’s just how scene summaries are), but basically, this boils down to, “When the protagonist has a fight with her boyfriend, it causes tension between them that makes his parents not like her.” That cause leads easily into the next effect, “When the boyfriend’s parents decide they don’t like her, they start trying to convince the boyfriend to dump her, putting a strain on their relationship.”

Actions cause reactions, which cause more actions, which cause more reactions, and so on and so on.

One trick to test the effect of a scene, is to look at the story without it. What changes? What can’t happen without this scene to trigger it? If nothing does, odds are there’s a problem and it’s not serving the story.

Let’s look back at our couple:

Say the reason for the fight scene really is just “to show that the protagonist is afraid of commitment.” The protagonist has a goal of not going to breakfast because meeting the parents is a big step she’s not sure she’s ready for. You write a fun scene with them arguing over something inconsequential, exchanging witty banter, poignant observations, showing great characterization. By the end of the scene, boyfriend calms her down and they go to breakfast (because you need that to happen for the plot). The scene works as a scene.

Next scene, the couple has breakfast with the parents. The protagonist tries to win them over and fails. They don’t like her (which was always the plan for that scene).

What does the fight scene have to do with that breakfast scene? If you cut it, would it have changed the breakfast scene at all? Probably not.

Will it kill your novel to leave it in? Honestly? Probably not. But it’s a missed opportunity to strengthen the overall story, and that opportunity could make the difference between a happy reader gushing about your book to all her friends, and one who forgets about it a week later. If there are a lot of scenes like this, then the odds of the novel feeling pointless increase, and that can kill your novel.

It would take very little effort to make the fight scene affect the breakfast scene and cause the parents to not like her. That way, it becomes a result of something the protagonist does, not random chance that has little to do with her and is only happening because plot says so. It also forces her to work harder to win them over when she realizes she does want to commit to this particular guy, and now she’s screwed it all up. She has to fix her own mistakes–commit to making things right–which can work as a great thematic mirror to committing on a larger scale. Suddenly this little nothing scene has deep roots and will resonate on a much bigger level.

Cause and effect is a simple tool that can help you craft stronger scenes and tighter plots, whether it’s planning a first draft or polishing an almost-finished draft. No matter what stage you’re on, think about what you want your scenes to accomplish on both a character level and an author level. What do your scenes cause to happen in your story? How are they interconnected? A story that holds together well on multiple levels is a story readers remember.

Do you ever think about how your scenes affect the whole novel?

Janice Hardy is the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now. She lives in Georgia with her husband, one yard zombie, three cats, and a very nervous freshwater eel. Find out more about writing at her site, Fiction University, or find her on Twitter @Janice_Hardy.

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3. Guest Interview: Heather Marie

Writing Life Banner

Kat Zhang

(featuring Heather Marie)

Kat Zhang

 Heather-AuthorPhotos-3-WEBSIZEHey guys! Kat here today with Heather Marie, author of the upcoming YA book THE GATEWAY THROUGH WHICH THEY CAME. It’s her debut, and it’s releasing on August 25th with Curiosity Quills, so I invited her on Pub Crawl to chat with us a little about her publishing journey :)

Before we begin in earnest, I asked Heather to summarize GATEWAY for me in one sentence, and she said:

Seventeen-year-old Aiden Ortiz is a Gateway for the dead, who discovers that sending the dead away can be easy—but stopping them from coming back is a whole other story.

Read until the end for the book’s full summary, as well as a chance to win a copy!

So, Heather, tell us a little about your writing/publishing process with GATEWAY!

Where do I start? Well, I wrote Gateway during NaNoWriMo in November of 2012. At that time I was on submission with another YA supernatural about a girl haunted by the ghost of her half-sister. After only a few months, I pulled that manuscript and parted ways with my agent for personal reasons. This happens more often than you think, but it really leaves you feeling pretty jaded about publishing.

It was a rough road picking myself back up from there. I went through a lot of ups and downs, but eventually I pushed myself to finish Gateway, which was my sixth manuscript. (The one that went on submission was my fourth.) I honestly didn’t know if I’d ever get back on track. After you go from having an agent to not, you start to question your writing and publishing in general, because so much changes at once.

But I’ve dreamed of being an author since I was a kid—books have been a huge part of my life—and I just couldn’t allow myself to give up that easily. So after going through querying, and several revisions with Gateway, I was ecstatic to find out that Curiosity Quills Press wanted to sign me. As they say, it was a dream come true.

That’s really great! The road to finally getting a book published can definitely be rough, and I always love a happy ending :) What has working with Curiosity Quills been like? Any challenges you’ve faced as a debut author?

As a writer, I think we all know how important it is to market ourselves. Even those with Big 5 publishers have to get themselves out there, because no one is gonna do the work for you. However, having a big name backing your book is definitely a huge help. Going into my contract, I realized that it would mean working a little harder on the marketing front for myself. I’d like to think I’m okay as far as that goes, but I always worry that I’m pushing it too much. Maybe we all feel that way, because it’s weird to talk about yourself all the time, or to try and promote something without being pushy. That has been my biggest challenge.

When it comes to CQ as a whole, I have nothing but good things to say. They have been incredibly supportive and easy to work with. I love that I can go to them with questions or concerns or pretty much anything. I’m one of those writers that tends to need a little more attention because I’m constantly worrying, or I have some new idea that I want to share, and they always back me up. My experience with them has been wonderful.

I’d have to say what I find most unique about working with a small publisher is the time and attention they provide. From what I hear, I’m pretty lucky when it comes to this, because I’m more in-the-know than most writers with their publishers.

I think marketing as a writer is always tricky. That line between “I feel like I’m talking about myself all the time!!!” and “No one even knows I write books” is oddly weird to walk sometimes.  But the most important part of being a writer, of course, is the actual writing! What’s your process like? Panster or Plotter? (or, as GRR Martin said once: “Architect” or “Gardener”)

I rarely ever outline. In fact, if I do outline it’s usually when I’m halfway through the story. Even if this happens, I only write about a page or two of random notes that bring the story together. Ideally I prefer the pantser method. I enjoy learning along with my characters what’s going to happen next.
With that being said, I tend to write the first draft fairly quick. I work on this with my critique partners for a while and rarely ever start a new draft with all the changes. The only time I start collecting more and more drafts is during the editing phase with my publisher. I can’t even tell you how many drafts I have of Gateway. My “Gateway” folder is a train wreck.
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Sounds like my folders for the Hybrid Chronicles, lol. I literally had files titled “Hybrid 1″ through something like “Hybrid 8″ before I even sold the trilogy! 
.
Thanks for coming on Pub Crawl to chat with us today, Heather :) Before you leave, tell us:  What are your future writing plans?
.
I keep setting the bar higher and higher for myself with each manuscript. To keep writing Young Adult is definitely my main plan—I love it too much to write anything else. My biggest thing is hopefully finding another agent with my next manuscript. I miss the security of having someone on my side that is experienced in the publishing world. People keep telling me I’m doing great without one, but I don’t want to limit myself as a writer. Agents are there to help us grow in our craft and in publishing—I’d hate to deprive myself of that experience and knowledge.
.
That sounds fantastic :) Everyone should check out GATEWAY when it releases, and in fact we’re giving out an ARC today! 
gateway
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To seventeen-year-old Aiden Ortiz, letting the dead walk through his body to reach the other side comes with the territory. Being a Gateway isn’t an easy job, but someone’s gotta send Bleeders where they belong. Heaven. Salvation. Call it whatever you want. Dead is dead. But when his search for Koren Banks––the girl who went mysteriously missing seven months ago––leaves him with more questions than answers, he finds himself involved in something far more sinister and beyond his control. With the threat of the Dark Priest’s resurrection, and his plan to summon his demon brothers from hell, Aiden is left to discover his identity before the Dark Priest’s curse infecting his blood consumes him, and before the world as he knows it succumbs to the darkness of hell on earth.
(Sorry international readers, the giveaway is US only!)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Heather Marie lives in Northern California with her husband, and spends the majority of her time at home reading. Before she followed her dreams of becoming a writer, Heather worked as a hairstylist and makeup artist for several years. Although she enjoyed the artistic aspect of it all, nothing quite quenched her creative side like the telling of a good story. When the day had come for her to make a choice, she left behind her promising career to start another, and never looked back.

Kat Zhang loves traveling to places both real and fictional–the former allows for better souvenirs, but the latter allows for dragons, so it’s a tough pick. Her novel WHAT’S LEFT OF ME is about a girl struggling to survive in an alternate universe where people are born with two souls, and one is doomed to disappear. It is the first book in a trilogy and was published by HarperCollins in September of 2012.  Book 2, ONCE WE WERE, released September 2013, and Book 3, ECHOES OF US, will come out September 16, 2014. You can learn all about Kat at her site, or listen to her ramblings on twitter.

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4. Logistics

Writing Life Banner

By

Biljana Likic

biljana new picStories often begin with a lone kernel of an idea. Mine tend to begin when a few characters appear in my mind and don’t want to leave me alone. A single interaction between them can cause an entire book to be built around it. Generally, that’s how I plot, too. My process is basically just me figuring out how to construct a story around scenes that must happen.

But when I first started writing seriously, it would trip me up. I’d be writing the scene I’d been waiting a year to write, and all would be great. I’d create a setting in which the interaction would take place and go nuts pounding out the words that had been living in my head for so long. It’d be done before I knew it and after a night of sleep and letting it rest I would come back to it and realize I’d made a grave, grave error.

My characters would be so influenced by my neurotic imaginings of their interaction that they wouldn’t at all be influenced by the actual environment in which they were. Outside the sky would be heavy with clouds but they would still squint against the sun to see things better. Loud music would be playing but soft conversations from across the room would still be overheard. The room would be so dark only silhouettes should’ve been clear but for some reason the colour of the wallpaper would be discernable.

It was a result of the scene not evolving in my mind along with the rest of the story. I would have strong plot reasons for it to be a very cloudy day, but because the scene in my mind had always been an arbitrarily sunny one, I would subconsciously impose a completely different kind of weather. It was an issue of continuity.

Since becoming aware of the issue, I came up with a way to resolve it. It’s juvenile in its simplicity.

Keep a list of logistics. These can include light quality, temperature, weather, sound, and architecture.

Here’s an example. First, the wrong way to do it.

Cold rain came down in sheets, gathering on the leaves above and falling in big fat splotches onto his head. He was soaked in seconds. He fled, deafened by the sound of the storm around him and blinded by the darkness. He tripped and tumbled to the ground with a grunt of surprise. He heard her approach quietly behind him.

“Are you alright?” she whispered. She was probably afraid they’d hear her. “Are you hurt?”

“I’m fine,” he said.

She hurried to him and helped him up before he could stop her. Prompted by an ingrained memory of his strict mother, he automatically brushed dirt off his knees.

“Leave,” he said.

He went to keep going but was stopped by her tugging on his sleeve. His breath caught at her beauty. Tears streaked down her flushed cheeks, and her dark hair billowed and flowed in the breeze. Before he could change his mind, he shook off her grip, and ran.

There are a number of problems here. Taking the first paragraph where I describe the environment, these are our logistics: it’s a dark forest, it’s wet, and the pouring rain is loud and cold. So how does he hear her approach quietly? How does he hear her whisper when she’s nowhere near close enough to be heard through the storm? How can he brush dirt off his knees when he was soaked in seconds? It’d be mud and it would seep into his clothing. When he sees her beauty, how can he see? He’s blinded by darkness. On that note, how does she even see him fall? And why is her hair billowing and flowing when it should be slick against her head? How does he know those are tears on her face when it could just be rain?

These are the kinds of continuity errors that come up very often in first drafts, but they’re easily avoidable. All you have to do is keep in mind the main aspects of the environment. It’s a dark forest, it’s wet, and the pouring rain is loud and cold. Add occasional lightning to the storm and suddenly you have a source of light. It does nothing to change your actual story; the weather’s already bad. If she approaches him quietly, have her surprise him with a hand on his shoulder while he’s still on the ground. Now she’s close to him, which means he’d be able to hear her even if her voice isn’t very loud. When she helps him up, have him wipe his muddy hands on his pants and cringe at his mother’s memory instead of trying to respect it.

Cold rain came down in sheets, gathering on the leaves above and falling in big fat splotches onto his head. He was soaked in seconds. He fled, deafened by the sound of the storm around him and blinded by the darkness. He tripped and tumbled to the ground with a grunt of surprise. Lightning flashed weakly and the forest floor glowed, tangles of vines and roots glistening.

He felt a hand on his shoulder and jerked away. He stilled at the familiar voice by his ear.

“Are you alright?” she whispered, voice carrying over the din of the rain, her warm breath puffing against his skin. She was probably afraid they’d hear her. “Are you hurt?”

“I’m fine,” he said.

She hooked an arm under his and helped him up before he could stop her. He wiped his muddy hands on his wet pants with a grimace and a silent apology to his mother.

“Leave,” he said, raising his voice to make sure she could hear.

He went to keep going but was stopped by her tugging on his sleeve. Lightning forked across the sky and his breath caught. Even with her hair plastered to her head, cheeks wet with what he told himself was only rain, she was beautiful. Before he could change his mind, he shook off her grip, and ran.

Fundamentally, the scene hasn’t changed. All I did was tweak a few actions to make it plausible. But another thing you’ll notice is that the scene was actually made more intimate. He heard her whisper above the rain because she was so close to him, which wouldn’t have had to be true if it hadn’t been raining or if, as in the first attempt, I hadn’t followed the rules of the logistics I’d set. What I’m left with is a scene that not only takes into account the environment so it can play out naturally, but also gave me an opportunity to flesh out a more meaningful interaction.

And it doesn’t stop there. This scene could be even more tellingly intimate. Again, it comes down to logistics.

The rain is cold. She puts a hand on his shoulder. Her hand is warm. Instant awareness. Even if he jerks away, maybe the warmth could be familiar. Of course, warmth in and of itself isn’t only applicable to humans, but having him think of a certain someone in the moment of that warmth tells quite a bit about his psychological state of mind. When she’s that close to him, does he really want to run? What is he remembering when her breath is puffing into his ear? When she hooks an arm under his to help him, that human contact in a time of desperation would maybe be comforting. When she tugs at his sleeve, do her fingers graze the skin of his wrist?

We know how the environment affects him. How does she affect him? How do her actions impact his state of mind?

Cold rain came down in sheets, gathering on the leaves above and falling in big fat splotches onto his head. He was soaked in seconds. He fled, deafened by the sound of the storm around him and blinded by the darkness. He tripped and tumbled to the ground with a grunt of surprise. Lightning flashed weakly and the forest floor glowed, tangles of vines and roots glistening.

He felt a hand on his shoulder. It was nearly hot in contrast to the rain. In the split second before he instinctively jerked away, he thought of her. He froze when she spoke into his ear.

“Are you alright?” she whispered, voice carrying over the din of the rain, her warm breath puffing against his skin. She was probably afraid they’d hear her. She’d always been afraid they would hear. He shivered when she spoke again and blamed it on the wind. “Are you hurt?”

“I’m fine,” he said and quickly bowed his head away from her.

She hooked an arm under his and helped him up before he could stop her. The contact made his knees weak with longing. He needed comfort, wanted heat, and at that moment he felt she was the only thing that could banish the damp from his bones. He stepped away and wiped his muddy hands on his wet pants with a grimace and a silent, desperately out-of-place apology to his mother for dirtying his clothes.

“Leave,” he said, raising his voice to make sure she could hear. He hoped she hadn’t heard it crack, too.

He went to keep going but was stopped by her tugging on his sleeve. Lightning forked across the sky and his breath caught. Even with her hair plastered to her head, cheeks wet with what he told himself was only rain, she was beautiful.

The night succumbed to darkness once more and his only awareness of her became the brands that were her fingers brushing against the skin of his wrist. Before he could change his mind, he shook off her grip, and ran.

The people around your main character are also part of the environment. So now, your new logistics are: it’s a dark forest, it’s wet, and the pouring rain is loud and cold. He is greatly in love with the woman, and she keeps touching him.

Keeping all this in mind is how you go from point A to point B. What was at first a rough draft passage, a bare-bones scene, has turned into a psychologically important event necessary for the growth of the main character. All just by considering where things are, why they’re there, what the weather’s like, and how he feels about it.

Biljana Likic is working on her fantasy WIPs and just completed her BA, soon to be starting her MA in September, where she can’t wait till she’s done so she’ll finally have all the time in the world to write. You can follow her on Twitter.

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5. Who Can Recommend a Good Book?

by Julie Eshbaugh

~~~

Julie

I’m fascinated by lists of “recommended reading” - not only do such lists help us discover great books, but they also reveal quite a bit about the person who created the list. (For example, someone over at LibraryThing.com has cataloged the contents of Marilyn Monroe’s personal library. Reading through the list reveals a lot about the private interests of such a public person.)

Recently, while searching for lists of “favorite books” or “recommended reading,” I stumbled upon a very cool site - OpenCulture.com. Clearly, someone there enjoys reading lists as much as I do, because the site includes a fantastic sidebar titled “Reading Lists by…” Here you can find reading lists compiled by some well-known and fascinating people.

Reading over the lists, I noticed, with regret, a lack of diversity among the recommended books. Other than that common problem, however, I was surprised by how little overlap the lists contained. Below is a sampling of a few lists I found interesting. Others included on OpenCulture.com are by F Scott Fitzgerald, Allen Ginsberg, Christopher Hitchens, Joseph Brodsky, WH Auden, Donald Barthelme, and Carl Sagan.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson

ndgt

In an “ask me anything” feature on Reddit.com, popular astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson was asked, “Which books should be read by every single intelligent person on the planet?” The following list, along with short explanations of each choice, was his response:

1.) The Bible - “to learn that it’s easier to be told by others what to think and believe than it is to think for yourself.”

2.) The System of the World by Isaac Newton – “to learn that the universe is a knowable place.”

3.) On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin - “to learn of our kinship with all other life on Earth.”

4.) Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift – “to learn, among other satirical lessons, that most of the time humans are Yahoos.”

5.) The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine  – “to learn how the power of rational thought is the primary source of freedom in the world.”

6.) The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith - “to learn that capitalism is an economy of greed, a force of nature unto itself.”

7.) The Art of War by Sun Tsu - “to learn that the act of killing fellow humans can be raised to an art.”

8.) The Prince by Machiavelli - “to learn that people not in power will do all they can to acquire it, and people in power will do all they can to keep it.”

Tyson clarified that he chose these books because, “If you read all of the above works you will glean profound insight into most of what has driven the history of the western world.”

David Bowie

david-bowie

In 2013, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London created an exhibition called “David Bowie is…” The exhibition, a retrospective of Bowie’s career and influence on the arts, is currently touring internationally, and includes a list of Bowie’s 100 favorite books. Here’s the (long) list (clearly influenced by his love of music):

The Age of American Unreason, Susan Jacoby, 2008

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz, 2007

The Coast of Utopia (trilogy), Tom Stoppard, 2007

Teenage: The Creation of Youth 1875-1945, Jon Savage, 2007

Fingersmith, Sarah Waters, 2002

The Trial of Henry Kissinger, Christopher Hitchens, 2001

Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder, Lawrence Weschler, 1997

A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1890-1924, Orlando Figes, 1997

The Insult, Rupert Thomson, 1996

Wonder Boys, Michael Chabon, 1995

The Bird Artist, Howard Norman, 1994

Kafka Was The Rage: A Greenwich Village Memoir, Anatole Broyard, 1993

Beyond the Brillo Box: The Visual Arts in Post-Historical Perspective, Arthur C. Danto, 1992

Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, Camille Paglia, 1990

David Bomberg, Richard Cork, 1988

Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom, Peter Guralnick, 1986

The Songlines, Bruce Chatwin, 1986

Hawksmoor, Peter Ackroyd, 1985

Nowhere To Run: The Story of Soul Music, Gerri Hirshey, 1984

Nights at the Circus, Angela Carter, 1984

Money, Martin Amis, 1984

White Noise, Don DeLillo, 1984

Flaubert’s Parrot, Julian Barnes, 1984

The Life and Times of Little Richard, Charles White, 1984

A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn, 1980

A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole, 1980

Interviews with Francis Bacon, David Sylvester, 1980

Darkness at Noon, Arthur Koestler, 1980

Earthly Powers, Anthony Burgess, 1980

Raw (a ‘graphix magazine’) 1980-91

Viz (magazine) 1979 –

The Gnostic Gospels, Elaine Pagels, 1979

Metropolitan Life, Fran Lebowitz, 1978

In Between the Sheets, Ian McEwan, 1978

Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews, ed. Malcolm Cowley, 1977

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Julian Jaynes, 1976

Tales of Beatnik Glory, Ed Saunders, 1975

Mystery Train, Greil Marcus, 1975

Selected Poems, Frank O’Hara, 1974

Before the Deluge: A Portrait of Berlin in the 1920s, Otto Friedrich, 1972

In Bluebeard’s Castle : Some Notes Towards the Re-definition of Culture, George Steiner, 1971

Octobriana and the Russian Underground, Peter Sadecky, 1971

The Sound of the City: The Rise of Rock and Roll, Charlie Gillete, 1970

The Quest For Christa T, Christa Wolf, 1968

Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom: The Golden Age of Rock, Nik Cohn, 1968

The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov, 1967

Journey into the Whirlwind, Eugenia Ginzburg, 1967

Last Exit to Brooklyn, Hubert Selby Jr. , 1966

In Cold Blood, Truman Capote, 1965

City of Night, John Rechy, 1965

Herzog, Saul Bellow, 1964

Puckoon, Spike Milligan, 1963

The American Way of Death, Jessica Mitford, 1963

The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea, Yukio Mishima, 1963

The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin, 1963

A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess, 1962

Inside the Whale and Other Essays, George Orwell, 1962

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark, 1961

Private Eye (magazine) 1961 –

On Having No Head: Zen and the Rediscovery of the Obvious, Douglas Harding, 1961

Silence: Lectures and Writing, John Cage, 1961

Strange People, Frank Edwards, 1961

The Divided Self, R. D. Laing, 1960

All The Emperor’s Horses, David Kidd,1960

Billy Liar, Keith Waterhouse, 1959

The Leopard, Giuseppe Di Lampedusa, 1958

On The Road, Jack Kerouac, 1957

The Hidden Persuaders, Vance Packard, 1957

Room at the Top, John Braine, 1957

A Grave for a Dolphin, Alberto Denti di Pirajno, 1956

The Outsider, Colin Wilson, 1956

Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov, 1955

Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell, 1949

The Street, Ann Petry, 1946

Black Boy, Richard Wright, 1945

Ernest Hemingway

ErnestHemingwayAn aspiring writer named Arnold Samuelson traveled to Key West in 1934 and knocked on Ernest Hemingway’s front door, seeking writing advice. During their conversation the following day, Hemingway asked Samuelson if he’d ever read Tolstoy’s War and Peace. When he said he hadn’t, Hemingway offered to write out a list of books he felt the aspiring writer ought to read. The list includes two short stories by Stephen Crane and 14 books:

“The Blue Hotel” by Stephen Crane

“The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Dubliners by James Joyce

The Red and the Black by Stendhal

Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann

Hail and Farewell by George Moore

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The Oxford Book of English Verse

The Enormous Room by E.E. Cummings

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Far Away and Long Ago by W.H. Hudson

The American by Henry James

And lastly, for those of you who believe that the task of comparing one book to another is too subjective, here’s a brilliant quote from Virginia Woolf, from her 1925 essay, “How Should One Read a Book” :

VirginiaWoolf“The only advice … that one person can give another about reading is to take no advice, to follow your own instincts, to use your own reason, to come to your own conclusions. If this is agreed between us, then I feel at the liberty to put forward a few ideas and suggestions because you will not allow them to fetter that independence which is the most important quality that a reader can possess. After all, what laws can be laid down about books? The battle of Waterloo was certainly fought on a certain day; but is Hamlet a better play than Lear? Nobody can say. Each must decide that question for himself. To admit authorities, however heavily furred and gowned, into our libraries and let them tell us how to read, what to read, what value to place upon what we read, is to destroy the spirit of freedom which is the breath of those sanctuaries. Everywhere else we may be bound by laws and conventions — there we have none.”

 

So what do you think? Do you enjoy book recommendations and lists of “Best Books”? Do you find any merit in the above lists? Do you agree with Virginia Woolf that we should not “admit authorities” to tell us “what to read”? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

 ~~~

Julie Eshbaugh writes fiction for young adults. She is represented by Adams Literary. You can add Julie on Goodreads and follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.

Virginia Woolf

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6. Interview with Robin Bridges, author of The Gathering Storm

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Susan Dennard, featuring Robin Bridges

I’m so excited to have Robin Bridges on Pub(lishing) Crawl today! If y’all don’t know her (or her Katerina Trilogy), then you’re in for a treat.

First of all, she has the most beautiful covers.

The Gathering Storm The Unfailing Light The Morning Star

Second of all, she has the COOLEST book trailer of all time. Seriously, watch this.

Third of all, her books are awesome. Just read this summary of The Gathering Storm and tell me you’re not hooked:

St. Petersburg, Russia, 1888. As she attends a whirl of glittering balls, royal debutante Katerina Alexandrovna, Duchess of Oldenburg, tries to hide a dark secret: she can raise the dead. No one knows. Not her family. Not the girls at her finishing school. Not the tsar or anyone in her aristocratic circle. Katerina considers her talent a curse, not a gift. But when she uses her special skill to protect a member of the Imperial Family, she finds herself caught in a web of intrigue.

An evil presence is growing within Europe’s royal bloodlines—and those aligned with the darkness threaten to topple the tsar. Suddenly Katerina’s strength as a necromancer attracts attention from unwelcome sources . . . including two young men—George Alexandrovich, the tsar’s standoffish middle son, who needs Katerina’s help to safeguard Russia, even if he’s repelled by her secret, and the dashing Prince Danilo, heir to the throne of Montenegro, to whom Katerina feels inexplicably drawn.

The time has come for Katerina to embrace her power, but which side will she choose—and to whom will she give her heart?

But enough about Robin’s books–let’s find out more about the author behind them.

Robin Bridges1.  Can you tell us how the idea for The Gathering Storm came about?  And why did you choose 1888 St. Petersburg (which I ADORED)?

I love Russian history, and have always loved Russian fairytales like Vasilisa the Brave and the stories of Baba Yaga. I do hate the Romanov family’s tragic ending, however, so I prefer to read about the earlier generations of the Imperial family.  Alexander III’s family was my favorite. Nicholas and his siblings were teens during the late 1880’s- early 1890’s. Princess Elena of Montenegro really did attend the Smolni Institute and truly opened the Smolni Ball by dancing with Nicholas in the fall of 1888.

Russia of the late nineteenth century, especially St. Petersburg, was steeped in superstition and mysticism and interest in the occult.  The Montenegrin princesses, Anastasia and Militza, were known as the Black Peril and they fascinated me with their séances. Papus, the French occultist, was one of their known companions. It was not hard for me to imagine a St. Petersburg where the magic was real.

2. Wow, the Black Peril. That is just so cool. Now, can you tell us a bit about your journey to publication? I’m sure our readers our curious.

The Gathering Storm was the fourth novel I’d ever written, (not including the 118 page murder mystery I wrote on notebook paper in seventh grade.) The first novel taught me how to craft a novel, the second one taught me how to find an agent, and the third one taught me how to write just for fun. The Gathering Storm taught me the importance of persistence (and revision).

3. Patience and persistence paid off! I love hearing such inspirational stories! Now, as I mentioned already, you have some of my FAVORITE covers out there not to mention the most amazing trailer around. Did you have any say in those creations?

I was blessed to have Trish Parcell at Delacorte design all three covers for the Katerina Trilogy.  Katerina is played by a Ukranian model (I wish I knew her name!) and the dress she wears on the cover of The Unfailing Light is actually a dress that was worn by Empress Alexandra. I had no real hand in the process, other than crossing my fingers and being flabbergasted at how beautiful the covers turned out to be. :)

4. WHAT? Worn by Empress Alexandra?! I literally have no words. Okay, last question: Make us a story cocktail. What ingredients do you think makes the perfect tale?

Mmm, I like spicy and sweet foods, and the books I enjoy reading have a similar balance.  Half romance, half danger?  Sprinkle in lots of smooching and lots of scares, too.  Add a teaspoon of dark humor and one swoony male character.  Or two…

Yessss! I love it!! Bring on the smooching and the scares! Thank you so much for stopping by, Robin!

To celebrate her visit, we have a giveaway for The Gathering Storm. Just fill out the Rafflecopter form to be entered!
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By day, Robin is a mild-mannered writer of fantasy and paranormal fiction for young adults. By night, she is a pediatric nurse. Robin lives on the Gulf Coast with her husband, one teenager, and two slobbery mastiffs. The Gathering Storm is her first novel.

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7. When You Don’t Agree With Your Characters

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Amie Kaufman

amie165c-twitterHere’s a truth universally acknowledged, but not always remembered: Views expressed by characters do not necessarily reflect those of the author.

I’ve written characters who have said or thought sexist things, made snap judgements based on class, made unsupportable generalisations, or espoused views with which I vehemently disagree. Sometimes they’re even likeable characters, people I’ve deliberately made sympathetic.

And you know what? Those things my characters say mean they’re in a fantastic place to begin an interesting character arc. Or perhaps they’re not going to change at all — perhaps they’ll serve to provide a cautionary tale, or give another character something to react against. Whatever the case, I’m going to do my best to flesh them out and make them three-dimensional and convincing.

Which doesn’t mean I agree with them. and it doesn’t mean the book is meant to promote their views.

I know this sounds simple, but in practice, it’s not. This is especially the case when a view held or expressed by a character presses our buttons hard.

I’ve seen readers respond to behaviour of female characters in a book by claiming the book itself is slut-shaming, or fat-shaming. That’s a serious allegation. Without going to particular books — so without engaging with whether particular readers are right or wrong — I want to talk about the distinction between a book slut-shaming vs the characters slut-shaming. Is the author endorsing the views of the characters — problematic, obviously — or are the characters providing a realistic (if painful) mirror for society? Is the author setting up their characters to develop, confronting them with realistic challenges?

The chasm between an author who is genuinely slut-shaming (or fat-shaming, or being sexist, ableist, racist, or any number of damaging things a book can do) and the author exploring real issues in our society — that chasm is vast. Books provide places for readers to imagine and understand the other. They are a place to rehearse our fears, and explore — and confront — our own beliefs. Often that means authors take us uncomfortable places.

This post isn’t intended as a defence of every book ever accused of espousing inappropriate views — of course, some of them are doing exactly that. Instead, it’s a challenge. Next time you feel confronted by a book, or even offended, ask yourself whether it’s the story itself, or whether it’s the author setting up for a character arc, or challenging you to examine and define your beliefs — perhaps in opposition to those you’re reading.

Amie Kaufman is the co-author of THESE BROKEN STARS, a YA sci-fi novel out now from Disney-Hyperion (US) and Allen & Unwin (Australia). Book two, THIS SHATTERED WORLD, is coming soon, and her new trilogy will start with ILLUMINAE, coming from Random House/Knopf in 2015. She is represented by Tracey Adams of Adams Literary. You can find her on Twitter or on Facebook, or visit the These Broken Stars website for exclusive sneak-peeks and contests. Amie lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her husband and rescue dog.

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8. Guest Post: The Best Advice I’ve Gotten From Other Writers

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Ben H. Winters

Note from Sooz: I am so excited to share this post from critically acclaimed Ben H. Winters, author of seven novels, including Countdown City (an NPR Best Book of 2013 and the winner of the Philip K. Dick Award). He has a great post for you today, in honor of his upcoming release, the third book in the Last Policement series: World of Trouble.

Plus, Ben is running a VERY cool ‘reverse blog tour’ on his personal site, with guests like Ransom Riggs and Hugh Howey. They’re posting tips, doing interviews, and more! And, you can check out Ben’s own blog tour for World of Trouble here.

Now take it away, Ben! (And don’t miss the giveaway at the end!)

Ben Winters

From Vonnegut: Start the Story

The legendary Kurt Vonnegut came to Washington University in St. Louis in May of my senior year, and I got to interview him for the school paper. Two things he said stuck with me. The first was that the internet was just a fad, and he was wrong about that, although sometimes I wish he hadn’t been.

The other thing he said was, when you’re done with your first draft, take the first 30 pages and throw them away. Like a lot of great writerly advice it was hyperbolic (see also Elmore Leonard’s much-quoted and rarely obeyed “rules”), but built around a gem of pure truth: we writers, especially novelists, have a tendency to start slow, to clear our throats, to give all the background at the beginning—which is exactly where it <span “>doesn’t belong, if indeed it belongs anywhere. Start with the story in motion , is what Vonnegut was saying, and let the reader run to catch up.

I live in Indianapolis now, where Vonnegut is a hometown hero, and where a mural of him towers over hip Massachusetts Avenue. Every time I walk past I thank him for teaching me how to to start my books.

From Terkel: Don’t be a fancy-pants writer jerk

As a young journalist working at a free weekly in Chicago, I got to interview Studs Terkel, at his house. Studs told me that one of his tricks to gaining the confidence of the ordinary people he chronicled so vividly in his oral histories was to pretend that his tape recorder was broken. Then he would fuss with it for a while, cursing and mopping his brow, letting them see that he wasn’t some egghead, but just an average fella, like them. Then they’d be comfortable and open up.

In the innumerable interviews I have done since, both as a journalist and now as a novelist, when I’m interviewing cops and astronomers and pathologists and insurance salesmen—and please, for the love of God, if you’re writing a book, hang out with actual humans with relevant experiences, and let them inform the truth of your text—I have done some version of this maneuver over and over. By doing something foolish and klutzy—drop my phone, borrow a pen, forget my questions—I enter into a sort of conversational intimacy with my subject, which is the kind of place that real deep truth comes out of.

And unlike Studs Terkel, I am a total klutz, and I always do forget to bring a pen, so I rarely have to pretend.

From William Penn: Get to Work

This one is kind of a cheat, because the founder of Pennsylvania died three centuries ago, and I just got this quote from a magazine article or something. But it’s the best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten, as a writer and as a human being: Time is what we want most, and use worst.

Because here’s what we writers always do—we complain about not having enough time to write. When will I get to write? Oh, man, I have no time to write. If only I had time to write!

And then when we do have time, when that magical hour or two hours appears, when a plan-free Saturday miraculously turns up on the calendar, what do we do? We waste all that time. Check email, check Facebook, clean the house, read the newspaper, check email again, and then it’s Oh, God, where did all the time go! If only I had time to write!

Take it from someone who wrote a whole series about civilization’s impending destruction: time is a precious resource. Embrace Penn’s dictum; train your mind (and you can train it) to get to work, even when it’s hard, even when you don’t feel like. There is no other way to be a writer.

World of TroubleWow. I can’t believe Ben met Kurt Vonnegut. Also, Vonnegut’s advice is perfectly timed for me right now (I just spent >1 month “clearing my throat” with a new beginning). Thank you SO MUCH for sharing this, Ben!

Now, for our dear Pub Crawl readers, there’s an awesome World of Trouble pre-order campaign going on here. Basically, if you pre-order you get all sorts of cool extras. AND, of course, we’re doing a giveaway for all 3 books in the Last Policemen series right here on Pub(lishing) Crawl! WOOHOO! Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below to be entered to win!

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Ben H. Winters is the author of seven novels, including most recently Countdown City (Quirk), an NPR Best Book of 2013 and the winner of the Philip K. Dick Award. Ben grew up in suburban Maryland, went to college at Washington University in St. Louis, and has subsequently lived in six different cities—seven if you count Brooklyn twice for two different times. Presently he lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, with his wife Diana, a law professor, and their three children.

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9. Art Yarn (On Being a Beginner)

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Jodi Meadows

I read a blog post from Abby Franquemont titled “Go Ahead: Be a Beginner” a while back, and it really stuck with me. Abby’s blog subtitle is “Because One Way Or Another, It’s All About Yarn.” I don’t disagree (being something of a yarn person myself), but I also think this post translates wonderfully to writing.

One of the biggest things I like about Abby’s article is that beginner yarn is not art yarn.

Because I suspect a lot of you don’t know what art yarn is, here’s a Google image search for you. (I’m not going to post specific pictures because I don’t own them. I haven’t made art yarn.)

A lot of times, new spinners will hold up their first yarn, proud of it, but confused. It’s lumpy and weird looking. It doesn’t look like the other yarns people show off. But then, someone comes over and says, “Oh, it’s art yarn.” This is intended to make the beginner feel better about their first yarn.

Art yarn can look haphazard and sometimes sloppy, like beginner yarn. True art yarn is anything but. It’s structurally sound. It won’t break when you use it. It won’t fall apart after a few washes. Real honest-to-commas techniques were used while making it, and the spinner knows what (s)he did and can reproduce it. A beginner cannot do those things.

There’s nothing wrong with beginner yarn. It’s wonderful and special and there’s nothing like it ever again. But it’s not art yarn.

Now replace “art yarn” with “great writing.”

Like art yarn, great writing isn’t an accident.

I think it sells a beginner short to tell them their novice efforts are master-quality (and let’s not even get into what it sounds like it says about master work). It sells beginners short, because it’s a lie. People do it in an attempt to be supportive, I know, but I think it’s better to praise beginner work for what it is, rather than to liken it to the work of people who’ve spent time and energy studying and practicing. Why? Because as a beginner, I think you have a right to know there IS more; that you can do better, and you will, and that all it takes is wanting to and practicing.

I’ve said before that I’m really grateful for all my rejections. Sometimes I think about what would have happened if I’d been told my first or second or even fifth book was ready to go, ready to be put through the publishing machine and onto bookstore shelves.

I mean, as great as that would have been for my ego, it would have been detrimental to my writing. In response to being told no, try again, keep working, I did work. I worked hard for years, with people encouraging me to keep working, and it wasn’t until my seventeenth finished manuscript that publishing said yes.

My early books were special, but they certainly weren’t ready to be published. (I wasn’t ready to be published.) They weren’t art yarn.

But as Abby’s post says, there is something wonderful about being a beginner. There are so many possibilities. You can write whatever you want, and take however long you want to do it. You can learn all the “rules” — and then learn when to toss them. You can explore stories in a way you might not be able to again, once you’re on a publishing schedule and have a “brand” to mind.

If you’re just starting out, embrace that beginnerness. Try not to be in a rush, because this is a great time. Being told your book is ready to be published (and signing that first contract!) is a great goal, but don’t let it be the only goal. Work on your stories. Master your craft. Know that when you do get a book published, it’s not an accident.

Jodi Meadows lives and writes in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, with her husband, a Kippy*, and an alarming number of ferrets. She is a confessed book addict, and has wanted to be a writer ever since she decided against becoming an astronaut. She is the author of the INCARNATE Trilogy and THE ORPHAN QUEEN Duology (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen).
*A Kippy is a cat.

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10. The Secret to Writing a Commercial Hit

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JJ

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JJHere’s the answer to the question nearly every aspiring author has asked (whether they admit it or not): How do you write a bestseller?

Well, I’m going to tell you how.

Ready?

The answer is: You can’t.

Well, duhJJ, you might say. Keep your head down and write your own bookthat’s what everyone says.

That’s all true, of course. But it doesn’t stop all of us (agents and editors included!) from trying to find/write The Next Big Thing. Surely there’s a secret—a trick! If we could just crack the formula, then surely we can game the system. Funnily enough, this is what my fiancé believes. He’s more math/science-inclined than I am; in addition to being a doctor, he also has a business degree and his religion is statistics. He thinks that surely, if we conducted a big enough study of all the “hits” in publishing, we could reasonably extrapolate what the next one might be.

Well, yes…and no.

He might be the more mathematically/scientifically-inclined one of the two of us, but I was an English major, and was therefore trained to think analytically. He might study facts, but I studied (and continue to study) culture, and our processes are astoundingly similar. Take the evidence, analyze it, and form a conclusion. However, where he and I differ is in the belief that whether or not said conclusions can predict an outcome.

A few weeks ago, there was an interesting piece in The New Yorker about How Frozen Took Over the World. The conclusions reached were more or less what I’ve laid out—namely that no real conclusions about what makes a hit can be reached—but there were some interesting bits of information that I think can be applied to writing a “successful” book, the most important takeaway being:

Story is king.

A lot of my writing posts here at PubCrawl have dealt with Story (here, here, and even here to some extent); in my opinion, it is the most important part of writing. The craft is secondary to the choices a writer makes in telling the story. In fact, when I was an editor, a writer’s ability to craft a perfect sentence was secondary to the writer’s ability to keep the pages turning. I could forgive a lot of flaws on a sentence level if I just needed to know what happens next. (Cough, The Da Vinci Code, cough.)

In my years in publishing, I gradually came to the conclusion that I fell a little bit more on the commercial side of the literary/commercial divide. Of course, literary vs. commercial is a false dichotomy; you can have a literary novel that is also commercial. But when I was a young English major at NYU, I just assumed that “literary” (whatever that means) meant better in some unquantifiable way.

But that’s not true at all. Over time, I came to understand that if a premise didn’t hook me, then all the Proustian or Joycean-levels of writing could not save it. If I wasn’t interested from its opening pitch, then a book would have to overcome a subconscious obstacle in order to grab my attention. Simply put, I was more interested in what a book was instead of what it was about.

Which brings me back to Frozen. The article mentions “buzz” or “word-of-mouth”, an elusive thing that contributes so much to a work’s success. What is Frozen? It’s the story of a young woman who has to save the kingdom—and her sister—from a fearsome power. The most commercial and/or easily digestible (which does not mean “uncomplex” or “simplistic”) works can very easily be simplified into a single, powerful sentence.

A boy discovers he can do magic, and that he is fated to save the world from the darkest wizard who ever lived.

A young woman falls in love with a young man, only to discover he is a vampire who might kill her.

A young woman will do anything, including kill other children on national television, to save her sister’s life.

A terminally ill girl falls in love with a boy who also has cancer.

I just described Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games, and The Fault in Our Stars, respectively. I don’t think it’s coincidence that John Green’s most successful title to date is probably the easiest of his works to describe in a “high concept”-style pitch. That is, in effect, what “high concept” means: an easily digestible premise.

People have decried the “literary value” of each of these works (and some for justifiable reasons), but even if Stephenie Meyer had been world’s finest prose stylist, it still wouldn’t have diminished the intrinsic commercial quality of Twilight. A good story is a good story, whether the writer is “good” or “bad”. And that, I think, is the the secret to writing a commercial hit.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments!

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S. Jae-Jones (called JJ) is a writer, artist, and adrenaline junkie. Before moving down to grits country, she was an editor at St. Martin’s Press in New York City, where she read and acquired YA. When not obsessing over books, she can be found rock climbing, skydiving, or taking her dog on ridiculously long hikes. A southern California native, she now lives in North Carolina with her doctor Bear, a stuffed baby harp seal named White-Harp, and a husky-dog called Bentley. Other places to find JJ include TwitterTumblr, and her blog.

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11. Guest Post: Shifting from Nonfiction to Fiction

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Rachel Toor

Note from Sooz: Rachel did a guest post on running tips over on the #YARunsA5K tumblr, and can I just say? Great advice! I totally followed them, and for the first time in my life, I’m actually enjoying jogging. Needless to say, I was delighted when Rachel agreed to do a guest post about writing over here on Pub(lishing) Crawl.

To celebrate having Rachel stop by, we’ve got a giveaway running below for her debut novel, On The Road to Find Out.

Rachel ToorIn high school and the first part of college I used to justify bad, outrageous, or downright dangerous behavior by quipping that I was simply collecting material for my novel. Hitchhiking by myself through the south of France, going into Ed Koch-era Central Park at night to make out with a boy, riding an untrained horse, drinking way too much grain alcohol and Kool-Aid—surely I’d be able to put those experiences to good fictional use some day.

The truth is, after a couple of years at Yale I felt so small, so undereducated, so dull and untalented that I knew I would never have the guts to do something as audacious as write a novel. By the time I began working in publishing I no longer wanted to be the center of attention. While I loved reading fiction, I felt I understood how nonfiction worked. When asked if I ever wanted to write a novel I’d respond by saying that I have no imagination.

And that’s still true. I am not a hugely imaginative person. As an essayist, I’ve learned be an astute observer, at least of some things. My BFF will tell you that I’m visually stunted and simply don’t notice most things that require eyesight. I flew over Mt. Everest and didn’t see it. The only thing that makes me feel okay about this deficit is that John McPhee, one of my nonfiction idols, has said the same thing about himself.

After a dozen years I left publishing, went downwardly mobile, and got an entry-level job in undergraduate admissions at Duke University. Working in admissions I realized I loved hanging out with teenagers. Around the same time I started running and experienced things I wanted to write about—my first published piece was on sobbing my way through the Race for the Cure. When I left admissions (do you detect the restlessness, the need to move from the known world?), and felt kind of dirty because the process is so brutal, I wrote about book about that.

Then I wrote a memoir that my agent sold with a pitch that went something like this: “Rachel gets an animal (mouse, rat, dog, cat, horse, donkey, pig) and starts dating a man. The animal dies and Rachel dumps the man. And this happens over, and over, and over again.” That’s not precisely what the book does, but it’s close enough.

Just before the book came out I joked that after it was published I was never going to get another date. She put her hand on my arm, scrunched her face up with concern, and said, “Rachel, that’s true.” For a few years, I dated men who couldn’t read.

In my early forties I went to grad school, scored a great teaching job, and nabbed a contract from a good university press for a collection of my previously published essays about running. Easy! Just what I needed for tenure! I asked four of my undergraduate students to read the manuscript, figuring I would make them feel good about themselves. They told me that it wasn’t a book. I cursed them for 27 seconds and I started again from the beginning and wrote a book that could explain to my mother, who was then dying of cancer, why I loved running so much.

When I thought about a next project, I could not bear to write about myself again. I was sick of the first-person personal. I was sick of myself.

The obvious next step for me was a book about rats. (See above, under zig-zagging paths that don’t really make sense). I did a ton of research and worked for a year on the proposal. Finally, my agent sent it out. We got an early offer that I wasn’t crazy about and interest from a huge commercial house. I wanted to write a book that looked at the ways bigotry and prejudice require ignorance to thrive; I wanted to showcase all these cool things I’d learned about rats; I wanted to look the serious—and still hotly debated—question of whether animals have emotions.

The editor and her publicity and marketing team asked me questions and got excited.

They said, “We could make rats the new ‘It’ pet.”

I said, Um….”

They said, “Do you have a rat?”

I said, “Um, as I said in the proposal, my rat Iris died.”

They said, “Can you get a new one by the time the book is out?”

I said, “Um, I have a dog with a strong prey drive and I’m not sure—”

They said, “Can you borrow a rat when the book comes out?”

At that moment I had visions of myself going on Stephen Colbert with a rat on my shoulder and him saying, “Plague?” I didn’t want to become the crazy rat lady. I had to figure out if I was willing to write the book they wanted. I wasn’t.

At the same time I’d gotten an email from an editor at FSG who’d just read my running book and wanted to know if I’d ever considered writing a YA novel about a teenage girl who decides to start running.

I told him I couldn’t write fiction.

He convinced me to try. I did.

Having worked in publishing, I know how important it is to have a platform, and how you need to grow and cultivate a readership. I haven’t done a very good job at that. My writing career has been, at best, non-linear. The professor gig allows me to try new things and not rely on book sales for income (which is a good thing, because there were years when I ate popcorn for dinner). If I didn’t have tenure, I’m not sure I would have been brazen enough to try to write a novel.

The amazing thing is how much fun this whole ride has been. Writing fiction and nonfiction is similar and completely different. In the MFA program where I teach (nonfiction) people like to say that the fiction writers are the ones who write about themselves and their real lives and the nonfiction writers make shit up. Like many things people like to say, that’s both true and an exaggeration. I’m not a nonfiction writer who’s ever been comfortable making shit up. With my second book (the one about loving animals and men), my agent would say, “What if this happened?” I’d say, “That would be great for the narrative, BUT IT DIDN’T HAPPEN!” When you’re writing about real people, you just can’t do that. With the novel, my editor would say, “What if this happened?” and I’d say, “Cool!” or, “That’s not quite right but I could do this, which would serve the same purpose.”

It was great fun to put some of my personal predilections into my characters’ heads (a preference for all things mini, an explanation of the hierarchy of  “pocket pets,” a rant about the ways that shape affects taste in things like candy or pretzels) and also explore ideas and things that I don’t really cotton to (being a basketball fan or playing golf).

One of the real pleasures of writing this novel was being able to introduce nonfiction elements into it. One of my fiction colleagues says he likes stories that “bring the news.” Me too—I love to learn things from novels. I wanted to write a book that would help students and their parents think through the whole college admissions process, would let me use some of my rat research, and would inspire—I hope—girls and women who don’t think of themselves as athletes to lace up some running shoes, pull on some jeggings, and go out for a run.

The novel allowed me to use parts of my three previous nonfiction books to tell a story that feels more important to me than my own life. It may come off as preachy or sentimental and some people won’t like my sometimes-annoying main character Alice, won’t relate to her struggles, or might not understand how a person could be in love with someone the size of a hot dog bun. But the truth is, I wrote the book I wanted to read.

Thank you SO MUCH for stopping by Pub(lishing) Crawl and for giving us your sage advice in the #YARunsA5K fundraiser.

Now, for all you readers out there, don’t miss the giveaway! Just fill out the Rafflecopter form to be entered. :)

a Rafflecopter giveaway


On the Road to Find OutRachel Toor
 is a prolific running writer for magazines like Running Times and Shape, and she is also associate professor of Creative Writing at the Inland Northwest Center for Writers in Spokane, the graduate writing program of Eastern Washington University.

On the Road to Find Out is her YA debut, about a high school senior who faces real rejection for the first time in her life and reaches redemption through running.

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12. An Into to The Art of Revision

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Kat Zhang

Kat ZhangI got asked recently on twitter for advice on how to begin revisions on the first draft of a novel. The topic is a bit much to address in chunks of 140 characters, here’s a blog post on it.
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First off, I do have to give a disclaimer and say that I can only talk about MY process, which won’t apply to, or work for, everyone. Honestly, I’m still figuring it out myself. So if you read this and think, “Hm, that doesn’t sound like something I’d like to do at all,” that’s perfectly fine. But I do hope it helps, even a little!
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Admission number 1: My first drafts are awful, awful things. They can’t even really be called first drafts. They have big gaping gaps in them where I’ve skipped over scenes I didn’t want to write, or didn’t know how to write (i.e. Character needs to run away from home? Why? Big fight with parents? Older sister in trouble? Both? No idea right now, so I’m just gonna skip the impetus scene and jump right into her hitch-hiking). They have characters whose personalities suddenly do a 180 as I figure out that my bad-boy rockstar is more of a sensitive, emo-poet. Hints as to possible plot threads (there IS a monster under her bed!) exist but then lead to nowhere as I decide said plot thread is going to get cut (no monsters in this book after all).
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The rather pathetic thing about all this is that I DO outline. I DO brainstorm. I come up with whole character backstories and world-building documents…but have come to terms with the fact that nothing is set until I actually try it out in-story, on the page.
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And even not then.
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This, I think, is one of the most important parts of revising a first draft. You have to see it as malleable. A first draft is cloth. Revision is what makes it into a dress or a blouse or a nice trench coat.
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During a first draft, you figure out What Is My Story About. Also importantly, you figure out What Is My Story NOT About. During my first revision, I go back through my first draft and figure out what stays, and what goes, and what order the things that stay are going to happen in.
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This sort of questioning trickles down to the chapter-level. What needs to be in this chapter? What is essential? Which characters needed to be introduced now, and which could wait? Which conflicts needed to be hinted at now? Which settings needed to be explored?
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If it’s not essential, it gets cut. (by “cut,” I don’t mean wiped off the face of the earth. I usually save each draft as a new file, so anything I cut in draft 2 still exists in my draft 1 file. You never know when it might be useful again). Basically, your first step is going back to this mass of words you have and figure out the bones of your story. Make sure everything adheres to these bones. Make sure everything is needed.
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That’s the bare bones of revision. Next post, I’ll go more into the details :)
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How do you approach revisions?
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Kat Zhang loves traveling to places both real and fictional–the former allows for better souvenirs, but the latter allows for dragons, so it’s a tough pick. Her novel WHAT’S LEFT OF ME is about a girl struggling to survive in an alternate universe where people are born with two souls, and one is doomed to disappear. It is the first book in a trilogy and was published by HarperCollins in September of 2012.  Book 2, ONCE WE WERE, released September 2013, and Book 3, ECHOES OF US, will come out September 16, 2014. You can learn all about Kat at her site, or listen to her ramblings on twitter.

 

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13. Do You Fear Starting a New Novel?


"Watership Down with Armadillos"

An immigrant's story!

READ A SAMPLE CHAPTER!

Today, I stare failure in the face.
Today, I am scared.
Today, I see possibilities as the possibility of failing.

In other words, I have finished all my self-imposed deadlines on other projects and cleared my plate of other tasks, so that I can start a new novel. And it terrifies me.

It’s an ambitious project, something I expect to turn into a trilogy. I have such hopes for this project: hopes that it will reach new readers; hopes that it will be fun to write and promote; hopes that it will be (I’m afraid to even say it!) a breakout novel for me.

And I am scared.

I’ve done my homework. Volcanoes feature large in this story, so last month while I was in the Pacific Northwest, I visited Mt. St. Helens.

Darcy Pattison at Mt. St. Helens

I recently visited Mt. St. Helens for research on the background for a new novel.



I’ve written samples for this story from different points of view, and even sold a short story based on the back story.

And yet–I am scared to sit down and start this. Yes, I’ve written the book on starting a novel and I’m still scared to start again. As ART AND FEAR puts it, I am scared that my fate is in my own hands–and that my hands are weak.

I SHOULD see the great possibilities of success.
I SHOULD approach this with excitement.
I SHOULD be so ramped up by now that the words would flow, as if bestowed from above, with angelic music swelling and…

No. Writing is work. It’s the hardest work I’ve ever done or ever hope to do. But it’s also the most exciting, most fun, and most rewarding work I will ever do.

So, at 8:30 this morning, I’ll turn on my Freedom app, giving myself three hours of uninterrupted time. I will make a start. A messy start. But a start. And that will be enough for today. Just make a start, that’s my goal for today.

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14. Of Dreams and Day Jobs

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Alex Bracken

Alexandra Bracken

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that many PubCrawlers had the same dream I did as a little kid: to grow up and work as a (full time) author/writer. When you’re six, seven, eight–heck, even a teenager, you don’t realize exactly how complicated that goal is. By that I mean, you most likely aren’t thinking about the everyday reality of being self-employed and tackling all of the headache-inducing aspects of it. You’re thinking of the fun stuff… you know, the actual stories you’ll tell, traveling to events, interacting with readers, etc.

My parents were always very careful in how they encouraged our dreams. I always say that they were “realistically supportive,” meaning they were all for me writing and querying agents while I was in college, but they also wanted me to have a parachute to pull in case it took years for something to materialize. My dad was almost ruthlessly practical about life and finances. When I did sell my first book, he sat down with me and we calculated exactly how much money I would make based on that advance and how many copies of the book I’d need to sell in order to earn through it and start making money on royalties. We talked through the actual probability of me selling another project in the course of the next year. It was very obvious from the get-go that unless I moved home and lived with my parents, there was just no way I was going to be able to live off that money and write full time. At that point, the Affordable Healthcare Act hadn’t kicked in, and I was pretty quickly kicked off my Dad’s health insurance plan after graduation. (Lucky ducks who get to stay on their parents’ plans until 26 now!) I realize that all sounds very… uh, unromantic since we’re talking dreams here. ;)

And so, I went to New York and participated in the Columbia Publishing Course. I had my first job for about a year and a half as an editorial assistant in children’s publishing before realizing, in that time, that a job in editorial was not super conducive to being able to work on my own projects. I went that whole period without selling another book–which totally validated the earlier conversation my dad and I had about one of the hard, sadder realities of making writing full time work: you aren’t guaranteed to sell another book just because you’ve already sold one. Just before I switched companies and moved over to marketing, one of my coworkers (shout to Maria!) was there to really encourage me to finish the project I’d been working on over the course of the year–this being The Darkest Minds, then called Black is the Color. Like, she scheduled Outlook appointments in my calendar every Friday that summer with subject lines like “GO HOME AND FINISH WRITING YOUR AWESOME BOOK” and “BUY YOURSELF A MOUNTAIN DEW AND START WORKING.” And, sure enough, I finished it and sold it a few months later.

After that deal, I sat down and did the same exact calculations I did for my first book, and realized it would still take me a while to live comfortably off writing income because of the way the payments were scheduled, taxes, and agent commission. At this point, I didn’t really care because I loved my job, the work load was manageable, and I really could do both and live as happily as one can in a place like New York City.

But after five years, earlier this month, I finally quit my day job.

Here is Happy Alex on her last day, walking out with two huge tote bags of art, books, and random desk crap I managed to accumulate (don’t worry, I sent about ten boxes of books home to myself beforehand!) earlier this month:

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 9.47.59 PM

What I don’t have a picture of: Alex Crying Like a Baby As She Gave Her Notice. To give you a clear picture of the scene, I walked into my boss’ office for my weekly meeting with her, sat down, said, “I have to tell you something,” shut the door… and immediately burst into tears. All five of the bosses I’ve had in my professional life have been incredibly supportive of my other career, for which I’m very grateful. I ended up staying four weeks instead of the usual two so I could go with them to the IRA convention. This week is ALA Annual and it feels so strange to be missing it!

So, what happened? I just got busy. Too busy. The kind of busy that involved me working a full 9-6 or 9-8 day, then coming home to try to cram in an hour or two of writing, then writing or editing straight through the weekend to 12 AM on Monday morning. I wasn’t seeing friends–actually, I wasn’t really getting out of my room, let alone my apartment much. Knowing that I was going to have a few killer deadlines in June and July helped make the decision for me. It’s been wonderful and so totally strange the past few weeks to keep my own schedule–I’m now one of those people I used to look at on the streets and think, “Who are all of these folks out wandering the neighborhood at 3 PM?” It’s also made it very clear to me I’m a bit of a workaholic and need to learn the definition of stop when 3 AM rolls around and I’m still writing and editing! I have also learned that it’s so much harder to qualify for an apartment in the city as a self-employed person, but that’s a story for another time.

This wasn’t a decision I made lightly at all. I talked it through with my family and my agent, and finally sat down to create a checklist of sorts for making writing full-time work.  I’m adapting it below so it applies more generally, but if you’ve made this jump, too, I’d love to hear about what were important considerations to you.

Can I write full time and not crash and burn? 

1. Do I have enough work experience that, if I never sell another book, will make it somewhat easy to return to the field I left and get hired again?

2. Has my writing income been consistent for at least three years?  Can I realistically chart my expected income for the next two or three years?

3. Do I live somewhere cost-effective? (<– Clearly I do not. Working on this for next year, when I have some time to really think my living situation through!)

4. Can I pay my estimated taxes on time and still have money to comfortably live on?

5. Will I need to purchase my own health insurance plan? (<– I’m going through this right now, and holy WOW, sticker shock. Being able to hop onto your spouse’s or parents’ plan is obviously the ideal. I’ve said this so many times, but I wish publishers offered health insurance plans along with book contracts as an incentive. ;))

6. Do I have a nest egg of savings/does our family have a second income if there are “dry years” or if there’s some kind of home disaster or personal accident or health problem emerges? Will a relative help me?

7. Can I keep to a schedule? Do I need a day job to help limit the hours I can procrastinate?

8. Am I missing out on more writing and travel opportunities by keeping my day job?

9. Do I have a backlist that could, eventually, bring in royalties?

As I said, it’s a very unromantic take on a dream!  Five years ago, I never thought I’d be in this position, and I have nothing but gratitude to have arrived at this stage of my career. Whether you’ve sold a book or you’re toiling away on your first novel, my advice remains the same: give yourself a parachute, but don’t be afraid to keep taking the plane up into the sky.

Alex lives in New York City, where she works in children’s publishing, writes like a fiend, and lives in a charming apartment overflowing with books. She is the New York Times bestselling author of The Darkest Minds and Never Fade. You can visit her online at her website or Twitter.

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15. Guest Post: Lessons in Pentameter

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Ian Doescher

shakespeare_trilogy

Note from Sooz: I am SO EXCITED (like, fangirl-flipping-out-excited) to have Ian Doescher, the author of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars on Pub(lishing) Crawl! If you guys haven’t read these books, then DO. They are incredible.

Now take it away, Ian!

In my freshman year English class, as we prepared to dive in to Shakespeare’s Othello, my teacher Jane Bidwell taught us about the four major types of poetic feet, including the meter Shakespeare wrote it: iambic pentameter.  Iambic pentameter is a set of five (pent) iambs, which is a poetic foot with the pattern unstressed-stressed, like the word re-LEASE.  So, iambic pentameter is da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM.

Three years later, as a senior, we were required to write ten lines of iambic pentameter, as we studied John Dryden’s poem “Mack Flecknoe.”  “Mack Flecknoe” is a poem Dryden wrote to make fun of a man named Thomas Shadwell.  Our assignment was to write a similar poem making fun of someone else, so I, naturally, chose Barney the Purple Dinosaur.  Here are the ten lines I wrote at age 17:

“Hello, there kids.  Today we’re gonna sing!

Oh who’s your friend, your ruler, and your king?

It’s me you trust, the great and mighty one

Who makes you laugh, and lets you all have fun!

‘The Purple Hero’ I am known to you,

I love you more than both your parents do!

I’m great, I’m nice, I’m smart, I’m kind, and wise,

So now then, let me give you kids advice:

Believe that I love you and you love me,

And in my power ever shall you be!”

Not too bad.  But here’s a confession: in and after high school, I wrote occasional bits of poetry, and honestly I figured it was okay to play fast and loose with the meter.  If I needed to scrunch an additional syllable or two into my line to use the words I wanted to use, that was okay.  But about eight years ago I made a pact with myself—the kind of pact that only nerds make with themselves: from that point forward, if I was going to write in verse I was going to be a total stickler about having flawless meter (and rhyme).  What I realized back then is that anyone can fudge meter, but only true artists are perfectionists about it.  My exemplar in this is not Shakespeare, actually (who bent iambic pentameter to his own will), but Dr. Seuss:

“Green eggs and ham, green eggs and ham,

I do not like green eggs and ham…”

Flawless iambic tetrameter.  The text of Dr. Seuss’ books sings as you read it because he was just about perfect when it came to meter.

So, what about you?  How can you write great verse?  The trick is to be honest with yourself about where the syllables in your line fall, and if you are fitting in extra syllables or if your rhymes aren’t perfect (“wise” doesn’t rhyme with “advice,” sorry 17-year-old Ian!), you need to go back to the drawing board.  Sometimes this is painful.  In the course of writing the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars trilogy, I can’t tell you the number of times I had to ditch a line and start over because I couldn’t get the syllables to work the way I wanted them to.  In the end, though, I think the books are better for it.  And so will your verse be if you stick to your guns and go for perfection.

As a 17-year-old, I didn’t know that what I was learning about iambic pentameter would change my life, and I didn’t know that my nerdy pact with myself 8 years ago would also be so important.  I’m convinced, though, that (at least in part) it was the attention given to my iambic pentameter that made William Shakespeare’s Star Wars attractive to Quirk Books.  I wouldn’t say my verse is 100% perfect—that’s almost impossible (particularly with words like “stormtrooper” and “lightsaber,” which defy iambic pentameter)—but I know I tried my hardest.  Here’s to taking the time to make your meter sing, like dear ol’ Dr. Seuss!

Thank you SO MUCH for stopping by, Ian!! To celebrate your visit, we’re giving away the entire William Shakespeare’s Stars Wars series + posters! HOORAY! Just fill out the Rafflecopter form to be entered!

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And don’t miss the rest of Ian’s blog tour:

  • Mon, June 23rd: GOOD BOOKS & GOOD WINE
  • Tues, June 24th: BIBLIOMANTICS
  • Thurs, June 26th: GEEKY LIBRARY
  • Fri, June 27th: NOVEL THOUGHTS
  • Mon, June 30th: ON WEDNESDAYS WE WEAR PINK
  • Tues, July 1st: GEEKOSYSTEM
  • Weds, July 2nd: MY MERCURIAL MUSINGS
  • Thurs, July 3rd: QUIRK BOOKS BLOG

Ian DoescherIan is a Portland native, and lives in Portland with his spouse and two children.  He has a B.A. in Music from Yale University, a Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School, and a Ph.D. from Union Theological Seminary.  He is currently the Creative Director at Pivot Group LLC, a full service marketing, research and web agency in Portland, Oregon.

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16. Crafting the Perfect Critique Sandwich

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Erin Bowman

The topic of critique partners is something that’s been covered several times on Pub Crawl. But today I want to talk specifically about giving feedback.

The best critique partner relationships occur when there is trust and respect between the two writers. If you’re working with someone whose work you despise, you’re never going to trust their feedback about yours. Similarly, if you don’t respect them as a writer, or if they don’t seem to be respectful in how they give you feedback, that relationship is going to crash and burn.

Last summer I was on the Young Authors Give Back Tour with fellow Pub Crawlers. Part of our tour included free writing workshops with young aspiring writers. When we talked about the necessity of finding a good critique partner, Pub Crawl alum Sarah Maas suggested giving your CP feedback in what she coined a “critique sandwich.”

I’m not sure if this is a term of her invention, or something adapted from other advice she’s heard, but her advice to the young writers stuck with me. Essentially, your feedback should be a balance of good and bad, and crafted with care; a delicious crit sandwich, if you will.

You open with with something positive about your CP’s story – What’s working, what you loved, elements you thought were done especially well. Think of this as the bottom roll of a deli sandwich.

Then the bulk of your critique should focus on the less-than-positive aspects of the story — What’s not working, plot holes, character inconsistencies, world building issues, and so on. This is the meat of the sandwich. You can layer on some toppings too (mention smaller issues), but as a critique partner (rather than a beta reader), you want to focus most of your energy on big picture issues.

Finally, end your critique with additional positive remarks — Something else you loved, or better yet, cheerleading. You want your CP to feel motivated and encouraged about making the story better, not overwhelmed and lost. Think of this last bit of positive feedback as the top roll of your sandwich.

And just like that, you have a delicious, carefully crafted crit sandwich for your CP. (I can still picture Sarah holding an invisible sandwich in the air and pretending to bite into it as I say this.)

Here’s a real-world critique sandwich example. Sooz recently read my first draft of VENGEANCE ROAD. (Well, more like the 20th draft, but it was her first time reading, and I’d revised the book as far as I could on my own.) Sooz’s feedback (paraphrased and simplified), went something like this:

  1. First of all, your world is fantastic. I could picture everything, feel the dust and the plains and the heat. Really great.
  2. I think you need to take a closer look at your characters and their emotional arcs. Kate has this mission of revenge, but she’s so focused on it that she almost becomes one-dimensional and selfish in her goals. Why are so many people helping her when she offers nothing in return? Maybe there’s a way to make her more sympathetic. [Sooz threw out some ideas] Similarly, [more thoughts on secondary characters and their motives]
  3. Lastly, I think you have the bones of a great story here. The plot is there, and the world-building is great. Making the characters more nuanced and realistic is only going to make the story as a whole that much more compelling.

This feedback was actually given to me by video chat, so we spent several hours on point #2, brainstorming together and bouncing ideas back and forth. (If you have the means, I highly suggest this route when working with a CP. Beta reading feedback is usually fine via email, but for the heavy lifting, it is so nice to hash things out in real-time, face-to-face.)

As you can see, Sooz, whether she meant to or not, provided me with a delicious critique sandwich. If you’ve been working with a dedicated CP for awhile and have a good rapport, there’s a good chance you subconsciously give each other feedback like this, too.

But if you’re new to critiquing, or working with a new critique partner for the first time, I highly recommend keeping the “critique sandwich” in mind as you provide your feedback. It’s the perfect balance of encouragement and criticism. No one writes a perfect first draft (or book for that matter), but feedback that focuses entirely on negative or broken aspects of the book is a sure way to kill someone’s drive. As writers, we know 99% of writing is revision, but it so inspirational to hear what is working in any given draft. I can’t stress enough how important it is to cap your feedback with these positive aspects.

Before you go, I’m curious: Do you give your CP feedback (subconsciously or purposely) in a sandwich format? What other tips do you have providing tactful feedback?

For further Pub Crawl reading on this topic, check out the ‘Conversation between Critique Partners‘ series:
The Basics / World Building / Sharing Ideas & Stories / Trusting Your Work

Erin Bowman is a YA writer, letterpress lover, and Harry Potter enthusiast living in New Hampshire. Her TAKEN trilogy is available from HarperTeen (book three out 4/14/15), and VENGEANCE ROAD publishes with HMH in fall 2015. You can visit Erin’s blog (updated occasionally) or find her on twitter (updated obsessively).

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17. Writers Write — and Read

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E.C. Myers

EC Myers

It’s harder than ever to become a writer.

Not because of all the doom and gloom about the death of the novel, print vs. electronic books, big publishers vs. self-publishing, or Amazon vs. everyone. The problem is that many kids today (girls and boys) not only aren’t reading, but they don’t have access to books. Good writers are born from a lifetime love of reading.

It’s not a matter of kids and teens choosing to play video games, or watch TV, or go online instead of picking up a book — books simply are not in their lives as much as they should be. I was recently invited to talk to a couple of English classes at my old high school about my writing. I was honored, and even more so when I discovered what a hardship it was for the school to afford an author visit and books on their limited budget, which does not include much money even for school books. Or for a school newspaper or literary journal. Or a full-time librarian. These kinds of budgetary cutbacks in school and public libraries is an epidemic.

LegoMovie_Poster_200x300Back in my day, we had all those things. (Although one committed English teacher did sometimes have to resort to photocopying Marlowe, in an early form of book piracy.) I’m a product of every school library, every book we studied in class, every librarian who either recommended good reads to me or quietly looked the other way while I explored on my own. I’m a published author because of English teachers like Mrs. Fein, Mrs. Post, Mrs. Halpern, Mr. Riti, and Mr. Valk.

My author bio says that I was “raised by a single mom and a public library” for a reason: I was lucky enough to live a 10-minute walk from my local library (and I’m not exaggerating when I say I had to walk home up a huge hill in 100-degree weather carrying an armload of books, but it was worth it.) I was lucky because I had family and teachers who nurtured my love for reading and gave me the tools to turn that love into something else: a desire to write books of my own one day.

RRlogo_homeI was also fortunate to have other positive influences in my life like Reading Rainbow, which reinforced reading as a good thing; even at the time, I stood out for reading so much. Many people of a certain age remember the show’s theme song fondly. It talks about the amazing and varied experiences readers can have in the pages of a book, but the lyrics are also motivational for what readers can accomplish in life: “Butterfly in the sky, I can go twice as high.” “I can go anywhere!” “I can be anything!” Those are important messages to give young people. Happily, Reading Rainbow is making a comeback and will be able to reach new generations via computers and mobile devices.

At my former high school, where kids no longer have a creative outlet or writing instruction, one student asked me if I needed a college degree to become a writer. Though I was a little embarrassed, because college is important to getting most good jobs these days, I was also truthful. “No,” I said. “I learned how to write by reading books.” By reading, you naturally gain a knowledge of proper grammar (even if you don’t know the names of the rules or how to parse a sentence) and story structure and pacing, and you begin to develop a prose style and your own voice. Yes, you can take classes and join workshops or critique groups, and I think those are useful things. But to build a solid foundation with words, an active imagination, and a lifelong devotion to consuming and creating stories, you have to read.

handy_rabSo my best advice, forever and always, to kids in school, aspiring writers, and published authors is READ. Read anything. Read everything. Read genres you love and books you think you’ll hate. Read young adult and middle grade and books intended for adults, even if you aren’t meant to understand them. Pick up literary bestsellers and mysteries and science fiction. Try urban fantasy and new adult. Read non fiction and fanfiction, comics and read magazines — and yes, the internet. Read for pleasure. Read for research. Read for inspiration. Read to learn how other authors write well, and to learn what you shouldn’t do. Just read.

So… What are you reading now? (Other than this blog post.) Me, I’m finishing up my friend Rajan Khanna’s excellent debut science fiction novel, Falling Sky, out in October from Pyr. In the comments below, tell us about what’s on your eReader, in your bag, or on your night stand.

E.C. Myers was assembled in the U.S. from Korean and German parts and raised by a single mother and a public library in Yonkers, New York. He is the author of the Andre Norton Award–winning young adult novel FAIR COIN and its sequel, QUANTUM COIN; his next YA novel, THE SILENCE OF SIX, will be published by Adaptive in November 2014. You can find traces of him all over the internet, but especially at his blogTwitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.

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18. A Quick Tip to Keep Your Scenes Moving

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Janice Hardy

Janice HardyI’m deep in revisions right now, and one trick I use to test my plot and make sure my story is, well, going somewhere, is to ask three simple questions in every scene:

Question One: What is the protagonist trying to do?

This shows me the goal of every scene. If I can’t answer this, then I know the scene goal is either nonexistent or needs work. This allows me to make sure my protagonist is being active (not re-active), that she’s moving the plot forward, and that there’s action going on to hold reader interest. It also makes sure that the scene is an actual scene and not just the protagonist reflecting on something or spending too much time in her head.

Question Two: What is keeping her from doing that?

This shows me the conflict in the scene. If I can’t answer this, then I know nothing (or no one) is trying to keep my protagonist from acting and there’s nothing for her to struggle against. No struggle = boring scene. It can also indicate that my protagonist is just going through the motions and not affecting the plot. If there’s no risk of failure, then her actions don’t matter and they won’t make the reader care. Not caring also = boring scene.

Question Three: What happens if she fails?

This shows me my stakes. If I can’t answer this, then I know the outcome of this scene doesn’t matter to the story. If there’s no consequence for failure, that’s a red flag that the scene isn’t serving the story at all. The stakes are what holds the entire scene together because they make the goal worth pursuing and the conflict a problem worth worrying about.

Once I answer these questions, I write down my answers in a separate file. What’s especially helpful about this, is that I can see in a glance if the plot is holding up or if the novel is just a series of things happening. Each sentence should build on the previous goal and show story progression, and if it doesn’t–that’s a hole that needs filling.

For example, let’s look at the opening scene of my teen fantasy, The Shifter.

Question One: What is the protagonist trying to do? Steal eggs for breakfast.

Question Two: What is keeping her from doing that? A night guard and the owner of the chicken has caught her in the act.

Question Three: What happens if she fails? She goes hungry and ends up in prison.

My next step is to combine these pieces and summarize the scene.

Nya is stealing eggs for breakfast when a night guard and the chicken rancher he works for catch her in the act and threaten to send her to prison.

This is the essence of my opening scene. What’s handy about this, however, is that it naturally ends on the next goal: Nya tries to try to escape so she doesn’t go to prison. Which leads to the next goal, and the next conflict, and the story unfolds with my protagonist driving the plot forward.

If I can’t answer these questions or the plot list looks like a series of random events, then I know I need to strengthen my core plot and find a way to weave these events together into a coherent story.

While this is useful for revisions, it also very helpful during the planning or drafting stage. I can do a quick summary of my entire plot and see where my holes are, and have a good idea of what needs to happen to fill them before I start writing. The answers also work as guides for every scene so I’m not staring at a blank page wondering where to start.

And an extra bonus: this list make writing the synopsis way easier when you’re ready to start submitting the novel.

Janice Hardy is the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now. She lives in Georgia with her husband, one yard zombie, three cats, and a very nervous freshwater eel. Find out more about writing at her site, Fiction University, or find her on Twitter @Janice_Hardy.

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19. Guest Post: Advice for Publishing a Children’s Book

Industry Life

by

Jennifer Adams

Note from Sooz: I am incredibly honored to share this guest post from an editor, part-time bookseller, and multi-published, bestselling picture book author. It is chock FULL of advice for aspiring authors of all kinds, so read closely! And don’t miss the giveaway at the end! ;)

Jennifer AdamsI’ve been a book editor for 20 years and a published writer for 10. I’ve been pitched book ideas in the strangest places—at funerals, by taxi drivers, at family reunions. (For the best success, I don’t suggest any of these approaches, by the way.) I’ve read literally thousands of query letters and manuscripts over the course of my career.

I’m constantly asked for advice about publishing. This article includes a lot of useful information for people are just getting started, including answers to common questions as well as questions you should ask yourself. If you’re serious about wanting to get published, here is some serious information that will help you on that path.

If you’re looking for someone to tell you that publishing is easy, that everyone is publishable, or that your manuscript is great exactly how it is, you can stop reading now.

Publishing a children’s book is hard, but it can certainly be done. However, many people have misconceptions about what it means to publish a children’s book. Here are some important things to know from the outset:

Becoming a published writer takes training and work, just like becoming a dentist or a teacher. The publishing industry is a complicated, competitive business. Learning to navigate it takes effort and time. Becoming a good writer takes effort and time, too. It also takes training and a certain amount of talent. 

Don’t think of your book as a way to get rich. I know many successful published writers, and most of them have to supplement their income in one way or another. Sure, people become rich from writing sometimes. People win the lottery sometimes, too. 

EdgarGetsReadyGetting a book published means you’re in for the long haul. Publishers typically acquire books two years out. That means it will be two years after you sell your manuscript before it becomes a real object you can hold in your hands. And it takes months—sometimes years—to sell a manuscript.

Getting a book published is very competitive. Almost everyone wants to publish a book someday; polls show that more than 80 percent of people think they will.

Authors of traditionally published books must be ready to hand over a lot of creative control to their publisher. When you sell your manuscript, many other people will make important decisions regarding how your book ends up. For example, authors typically do not get to choose who illustrates their book. They do not get to design the cover and sometimes don’t even get to say what the title of the book is. An entire team of people is involved in the creation of a book—editors, designers, illustrators, and marketers. That collaborative effort results in beautiful, creative finished work.

Traditional publishing has many advantages. Publishers and the editors, designers, marketers, and publicists who work for them have years of combined experience and knowledge of the publishing industry that it will be impossible for you to duplicate on your own. Publishers pay for printing your book, and have both sales channels and distribution. Your book will be in a catalog, which will be presented to book buyers at bookstores and gift shops around the country, giving you the best chance for placement in stores. Publishers handle foreign rights sales for your book, and any subsidiary and licensing rights.

Maybe you are thinking: I don’t want to navigate the publishing world and I’m not really a children’s writer. I just have one book or one story that I feel compelled to tell. That’s fine, too! Perhaps what you really want is to publish that one book, not to be a children’s book writer.

In this case, a viable option to consider is self-publishing. Although it carried a stigma in the past, things have shifted drastically in publishing over the last five years. With print-on-demand publishing services, you can publish your own book without the expense of warehousing your stock.

Self-published books typically do not have as high of production values nor sell as well as traditionally published books. But ask yourself what is the purpose of the story you want to tell? Who is it intended for? How many copies do you want it to sell? Maybe your book is a family story that you want available for your children and grandchildren. Maybe it is for a very specific target audience.

Depending on your goals for your book, self-publishing may make the most sense for you. Some people prefer self-publishing because the percentage of sales that they get to keep is much higher than in traditional publishing (in traditional publishing, your royalty is typically 10 percent of the price of the book).

Other people like it because you can put your book out there almost immediately and do not have to wait for the long schedules in the publishing world. Sometimes, though not frequently, self-published books are later picked up by traditional publishers. So in those cases, you would get the best of both worlds. CreateSpace, Lulu, and iUniverse are some self-publishing avenues you can explore.

Still, if you do decide you want to publish with a traditional book publisher, here is some additional advice that will make you a better writer and increase your chances of success:

Read Excessively

Anyone who is serious about getting a children’s book published needs to know the market. This starts with reading—a lot. Go to the library or your local bookstore and really get a handle on what’s there. It’s great to have classics and old favorites (long live Frog and Toad Together!) but you have to know what’s being published currently, too.

Books that are coming out right now are what you’re competing with and make up the world you’re trying to publish into. Find which books are your favorites and check the copyright pages. Write down the publishers of those books. Look them up online. Become familiar with their lists. Become familiar with their publication guidelines. Do they accept unsolicited manuscripts? Do they accept manuscripts directly from the author or do you need an agent? Learn about the people you are going to pitch to. You want to find a publisher who publishes the type of book you’ve written.

Write Excessively

WutheringHeightsJust like learning to play the piano, writing is an art that takes a great deal of practice. No one would expect to sit down at the piano for the first time and be able to play well enough that people would pay to hear them perform in a concert hall. That’s no different with writing. It’s likely the first thing you write (or the second or the twenty-second) is not going to be good enough someone will pay money to read it. Writing is a craft. You get better with practice.

If you want to be a writer—write. You should write all the time. My mentor for picture book writing, Rick Walton, said the best thing to do if you want to get published is write a lot of different manuscripts. Not only will your writing improve, you will also increase your chances of finding a home for something you write just by sheer numbers.

It’s also good for your sanity. If you have just one manuscript and try to sell it, that leaves you nothing to do but fret while you’re waiting to hear back from publishers and agents. After pitching your manuscript, rather than anxiously waiting every day for a response, you can use that time to create new work.

Be Open to Editing

A good writer knows that even the best writer needs an editor. Be humble enough to realize your writing can be improved and be willing to work to improve it. Take this to heart: If you think every word you write is perfect and nothing needs to change, the publishing industry is not for you. Take a writing class. Go to a writing conference. Hone your craft.

On the other hand, learn to discern between helpful criticism and people’s opinions. A good editor knows that you don’t change something unless there is a good reason to do so. But not everyone who gives input on your writing will be a good editor. Don’t confuse people’s opinions (and they will have many!) with helpful feedback. Learn to develop your own voice.

Hang Out with Other Writers

Many writers find it helpful to join a writing group. It gives you deadlines, people to read and critique your work, and a support system. If you think you are someone who would benefit from a writing group, find one and try it out. Whether or not you are in a writing group, it’s a good idea to attend writing and publishing conferences. You will meet agents, editors, and other writers (published and working-to-be-published). It’s a good way to network and stay connected to the industry in a job that is for the most part solitary. Consider joining the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Find ways to connect with other writers online.

Follow Submission Guidelines

Get a copy of Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market. In it you will learn all about publishers and what they are looking for, as well as what their submission guidelines are. This is very simple advice but very important: follow the submission guidelines for the publisher you are pitching. If they don’t accept email submissions, don’t email them. If they don’t accept picture books, don’t send them a picture book manuscript. If you need an agent to submit to them, find an agent before submitting to them. Following the guidelines (which are different for each publisher) shows you are professional and serious about your writing. It also saves you (and the editor) a great deal of time and frustration by not sending something to a publishing house that they would never acquire in the first place. If you decide to get an agent, QueryTracker is a great resource.

Accept the Inevitability of Rejection

This is easy enough to say, and almost impossible to do all the time. Rejection is not fun and it’s especially difficult when people are criticizing something as personal as your writing.

I think that selling a manuscript is like selling a home. You have to find an editor or publishing house or agent that is a good fit. Just because someone doesn’t buy your house when it’s on the market does not mean it’s a bad house or there is anything wrong with it. It just means it’s not a good fit for them.

I have heard of some mean-spirited rejection letters, but typically the many editors I know are kind people and rejection letters are just standard and part of the every day business of publishing.

On the other hand, I have heard different authors over the years tell their own stories about rejection letters that devastated them, but often when they told me what the letters said I didn’t think they sounded too harsh. In this business, you have to expect and be able to take rejection. The bottom line is, if you’re going to put your work out there not everyone will like it, and a lot of people will reject it, and some days that really hurts. 

Keep Perspective

Remember why you are doing this. If you’re not having fun, then it’s not worth it. And if you aren’t liking what you write, you’re probably not writing the right thing. I’ve been told that if you like what you’re writing, chances are somebody else out there is going to like it too. I think that’s great advice.

Of course, not every day is fun. Some days are lonely, some days you feel like a fraud, and some days you miss the kind of job where you know exactly how to do good work and you just do it. Being a writer means you have to be really, really patient—with yourself and with the process and with the publishing world in general, which can be a very crazy place.

Getting a book published is not easy, but it happens. It happens all the time, and it happens to regular people like you and like me. I love the thrill I see in people when they sell their first manuscript, or the day their printed book arrives and they get to hold it in their hands for the first time. Making a book is magical. It’s something to be celebrated. Remember if you’re writing a children’s book it’s a wonderful thing. You’re choosing a creative life. Enjoy adding something good to the world!

Thank you SO MUCH for stopping by, Jennifer! To celebrate having her grace Pub(lishing) Crawl with her incredible advice, we’re hosting a giveaway! Two people can win copies of Edgar Gets Ready for Bed (check out that awesome cover above). Just let us know in the comments what great classic YOU wish you’d had as a picture/board book growing up. :)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Jennifer Adams is the author of the board books in the BabyLit series, which introduce small children to the world of classic literature. Her picture book Edgar Gets Ready for Bed is inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven.” A second picture book, Edgar and the Tattle-Tale Heart, will be published this Halloween. Jennifer loves old stone walls, letterpress printing, lightning storms, beautifully wrapped packages, and people who read. She works some evenings at The King’s English Bookshop to feed her book habit. Jennifer lives in Salt Lake City with her husband, Bill Dunford, who is also a writer. Visit her website at jennifer-adams.com.

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20. Start With a Change, Not Just Action

by

Jodi Meadows

Ever since I started writing, I’ve heard the following advice: start with action.

It makes sense, right? Who wants to read pages and pages of nothing happening except exposition?** Paragraphs upon paragraphs of description of the worldbuilding, the character’s backstory, the events leading up to the events in the story? So you start with action and get the reader’s blood pumping with a car chase. It works in movies, after all.

But in books, starting with action isn’t quite so straightforward.** It can be confusing when the reader needs to be not just hooked, but grounded in the world. That is, they need a sense of who the character is before they can really care about whether this car chase is going to work out. They need a sense of the world to know how to form the mental image, whether to put the characters on a deserted highway or a busy inner-city street at rush hour. And it needs to be written in a way that pulls in the reader, and makes them want to read more. That’s a lot of work for the first few paragraphs! While the movie can put it all out there in one shot — because it’s a visual and auditory medium and you can’t help but absorb it — the book has one tool: the words.

So I have a different suggestion for you. Start with a change. Start with movement.

One of my biggest issues with starting with action is that it’s incredibly difficult to both ground the reader in character, setting, and story, while still maintaining the pace required of an action scene. It’s not impossible, but typically something gets neglected, the pacing or the grounding.

Not starting with action doesn’t mean your beginning has to be boring. Hook the reader with an interesting first line. Put your character in a situation that shows who they are and gives the reader a hint that something is about to change. (In THE HUNGER GAMES, we get Katniss going about her day, but all morning she’s thinking about the Reaping and we know something terrible is going to happen.)

The change can be the first thing to happen and we get a few pages of attempted normalcy before it all goes sour. (I’m thinking of GONE by Michael Grant, when the adults vanish in the first line and all the kids try to figure out how to act now.)

It can be a decision to do something or go somewhere, or someone new coming to town, or an announcement that someone has died (boo) but they’ve left the character a ton of money (!!!), or whatever. As long as it’s interesting. As long as it advances the story. It can be a good or bad change, so long as the character’s situation is different on the other side of it.

**Of course, I’m not saying this can’t be done, or done well, even. As always, there are exceptions.

What are some of your favorite examples of beginnings that start with a change?

Jodi Meadows lives and writes in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, with her husband, a Kippy*, and an alarming number of ferrets. She is a confessed book addict, and has wanted to be a writer ever since she decided against becoming an astronaut. She is the author of the INCARNATE Trilogy (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen).
*A Kippy is a cat.

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21. The Building of a Setting

 

Writing Life Banner

By

Biljana Likic

biljana new picWe all know that showing is generally better than telling. How you do it is a trickier question, and passages that establish setting have the highest risk of suffering from info-dumping. It’s a dilemma, because setting is one of the most important things in writing. Not knowing where a character is is extremely distracting and can lead to confusion. The obvious solution to that is to describe the setting.

But you can’t just say the character’s in a kitchen. It wouldn’t be very dynamic. You have to give details. But you can’t just give any details, you have to only give details that are pertinent to the story.

This, for example, is pure “telling”, a massive info-dump:

The back room was a small parlour. A thick creamy carpet covered the floor. The oval rosewood coffee table was surrounded by a loveseat and two chairs, and a small pianoforte sat in the corner by the window. The pianoforte’s white keys were yellowing ivory with a few chips from years of use. They were illuminated by the sunlight streaming through the floor-to-ceiling windows looking out to the gardens, whose heavy red drapes had been pulled back by hefty gold cords of silk. The mirror between the two windows was old and smoky, reflecting the fireplace on the opposite side of the room.

Well I’ve established setting, all right, but that’s all I’ve done. I haven’t made clear why you would need to know what’s in this parlour. I don’t have a single character using it, so all I’ve ended up with is a room with a bunch of stuff in it.

This is where the principle of Chekhov’s gun comes in handy. According to Chekhov, only the things that are relevant to the story should be in it. Everything extra is dead weight. In other words, as he said, “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” So by this logic, in this parlour, somebody must use the carpet, the furniture, the pianoforte, the drapes, the mirror, the fireplace, etc. in a way that drives the plot. If one of these things isn’t being used, take them out of your descriptions. They’re not important.

But then you still have to be careful, because too few details can put your character in setting limbo and confuse the reader. You can also lose a lot of your world’s richness. If your world is set in a historical time drastically different from ours, talking about the sunlight lighting up the chipped ivory keys of a pianoforte in a parlour is pretty romantic, and gives a clear sense of an older time. So how do you tell us about the piano? Make your character use it in a significant way. They don’t have to play it; they just have to interact with it.

However, then you have the problem where an entire chapter is just a character wandering around a parlour using and touching things and experiencing revelations about themselves and their quandaries through contemplation of window drapes. In that case, you stop, take a deep breath, and accept that this parlour can’t be adequately described all at once. The key is in breaking it up. Have several scenes that happen in the parlour, and each time, give it new details. If you don’t have several scenes in the parlour, then it’s likely not important enough to be so heavily described. It’s not the lavish tomb your character finds at the end of the story whose riches will end world hunger. It’s just a parlour.

The first time your character enters the parlour might go like this:

Their tour took them to the back of the house.

“This is the private parlour,” he said, opening the door for her.

She took a few steps inside. Her slippers sank into the lushness of the cream carpet. It felt especially soft after the hardwood of the hallway. She went past the furniture and stepped up to the large windows to look out to the gardens.

What she saw made her uneasy. In the middle of a paved circle surrounded by rose bushes, a person was standing with his back to her, arms outstretched, face to the sky.

“Who’s that?” she asked.

“Pardon?”

He looked where she was pointing, paled, and said, “Nobody.”

She shifted on her feet.

“He’s just the landscaper,” he said with a reassuring smile. “Let me show you the second floor.”

In the first scene, the parlour isn’t important. The man in the garden, however, is. Waxing lyrical about the contents of the room would divert attention and power away from the man, so you leave it for the next time she’s there.

The next time your character enters the parlour might look like this:

She went into the parlour and shut the door behind her. It was very dark. She tossed the sheet music onto the bench of the pianoforte and heaved the red drapes away from the windows, securing them with their gold silk cords. Sunlight poured into the room.

Lifting the lid of the pianoforte, she ran a finger along the edges of the white keys. Chips in the ivory bit into her skin. She rubbed the ache away, sat down, and began to play.

She hadn’t been practicing long before someone knocked.

“Come in,” she said.

In was the man from the rose garden. He gave her a small smile.

“Coffee?” he said.

She nodded, clasping her hands in her lap. A servant was ready at the door and entered to set up the coffee table. Delicate porcelain clinked against the polished surface of the rosewood. The man moved with a cool grace and eased himself into one of the dark pink chairs. She stood and went to the loveseat opposite him.

This scene focuses more on the furniture in greater detail. I’ve pretty effectively furnished the parlour by now. The only things I still haven’t mentioned are the mirror and the fireplace. I have, however, given my character a reason to become familiar with the room: the piano. By the time she needs to use the parlour to save herself from whatever dangers Creepy Garden Man is cooking up, the reader will know its layout as well as she will, including whatever stuff she can use to fight back, or what might be a hindrance to her safety. By pointing out new details each time the parlour is introduced, the compounding information builds a room with a rich setting.

The last thing that must be taken into account with setting is your character’s mood. How your character is feeling will affect what the character notices. If they’re anxious, they notice the ticking clock on the mantle. If they’re self-conscious, the mirror looks blotchier and older than usual, marring their appearance—or they can’t stand their reflection at all and actively avoid looking at it. The sun that made everything bright will just expose dirt and grime if they’re in a bad mood, and heavy drapes stop being elegant when they’re preventing them from opening a window to make a desperate escape.

Each and every thing in the parlour can be manipulated towards the character’s state of mind. Yesterday the parlous was rustic, quaint, and loved with its chipped-keys pianoforte. Today it’s dusty, old, and out of style, trapping them in a past they can’t escape. Tomorrow it’s a comforting safe haven of the known protecting them from the dangers of the unfamiliar.

And exactly that is the difference between showing and telling. Showing is borderline clinical. No matter how well you describe something, if you info-dump like I did in the first example, you’ll be locking the description of the setting into place. But if you make the reader experience it through your characters and their moods, and build the parlour up from scratch by adding new details each time you revisit the setting, you create a space that’s alive. It goes through transformations parallel to the growth of the character, giving you a setting whose fullness rivals reality.

Biljana Likic is working on her fantasy WIPs and just completed her BA, soon to be starting her MA in September, where she can’t wait till she’s done so she’ll finally have all the time in the world to write. You can follow her on Twitter.

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22. Summer Writing - with Kids

While the official start of summer is still two weeks away, writers with kids newly freed from school may already be wondering if they'll ever write again. At least that's how I felt every June about this time. I was fortunate to stay home with our kids, and there were a couple of really frustrating summers early in my writing career (and boy, am I using that term loosely). I drove myself crazy trying to follow the old "write every day" advice. Why wouldn't my kids cooperate?!


But my dad had his own advice:  Enjoy your kids. They won't be little forever.

So I gave myself permission to take my own summer breaks. Play with the kids. Enjoy life. Store up memories. 






Back then, I was specializing in rejected picture book manuscripts. But I also submitted lots of poetry to kids' magazines, much of which was accepted (Thank you, Carus!). Oddly enough, I wrote MORE poems during those summers than at any other time ... usually after getting the kids to bed. We'd say our nighty-nights, then I'd spend an hour or so deciphering odd snippets of rhyme from the sticky notes I'd been slapping onto my desk throughout the day.

So if you're ankle deep in Legos and Play-Doh and soap bubbles and sidewalk chalk right now, relax and enjoy. But keep your eyes and ears and hearts open. And take notes.

If you're more determined than I was to keep your writing front and center through these summer days,  here are tips and advice from others who have found ways to make it work:





In the end, you have to do whatever works for YOU. Good luck!



Jill Esbaum

P.S. Enter our Rafflecopter giveaway to win a copy of Joan Bransfield Graham's The Poem That Will Not End:  Fun with Poetic Forms and Voices.

P.P.S. Two books I've written are part of a new series from National Geographic especially for 3-6 year olds. Hitting shelves June 25th are Explore My World:  Penguins, and Explore My World:  Snow Leopards. Watch for them!  :)

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23. Do you actually need that romance?

Writing Life Banner

by

Susan Dennard

Romance, part 1A month or so back, someone asked me (in the forums) about writing romance. This is no easy topic to tackle, and it’s something that every author approaches differently. But, I thought I could share a few general rules and also share how I approach romantic elements in my own stories.

Note: this is part 1 in what will be a month-long (or longer) series on my personal blog.

Romance as a Genre

I want to preface this post by saying that romance as a genre is a totally different animal from romantic elements in a story.

The romance genre typically adheres to a certain structure and a certain outcome. In romance, the love story MUST be the primary plot, meaning all your other story threads are secondary. So for example, if a book is a paranormal romance following a werewolf as she tries to take charge of her pack while also dealing with that sexy alpha across the way, the pack conflict (of her taking charge) will be a subplot to the romance between the werewolf and the sexy alpha. The love story will take up more page time than the pack conflicts.

If the book were just a paranormal, however,then the primary conflict would be how the werewolf comes into her own and takes charge of her pack–and the majority of the page space would be devoted to her pack-leadership. The romance with the sexy alpha would be a subplot to that.

Additionally, the romance genre demands an “emotionally satisfying ending”–often times called a HEA, or Happily Ever After. The hero and the heroine must come together in the end, and it must be a “happy” ending.If you’re writing a book in the romance genre, be sure you stick to these genre requirements! I’ll link you to this excellent post in case you’re hoping to learn more.

A story with romantic elements, on the other hand, does not require any sort of happy resolution for our lovers. One character might die, they might already be together when the book opens, they might not end up together, or they might decide they hate each other after all.

What is Romance in Fiction?

In fiction, romance is always going to be linked to character arcs. Always. Whether your story be the primary plot or a subplot, the coming together of two characters must be linked to who they are now, who they are as the story progresses, and who they are when the story ends.

I’ll get into this more deeply next week, but for now remember this: Romance is all about characters growing. If the romance does not push a character to change (for good or worse), then the romance doesn’t need to be there.

And that leads me to my next point…

Does the Romance Add to the Story?

Have you ever seen a movie or TV show that opened with a sex scene that felt totally gratuitous? Like the poor actors were just having to show skin or touch lips because someone in some office somewhere said, “Sex sells.”

Well, we do NOT want that in our stories. When our romantic leads interact (this can be with or without touching), it needs to mean something. It needs to affect the plot, affect the characters, and affect everything that comes after.

If you can remove the love interest character or remove the love scenes without anything in the overall story being affected, then you do NOT need your romance.

I have totally been guilty of this. In the very first book I ever wrote, I spent ages honing the sexual tension between my MC and the love interest. Whenever the two characters were together, I thought sparks just had to be flying. Surely everyone who read would love Finn as much as I did!

Nope. Finn might’ve been sexy in my head, but on the page, his scenes added nothing. He didn’t connect to my MC’s primary plot, and he certainly didn’t push my MC to grow or change in anyway. I could have easily cut him and all of his scenes from the story without affecting the plot or my MC’s character arc at all.

So remember: If you can cut the romantic scenes without affecting the story, then you don’t need that romance.

Of course, let’s say you have a pair of lovers planned that you just KNOW will influence the trajectory of your story and force each other to change, now comes the most important question of all: are you actually excited about them?

You Gotta Love your Lovers

I am the MASTER of coming up with great plot solutions that seem so easy in a synopsis, but when I actually sit down to write said plot solution, I find myself bored. Or at a loss for how to translate a one-sentence solution into a full chapter. Or I’ll be faced with characters who wouldn’t actually do what I had brainstormed for them.

This same problem of “good in theory, not so good in action” happens often with my romances. I’ll be imagining this epic romance between a sexy pirate lord and a fiery duchess, but when I actually put the two characters on the page, they have totally different partners in mind. Or the love/hate relationship I thought they’d share just doesn’t interest me.

Well, that’sno good.If you’re not into the relationship, your readers sure as hell won’t be. You need to be as madly in love with your characters (or as passionately hateful) as they are with each other. The romantic scenes should make your gut flip exactly like theirs. If you’re not into love or not feeling the feels, then it’s time to find a new romance–maybe even rewrite your characters completely.

When these situations strike, I always head back to my notebook for some more brainstorming and some intense question/answer time (more on that later in this series).

For now, just remember: If you don’t love your romance and love interest, then you either 1) don’t need to write a romance at all, or 2) need to find the romance/love interest that does ignite a spark.

Next week, I’ll get into the basics of actually crafting a romance–from understanding character flaws to building characters that challenge each other to grow.

I’ll also be on the NaNoWriMo blog discussing the “hate-to-love” trope (or defending it, rather), so look for me there!

SusanDennardIf you like what you read here, consider signing up for my newsletter, the Misfits & Daydreamers or swinging by my For Writers page!

Susan Dennard is a reader, writer, lover of animals, and eater of (now gluten-free) cookies. You can learn more about her crazy thoughts and crippling cookie-addiction on her blogtwitter, or pinterest. Her Something Strange and Deadly series is now available from HarperTeen, and the Truthwitch series will launch from Tor in fall 2015.

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24. Your Character is Lying

by Julie Eshbaugh

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Julie

In my own process, I have character development tools that I use before I start to draft. What is my character’s age, history, family life? Where does she live? How intelligent is he? Was she educated in school, or did she learn through experience? There are many fantastic worksheets and story creation tools available, and I use several to begin to form my characters in my mind.

I have a separate process for characterization after my first draft is complete and I’m into revisions. During the drafting process, I feel like I am creating the character; at the revision stage, I feel like I am discovering the character.

Part of that discovery process is learning what my characters lie about.

In some ways, uncovering your characters’ lies is similar to uncovering their secrets, which I wrote about here.

Everyone lies sometimes. Here are some examples:

We might lie to ourselves if the truth is too painful. For example, an addict might continuously tell herself that she is just “experimenting.” A student who cheats to become Valedictorian might lie to himself that everyone else cheats, too, so his cheating did no harm.

We might lie to our friends to cope with rivalry or jealousy. A person who feels outdone by a friend’s career success might lie about being offered a promotion at work.

We might lie to someone in authority to stay out of trouble. If a sixteen year old girl comes home after curfew, she might lie about a detour or an unexpected traffic back-up.

It might be true that everyone lies, but not everyone lies in the same way. Some only tell “white lies.” Some only commit “lies of omission,” (meaning they don’t correct a person who’s mistaken, especially if the mistake works to their benefit.) Others don’t think twice about weaving an elaborate tale if it makes them look good (a trait found in The Unreliable Narrator, which I wrote about here.) If we understand what a person lies about we can understand what they value, what they’re trying to protect, and what they fear.

Think of a person you know in life. It could be your boss or your best friend or your step-mother, but it should be someone with whom you interact frequently.

Think about the way that person sees himself. Think about how he feels about his life. Whether he is successful or struggling, whether she is content or full of angst, chances are that person is telling lies. Can you identify those lies from what you know about that person?

Now think about your characters. How do they see themselves? How do they feel about their lives?

For each of your main characters, dig deep to discover their lies. Here are some questions that may help:

Does she lie to herself? Does she lie about the present, the past, or both? Are there painful memories that she has “rewritten” to get rid of some of the pain?

Does he lie to his friends? Which friends? Are they big lies or white lies? What purpose do they serve?

Does she lie to her parents or other authority figures? Does she get away with it? What will happen if the lies come out?

There are countless more questions that could be asked, depending on your setting, time period, age of your characters, etc. This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list, but a starting place. The answers you discover to some of these questions will likely lead you to ask new questions.

One of my favorite characters in fiction is a grand and well-accomplished liar – Jay Gatsby from THE GREAT GATSBY. One of the many things that makes Fitzgerald’s masterpiece so intriguing is the shadowy line between Gatsby’s truth and his lies.

What do you think? Do you believe all characters lie? Do you search for lies when you create your own characters? Please add your thoughts in the comments.

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Julie Eshbaugh writes fiction for young adults. She is represented by Adams Literary. You can add Julie on Goodreads and follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.

 

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25. Give Yourself A Break

Industry Life

 by

Jordan Hamessley London

Jordan Hamessley LondonIf you are a regular reader of Pub Crawl, my guess is that you are very busy person. Our readers span from full time authors, to authors maintaining day jobs, publishing industry professionals, writers at the start of their career and more. No matter which group you fall under, one thing is clear. We all have a lot on our daily, weekly, monthly, and lifelong to-do lists.

I’m here today to remind all of our readers that every now and then you need to take a break and spend some time simply relaxing.

I recently took an eight day vacation with my husband to celebrate our anniversary. I was out of the office for an entire week and didn’t check my work e-mail until the 7th day. My phone was off the entire trip. It was pretty magical.

My subway ride to and from work every day is when I do the majority of my submission reading. Before I wrote this post on Monday night, I got home and edited for another hour before I let myself catch up on this season of Food Network Star. (I don’t even have the Food Network! Cooking shows are my ultimate chill-out reward.)

When I was on my vacation, I spent a lot of time at the beach, but I also had the chance to read some books outside of my specific area that I edit and acquire. I was finally able to read Daryl Gregory’s latest science fiction novel, AFTERPARTY. I don’t have any science fiction on my list at the moment, so this was a nice break from the YA and all of the wonderful horror I’ve been editing recently. I also read FROM SCRATCH: INSIDE THE FOOD NETWORK, a great non-fiction book about the formation of the Food Network. (Yes, the Food Network is an important aspect of my life.)

In addition to reading some awesome books, I finally started watching Band of Brothers. Now that I’m home, I’m not sure when I’ll finish it, but it was a nice addition to my vacation relaxation time, even if it could get intense at times. And like many people the second weekend of June, I started the second season of Orange is the New Black.

And to be honest, I caught up on a lot of sleep.

When I came back to work last week, I was refreshed and excited to get back to work on my list and had a renewed sense of energy. I know not everyone can take a week off of work, but I do believe that finding those quiet moments each week to have for yourself, not related to your work, is important to keeping your creative endeavors fresh. I have a regular Saturday morning routine that is all about giving me some time for myself. It involves watching a lot of Chopped. (I promise, I am not a paid Food Network shill. I just love competitive cooking shows.)

We all spend so much time devoted to our careers that it’s important to find time for ourselves, as well.

What are some of the ways you give yourself a break? 

Jordan Hamessley London is an Editor at Egmont USA, where she edits middle grade and YA. Her current titles include Isla J. Bick’s new series, The Dark Passages (#1 White Space), Bree DeSpain’s new series Into the Dark (#1 The Shadow Prince), and more. Prior to Egmont, Jordan worked at Grosset and Dunlap, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers where she edited Adam-Troy Castro’s middle grade horror series Gustav Gloom, Ben H. Winters and Adam F. Watkin’s book of horror poetry Literally Disturbed, Michelle Schusterman’s I Heart Band series, Adam F. Watkins’s alphabet picture book R is for Robot and more. When not editing, Jordan can be found on twitter talking about books, scary movies, and musical theater.

 

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