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Viewing Blog: R. L. LaFevers, Most Recent at Top
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I am a writer of fantasy for young readers and an avid reader of all kinds of fantasy and myths. I love to talk about writing and writing process and the struggle to make our stories as perfect on the page as they appear in our heads (which frankly, never happens.)
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1. Some Updates!

I know, I know, this is LONG overdue! But I have been buried in deadlines and a traveling fool besides.

Speaking of travel, I will be in Pueblo, Colorado February 21 and 22 for their Read OUT LOUD program. One of the sessions is open to the public so if you feel like hearing about the Nathaniel Fludd Beastologist books, stop on by! That's Tuesday, Feb. 21 at 6 PM at the Rawlings Library, Ryals Room.

And for those of you who are interested, I finally have my YA website LIVE! Feel free to stop on by and say hi and check out my upcoming YA book. (There is also a very cool book trailer!) You can also read the first chapter HERE.

That's about it for now!

1 Comments on Some Updates!, last added: 2/12/2012
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2. Some Book Giveaways!

I just wanted to give people a head's up that there are some giveaways of my books taking place. Small Review and Ruby's Reads are hosting a historical fantasy month ( I KNOW! Awesome idea, yes?)

There is a giveaway here of  your choice of any one Theodosia or Nathaniel Fludd book, so a good opportunity to round out the series.

And there is a chance to win a Grave Mercy ARC here.

(There is also a terrific deconstruction of the Grave Mercy cover here, in case you're interested.)

Good luck!

2 Comments on Some Book Giveaways!, last added: 11/22/2011
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3. More Maps

One of the things I love so much about these early maps is that they weren't just directions from Point A to Point B. The maps themselves were intricately illustrated and often reflected the worldview of the time. I love this Ebstorf map.

This kind of map is called a mappa mundi, which is a medieval map of the world. This one was made on a number of stitched together goatskins. I am especially fond of the detail at the top and bottom of the map, (warning: large image!) as well as the left and right sides. You can see the head and feet and hands of God as he holds up the world--a reflection of the science of the time.

2 Comments on More Maps, last added: 11/20/2011
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4. For Budding Cartographers!

One the things I thought would be fun here is to occasionally post pictures of the various elements that inspired me in the writing of my books. As I researched the Nathaniel Fludd books, I became fascinated with all the different maps that man has made over the years. Here is a picture of the world's oldest map:

It is Babylonian, and you can read more about it HERE on Wikipedia.

3 Comments on For Budding Cartographers!, last added: 11/13/2011
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5. Summer Hiatus!

Hello! You’ve probably noticed all the remodeling going on here. That’s because my poor author website is so old and outdated that it WAY past time to update it. However, being the Miss IndecisivePants that I am, I have not been able to decide on what I want the website to be like, so I have been playing around here, trying to get some idea. Thus all the updating and remodeling. I actually quite like it, with all the little literary sidekicks smiling at me from the fringes.

In related news, as it stands now, it appears I will be publishing my YA under Robin LaFevers rather than R. L. LaFevers, so I have to start thinking about another website (and blog!)

Not to mention that I have a whopper of a book due and I want to complete a solid first draft by the end of the summer so I have LOTS of time to tinker with multiple revisions.

So instead of feeling guilty for not posting more here, or flailing around in public trying to finalize my website/blog, I think it will be smarter if I just take a two month hiatus, write the book, talk to web designers, and enjoy my son's last summer at home before he transfers away to college. (::sob::!)

I will be at the SCBWI National Conference in August, so if any of you are planning on being there DO try to find me in the crowd and say hi!

Here's wishing you a summer filled with lazy days, lots of (not too hot) sunshine, and tons of writing!

2 Comments on Summer Hiatus!, last added: 7/2/2011
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6. Ch-ch-ch-changes

Hello! You’ve probably noticed all the remodeling going on here. That’s because my poor author website is so old and outdated that it WAY past time to update it. However, being the Miss IndecisivePants that I am, I have not been able to decide on what I want the website to be like, so I will be making this blog my author website for the time being. In the next week or two, my domain name will redirect to this blog. Thus all the updating and remodeling. I actually quite like it, with all the little literary sidekicks smiling at me from the fringes.

In related news, as it stands now, it appears I will be publishing my YA under Robin LaFevers rather than R. L. LaFevers, so I have started a new blog here and I wanted to give those of you who are regular followers here to jump on over there before this place becomes a more static, reader oriented environment. I will blog here occasionally, but it will be more like website updates rather than writing talk.

So that’s the plan! I hope I’ll see some of you over at the new place!

4 Comments on Ch-ch-ch-changes, last added: 6/30/2011
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7. Best Friend Festival and Book Signing!

Carpinteria's First Ever Best Friend Festival & Book Signing!

Theodosia has Sticky Will.
Nathaniel Fludd has Greasle.
And Effie Malone has two best friends!
Not to mention that Mary and Robin have been BFFs for over a decade!

In honor of Best Friends everywhere,
you and your best bud are invited to
a special celebration and book signing on
Sunday, June 26th, 2011
2pm- 4pm at the Curious Cup Bookstore
929 Linden Avenue, Carpinteria.

Featuring Real-Life BFF
R.L. LaFevers & Mary Hershey
signing their new books,
each packed with BIG adventure
and BIG friendships.

Love and Pollywogs from Camp Calamity
Theodosia & The Last Pharaoh
Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist: The Unicorn’s Tale

You don’t want to miss the F-U-N!

Take the BFF Compatibility Quiz
Share your best story about your best friend
Pose for a special photo together
Enter to Win the Best Friend Prize Package!
Refreshments and giveaways.

(A BFF is not required for admission,
and best friends of all ages, genders and species are welcome!

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8. A Couple of Must Read Posts On Writing

Just in case you missed the big kerfuffle last week about the misguided reporter's article in WSJ about how the current crop of YA books is just too dark and despairing for today's teen, I wanted to link to a couple of responses to her (rather ill-formed) thoughts.

The first is Sherman Alexie's rebuttal in the same publication about why YA books are written in blood. (If you ever get the chance to hear this man speak, do grab it, because he is so eloquent and articulate!) A choice excerpt:

When some cultural critics fret about the “ever-more-appalling” YA books, they aren’t trying to protect African-American teens forced to walk through metal detectors on their way into school. Or Mexican-American teens enduring the culturally schizophrenic life of being American citizens and the children of illegal immigrants. Or Native American teens growing up on Third World reservations. Or poor white kids trying to survive the meth-hazed trailer parks. They aren’t trying to protect the poor from poverty. Or victims from rapists.

No, they are simply trying to protect their privileged notions of what literature is and should be. They are trying to protect privileged children. Or the seemingly privileged.

The second great response to this, and one of my personal favorites, by Laini Taylor.

Characters in books can make us yearn to be powerful -- some of us become fantasy junkies because of the exhilaration of embodying that power vicariously -- but they can also teach us to be brave. In the general sense, they can impart values like persistence, self-belief, integrity. And in a specific sense, they might actually teach a young person how to seek help for abuse. They might send such a powerful message of "you are not alone," as to prevent suicides. 

Fiction has a power that a news article can never have, because readers inhabit fiction.

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9. A Tarot Collage

I've talked before about how I make collages for my books using pictures from the web or magazines or my inspiration folder (where I have hundreds of images from old magazines that I save because they speak to me for some reason.)

One fun thing I did that made a great artist's date/writing exercise was create a tarot collage of my hero and heroine's journey. There's no real trick to it. You just pick a tarot deck with imagery that appeals to you (this was The Secret Tarot by Marco Nizzoli*), spread the cards out on the table, then pick those that resonate with your vision for your protagonist. That's what I did for GRAVE MERCY.

So the top row was the major influences impacting the two main character's lives, and then the second row was the  hero's journey and the bottom row was the heroine's.

Or, you could be even more official and do an actual tarot reading for your characters or story. 

Mostly just a fun way to get in touch with the story at the intuitive level. Sometimes the cards you pick can surprise you.

*I have used my paltry photoshop skills to cover up some of the images so they would be work (and MG!) safe.

2 Comments on A Tarot Collage, last added: 6/1/2011
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10. How (Not) To Make A Video

Another thing that kept me busy over the last couple of weeks was that I was asked to make a short video of me talking about the inspiration for GRAVE MERCY for my publisher’s sales meeting. I was excited and thrilled to be asked, until I realized, I’d have to make a video of me talking!!

So just in case any of you are ever asked the same thing, here’s how to do it. (Not!)

  • Have heart palpitations just because of the general excitement of it all.
  • Begin working on a script, because god forbid one should speak off the cuff, even though if you know your subject upside down and backwards.
  • Rewrite the script four times because the first three were too preachy. Really don’t need to tell the sales force WHO SPENDS THEIR DAYS SELLING YA BOOKS why this book is relevant to teens.
  • Begin panicking over what to wear.
  • Frantically clean office so that it will only look as if partially drowning in clutter (albeit writerly clutter—books and papers and notebooks. Cool clutter.)
  • Realize you know absolutely nothing about how iMovie works and decide to make a little test run.
  • Become distracted by the fact that, You look like that when you talk?? Gah.
  • Practice real talk five times.
  • Go put on makeup.
  • Get dressed.
  • Put on a little more makeup.
  • Change shirt. Add scarf.
  • Sit in front of camera.
  • Begin taping.
  • Stop taping.
  • Go change scarf.
  • Resume taping.
  • Mess up.
  • Start over.
  • Rinse and repeat at least four times.
  • Decide there is enough raw footage to piece something together and hope the swearing at the flub ups can be cut.
  • Watch raw footage.
  • Decide no one wants to watch a person talk for four whole minutes so scramble around looking for photos that can be overlaid on the video.
  • Learn how to do that.
  • Screw it up seven times.
  • Become distracted by how tight Romeo’s breeches are (really, they classify as tights) and wonder where a fig leaf is when you need it most.
  • Decide to crop said breeches in case anyone in the sales meeting is easily distracted.
  • Wonder why that one picture won’t resize the way it needs to to.
  • Try to cut out all tongue clacking, lip licking and eye rolling. Wince when you realize it is impossible.
  • Cut too much.
  • Decide to cut that whole section, insert a picture, and do a voice over.
  • Realize you can do that for all the parts where you hate yourself on tape.
  • Wonder why you didn’t just do that for the entire thing.
  • Insert a dozen more pictures and two minutes of voice over.
  • Decide it is good enough.
  • Spend an hour trying to figure out how to get the title thing to work the way you want it to.
  • It never does, so settle for second choice of titling effects.
  • Realize it is now dinner time.
  • Call it good.
  • Order pizza. 
  • Decide to figure out how to send the mammoth file tomorrow.

6 Comments on How (Not) To Make A Video, last added: 5/29/2011
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11. Looking for Themes In All The Wrong Places


I was going to come back here and tell you all how I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had two seconds to rub together, let alone time to blog, but you know what? You all are smart cookies. I bet you figured that out on your own. Plus? It is fairly boring to talk about.

So instead I thought I’d talk about something that’s been occupying quite a lot of my mental space lately, namely themes. As in the core themes of our work.

[Warning: Possible navel-gazing ahead.]

Part of this was brought about by the fact that I am having a teensy bit of an identity crisis, genre-wise. I was able to straddle a young middle grade and an older middle grade series fairly well. But I am now pulling a dark, older YA into the mix and it kind of tipped me over in terms of understanding who my audience is, what my relationship to my readers is, how I pull all of those various wildly different parts of the authorial me together. Do I talk about the book that’s out now or the one that I’m working on? Does it matter if they’re two separate age groups?

The inside of my head has felt far too much like a hamster wheel for my liking. However, one can only flounder so long before it gets way old and all that’s left to do is get over it and move on. So here I am. I will be having my identity crisis in public and hope that it will be a learning experience for the rest of you.

My website is also due for a massive makeover, and before I could do that, I had to understand the answers to some of the above questions. Actually, I had to figure out the right questions to even ask.

When looking for a story theme, the questions I use are:

What life lesson does your protagonist need to learn?
Where, in her/his emotional landscape, will this journey take her? Will she/he be facing old fears? Discovering new ones? What will they be?
What issues will most of the book's conflict be arising from?
What direction is her/his growth going to take? Learning to accept, forgive, redeem oneself, stand up for what they believe in?
What will they have struggled with by the end of the book?
Also, look at your protagonist’s goals and motivations. What direction are they pointing in?

And while those questions work well for finding themes in a given book, they weren’t helping me step back and get a better picture of how all the various themes I work with tie in.

So I had to go looking for new questions.

What truth am I telling? What is my core truth, the one I go back to time and again. I searched my books, the school talks I give, my work on Shrinking Violets and over on GeekMom. Hell, I looked high and low. I kept stepping back, further and further away thinking if I could get a distant view, I could see the patterns and landscape better.

But I neglected to look deep, deep inside, to that place we all try to hide from the world. Which is highly ironic since that’s one of my biggest messages to kids when I do school visits—that their unique quirky self is their biggest most powerful weapon. Even if it’s the part of themselves that gets them in the most trouble or they find most embarrassing—that core is where all the best stuff in their life will come from.

And then I stumbled on this quote from Caroline Myss (found via Justine Musk's Tribal Writer blog) “You cannot live for prolonged periods of time within the polarity of being true to yours

5 Comments on Looking for Themes In All The Wrong Places, last added: 5/26/2011
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12. L.A. Times Festival of Books

Just a quick note to say I'll be signing at the L. A. Times Festival of Books on Saturday, April 30. I'll be in Mysterious Galaxy's booth, #372, at 1:00. Hope to see some of  you there!

2 Comments on L.A. Times Festival of Books, last added: 5/27/2011
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13. We Have A Winner!

And the winner is . . . #5, wldhrsjen3! 
(Chosen by Random Number Generator*)

Jen, email me with your address and I will get those in the mail to you! 

Also? Because my publisher is pure awesome, they have sent me a few extra ARCs so I can give them to any teachers or librarians who entered this drawing. From looking at the comments, I think that means Mrs. Katz and Kari. If you two will also email me, I can get those ARCs in the mail to you!

Thank you so much for participating everyone! And for your enthusiasm for the new books. :-)

*I numbered all the comments here and over on GoodReads one through forty-one, then hit generate

1 Comments on We Have A Winner!, last added: 4/14/2011
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14. Official Release Day x 2!

Ta da! It is the official release of BOTH Theodosia and the Last Pharaoh AND Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist, The Unicorn's Tale. 
Phew. And I have to tell you, it's true what they say about twins! It's twice the work. But worth it.

I'm also thinking we should have a giveaway. So...if you'd like to put your name in the hat to win a signed copy of both books, just say so in the comments to this post!

Also, if you'd like to read the first chapters of each, they can be found here and here.

*The contest will run for a week so I'll close comments at midnight on Tuesday, April 12.

32 Comments on Official Release Day x 2!, last added: 4/9/2011
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15. Writing is a Harsh Mistress

I was cleaning up a pile of papers that has sat next to my computer forever, and stumbled upon this quote that I'd printed out. I had not made a note of where it came from, so spent half an hour googling and searching and found out that, of course! It was from the brilliant Barbara Samuel//Barbara O'Neal's speech that she gave at RWA Nationals in 2004. If you haven't read it, please do. If you have read it, go ahead and read it again. It always moves me--often in new and different ways.
"She wants your experiences. Your brain. Your heart. Your soul. She wants to know that you will give her everything you have, whatever you have, when she needs it. She wants that secret you’ve never told anyone, ever. She wants that wound that can still bleed if someone brushes it by accident. She wants your pain and your bone marrow and your joy and every desire you’ve ever known."

Yes. This. Every time I read this I am reminded that I truly must give everything to the page in order to produce my best work.

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16. The Science of Free Will

As a writer, one of the things I am most fascinated by is human behavior, the choices we make, why we make them, what calls or pushes us to one action and prevents us from making another. What drives the human psyche?

Wikimedia Commons
Because the truth is, our preciously held and highly valued ability to make free, independent decisions might not be as clear-cut as we thought.

For the longest time, human actions and choices were viewed in the simplest of terms: good versus evil, right vs. wrong. To early church fathers, free will was a hotly debated topic. If all events had been predetermined by an omnipotent god, how can our wills ever be free? In medieval thought, a human’s will was very much a battleground between God vs the Arch Fiend as they wrestled for a man’s soul—and the ability to make his choices for him. During the Reformation, Martin Luther declared free will a fiction as all human actions were predestined by God.

In the 20th century, our understanding of will took on entirely new layers and complexities with the birth of psychology. With the work of Freud and Jung, much of what had once seemed like willful bad choices or evil, now had an explanation in the intricacies of the human mind: unconscious, subconscious, repression, and transference, not  to mention the id, ego, and super ego.

But modern sciences have come to shed even more light on an already vastly complex subject. It turns out that our wills are not nearly as free—or as independently minded—as we once thought. Highly complex creatures that we are, we are subject to a host of signals, input, feedback, and influence that we never suspected.

Wikimedia Commons: Wapcaplet
We now know that we are greatly influenced by the people around us; their actions affect our actions in ways we are often not even aware of. In a famous experiment conducted by

2 Comments on The Science of Free Will, last added: 3/29/2011
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17. Guest Blogging Today

I was very excited to be asked to guest blog today over at the official Save the Cat blog! As you guys know, it's one of my favorite plotting tools ever.

2 Comments on Guest Blogging Today, last added: 3/20/2011
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18. A Whopping Dose of Random...

I went to the chiropractor today as part of my Full Body Tune Up so that I can still be writing when I'm seventy. As we were chatting away, he asked me if I felt I'd 'made it', which had me stopping to think. With as much as I think about this stuff, you'd have assumed I'd have a firm marker in place for that, but I didn't. I started to say once a person hits the bestseller lists, but even that must seem tenuous, once you're there. But as we talked, I realized that I've started to feel like this whole wonderful gig isn't going to be snatched away come morning. Maybe that's as close to feeling one's made it as one gets in this business.


I also happened to notice my chiropractor's hands today. He's a big, burly guy--a record holding power lifter and it shows in his hands. They actually reminded me a lot of my husband's hands, who has worked as a heavy equipment mechanic for a number of years. I realized that made a strange sort of sense since a chiropractor is pretty much a mechanic of the human body.


An unanticipated consequence of having two new books out next month as well as two new paperback editions is that I have author's copies piling up here in my living room at an alarming rate. At last count I had a combined total of NINETY books! I feel a number of contests and giveaways coming soon....


I think I forgot to post my very cool news here! I mentioned it on Twitter and Facebook, but I don't think I talked about it here.

Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist: The Unicorn's Tale is on the Spring 2011 Indie Next List! Hurray, Indies! And thank you!

And Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus has been nominated for an Agatha. Yep, that's my name next to John Grisham and Kathy Reichs! Huge thanks to Malice Domestic for this honor.


Oddly enough, literally everyone I met and talked to yesterday was in a horrible mood. I'm wondering if it was the impending earthquake we were all sensing.

Also? In spite of the three of us here in the house having had horrible, rotten, foul mood days, within about 5 minutes of sitting down at the dinner table, we were laughing. There is no miracle like that of a wonderful family.

2 Comments on A Whopping Dose of Random..., last added: 3/13/2011
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19. Peeking Out of My Hermit Cave

It has been brought to my attention that I have been very quiet lately, and yes, I have. This book is being a bit of a bear to start—for many reasons. A primary one being that it is dark, dark, dark. And I shrink from all that darkness. But try hard as I might to pull it in other directions, that’s where it wants to go. So it has taken me the last two weeks to give myself permission to write the first draft as dark as I need to then, I assure myself, I can lighten it up in subsequent drafts. I mean, that IS the advantage to being a multiple drafter, right?

But I feel like I’m stumbling along in fits and starts, feeling awkward and cumbersome. To help me through this clumsy, graceless stage, I am rereading the classics: BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott and ON WRITING by Stephen King. They are hugely helpful and I am very much enjoying and soaking up these gentle encouraging voices full of bone deep wisdom. It is wisdom that I seem to need right now. Lamott, in particular, seems to be speaking right to me.

But also, as I struggle to hear the faint glimmerings of these new characters in my head, I need to tune out some of the voices on the outside because that noise and commotion draws too much of my attention. When I turn down the volume of the external world, it is much easier for me to hear my emerging characters. So I am alive and well, just…pensive. And quiet.

I’ve never needed quite this much psychic exclusion to start a book before, but I’ve also never written anything this tortured, so it makes sense. It is probably not surprising that these books did not demand to be written until my children were grown and self sufficient. To counteract all this sturm und drang, I am spending lots of time walking in this world, enjoying my family, reminding myself that old wounds do heal, lives that seem dark can find hope, essentially doing whatever I need to do to keep the nature of this book from overwhelming me, while still giving it the nurturing attention it needs to be born. A bit of a juggling act, actually.

Also? I am trying to be ergonomically savvy. The older I get the more aware I am of the wear and tear the act of writing and mousing and typing and sitting for hours on end has on my body. I had an ergonomics specialist come the other day and evaluate my process and stations and retweak everything. I want to be able to do this for another twenty or thirty years, so I need to make sure I’m not over stressing various joints, tendons, and muscles. Which is pretty much guaranteed if you spend nine hours a day on the computer, so I’ve just been cutting back in general.

2 Comments on Peeking Out of My Hermit Cave, last added: 3/7/2011
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20. Children: Natural Born Storytellers

Anyone who has ever watched children play knows they are not merely building with blocks, squishing clay, or coloring with crayons. They are telling themselves a story the whole time, building a world and creating characters as they “play”. Because of that natural born love of a good story, it often doesn't take much to nudge a kid into a full scale writing geek.

I am often invited to schools to do presentations or author visits, usually with the hope that meeting an author will help get kids fired up about their own writing. Whenever I do these visits, I always ask the students the same question: Who likes to write? Around 50% of the kids raise their hands. When I ask the question again, this time adding, Who likes to write if you get to ignore all the rules,” 98% of the kids raise their hands. Hugely different response!

The following tips are designed to help remind your child—and yourself—that writing can also be a form of play; to help turn them into a story geek rather than a writing robot suffocating under too many rules. The goal is to reinforce those parts of writing that equal play in your child’s eyes and ignore the rest.
  1. Let them give rein to their natural enthusiasm and sense of play by ignoring the writing rules that make it feel like work. You want them to get in touch with that intuitive part of themselves that recognizes that writing and creating can be play. Rules can always be taught later, but a sense of joy, once lost, is very hard to recapture.
  2. Invest in nice quality notebooks and pens. It’s easy to dismiss the very kinesthetic pleasures of writing—the feel of a silky pen flowing across thick, smooth paper. High quality pens and notebooks can bring that extra pleasure to the act of writing. Plus it signals to them that this is a valued activity, one that can feel good physically and one that the adults in their lives value enough to indulge them in.
  3. Give them permission to not show anyone their work if they so choose (even you!). Some people need absolute privacy in which to experiment and risk failure, especially children who are used to doing exceptionally well at things.
  4. Do not critique their writing, even if they beg you. If they are dying for feedback, let them know what they did really well. Or better yet, ask them which part they had the most fun doing.
  5. As hard as it is for us adults, do not weigh down your child's writing with your desires, dreams, and ambitions. If you child loves to write and spends hours writing, do not begin pushing them to become a writer or enter writing contests or in any way burden their writing with expectations of careers or publication. Let writing be one area of their lives that is process oriented rather than result oriented.

[Originally posted at GeekMom.com)

5 Comments on Children: Natural Born Storytellers, last added: 2/28/2011
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21. Bag of Tricks

I talked the other day about my handy dandy back of tricks that I use to coax my characters and stories to reveal themselves to me. As promised, I’m going to detail some of those in this post.

One of those is the brilliant old faithful by Debra Dixon, Goal, Motivation, and Conflict.

It’s a simple concept, one that is often overlooked due to its very simplicity. If you haven’t read Deb’s book, do try to find a copy to check it out because the depth with which she explains the concepts are very worth it.

Basically, Goal, Motivation, and Conflict (GMC) is making sure you know your characters EXTERNAL goal (what she wants) MOTIVATION (why she wants it) and CONFLICT (what’s standing in her way). IN ADDITION to knowing and understanding her INTERNAL goal, motivation, and conflict. The thing is, lots of us might want to be writers or senators or nurses, but chances are we all have very real, very unique, very private reasons we want those things. Doing this exercise ensures that you know what makes your character tick.

When thinking of an INTERNAL goal, it helps me to reframe that as the question, What is lacking in my character's life? What does she need to be fulfilled as a person? What Life Lesson does she need to learn?

I think of the internal motivation as the reason she needs to learn this lesson or the reason she has this great, gaping emotional hole in her life. What bad messages or poor choices she’s made in the past that have kept her from achieving fulfillment. And lastly, the internal conflict can be a couple of things: It can be what is compelling her to hang on to those old messages/lessons that keep her from moving forward, or what event/catalyst has to occur in order to move her forward emotionally.

Make a grid on a piece of paper and see if you can fill in those elements for your character. Even if you think you know them, oftentimes they change or solidify or evolve over the course of the story.

The second tool I use to suss out my characters is a cheat sheet I made from Donald Maass’s book, WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL. He poses some great questions in that book, questions that really help me grow my plot from the seeds of my main character. One of the questions I work with in the beginning is: Define what truly matters to my character. Does she have a tortuous need, consuming fear, aching regret, passionate longing, burning desire, inner lack? (You can probably see that this ties directly into the INTERNAL goal from the above GMC.)

And next I begin character journaling. I begin writing about that character’s emotional scars and wounds. I poke around in her distant past to find out what might have caused them, how they developed, why they didn’t heal. The truth is, often two different people can experience a similar event--or the same event--and only one person is affected or traumatized by them. Because we all have different emotional baggage we're carrying around. I try to get at the heart of why THIS problem is so cataclysmic for THIS character that it tilts their world (either their inner world or their external world) on it's axis.

I try to become that character and see what my subconscious sends up in the way of character memories—often very surprising things bubble up—things that I did not consciously plan or think of, but are perfect nonetheless. Some questions I use to get started are:

When did things begin to go wrong for her? In what way? What were th

7 Comments on Bag of Tricks, last added: 2/22/2011
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22. Thinking, Stewing, Fermenting, and Percolating and the Joys Therein

For the past week I’ve been cogitating on the necessity of thinking to the writing process—or at least MY writing process. And then a few days ago I came across a blog post where someone was talking about how what people NEEDED to do to be a productive/professional writer was to sit down and write one page in an hour. They had done the math, you see. They figured out how long it takes to write an email and computed that into how long it would take to write a page, and if you did that three times during the day, voila! You would have a book—or three—by the end of a year. Mind you, this was a professional writer who made his/her living at writing. They firmly believed that all this thinking and researching and note-taking were simply procrastination measures and by and large useless and not-necessary.

It was all I could do not to pull my hair out by the roots and scream at the computer screen.

It would be one thing if this person had made it clear that it was THEIR process—but to extrapolate it out to the writing public at large was, at best irresponsible, at worst egotistical.

I have written over twenty books, and published thirteen of those. The longer I am involved in this writing gig the more convinced I become that the actual writing—putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard—is sometimes only 20-30% of the writing process. Not because I’m avoiding anything or letting myself be sidetracked, but because good pages don’t just happen. They are thought about and pondered over. They stew and ferment and percolate. This is especially true as my books become longer and more complex. Depth and nuance doesn’t (usually!) just fall from the sky in a burst of inspiration while I happen to be pounding out my 250 words per hour. It can, but it doesn’t always. Most often, you have to go out and hunt depth and layers and subtext and club it over the head, drag it home, and then finesse it into your WIP.

Their point was that fast writers were much better and more likely to be true professionals that slow writers. Gah. Of course, that doesn’t even address the issue of those of us who write some books slowly and others quickly…

The funny thing is, I was wrestling with this very issue before I even stumbled upon this blog post. I had set my Start Date for the medievalteenassassin#2 as Feb. 1. As I said, I’d been gathering research materials and making notes and blocking out the big picture plot things. But try as hard as I might, the story egg was NOT ready to crack yet. Was. Not. Now sure, I wrote a couple of pages. And I could very easily have forced myself to stay there and write X number of pages until I have five pages each day. But what sort of pages would they be? The wrong ones, ones leading into a story I didn’t want to tell. Now sure, you can always fix a bad page—but sometimes committing too early to the wrong story is not helpful. Besides, I could have blindly put words on paper that had no depth, no nuance, no layered meaning, and no subtext, but whatever is the point?

So instead, I pulled out my bag of tricks that I fall back on time and time again to help dig around until I find my character and story. (My next post will detail those tricks—I pinkie swear!) Some, like the above referenced blog poster, would call that procrastination. I call it assembling the material from which I plan to craft my story. Sure, one can build something using any old materials one has on hand. Or. One can look long and carefully for the right materials, the ones that compliment and contrast,

9 Comments on Thinking, Stewing, Fermenting, and Percolating and the Joys Therein, last added: 2/15/2011
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23. The Speech Heard Round The Kid Lit World

Last week at SCBWI’s New York conference, Sara Zarr gave a speech that resounded powerfully with writers everywhere. The crux of the speech was about reclaiming our creative life from the demands of the market and the business side of publishing. There is a great recap of the speech here and here. It was a hugely important speech, and one that I think many, many writers needed—and wanted—to hear. To be given permission to put creativity front and center in their careers again.

I actually feel that I have done a fairly good job of arranging a creative life that sustains me. However, a couple things she said really resonated.

Most of us need to stop doing half of what we’re doing and start doing the other half well.

Yeah, I’m doing too much. I know it. I had hoped by giving myself a month off before starting a new book, I could get caught up and maybe even get ahead. And I did in a couple of areas, but not others. Some days, I am pulled in so many different directions, I hardly know where to start. I don’t think I can quite give up half of what I’m doing, but I can pare way down.

I’m going to cut way back on Twitter and, I think, give up Tweet Chats. Not that I’ve participated in all that many, but it is a bit of a mental pull, and that part I can eliminate. I’ll still pop on there occasionally, but I won’t try to catch up with everyone all the time.

I’m reducing my blog reading by 2/3. Out with all the industry and publishing news, the declarations of the death of the printed book, and the age of the E-Reader. I will keep up with one particular online series, because I think as an author I need to be informed, but not assaulted, which is how I feel sometimes with so much news. And is, now that I think about it, one of the downsides to Twitter—we are absolutely assaulted with news and links.

And yeah, thinking about doing a year long writing workshop here on the blog was a tad overambitious, especially with my Shrinking Violet and GeekMom commitments. Even more difficult though, was I can’t use samples from my work in progress, but the time required to figure out new examples was too much, and even worse, created a second story running through my head, crowding out the work. So I am going to give that up. I will still post craft stuff as I deal with it, but it won’t be quite as structured as I had hoped. Also? I will quit beating myself up when I don’t manage to get a new blog entry posted every week.

A creative life must be sustainable.

And frankly, as I get older my wrists and shoulders are barking at me to spend way less time on the computer. Not just on the computer, but writing in general. I get thumb sprain and index finger strain from writing so much with a pen. My wrists begin flirting with carpel tunnel when I spend too much time on the keyboard, and my shoulders are sick of mousing. So even though I don’t battle the M&M bowl, my current set up is not sustainable, at least not as far as my body is concerned.

It is hard, because I do so much research on the computer. Not just for the books, but for everything—colleges, health issues, politics, current events. Every little fact that crosses my path I usually feel compelled to research. Clearly I need to give some of that up and step away from the computer. So

4 Comments on The Speech Heard Round The Kid Lit World, last added: 2/6/2011
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24. Announcing the Nathaniel Fludd Website

I'm so thrilled to finally be able to announce this news I've been sitting on for a couple of weeks. We have a brand, spanking new Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist website!

Thanks to the brilliance of illustrator Kelly Murphy and her equally brilliant and talented husband, Antoine Revoy, Nate now has a home on the web! Please check it out when you get a chance. There is a bunch of cool extra content such as Nate's 'sketchbook' and a copy of the actual Book of Beasts, as well as the Fludd Family Tree, which shares some of the unique Fludd history.

It is meant to be explored by kids, and we will be adding new content regularly for their reading pleasure. Plus! There is a gallery of kid's fan art, so if your child is an artist, we'd be happy to feature their art.

1 Comments on Announcing the Nathaniel Fludd Website, last added: 2/3/2011
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25. How Writing Careers Are Like Snowflakes

I am feeling a big need to have one hub for all my online activity--probably because I am getting older and finding it harder to keep track of everything. With that in mind, I'm going to start cross-posting from my other blogs/websites here...

How Writing Careers Are Like Snowflakes
(cross-posted from Shrinking Violets)

And no, it’s not because they melt away into nothingness two seconds after hitting the ground. Don’t even let such a negative thought taint your mind!

It’s because no two are ever exactly alike. Pretty simple, huh? But one of the hardest concepts for us authors to grasp. Hell, even publishing professionals have a hard time accepting it, although they are aware of it more than the individual author since they have access to data for all their books.

Someone on Twitter last week (and I can’t for the life of me remember who it was—if it was you, let me know so I can properly credit you!) linked to this year old post by Christina Dodd. The whole post is definitely worth reading, a twenty year’s veteran’s look at the biz, but this nugget in particular really struck me:

9. From my vantage point, everyone in publishing is doing better than I am. From everyone else’s vantage point, I’m doing better than they are. The truth is somewhere in between — and an author who’s published is not going to get any sympathy at all from an unpublished author who’s written for ten years, finished three manuscripts and has twenty-five rejection letters. Believe me. I know. I was that author.

The fear of failure nips at our heels no matter what stage of our career we're in. It is so, so easy to sit from the outside looking in and be certain--absolutely certain--that Author A is a raging success and has it all and their books are selling like hotcakes. But the truth is rarely that simple. The really hilarious thing is I’ve had people say that of me, and I can never hold back a snort of wild disbelief. (See previous paragraph.)

A couple of weekends ago I attended ALA. While there I became convinced of two things.

1. Twitter does help buzz books. I can’t tell you how many times I heard people standing in lines for arcs saying, I heard about this book on Twitter. (Which will be the subject of a future post)

2. A big web presence or Twitter following does not guarantee actual book sales. Standing in line for free ARCs is a very different thing from plunking down cold hard cash for the book

I cannot tell you how many people I’ve talked to over the last month or heard talking on blogs, bemoaning their lack of sales, and yet these people DO have really big followings. These are people who are worried about earning out their advances, whose sales are far below expectations, or who are worried about their next contract. Every single one of them has what I consider to be a pretty healthy--if not downright BIG--web presence.

Which proves precisely what I’ve suspected all along: Big blog/Twitter followings propel a teensy percentage of people to publishing success, but no more and perhaps even less than a greatly written book, an award nomination, or the full force of

2 Comments on How Writing Careers Are Like Snowflakes, last added: 2/1/2011
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