Category Archives: Writing

Life is a series… of series

Having just returned from a quick trip across the Atlantic I had an opportunity to read a couple of books (and load a few as backups). I noticed upon completing these and observing those I’ve loaded that I have a serious series fetish. I personally like coming in when the series is complete so I can binge read, but sometimes that is just not possible. It feels rare these days that you get a book that is one and done – especially in the YA category (although refreshingly, the latest Expiration Day was… I think). EVERYTHING seems to be part of a series. As a wannabe author I’ve read that you should pitch your book (singular) even if you have a series in mind so that you don’t scare away the publishers/agents – but I’ve also read the opposite, if you have a good idea for a series (and can pull it off) put in your query letter that it is a series. I have so many downloaded samples of series starters… I just wish I knew before investing if I was going to be in for a good ride, or if I should stop before I begin.

Anyway – today I wanted to put a lens on these series that I’ve invested in…

Completed series (that I can remember – thank you goodreads):
1) Harry Potter by JK Rowling (beloved beloved beloved)
2) Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien (though admittedly, watched the movies, THEN listened to the BBC book on tape – that series is L O N G)
3) Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (of course… what YA writer hasn’t read these as inspiration?)
4) Divergent by Veronica Roth (though the last one lost steam)
5) Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (again… what happens with these last books?)
6) Sookie Stackhouse Vampire Series by Charlaine Harris (yes I started before True Blood, and she definitely petered out – but watching that HBO series divergence you can see why)
7) His Dark Materials (aka Golden Compass series) by Philip Pullman (definitely started better than it finished, but I do have a dog named Lyra so does deserve a place on this completed list)
8) Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis (at least I think I finished these… 6th grade stuff!)
9) Wool Series by Hugh Howey (so good! recommend for anyone who likes dystopian)
10) Robert Langdon series by Dan Brown (is this one finished? Don’t know, cruised through Inferno this summer)
11) Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (dino-saurs… what’s not to like?)
12) Dragon Tattoo series by Stieg Larson (gripping, good, cruised through all three in short order)
13) 50 shades by EL James (yep. I read them all. Paperback and all, not even hiding behind my kindle. Silly lightweight porn. Could have probably made one good book instead of three mediocre books)
14) Confessions of a Shopaholic Sophie Kinsella (writes a fun/funny main character who is terrible hopeless but makes you feel better about your own plight)

Abandoned series:
1) Anita Blake Vampire Hunter by Laurell Hamilton (the first few were so good – then they just got lazy and pornographic)
2) Meredith Gentry Fairy Series by Laurel Hamilton (same author and same problem as Anita Blake)
3) Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz (liked the first book, did NOT like how it ended, trudged through the second book and didn’t continue)
4) Fire and Ice Series by George RR Martin (aka Game of Thrones – made it half way through book three and didn’t want to meet yet another unimportant character or have to refer to the family glossary in the back to see who was killing whom in which family. TOO Much. Thank you HBO for simplifying – though that Red Wedding was a SHOCKER!)
5) The Boyfriend List series by E. Lockhart (read the first one after meeting the author, didn’t love it enough to want to read more)
6) Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld (read through the first 2 in this series before giving up)
7) The Strain Trilogy by Guillermo del Toro (who doesn’t like a vampire trilogy? me apparently. This started off so well, but then spiraled into mundane, maybe I’ll watch the FX series…)
8) Cormoran Strike series by JK Rowling (definitely not Harry Potter and I apparently don’t like male protagonist detective novels…)
9) The 5th Wave series by Rick Yancey (not even sure another one is coming out – but not a fan, didn’t like the characters)
10) Alex Cross by James Patterson (I did like these, but I think I just stopped grabbing the latest one while at the airport…)
11) Kay Scarpetta series by Particia Cornwell (didn’t mind these either… just stopped reading. Watch Bones now if I need a fix)
12) The Black Jewels by Anne Bishop (I think I read the main three from this dark fantasy series – not bad, but when the main protagonists story completed I wasn’t interested in the side character stories)
13) Caster Chronicles by Kami Garcia (aka at Beautiful Creatures – apparently this is a good series but honestly I didn’t like either of the main characters and the movie was even worse. Couldn’t do it, as much as I like books about witches…)
14) The Inheritance Cycle (aka Eragon series) by Christopher Paolini (impressive first book for a 16yo writer. Actually own the second two in hardback from the series, but haven’t felt the need to pick up a 1000 page hard back…)

Still going strong:
1) Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (just finished the first one of these on the plane – impressive!)
2) Maze Runner series by James Dashner (about to start book 3 of 3 – but haven’t invested in the .5 versions)
3) Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare (gave up on this series after reading the first book, but then picked it up again after watching the cheezy but fun movie, on book 3 of 5 so far)
4) Vampire Academy Series by Richelle Mead (the first one was mildly amusing, strong protagonist, would’ve abandoned, but my friend let me borrow the next couple, so am currently about to read number 3)
5) The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer- another Seattle author, like Richelle (these are clever futuristic takes on fairy tales. About to start 3 in at least a series of 4)
6) Stephanie Plum Bounty Hunter series by Janet Evanovich (these are fun to just pick up and read whenever – no need to rush out and binge I’m on 15 of a still going 21 so far!)
7) MaddAddam/Oryx and Crake series by Margaret Atwood (clever adult dystopian. Didn’t love the protagonist, but the second in the series was highly recommended so will go back)
8) The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon (not quite the ‘next JK Rowling’ as the previews stated, but good enough to preorder the next one)
9) Old Man’s War series by John Scalzi (only have read one of several in this series, but it was funny so I’ll go back some day. Have the second one loaded on ye ole Kindle)
10) Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde (so cleverly written I have to take long breaks inbetween…)
11) The Passage series by Justin Cronin (love this dystopian series…wish I would have found it AFTER he completed it, waiting is painful)
12) All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness (same as The Passage series – waiting for the third book is painful… want it now)

2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Kathy has
read 24 books toward her goal of 52 books.
hide
Advertisements

Writing Rituals & More Reading

Hello Happy Readers (aka Mom and P),

It’s time for an update.  I stayed up too late last night finishing a book and didn’t have the energy to get up and head to the gym at 5:20.  Therefore, I’m writing a blog entry (and if I finish in time I’ll start on a bit of a novel overhaul).

We are two weeks into our third quarter at the University of Washington’s Popular Fiction 1 course.  During this quarter we are discussing the finer points of getting published with our novels and writing the ‘end’.   In our first few classes we’ve learned about how to and are writing a Query Letter for our books, as well as perfecting our elevator pitches.  Mine is still a little weak (e.g. P and I were chatting a week ago and I was telling him about class and he asked me what my elevator pitch was and I had to look up what I wrote in class…).  The fact that I’m struggling so much to get my story into a couple of sentences and a page (for the synopsis) makes me think I need to give the draft another edit and perhaps pull out the parallel story and just focus on my one protagonist for this go.  But need to noodle on that.

The other thing we have talked about in class are writing rituals and how folks who are serious about being professional authors all have them.  This writing ritual is something you do that helps you get into a regular writing groove; go to a coffee shop around the same time each day and order a drink and sit and start writing, wake up at 4am and writer for two hours before work, walk around greenlake to get your thoughts together then write for a couple of hours.  I personally do not have a ritual yet.  I am a morning person – and should set up my writing ritual in the AM before work.  I have to work out a few challenges 1) I like to go to the gym (I NEED TO GO TO THE GYM) M/W/F at 5:30.  2) T/Th present day I’ve been getting up and playing video games… which while part of my job, I could forgo to write if I really WANTED to… I am feeling inspired though, and our latest game (Elder Scrolls) has been a little lame so perhaps now is the time to start a new writing ritual.

The reading challenge is still ON like Donkey Kong!  I’m actually a couple of books ahead right now in part due to a nice plane ride down the west coast and a short little book of poems written by a dog… 🙂  I’ve read eight books since my last post on March 2nd, even some from the list I said I was going to read next!  ha!  Here are some quick notes in the order that I personally liked them:

1) A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron I agree with another reviewer- this W. Bruce probably is a dog.  The book, written from a dog’s POV, is one of the best I’ve read this year.  Touching, funny, and an interesting exercise in point of view.  AND since my two loyal blog readers are reading now I won’t give away any spoilers – but it’s good.  GET reading!

2) Carrie by Stephen King – yup, Stephen King.  That’s right folks.  My second Stephen King book, though not sure we should count his autobio/writing book, as it was all non-fiction.  I really liked Carrie.  I’ve never had the urge to read Stephen King.  His stories and movies always seem so overwrought.  But after reading the story of how Carrie came to be (his wife pulled a draft out of the garbage and loved the flawed, SERIOUSLY flawed main protagonist, encouraged Stephen to finish it and turn it into his publisher – and it became his first published book).  It was pretty fantastic.  All over the place from a POV and setting perspective as it jumps from Carrie’s story, to a bystanders story, to telekinesis researchers articles, to newspaper clippings and interviews of ‘the incident’.  Short book – must read if you’ve never read a Stephen King book.  I may actually read another of his… 🙂

3) Scarlet (the Lunar Chronicles) by Marissa Meyer.  First, Marissa is my hero. I know I’ve written a review about her already.  She’s in her 20’s, wrote both Cinder (her first published book) and Scarlet during NaNoWriMo and lives just south of me in Tacoma Washington (plus she wrote me back when I sent her a note through her blog.  :))  I love that she’s taken fairy tales  (Cinder is about a young borg servant who works for a mean lady and her two step daughters, and it culminates at the prince’s ball… and Scarlet is about a young French woman with lovely red hair who meets up with a gruff young man who’s in a gang called a wolf pack while investigating her grand-mere’s disappearance) and turned them on their head in her Lunar Chronicles series.  I also love that her protagonists are kick ass young women.  I’ve already downloaded Cress which is the third in the series.

4). I Could Chew On This: and Other Poems by Dogs by Francesco Marciuliano.  This is a sweet little book of poems written by dogs.  Super fun to read these out loud to friends and family members who also appreciate a good poem by a dog.

5). The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.  This is an acclaimed story written from the POV of an autistic teenager.  V. interesting but a little frustrating to read.  This was recommended during class by the same person who recommended The Fault in Our Stars.  I didn’t like it nearly as much as the Fault – but it was still a well written story.  Not much about the dead dog – I don’t want you readers to think all I read are books about dogs… not true! 🙂

6). ttyl (Internet Girls #1) by Lauren Myracle.  I picked up this book after the AWP conference.  An excellent exercise in point of view, this YA book is written entirely with text messages between three best friends.  The author actually gets away with using pink font in this best seller to differentiate one of the texters.  I liked a couple of things in this book 1) that it is completely in text and therefore there is practically NO setting in this book at all (I struggle with setting!) and 2) that you can actually see the story progress through a normal story path, even while written entirely in text messages.  Brilliant.  I didn’t like it enough to read the next one in the series though.

7). The Boyfriend List:  15 Guys, 11 Shrink Appointments, 4 Ceramic Frogs and Me, Ruby Oliver (#1) by E. Lockhart.  This was another AWP find.  I went to a panel with the author on it.  This one I didn’t really enjoy, mainly because the protagonist was so annoying.

8).  Yoga Bitch: One Woman’s Quest to Conquer Skepticism, Cynicism, and Cigarettes on the Path to Enlightenment by Suzanne Morrison.  Another AWP find.  Went to a reading of this and a few other humorous memoirs.  Loved the writer and her reading of the memoir, but upon reading the book myself found that I wasn’t a big fan of memoirs or yoga and was a little bored.

2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Kathy has
read 17 books toward her goal of 52 books.
hide

AWP Notes

The AWP was in Seattle this weekend.  AWP stands for Association of Writer’s and Writing Programs.

I was unaware of this conference until about two weeks ago when a bowling buddy of mine (and published poet) asked me if I was going – and that if not I absolutely should as this was a ‘biggie’ as far as writing conferences was concerned and traveled around the US each year.  I mentioned it to my classmates and someone discovered we received a significant discount as a student, so we signed up.

The conference ran Thursday through Saturday, and they said over 14k attendees showed up.  This was my first non-nerd conference as an attendee – and at first it was odd to see so many professionals w/o Batman or Pokémon costumes on – but quickly I got into the grove and attended 3 days worth of panel talks inbetween conference calls and other work meetings (lots of driving Thursday and Friday!).

In addition to downloading about 50 samples of books from the different speakers (and dropping some coin in the YA section of Barnes and Nobel on the way out each day) here are the tips I picked up:

Thursday Recap:

Topic: It’s Funny Because It’s True
Panelists:

All three wrote memoirs (non-fiction), though embellished for laughs.  All three read from their memoirs to start the morning.  I downloaded samples of the first two.  The second one sounded good – but was about mommyhood and that is not my cup o tea.

Tips on writing humor (fiction or non-fiction)

  1. Humor should ‘sneak’ up on      the reader.  If they see the      joke/comedy coming it won’t be as funny/impactful
  2. Rule of three – in some cases      repeating the funny thing in different ways becomes funnier as it becomes      less obtuse
  3. When you are writing      something you think is hilarious be sure to take a step back and look at      it from 30k feet to make sure other people will think it is as funny as      you do (esp. in non-fiction, because you are writing from memory)
  4. Sometimes people use humor to      avoid writing about other things – dig deep and find out what it is you      really want to write about.  Be      honest with yourself and you’ll find your writing is better.
  5. With memoir humor when you      look critically at yourself (self deprecating) it is easier to make fun of      others
  6. Difference between Wit and      Comedy?  With a ‘witty voice’ you      don’t need comedic scenes.  True      comedic scenes are hard.

Topic: Commercial Literary Fiction (Not an Oxymoron): The Place of Craft in Writing and Teaching Children’s and Young Adult Literature

Panelists:

Impressive group of ladies – with over 100 titles published among them.  I downloaded samples from Micol and Nova.  They were all quite complimentary of each other as well.  They all recommended Sara Zarr’s podcast, and were impressed with Nova’s invitations to writing fellowships (where apparently you get to hole up on someone’s dime and write for an extended period.  COOL!)

They also recommended several other kid-lit authors/books that I might mention throughout that I’ve either downloaded samples or bought (thank you Kindle for immediate gratification!).

Book/Author recco Robert Cormier’s Chocolate War (heard this recco in two other panels so it’s now been downloaded to my Kindle.)

Difference between YA and Middle Grade? YA teens like looking in the mirror and understanding themselves, MG like looking out the window and discovering the world.   In BOTH cases the POV is close up whether that be in first person or a very close third person.

Everyone should have a one sentence pitch for their idea/book.  Micol started as an editor/publisher so hammered this point home and I think she’s right.  It’s your books elevator pitch.  Come on people.  I know it’s your baby, but getting it down to one sentence is a must.  They suggested “XX meets XX”  – for instance “Indiana Jones meets The Hitchhiker’s Guide” or something of the like with popular notions that anyone could grasp quickly.

Most of them (outside of Micol) started by writing what they wanted to write, not thinking about what audiences wanted to read.  They quickly found though by commercializing a bit (adding a ‘big moment’ – Sara suggested a dead body or a bag of cash as examples) your novel can quickly become more exciting/commercially relevant.

For Commercial YA think about starting you book with something happening, not pages of dialog or setting.  YA Commercial doesn’t mean EASY either.

There are no topics off limits anymore (see Friday morning’s panel for more on this – yow).  YA is more about the immediacy of the main character and their age than subject matter (hence why The Book Thief is a YA book, even though it’s about Nazi’s and horrible things during the holocaust).

Recommended exercises from Stephanie who teaches at the Hugo House in Seattle:

1) Write four paragraphs about your main character’s hands and what they are doing at that moment.  Get into the immediacy of the character.
2) An exercise to help you understand your character is to write down what in their ‘life’ changes them the most.  It may not end up in the book but it will help you understand your character better.

Nova recommended that you know while writing your first two paragraphs of your book you know what the ending is and incorporate some clues/hooks in the first page that you’ll come back to in the end.  These may be so subtle in the beginning that only you as the author see them, but they will help you stay on track.

Then I had to go back to Redmond for meetings and a 1 hour publisher meeting turned into 3 so I skipped the rest of the panels I wanted to see.  Hopefully my writing buddies took some notes.

Friday Recap:

Topic: Warning Extreme Content: Sex, Drugs, and Abuse as Themes in YA Lit
Panelists:
Ann Angel
Kekla Magoon
Carrie Jones

This was quite the way to wake up.  Yesterday comedy, today brutal topics like abuse, racism, bullying, suicide, sex and yes – the Black Panthers.

There are two types of abuse individual/personal and social/cultural (the way people are treated by society in general).  Investigating these topics in writing can be painful and hard – but they are happening to kids today and if you can connect with one kid that is having a similar issue it makes it worth it to these authors who take risks.

In YA and Middle Grade you run into gate keepers; parents, teachers, librarians, media that will try to stop you from telling your story.  Once a ‘Extreme Content’ label is slapped on a book it draws both good and bad attention.

Carrie Jones presented the sex portion of the talk and she was hilariously nervous.  (need to check out her Need series – she seemed fun).  Fun facts about SEX – in 2001 (!!) 47% of teens self reported having sex (to the CDC).  Kids find a way to get books with racy content (think back to when we were little Wifey… anyone? Flowers in the Attic?).

Sex, drinking, and drugs are all things that teens deal with whether they read about them or not.  But remember that if it is a plot element that it STILL needs to move the story along.  Don’t just have sex for sex’s sake.  😉  (as someone in video game marketing I say AMEN to this.  Call of Duty doesn’t make killers or deranged teenagers).

They recommended checking out the website Thepiratetree.com for even more info.

Lots of book reccos in this one.  Here are a few that I’m considering checking out:
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Cut by Patricia McCormick
Scars by Cheryl Rainfield
Shine by Lauren Myracle (and for something lighter, but still banned: ttyl – done completely in text messages (one I bought at B&N) and yet another – they really liked this Lauren gal  The Infinite Moment of Us.

Topic: Magic and Intellect

Panelists:

So far, my panels have been excellent.  Funny, great engaging speakers, and they’ve given me at least a couple of nuggets to take away and think about.  There were two panels that I wanted to attend during this time slot.  Let’s just say on this one I chose poorly (I say this whilst thinking of the poor chap in the third Indiana Jones movie who drank from the wrong chalice and promptly aged himself to dust).  I wished I would have gone to the one that had Vampires, Aliens and Fae in the title… sigh.  But alas, here is a quick recap.  First from the program since I clearly didn’t read this very well:

In her essay “The Deep Zoo” Rikki Ducornet writes: “the work of the writer is to move beyond the simple definitions or descriptions of things… and to bring a dream to life through the alchemy of language; to move from the street—the place of received ideas—into the forest—the place of the unknown.”  On this panel five fiction writers intend to describe, depict, illustrate, and otherwise expose this movement from known to unknown in order to ask: what do we mean when we say “magic”?

Okay – interesting right?  Well.  Each person took a turn at the podium and unfortunately it started off poorly and never recovered.  Let me say that they could have had double the size room for this panel. It was PACKED to the gills.  Lots of people are interested in magic apparently.  There were people standing 3-4 deep against the walls, all of the floor space was covered and nary a seat was empty.  I had two ladies sit on either side of me in the front row and have a conversation on top of me.  That was weird, but they settled down once the discussion started.

The first person got up to speak and had a stack of papers she was reading from.  To this point in my AWP experience I’ve had folks engaging either by reading their own (comedic) books, free speaking in a panel, or presenting a couple of slides with book images on them.  This was the first person who had typed pages to read from.  And read from them she did.  In a monotonous voice.  Poor thing.  I couldn’t tell if what she was reading was her presentation or someone’s work or some personal thoughts – VERY confused (and I didn’t hear anything about magic, though I was probably expecting Harry Potter fireworks so my bad there), and then it got better/worse as she said, now I’m going to read from a new novel that I’m putting out… DEAR GOD  for the next fifteen minutes she talked about different ways to kill babies.  Some were the dead baby jokes of a few years ago (Thanks Chenelle for educating me there, I just thought she was twisted).  After about 15 minutes with no sign of letting up some dude standing the back of the room yells out “WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH MAGIC AND INTELLECT?”  after a shocked pregnant pause from the reader he continued with something about how this was the third panel he’d been to that was misrepresented (he wasn’t reading the descriptions very well either) and she was going on FAR too long about dead babies.  A few others murmured their agreement and then some audience members started sticking up for the author talking about how she was evoking emotion from him and the passage was doing it’s job… and then he countered with I’ve waiting 20 years to see Rikki speak and I would just like to see this moving along (fair enough..).  Then the other panelists came to her defense, including Rikki and she continued.  He and several others left the room (though it was still over fire code limit I’m sure in capacity).  She finished her reading a few moments later and then sat at her spot and cried for 15 minutes.  AWKWARD.  Honestly – I’m not sure what any of the other presenters said because by then the room had become a psychology experiment and I was watching the audience to see their reactions/movements.

I do remember another speaker; Anna I think talking about birds as symbols for a really long uncomfortable time.

The ONE thing that I took away from the talk (aside from shock and awe that there are hecklers at book conferences) was that when you are writing about magic think about two symbols; Symbol 1 – your symbol to represent Magic in your mind.  Symbol 2 – your symbol to represent intellect.  Always be thinking about those and referencing them when writing to keep your writing clean/clear.   Or something.  honestly, WTF.  time for another panel.

Topic: Authors & Editor: The Relationship that Builds a Book

Panelists:

This was a refreshingly normal panel in a GIANT (Star Trek Convention Las Vegas Style) ballroom.  The moderator posed questions for the authors and the editor and they answered honestly and in Chuck’s case pretty humorously (need to watch Fight Club again, his books are too dark for me but Brad Pitt…).  Some of the questions:

1) How do you develop a level of trust with your editor 9or workshop group) when sending him work?  Answers:  recognize their authority and skill.  Articulate what works and what doesn’t up front so everyone’s level set properly. Surround yourself with clever people, who have a memory of your past work to draw from.

Don’t use your editor/agent as a therapist – be a professional they aren’t there to FIX your work (or your problems) – present them with finished work and see where it goes from there.

2) Do you ever get to a point where you don’t think you need an editor?  Answer: resounding NO from each.

3) How do you use your workshop process to improve?  Answer (Chuck/Monica) they meet WEEKLY (still!) in Portland.  It is exciting and fun with not competitive with each other.  The push each other to be better.  It is a good natural competition (unlike an MFA workshop where everyone is competing for attention).

4) What happens if you have a BAD writer in your workshop/group? Answer (Chuck/Monica) lie and tell them the group is disbanding… No – if you have a good ratio of great writers and bad writers then you can actually learn something from the bad AND possibly help them get better.  Answer from Jess – his one workshop only he and another person were really serious about it, most wouldn’t read the pages before group or would fake it and come in w/ lame feedback like “I didn’t understand it…”.  He kept the one serious person as a ‘beta reader’ and ditched the rest.

Topic: What I wish I knew before starting Writing for YA and Middle Grade

Panelists:

This was one of the most informative panels from a YA perspective.  The writers on the panel were v. knowledgeable about the industry and genre.   They all were from Minnesota and knew each other as well which lead to some fun banter.  Some notes:

* Open the door immediately to the story.  Can’t have four pages of setting/description like an adult novel.  The narrator should be in your face/close up.  Not an adult looking back on a story of a kid or removed 3rd person POV.

* Start with something happening!  ACTION.  DIALOG. EXCITEMENT.  Get to the story quickly.

* Think about the economy of words – shrink a chapter down to a page, a page down to a paragraph, and a paragraph down to a sentence for younger audiences.

*Writerly writing is NOT impressive to these audiences.

*Read lots of different kid lit.  Understand your audience, the toys they’re using, the dialog they’re using, their physical experiences of being a teenager.  LOTS of HORMONES – not just kissing scenes – but always raging with emotion.  Keep up – these teen experiences are changing all the time (e.g. Facebook is NO longer for kids… only adults use it.  Find out what they’re using to be authentic if you’re story is modern).  Be around kids (even if you don’t have them – go to malls, movies, schools to see how they interact).

* Immerse yourself in what you want to write.  Don’t be afraid to write.

* When you’re done with your book (or have a favorite YA/MG book) underline the sad parts in blue (crayon) and the happy/funny parts in red (crayon) in the end your page should be purple for balance.  You want a balance on every page.

* Develop your ‘teen voice’ – they will notice if you sound forced.  Watch TV, Movies, and read books that are teen focused (and good) to get a good sense.

*Your audience is teenaged (and sometimes/more times now older) – but you have several gatekeepers who are also reading/commenting on your books: Parents, Editors, Librarians, Teachers,  – all with thoughts on what is appropriate.

*YA is VERY fast paced – not a lot of pauses to look around.

* The community likes to participate in your writing – so be a STRONG social media person (example John Green).

*Join SCBWI, go to workshops, conferences, check out their blue boards and forums.

Book reccos:

Topic:  The Middle Matters:  How Fiction Writers Approach the Middle of their Stories

Panelists:

Again I must start with the description from the AWP site:   With so much attention to the beginning and ending of stories, this panel will focus on the neglected middle.  By examining a variety of works of fiction by acclaimed writers, we will explore interesting and innovative choices writers have made in the middle of their work.  What can a writer accomplish in the middle?  What formal choices have writers made in the middle?  Hinges, turns, crucial scenes, character growth, and other means of developing a work of fiction will be discussed.

I thought this would be a great capper to the day as this is what we’re currently studying at the UW (Saggy Middles).  It was a pretty long day with few breaks and my coffee had worn off hours before.  The time was spent reading different well written excerpts from short and longer stories from famed authors like James Joyce, Milton, and Dante… My challenge though was that we didn’t really talk or dissect why those middles were so strong.   It made me appreciate my class that much more.  We may have some wacky assignments that don’t make a lot of sense, but paired with the readings you understand as a writer that you need to make the middle strong to carry your reader to the climax.

Saturday Recap – I only attended one panel today but it was probably my favorite of the lot.  So I’m glad I hauled myself over to Seattle.

Topic: Never Grow Up: Building a Life in Children’s and Young Adult Fiction

Panelists:

Loved this panel.  Impressive ladies, with great stories and energy.  Most of them got their start after college (all studying English in some form it seemed, Robin was a Harvard grad…whoa) in publishing or working with publishers.  Sarah who was deeeelightful – started at Harlequin up in Canada – started writing ‘New Adult’ when there wasn’t a category like that and she and her editor/publisher/agent built a career around it.  (promptly bought a compilation of her  Magic in Manhattan book at B&N after the show).  Robin started at Scholastic editing the bottom of the barrel stuff (since she was newbie on the totem) and after doing that for a while felt she COULD absolutely do better. (want to read her stuff as well – need to check amazon).

Sarah asked a few questions and the panel each took a turn answering.  The first was how did they get their start (above), the second was whether they experienced a Sophomore Slump.

RW: After finishing her first series (7 Deadly Sins – 7 books which she really counts as one) she tried her hand at a more serious topic “Hacking Harvard”  – at the suggestion of her publisher.  She thought the idea of the book was perfect for her – but in reality it was the hardest thing she ever tried to write (I downloaded the sample).

AG: After her first book about fairytales/fables went well she started in on her second, and it fizzled for her.  She had to do some reexamining on whether or not she really was an author (and she remained an author!).  By her third book she had really done some personal digging and it shows in the writing.  It is more honest and true to her.

EL: Her first publication was a picture book that was met successfully.  Afterwards she thought she could do no wrong and went to pitch her next idea to her publisher – who promptly turned her down outright.   This lead her to do some thinking about picture books and that she really didn’t understand what they were but got v. lucky with the first one.

SM:  Her first book was quazi memoir-like and she was afraid that after writing it she had used up all of her funny jokes and wouldn’t have anything else to write about.  Her next book she took a stab at writing a book about 3 roommates, from each of their 1st person point of view (which at the time hadn’t been done before).  She found that she really had to work at making each voice sound unique and different, and in a voice that was but wasn’t hers.

Recommended to follow Holly Black (several times throughout the panel).  Recommended Gordon Korman – former child prodigy (published at age 12) prolific writer of YA/MG.  Recommended a site called Wattpad – for real feedback from readers.

Question to panel: Who do you model your career after?  (must have 10 years more experience…)

Answers weren’t so much who, but how they thought about this process and how different the answers are.  Some wanted to be superstars (a la Cassandra Clare), others wanted to have an impact (a la Robert Cormier) and still others wanted to teach and mentor and put out a title every 10 years or so.

Question to panel:  How do you handle review/reviewers?

  • EL:  Look for the trades ‘star’ or ‘no star’ and check the box.  Never reads Good Reads.  You need to be able to block out the noise and ‘keep on swimming’ (my words not hers).
  • RW: wants the ‘star’ to check the box, as the publishers will do more if you get stars.  DOES look at Goodreads (et. al) because she wants to look for themes in bad reviews.
  • SM: reads goodreads but only to improve the next version in a series, because by the time goodreads reviews come out there isn’t anything you can do about the book – it’s done and published.  you can only impact future writing.
  • All reviewers are customers/audience – tune out the idiots.

Question to Panel: When did you get an agent?

  • RW – sadly two books into a seven book series – had a horrific agent experience and was shy about getting one after, but ended up finding a great one that she’s stuck with since.
  • SM – was able to interview potentials f2f because she had a two book deal from Harlequin.
  • AG – an agent should bring something to the relationship that you don’t have (a strength that you’re missing)
  • EL – when you start earning money you should have an agent

Okay – what a fun time that was.  Next up the SCBWI conference here in Seattle.  Now back to the saggy middle for me!

Rip Van Winkle has nothing on me!

Hello Readers (aka Mom…)

When we last spoke I expressed that something in my busy fall schedule needed to give. I was working, traveling, writing, blogging, going to a writing class, taking an online anthro class, and trying to read 52 books in 52 weeks (and doing this crazy diet contest with a bunch of people, but that is another story).  I thought that I would be okay just giving up the Anthro class (was a free online course so not really a huge deal if I deferred for a bit).

I ended up being laser focused on work, travel, writing class, dieting and reading. I dropped the anthro class and the blogging, and sadly didn’t quite make 52 in 52  – though read a lot of great books last year (read 48 books I think – which is pretty good considering I started in June tracking my books!).

Now we’re in 2014 and I’ve just passed a milestone birthday (not one with a 0 at the end, but a 5, which is almost as impactful when you’re filling out surveys and the like – I’m not in a new category, blech.) and thinking I need to get BACK into the blogging aspect of the above goals.

The goals of course have been modified slightly this year – yup, I’m a resolution kind of gal (I like goals and deadlines… work better under pressure).  So here they are for all to see (and heck it’s the first day of A month, just not the month – so it’s almost like you’ve been with me the whole time).

1) Read a lot (achieve 52 in 52 this year – no excuses)

2) Keep writing (I am in class until June so that will help.  I’ve also entered a writing contest – yep. that’s write…er right, this shit just got real sort of – more on that later too) & try to keep up on this blog business, if only to work through exercises and keep track of the books I’m reading.

3) Keep on that healthy track.  The diet contest is every other month, which is GREAT during the month, but v. binge worthy when not in the contest.  More on that later

4) De-clutter – always a goal.  Mine this year was the office and closet spaces.  Paul has the kitchen and garage (God help him, we’re Hoarders contestants in there).

5) Couple other financial goals but you don’t need to know those – needless, they’re lofty but attainable with some dedication (and avoidance of Zappos.com).  🙂

2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Kathy has
read 9 books toward her goal of 52 books.
hide

Reading, reading and more reading…

Okay – class(es) are in full swing. I think taking the writing class and the anthro class that P wanted to take online MIGHT have been biting off more than I can chew. I LOVE LOVE LOVE the writing class. So fun and interesting and I’m really learning a lot. I fear that my interest in writing and the writing class have overshadowed the Anthro class. I’m trying to keep up – but if I don’t get my homework done with P then I fall really far behind. And – since it is a real college course, they have a lot of homework.

Sigh. I wish I had enough energy for both. It is fun taking a class with P. With NANO and launch around the corner, something will have to give.

That said – still on a reading tear. A little bit at a time, and still 5 books behind making my goal of 52 in 52.  I have a quick flight tonight to LA and then back Sunday  – on which I won’t be bringing my surface so no tv/movie distractions!  I currently have 4 books rolling.  Ender’s Game  by Orson Scott Card) – I know, I know, controversy – Orson Scott – not a nice dude.  But I can’t continue to have my scifi geek card if I don’t read this one), Dark Places by Gillian Flynn, A Memoir on Writing by Stephen King (recommended by my prof), and Strunk and White’s Element of Style (again, and this was recommended by Stephen King).   The latter 3 are all actual books, the first is on my kindle.  I’ll bring two with me on this trip so I can read during take off and landing too! 🙂  Let’s see if I can get through two in three days.

2013 Reading Challenge

2013 Reading Challenge
Kathy has
read 38 books toward her goal of 52 books.
hide

I just finished reading my favorite book of the year – Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. He wrote a magical, nerdy, nostalgic book about a geeky gamer who is trying to find the ultimate ‘easter egg’ (gaming term for a hidden code in a video game that gives the player a prize) within a massive open world/mmo video game and win a multibillion dollar fortune. All the 80’s references were AWESOME. And gave me an opportunity to reach out to the author and asked him how he obtained permission for all of the lyrics and other references in the book. It was insane. And written in first person – very fun. I have recommended it to about 20 people as required reading if you are in the gaming industry. 🙂

So on top of all this reading (to hone my ‘craft’ don’t you know…) I also am writing for class and getting ready for NanoWriMo starting November 1st.   This week we got our first homework back – and the prof said after two additional days of lecture and learning that she wanted us all to rewrite our openings taking her feedback in mind.  PHEW.  Having read my piece out loud to P, I wanted to rewrite a bunch of things too.  So that is our homework this week.

One of the things I love about class is that we write each week.  She gives us a topic (week two – write an interview with your main character to learn more about him/her) and we write for about 20 minutes then she asks for volunteers to read out loud for critiques.   She also taught us how to properly critique constructively and positively.  This week’s writing exercise was to write about the catalyst (the point in the story where the ‘hero’ decides to go willingly or unwillingly on their ‘journey’ – think when Luke Skywalker first meets the droids and there is a message for ObiWan that needs to be delivered, then his farm and aunt/uncle are killed forcing him to go on this journey).

My story (for class anyway) has a willing hero going to college, so figuring out the catalyst has been challenging my brain a bit.  In class this week, I wrote the below dialog to help determine what my catalyst is (the protagonist wants to go to college, but does she know where she wants to live yet?  Having spent the past 8 years living on a studio lot, keeping her real identity a secret – would living amongst 50k students be a) overwhelming and/or b) ruin her cover?  Anywhoo – I didn’t have enough time to finish the thought, but I DID volunteer to read out loud in class.  My content is so simple and happy compared to the rest of the epic saga’s  I wanted to get some feedback early.  I did get some good feedback – none really negative though.  This probably means that the story is SO simple they don’t know how to actually say that.  ha!

Oh well – I’m having a good time.

 

Great Openings and then some…

As I prepared to read and reread and write and rewrite my 3 page opening for writing class, I thought it would do me some good to reread a few of my favorite books openings.

I selected the following for this exercise; The Great Gatsby, Lord of the Rings (Fellowship), Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Marley and Me, The Princess Bride, War of the Worlds and Twilight. I was looking for variety in voice, genre, and point of view. I really should find a few more like Marley and Me since of the books I selected, that is the most ‘mundane’ of them (and subsequently the most like my idea for a book for class).

Some notes on these openings; 3 were written in 3rd person POV (Bride, LOTR, Potter), 3 in 1st person POV (Twilight, Marley, and Gatsby), and War of the Worlds almost felt like omniscient while still 3rd person.

4 were more people/character focused (Gatsby, Marley, LOTR, and Princess Bride), while the other three were more environment driven (in my opinion anyway – Potter, Twilight – poor rainy rainy northwest, and War of the Worlds – did you know there was intelligent life on Mars?).

A few of them had pretty giant prologues – Bride for instance is almost 1/4 of the book written to explain that this is an abridged version of a classic, but with the boring bits taken out. LOTR has pages and pages of notes on things concerning hobbits and pipeweed and the Shire to help set the setting, and fill in the blanks if you were one of the few people who didn’t read the Hobbit before reading Lord of the Rings. Others, like Gatsby – just jumped right into the the narrative, and really a narrative on that part – as the person narrating is an observer of Gatsby’s life, not Gatsby himself. With Twilight and Potter – I had a bit more time rereading and trying to forget how many times I’ve seen the movies, but interestingly – Twilight (just like in the movie) starts off with the ending where she’s being attacked by one of the rogue vampires, with a quick 1/2 page prologue – thought not sure it’s called a prologue if it’s really what happens at the end of the book during the main conflict.

Some of the books were tiny (WotW was less than 60k words – which in today’s world wouldn’t be considered a full novel really) – but really dense with tiny font and slim margins. Where as others looked dense (Twilight, 130k words) at 500 pages, but used giant font and large margins (probably to not scare off the YA readers it was aimed at). And then there was just giant – LOTR – but that was also because we have the trilogy all bound together (1125 pages – including a glossary and maps at then end and the beginning).

I’ll take a stab at genres:
LOTR – Fantasy (Epic)
War of the Worlds – Sci-Fi
The Great Gatsby – Literature
Marley & Me – Comedy (autobiographical – about a DOG)
The Princess Bride – Comedy (imo – but looking it up it actually is categorized ‘fantasy/romance’)
Twilight – YA/Thriller

All of these things make me question a couple of things 1) if mine is YA – is there a subgenre, and do I even read books like this? 2) I’ve planned a prologue to set the stage of their life before college – but does that become my opening? 3) I’ve always assumed I’d write with a 3rd Person POV – but seeing so many of these that I sampled had a 1st person – including Twlight, was sort of surprising. Come to think of it, I think Divergent (another YA thriller) was first person as well. I wonder if that is common with YA books. Need to investigate further. Potter certainly wasn’t.

Good news – I have 4-5 pages to play with now. Time to refine before the first critique.

Another thing I need to figure out – this book is going to have a lot of musical references, perhaps even some lyrics when my main character is singing along with her favorite songs – what are the copyright rules on things like that? Can you use lyrics in books that aren’t yours? I’ve seen authors reference musical artists or songs in books – though I can’t recall reading lyrics. Must research that as well.

Off with me! (woops – !!, not allowed to use explanation points in class all year. ALL YEAR. I need to be able to exude excitement/anger/anxiousness without using punctuation. I use a lot of !!. Need to start cleaning that business up.

It was a dark and stormy night….

How much trouble do you think I would be in if I used that as my opening line for my ‘novel’ in class?

I pulled myself out of a deep slumber at 5:30am this morning (with a little help from the monsters below who wanted to pee and get their breakie) to do some writing.   Or at least to get an idea of what direction I want to write. monsters

Instead I have now caught up on this season’s Vampire Diaries episodes (anyone else getting Buffy flashbacks – the girls have gone to college), and now The Originals (anyone else wondering why 200 years ago in New Orleans their other “Original” siblings – who have since died at the hands of bad guys in Mystic Falls in this century haven’t shown up? I mean, they were alive back in THAT day right?  and horror the wigs… o vey).the_originals__v_promo_poster_by_ryodambar-d5ypepb  I’ve made it through the first episode and there has been no mention of the what, 2 or 3 other siblings?  The-Original-Family-the-vampire-diaries-tv-show-28896766-750-563 Did I imagine them? I love how on the Originals we now have Vampires, Werewolves, Witches, Hybrids AND an unborn who knows what.  How much weirder can it get.  Funny enough though – one of the characters in The Originals (Elijah) is high school mates with my work buddy.  We just happen to be chatting about paranormal and my work mate mentioned it on Friday – not knowing I was a fan.  Now to arrange an intro.  🙂 I do like that they gave Phoebe Tonkin (Hayley) a new home.  She was the only character interesting on The Secret Circle.

Currently I’m torn.  I want to write.  I can’t decide if I want to write normal or paranormal for the rest of the year.  I prefer to watch/read paranormal (my favorite showed this season so far are:  Sleepy Hollow, Vampire Diaries, Once Upon a Time, and am looking forward to Grimm, Walking Dead, Tomorrow People, and getting into Once Upon a Time in Wonderland – whoa that seems like a lot of TV considering how much I need to accomplish this year).  I even got a steal of a deal on a book on how to write paranormal (there is  A LOT of world creation to be done).  But when I think about the daunting task of actually writing paranormal I get hung up on all of that world creation.  FOR instance, if I wanted to write about an immortal race – what do I do about the young people and the old people?  What do I do about people’s jobs – I mean, honestly, who would want a job in a grueling blue collar job (e.g. picking apples) for over 100 years?  I get bogged down in figuring that stuff out rather than focusing on the actual story and making that good.

I have an idea, at least a scrap of an idea for a paranormal book.  One thought is for class I go with the more mundane college girl YA story to get the basics down, and then for Nano and along side work on this paranormal thing.  That way when I get frustrated with the world building, I can take a break.  perhaps.  BUT – how does the mundane stack up against my fellow students?  I would say 75-80% of the class was going fantasy/sci-fi, and of those almost 100% were YA.  I guess mundane might be a nice break, or could just ostracize me from the real discussions.  Nah… that won’t happen.  I’m a nosy type A person who won’t be left out of the discussions.  And the discussions will actually  help me with my paranormal idea.  I’ve been noodling the ‘two fer’ idea since class last week and I think that is what I’ll do.  Start up the paranormal for Nano in November. I know it will create double the work – plus Paul is committed to this Anthro class we’re taking through EDX.org – so I’ll have that to worry about as well.  Hopefully I can manage.  We don’t have any travel in November and many of the football games will be away – so that means weekends will be ripe with catching up.

One final thought before I get moving… Why the heck do they think the Vampire Diaries/Originals audience would be interested in buying the first season of China Beach?  blah.  Give me Buffy or Angel or heck even that crappy Kindred show before you give me some MASH knockoff.  lordy.  Bad target marketing WB on demand people.