Saturday, January 30, 2010
For The Secret Year
For Chasing Brooklyn
Congratulations to all the winners!! Drop me a line at tabitha at tabithaolson dot com with your snail address, and I'll get those books out to you as soon as I can.
For the rest of you, stop by next saturday to see what I'm giving away next month! And, there's going to be something extra for all you writers, so come back next weekend to find out what it is!
Thursday, January 28, 2010
This book has had much hype around it, even before its release. I am always wary of hype, because books don’t usually live up to it.
I thought this book was okay. I thought the paranormal aspects were fairly unique, and I really enjoy it when a story has a long family history associated with it. But I didn’t love the story. The pacing was too slow, and there were too many times when I was relaxed and not concerned about the characters. There were some intense moments, but they were few and far between, and I was easily lulled into a strange sense of security. This made it too easy to set the book down.
The characters weren't as developed as I wanted them to be, either. Ethan's voice felt too feminine to me. Actually, when I first started reading, I thought the story was from Lena's perspective, just based on the voice. Then, after I adjusted to Ethan's voice, he didn't feel real to me. His entire character felt cliche, like the teenage girl's ideal boyfriend, not what boys are actually like.
Then there was the setting. I have family both in the south and in rural Midwest, and I have gone to visit these places often. Each of them has a different feel, because the people do and say certain things. In small towns, people are both wary and insanely curious about outsiders (even family members who have visited countless times before). In the south, southern hospitality is intrinsic everywhere. Also, the vocabulary is different. BEAUTIFUL CREATURES is supposed to take place in a rural southern town, but, to me, it didn't feel like one. We didn't get a sense of southern culture, nor do we get a feel for a rural setting. Sure, the authors captured the descriptions, the civil war, and the DAR well, but the rest felt like city folk writing about what they thought rural life was like. It didn’t feel authentic.
Then, there was the ending...for me, the ending can make or break a story.
As with all my book discussions, there are SPOILERS below.
The whole story focuses on what choice Lena will make when the time comes. Except, when we finally get to the end, she doesn’t choose. Why? I can’t see a good reason for this. The one reason that could have kept her from choosing (her uncle) isn’t a factor any longer. So, why? I really don't see it.
Because of this, I found the ending to be contrived. I felt cheated, and that I was being manipulated into buying the next book, which looks like it’s shaping up to have the same conflict as the first. That just isn’t my cup of tea. So, even though I still enjoyed this book, I don’t feel compelled to read the next one. But that’s me. :)
Monday, January 25, 2010
Yolanda LeRoy is an editor at Charlesbridge, a publishing house that focuses on books for younger ages. Yolanda told us much of what she knows about picture books, but much of her knowledge transfers to middle grade and young adult as well.
Yolanda laid out the basics of a picture book first. It’s thirteen to fourteen spreads (not thirty-two pages) that carries your story arc. And, page-turns are extremely important. She also said that the most successful picture books are the ones that can reach the universe through the specific. Personally, I think that applies to longer books, too.
If you break down a book into Character, Plot, and Voice, these are the elements that Yolanda found most important.
The voice is the mood, emotional color, or attitude of a story. A funny story has an upbeat voice, a dramatic story has a serious voice, and so forth. The voice is also a consistent backdrop against which the characters change. In other words, the characters change and grow, but the voice stays the same.
The best way to learn Voice is through example, by analyzing published works. Look at word choice, sentence structure, and other writing features that create the voice. How did these authors do it? How would you do it? Then, find three contrasting examples – three books with vastly different voices – and compare them.
Some examples she gave of picture books with good voice are DON’T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS and THE STINKY CHEESE MAN.
The plot moves the story along. Basically, it reveals and resolves the conflict. To see whether your plot is moving along at a good pace, you can use a method that Yolanda called ‘paging out the manuscript.’ Basically, you lay out the story and track the plot’s progress. Each page (or page spread) should be the equivalent of one chapter, and should move the plot forward somehow. If it doesn’t, then you might need to rethink that page.
She said this method could be used for longer works, too. Lay out a story by chapters and track the progression of the plot. If a chapter doesn’t move the plot forward, then you might need to rethink that chapter.
Some examples she gave of picture books with good plot are GRANDFATHER'S JOURNEY, TAILYPO, and ZEN SHORTS.
Characters are what the reader connects to. To build a character, you do it through his actions, how he relates to other characters, and his dialog. Without these actions, the character is flat and the reader can’t connect.
The tools that writers have to create a picture book are the setting, point of view, dialog, structure, pacing, tension, narrative arc, and the poetry/prose. Which is just like writing a longer story, only harder. :)
Thursday, January 21, 2010
This mystery series is one of the funnest I've seen in a long time. Sherry is a great character, with hilarious quirks, and gets herself into even funnier situations.
MYSTERIES is a great introduction to Sherry, her friends, and her life. Plus, it's just plain fun.
As for me, I can't wait for the next book, I SO DON'T DO MAKEUP, to come out this spring. Keep writing, Barrie!
Monday, January 18, 2010
So, for the next few weeks, I’m going to post about the contents of this conference. I apologize that it’s so late, but with kids, the holidays, and revisions for my agent, this is the soonest I was able to get to it. Still, I hope it’s helpful.
I’m going to start with Cynthea Liu. Her breakout session was titled Harnessing the Power of PR. Her presentation was FULL of great stuff, way too much for me to list every detail. But I can share the highlights, which I found amazingly helpful.
When you sit down to promote your books, ask yourself this question: How do you want your readers to connect with you? Do you want them to connect with you as a person? With you as an author? Or just with your books? The answer to this will determine what you put out for the world to see.
There are different things to do depending on where you are with your book. Is it on the shelves already? Is it about to be released? Or is the release still pretty far away?
If your book has not come out yet, there are still plenty of things you can do.
*Find out what your publisher is planning to do. And, if it’s not as much as you’d like, don’t whine to them about it. Instead, figure out ways to supplement on your own, while building a good working relationship with your publicist. Above all, don’t start off your working relationship by asking what they are going to do for you. Instead, ask how you can help your publicist.
*Generate a contact list – family, friends, writers, etc. – of people who already know you.
*Create a website, and include your contact info as well as your how to book you for a speaking engagement.
*Create a basic press release so people can see why your book is important and special. Your publisher will probably do this for you, though.
*Develop your online pitch and your elevator pitch. The online pitch is (obviously) for your website. Your elevator pitch is for people you meet who ask you what your book is about. Be succinct so the person asking doesn’t feel overwhelmed with information. Instead, structure your pitch such that he will want to ask more.
*Get a nice author photo taken.
If your book is about to be released, you can do all of the above, plus a few more things.
*Identify any niche organizations or media outlets who might be interested in your book and contact them.
*Make personal contacts with schools, libraries, booksellers, etc. Don’t ask what they can do for you – ask what you can do for them. Tell them what you have to offer besides your book.
Consider social networking and online communities (facebook, twitter, blogging, goodreads, etc) to extend your reach beyond where you live.
*Have lots of swag to go with your book. I.E. business cards, bookmarks, discussion guides, bookplates, postcards, flyers, unique items that tie directly to your book.
*Plan your launch: Online or offline party? Is your goal to celebrate or sell books? Or both? Think outside the box, and do what makes sense for your book (not because another author did it). And, ask yourself this question: what will your supporters gain from participating?
When your book comes out, you can do all of the above, plus more.
*Notify the people you know that your book is available. Put your ISBN number on your website to make it easy to look up your book.
*Continue to make connections. Follow up with people, but don’t become a stalker.
*Assess what’s working well, and adjust what isn’t.
*Pay it forward. Support other authors, and they will likely support you.
Throughout all this, Cynthea made one point again and again: CONNECT. By that, she means you need to connect with others like a person, not like a walking sales pitch. Because a walking sales pitch is the equivalent to walking spam, and people filter spam. Instead be a real person. An author.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Over a year ago, I read SKIN HUNGER, the first in this Resurrection of Magic trilogy. The writing was strong, the characters and situation compelling, but it made me angry because of the way the author chose to tell the story.
I had the same reaction to SACRED SCARS, but I was expecting it this time, so it wasn’t as bad. The characters are just as compelling, the situation piques my curiosity, and I really want to know how the story is going to end.
But I really, really don’t like the way the story is being told.
There are lots of trilogies out there today. Some are stories that need to be told in three volumes, but many are not. Many are unnecessarily drawn out – by the way, a story is stronger in one concise volume rather than three padded volumes.
But this is not the case with the Resurrection of Magic. It’s clear that this story is huge, that there are so many things going on with many connections forming, and it all needs to be told. I can appreciate that, because I’ve been struggling with a story of similar size for seven years, and it’s not easy. But that’s why it’s taken me seven years to figure out how to tell it.
I’m not sure when Duey started to write her trilogy, but it doesn’t seem like she explored the various methods of storytelling. Instead, she chose alternating chapters between Sadima and Hahp – which didn’t work at all for the first book, though it was a little better in the second – and ended up chopping the story into three parts: beginning, middle, and end. The beginning was SKIN HUNGER (book one), and the middle was SACRED STARS (book two). I won’t get any kind of resolution until the final book, which probably won’t be out for two more years. That’s agonizing! And not in a good way.
If Duey weren’t such a skilled writer, I’d have stopped reading these books long ago. As it is now, I have a love-hate relationship with them. I bought the first book, but was so mad when I finished it that I had no trouble waiting for the library to pick up a copy of the second book. Not exactly the best way to get a following of readers...and it also means that I can't, in good conscience, recommend either book. How you tell the story is just as important as building solid characters, writing well, and creating a vivid setting. I think the Resurrection of Magic trilogy is an excellent example of this.
If you can sit on incredible cliffhangers for two years, then you should read this story. But if you consider that to be a special kind of torture (like I do), then definitely wait until the final book is out. I wish I had.
Monday, January 11, 2010
Tell us about THE SECRET YEAR.
Seventeen-year-old Colt has been sneaking out at night to meet Julia, a girl from an upper-class neighborhood unlike his own. They’ve never told anyone else about their relationship: not their family or friends, and especially not Julia’s boyfriend. When Julia dies suddenly, Colt tries to cope with her death while pretending that he never even knew her. He discovers a journal Julia left behind. But Colt is not prepared for the truths he discovers about their intense relationship, nor to pay the price for the secrets he’s kept.
What was the inspiration behind your idea?
I had an idea about a secret relationship, a sudden death, a notebook left behind. I wrote the book to find out what was in the notebook, why the relationship had to be secret, and what would happen next.
This was a case of a project’s beginning coming very vividly and easily to me; the ending was harder to find. Sometimes it goes the other way: I know how a story ends but not exactly where it begins.
How did you come up with the title?
Early on, I had trouble finding a title. One of my critiquers suggested After Julia, which is the name it had when my agent signed me. He and I brainstormed new titles and came up with Black Mountain Road; that’s what it was called when Viking bought it. But titles often change before publication, and mine was no exception. The Secret Year resulted from some serious brainstorming with my editor. From this list, you can see the different angles we considered along the way, with loss and secrecy being big themes.
The theme of Us vs. Them is strong in the story. Did this come from a personal experience or from research?
I think everyone has experienced that feeling at some point. Taken to an extreme, it results in wars. But I really wanted to explore how people react to such divisions. I hope readers notice that some of the characters view the dividing line as canyon-like, deep and significant, while other characters move easily across it. I especially wanted to explore how Colt and Julia use that dividing line for their own purposes.
The setting is also quite vivid. Was it taken from a place in your life or was it from research?
The town in the book doesn’t represent any specific, literal town. But I have witnessed the transition of many towns from farmland to suburbs, and the building of mansions in once-rural areas. For most of my life, I’ve lived near rivers and creeks, and the Willis River may be a composite of them all.
How long did it take to get from the initial idea to a completed novel?
I didn’t keep track, and I worked on other things at the same time. I would estimate a couple of years.
How often do you write, and how much do you write in one sitting? And is there anything you must have in order to write?
I write something almost every day. If I’m extremely busy and tired, it may only be fifteen minutes. If I’m on a roll and have some freedom, it may be five hours. The typical session is one to two hours on weekdays, longer on weekends.
I prefer to write on the computer in my home office, with the door closed and music on. But I’ll write longhand, in hotel rooms, on planes, in waiting rooms—wherever I have to.
What are you working on now?
I can’t talk much about works in progress, but I’m always working on something!
Thursday, January 07, 2010
Tell us about CHASING BROOKLYN.
It's a novel in verse told from two points of view - Nico and Brooklyn. I like the summary my editor came up with, so here is that:
Restless souls and empty hearts
Brooklyn can't sleep. Her boyfriend, Lucca, died only a year ago, and now her friend Gabe has just died of an overdose. Every time she closes her eyes, Gabe's ghost is there waiting for her. She has no idea what he wants or why it isn't Lucca visiting her dreams.
Nico can't stop. He's always running, trying to escape the pain of losing his brother, Lucca. But when Lucca's ghost begins leaving messages, telling Nico to help Brooklyn, emotions come crashing to the surface.
As the nightmares escalate and the messages become relentless, Nico reaches out to Brooklyn. But neither of them can admit that they're being haunted. Until they learn to let each other in, not one soul will be able to rest.
What was the inspiration behind your idea?
CHASING BROOKLYN happened because I wanted to write a book for the fans of I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME. I started out thinking about a sequel for that book, but my editor felt like we left Ava in a good, hopeful place. So he tossed out the idea of a companion novel - one in which Ava makes an appearance. I liked that idea, and I started thinking about why she might show up. And it made sense that perhaps she showed up to help someone else who was struggling with grief. I had recently heard about this high school that made the news because they had three or four tragic deaths of students in a year. I started wondering what that might be like and started writing. And a book was born.
How did you come up with the title? Why is the focus on Brooklyn instead of one of the other characters?
It's a title that sort of has multiple meanings. First of all, Brooklyn literally has a ghost chasing her for most of the book. But then Brooklyn and Nico, the other main character, come together and train for a sprint triathlon, as a way to deal with their grief after losing a friend to a drug overdose. So there is lots of running in the book, and I wanted an active title to reflect that.
This is your third YA, but you’ve also written a picture book titled BABY CAN’T SLEEP. How is writing YA different from writing picture books?
Well, besides the obvious that there are a LOT more words, I think there's a lot more to think about with a young adult novel. Getting everything right - character development, plot, voice, etc etc. - it's hard! And you know, I think small children are a bit more forgiving than teens. You need to get it right for teens. It has to be real. Or they're going to notice and call you on it. Picture books have their own sets of challenges, of course. Telling a good story with a conflict and resolution in 500 words or less isn't exactly easy either.
Do you think your skill for writing YA verse comes from your skill with picture books? Or is that a coincidence?
Because I started with picture books, where you need to be succinct as possible, I do think it helped me with the verse. I seem to do well in getting to the heart of a scene and figuring out how to get the emotional truth with just the right choice of words. I don't think I'm as good at long, beautiful prose. I envy authors who do that well, but I've sort of come to accept where my strengths are and I need to play to those strengths. Now, I should say, I work hard at the verse, and I still don't think I'm as good as I could/should be. With every book, I try to improve, as I'm sure we all do.
How is your career different now from when your first book was published?
Let's see. I'm not rolling in money, unfortunately. I don't have "NYT bestselling author" after my name. I don't have a movie coming out based on one of my books. Sooo, it's more about the time I have to write (ie not as much, because I have to answer interview questions or respond to review requests or other promotional things) and the pressure to write stuff that the readers will like as much as, or even more than, the last book.
The best thing is probably the e-mails I get from readers through my web site. I didn't have that before. So, I might be having a discouraging day and then I'll get a note from someone who will say something like - I love your books, please keep writing - and I instantly feel better. It's awesome.
What are you working on now?
A couple of YA projects, one in verse, one in regular prose with regular chapters. Can't really share what they're about yet, but I'd LOVE to have good news to share in the next couple of months. It's very competitive in the YA market right now, so who knows. Whatever happens, of course I'm thankful for the books I've published so far. Very, very thankful.
Monday, January 04, 2010
So, this post is not going to contain a list of writing resolutions. Mostly because I already have an ongoing list of resolutions, which I started years ago. And it has done wonders for helping me become a better writer.
Instead, this post is going to focus on goals (which are directly linked to those ongoing resolutions): goals I set last year, and goals I want to set for this year.
One year ago, I set myself a pretty aggressive goal to get an agent before 2010. I met that goal, but I didn't do it by crossing my fingers and submitting to everyone I could find. I could have done that, and maybe I still would have found my agent. But I would have been relying heavily on luck. Plus, 'maybe' has never been good enough for me. I wanted to sign with an agent, and luck isn't often my friend. So I had to find a method that would keep my progress moving forward, getting me closer and closer to my goal.
The only method I knew of was to make my writing so good that no one would be able to say no. And the best way I know of to improve my writing is to constantly re-evaluate my work, my writing process, my viewpoints, my short-term goals, and what I think I know.
Let me say that last bit again. The best way to improve my writing was to re-evaluate what I thought I knew.
Almost two years ago, I started this blog as a means to test my knowledge on writing. I felt that if I could explain what I knew to other people, that meant I had a firm grasp of the concepts. I still hold to that philosophy. But, last year, I took it a step further. Did I really understand as much as I thought I did? And, how could I expand that knowledge and understanding? I challenged myself with these questions again and again, determined to learn as much as physically possible...and then learn more.
So, I read over a hundred books last year, breaking down each one and analyzing the story. What worked for me? What didn't? Why? I recorded these thoughts in a journal, and applied what I'd learned to my own work. And, yes, I always learned something, even if it was so small it was almost insignificant.
I also read author, agent, and editor blogs to get more insight into the publishing process. I interviewed authors to learn about their writing processes, as well as how they got their books on the shelves.
Everything I did last year had a purpose. Every. Single. Thing. And everything I do this year will have a purpose. Everything, no matter how small it is. And I will constantly evaluate each action, assessing whether or not it is bringing me closer to my goals.
So, if you are feeling energized by what the new year might bring you, harness that energy and set yourself some goals that will keep your energy stoked. But don't stop there. Evaluate those goals constantly, and make sure you are taking steps toward them. If you need to change a goal, don't consider it a failure. You are simply moving in a different, and likely better, direction.
When next year rolls around, you might be surprised at how far you've come. :)
Saturday, January 02, 2010
The Secret Year by Jennifer Hubbard
Chasing Brooklyn by Lisa Schroeder
Look for interviews with these authors later in the month!
Also, as a bonus, I'm giving away an ARC of Numbers by Rachel Ward!
Be sure to read the entry guidelines carefully, so you get all the entries you're entitled to.
Edited to add: if you entered last month's contest, please check to see if you've won before entering this one.
To enter: - Leave a comment on this post.
- For an additional entry, become a follower of this blog and leave another comment telling me so. If you already are a follower, leave a comment telling me this.
- For an additional entry, post a link to this contest, then leave a separate comment with the URL. If you post to muliple locations, then leave a separate comment for each URL.
I will announce the winners on January 30th, and you will have thirty days to collect your prize - by this, I mean you will have to come back here to see if you have won. I am happy to give away books, but I simply do not have the time to chase down the winners (even if you leave your email address).
Friday, January 01, 2010
Last year, I read 107 books, which I am very happy about. Especially considering how many other things I had going on.
But now, it's time to set myself another challenge. I think this year is going to be plenty busy, so I am going to keep the same goal: 100 books this year.
I will update the list here, in case anyone cares to track my progress - or, feel free to share your own progress!
1. Sacred Scars by Kathleen Duey
2. Break by Hannah Moskowitz
3. The 39 Clues: In Too Deep by Jude Watson
4. I Heart You, You Haunt Me by Lisa Schroder
5. Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
6. All Unquiet Things by Anna Jarzab
7. I So Don't Do Spooky by Barrie Summy
8. Deadline by Chris Crutcher
9. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
10. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
11. Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater
12. Going Bovine by Libba Bray
13. The Maze Runner by James Dashner
14. Clone Codes by Patricia McKissack
15. Possessed by Kate Cann
16. Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles
17. Blue Plate Special by Michelle Kwasney
18. The Dark Divine by Bree Despain
19. 39 Clues: The Viper's Nest by Peter Lerangis
20. Blood Ninja by Nick Lake
21. The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Fineberg
22. The Clearing by Heather Davis
23. Heist Society by Ally Carter
24. If I Stay by Gayle Forman
25. Knights of the Hill Country by Tim Tharp
26. Everlost by Neal Shusterman
27. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
28. The Gypsy Crown by Kate Forsyth
29. Armed and Magical by Lisa Shearin
30. The Awakening by Kelley Armstrong
31. Ghost Medicine by Andrew Smith
32. In the Path of Falling Objects by Andrew Smith
33. Eighth Grade Bites by Heather Brewer
34. Everwild by Neal Shusterman
35. Dani Noir by Nova Ren Suma
36. The Iron King by Julie Kagawa
37. Iron Daughter by Julie Kagawa
38. 39 Clues: The Emperor's Code by Gordon Korman
39. Jekel Loves Hyde by Beth Fantaskey
40. Stolen by Lucy Christopher
41. This Gorgeous Game by Donna Freitas
42. Nomansland by Lesley Hauge
43. Birthmarked by Caragh O'Brien
44. Magic Under Glass by Jacklyn Dolamore
45. Ninth Grade Slays by Heather Brewer
46. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
47. Gone by Lisa McMann
48. Candor by Pam Bachorz
49. The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan
50. Tenth Grade Bleeds by Heather Brewer
51. Captivate by Carrie Jones
52. Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist: The Flight of the Pheonix by R.L. LaFevers
53. Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist: The Basilisk's Lair by R.L. LaFevers
54. The Gardener by S.A. Bodeen
55. Claire de Lune by Christine Johnson
56. The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting
57. The Shifter by Janice Hardy
58. The Wish Stealers by Tracy Trivas
59. The White Cat (Curse Workers, #1) by Holly Black
60. Thief Eyes by Janni Lee Simner
61. The Mermaid's Mirror by L.K. Madigan
62. Fragile Eternity by Melissa Marr
63. Radiant Shadows by Melissa Marr
64. Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
65. Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler
66. Immortal Beloved #1: Everlasting Life by Cate Tiernan
67. Eleventh Grade Burns by Heather Brewer
68. Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult
69. Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R.L. LaFevers
70. Nine Rules to Break When Romancing A Rake by Sarah MacLean
71. Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris by R.L. LaFevers
72. The Trouble with Demons by Lisa Shearin
73. Bewitched and Betrayed by Lisa Shearin
74. 39 Clues: Storm Warning by Linda Sue Park
75. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
76. Halo by Alexandra Adornetto
77. The Espressologist by Kristina Springer
78. Cracked Up To Be by Courtney Summers
79. Tell Me A Secret by Holly Cupala
80. Dragonfly by Julia Golding
81. The Heart is Not A Size by Beth Kephart
82. The Magnificent Twelve: The Call by Michael Grant
83. The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff
84. Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
85. Paranormalcy by Kiersten White
86. Nightshade by Andrea Cremer
87. I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore
88. Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken
89. Tattoo by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
90. The Cinderella Society by Kay Cassidy
91. Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins
92. Blue Fire by Janice Hardy
93. Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder
94. 39 Clues: Into the Gauntlet by Margaret Peterson Haddix
95. Epitaph Road by David Patneaude
96. The Tension of Opposites by Kristina McBride
97. Matched by Ally Condie
98. Linger by Maggie Stiefvater
99. Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine
100. Siren by Tricia Rayburn
101. Twelfth Grade Kills by Heather Brewer
102. Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can't Have by Allen Zadoff
103. Torment by Lauren Kate
104. Sapphique by Catherine Fisher
105. Unearthly by Cynthia Hand
106. Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
107. Past Midnight by Mara Purnhagen
108. Girl, Stolen by April Henry
109. The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney