Monday, February 23, 2009

What's in a Name?

This is Steve Nash. Steve Nash is apparently a basketball player for the Phoenix Suns. This is not the Steve Nash who is a high-school character in my book Dirty Little Secrets. I am not a pro basketball fan, and just made up the name. Apparently, so did Mr. and Mrs. Nash. Thanks to J for catching it, and wondering why I had a basketball player show up in my book.

My 11 year old son is reading my book Dirty Little Secrets, which is a little weird for me. Nobody in the house reads my books - either the books are too old for them, or they've been burned by reading a version that changed dramatically after they read it. J asked to read DLS, so I gave him the copy that my editor had sent over with the little pencil marks all over it. It hasn't changed that much, and I told him where the new scenes were.

The funny thing was, the first night he came out of his room with wonder in his eyes and said, "Mom, this doesn't stink! I really like it." Imagine that! I might actually be good at something - who knew (only my agent and my editor, but apparently they don't carry weight with 11 year old boys)? I'm really glad he's reading it, because he's caught a few other things that needed changing. Not only did he point out the Steve Nash dilemma (who has since been renamed - my character that is, not the pro basketball player), he also said the band name that my boy-character plays in sounded "too girly". Duly noted and changed.

Proving once again that the more eyes on your MS the better.

On this date: In 1978, Fleetwood Mac wins the Grammy for Rumors (I loved that album!).

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

They're Mocking Me

My editor suggested we add a tiny little scene in the YA so that readers could get a better sense of the two main character's relationship (as an aside, I sooooo enjoy writing the romance parts of the book I just might write a whole book like that sometime soon). The instructions were intentionally vague, I think because editors (and agents for that matter) don't want to mess with your creativity. In my first run-through of this revision I mainly went over all the editor's notes and incorporated everything from little theme issues to word replacements. As I was doing that, I found the perfect spot for the new scene to go, so I inserted some space, and put the cursor at the beginning.

I knew I wanted the scene to be at school, so I plonked them down at school and waited for something to happen. Unfortunately, nothing did. I swear, I sat there for three days waiting for them to do something, but all they did was stand around and laugh at me, talking quietly amongst themselves. It was very annoying. Finally, last night, as I was sitting there waiting, they decided to go out to the lockers and start the scene and I dutifully wrote it down. I think it actually came out okay, but I'm still a little pissed at them for working me over. In quiet moments I can hear them laughing at me.

On this date: In 1931, Toni Morrison was born.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

I'd Like to Thank...

Ah, the humble acknowledgments page. Truth is, they kind of irritated me until I became a writer and now I find them fascinating. And now, it's come time to write my own and I'm terrified.

I've been poring over acknowledgments pages of writers I really like - basically seeing what the cool kids do. Who do they thank? In what order? Who got left out and are they still friends with them? It's a little like forgetting to thank your husband at your Oscar acceptance speech in that it's in print forever and if you screw up it's for eternity.

I know for a fact I'm going to thank my family (natch) and my critique partners. Agent E is a given because without her it would still just be a file on my laptop. I also want to thank my very first mentor, a well-established kidlit writer who should have laughed at my early feeble attempts but was supportive instead. I need to thank those great people at Children of Hoarders who helped with the details (maybe I should ask them first?)and my Asilomar roomate who tossed ideas back and forth into the wee hours. Then there's my editor and all of the people I haven't met yet - particularly if this thing takes off. The publicist and copyeditor (who, I'm afraid, has a lot of work ahead of him/her)will play a large role down the line. Ack!

Let it be said now, if I leave someone out - I didn't mean it!

On this date: In 1950, Disney's Cinderella opened.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

How to Write a Book

Okay, not really (as if it would be that easy). More like how I write a book. There is a lot of talk out there about outlining vs seat-of-your pants writing and I used to be a confirmed seat-of-your-pantser. That came to an end when Agent E. (very gently) showed me the difference between situation and plot. As in "Well, that's a nice situation you've got there. So what exactly is the story?"

If you're an aspiring writer and haven't availed yourself of Verla Kay's Blueboards, you should hustle over there right now. Click on the link to "Message Boards" over on the right hand side and you'll be in a community with both very experienced and novice writers with great topics - it's a writing education in itself. I spend a ridiculous amount of time there.

I mention this because I got this invaluable piece of writing advice there awhile ago: Nine Steps to Plotting Fiction. I'm not sure where the method started, but it is (for me) the best combination between knowing where your book is going and letting the book write itself. You just put in the nine plot issues and connect the dots - more like a guide than a true, scary outline. If you find yourself in the middle of a story and not a clue where you should go, give it a try. Here it is in a nutshell:

9 Steps for Plotting Fiction (Taken from the Verla Kay Message Boards)

Start with a piece of paper. It should be large enough to write on.
I used 11x14 just to give me a little more room, but 8x11 is fine. Draw two parallel lines both vertically and horizontally across the page, creating 9 comparable boxes, as if you
were starting a game of tic-tac-toe. These boxes represent chapters,
scenes, or sections, depending upon your book's intended length.

Number the boxes, starting from the upper left: 1, 2, 3.
Next row, starting from the left: 4, 5, 6.
Last row: 7, 8, 9.
Title each box…

1 Triggering event

First thing's first. What happens? Why have you bothered to write a
book, and more importantly, why should a reader invest time flipping
through its pages. Your triggering event is the answer to those
questions, so make it a good one. Also, don't make the reader wait
very long for it. First page, first paragraph, first sentence.
These are good spots for a triggering event.

2 Characterization

Generally, books succeed or fail on the strength of their characters
more so than on the strength of their plots. The second box is where
you explore what makes your protagonist tick. No, this isn't an
excuse for drawn out exposition, history, or back story. If your
triggering event is captivating, the reader will discover enough
about the protagonist in Box Two simply by reading how he or she
reacts to the event.

3 First major turning point

By now, your plot is picking up steam, and because of Box Two, the
reader is invested in the ride. Time to throw a curve ball. This
turning point can be either a positive event for your protagonist,
or a negative one, but it should lay the groundwork for the negative
turning point in the sixth square. There is a reason these boxes are
touching one another; they interrelate. For example, Box Three may
introduce the motivation of the antagonist, which then justifies the
events in the sixth square.

4 Exposition

You've earned some time to fill the reader in on important data.
Since this box touches the first square, here's where you shed some
light on that triggering event. Since it also touches Box Seven, you
get to foreshadow your pro-tagonist's darkest hour. Box Four often
reveals a relationship, character flaw, or personal history that
contributes to the dark times in ahead.

5 Connect the dots

Here is where many plots fall apart. Box Five represents the
trickiest part of fiction and since Box Five is the center of the
book it must connect to all the squares around it. Kind of like the
nucleus at the center of a bomb, Box Five should tick systematically
upon elements introduced in Box Two and Four. And like the calm
before the storm, the fifth square should give the false impression
of resolution before heading like a freight train to Box Six. Most
importantly, it needs to provide foreshadowing for the protagonist's
revelation in Box Eight. That's a lot for a little box to do, but
focus on efficient prose to get it right. Your plot depends upon it.

6 Negative turning point

Here's where that bomb explodes and all (word censored) breaks loose. Good
thing you laid the groundwork in Box Three. Good thing, too, that
Box Nine will deliver some just desserts.

7 Antagonist wins

The protagonist is defeated here, and the antagonist apparently
wins. How the protagonist deals with the darkest hour of defeat
depend upon the traits and/or story developed in Box Four, which
leads to his or her revelation in the next square.

8 Revelation

Of course! The protagonist's revelation turns the tide. Here is
where the protagonist connects the dots and overcomes the obstacles
of Boxes Six and Seven via the device introduced in Box Five.

9 Protagonist wins

The negative turning point in Box Six is rectified while the
character's resolve from Box Eight is brought into full bloom.
Congratulations! Another great tale told greatly.

Can't wait to see what you come up with!

On this date: In 1809, President Abraham Lincoln is born.

Monday, February 9, 2009

What to Get..

...the geeky bibliophile in your life? Library-themed tattoos of course!

Let 'em know that readers (and writers) are bad-ass too with a Born to Read tattoo peeking out above your thong.

On this date: In 1944, Alice Walker is born.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


The FAA just released the audio tapes of the USAir plane that landed in the Hudson a few weeks ago. This is a local story for us because the pilot lives about 20 minutes from me in my dad's town. If you haven't heard it yet, click on this link to get Audio from NewsDay.

Guaranteed to send chills down your spine.

On this date: In 1936, Modern Times with Charlie Chaplin debuted.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Goldenrod Envelopes

Today I got another of the cherished goldenrod envelopes (everything from publishers seems to come in a goldenrod envelope). It contained the second-round revisions from my lovely editor MK. There aren't too many changes (I kept wanting to ask her if she was sure she didn't want to change more stuff), and I have until March 1st to do them (although I'm headed off to the fabulous conference/retreat at Asilomar on the 26th so it's going to have to be before then). After that it goes to copyediting and then to the printer. Yikes.

It's the final finality of it all that is terrifying. Once it's out of my hands I can't change things anymore. What if I wake up at 4:34 and think of the perfect scene for Chapter 12? What if there's a mistake? I once heard about an author who was still ing things when he went to readings - I believe it.

On this date: In 1974, Patty Hearst was kidnapped.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Top Ten

I'm a member of the "Tenners", which is a group of writers that have their debut YA novel coming out in 2010. Each week, one of us writes a "Top Ten" list on pretty much anything we want. My post yesterday was: Top Ten First Lines (in MG and YA). Here's the post, because it was a lot of fun:

I'm a sucker for a great first line, although what makes a great first line varies. For me, a great first line makes you think, makes you laugh, makes you want to read more and/or can sum up the tone and subject of the book just like that (she says, snapping her fingers). This list is a little limited by books I had lying around the house, or those I could look up and read the first page of on Amazon, so you may well have your own. I have left off a few of the more obvious first lines that, while great, have been done to death ("Where's Papa going with that ax?"). I'm still looking for some great first lines of my own.

1. "There was a hand in the darkness and it held a knife." The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman.

2. "I have been accused of being anal retentive, an overachiever, and a compulsive perfectionist like those are bad things." Millicent Min, Girl Genius, Lisa Yee.

3. "When the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it's never good news." Stormbreaker, Anthony Horowitz.

4. "We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck." Feed, M.T. Anderson.

5. "There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it." The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis.

6. "Claudia knew that she could never pull off the old-fashioned kind of running away." From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E.L. Konigsburg.

7. "It is my first morning of high school. I have seven new notebooks, a skirt I hate and a stomachache." Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson. (Yes that's actually two lines - I cheated.)

8. "After midnight, the apartment waited, still in the moonlight and the heat." The Spell Book of Listen Taylor, Jaclyn Moriarty.

9. "The week before I left my family and Florida and the rest of my minor life to go to boarding school in Alabama, my mother insisted on throwing me a going away party." Looking for Alaska, John Green.

10. "When my brother Fish turned thirteen, we moved to the deepest part of inland because of the hurricane and, of course, the fact that he'd caused it." Savvy, Ingrid Law.

Several of the tenners have chimed in with their own top first lines. Check out the whole thread at the Tenners on LiveJournal.

On this date: In 1959, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and "The Big Bopper" are killed in a small plane crash.