Friday, March 27, 2009

Sex change for Nikki?

Those of you who know my friend Nikki, this is not who I'm talking about!

I have a character, an important character, in my manuscript named Nikki. I like her and I like what she brings to the story...but her presence has pushed my story into the realm, barely, of YA and that is making it difficult for me to imagine how this book would be received by any publisher. I hear they really want to know, "Where would this book go on a shelf in a bookstore?" I don't think they want to hear, "This is older-middle-grade-younger-YA."


If Nikki were to be Nick, and the sub-plot was allowing Brian to finally trust a friend for the first time in his life, I think the book would be solidly middle grade, even though the ending might be pushing things. But with Nikki in there and the attraction between her and Brian, even if it's not really acted on, I'm suddenly wondering if I need to up Brian's age to 15 and up the tension in areas to make it more YA. Yet in my heart, I think Brian's age is important to what he's wrestling with and that is is, truly, an upper-middle grade novel, if such a thing can exist.

I've also read there is a new genre developing, one that fits between middle grade and YA. I think this story fits right in there. I just don't know if that genre is going to bloom anytime soon! In the meantime, I've got to decide: Nikki...or Nick?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Everworld, Gateway to the Gods, by K.A. Applegate

I picked this book up at a garage sale, not realizing it is book 7 in a series. She tells the backstory so well that it took me several chapters to finally figure this out! That's impressive. Or just pathetic about me.

The story is of four friends and one other girl who are trapped in another universe, Everworld, where the Greek gods are. They are trying to save Zeus and crew. They have their "other selves" that are still living on Earth, doing their daily stuff, which is an interesting thought, and when they sleep, they go back in their minds to that self. At first, I wasn't sure if this was MG or YA, which is always a fascinating topic for me since it's what I'm struggling with most in my own manuscript right now. The voice of the girl feels like a middle grader to me (or young YA), but she could be older and I just didn't realize it. I think I was thrown by the similiaries in basic plot (Olympians) to Percy and the Olympians, which even though I sometimes see as a YA, I argue is really a middle grade. BUT in this story, the girl is wrestling with her faith in God (she is Catholic) verses her ability to trust in Athena...which is a YA topic...but there is really no romance happening here, even though you've got 3 guys and 1 girl in life threatening situations. She might have a crush on one of the guys, but it's subtle in this book. I can't speak for the earlier books. Based on the excerpt from book 8, the narrator rotates among the character, which is interesting, but I'm not sure I'd love it. As a female, I immediately connected with April-- her voice felt very realistic. The action moved along quickly and I found the book to be an enjoyable read. Recommended!
(Final note: the cover is creepy for small children.)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Genre Fiction

I must confess: when someone asks what my manuscript is about, I hem and haw. I really don't want to say it is has anything to do with shape shifters. I love books about vampires, shape shifters, witches, you name it. Fantasy, sci fi, paranormal romance, whatever. Love them. But somehow, spitting out the words that I have written one feels like trying to chew up a whole pumpkin all at once. Is this pride? Stephen King talks about this in his novel On Writing-- that shame that he felt as a writer of trade fiction...until he finally decided this was just what he was made to write and he got over it. (I do love S. King.) I have great admiration for literary works, novels full of beautiful language that just sings on the page and deal with Greater Truths. But the truth is...I don't read many of those. What do I read? Fantasies, science fiction, paranormal romance...

For those of you who write, do you struggle with this, too?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Critique groups...what makes a good one?

I've been thinking about critique groups recently. I know that while Stephen King doesn't think they are necessary, not everyone is a Stephen King. I'm at a point in my manuscript where I could really use some advice, especially from people who are familiar with middle grade, young adult and the differences therein. I think the challenge is to find someone or a group who is a safe group, but also a helpful group. By safe, I mean these people know how to give constructive criticism without any mean spirit, no sense of "I'm going to tear this person down just for the hell of it." Many people like to offer off-handed remarks about what they think should be changed in a story...I think suggestions of that kind need to be very thoughtfully considered before casually tossed out there. "I think you need to kill of that character," for example or "I think the whole setting is just wrong." These do not help when not offered with thoughtful reasons. I think there needs to be trust built up, that this person really is rooting for you and your book. There is also the very important quality of being able to help...there are many people who enjoy good books but don't necessarily know how to help you pinpoint what isn't working with yours.

I've never joined a writer's group before, but I applied to an on-line critique group through SCBWI and I got the email today saying I was accepted! You had to submit the first three pages of your manuscript to be accepted--invitation only, because they wanted intermediate writers-- and I keep feeling like surely there must be some mistake that I made it! I went and read the introductions of the others and they all seem far more impressive than me. However...a book I'm reading right now by Martha Beck keeps talking about the importance of relevent risk in any life endeavor. If I want to improve as a writer-- and I do-- then the best way to that path right now, I think, is to open my work to the opinions of other writers who write for the same audience I do. This is a huge step for me, but it is exciting! It could turn out to be hurtful or scary or who knows what...but it's a risk I'm going to take!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Novel Metamorphasis

Novel Metamorphasis is a book by Darcy Pattison (who wrote The Wayfinder, which I read because she wrote this book and I wanted to see what her writing was like before I bought it) all about revising a complete manuscript. Mine is still pretty rough, but I think it counts as complete, so I started in on her book today. It's WORK! But the very good kind of work. Trying to write down just one thing that is the heart of my story is almost as hard as writing a 25 word sentence describing my story. Tonight I spent time writing out one sentence summaries of each chapter with another sentence describing the primary emotions in each chapter (again, much harder than it sounds)...she has a little form to help you and everything. So far, the book is well worth the money and I've only done two of the exercises! So I'm feeling very good tonight! May your own writing work be enjoyable tonight! You may want to take a look at her workbook here:

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Revise or Draft?

Tonight I'm torn. I have one complete draft of a fantasy middle grade novel that I know needs a good amount of work during revision. I am also drafting a second manuscript, a contemporary YA, and I want to keep working on that, too. I bought a new book called Novel Metamorphasis, by Darcy Pattison, on revising, that is calling to me, too. I love stuff that makes you roll up your sleeves and draw on your text...boxes, highlighters, you name it. My husband is at the movies and the girls are asleep-- it's the perfect time for some serious work getting done! But I'm just not sure which kind. Stephen King says he drafts in the morning on his current project and then uses the afternoon for revision on whatever project is under revision at that time...but I'm not Stephen King and my pockets of time that are silent and full of possibilities are few. So...I think I'll draft and see where it takes me...I think that when I quiet myself and listen to my heart, that's what it's telling me to do first. So off I go...

Ways to Procrastinate

Instead of writing, you might try one of the following activities. I have found them to be very useful when procrastinating, even when I'm doing it unconsciously.

1. Create a blog. Post a lot.
2. Join Facebook. Post a lot.
3. Join many yahoo boards or other bullitan boards. Post a lot.
4. Spend plenty of time reading other people's blogs on writing.
5. Read sites like SCBWI so you can feel good about your time not being spent writing.

Of course, everyone needs breaks from writing-- I think I need more than average. But...there are times when thinking about writing, at least for me, gets in the way of writing. It is one of my biggest challenges to overcome as a writer, I think, at least at this stage when I just need to write the bleeping story. Anyone else?

Friday, March 6, 2009

About my (now) three favorite writing blogs

My very favorite writing blog is:

Nathan Bransford is an agent who, for some reason, feels called to help us newbie writer types with all sorts of amazingly helpful info. He's like Spiderman for writers, especially new ones. His blog posts are short, helpful and hilarious. I highly recommend. Furthermore, I somehow managed to sign up to get the blogs right to my inbox, which is great because I'm often too lazy to go check out other writer sites that I know would be really helpful. Nathan B. is also one of the few agents I've read of who will take email queries. Definitely check out his FAQ section...he has excellent examples of good/bad query letters, general rules of the game, and thoughts on the publishing industry at large. He is also the reason I have considered maybe one day owning a Kindle or something like it-- a huge leap for me!

Next, Cynsations, by Cynthia Leitich Smith is chock full of interviews, articles and helpful information on writing, especially for the world of children, middle grade, and YA writing! Many wonderful links to other writing resources and blogs are present. It's a very professional site.
I have had the pleasure of meeting Cynthia in person at a writing event and she is just incredibly kind and enthusiastic-- one more reason to support her blog! I've learned a lot from reading her interviews with agents and editors, learning what differnet people are looking for and not looking for right from their own lips. Her site is a treasure trove not to be missed. It's so much information that at first it can be overwhelming if you are a research hound like me, because you know you can spend hours and hours and still have more to read and learn.

In combination, these two sites work really well for me. I get short almost daily information from Nathan Bransford's site, sometimes on writing and sometimes on the publishing world, and when I get time, I delve into Cynthia's site for lots of practical tips, useful articles and interviews, and tons of links to other delicious blogs and resources.

A new site I discovered just TODAY thanks to Nathan's site is

I can already tell I am going to LOVE her posts-- there is a very encouraging post about the stay-at-home-mom years and an excellent post on why it's important to read and learn about the publishing business and individual agents and editors before you start trying to query everyone under the sun. Thanks to Nathan for sharing Rachelle Gardner!

Check them out!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

What I learned at a "Get Your Book Published" community ed class

Tonight I learned that I have learned a lot about the book industry in the last year since I first resolved to finish my manuscript and get serious about my writing. Last January ('08) I joined SCBWI (Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.) Then in May, I went to a conference and then in the fall, I attended an author/editor critique day. I've developed a recent writing partner relationship and have allowed other people to critique my work. Throughout all of this, I was subscribing to writing threads, reading books on writing, reading books on publishing and slowly researching question after question.

Tonight was a wonderful validation. I still learned a couple of new things and was reminded of several more, but as I sat there, listening to this woman who has published 22 titles, I was amazed that I could actually answer questions she couldn't-- not because I'm so smart, but because I've worked hard and done my research in the field that interests me: middle grade and YA fiction. She published non-fiction for grown ups...there were a number of people in that room who wanted to write fiction and they had only the vaguest ideas of what they wanted to write, but many mentioned writing for children or young adults. That class might have been, for them, a first step, an active risk, to show up at all. I applaud them all.

I'm still pretty wet behind the ears myself. I may have finished a manuscript, but it's full of plot pot holes the size of Nebraska. I am working on another story and have ideas for marketing, but it's not done and making time to work on it continues to be a challenge. But tonight made me stop and look back and realize-- I really have grown! Yay! My new year's resolution for last year set in motion a chain of events and choices that have led me to a much greater awareness of the world of writing. Even if I'm never published, that's something I can be grateful for every day-- because despite all the grim odds, I get to write, people!