Monday, July 5, 2010

Never Too Late


Let me start this post by pointing out today's date (July 5) and the date I am supposed to post (July 3).
Yeah.
So.
Thus begins my message.
Since the beginning of summer, I have been having dreams with a theme:
Trying to get back home despite impossible odds.
The setting is always different: we are on vacation, we have moved away and are moving back, we are in an airport, we are in a hotel, we are in a rented flat. But the problem is always the same: too much to do and not enough time to do it - I haven't started packing, I've lost the room key, I have only minutes before our flight and all my kids are still off saying good bye to friends or at the pool or wandering around, not rushing in the least. Even in the dream, I know I will never make it.
But I still try, panicked and discombobulated, not knowing what to do first.
I've had enough of these dreams to get me seriously curious. So I googled Dream Interpretations and found a dream dictionary at www.dreammoods.com. They had this to say under the heading of 'home:'

...To dream that you cannot find your way home, indicates that you have lost faith and belief in yourself. It may also signify a major transition in your life...

And they said this about 'late:'. ...You may feel unready, unworthy, or unsupported in your current circumstances. Additionally, you may be overwhelmed or conflicted with decisions about your future. Time is running out and you no longer have time to accomplish all the things you want. Alternatively, being late in your dream could be telling you that it is better late than never.

Now, in an effort to show my father that all the cash he spent on my college Psych degree wasn't in vain, I will now attempt to interpret my dream:
Because my four kids and teacher hubby are all home for the summer, and because I usually have the house to myself while they're all at school, and because I am trying to revise a novel by the end of July and because summertime family life is not conducive to that, I am feeling overwhelmed, doubting (lost faith) that I will get the job done, time is running out. I am trying to get back to that familiar, homey, secure writing schedule to help me accomplish all that I want.
Whaddya think?
Maybe a lot of hogwash, I dunno. But thinking this through has reminded me yet again that this busy, crazy time of our lives will be gone some day and at that point I will have more time and quiet than I will know what to do with. So, as you all as my witnesses, I renew my pledge to embrace these crazy summer days and every single wonderful interruption that comes with them.

Wishing you peace in your own crazy days of summer,

Bev Patt

(photo credit goes to my daughter, who took this silly picture of my son, on the Cliffs of Dover;)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Writer-Writer Chit Chat with Cheryl Renee Herbsman

Ever want to know how writers you admire do their thing? I've been collecting interviews on craft with newly published YA authors and posting them here. This series is entitled Writer-Writer Chit Chat. Here is my conversation with Cheryl Renee Herbsman, author of the young adult novel Breathing.

JT:
Breathing is entering the world in paperback this month. Hurray! What has this first year of publication been like? I know Breathing was nominated for a couple of different honors. Can you tell us about them?

CH:
Yes, thank you! Breathing has just hit stores in paperback, another exciting milestone. This first year has been a whirlwind. The ups and downs can really spin a person around. It’s been a good learning experience in so many ways, not the least of which have been learning to thicken my skin and to really savor the up moments. I feel very fortunate that Breathing received some really fabulous industry reviews. VOYA (Voices of Youth Advocates) gave it a starred review. They are the only review journal to rate books based both on literary quality and teen appeal. And they gave Breathing a perfect score on both counts, giving it their prestigious Perfect 10. Only eighteen books out of the thousands reviewed in 2009 received the Perfect 10, so it felt like quite an honor (not to mention it was pretty cool being on a list with JK Rowling J.) Breathing also made the Bank Street College List of Best Books, was a finalist for the Northern California Independent Booksellers’ Teen Book of the Year, and was recently nominated for the 2011 Texas Tayshas High School Reading List.

JT:
Wow! So exciting! Breathing has had a busy year. Savannah is such a likeable, relatable girl. How did she come to be? Did her voice, her personality, or her situation evolve first in your imagination? Is she like someone you remember or knew?

CH:
Savannah came into existence during a writing exercise at my writing group. That night a woman came to the group who’d never been there before. She had a very thick Carolinian accent. I grew up in North Carolina, but hadn’t been back in a while, and something about hearing this woman’s accent fed my soul like a hot bowl of soup on a cold winter’s night. Savannah came to life. And once she opened her mouth, she really never stopped. I had no idea what her story would be about. But that was okay, because she did, and mostly I just took dictation. Interestingly, the Carolinian woman never did come back to the writing group. I’m so glad she showed up that one night!

JT:
The setting for Breathing is gorgeous. What are your thoughts about setting in novels. Does is ever seem like an overlooked fictional element. What would you tell writers who want to make their setting as vivid?

CH:
Thank you. I love the setting in Breathing. It’s a place of my childhood, although it is partly real and partly fictional. I do think setting can be overlooked at times, which is a shame, because I think it can add a lot of richness to a story. At the same time, I think it’s crucial that the setting come through as part of the action, not in long descriptive chunks. The way I bring setting into a novel is to try to immerse myself in the character, use my senses to take in what the character might be experiencing. So in a given scene I might ask myself, what is she hearing, smelling, seeing, etc. The more vividly you can imagine it, the more vividly you can convey it. When we do this, we bring the readers into the story that much more. Then, hopefully, they’re not just reading the story from outside of it, but are actually immersed and sensing it themselves.

JT:
The act of breathing has such resonance in Savannah's story. How much research did you have to do into asthma. Can you describe how the metaphoric properties of breathing emerged when you were first drafting?

CH:
In the early drafts of the book, the precognitive visions Savannah has played a much larger role than they do in the final draft. When I was writing them, I thought they would be more believable if they occurred when Savannah was in some kind of altered state of consciousness. So I came up with the idea that she would have asthma, and the lack of oxygen would cause this other part of her brain to become alert. As the visions got downplayed in later drafts, I found that the asthma had become an integral part of the character and the story. So the asthma stayed. As for the research, my husband is a pediatrician and has done some special work on asthma. Also, when I was in college, I worked in Child Life at the medical center, where I interacted with kids facing all kinds of illnesses, asthma and other breathing difficulties among them. My husband and my daughter both have mild forms of asthma. So I had a fair bit of knowledge and experience going in. But still, I researched both online and in person to make sure I understood what it actually feels like to struggle with one’s breath and to experience some of the hospital procedures Savannah goes through.

JT:
Jackson Channing is an interesting romantic hero--very real in so many ways. What are your thoughts about him as he relates to the prince charming ideal? Has he swooped in to save Savannah from her troubles? (Answer this one only if you think it won't give too much away about the ending.)

CH:
That’s an interesting question. I think of Jackson as a good guy. I believe in good guys. For me, I guess, Prince Charming isn’t the hero who swoops in and slays the dragon for you. He’s the guy who swoops in and believes in you. He’s the guy who maybe hands the princess the sword and calls out encouragement from the sidelines.

JT:
I LOVE that description because it pins Jackson's appeal down exactly. What is next for you as an author? Are you working on a new book? Can we get a sneak peek?

CH:
I have a manuscript out on submission now. It’s a story that has really captured my heart. And I hope to be able to share it soon!

JT:
Oooh, I'm intrigued. Here is my last question. Has the publisher changed your very beautiful cover for the paperback version? Where can we find out more about you and Breathing?

CH:
The cover art has remained the same, which I’m very happy about it. They’ve added some lovely pull-quotes from reviews and a nice tagline on the front cover: “Can Your First Love Become The Love of Your Life?” Sweet, isn’t it?

If you’d like to see me read from Breathing (yes, in a Southern accent!) or read the first chapter yourself, stop by my website. It’s at www.cherylreneeherbsman.com. Hop over to the Books page. There’s also a fun romance quiz and lots of other cool stuff. From there you can also find links to my blog, facebook, twitter, etc.

Thank you so much for this lovely interview!

JT:
Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to talk to you and learn a bit more about your fabulous first novel.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Year In the Life

It's June 10th! Where has the year gone? I seem to ask this every year, but this year in particular seemed to speed by at an alarming rate. Another school year passed by. Over a year that my book has been out in the world. And today is the day Breathing hits stores in paperback, a new milestone for my book baby! I've learned so much in my first year as an author and I feel like there is still so very much to learn.

Authors tend to refer to the whole business of authorship as a roller coaster. I definitely agree. One minute you're flying past the stars because you accepted a book deal or received a starred review and the next you're plummeting to the center of the earth because of an unkind blog review or because your Amazon number has gone too high. And that's only the tip of the iceberg. The ups and downs in this business can be nauseating at times.

But I wouldn't give it up for anything. My work time is spent connecting with characters, getting to know them and sharing their stories, tinkering with words and crafting story arcs. Research takes me to all sorts of unexpected and exciting places (usually only virtually, but still!) My down time is spent reading amazing novels, enjoying them and learning from them. And I've met so many wonderful authors, teachers, librarians, booksellers, publishing professionals, and most importantly, readers. It's a gift like no other.

So today I just wanted to share my gratitude, as Breathing comes out into the world in a new way. It's been a long road, sometimes bumpy and sometimes exhilarating. Today, I'm just so grateful to be here.

To celebrate, I've teamed up with Saundra Mitchell, author of Shadowed Summer, which came out in paperback on Tuesday, for a Hot Southern Nights summer giveaway. Come check out the prize packs here

And wherever you may be on your ride, remember, the next shooting-past-the-stars moment may be just around the corner!

posted by Cheryl Renee Herbsman

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Day In The Life Of A Working Writer

6:30 Woke up and started to mentally organize my writing day. I need to make progress on the new novel. Some other little odds and ends, but really, I need to get back on track and write 1,000 words a day on this thing or I’ll never finish it. I was stuck completely a week and a half ago, so I picked up a picture book and got a critique on it from Suz Blackaby who has a sharp eye and a ton of experience writing for beginning readers. She showed me how the story would work better as an easy chapter book. She was right on the money, and I blazed through half of it in a week. So now I’m wondering if it’s crazy to try and write a chapter book and a novel at the same time. What if chapter books are even harder to sell than picture books? Send an email to my agent about where I should be spending my energy.

7:00 Teenager off to school. Get dressed. Check email. Sign field trip forms. Braid hair. Walk to the bus stop. Chat with the neighbor about whether or not to cut down a tree that shades both our driveways. Vote for keeping the tree.

8:15 Quiet house at last! Appalling chaos in the kitchen. Devote an hour to breakfast, newspaper, laundry and the messy kitchen. I should really be writing first thing because I know that if I don’t get 500 words in before lunch, I’ll never get to 1,000. But you know Sudoku is a lot of fun and I’m fast at those.

9:00 Okay, now that my kitchen is not quite so frightening, I really need to get down to business. 5 minutes of book keeping, 10 minutes of coordinating the family schedule for the week over the phone with my husband. The usual run around with dance, music and scouts, but only one really tricky day in which I have to get myself across the river to give a lecture at Washington State University when I really should be bringing my kids home from dance. 15 more minutes in which I realize that the bathroom is even messier than the kitchen, and do a little something about that. This could go on all day….so

9:40 Pack up computer and go to the library where they have quiet rooms! Thank you Multnomah County!

12:00 Resurface in a complete daze as someone is tapping on the quiet room door. Unfortunately, they have a 2 hour limit. Fortunately, I worked through and rewrote entirely the first two chapters of the novel. What had seemed kind of iffy a week and a half ago is actually going to work just fine.

12:15 Stop at Baker & Spice for tea and a lunch tart with spinach, tomato and cheese. Yum. Check email. Lovely message from my agent. Of course I can write an easy chapter book. Flexible is good! He sold an easy chapter series a week ago! No problem. This is why a good agent is golden. No way do I have time to figure out the chapter book market, and since Steve has done that already, I don’t have to.

12:30 Back to working on the novel in the warm and wonderful smelling Baker & Spice. About 250 words into new work for the day, a different solution to the plot arc occurs to me. Stop writing and chart out that story line. This could work. It’s better by far than what I was thinking of before. This plot arc has a tall fir tree in it just like the one that my neighbor and I were talking about this morning. It ties in perfectly with that raven who showed up on the page for no reason two weeks ago. Funny how often story making works out this way. Email a person I know who worked with wild birds about some questions I’d need answered if I pursue this story line.

2:30 Save the afternoon’s work and head home.

3:00 Catch up on email. Fix a snack. Make Dinner. Begin writing this post. Check mailbox. Let the chickens out into the yard. Laundry.

4:00 Take the kids up to the local library to volunteer at the summer reading kick-off carnival. Send care package to my college girl for finals week.

4:45 Feel the exhaustion. Weigh the nap/caffeine option. Take a 10 minute nap and then play violin for 20 minutes. Ah, so much better!

5:45 Pick kids up from volunteering and drop them off at dance. How did it get to be 6:00 and I haven’t gotten any exercise yet? Weigh the eat chocolate/take a hike option. Choose both.

7:00 Poured down rain on my hike. Feeling damp and grubby. But the forest was full of wild roses so I’m also feeling pretty chipper. Bet I could still get my 1,000 words if I work at it. Only 762 left to go. How hard can that be?

7:55 Pretty hard. 574 words to go.

8:00 Pick kids up from dance. Supper. Homework. Chores. Piano and violin duets (my favorite thing!) Showers. Reading out loud-- Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett—so funny.

10:00 Really should get back to work. Would much rather browse my friends’ blogs. And I should really update my own website. And we’re out of milk AGAIN. Grrr. On the other hand, my high schooler finished all his homework and folded everybody’s laundry! I completely forgive him for drinking a whole gallon of milk in one day. Maybe I’ll just finish the scene I was in the middle of when I had to pick up the kids.

10:50 Got sidetracked with lesson plans for a school visit in June but that was pretty important, too, so I’m glad I got it sorted out. Now back to that scene I was working on earlier.

12:20 Only 827 words today and that scene isn’t really going anywhere. Rats. I fail at this with alarming regularity and the only thing that actually convinces me that I am a writer is that I’m eager to get back to work tomorrow.

Posted by Rosanne Parry

Monday, May 31, 2010

Post BEA / Pre Summer Book Challenge

I'm fresh from the BEA, which was a terrific experience. I didn't get to do nearly as much as I wanted to in NYC - I'm sure that calls for another trip back. And here I am, late for my blog post again.

I was ga-ga at the size of the Book Expo (and I'm told this was a scaled down year)and I came back with a suitcase full of books to read and a cherished copy of Mo Willem's new book, signed for my nephew. The story makes me want to gather a group of preschoolers for storytime - right now.

So, I'm going to include all these books on my list for the "48 Hour Book Challenge", the wonderful beginning of summer reading and blogging challenge posted by Mother Reader. When I stumbled across this, I thought, what a great way to start summer reading! Then I looked at the dates, first weekend in June, my household will be down to one child – husband and two other children will be otherwise engaged. The luscious possibility of spending an entire weekend reading has given me goosebumps. I’m in, definitely. It doesn’t matter how much I actually get done, just devoting the whole weekend to reading will make me feel like a winner.

Thanks, Mother Reader, for coming up with this. It might be the fifth year but it’s new to me – and I’m pumped! Click HERE for all the details. Anybody else going to play?


Friday, May 21, 2010

Writer-Writer Chit Chat with Sydney Salter

I recently finished reading my 2K9 buddy Sydney Salter's latest novel SWOON AT YOUR OWN RISK. It was a delicious experience. Even though it rained for five straight days in Ohio and the kids were running through house pulling down the curtains, I felt like I was on a lawn chair beside a crystal clear ocean all by myself. Polly Martin's humor and emotional confusion kept the pages turning and her lightheartedness drew the summer into my early summer reading.

Polly has to navigate difficult family territory in order to make a choice about how she wants to see herself.

Sydney and I sat down to discuss how SWOON AT YOUR OWN RISK came together.

Here is our conversation:

JT:
I laughed out loud almost every page, Sydney. Do you have tips for writing comedy, suggestions you'd like to pass on? (I'm taking notes!)

SS:
Thank you! I’ve tried for years to figure out what makes something funny, and I guess it comes down to giving readers an unexpected twist. I think humor also comes through when a character doesn’t take herself too seriously—maybe the ability to laugh at one’s own foibles gives the reader permission to laugh as well.

JT:
How important do you think humor is to telling a serious story, because it soon becomes apparent that Polly's life is not all fun and games. Did you feel like you have to balance the light with the heavy?


SS:
In my own personal experience, life is much easier when I laugh through the tough times, and I guess that carries through to my writing. I think combining humor with serious topics often makes a book easier to swallow; I have some wonderful books on my shelves that I’m mentally preparing myself to read—just because I know they’ll break my heart. Adding humor eases overwhelming emotions—in life and fiction. I think that’s why I tend to watch funny movies again and again; whereas, some of those amazing, but hard-hitting, films get one tearful viewing.

JT:
Where did Polly come from? Do you think she emerged from a small piece of your psyche, or was she inspired by someone you know. Or, did it feel like she popped into your head out of thin air?

SS:
I’ve watched more than a few female friends morph their interests to match the guys in their lives—to the point where they lose themselves in a string of relationships. Most of my characters come from observing human behavior, but all of them contain bits of me as well.

JT:
Swoon includes three generations of women living under one roof, which is becoming a more typical family dynamic but not one I've often seen in novels. What inspired your choice to tell the story this way? Do you think this feminine connection is important? Part of our times?


SS:
I do think it’s becoming more and more common, especially in tough economic times. And it’s often a good thing for girls. My own mother lived with me for about six months, inspiring that aspect of the story. While we had more than a few rumbles over household matters, I appreciated the influence she had on my own daughters. Growing up, I also had a very close, dynamic, relationship with my own grandmother— and I’ve always been grateful that I had her perspective in addition to my mother’s. When it comes to raising my own daughters, my mother, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law, give them emotional strength, wisdom, and experiences that I could not provide on my own. A variety of female role models gives girls a chance to figure out their authentic selves.

JT:
Xander is incredibly sexy. Were there any challenges to writing a "good" boy? Do you think well behaved boys get less attention?


SS:
I believe in nice guys! And I want my readers to know that good guys exist, and while “bad boys” may possess glamour, they’re not necessarily the best ones with whom to form lasting relationships. All girls deserve supportive, loving boyfriends who want them to flourish and succeed. As for writing “good” boys—I look to the many wonderful men I know and give those qualities to my characters.

JT:
One of my favorite male characters from Swoon is also Sawyer whose habit of malapropisms cracked me up. Even though he is one of Polly's ex's, he doesn't come across as too bad a guy. I know I'm a little old for him, but do you think he would date me?

SS:
I think his vocabulary would definitely improve if he dated you! Sawyer is a nice guy, he just wasn’t the right guy for Polly. That happens! Plus, I wanted to show that a lot of Polly’s relationship problems stemmed from her own fears of intimacy.

JT:
I loved how each chapter ended with either one of Sonnet's blog entries, one of Miss Swoon's columns or Xander's poems. In a way, these things added a kind of story within the story. How did you come up with this structure, was it something you included in early drafts, or did it come later?

SS:
I included Miss Swoon’s letters in the first draft, wanting to use them to echo the themes in each chapter. My editor suggested that I try writing Sonnet’s blogs—which initially scared me a little, but ended up being quite fun. Having done that, I decided to include Xander’s writing, too. I like the way the letters, blog posts, and journal entries allow me to flesh out secondary characters even though I’m writing from Polly’s point-of-view.

JT:
Finally, I happen to know that you are incredibly prolific and that you have published three books this past year. How do you do it all? Are there two of you?

SS:
Just one of me! But I do have an incredibly supportive family, and no one really cares if there are dishes in the sink, unfolded laundry, or stacks of books everywhere. I truly love to write and make time for it in my life; plus, I’m pretty sure that I’ll never regret having had a messy house, but I would regret not following my writing dreams.

JT:
I don't regret your (or my) messy house either. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts today. I really look up to you and I loved SWOON AT YOUR OWN RISK. I also realized I forgot to ask a very very important question. What is your next project and when can I read it????

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Ooops. It’s my day to blog and I forgot. I had something planned a week ago, but then my daughter asked if she could please, please, please have a sleepover party on Saturday to celebrate her 9th birthday. She reminded me that I had asked her to help with the dishes three times and only called her younger brother stupid once. Even though her Dad was going out of town to a conference I said yes. He was coming home that evening. The girls she invited couldn’t have been nicer. I just didn’t realize this one thing—nine year-olds don’t sleep when you pack them into a single room like that.

So Sunday was a blurry mess.

Monday is the day I make all the official phone calls—the ones for doctor’s appointments, car repairs, and other stuff. I spent the morning on hold at about five different places and when I finished I noticed my blood pressure had risen so I walked the dog. I hiked farther than usual.

When I came home, my husband was bouncing around opening and closing doors trying to figure out what he was going to do on his first day of vacation and now that he had finished his big conference presentation. My husband de-stressed is pretty manic. We talked about trying to see Robin Hood and who could babysit and how he wanted to fix the gutter on the side of the house and whether or not I thought it was a good idea to retile the upstairs bathroom.

At the end of the conversation he reminded me that my in-laws were coming to visit at the week which meant we had to worry about unscrubbed and uncleared surfaces and legos on the floor too. While I settled in to vacuum, the bus pulled up and my kids hopped off. My daughter opened her backpack and waved a piece of paper at her Dad. It notified us that head lice had been reported in her classroom.

Oh no, I realized.

I had been hoping to prepare something wonderful about the habits of an efficient author for this blog, but you know, lice got in the way.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Revision Is A Bear! Or Is It?

As I new writer, I approached revision like this:


The mere thought of all the potential mistakes in my novel made me feel as if I were, well, being eaten alive by a bear. Where do you start when there are SO many problems with a story? I chose to ignore the big, structural problems, choosing instead to focus on small, safe things like word choice, punctuation...

And it wasn't too effective. My manuscripts gathered a stacks of rejection form letters from publishers. Eventually, I learned the importance of revision, but I still didn't have many effective tools for approaching it. I simply read through my manuscripts over and over again, looking for things to fix. And sometimes I couldn't see the problems through the, um, car windshield.


Earlier this month I had the opportunity to attend Darcy Pattison's novel revision retreat. Aha! Using Darcy's workbook, Novel Metamorphosis, we learned how to tackle revision issues one at a time. First we created a novel inventory, noting the plot action and emotion in each chapter. So helpful! At a glance, I noticed a potentially weak chapter and places where I could strengthen emotional resonance.

Another incredibly useful revision technique is the shrunken manuscript. Darcy showed us how examining our novel in 6 point font, single spaced, can show us the overall patterns in our stories. One attendee realized that her story lacked conflict for several chapters in a row. That's exactly the kind of comment I used to ignore (my critique partners just didn't get it, I'd tell myself). But it's hard to argue with bright, bold highlighting. To learn more about the shrunken manuscript process, check out Darcy's blog.

All weekend we worked on small sections of our stories, which made the process seem quite do-able--and not quite so scary or overwhelming. Because revision really isn't a bear, it's simply a series of small tasks. Think of them as cuddly little bear cubs!

Happy revising! (We couldn't resist stopping at Bear World on our way home from the retreat.)

Posted by Sydney Salter

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

My writing and my mom

Mother’s Day is coming up this week. I could say any number of things about my mother and my writing. I could tell you how she taught me to read when I was four, had the chicken pox, and was bored out of my mind. I could tell about her love of poetry, how she always had table just my size with paper, pens, paint, scissors, and glue. But when I think about what she did that made the most difference in my life as a writer, it’s this: my mother never said a negative thing about herself in my hearing.
She had plenty of negative things to say to me which is why I had oatmeal for breakfast instead of brownies, and I am not picking my nose as I write this. But she never had a critical word for herself. I’m sure it’s not that she’s never had regrets or felt dissatisfied. But in a world that expects a woman to be self-effacing, she chose to remain uncritical of her appearance, her work, her relationships and her life choices. It is, in its silence, as bold a feminist statement as any I’ve heard.
And it has had an important impact on my own writing process. We all have our inner critic. The difference is that mine has never been one that says: “You have no talent. You are never going to finish this. You will never be good enough.”
I get my share of doubts and self-criticism, but they sound more like this: “This character is too much like this other one and needs his own voice. This scene needs more specific and detailed action. This piece needs more time to develop.”
It’s a subtle difference but an important one. One that helps me stick with a story until it’s done, look at the story dispassionately when I revise, and receive the critique of my writers group and editor in the spirit it is intended.
I’d like to say that I’ve done the same for my own daughters. I’ve certainly tried but it takes a measure of self-discipline to swim against a cultural expectation so ingrained I almost never think about it. So my Mother’s Day wish, beyond a lifetime of thanks to my mom, is that my own girls will learn to speak of their bodies, their choices and their work with respect and without excuses.
So how about you mom’s out there? Chime in on the comments with one thing about your work that makes you proud. Or maybe lay to rest for good a self-defeating phrase you hear yourself using. It’s the Mother’s Day gift that only you can give yourself—a gift that endures in the lives of your daughters. Happy Mother’s Day!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Writer-Writer Chit Chat with Swati Avasthi

Every fall, I teach a Young Adult writing class. One of the fun things about the course is that I get to choose three or four contemporary YA novels for my students to read and discuss and use as writing models. I always pick at least one book I know and love, one new book and one critical prize winner or classic. Next fall, I have opted to teach Split by Swati Avasthi. Swati’s novel seems to fulfill all three of my categories. It was released this March from Knopf and has been an instant hit with its readers and with me.

Swati is also a member of the group of debut YA and MG writers called the Class of 2K10. 2K10 is the beloved sister group of those of us who started this blog. Swati agreed to visit and chat with us. Here are some of the questions I asked and here also, are Swati’s thoughtful and insightful answers.

JD:
Before I start asking questions about the riveting storyline of Split, I’m curious about something more general. I wonder at what part of the process of drafting the novel did you discover that what you were writing was YA? Was this something you imagined all along? Or something you discovered later? Have you been aware of many adults reading the book? what was their response?

Split was always a YA novel. I started reading YA almost 15 years ago and I fell in love with the genre. It was not the YA I had as a kid, growing up. It was far more complex and, I thought, far more honest in its presentation of issues. I've heard that we write what we love and that was true for me. As soon as the story of Split came to me, I never doubted that it should be YA. I started writing Split before YA was the hot genre and before many adults started discovering it. So their response when I began writing it in 2006 was a lot more of the pat-you-on-the-head, how-nice-that-you-write-for-children response. Now, I get a lot more of adults guiltily admitting that they read and like the genre. I'm waiting for the time when the academy and general public opinion no longer feels the need to "admit" that teen books are for adults in the same way that adult books are for teens.

Many adults are reading Split and, honestly, because of the intensity of the book, I'm glad about that. The reception has been wonderful, particularly because it is a book that can be shared in the family, which in turn, can generate good discussions.

JT:
Yes! That’s definitely why I want to teach it. Can I get even more insight into potential audiences, because domestic violence is, as you say, such an intense issues. Do you think young women will benefit from this literary look into the mind of a dangerous boy? Or do you see your best potential reader as a boy who might need to discover himself in your words? What writing strategies did you take to speak to a particular audience?

SA:
I can't pick one kind of reader. I'm a writer with delusions of grandeur and I want everyone to read it. :-) I see it as a book with multiple audiences: boys, men, girls, and women because every one of these groups is affected by domestic violence. But I am really interested in getting this to teens. Teens are usually better than adults at reframing issues. They aren't going to see things, abuse included, the same way their parents do, and since so many teens are victims of dating violence (estimated at 1 of 4), I wanted to write about teens and for teens.

JT:
Wow—that’s a serious statistic. And yet you made an interesting and risky choice in telling the story from the point of view of a boy who is not purely someone we always see as a victim. Jace is an extremely compelling character. How did you make this happen? What did you feel you had to tell us about him? and what misconceptions about boys like Jace do you want to remedy?

SA:
Thanks!

I was interested in trying to create a character who was complicated: endearing and repulsive, sympathetic and damnable, and most significantly, a whole person. I wanted readers to think of him as more than a role: (victim, witness, etc). So, I spent a lot of time and did a lot of character development of Jace outside of the house. I concentrated on soccer, photography, friends and girlfriends, things that defined him besides his role within an abuse cycle.

The misconception I find most disturbing is about abuse in general. I coordinated a domestic violence legal clinic for three years and, after listening to thousands of abuse stories, I became increasingly disturbed about how our society frames domestic violence as a women's issue. Most of the abusers are men, after all. Abusers are the ones with the clearest line of sight to stopping abuse, to figure out how to make sure the cycle isn't passed down through the generations. If a victim gets out, that is wonderful and I admire the strength it takes and she can probably go on to live well. But abusers just move on to the next victim. The responsibility needs to fall on the abusers, and so we need to think of abuse differently - as a men's issue, as something men can choose to stop.

**SPOILER ALERT** I structured the book so that we would fall in love with Jace first and then learn of his violent tendencies because that is the experience of victims. Their abusers are charming and funny and interesting, but they have this one, terrible flaw that victims don't learn about until they are already invested in their relationships.

JD:
I admire that. Split has a lot of texture, maybe because Jace himself is Split. Can you describe how you broke down his personality? how the pieces, his 'bastard' and his "bastard no-more' self evolved?

SA:
Thanks! I think what really freed me up was that Jace is smart, self-aware, and imaginative. This gave me license to let him wrestle with complicated problems, like how he blames, protects, and loves his mother. It also gave him a lot of survival techniques and defenses including humor. He is able to articulate, often using humor, how his feelings are never simple, which opened up a host of options for him.

**SPOILER ALERT** I'd say I got the best handle on Jace in the "garage scene." This is where I started to understand how Jace was even more terrified of being broken down as a victim than he was of becoming an abuser himself and why he would chose his father as a role model over his mother. Like every kid, Jace wanted to grow up to be a man, didn't want to be weak. But because of who his role model was, he conflated strength with anger and manhood with control. For me, this was how his "bastard" self evolved.

His 'bastard-no-more' self evolved because he is imaginative, and can see his life in different ways. Because he is smart, he understands that he chooses his future.


JD:
I really loved that he had this kind of intelligent perspective. Teens are often confronted (in social media and television) with pretty pictures of how their life should look. These images may jar with how their life actually is. How might Jace, too, be a victim of double self-perception?

SA:
Jace and his family are wealthy and well-respected. Part of the media look for that is happy and healthy. The media does not present domestic violence as a problem for the rich, rather it is presented as a problem for the poor. In fact, there are some studies that suggest that underreporting is higher in wealthy communities and I think that this stake in looking good is why. I think that is part of why Jace has been forced into a position of silence.

I've known people whose houses had domestic violence and they looked like everyone else. That's the eerie part, really. Everyone thinks that it can't be true of their neighbor, their classmate, their friend. But when you think about the statistics (1 in 3 women in their lifetimes, to say nothing of the men who are victims as well) then it's very likely that domestic violence exists around us.

JD:
I had this sense that Jace was in hiding. And yet, Jace's relationship with his brother is at the center of this novel and the two seem to come together after quite a bit of shared suffering. How much, in your opinion is this book also about how Jace copes and redefines himself in relationship to others? Do you think he has a higher comfort level with the opposite sex by the end of the book? what part of Jace's story is left untold?

The importance of one plot line over another is more about the reader than the writer. That is to say, for one reader Jace's relationship with women will be very important and to another, not so much. So I want to start with the disclaimer that my read on the book is as valid as anyone else's. In my view, Jace's relationship to his brother and his relationship to women are intertwined. His brother is his role model and provides him with a different way to approach a romantic relationship and women in general. He has always tried to use his brother's model for how to treat women: he followed Christian's model about how to treat their mom to a T.

I think he does have a better view of women by the end of the book: Caitlyn is no longer shallow; Mirriam is no longer nosy; and Dakota is no longer unable to make her own decisions. Truth is, Caitlyn was never shallow, Mirriam was never nosy (just helpful; she was, after all, the one who got Christian to let Jace stay), and Dakota has always been able to make her own decisions, but now Jace *sees* those things. His perspective has changed, not the women themselves.

JD:
I love how you describe this change of perspective, because as a reader I felt this part of the story arc unfolded in a truthful way and I was very moved by it. Did telling this story from the potential abuser's point of view make it more or less difficult to find resolution and closure at the end of the novel? If Jace were less flawed as a main character, how would it have changed the story?

If Jace were less flawed, the story would have been far easier but also, I think, less interesting. As a writer, I'm not that interested in presenting simplified solutions to complex problems. Rather, I think I enjoy examining a problem from multiple angles to really appreciate how a problem affects not only the people caught directly in it, but also all those around them. I think that better reflects how interconnected we are.

A clear cut ending would have been a more serious possibility for Jace if he were less flawed only because his problems would have been more simple as well, but unlearning years, and formative years, is a difficult and long process. The book tries to reflect the idea that, while it might be extremely difficult to alter our patterns of thinking and actions, it's also possible. And for me, that is hopeful.

JD:
I agree. I think it’s the complexity of Jace and his struggles that make this book a valuable teaching tool. My students, many of whom are writing majors, might want to know about how it all came together. I know you are in the process of getting an MFA, so I am assuming that much of this novel was written in a workshop setting. How did this help or hinder you in your process? Do you have a YA focus in your studies, or is your MFA program one that students attend to write fiction mostly for adults?

Oh, now you've uncovered a secret. I did not write much of this novel in my MFA workshops; I had a full first draft when I came into the program and so I was revising by the time I started the program. I only workshopped around 4 chapters with my MFA colleagues. Most of my workshopping of this novel came from my writers' groups, and I found those essential. Writers' groups are, by their nature, a lot different than MFA workshops in that writers' groups select their own members.

One of my groups is comprised of children's writers only, which is very useful, because they are up to speed on the genre. So, I have less explaining to do and they have more models to suggest for me. YA has changed so much that the genre is frequently dismissed by the academy as genre fiction, instead of understanding that the YA genre is highly varied and is comprised of both literary and genre fiction. (Books like Twilight don't help that image either so I can understand why the impression remains.) The other writers' group has both writers for adult and YA fiction, which I also find very useful because good writing is good writing and so people who deeply understand the craft are always helpful.

I had two professors at the U -- Mary Logue (adjunct) and Julie Schumacher (professor) -- who contributed greatly Split. Both read the whole thing. Mary read most of it twice, actually. They had wonderful feedback. So, I'd say that while the workshop experience was not highly influential, the MFA program was. But if you want to see if workshopping in an MFA program has helped or hurt my writing, I'd say look at my second book. About one third of that novel was workshopped.

JD:
Okay, now I’m completely curious. Can you give us a sneak peek into your next project?

I am working on BIDDEN (working title). Holly, Corey, and Savitri are looking forward to their post-graduation summer of free running and comic book reading, when a shooting changes everything. Now, Corey is dead, Savitri is seeking revenge, and Holly is descending into a place where no one -- not even Savitri -- can reach her. BIDDEN is about how far we will stretch for our friends.

JD:
Wow! I can’t wait.

SA:
Thanks again. Great questions.

JD: Thank you Swati. It’s been an honor to speak with you. If you are interested in hearing Swati read the first chapter of Split--check out the link below.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

New covers, BEA, and other random thoughts

I'm taking my maiden voyage on our grads blog today. I owe a big "thanks" to all my 2k9 classmates who've kept this going since the calendar rolled on into 2010. I've mostly been keeping my nose to the grindstone on several writing and nonwriting related tasks and slacking in the virtual community-love department. Consequently, I missed my first post and was determined to get this one in and on time.

So, my editor's been gracing my in-box with a couple of surprises and an invitation. Surprise 1: B&N decided to carry The Secrets of the Cheese Syndicate in select stores. YAY! I was thrilled because my tiny, independent publisher doesn't have the marketing resources of the big boys and my distribution has been somewhat limited.

Invitation: Would I come to BEA and sign books at the distributor's booth? YOU BET! I've never been to the big apple and how could I possibly say no? Most of my 2k9 classmates went to BEA last year but my book was coming out in the latter portion of the calendar year, with the small publisher, so I passed.

A few weeks passed and VOILA! surprise #2 makes its way to my in-box: my editor has an illustrator redesigning my cover in anticipation of the sequel, so we can get a more uniform look to what will (hopefully) be a series. I've got three good stories with these characters, at least. I can't say much past that. So now I'm pumped to get the revision work finished on the sequel, which we're currently calling The Manticore's Revenge.

Currently, however, I'm being distracted by making a top ten list of things to do in NYC and at BEA. Help me out here, guys. If you've been to either of these strings of letters, tell me what I must ABSOLUTELY do. This wide-eyed southern girl wants to pack in as much as possible while she's there!

Peace
Donna St. Cyr

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Green Earth Book Awards

Since I don't have my own blog, I thought I'd use this space to give an update on my recent trip to DC for the Green Earth Book Awards. These awards are the only awards in the country (as far as I know) that focus on environmental themes in children's literature. There are four awards: picture book, children's fiction, young adult, and non-fiction. They are awarded annually to "authors and illustrators whose books best raise awareness of environmental stewardship, and the beauty of our natural world and the responsibility that we have to protect it."
The Green Earth Awards are given by an environmental foundation, the Newton Marasco Foundation, with an incredibly active and enthusiastic board and staff. They also work closely with the dedicated children's literature department at Salisbury University in Salisbury, Maryland.
I think most of the authors in 2K9 would agree that it's the connections you form on school visits, bookstore appearances, and other book events that make them worthwhile. Everyone I met from the Newton Marasco Foundation and the university was warm, encouraging, and more than welcoming. In addition, they helped build the green writing community by generously bringing together the winners: Eileen Spinelli and Anne Kennedy (for their charming picture book, MISS FOX'S CLASS GOES GREEN) and Marge Ferguson Delano (for her stunning EARTH IN THE HOT SEAT: BULLETINS FROM A WARMING WORLD). (Saci Lloyd (THE CARBON DIARIES) was unable to attend.) We met over meals of all kinds, and I got to watch their presentations to school kids, admire Anne's drawing skills, hear about Eileen and Jerry's many, many grandchildren and many, many books, and watch how Marfe put together pictures, texts, and stories for her absorbing National Geographic biographies and non-fiction books.
Not only that, but since I grew up in Maryland, my parents were all able to attend the award ceremony!
Writing can be very solitary, but this chance to connect with such a vibrant writing and environmental community will fill me up for a long time.
HAPPY EARTH DAY!
S. Terrell French
OPERATION REDWOOD, Amulet Books, 2009

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Me and My Yoga

A few years ago, I learned how to stand on my head. For a while, I practiced regularly, sometimes propping myself in a corner, but later, when I got better at it, going for it right in the middle of the room. I learned other neat tricks studying yoga too. Bending over and placing my hands on the floor, handstands against the wall, shoulder and forearm balance. Yoginis aren’t supposed to show off like I do. In fact, it might even be bad juju, but sometimes my extroverted impulses take over.

I think the source of my pride is a result of the fact that none of what I learned came easily. I’m not known for my patience or physical coordination. Writing a novel was nearly the hardest thing I ever accomplished. I’d put parenthood first, standing on my head second, and drafting my first book maybe third. The most fully realized people I know are certified yoga instructors and when I am upside down, I pretend to be a little more like them.

I try as much as possible to intertwine my writing life with yoga practice because the two disciplines have similarities. They require flexibility, being inured to the frustration of what doesn’t come easily, and living without guarantees. I redefine myself every time I get to work. Just when I think I know who I am, oops, I fall over and land on the dog

I once read that Michelangelo’s masterpiece David walked straight out of the stone into his magnificent reality. It’s easy to imagine that this is what genius is—an effortless understanding of the glory within, but I would miss the headstands if I were a genius.

A little succeeding after lots of failing makes the next days work that much easier.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Why I Write Middle Grade Novels

I'm not saying that I didn't enjoy Spring Break with my 8th grader, I'm just saying that if I could've made her wear a burkha in the hotel pool, I would have. I've also learned that last summer's bikini top should always be tried on before this year's vacation. Okay, enough about my daughter picking up a sophomore in the hot tub...

My point is this: I spent many moments feeling wistful about my 10-year-old as she skipped down hiking trails, fell in love with stuffed animals in gift shops, and relished every new experience with exuberance. Every now and then she'd stop to bump pinkie fingers with me.

I know it won't be long until she learns to roll her eyes, scoff with disdain, and attract the attention of boys at the hotel pool. Fortunately this came in the mail while I was gone:


A package of letters from 4th graders in Overland Park, Kansas! Dozens of adorable thank you notes with pictures. Several kids felt inspired to become writers, others loved Jungle Crossing, some "might" read it now that they've met me, a few can't wait to get older so they can read my teen novels. I learned about their pets, their families, the imaginative stories they love to write. One girl told me about her favorite books, but confessed that she occasionally checks out Captain Underpants so she won't look "weird." Aw!

I almost cried with relief at the realization that because I write middle grade novels, I will always be able to hang out with sweet, spunky, spontaneous 10 year olds! --Sydney Salter



Monday, April 12, 2010

The Places We'll Go

From Suzanne Morgan Williams:

This week I bought three pairs of high heeled shoes. Now before, I had one pair of high heeled boots in my closet. And I bought nylons too. I haven’t worn those since – maybe two and a half years ago. And I bought a glittery turquoise and silver jacket to go with my long black crepe skirt. What does this have to do with writing? Well, you never know where this business will take you – which is why I say be nice to people, consider all strange options, and talk to everybody.

Here’s the backstory. In 2008, I joined the class of 2k9 – mainly because my friend, Fran Cannon Slayton, said it would be cool. She was right. When our books began coming out in 2009, we arranged various group presentations – panels and signings. Stacy Nyikos from 2k8, contacted our group with an invitation to join some of her class at Encyclomedia, the Oklahoma Library Association’s Convention. With a book titled Bull Rider, I answered well, ye-ess! Then I began to question my sanity. I needed to fly to Oklahoma. I planned to stay five days for the event and to do a school visit in North Texas. This would cost me a bunch of money, even though I was staying at a $49 a night Super Eight. (Ahh, the glamorous life.) But I went.

And before I went, I made an appointment to meet with the Education Director at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. I figured as long as I was in the area I would pitch a writing workshop for students. While we were talking, she suggested my publisher enter Bull Rider for the Western Heritage Awards that are given for music, film, and literature every year by the museum. Did that. And the book won! Best Juvenile Book, 2010. The caveat was, that to get the cool statue that goes with the award I needed to go back to Oklahoma City and attend a black tie dinner. I didn’t (until last week) own a pair of nylons or a pair of high heels – except for those boots. So I was all over Face Book asking my friends where to get plus sized glittery clothes for the event. I have to say, the suggestions were not always G-rated. But the shopping has been fun.

Here’s my take: You never know where writing will lead you. For Rosanne Parry, it’s to Houston to get an award from Church and Temple Librarians for Heart of a Shepherd. And for Susannah French it’s to Washington D.C. to receive the Green Earth Book Award for Operation Redwood. For me, back to Oklahoma City for a Western Heritage Award, and who knows what else is in our future. To quote Dr. Seuss

OH THE PLACES YOU’LL GO!
Congratulations!
Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Favorite Method of Reading

There's a lot of controversy in the literary world about real world reading vs. e-reading. Of course, this is in part due to our very valid desire to support independent and brick and mortar stores. And I think to many of us there is the also the difference between the feel of the book in your hand compared to the less personal screen.

But there is the convenience factor of a hand-held device that can hold thousands of books. I think about waiting for my kids during practices or between events, and also about traveling. How great to whip out a device the size of a paperback and have thousands of choices of reading material. I also think about my son getting bored at his sister's games, practices, etc. And instead of needing a backpack full of distraction or a hand-held gaming system, I could pull out my e-reader with a whole selection of books for him to read.

But then, there's the issue of which reader! Do you go with the Kindle because of its whispernet, or the Nook because it's not Amazon, or Sony, or wait, do you forget about all those, assuming they will soon be passe and go for the new toy, the iPad, even though it's way more expensive, not to mention larger and heavier?

And, if you manage to get far enough in this process to choose one and order it up, then how do you decide which books to buy electronically, which ones you absolutely must have in hardcover, which ones you'd be fine borrowing from the library?

It seems to me the more advanced we get technologically, the more complex our choices become, and the more choices we have to struggle with. And with all the bells and whistles the iPad offers, more are sure to come on other e-reading devices, which will lead to -- guess what -- more choices!

How do you decide in which format to read? What's your favorite e-reader? And when do you go for the good old hardcover? Seriously, I'm asking! :)

--Cheryl Renee Herbsman

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Death of Copy Editing

I’ve heard about the death of copy editing many times, both from authors and librarians, lamenting the lack of time for copy edits and the multiplicity of errors in books. I can only speak from my own two books, both at Random House, but it is my experience that copy editing is alive and well—distressingly so.

This might not be everyone’s experience. Perhaps it’s just my own manuscripts that go out emblazoned with the words Not Written By An English Major upon their foreheads. My current manuscript has been copy edited by no less than three people (each with her own color of pencil). As I read through it is clear to me that Violet and Indigo do not like each other very much, but Green, obviously the middle child of the group, is there to say, “Come on, girls. Can’t we get along? It’s just a hypen!”

I am left with my highly-embarrassed Scarlet pencil to follow after my much wiser sisters of syntax who have marked no less than a dozen things on every single page of a manuscript that runs longer than 160 pages. It’s nearly 2,000 copy edit marks!

My job for the next week is to think about every single one of those marks and make a decision. Often it’s the fairly easy. “Duh, of course the comma goes there. Why didn’t I notice that ages ago?”

Although to be honest, sometimes it’s more like, “Fine, what ever you say! Who cares if concertmaster is one word or two?”

And I confess that from time to time it’s even, “Seriously? There’s a rule about that? Dang! I should have been paying attention in English.” Lucky for me Violet, Indigo, and Green were paying attention. In fact, they were the honors students, I’m sure of it.

Every now and then I have to say, “Now look, I know your suggestion is technically superior in every way but no kid would say or think this. Ever. Not in any century or any other planet. Sorry.” For reasons I do not begin to understand this is abbreviated STET.

I can see why copy edits get neglected. It’s difficult, often tedious, requires not just technical excellence from the copy editor, but also some artistic sensibility, and is frequently accomplished on a tight deadline.

And so, dear Violet, Indigo and Green, Thank you for your diligence. Thank you for your depth of knowledge in English, and for this project German, French, Russian and (no kidding) Estonian. I am completely dazzled that you found a source for Estonian! Go Violet! Thank you for your probing questions, your willingness to hunt up accurate maps and even do the math on rates of exchange. I’ll never make fun of an English major again! Most of all thank you for respecting my reader enough to help me make Second Fiddle the best book it can be.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Book Birthday (and Giveaway!)

Today I'm celebrating the official birthday of Swoon At Your Own Risk!



Here's what Booklist says:

Boy crazy in a house full of women, Polly is facing a summer nightmare of working a crummy water park job being supervised by an ex—and in a bathing suit no less! Hoping to learn from her advice-columnist grandmother, Polly swears off guys and tries to improve herself by following “Miss Swoon’s” affirmations and attempting to mend a rift with her best friend, Jane. Unfortunately, skater/poet (and formerly weird neighbor kid) Xander keeps showing up at the park to babysit relatives and catches Polly’s eye. Polly uses humor to deflect most real conversations, which makes her the life of the party but leaves her lacking in the serious-relationship department. What appears to be a frothy summer confection delves into some heftier emotions as the underlying issues motivating Polly’s actions, as well as those of her mom and grandma, are uncovered. Each chapter ends with snippets from Miss Swoon’s advice columns, Xander’s poetic observations about Polly, or entries from a coworker’s gossip blog.— Heather Booth (Booklist)

You can find Swoon At Your Own Risk at your favorite bookstore or online at Amazon.com, B&N.com, or Indibound. But what fun are birthday parties without presents?

Leave a comment by midnight, April 18, 2010, to enter to win a signed copy!
Open to anyone in the world.

Thanks for celebrating with me! --Sydney Salter

Sunday, April 4, 2010

When NOT to write



Have you ever read a novel that started off one way and then somehow morphed into
something totally different mid-book? That kind of stuff throws me as a reader.
But as a writer, I can see how it happens.
You start out with a bunch of newbie characters, then you put them into difficult situations.
They react, and how they react shows what their true character is like. Before your eyes, your
little newbies are growing up (*sniff, sniff!) having opinions, growing a backbone (or not) and becoming
themselves.
At least that's the way it is for me.
Other writers might experience it differently. Maybe their characters come to them fully-formed but then the further they go along in the novel, the characters end up changing or going in directions the author did not anticipate.
This is why, when writing a novel, some 'writing days' are spent reading.
Today was a reading day. I hadn't planned on it, but I'd gotten to a place where I needed
to be reminded of where my MC had been and how far he'd come.
Writers have to stop sometimes and read from the beginning -
to make sure Main Character in Chapter One matches Main Character in Chapter Twenty-One. And if he/she doesn't, you have some 'splainin to, Lucy.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

AN INTERVIEW WITH MARIANNE NOWICKI ABOUT THE EFFECTIVENESS OF BOOK TRAILERS AS RAZZLE DAZZLE MARKETING TOOLS FOR NEW AUTHORS

Are you a debut author who is wondering whether you should invest in a professionally made book trailer? Recently, through the magical world of Facebook, I discovered that my long lost close college friend Marianne Nowicki was in the business of designing trailers for authors. I asked her to make the trailers for Freaked (HarperTeen 2009) and Stranded (HarperTeen 2010). Wow! was I wowed at the results. Marianne and I discussed her process which in a lot of ways sounded like my process. Designing trailers seems to be yet another place creativity in book making merges and becomes collaborative.

JD:
Do you think book trailers offer a new way for consumers to browse? How will trailers affect bookstores? Do you foresee them becoming part of a card catalog record in libraries?

MN:
The book trailer is a relatively new promotional method, but clearly one that will be sticking around. For YA readers, it is a no-brainer. Today's tweens and teens are so used to viewing videos and movie trailers - trailers are a great way to compete in today's technological and visual marketplace. But I think authors and publishers of all genres will find them an exceptional marketing tool. Personally, I still love using written text in my trailers- in lieu of voiceovers - it makes more sense to me when I consider that they are promoting books, not movies, but that's just me. Can't really say what will happen with the library card catalog. I am finding it interesting however that many high school book club sites now have spots for trailers.

JD:
How did you get into the business of making book trailers? what specialized skills do you bring to the field?

MN:
My background in the advertising industry (specifically working with professional photographers and illustrators) has been invaluable to me. It taught me the importance and power of a strong visual - it most certainly could make or break an ad. The advertising photography business changed drastically with the advent of digital photography and the growing availability and popularity of exceptional stock photography. There is so much to choose from today -having the background to discern between powerful and weak imagery is certainly an asset in my current incarnation as a book trailer producer. I got started producing trailers initially when I began offering web video production services to a few authors and speakers I was providing virtual assistance to and that organically led to producing their book trailers. At some point, I realized that I had a knack for translating the essence of a book visually. I have a blast putting together these trailers - it is a great creative outlet for me.

JD:
Very neat. How closely do you collaborate with authors? What questions do you ask them before you start work on a new trailer?.

MN:
I work very closely with my authors and I am particularly concerned when it comes to the text used in my trailers. In the essence of keeping the trailer moving forward, it usually becomes necessary to insert at least some text that isn't directly quoted from the book - it is very important to me that the authors have a comfort level with all text in the trailers and particularly so if it is written from the perspective of one of the characters in the book. Also, although I tend to shy away from showing too much of a person's face or body in any single clip (I don't want to detract from the reader's experience of developing their own mental picture of what a character looks like) I do like to be sure I have the basics correct and rely on my authors to tell me if they think the image I have chosen is not working. The authors are so intimately connected with the characters and locations described within their books - and it is important to me for them to feel that I got those parts right. The authors I work with have as much say as they want, but ultimately they understand that they are hiring me for my eye as well.

JD:
All of your trailers have unique, vivid color schemes. How do you choose the tones you use? Do you think the color choices affect the mood of each trailer?

MN:
Definitely. There are certain colors that portray mystery better than others, or humor better than others. Think about any great movie that you have seen - they all have some effect that provides continuity. Directors are hired to bring a look and feel to a movie - to add a consistency to the clips and a continuity to the imagery. The same is true for graphic design - when I receive a brochure or catalog, the ones I am most drawn to - that appear most professional and relay a strong branded message- are the ones that employ a color and mood consistency. Many times when I am asked to produce a trailer, the book cover art is already chosen - if that is the case, I try very hard to figure out how to incorporate the feeling and color scheme of the book cover into the trailer. The same is true for any special effects on the images.

JD:
I noticed on your site that you have made trailers for both fiction and non-fiction titles. Is there a difference in how you approach the two? How much does one have to inform, the other tell a story?

MN:
They both have to tell a story, but most non-fiction books by nature are informational, so there usually is more of an informational quality to the non-fiction trailers. However, it is equally as important to develop a look and mood to be carried throughout a non-fiction trailer. And with both fiction and non-fiction, it is crucial that you understand what types of images will appeal to your market.

JD:
How do you choose the text you include? Do you quote directly? Do you sometimes paraphrase? How often do you find images alone can convey what you need?

MN:
It is such an organic process, but if the book offers direct quotes that work to tell the story in two minutes, then I love using them - that happened most often in the Freaked Trailer so far. But there is always going to be some amount of paraphrasing to be sure the trailer on its own makes sense. I have found that when I want to speed up the trailer and highlight a particular peak in the plot - images on their own can tell the story. Almost all the trailers I work on have at least a few clips that contain no text. Although that is less true for non-fiction trailers.

JD:
How do you choose the parts of a story you can tell? Is creating suspense one of the objectives of making a good trailer?

MN:
As an avid reader, it is very important to me to completely read and digest the book before I can get too involved in making a trailer (although I do take notes all along the way to earmark strong visual descriptions, quotes, and what I call key plot moments). Suspense, intrigue, mystery, connection - anything that compels the viewer to want to know more, is a crucial part of an effective trailer. I never lose sight of the fact that trailers are promotional tools - I think of them as dynamic visual book jacket blurbs and I am very wary of giving away plot spoilers.

JD:
Visual book jacket blurbs, I like that. How important is the audio portion of the video? Are the complications or difficulties in acquiring musical rights?

MN:
I am always unbelievably surprised at how great some of the stock audio is - but it is important to read the stock music agreement carefully - I always call my sources to confirm the use. That being said - I spend almost as much time searching for the right soundtrack as I do for all of the images to be used in the trailer. Because for me, it is crucially important that the music reflects the overall feel and genre of the book and will appeal to the book's intended readership. And once you find that - is it interesting? does it change pace and allow you to spotlight certain clips in the way you want? I do find I have to edit most music in order to fit all of these demands. A good portion of my downtime is spent researching great audio sources.

JD:
Which leads us to the question of what is the difference, in your opinion, between a trailer that works (and might lead readers to buy a book?) and trailers that don't?

MN:

For me, trailers need to have all elements working in concert to be visually effective. For my style of trailer, that means text, font, imagery, music and other audio, color and style. Referring back to your first question, I think that is one of my greatest strengths - making them all work together. There are many different styles of trailers - I recently saw one that was simply an author giving a reading, but the subject matter was so poignant and emotional that she was really able to connect with the viewers (a few shots of the audience in tears also helped tremendously). So, different types of trailers can be equally effective. The acted movie-style trailers can also be very effective, but can be very costly to do well. In a nutshell, an effective book trailer is one that leaves the viewer needing to know more..................


JD:
Speaking of knowing more, how should someone who wants a trailer or has more questions contact you?

MN:
Probably the best way to contact me for questions and consultation is at my website: http://nowickiproductions.com

JD: Thank you Marianne. It’s been a pleasure conversing with you and I love the trailers you made for me.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Take this Quiz!

Are You a Successful Writer?

A whacky quiz in three parts

Caution: Any attempt to measure success may drive a mildly insane writer over the edge

Part I

1. Are you published?

2. Have I heard of your book?

3. Are you on the NY Times Bestseller’s list?

4. Has Oprah called?

If you answered no to any of the questions 1-4, you stay up nights contemplating your failure.

Part II

5. Is there a member of your family, critique group, or circle of friends that admires your writing?

6. Have ever you gotten fan mail? (Even letters/emails calling you Stephanie Meyers by mistake count.)

7. Is your book in a library? Has it ever been checked out?

If you answered yes to any of the above, you’ve experienced happiness. For at least a minute.

Part III - Bonus Question

8. Despite all the ups and downs, do you still love writing?

If the answer is yes, than you are both happy and a success!!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Love of Jazz, Cowboy Songs, and Great Stories

I come from a long line of artists and musicians and teachers. My grandparents had a vaudeville act in the 1920s--"Haywood's Hawaiian Players". My mother was a teacher and a beautiful painter. My dad played the saxophone and has the best jazz collection of anyone I know. He also has a really good singing voice, but he won't do any solos unless he's belting out one of his cowboy songs. As a teenager, I lived in fear that he would do that around one of my friends, but now I actually look forward to it. My brother, Tom, plays guitar and bass, and my brother, Tim plays brass, a little bit of percussion, and is a talented graphic designer. All I'm going to say is, it's a good thing I can put a sentence together, because I can clear a room pretty quickly with my singing voice.

My family treasures books and good stories, but I am the first in the family to be a writer. When ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER became a reality, my brother and sister-in-law had a party at their house in Seattle. Before I got on the plane, my cousin called.

"I have something for you," my cousin, Lynn said. "I think it belongs to you."

Lynn is a special kind of relative. The kind who you love not just because you have a family obligation, but the kind you would choose for a friend, even if you didn't share a DNA pool. And the fact that we are separated by about 3,000 miles means I just don't get to see her very often. So I couldn't wait to see what she was talking about.

She arrived at my brother's with a thick brown box, the size that would fit a tall stack of manuscript pages. It was tied up with a thick white string, kind of like those wonderful bakery boxes in the Bronx, and Lynn sat down with me to watch me take the lid off. But what was inside was even better than a pastry from Arthur Avenue. It was our great-grandmother's stories. She had been a writer! My family is not quiet by any means, and I was pretty sure I would have heard about this before. My father had known his grandmother, but had not known that she was a writer.

The stories are in all of the drafting stages, from the notes she'd scribbled on the back of scraps of paper ( just like I do!), all the way through her handwritten drafts on old newsprint tablets, and to the final draft that she'd typed.

One page of notes is written on the back of an old milk receipt from the dairy farm that she owned. It was dated November, 1933, which meant she was already a grandmother at that point. Did she wait for her kids to grow up to start writing? And when in her busy day as a dairy farmer, did she find time to get out her pen and paper? And since nobody knew she was a writer, did she write in secret? Her stories are full of action and adventure and great dialogue. I picture her standing at the counter in the kitchen, dreaming about places seemingly out of the reach of her farm, and scribbling as fast as she could.

I wish I could sit with her and talk about writing. Had she ever sent a story off to a publisher? Did she dream of seeing her work on the shelves of a library? Would she love the same books that I love? Would she think Dorothy Parker and Flannery O'Connor were brilliant and ahead of their time? Was my great-grandmother ahead of her time?

But my biggest question was this: would she have ever imagined that her great-granddaughter would be reading and cherishing her stories almost 80 years later?

"I wish she could tell her about my book," I said to my critique group.

"Oh, she knows," they said. "She knows."

--Ann Haywood Leal








Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Books I Wish I'd Read Aloud

One of my favorite parts of the day is the time I spend snuggled up with my 10-year-old daughter reading before bedtime. Unfortunately, not all books are created equal when it comes to reading them out loud. I won't mention any names, but I have stopped mid-book to say, "Why don't you finish this one on your own because I just can't keep reading these clunky sentences to you."

Other books I cherish. Right now we're reading Down Sand Mountain by Steve Watkins. I'm not sure that I'd fully appreciate the characters' wonderfully unique voices if I weren't reading the book aloud. I also loved reading Shannon Hale's Book Of A Thousand Days to my daughter. And I wouldn't have wanted to miss hearing the sound of each well-crafted sentence in East by Edith Pattou (okay, so some of the Norse was a little tongue-twisting).

Sometimes I wish I'd read a book aloud. I bet The Underneath by Kathi Appelt would be wonderful read that way. I kind of wish I'd gotten to really bring alive the characters in Jenny Moss' novel Winnie's War. And Waiting For Normal by Leslie Connor would've been a good one too. My daughter's teacher has read several Class of 2k9 books to the class too--and I envy her that reading experience.

Which books do you wish you'd read out loud to someone?

(Posted by Sydney Salter)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sharing Time, Sharing Books

One of the things I’ve learned during the past year is to make double use of time. And to share – with readers and with other authors. So this blog is one that I may repost. But for now it’s all yours. The Class of 2k9 is such a supportive group of good friends now and it’s become habit to share other people’s books while I’m presenting mine. Many librarians have asked me for lists of other books – they love the 2k9 postcard with it's yummy menu of all kinds of reading. So here I’m going to share some books I recommend that, like my book, speak to the experience of war.

Operation Yes, by Sara Lewis Holmes, Scholastic, 2009. I loved this book because, after reading about life on a military base and moving and a mom deployed to Iraq, I ended up feeling like kids have real power over parts of their lives. That they can, with a good plan and a good attitude, impact the world in glorious ways. After reading Operation Yes I imagined kids all over the world posting little green men. (MG)

Heart of a Shepherd, by our own 2k9 Rosanne Perry, Random House, 2009. A quiet gem about the impact of war on one ranch kid, his family, and his community when almost all the adult men in his small Oregon town are called up to the reserves. It speaks as much to family, faith, and finding one's place in the world as it does to war. But if you imagine the wars in the Middle East are far away and are only reminded of them when you see a clip on the news, you need to read this book.(MG)

Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick, Balzer and Bray/Harper Collins, 2009. A not so quiet step into the life of a nineteen year old serviceman in Iraq. He has suffered a traumatic brain injury and has lost his memory of an encounter with the enemy which may change his life. A page turner that reads honestly and is enhanced with sensitive details. (YA)

Bull Rider by Suzanne Morgan Williams, Margaret K. McElderry/Simon and Schuster, 2009. Well this is mine so I’ll be short. It’s about a Nevada ranch kid whose older brother suffers a traumatic brain injury and loses an arm in the Iraq War. It’s the story of the brothers – and how they cope with the changes war brings to their lives. (Tween)

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, Penguin Books, 2007. This best seller doesn't need my recommendation but it's a book I give to friends. A look at one man's experience creating and building schools in what was to become a war zone on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border. There is a "young readers edition" from Turtleback. (nonfiction, Adult/YA)

On my nightstand that I haven’t finished yet:
Sunrise in Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers, Scholastic 2008 (YA)
100 Days and 99 Nights by Alan Madison, Little Brown, 2008 (young middle grade)
Ghosts of War, The True Story of a 19-Year- Old GI by Ryan Smithson, Collins/Harper Collins, 2009 ( nonfiction, YA/adult)
War Is, Soldiers, Survivors, and Storytellers Talk About War, edited by Mard Aronson and Patty Campbell, Candlewick Press,2008 (nonfiction, YA/adult)

And Before Iraq and Afghanistan:
Diary of a Young Girl by Ann Frank ( nonfiction YA)
Red Badge of Courage by Stephan Crane (YA/Adult)
The Sun Also Rises by Earnest Hemmingway (YA/Adult)
Tistou of the Green Thumbs by Maurice Druon (MG)

This is my list. Do you have books to add? I'd love to have a long annotated list to offer librarians. Thanks, Suzanne Morgan Williams

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

YOU ASKED! Number 1 - AGENTS

Ok, peeps, one thing you should know is that things get a little nutty after one's book comes out. Most of us are into, or finishing, or revising our 2nd or third books while still trying to keep the promotion thing happening for our first ones.
THEREFORE, in an effort to streamline our kooky lives, what we decided to do is to post one question at a time and we will all answer in the comments section. That doesn't mean you can't comment! Please do. And then check back to see the new answers.

Ok: This week's question was:

To those of you moving forward unagented, are you seeking an agent, or are you comfortable with self-representation? I don't have an agent and every minute I can pry away from work is devoted to writing my next book and getting my promotion stuff ready for book one. Should I be *making* time to find an agent?

Now, because I'm one of the un-agented ones and I'm posting this, I'll go ahead and put my two cents in here:
This has been an ongoing inner struggle for me! I had sold HAVEN and had an offer for BEST FRIENDS FOREVER: A WWII Scrapbook when I signed with an agent the first time. (So I had 'made' the sales on my own. She negotiated the second contract.) The agent and I were together a year when we decided to part (amicably). However, because this agent negotiated the contract, she will forever get her percentage of my sales, foreign rights, etc. (Something to think about.)
After we parted, I wanted another agent ASAP! But I think that had more to do with my pride than anything else. Plus, I had nothing finished to show an agent! So I waited. Now I am halfway through my next novel and my editor is interested in seeing it when it's finished (no guarantees). I figure if she wants it, I will contact a literary lawyer to help me negotiate the contract. If the editor doesn't want it, I will THEN submit it to a few agents I have my eye on. I haven't lost any agent-looking time, because I'd have to have a finished ms to submit to them anyway, right?
Take from this what you will!
And good luck:)

Comments from anyone else?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

You Asked?? The Sky's the Limit


Hello all of you fabulous readers!
If you were following us through our debut year in 2009, you know we
had a regular feature called, "You asked!" These posts were answers to questions
YOU all came up with. Well, guess what? It was such a hit, we decided to do it again.
So! Now that we have all the trauma and drama of our debut year under our belts, we are moving on, many to second and even third books! Most of us have agents, a few do not. Some have sold and/or come out with second (and third!) books, some are still writing those. Some are still doing promotion for that first book, some have cut back to work on a WIP (work-in-progress).
But wherever we are in that spectrum, we all feel blessed to have made it this far;)
So, what would you like to know?
Leave your questions in the comment box (and ask as many as you'd like! They're fat free!). We will gather them up into our special Class of 2k9 Vault and take them out over the course of the year, complete with our various answers.
Thanks for reading and we look forward to hearing from you!
Cheers,
Bev Patt