Friday, October 30, 2009

The Giant NaNo Prepping Post: Or, How Maggie Writes a Novel

All right, I’ve already said that I’m doing NaNoWriMo -- attempting to write a 50,000 word novel entirely during the month of November, along with a few other thousand people (note: we are all writing different novels. It might be awkward otherwise). I mentioned in my last post that I would talk about my prepwork for said Secret Novel (which is already sold and has a release date) if goaded. And I’ve been goaded.

So here goes, the birth of a novel.

IDEA! BRING OUT THE LIGHTBULBS!

For me, ideas come from everywhere. There is no such thing as a good or bad idea, by the way. They’re like atoms. They just exist. It’s what you do with them that’s good or bad. For me, an idea becomes a novel when I can’t put it down. When it gets bigger instead of smaller in my head. So for this one, I got it while on a boat in the middle of a river, and then I came home and wrote a short story. Normally the short story puts most ideas to rest, but this one was still running around like a hyperactive toddler. I knew it was going to require a novel to shut it up.


SO YOU WANT TO SEE THIS SHORT STORY, HUH?


Well, you can’t. Because it’s still secret. But I based SHIVER on one of my short stories, and it’s here. (warning, tis not beautiful).


ENDINGS FIRST, DARLINGS


Once upon a time, Maggie was an author who didn’t finish novels. It was a long time ago, and the novels were bad anyway*, but the point remains that none of them had endings, unless you consider scenes where the aliens come down and kill everyone to be excellent denouements (Only works if it’s War of the Worlds. Otherwise, not so hot).

*One novel, rewritten eleven times, was entitled THE WINDING RIVER and was about all of the unicorns in the world being hunted down so that their horns could be melted into things to make enchanters sexy. I’m paraphrasing, but that’s basically the gist.

Until Maggie realized that these terrible things didn’t happen if she actually had, you know, an ending. Once she didn’t allow herself to chase the fuzzy but dangerous plot bunnies until after she had an ending, the aliens went away.

So, for my NaNo novel, this is the most important thing. I needed to know the ending first. I do this with all my novels, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that I know how the conflict will be solved (though sometimes it does) -- it means I know what the ending looks like. I know where the final scene will be, though I don’t always know why. For instance, at the end of Ballad, I knew I wanted James to be making a terribly hard choice and I really, really wanted to burn someone alive.


SUM UP, PLEASE


Usually, the summary happens at the very beginning, when I first get the idea. The summary is a paragraph long and looks like the blurb on the back of the book. It’s what I use to convince my editors to buy the book, and also helps me clarify theme and plot. It also gets me excited. For my NaNo book, since I had the short story first, the summary came after the short story and the ending. And I’d share it, but it’s Top Secret until everything is announced. Sorry. More on this later.


WHO THE HECK ARE YOU, AGAIN?

This is where characters start coming in. Generally they get names first; in fact, sometimes they arrive with them. To me, the name is the first part of their personality, because I believe you either become your name or run as far away from it a you can. Anyway, once I have these characters named, I start to brainstorm on who they are, where they came from, and most importantly, what sort of people they were to get themselves into the problem that I’m writing about.

So this involves me thinking of their family background, what their hopes and fears are, what motivates them. How will they interact with the other main characters? I don’t want two characters who are very similar. I also don’t want characters that are too stable -- I can’t have lots of lovely angst if my characters aren’t changing in some way. Usually that means something just happened to them that’s forcing a change or something in their life is becoming untenable and they need to change, or the mere introduction of the other character is making them change. Characters that stay the same throughout the book? Boring.

Also, here’s the thing about characters: they drive the plot, not the other way around. There’s no point in me brainstorming on the plot anymore without knowing the characters first, because it’s plot without context. One way expressway to writer’s block.


SCENES, YOUR NAME IS BRICKS.


Scenes are my building blocks. For every book, I have a core of ten or twelve scenes that make the book what it is, and a lot of these scenes appear during the initial brainstorming/ prep work. Remember that noodling over characters I’ve been doing before now? Well, a lot of times it will make one of these core scenes appear. For those of you that have read SHIVER, some of the core scenes are the bathtub scene, the candy shop scene, and the Bronco scene near the end. If you’ve read BALLAD, core scenes were the Dee/ James scene in D.C., the final bonfire scene, and the beer scene.

Basically, when I get the idea for a core scene, my brain explodes and I get very happy: I know ‘em when I see ‘em. And they always grow out of character rather than by plot. The goal when I’m doing early brainstorming/ pre-drafting is to tease out as many of these as I possibly can. Right now, for Secret Novel, I have four of them. And then I have four other scenes that need to happen to get to The End, but I’m not sure how they’ll go down. They’re negotiable, so I don’t think of them as core scenes.

The scenes that don’t appear during my character musing occur during my final planning stage, when I am assembling my playlist and determining my themes I want to explore. Once upon a time, I’d use the core scenes to write a two page synopsis, full of lies and damn lies between the core scenes, but for this book, I’m going to see if I’ve outgrown my synopsis stage and just do a very ugly document with the scenes listed and the ending, all topped off by my two main characters’ descriptions and backgrounds listed very briefly, as I would’ve for a synopsis. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that I get more self-aware and efficient with my writing process as I move along this writerly life and learn my process better.

Ooh, ooh, I should mention that characters definitely dictate the scene building process. At one point, I was stuck in the brainstorming phase and I realized it was because my characters didn’t have motivation for moving further -- they only had the plot summary telling them to go places. I had to go back and figure out what would move them in that direction in their life and add it into their backstory. Then, bingo! Onward.

Basically, I think of the whole process like a road trip. I need to know the ending, because that’s my destination. If I don’t know where I’m going, how do I know when I get in the car if I’m going to end up someplace I actually want to be? And then the scenes are like little milestones that mean I’m going in the right direction; places I definitely want to visit. The rest? Is all up to wandering from milestone to milestone, taking the scenic route. I might go a wrong way, but I can always double back to the last milestone and strike out a different way until I find the right one.*

*this is actually the way I drive. It’s maybe a little terrifying for those who like more structure.


SO, WHAT AGAIN?

So to prep for my NaNo novel I have:

-had idea

-written short story based on idea

-come up with an ending for the novel

-written a summary

-found my main characters

-brainstormed some core scenes that I’m excited to write

-set up a musical playlist that conforms to the theme and mood I’m looking for

-brainstormed more core scenes

-gotten stuck and realized I needed SiblingProblems to make my plot work
written a document that has my scenes in sort of order, along with my ending. henceforth known as FAKE SYNOPSIS

And now I’m ready to go! Any questions? Comments? Derisive laughter?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Three Things on a Thursday

1. If you have been hoping and praying and begging for a live chat with Maggie Stiefvater, your hopes/ prayers/ beggings have been answered by Wild Things Book Club on Goodreads -- I'm doing a chat with them tomorrow at noon, EST. That's here.

2. I know you always wanted to see footage of giant snails. So I'm hooking you up with that here. Don't say I never gave you anything.



3. I think I'm all ready for NaNo. I'm just finishing up my synopsis -- do you guys want me to talk in more detail about how I'm prepping?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Contest Reminder: Win a Critique from the Merry Sisters of Fate

. . . and other cool prizes. I've just gotten back from two days of school/ library visits (hi, Franklin & Smithfield!)

This is just a reminder that the giant Ballad contest deadline is coming up: Halloween, midnight, winners to be announced the next day.

Prizes include a critique of your first chapter by all the Merry Sisters of Fate: me. Brenna Yovanoff, whose book THE REPLACEMENT was sold at auction and comes out next year. Tessa Gratton, whose book BLOOD MAGIC was also sold at auction and ALSO comes out next year.

And tons of book swag. Ah, hell, I'll just copy and paste the prizes and rules here.

The absolute grand prize about which I am enormously excited is

A 1 chapter (or 15 double-spaced pages, whichever comes first) critique by all three of the Merry Sisters of Fate:
me, Brenna Yovanoff (author of forthcoming FE in '10)( ) and Tessa Gratton (possessor of secret news I wish I could share)( ). These are my two critique partners, who read every manuscript I write before it makes it to my editors. They rip and tear my manuscripts apart and put them back together like nobody's business. I would not be who I was without them and I'm thrilled that they've agreed to do this.


The first prize is this swank messenger bag. Not just a swank messenger bag, but a swank messenger bag stuffed with a signed Ballad, a signed Lament, a signed Shiver, and a signed Shiver audio book.




And the second prize is stack of books all involving the paranormal and teens and death and good stuff:

a signed copy of BALLAD
NEED by Carrie Jones
GRACELING by Kristin Cashore
IMPOSSIBLE by Nancy Werlin
THIRSTY by M. T. Anderson

And the third prize is

a signed audiobook of Shiver (what? I have a lot of them)


And here are the rules:

To enter, you must find a copy of Ballad in the wild -- that is, in a bookstore of any ilk. You do not have to buy said copy of Ballad. All you have to do is whip out your camera or your cell phone and have someone take a picture of you holding it. That's one entry. That's it. You want another chance to win? Have your sister (or any person) pose next to you. Said person doesn't have to buy the book either. Or even hold a copy. She does need to be looking at the camera though. Want another chance to win? Have that random woman browsing the Sarah Dessen books stand next to your sister. Again, she doesn't have to hold the book. Or even know you. Just be willing to smile into the camera in proximity to someone holding the book. Each person in the photo represents an entry. So more people = more chances to win. Want visual examples? Of course you do.

This is ONE ENTRY. Notice James is holding the book and looking at the camera.
TWO ENTRIES. Dee is not holding a book, but she is eyeballing the camera. Vaguely.

THREE ENTRIES. Nuala is not holding a book either, but she's looking at the camera.

FOUR ENTRIES. None of them know the king of the dead, but he's looking at the camera (I think. His eyes are shadowed.) He doesn't have to hold that book, but he is anyway because he's so darn thrilled to be in it.

Then what I need you to do is take the photos and post them somewhere online -- I don't care if it's your facebook, livejournal, photobucket, mom's website, whatever, that's not important. The only thing that's important is that you link them here. You can embed them directly in the comment if you have the voodoo to do that. Or you can just send me a link. Make sure it's someplace I can see it and do a headcount. Bonus prize to someone who gets more than 20 people in a photo. ;) I'll think of something good . . .

Got the idea?

Go!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

NaNoWriMo: Yeah, I Said It

For those of you familiar with NaNoWriMo, it requires no further explanation. The mere appearance of the word is inspiring cold sweats and a churning knot of anticipation and fear in your StomachParts and a tingling sensation of hope. For those of you who think I just made that word up, here's what it is:

National Novel Writing Month. Every year in November, tens of thousands of people attempt to write an entire novel before the end of the month. A lot of them fail. Some of them don't. Mostly, I look on from the sidelines with arched eyebrows as I plug away at some other novel deadline and toy with the idea of jumping in. Last year I used it to write 20,000 words and a synopsis of a novel that wasn't currently under contract while I was writing a novel that was, right before I was ambushed with edits from another novel and had to call the whole thing off. Basically, I've never really attempted NaNo in the spirit of the thing.

Until now.

Oh, yeah, I said it. This year, I'm making it a goal, and Maggies Don't Break Goals. So what if my existing novel FOREVER is due March 1st? Or that I will be flying to two different conferences for eight days of the month? Or that I will have to also write two short stories for Merry Sisters of Fate during that time? Pshaw, minor set-backs. My two crit partners ( and and I had the following chat:

me: I have decided to NaNo, Brenna.
Just this morning.
Tessa gave me permission.
Brenna: of course you have.
I don't think you'd be happy if you weren't pursuing the impossible :)
Tessa: SHHHH it isn't impossible!
Brenna: no, that's not what I mean
I mean, she's trying to reach the threshold of impossible
Brenna: which means, she decimates every possible thing on her way there
How well they know me.

Anyway, I'll be doing NaNo with my Secret Novel that involves blood, beaches, and kissing (but not kraken). Under the rules of NaNo, the novel's supposed to be 50,000 words in order to be considered successful (almost half the length of SHIVER) so my goal is going to be a nice skeleton that I can go back to and flesh out after I finish FOREVER in a timely manner.

Unlike previous NaNo years, I now have 4 completed novels under my belt, and I sort of know myself and what I need to finish a novel a lot better than before. So while I'm not exactly cavalier, I'm . . . optimistic. I have my short story that I'm basing the novel off, I know my two main characters pretty well, I have a playlist in place, and I'm just about ready to write my two-page synopsis. I think that if I add "brainstormed about secondary characters" to that list, I'm actually about ready to start on November 1st.

So. I know that some of you guys are NaNoing. 'Fess up.

Friday, October 23, 2009

UK Book Tour! The Hideously Incomplete Post!

Flowers from Scholastic UKSo I am finally back from my absolutely brilliant UK tour for SHIVER and so much happened that I don't think i can even begin to be coherent, much less figure out what is interesting to everyone and not just to me. So let's go for photo spam instead, shall we? The business part of the UK trip was a whirlwind of efficient public transport, cups of tea made almost right but not quite right, hoards of folks with cool accents, and posses of schoolchildren in smart jackets. I would show you amazing photos of my library visit in Birmingham, my school visit in Derby, my vampire/ werewolf panel with Justin Sompers in Cheltenham, and my book signing in London, but . . . I don't have any. My publicists were snapping away, as were fans, so they're out there somewhere, but they are not on my camera.

Okay, so first of all. Scholastic UK treated me like the Queen Mum. They sent me flowers in my hotel room! (Exhibit A) They took me to lovely restaurants! They ordered me private cars after we missed our connecting flight, had to stay a night in New Jersey, and got to the UK a day late! (don't ask. I am still annoyed).

Anyway, the tour bit was fantastic. I had a signing at the Golden Treasury in London, where I got to meet folks I knew from Facebook. Witness the fact that people can spell my name right in other countries too:

Shiver signing in London

I also spent a few hours with four teens who'd won a competition with Bliss Magazine; first we had high tea at a posh hotel, then we headed to the Absolut Ice Bar to have (nonalcoholic) drinks served in glasses made of chunks of ice. Yes, that is ice on the walls. Yes, it was below freezing in there, yes, they gave us coats and gloves, and yes, this is a photo of the author of SHIVER actually shivering.


Absolut Ice Bar


WBeck'se also spent a bit of time on the Tube in London -- both for the signing and also for meeting up with my art friend Katherine Tyrrell (who has a massively well rated art blog called Making a Mark). We met in the National Portrait Gallery restaurant, which had great views of the city. Apparently before I got there Katherine had told them that I was a Very Famous Author Who Shouldn't Be Killed, as they were very concerned about my preservative allergy and making sure I didn't ingest anything that would make me twitch. After we had dinner with Katherine, we got to see Vivaldi's Four Seasons performed at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, which was pretty darn awesome, even if I was falling asleep from jet lag during "Summer."

Anyway. Tube. I saw this advert on the wall and was forced to pull out my camera and snag a photo, annoying many people in leggings (everyone regardless of leg shape wears leggings in London, it's slightly troubling). Because, hello, it says "Beck's" and has a wolf howling. Get it? GET IT?

So all of the touring stuff was brilliant -- I think my favorite moment was when one of the school kids raised their hand and said "I don't have a question. I just want to say your accent is really cool!"

You heard it here first.

So after four days of traveling back and forth by train to events while my husband roamed free in London, my intrepid lover secured a rental car and we headed up toward Whitby in Yorkshire. As you may recall from an earlier post, I'd had a dream about Whitby Abbey so I wanted to go there, and my next novel (not FOREVER) is set on cliffs, so I wanted to go cliff hunting too. So onward. It was four hours from Cheltenham to Whitby, which became six, because we were forced to stop at Cool Things.

Like:

Breedon on the Hill

At random old churches, like this one, Breedon on the Hill (nothing like a specific name to make things sound important)(for instance, I'm renaming myself Maggie Who Points At Things).

Church Window at Breedon on the Hill

Witness the pretty stained glass in this church. Also, witness the tombs. They had two ordinary ones with sculptures of recumbent medieval folks laying on top of them, but then they had this one, which for some reason featured what was on its inside on its outside:

Skeleton Tomb/ Crypt


Bolsover CastleAm I the only one who thinks that from this angle, with the support beam in the middle, that this skeleton looks like the victim of a bad magician's saw trick?

After we left Important Church, we went onwards to Bolsover Castle, a 17th century castle built on the site of an older castle as a "pleasure palace." What this basically means is that I can only show you pics of the outside because many of the paintings on the inside and sculptures on the outside were X rated. Aw, late medieval porn, the history of chauvinism, we love thee.

For the record, if you want more pics, as always, check out my Flickr page.

Anyway, so we left the Castle of Horny Men behind, eating pretty much nothing but chocolate-covered digestives all day.

Me at Bolsover Castle

We headed through the Yorkshire Moors:

Yorkshire Moors

And finally to Whitby, where we met up with my best friend from college, singer/songwriter Erin Hill and her husband. We stayed in a hotel in Ruswarp, which none of us could pronounce, and the next day we headed down to Bempton Cliffs and Flamborough Head for a wee bit of research. As I mentioned before, my next book involves blood and beaches and kissing, and I needed to get a feel for the place. (more on this book in a later post, because I think I'll be NaNoing it)

So. Cliffs.

Me at Bempton Cliffs

That is me in the ridiculous hat. Well, one of the ridiculous hats.

Me at Bempton Cliffs

Me looking very unsexy with my runny nose and four hours of sleep. Note the precipitous drop. After walking the tops of the cliffs, we drove to where we could get to where they started. And I have seen many awesome things in my life, but this was one of the most awesome.

Flamborough Head

Awesome, yes? And no, that is not me in that particular ridiculous hat. Anyway, so obviously I had to go down for a closer look, though Erin chickened out and waited on shore.

Me at Flamborough Head

The black stuff you see is kelp (because this all goes underwater in the late afternoon) and kelp are slippery bastards. Anyway, I jumped, mostly successfully, from rock to rock, and pretended I was in the set of my beach/ blood/ kissing novel, while Lover followed me indulgently with the camera.

Me in Sea Cave thing at Flamborough

The sea caves were amazing -- some were huge, and some were tiny, just big enough to hide homicidal creatures in a Maggie-novel. In real life, they had weird red jelly things stuck to the wall instead. I poked one with a rock and it spit sea water at me. I think they are homicidal scallops, but I'm waiting for clarification.

Sea things stuck to wall

Whitby Abbey at Sunset
So cliffs dispatched, we headed back to Whitby, intent on seeing the Abbey. Like I said, I had a dream about Whitby Abbey, before I knew it was Whitby Abbey, and once I found out where it was, I was intent on visiting it. Basically, five years ago, I dreamt about a ruined church at the top of a heckuva lot of stairs that was in England and a tourist attraction. When I woke up, I asked my UK friends about it and they said, "Oh, that's Whitby Abbey." I googled the abbey and sure enough, it was the same place I'd seen in my dream. So I felt like I had to go.

Only it was closed.

How, you ask, can you close a ruin? Well, it has a wall around it, and the visitor center closes the gate and says "closed at 4 p.m. and on Tuesdays and Wednesdays." If you are thinking, aren't those the only days that Maggie was in Whitby? you would be thinking correctly.

Maggie was not happy.

Neither was Lover. While we circled the wall, taking pictures from afar, he talked to some locals who informed him that people jumped the wall "all the time." So we decided to jump the wall, but we also decided to do this law-breaking in the morning, since in my dream, it had been morning (yes, it was all very scientific).

So we went back to the hotel and bided our time. Meanwhile, Erin's husband got an email from his church group reminding him of a gathering they were having later this month, and that they'd picked a theme -- Caedmon. Then they told the story of Caedmon, the father of sacred music, who had been called to music in . . . you ready? Whitby. He supposedly had a dream of music, and then he woke up and promptly went to the Abbess at the Abbey and sang it to her.

Random coincidence? MAKE OF IT WHAT YOU WILL.

As to us, we decided that it really meant we ought to jump the wall in the morning.

The Stairs at Whitby

(these are the famous stairs. Please note Lover, looking particularly edible)

So we jumped the wall in the morning, rather uneventfully, and as soon as I had, I realized that the spot I'd seen in my dream was around the corner of the Abbey. So I made a beeline there and okay, I have to tell you, it was the weirdest feeling ever. Picture of me and the Boy in said spot:

Me and Ed at Whitby Abby

Picture of cross dedicated to Caedmon:

The Cross at Whitby

There were images of Caedmon and harps everywhere, once we started looking for them. Which is just weird. Because y'all know what my instrument is, of course.

Caedmon

It was all very . . . dreamlike.

Whitby Abby

Anyway, dejavu experiences make you work up a real appetite, so we headed down into Whitby and got some breakfast at Marie Antionette Bakery (tagline, I kid thee not: "let them eat cake"). Mmmmmm. This photo is only to make you hungry.

Marie Antionette Crepes in Whitby

And then back to London, and the last photo of the trip was taken in London Heathrow airport. The title at the top of this shelf, by the way, in the airport bookstore, was "Childrens' Bestsellers."

Shiver at London Heathrow

What a trip. I can't wait to go back AND DO IT AGAIN.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

This Is What My Face ALWAYS Looks Like

Because I am about to run out the door for my UK flight, I am not going to do a proper run down post on my Ballad launch party at Fountain Bookstore or my two days of panels and conferencing at James River Writers Conference. Both were great -- so many friends showed up at the launch, it was wonderful -- but I'm afraid a description would pale beside the real thing. It made me think about just how many friends I've made since last year when Lament came out. Has it only been a year? Sheesh.

Anyway, so instead of a pitiful rundown post, I will post some photos that my friend Susan took of me. She was going through them and said "IT'S LIKE A FLIP BOOK!"

Apparently, I move a lot while i'm talking. I do not remember making half of these faces, but the camera could not possibly lie. So here they are. In case you wanted to be at the Ballad launch and really couldn't, this is practically as good as the real thing.

THE FACES OF MAGGIE.

the faces of maggie


If a picture is worth a thousand words, this post is a freakin' chapter.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

GIANT CONGRATS TO TESSA!

I can finally, finally, finally shout this from the rooftops. Tessa Gratton, one of my two critique partners and my very dear friend and one of the three Merry Sisters of Fate has a book deal that went official today!!

From Publisher's Marketplace:

Tessa Gratton's debut BLOOD MAGIC, about two teens who meet in a cemetery and plunge into a dangerous world of dark magic, first love, and the deadly secrets that hide in blood, to Suzy Capozzi at Random House Children's, at auction, in a very good deal, in a two-book deal, for publication in summer 2011, by Laura Rennert at Andrea Brown Literary Agency (world).

I've read it, critiqued it, it's awesome, tight, bloody, eerie, and sexy. I'm so excited for her. Now all three of us Sisters are published and all is right with the world.

I remember when we first met and the project she was working on then. Started in a motel room with a spray of arterial blood . . . aww, makes me nostalgic.

GIANT CONGRATS TO TESSA!!!! I'm so proud to know her!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

No, You Can't Be A Character In My Book

People ask me this all the time. "Will you write me into one of your books?"

The answer is no.

Hey, don't look at me like that. First of all, you don't know what you're asking. You wouldn't like it. And secondly, I'm just not that into you. And thirdly, you're just too damn normal.

I hear you protesting already, but hear me out.

What people are asking when they ask to be in one of my books is really this: May I live with you? Can I move in with you for the next four to eight months and sit next to you every single day and drink out of your tea mug and watch you sleep? Because that's what a character does. As an author, I have to look at every single side of them and imagine exactly how they'd react to any given situation and make up reasons for why they act the way they do, and then brainstorm and fantasize about upcoming scenes in the book for pretty much every waking moment until the book is not only written but revised and then edited by my editor. And then live with the consequences of that cohabitation in the form of one million reviews analyzing every bowel movement said character had.

Is that what you really want from me? Is it?

Which brings me to point two. I'm just not that into you. Pretty much unless you're my husband or my immediate family or handful of best friends, I will hate you before that time is up. Because unless I love you like a brother, that sort of cozy space sharing and observing of your personal habits will drive me crazy. It's like dating, but dating when, through intense and undying scrutiny, you know absolutely everything about your significant other's backstory, embarrassing personal habits, crushing secret motivations, and hopes, dreams, and fears.

Basically it's like dating Edward Cullen.

Also, that aside, do you really want me portraying you exactly as I see you, and inventing dysfunctional backstory to explain how you got that way?

Okay, thirdly. You're too normal.

I hear you shouting that this is not true, you're not normal, you have a crazy Star Wars obsession and your cut your hair with a pair of safety scissors and you have named your toaster Monica and you only sleep on your left side on days of the week with E in them.

I get it. You're quirky.

But you're still normal. Now, stop wailing about. It's okay to be normal. Many people are. Most people are. But they would also all make bad characters. Here's the thing about characters: they are larger than life. They're exaggerations. Subtle caricatures -- sometimes not so subtle, actually -- even in the most realistic of novels. Because while gray areas work wonderfully in real life and pretty much keep us all from killing each other, in a novel, there's not much room for them. You want to be 100% certain how a character is going to react to something every time, and that means that they have to be overblown versions of real people. Stoic people become incredibly stoic. Obsessive people become hilariously obsessive. Bitchy people become the most giant bitches the world has ever seen this side of Great Dane factories. I mean, kennels.

In real life, even stoic people are not always stoic. In fact, they may be only stoic in the face of really exceptional situations, and whiners the rest of the time. Obsessive people may really only be obsessive about their kitchen being neat, and the rest of the house can look like crap. Bitchy people may really only become horrid fiends when standing in line at the DMV and otherwise be delicate flowers unable to take constructive criticism. That's cool. Functional. But bad characterization.

Sure, characters can act out of, well, character. But you bet your biffy there had better be a darn good reason and it better not happen again, buster. When that stoic character finally breaks down? Ooooh, that's when you got the reader begging for more. But only if they've been stoic every other second of the book. When the bitchy character is finally nice? What a moment . . . but only if they've been a raving terror for the rest of the book.

Are you that bitchy?

I thought not.

So, I'm sorry, I'd love to help you out, but you just can't be a character in my book.


Also, your name's boring. Sorry.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Ballad Contest Extended to Halloween

Okay, first of all, why did everyone let me get away with posting a Five Things on a Friday post on a Monday? Why did I even think it was Friday yesterday? I am counting on you guys to REMIND ME WHAT YEAR IT IS.

Second of all, remember the Ballad contest? The awesome one with huge prizes including a crit from all of the Merry Sisters of Fate, so long as you just take a pic of yourself with Ballad in a store? Well, the deadline for it is supposed to be the 10th, but a lot of folks are having problems finding it in stores. It's gone to reprint to fill demand so it'll be easier to find very shortly, but I wanted to give everyone a chance to actually, you know, ENTER. (and never fear those who have already entered, I will be drawing an extra prize out for all entries that come in before the 10th).

So the new deadline is Halloween. And here are the prizes and rules for entry. Capiche? Capiche.


Okay, first of all, the prizes.

The absolute grand prize about which I am enormously excited is

A 1 chapter (or 15 double-spaced pages, whichever comes first) critique by all three of the Merry Sisters of Fate:
me, Brenna Yovanoff (author of forthcoming FE in '10)( ) and Tessa Gratton (possessor of secret news I wish I could share)( ). These are my two critique partners, who read every manuscript I write before it makes it to my editors. They rip and tear my manuscripts apart and put them back together like nobody's business. I would not be who I was without them and I'm thrilled that they've agreed to do this.


The first prize is this swank messenger bag. Not just a swank messenger bag, but a swank messenger bag stuffed with a signed Ballad, a signed Lament, a signed Shiver, and a signed Shiver audio book.




And the second prize is stack of books all involving the paranormal and teens and death and good stuff:

a signed copy of BALLAD
NEED by Carrie Jones
GRACELING by Kristin Cashore
IMPOSSIBLE by Nancy Werlin
THIRSTY by M. T. Anderson

And the third prize is

a signed audiobook of Shiver (what? I have a lot of them)


And here are the rules:

To enter, you must find a copy of Ballad in the wild -- that is, in a bookstore of any ilk. You do not have to buy said copy of Ballad. All you have to do is whip out your camera or your cell phone and have someone take a picture of you holding it. That's one entry. That's it. You want another chance to win? Have your sister (or any person) pose next to you. Said person doesn't have to buy the book either. Or even hold a copy. She does need to be looking at the camera though. Want another chance to win? Have that random woman browsing the Sarah Dessen books stand next to your sister. Again, she doesn't have to hold the book. Or even know you. Just be willing to smile into the camera in proximity to someone holding the book. Each person in the photo represents an entry. So more people = more chances to win. Want visual examples? Of course you do.

This is ONE ENTRY. Notice James is holding the book and looking at the camera.
TWO ENTRIES. Dee is not holding a book, but she is eyeballing the camera. Vaguely.

THREE ENTRIES. Nuala is not holding a book either, but she's looking at the camera.

FOUR ENTRIES. None of them know the king of the dead, but he's looking at the camera (I think. His eyes are shadowed.) He doesn't have to hold that book, but he is anyway because he's so darn thrilled to be in it.

Then what I need you to do is take the photos and post them somewhere online -- I don't care if it's your facebook, livejournal, photobucket, mom's website, whatever, that's not important. The only thing that's important is that you link them here. You can embed them directly in the comment if you have the voodoo to do that. Or you can just send me a link. Make sure it's someplace I can see it and do a headcount. Bonus prize to someone who gets more than 20 people in a photo. ;) I'll think of something good . . .

Got the idea?

Go!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Friday Five: The Utterly Awesome Italian Edition

1. First of all, I die of the awesome. Check out the site for the Italian edition of Shiver. Warning for those at work and with small, impressionable dogs: site involves howling. It comes out in two days over there, on the 7th. And check out the gorgeous cover. LOOK AT THE CLAW MARKS. Love hurts, baby.

2. In slightly less awesome news, only because the cover is the same, the Dutch edition of Shiver is now available. It's called HUIVER over there. Which I'm hoping means SHIVER in Dutch. I really have no idea. It looks suspiciously like a brand of vacuum to me, and there are no vacuums in Shiver. There is a vacuum in LINGER. There, don't say I never told you anything about what to expect in LINGER.

Does anyone have any clue what the subtitle means?

3. My short fiction involving egotistical enchanters is up at Merry Sisters of Fate. Twas written in an airport with a woman looking over my shoulder. It was eerily like sketching in public.

4. We went to see a bunch of sheep yesterday, at a Fall Fiber Festival, involving much gorgeous wool and yarn. Thing 2 pets and observes twenty different sheep and then at the end of the day, walks to twenty-first sheep and says "Can I pet your cow?"

That kid's Harvard-bound, I tell you.

5. Current musical obsession (for the past two weeks): "Patient Patient" by The Morning Benders. Sorry, no fun music video, and the sound quality is not as mind-blowing as it could be, but dude. Try not grinning while listening to this song. Go on. Try it. If you can manage, you are a heartless harpie.

6. (bonus bullet point!) THANK YOU to everyone for the congrats on the movie news! I can't even keep up with all of them. Cockles of heart = warmed.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Dammit, Skywalker, Look Inside Yourself

And trust yourself. That's what I would tell Luke if I were Yoda. Or anyone's mentor, for that matter. I have been barraged lately by would-be writers coming to me or other authors or editors or agents, looking for validation. Or who have been crushed by something that a critique partner told them. Or who have posted sadly about giving up on any of the forums I occasionally poke my head into.

All of them ask the same sort of questions. They sound like so:

- should I be writing?
- will I ever be good enough?
- is this what I really ought to be doing?
- are they right when they say I should do something else?
- is it too hard to do this?
- is it time to give up?
- is it worth it?

All great questions. And you know the only person who can answer these questions for you?

Yoda.

No, I'm kidding. You. You're the only one who can answer these questions. You can ask other people these questions, of course, and everyone will answer you, usually with something exceptionally reassuring sounding, but they are all just guessing. Because you're not going to believe them. Not really. Not unless they agree with what you already secretly or subconsciously think.

The other day, someone asked me if my path to publication had been easy, and I shrugged and said, "Yeah, I guess so, comparatively." But on the plane trip back home, I started thinking about this statement. Looking at it objectively, I don't think it was that easy. I just did a quick search in my current e-mail inbox and found 95 e-queries that got rejected. That was since September of 2006. Before that, I had 40 from my previous email account, and before that, I did paper queries. I chucked most of those when I moved (I used to save them), so I only have about 25 of the rejection letters from my pre-2005 querying life. But that is only a tiny percentage.

When I finally did get editor interest on my first novel, the editor took it to the acquisitions meeting and returned with the news that he couldn't convince them to take it. I had no other leads.

And let's talk different kinds of rejections, shall we? I love to create music, create art, and write. When I was in college as a history major (because I thought teaching history would be a nice thing to do while waiting to make a living at something creative), I tried to get accepted into college piano lessons, college drawing classes, and a creative writing class. I failed to get into any of them. My piano playing wasn't good enough, the music department said, for further lessons. My art portfolio wasn't sophisticated enough, the art department decided. And I wasn't an English major and my writing just didn't show enough promise to get into a creative writing class (I fantasized for a long time about the day when I would rub these decisions in their faces)(these fantasies usually involved me springing into the Creative Writing professor's office with a copy of the latest New York Times and shouting "Oh ho ho look who is on the list and WHO ISN'T!?")(This fantasy somehow lost its appeal long before I actually made it onto the list).

Do you see what point I'm trying to get at here, with all the subtlety of a Jack Nicholson movie? I keep seeing authors and artists fall by the wayside, crushed by external forces that don't even care if the person is crushed or not. They just want said smashed person to leave them alone. None of those rejections were personal, not even the ones that said my portfolios sucked. They really just were trying to do their job and guess who had the most potential because their resources were limited.

And they guessed wrong.

And that's why you can't trust other people's judgment on your hopes and dreams, people. Only you can decide when you've had enough, if it's worth it, if you're doing the right thing. They might be able to decide when you get published, but they can't decide for you when you stop trying.

I think of myself like a deep sea fish. I mean, not regularly, but at this moment, I do. The pressure of the ocean once you are way deep down where it's cool is absolutely crushing. But deep sea fish don't get crushed. Why not? Because the pressure inside them is just as strong, pushing back on the world around them. At any point in my career -- those early nos when I was just learning how to write, or those middling nos when I just got form rejections, or those late nos, when I made it to acquisitions and then failed to get published -- I could've given up and let myself get crushed and given up.

Guess what? The world wouldn't have cared.

And I'm cool with that. My dreams are only my own. They are not anyone else's concern. I don't count on anyone else in the world to value them, other than my husband. Absolutely nobody in the world has any responsibility to ease your creative pain, make your writing journey easier, help you along the writing path, or otherwise not trample you like a bug with juicy green insides. That doesn't mean that no one will, it just means no one has to. And it means you can get by without others too, if you yourself have the tensile strength to withstand those crushing oceanic pressures of the creative life.

So here's where I go back to the Yoda part. Why are aspiring authors and artists looking to the outside world for verification of their purpose in life? Trust yourself. Trust your own instincts, your own dreams. I'm not saying trust yourself to know that your writing doesn't suck -- you can't. I'm sorry, none of us can. But you can trust yourself that you will eventually get to where it doesn't suck. And you can trust your opinion that it will be worth it when you get there. And that it is worth the hours you're logging to improve your craft and learn about the business.

And what if that voice inside you is always shouting that it isn't worth it? What if you're turning to the outside world for verification every week? Maybe it is time to quit. If writing is not making you happy, if you don't like the process, if you are crying all the time over rejections (I cannot remember crying over a single one), then why are you doing it? I think some people do it because they think the world will look at them as a quitter. Trust me, the world won't care. It sounds heartless, but they won't. The person you write for is you. And I think some people keep doing it because they've always done it and they can't imagine wasting all those hours spent trying. Nothing's a waste -- it's all character development. For you. I officially give you permission to give up if you want to give up.

But I also give you permission to shake your head indignantly at the next rejection and to use it as fuel instead of water for your fire. Mark it up as another physical example of you pursuing your goals -- an unsent query gets no rejections -- and find out how you can make the next rejection a little more personalized. All the nos in the world don't matter if you are looking inside yourself for the answers.

Seriously, Skywalker.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Ballad Contest, Ballad Launch in Richmond, & London Book Signing

I know I just posted. But I wanted to keep this one separate as it deals with time sensitive stuff. First of all, BALLAD is now out! That means the awesome contest that involves a critique from the Merry Sisters of Fate and all kinds of swag is fair game.

Secondly, a reminder that the Ballad launch party is in Richmond, VA at the Fountain Bookstore, on October 8th from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Not only will you have the added bonus of seeing my absolute favorite little indie bookstore (it looks just like an indie bookstore in a movie), but if you call ahead to reserve a copy of Ballad there, you'll get a signed frame from the trailer at the launch. This thing:


Their number is: (804) 788-1594.

And finally, yes, I finally have a bookstore signing for my UK trip set! I'll be at the Golden Treasury (tel: 020 8333 0167)) in London on October 15th, from 4:15-5:30. Please let them know that you're coming! I'll be bringing a couple Ballads, which aren't available in the UK, and I'll give them out to the first two people who reserve copies of Shiver at the store.

I think . . . I think that's it for now. Live long and prosper.

MBA Rundown - the photographic version

MBA truth in a hotel mirrorTime for my epic MBA rundown. Once again, mostly in pictures. Because I had to be lugging that giant camera around in my bag for a reason. Day 1 of MBA involved flying to Chicago late in the evening and staying in the lovely swank Westin Hotel, who bent over backwards to find me food without preservatives in it for dinner. Which was good, because dying or barfing is a terrible way to start a book trip. I would show you pictures of the hotel, but they are boring. I would show you pictures of the sunset out my window, but it is standard sunset fare. Moving on.


MBA high schoolDay two involved two school visits, both of which were fantastic. Witness the signage up at the first high school (they also had blue and white and red balloons). And at the second school, not only did all 150 students wear blue to the talk, but they covered the library walls with Shiver and Lament posters! I didn't get a pic of the most ominous one, which was a syringe of blood squirting blood (that's not spoilery to say that, is it?) but needless to say, it will never be forgotten.




MBA poster

(Sadly, at this point in the blog post, I had to consult my itinerary so that I could remember what it was I did next).

Which was to head to Millennium Park with my great Scholastic publicist, Samantha, to take pics of the Bean and eat a crab cake the size of my head. Neither my head nor the crab will ever be the same. Post crabcake, we headed to the amazing and famous Anderson's Bookshop for a book signing. The turn-out was absolutely amazing. By this point I was pretty slaphappy, and everyone was too shy to ask questions, so I ended up having a rather stream-of-consciousness conversation about werewolves and nookie and crying by myself. All was well. Anderson's was lovely.

Maggie and Sami at Mall of AmericaThen sleep and, still in the company of Samantha, off to St. Paul for another day of school visits. First we met up with Tim, our (media) escort (I know, I'm juvenile. I just can't help being amused and introducing him as our escort. I'm sure he's never heard that before.) who took us to a great little organic restaurant. Normally being allergic to preservatives means that I lose weight while on the road. NOT THIS TRIP. Then a pair of high school presentations, and then off to the cultural hotspot of Minnesota:

THE MALL OF AMERICA.

This would be me and Samantha posing in front of the indoor amusement park at the mall. That was indeed amazing, but not as amazing as the Haagan Daas Belgian Chocolate Chocolate* ice cream cone that I scored there.

*Yes, it was not just chocolate. But Chocolate chocolate.

mba schultzAnd we also got to see some early paintings by Charles Schultz at a barber shop where his dad worked. As an artist, I thought this was pretty cool. Those are prenatal Peanuts! When they were but twinkling in teen Charles' eyes!

Then off to a signing at the Red Balloon Bookshop. Which was great -- not only did some blog readers drive from Iowa to see me (and said they read Shiver on the way back by the light of a cell phone, which is an evocative image), but guess who else showed up?

Maggie and AndrewEditor Yoda. That's right, my first editor from Flux (now at Carolrhoda). It was bizarre answering the "did your first book get snapped up right away?" question with him laughing in the background. This is a supremely bad photo of both of us but does prove that he was there. Go Andrew! He's terribly, terribly nice. And also rides a bicycle.

Then back to my hotel, the cleverly named St. Paul, which was . . . um . . . really nice. Really, really nice. Also, I had a twelfth story room and this was my view:





mba st.paul window

Day after (are you losing track of days yet? I did) I met with booksellers at a movable feast (someday if you meet me ask me about cats and sobbing), met up with a friend who fed me sausage pie (so good. so many calories. so good), and then finished up with a dinner with yet more booksellers and two of my favorite Scholastic sales reps and Samantha. Dinner topics included knights templar, 6 3/4" items of Twilight merchandise (I'm scarred), peopleofwalmart.com and new nicknames for me.

The next day could not live up in awesomeness to the previous days, but it did. Because I started out the next morning at a children's book author breakfast, where I met M. T. Anderson and Neil Gaiman. I told M. T. Anderson that I wanted to marry his book FEED and have dystopian babies with it. He looked afraid, but he couldn't get away before Publisher's Weekly took a picture of us together. Ah, Tobin, you cannot deny knowing me now!

By this day -- Saturday -- I was passed from the confident hands of Scholastic to the capable hands of Flux, in particular my rather funny and equally slap-happy Flux publicist, Marissa. Marissa was the one who supplied all of my needs on Saturday, such as fetching me a pince nez.

Me and a Pince Nez

I think I may use this as my new author photo.

Then, basically I signed books for the rest of the day.

I signed them at the Flux booth.

MBA booth signing

At the formal autographing area.

MBA Formal Autographing 2009

At the Har-Mar Barnes & Noble with Kirsten Cronn Mills and Margaret Willey.

Book Signing


Then I was picked up by the same friend who made me sausage pie for a night over at her place and then Taylors Falls in the morning, for some research. The next morning, however, aided by cloudy skies and a general consensus that Taylors Falls was nothing like northern Minnesota, we decided to go walking in a swamp instead.

See, a swamp.

mba swamp
mba swamp water

Where we found poky things:

mba thistle

More poky things:

mba burrs

gnome houses:

mba mushrooms

berries to make you bigger:

mba black berries

berries to make you smaller:

mba white berries

berries to make you speak Slovakian, the latest language Shiver's been sold in (up to 25 now. insane? yes)

mba red berries

fall color:

mba red leaves

And finally the long road back home:

mba into the woods


It's good to be back, at least for a little bit. I have details about the upcoming UK trip (including a London booksigning, UK peeps!) to come. And if you just can't get enough of my trip photos for some strange reason, you can always find more than I post here on my Flickr page.
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