Saturday, August 25, 2012

DO NOT LOVE YOUR CHARACTERS (More or Less Than Your Readers)

Dear Internet, I apologize for being absent. I was out of town and then I was writing the sequel to Raven Boys and then I was buying a race car. I know. Excuses, excuses.

A few days ago, I posted some coffee-fueled writing tips on Facebook and Twitter. As follows:

1. Thou shalt not love your characters more than your readers do.
2. Do not forget the weather.
3. (specially for YA writers!) Only 20% of US families are single-child families. HELLO SIBLINGS.
4. Read it out loud. In Emma Thompson's voice, if you can.
5. If you're bored while writing, the reader is bored while reading. Delete & regroup over coffee.

I got asked a few times to clarify #1, so that is what I intend to do. When I said it, I was not referring to the treasured writing wisdom “kill your darlings.” Faulkner was the first to advise writer to kill their darlings, which basically boils down to: if you love a bit of your writing too much to be reasonable and logical about it, you should cut it. That you should never sacrifice the good of the whole because of blind affection for a single bit. (I do not agree with this advice, by the way. I think if you love a part of your writing beyond reason, you should delete the rest of it and write the rest to match the loved bit).

What I meant when I said “thou shalt not love your characters more than your readers do” was that you can love your characters, but you must show your work.

I can’t tell you how many times a writer has confessed to me how much he/she adores her characters, how their voices inhabit his/her life, how he/she wishes they were real so he/she could spend time with them*. Then I read the manuscript and the characters are flat as a board. It’s possible — nay, probable — that these characters are vivid, living, lovable characters in the writer’s head, inhabiting a fully-realized world full of authentic moments. But none of that character-building has made it onto the page. The writer hasn’t managed to write the characters well enough to allow the readers to share that experience.

*sometimes writers tell me they have crushes on their character and would date them and then I get squicked out and run away. So feel that way if you must, just don’t tell me about it. Because I will run away.

As a writer, you have to earn every little bit of affection. Our goal as writers, maybe over and above anything else, is to convey the story in our head in such a way that readers experience it exactly the way we imagine it.

Loving characters that readers don’t care about is just . . . unseemly. When you’re in love with them, you have to make sure that your fondness for them isn’t ruining your objective portrayal of them. Perhaps Faulkner was right after all. If you love a character too much to be able to tell if you’re getting across their coolness, maybe you are better off just cutting them.

Oh, you know I don’t really believe that. I always think the answer is improving your writing to match your passion, not stripping passion from your work. I think it holds true for characters too. Listen to what your critique partners say about your them. You know your characters through your emotions and imagination. Your critiquers know them only through your words. Your job is to make those two portrayals the same.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Raven Boys Tour 2012

I guess it must officially be getting close to fall because I can finally share my public tour events for The Raven Boys! I'll be on tour/ away from home for a month, which is why I own 32 black tank tops and 16 pairs of identical jeans (American Eagle, in case you're wondering). It's also why folks at the end of the tour will get a slightly more slap-happy Maggie than folks at the beginning of the tour.

If you're wondering what an event is like, here is a rough idea (though, sadly, this tour will lack Camaros and Tessas. The rest is applicable). (Also there are many slap happy videos from my tour last year on YouTube).

Like last year, I took a guitar and Sharpie'd all over it, and like last year, I'm going to be giving away this guitar to a reader at the launch event. Here it is (click to see it bigger): The Sharpie Guitar for The Raven Boys

But in case you can't make it to the launch event, I will be giving away things at the other events. Namely, the frames from The Raven Boys trailer, nicely matted. (You can get an idea of the other frames by watching the trailer).

RB kiss

And also some of the frames from The Scorpio Races trailer, which are weird and transparent, as you can see. Frames from The Scorpio Races Video

Frames from The Scorpio Races trailer

Anyway, I am very excited to be getting on the road again and seeing familiar faces and meeting new ones. You can get more details and RSVP on the Facebook event link beneath each event. Come see me? Please?
The Raven Boys Tour PUBLIC appearances
Tuesday, September 18, 7:00 PM Launch Event, Paramus, NJ - Barnes and Noble

Wednesday, September 19, 6:00 PM Event with David Levithan, New York, NY - Books of Wonder

Thursday, September 20, 10:30 AM New Haven, CT - The Yale Bookstore

Thursday, September 20, 1:30 PM Storrs Mansfield, CT - UConn Bookstore

Thursday, September 20, 7:00 PM Cambridge, MA - Cambridge Public Library

Friday, September 21, 10:00 AM Cambridge, MA -The Harvard Coop

Saturday, September 22, 1:40 PM Washington, DC - National Book Festival

Tuesday, September 25, 7:00 PM Brampton, Ontario - Chapters

Thursday, September 27, 7:00 PM, doors at 6:00 PM National Writers Series, Traverse City, MI - City Opera House

Friday, September 28, 5:00 PM Lansing, MI - Schuler Books

Sunday, September 30, 2:00 PM Naperville, IL - Anderson's Bookshop

Monday, October 1, 6:00 PM Libertyville, IL - Cook Memorial Library

Tuesday, October 2, 7:00 PM Winnetka, IL - Evanston Public LIbrary

Wednesday, October 3, 2012, 7:00 PM Signing with Libba Bray, Chicago, IL - Barbara's Bookstore

Thursday, October 4, 2012, 6:00 PM St. Paul, MN - The Red Balloon Bookshop

Friday, October 5, 2012, Time TK "This is Teen" Group Event, Minneapolis, MN - Location TBA

Saturday, October 6, 7:00 PM Signing with Brenna Yovanoff, Denver, CO - Tattered Cover

Sunday, October 7, 7:00 PM Boulder, CO - Barnes & Noble

Monday, October 8, 7:00 PM Orem, UT - Barnes & Noble

Tuesday, October 9, 7:00 PM Salt Lake City, UT - The King's English Bookshop

Wednesday, October 10, 6:00 PM Signing with David Levithan, El Cerrito, CA - Barnes & Noble

Thursday, October 11, 7:00 PM Petaluma, CA - Copperfield's Books

Friday, October 12, 7:00 PM Signing with David Levithan & Ellen Hopkins, San Francisco, CA - Books Inc.

Saturday, October 13, 2012, 6:00 PM Corte Madera, CA - Book Passage

There is also this event coming up in a few weeks. It is pre-Raven Boys release, but I'll have special bookplates for you to stick in your book when you do get your hands on it. Plus there will be Tessa Gratton and Brenna Yovanoff there with me, signing copies of The Curiosities.

Saturday, August 25, 2:00 p.m. Merry Sisters of Fate event, Lawrence, KS - Lawrence Public Library

UK'ers, be not sad — I'm doing my best to head over there in the spring.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Five Things About Mr. Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt

Mr.chartwell Rebecca Hunt Cover1. If I tell you this is a book about depression, you won’t want to read it. At least, I wouldn’t want to read it. Depression is real, yes, but depression also tends to be static; it clogs and slows and dilutes its victim. Which makes for boring fiction. So I won’t tell you that this book is about depression (because it’s not very true, anyway). I will instead tell you that this book is about Winston Churchill, which also isn’t tremendously true. Winston Churchill struggled with depression during his life, referring to it as a black dog. Well, in this book, depression is truly a black dog, six feet tall and smelly and just there. So there you go. This is practically a dog book.

2. Also, it’s not really about depression. It’s about strength. Possibly this makes it a not-depressing book with depression as a main character. Rebecca Hunt is a very clever wordsmith, and I had to stop a few times to read sentences out loud because of how very TRUE their contents were. I love a book that makes me nod and say “that’s exactly how it is! I never thought of it that way!” (Well, I don’t really say that. I just go GAH and read it out loud. But that’s what I mean.)

3. Plus, it’s funny. It’s interesting, isn’t it, how sadness and laughter live right next door to each other. This book nails that. Hunt is well aware of the humor inherent in a six foot tall dog named Mr. Chartwell looking for a room to let, and she runs with it.

4. The metaphor is pretty stinkin’ impeccable. I really think this exchange between one of the narrators, Esther, and the black dog, Mr. Chartwell, is a great example of both the book’s humor and the effectiveness of the metaphor. She has just asked him how it is that Mr. Chartwell affects Churchill, and he replies: “It’s hard to explain. With Churchill we know each other’s movements, so we have a routine, I guess. I like to be there when he wakes up in the morning. Sometimes I drape across his chest. That slows him down for a bit. And then I like to lie around in the corner of the room, crying out like I have terrible injuries. Sometimes I’ll burst out at him from behind some furniture and bark in his face. During meals I’ll squat near his plate and breathe over his food. I might lean on him too when he’s standing up, or hang off him in some way. I also make an effort to block out the sunlight whenever I can.”

5. The novel never overstays its welcome. Short chapters fill its brief 242 pages, making for a speedy read. The conceit of a panting black dog following people around might have gotten old if Hunt had let it, but — unlike Mr. Chartwell — Hunt gives the reader precisely what is needed and then is gone before there can be an aftertaste.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

In Which I Am Briefly Political

This is going to be a post about politics. Well, sort of. I’d been thinking about writing this for awhile, but reading this blog post yesterday and having a lengthy conversation with my friend Tessa Gratton really solidified my desire. The blog post was about whether or not readers want/ care to hear about authors’ politics. The conversation with Tessa was about politics and what really changes people’s minds. This post I’m writing now isn’t really about either of those things. But they were the catalyst for it.

I used to love politics. It was back when I was a kid, when the only correct politics, to my way of thinking, were the ones my parents held. So politics wasn’t so much a thought process as a sporting event. Throw some money behind the home team and hope they cross the finish first! Whoo! Sit back and wait 2-4 years for the next match. But now that I have reached puberty and formed my own political philosophies, politics holds absolutely no joy. In particular, I despise the election season. I’m not sure if I’ve changed or if politics have. Or if I can just blame Facebook. But somewhere along the way, I’ve become convinced that the vast majority of political dialogue is unproductive at best and destructive at worst.

I’m perfectly aware that for the next several months, the internet will be consumed by divisive, partisan commentary, name-calling, and lots and lots and lots of generalizations.

I don’t want to post about my politics on my blog. What I’d like to post about, though, is how we look at politics. I’d like to offer a plea to the internet. I wish that Americans would view the election season not as a win/lose scenario, but rather, as an opportunity to become educated about all of the problems and issues facing our country at the moment. I wish that instead of immediately identifying ourselves as an automatic supporter of one party or another, we’ll step outside the boxes and look at all possible solutions. I wish we’d look at ways to not make half of the country miserable for the next four years, depending on who wins the election. Does every election have to feel like either victory or failure? Does everything have to be either/ or?

I would be quite happy if, going forward, the following phrases never appeared in political discussions: bleeding heart, Bible-thumping, fascists, tree-huggers.

I would be quite happy if people stopped thinking that politics gives you permission to hate someone.

I would be quite happy if politics became less of a club and more of a tool.

I would be quite happy if politics became less about proving to the world who you are and more about actually changing the world for the better.

I have friends on both sides of the political divide (actually, I prefer to think about it as all over the political spectrum, as things have never been and will never be black and white/ this party or that party), and I don’t have a problem with it. Because my friends’ political beliefs are the results of passion and thoughtfulness, not hatred, fear, stereotyping, or generalizations.

So this is not a post about politics, really. It’s about being civil. It’s about making decisions based upon facts, not fear. It’s about making the election season a country-changing experience, not just good late-night TV.
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