Cheryl B. Klein's Blog, page 4

August 18, 2013

The rule, right off:

Eliminate “protagonist + sense verb” phrases that make us watch your protagonist have an internal experience, and instead simply dramatize the internal experience.

The sense verbs in question that this usually comes up with are:
WatchLook at See HearListen FeelFor example (all of these are made up at random -- and for the record, I'm not claiming any of this is brilliant prose. It's the technique that's important here):

A) Katherine heard a man shout, "LORD GIVE ME PATIENCE!" and spun to see what was happening. She saw that a clown was dancing merrily across the parking lot, a small dog in a red ruff nipping at its heels.

B) "LORD GIVE ME PATIENCE!" a man shouted behind Katherine. She spun to see what was happening. A clown was dancing merrily across the parking lot, a small dog in a red ruff nipping at its heels.

In (A), everything is filtered through Katherine, and having to read about her actions first slows down -- and weighs down -- the action as a whole. In (B), we're presented with what she hears and sees with only the filter of what I call her "sightline":  When Katherine looks at something, we see it too, as she's the camera through which we view the action. We don't see the camera in a movie, but instead get to experience what it records for ourselves as if we were there; and the same thing is going on here with (B), so it's more immediate and involving. (B) also has the benefit of eliminating the many repetitions of "Katherine"/"She," forcing the writer to vary the subjects and structure of the sentences and making the prose as a whole more interesting. These tightening and diversifying effects are especially notable with first person:

C) I walked around the corner and saw a woman leaning against the wall, crying. I heard a name repeated over and over through her sobs: "Clarissa . . . Clarissa . . ." I wondered who Clarissa was, and ached as I remembered my own sweet Suzette.

D) I walked around the corner. A woman was leaning against the wall, crying. Her sobs included the same name over and over again:  "Clarissa . . . Clarissa . . ." Who was Clarissa? Was this woman mourning her for the same reasons I mourned Suzette?

As you can see from (D), this technique also works with verbs that take place inside the protagonist's brain, including:

thinkrememberwonderimaginerealizeunderstandknow
E) Elroy thinks about where he'll be next week at this time:  In the mountains, hiking up to the cabin. He remembers smelling the sharp evergreens and listening to the melted snow running in the brook. He imagines catching the first rabbit of spring and how good it will taste roasted. 

F) Next week at this time, Elroy will be on the trail to his mountain cabin. The scent of the evergreens will be sharp in his nose and the snowmelt will warble in the brook, just as it has on this hike every year for the last fifteen springs. He can already taste the first rabbit, tender and plump.

With (E), we readers watch Elroy thinking, remembering, imagining. With (F), we skip Elroy altogether and see only his thoughts:  where he'll be, how the trail will smell and sound, even the taste of the rabbit. It's much more intense and satisfying, in part because it requires the writer to dramatize that experience in full for us and bring it to life through additional details ("tender and plump").

Of course, the meaning does change from (E) to (F) in a way that points up one caveat to this technique:  Sometimes you want readers to see your protagonist engaged in a particular sense or mental activity, as the fact that the protagonist is doing that is equally important to whatever they're experiencing. If you're introducing a flashback, the words "I remember" at the beginning can be enormously useful in orienting the reader to the fact that you're stepping out of the present narrative time; if a character is experiencing an epiphany ("Janie realizes the truth. She never should have left Mike"), the sense verb can reinforce the existence of that epiphany more effectively than a mere statement of the realization.

As with any writing technique, this is a sentence-by-sentence judgment call. But the "protagonist + sense/brain verb" construction is something I ask my writers to take out of their prose probably eighty percent of the time, and it's a quick and effective way to make yourself show, not tell -- to dramatize more, and better. Go forth and cut.
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Published on August 18, 2013 18:35 • 38 views

August 14, 2013

Sometimes I want to read without thinking very much -- just for the rest and pleasure of being someone and somewhere other who and where I am. When I'm in this mood, I want characters (or at least my protagonist) to be likeable -- a person who's pleasant and interesting, who means well in the world, whom I want to spend time with. Jane Austen says facetiously in one of her letters, "I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal"; my situation here is the reverse of that, as I want my fictional people to be very agreeable, so I don't have to go to the trouble of trying to find some fictional worth in them -- I can just be in the book and relax. During the production of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when it was a good day if I went home before 9 p.m., I downed Georgette Heyer Regency romances like kettlecorn, and I still sometimes turn to those -- or even more to Austen -- when I'm feeling stressed or distressed.

And sometimes I want to read and do a little more work -- read outside my comfort zone, sort through motives and morals -- all the pleasures of having my mind challenged and expanded rather than simply engaged. When I'm in this mood, I don't mind if people are unlikeable so long as they're real, and presented with full histories and friends and enemies and contexts, so I can find sympathy through understanding and empathizing with them rather than needing to be entertained or pleased by them. I LOVED The Casual Vacancy last year for the same reasons I loved The Corrections years ago -- the awfulness of many of the people is part of their humanity, and the full picture of humanity that both books present is a beautiful thing. But I very deliberately saved my reading of The Casual Vacancy for my Christmas break, as I knew I might not have patience for it if I read it under less relaxed circumstances. (And I haven't yet read The Cuckoo's Calling; from the reviews, it seems like a book I could read anytime, but I think I'm saving it now for my honeymoon in December.)

And of course making a character likeable is just a tool in the writer's toolbox like any other, which can be used or not in service of the ends the writer wants to achieve. Georgette Heyer needs to make her heroines likeable so we readers feel invested in their romantic travails, and the charm and comedy of such travails are what her books are about. J. K. Rowling in The Casual Vacancy is thinking about the breakdown of societal bonds and safety nets, the dissolution of a community through the increasing detachment of the individuals in it; and the characters are accordingly presented with their flaws on full display, so we can see the things that push them apart. (Michiko Kakutani should know to judge characterizations by a book's larger ends, which is why her review of The Casual Vacancy was so irritatingly stupid.) Yet the characters in both cases are still multidimensional and compelling in their dilemmas, which are always necessary qualities no matter the author's ends. It does take more art and skill to make an unlikeable character compelling than simply to make a regular character likeable, which is one of the reasons books with terrible characters (not characterizations!) so frequently win awards, and books with easily likeable characters are more often overlooked by the critical establishment. . . .

In the children's and YA world, we can sometimes be so anxious that children or teenagers will like reading or like one particular book that we make likeability a requirement, forgetting that most children and young adults are born with a taste for honesty before a taste for sweetness, and their fascination with the new and different can withstand a large measure of unpleasant behavior as long as there is still heart or vulnerability there. At age six, I was mesmerized by Ramona in Ramona the Pest because lord, that title spoke the truth! I did not like her -- straight-A me (even in first grade) would have been annoyed to have her in class with me -- but it was precisely because she was such a troublemaking train wreck that I loved reading about her, as she did all the things I never thought or dared to do. At the same time, in children's and YA fiction, authors are often looking to have readers invested in the story or the protagonist's emotional growth foremost (a la Georgette Heyer), with any larger observation about morals or society as more of a byproduct than the point (cf. my theory of YA fiction here); and as a result, likeability often serves children's and YA authors well as a technique, as few things draw us into a story more than liking the people within it.

I'll add, if the protagonist is not going to be likeable, I will want to see some special insight or beautiful language or high-stakes story going on, so I have something else to give me that little bit of pleasure until I get to understand the protagonist in full. With The Casual Vacancy, I appreciated Ms. Rowling's anatomization of this village and the people and their connections in it--how well she nailed every detail of their lives, from the addict's house to the self-satisfied grocer. And in both Ramona the Pest and the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, we readers can take pleasure in our superiority to the characters' bad behavior (Ramona) or small-mindedness (the Dursleys)--pleasure that keeps us going until we connect with Ramona or discover the magical world.

To conclude in a highly moralizing fashion:  "Likability" is not a necessity in fiction, as it is a quality deployed and desired by authors and readers at different times. People who sneer at reading for mental rest and pleasure are snobs and should be called out as such. People who never do anything but read for mental rest and pleasure should probably challenge themselves a bit more. There is certainly a larger reading audience looking for rest and pleasure than there is an audience looking to be challenged and changed -- especially as the world grows ever faster and more stressful; especially as we all have so much less time for reading (we think) -- which is why Janet Evanovich and James Patterson move so many more copies than Elinor Lipman and Roberto Bolano; likable characters with easily definable problems are much easier to sell from the agent's desk on. But as we readers look for many different things at different times, writers need to write many different people as their stories demand; and making it a requirement either way will ultimately limit both the writer's art and the reader's pleasure.
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Published on August 14, 2013 20:01 • 46 views

August 4, 2013

It's called "The Narrative Breakdown"? I might have mentioned it here before. Anyway, we've had a great run of new episodes recently where we've been talking to some really cool writers, including:
Chad Kultgen, novelist (The Average American Male) and screenwriter (The Incredible Burt Wonderstone), on his work and selling your writingMatt Bird, screenwriter, discussing subtextJason Ginsburg, screenwriter, on creating deliberately episodic storiesCorey Ann Haydu, YA novelist (OCD Love Story) and blogger, discussing her practice of keeping a journal and some ideas about YA romanceE. Lockhart, YA novelist (The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, the Ruby Oliver books) and picture book writer, about going beyond the basics to challenge yourself as a writerAnd just today, Rainbow Rowell, novelist (Attachments, Eleanor and Park, and Fangirl, a.k.a. three of my favorite novels I've read this year), on character relationships.You can subscribe to the podcast in iTunes, and do leave us a review if you enjoy it!

Also, we are coming up on our 25th episode of the NB, and we're planning a Q&A episode where we'll try to get through any questions that people have asked us that we haven't yet addressed. If you have a question for James and me that you'd like to see us answer, feel free to leave it in the comments below or on one of the show pages. Thanks!

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Published on August 04, 2013 14:47 • 49 views

July 24, 2013

"Wow, my now-rather-intermittent blogging still qualifies me as a member of the media? Thanks for the free tickets, Cirque du Soleil!" "Hmm. The Barclays Center may look like a pile of old farm equipment on the outside, but it's super-nice on the inside, with great food options: Calexico, Fatty 'Cue, sushi, Nathan's, a kosher deli. . . . And these Calexico fish tacos are really good. Hooray for mango salsa!""This is my fourth Cirque du Soleil show, after two big-top performances on Randalls Island and O in Las Vegas, so I know the drill: a 'quirky' frame story featuring a wondrous child and a goofy clown, linking acts of incredible beauty and physical accomplishment, all set to music by French-Canadian Enya impersonators. Will Quidam surprise me at all?""Ah. No." "But the formula works as ever: astonishing acrobats, gorgeous tableaux, swelling music, imaginative costumes, many moments that make you go 'Ooh' . . .""Or as the Brooklyn lady next to me said to the contortionist as she lifted her leg over her head: 'Oh no, honey, don't!'" "The German wheel? This is new to me. How does he do that?" "(The answer that makes all things in this show possible:  abs.)""What's a Cirque du Soleil performer's favorite liquor? Abs-inthe." "And her favorite vodka? Abs-olut.""James and I should do this at our wedding." "Or perhaps we could involve the whole wedding party." "What do Cirque performers do on their days off? Abs-eiling.""The humor in this lengthy clown interlude isn't entirely scatological, but there are certainly more poop jokes than you get in the American circus. This accords with French picture books as well. There's a sociology article in here someplace . . .""With sights like this,  I'm almost ashamed to confess: I was a little bored. I felt I had seen it all before, either at prior Cirque shows or on the Olympics or even just at cabarets in the city. The problem in our modern age: When we can see everything at any time, it's harder to generate awe.""Though this problem  may be entirely personal to me, as I'm old and spoiled. Children would have a wonderful time." "And if you've never seen a Cirque show before, Quidam would be a great introduction, as it's short, relatively cheap, easily accessible by public transport (as the Randalls Island shows weren't), and gorgeously executed and produced, as all Cirque shows are. Well worth the seeing.""I am in awe of the abs, though, really.""Of course they try to teach their kids to practice abs-tinence . . ." "(What must it be like to grow up as part of this international traveling human menagerie?)" "And if they fail, they go to church for abs-olution." "(Or be pregnant as a contortionist? Do you have to stop contorting for a while? Can you still do this with a baby?")   "A stronger narrative would help the show as well here. . . . The Olympic gymnasts did many of these same moves, but because they happened in the context of a conflict against other athletes and their own limits, their story had stakes and meaning. The pleasure here, in contrast, is all in the beauty for beauty's sake." "The current Broadway revival of Pippin, which uses circus techniques, is really fun.""Cirque should hire Neil Gaiman to write a frame story for them. Or adapt Sandman! They have the dreamy sensibility and visual artistry for it, and it would bring a new audience in." "But perhaps this isn't fair to Cirque. They do what they intend to do, and do it well; and you can't ask for more from an artist or a show." "What do two Cirque artists in a relationship say when they go off on different tours? 'Abs-ence makes the heart grow fonder.'""And on that note, good night."Quidam runs through July 28 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. For tickets, please visit the Barclays Center box office; or www.cirquedusoleil.com/quidam, www.ticketmaster.com, or www.barclayscenter.com; or call 1-800-745-3000.
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Published on July 24, 2013 21:36 • 36 views

July 10, 2013

“Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.“ — Winston Churchill

“If you have made mistakes, even serious mistakes, you may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.” — Mary Pickford

“There is no such thing as a failed experiment, only experiments with unexpected outcomes.” — Buckminster Fuller

“Failure is the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently.” — Henry Ford

“I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” — Thomas Edison  

“Success is often achieved by those who don't know that failure is inevitable.” — Coco Chanel

“It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.” —Herman Melville  

“There are some books which refuse to be written. They stand their ground year after year and will not be persuaded. It isn't because the book is not there and worth being written -- it is only because the right form of the story does not present itself. There is only one right form for a story and if you fail to find that form the story will not tell itself.” — Mark Twain

 “Have compassion for yourself when you write. There's no failure -- just a big field to wander in.” — Natalie Goldberg  

“The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To him... a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create -- so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.” — Pearl S. Buck

“I may be dense, but I fail to see why a chap needs thirty pages to describe how he tosses and turns in bed before falling asleep.” — an English publisher on In Search of Lost Time

“The lot of critics is to be remembered by what they failed to understand.” – George Augustus Moore  

“Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers.“ – T. S. Eliot

“The failure to read good books both enfeebles the vision and strengthens our most fatal tendency -- the belief that the here and now is all there is.” – Allan Bloom

“It was our own moral failure and not any accident of chance, that while preserving the appearance of the Republic we lost its reality.” — Marcus Tullius Cicero

 “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” — Elie Wiesel  

“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” — James Baldwin  

“Anybody who tries to convince me that foreign policy is more important than child rearing is doomed to failure.“ – Anna Quindlen

“Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.” — Anais Nin

“Listen, here’s the thing about politics: It’s not an expression of your moral purity and your ethics and your probity and your fond dreams of some utopian future. Progressive people constantly fail to get this.” — Tony Kushner  

“Do not commit the error, common among the young, of assuming that if you cannot save the whole of mankind, you have failed.” — Jan de Hartog

“Excuses: the first refuge of the failure.” — Yahia Lababidi

“The weakest living creature, by concentrating his powers on a single object, can accomplish something. The strongest, by dispensing his over many, may fail to accomplish anything. The drop, by continually falling, bores its passage through the hardest rock. The hasty torrent rushes over it with hideous uproar, and leaves no trace behind. — Thomas Carlyle  

 “It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” — Teddy Roosevelt  

“Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” – Samuel Beckett
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Published on July 10, 2013 05:44 • 19 views

July 7, 2013

. . . was the LeakyCon 2013 Opening Ceremonies musical finale, written by Tessa Nutting et al., performed by an amazing cast (all of whom had about 48 hours' notice), and staged last Thursday in Portland, Oregon. If you're a fan of Rent, Doctor Who, Glee, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Hunger Games, Sherlock, The Avengers or other superheroes, Bonnie Tyler, Disney musicals, Twilight, or John Green and Brotherhood 2.0, there was something in this number for you. (The basic plot setup is that while Frodo and Samwise Gamgee sought the Ring of Fandom, Loki tried to dissuade the various characters lost in the Forest of Fandom from hoping there could be a place where they could all unite . . . until the 12th Doctor showed up, and the rest is "La Vie Fandom.") Click the little "CC" beneath the YouTube window to turn on the captions and catch all the references.


And if you enjoy the video, come next year! It's a fantastic weekend.


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Published on July 07, 2013 17:27 • 49 views

June 16, 2013

From “All Is Well: The Epilogue in Children’s Fantasy Fiction,” by Mike Cadden, in Narrative, Vol. 20, No. 3 (October 2012):
James Phelan makes a distinction between closure—simply “the way a narrative signals its end,” and what he calls “completion”: “the degree of resolution accompanying the closure. Closure need not be tied to the resolution of instabilities and tensions but completeness always is.” Many children’s fantasy tales provide closure only to move on to what is (or functions as) epilogue in order to satisfy what is perceived to linger in the mind of the reader after plot has been resolved. Closure is about the mechanics of the narrative progression (e.g., a story of a journey will signal closure when the protagonist returns to the starting point), while completion is about “instabilities” that drive the progression and direct the interests of implied readers (if the protagonist in the journey plot sets out to  right a wrong in another location and returns home with the situation in that place unchanged, the narrative would provide closure but not completion). In a similar vein, Maria Nikolajeva contrasts closure with the more specific phenomenon of “aperture,” which she describes as the state of psychological completion of the character at the end of the narrative. Will this character be well despite the rough ending? Can we extrapolate an upward swing in her fortunes or at least her relationship with her world?
I reprint this here because I always like finding official narrative theory terms for ideas or concepts editors have been using in practice for years:
Closure:  the story dynamics move it toward a clear end (and does not, say, abruptly quit in the middle of a scene, a la The Sopranos)Completion:  with the conflicts or mysteries or lacks of the Action Plot resolvedAperture:  And the protagonist’s emotional journey/plot likewise resolved in some way. The presence of all three equals, I think, the most emotionally satisfying ending — though not perhaps the most challenging or innovative, if that’s what you’re going for instead.

A very interesting article if you like thinking about endings, epilogues, or why we write and publish for children the way we do.
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Published on June 16, 2013 19:02 • 47 views

May 24, 2013



I owe you an apology, dear readers. Due to the blog hiatus I've taken for most of the year thus far, it's entirely possible that you have gone an entire five months without hearing about Kay Honeyman's The Fire Horse Girl -- and if that is so, then you have been MISSING OUT. Because while this book isn't fantasy, it features many of the things I love best from the girl-power-fantasy novels that are dear to my and so many readers' hearts (think Tamora Pierce, Robin McKinley, Elizabeth Bunce, Kristen Cashore):
A heroine who's stubborn, willful, kind, outspoken, out of step with her society -- and utterly wonderfulA plot that offers her the chance to make a better life for herself, if she has the courage to take itA love interest who's equally well-developed, and has an agenda of his ownTerrific characters all around Tense action scenes Swoony romance scenesAll tied up in a story that sheds light on a too-little-known fact of American history:  the existence of Angel Island, the West Coast equivalent of Ellis Island, where Chinese immigrants (and usually Chinese immigrants only) could be held for weeks, months, or even years. But the book is never heavy -- only real. As a matter of fact, as I'm thinking about it, I may have done you a FAVOR by holding out on you so long on this book, because it would make delightful summer reading:  meaty enough that your brain doesn't rot with the sweetness, but still pleasurable all the way down.

Kay Honeyman is just as much fun in person as she is on the page, and I'm glad to have her here for a Q&A.

How did you come to write The Fire Horse Girl? I always have trouble backing up to the beginning of writing The Fire Horse Girl. My first instinct is to say that the story began to form when I heard about Angel Island. It was a slice of American history and specifically America’s immigration history I only discovered as an adult.

But, I wouldn’t have attached so strongly to that setting if my husband and I weren’t in the midst of adopting a child from China. I was not just drawn to the place, but its stories because my son would have his own immigration story. At first, I imagined all the wonderful things that the child would gain by coming to America. When I looked at the story from my perspective, my son Jack was gaining a home and a family. He would live in land of opportunity and possibilities. But when I considered his point-of-view, he was coming to a strange house in a strange country to live with strange people. It opened my eyes to the price that people pay to immigrate.

If you take the inspiration back one step further, it started with a deep love of stories in general. I used to lay the big books on my parents’ shelves in my lap and read every two and three-letter-word that I knew.
 
The Fire Horse Girl probably came from all of those layers of inspiration plus a lot of work and a little serendipity.

What sort of research did you do? The kind that piles up in boxes and notebooks all around the house. The kind that involves Friday night trips to the library because I really need to find out the names of ships that travelled between China and San Francisco in 1923. The kind that you have to shake yourself out of because you have a story to write.

I read novels set in China like Spring Moon by Bette Bao Lord and The Good Earth by Pearl Buck. I spent hours on the Angel Island Immigration Foundation website. I read Chinese poetry and took Chinese language classes because the rhythm of structure of the Chinese language is very different from English, and I wanted to have a feel for it. I also researched the poems on the walls in the barracks at Angel Island. I filled notebooks and files with picture of the dorms at Angel Island, kitchens in 1900 China, and alleys in Chinatown. I wrote lists of details in the margins of scenes. I poured through Arnold Genthe’s pictures of Chinatown before the fire that destroyed Old Chinatown in 1906 (same year that Jade Moon was born) because I wanted to dig through the rubble that formed the foundation of the Chinatown Jade Moon would have to navigate.

I think the most important part of my research was my trip to China to pick up Jack. It isn’t that I picked up specific details that I put in the book, but it gave me a richer understanding of China and the Chinese. It gave me a peek at the rhythms of life, community, and family.

What was the most difficult part of writing or revising the novel for you? What flowed the easiest? The first draft is the hardest for me. Writing that initial version is frustrating because it never lives up to the image of the story I have in my head. It doesn’t even come close. Neither does the second or third or twenty-third draft, but in later drafts you have progress you can measure. For me, a first draft is just bad, it isn’t better than the last, or moving closer to the story I want to tell. It is just messy and so very, very wrong.

On the other hand, I love revision. It is exciting to find the right fix for glitch in the story or develop a moment into its full potential. I love watching the rough edges of a story smooth into this glassy surface that the reader can skate across.

I especially love the moment in the revision process when you aren’t guessing anymore, when you aren’t experimenting, when the story is more right than wrong. It feels like turning into your neighborhood after a long journey. It doesn’t mean the work is over, but there’s the sense that you are heading to a place you’ve been trying to get to for a long time. 

How much of the book did you have planned out before you wrote it? Are you a plotter or a pantser generally? Uhhg, you had to ask. And I tried so hard to hide it. I am a pantser who tries desperately to be a plotter. I am a very organized person. I love lists and papers stacked across the top of my desk. I make multiple outlines, but the story strays so far from the outline that I’m not sure I get to claim the title of plotter. Maybe I am just a horrible plotter. Is there a category for that?

I do like one element of being a pantser/horrible plotter. I tend to have a very fluid vision of the story. I’m more likely to see why something could happen then why it couldn’t. And I have a high tolerance for revisions. I don’t have any illusions that something must happen.

Admit it:  You’re a Fire Horse girl too, right? (I am an Earth Horse myself!) Even if you aren’t:  What qualities do you most and least admire in Jade Moon? Are they qualities you yourself share? You are an Earth Horse! Did you know we are both hard-working signs? However, your sense of humor is far superior to mine.

I am a Water Ox – patient, dependable, determined. I would make a disastrous character in a novel because in a crisis I make a to-do list and label color-coded file folders. So, I am pretty much the opposite of Jade Moon, but I admire her strength and spirit of determination. I also admire her big dreams and the way she ignores the impossibility of them.

I come from a family of strong women. My sister is a Fire Dragon and my son Jack and my mother are both Fire Pigs. I love people with a fire inside them. They bring fresh perspective and passion to life. They aren’t afraid to burn through the old to see if there is something better behind it. 

The trait I most share with Jade Moon is probably the one that gets her in the most trouble – her stubbornness. However, a little stubbornness can help you hold your own, teach eighth-grade, and write a book.

What books have been the most influential in your reading and writing lives? I open every book expecting to be delighted, and I take in some element from most books that I read. I would probably make a terrible editor, but I make a great reader.

I love Jane Austen, especially Pride and Prejudice. I love any book that looks at a society – F. Scott Fitgerald, Elizabeth Gaskell, Margaret Mitchell.

There are also so many talented contemporary authors in YA.  Elizabeth Eulberg (Lonely Hearts Club, Take a Bow, Prom and Prejudice, and Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality) creates characters with flaws that just make them more relatable and more charming. Paul Volponi (The Final Four, Rikers High, Rucker Park Setup, Black and White) packs sweeping stories into tight settings and timelines. Whole stories get threaded through the overtime of a Final Four basketball game. It is like a gritty Hemingway if Hemingway wrote about basketball instead of bullfighting. I could go on and on. The more I write, the more I find to admire in other writers.

I also keep a few books on writing at my elbow. My two favorites are Second Sight (I am unabashedly slipping it into this interview because I tell everyone how amazing it is). Since I can’t email you every time I have a minor dilemma or a major nervous breakdown, I keep it close. I also love my Synonym Finder (love, adore, cherish, esteem, prize, etc.).

What are you reading now? And writing? I just finished 52 Reasons to Hate My Father by Jessica Brody. It is always fun to watch teenagers realize that their potential soars far above people’s expectations. My first summer read is going to be Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell.

I am working on a book set in West Texas. It is about Friday night football, small towns, and politics. It is full of women with sweet smiles and sharp tongues, high-stakes competition on and off the field, and a love that takes a few detours. I want to tell the story of a girl who discovers the beauty in life’s imperfections.

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And what the heck, we'll do another giveaway here too, for a proper hardcover edition this time. Calculate your Chinese Zodiac sign and tell me both what you are and whether that (or any other form of astrological sign) matches your personality. (I don't think I'm a particularly notable Horse, for instance, but I am totally Queen of the Virgos -- a similarity between sign and personality that fascinates me, even as I think most daily horoscopes are bunk.)
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Published on May 24, 2013 06:00 • 34 views

May 23, 2013

There's a new Narrative Breakdown up at the website -- this time on Revision Techniques (Part I), as James and I talk through a few of my favorite methods of figuring out what you want your book to do, what it IS doing, and how it can be made to do all of that better. If you've read Second Sight or taken any of my classes, these will not be news to you, but it might be fun to listen anyway. (Talking about outlining is everyone's idea of a good time, right? Right? Yay! So you'll enjoy this.)

Registration is now open at the Dakotas SCBWI website for a full Novel Writing Workshop with me, October 4-6 in Custer, South Dakota. This workshop will involve my Plot Master Class on Saturday and my intensive talks on Character and Voice on Sunday, and it's the only conference appearance I'm making the rest of this year, due to my upcoming wedding and honeymoon. Other than this, I do not plan to offer said Master Class again (online or in person) until next spring, so here's your chance if you want to catch it in 2013.

I will also be at LeakyCon in Portland June 27-30, participating in general shenanigans.

Finally, I will admit to using my blog as commonplace book and diary as much as means of transmitting information, and as such, I've made a habit of recording my running times here to track my progress through the years. Now I have a nice new personal best to note:  The Brooklyn Half-Marathon, May 18, 2013, 1:59:28 -- with a personal best 10K in there too, at 56:39. Woo! I never get over the pleasurable strangeness of me, a longtime Enemy of All Things Exercise and In Particular Running, being able to do multiple miles in a single bound. (Or many bounds, really. You get the idea.) 
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Published on May 23, 2013 05:00 • 29 views

May 22, 2013

Our twice-a-year roundup of selected titles deemed of especial interest to librarians is now live at Scholastic.com! You can see a wide number of Scholastic editors and authors present the books we've been working on for your delight. Check it out here.

On my end, I talk about If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth, mentioned below, and the awesome The Nazi Hunters by Neal Bascomb, the first-ever full-length narrative nonfiction book I've had the pleasure of working on. It's about the hunt for Adolf Eichmann -- the operations manager for the Holocaust, more or less -- after he escaped Nazi Germany post-World War II, so it combines elements of a mystery novel, a spy story, a Holocaust tale, and a revenge thriller . . . and the pictures we've found for it are just fantastic. Come this September, I'm excited to show you more!
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Published on May 22, 2013 05:15 • 41 views