Wednesday, March 30, 2011

YA Lit Chat 2011

Just a head's up that I'll be a participant in the YALITCHAT 2011 Made From Awesome event! I'll be chatting on April 13th from 9-11 EDT. It's on Twitter at #yalitchat!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sketchbook Pages

As many of you know, I sketch to develop stories. Whenever I go to school visits and things kids love to look at my sketchbook, but most of the drawings are just little heads or fashion sketches so I don't upload them as much as I should because I feel like I have to wait until I have something special, which rarely happens (although stay tuned, I have a little comic series upcoming!). So I decided I'll just start periodically throwing up pages from my sketchbook, special or not, without even erasing the random little heads and ugly pictures. Most of these characters have yet to appear in published books (well, since I only have one published book that isn't hard).

Page 1: In the top left I started sketching someone's little dog at a craft fair, with the intention of sketching many hipster beards, hipster pets, hipster clothes, but it was too cold to draw. Otherwise, this page has Between the Sea and Sky characters. Top: Lalia Tembel, Esmerine's bitchy friend, as a kid. Left: Protagonist Esmerine and love interest Alan as kids. Right: Alan's little sister Karinda. (Wings are such a PAIN to draw but dang is she adorable.) Bottom: Just a wee sketch of young Alan.
Page 2: Sketch of the back view of our retreat house in Key Largo. Otherwise known as "playing with my new pens". While I was drawing a bird wandered in, and then left, so I quickly captured him in the bottom corner.
Page 3: Top left, Det petting his cat, top right; Alfred apparently having a serious conversation with Lester and then Thessia; random heads; Ifra from Magic Under Stone.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Friend celebrations!

My critique partner got a book deal! And it's a big one!

Putnam Kids Ponies Up for YA Debut
In a high six-figure world rights deal, Arianne Lewin, executive editor at G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, bought three books by Jessica Spotswood, including the debut novel Born Wicked (formerly called Thrice Blessed). Agent Jim McCarthy at Dystel & Goderich brokered the deal for Spotswood. Born Wicked, set in what the publisher calls “a world of tea parties, engagements, and elegant dresses,” follows the Cahill sisters, a trio of teen witches who must hide their powers in order to save themselves from being shipped off to prison or a mental ward. Spotswood, who is from a small Pennsylvania town, lives in Washington, D.C.

I love this book so much and I knew it would sell well (except when I worried it wouldn't...just like you worry for your own stuff because sometimes the world is unjust!!). Luckily this time talent is recognized and I'm excited because now she can write the sequels! Jessica also happens to be a very sweet and generous person. I'm so happy for her!

Also another old friend has been lifted from the trenches this week when my friend Jen, who was querying alongside me back when I had Magic Under Glass out (yes, it's been a WHILE, although she also had a baby in the interim so she was getting some stuff done, don't worry) has just sold a three-book deal:

Julie Scheina at Little, Brown has acquired world English rights to Jennifer Rush's debut Altered, pitched as Dollhouse meets Prison Break for teens, in a three-book deal. In the novel, 17-year-old Anna finds herself on the run from her father's enigmatic Agency, along with the four teen boys the Agency had been experimenting on, in a mystery of erased memories, secret identities, and genetic alteration. Publication is scheduled for fall 2012. Joanna Volpe at Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation did the deal.

Yay friends!!

Of course, on a downer note...Japan. Of course I am depressed whenever any country suffers tragedy, but I love so many things about the country of Japan and I experience a little of their culture on an almost daily basis, picking up a manga or watching anime or playing "My Japanese Coach" in my DS or nomming their candy or whatever, so it hits a little extra hard and it's made it hard to concentrate on writing at all because...well, it seems kind of worthless at a time like this. Even though it really ISN'T, because people need stories, but at a time like this people need, you know, food and houses.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Reader/Writer Kinks

My agent posted today on settings and characters that make her swoon. Jennifer Represents: My Kinks

I love her answers and it is obvious why we are a good agent/author match, but I also love that question so I'm going to post mine too. Obviously these are kind of reader/writer kinks in my case.

Time Periods/Settings:

--Decadent royal courts with lots of intrigue and pretty clothes (like pre-Revolutionary France, Vienna or Venice in their heyday, Heian Japan, whatever)

--Places and times where artists, bohemians and/or radicals flourished (like 1920s Europe, Transcendentalists, Greenwich Village back in the day, hippies taken seriously, women studying science in the Age of Enlightenment, etcetera)

--18th century to Edwardian era Western world in general

--Ancient China (I would die to see a YA take on part of Romance of the Three Kingdoms or something like that)

--Also just Asia in general, especially if it's not a typical story, and anything involving east-meets-west like travelers on the Silk Road or Japan opening to the west. (I like culture clashes in general.)

--Kids living in big cities; wacky neighbors in apartment buildings or taking public transit or going to big old libraries (and getting trapped in them overnight!) or whatever, that sense of the urban playground that is full of fascinating characters and just slightly dangerous without being too much so

--Quirky, somewhat eccentrically-run schools


--As previously discussed in my blog, characters who must contend with being an outsider because of disability, race, species, magical oddity, etc. (foreigners, mermaids, charismatic blind dudes, automata/androids, people with a weird magical power, etc. etc.)

--Gender-bending themes of any kind, cross-dressers, dandies, androgyny

--Anything dealing with people of different social classes clashing or falling in love, princesses falling in love with street urchins and things like that, and as Jenn said, rags-to-riches or riches-to-rags or any variation thereof

--Protagonists who are artists, writers or performers

--Airships, aviation, train journeys, doomed ocean liners, 18th century naval themes a la Nelson and Napoleon, basically anything capturing the wonder and mystery of transportation

--Big messy families with complicated relationships; royal families and organized crime families

--Betrothals and arranged marriages

--Smart, handsome older men with mentor-ish roles (since I guess it's not very appropriate to make them the love sue me, even when I was like eight I thought old actors were hotter than young ones); bonuses for old gay guys, tragic secret pasts, college professors, particularly dapper wardrobes, dry wit, etc.

That's all that crosses my mind for today. I bet you've thought of some of yours by now. Tell me!!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The automaton's cousin, mechanical music

This is an overdue post! Back in January I saw an exhibit of mechanical music at the Orlando science center. It was run and organized by some local members of the Music Box Society International, if I'm not mistaken, and the exhibit was their own collection and that of some of their co-members. It so happens that I listened to a ton of mechanical music while writing Magic Under Glass and I MAY have just been the most excited under-30 person they ever had visit their exhibit.

Because this exhibit was like something out of my dreams. Dozens of music boxes and band organs and player pianos and old phonographs and they played so many of them! I was practically gasping aloud with delight! No, not practically. I was. Let's be honest.

This is what I find so utterly fascinating about mechanical music: it was the first sound to be captured and preserved and able to be played again and again, precisely the same (well, nearly so, putting aside the fact that machines can degrade) each time. Audio recordings only go back to the late 19th century and did not capture sound as it was actually heard. They are scratchy and tinny and of course they have their own charm. But still. You can't go back and hear Jenny Lind sing in the 1840s but you can still hear her contemporary, the 1840s music box. Sure, it's quite different, but a rather haunting sound.

Before mechanical music, those with the means could buy an instrument but they also needed a musician in the family, which is why girls who could play the piano or whatever were quite valued. How nice to have music in the house! But with mechanical music you could have music anytime, no skills necessary. Early music boxes only played one song but at some point, the disc changer came along, where you could actually buy large metal discs with punched out holes that played different tunes. At this exhibit they even had an automatic changer that would play a number of discs in a row, so you could crank it up (I think? my memory is starting to fail me, but it wasn't electric) at a party and play a "set".

Of course, many people still couldn't afford mechanical music in the home, but public establishments certainly jumped on the new technology as it became more affordable, and electricity came along so now you could have a coin operated device with no need to crank. Many of these player pianos and machines also made fascinating use of electric lighting and were beautifully lit with stained glass windows and such, and when they are plugged in and turned on they start up with a magnificent THRUM that no modern device in your house can match.

Mechanical music still pops up in our modern life occasionally, usually in its most elaborate form, the band organ or carousel organ, many of which are still preserved in vintage carousels or at fairs. I remember seeing band organs as a kid a couple of times and finding them fascinating in that undefinable way one might call "uncanny"...just like automata and abandoned buildings and Daguerrotypes.

If you'd like to hear some mechanical music, there are tons of videos on Youtube, or there is a wonderful introduction of downloadable mp3s here: Machines vs. Music: Mechanized Music MP3s. My favorite is "Trees" or "Dizzy Dittons".

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Lucky Last One

I was browsing my old Livejournal last night, actually looking for an old post I thought might be worth reworking, and I never did find that post! I found a "super secret friends locked" post from 2008 before Magic Under Glass sold where I was venting about being "the last one" to get an agent and sell in a group of friends.

This is really a rough place to be, the Last One. No matter how excited you are for your friends, how can it not smart? No matter how much you tell yourself it's a subjective business and things change all the time, you feel sort of like the world is telling you you're not as good as your friends. Ouch.

I didn't talk often about envy or negative feelings during my publishing journey, but that was a moment that did get to me. I said:

"I can talk about a little envy in the general sense, but when it comes to my friends succeeding, I hate to say a word about how much I'm smarting. I don't want to begrudge them their happiness. Nor do I want to show the failure of my own character in being hurt when they beat me to success. I want to be absolutely serene, trusting in the universe to take care of me, it's never really been about the money anyway, and I know the recognition will come, and my ideas are offbeat and that often just takes longer to be recognized. I know all this. I KNOW this deep in the core of my being. But the damned tears WILL come.

Pat me on the head and tell me some nice, sensible things I already know, I could use it."

Of course, since then I've sold three books. Among other commenters who were in the unpublished boat at the time and said some of those nice, sensible things I needed (or else just a "I know how you feel!":
Lindsey Leavitt, author of PRINCESS FOR HIRE and SEAN GRISWOLD'S HEAD
Mindi Scott, author of FREEFALL
Sarah Williams, author of PALACE BEAUTIFUL
Sheela Chari, author of the upcoming VANISHED

So if you're the Last One, take heart. It really doesn't mean the fates hate you forever.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The music of voice

I didn't even notice that I complained of blogger's block and then wrote a post on writer's block the next day. -_-;; Well, it just shows how fleeting writer's block can be!

Today I'm just idly pondering the music of writing. See, I've been watching American Idol this season, and whenever I watch it I inevitably draw comparisons between the two different creative businesses, and when the singers are rejected or successful I am reminded of my own highs and lows, or I compare the different attitudes toward rejection, inspiration, etc. to people I know or types of writers in general.

There is also the sad fact of people who just can't sing. Or can sing, but are missing that something that makes them really wonderful to listen to. (Of course, people will disagree on this, which is what gives the world its wonderful variety.) There are some people who want to sing, but just don't have the ear. Are there people who want to write and just don't have the ear? I think so. I've read a few hopelessly off-key manuscripts. But I've seen many more people improve from boring or overwritten stories to, well, enjoyable stories and publication! Still, there definitely is a level of talent involved. Some people can just write beautifully, and you can see it even in early work where they made a lot of mistakes.

I don't know that people are actually BORN with this talent, though. I think this is why the first advice authors give aspiring writers is to READ. Especially kids. READ. I think that's your best chance of developing that subconscious ear for turning a phrase. I don't know if this is something people can fully develop as adults if they're starting from scratch. Can they? It seems like it would be up there with learning another language, at the least.

The best writing is musical. It has a rhythm to it. I was reading this magazine recently on some geeky topic and while I was interested in the subject, the writing just wasn't that good. It was perfectly COMPETENT. The articles had interesting details and descriptions. But the words didn't flow. I've read published novels like that too. Sometimes popular novels with gripping plots. They just don't often become classics. Trends in writing, they come and go, but I'm reading a lesser-known novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett right now and while both style and plot points are old-fashioned, it is still a joy to read. She just has a storyteller's voice.

L. M. Montgomery's voice is probably my favorite. She loved and wrote poetry; I think a lot of good prose writers get it from poetry even though I'll admit to not being a GREAT poetry appreciator myself. Sarah Waters is another writer whose prose is just absolutely resonant to my ear. I didn't really care for the characters OR the plot in The Little Stranger and yet somehow I gobbled that book up anyway. It's an elusive quality. I can't tell you how to do it. It's the art of varied sentences and an occasional wee dash of alliteration or repetition, or a big word thrown in with small ones, or knowing when "There was a..." sounds just right even when it's not active voice. It's things like that, maybe, but also just something else. Something a little magic, sure as Chopin, or Bowie singing "Life on Mars?"

Friday, March 4, 2011

Writer's Block Tips

One of the questions I am always asked at school visits is how to get past writer's block.

I understand the desperate hope on these young faces quite well, because for most of my life I wrote like crazy, I would start novels, but then I would get to this point where something didn't make sense or the story had gotten too big, or too small, or too boring, but for whatever reason I just didn't want to do it anymore. I always wrote in a sort of magical, inspired way and once it got hard I was stuck, because I just did NOT understand how you moved past that part.

I still get stuck while writing all the time. And it is still a little terrifying. But through long experience I now know it can always be worked through.

When I am stuck, it's usually one of two reasons.

Reason 1: I am writing something boring.

Sometimes you don't realize right away that something is boring, because it DOES have a purpose, whatever it is. Jane and Anthony NEED to go to the boating regatta so they can see that Greg's boat did not actually sink! (Ohmigosh, it's early, forgive my examples.) Anyway, so you have this important scene with a boat but you know nothing about boats, you don't WANT to know anything about boats, AND this scene is not exactly dynamic because it's just a bunch of people watching the boats you never cared about to begin with.

This happens to me all the time. It can even happen with big integral plots that take up many scenes, or crucial characters. Sometimes you have a character who does the exact opposite of steal every scene she's in. Instead, every time they appear you want to stop writing. You might not entirely realize at first what the reason is. But if you are stuck, stop and think about whether you really LIKE this setting/plot/character.

If you don't, they need to go or change.

Example 1: Your characters are on a date at a restaurant. Maybe the setting is the problem. Restaurants are boring. Maybe they decided to go, instead, to go bowling or antique shopping or exploring an abandoned train yard or Chuck E Cheese or maybe their car broke down and they had to have a date by the side of a highway while waiting for AAA. What would give this scene a flavor?

Example 2: Oh, it's another scene with Manami, your protagonist's quiet, studious Asian friend. She's so boring. Hey, maybe she's boring because she's a stereotype. Often times I find that if I don't like a character, it's because they are some kind of stereotype, maybe even my OWN stereotype: Hey, it's another villain who is a suave jerk that didn't get along with his dad. Or maybe you were aware that you didn't want Manami to be a stereotype so she's not studious, she wants to be an artist and her parents disapprove. But it's still too boring. After all, now her PARENTS are stereotypes. Maybe Manami's mom used to be in an all-girl new wave band and she's really wild and she still plays gigs for her aging fanbase and Manami is kind of wild herself but really deep-down she just wants to be a midwife because she loves babies and she's a natural kind of girl. I just made Manami up for an example and now I can see her (and especially her mom...). If a character is sucking the life out of a scene, inject some life into them.

Example 3: This character is not working. It doesn't matter what you do. You have tried to make this woman into a vegan who plays the autoharp and raises ferrets but also hangs out at the shooting range because she actually loves guns, just not when they're shooting living things, by gum you have PILED ON stuff to make her interesting and conflicted, but you still just don't like her or buy her. She is like a friend you need to cut loose. This is a really hard part because sometimes you feel like this character/plot/scene is SO CRUCIAL you can't possibly get rid of it. This is when you might have to brainstorm wildly. This is when it gets scary because you start following a trail of "ohmigosh so much work" because you start thinking, okay, this entire book was about this girl saving the kingdom from roaming barbarians while falling in love with the prince, and if you cut out the fact of her saving the kingdom from roaming barbarians, what is even HAPPENING anymore? You'll have to change this and this and this. Okay, there's that subplot about rescuing her friend that was never quite developed, but you can't make the whole book about that...or can you? Or maybe you could do a whole new plot about her interest in astronomy and a comet approaching? Or maybe you could focus on the romance MORE and just make it a love story, but you could add this twist...? Sit down with a notebook and let your mind fly to the most wild possibilities you can think of. Talk to your friends/crit partners/boyfriend/husband/sister/whatever. Wait for the click of "ohh, that would be better..." or even a mere, "I COULD do that."

Don't be afraid of the work.

Reason 2 is that you have taken a wrong turn somewhere. The process for solving this is not dissimilar to the process for solving Reason 1. However, in this case maybe there is nothing inherently wrong with any part of your story except for one part or choice. And again, it might not be obvious right away that this is the problem. Oftentimes this is the point where I need to reread everything I've done so far. Sometimes just that is enough. Sometimes it isn't. Don't give up on it right away. Every day, sit down and try to write SOMETHING on the manuscript. Even if you just sit there and stare at the document for 45 minutes. If you've done that a few days in a row with no progress, maybe it's time to take a break. Take a day or week or month away from the story. Work on something else. Sometimes working on something else also illuminates the problems in another manuscript. Still, keep the problem story in the back of your mind. Poke at it once in awhile. Let the stuckness of it wash over you. While you are falling asleep or taking a shower, think about what isn't working. Why isn't it working? Is the plot implausible? Is that scene just unnecessary? Have you not laid the groundwork correctly? Maybe you just need to go back and do a little embellishment or shift things around.

The hardest part of this, for a new writer, is the trust. Trust that there is an answer. There is always an answer. You just need to find it. Keep working it. Keep trying even when it's not fun. The more you persist, the more you will trust that persistence pays off, and the better you will understand your own process and what does and doesn't work for you. Writer's block isn't like inspiration, it isn't some magic thing that comes and goes. For that matter, inspiration isn't quite like that either for me anymore. The more you work through the hard parts, the more you will understand how to make inspiration come a little easier, by writing in a way that works for you.

Of course, mileage will vary. Every writer is different. Every process is different. I can only tell you what works for me. Some writers sweat and writhe their way through an entire manuscript, but if you really want to be a writer, the most important thing, before you ever strive for publication, is getting to that lovely couplet of words: "Entire manuscript."

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Blogger's Block

My blog has been getting quite a few hits lately even though I'm not talking about anything, so I feel guilty. Is there anything you guys would like me to talk about? Any questions?

I'm working on my new book and I'm sooo excited about it, which is probably why I haven't blogged much, and February was very busy with travel. I will say we're 2 1/2 months out from the Magic Under Glass paperback release and as it approaches I'll be having a contest just for fans, with a scribbled, sketched-in, annotated copy of the book as the prize. One of the ways to win will be to already have written a review for your blog or Amazon (and the other way won't be any easier), so if you want to be in the running and you haven't reviewed Magic Under Glass yet, you might want to get on that! ;) (I feel so manipulative.)