Monday, January 31, 2011

Book versus Movie?

I had a fantastic half-post written up about info-dumps and exposition, but between work, more work, Kingdom Hearts and writing, I forgot to get it finished in time. Expect it from me when my turn rolls around again!

Seems to me like more and more YA books are being made into movies as of late. Or maybe I've just become more aware of it? We have the Twilight movies, Harry Potter, Beastly, Hunger Games, If I Stay... Now I'm hearing talks of Firelight and The Forest of Hands and Teeth (OHGODIHOPESO) being movie-ized as well.

I personally love seeing the transition from paper to film. Except... here's where I'm weird: I enjoy seeing the movie first. I like seeing the visuals. I like getting to know the characters a little and falling in love with the story, and loving it enough that I run out to buy the book(s).

When I read the book first, I don't get as much enjoyment from the film. Too much picking at it, pointing out, "They missed this detail. That isn't how it happened!" Because, let's face it, no decent-lengthed YA book can be properly contained in two hours of movie time. Not to mention all the internatilizing and inner monologues/thoughts happening on-page just don't always translate well on screen.

(Often when reading, though, I picture everything in my head like a movie. I get a sense for what scenes would translate well and what wouldn't. It's something I do a lot when writing, too; if the scene doesn't move well in my head as moving pictures, then the words don't flow well.)

Of course, a good movie (or TV series, for that matter) can make all the changes it wants, run with the plot in a different direction, and still have a masterpiece. (I'm looking at you, Vampire Diaries.) Just as a book can take an age-old plot line and make it something beautiful with the right characters and unique details, a movie can do the same, I think.

What do you guys think? Totally hate or love movie versions of books? Any favorite book-to-movie adaptations (YA or otherwise)?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Interview with HarperCollins Author, Leigh Fallon

I am so honored and excited to write this post! Yesterday it was announced that our very own contributor, Leigh Fallon, has been picked up by HarperCollins/HarperTeen for publication of her paranormal YA novel, Carrier of the Mark! For those of you who aren’t familiar with Authonomy and Inkpop, they are sites created by HarperCollins. Writers can post their projects, receive feedback from one another, and vote on their favorites. They’ve been referred to as “Cyber Slushpiles” and the “Online American Idol for Writers”. Each month the top five selections are sent to an HC editor for review. Writers vie for these positions as a way to have their work read by an editor, bypassing the literary agent stage. Leigh’s book is Inkpop’s very first acquisition. A dream-come-true by any standard.

One year ago this month Leigh’s book was sitting pretty in the top five on Inkpop. One month later she had her review, and then she was secretly contacted by HarperCollins in March 2010! Each of us starry-eyed Inkpoppers has dreamt of that moment.

So much was going on behind the scenes this past year as Leigh prepared for publication. As crazy-busy as she was yesterday, she was happy to answer an interview question for us YAtopians…


Leigh, tell us what it was like to work with a "real" editor.
What was the editing process like?

"Working with a quality editor at the top of her game is an overwhelming and awesome experience. My editor at HarperTeen is Erica Sussman, the editor for Aprilynne Pike, author of Wings and Spells, and Kiersten White, author of Paranomalcy. I’m in some serious company, and that can be daunting.

My first round of edits were full on three hundred pages of red pen. I had to condense 100K into an 80k word manuscript, all the while expanding the story, and delving into more detail in some areas.

At first it was petrifying. I didn’t know where to start. I edited three chapters, and riddled with self-doubt, sent on those three chapters to my agent to get her opinion on whether I was ‘doing it right’. She added her thoughts and opinions and I got stuck back in.

It got easier. The more I got into the editing process the more natural it felt. I really found myself immersed in the story and seeing it through my editor’s eyes. I could see her vision of the finished product, and as soon as I let myself 100% trust in her advice it became an enjoyable experience. I watched as my writing got better, more precise, tighter, and that was a most enjoyable and educational experience.

Once I’d submitted the next draft I was feeling a little bit more confident, Erica did a second round of edits, finely honing the story and viciously deleting scenes that, while being great scenes, were unnecessary to the story. It’s hard to see moments of your book that you loved being wiped out of existence, but once it’s done, it’s gone. And once again, I sat back and marveled at the amazing talents of an exceptional editor.

Round three of edits is copy edits, it’s the nit picking stage, where danglers, misuse of words, timing issues or inconsistencies are pointed out to you by copyeditors you don’t know, and for me it was the hardest part of the editing process. It’s like they’re questioning you as a writer and questioning your knowledge of your own story. But again, as soon as I’d gone through this process I realized the reason we don’t get to meet the copy editors is because it’s their job not to know you. They’re completely impartial and seek out every hole and potential problem in your manuscript. If they can’t find it, then a reader won’t be able to, and ultimately that’s what you need. A manuscript that flows beautifully is smooth, tight, riveting, and satisfying.

Writing a brilliant book is two-thirds being a good writer and one-third having an excellent editor. I have one-third down in Erica, I just hope my two-third offering is up to par. LOL. Hopefully, with all the work put in by all parties we’ve achieved something special in The Carrier of the Mark."

There is no doubt in our minds here at YAtopia that together Leigh and Erica have achieved something special. We cannot wait to get our hot little hands on one of those arcs. Cheers to Leigh Fallon on her dream come true!


Friday, January 28, 2011

The Carrier of the Mark

Yes, you've probably heard it already, The Carrier of the Mark is being published by HarperTeen.  This is a super exciting time for me.  I've been keeping this under my hat for nine months and now I'm finally allowed shout it from the roof tops. Woohoo!

Here is is guys, I give you my baby.



I love this cover so much it's hard to express it in words.  But the cover really tells the story, and I can't wait to share that story with you.  It will be on the shelves in fall 2011! Eeek.

I'll be doing a more in depth chat with Wendy tomorrow, giving you the lowdown on my story, so be sure to tune in tomorrow.

And here are a few links for you to have a gander at in the mean time.



http://inkpop.wordpress.com/2011/01/28/harpercollins-to-publish-book-found-on-inkpop/

http://iwriteya.blogspot.com/2011/01/awesome-news.html


http://empressawesome.blogspot.com/

http://www.storiesandsweeties.com/2011/01/harperteen-publishes-book-from-inkpop.html

http://www.earthtimes.org/articles/press/teen-writing-site-inkpop,1632963.html

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xgsfdx_leigh-fallon-author-of-carrier-of-the-mark_shortfilms



Special Announcement!

We've just found out this morning that our very own Leigh Fallon has been picked up by HarperCollins for publication of her YA novel, Carrier of the Mark! Stay tuned tomorrow for an interview where she'll let us in on the details of her journey! Congratulations, Leigh!

Today's New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/28/books/28arts-WEBBOOKMOVES_BRF.html?_r=1&ref=todayspaper

Inkpop's Link: http://www.inkpop.com/projects/5971/the-carrier-of-the-mark/

Thursday, January 27, 2011

I'm losing the plot

I'm not afraid to say that I am not a natural plotter. If you were to put myself and J.K.Rowling on a scale for plotting, we would be on polar opposite ends. Rowling is renowned for her meticulous planning, and there is no doubt that the results are outstanding.

But me - I'm an ENFP. That's a Meyers Briggs personality type that basically means I love being around people, I don't need to see or touch it to believe it and understand it, I make decision with my heart over my head and I fly by the seat of my pants - that's what the 'P' stands for. I would guess Rowling is a strong 'J', organised and a great planner.

Not that I don't plan, well sort of. I conceptualise. Usually the freaky, twisted ending comes to me first. Then I work backwards and develop characters. I actually wrote six pages of notes at the beach the other day for my WIP. That's my planning process.

I've tried plotting. But I get distracted. I prefer to research and daydream, then write a flurry of notes and novel excerpts. It means that sometimes I have a jigsaw puzzle to piece together and that plenty of times I have to go back to an early section of the novel and rewrite to add in foreshadowing for an idea that's just popped into my head. But a full-on plotted chapter by chapter plan = Sharon and writing fail. Just look at the story I attempted to plot in 2006. It's still sitting at about 4,000 words.

Often the ideas come to me while riding, daydreaming at the beach, working out at the gym (I should be going there more often), singing very loudly - and not very well - in my car with the music blaring or while researching. Then I madly scribble it down at the first available opportunity. Boy do I get some funny looks in the showers at the gym.

I let the stories and characters guide me. They take on a life of their own when I write and the story unfolds as I go. I have a basic idea, a skeleton outline and then the rest just seems to write itself.
But this is what works for me. But it may not work for you.

Everyone marches to the beat of their own drum and there is no right or wrong way to let inspiration take hold of you, flow through you and become a story.

Everyone has different ways of getting it done. So how do you do it?Are you a plotter or do you go with the flow?

My Closet

In my virtual closet this week:
Awesome agent: Kathleen Ortiz http://www.kathleenortiz.com/ - Looking for YA romance from a male POV or a steampunk with fantastic world building.
TopTweeter : @Crzywritergrl - Literary intern with great tweets on queries.
Writers Digest Conference wrap up - http://blog.writersdigest.com/norules/2011/01/25/MASTERRecapOf2011WritersDigestConference.aspx
True Blood satire: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MEqk3MwnX_4&feature=youtu.be

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Punctuation Saves Lives

I have a problem. I know I do. I try to ignore it, but it only gets worse.

Poor grammar drives me nuts.



I even say it in my Facebook profile so you know it's true. Now, I'm not one of *those* people, constantly correcting everyone else. I just so badly want people to communicate clearly - because punctuations saves lives.



Figuratively, at least.

And I'm not (not even close!) saying that my grammar is perfect, but I'm trying. I make mistakes every day, every time I write. There are probably several in this post right now. And I struggle with quite a few rules and idiosyncrasies of our ridiculous English language. So I wanted to share with you some of the tricks and tools that help me remember the more confusing rules. These are the things that worked for me after just not "getting it" from years and years of brute force instruction and explanation.

1. A lot vs. Alot

"Alot" isn't a word. Don't use it. I'll admit I had a significant amount of trouble with this one, until I saw this from Hyperbole and a Half. If you can't remember which is correct after reading that, there's not much hope for you.

The Oatmeal also covered this in his "10 Words You Need to Stop Misspelling," which I think should be mandatory reading before you're allowed to access the internet.

2. Literally? Are you sure?

When you use the modifier "literally" it means what you are saying is actually and entirely true. The girls on America's Next Top Model misuse this one often. (Yeah, so what? I watch that show. Usually while eating a giant bowl of ice cream) :-)

"I literally died when she said that."

No you didn't. Otherwise you wouldn't be here. That's an entirely different "reality" show.

3. i.e. vs. e.g. 

Think of i.e. as meaning "in other words." It's a clarification, as opposed to e.g., which means "for example." The way I remember it is i=in and e=example. Here's another post from The Oatmeal with further clarification.

4. Semicolons

It seems there's no middle ground with semicolons. Most people either love them to no end or hate them with a passion. I can't really explain their use as it's one of those things that feels organic to me, but The Oatmeal and TH Mafi have done a great job of explaining them. 

5. Dangling Participles

This rule presents a different problem from the others I've talked about in that I think everyone knows that "dangling participles are bad." What I'm recently finding, however, is that most people without an English degree don't really remember what a dangling participle actually is. I definitely didn't until I got back into writing after six years studying engineering.

Technically, it's when "a grammatical modifier is associated with a word other than the one intended, or with no particular word at all," but here's a blog with some funny examples of this error.


 
I hope these tips will help you like they've helped me. I'll leave you with a little poem that showcases the trouble with relying too heavily on your computer's spell checker. 

Now, if anyone has a solid way for me to remember the difference between affect and effect, that would be awesome. It doesn't matter how many times it's explained to me, I just can't seem to remember!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Excuse me...do you have any spare time?




If so, I'd really like to borrow it.

Do you ever feel like things are moving so fast and furious that you somehow misplaced a few of the hours in your day? It's been like that for me the past few days. There is a lot going on in the Kelley household that's making me wonder how I'm ever going to get anything done!

And when I do...I'm not only too exhausted to enjoy it, but I'm left scratching my head and wondering how I pulled it off.

I'm a stay at home mom. I have two little girls, a husband, kids' school, homework, house, extended family and now a little family emergency going on. Honestly, it's leaving me feeling pretty frazzled, both emotionally and physically. I have so many things I need to do, that I'm definitely not finding time for what I want to do. But even more, I'm not sure I can do all the need-to-dos either.

Like my post for example. Totally flying by the seat of my pants here. LOL. I forgot it's my blog day until I was about to climb into bed for the night. SO, here I am, winging it and sharing all my time management problems with you.

Sorry...I hope you don't feel cheated. LOL.

The thing is, I have some serious writing I need to get done. It's one of those need to do things, but also, I'm loving the story and I want to do it too! Lucky, right? Only that missing time is getting in the way.

SO, I'm asking YOUR advice. I know we're all busy out there. School, work, family, blogs, writing...the list goes so. I'm curious how you find the time to squeeze it all in? Any tricks I don't know about?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

La, La, La...

Hi, I'm DJ and I'll be posting every other Saturday along with the wonderful Wendy. Most of you know me already, but for those who don't, I run the YA book blog, DJ's Life in Fiction and have currently signed a deal with Pendrell Publishing. My debut novel, Hunted, will be released early fall of this year.

Now that we've been acquainted with one another, let's talk about writing, shall we? After all, that's what we're all here for, right? :-D

A lot of writers listen to music while writing. If you know me, you know that I play the piano, sing, and write my own songs, many of which were inspired by books. Music plays a vital part in my life. I honestly don't know what I would do if I couldn't tickle the keys or dance to Florence and the Machine. But when it comes to my writing, music takes the backseat. I can't focus when listening to music and writing. Instead of focusing on my story, I become too obsessed with finding The Perfect Song and end up changing songs every ten seconds.

It isn't until after the story has been written and I'm revising that I turn on some tunes. Even then, though, the songs I listen to don't represent a certain character. I'm afraid I'll never be like Maggie Stiefvater or Stephenie Meyer whose playlists are made of epicness that contain songs that serve as a character's theme song. But I do listen to songs that capture the overall mood or feeling I'm trying to convey with a certain scene or even line. (Or I'll just listen to whatever song is stuck in my head, which is usually something by Lady Gaga or Paramore) Still, I have to keep the volume low to help keep my mind in check and focused on the writing, not the listening.

So, fellow writers, do you listen to music while writing? If so, how exactly does it affect your process? And readers, do you listen to music while reading?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Interview with agent Victoria Marini

Happy Thursday everyone! For my post today, I have managed to score an exclusive interview with the fabulous agent, Victoria Marini. Enjoy!

1) Hi Victoria! Firstly, for all those who might not know, can you give us a brief explanation as to who you are and your background in the publishing industry?

Sure thing. I’m originally from Pennsylvania. I went to university in New York and got a B.A in English. I worked at a dog kennel for a while. My first job in publishing was for a film & television rights assistant, but Hollywood wasn’t for me. Then, I was an assistant at Sterling Lord Literistic for a brief period before I came to Gelfman Schneider as an agency assistant in 2009. Later, I was promoted to an associate agent and I’ve been slowly building a client list. Now, I’m at the point where I am aggressively building my list.



2) What is something we don't know about you that has nothing to do with agenting?

I eat TERRIBLY when left to my own devices; donuts, cupcakes, pizza, mac n’ cheese, chocolate etc… If its primary ingredient is sugar or sodium, I want it.



3) What was the last published book you read and loved?

I’m going to sound like a broken record here, but THE HUNGER GAMES. I don’t mean the trilogy. I was not nearly as fond of CATCHING FIRE or MOCKINGJAY, but I so thoroughly loved THE HUNGER GAMES.



4) I know you get this question often, but what would you really love to find in your slush pile? What are you kind of sick of?

I’d love to find a male POV sci-fi YA. I’d love to find High School Noir. I love gothic tales and re-imagined classics. I’d like a YA ghost story, or something spooky and magical in the vain of Neil Gaiman (who wouldn’t though, right?!). I want fantasy, whimsy, magic. I’d love to find a fast-paced, contemporary YA like the Bourne identity, but written so beautifully I can’t stand it. I want to find something that makes me cry, laugh out loud or pace around my apartment with anxiety. I want a gritty urban fantasy with tension. I want a paranormal game of cat and mouse. I also take on memoirs, but I am super picky and the hook needs to be astounding.



I’m tired of underdeveloped worlds and people; of reading something with a great idea and plot, but finding I’m not engaging with the characters or living in their world. I’m tired of an over developed sense of the sentimental. I’m also really over memoirs that try to impress me with gimmicks and superficial humor. I don’t want to think you were the bad girl or the cool kid in High School, I want to know you.



5) Every agent-client relationship is different. What kind of relationship do you like to have with your clients?

I’m very editorial and very open door. I always want to communicate and brainstorm. I try to encourage my clients to have a web presence and keep educating themselves about this business, and I try to engage in the same activities on their behalf. I think it’s my job to keep abreast of the changes happening in digital publishing, social networking, transmedia marketing etc… I try to explain as much as I can about what I am doing and why. I am also very happy to listen and work with my clients if they’d prefer to do something differently. I’m very hands-on.



6) Say you started reading an amazing manuscript that you were falling in love with. What would be the thing that would put you off enough for you to then say, sorry but no thanks?

This has happened to me before, and the few times it’s happened, it’s because the book doesn’t feel complete. I’ll notice plot holes, rushed pacing, forced endings, or the focus slowly shifts and the world-building falls apart or the characters stop growing.



7) From what you've experienced, what is the most common thing queriers are doing wrong?


I’ve been very lucky in that the queries I get are usually very well-written. I think the biggest mistakes are failure to do homework (pitching me a political thriller, for example) and talking more about why [you] wrote the book, why [you] love to write, how friends, uncles, relatives, etc… loved it than about the book itself.



8) When you sign a client, do you run through your own edits before taking the MS out for sub?

Almost always.



9) If you had to give up agenting, what other career would you go into?


Oh goodness, I hope this never applies. Hmmm, I think I’d move west and start a cupcake food truck or maybe work with animals.



10) What is your view on submissions from overseas? Do you find that because the culture is different it may be harder to sell in the US?


Not necessarily, I think it all depends on the subject matter.



11) Describe your perfect literary love interest ;)

If you want an example of ones that already exist, I had a major thing for Sydney Carton in A TALE OF TWO CITIES (don’t ask me why) and for ROBIN HOOD, but I think was more for the Disney cartoon version with the fox (literal fox). If you want a wish-list… I’m not sure. For me, it’s more about what sort of love interest the protagonists wants/needs to make the story feel authentic and compelling. I think tension is a must. I always like things to be a little difficult. I’ve always felt that miscommunication and/ or misinterpretation is fantastically agonizing when it comes to relationships.


Quickfire questions


(Try to answer with the first thing that pops into your mind)



Superpowered heroines or soft damsels in distress?

Superpowered heroines.

Red or Green?

Green

Dark and gritty or light and sweet? Literary that is.

Hehehe. Dark and Gritty

iPhone or Blackberry?

iPhone

Ice cream or cupcakes?

CUPCAKES!!!!

Thanks once again for the interview!! If you would like to know how to query the lovely
Victoria, you can find her submission guidelines over at the Gelfman and Schneider webpage. She also blogs.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tuesday Twaddle - Pause for thought.

Firstly, a quick meet and greet. I'm Leigh and I'll be bringing you The Tuesday Twaddle every second and forth Tuesday of the month. Yay!  You’ll have read all the wonderful entries into the blog by my amazing and talented writer friends.  They’ve given you knowledge, insight, and shared their enlightening experiences.  Me on the other hand, well I’m just not that kind of blogger.  I suck at being serious, so I keep to the funny/acerbic side of life.  I’ll bring you tales of woe and joy as they happen to me on my path to being the best Young Adult writer to hit the shelves since they invented shelves (excluding of course all the other wonderfully talented writers who form YAtopia… and any other writer who graces these pages with their presence, you guys rock too!).
My title ‘Pause for thought’ was inspired by my current state of ‘pause’.  As I see it, writing involves lots of pauses.  Pauses haunt writers, whether it is pauses on inspiration, the dreaded long pause of writer’s block, pauses for making the kids dinner, or seeing to a neglected spouse. Pauses for contemplation, or divine interventions.  Currently, I’m on an epic pause.  And for every moment I’m on that ‘epic pause’ I’m stressing about reaching that play button.  I hate pause.  It kills inspiration, momentum, thought process, and creativity.  At this moment, I’d sell my soul for a cloven hoof to find that remote and release me from this rather uncomfortable position, but as yet I’m still holding steady, mid run, with the distorted face and semi midflight look about me. 
Here are some of my ‘Pause’ factors.
P – Procrastination – I know when I get that email I’ve been so desperately waiting for, I will automatically be able to write what I want, when I want, so there’s no point in trying now. Next week will be a much more creative week for me, I just know it.
A – Anything but syndrome - Let’s make a coffee and then I’ll rearrange the desk, Oh and check my emails.  Um, maybe I should ring my mom.  Eww, what’s that pong? Oh the cat litter tray needs seeing to…  You get my drift.
U –Unadulterated – Whereby you’re waiting for the perfect moment to write.  The house is too quiet, I just don’t feel inspired. So, we’re off the library to absorb some much needed knowledge that seeps from the walls, but it’s too cold and quite frankly a little on the whiffy side.  Oh and I need a new laptop, the keys on this one just don’t feel right.  My excuses on my quest for the ‘perfect’ writing set up are endless.
S – Social Media – I can totally justify my spending hours on end on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, MySpace, and all those other platforms.  They are the lifeblood for the want-to-be writer.  But man do they suck you dry of drive and imagination. And, nicely fulfills my P, A, and U requirements.
E – Editing – There’s nothing like a couple of rounds of savage editing and rewrites to make you go into a stall pattern.  The inspiration numbing sensation of self doubt mingles uneasily with panic and turns your brain to a big curdled lumpy mess of cottage cheese.
Now I’ve identified my pause issues, I’m sure I’ll be able to pull myself together and finish that sequel that’s been leering at me for the past two months.  And I will, as soon as I get that new Elbow album I’ve been waiting for, arrange for the delivery of my new laptop, answer all my emails, identify the location of the repugnant smell in my study, update my Facebook profile, and do all my #ff’s (followfriday for the uninitiated) on Twitter.  Wow, I’m feeling better about it already. Let's get going!
Right, firstly I’ll make pot of coffee and then I'll get right on that... I swear. 

I'd love to know what makes your evil subconscious press the pause button on you, and what you do to reanimate yourself.  Please, do share your secrets! Good Lord I need them.

Monday, January 17, 2011

What beginnings accomplish

It's probably safe to say the most revised part of most manuscripts is the beginning. The first page, first ten pages, first twenty...

Of course, a beginning isn't any more or less important than the middle or ending of your book, but it is where someone will determine whether they even want to get to the middle or end. Your opening gives us our first look into your main character, helps set the tone of the book.

All openings should accomplish two things:

1. Introduce your main character in an appealing way. This person needs to catch our attention. We need to sympathize with them on some level, need to connect to them, or - at the least - we need to think they're weird enough that we want to learn more. Readers are investing their precious time to read your book. Make it worth their while.

2. Set the scene for what's to come. You aren't going to find a science textbook opening up with a chapter on history, right? The same goes for fiction. If your book is a slow, fluid and mellow romance, don't start it with a car chase flying through L.A. Your opening scenes need to give readers an expectation of what they're getting into. Huge, melodramatic openings can be hard to follow.


Both of these lead to one main point you want your opening to accomplish: Maintain the reader's interest.

Your writing needs to be smooth, polished, fluid. Whatever scene you give us needs to not only catch our interest, but hold it. This does not need to be done by giving us that aforementioned car chase. Character interaction, tension, suspense, emotion, peril* - these are all things that will catch a reader's attention.

(*when I say 'peril,' I mean actual peril. Don't have your character hanging off a cliff, barely holding on, and reveal a few pages later that it was a dream.)

In my experience with my own writing, I redo openings so many times because I am still getting a feel for my characters. All that crummy info-dump and drivel in my first few pages I end up trimming and revising? Is because these characters are often new to me and I'm figuring them out by writing. I've noticed my books need less revision toward the end. I would say 70% of all my trimming/cutting happens within the first half.

Start your story where it starts.

Don't bog us down with background information. Your character should be moving, doing something. We don't need to see an ordinary day in your character's life. Don't start with Sally staring in the mirror and admiring her raven-colored hair, putting on her makeup, thinking to herself how she wants Johnny to ask her to the school dance while she eats breakfast. Instead, have her running into Johnny in the hall, have him asking her to that dance. Start with a bang. Start right at the edge of where things change.

The Writer's Digest book on Plot words it perfectly:

Don't tell how the protagonist decided to go out and buy fireworks, how much they cost, how he brought them home, how he stored them, what his wife said. Begin when the fuse is lit and the reader sees a bang coming any minute.


Homework exercise!
Take your opening pages (one, two, the first chapter, however many) and place every single sentence on its own line to separate it from everything else. Now, go through each of these lines, one at a time and ask yourself these questions:

1. Does this show something about the main character that the reader should know right away, or does it advance the story?

2. Is this background information? If so, is it needed right this second or can it be woven in later when the reader is emotionally invested enough to care?

3. Will the reader find this information interesting and engaging?

4. Am I setting a tone for what's to come?



Don't expect that your opening (or any part of your manuscript) will be perfect the first go around. Write it. Get it all out. Then go back and look at what needs to be fixed.

Let me know if you try this and what you find out about your own openings!



EDIT: Early morning edit! Sharon has up a chance to get a guest-spot on the blog by helping out flood victims in Australia. See her post and others here.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

My Big Fat Querying Mistake


Perhaps you and your manuscript have already buckled in and are currently being tossed about on the roller coaster of agent querying. Or maybe you are setting your sights on the long line of that scary, exciting ride this very moment. At some point, each of us writers who dream of publication will end up pushing and shoving our ways to the front of that line with the hope that our fanciful screams will catch an agent's attention.



I was in a terrible hurry to get in that line, and it was not a pretty sight. In my gut I knew my book wasn't ready, but I forged ahead. The truth is, many of us should hang back in the line just a bit longer because our wee babe manuscripts are simply not meeting ride requirements. We can have it wear tall shoes and a fake mustache, but agents can spot an unqualified rider when they see it. And all that rushing gets us is a pile of rejection letters on our counters and inboxes.

Why are we in such a rush? Do we really think that someone else out there has the same exact idea, and they're going to steal our spot? Yes. Yes, we do.

Let's face it. We writers are neurotic, impulsive, impatient, emotional creatures. If not, we'd rationally know that there are no designated number of slots, and that each story is unique.

We also rush because we believe in the beautifully raw potential of our manuscripts. Unfortunately for us, having "promise" is not enough. We need to prove that they can live up to their promise. Agents and editors are there to help polish our projects, but only we can craft them to meet their potentials.

The truth is, everyone suffers when we rush our manuscripts to the querying process. We cheat ourselves out of opportunities. Many agents will not accept a resubmission unless they specifically ask for a rewrite. And who do we query first? Our top choices, who then suffer by having their time wasted. It's a lose-lose for all.

So how do you know when your precious baby is all grown up? I suggest having at least two trusted betas/critique partners (preferably not family members) read your entire manuscript, as well as your query. After they have reviewed and you have revised and reread, take a step back and force yourself to wait a week or two. It will seem like forever, but you can do it. A brief hiatus will help you look at the story with fresh eyes. At that point, if you can honestly say that your manuscript is as good as it can be, not just "good enough", then by all means, jump in line and enjoy the ride! It's a doozy.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Can they see right through you?

 So YA is hot. The publishing industry is abuzz with the next big YA novel that teens (and adults) will be raving over. And you say to yourself, you know what, I can do that. 
Me (right) on my last day of high school with
a friend. I can use the emotion of the day, but
not the lingo if I want an authentic teen voice.

So you think really hard and remember back to when you were a teenager, how you spoke, what you did for fun and you start writing like crazy. And your dialogue goes something like this:

     "Bud, I was so stoked when I dipped in on Bobby and Joe smoke a doobie and heard that this primo party is on this weekend."
      "No way!"
      "I kid you not."
      "Most triumphant."

Congratulations, to today's teens you've just written a historical fiction. Fail!

Or maybe you've come up with this great and intricate storyline. It has so many twists and turns that it's bound to be a best seller. You decide to make the MC 17, never mind the fact you've got her behaving like someone in their late 20s.

Congratulations, you've written a novel for adults that you're passing off as YA. Epic Fail!

Or maybe you've written a story about a small town girl who moves to the city, takes on the corporate world and wins, is confident and sassy (even though she was the outcast in her home town) and has the same interests as my middle-age mother. There is no coming of age rights because she magically turns into a mature woman just by stepping off the plane.

Congratulations you've just written a YA novel without an authentic YA character. Severe lack of YA writer ninja status.

Make your teen voice authentic and make it pop!
 Okay, yes, YA is popular. Kids gotten bitten by the reading bug thanks to Harry Potter, Deltora Quest and Goosebumps. Now they've grown up and they still really want to read. Not only that, but "grown-ups" are devouring YA as well. I admit to being a YA junkie, and I got my mother hooked too.

But does that mean every writer should jump ship and write YA? Hell no!

Your story should be YA because it's YA. The characters should be teenagers because it's what's required for the plot. If your story isn't about a teenager, dealing with teenage issues, then don't force it.
 
One of my biggest concerns with some of the latest YAs is authenticity. I've read some fantastic books that I enjoyed immensely, but I had trouble believing that the MC was a teen and it detracted from the story.  Don't kid yourself, teens are very savvy. If you're intent on writing YA and you don't make the effort to make your character sound like a teen from the 80s or 90s, the reader will see right through you.

My Closet

I'm a collector, or a hoarder if you ask my hubby. So I'm going to share some things each post that I've collected for you.got stashed in my virtual closet.
Beaut Book (this one supports the victims of the flood in the video above - more than just cars got beaten up): http://fablecroft.com.au/books/after-the-rain/after-the-rain-after-the-floods-limited-ebook-edition
Awesome agent: Denise Little - http://deniselittle.wordpress.com/
TopTweeter : @MarieSuzetteYA


Winners!!!

From Chanelle's and my week 1 competition the winners are:
Lexie!! - Stolen or Forgiven
Cass (Words on paper)!! - The Blood Countess






Tuesday, January 11, 2011

With Apologies to Nike...

Hello everyone! First, I'd just like to say how excited I am for my first real post on YAtopia! We're all looking forward to sharing our thoughts and experiences with you and we'd love to hear your suggestions. So if you have any topics/activities you'd like to see on the blog, please leave them in the comments!

By nature, I'm a very social person.  I meet a lot of writers - whether it's through social media, national writing organizations, local writers groups, or waiting in line at the Post Office on December 22nd (true story!). I often find myself talking to "new" writers and the conversation will go something like this:

Me: *inevitably, says something about writing*
Them: Oh, really? I write novels, too.
Me: Awesome, what do you write?
Them: A little bit of everything
Me: Cool, cool. So what kind of stories have you written so far? (I know, I'm pushy. But I love talking about writing)
Them: Well, I have ... you know ... all these ideas. And I want to write a book but *insert excuse here* and *insert publishing myth here*
Me: That's nice. Here's my card; there are some links in the sidebar of my website that I think you'll like. (Alternately, if they're really clueless, I'll write down Nate B's website and suggest they check out the right sidebar)

I know many of these people. I used to be one of these people. The thing is: they're not bad people. They're mostly just scared and a little naive. And I know they can't yet handle what I really want to say to them, so I'll say it here:

Just do it.

I'm not going to baby you. Becoming a writer is tough. You finally get the whole story down on paper and you think it's so perfect you'll just send it to Simon & Schuster and they'll send you a big fat check.

Then you realize you have to do revisions. And, oh man, you thought writing it the first time was hard? The revisions make you sweat, bang your head against the table, cry until your face hurts, hate your Beta readers then realize they're right two days later, clean your entire house in avoidance, give up at least three times, drink lethal amounts of coffee, stay up all night just to erase a comma. You shine and polish until your fingers are blistered and your eyes are red from fatigue and you have this beautiful precious baby manuscript that surely the whole world will fall in love with.

But it doesn't stop there. You will get rejected. And it will hurt like nothing else you've ever felt before.

You'll think you suck. And (honestly) you will suck. You'll wonder if it's worth it. But you'll keep writing. And then you'll get better. You'll write more and you'll get even better. Wash, rinse, repeat.

And one day, you'll find out that all the pain - all the tears, doubts, everything - was worth it. Every single moment, you are learning, growing, becoming a better writer.

And then. AND THEN? You're going to be amazing. You're going to know what it means to persevere. Someone will fall in love. Someone will say yes.

But only if you write the thing. Only if you're willing to start and take a chance. Only if you stick with it when the last thing you want to do is think about your manuscript.

I hope you never give up. I'm rooting for you. There's room enough on the shelf for both of us.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Let's Talk About Characters!

Okay, I just have to take a minute to say how SUPER excited I am to make my first official post for YAtopia. Like giddy excited...LOL

Second, I wanted to announce some of the winners from out launch last week! The winner of my contest for a 10.00 dollar gift card is.... JESSI E!

Wendy's contest winner is...ORCHID!

Leigh's contest winner is...LEXIE!

Congrats everyone!

Now... getting that out of the way, on with my post :)

I want to talk about characters. I've made no secret in the past that I am completely, 100% a character reader. I can handle almost any kind of plot as long as the author writes characters I can fall in love with. And I don't just mean boys I can swoon over because while that is nice...okay, maybe a little more than nice, a girl can always use a good swoon, I need to go deeper than that. I think that's part of the reason that I love those tortured heroes so much. I like looking deep into a character. Finding out what makes the tick, why they hurt, how the deal with it and I love, LOVE seeing them find a way out of it. I want inside their heads AND their hearts.

I think even those carefree boys have to have some substance to them. I still need to know why they are the way they are. I love to laugh with them, but I also want to see that emotional side too. I want to know everything about them and if an author can do a good job of that, I fall in love with them.

Though it might sound like it, it's not all about the boys either. Though I always say I have to like the female, but love the male, I also need a girl I can connect with on some level. I'm not saying we have to be alike or that if they were real, that I think we'd be BFFs or anything, but I have to know them. Even if I don't have their experiences, I need to have some clue what it's like to live in their skin. I need to know their head and hearts too.

That's what makes a book to me. The characters.

It's the same way for me when I'm writing. The majority of the time, one of the characters pops into my head first. With WHAT A BOY WANTS, the whole book started around Sebastian. I had the good looking, slightly cocky, sarcastic boy pop into my head and I needed a story to go around him. I wanted the book to be from his POV because his voice spoke SO loudly to me. As I picked around in his head, I realized though he was cocky, sarcastic and was a little girl obsessed, that he also was a great friend. That even though he gave his friends a hard time, there wasn't anything he wouldn't do for them. That he was a good son and wanted to protect his mom. Actually, he wanted to protect everyone he cared about. He might not always show those sides to him, but that makes the times they pop out all the more special, because it made him real. To me at least :).

Who are some of your favorite characters you've read or written and why? What is it about them that speaks to you?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Meet Your Saturday Posters & Win a Book!

DJ and Wendy will rock your weekends with alternating posts every Saturday...
because they're awesome. :-)



DJ DeSmyter

1. DJ, when did you start writing? Why?

I began writing poems in middle school and it wasn't until a few years ago that I began novel-writing. My first official story was a novella that will never see the light of day, but I am so proud of it because it was my first, you know? As a reader, I become invested in the books I read and I often find myself thinking about a book's world and characters days after finishing it. I want to have that kind of impact on readers. But I also hope I can inspire someone to start writing, just like Stephenie Meyer did for me.

2. What do you love the most and hate the most about being a writer?

I love the friendships I have made being a writer/blogger. I've never had many friends who shared the same enthusiasm I have for books and the characters in them, so being part of this community has been wonderful! I can geek out about fictional people all I want and not get "You're crazy" looks! What I hate is writer's block. I'm a firm believer in this and whenever it hits me, I sink into this funk that usually takes a week or two to climb out of.

3. Tell us a little bit about how you came to be with Pendrell Publishing.

I took kind of an unconventional route to getting a book deal. Most writers try and get an agent in order to submit to the bigger houses, but that wasn't the first step for me. Having read Lani Woodland's Intrinsical and loving it, and looking into Pendrell Publishing, I found out they accept unsolicited manuscript submissions. I had planned on submitting to them to kind of warm myself up to the submitting process, but then decided not to. The thing was that my crit. partner did a lot of work on Hunted, so at 2 in the morning, a couple of hours before Pendrell's deadline, I submitted. And, well, you know the rest. I couldn't have asked for a better home for my book. :-)



Wendy Higgins:

1. Wendy, what genre do you write and why?

You know, it’s funny. I was always a lighthearted chic-lit kind of girl. I wrote general fiction, using humor to tackle underlying serious issues. But when I was finally hit with major inspiration to write a complete novel, it was paranormal romance! And much darker than I ever thought myself capable. So I suppose I could go either way. I don’t know if my next book will be paranormal, too. Who knows?

2. What are some things people may not know about you?

I’ve had nearly every customer service job under the sun – waitress, department store associate, banker/loan officer, Chuck-E-Cheese birthday party girl (even dressed as Chuck-E a few times), English teacher, and flight attendant – to name a few. These experiences of working with the public have given me a plethora of writing ideas, especially characterizations! 

3. Tell us a little bit about how you got a literary agent.

I didn't go about finding an agent in the traditional way. I'd been querying a few months with no luck because of my weak first chapter (too much telling, not enough showing). I joined inkpop.com so that I could get some feedback and ideas about how to strengthen the intro - the critiquing there was very helpful. During that time a woman read my whole story on the website and fell in love with it. She was represented by Neil Salkind and she asked if she could put me in touch with him... uh, yes please! I sent him an official query and he called me that same week with an offer. He usually reps nonfiction, so this has been quite an adventure for both of us. We've got some promising stuff cooking up right now. Fingers crossed!


Giveaway!

Wendy is giving away a new, hardback copy of Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare! Just become a follower and post a comment to win. This giveaway is opened internationally. Please leave an email or way to contact you. We look forward to hearing your comments!
The winner will be drawn at random and announced on Monday, January 10th.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

And Your Thursday Posters Are...

Chanelle and Sharon are your Thursday posters, guys! There's some info about them already on the blog, but if you wanted to know a little more about them and perhaps win a book...



Sharon, everyone!


Q: Why did you start to write YA? Do you feel like there's a view from people who aren't involved in the writing industry for people over a certain age to write for adults?

A: The first novel I started writing was probably more Middle Grade as I was writing it for my son. But I put it on hold when the idea for Mishca started knocking in my head and refused to go away. It wasn’t intentionally YA, but it ticked all the boxes.

I don’t think readers care about the age of the writer, I think they care about an authentic voice, a kick-ass plot and characters they feel drawn to.

Q: What kind of books keep you up all night thinking about? What was the last book that did this?

A: The Time Travellers Wife definitely had me thinking. It took me about a month to read it as I found I wanted to put it down and really process what I’d read. This is not normally how I read – I devour books in a day or two depending on how much spare time I have.

Q: Describe yourself in five words.

A: An epically weird writing ninja.

Q: If you could write in any location in the world, where would it be or what would it look like?

A: I already have the best place in the world to write – Australian beaches. My husband works as a lifeguard so I spend every Saturday at the beach. After lunch I take an hour off by myself with my laptop and write. I wrote a lot of Mishca at Blacks Beach (see picture) and am writing Dirty Rainbow at Eimeo Beach, where my husband is currently stationed.


Quickfire questions:
Gold or silver? Gold
Coke or Sprite? Neither, I'm not big a softdrink (soda) drinker
Hair up or Hair down? Down
Fake eyelashes or fake nails? I fake nothing =P
Red or white roses? Red

And we have Chanelle, everyone!


Q: If you were only allowed to write one genre for the rest of your life what would you choose and why?

A: Ooh, that's a hard question. It would definitely be for YA, but within that genre, I'm not sure. I guess, I'd have to say Urban Fantasy because though I really do enjoy reading contemp stories and even trying to write them, I have come up with a lot more UFs than I have contemps. And for some reason, I feel like I'm not doing contemps 'right' when I try!!

Q:What do you think will be "the next big trend" in 2011 and why?

A: I think the big trend of 2011 will be UFs making a comeback. They kind of got a lot of stick in 2010. People complained they were overdone and there wasn't anything new. Contemps became more popular - especially issue driven books. But I think there's a lot of UFs coming out this year that are going to make people believe in the genre again.

Q:What surprises people the most about you once they get to know you?

A: That I'm actually a huge animal lover. I have two dogs, who are like my babies, and I used to have horses when I was younger and had a LOT more free time than I do now. And also, when I wasn't writing with every free minute of my day. I'm big on animal rights and believe that they should be treated with respect :)

Q: Which three writers would you most like to meet and what would you ask them?

A: Firstly, and probably obviously, JK Rowling. I have a HUGE amount of respect for her. She's done a lot for my own writing career and was also the first writer who made me read seriously. From the age of ten, I collected her books and still enjoy them to this day. Secondly, Suzanne Collins. What I wouldn't do to pick her creative mind for like ten minutes!! Then I would like to meet Cynthia Hand because I've actually become a bit of a fangirl after reading Unearthly. I want to know everything about that series!!


Rapid fire questions:

Purple or yellow? Purple. Yellow offends me.

Coffee or energy drinks? Neither. I hate both.

Dresses or pants? For everyday...pants (TROUSERS!!), but for occasions, dresses.

High heels or flats? Like above, flats for everyday, heels for occasions.

Horror or comedy? Horror, definitely. I'm a huge horror fan.


Now...THE GIVEAWAY!!


We will have TWO winners for this giveaway.

Sharon is kindly giving away a copy of Blood Countess by Tara Moss. All you have to do to be in with a chance of winning, is follow this blog and comment below with your email address. If you want an extra entry, tweet the following:

You can win a copy of Blood Countess over at @YAtopia - http://yatopia.blogspot.com/
But here's the catch, this part of the giveaway is only for Australian readers only. So if you have an Australian address, comment below for a chance of winning.


Chanelle is kindly giving away EITHER an order of Stolen by Lucy Christopher or Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma. The winner will get to choose which one they want. All you have to do is be a follower and comment below with your email address. Again, you can earn extra entries by either following Chanelle's personal blog Beyond Words and/or tweeting the following:

You can win a copy of either Stole or Forbidden over at @YAtopia - http://yatopia.blogspot.com/

This part of the giveaway is open to anyone Book Depository delivers to.


You can either enter for both or one. But please state which one you're entering for below. If you want to enter for both, please do separate comments for each giveaway. Just so it doesn't get confusing. Winners will be announced next Thursday.


Thanks for reading everyone, and I hope you stick around to see what other great stuff YAtopia has to offer. Trust me...it's a lot!!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Your Two for Tuesday Contributors & Leighbee's Freebies

Sarah and Leigh will be posting on Tuesdays. You can learn more about us on the Contributors page, but to help you get to know us better, we answered three questions each. Oh and don't forget to enter Leigh's giveaway at the end!

Sarah Nicolas
Q: Are you a pantser (writes off the seat of her pants) or a plotter (lays out the story and works it out before writing)?A: You remember in school when they made us turn in an outline a few weeks before the paper was due? I wrote the complete paper first and based the outline off of it. Definitely a pantser. I write my first draft very quickly and then spend a loooooooong time revising.


Q: Writers are renowned for having odd quirks, like having to write to music, or in a particular coffee shop, or in Leigh's case, in longhand with the same pen. What writing quirks have you developed over the years?
A: This is a rather inconvenient quirk: I can't write at home. It doesn't matter if the house is empty for an entire weekend, I can't seem to concentrate. Luckily, my apartment complex has a very nice business center and I also write at coffee shops, restaurants, even other people's houses.

Also, I talk to myself a lot when I'm trying to figure something out. Which wouldn't be that bad if I wasn't sitting in a restaurant with "normal" people all around me.

Q: If you could pick one character from a book and write a spin off story about them, who would that character be, and why?
A: "I was alive when the Dead Sea was just a lake that was feeling a little poorly." I would love to dive deeper into the past and present of Magnus Bane from The Mortal Instruments series. I feel like there's much more to him than parties and glitter, and Cassandra Clare has only scratched the surface.

I'd love to hear everybody else's response to this question: If you could write/read a spin off about a character from any book, who would you pick?





Leigh Fallon

1. When writing a novel, what comes first for you? I.e. Characters? Setting? Plot? Atmosphere? Theme? Something else?
Usually a scene pops into my head. It’s like a memory, usually triggered by music or a landscape. I can see it playing out in my head like a movie. I hear the characters talking, and the sounds of their surrounding area. I take that scene, and then build on it. The scene normally gives me my MC, the tone, and the atmosphere. If I feel strongly enough about it, I start to develop it. Take it back a few steps; figure out how the MC found themselves in that situation, and the people she / he met along the way. And it works its way out from that initial scene like a web, all very intricate and each element relying on the elements surrounding it to give it strength and stability.
I love writing that way; it’s like watching a brilliant movie trailer and then finally getting to see the movie and discovering all the elements of the story that made the trailer so riveting.
2. Has being a mother affected your writing at all? How?
I dabbled a little when I was younger, specializing in writing snarky complaint letters to companies for friends and family. I had a knack for getting freebie's from them (but only on legitimate complaints. I swear! LOL). I never even considered being a writer until after I’d had my kids.
Being a mother made me a writer! After I had my twin bundle of boys, I finally hit the mommy wall. Four kids under the age of six are enough to drive the most patient of mothers to distraction, so I sought solace in writing. I started jotting down my scenes as they popped into my head, writing on scraps of paper I’d find lying around the car. I used to spend hours sitting in my jeep in the town of Kinsale in Co. Cork, Ireland where we lived at the time. I’d be dropping my two older girls to ballet and other after school activates, so I’d be left festering in the car with two screaming bored babies with rain pelting against the windscreen.
The beauty of Kinsale, combined with my desire to escape reality, even for a few short moments, was what ultimately created The Carrier of the Mark and the rest of the series. And for that, to my children, I’ll be forever grateful.
3. You've lived in a lot of different places. What effect do you think this has had on your writing?
Travel is the ultimate way to experience life, and I’ve traveled a lot. Not just Ireland and the US, I’ve worked all over Europe. I’ve met amazing people and sampled so many different cultures. Every country is different, every person unique. Getting a taste of such diversity has really added depth and understanding of people which I think has helped my character development.
In writing, it’s the subtle differences that can turn a person from just a flat character to a real person that jumps off the page and has a life of their own.

COMPETITION TIME!!
Want to win a pre-publication copy of Desires of the Dead? I have one glossy arc up for grabs.  Want it?  All you have to do is comment and follow. Oh, and make sure that you a leave a way for me to contact you about your swag!

Over to you - So are you a traveller?
Where have you been and where would you like to go?