Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Countdown: 12 Books for Christmas Gift Giving

I'll have to start with Neil Gaiman's Graveyard book--because it feels so Christmasy and all.
What, you don't think a story of a child raised by ghosts in a graveyard can be cheery?  Warm, and filled with love?  Well, you'd be mistaken.  Even with a triple-murder kicking the story off, this book manages to feel like a family book, through and through.  With a shadowy conspiracy group threatening his safety, a legion of ghosts as his family, and an undead mentor, Bod, aka Nobody, isn't your average youngster.  But his needs and wants as an ordinary kid anchor the supernatural elements of the story.  Underneath and around his adventures in the realm of the ghouls and a brush with a cursed treasure, he's bored with his lessons and stubborn about food he doesn't like.  It's the kind of story that in the wrong hands would be a total flop, but with Neil Gaiman's masterful storytelling is a book I can truly recommend for everyone on your list.

The Golden City, by J. Kathleen Cheney

Set in historic Portugal and teeming with magic, this book was a refreshing change from predominantly British inspired historic fantasy.  Both fascinating and whimsical, it follows the story of Oriana as she navigates life as a banned Sereia (inspired by merfolk) and spy in a hostile city and quietly makes her way amongst the elite nobility of the city.  With a little romance, a lot of magic, and a strong dose of the detective story, this book left me anxious to get my hands on the second book, and has stayed with me since setting it down. Smoothly written and evocative, it's not a book you'll quickly forget.

Assassin's Apprentice, by Robin Hobb

I first read these books at the insistence of some good friends, and though I consumed them faster than ice cream on a hot day in summer, I wasn't sure when I finished them if I liked them or not.  The end to the first trilogy, which begins with Assassin's Apprentice, was frustrating to me.  That was close to a year ago.  I've recently begun and read my way through most of the sequel trilogy which begins with Fool's Errand, and must admit now that I either love these books or am a serious sucker for punishment.  A gripping tale of high fantasy, the world of the Farseer monarchs is beautifully detailed and so artfully crafted that you will find yourself believing beyond any doubt that somewhere these people and this world exists.  Complexity of plot and political intrigue are balanced by deep characterization, and combine to make a series that can easily stand alongside the Wheel of Time books or Game of Thrones.

Dave Barry Is Not Taking This Sitting Down, by--who else?--Dave Barry

A rather abrupt change of focus, I know, but there's always a chance that you might have a reader on your list who isn't a fantasy lover.  I've heard they exist...though I'm not sure I've met one.  But whatever your reader's preferences, there's a good chance they'll love this book if they like to laugh.  It's not his latest book, and in fact I only picked it up because I wanted to know what the 'big wigs' of humor were writing and our library had a copy.  But, it's funny!  So I'm recommending it.  A few topics touched on are low-flow toilets, school science fair projects, celebrity diets, and cruise ship buffets.  In other words...life, as it happens to us all.

Happy Reading!!!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Countdown: Twelve Books for Christmas Gift Giving

I've been pondering my recommendations for the past two week and still keep coming up with these first three as easy picks. I put my age recommendations below the titles, but this is just my opinion.

Lockwood & Co.: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud
Midgrade and Up

This is my favorite book of the year.

I know, I know, you Bartimaeus fans won't find him inside, and you'll miss him because, well, who else could possibly be Bartimaeus?* But you will find another** alternative London identical to our own with the addition of a plague of visitors: ghosts, haunts, spirits, and specters that only young psychics can sense and vanquish.

This is the story of  young Lucy Carlyle after she joins a small psychic investigation agency run by Anthony Lockwood, himself only a teenager. When a bumbled case results in the entire haunted house burning to the ground, they are eventually enmeshed in a mystery that can only be solved by investigating, and surviving, the most haunted house in England, which features a screaming staircase and the aptly named Red Room (shudder).

If you like action, suspense, humor and are giddy about inventive verbs and sophisticated punctuation, you are my kind of person, and you will treasure this book. Not to mention, it's the first time in years that I've been truly creeped out by the dark.

My two teens loved it, my adult neighbor loved it, my husband is mad that it hasn't been out of someone's hands long enough to read it himself yet, and we all have very different taste in books.

All the Truth That's in Me, Julie Berry
Teens and Up 

This is a powerful book: an engrossing story well told by a teen who has lost the power of speech.

When Julie Berry spoke about this book at my library, I was disappointed that she was giving away key points of her climax. No. She only told some bits of what happens in the first fourth of the novel. To call this book riveting is an understatement, but what else can you say? Gripping, spell-binding, relentless, enthralling, stay-in-bed-and-pretend-you're-sick-for-a-weekend-so-you-can-finish-it-good. If you haven't been glued to a book in a while, this one's for you.

Four years before the novel opens, Judith and her best friend go missing from their home in colonial America. Her best friend is found dead a few days later. Judith returns after two years unable to speak and assumed to be unclean by those around her. I know it sounds dark and heavy, but it's one of those books that courageously resounds with hope. You just have to read it.

Julie Berry is a master weaver of words and she will make you think and feel as you feverishly turn pages deep into the night.

Ranger's Apprentice by John Flanagan

The twelfth in this bestselling series came out this year and, though I haven't read it yet, I am working my way through this simple adventure series set in an alternative England of the middle ages.

In the first book, a boy coming of age hopes to become a knight but is chosen to apprentice as a creepy ranger and doesn't know what to make of it. There's a bully who is bullied in turn, a killer pig or two, and a dangerous outcast who can control the minds of fantastical murderous creatures.

What I love about these books is the straightforward writing style that somehow makes you see every scene as if you'd dreamed it yourself. The author claims he doesn't see the scenes he writes, he hears them, using words to evoke emotion and description all in one. All I know, is I'd like to be able to do that, too. I have laughed out loud and shed tears in each and every book. They just get to me. Plus, there's a movie in development. You can be one of the cool people who liked it first.

Dog in Charge by KL Going, Illustrated by Dan Santat

This was my favorite picture book of the year, though it was published in 2012. It's a simple little thing, easy to read, fabulous pictures... And then you realize that on top of the counting to five and the cats your kids get to find hidden in the pictures, there are plot reversals, an exciting midpoint, even a dark night of the soul, all wrapped up in a tight little package.

Yes, there was some Deus Ex Cattus but Dog earned it.

I am seriously going to have kick my game up a level if I ever hope to publish another picture book. I wasn't surprised to see that Going is a Printz Honor winner and a successful YA novelist.

So there you go. Don't forget to check out Boleyn Deceit by Laura Andersen...intrigue, mystery and romance in an alternative Tudor England. Sigh. LOVING IT.

*I am such a nerd. I found this Bartimaeus Trilogy wish list in progress on IMDB and was so excited: Alan Rickman, Benedict Cumberbatch, John Rhys-Davies, and on and on. NOT A REAL CAST LIST. Sigh. Well here's to hoping that someday it will be a movie...and Artemis Fowl, too. Still, I don't know why I get all excited. Books are always better. Almost always better.

**For the uninitiated, The Bartimaeus Trilogy also features an alternative London where leaders are magicians who have learned the art of harnessing demon magic. Bartimaeus is a demon an esteemed genie. He is also fond of footnotes.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Countdown: Twelve Books for Christmas Gift Giving

When the Cabinet decided to recommend books for gift giving, my first inclination was to showcase new releases--but I changed my mind. Here are four five of my all time favorite reads and a couple books being released in December as a bonus. Speaking of new releases. How cool would it be to preorder books for someone, like the gift of a new release every month?

Okay, enough small talk. Here are my recommendations.

THE CURSE WORKER series by Holly Black, including WHITE CAT, RED GLOVE and BLACK HEART.  Why give a single book as a gift? Make a reader’s holiday seriously amazing by the gluttonous gift of the entire CURSE WORKER series. I rank these three books among my all time favorite YA contemporary fantasies, though in truth they’re much more than pure fantasy. The depth of the world in which these stories take place makes them deliciously genre blending. They also are definitely books that would appeal to an adult as well as a teen.

My next two picks are also by one author. I had a spell earlier last summer when every book I read seemed mediocre, and then I heard Rainbow Rowell on Narrative Breakdown. She was talking about writing romance (actually she made an eye-opening comment about why the romance in TWILIGHT worked so well for a large number of readers). At any rate, I bought her novel ELEANOR & PARK and fell in love with her writing and characters.  I immediately bought her newer novel FANGIRL and enjoyed it even more. I have talked to a few people who aren’t fond of her novels, but I’m certain that has more to do with individual life experiences and taste rather than the quality of Rowell’s writing.  Hands down, these two books rank in my top ten reads so far this year.

Bonus books: I’ll be doing interviews with these authors on my personal blog over the next few weeks.  There will be book giveaways, so be sure to check them out.  Link to follow my blog

THE PROMISE OF AMAZING by Robin Constantine (coming out Dec 31st) A sweet YA romance blended with a touch of humor--and maybe a few dark secrets as well. Wonderful characters and genuine romance.

SOUL CUTTER by Lexa Cain (came out Dec 2) Fast paced and scary, this YA horror novel is the story of a girl who goes to Egypt to search for her mother but finds the supernatural, a killer, and an unexpected romance.

THE SECRET OF ISOBEL KEY by Jen McConnell (coming out Dec 19) NA this exciting mystery flashes between contemporary and 17th century Scotland. Romance, witch trials, self-discovery and mysteries, what more do you need?  This book was originally self-published, but was so successful that it was picked up by a publisher. 

Watch next week for another Cabinet member's recommendations.  

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The After-Agent Perspective

I haven't swapped bodies with my agent Christa Heschke, a la Freaky Friday, so I can't tell you what that after-agent perspective would feel like.  What I've got is perspective from my pov as a now-signed writer.

And can we just pause here a moment so I can give a cheer?  I still feel the need to pull out pompoms every time I write that.

*Attempts to jump around and cheer.  Stubs toe and fall back in chair*

Okay, thanks.  Glad to get that out of my system.  This is one part of the after-agent perspective, at least if you took as long signing said delightful agent as I did.  I feel an upsurge of gratitude every day not only that I can now work on notes from my agent and trust in the advice of my agent and know that she has my back, but also that it was all worth it.

And that's the perspective I'm talking about.  I wonder how different our world would be if we knew from the onset which endeavors would be worth it.  Aside from any discussion on dreams and the magic quality of believing in something that is hoped for, I'm sure we as a people would have already reached many milestones we haven't.

Perhaps we'd have colonized the moon, for example.  Or built great underwater power stations which harness the currents of the ocean.  I'm sure many people would put that extra umph into education, exercise and their other personal wellness goals.  Unless of course all those things would not be worth it--but once again, a discussion for another time.

I was thinking on all this as I walked the trails of a spot near our house where they've placed signs of the planets in our solar system beside the path.  First there's the sun, then the inner planets, moving on to the outer, and finally, way down the path, you find the poor frozen planets of Neptune, Uranus and Pluto.


Ice balls orbiting a sun so far away it's hard for us to even imagine the distance.

Well, I walked it off.

From the little painted sign of the earth there are 617 steps to to Pluto.  Six hundred and Seventeen.  That's a lot!  Harder to keep count of than you'd guess, too!

To put that in perspective, there were only 35 steps from Earth to the Asteroid belt.  So you see that Pluto is really out there!

What does all this have to do with the agent perspective?  Only this.  That had I known how long it would take and how much freezing cold effort and light years of challenge would go into my signing an agent, I would have been very discouraged.  Truth, sometimes in the middle when I'd tried so hard and gotten (it seemed) nowhere, I was very discouraged.  It can begin to feel that you are the last person on the planet for whom the agent thing will work out.  That your writing karma must be truly bad, and in fact that you made a pact with the devil in a past life which has doomed you in this.

But on the other side, having come back from the cold dark landscape that is Pluto, standing on the Earth with a grin on your face, it's so worth it.  And that's something to hang on to while you travel.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Boleyn King Book Launch, in Pictures

Confession: I'm an author, not a photographer. I did try to take a lot of photos, I really did. But in between ecstatic socializing, clandestine plotting, and searching high and low for copies of The Boleyn King as it quickly sold out at every bookstore within reasonable driving distance, this was what I could manage.

Here we see beautiful Laura sitting outside The King's English Bookstore in Salt Lake City, Utah. Notice first, her happy smile at the massive crowd of family, friends and admirers. Notice next her impeccable fashion sense. Not only is her outfit divine, it completely matches The King's English, and she accessorized to match her book, bag and shoes. I can't say that she did it on purpose, but if she'd hired someone to make her look perfect, they couldn't have done any better.

Surprise! Becca Fitzpatrick secretly drove all the way from Fort Collins, Colorado to be with Laura on her big day.

Katie Jeppson, Laura and Becca at dinner beforehand along with a large and happy group of amazing women all belonging to Laura's once local book club. The food was good. The company was perfect.

The first Boleyn King I saw Laura ever sign. This was when I was still very much into my job as photographer. She says that up close and personal friends get to be signed as Laura A. Andersen and all other awesome people are signed without the A. Now you know.

Laura, sitting just where Elizabeth George sat, ready to sign after giving wonderful opening comments about Anne Boleyn who on that very day, May 15, 1536, stood trial with grace and dignity at the Tower of London. 

And because it would be weird to post all these pics without a shot of me, here I am sporting the wild-eyed look that I get when I've driven all over creation and talked to a thousand wonderful people when I'm supposed to be taking more pictures than I am. It also foreshadows the horrors of eventually making this post, which has not only gone up a day late, it has also spawned a a new charitable organization. The "Buy Ginger a New Laptop" fund is now cheerfully accepting donations.

Once again, congratulations to Laura!!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Grabbing Your Eyeballs and Nailing Them to the Page

We all judge books by their covers.  By the blurb on the back, too, and whether we like the clever title.  But the only way to keep us reading that first page until we simply must read the second, and the third, and then rush up to the front of the store and buy it is with the strength of the writing.  So, how to write that unstoppable opener?

Well, I've got a few ideas.  A couple weeks ago I had the privilege of handing over my first page of NinChicks to be read aloud and critiqued, along with a roomful of my equally desperate fellow aspiring writers who had turned in their first page, too.

That's me almost all the way to the right on the nearly back row, in a dark pink sweater with my hair up.  By this time I'd calmed my internal shaking by downing two mini cupcakes, three strawberries and a half-dozen little squares of cheese.  Thankfully the lady next to me did not mistake me for a hungry caterpillar, and further soothed my nerves by being super sweet and chatty.

At the front of the room you can see the illustrious panel, from left to right:Jackie Ogburn, Sue Soltis, and Cate Tiernan.

The event got underway promptly, and then these amazing ladies spent the next several hours giving us brilliant feedback on our first pages.  I didn't try to take specific notes on individual stories--I knew they'd all be muddled in my brain by the end of the day.  Instead, I wrote general advice which applies to pretty much any first pages.
  • Remember that the first page is a contract between the writer and reader--figure out the promise you're making, then keep it.
  • Try not to keep your main character's name hidden. Makes it harder to identify with them.
  • Give us a concrete place which we can see--one problem with dreams is they are either too realistic and build a false expectation, or too dreamlike and lack setting.
  • With shorter books, you need to show where the story's going quickly--by the second spread in a picture book.
  • An abrupt reversal of expectation is always good for a laugh.
  • Voice should match genre and story style--mystery with ominious or mysterious tone, fairytale can have higher language, etc.
  • The style of writing, paragraph lengths, etc. should match the mood of the characters.
  • Get quick conflict by having different characters with wants that are mutually exclusive.
And, last but not least,
  • It's always good to start in a privy.
Of course I've skipped a lot of tips I think are obvious to all but beginners--the language needs to sound modern, the dialogue shouldn't be stilted, the setting details need to be to the point, and there's really no place for back story or info dumps.  Then again, it's easy to make beginner mistakes with the first page, because we feel so much pressure to get it right and maybe haven't quite found the story's start or nailed down the character's voice.

Me, I like to throw the beginning away.  Every book I've ever written, I wrote the best first page I knew how and went on to the best second, third, and so on, and then discovered after I'd finished the book and set it aside and come back to it that my actual factual shiny and glowing opener was somewhere along page three, or even deeper in the novel, with a bunch of writing piled on top of it.  Once I cleared away the fluff (translation, sobbed my way through a massive delete) the opener could take its proper place as the beginning of the book.  And that beginning did all the stuff listed above, minus maybe starting in the privy.  But I'm working on that one!

Many thanks to Jenny Murray and her writer's group for hosting a fabulous event!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Remembering Laura Andersen: Pre-Publication

When I planted my stake in "second tuesdays" here at the cabinet, I didn't realize I'd have the honor of posting on Laura's Book Birthday, as we call them around here. This is a great day to be a Curiosity and the perfect time to reminisce.

If you read nothing else of my post, read this:

You'll be so glad you did.  

And in thinking of Laura, I'm remembering back way too many years to the very first writing class I ever took, which was online, and somewhat scary for some reason. As I posted an introduction to me, which was really just sort of a silly bluff of an intro, there was Laura, laughing at my jokes, being kind, accepting my weirdness, and writing suddenly wasn't as frightening. 

I remember the first time Laura posted a chapter for critique. It was astounding, beautifully written, way beyond anything anyone else was posting. I quickly became a ruthless, eagle-eye critiquer just to have something to offer this woman. The truth his, her characters were already vivid. Her plots, twisty and surprising. Her language gorgeous, fluid and effortless to read. It was amazing she hadn't been published already. Of course, she hadn't submitted anything yet. I always felt from day one it was a privilege to read her beginnings. It was a given that I would be honored to write something like this someday.

I remember the struggles when Laura thought she might not be meant to be writing. What writer hasn't walked the edge of that particular cliff? I reacted, embarrassingly, with anger. Didn't she realize she already was a writer? It's just who she was. She couldn't give up. "Laura not writing" just didn't compute in my world. Not very nice of me, since it is after all, Laura's world not mine. But I am to this day very glad she stuck it out, novel after novel after beautiful novel, in a life that hasn't been full of peaceful gazebos and gobs of free time. Laura claims to be a plucky writer and even without my silly tantrums, she would never have given up.

I remember Laura reading a chapter of mine for the first time at a critique group. In a spontaneous, English accent. "I don't think I can read any other way!" she says. At any rate, she made my chapter sound fabulous. I can't wait to hear her read tomorrow at her book launch party.

And I remember when I first read The Boleyn King and I thought, THIS is it. This is the one. This cannot NOT be a published book. And Laura felt it was The One as well. And after a couple more novels, suddenly, it is. And Laura is taking the published world by storm as we all knew she would in that first class. 

God bless, Laura. Thank you for being you, through it all, everywhere, and for sharing yourself with all of us and the world. We are very lucky to have you. 

<3 Your Cabinet

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Juxtaposition--or in other words, making your book contrary

I've been reading a lot lately.  I'm calling it market research, but everybody really knows it's my way of distracting my subconscious from querying so it can produce ideas for my next book.  I have to dangle the shiny stories in front of it so it doesn't notice the big scary hairy monster of rejection looming.  But, that's another story!

What I've noticed as I've read is how much I love books with inherent tension.  Books that take a preposterous premise, abounding with contradiction, and make it work.  A tiny tot of a baby taking out a dark lord.  The smallest and most unheroic of middle earth's races carrying out the terrible task that no one else could do.  A spider weaving words into webs to save the life of her pig friend.  Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and Charlotte's Web.

The books I'm reading lately abound in these apparent contradictions.

In The Six Crowns--Trundle's Quest, there's a small and insignificant hedgehog thrust into a heroic adventure to save their world, which happens to be six seperate islands of rock spinning gently in space after the world was blown to bits.



In Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos a young girl is ignored and overlooked by even her father, the curator of the museum, while she stands firm against the bad guys and attempts to cleanse the museum's artifacts of evil magic.

And in the Roman Mysteries series...well, the truth is, at first I had a harder time finding my contradiction or inherent tension.  This puzzled me, 'cause I've really enjoyed this series and have read through book 7, with the next few on my shelf.  Maybe I was just enjoying the delightful inisights into Roman history?  Maybe historicals, or mysteries, don't need the same contradiction?  With a mystery there's already danger and possibly murder on the line.  Then I realized that a big draw of these books has been the evolving young characters overcoming the life challenges they face.  A beggar boy who's tongue was cut out learning to forgive and choose joy over bitterness.  A young jewish lad who barely escaped the sacking of Jereusalem making peace with the Emperor who destroyed his homeland.  A newly-freed slave finding her way in a strange country and thriving where she's been planted.  And a Roman girl-child of middling birth who faces down each new mystery and solves them while navigating natural disasters and devastating loss.  The contradictions are there, in the character's lives, and perhaps resonate that much more because they're personal in nature.

In NinChicks I stumbled on my contradiction--ninja chickens--but I'm thinking for the next book I'll keep prodding the subconscious til it spits out something really preposterious.  Themes of the underdog, the little guy going up against a Goliath foe, those are fairly easy to come up with.  Making it personal and an apparent impossibility that still perfectly fits the character--that's going to take a bit more thinking and a lot more reading.  Lucky for me, the library's not going anywhere!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Letter To Hopeful Writers

Dear Hopeful Writer,

You've been in my thoughts all day. (Not in a creepy, stalker-ish way, I promise. If it makes you feel better, pretend I'm writing to myself five years ago. Weird, but perhaps less creepy.)

 I'm in New York this week, for several reasons. But the primary purpose was a breakfast with Various Important Publishing People at Random House. Publishers, Art Directors, Marketing and Sales and Digitial . . . I still laugh nervously when I look at the list of those I met this morning.

So why am I thinking of you, dear writer, on this surreal day?

Because I want you to know this: There. Is. Hope.

I don't know exactly where you are in your writing journey, but I am fairly confident that there has been hard work. And despair. And rejection. And giddy relief. And the satisfaction of doing something you're proud of, even when no one else knows about it. The moment when you find the right phrase. The moment when you solve a knotty plot issue. The singing joy of a character revealing herself to you.

There have been lots of times I have wished that my writing journey was different. I should have started writing earlier, I should have been a more aggressive querier, I should have attended more conferences, I should have spent more time writing or less time writing or lived a more exciting life so I had more exciting things to write about . . . What can I say? I'm a woman, I do guilt really well.

For one thing, every time I turn around in this market are successful women writers who are taking or have taken the publishing world by storm who are significantly younger than me. Shannon Hale, Veronica Roth, Vee Schwab, Kierstin White, Becca Fitzpatrick . . . Becca was my friend before she was published. Do you know what someone at her launch event for Hush, Hush said to me? "You must be Becca's mother."


Deep breath.

I started writing seriously when I was 34. The youngest of my four children was almost two years old at the time. My goal then? To be published by the age of 40.

I turned 44 earlier this year. My debut releases in May. Do the math.

But then I remind myself that, though the book isn't releasing until I am 44, that I had sold it by the age of 42. And two years of my late thirties were spent doing childhood cancer treatment with my second son and dealing with traumatic adolescent depression with my oldest son. So that gives me a break, right?

See what I did in that last paragraph? I'm trying to rationalize what, in my heart of hearts, I see as failure. Writers: too often we live and breathe failure. We feel it in our bones. We taste it in our throats. For every success (personalized rejection, partial requests, full requests, getting an agent) there is failure (rejection, rejection, rejection.) Virginia Woolf wrote: "Literature is strewn with the wreckage of those who have minded beyond reason the opinion of others." Raise your hand if you often mind beyond reason others' opinions.

But here's the truth: I am a success story. When Becca Fitzpatrick sold Hush, Hush at auction and became a NYT bestseller, I told my family, "This happens to, like, I don't know, five percent of writers. Now that I know someone who's done this, it won't happen to me."

But then it did. I sold three books at auction to Ballantine Books. I have the editor of my dreams. I have the agent I was always waiting for (Tamar Rydzinski, you are worth every painful rejection I got over the years--Fate meant me for you.) I have cover art that is outstandingly, fabulously beautiful. My books have the titles I chose (a small detail, but one that moves me.)

And I had today: people I've never met telling me how much they love my story. How they love Dominic and Minuette and Will and Elizabeth. I have a book that's gone back for a second printing one month before release. I have authors who've read and blurbed it for me whose generosity makes me want to cry (besides the fact that I have blink every time I read their names and realize. This. Writer. Read. My. Book.) And I got all that today with my daughter standing next to me. Emma is a writer. At 14, she has written more words than I had by my thirties. She is knowledgeably proud of me, and nothing feels better than that.

Tonight, Emma and I saw Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella on Broadway. One of my favorite songs is Impossible. And I had tears in my eyes tonight listening to the lyrics: "Impossible things are happening every day."

Yes, they are.

And that is why I am thinking of you, dear hopeful writer. Because I want to you know that I have faith in you. I believe in your dedication and your dreams. I believe in hard work that is its own reward and I believe that someone is waiting for the story that only you can write. I won't tell you not to be discouraged, because that is part of this journey. But I will add this: The only way to fail, is to quit.

Don't quit. I believe in impossible days--and your day is waiting for you to show up.

With love and hope and encouragement,


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Where do you get your ideas? This has to be the most asked question every writer hears. Luckily, it's a fun one to answer. Ideas abound absolutely everywhere, but I didn't always believe that.

When I was a teenager I attended an event featuring George Lucas (you know, that guy who did Star Wars and Indiana Jones?) and someone asked him The Question.

Oh yes, I thought. That's brilliant. I can't wait to hear this!

I was in total awe as he replied that coming up with ideas wasn't the problem, that he, in fact, had many more ideas than he could ever hope to work on. I sort of tuned out just then, right when it might have been wise for me to listen. That's why he's a brilliant film maker, I thought. I could never be like that.

Turns out, I was wrong. Not about the film maker thing, but about the having too many ideas thing. When you open your mind, it's frankly hard to shut them out. Most of the time anyway.

Idea Starters

Dreams: Twilight. Need I say more?

Fears: Ray Bradbury was a big proponent of this. I managed to churn out a middle grade novel involving a terrifying nightmare I had of Santa Claus kidnapping me in his UFO as my parents joyfully waved goodbye to me on Christmas Eve. It's not as marketable as Twilight. Who knew?

What ifs: "We need a vision of what the world could be." Another thing George Lucas said at that aforementioned event. I think he meant it as a positive idea starter, but millions have been made off of all the horrible ways the world could be, too.

Spin Offs: We've all seen them. A peanut novel hits the big time, suddenly there are scads of peanut novels. Some possibly bigger and better than the original. Shakespeare was fond of borrowing ideas and improving upon them. No shame in that.

Combinations: Take two or three of your pet ideas and twine them together. Sometimes the happy creation ends up wildly better than the sum of its parts. Sometimes it just kind of ends up to be a mess...but we're not focusing on that right now.

Character: A fabulous character can make the whole book. You think of someone, plop them into a world and let them go. It's nice when your characters do all the work. Which, okay, they never do, but it's nice when they do a lot of it.

And let's not forget: ideas people say you should make into a book, books you always wanted to read but don't exist, silly things your kids say, jaw-dropping news stories, historical tidbits, re-interpretations of archeological artifacts...okay, maybe I'm getting a little too weird here. The point is, ideas are a blast and they are all around. 

Idea Inviters

One thought here. Write them down. All of them.

Yes, you know That Idea won't work. Yes, you know it's probably been done better. Yes, you worry it's dumb.

That's not the point. Write it down. Do it now.

My muse gives me good ideas when I acknowledge all of her efforts. If I squelch her whisperings, she gets miffed, scared, dejected, and leaves me. When you open yourself up to ideas, get ready to receive them.

Plus, in retrospect, some of them are not as bad as you thought.

Idea Killers

I recently read something Jonathan Stroud said about a story just begun being weak and needing protection. I have heard this thought from more than one author. I suggest protecting your idea, fleshing it out, strengthening it, until it's ready to see the light of day and the critical eye of readers. 

This includes protecting it from yourself. 

You know that rewriter in you? The idea stage is not the time to invite her to the party. The idea stage is fun, it isn't about where to put your ellipses. Just like a baby needs the basics to grow, your idea does, too. Later that baby can learn to ride a bike, but give it some time to develop with your loving care before getting too demanding.

Others would disagree. They feel stymied without an audience to give them feedback, any feedback. 

So, if my nurturing sort of advice doesn't work for you, pay attention to what kills your ideas. Then hide, run from, or fight that evil influence.

Because without your idea you'll never get to The End. 

So open yourself up to ideas, write them, nurture them, and get ready to answer The Question yourself. Over and over and over :) Luckily, as I said before, it's a fun question to answer.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Thursday's Children-- Writing: Inspired by Friendship

A weekly blog hop where writers come together to talk about whatever inspires them. Join us!

This week I decided to put my Thursday’s Children post on my group blog because there isn’t a more appropriate place to talk about how my writing is inspired by friendship. 

Way back in the Dark Ages, all the members of this blog took writing classes from the same teacher. Back then, watching everyone’s writing evolve was an inspiration. Over time, I’ve found continuing inspiration from their successes and struggles--and even failures. I often recall things they’ve gone through and find inspiration for fixing a story issue, or avoiding one, or simply the motivation to keep striving to improve my skills as they have. 
I’ve branched out since we first met and have other writing friends and critique partners. When I’m on the pity pot or feel like I can’t write or am groaning because revision is too tough or the process is taking TOO long, all I have to do is think about my friends and what they’ve overcome, and I’m inspired to take a deep breath and keep writing.

I’m inspired not only by what they have been through, but by their advice and critiques, tough love and kindnesses as well. 

And it’s not just my writing friends who inspire me. There have been times when I needed a lift of inspiration and one of my friends who aren’t writers tell me how glad they are that I’ve stuck with it and that they are behind me and excited for me.

Friends. There are so many ways they’ve inspired my writing--sometimes they even end up in my stories as heroes.

So how about you, in what ways do your friends inspire your writing? 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

To Run or Not to Run from the Rewrites

I have arthritis, so two potentially very painful things for me are running and typing. What that says about the fact that I've recently taken up running and as a writer am constantly typing...well, we'll leave that to the shrinks.  And then I'll remind them to keep their answer to themselves! lol

What I have learned is that some kinds of pain can be ignored.  Other kinds need to be listened to. The same is true of the inner niggling doubts we feel as we write and rewrite, so I thought a comparison might be useful, or at least entertaining.

First a picture to get your mind thinking in the rhythm of running, with the sense of freedom in the open trail and the beauty of the seasons around you.

Isn't that nice?  But of course we know what the picture doesn't show--that mosquitos buzz and bite, the hills make us huff and puff, roots and rocks can send you sprawling, and muscles burn.  Those can all be ignored.  I've learned that I can also ignore the pain in my right knee, the the ouch of my toenail cutting into its neighbor toe in the perpetual warfare they've declared on one another.

For other pain, it depends.  I've got a problem with my left hip, so when it's hurting I can only ignore it if it's warm, well-stretched, and moving freely.  If it's a pinchy pain I need to stop and deal with it.  I also have to change things up or drop to a walk if I get shin splints, or if my lungs start to burn, because an asthma attack isn't on the agenda.

Additional things I can ignore are spider webs (if I can manage it), people who's dogs are leashed, and a burst of rain.  Dogs that are off leash, weird old men who ask odd questions and ticks warrant my full and undivided attention!

So, what are the equivalant things to ignore or focus on in a rewrite?  Well, that's going to depend partly on what level of rewrite I'm doing.  If it's a big picture change with deep plot adjustments I'll try to put out of my mind any irritation with word choices and stylistic quirks.  Those are the whine of a buzzing mosquito, and taking the time to smack them will only distract me.  Plus possibly leave me with a bloody spot on my forehead.  When I'm doing a line-by-line rewrite, though, the insignificant quirks have morphed into nasty ticks and will get flicked into the hinterlands.

A queasy sense of something being off in the novel is most like the pinching pain in my left hip, and can't be ignored without ruining the whole draft.  That's also true of dragging info dumps or scenes that make me yawn and reach for my chocolate stash.  Those are like shin splints.  They may not seem like a big deal at first, but they drag down the quality of the rewrite (or the run) til they make it impossible to go on.  Worse, they can scrap a training routine for weeks, just as the info dumps can derail a rewrite.

My rewrite equivalant of the cutting toe nails and aching knees are the voices in my head that say my book is stinky cheese with sour catsup on top.  These voices aren't responding to any specific clue or lodging a legitimate complaint, they just don't think this book will ever be good simply because it's got my name on it.  Listening to them will quite literally stop a rewrite or a run in its tracks.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember in a rewrite is where you're going, or what kind of run you want.  Because maybe you're not running through the woods listening to the distant sound of a stream and watching for the flit of birds' wings.  Maybe you're running on the beach with the sand slipping under your feet and the waves spilling over your toes.

Whatever your run or rewrite, make sure you lift yourself above the sweat and sticky parts to enjoy the beautiful moments and savor the end goal.  Because that's the reason we keep going.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Rhyming Picture Books--Commencement Addresses into Musicals

If you want to be a picture book writer, then you've most likely thought once or twice about writing in rhyme. I know I have.

Why, may I ask, do we do this to ourselves? It's like taking something already difficult, like giving a commencement address, and then attempting to write it in the form of a song as if you were living your life in a musical. Fantastic (maybe) if you pull it off, but most likely doomed to embarrassing failure.

The thing is, well done rhyming picture books are fun to read, entertaining, and memorable. Something we all want our picture books to be, so I occasionally strive to reach that pinnacle of picture book perfection. I haven't made it yet.

But now I'm armed with this:

RhymeWeaver.com by Lane Fredrickson.

I can't say it will turn my embarrassing failures into bestsellers, but after going through this entire easy and fun to read site, I know a great deal more than I did before.

Counting syllables? Pointless. Soft rhyme? Don't do it. Meter? At least I know what it is now, even though I thought I already did--and not just meter's definition, but why it works, how it works, and how to fudge with it when necessary.

I now know why certain lines of rhyming picture books don't sound right to me, and how to avoid those same problems. But hey, those books got published. Maybe someday, now, mine will too.

If there are other websites that teach how to write a great rhyming picture book, I'd love you to post them for me.

And, by the way, I actually did give a commencement address in the form of a poem. Yes, it was very embarrassing. At least I didn't sing it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Pitching the Cat

This week I'm participating in Writeoncon's middle grade critique forum as we all gear up for the Luck 'O the Irish Pitchfest next month.  So of course I'm thinking about pitches.  The thing is that after several years of writing queries and many more years writing cover letters and even a class or two taught on querying specifically and how to get published generally--I still don't like writing a pitch.  In fact, I've realized that pitching feels rather a lot like discovering that the adorable fuzzy face which looks in your window and keeps you company is actually a cat--and you're dinner.

I'm not sure that feeling will ever go away entirely, but over time pitching has gotten easier and I have gotten better at it.

My patented pitch-perfecting method requires that you first write the hook or cool thing your book is about.  This can happen anytime before typing words on the first page up through having written the first three chapters.  But no longer.  I really feel that writing the hook helps focus the book, and writing a rough draft of the query at this point can make sure you have a hook (pretty important for when you go agent fishing!) and enough conflict to see the book through.  And it forces you to figure out who the most central characters are.  It's also easier to get this first attempt at a query pitch out of the way before the whole unyieldy book is written and your original idea has become so puffed up you can't find it anymore.

Once that first query draft is written, I set it aside and let the book develop.  It's my belief that outlines, pitches, and synopses are meant to provide the structure--the bean poles, if you will--upon which the novel grows.  They are not intended to stifle the growth of the story, and shouldn't be allowed to prune it down.  But they can keep it from sprawling all over the dirt.

Once the book is written the pitch is pulled back out to be fine-tuned.  At this point I find it helpful to make several lists.  The first list has words your character would identify with, like serendipity and moss and golden.  Or maybe sassy and grit and curious.  These words help you pick out the vocabulary that will make the tone of your query a match with the voice of your book.  I also like to pull books of my bookshelf (or the library's or bookstore's) that are similar to mine and write down all the words that pop from the back cover blurb.  Then I make a list of my own pop words, that could be used to make my book's back cover blurb.  A third list would be the words and/or concepts you'd use to describe your book to a friend or stranger when you wanted to assure them that the book wasn't boring.  Words and concepts like steampunk, twins, ancient Egypt, fight, blizzard, and power have a certain inherent interest.  Ninjas, too. ;)

Once you've compiled your lists you go back to your pitch and make sure you've used as many of these words as you can.  Don't sacrifice clarity and do make the writing smooth, but avoid being boring.  Finally, make sure that your pitch introduces your character, tells us what they want and why we should care, and who/what will try to stop them.  Do all that and you should have at least the beginnings of a pitch--enough to enter in a contest or run by your critique group.  Because the last thing you'll want on your pitch is feedback, and for that you'll need an interesting pitch!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Need Valentine's Gift Ideas? Some of our Characters' Plans

--Pat Esden
The main character in my YA gothic, Moonhill, has big--well, more like heavy--Valentine’s Day plans.  Anie thinks Chase’s stone cottage is a bit too austere and could use more comforts.  She picked up a big, cushy 1940’s armchair at an auction. Then, because the chair wasn’t all that personal, she bought him a handmade knife with antler handle and had his name etched into it. 

The whole Valentine’s thing is a tough one for Chase. He’s never had to buy gifts until recently and never for a girl he has the hots for.  Chase asks Selena to help him.  With credit card in hand, she hauls Chase to Bar Harbor and helps him pick out a funky 1950’s Tiffany brooch . . . and a silk scarf and a pair of stilettos.  Chase brings it all home from the shopping trip, but leaves most of the ‘junk’ behind when he take Anie for a sunrise walk on the beach and gives her the brooch—which is much more useful as it can be used to pick locks or for self-defense if necessary.

In my WIP, Red Bandana, a YA suspense, Mallory’s choice is a no brainer. She creates jewelry out of antique silverware as a business. So, for Valentines, she’s working on a very special cuff bracelet for Quincy. It’s thick and kind of tribal, like the African coin silver cuffs, really guy-like--not flowery like her usual work.

Quincy’s plan starts at midnight on St. Valentine’s eve. He’s going to take Mallory to the Snake Pit for a late-night snack of waffles with extra whipped cream and strawberries—and probably a little (a lot) of heavy-duty smooching after that. But that’s not all he has in mind.  Quincy noticed Mallory eye-ing a vintage pair of cowboy boots at his dad’s pawn shop. He had his sister make sure they’d fit and is surprising Mallory with them as well.

--Laura Andersen

(The Boleyn King will be released by Ballantine Books on June 4. This interview takes place in February 1553, four months before the events of the novel begin.)

What would you most like to receive for Valentine’s Day?

Elizabeth: A divorce. Robert Dudley’s divorce, to be precise.

William: An army large enough to enforce my will and a treasury sufficiently large to pay said army. And if a comely and willing woman finds her way to my bed, I would not say no.

Minuette: Fabric—silk, satin, brocade, velvet, anything pretty and expensive will do. Or a maid of my own so I might not have to borrow one to do my hair or care for my gowns. Or ready funds enough to provide such things for myself. (Note to Dominic: Not a Book. It is not your job to teach me to be wise.)

Dominic: Strength for England. Wisdom for William. Intellectual challenge for Elizabeth. And for Minuette . . . That she continue her bright, impulsive, delightful self without getting into trouble.

Dominic, that’s more a list of what you would like to give, rather than receive. Is there nothing you want?

Dominic: What I most desire is not in anyone’s power to give.

And that is?

Dominic: None of your concern.

William: Don’t mind Dom. He always makes things more difficult than they need to be. Duty is all well and good, but it’s possible to be loyal and still enjoy oneself. If I could give him one thing, it would be a woman skilled at making men forget themselves.

Dominic: (appalled silence) Please don’t.

--Ginger Churchill

Being only six years old takes Valentine's down a notch. 

Sam, owner of Fluffy the Snake, is making sure she's well fed with Hershey's Hisses.

Andy, scab-lover, is surprisingly sweet, handing out cards that feature vampires saying, "I Vant to be Your Valentine." 

And Perry the perfectionist is giving everyone matching socks that will sit exactly 2 3/4 inches above their ankles. He's fervently wishing that someone returns the favor.

--Suzanne Warr

Taking Valentine's Day to a whole new species and featuring Ninchick hopefuls from Suzanne's own farm. The Ninchicks are, of course, the elite security branch of the chicken coop featured in Suzanne's middle grade novels.

Hoping this helps your own Valentines' preparations. 

Enjoy <3

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Virginia Woolf, Insecurity, and Me

The other day on Twitter the following exchange took place:

Jaye Robin Brown (@JayeRobinBrown) "Oh wow. Random moment of insecurity. Anybody else (writers) get those?"

Me (@LauraSAndersen) "The question is do I have any random moments of SECURITY :) #neuroticwriter #notacliche

I have not been able to get that exchange out of my mind. My reply was written with the tone I bring to most of my social media posts: ironic, cynical, lightly humorous.

But that tone is not the whole of me. It is not even the majority of me. In truth, I am a mess of insecurities and fears and guilt. I go to bed Every. Single. Night. and list the day's failures. And I'm not just talking about my writing. In fact, I'm not even primarily talking about my writing. Not that I don't have writerly insecurity. At least twice a day I am convinced that my first book will fare so badly upon release this summer that Random House will pay me to go away rather than publish the next two books they've contracted for. I pre-write the bad reviews in my head that I'm sure are coming--'shallow characters, no sense of place, historical fiction with no history to it, and also the author is ugly and dresses badly.'

But you want to know my true fear, the one deep terror that underlies all of these fears?

I fear that no one will like me.

I don't say that very often because, let's face it, strong women are the order of our day. And it's not very Strong Woman of me to care so much about what people think.

But I do. I care desperately, at a soul-deep level that is not amenable to rationality and logic. Intellectually, I am fine with making my choices and living with them. I will be the first to say that I can only do the best I can do and that no one knows my life better than I do.

But my heart is a stubborn creature, and so is my fear. Underneath all my logic and firm talking-to, there is a newborn baby who was placed for adoption at birth which--absolutely and without a doubt--was the very best thing that could have happened to her. But that newborn baby was familiar with precisely one human being before her birth and that human being was not there to hold her in those first days. That newborn baby is not amenable to rationality--all she knows is that People. Leave. And that baby's instincts say that maybe, if she is very, very good and never causes a moment's trouble to anyone, she can Make. People. Stay.

In the last week, I found myself blindsided by someone's opinion as to the suitability of a book I had recommended for book club. She took exception to certain parts of the book--which is certainly her right to do--but worded her opinion in such a way that I felt as though I was defending my moral character because I like the book. I was hurt way out of proportion to the importance of the episode and not because this person is My Reading Judge or The Fount of All Creative Knowledge. I was hurt because she hit on my most vulnerable spot: the voice that whispers in the dark: What if you're wrong? What if these aren't the books you should be reading--or writing? What if your advice to the woman in a bad relationship is epically bad and she ends up hurt? What if your parenting decisions with your teenagers lead them to more unhappiness? What if, fundamentally, those closest to you are only tolerating you until you cause so much trouble that you're not worth it any longer?

(Told you neurotic writer is not a cliche.)

Honestly, I shouldn't be rambling on at all. I should just be pointing you to a brilliant blog post that Becca tweeted earlier this week. Robin LaFevers wrote about the price of stripping ourselves for our writing and the cost of being genuinely vulnerable. She wrote:  And therein lies the true power of negative reviews and harsh criticism: it stings not because the people who dole them out mean so very much to us, but because they give external voice to our deepest held fears and suspicions—that even all in, we’re not enough.

(Read the entire post here--she says everything much better than me.)

One of my favorite quotes on this subject is from Virginia Woolf:  "It is the nature of the artist to mind excessively what is said about him. Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others."

And you know what? Taken all in all, I wouldn't change it. Sure, I wish I didn't get hurt by random weird opinions. I wish that all my reviews to come will be brilliant and supportive. I wish I didn't live so much in my head and have such a hard time getting out of my own way.

But if I were different . . . would I be a writer? And if not, then wouldn't the cost be too high?

To wrap up this post of quotes with one more that has long guided me: "Nothing is harder than being a true novelist unless that is all one wants to be, in which case everything else is harder."

So I'll live with my fears and insecurities and worries and cliched neuroticism--because not being a writer would be ever so much harder.