Sunday, December 25, 2011

Consider the Eggnog

This is another early attempt at starting what ultimately became my Work-in-Progress. This one is more specifically Christmas themed, but still has little in common with the final story. You can see more about my efforts to start this story in my earlier post, Free Tickets.


The following scene takes place on the night of the annual Morgan County High School Christmas party, at the home of fraternal twins, Stacy and Marcus Addleberry. After years of getting the boot from his much cooler hostess sister, Marcus has finally managed to stay inside on party night. What’s more, he’s staked out a spot in the basement, sitting on the legendary SOMTKWPGOSGL—Sofa Of Much Tongue Kissing With Popular Girls Of Supreme Good Lookingness. Alas, his sister has no intentions of letting him stay.




Consider the eggnog, it neither toils nor spins. Unless I give it a swirl, then it spins in a really cool liquid pudding kind of way. Shame it doesn’t grow like the lilies. That would be nice—a never ending holiday beverage, a permanent Christmas break. I chug the glass, lean back on the sofa, and stare up into a scowl.

“Marcus,” Stacy growls down at me, “you’re under my mistletoe.”

I peer past her blistering face, see a weed nailed to the ceiling. “Somebody has high hopes for tonight.”

“Hopes that do not involve you.”

“I think we should leave that up to the impending party hotties.”

“They will not be interested in you. Besides, any hotties will be here because I invited them. And I haven’t invited you, so why are you here?”

“Well, it all started seventeen years ago when Mom and Dad did something I’ll explain to you when you’re older.”

“We are the same age, dweeb.”

“And I look back on our time in the womb with fondness.”

“This is my party.”

“Which was your attitude even in utero. Who’s the unfortunate boy for whom you’ve topiaried the ceiling?”

“There’s only one boy.”

“Ah.” My least favorite person in the entire world. “Him.”

“Go away, Marcus.”

“Why would I leave my own basement?”

“I didn’t invite you.”

“An oversight on your part. Happily, I’m not easily offended.”

“Marcus, I don’t ask for much.”

“Bit early for making resolutions you won’t keep. New Years is two weeks away.”

“All I ask is that you be gone.”

“I could take that the wrong way, you know.”

“As long as you take it somewhere else. Even you must have someplace to be on Christmas.”

She stares at me until I return to my eggnog, and because it isn’t bottomless, I can’t sip my way through the awkwardness that is the rest of my life with no place to be.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Free Tickets

I’m almost finished with the first draft of my first YA novel, and that’s got me thinking about free tickets. See, a last-minute complementary concert seat is how this novel started. The music was loud and thick and textured—and to tell the truth—entirely over my musically illiterate head. So there was my brain, happily overwhelmed and free to wander. It made up a short story, which I wrote out the next day and submitted to my crit group. They said yes, and I grew the little daydream into a completely different novel. But looking back, I can still see hints of the original characters. Here is that short story for your reading pleasure. Enjoy.


HE SAYS

If this is a romance—which it totally isn’t—I’ll be introduced at the post-game party as an A-1 loser goof. You know, camera pans a living room full of rowdy juniors and seniors, zooms in on the Zit Kid sporting miss-matched threads. As if stripes aren’t just half a plaid, and plaid isn’t just extra stripes. Think about it.

But not for too long, because the camera’s still moving, frames the door—music swells—and this totally hot chick like the new girl who just walked in, walks in. Pow, I fall for her, but she thinks she’s too good for me and I believe her. Not that I do.

Flash forward to Act II. Her snooty friends pull a prank on us and we end up on a road trip through Death Valley, where our perfectly good car dies of measles. It happened to Freddy Thompson’s mom’s car. Swear.

We bake in the sun, hot chick and me, ’til she snaps, says something honest but mean and I snap back, say something honest but worse. I can be like that. Stone cold. I just need a little time to think up a comeback.

You know, now that I think about it, Mrs. Thompson’s car might not have had measles. It could have had bad injectors, because I’d bet Freddy that a diesel could run on alcohol, but the only stash we could find was my brother’s pot and I figured one high was pretty much the same as the next and we spiked the tank with weed.

Anyway, chickie has insulted me and I’m all, “Snap, insult you back!” She cries and runs into the frickin’ desert and I have to chase after her. Then I save her from a rattlesnake—no a brown recluse, I don’t like snakes. She says she’s sorry, I say I’m sorry, and buckets of rain fall where it hasn’t rained in like, forever. Figure that out Mr. Weatherman.

We roll in the mud because we were so happy to be alive, then night falls and we steal new clothes from a broken-down Halloween costume van. All she can find is a Wanda the Wench dress, and I’m sharper than sharp in a Dracula tux. She sees my total dapperness in the moonlight—even though the moon doesn’t always come out at night, sometimes it comes out in the day, because that’s how orbits work—and ten seconds later we’re doing it in the back seat of her dad’s Lexus, ’cause I don’t even own a car.

Plus, and this is how I know this story’s not a romance, I’d have spent the whole introduction doing a babbly voice-over.

Damn.

There’d better be a ninjas in the next scene, or I’m ditching this story.

SHE SAYS

If this is an action adventure—and let’s be clear on the subject, verb, and object, it is not—then… Sorry, backup. By “it” I meant the story. Implied subject. Mrs. Jackson, my old English teacher, would totally rap my knuckles with a ninjato for that, and for using a “to be” verb in a topic sentence. But cut a girl some slack, it’s her first night in town.

Back to the scene. If this story is a macho fist-fest, the Big Muscle Dudes will be too busy grunting to notice that my eyes are puffy from crying. Instead, Big Muscle Dude Number One hits on me. When all I want is chocolate. Then Big Muscle Dude Number Two hits on me. Seriously, how about a little conversation to take the edge off a foreign town? And maybe an ibuprofen. But BMDs don’t do talking, so they hit on each other, instead. The other kind of hit on, I mean. Unless they’re cute and will let me watch.

But no, by Act II we’re in a car chase. I’m strapped into the passenger seat next to Dude One, who shaves with a machete and thinks it’s spelled with a Y. We race across the desert, scaring the crap out of me and some lonely kid looting a broken down Halloween costume van, while Dude Two blasts us with heat-seeking, laser-guided missiles that somehow miss us—but blow open the door to his secret desert lair.

Yeah, Dude Two is a super villain with a catch phrase like, “Mr. Evil, because it’s all about M. E.” Bullets fly, and just when you think it—the story I mean—can’t possibly get any more testosterone stupid, they fight it out in CGI animated super suits. Seriously.

Plus, and this is the real action-adventure giveaway, I’d be holding back more than lonely tears right now. I’d be holding back the truth about being a secret government agent on a last-chance mission to find the Chosen One—the boy who can save our country from the forces of darkness. And I’d have throwing stars appliqu├ęd to my underwear.

Damn.

If I don’t get chocolate and a little hand-holding in the next scene, somebody’s getting stainless steel perforations. I nominate the plaid fashion disaster who’s about to trip over the wrestling team’s beer keg.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Giveaway and Interview with Ruta Sepetys

Have you ever read a book that changes you? A book that alters your soul after you've read the final page?

I have and that book is Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. Here is a description of the story from the official book website:

Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother was worth a pocket watch.

In 1941, fifteen-year-old Lina is preparing for art school, first dates, and all that summer has to offer. But one night, the Soviet secret police barge violently into her home, deporting her along with her mother and younger brother. They are being sent to Siberia. Lina's father has been separated from the family and sentenced to death in a prison camp. All is lost.

Lina fights for her life, fearless, vowing that if she survives she will honor her family, and the thousands like hers, by documenting their experience in her art and writing. She risks everything to use her art as messages, hoping they will make their way to her father's prison camp to let him know they are still alive.

It is a long and harrowing journey, and it is only their incredible strength, love, and hope that pull Lina and her family through each day. But will love be enough to keep them alive?


Today I have the honor of interviewing New York Times Bestselling and multiple award winning author, Ruta Sepetys. Thank you so much for joining us Ruta!

Between Shades of Gray is a very powerful book full of struggle and hope. What helped you find the right balance between the two?

RS - Thank you! It was difficult at times to find that balance. I was trying to address the search for self in the face of death, which can be pretty dark and depressing. My editor, Tamra Tuller, continually pushed me to focus on the hopeful elements. Many of her revision suggestions centered around amplifying the sense of hope. I enjoy bleak stories so my first drafts tend to be pretty depressing. Tamra's suggestions added incredible dimension to the story but allowed me to retain the dark atmosphere I felt was critical for historical authenticity.

Lina is a wonderful character and I remember thinking several times while reading the novel that you had picked a perfect age for her. What made you decide to make Lina fifteen turning sixteen in the book versus a younger or older protagonist?

RS - Many of the survivors I met with were teenagers when they were in Siberia. Their stories were incredibly compelling and they were all so full of fire and bravery. I thought it might add an interesting dimension to the story if it were told from the point of view of a teenage girl. Also, since this is such a little known piece of history, I was hoping that it might be discovered by teachers and librarians. There are so many wonderful librarians who support the YA genre.


When writing a historical, do you plot then research or do you research then plot?

RS - When I started "Between Shades of Gray" I decided to write the book as I was researching. I hoped writing amidst the research process would create a sense of immediacy in the narrative. I'm not sure I'd do that again! I ended up revising quite a bit. I think next time I will research, plot, then draft.

4. Your cover perfectly captures the a ray of hope in a barren wasteland. Can you tell us anything about the journey of your cover and title?

RS - Thank you! I love the cover. I can't take any credit for it though. I wasn't involved in the process at all. Penguin sent me an email saying, "Here's your cover!" and I fell in love with it. They are now designing a new cover for the paperback version which will be released next spring. I can't wait to see it. In terms of the title, "Between Shades of Gray" was my original title for the book. In meeting with survivors I learned that their situation was complicated and choices were difficult. I think we tend to categorize things in extremes (good/evil, love/hate, etc.) But things aren't always black or white. More often, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. And sometimes, when we peel back the layers, the extremes fall away and we can find love and tolerance there, between shades of gray. Not all the Soviets were cruel. Some showed compassion. So the Lithuanians couldn't hate all of the Soviets. Hope and truth lived between endless layers of gray. That was the inspiration for the title.

5. Can you tell us what you are working on now and when it might be available?

RS - I just finished a novel that's set in New Orleans in 1950. It tells the story of a very gifted girl who is the daughter of a French Quarter prostitute. Despite her background and society's opinion of her, she applies to a prestigious college. It's a story of the courage and fortitude it takes to fly when you're born with broken wings. And since it's in New Orleans there's a mystery and a cast of eccentric characters! Philomel/Penguin Young Readers Group is publishing the book in Spring of 2013.

6. What are some of your favorite books?

RS - Ooh, there are so many! I love anything by Toni Morrison, Truman Capote, or Ellen Gilchrist.
Beth Kephart has a new YA coming out called "Small Damages" that's fantastic. Beth is one of the most beautiful writers. Even her blog posts are poetic. I recently read "Letters From Home" by Kristina McMorris and adored it. I also love Laura Kasischke, a writer from Michigan. Her YA novels are published by HarperTeen and her adult books are through Harper Perennial. If you're looking for a fun, compelling read you must pick up "Dead Rules" by Randy Russell. If I had to choose an all-time favorite book it would be "How I Live Now" by Meg Rosoff.

Thank you so much for visiting with us Ruta!

YA Fusion is excited to give away a signed copy of Between Shades of Gray. To enter, leave a comment below. A drawing will be held the week of December 18th. Tell us about the post, about Between Shades of Gray, or about a book that changed your life.

Please leave your e-mail in the comment so I can contact you if you win. Also, the contest is limited to entries in the U.S. and Canada.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Read an Interview with Deborah Halverson and Win a Copy of WRITING YOUNG ADULT FICTION FOR DUMMIES!

My writing used to seriously bite. It’s really not that hard to admit.
If I look back at what my fiction writing was fifteen, ten, or even five years ago, I’m a million times better, primarily because of searching out strong advice and practicing.
Oh so many moons ago, when I was at Michigan State University, my poetry mentor there, the fabulous poet Diane Wakoski, would tell me, writers are formed from practice. The more they work on their craft, the better they get.
So I’ve worked.
Hard.
Really Hard.
And it’s finally starting to pay off. This year, I snagged some prestigious literary awards (Yay, me!). So I want to take a little trip down Writing Resource Lane to highlight some books and advice that have really pushed me forward with my writing. Each book offers a takeaway that I try hard to apply every time I sit down to write.

Bird by Bird
by Anne Lamott –
My takeaway: It’s alright to produce that “s*%tty first draft.” That’s a HUGE piece of advice when fears and confidence create Empire State Building-size writing blocks.

It’s a Bunny Eat Bunny World
by Olga Litowinsky –
My takeaway: Children’s editors and agents definitely don’t have blue birds singing on their shoulders and adorable fawns curled at their feet. Truly, this whole children’s/YA writing thing is a rough business. Only the strongest and most determined survive and succeed. As writer Donna Jo Napoli recently told me, “Good is NOT enough -- you have to be persistent. So toughen up… just be tough, lady.”

The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman –
My takeaway: That first line of a manuscript needs to be amazing, astounding, can’t-put-this-book-down hooking, so work it, Baby, and work it good! Lukeman, a literary agent, stresses some writing is just plain “better.” As one agent has told me, “We are looking for writing that’s superlative.” Lukeman, with his solid advice about voice, plotting, and writing style, tries to get every writer there. 

Hooked by Les Edgerton –
My takeaway: Backstory can be a slippery slope. It can either send your reader sliding back and slipping straight out of your book and into the latest TV show they find more entertaining, or it can be sprinkled in effectively. Edgerton, in his “coffee house,” let’s-chat writing style, discusses the balance between present action and backstory. He even creates new terms – passive backstory vs. active backstory. Passive being that blow-by-blow-by-blow-by-blow (you get the idea) of what happened in the past. Active is that perfect little drop of telling the past and using it as a springboard for impending action. Great advice!

And my latest resource book to seriously influence my writing life is – Drum Roll, Please! - Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies
by Deborah Halverson.



My takeaway: Deborah rocks! Oh, and also, if you aren’t exactly sure what constitutes a YA novel or what goes into one to make it effective, then the writing pitfalls are wide and deep and will swallow your publishing aspirations whole. Yikes!

Even if I weren’t always thirsty for more writing advice -- YA writing advice, specifically -- I would have purchased this book because Deborah was key to helping me become a stronger writer. I hired her to edit one of my novels before I sent it out to the literary world because I knew she was an exceptional writer and editor.

Not only is Halverson the author of Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies (WYAFFD), but she is the award-winning author of teen novels Honk If You Hate Me and Big Mouth. In addition, she is contracted for three books in a forthcoming series for struggling readers as well as a forthcoming picture book about Santa Claus. Armed with a Master’s in American Literature, Deborah edited picture books and teen novels for Harcourt Children’s Books for ten years before leaving to write full-time. She is a frequent speaker at writers’ conferences and a writing teacher for groups and institutions including UCSD’s Extension Program. Deborah is also the founder of the popular writers’ advice website DearEditor.com and freelance edits fiction and non-fiction for both published authors and writers seeking their first book deals.

Deborah was kind enough to answer some questions about her career, the YA industry, and what writers can do to become better and stronger at their craft.

YA books have exploded in popularity. Why do you think YA attracts so many readers of all ages? 
The spotlight is on young adult fiction, big time, thanks in large part to a succession of blockbuster movies and phenomenal sales for the books themselves. This high profile success has plenty of grown-ups looking twice at YA fiction, where they discover what longtime fans of YA have known all along—that young adult fiction is filled with rich characters and narrative voices, robust storylines, top-notch dialogue, and compelling concepts. Plus, YA storytelling is pervaded by a sense of wonder and curiosity about the world. Who can say “no” to a reading experience that promising?

Do you find you like to read the same types of fiction books you write?
Indeed, I tend to write what I read, and vice versa. I adore the magical realism of Tom Robbins, Salman Rushdie, and Don DeLillo, I delight in the quirky, spoofy humor of Libba Bray and M.T. Anderson, and I totally lose myself in the stunning character work of Karen Cushman and Phillip Pullman. When I read their books, I’m so inspired that I feel a physical urge to run to my computer to tap out my own fiction. That said, every writer should read widely in order to understand the bookselling marketplace as a whole and to find inspiration in different styles. Being an editor, it’s especially important for me to read broadly so that I can guide writers as they position and craft their novels no matter what genre they choose.

Your two YA novels, Honk If You Hate Me and Big Mouth, are both laced with humor even as the main characters deal with some difficult issues. How important do you think humor and levity are for teen readers?

I tend to approach life in general from a quirky angle. I like to be surprised—good or bad—by what lies beyond the surface, and coming at topics sideways lets me do that. It’s just how my mind works, and my stories reflect that. For example, beyond reveling in the delicious wackiness of someone wanting to scarf down 54 hot dogs (and buns!) in 12 minutes, Big Mouth explores the very serious issue of eating disorders in boys. And then there’s the basic fact that I love to laugh. Doctors say doing so adds years to your life, and I’m all for that.


Why did you decide to take on Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies?
I was privy to the inner workings of a major publisher for a decade, and then I got the writer’s view of the publishing game when I started writing novels. I really wanted to share what I’d learned on both sides of the editor’s desk; it just became a matter of figuring out the best way to do that. Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies is that book. The tone of the For Dummies series let me indulge my humorous side even as I had free rein to shape the book I felt would most empower writers. The top of my ‘must include in this book’ list? Tangible, actionable techniques. That’s what I want as a writer, so that’s what I’ve tried to serve up.

Any projects you’re currently working on that you can share with us?
I’m excited to be working on three hi-lo readers, in the process gaining personal insight into a different corner of the children’s publishing industry. The book concepts must appeal to seventh graders, while the vocabulary is at the first- and second-grade level. I’ve also just finalized a contract for a picture book about Santa Claus, which my six-year-old boys think is just the bee’s knees. And now that WYAFFD is solidly out in the world, I can finally get back to work on a YA fiction series that’s been waiting (somewhat) patiently on the backburner.
 
Since you’ve worked as both an in-house editor and now as a freelance editor, what do you think are the benefits of hiring an editor to review your work before submission?
I’m biased, of course. But the fact is, in-house editors are extremely careful about offering contracts these days. It isn’t enough to write a really good manuscript—you must write a manuscript that can compete with the cream of the crop. An experienced freelance editor can help you hone your general writing chops, improve specific stories and characters, and shape your project for the marketplace. That last one is very important: to be published, it’s vital that you offer something fresh for an identifiable marketplace.
 
Being a mom of triplets and a writer and a freelance editor, you know better than anyone what it’s like to have a lot of work to juggle. What does a typical workday look like for you, and what advice would you give other authors who have time constraints?
Much of a writer’s battle is with time, and I’m no exception there. But it’s a battle I’m happy to have. I’m a multitasker at heart, so my varied life feels quite natural to me. My trick to staying motivated is the old fashioned deadline. Nothing gives me greater pain than seeing that red “overdue” icon on my calendar app. I’ll even set my own deadlines when none are imposed upon me. That said, personal deadlines are the first to go when life hucks a monkey wrench my way.

Writers are always worrying about trends in the market. What do you say to writers who worry about whether or not their work will be “trendy”?
The publishing industry is a slow-moving one. By the time you recognize a trend, write and revise a manuscript to suit it, go through the submission process, and then get your book produced in-house and into stores, the trend will likely be over. Manuscripts most likely to benefit from a trend are those that are already in the publishing pipeline when the trend is recognized. Instead of writing to a trend, write to a very specific audience and genre and then put a fresh spin on your story so that you’ll stand out as something new within that established market.

Being both an editor and a writer, do you find your inner editor gets in your way when you are trying to write? What advice would you give to writers who can’t turn off their inner editor long enough to pump out a first draft?
My inner editor is a total pain in my . . . well, I write for young people, so I won’t finish that sentence. I recommend that you defy the ornery editor within by making a deal with it: agree to let yourself cobble together a draft that is little more than characters and events pinned to a bulletin board. It’s a painful proposition, I grant that, but if you can ignore the ugliness of that draft and nail down your basic story elements, your inner editor can be indulged in Draft 2 as you flesh out the characters and scenes and hone the narrative voice.
 
You do a great job in WYAFFD outlining the different publishing options for today’s writers. For someone who has a YA manuscript ready to send out, what quick advice would you give them about deciding between soliciting a traditional publishing house or going the self-publishing route?
Answering these questions as honestly as you can will help you decide: Are you self-motivated and willing to work hard? Are you market-savvy enough to position your book in the marketplace, to design a cover that appeals to that market, and to articulate to the world exactly what your story is and how it’s different from others like it? Are you willing to pay others to design your cover, or do you have the skills to create a high-quality cover yourself? Are you willing to put in the time and money to turn yourself into a self-marketing machine? Do you have the financial resources to self-publish—and are you willing to lose that investment if the book doesn’t sell more than the average several-hundred self-published units? If you can’t answer all of these questions with a confident “yes!” then traditional publishing is probably the more realistic choice for you.
 
Teen books often push the limits and get that “edgy” label. What do you say to someone who questions whether the current hard-hitting YA is worthwhile for teens to read, and do you think writers should be fearful of pushing the YA limits too far?
There’s been plenty of hullabaloo about the “dark” YA fiction in recent months. That’s an unfair portrayal of the YA realm. Plenty of books for young people leave out the sex and drugs and children killing children. Write the story you feel you need to write. If you push the limits too far, editors and agents will be vocal about their hesitations. Or try this: Picture yourself reading passages of your book out loud to a group of young people in a class, at a book club meeting, or at a book signing. If presenting that content to them face-to-face makes you squirmy, there’s your answer. Every writer has his/her comfort zone. Wherever you fall in the storytelling spectrum, be sure that the elements you include are organic and vital to the story. You must stand by the integrity of the story you’re writing, not just your right to write it.

A HUGE thanks to Deborah Halverson for sharing her insight! For more about Deborah, check out her website DeborahHalverson.com . And as a generous parting gift, Deborah is giving everyone access to a free downloadable WYAFFD cheatsheet - http://www.dummies.com/cheatsheet/writingyoungadultfiction -- Hurray!!

In addition, if you live in the United States or Canada, you have the chance to win a copy of Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies by submitting a comment for this post. Comment on Deborah’s interview or give a suggestion for a writing resource that has helped you become a better fiction writer. PLEASE LEAVE YOUR E-MAIL IN THE COMMENT SO I CAN CONTACT YOU IF YOU WIN. A random drawing of posted comments will be done the week of December 11.

So think about the takeaways you have taken away and “Take It Away!” by posting for your chance to win. Good luck!

***WRITING YOUNG ADULT FICTION FOR DUMMIES GIVEAWAY UPDATE***

We have a winner in our drawing for a copy of WRITING YOUNG ADULT FICTION FOR DUMMIES. (Another drum roll, please!)  Janet from Ripley, West Virginia is our lucky winner. Thank you to all who posted comments. And once again, thanks to Deborah Halverson for a fabulous interview!