Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Book Review: The Emotion Thesaurus

Before I tell you about The Emotion Thesaurus, I have a magical moment to share. Our YA Fusion blog team is spread around the country, but Tracy Bilen lives near me. Which means I got to attend her book launch party for What She Left Behind!

Tracy Bilen What She Left BehindI've watched Tracy's book grow from a one chapter idea to the multi-layered story it has become. How wonderful to see the final published book, which she signed for me, of course. Go to Tracy's website to learn more about her upcoming events.

Now, on to my review of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression.

I first discovered the Emotion Thesaurus as a feature on the popular and resourceful blog, The Bookshelf Muse. The authors, Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, also created a character-trait thesaurus, a weather thesaurus, a setting thesaurus, and more.

They've taken their emotion thesaurus to the next level by publishing a book-length guide. It's much more than a compilation of descriptive lists; the authors recognize that showing emotion is a tricky balancing act. They tackle the show-don't-tell mantra and provide specific examples of writing pitfalls such as clich├ęd emotions and melodrama.

Writing tips are interspersed throughout the book, such as “When describing a character’s feelings, the word “felt” is often a cue for telling emotion, not showing. Run a search for this word and challenge yourself on its use.”

The Emotion Thesaurus was designed as a launch for brainstorming. Use it by yourself or with critique groups. Read it straight through to absorb all the writing tips, or hop around to explore various emotions. Either way, you'll want to keep it within reach for the next time you’re struggling to describe a full emotional experience.

As a special gift accompanying their Random Acts of Kindness Blitz, the authors are providing a free download of Emotion Amplifiers: A Companion to the Emotion Thesaurus. Details here on their website.

On Tuesday, I'll be at the Literary Rambles blog for Tip Tuesday. Kish-kish, flumppf, kaaahhkkk! Stop by for my tip on writing sounds. Have you heard their great news? Literary Rambles made the Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers in the May/June issue. They're listed as number 13 under "Everything Agents."

While you're at Literary Rambles, read the interview with Elana Johnson and enter to win an ARC of her new novel, Surrender. Elana is a generous blogger who reaches out and supports other authors ALL THE TIME. Please stop by her blog, check out her books, and wish her well.

Happy writing!
Kristin Lenz

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Who, Me? No. No-no-no, That's Definitely Not Me

Most of us remember autobiographies from our Elementary School book-report days. I've personally always found the concept of them to be kind of conceited--writing a book about yourself, and how awesome you are. However, around the time I finished my first manuscript ("Whatever's Left," which happens to be available on Amazon.com from Solstice Publishing . . . since you mentioned it and all), I got to thinking about them in a different sense.

Ask most authors, and I'm sure a lot of them will admit to injecting elements of themselves into their characters. It's really almost impossible not to. When you're creating an entire person, and trying to generate a pseudo-relationship between them and your reader, you've got to round out the edges, scuff up their knees a bit, and give them some heart. And sometimes what you end up with is a character who bears at least a slant resemblance to you.

I was guilty of a lot of autobiographical fiction with my first novel. I started it my freshman year of college, when I was nostalgic for home and how things used to be. The first draft of that book had characters named after old friends, scenery nearly identical to the town I'd grown up in, and a main character who really had a voice similar to the one you'd find if you cracked open my diary.

As all writers do, I edited and re-drafted and got better each time I did, until I was satisfied with the final draft, and also satisfied that I'd made it into its own story, instead of a what-could've-been version of my own. And then came the miracle and curse of people actually reading it.

Since I sent "Whatever's Left" to my first beta reader, I've gotten everything from "Is this supposed to be you? She has brown hair like you. It says so right here" to "You can't have the dog named Moose. Your dog is named Moose." (The second thankfully came from a good friend and fabulous beta-reader who caught my faux pas before any publisher was remotely interested in the book)

So I guess the conclusion I've come to is that it's impossible--at least for me--not to put a bit of yourself into your characters. When you think about it, you put so much of yourself--in the blood, sweat, and tears kind of way--into a manuscript, when it's finished, you really should find something familiar there.

But I will say this as well: I'll never write a main character with brown hair again :)


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Dissolving the Wall

You’re breezing along, the words are flowing, and pouring out onto the page almost faster than you can think them up. Your nimble fingers zoom like greased lightning across that keyboard. A grin cracks your face because your character has just said the wittiest thing.

Then it happens. Cue the sound of screeching tires. Throw in the crescendo of shattering glass and the crunch of metal and plastic.
Because you’ve just hit a wall.

But things were going so swimmingly, you think. Your story was writing itself. You were in the zone. Zoned.
Now it’s just you and the wall and the chirping crickets.
Sound familiar?
While I’ve had a similar scenario happen in the midst of just about every story I’ve written, I have never had a more extreme case of wall-hitting than when it came time for me to write a sequel.
I went in with a plan and I went in knowing my characters. Having been through the process of writing and publishing a novel once before, I also went in with more knowledge, better tools and more experience, too. Why, then, was the process so much more difficult than anything I had ever undertaken? 
The full answer to that question might require a book itself. But one reason I had trouble was because I kept getting stuck. I would cover some good ground and then my motor would stall. I would get a little on the page and then night would fall over my brain and the crickets would begin their lonely song. But it wasn’t all calm summer nights—there was quite a bit of panic thrown in there as well because, unlike my first book, I was now under a deadline.
So I had to adapt. I had to do my best to prime the pump, to keep things flowing. And here a few ticks that I learned.

·         Walk away
One of the hardest things to do when you’re in the midst of a creative project is to walk away from it. Especially if you have a due date looming around, rattling chains in your head like some kind of Marley the Ghost wannabe. But perspective is important in regards to creating and so is distance. Taking a step back from the story and resolving NOT to think about your current story AT ALL for a short period of time can help to refresh your mind and restore your imagination. I have often found that, if I walk away from a project and take a break, when I come back, the problem I was having before seems smaller, more manageable and, God forbid, maybe even easily solved.

·         Walk it out
If you reach a point in your narrative where things dry up, or you have a plot issue you can’t seem to untangle, take a walk. Now this is different from walking away because this time, when you walk, you are literally taking a hike. That, and you pack your current story problem/plot issue to take along with you. Walking was an integral element in the crafting of my second novel and, in truth, I think it’s safe to say I “walked out” the entire book.

On your walk, you must not take your phone. You must not take your dog. No friends. No children. No one. You and the pavement, the grass, the trees and your story. Go for at least fifteen or twenty minutes. Thirty minutes is even better. While I can’t promise that when you return you will have the solution to your specific problem, I can promise that you will return with more clarity. Even if you don’t get the answer you were looking for, you’ll come back to your work with more answers for the overall project than you had before. Now this isn’t my idea, so you don’t have to take my word for it. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way and creativity coach extraordinaire, highly advocates walking as a block-dissolving tool. You can read more about walking and other tools to combat writers block in her books The Artist’s Way and Walking in This World. Julia says that “Walking is an exercise in heightened listening. As we walk, we awaken our neural pathways and make them more sensitive.” 
Action in our bodies helps to loosen the debris in our heads. Which brings me to the next tactic.

·         Do something repetitive and mindless.
If you’re stuck somewhere in your writing and you’re just not sure what should happen next, take a break and go find that pair of knitting needles your grandmother gave you. Or make friendship bracelets for your critique group. Do you have a room in the house that needs a fresh coat of paint? 
Why do you think so many legendary creators and geniuses have epiphanies in the midst of going about every-day activities? Wasn’t Archimedes about to take a bath when he shouted “Eureka!”?
Often, break-throughs come in the form of “suddenly.” Suddenly, I realized why my main character didn’t want to share his pizza in chapter one. Suddenly, it dawned on me that my protagonist wasn’t human at all. Suddenly, I knew that secondary character had to die at the end of chapter twelve.
I sometimes get my best ideas when driving. Now I know why. When I’m driving, I’m focused on something else. And, for whatever reason, that allows my answers to float to the surface all on their own.
·         Talk it out
 I offer this suggestion with a word of caution. When you are in the initial stages of creating a story, sometimes it’s best not to share the still-scattered nuts and bolts of your current project. Sometimes, though, if you find the right listener, you’ll end up unraveling the knot and answering your own questions out loud. What you’re looking for is a sounding board, not someone who will nit-pick. The nit-pick friend will be an excellent resource for later drafts, when your story is more solid.
 On several occasions, I have blabbered on and on to a friend, asking countless questions. Then, before my friend has a chance to answer, I’ll shout “OMIGOD, WHAT IF I DO THIS AND THEN THIS AND THEN THAT?” In response to this outburst, my friend will nod and smile and, in the meantime, I will thank him profusely for his help. In some instances, I can share my problem with a friend and, since she is on the outside of the project and I am on the inside, she will be able to make some very simple observation or suggestion that had not occurred to me because my focus and worry was too intense—“forest for the trees” and all that.
 Sometimes, a good listener can help you find the light bulb switch.
The big question here is how to know when you’re ready to talk about what’s going on in your book. The answer is simple. You will know. If you’re thinking about asking someone about your story but your words dry up when you go to him or her, then it’s not time to talk yet. It’s sort of like when you’ve had a dream but then the moment you start to put the dream into words, it loses its magic. It doesn’t seem as mystical as it did before and, suddenly, you want to keep it to yourself until you’ve had a little more time to digest the imagery.

·         Method writing
Ever heard of “method acting?” Actors who practice method acting saturate themselves in the world of their character. They will often place themselves in an environment similar to the one their character dwells in. If their character has a certain occupation, the method actor will try his or her hand at that, too. As a writer, you can do the same thing. Say you have a character who loves to draw, but you have never drawn so much as a stick figure. Try it anyway. Going through the actions your character goes through will help you to get in touch with their personalities and this also counts as research. If your character plays the piano but you have no rhythm, that doesn’t matter. Just the simple act of sitting down at the piano bench and pounding out “Pop Goes the Wessel” can provide insight, excitement and, yes, a breakthrough, too. This can get really fun if you’re writing fantasy. For instance, if you have a character who can fly, try taking a ride on an extra fast and scary roller coaster, or try parasailing.

·         Have a chat with the people in your head
Sometimes our characters can begin to feel stale or two dimensional. They clam up, and you wonder why. Ask them. Open up your word processor and start a dialogue. Ask your character why she doesn’t want to follow your plot and then start typing. Try an interview or quick word associations, maybe even an ink-blot test. If you don’t know something about your character’s past but you need to know, try ask him or her outright. Type fast. This is an exercise and it is part of the drafting process, so tell the inner editor to sit this one out.  

·         Be artsy
Picking up a separate creative project (non-writing) can work wonders. For instance, you can start a painting, take another look at that song you’ve been composing or add a few moves to that dance number you’re choreographing. The arts go hand-in-hand and sometimes switching gears and staying creative at the same time can help to free up those clenched writing muscles.

And there you have it! May your writing days be wall free. But should you hit the occasional brick building, I hope these suggestions will help you blast through.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

HOW TO PACK A POETIC PUNCH: An Interview with Author Lisa Schroeder PLUS a Giveaway of THE DAY BEFORE

Since I was a poet before I started writing novels, several of my writer friends have asked me, “How do I add more poetry to my prose?”

That’s a complex question, and while I’ve done my best to give my friends some suggestions, I thought I’d enlist help from awesomely poetic author Lisa Schroeder. Here she offers up some advice for all those writers who might want to take a spin on the poetic side.  

Lisa Schroeder

Lisa is a native Oregonian who has written a slew of YA and middle grade books including I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME, THE DAY BEFORE, CHASING BROOKLYN, FAR FROM YOU, IT’S RAINING CUPCAKES and SPRINKLES AND SECRETS. Much of Lisa’s award-winning young adult work is in verse and has been honored by YA/teen reader awards and by the ALA as Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers. And her accolades only start there! Most recently, THE DAY BEFORE was named an Oregon Book Award Finalist. YA Fusion is honored to have Lisa featured on our site!

Thank you so much for talking with us, Lisa. First, my writing critique group begged me to ask, how do you define poetry?
Oh boy. I guess, to me, it's a way of writing, where special care is given to how words are placed together for effect, that might help us see something in a new way. 

You don’t write every novel in verse. How do you make the choice to put one novel in verse and another in prose?
When I start writing, the character's voice will let me know how he/she wants the story to be told. When I sat down to write I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME, Ava seemed to want to tell the story in a sparse, poetic way. I was scared to death, because I'd never tried to write anything like that before. But I liked what I had and so I kept going. Novels that are more introspective are going to do much better in verse than novels with lots of dialogue. Dialogue, if it's realistic, isn't going to be poetic, most of the time. I also find a larger cast of characters will work better in prose than in verse. 
Mostly, I go with my gut, I suppose. I usually know within five pages or so if the book is going to work in verse. If I can find the character's voice and write some poems that show what's happening in those opening scenes, I feel good about continuing on that way.

In what ways do you create rhythm in your verse without rhyming?
I read my words over and over, and to me it's kind of like sanding a piece of wood. At first there are lots of sharp edges, and places where it hurts as you run your hand across the wood. But with each sanding, it gets smoother and smoother. The first draft is about getting the story down, and then revision is about making the clunky work smooth. Rearranging words, replacing words, deleting words - it's all done in an effort to make the words flow, nice and easy.

While crafting a novel, some writers like to work from an outline and some like to free-write. When writing an entire novel in verse, do you think there is more of a need to outline beforehand to keep you on track?
I am very much a discovery writer. That is, I discover things about my characters, about the story, about the plot, as I write. I have a few seeds of ideas to start, but each of my verse novels were written with just a few scribbles in a notebook. No outline was involved at all. I often ask myself questions as I go along. Is this getting boring, and if so, does something need to happen to up the tension here? Have I revealed enough about my character to make him/her real? What mysterious element can I use that will keep the reader turning the pages? Is there a unique way I can show how the character is feeling right now, comparing it to something in the world around her? I tend to believe there is an intrinsic nature at work when writing in verse. It has to "feel" right. I can't explain exactly what that means, I just know it when I feel it.

What do you think is the most challenging thing about writing a novel in verse?
We are trying to write a story in a sparse, poetic way. It is a constant balancing act - is the story strong enough and is the poetry strong enough? I'm constantly worried I'm going to be criticized for not being poetic enough. But if I'm going to make a mistake, I'd rather make the mistake on the side of poetry than story. Story must be the number one priority, in my mind. Without a good story, there is no reason to keep reading. I'm also very aware now that many reluctant readers are drawn to verse novels. I don't want to write pages that are laden with deep similes and metaphors and other things, so they can't follow what's happening in the story. 

How about the most fun/exciting thing?
I suppose it's like any project - when you know you've nailed a passage and given the story exactly what it needs at that moment. I knew when I wrote THE DAY BEFORE, and wrote the poem "Tell Me Your Story," (page 114) to describe how Amber felt about the special day in that moment, it was exactly right. Readers would be able to relate to what she was talking about and understand how she felt in that moment, because you are often conflicted while reading a book - you want to hurry up and see how it ends but you also want to slow down and savor each word. When I was done writing it, it felt like I'd done something magical. Interestingly enough, that was the only page that didn't have one mark from my editor when it was time to do revisions. It only had a heart drawn on it. 

Do you think the YA market is receptive to novels in verse? Do you think it’s a trend that’s here to stay?
Yes and no. I recently saw an editor ask on twitter, "What do you think of verse novels?" So many professionals in publishing replied negatively. Things like - "Unless you're Ellen Hopkins, you shouldn't be doing it," "It's more of a gimmick than anything," "I don't like them, it seems like lazy writing to me," and on and on.

But there are new verse authors emerging all the time, so obviously, there are some publishing professionals who like them. Still, I feel like as soon as you decide to try and publish one, it's going to be an uphill battle - even more so than usual in getting a book published and then trying to sell it to the masses. I especially feel like some judge me and think I shouldn't be writing in verse for my more "commercial" stories. Like it's only appropriate when you're writing a more literary novel, like the National Book Award winner, INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN.

THE DAY BEFORE and I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME have been chosen as ALA Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers (Feel free to take a much-deserved bow!). What do you think is the attraction of novels in verse for teens who normally shy away from reading?
Instead of bowing, I'll thank YALSA for including my books on that list! I'm truly honored. 

I get more notes from teens that start out, "I usually hate to read, but I love your books..." than any other kind of note. I have had multiple kids tell me they'd never *finished* a novel by themselves until they read one of my books.

And may I just add that THIS is why we need more commercial novels-in-verse on the shelves. 

Reluctant readers need an interesting story to draw them in. They don't want a lot of beautiful, descriptive prose to wade through. They don't want long, intimidating chapters that make them feel impatient and stupid. Verse novels cut to the emotional core of the story. There isn't a lot of "extra fluff." There's lots of white space on the pages, and so, they can read a few pages in a minute, and as they flip the pages quickly, they *feel* successful. Hey, I'm reading, and reading quickly, look at that! 

CHASING BROOKLYN was a 2011 Romance Writer’s of America RITA award finalist. (And yes, absolutely bow again!), and romance is laced beautifully through all your YA novels. What elements do you think create a strong, can’t-put-down romance?
Thanks! I think there needs to be a reason the two characters connect. Either they see a quality in the other person they wish they had, or they have something in common that draws them together. If it's a relationship that is based on looks alone, it's going to be harder to buy into it, and to care about it. Sure, physical attraction might be what starts it, but what happens after that? I think Nico and Brooklyn's relationship develops in a natural way, as they help each other train for a triathlon. They start out as friends, and I believe that happens a lot in real life.

For those writers who are looking to add poetic elements to their prose writing or even to try to write a novel in verse, what advice would you give? Aside from your own books (J), are there any resources you would suggest they use or read to guide them?
Back in 2009, Kelly Bingham did a week's worth of posts on writing verse novels at the blog titled "Through The Tollbooth." It's a blog co-authored by a bunch of VCFA graduates. Here is the first entry, and then you can scroll down and click "Next" to read the others.

Caroline Starr Rose, author of MAY B, gives some advice on Cynthia Leitich Smith's blog, which you can find here:

And obviously, the more you read verse novels, the more familiar you will become with writing in that format. 

You’ve got a couple books already out in a great middle grade series about cupcakes…and who doesn’t love cupcakes! Was it difficult to switch gears and go from emotionally heavy YA to lighter middle grade?
Not at all. It was actually fun to go from writing verse where my characters don't talk a lot to letting my characters talk and talk and TALK. I love writing for both age groups. I was an avid reader when I was 8-12 years old, so I sort of write my middle grade books for that girl. 

And finally, CONGRATULATIONS! are in order since you’ve got some projects already slated to be published next year. Can you share a bit about your upcoming books so we can all rush out and buy them when they hit the market?
FALLING FOR YOU comes out in early 2013 and is my first YA novel not in verse, although poetry still plays an important role. It's about a 16-year-old girl named Rae, and on the very first page, you learn something terrible has happened to her, but you don't know what. The story is told through flash-backs, as you get to see the sort of miserable family life she has and the new boy in town, who has his own troubles, who she begins to date. It's very much a story of darkness and light, for amongst the darkness is the wonderful job she has at the flower shop where she works and her kind co-workers, and the good friends she has as well. For those readers who are afraid it might be too different from my other books, no need to worry - there is some poetry sprinkled throughout, there are strong, mysterious elements that keep you turning the pages, and as always, there is some romance as well.

In fall of 2013, Aladdin will be publishing another companion to IT'S RAINING CUPCAKES and SPRINKLES AND SECRETS, this time from Lily's point of view, a character readers meet in SPRINKLES AND SECRETS. It's called FROSTING AND FRIENDSHIP and has a mother-daughter book club, a girl who is a disaster in the kitchen, and a surprise birthday party. 

Thanks so much!


Thank you again, Lisa, for taking the time to share your insights with us!
And for YA Fusion readers, have any of you ever considered writing a novel in verse? Let us know your thoughts on writing and reading verse novels by posting below. Be sure to include your email address in the post. One lucky reader will win a copy of Lisa’s book, THE DAY BEFORE. The winner will be chosen by a random drawing on May 19. Good luck!

************BOOK GIVE-AWAY UPDATE*************
Cathy Ostlere is the drawing winner for Lisa Schroeder's book, THE DAY BEFORE. Congratulations, Cathy! And thank you to everyone who posted!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Zombies Need Love to

Those who follow me, know I have this thing for zombies. I think my fascination now is because as a child I was scared to death of zombies. I couldn't even drive past a cemetery without picturing corpses clawing and digging their way out of their graves. So, somehow, oddly enough, that fear turned into love. 

Don't ask how. 

Back in 2010, I need a post on why zombies need love. I figured I'd update it. 

  • They never talk back to you. You can pretty much say anything to them and their response will be, “Ahh-Mhh-brains.” You're always going to win an argument with them.
  • Someone also suggested that they don't play mind games and if you're....er, lucky enough to be in a relationship with one, you pretty much know what they want from you. Your brains. Talk about a first between males and females.
  • For the most part, they’re slow runners. You’re never feel more in shape then running against one of them. Unless they're the super fast zombie kind, therefore I suggest you start hitting the gym.
  • They are easy to maintain and feed. Their diets are pretty obvious. Don’t have to worry about any food allergies. Just give them... human meat.
  • You will always look HOT standing next to one of them. That is probably the best thing about zombies. Having a bad hair day? A pimple the size of a mountain? You didn't shower for three days? Doesn't matter. At least your skin isn't sloughing off.
  • They could be used for some manual labor jobs that typically don’t involve the public and no living creature would want to do. Like in Shaun of the Dead, we can chain them to check out lines and have them bag groceries.
  • They won’t be a strain on our healthcare costs or social security. They're dead. Enough said.
  • We could tax them however. In a zombie apocalypse, I'm sure they'll outnumber humans 1000 to 1, so think about our debt crisis. The government could impose a zombie tax. Crisis solved.
Have any more reasons why we should love zombies? Add them in the comment section.

Saturday, May 5, 2012


I'm pleased to announce the winner of Tracy Bilen's debut novel!


I will be emailing more information to the winner shortly. Thank you to everyone who entered the contest! Remember, you can pick up Tracy's book at any major bookseller.
Happy Reading!