Sunday, June 24, 2012


The first time someone asked me how I decided to write for young adults, I didn’t have a good answer. Since an answer like “those are the voices I hear in my head,” might insinuate to the average non-writer that I needed a mental health evaluation, I went with a safe, “ I don’t know,” and then a quick, “my how the color of your shirt makes your eyes glisten,” or something equally as cheesy.
Whenever someone asked me how I decided what subject to write about or how I chose my characters, an answer like “it just comes to me—kinda like magic,” didn’t really seem to cut it either. So I started considering these reasonable questions and realized the answers were simple; I have no control.
I’m like a passenger on a runaway train, a rider on a bucking bronc, a psychic medium—you get the picture.  I don’t choose my genre, subject, or characters—they choose me. Never have I sat down to write and thought; I’m going to write about this character who is X years old, and here’s what’s going to happen to him or her. Unfortunately, I don’t have the power to force my characters to do anything they don’t want to do, (and make it sound halfway decent anyway). By way of trial and a ridiculous amount of error, I’ve learned that the writing process goes much smoother if I keep myself from overthinking and just go with the flow.
I realize the average person doesn’t hear voices in their head or take direction from imaginary people. But if you are a blessed/cursed writer who is plagued with the above-mentioned gifts/afflictions, why not make the most of it? Let your characters be your guide. It’s not like they’re going to cooperate, be quiet, and leave you alone anyway, so you might as well hop on that crazy train and enjoy the ride!  : )

What about you? Do you choose your genre, your subject, or your characters? Or do they choose you?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

SLIDE into a great summer read!

If you're looking for an exciting summer read, check out SLIDE by fellow Apocalypsie Jill Hathaway. In SLIDE, everyone believes that the main character, Vee, suffers from narcolepsy, but in actuality, when Vee appears to have fallen asleep, she has actually slid into someone else's body...including that of a killer.

Jill was kind enough to answer a few questions about SLIDE and writing in general:

Tell us a little about your everyday life. I'm a high school English teacher, and I have two small children. So I spend a lot of time grading papers and changing dirty diapers. I write on the weekends and during the summer.
What inspired you to write Slide? I was doing National Novel Writing Month (when you write 50,000 words in the month of November) a couple of years ago and trying to think of a really intriguing premise. I wanted my main character to find herself standing over a dead body and not know how she got there. Sliding evolved from that key scene.
Besides your main character, who is your favorite character in Slide and why? Definitely Rollins. He's such a sweetheart. He really cares about Vee.
Do you have a favorite scene in Slide? My favorite scene is probably when Vee slides into the killer. I love to write creepy stuff.
Did you always know how Slide would end, or did it change as you wrote it? Actually, the killer changed from the rough draft to the finished copy. Bribe me sometime and I might tell you who the original one was. ;)
Is there anything you can tell us about how your cover was designed? The first cover I saw actually had a girl looking into a mirror. It was black with white lettering. We ended up going with the girl's profile and the metallic purple cover, which I really really like. Slide's sequel will go along really well with it.
How did you meet fellow Apocalypsie Megan Miranda (who you mention in your acknowledgments)? Our agent (Sarah Davies) actually introduced us. We were at similar points in our publishing journeys. I'm soooo thankful I met her because she's been my rock these past couple of years. She's still the first person I email when anything happens.
What were some of your favorite books when you were younger? I really enjoyed R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike when I was in middle school. In high school, I read lots of Stephen King.
What has been your favorite part of being a debut author? My favorite part is when people come up and tell me they read and enjoyed my book. That makes all the hours of revision totally worth it.
Can you tell us a bit about your path to publication? I actually wrote a book five years ago about a girl who could draw things and then they would happen. It kind of sucked, though, so nothing happened with it. Then I took a short break to have my daughter before writing SLIDE. With SLIDE, I really found my voice. Several agents were interested, and I'm so glad I chose Sarah. She's been amazingly supportive through everything I've gone through. She held my hand through the revision process before we submitted to publishers. I can't remember how long SLIDE took to sell. Maybe around a month? It seems so long ago.
Do you have any advice for other writers? NEVER NEVER NEVER give up. If I had given up on writing after my first novel, I never would have met Megan, never would have met Sarah, never would have seen my name on a book in the store. If you have the talent and the drive, you will get there someday. As long as you never quit.

Thanks so much for joining us today, Jill! As a final treat, click here for the book trailer for SLIDE!

And in the comments, please tell us what summer reads you're planning to SLIDE into!!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Critique Rules

First, a bit of unrelated author babble...
I enjoy unusual comparisons; sentences that juxtaposes dissimilar elements or similar elements in dissimilar ways.  For example: ‘The snow smelled like aluminum foil tastes—crisp, metallic, and cold as her last kiss.’  This kind of thing works, because the author can trust snow, aluminum, and bitter lovers to maintain a consistent flavor through all of space and time.  But what if the reference point changes?  “Wow,” you say, “good question.  We should have a deep and meaningful discussion about generational changes and language mutation.”  To which I say, “Check please.” I just wanted to highlight the fact that you can now buy toothpaste in a staggering variety of flavors and features, one of which—I swear to you—tastes like the Thin Mint cookies of my youth.  And while I have no interest in brushing my teeth with it, I do like the comparison.  So years from now when you see me gratuitously working toothpaste and cookies into a scene, you can tell everyone you saw it here first.

And let’s pretend the previous mention of teeth is a transition to...

There’s a short news item in today’s paper: someone stole 400,000 toothpicks worth a grand total of $3000.  The mind boggles.  Or at least mine does, and I am going to use this tidbit someday.  So right after you finish bragging to your friends about how you were in on the genesis of the toothpaste/cookie comparison, you can totally wow them by predicting a scene involving a poor but ambitious felon with a house made out of tiny, identical twigs.

Now to the thing I was going to talk about:

As Critique Group Coordinator for the SCBWI Midsouth Region, I’ve gathered a lot of information on how to run a group.  Some guidelines are very touchy-feely, others are rigidly Thou Shalt—most have a tone that suggests that the rules are more important than the content you’re critiquing.  To get away from that, I suggest a simple starting point.  Use the Golden Rule.  Be honest, be civil, and get on with it.  I do, however, have a few more specific suggestions.

Size Quasi-Matters

Any amount of critique is good.  If you have only one partner, that’s vastly better than none.  Two partners is more than twice as good, and three partners is better still.  However, at some point the group gets too big and attention gets divided.  I think four to six is a good number.

Offer Suggestions

When you see something you don’t like in a story, offer a suggestion for how to fix it.  Everyone will learn from that.  And if you can’t come up with a fix, that’s telling too.

Honesty Is The Best Policy

This is really just an extension of my earlier Golden Rule comment, but it’s worth repeating.  You’ve got to give and demand honest feedback.  Go for tough-love.  If someone’s writing is touching your buttons, or doesn’t interest you, or strikes you as weak, or you’re having a bad day, you have to say so.  And you have to demand the same from your group.

Talking Is Not Entirely Forbidden
The actual critique is not a conversation, so keep your defensive reactions to yourself.  But it’s okay to answer the critiquer’s questions in real time if you stay on topic.  Don’t waste time, but by all means, take advantage of the moment.  A quick Q&A can lead to wonderful insights.
Have The Talk

Once you’ve received all your critiques, talk to the group about what does and doesn’t work in your story.  A group discussion leads to a lot of suggestions that you’ll never get in one-on-one conversations.

Get Zen

Learn to separate your needs and habits from the rest of the group.  Yes, everyone has to be involved, but not everyone will have or want to dedicate the same amount of time and energy, nor will they apply their skills in the same way.  Do what you need to do to feel like you did a good job.  If somebody else functions differently, then... they do.  It’s a personality thing, deal with it.

Agree On File Formats And Names
I tell people this and they laugh—until they try to swap files with anyone who uses a different version of Word, or a different word processor, or a different operating system.  Few applications are as compatible as they claim.  Not even pdf works across platforms as well as it should.  But the Rich Text Format (rft) works great.  And while you’re agreeing on a file format, you should also agree on a file naming convention.  For example, you could name your file after your story (Fluffy_Bunny.rtf), and append your name to your critiques of other people’s stories (Rabid_Rodent_Kurt.rtf).

Get Into The Mix

Having a mix of ages, genders, backgrounds, outlooks, writing styles, and genre interests leads to unexpected comments and better story development.  Granted, the group will not have a deep and shared knowledge of a specific genre, but your feedback will not suffer from group-think.

Bonus Thoughts After The Original Post:

Read Multiple Times

Read the material you are critiquing more than once.  The first pass will identify the things that just don't make sense at first blush.  The second reading will make more sense because you know what's coming and have had time to think, so you'll be able to focus on broader story issues and solutions to the problems from the first pass.

Stick With It

I've seen groups form, meet a few times, and then fizzle.  This happens more with picture book groups, where a couple crits can cover the story and its rewrite.  A group gets better with time and experience, so keep meeting and keep sharing.
That’s my take on critique rules, if you have some, please share.