Sunday, January 27, 2013

What Happens Next?

Recently I read an amazing book by Colleen Clayton called What Happens Next.

Let's flip to the back cover:

How can you talk about something you can’t remember?

Before the ski trip, sixteen-year-old Cassidy “Sid” Murphy was a cheerleader, a straight-A student, and a member of a solid trio of best friends. When she ends up on a ski lift next to handsome local college boy, Dax Windsor, she’s thrilled; but Dax takes everything from Sid – including a lock of her perfect red curls – and she can’t remember any of it.

Back home and alienated by her friends, Sid drops her college prep classes and takes up residence in the A/V room with only Corey “The Living Stoner” Livingston for company. But as she gets to know Corey (slacker, baker, total dreamboat), Sid finds someone who truly makes her happy. Now, if she can just shake the nightmares and those few extra pounds, everything will be perfect… or so she thinks.

Humorous and thoughtful, Colleen Clayton’s stunning debut is a moving exploration of one girl’s triumph over tragedy.

I already know WHAT HAPPENS NEXT in this book, but before you go grab a copy and find out for yourself, hang out a minute and see what Colleen had to say about her life and her writing:
Please tell us a little about your everyday life.

My typical 24 hour day looks like this:

5:50-5:51 AM Put my kids off to school (they're teens so mostly it consists of me banging on their doors and yelling "Wake up!" and then going back to bed...)

5:51-9:30 Sleep

9:30-10:00 Lay there and think about getting up.

10:00-10:30 Currently, as of Jan 7th, walk by my Christmas Tree that's still out and wish I had a Harry Potter wand. Check my various networks (email, Twitter, Facebook) while having a hot chocolate. Stalk myself online.

10:30-12:30 Shower then walk dogs in my town (I have a small dog-walking business. The Irish Sitter: "Keeping your furry family members healthy, happy, and home"), hit a drive-thru or gas station for a sandwich and iced coffee. Think about how I'm totally going to hit the gym after work.

12:30 - 3:30 Teach writing classes at Youngstown State.

3:30-3:45 Skip the gym thing and head home.

3:45-3:46 Walk by my Christmas tree again and wish I was Samantha from Bewitched.

3:46-4:00 Check my networks again. Stalk myself some more.

4:00-7:00 Family time, dinner, kids' extracurriculars, homework, and sometimes laundry

7:00-10:00 TV shows (Once Upon A Time, The Walking Dead, Justified, Sons of Anarchy, Copper, Downton Abbey, Wilfred...I watch an embarrassing amount of television).

10:00-2:00 am Hook into one of my Pandora ambient-hipster-new-age-instrumental-folk channels and write my a** off.

2:00 Go to bed.
Besides your main character, who is your favorite character in What Happens Next and why?

Corey, definitely. He's everything a gal would want in a boyfriend. Kind, funny, hot, masculine, and somewhat damaged.
Do you have a favorite scene in What Happens Next?

Sid and Corey's first kiss
Did you always know how What Happens Next would end, or did it change as you wrote it?

The initial ending was very explosive. Like, Law & Order Special Victims Unit explosive. The current ending is much more realistic and touching, I think.
Is there anything you can tell us about how your cover was designed?

It was a total surprise and I absolutely LOVED the silhouette of Sid in winter against a night sky, standing on a road with her arms outstretched. At first, I was hesitant about the color of the title font. But then it grew on me and I understood why the cover designer chose it. It's hopeful and light-hearted which is a nice contrast with the darkness of the silhouette and is in line with the tone of the book...poignant but humorous.
Can you tell us a little about your path to publication?

40 agents rejected this manuscript so it was long, brutal, and frustrating. I generally just walked around feeling like a failure but tried to keep a good face on for my family's sake. I lit candles at various churches for two years, folded my hands, looked up at Jesus and said: "Please God...I want this so bad." Also, I'd cry in the car a lot. I landed an agent in summer while on vacation in Myrtle Beach. The following winter, we sold the manuscript to the first publisher who read it. I went to Lakewood Park, one of the settings in the book, sat on a swing that my main character sits on and looked out at Lake Erie. It was winter and snowy and beautiful. I thanked God and cried some more, only with joy this time.
What’s next for you?

Another book! HOORAY! (***lightens mood***) Same high school but with marginal characters from WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. Untitled. Teaser: "Take Kristen Stewart's ADVENTURELAND, add an episode of HOARDERS, mix in a Heath Ledger-looking biker boy and stir..."
Do you have any marketing advice for other writers?

Twitter, giveaways, Goodreads, blogger outreach, local book signings and then a signing in NYC if you can swing it. Meet in-person with your agent, editor, and PR rep while you're there. The rest is up to the word-of-mouth Gods.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Making Lists

Lists. I love 'em. They guide me, keep me focused, and help me see that I've accomplished something. I typically use grocery lists or to-do-lists. But today I need something different. Planning my daughter's wedding feels like it's using up every brain cell and consuming all my time to the point that I'm neglecting my writing goals. So I'm going to make a list of things I've done in the last two weeks related to my writing goals. A sort of have-done list to counter-balance my hyper self-critical writer's inner voice.

1. I've edited Chapter One in a YA manuscript to the point that I am pleased. Really pleased. (Yes, I know. Next week I'll think it's major C-RR-A-P. But for today I'm happy.)

2. I've pulled out research books and in a few odd moments have poured through them looking for that one kernel of historical information that will play out in this book.

3. I made a chocolate mousse pie. All right. I can see your look of skepticism, but I believe doing anything creative opens the door to other creativity. It's my Rule of Creativity. Since I'd never made a chocolate mousse pie before,  this was an act of creativity.

4. I've written and rewritten Chapter Two. I've got a  Rock of Gibraltar sized piece of back-story that needs to be whittled down to an acorn and placed . . . just . . . so.

5. I've pulled out my paint brushes and started on the walls of my house again. (See Rule of Creativity in #3.)

 6. I bought/pre-ordered much-anticipated books from Katie McGarry, Bethany Griffin, Sarah Dessen, and Stephanie Perkins. I like to keep up on what's out there, especially with my fav authors. This falls under Knowing Your Market.

7. I cleaned my desk. I don't know how it happens, but my desk often looks like a collection site for bits of paper, envelopes, pens, and loose change. I tend to avoid clutter. So when my desk is at its worst, I don't go near it until it gets cleaned.

8. I went to critique group, and even submitted work. If you have a crit group, you know how helpful it can be to get some fresh eyes on your work early on. (If you don't have a crit group, get one!)

9. Okay, this one may seem like a stretch, but it is part of my writing life. I've spent hours working on my local RWA chapter's website. This is a learning process for me as I know little about programming. So I'm pleased with each bit of progress, and thrilled that I still have some hair!

10. I wrote this blog. (#3. Enough said.)

I hope you have methods of checking your progress toward your writing goals, and that you allow yourself to celebrate even the smallest of steps forward.

 Lisa Tapp

Winner of the Level 2 ARC Giveaway!

Thanks to everyone who commented and entered the Level 2 ARC giveaway!  It's great to see familiar faces and new followers - glad you found us!

And the winner is...

Alyssa Susanna!

I already emailed Alyssa and her book is in the mail.  Enjoy!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Keeping it real...

Let me start by saying I don’t have kids—not the two-legged kind, anyway—so I’m by no means an expert on the subject of teenagers. I am, however, realistic. I have eyes and ears. I pay attention. I’m also not that far removed from my youth that I live in a rose-colored fantasy.

I wasn’t what you’d consider a wild child in my teen years, but I wasn’t an angel either. Judge if you must, but I snuck out and got in fights. I lied. I—get ready for it—drank alcohol. 

The majority of YA authors gloss over certain aspects of the normal teenage existence, and for some characters and stories, it works. For my books, that kind of hazy, filmy glimpse of the world wouldn’t fly. My characters would never tolerate anything less than the whole, gritty picture. I know there’s a big debate on whether sex should be included in young adult novels, and personally, I find the entire issue ridiculous. 

As a YA author, I want to connect with teenagers in a real way. I feel this includes respecting them enough to avoid fading to black when it comes to real issues. Guess what? Sex is a real issue for teens. We may not like it, but the truth is, sweeping it under the rug is irresponsible. 

About a month after Touch came out, I received an email from a family friend. The entire letter was an enraged tirade berating me for being so careless. Why? Because close to the end of my book, there’s a sex scene. Yes. A real honest-to-God sex scene.

It’s okay. You can gasp now.

The scene isn’t graphic or remotely pornographic by any definition, nor does it go on for pages and pages. It doesn’t scream of depravity, promote goat sex, or subliminally suggest going out and getting down and dirty with every Edward, Jacob, or Jace, but apparently the subject matter is offensive to some. This woman closed her email stating I should be ashamed of myself, and that her daughter would never be allowed to read or watch anything containing sex. The same daughter—fourteen years old as of a week ago, by the way—recently gave birth to a healthy baby boy.


Scenarios like this are why I find the debate ridiculous. This woman tried to shelter her daughter, and what good did it do? The girl still ended up pregnant at fourteen. What are we trying to shield our children from? Reality? We’re turning sex into a dirty little secret. 

There are exceptions to the rule—there always are—but if you think teenagers never have sex, then I want whatever’s in your water. The truth is, they do have sex. In my opinion—and remember, that’s all this post is—I feel shielding teens from reality harms, rather than protects. We’re making it seem like having sex is something they need to hide, and by feeling that way, they won’t come to us for advice. And if they don’t come to us for advice, we can’t guide them. They’re going to make their own mistakes—and that’s a good thing. Growing up is all about making bad choices and learning from them. 

I’m not an advocate for gratuitous violence, sex, and drugs in books, but I do advocate reality. If it fits the character and isn’t thrown in simply for shock value, then I see nothing wrong with these “taboos”. The reality is, they’re a part of life. 

Equally disturbing as the handful of emails I’ve received about that one sex scene, are the ones I’ve gotten over simply the mention of drugs, alcohol, and cigarette smoking. Seriously? You don’t think teens are doing these things, either? 

While I write fiction, I do live in reality. And the reality of it is, teenagers do have sex. They drink. They experiment with drugs. They smoke. They make bad choices. They’re also smarter than most give them credit for.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Good Storytellers Show (and don't tell ((except sometimes))).

From Wikipedia Show, don't tell is a technique often employed by writers to enable the reader to experience the story through action, words, thoughts, senses, and feelings rather than through the author's exposition, summarization, and description. The goal is not to drown the reader in heavy-handed adjectives, but rather to allow readers to experience the author's ideas by interpreting significant, well-chosen textual details.

I'm going to go out on a limb here, and assume that the readers of this blog are savvy enough to understand this technique and apply it to their own writing. In fact, showing is so ingrained in us, I suspect it's the reason we all agree that synopsis writing is torture sent from the depths of hell. When we write a synopsis we are telling telling telling, slip a little showing in, nope, no room here for that. When I write a synopsis I always imagine I'm in that drive-in scene in Dude Where's My Car where they try to order Chinese food. And then this happens. And then this happens. And then more things happen. And then something explodes. And then, and then, and then...we would never write a story like that. 

But I don't think there is any time in your writing (except maybe the frantic heat of an inspired first draft) that's the wrong time to re-evaluate our understanding of this writing rule and it's use in our writing. 

We all know the difference as readers. And as writers, sometimes we choose to tell things for brevity or to move a story along (and sometimes we get called out on it and have to change it). 

Working with beginning (high school freshman) creative writers has helped me break showing and telling down to its rather confusing core. 
Me- okay your character is depressed. Show me...
Student- (writing furiously) the character keeps their head bowed all the time.
Me- yes, that's the right direction (physical and physiological descriptions are great for showing)
Student- but I'm still telling...I'm telling you that the character keeps their head bowed all the time.
Me- okay, but don't necessarily tell it to me. Show it to me in a scene. All the while thinking, the line, [character's name] never raised his head or looked anyone in the eyes- is a great line. Regardless of the fact that it is telling you something (while showing you something). 
Student- but I'll still be telling their mannerisms, to show you how they are slouching and also show you their state of mind...
Me- yes but... yes see what you mean. Can someone fetch me something with caffeine? 

The scene above is completely fictional, in that my creative writing students never question me that directly, I have book covers posted on the wall, for goodness sake. I'm obviously an expert. (big smiley here). I pieced together that scene by working with a very analytical student and watching the wheels in their brain work. And yes, it comes back to what I just said. (You're always telling something. It comes down to what you're trying to show by telling it to me...)

Here's the thing, though. Except for that isolated case when you think I'm just going to tell this, to keep the story moving along -- which happened to me recently, I was working on my short, GLITTER AND DOOM, which occurs between MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH and DANCE OF THE RED DEATH, and I was already well over the 10k expected word count, so I got to a scene and it basically went... And then they escaped. It seemed like a good idea, but when I read back over it, I had to flesh out the scene. When to we ever think, I'm just going to tell the reader what happened at this point in the story and then move on? 

But, sometimes, in revisions, my editor tells me to show something, and I know how those freshman students feel. I find myself at a complete loss. How do I show this? Why isn't it obvious? 

Here are some examples from Dance...“Good morning.” It’s Will, and I’m thrown into confusion . Everything has changed, and nothing.  (The comment on this line was, show don't tell). I did modify the line to show her confusion. 

Here's an Elliott line from earlier in the story. 

the surprise on Elliott’s face would be comical, if his cheek wasn’t covered in blood.
     “Everyone get back to the airship,” Kent calls. “It just grazed him.”
      Elliott raises his sleeve to his face, now he looks deeply angry. 
I really like this scene, because I enjoy using understatement with Elliott. I like that he's just been shot (grazed, as Kent says) and now he's pissed off. But I got the dreaded show don't tell comment on this line, too. And Elliott's eyes ended up blazing. Which is fine (and probably more visual--Elliott is sort of prone to blazing. Particularly his eyes). 

I'm a pretty obsessive reviser, and I wouldn't have changed either of those lines without prompting. They said what I wanted to say, and I lost sight of showing...which is fine, but if you do it too much, it's obviously a problem.

How do I translate this concept that seems so simple, but occasionally baffles, stumps and infuriates me to students?

To make my life as a teacher easier, I've stopped using the terms show vs. tell. Instead, we focus on STORYTELLING. Obviously, the and then story, and then the boy walks down the street. And then he see's what he thinks is a quarter in the road. And then he picks it up. And then he realizes it's a magical talisman that will give him three wishes...(in all fairness, out of 2 intro to creative writing classes and 50 students, only about 3 would write a story that way, but telling those 3 to show me what's happening doesn't help them...if they knew how to do it, they would...) 

Here's what I do instead. Hopefully it will be helpful to people, whether in their own writing when they hit that--how do I show THIS scene--stage, or helping a beginning writer (omg, don't get me started on my 4th grader's storytelling) or something. We break it down to a mix of the following elements. 

Interior Dialogue

Obviously some of these overlap, and should. In analyzing stories, we typically highlight plot, setting, and interior dialogue. We underline characterization and circle action details. Dialogue we do not mark, because it should be easy to spot (but don't get me started on their stubborn refusal to believe that each speaker gets a new paragraph. Apparently blocks of text are very appealing to some thirteen and fourteen year old individuals...) We do, sometimes, analyze our dialogue to see if it is forwarding plot or characterization, or both, but we don't mark it, which is good because due to school budgetary concerns I only have so many highlighters. :D 

We mix these elements together on our paper. Sometimes we come up with a sort of stew, where the different elements are separate, though connected in the same scene. Sometimes it's more of a puree, where you can see the scene, but it's all blended together. Both can be quite effective, and I can tell you that not writing or saying the phrase, Show, don't tell, over and over, has improved my disposition greatly. I was worried I was just going to have to get some sort of recording device and play a sound byte of me parroting the words over and over. 

In closing, let me say that I have been blessed with my creative writing students. The talent in my classroom this year is tremendous (they are MUCH better than I dreamed of being as a freshman in high school). I count myself lucky to be able to teach them. AND neither of my creative classes happens during the lunch period. After a comment years ago likening motivation to the carrot dangling in front of a rabbit, I came back from lunch for TWO YEARS to find my desk covered with packets of carrots. And that (and the health insurance) is why I keep my day job.