Monday, December 19, 2011

ABNA is coming. Again.

Hey, all. I haven't posted in quite a while, mostly because all my final projects were eating me alive. But, now I'm done with them. And I'm done with my first semester at Hampshire College. So, hooray for me!

You know what's coming soon? (And no, it's not Christmas. Although that's coming soon, too.)

The annual Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. Also known as ABNA. Also known as, "that crazy writing thing Brigid will be ranting about for the next few months."

If you don't know what it is, you can read about it here.

Basically, it's a contest for unpublished and self-published authors. You need to have written a complete novel between 50,000 and 150,000 words. You also need to write a pitch. There are various stages of the contest––starting with a judgment of the pitch, then the first 5000 words, then of the entire manuscript (assuming you get that far in the contest).

So, if you've written a novel and you're not (traditionally) published yet, it's worth checking out. Even if you don't get too far in the contest, you can meet a lot of other writers on the forums and get advice from them. It's a terrific learning experience about the publishing industry. And if  you do make it far in the contest, you get a review from Publishers Weekly... which is pretty dang cool.

Oh yeah. And if you win, you get a publishing deal with Penguin and a $15,000 advance. And that's also cool. But, you know ... the chances of getting that prize are 1/5000.

So, yeah. I'm entering this thing for the third year in a row. I plan to do what I've done for the past two years: frantically edit my manuscript throughout the remainder of December and January, until the deadline (which is January 23rd). Hopefully I'll get some feedback of some sort. I'll probably edit some more. Then I'll spend the summer sending out queries and most likely drowning in rejection letters. HOORAY!

This year I'm entering Unraveling, which I finished writing in February. So, we'll see what happens.

Anyone else entering? Or thinking of entering?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Review: The Girl Who Owned a City (Graphic Novel)

Hello, friends. I've decided I'd try posting a review for once. After all, I review a lot of YA books, so I might as well share some of my reviews with all of you. If anyone wants to see more reviews on my blog, I'd be happy to post more.

Here's a link to the original review on Goodreads, which has a few more spoilers in it. But I'll post the totally spoiler-free review here. So, enjoy.

Title: The Girl Who Owned a City (The Graphic Novel)
Author: Dan Jolley, Illustrator: Joelle Jones
Release Date: April 2012 (ARC provided by NetGalley)

My rating: 3/5 Stars

So, after I finished reading this, I saw on the last page that it had been based on a novel from 1975. I have not read the novel or ever heard of it, so I don't know what the similarities and differences between the original and graphic novels are. Whether the flaws in the graphic novel are in any way the fault of O.T. Nelson––the original author––I don't know. 

Anyway, to briefly summarize the plot:

The Girl Who Owned a City is the story of a grim, futuristic world in which a mysterious virus kills all the adults and turns them into piles of dust. Our protagonist is a girl named Lisa Nelson who is determined to find and protect as many surviving children as she can. But she is rivaled by another gang, led by a boy named Tom Logan who wants to steal her power and form some kind of dictatorship over all the other kids.

I obtained a digital version of this book via NetGalley, which is like my new best friend in website form. After I downloaded it I decided to look through it––so of course, I ended up reading the entire thing in one sitting.

This is an exciting and fast-paced read, and it's fairly short. So, it's something I would recommend if you were looking for something quick and fun. And what with the current dystopian craze, I could see this being a successful graphic novel.

Lisa is a likable main character, although I'm not sure how realistically she's portrayed. I don't think her age is ever defined, but supposedly she's younger than 12. (Otherwise, she would be a pile of dust.) I spent the whole book assuming she was around 14 or 15, because she seemed to be acting a little more like a teenager. Then, of course, I realized that wasn't possible. Granted, she seems to have gone through a lot so I wouldn't be surprised if she'd matured early. But regardless of her age, Lisa is easy to relate to. The reader can feel her stress and frustration as she tries to keep everything together and keep everyone safe. 

However, I thought the other characters could have been fleshed out more. At least the relationship between Lisa and her little brother Todd was pretty nicely done, and Lisa's friend Craig was also somewhat interesting. But in the short span of the book, I didn't feel like I quite knew most of the characters. Most of them just seemed to be there to be Lisa's little helpers and not to have personalities of their own.

As for the plot ... It's not the most original thing in the world. Basically, this book is Lord of the Flies, Gone, and Maximum Ride combined. Once you've read Lord of the Flies, you've pretty much read all the books with the "Oh no! All the adults are gone!" plot, so you can probably already guess what this book is like. As for the similarities to Gone (by Michael Grant), it has the same premise where all the adults conveniently just "disappear" and there is only a vague explanation as to why. (More on that in a minute.) I guess I'm kind of stretching it with the comparison to Maximum Ride, but the whole time I was reading this, I kept thinking that Lisa is pretty much the same character as Max. She has the same tough-girl attitude where she doesn't want anyone to help her, and she wants to handle everything by herself, etc. And it didn't help that Craig kind of has a Fang-ish attitude with his whole "Let's just forget everyone else and live by ourselves!" attitude.

Anyway, as I was saying, I have the same issue with this book as I had with Gone by Michael Grant: the reason for the adults disappearing makes little sense to me. I believe that in Gone, the author blamed it on a nuclear chemical spill, which I found difficult to understand. In The Girl Who Owned a City, this is the only explanation the author makes: "for some strange reason, the sickness is not fatal to children." 

You know, for once I would like to see one of these "post-apocalyptic-worlds-where-there-are-only-children-left" books where there is actually a believable explanation as to why all the adults are gone. Not only that, but it would make more sense if the adults didn't just "vanish." It would make more sense if it was like the Black Plague all over again, with rotting corpses all over the place. Disgusting? Well, yes. But far more realistic. I can't bring myself to believe that there would ever be a disease that would literally just turn people into dust.

The originality and lack-of-explanation issues aside, I think my biggest problem with this book was the lack of emotional reactions in the characters. At the beginning, Lisa informs us that it's only been a few weeks since the plague killed all the adults. Yet, none of the kids seem extremely upset. They all focus solely on surviving and don't seem to remember anything that happened before they were left by themselves. You don't have little kids crying for their parents all over the place. I can't recall any point where Lisa and Todd had a conversation about their mom and dad. It was like the author was so focused on making the story "kickass" that he completely ignored the realistic, emotional impact of the story. I understand if the kids are in shock or in denial or something, but at least a little more effort could have been made. I mean, in such a horrible situation, I really wanted to know how the characters felt. How on earth would it feel to see your own parents turn into dust? Because I'm pretty sure it would be devastating.

I swear I'm almost done ranting now. There's only one more thing I have to criticize, and that's the ending. I'm not going to specify too much so as not to spoil it. But in my humble opinion, it was a total cop-out and I was kind of disappointed.

So, in conclusion, I think this book had some potential in its premise, but there were a lot of issues with its execution. However, I still found it enjoyable. It was an easy, fun read and something that could keep you entertained for an hour or two. Even though the characters aren't totally fleshed-out, at least they're likable.

And if all else fails, the illustrations are pretty cool.

Friday, November 25, 2011

What order do you write in?

I know a lot of other writers who have no problem writing stories out of chronological order. And I understand the benefits of doing this. I get stuck a lot of the time, and instead of writing future scenes like I possibly should, I either force myself through the slow parts or I give up.

Obviously, the whole "giving up" thing can lead to problems––mostly the guilt that I abandon so many of  my poor little stories. But on the other hand, I can't seem to force myself to write out of order. I do plan ahead as I write, I just don't want to "skip" anything as I'm actually writing.

Of course, just as there are benefits to writing out of order, I think there are benefits to writing in chronological order as well. My fear is that, if I didn't write in chronological order, I would only write the "interesting" parts of the story––the main events and whatnot––and skip over everything in between. Sure, the in-between stuff can be kind of dull, but I also think it's important for creating tension and building character relationships, etc. I guess I feel like, if I don't force myself through the less interesting parts, I don't know my characters well enough to be sure of how they would respond in the most disastrous situations––if that makes sense. I find that my characters usually turn out differently from what I initially expect, and if I wrote out of order, maybe I would miss out on that.

So, what does everyone else think? Do you write in or out of chronological order? What do you think are the costs and benefits of each?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What I'm Listening To (As I write my NaNo)

Hello everyone!
I hope everyone doing NaNoWriMo is having fun & success. (Only a week left! Ahhhh!)
Since I haven't posted anything in a while, I thought I'd share with you guys some songs/lyrics that have inspired me as I'm writing. Whether it's the lyrics or the moods of these songs, these are all songs that have helped me survive NaNo so far. As you can see, they all involve some kind of "dreamy" mood or the mention of dreams ... I can't help it. I'm so ... literal.

So, yeah. Here it is. My playlist for Sweet Sorrow:

1. "Set Apart This Dream" by Flyleaf

Close your eyes pretty girl
'Cause it's easier when you brace yourself
Set your thoughts on a world far off
Where we only cry from joy

2. "On Top Of The World" by Boys Like Girls

Let's spend tonight on top of the world
We can do anything
We can be anything
I'll meet you tonight on top of the world
As real as it seems
You're only in my dreams

3. "Blinding" by Florence + the Machine

Seems that I have been held
In some dreaming state
A tourist in the waking world
Never quite awake

4. "Painting Flowers" by All Time Low

When I wake up
The dream isn't done
I want to see your face
And know I made it home
If nothing is true
What more can I do?
I am still painting flowers for you

5. "Keep the Car Running" by Arcade Fire

The same city where I go when I sleep
You can't swim across a river so deep
They know my name 'cause I told it to them
But they don't know where
And they don't know 
When it's coming

6. "Ghost" by Blue Foundation

He's burned down many a bridge
And he's scared of walking in the dark
It hurts when the rain falls on his skin

Oh he is worn out from marching
And he's forgotten for what he's searching

7. "Don't Wake Me Up" by The Hush Sound

You came to me
In seamless sleep
Slipped right in
Behind my eye
On the back of my mind
We swam a sea
Of pretty sights and chandelier skies
I swore I could feel you breathe
It was all so real to me

The light had slipped through the window
The morning ripped you away, oh

8. "Where the Fence is Low" by LIGHTS

Each shadow I walk
To the ends of the forest
And the shape of the hands
That break the ground for us
The fear that contains
That binds like a blessing
I've been here before
Then again I'm guessing

9. "Misguided Ghosts" by Paramore

Misguided ghosts,
Traveling endlessly,
The ones we trusted the most,
Pushed us far away,
And there's no one road,
We should not be the same,
But I'm just a ghost,
And still they echo me

10. "Unleashed" by Epica

Where was I meant to be?
I'm feeling lost in a dream,
Long for the day I can be myself

11. "Sweet Dreams" by The Eurhythmics

Sweet dreams are made of this
Who am I to disagree
I travel the world and the seven seas
Everybody's looking for something

12. "Imaginary" by Evanescence

Don't say I'm out of touch
With this rampant chaos––your reality
I know well what lies beyond my sleeping refuge
The nightmare I built my own world to escape

13. "Trust Me" by The Fray

Looking for something I've never seen
Alone and I'm in between
I found a friend or should I say a foe
Said there's a few things you should know
We don't want you to see
We come and we go
Here today, gone tomorrow
Take it from me
We don't give sympathy
You can trust me, trust nobody

14. "Leave My Body" by Florence + the Machine

I'm gonna be released from behind these lines
And I don't care whether I live or die
And I'm losing blood, I'm gonna leave my bones

15. "Somewhere Only We Know" by Keane

I came across a fallen tree
I felt the branches of it looking at me
Is this the place we used to love?
Is this the place that I've been dreaming of?

16. "Help I'm Alive" by Metric

I tremble
They're gonna eat me alive
If I stumble
They're gonna eat me alive
Can you hear my heart beating like a hammer?

Well, that's all folks!
Anyone else have any particular songs that have helped them through NaNo so far?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Collage Brainstorms

Hey guys. This post is going to be very short and sweet because I'm a busy gal and I need to get back to NaNo-ing. (Or whatever the word is. The point is, I'm working on my NaNo at the moment and I'm trying to reach the magical 50k mark today. And I still have quite a bit to go. So ... wish me luck!)

This is a fun idea I got from my friend Ally's blog, NOVEL IDEAS (which is a fabulous blog, by the way, and you should all read it). She probably explains it better than I do, but the basic idea is that you search around on the Internet for pictures that represent ideas/places/characters/etc. in your story. I tried it out and found it quite fun and motivational. I've always found images to be inspiring, so I think this is a tool that could really help me in the future. (I already make book covers for my own stories, so this is kind of similar to that.)

So, here it is! My first collage brainstorm. It's for Sweet Sorrow, my NaNo novel. :)

(You can click on it to make it bigger.)

I found photos on deviantArt (so, they're not my photos!) and edited the collage using Picasa. (Picasa is a free photo editing program on Google, and it has a cool collage-making tool.)

So, what do y'all think? Is this an activity you think would be helpful? If anyone else makes collages, I'd love to see them! :)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

It has begun. How will you survive?

So, it's the second day of NaNoWriMo. If you don't know what that is after I've explained it a billion times ... just read the post before this one.

I know a lot of people are hesitant to participate because the challenge is intimidating––but really, there's nothing to lose even if you don't reach the word goal. Trust me, I'm busy as heck. I'm always busy. But I'm still trying to find time in my hectic schedule to work on my novel. So you should try it, too. You might be surprised by how much you get done! And no matter how much or how little you get done, it's better than writing nothing at all.

Anyway, to those of you who have decided to participate, I've decided to put together a list of survival tips, being an experienced Wrimo myself. Hopefully this will help. :)

8 NaNoWriMo Survival Tips (In No Particular Order):

1. Write crap. Seriously. What you write is probably going to suck, and that's okay. Don't delete words. Don't think too hard about what you're writing. Just let go of all your inhibitions and write whatever comes into your mind. It doesn't matter if your prose is cluttered with filler or if you keep repeating yourself. It's all about getting out that first draft. It's about quantity and not quality. If you want quality, you can edit in December (or, you know, whenever). Write rants, internal monologues, dialogue, whatever. Write anything, and don't be too concerned with your plot.

2. Keep the NaNoWriMo website open at all times. Heck, make it your homepage for the month. I at least always have it open in one tab, so that every time I open my web browser, I'm reminded of what I'm supposed to be doing. That way, if I'm about to get on Facebook, I always get a wake-up call.

3. Get on Write or Die. This website is a life saver. It always keeps me focused. Enough said. Linkage:

4. Have writing buddies. Doing NaNo alone is a sad, sad thing. Just explore the NaNo forums for anyone else who wants a writing buddy. If it's someone who writes at about the same pace as you do, that's ideal. Challenge other Wrimos to word wars. Adding a little bit of competition does wonders for motivating you.

5. Get ahead of schedule. Don't just stop at 1,667 words every day. If you get there and you still have ideas, keep going. I like to get at least a little bit ahead every day, because you never know when there's going to be a day when you'll have no time to write at all.

6. But remember to take breaks, too. Don't expect to sit down and write all 1,667 words in one sitting, or your poor brain is going to burn up. I'll usually write for 15-30 minutes and then take a break for a few minutes to think about what I'm going to write next. It's best to write in chunks over the day. That way you have time to think––and thinking is just as important as writing.

7. Exercise your wrists. I know one big problem I have that prevents me from writing is when my wrists start to hurt like crazy. I highly recommend doing exercises like these ones whenever you take a break from writing. You don't want to get carpal tunnel!

8. Find a song that really inspires you. For me, that song is "Blinding" by Florence + the Machine. It fits the mood and the story of my novel perfectly. Whenever I listen to it I feel excited about writing and that helps a lot to motivate me. I recommend finding a song that fits a particular tone/theme/character in your novel that will excite you about writing. Or it doesn't necessarily have to be a song. It could be a poem, quote, whatever. Just come up with a little reminder that will inspire you every day. :)

Hopefully that helps!

Now I should get off Blogger and return to writing ... *Waves*

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Why You Should Do NaNoWriMo

It's October 1st. That means two important things.

1. It's my birthday. I'm nineteen today. I guess I'll have to change the name of this blog in a year ...
2. There's only one month until NaNoWriMo.

I expect that #2 causes a variety of reactions:

--> Haha ... What?

If you had the third reaction, I'm here to explain.

NaNoWriMo = National Novel Writing Month

NaNoWriMo takes place every year during November. During this month, writers take on the challenge to write at least the first 50,000 words of a novel, from scratch, in a month. You're not allowed to start until 12:00 AM on November 1st, except for outlining and other planning. It's okay if you don't finish the novel by the end of the month ... You just have to hit the 50,000-word mark before 12:00 AM on December 1st. If you get there, you win! (Side note: I've had to explain this to a lot of people but NaNoWriMo is not a contest. It's a challenge. There are perks to participating and to winning, but no one judges your work. It's all about writing those 50,000 words.) For more detailed rules, visit the NaNoWriMo website.


1. 50,000 looks like a pretty intimidating number, but it's not as bad as you may think. It's 1,667 words a day, which is about two and a half pages. That might still seem like a lot, but you'll be surprised by how the words add up when you really get into writing something, or when you're writing whenever you have a spare moment. I usually write first thing in the morning and right before I go to bed, and at random times during the day if I have time. If you disperse those words throughout the day, they'll add up quickly.

2. Like I said, there are perks. For example, if you win, you can get a free proof copy of your manuscript from CreateSpace. Here is me with my lovely CreateSpace proof of Walking Shadow:

Last year, programs such as Scrivener and Storyist––which are programs designed specifically for writers––provided free trials for NaNo participants. I don't know if the same exact thing is happening this year, but I know there are always benefits to participating! If anything, you'll at least get the bragging rights if you win. ;) So, it's worth checking out.

3. You learn to write without inhibitions. When you're concentrating on getting the words down, you focus less on editing and censoring yourself, and you'll be surprised at what you'll come up with. Yes, you'll write a lot of filler crap––but some of that filler will still have useful descriptions or ideas in it. It doesn't matter if your first draft is a piece of junk; that's what editing is for, and you can edit later. NaNo is about getting out that first draft, however crappy it may be. When you have a first draft, you at least have an idea of what you're working with.

4. Best-selling novels have been born during NaNoWriMo. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, and Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins are all examples. So even if the rough draft you write during NaNo is very ... well, rough, you know you have the potential to sell it someday!

5. Because I said so.

So, what are you doing? Get planning, you fools!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Is It Wise To Criticize?

Greetings, earthlings. I apologize for not blogging in over a month. I was very busy packing for college and starting classes at college, and doing other college-y things. (And college is awesome, by the way.)

Now, I should probably be writing (since I haven't in ... uh ... forever) but my brain is clogged up right now. So, I'm going to write about a subject that's been cooking at the back of my head for a long time. It's a topic I'm always nervous to bring up ... and that's authors criticizing other authors.

Here's the thing. I love writing. You all know that. I love reading as much as I love writing. And when I read books, I review them. I do my reviews on Goodreads, and they're not meant to be particularly professional. I write them for fun. Furthermore, I feel like I should share my thoughts on every book I read. I spent my time reading those books, so why not review them?

Obviously, I don't like everything I read. Sometimes my reviews are negative. However, I don't mean to make any ad hominem attacks on any authors. I never say an author is stupid or fat just because I didn't like his/her book. But if I don't connect with a character in a story, or there's a plot twist I find illogical, I'm going to say so. I do try to find something positive in everything I read, and I always point it out in my reviews, but I can't pretend I love everything.

About a year ago, I posted a review on Goodreads that was pretty dang negative. As hard as I tried, I could find very little I liked about this book, besides that the prose was okay. I found it illogical, boring, sexist ... I could go on and on. So, I said so, giving examples to back up my thoughts. That is, it's not like I wrote some review that said, "LoL dis book is lyk sooo stoopid. I H8ed it. lolz." It was pretty specific.

Yet, soon there were a bunch of people leaving comments on the review along the lines of, "How can you be so harsh? How would you feel if someone wrote a review like this for your book?"

Well, the thing is, people have said negative things about my writing. Very negative things. I've been told my stories are too emo, too clichéd, too boring. I've been told my characters are stupid and unlikable. I've been told that I can't structure a sentence properly. This criticism came from other writers, from agents, from Publishers Weekly, you name it.

I don't love getting scathing feedback. It can be overwhelming, especially when I start to realize I might have to totally scrap something and start over. But, although it's never a warm, fuzzy feeling, you learn to live with it if you're a writer. If you never received criticism, your art would never develop. In the end, I'm always grateful for feedback––no matter how harsh it is––because it pushes me to work harder and get better at what I love to do.

Of course, the typical troll reaction to that argument is, "Oh, so you're just bitter because this author is published and you're not. Well, if you were any good at writing, you would be published too. And this book wouldn't be published if it wasn't good. So, nyah nyah."

Right. Well.

I'm not going to deny that at times, I feel bitter. When you work so hard on your own writing, and you read a book that doesn't tickle your fancy, it can be frustrating. You get that feeling like, "Why is this person published and I'm not?"

Being a writer, you get extra picky. You know it's important to craft a good plot, to develop your characters well, to show and not tell, to avoid horrible grammar mistakes, etc. And when you see these errors in published books, it's hard not to notice them. So personally, when I review books, I point out the flaws, just as I would do if another, unpublished writer asked me for an honest critique.

Yet, there are those who believe that honesty among writers is a bad thing. I've read numerous blog posts that say authors should have nothing but praise for each other. They say we're all here to hold hands and support each other, and that's it. In my opinion, these people are more concerned with karma than with developing as artists. They don't give negative reviews because they don't want to receive them.

But what if, one day, you have to meet the author you criticized face-to-face? Well, I can't deny that such a situation might be awkward, but on the other hand, I think it's best to be honest. I consider my reviews to be constructive, and I treat published and unpublished writers equally. In both cases, my criticisms are meant to help and not to hurt anyone's feelings. If an author were to stumble upon my review of his/her book, I hope it would give him/her something to think about. I know that every review I've received, no matter how scathing, has at least given me something to think about improving in my work. If an author is professional enough, I think he/she should know how to find the helpful hints in negative reviews, and to not get angry at every person who criticizes him/her. Because––let's face it––if you're an author, you're going to get criticized. You're going to get bashed. You're going to get ripped apart. If other authors hold back their negative comments, it's not going to change that fact.

So, fellow writers, what do you think? Do you ever write critical reviews––and if you do, do you think they're helpful or harmful?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Interview with Published Teen Author, Steph Bowe!

Say hello to Steph Bowe! She's the 17-year-old author of the YA novel Girl Saves Boy, which was published in New Zealand and Australia by Text Publishing in September 2010. You can check out her blog (Hey! Teenager of the Year) for more info.

Steph was kind enough to answer some questions for me. So instead of going on my usual rant about my publishing fails, I bring you the story of a teenager who has actually been published. I know you will all be as impressed and inspired by her achievements as I am! :) 

Brigid: When did you first know you wanted to be an author?
Steph: I've always loved writing, since I was really little, and I've wanted to be a published author since I was about seven. I think it was less about accolades or money or anything like that, and more about a love of stories and wanting to share them with other people.

Brigid: What authors inspire you most?
Steph: There are so many! Melina Marchetta and John Green are probably the main two - I am amazingly envious of their brilliant writing and success.

Brigid: Do you have a specific writing process? Or do you "wing it" and see what happens?
I make it up as I go along. Generally I have a clear idea of my characters, a few major conflicts and the beginning and end in my head before I start writing, but they might change as I write. I love that writing is such an organic thing and you can incorporate everything and go off on tangents - this is your own world to freely play around with, why limit yourself?

Brigid: I know writers sometimes have trouble remembering how they got ideas ... Do you remember what first inspired you to write Girl Saves Boy?

Steph: I don't think I ever have specific inspirations - I always have thousands of tiny ideas inspired by things I see and read and hear and experience all swimming around in my head and sometimes growing into plots and stories.

Brigid: When did you start trying to get Girl Saves Boy published? How long did it take before you got a "yes" from an agent?

Steph: I started sending queries in August of '09. I had a few different offers of representation, and signed with an agent in September. I was insanely lucky.

Brigid: Has getting published changed your perspective of writing at all?

Steph: It's made it a lot harder. Instead of just writing for my own enjoyment, I'm always thinking about whether my agent/editor/readers will like it, whether it will sell, is it as good as the last book... there's lots of new and different things to take into consideration, and it's a lot easier to put off writing in the fear that you won't write something that's good enough.

Brigid: What are your other interests besides writing? And do those interests influence what you write?

Steph: Writing and schoolwork take up so much of my time right now, I hardly have any time for anything else. I do read a lot, and I enjoy photography, acting, dancing, cooking and spending time with my friends and family. I think everything a person experiences influences them, so obviously if that person is a writer that will show through in what they write. I don't think I can specifically point out anything I do in my real life that's affected what I write, but I may be able to do that in a few years time (I certainly know that I keep accidentally adding foods I eat to books as foods my characters eat...).

Brigid: What writing projects are you working on right now?

Steph: I am in the midst of revising my second book... and sneakily writing bits and pieces of books three and four (all standalone novels)... I don't want to jinx them, so I'm being deliberately vague... How mysterious!

Brigid: What is the most challenging part of writing for you?

Major edits! What a nightmare. Trying to figure out how to fix a book you've already spent so much time working on is pretty difficult.

Brigid: What advice do you have for other teens who are trying to get published?

Steph: Just go for it, don't let your self-doubt or anyone else's negative words get you down. Write first and foremost because you love writing and stories. Get as much feedback from others as possible, and learn to improve your writing. Send your work out there. If you aren't published as a teenager, that doesn't matter - you're still a success. Everything you write and submit and everything you experience is contributing to the writer you will become. I have faith in you! Just remember to do lots and lots of writing. That's the main thing.

Thank you, Steph! :)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Letter To My Novel

I've been querying again lately, and it's made me feel a bit ... hopeless. So, to cope with my stress, I wrote a letter to my novel. If you are currently feeling similar feelings of frustration and/or disappointment, I suggest doing this to make yourself feel better. Not only was this fun to do, but it also made me realize why I fell in love with my novel in the first place. And because of this, I feel more willing to stick with it. :) Enjoy.

Dear Walking Shadow,

I remember the first time I became aware of your existence. It was in the middle of English class in 10th grade. I barely knew anything about you then; I only caught a glimpse of you in the corner of my mind's eye. However, your mysterious nature intrigued me. At first I thought you were like all my other ideas; you would wander around in my head for a while, and maybe we'd have a brief relationship, but ultimately we would go our separate ways and forget all about each other. But then I found that I couldn't stay away from you. When I wasn't spending time with you, I was thinking about you. I daydreamed about you in class. I couldn't sleep at night. It felt like you were there with me no matter where I went. You were so new and exciting. My friends loved you. Even my parents approved of you. I was starting to think you were The One.

But then, I began to see your flaws. It was inevitable, as it is with all long-term relationships. You were too boring, too clichéd, too long. Yet, I stuck with you and tried to help you deal with your imperfections.

Alas! Then the literary agents came along. They confirmed all my fears about you and more. Our relationship began to fall apart. For months, I didn't even want to look at you. I had relationships with other stories, but they weren't quite the same. At last, I shyly approached you again.

Although you have changed a lot in the past few months, I still feel us becoming more distant from each other. Some days, I admit, I want to give up on you completely.

And so, I have written this letter as a reminder to myself, that on all those miserable days when I think there is no hope for you, I am being a total idiot. Thousands of authors have suffered relationships like ours and somehow managed to make it through. Plus, even if you're not perfect, you've improved quite a bit. I mean, look at you! You've lost more than 70,000 words. You look good.

No matter what stupid things I've said, I still love you and I always will. I can always help you to get better. I'm still in this if you are.


Monday, July 4, 2011

The Next Harry Potter?

So, I finished reading the final Harry Potter book yesterday. I know, I'm behind on the times. Everyone and their grandma and their dog read Harry Potter before me. But that's not the point.

I wanted to point out something that annoys me about YA books. Don't get me wrong––I love YA. I read it, I write it. It's wonderful. What bugs me is the popularity contest.

High school never ends, eh? It's like how one day, the most popular girl in school walks in wearing a green hat, and everyone says, "Oh, she's wearing a green hat and she's popular. Maybe if I wear a green hat, I'll be popular too!" And before you know it, everyone is wearing a green hat, so it's not new or exciting anymore.

With books, it's the same way. After the success of Twilight, everyone started writing vampire books and other such paranormal romances. After the success of The Hunger Games, everyone started writing dystopia books. And in both cases, the trends got terribly old. (I wasn't old enough to be reading YA when Harry Potter first came out, but I'm sure there were a lot of wizard rip-off stories as well.)

I read a Wall Street Journal article about James Frey that really pissed me off, in which he said something along the lines of, "Someone has to write the next Harry Potter. Maybe it will be me." Okay, okay. Just stop there. There are so many things wrong with this picture.

First off, James Frey doesn't even write his own books. He uses (and abuses) ghostwriters. "His" YA book, I Am Number Four, is part of a plot to make unknown writers crank out books for him, so he can then market them to movie producers––which is why the book and movie versions of I Am Number Four came out at practically the exact same time. (I didn't see the movie, but I read the book. And yes, it was terrible.) Did he make a lot of money? Oh, sure. But to compare himself to J.K. Rowling ... ? Ugh. I just want to throw up. (If you don't know this already, Frey is also the author of A Million Little Pieces, a notorious memoir which turned out to be fictional. And he lied to Oprah. So, shows what a great guy he is.)

Has Harry Potter made a lot of money? Oh, heck yes. Tons and tons. Have Twilight and Hunger Games made a lot of money? Yes and yes.

I'm not talking about the quality of any of these books, or my personal enjoyment or opinion of them, but regarding the authors ... None of them were trying to set up an enormous money-making scheme. They were all authors who just wanted to write and share their stories––and, beyond their control, they became wildly popular.

But being popular and making money definitely don't automatically put you on the same level as Harry Potter. It ticks me off when people say Twilight and/or The Hunger Games are "the next Harry Potter", because the three series really aren't comparable. And not just because Harry Potter is evidently the most popular of the three. It's also that Harry Potter is a much more beloved series––and I suspect it will remain that way, while the craze over Twilight and The Hunger Games will probably fade over time. J.K. Rowling put a lot of time and effort into her series, which involved very careful planning, world-building, and detailing. It's rare that a YA book series is so critically acclaimed and reaches such a wide audience of people––and that its popularity can remain just as strong for more than a decade. If any YA author hopes to achieve such success, he/she will have to work just as hard. But more than that, he/she will have to be just as original.

What's sad is that so many YA authors seem to sit down and think, "Okay, what can I write that will make me more popular?" And when they struggle to be more popular, it shows. (Like how, when all the girls at school start wearing green hats, they don't look cool ... They look like copy cats.) As I said before, authors like J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, and Suzanne Collins did not intend to be trendsetters. It just worked out that way. They wrote stories because they wanted to, not because they were trying to imitate someone else, which is what made their books appealing to so many people.

So what I'm saying is, don't write something just because you think people will like it. Write your own story. Write what you love. Write about characters you care about. You have to be new and daring. You have to be the first girl to walk into school wearing a green hat.

Or else, well ... You're just going to look stupid.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

You know you're a writer when ...

- In your dreams you think, "This would make an awesome story." (Although usually the dream is about something stupid, like talking zebras.)

- You look in bookstores/libraries for the place on the bookshelf where your book would be if it were published. (At my local library it'd be between a book called A Taste for Quiet and a collection of short stories called Gothic!)

- You say to your sister, "I need a stupid boyfriend name and a bunch of gay guy names" and she automatically gives suggestions without questioning.

- You're talking to your writer friend in public and say something like, "I don't know, I might kill him. I just have to think of a good way to do it." And then you realize the people around you don't know you're talking about a fictional person.

- When someone asks you, "So how's that book you're reading?" you give them a long speech analyzing the plot and characters that they really don't want to hear.

- ... But when someone asks you, "How's that book you're writing?" you respond by banging your head against the closest inanimate object––preferably against something large and solid like a wall or a table. Or you burst into tears. Or you do both.

- Whenever you watch movies/TV you're always on the lookout for actors/actresses who look like your characters.

- Your computer is full of documents containing stories, outlines, and character inventories.

- Everything inspires you––people, places, songs, books, movies, photographs, paintings, plants, animals ... Heck, LIFE inspires you!

- You write because you exist.

So, tell me. How else do you know you're a writer? :)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Editing. It's all about letting go.

I used to think editing was just about fixing typos, adding in a few more details here and there, and calling it a day. Ha!

If anything, I've been taking things out of Walking Shadow, not adding them in. Originally, the manuscript was nearly 170,000 words long. Now it's a little under 98,000 words. That means I've taken out approximately 72,000 words, which is about the entire length of Unraveling (the shortest novel I've written). And I'm still word-chopping. Yikes.

I used to think a bigger word count would make me look more impressive or something. The truth is, a huge word count makes you look unprofessional. It means you're afraid of editing and letting go.

But you have to let go. You have to kill your darlings.

Last year I tried querying Walking Shadow when it was still nearly 150,000 words long. (Oh God, what was I thinking?) The first time an agent suggested cutting it down to 100,000 words, I just about had a heart attack. Cut out 50,000 words? When I'd already cut out 20,000? NO WAY!

But then I started reading through my manuscript again, and I realized there was a lot I could cut out––adverbs, dialogue tags, the hideous word "that", needless descriptions, telling instead of showing, statements of the obvious, etc. After going through the whole thing again, I managed to cut it down to about 99,000 words.

And I'm still going. Recently I've been taking out 300-word chunks of my manuscript and chopping them down to about 250 words. This forces me to refine every sentence, reshaping them so that they have the same meaning but in fewer words.

But editing is more than fixing typos and cutting out unneeded words ...

This morning I cut an entire scene. It was a good 1,500 words or so. I'd been debating over whether to cut it out or not for a long time––because I always thought it was a fairly well-written scene ... but, well, it was a scene where the main character starts cutting herself, and in the end I decided it was too melodramatic and clichéd. Not only that, but it seemed uncharacteristic of her since she was kind of doing it over a boy, and I didn't want her to seem all whiney and pathetic. There are too many of those girls in YA literature these days, and I don't want Cassandra to be one of them.

So that's something else important to think about when editing: creating meaning. What are you trying to say? What message are you conveying?

Nothing is going to be perfect the first time you write it. The first time you write something, it's just like talking; you write whatever comes to mind. And like the brilliant Lemony Snicket once said, "If writers wrote as carelessly as some people talk, then al;dkfj;dsf;jsd."

Okay, that didn't really have anything to do with anything. I just really, really like that quote.

Anyway, if you want to read a longer rant of mine about editing, you can check out this older post.

Anyone else have editing tips and/or methods? Please share!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

First Page Contest with Victoria Marini

So, here's what's up.

Fellow blogger and YA writer Shelley Watters is hosting a contest on her blog, "Is It Hot In Here Or Is It This Book?". The idea is, writers submit the first 250 words of their manuscripts, and the entries will be judged by literary agent Victoria Marini of the Gelfman Schneider Literary Agency. The winner will receive a full request from Victoria, as well as a partial critique. Victoria will also select runners-up, who will receive partial requests.

Awesome, right?

Full contest rules are here.

As part of the contest, writers are posting their entries on their blogs for critique. So, without further ado, here is my entry. Critique away!
Walking Shadow
YA Fantasy
99,000 words

Everything is a lie––their faces, their words, the books on their desks, the clothes they wear. It's a barrier as fragile as a bubble. Underneath it, there is only emptiness.

I know their fears, their secrets, the feelings they hide. I know their loneliness; it emanates from their minds, building from a whisper to a murmur to a scream that ricochets around in my skull.

One of the shrieking souls is my own. I may not be normal, but I'm still human. I share their pain. On the inside, we're all screaming.

But I've learned that I'm different. I accept the scathing mess of words their minds throw at me: freak, girl, freak, witch, goth, freak. I don't care what they think, as long as they never know the truth. They can think I dyed my hair blood-red, that my reflective eyes are contacts. They can think I wear long sleeves because I cut myself, even though I'm hiding something very different from the furious red slashes they'd expect.

I don't blame them. It's human to make judgments. If I had a choice, I would make them, too.

Instead, I have to know everything about everyone––who hates who, who's sleeping with who, who's doing drugs, whose parents hit them. Thoughts and dreams and memories and fears all burst inside my head like fireworks … and someday, I won't be able to take it anymore.

I never asked for this. I sure as hell never wanted it. My whole life, I've kept it inside. And it's killing me, crawling through my veins like a disease.

How long before it takes over––before it takes me, like it took my mother?

Friday, June 24, 2011

What I learned from Query Shark

In case you've never heard of it, Query Shark is a wonderful blog created by literary agent Janet Reid. The idea is, writers send in their query letters, and some of them get critiqued on the blog. A literary agent critiquing query letters, you say?! Yes. Very useful stuff. It's an extremely helpful and eye-opening blog.

Ms. Reid suggests reading through all the posts––which I did, and learned a lot of things about queries I didn't know. I recommend looking through the blog and reading all the posts if you have the time. But I figured that most people didn't have the time, so I thought I'd give an overview of the notes I took while I read through the blog. Some of these things I already knew, but others I'd never thought of before.

I know I said I'd try to cut down on such lengthy posts, but, this one required a lot of detail. And trust me, I cut it down a LOT. A lot of stuff goes into query-writing.

So, here we go. The rules of writing a good query letter.

- Remember: the query letter should not only tell what the book is about, it should also show how well you write and how your professional you are.

- DON'T put contact information at the top of the query letter, and don't include it in the query letter. Put it at the bottom, after you sign your name. (Include your full name, address, and phone number.)

- Don't put your title at the top of the query letter. It will be included within the query letter.

- Start off with a normal salutation. Not "Greetings!" or "Good evening!" Just plain old "Dear Mr./Ms. [agent's last name]. And NEVER "To Whom it May Concern" or "Dear Sir or Madam"; these just show you don't know who you're querying, and therefore you did not do your research.

- Immediately get into the story. Don't start with an introductory paragraph; don't put the title and word count in the first paragraph. Put this information in the last paragraph. Agents seem to be split about this, but according to Ms. Reid, "A quick drop into cold water is EXACTLY how you want to start a novel (and thus a query.)" She says the very first word in the query should be the main character's name. Describe what he/she wants and what is preventing him/her from getting it.

- Don't start with a log line––aka, a one-sentence summary of the entire plot.

- Don't start your query with a quote or random fact. (i.e. "Did you know that a thousand elephants turn purple every year?" ... Obviously this is just an example, and not actually true.)

- Don't start with a rhetorical question. (i.e. "Have you ever wondered what it feels like to be a purple elephant?")

- Don't start with clichés. (i.e. "In a world ...")

- Don't start off by saying what kind of agent you're looking for; if you're querying an agent, it's understood that said agent represents the genre of your book. (i.e. "I'm looking for an agent who represents fantasy.") Yes, it's good to personalize queries, but you should cite specific articles/blogs/interviews/etc., not just mention what genres the agent represents, because that's vague and impersonal.

- Open with the important event, not with backstory. Don't start with a setting. Start with a character and an action/choice he/she must make. Also, don't start with a clause rather than the subject. (i.e. "Prancing through the daisy fields one day, Mary Sue makes an unexpected discovery.")

- Don't quote the book in the query letter.

- Make it clear who the main character is; don't mention too many characters, or it becomes too confusing. Focus on one or two characters; mentioning three or more characters is pushing it. Query Shark says, "Think of characters as headgear. One thing on your head is fine, two might work, and but three is too many. Plus three and you're past calling the Fashion Police, we're calling the guys with nets."

- Don't put the names of characters in ALL CAPS or put their ages in brackets; that's the format for scripts, not for query letters.

- Don't write in first person point of view of your characters. Avoid this and all other gimmicks. To an agent, a gimmicky query signifies crap writing; that is, you have to write a "quirky" query because your book is not good enough to speak for itself.

- No second or first person in the plot summary. Don't use "I". Don't use "we". As the Query Shark herself says, "There is no 'we' in querying, much like there is no crying in baseball."

- Make the main character sound like someone the reader can sympathize with, even if he/she is not a "good" person. If his/her motivations just don't make sense, the agent will lose interest. And if you can't make the motivations make sense, there might be something wrong with more than just your query; there could be something wrong with your book.

- The reader of the query should feel a connection to the main character. You have to do more than tell "what" the main is. (i.e. "Mary Sue is a teenage girl.") You have to show what the main character is like. (And I mean show, don't tell! Don't write, "Mary Sue is a very determined person." It should show, through her actions, that she is determined.) But don't spend too long describing what your main character is like. The letter is primarily focused on plot.

- Show and don't tell, and be specific.

- Only mention characters' choices if they are relevant to the central plot.

- Focus on the plot in the query letter. If you can't describe an actual plot, then there is something wrong with the novel itself.

- Sense of stakes and sense of choice are important. What choice does the protagonist have to make, and what consequences will follow?

- Basic form of the plot summary, provided by Query Shark: - Basic form provided by QS: "What does the protagonist want? What's keeping him/her from getting it? What choice/decision does he/she face? What terrible thing will happen if he chooses ____; what terrible thing will happen if he doesn't." OR "The main character must decide whether to ____. If s/he decides to do (this), the consequences/outcome/peril s/he faces are ____. If s/he decides NOT to do this: the consequences/outcome/peril s/he faces are ____." And don't just fill in the blanks; use it as an outline to get your information in the proper order. Don't give a list of events.

- Entice readers with what happens at the start of the book, not the end. That is to say, don't give an entire plot summary and definitely don't give away the ending.

- Keep it short and sweet, but long enough that the agent feels a bit of a connection with the main character (that is, understands why readers might sympathize with the main character). It should have a clear sense of voice.

- Story comes first. Don't sound as if you're trying hard to make a point or convey a certain message.

- Don't put random words in quotes. Query Shark says, "Quotes imply something is NOT what you say it is. Example: Oh yes, Cruella DeVill is a real 'dog lover'."

- Write in present tense, and don't switch tenses!

- Don't use showy, overcomplicated writing. Write in short, declarative sentences. Start by writing sentences that are 10 words or fewer, then revise into longer sentences only for the sake of clarity. Avoid rambling, jumbled sentences. And try not to use metaphors.

- Write the title in ALL CAPS (not in italics or underlined or anything like that) and try to avoid punctuation in the title besides commas. Don't say your book is "named" anything. It is either "called" or "titled". Also, do some research and make sure your title is not too similar to other popular titles.

- Read a lot of books in the category you're writing in; understand the audience. Make sure you know your genre. For example, YA books have teen protagonists. If your book does not have teen protagonists, don't call it YA––especially if you just want in on the YA market because it's hot right now.

- Genres should be one or two words, no more. Don't say your book is a "paranormal romance thriller", for example––choose either "paranormal romance" or "thriller".

- Don't say your full manuscript is "complete" or "immediately available"; it's expected that if you are querying, your manuscript is complete and available.

- Agents are skeptical from the start with unusual word counts. It varies based on genre. But generally, under 70,000 words is probably too short, and more than 100,000 words is probably too long. Some agents might even auto-reject based on word count alone. So before you start querying, check out your word count. You might not be done editing.

- Don't try to excuse or justify your word count. (i.e. "I know it's long, but ...")

- Writing credit has to be relevant. Publication is writing credit; nothing else is. Writing for your school newspaper and such is not enough. If you don't have any credit, it's fine. But don't struggle to make it sound as if you do. If you have none, don't mention anything, and don't tell the agent that you are inexperienced.

- Don't mention self-published or vanity-published books. Like it or not, agents generally don't respect self-publishing.

- You don't need to be qualified to write a novel; that is, you don't have to go through the same things as your characters in order to write about them.

- Don't tell the reader what your book will make them think or how it will affect them. And don't make your novel sound like a self-help book. That is, don't talk about how much it will "empower" readers.

- Don't compliment your own book. Query Shark says, "Telling me your novel is an altogether soaring tale is like telling me your kid is good-looking. I'm sure you believe it (I hope you do in fact) but I'm not going to believe you until I've seen the kid myself. In other words: show me, don't tell me."

- Don't mention test/beta readers. Sorry, but the agent really doesn't care what they think.

- Don't say how you think/hope readers will respond to your work. Don't say your book will appeal to both male and female readers. You don't actually know these things.

- Don't compare your book to other books; that's someone else's job.

- Don't say your book is part of a series––or if you must, say it's part of a "potential" series. Saying you've written a series makes the agent think you've written several "okay" books; it makes you sound less focused on revising one, good novel.

- Don't write about how your own story makes you feel, or about how attached you've become to your own characters. You think it will show the agent how passionate you are, but instead it makes the agent think you will take rejection too personally and that you are not a serious writer who will be willing to make revisions.

- Never offer exclusivity. And you don't really want exclusivity, either. It's best to query widely.

- Don't "recap" at the end of the query. It's not an essay, so you don't need a "concluding paragraph". Never repeat what you've already said.

- Don't dismiss yourself. Don't say you would be "humbled" if the agent asked to see your novel, etc. Just a plain old, "Thank you for your time and consideration" will do.

- NEVER, NEVER attach materials unless it's in the agent's guidelines to do so. Copy and paste excerpts, synopses, etc. into the body of the email. Attaching anything might make the letter end up in the agent's spam folder. Also, agents just plain don't want to have to open anything.

- Proofread. Don't misspell anything. Have other people proofread your query to make sure there are no stupid mistakes. Or at least read your query out loud to yourself a few times.

- Keep queries short but not too short. Around 250 words is a good length.

- Cut down your word count as much as possible. Start off by taking out all the uses of the word "that" which you don't need. Then change all the instances of "was [verb]-ing" to "[verb]ed" and you'll probably cut out a few thousand words. (Use Ctrl+F, aka "find") Take out adjectives and adverbs.

- Never use emoticons in queries. Ever. :)

- Only use plain text. No italics, no bold, no underlining. No weird fonts. No weird colors.

- Don't send in a huge-ass block of text. There should be double spaces between paragraphs, and there should be about 3-4 paragraphs, with the plot summary being the longest one. Make sure there is a lot of white space. Query Shark says, "White space is CRUCIAL."

- For e-queries, don't use weird subject lines. Include the word "Query" and your book's title in the subject line. Email to different email platforms to make sure the letter doesn't show up in a weird color.

Well, folks, that's about it. Of course, you don't necessarily need to follow all these rules, and sometimes breaking them might work in certain cases. This is just a general guide. I know it's overwhelming, but after drafting your query a few times you'll realize it may not be bad at it seems. I wish you luck!

As always, I appreciate your feedback. So if you thought this was helpful, or you have any comments/questions, let me know! :)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

I Gave My Blog a Makeover

So, I decided I should make my blog look a bit more interesting––hence the new background, layout, heading, etc.

As you can see, I also added a couple new pages (because I just figured out how to do that). So now you can read about me and my writing. :)

I now have over 150 followers and almost 10,000 page views (yikes) so I'm thinking I should start taking this thing more seriously––which means I hope to post more often, and to make my posts a bit more concise so no one has to drown in my rambling.

Thoughts on the new blog design? Suggestions for topics to write about?

You have a brain. Use it to comment. :)

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Romance Rant

Greetings, writers!

I realize I haven't written on many "random" topics lately––besides my rant about the Wall Street Journal article. So today, I thought I would give my ROMANCE RANT!

I do a lot of (rambling, informal) book reviews (on Goodreads). And especially with recent YA books, I find myself ranting a lot about the romances. Especially because so many of them are the same ... and not very interesting.

Lately, the trend seems to be:

1) The main character is an awkward, and/or insecure teenage girl, who lives in a small town and thinks no one will ever like her and nothing will ever happen to her. In other words, she's a Mary Sue.
2) A mysterious, sexy boy moves into town from some weird foreign place and ends up in one of the girl's classes at school. (And for some reason it always seems to be science class––I guess because ... chemistry? Nyuck nyuck!) OR vice versa: the girl moves into a new town from some weird foreign place, and meets a mysterious, sexy guy at school.
3) Mr. Sexy stalks the Mary Sue for a while, showing up absolutely everywhere she goes. And she's like, "Hmm, that's kinda weird. Lolz. Whatevs." (Because it's not like he's a stalker or anything ... I mean, he's HAWT!)
4) They eventually start making out with each other, usually in a very short period of time. (No need to develop a relationship after all, because they're soul mates!)
5) Somehow the girl ends up mixed up in all the guy's weird problems, and he's all like, "Boohoo! I should have never brought you into this!" ... etc.

I think you get the idea. And we can all probably name about ten (if not more) recent books which follow this outline. But I don't want to seem like I'm pointing fingers here, so I won't. I also see a lot of teenage writers writing this type of story. No, these books/stories aren't necessarily bad ... but they could be less clichéd. And more realistic.

So why is this type of story so popular? Well, because it's what teenage girls wish would happen. I mean, hey––I'm an insecure teenage girl. If some random sexy guy appeared in my life and suddenly fell in love with me, that'd be pretty cool. (Although, I'm not sure I want guys climbing through my window and watching me sleep ... Errrm.)

I guess there's no harm in giving insecure girls hope that one day they'll be in relationships. The only problem is, these types of romances don't happen in real life.

Which is why I prefer much more drawn-out, developed romances. I don't like this idea of "soul mates"; really, it's just an excuse to not adequately develop a relationship between two characters.

I want to care about both characters involved; I'm tired of these stories where the guy is an object to be drooled over, while the girl is just a prop. They both have to have flaws and insecurities. They have to be unsure about their feelings. They have to struggle and argue like normal human beings do––yes, even when/if they officially become a couple. The more you make readers wait, the more badly they'll want the romance to happen ... which is why it pays off more in the end, when it finally does happen! If the two characters get together on page 50, it seems way too rushed and unrealistic.

Some YA books/series with great romances in them (in my opinion):

1) Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
2) The Darkest Powers trilogy by Kelley Armstrong
3) The Percy Jackson & the Olympians series by Rick Riordan
4) The Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness
5) The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare
6) North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley
7) Graceling by Kristin Cashore
8) Just Listen by Sarah Dessen (Well, she has several good romance books, this one's just my favorite.)
9) Unwind by Neal Shusterman
10) The Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld
11) The Host by Stephenie Meyer

So, anyone else have an opinion about YA romance? Have an other reading recommendations? Please share! :)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

First Paragraph Critique - an untitled story by Cara

Hello everyone!

It's time for another first paragraph critique! Hooray!

A reminder about my critiques:

You can email paragraphs to me ( or if you have a Goodreads account you can post them in this thread.

Before you submit, you might want to read this post on what I think makes a good story beginning (and revise your paragraph accordingly). And try not to go over 100-200 words. That might not seem like a lot, but I try to be very thorough. Also, I will always get your approval of my critique before I post it. :)

This paragraph comes from my Goodreads friend Cara. Hope you all enjoy this and find it helpful! :)



"The night is quiet and snow softly falls around me. There's a thin layer of it covering the road I walk on. There are no stars out, no moon. The lights of the big white houses are all out. No lights are allowed on after midnight, except for the streetlights. The air is cold but it's not too bad and there's no wind. It would be the kind of night Pax would call perfectly beautiful, except she is not here and the beauty is ruined by the remnants of a burnt down house."

What works:

1. This opening instantly puts the reader in a clear setting––on a dark street, lined with big white houses, and it's snowing. Right away, the reader has a clear picture of where the beginning of the story is taking place.

2. There are surprising and mysterious elements in this paragraph which create an air of intensity. There's something "off" about the whole thing that grabs the reader's interest. There's not much explanation, but there doesn't necessarily need to be ... because it shows a lot without telling, while still leaving room for curiosity. The reader gets the feeling that we're in some sort of creepy futuristic/utopian society. ("No lights are allowed on after midnight, except for streetlights.")

We don't know who Pax is, although it can be assumed she is a friend of the main character––and the narrator pointing out that "she is not here" adds to the creepy feeling. Who knows––maybe I'm reading into things too much, and Pax is just not there because she's at home. But the fact that her absence is mentioned, alongside the sudden mention of a "burnt down house" seems to suggest that something bad might have happened to her. Either way, the reader is immediately engaged and has several questions in mind: Where is this taking place? Who is Pax? Why is she not there? Why is there a burnt down house?

What could be improved:

1. "The night is quiet and snow softly falls around me. There's a thin layer of it covering the road I walk on. There are no stars out, no moon."

--> This doesn't immediately grab my attention because it's just a description of snow. I don't feel engaged/interested in the paragraph until "No lights are allowed on after midnight ..." This is the first striking sentence to me, because it's unexpected and original. I suggest rearranging the sentence so that you start with this sentence and build the rest of the paragraph around it:

"No lights are allowed on after midnight, except for the streetlights. The lights of the big white houses are all out. The night is quiet and snow softly falls around me. There's a thin layer of it covering the road I walk on. There are no stars out, no moon. The air is cold but it's not too bad and there's no wind. ..."

2. "The air is cold but it's not too bad and there's no wind."

--> "Not too bad" is a bit vague. What exactly do you mean by that? If the air is cold, why is it "not too bad"? Does the narrator not mind the cold, or possibly even like the cold? Or you could even cut out the "not too bad" and leave it at, "The air is cold, but at least there's no wind."


You do an excellent job setting a tone and setting. I recommend grabbing the reader's attention just a little sooner, and being more specific in places, but over all this is a pretty solid beginning. Great job!

Good luck with your writing endeavors! :)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

YA Saves! (A Response to the WSJ article "Darkness Too Visible")

I thought I should bring attention to a recent issue. I don't normally do this kind of thing, but this time I just couldn't resist.

So, yesterday Wall Street Journal released an article, Darkness Too Visible in which they deemed modern Young Adult fiction "rife with explicit abuse, violence, and depravity". The author goes on to point fingers at books such as The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Scars by Cheryl Rainfield, and Shine by Lauren Myracle.

The article suggests that you can't go into the YA section of a bookstore without being faced with "lurid and dramatic covers". There's one quote from a 48-year-old mother, who leaves the bookstore empty-handed because apparently the YA section "was all vampires and suicide and self-mutilation, this dark, dark stuff." Well, first of all, not all YA books are about vampires, suicide, and self-mutilation. Secondly, the latter two are a regular conflict in teen life––like it or not. What are you going to do, hide your kids in a box and never let them glimpse reality? Adolescence is a transition between childhood and adulthood––and how can you expect teens to become responsible adults, if they are never exposed to adult material?

"The argument in favor of such novels is that they validate the teen experience, giving voice to tortured adolescents who would otherwise be voiceless. ... Yet it is also possible—indeed, likely—that books focusing on pathologies help normalize them and, in the case of self-harm, may even spread their plausibility and likelihood to young people ..."
Seriously? The author of this article obviously does not understand the concept or purpose of Young Adult fiction. At least she's right in saying that YA fiction gives voices to the voiceless––but implying that books about self-harm encourage self-harm? What?

Look, Wall Street Journal. Just because something happens in a book does not mean that the author encourages it to happen in real life. In fact, usually it's the opposite. In literature, harmful actions result in consequences. That's what a story is. It needs to have a conflict. Furthermore, the purpose of dark YA literature is not to rape the minds of innocent children. Firstly, teenagers are not children, and they can make decisions for themselves. Secondly, YA fiction is not focused solely on darkness; it's about hope. I know I, for one, don't read YA books because I have some kind of morbid fascination with bloodshed and self-mutilation––no, I read these books so I can discover characters I love, so I can see how their relationships and their strength prevail even in the darkest of conflicts. I walk away from most books feeling inspired, not depressed.

I'm graduating from high school today. Somehow I've managed to survive the past four long years, and a lot of credit goes to reading and writing. Without both these things, it would have been near impossible to cope with stress. Reading has helped me become more knowledgeable about the world, to realize that life can be terrible but that things can always get better. Writing helps me release any of my inner turmoil, and to expose truths and issues that I care passionately about.

Maybe I'm a bit biased, being a teenager, and quite an open-minded one at that. But on the other hand, this Wall Street Journal article is extremely biased as well. Besides the first sentence in the above quote, there is almost no support for dark concepts in YA fiction at all throughout the article. There are no quotes from teens themselves, or even from YA authors––except a brief quote from Sherman Alexie, which the author of the article basically ridicules.

As a writer of YA fiction, this article made me very nervous at first. When my work is published, is it only going to be shot down by a terribly closed-minded world? Luckily, I was given hope by the wonderful Maureen Johnson––who is one of my favorite authors, and also a very awesome person––who immediately started a protest of this article via Twitter. She started a hashtag, #YAsaves, in which people share stories of how YA fiction has helped and inspired them. #YAsaves is currently the #1 tag trending worldwide, and has gained support from YA authors such as Scott Westerfeld, Cassandra Clare, Libba Bray, Laurie Halse Anderson, Malinda Lo, Sarah Dessen, Gayle Forman, and Shannon Hale ... and many others, I'm sure. I'm only naming ones I've seen thus far.

So in a way, the release of this article is almost a good thing. It started a very important conversation, and it also encouraged readers and writers everywhere to voice their love for YA fiction. I was furious at first, but seeing such a strong backlash against the article has given me so much hope.

Any thoughts? Opinions? Stories? Do you think YA fiction is too dark? And/or has YA fiction helped you any way? Please share! (Or better yet, share on Twitter! #YAsaves!)

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

First Paragraph Critique - Cloaked in Shadows by Kenny

Remember that *SHINY NEW FEATURE* I talked about? Well, it has actually come into existence! In case you don't know or don't remember, I am now offering to critique other writers' first paragraphs and post them here. You can email paragraphs to me ( or if you have a Goodreads account you can post them in this thread.

Before you submit, you might want to read this post on what I think makes a good story beginning (and revise your paragraph accordingly). And try not to go over 100-200 words. That might not seem like a lot, but I try to be very thorough. Also, I will always get your approval of my critique before I post it. :)

So without further ado, I bring you my first critique ... This paragraph is from fellow Goodreader Kenny, whose story is called Cloaked in Shadows. I hope all ye writers enjoy this and find it to be useful.



"I woke with a start and the dream shattered, falling to oblivion in tiny image fragments that made me want to reach out and catch them. I needed to know what I had dreamed. What I had seen. Something told me it was important to figure this out. So I searched my mind for the scenes. I came up into the light again frustrated and fruitless. I was right in saying my dream had shattered...because it did. I could not find it anywhere inside me. I dislike a lot of things, but one of the things I loathe the most is forgetting. And so I told myself that I must remember."

What works:

1. In this first paragraph, you've already created a strong mood. I'm guessing something supernatural is going on here; usually acknowledgment of dreams implies that, and these seem to be "unusual" dreams, too. It's mysterious, and it makes the reader wonder what the person dreamed about and why it's so important for him/her to remember the dream.

2. The image of the dream "shattering" is strong and specific. It's striking how you describe the dream breaking into pieces and how the narrator tries to "catch" them.

3. The reader can tell the narrator is frustrated, and it's something we can all relate to. Everyone's had trouble remembering a dream before. It's a very aggravating feeling, and you describe it well––how the dream seems to have "shattered", how the narrator tries again and again to remember it, only to fail.

What could be improved:

1. "I woke with a start and the dream shattered, falling to oblivion in tiny image fragments that made me want to reach out and catch them."

--> There's a parallel structure problem here. That is, the two clauses don't quite match up with each other. The subject of the first clause is "I" ("I woke with a start ...") but the "and" sets off a different part of the sentence, in which the "dream" is the subject. The dream "shatters" and "falls to oblivion in tiny image fragments". Since the subject is now the "dream", the end of the sentence should read "that made me want to reach out and catch it" (not "them"). However, I assume the narrator wants to reach out and catch the "fragments", so this idea would probably be more clearly expressed in another sentence.

I would recommend cutting this sentence in two. "I woke with a start and the dream shattered, falling to oblivion." Then in a second sentence, be more specific about the fragments––what about them makes the narrator want to catch them? What are they doing? Dancing? Glittering? Strong verbs are key! "The fragments were [verb]ing in a way that made me want to reach out and catch them."

2. "What I had seen."

--> This is a fragment––that is, it's not a complete sentence. You're probably aware of this and using the fragment for effect, which is fine. As long as the writer knows his/her grammar rules, he/she is free to break those rules intentionally if he/she knows what he/she is doing. Having only read the first paragraph of this story, it's hard for me to judge whether this fragment is needed. I'm not saying it should necessarily be taken out, but I don't think it needs to be there since "what I had dreamed" already implies that the narrator has "seen" something.

3. "Something told me it was important to figure this out."

--> Try to avoid the phrase "something told me", for two main reasons. One, it's vague. What is it that makes the narrator think that remembering is important? Does some specific feeling or sensation make the narrator feel that way? Two, it's telling rather than showing. It seems like the author stepping through the narrator to tell the reader that this is important. In this case, I think you could take out the sentence completely; it's already clear from the rest of the paragraph that the narrator is struggling to remember the dream, implying that it's important to him/her.

4. "I was right in saying my dream had shattered...because it did."

--> Should be "because it had"

5. "I dislike a lot of things, but one of the things I loathe the most is forgetting."

--> This could be more specific. Everyone dislikes a lot of things. I would suggest giving particular examples of what else the narrator dislikes. Maybe something like "I dislike [blank], and I hate [blank], but what I loathe more than anything is forgetting." Not only would it be more specific, but it would tell us more about your narrator. Which brings me to my next point ...

6. We don't know much of a backstory here. No, I'm not saying that the first paragraph should be an info dump, but you could show a lot more about the narrator. In the very first paragraph, the reader likes to have an instant connection with the main character. And "readers" might include literary agents. You may or may not be thinking about publishing quite yet, but it's something to keep in mind for the future. Literary agents have to read a lot of query letters and excerpts every day; some even skip reading the query letter and go right to reading the excerpt. If they don't feel that instant sense of originality and strong character, they might reject the writer solely based on the first paragraph.

So, you want to be clear about who's narrating the story. A boy or a girl? What age? What time period is it? What is the narrator's personality like? You don't necessarily have to include all these things, but at least acknowledge a couple of them so that the reader gets a sense of who's talking. Right now, all we know is that the main character has strange dreams.

Furthermore, the "waking up from a dream" beginning is kind of a cliché. You want to start off your story with something that hasn't been done before, because that's something else that will peak the reader's interest. Everyone has weird dreams sometimes––so what makes this story different? Why should the reader continue reading to find out more?

7. You could cut down on repetition a bit. In the one paragraph you use "shattered" twice, and out of the 9 sentences, 6 begin with "I". (Also some with a conjunction followed by "I"––i.e. "And so I...")


Over all, you've set the mood well and created some strong imagery/emotions, but here are some things you could consider:

- Parallel structure
- Fragments
- Being specific
- Establishing a narrator/setting
- Sentence/word variation

Good luck with your writing endeavors! :)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

5/17/11 - Teaser Tuesday

Hello there! It's Tuesday again ... and I haven't posted a teaser in quite a while.
So, here's a bit more of Rage, since it's really the only thing I've been writing lately. Enjoy! ;)


I couldn't bring myself to believe that Neal would follow me all the way here, into the forest.

But there he was, walking toward me, and coming to a stop only a few feet away. It was then that I saw, he was carrying his crossbow in one hand, wearing the familiar quiver of arrows on his back.

“Back to your old ways, I see,” I said, since he didn't bother to greet me.

He shrugged. “Looks like it.”

“What do you think you're doing here? You shouldn't be here.”

“Neither should you.”

“What are you talking about? I'm the Sacrifice!” It was the first time I'd said it out loud. I'm the Sacrifice. The words nearly made me cringe, made my blood go as cold as winter.

“You know what I mean. No one should be here,” Neal said. “And that's why I need to put an end to it.”

I finally lowered my knife. “You can't be serious.”

“I'm going with you. I've always said I would kill the Monster, and now is my chance. Our chance.”

“You're not bringing me into this … this plan of yours.”

“You can't go through the forest alone.”

“I have to!” I burst, silencing him. “This is the way things are, Neal. I was chosen as the Sacrifice, and now I have to make this journey by myself.”

“How do we even know the Monster is there?” Neal shot back. “Everyone who's gone into the forest––everyone who's not a Sacrifice, that is––supposedly gets killed by demons. How do we know the Sacrifices are any different? What if they never reach the Monster at all? You used to say these things yourself, Natasha …”

“And what? I don't say those things anymore? I'm not myself?” I said. He was silent. “What right do you have, to tell me who I am?”

Neal sighed, shaking his head. “I've known you a long time, you know. You don't know how much I notice. In fact, you think I'm an idiot.”

“What does that have to do with anything? No matter how observant you are, you don't know anything about me. I'm not the same person I was three years ago.”

“I know,” Neal said, with a quietness that surprised me. “You really went into the forest that night, didn't you? That's what changed you.”

I couldn't see his face clearly in the dark, so I couldn't guess how serious he was being. “You didn't believe me,” was all I could manage to say.

“I don't think I ever said that,” Neal said. “I didn't know whether to believe you or not. But you were … different, after that. And I started to believe it was true.”

“Then why did you stop talking to me?” I demanded. “Why did you keep treating me like you thought I was crazy?”

I saw Neal turn his head away, although I still couldn't read the expression on his face. “I … don't know. It's so complicated. I was still trying to decide why you'd told me, of all the people you could have told.”

“I told Brandon,” I said. I didn't mention telling Mother Dearest; something about saying it felt wrong.

“But not your mother?” said Neal. “Not Michelle? Not anyone?”

“I didn't think you would believe me.”

“But I do.”

I sighed, wondering how much time I could afford to waste. I wondered if the Monster was waiting for me, whether he'd kill me if I didn't come at the expected time. At the thought, an invisible tight fist seemed to clench around my heart.

“Well,” I said, “if you believed me then, then believe this now––I know things about the forest, things I can't explain. Ever since I came out of it alive, I haven't been able to get rid of all these … these strange feelings. The forest does things to us, to our minds. It's dangerous, and it's unpredictable, and it has a certain … balance. And I'm afraid that if that balance is disturbed, it could mean terrible danger for the Village. Whether that's the Monster's doing or not, I don't know.”

“But what you're saying is …”

“We shouldn't break his rules,” I finished Neal's sentence for him. “No one ever has, and we don't know what the consequences are.”

“What if there are no consequences? What if, all along, we've had a chance to defeat him, but we're too afraid to try?”

Even though I wanted to cry, I could feel a bitter smile tugging at the corner of my mouth. “You know, you're the only Villager I've met who would dare to say such things.”

“I could say the same about you,” he admitted.

I swallowed. “But I still believe there's a reason for the Sacrifices, and I'm going to find out what it is.”

“On your own.”

“That's the way it has to be. Trust me, you should stay here. You're more needed in the Village than out here. Someday, your dreams about killing the Monster will seem like … like silly fantasies, to you. You're not thinking this through.”

“But I've been thinking, since the moment you were chosen for the sacrifice, and I …” He trailed off, sighing. “No. All along, I knew you were going to react like this.”

“What? React like––”

“Let me finish. I figured it couldn't hurt to try, but I had a feeling you'd say no. You wouldn't want me to go with you. But as much as I hate to admit it to myself … and I hate saying it now … I also knew, all along, that you're probably better off alone. And I––I don't mean that the way it sounds. I guess what I'm saying is … I trust you, Natasha. I trust to to take care of yourself, to survive.”

“And if I don't?”

“You will. If anyone can defeat the Monster, it's you.”