Friday, April 30, 2010

Scene 1, Take 3

One of the hardest lessons for me to learn as a writer was that every scene has to do more than one thing. I happen to like old fashioned stories that meander along establishing character and place before diving into "the story."

But like everything else around us, pacing is faster these days. Here's how David Farland says it:

A real first scene will...create a setting, develop a conflict, and introduce characters at the same time. It will simultaneously set a tone for the novel and drive the story forward toward its inciting incident. 

And people wonder why we get writer's block. That's a lot to expect from the beginning of a book!

I'm rewriting the first scene in a new novel and trying to make sure it does all of these things. Remembering that there's a rewrite coming helps me get past the fear of getting everything right. It doesn't have to all be there on the first draft. Or the second. But before it goes out, that first chapter needs to shine or agents/editors/readers won't keep reading.

What important lessons have you learned as a writer?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Author Spotlight on: Maggie Stiefvater

If you've read my blog for a while you know that I'm a HUGE fan of Maggie Stiefvater's books. So when she agreed to an interview, I was more than a little excited.

I've reviewed her books here and here. But I'm not the only one saying this chick can write. After debuting at #9 on the New York Times bestseller list last September, SHIVER has sold more than 100,000 copies. In addition, SHIVER has been named:

• ALA Best Books for Young Adults
• ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers
• Amazon Top Ten Books for Teens
• Barnes & Noble 2009 Top Twenty Books for Teens
• Border’s Original Voices Pick
• Glamour’s Best Book to Curl Up With
• Junior Library Guild Selection
• Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2009

When she's not writing books that make readers swoon, Maggie paints and draws, plays the guitar or the bagpipes, blogs, and answers to "Mommy" when called by Thing 1 and Thing 2. She also animated and wrote the music on her two lovely book trailers for SHIVER and BALLAD. Enough to make your head swim, right? Thankfully, she found a few minutes to answer some of my questions.

I absolutely loved James after reading BALLAD. Do you fall in love with your characters as you’re writing them?

I am far too evil to my characters to call what I feel for them love. Also, a lot of them have parts of me in them, so it would be narcissistic. And lastly, most of them are underage, so it would be jailbait. I think the answer would have to be no.

If I fall in love, I think I can be justifiably be called the worst girlfriend ever.

Jailbait, hmm? Didn't stop me :)
You’ve said that you feel pressure to make the next books live up to expectations created by earlier books. How do you overcome that and just write?

Medication. No, I'm kidding.

In the end, I have to do whatever it takes to remember that I write for myself, for that love of writing. With FOREVER, the pressure was almost paralyzing, and ultimately, I had to put on the very naive, lovely album of music that I listened to way back when I was first daydreaming about SHIVER, and remind myself of that feeling. (Joshua Radin, by the way).

LAMENT is based on a novel you wrote when you were 16. Have you kept everything you’ve ever written or have you had some fantastic bonfires like at the end of BALLAD?

Oh, I have most of everything, for better or for worse. There are a few disks missing with some awful IRA thrillers, but I have most of the 30some novels I butchered as a teen and young adult. I even have samples in this one blog post at The Merry Sisters of Fate.

That young Maggie was so melodramatic, neurotic, and sure of her direction.

Oh wait, not much has changed. ;p

Ah, well. I'm beginning to think that being neurotic is a requirement for writers :)
In both of your series’ I’ve noticed that each book can also be a stand-alone story. What made you decide to write them that way?

A furious hatred of series books, actually. Almost every book that I love is a standalone, and the ones that aren't can mostly be read that way. I'm thinking of things like the Chronicles of Narnia -- classic series, no cliffhangers. Or like the old Star Wars movie. There was a cliffhanger in the middle, but still, the main problem of the movie was resolved. I like that. A few loose threads, but mostly tied up. At least tied up enough that the reader doesn't fall down.

I, for one, greatly appreciate that! 
I love your take on werewolf lore. And actually, your homicidal faeries aren’t like any others I’ve read. Do you plan to add your own twist to any other fantastical creatures?

I do indeed. I am working on a Secret Project that's coming out after FOREVER that has other mythical creatures with a new spin.

Excellent! I can't wait to hear more about this Secret Project...
You said somewhere that writing the SHIVER series has been grueling. Why is that?

Because I have had to endure many photographs of Taylor Lautner in my inbox. Just kidding! KIDDING!

Actually, not. I do have lots of people sending me his photo and asking if he can play Sam in the movie. But that's not what makes the SHIVER books hard. What makes them hard is that they're very . . . honest . . . books. The characters are not nearly as stylized as in Lament and Ballad and so I have to focus on every single gesture, every line, every bit of dialog, and ask myself, is this how it would really happen? Does this feel real? Not book real, but real-real?

It's exhausting but rewarding.

We know that SHIVER is part of a trilogy. What about the faeries? How many of those books do you see yourself writing?

Mmm. I change my mind daily. Five. Three. Five. Three. Five. Three. Five. Thr-- you get the idea. More. That's all that's really certain at the moment.

Besides writing bestselling novels, you’re also an amazing artist. And I noticed that one of your resolutions was to create a dummy for a graphic novel. Do you already have your story idea in place? Anything you can share?

I do indeed have a story line in place! It's actually based on one of my short stories that I wrote over at Merry Sisters of Fate (the horrible writing I linked above is on the blog, which I swear is not normally that bad). I am hesitant to say which one.

Ooo, a mystery for us to solve! :)
You also resolved to write a screenplay and to write a song every week. How’s that going?

The screenplay's going smashingly. The writing a song a week turned into playing one of my musical instruments every day instead. I've only written three songs this year so far, and that's okay with me.

Besides getting interviewed on tv and reading something like four thousand emails every month, what else has changed since your books hit the bestsellers lists?

Wow. Um. Everything and nothing. It is weird getting recognized in a bookstore. But it is also weird to realize that no matter how many people know how to say your last name, the writing process is exactly the same. Exactly.

I hear you like to watch movies when you’re writing. What are some of your favorites?

I love moody: Chocolat, The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain, Finding Neverland, Peter Pan (the new one)
And funny: Hot Fuzz, L. A. Story, Hudson Hawk
And cult status: Sliding Doors, Charlie Bartlett, Danny Deckchair
Oh, and in different languages: The Chorus

My family loves that live-action Peter Pan, too. And L.A. Story -- hilarious!
Thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview with me, Maggie. It's been fun!

Thanks so much for having me!

You can keep up with Maggie on her blogs:
The World According to Maggie (Blogger)
Words on Words (Live Journal)
The Merry Sisters of Fate

Her new novel, LINGER, sequel to SHIVER, comes out in July.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Weekend of Books and Music

What a weekend!

Saturday was the fourth annual StoryFaire in Santa Barbara, featuring some of my kids' favorite authors: Bruce Hale, Greg Trine, Val Hobbs, Barbara Jean Hicks and American Girl author Valerie Tripp.

A year ago at Christmas Jasmine wanted nothing but American Girl books. Luckily for us, Valley Books, the used book store in town had a bunch of the original hardcover books. We bought them all. Most of them were written by Valerie Tripp. And when we showed up at her table with just seven in hand, she invited us to bring the rest. Jasmine was ecstatic. All 16 of her books are now autographed. Miss J was delighted to learn that one of her favorite stories in Meet Molly, actually happened in real life to the author. She is also having fun telling anyone who will listen how much the author looks like Kit Kittridge. See the resemblance?

Almost exactly ten years ago we went to Kaui with my parents. Drew was six-months old at the time. As we waited in the check-out stand at the grocery store we saw some childrens books that looked good so we bought them. Turns out we were purchasing the self-published work of Bruce Hale. We brought one of those Moki the Gecko books with us to StoryFaire. Bruce was happy to sign it for us.

And see the cool Chet Gecko drawing on the side? Bruce was showing the kids how easy it is to draw his most famous character.

My son read all the Melvin Beederman books when he was in 3rd grade. And even though in some ways he's outgrown them, he still has to buy them when new ones come out. Of course, he's more restrained than my daughter. At 10, even if you're star struck, you have to maintain that exterior cool. Rather than bring every book in his collection, he brought the first book of the series for author Greg Trine to sign and allowed his mother to bully him into a photo :)

On Sunday the Sunshine Brothers gave a free concert in Solvang Park. The kids noshed on shave ice and we all grooved to the pop/reggae/folk rhythms of our favorite local band. Lead singer Owen Plant hails from Jamaica and I swear you can feel the island sun as soon as he starts to sing. The kids didn't believe me when I said he was from Jamaica so I took them to meet him after he performed so they could hear him speak patois -- the Jamaican mish mash of English, Spanish, French, Afrikaans and whatever other foreign languages have managed to influence the culture.

The video below is from a concert they gave a year ago in Solvang's Festival Theater. All four of us are in the audience somewhere! (If you like this song you can find their album, Live by the Sun, on iTunes. This song, "Sink or Swim" and "Love Again" are my favorites.)

Our weekend ended back at the local used book store. Jasmine had to interview a business owner for a school project and she chose Vonda, the owner of Valley Books, the place where she got all of her American Girl books. One of Miss J's questions was, "What made you decide to open a used book store?" Vonda's answer: I liked to spend time in book stores. It's fun to work where you like to be. Jasmine will be posting the full interview on her blog later this week. I'll link up when she does.

And amazingly, even with all this going on, we managed to sneak in a short visit to the beach, and...I FINISHED MY EDITS!! Yay! Now it's up to a few final readers to decide if I got those edits right.

So, enough about me. What did you do this weekend?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Editing and Winners

I'll be deep in edits today. There is some part of editing a story that makes me crazy, especially when I'm staring at the screen trying to think of another word for smile because I've already used it three times on the same page. But I also love when a question from a critique partner makes me look at what I've written in a completely different way. That's when I can add the depth and layers to the story that are missing when I'm frantically trying to get words on the page.

This whole writing's such an amazing process. I'm so glad to have found this community, that we can share our journeys, our knowledge, our successes, our growth.

But that's not why you're here today. You're here to find out the names of the two lucky people who have won Amazon gift cards.

I did the drawing differently this time. I assigned each name a number, then I went to to have numbers randomly generated based on the number of entries. Yes, I used number three times in that sentence. This is not my novel. I'm allowed :D

So, without further rambling from me, the two randomly selected winners are:

Shannon O'Donnell and
Bish Denham

Congratulations ladies!! I'll be emailing your gift cards shortly.

Have a great weekend everyone!!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Since I started blogging…

I have read more than 200 children’s books
Met at least 200 people online
Learned nearly 200 things about writing
Edited my book close to 200 times.

Okay, that might be an exaggeration…

But on Monday I put up my 200th post
And almost 200 people have been following these posts.
(Have I mentioned that I love you people?!)
Yay! Sounds like a reason to celebrate!

I can’t give out 200 presents. Sorry!
But I am going to give away two,
Yes, 2 ten-dollar gift cards from Amazon. Woo-hoo!
So two lucky readers will be able to order one of the 200 books on their wish lists.

What do you have to do?

1. You must be a follower.
2. Tell me your best piece of writing advice in 200 characters or less (take that Twitter!)

A winner will be randomly selected on Friday, April 23. And if I've hit 200 followers by then, I'll give away an extra ten-dollar gift card! So there could be three winners!!

Thank you for joining me on this journey. I absolutely love this blogging community. If it wasn’t for you readers I doubt that I would have made it to 200 posts. Here’s hoping we’ll all be around for 200 more!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Writing to Trends

You've heard the advice before, but it's worth repeating. Especially because this time I'm not talking about content, I'm talking about how the book is written.


Last week during our chat session, I asked my teacher if I would be better off rewriting my story in 3rd because the majority of middle grade books are written in 3rd. That was her answer above, in all caps.

"I'm not shouting," she said. "Just being adamant."

We had been talking about playing around with our stories, trying different things. And in truth, I had tried writing my story in 3rd person before, but it didn't feel right.

"I strongly discourage you from making major decisions like that based on something like what is popular," she added. "Each story has its own ideal way to be told, and the story will tell you what it is."

So keep this in mind as you write. Following a trend isn't just about writing vampire stories or not. It's about the way that you tell your story as well. Just because Wimpy Kid made Jeff Kinney a millionaire doesn't mean you should write a story with stick figures littered throughout. And just because 3rd person is the norm for middle grade, doesn't mean I'll be automatically rejected for writing in 1st.

At least I hope not! I'll keep you posted :)

Friday, April 16, 2010

In Which Dora Teaches Us a Lesson

Every weekend my dining room is transformed into a movie studio.

After watching Star Wars over Christmas break when he was in the first grade, my son decided he wanted to be George Lucas when he grew up. He made his first movie on the last day of Christmas break.

At first I thought it was a joke. He came to me and said he wanted to make a movie. I was busy so I told him he needed to write a script first, thinking this would be too much work and he would find something else to do. He was back fifteen minutes later, script in hand. So the four of us spent the afternoon helping Drew make his movie, The Lonely Jaguar.

Soon after we discovered a stop-motion animation program for the Mac. Drew became obsessed. He was constantly making movies with his Star Wars toys. He and Jasmine filmed a Dora movie, a NASCAR short and a bunch of other stuff that we've never posted.

The video above was made back in January 2008. A few weeks ago, Drew started his own YouTube channel. Most of the videos on his channel are Star Wars/Clone Wars stories that he has written himself. He monitors followers and video views as carefully as some bloggers watch their SiteMeter stats. (You can watch his more recent videos here.) Trust me -- he'll notice and he'll be thrilled to see that more people have watched his videos :)

When this whole movie making thing first started, I was constantly being roped in to help, first with filming, then with editing. These days, he does everything on his own. Which is why, every weekend I surrender my computer and my dining room. While I clean house or read a book, my son is making movies, working toward his dream.

I'll admit it. I swell with motherly pride that he's willing to invest so much time in something that he is so passionate about. It also kicks my butt in gear and makes me want to work harder for my dreams, too.

Today I challenge you. We know it isn't all fun and games. It takes a lot of work. So do the work and make your dreams come true.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


One of the things I was desperate to find when I started blogging was a critique group. Now that I think about it, I'm not sure why I thought blogging would help me find one. That's about as random as walking into a crowded bar and looking for a sperm donor. Not that I've ever done that.

I had taken classes hoping to connect with someone I could start a group with. I had gone to writerly events hoping to find a group I could join. I had put my name on lists of people as eager as me to be part of a critique group. Married, mother of two, seeking other middle-grade writers she can bond with, bake cookies with, and trust to impart honest feedback without tearing my soul out or making me cry.

Clueless and desperation are not good companions.

Some days I felt like I was in high school staring at all the happy couples and wondering why the hell no one wanted to hold my hand. And just like in high school, as soon as I stopped looking, the perfect group fell into my lap. Two people from a class, two people from an event and me. Did you really think the personal ad was going to get me anywhere?

Just yesterday I was emailing back and forth with two of the members of my group, two totally different conversations, and I almost started crying. They were actually tearing my soul out. And it was a good thing. We were bolstering each other, congratulating each other, sympathizing, supporting and urging each other on. Less than a year after I had given up on ever finding that mystical nirvana known as a critique group, here I was with the perfect people.

These four women seriously make me write better because I know they'll call me on it if I don't. They ask questions and get inside my characters' heads, sometimes in ways that I can't. They fall in love with my characters and invest themselves in the outcome. And I do that for them.

One year ago I accepted an award for a story that some agents have really, really liked, but not enough to represent. Now I'm ready to query a new one. It's a completely different type of story and I'm a completely different writer than I was a year ago.

Here's to new beginnings.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Best Books from Spring Break read-a-thon

After eleven days of exploring, beach combing, and soaking up the Carolina sun as we downed sweet tea and hush puppies, we're finally back at home. It's pouring rain and everyone in my house is asleep. We may be back on the west coast, but our bodies haven't decided what time zone to follow.

Being away from home is the perfect time to squeeze in lots of reading, especially when you're stuck with a sluggish internet connection. I have no idea how I ever survived dial-up for as long as I did because on Friday when I tried to watch a three minute video, it turned into a 45-minute torture session. I'm not ashamed to say I gave up and went back to my books.

I finished six of the eight I brought along and three were absolute standouts.

Linger by Maggie Stiefvater
You knew I was going to love this one, right? I had high expectations for this book (which can be dangerous!), but Maggie didn't disappoint. I seriously think someone should be teaching a course on brilliant character arcs, use of language and multiple pov's using her books as the texts. She seriously has it mastered. I don't want to give away too much here, but if you enjoyed Shiver, you are going to want to get your hands on this book as soon as it comes out in July.

Princess for Hire by Lindsey Leavitt
I love when an author surprises me and Lindsey absolutely did with this book. I expected a frothy sweet tween novel, a lighthearted beach read. But I was amazed by the depth she managed to give this character. This isn't just a teen romp with romance at its core. Princess for Hire speaks more to girl power, and learning to stand up for yourself and making a difference in people's lives. With an ode to her hometown of Las Vegas, an Amazon tribal dance and unexpected twists on princess lore, Lindsey has created a very impressive debut!

The Heart is Not a Size by Beth Kephart
I've enjoyed other books by Beth, but this one moved me like no other. Maybe the fact that I went on a similar journey in high school made the story that much more real for me. But even more than that, I felt like I knew these people. The friendship between Riley and Georgia, with all its flaws and blinders, felt so true to life. The way Beth let the story unfold, the secrets they kept from each other and even from themselves, their journey of discovery was beautifully written, totally heartfelt and definitely a must read. If you've never picked up a book by Beth, let this be your first.
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