Friday, November 18, 2011

The Most Interesting Thing: Pushing Our Boundaries

"Look. Art knows no prejudice, art knows no boundaries, art doesn't really have judgement in it's purest form. So just go, just go."--K. D. Lang

Have you ever felt like your writing is trapped in a hamster cage, spinning around and around in that little blue wheel, going nowhere? If so, welcome to my world. The moment I let down my guard, I find myself confined again, belly up and miserable. 

How do I get out? I push the boundaries of my art. Challenge myself by writing something completely beyond my comfort zone like humorous MG, third person POV, or historical fiction.

My latest challenge came this week when my teen nephews asked me to create a murder mystery role-playing story for a family gathering in February. Murder mystery? Me? The wheels are already turning. Not that horrible hamster wheel, but the creative merry-go-round that gets me giddy with excitement. 

What about you? Have you pushed your writer boundaries lately? 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

VIRTUOSITY author, Jessica Martinez

 How often have you read a fabulous book and then within a week have the chance to meet the author? These sorts of things don't happen to me. So it was with great pleasure that I got to listen to and visit briefly with Jessica Martinez at Third Place Books in Seattle earlier this month. What a lovely person. I encourage you to get yourself a copy of this book. It's one of my favorite contemporary reads of the year. 
On Writing:
Favorite thing about writing a first draft:
Finishing!  First drafts are torture for me.  Aside from finishing though, I love the excitement of the first few chapters, when the idea is so big and wonderful, and I’m just getting to know my characters, and none of the plot-crippling flaws have bubbled up yet.
Best thing about writing for kids and/or teens:
Writing for kids is incredibly liberating.  I can put aside my need to be profound and depressing, and just write good stories.  (And occasionally they end up being profound anyway.)
Favorite word?:
Tip-toe.  (Is that weird?)
If I could have two dream careers, I’d be an author and a:
On Life:
If I could snap my fingers and solve one of the problems here on earth, it would be:
Women are allowed to be treated with extraordinary cruelty in many countries (legally, culturally, etc.).  I’d fix that.
One question I wish I had a definitive answer to:
Why is moderation so hard?  (I’m an all-or-nothing sort of girl.) 
Best thing about being a child:
Feeling safe.
Worst thing about being a child:
Being controlled.
Best thing about being a teenager:
Falling in love for the first time. 
Worst thing about being a teenager:
Having your heart broken for the first time.  And acne.
One thing I’d like to say to my teen self:
Chill out.  Have fun.  Stop thinking everyone is staring at you.  They aren’t.
A quote I live by:
“Be kind to yourself”  -Wendie Low (my mom)
My dream vacation:
Schlepping around Europe with a backpack and my husband, avoiding the tourist stops and finding our own hidden gems.
In My Perfect World…
Everyone would get massage and a new book at least once a week. 
There would be an abundance of ice cream and kissing.
No one would be deprived of alone time.
Every child would have loving parents and a trampoline.
No one would ever get sick.
Pie would be free for everyone.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Most Interesting Thing--Back to Basics

"Easy reading is damn hard writing."
--Nathaniel Hawthorne

What was one of the first things you learned about the craft of writing? For me it was show, don't tell. Sound familiar? Yet after years of writing, my first inclination is to tell rather than show. In fact, just this week I caught myself writing this sentence: Overwhelmed by the information I found. . .  Arrgggh! Why does this happen? Because I'm a super lazy drafter. Which means I have to be an extra diligent reviser.

What helps me overcome my telling weakness? I try to picture my characters on a stage, they can't talk, but have to show me what's happening. My job is to write what I see.

What about you? Do you sometimes struggle with the basics? Any tips you want to share about recognizing and overcoming the showing/telling problem?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Partner on the Path: Melanie W.

What resources have you found most helpful on your writing path? I find Casey McCormick's blog, Literary Rambles, extremely helpful. She posts great writing tips. The blog Query Shark by Janet Reid is another blog I find helpful. I get to see through the critical eyes of a literary agent, and I know what's in and what's out when it comes to query letter writing.
What's the most encouraging thing you've experienced along the way? One comment from a beta reader encouraged me. My librarian (and good friend) found an avid reader to critique my MS. This avid reader was a person I'd not met before, and I liked the idea of her critiquing my MS, because she could critique it and give honest feedback without carrying the guilt of hurting my feelings. In other words, she wouldn't hold any of her comments back. After she critiqued my MS, we met for the first time and sat down in the library and talked about my MS for two hours. She pointed out the elements that needed to be polished. She was critical and told it like it was. But at the end of our conversation she told me, “I want to see this book in Barnes and Nobles someday.” That meant a lot to me because, at that time, I felt like giving up on that MS and moving on to another writing project. Hearing her say that let me know not to give up just yet on it.
Favorite children's books? Authors? Ohh. . .what a tough question! I have a long list. Usually, I attempt to read books that's in the same tense I'm writing. Right now my MG MS is first person, present tense, so of course I'm gobbling up books such as THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH series by Carrie Ryan, or MOCKINGBIRD by Erskine. When I wrote my SF/ urban fantasy MS, I read books such as INCARCERON by Catherine Fisher. (INCARERON has a great plot!) Books in the fantasy and science fiction genres are entertaining to read, but more and more each day I appreciate the authors who write realistic fiction. Elizabeth Scott. Jay Asher. Historical fiction is important too. THE BOOK THIEF is a book I pull out once every few months to read. It's books such as TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harpee Lee that I think points people in the right direction. That's why I write—I feel as though there's stories out in the world that need to be told, and about the only way to bring it to people's attention is either by the media or by books.
What genre would you like to see become more popular in the near future? Since I'm under twenty-two, I haven't explored much in the adult books--I've kept close to YA books and sometimes MG books. I think paranormal has fizzled out--there's so many books on the shelves in that genre right now, and lately I haven't seen anything fresh. The characters and twists are usually the same. (Or at least, the books I read were like that.) I would like to see more, shall we say, urban science fiction both in MG and YA. More contemporary books would be nice. I haven't seen much historical fiction, but I would like to see more books in this genre--especially set in the Roaring Twenties.
What author (or person) do you most want to meet? I would like to meet Taylor. D. Lautner. Everyone always talks about his looks, but I would like to meet him because he seems as though he has a nice personality.
What keeps you going when you feel like giving up? I've been writing for almost seven years, and after studying and putting so many hours into learning the craft of writing, giving up just doesn't seem like an appealing option. I have come close to giving up a few times, but I keep telling myself, “I have a story to tell, a story that I want other people to hear.” If I give up, that story is only going to be known by me and a few other people (my beta readers) and that's it. I don't want that. I want many, many more people to read my stories.
If you could live any place on the planet, where would it be? There's a few places close to home that I'd like to visit. I've always been fascinated with lakes and snow, so a place like Michigan sounds like a great place to live. Even though the winters are long and cold, I heard the summers are fantastic. And all the lakes are perfect for kayaking! Also, Northern California sounds great as far as the forests. Australia? Savannah, Georgia? There's too many great places! It's hard for me to choose just one.
Describe your fantasy writing space? A small, quiet place with plenty of organization! Right now, my desk is just an old table. But I do have an ideal office in mind. Hopefully, the fantasy will become realistic someday. (Smiles.) I would like a small room, with nothing but a desk, chair, and shelf space. I would like for the walls to either be chalkboard or dry erase—that way I could write my ideas directly on the wall and erase them later.
What obstacles have you overcome in order to keep writing? Writer's block.
Best writing advice you've been given? I've been given a lot of great advice, and I'd like to share several. (Prepare yourself for a long list.) (1) Write every day, even if it's a small amount. (2) “Show” don't “tell” in your writing. (3) Use the active voice. (4) Listen to your critique partners and beta readers. If your beta reader says your characters are flat, then your characters are probably flat (despite what you tell yourself). If your beta reader or critique partner says you need to work on POV, then you probably need to work on POV. One opinion from a beta reader may be exactly that— an opinion from an individual. But if you have several people commenting on the same thing, then you need to take a closer look at the issue. You don't need to take every comment or opinion as wisdom, but it is wise to listen. (5) Read a lot. It's a good idea to read books in the same genre you're writing. When I was writing my SF book, I read a lot of SF and urban fantasy. Now that I'm writing an MG contemporary (and preparing to write an YA contemporary) I'm reading a large number of contemporary books. If you're writing a thriller, read all the thrillers you can. Watch thriller movies like the BOURNE series, or TAKEN. Carefully observe how the plot is structured. If you're writing a historical fiction, do history research and make sure your facts are correct. Perhaps watch documentaries.
What one word describes your writing process? Persistence.
What do you like to keep in mind while drafting a story? I like to think the first draft as the paint primer on a wall—it's important, but the most important details are yet to come. In my earlier (amateurish) years of writing, I stressed myself into making each purple prosed sentence, each paragraph, each chapter perfect. Biggest waste of time. I thought when I wrote “The End” at the end of a manuscript, I was done. Success! But no, the work has just started. The second draft is where I strengthen the characters and make them more unique and realistic. I make sure the plot doesn't have any pitfalls, and the chapters have good starting and ending points. The fun starts in the third draft. The third draft is where I tighten the writing (or cut out extra words) and make the passive sentences active.
How will you celebrate the publication of your first book? I'll take a month break from writing and read a lot. Then it's back to writing the next book!

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Most Interesting Thing: Food for Thought

"There is no love sincerer than the love of food."
- George Bernard Shaw

I've been thinking a lot about food lately. Mostly because I spent the past three months in physical and emotional agony due to something I let slip into my diet--soy. Good riddance! I'm feeling much better now, thank you. 

Then I noticed a lot of my writing partners talking about the benefit of food journals.

And then I got to thinking about how food comes into play in the stories we read and write. Food, or the lack thereof, has been a major issue in my last two novels. In my first novel, I had my MC enjoy all the fabulous treats that are forbidden to me. My latest character has a thing for gummy worms. I've become a gummy bird. Hmmm.

I've also noticed the effect food has on me when I'm reading novels. The mere description of Chinese food sent me racing for the phone to have my husband bring home take-out last week. 

So how does food influence your writing and reading? Do you ever find yourself reaching for the foods in your stories or the stories you are reading? 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Anna Sheehan, Author of A LONG, LONG SLEEP

A must, must read

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you may know that when I find a book that intrigues me and surprises me, a book I can't put down, I am compelled to let everyone know about it. This is one of those times. Thankfully, Anna Sheehan graciously responded to my request for an interview.

On Writing:
Favorite thing about writing a first draft: When the story starts to flow and seems to tell itself. Those few scenes that just fall out of you whole.
Best thing about writing for kids and/or teens: The best thing about writing for teenagers is how important anything can be in a YA novel. Since teenagers are forming their entire future selves, something as important as abuse or as trivial as an acorn can be something they accept as natural, or change their entire world view.
Favorite word? Sorcery. Something about the sibilance of the word just gives me chills.
One word that describes your path to publication:  Over-dramatic!
If I could have two dream careers, I’d be an author and a: Philanthropist! Get me rich enough to be a philanthropist and I will be one with pleasure!
On Life:
If I could snap my fingers and solve one of the problems here on earth, it would be: Pollution and global warming. It affects everyone and everything. If anyone else has a different answer to that, their priorities are a little skewed.
One question I wish I had a definitive answer to: You know, I value the questions of life. There’s nothing I feel we need. Maybe "How to fix this," ("this" being whatever it needs to be) but the how will come about by trying and failing and trying again, anyway.
Best thing about being a child: Your desire and ability to play. As a child, you can play with anything. It becomes harder as you grow.
Worst thing about being a child: No one listens to you.
Best thing about being a teenager: Hm. Well, possibly the peak physical aspects, but mine were never that hot to start with, so it wasn’t MY best thing. My best thing was ... nope. Nope. Being a teenager sucked. Oh! Some of the opportunities you get which frankly just go away as you get older, unless you want to pay money through the nose.
Worst thing about being a teenager: Oh horrors! Don’t make me live that again!
Most memorable teen moment: I guess when I went to Paris. I remember that pretty well. All the other things I remember were pretty unpleasant. Even Paris was tainted – I went into anaphylactic shock just as I got back and nearly died.
One thing I’d like to say to my teen self: Hang in there. It can do nothing but get better.
A quote I live by: Always be ready to speak your mind, and a base man will avoid you. William Blake, Proverbs of Hell.
My dream vacation: Oh, probably my darling Ireland. But there’s a thousand places around the world I want to see, as well.

In My Perfect World…I’m afraid my perfect world is very predictable. I don’t consider these questions to be jokes, so I’m not going to include ice-cream, novels and Dr. Who episodes. Everyone would get accurate and relatively unbiased news and keep themselves up to date on the state of the planet at least once a week. There would be an abundance of clean water and healthy food. No one would be deprived of the beauties of nature or our valuable endangered species. Every child would have an education. No one would ever suffer abuse. Health Care would be free for everyone.

Anna's Website