Friday, April 24, 2009

Hey, A Girl’s Gotta Do Her Research

I keep telling my grandmother (who’s dying to be a children’s book author) that she needs to do her research.

“Go in a bookstore or library and READ children’s books,” I tell her.

Over and over. I cross my fingers that it’s sinking in, but I’m not holding my breath.

But all these talks got me thinking about my own “research.” Now, I’ll readily admit that no one had to twist my arm to get me to do this. I’ve always loved reading, so if writing is my field then research feels like an afternoon at the park for me.

I sat down and put together a list of books I’ve read. It’s probably incomplete, but hey, I tried.

I tried to limit it to books relevant to my writing, so while I’ve read books like Summer of the Monkeys and Island of Blue Dolphins, they won’t appear on this list, nor will Hawthorne, Poe, or The Da Vinci Code, for that matter.

Some are YA fantasy. Some are just YA. Some are just fantasy. Some just influenced me.

2007 and prior

Christopher Paolini - Eragon and Eldest
John Flanagan - Ranger Apprentice, books 1,2,&3
Erin Hunter - Warriors, first 13 books
JK Rowling - Harry Potter series
Elaine Cunningham - Songs and Swords quintet
Elaine Cunningham - Starlight and Shadows trilogy
Orson Scott Card - Ender’s Game
Ray Bradbury - Fahrenheit 451
HG Wells - The Time Traveler
Margaret Atwood - A Handmade’s Tale
CS Lewis – The Chronicles of Narnia
KA Applegate - Animorphs, first 43 books
Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman – The Soulforge
RA Salvatore – The Silent Blade
Marjorie B Kellogg - The Book of Earth
Anne McCaffrey - Dragonflight

Scott Westerfeld - Uglies trilogy and Extras
Tamora Pierce - Lioness quartet & Immortals quartet
Tamora Pierce - Terrier
Stephanie Meyer - Twilight saga
Jonathan Stroud - The Amulet of Samarkand
Patricia Briggs - Steal the Dragon and Masques
Patricia Briggs - Mercy Thompson, books 1-3
James Patterson - Maximum Ride
Orson Scott Card - Ender’s Shadow
Jenny Nimmo - Charlie Bone
Angie Sage - Magyk
Cornelia Funke - Inkheart
Shannon Hale - Princess Academy
Jeanne DuPrau - City of Ember
Kristin & PC Cast - Marked
John Levitt - Dog Days
Jocelynn Drake - Nightwalker
Christopher Pike - Alosha
Eoin Colfer - Artemis Fowl
Donna Jo Napoli - Sirena

Charlaine Harris - Dead Until Dark
Jim Butcher - Codex Alera, books 1-4
Rachel Vincent – Werecats 1 (Stray)
Scott Westerfeld - Peeps and The Last Days
Richelle Mead - Vampire Academy, books 1-3
Ed Decter - The One
Randa Abdel-Fattah - Does My Head Look Big In This?
Delia Sherman - Changeling
LJ Smith - Night World, book 1

TBR List
Micheal Grant - Gone
Patricia Briggs - Bone Crossed
Tamora Pierce - Bloodhound
Rachel Vincent – Werecats 2&3 (Rogue & Pride)
Jim Butcher - Codex Alera book 5
Richelle Mead - Vampire Academy book 4

So, for those of you who are either YA fantasy readers or YA fantasy writers, what books have I not read that I absolutely MUST? After all, a girl’s gotta stay on top of her research. ;)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Great "Ready For Submission" Checklist from Fellow Writer

Miss Jennifer has posted a checklist to help us understand when our manuscripts are ready for querying. I think it's appropriate and by-and-far correct. It mentions several things I hadn't though of before. Let me know if it helps you too!

I Heart CC (or, Beta Readers Rock!)

So, last week my prologue went up at CC. I actually liked this version, so I was super excited when I got lots of feedback from critiquers. I feel like I must have done something right since eight people took the time to read it and half of that came in the first day. But on to the subject of this post...

Critiquers, or Beta Readers, simply rock.

This is why: I loved my prologue because I'd finally squeezed all the necessary information in while keeping character focus and interest, BUT I couldn't see that it was just a little bit confusing.

How could I? I wrote it. I understood it.

But my reviewers helped me see where the trouble spots were and I figured out where the focus needed to lie. I also realized that taking a more direct approach would help clarity a ton.

So I completely rewrote it.

And you know how I said I liked the old version? I love this one! It's not going to win any prizes (it's rough draft phase again) but I love it.

It's not even the same scene anymore. For that matter, it's not technically a prologue anymore. It's a preface. A long one (for prefaces) at around 1000 words.

The one thing I managed to keep through all three versions was my duck metaphor.
Draft 1 - Alexander FEELS like a duck.
Draft 3 - Alexander WATCHES the duck and relates to it.
Draft 4 - Alexander IS the duck and relates to it.
haha... I love it.

Anyway, I get super excited whenever something in my novel starts working for me, so I'm on cloud nine now. How often does that happen to you all?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

I Have This Idea...

… of how I want my novel to look. And by look, I mean read. I mean Feel. I know exactly what I want out of it. The work is the process of getting it there. The work is training myself to think, speak, and write in the verve I expect out of my novel. And I can tell you, with draft 3 complete and 4 in the process, I’m not even close. That sounds totally depressing, doesn’t it? Well it’s not. Because I know what I want, I have every confidence that I’ll eventually get there – and by extension, so will my novel.

The process of this is really rather cool, because for every one thing I learn, that’s one mistake I won’t make as often in the future. Once I learn how to create the kind of book I want to produce, I’ll be able to do it again. Or so I imagine. And hope.

In the process, I have to keep reminding myself of the things people have said along the way to cheer me on. All the way back to creative writing in college, when my classmates were enthralled by a short story that I now think is terrible. I have to keep telling myself that if my then-good-work is now bad, that means I’m moving toward great. Just the direction, not the proximity. But I will get there. And I will remain hopeful and not depressed along the way.

So to all my fellow blogging writers, cheers to optimism. Whether we ever get published or not, we’re always improving. I know most of you love your craft as much as I love mine, so becoming better writers should be enough. Publication would be the icing. The sweet, sweet icing.

Oh, and if you don’t follow How Publishing Really Works then click that link for today’s blog about what editors want. It cheered me up, because what they want is exactly what I want to produce in ms form.
“What editors want, more than ANYTHING else in the world, is for someone to delight them.” -Osiander


Agent for a Day

Leave it to me to wait until the last minute to do my day of being an agent. Nathan Bransford does his big reveal later today, so keep an eye out for it.

My five picks (requested manuscripts) are:

10 – On One Hand
15 – The 15 Date Rule
17 – Inugami
28 – Long Shot Lost
35 – Losers

These are the ones that leaped off the page so to speak. I really want to know more about these stories.

And I really learned a lot about what makes a effective query.

I'd finally gotten a query that I was truly satisfied (version 21). With what I learned from Agent for a Day, I'm going to... wait. Yep. Wait. I'm going take my treasured v21 and put it in a special file and not touch it until I'm truly satisfied with my manuscript. THEN I'll pull it out and work again. But not until.

I've got a million ideas running around my head for my ms anyway. Can't wait to get started on draft 4 and 5 and 6...

How was your Day of being an Agent?


Friday, April 17, 2009

It's Okay to Make Them Wait

Curiosity in a reader is a good thing, right? As long as it’s curiosity and not confusion. Like most other lines we writers ride, it’s a fine one.

For example, I was reading a book that was fast losing my interest. The characters weren’t doing much to reel me in and the plot was moving pretty slow. But there was this dog that traveled with the two main characters and the author had already given several hints that the dog was not really just a dog. So I’m compelled to read further, to find out about this blasted not-dog if nothing else. Perhaps by the time I figure out what it actually is, the characters and storyline will have hooked me again.

How does this apply to my own writing? Well, hopefully I don’t lose my readers with plot and character problems to begin with, but there are certain elements in my story that I WANT the reader to be curious about and wait for – mostly dealing with the angels of the world.

My prologue gives the reader a glimpse into the angels’ world and introduces you to a main character in the story. Then I jump into chapter 1 with Paige, my protagonist, who knows nothing about angels. A couple chapters in, she meets the angel character, but he goes by a different name and she has no idea he’s an angel, but I’m hoping I’ve dropped enough hints for the reader to realize who he is. This angel then accompanies her through the rest of the story, guiding her a bit, and near the end she learns the truth. He explains more about the angels at that time, information that was hinted at all the way back in the prologue.

Now, the angels stuff isn’t really key to the flow of the novel. It’s from Paige’s POV and she doesn’t even know of them, so how could it? But I want the READER to be curious. What I don’t want is for them to feel overwhelmed by the need to know information that I only hint at in the beginning.

Essentially I need the reader to trust me, the writer. I need to somehow show them that I’m not going to leave them hanging and that it will be explained, but that it’s just not the right time at the beginning. My CC reviewers are all getting stuck on details and want me to slow down and explain them, but I want to move into the action of the story. How do I convey that they should be interested, but not obsessed?

To my fellow writers: How do you get your readers to trust you? What do you make your readers wait for?

Because I, for one, am convinced that it’s okay to make them wait. Curiosity is a good thing.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Twentieth Time Is A Charm

I think I've got it. My query letter. You tell me if I'm right.

It's 149 words long and has everything Nathan Bransford says a good query letter needs. Best of all, it's almost identical to my "five sentences' from the Snowflake Method. Here we go:

Fourteen year old Paige Moss is a bleeding-heart humanitarian optimist held captive by her own timid nature. But when she is kidnapped by a deranged visionary, Paige must get past her shyness in order to save her sister’s integrity, her friend’s happiness, and her city’s existence from his manipulating grip. A much bolder Paige exposes the visionary’s ruthless game, follows him into exile to retrieve a precious belonging, and leads a team of allies to save her city from his vengeance. Through her oft-dangerous, yet light-hearted adventures, Paige is accompanied by a diverse cast of unforgettable friends. She learns that shyness is not a state of existence, but a choice – that her character is really the sum of her actions – and becomes the hero she never expected she could be.

Angel Undercover is an 84,000 word YA fantasy. It is my first novel and it sets up for sequels.

By the way... did you see that? 84,000 words! I'm in the middle of chapter 17 (of 25), so it'll go down more. I'm shooting for 80K.

This is my "fluff" layer of edits. You know, all the extra words and sentences. You should check out Lady Glam's series of posts about layers. She explains it exactly how I do it.

Next I'll be going through combing for content, then tension, then nit-picks. It's such a long process, and my word count might go up again, but it will improve my novel. I know it will. You know it will.

Oh, and on the side, I'm filling doing the Snowflake Method on AUC and it's first sequel. It really gives great insight into a novel, in addition to clarity the query process has given. You really have to dig to find what's key. It's hard, but totally worth it.

For comparison, here is my "five sentences" from the snowflake method: (You know, setup, three major disasters/plot points, and conclusion.)

Fourteen year old Paige Moss, a bleeding-heart humanitarian optimist held captive by her own timid nature, gets kidnapped by a deranged visionary. Paige must get past her shyness in order to save her sister’s integrity, by exposing the visionary’s ruthless game. When he steals the source of her friend’s happiness, Paige must follow him into exile to retrieve it. Then her city is threatened by yet another of the visionary’s plans and Paige must lead a team of allies to protect it from destruction. Through her oft-dangerous, yet light-hearted adventures, Paige learns that shyness is not a state of existence, but a choice – that her character is really the sum of her actions – and becomes the hero she never expected she could be.

The revised Sentence:

When Paige gets kidnapped, she must get past her shyness in order to save her sister’s integrity, her friend’s happiness, and her city’s existence from the manipulating grip of a deranged visionary.

And the revised 15 word summary sentence: (yeah, mine is 21 words)

A girl must part with her timid nature to save her sister, her friend, and her city from a deranged visionary.

For those of you who've seen the earlier versions of all these things, isn't this much clearer?

How many of you find that some or all of these methods help you understand your novel?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Nineteen and Counting

Quick update: edits on AUC are going well. Word count is down to 85K, with a long way to go.

So I've now created nineteen versions of my query letter. NINETEEN! Yikes. I'm really hoping that's a reflection of my query writing skills rather than my novel writing skills.

Out of the nineteen, there are five distinct versions:

Queries 1-6: mainly synopsis, protag vs physical antagonist.
Queries 7-9: little plot detail, a lot protags growth process
Queries 10-14: an attempt to combine plot and purpose, with a better hook
Queries 15-17: protag vs internal (main) antagonist, with key plot details
Queries 18-19: bare bones based on Nathan Bransford's Query MadLib

I'm really hoping v17 or v19 will work out. This is a long process that I'm hoping will be done soon. Does anyone else have this much trouble with query writing?