Hi, all. I'm running a signed ARC giveaway on Goodreads this week.
Best of luck!
The Writing Process Blog Tour is snowballing through my writer friends, picking up two new authors with every post! It's going to eat all the authors! But that's okay because we'll all learn fascinating things about each other's processes in the, you know, process.
Michelle Knudsen, amazing author of Library Lion and the Dragons of Trelian books among other great works, tagged me, and you can read her responses here.
And here are mine:
What am I currently working on?
I've only recently gone over first pass pages for my YA debut, Don't Touch. The fact that people are currently reading ARCs of this book is a daily distraction. A nice one, but, you know . . . This week, I've been revising a dark and spooky story called "The Game of Boys and Monsters" that will come out as a digital short from HarperTeen Impulse in October. And I'm working on a newer and more secret project that is also dark and spooky. It may or may not want to be a multi-book project. Said project and I are wrestling that out right now. I've got bruises.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Well, for one thing, I don't feel married to a particular genre. I don't think that's so unusual, but I hope to be able to work in a variety of genres over time. I'm also really interested in blending genres--I get irritated at the suggestion that there are boundaries between genres like romance and sci-fi and horror and "literary fiction." I love books like Liar by Justine Larbalestier or Imaginary Girls and 17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma that don't fit neatly into categories. I'm super interested in reading a horror story that is "literary," whatever that means. Did somebody say Kelly Link? Yes, please! And I love reading stories that seem rooted in realism but then veer into magical realism or fantasy. I won't judge my own success at genre-blending with "The Game of Boys and Monsters," but it's something I thought about while writing it.
Don't Touch is contemporary realism, but I've been influenced by works in which reality is more fluid or in which the point of view character's perception of reality is fluid. There's probably less fluidity in the final draft of this book than there was in earlier drafts, but I think some of that slippage is preserved in Caddie's point of view on her surroundings.
On a totally different note, I'm excited about Don't Touch being set in the Deep South. It's where I grew up, and it's a setting that doesn't show up in YA as frequently as say, New York or LA or the suburban Midwest.
Why do I write what I write?
Um, because I want to, I think? Is that a terrible answer? I write things that excite and engage me. If I'm not having fun writing something--which doesn't mean the work is easy; challenging can be fun--there's probably something wrong.
I'm drawn to write about things that bother me or haunt me or confuse me. For example, with "The Game of Boys and Monsters," I wanted to sort out some of my mixed feelings about stories in which sexy boyfriends turn out to be monsters.
I'm drawn to writing about things I find absurd and want to poke fun at. Sometimes, I've fallen in love with a book or show that gives me a particular feeling, and I want to find my own story that gives me a similar feeling.
With Don't Touch, I felt drawn to make a story around fear. A narrative has the power to organize and distill experience. A story sifts experience and makes meaning from the messiness of real life. In a way, I was writing a book that I wish I'd had to read in high school. The arc of a story resolves faster than anything does in real life, and that's comforting when you're in the middle of the mess of life. Reading gives us the opportunity to journey through an entire story arc in a relatively short period of time, and then reflect on how that arc might or might not have relevance to our own real lives.
How does my individual writing process work?
I seem to "write long," meaning that I tend to spill out every thought I might possibly have about a given character or theme. I write out of narrative sequence. Sometimes, I have an idea of the story arc, sometimes not, but I usually need something that feels fixed to work from--this might be a rough outline, it might be a final scene, or it might be a single strong image. Then I'm confronted with a hugely messy collection of scenes. In every novel-length project I've undertaken so far, I've found that I have way more material than one story can contain--that in fact, I have conjoined twin or triplet stories. I have to figure out where the strongest pull is coming from and cut away all the excess and more or less start over with a newly refined sense of direction.
Still, in starting over, I don't delete everything. I enjoy pulling sentences and paragraphs from old drafts into new ones, working patchwork style and massaging a scene until it feels like one organic piece.
I'm not saying this is my ideal process. I've been trying lately to write synopses and to give myself more direction from the beginning. While this is a good tool to keep me going and feeling like there's light at the end of the tunnel, I also accept that good things come out of wallowing around in the dark.
In the midst of all stages, I write lots of notes to myself, collect images, sketch pictures, play with free-writing, interview my characters, and when I can justify it to myself, I love spending tons of hours on research.
I really enjoy writing blind and free, and I enjoy revising on the scene and sentence level. The part that makes my brain crazy, and that I spend a ton of time on, is wrangling with plot on the big-picture level.
So that's me. I'm tagging two more authors who'll be sharing their answers with you next week, so be sure to visit their blogs!
I have the pleasure of knowing Linden McNeilly from the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Linden's a brilliant writer and teacher, and with her sister, she penned a really cool nonfiction book exploring the art of map-making, Map Art Lab.
Sue LaNeve was in my class at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Now she lives on a boat -- WHAT? She's the author of the funny and touching Spanky: A Soldier's Son, about a middle grader dealing with a new school, bullies, a depressed mom, all while trying to live up to the expectation of a father who's serving in Afghanistan.
Sue and Linden will both be sharing their answers on our group blog, Quirk & Quill, so be sure to check it out next Monday!
I'm running a Goodreads Giveaway for a signed ARC of DON'T TOUCH over the weekend! Best of luck!
On Thursday, I invited over a few friends for an entirely selfish event. I would tell them the story of my work in progress, and they would ask me questions, poke for plot holes, and spitball solutions to problems.
In return, I would give them wine and pizza and so much love.
The idea came to me after experiencing several jealousy pangs from reading the acknowledgments of authors I admire and seeing them thanking their spouses or critique partners for helping them figure out tricky bits of plot, or, you know, entire acts. Most authors I know have a "first reader" who allows them to talk at length about their story. I have several amazing and willing readers, but there's no one I feel entitled to talk at for hours at a time as I wrestle with plot, so I asked these people to be that for me, for an evening.
I didn't expect it, but we spent an entire hour on backstory and magic rules alone. By the time we got to the synopsis itself, I was kind of exhausted, but telling the story was good for me. I felt where I was shaky on the story and saw how some important relationships are sidelined in my plot. It reinforced my suspicion that I have some characters and plot threads fighting for attention and that I need to focus.
My friends asked amazing and challenging questions, gave me some excellent homework assignments, and convinced me that what I've got makes more sense than I feared. My favorite moments were when they audibly reacted to twists in the story or emotional peaks.
Here are only a few of the ridiculous things that were said:
Nick: "Okay, so, I'm a necromancer . . ."
Mary Winn: (in response to my question of when to start the story and when some characters should die) "It's sexier if they've been dead longer."
Me: "I've been calling them Guardians, which is stupid, but I'll come up with something better."
Nick: "How about Batmans?"
Tai: "So it's kind of like boxed wine . . . the wine is the spirit, and the bag is the wraith, and the box is the physical body?"
I learned there is no better way to test the rules of your fictional magic than having your friends use it on each other while pretending your living room is an ancient Celtic battlefield, as below:
Victoria: "Okay, so say Tai and I are wizards, and we want to battle Nick and MaryWinn for that couch they're sitting on . . ." What followed was a long hypothetical (and impressively accurate to my mythology) description of a magical battle for territory.
Some less ridiculous things were said as well, insightful things that thrilled me because for a night all these ideas I've been tangling with for years were making sense to other people and exciting them with their story potential.
And the most amazing thing is that they all seemed to have fun and to want to do it again.
I'm so thrilled to share the cover of Don't Touch, but I'm not sharing it alone.
I asked several amazing bloggers to participate in the cover reveal. They have my thoughts on the cover and the excerpt that will appear on the book jacket, so be sure to pay them a visit!
So many thank yous go out to:
I Read Banned Books
Me, My Shelf & I
The Compulsive Reader
And to Mundie Moms, which will have a spotlight post on this cover tomorrow.
HarperTeen has been kind enough to allow me to offer a Rafflecopter giveaway (US/Canada) for a signed ARC of Don't Touch when it becomes available. It runs for one week, so be sure to visit these blogs and comment for more chances to win!
And now for the cover itself . . .
Even though it says Don't Touch . . .
I'm hoping you'll want to . . .
When I first saw it, I screamed. For some background about the design and my thoughts on the cover, visit one or more of the blogs sharing in the reveal . . . and let me know what you think in comments!
Incidentally, the launch of this cover coincides with the launch of this website, so I'd love to hear your thoughts on it as well!
This post is from my group blog, Quirk & Quill. To read the full post, follow the link at the bottom.
I've been working on a novel that begins with a deep freeze.
(This pic happens to be from Chicago's awful storm of 2011 and not from the Polar Vortex, but you get the idea. Burial in ice and snow.)
I write outlines, synopses, pages of notes; I write drafts full of characters that have since been discarded. My latest Scrivener file contains 13,000 words. An earlier one: 271,000. Still another: 233,000. Much of that is repeated. Some of it isn't. Sometimes, I think it's YA. Other times, it feels more middle grade. Sometimes I think it's a series, and then my brain starts to shiver.
As I wander through this story, I feel lost as my girl in the snow, fighting her way through wind tunnels of ice chips that bite at her cheeks. And the weather outside matches my fictional wasteland.
Read the rest of this post on Quirk & Quill . . .
My VCFA compatriot, Adi Rule, made this gorgeous meme. I'm looking forward to her YA debut, Strange Sweet Song.
I joined Instagram mid-year. I'm really proud that one of my greatest hits is of Batman serenading the children at my after-school program with Barrel of Monkeys.
This originally appeared on my Tumblr.
I received Julie Berry's ALL THE TRUTH THAT'S IN ME as an ARC at ALA, and it blew me away. Julie's heroine is so strong and constant. The prose is lyrical but always essential, and the story's redemptive and inspiring, not to mention a great mystery.
AHHH!!! Libba Bray's BEAUTY QUEENS is high concept, feminist, satirical, diversely inclusive, action-packed, playfully referential, brashly hopeful while not being afraid to get dirty . . . Libba Bray has my heart, with this line and with this whole book: “Maybe girls need an island to find themselves. Maybe they need a place where no one's watching them so they can be who they really are."
Trent Reedy's WORDS IN THE DUST came out in 2011, and Trent's a friend so I should have read it right away, but I'm terrible about putting off books about "heavy" subjects or books that I fear will make me cry. I shouldn't have worried because while the book does deal in heavy subjects and while it did make me cry, it also had some relieving lightness and humor as well as a main character I looked forward to spending time with. I read it quickly and then missed it.
Jacyln Moriarty's THE MURDER OF BINDIE MACKENZIE. I might have been a Bindie MacKenzie as a kid, a little too booksmart and imaginative for my own good but not so socially smart. I love the quirkiness of Moriarty's characters, the fanciful bending of expectations, and the structure of a school project that's compelling as a personality quiz.
Justine Larbelestier's LIAR. I can't talk too much about it without being spoilery, but this book defies genre classification and plays along the edges of other boundaries as well. It's a mystery as much as it is anything else, and I devoured it.
Jay Asher's THIRTEEN REASONS WHY. I listened to the audiobook during one long drive, and it not only kept me awake, it made me camp out in numerous parking lots to hear more when I really needed to get out of the car. The structure's perfect, the unraveling of the backstory is masterful, and the subject's of life-and-death importance.
More Libba Bray. THE DIVINERS. This woman, I swear. Flappers, a museum of the occult, a horror-show crime drama, an epic cast of characters, and the slow but inevitable awakening of superheroes . . . It's like she set out to put all my favorite things in one book. Libba Bray is winning the contest of writing great books about things Rachel loves.
I got to hear Amy Rose Capetta read from ENTANGLED in her last residency at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and I got to hear a lot about it while we were two of three members of a short-lived writing group in Chicago (short-lived b/c AR had to move). But I didn't get to read ENTANGLED until it came out, and it made me so happy. I'm a fan of a crew of misfits on a mission, and Amy Rose's characters are so unique and engaging. Her prose is gorgeous as well and the story compelling, but I knew that when I first heard her read.
In THE WOKEN GODS, Gwenda Bond gives credit for inspiration to Lewis Hyde's TRICKSTER MAKES THIS WORLD, a book I cited in my critical thesis for school. I love tricksters almost as much as I love strong yet real heroines on exciting quests with the fate of the world in the balance. Both are in full force in this book, and it regularly kept me up way past my bedtime while i was reading.
When I heard about the sale of Cori McCarthy's THE COLOR OF RAIN, I was surprised (and weirdly charmed? is that the right word) by the concept of a YA about a prostitute in space. The book was much darker and more lyrical than I expected. It didn't shy away from physical violence or from the messiness of its tough narrator's emotions and attachments. I applaud it for badassery on many levels, and for being a driving read that made me unable to surface for breath till it was over.
And one to grow on? I had an early chance to read my bud Varian Johnson's 2014 THE GREAT GREENE HEIST. It was still in revision, so I'll have to come back to it next summer, but it was already so full of well-crafted capers and humor. I can't wait for the rest of the world to get to read this one.
This post is was originally published on my group blog, Quirk & Quill.
I don't usually write to music. It distracts me, but I do write with it. I have favorite music for getting into moods, connecting with characters, or inspiring story.
I credit my songwriter friend, John Elliott, and his music for inspiring this post. I've written with his music many times, and his new indie album Good Goodbyes released Tuesday. When John invited me to write a review of his album, I told him I don't know anything about reviewing music. I do know I love this album, that it's evocative and inspiring, and I'm excited to try writing with it soon.
Here are some ideas for writing with music, even if you're not fond of playing it while you write.
If you're up for a kick-in-the-pants, do-it-right-now challenge, try the one of the last two exercises with this video of John Elliott's "Back Where I Was" set to a single thunderstorm. I recommend making the video full screen. Share a bit of your exercise or let us know how it worked for you in comments!
You can hear samples of tracks from more of John's work and see more videos of his songs here.
News, events, fun stuff, serious stuff, and online doings. I kept a personal blog for years at The Storybook Girl, and I'll slowly be migrating some of those posts to this blog.