Archive for September, 2011

Friday, September 30th, 2011 by Rosemary
Banned Books Week

If you’ve been on any book related blogs this week, you know it’s Banned Books Week, the ALA sponsored event that celebrates books and raises awareness of censorship.

Because this is a multi-genre blog, I’m not sure how much this topic comes up with the average writer. I’m sure the supernatural people and the hot romance authors get individuals who let them know what they find offensive in their books, but when you’re primary audience is under eighteen (at least theoretically), getting past the “gatekeepers” for kid’s reading material is a constant concern.

Call it gatekeeping, challenges, bans or censorship, grown ups are going to have their say about the access kids will have to your books.

Now, I’m not talking about parents deciding what their own kid is allowed to read. Not every book is right for every kid. I’m talking about people removing your books from the hands of their target audience based on some objectionable element or subject matter.

Let’s skip over the whole ‘censorship is bad’ discussion, and why removing books from libraries is a bad thing. Since this is a blog about writing, let’s talk about what this means to you, the writer.

There are no rules for what you can put in a YA book. Drugs, sex, alcohol, violence… It’s a myth that you can’t write about those things. It’s all about how you handle it and why it’s there.

In some books, the objectionable content serve as pits in the dungeon of the hero’s journey. From broken families and teen pregnancy to drugs, self-harm, sexual abuse and violence, these are realistic depictions for kids who may be dealing with these things in real life–or who may never be touched by them, but can learn from a fictional experience.

At the other end of the scale, you’ve got some very popular books (made into a very popular TV show) where there is a lot of drinking and sex with little or no consequence, for the purpose of a salacious storyline. There’s a certain realism in that, too. Drinking and sex are a part of a lot of kids lives… Or it’s not, and they are indulging the lifestyle vicariously. I would never want to date a vampire, but I admit it makes a good story.

I fall somewhere in the middle, like a lot of genre YA. There are references to drugs, alcohol, or sex, but it’s not what the story is about. In my case, the story is about the supernatural (which can also get you banned). For me, I just want to tell an adventurous, mysterious, romantic story. Well-written escapism.

But every time I have a reference to alcohol, or a sexy scene, or a curse word, I have to decide whether I want that to potentially keep my book out of a reader’s hands. Will it impact the story I want to tell? Will it water down the story if I take it out? Does it serve a purpose, or I’m I just being gratuitous to generate buzz.

Sometimes it’s a marketing decision. I took the f-bomb out of my first book, because I was going for a 12+ rating that would make it easier to get into middle schools. As it turned out, “Hell” in all my titles was a bigger problem than what was inside the book. Now, when the first two books (Prom Dates from Hell and Hell Week) are re-released next year in a compilation, they’re getting a new title.

But sometimes it’s artistic. On a panel recently in Austin, award-winning author Paolo Gacigalupi was saying that he tamed the language in Ship Breaker, despite the fact that there are some brutal things that happen in that post apocalyptic word. He had to decide why he wanted to be banned–for language, or for the important story he wanted to tell.

These, however, are all second draft decisions. When you write your book, your only concern should be the story you want to tell. In the end, you can worry all day about what people will object to in your books. I’ve discovered that there’s no getting around it. There are too many readers I the world to never offend anyone.

So as you’re writing–as you’re envisioning your unique story–write it the way you envision it. That way, no matter who objects to what, not matter what they say about you on the internet, you can always stand by what you wrote.

Thursday, September 29th, 2011 by Candace Havens
Yes, you do have time.

Two weekends ago I taught an all day writing workshop for the Space Coast Authors. (I love those people!) One of the classes I taught was Fast Draft, which I’m also currently teaching online. I came home from Florida fired up and ready to write.

Then life happened. My father-in-law suddenly became ill on Sunday and a few days later he passed. The whole family was in shock. They live a few hours away so there was much rushing around and taking care of business here and there. Then there’s the emotional toll it takes on everyone. Every moment is, “what’s the next thing we have to do?” And you’re doing for other people, so there isn’t a great deal of free time.

But still, I found time to work on my book. I didn’t sit down and write 20 pages a day, but I did use any free moment to think about the book. There were scenes that came up, emotional ones that fed off of what was going on in my real life. I made notes, whenever I could. Sometimes those were on sticky notes that I keep in my purse. Today, I’m sitting down to compile all of those notes and figure out what was what. It’s funny how many there are.

My point, and I do have one, is life is always going to get in the way of writing. Sometimes there may be more extreme things happening, like this last week for me. Those are times when you should give yourself a little grace. But you can still choose to work.

There aren’t many jobs, even in times of bereavement, where you can take off for two or three weeks and it’s okay. The same goes for writing. You may not feel like doing it. But it’s best to throw yourself back into it as soon as possible.

Use all those emotions in your work. Use your writing as therapy. Use it as a way to express yourself. That’s what writing is all about. Yes, we are telling stories, but it’s also a form of expression.

When both of my grandmothers died, writing was my solace. If you go back and look at my first book “Charmed & Dangerous” you’ll see a B story about an older gentleman who has Alzheimers. Bronwyn, my main character, thinks she can help him remember his past. It’s a temporary solution, but a gift he welcomes. My Grandma Clark had Alzheimers and it took her so fast that I wished I could have had a few clear moments with her. She was such an amazing woman and had everything to do with my passion for art.

My Grandma Irby shows up as Helen in that book. She was still alive back then, but the idea of losing her was enough to help me create this fun character. A woman who lived life to the fullest, and my Grandma did that for many years. She was never afraid of a new adventure and she loved to travel. She was also a flirt. I get my sense of adventure from her and it’s the reason Candy Havens (yes, I’m talking about myself in the third person) seldom says ‘no’ to any challenge. Even if it scares the hell out her.

There is never a good time to write. Life always gets in the way. I’d rather be on the sofa watching movies, as much as the next person. But that doesn’t get it done.

If you have a long commute and you have to drive, get yourself a digital recorder or use one of the apps on your phone to take notes. Keep some kind of paper with you at all times. How many times are you stuck in a line waiting at Starbucks, or at the doctors office? How many hours do you spend watching television, going out to eat or reading books? How much time do you spend playing games online or on your phone?

You would be amazed at what you could accomplish in 15 minutes if you really put your mind to it.

What tricks do you use to get yourself to do stuff you don’t want to?

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011 by Bob Mayer
Change for Writers part 1– the key to succeeding in today’s market

Excerpt from Write It Forward: From Writer to Successful Author
“In war everything is simple, but even the simple is difficult.”  Carl von Clausewitz.

If you aren’t where you want to be, then you must CHANGE. How many people do you know who have really changed? Your answer will ultimately depend on what you think change is.

I can tell you what change isn’t. CHANGE is not simply thinking differently. Thinking doesn’t change anything in the world outside of your mind. Here comes my next paradox, though—the first step of change is to think differently. Note, I say it is the first step.

An official definition of change is to make or become different. There’s a big difference between the verbs make and become. It’s the difference between being ordinary and successful.

Make it externally imposed.

Become is internally motivated.

The successful become.

Can people change? If the answer to that is no, then there is no purpose to this and we all might as well quit now. There’s good news, though, since history has proven that people CAN change.  However, change is very difficult and very few people can manage to achieve great change in their life and sustain it. These people are the successful.

Do you have confidence that you know how to CHANGE?

Special Forces Assessment and Selection Thought: To become is hard; to be is even harder.

The Three Steps of Change

  1. You have a moment of enlightenment
  2. You make a decision to take a different course of action from what you have been doing
  3. Commitment to your decision leads to sustained action, which brings about permanent change

EXERCISE: Which of the three parts of change do you think you have the greatest difficulty with?

Most people tend to say Sustained Action.  However, if you really examine yourself, you might find that isn’t your real problem.  For example, I have a hard time making a decision.  Once I make a decision, I’m very good at sustained action.  Here is the key: you must not only figure out what step of change you have the most difficulty with, you also have to determine why that step is your problem.  The reason I have problems making decisions is because I’m afraid of making a mistake.  So do you see how the underlying fear is the thing you must uncover?  We’ll discuss fear more under the next TOOL: COURAGE.

But next week, more on change.

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011 by Sasha White
Tips for being productive, and healthy.

A couple weeks ago I posted about my health challenges, and there was such a great response, I thought I’d share some things I’ve picked up lately.

Tips to help you be more productive and stay healthy when working a desk job.

– Keep healthy snacks handy. Protein bars and almonds can keep you away from the junk food cupboard

-Keep your body in alignment while sitting in an office chair and while standing. Sit up straight and imagine aligning your ears, shoulders, and hips in one vertical line. Remember that any single position, even a good one, will be tiring on the muscles; so continue to change positions frequently. You can lean forward with a straight back alternated with sitting back in your chair, using the back support of the office chair to ease the work of back muscles. Avoid unbalanced postures like crossing legs unevenly while sitting, leaning to one side, hunching the shoulders forward or tilting the head as these can irritate the muscle by placing an uneven stress on them.

– To battle the mid-late afternoon urge to snooze Fruit is an ideal snack. Crackers, hummus, vegetables, popcorn, and nuts are good too. Most of all, avoid the 100-calorie snack packs that are so prevalent as they are the biggest ripoff, ever. They just make you crave more…(Or at least thats what they do to me)

-Fatigue can be a sign of simple dehydration. Reach for H2O when you need an energy boost, not coffee of soda. Better yet, get up and move for 2 minutes. Do 10 sit-ups and 10 pushups. It really does help wake up the brain, and can help with general health and weight loss efforts.

Check this out (found at Tips on Healthy Living website. )
Two minutes of sit-ups? 20 calories
Two minutes of push-ups? 20 calories
Two minutes of step-ups? 20 calories
Two minutes of fast stairs? 20 calories
Two minutes of jumping rope? 20 calories
Two minutes of shadow boxing? 20 calories
Two minutes of plyometrics? 20 calories
Two minutes of jogging in place? 20 calories

And if you’re wondering what else you can do during a 2 minute break, check out these 5 Exercises To Do At Your Desk from Fitness

Monday, September 26th, 2011 by Carrie Vaughn
On Daydreaming and Word Counts

I spent some time a couple of weeks ago thinking about word counts, which got me thinking about the purpose of daydreaming.  What’s the connection?

Recently, I was asked if I was able to write a lot more after I quit my day job.  And the answer, shockingly, was no.  I seem to write pretty much the same amount now as I did before I became a full-time writer.  In the couple of years after I sold my first book and before I quit my day job, I wrote about two novels and a handful of short stories per year.  After I quit working — about two novels and a handful of short stories per year.  I explained that my output doesn’t necessarily depend on the amount of time I have to write, but on the number of stories my subconscious can deal with.  What I think happened:  my low-intensity administrative day job meant I spent quite a bit of time on the job daydreaming and woolgathering.  I’d make notes, and when I came home from work, my writing for the day would come out of those notes.

Over the last couple of years I’ve learned that I still need that time to daydream.  I still need to sit around, make notes, churn through ideas — woolgather — to have anything worth writing.  I probably only spend a couple of hours a day actually writing.  The rest of it’s a muddle, building up to writing.  But the muddle has to happen, one way or another.

On my personal blog, I wrote about word count, in response to Jay Lake’s post about word count.  Namely, many writers post their daily writing output in terms of word count on their blogs, twitter feeds, whatever.  The numbers are often astonishingly impressive (at least to me):  two, three, four or more thousand words per day.

I always feel deeply inadequate reading these.  My average daily word count?  800-1000 words.  Maybe 1200 if I’m on a roll.  2000 words is a fantastic day for me.  (This is one of the reasons I’ve never attempted NaNoWriMo — I know my average daily word count isn’t up to the challenge and I have no desire to push myself in that kind of marathon.)

It turns out, 800 words a day is enough.  It’s more than enough.  It’s two novels and a handful of short stories a year.  I have no reason to feel inadequate.  In fact, I sometimes wonder if writers who don’t post daily word counts are like me — in the three figures and embarrassed to admit it.  Well, if you are like me — don’t worry about it!  There’s a club for us!  If you finish your book — if you’ve finished multiple books — it really doesn’t matter how you got there, just that you did.

What does this have to do with daydreaming?  I’ve started to wonder if people who write a lot of words at a time do their woolgathering before they start writing.  They’ve got it all in their heads and it just has to get out.  On the other hand, those of us who don’t write more than a thousand or so words at a time do our woolgathering while we write.  I know I have to stop a lot while I’m writing and think about what I’m doing, and that a bulk of my writing time is spent in this thoughtful muddle.  I don’t think this is the same as the “panster/plotter” divide.  Because I do outline.  But an outline doesn’t put words on the page.  For that, I need to daydream a little.

This actually makes me feel a little better about all the time I spend staring at the screen, or out the window, or shuffling through old files and blog entries for no reason at all.  I may not look like I’m working, but my subconscious is churning away the whole time.

Saturday, September 24th, 2011 by Ken Scholes
You Are What You Eat: How the Stories We Consume Shape the Stories that We Tell

Howdy Folks and Happy Saturday…again!

I hope you enjoyed last week’s diversion as I recounted my secret adventures, riding the rails with the Wildly Amazing Carrie Vaughn.

I wasn’t sure what to write this week — and I’ll be honest: I’m probably going to have that problem a LOT now that I’m finally producing steadily on the first draft of Requiem. But then, I went out to the Hivemind of Facebook and asked. A motion was made and seconded…and voila.

Today I’m going to talk a bit about influences and how they shape us as writers.

Most of us come to writing terribly in love. We’ve fallen in love with Story and its the closest happily ever after we’ve found. We love the places they take us and the people they introduce us to. We love that feeling when we close the book — that combination of feeling satisfied and hungry for more all at the same time.

And some of us love that feeling so much that we start spinning our own tales. And in those early stories, when we’re trying to find our own voices, we often emulate the voices of the storytellers that inspired us. Our stories usually start as homages and imitations and evolve from there into our own unique combinations of ingredients that have been common to Story since the first storytellers.

I was a free-range Story seeker. I came to it through Speed Racer, found myself in a tree reading Del Rey and eventually throwing dice in the tabletop RPGs. I found Story on TV, in movies, in music long before I came to books and then found a whole new dose in the games that TSR put into the world. I saturated myself in mysteries, spy novels, westerns and then worked through all the science fiction and fantasy I could get my hands on. (I read Stephen King’s The Dead Zone in 4th grade.)

So when my Facebook friends suggested I blog about the writers that influenced me and the specific books…well, that’s a tall order that takes into account one delivery system of Story for me. I could easily do a series of blog posts and hit most of them — though in some ways my Goshwowsensawundah series of posts does that. But for today, I think I’ll be more brief on the influences themselves and talk a bit about why it’s good to know and even re-experience (and better understand) our influences a bit more removed from the time and space in which we originally experienced them.

Speed Racer took me places that Sesame Street and the Electric Company couldn’t touch. Around that time, it was also Land of the Giants and Time Tunnel followed closely by Land of the Lost. Comic books (especially Batman and The Warlord) were big influences as well. Star Wars was redefining and I can see now in hindsight that it was because it dressed up familiar mythology into something fresh and vibrant and fun and dark. All of the books I steadily consumed gave me a rich, broad diet because I wasn’t married to any one genre. As I grew older and fell into poetry, Frost and Yeats added their voices to Heinlein and Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard. And by the time I was creating campaigns in D&D, building my own fantasy worlds, I was also writing short stories.

For books: I loved Bradbury because every word he writes dripped with Love of Story. I loved Burroughs for the worlds and adventures in his wild-ass imagination. I loved Steinbeck for leveraging great power in few words. I loved Tolkien (the Hobbit mind you; I never had much use for the LotR) for making me want to go on adventures even if I was to be late for dinner. I loved Orwell because he told me the truth. And as I got older…Herbert and Dick and Ellison had their turn with me.

For TV: I loved Star Blazers because it was my first brush with a serialized story. I loved Lost because of how skillfully the writers blended each character’s stories with one another’s in the past, present and future. I loved Firefly because it was a powerful ensemble of archetypes all on one ship living together as family. I loved Battlestar Galactica (the re-do) for its head-on collision with current events and its willingness to paint us as neither and both good and bad in our attempts to deal with terror and trauma.

For Movies: Star Wars. Silent Running. Logan’s Run. The Planet of the Apes films. And later: Donnie Darko, Dune, Blade Runner. All for varied reasons of “Wow!” And It’s A Wonderful Life because…well, we all should try to see what the world would look like without us and adjust our lives accordingly.

For Songs: The Boxer, The Sounds of Silence, Vincent, Puff the Magic Dragon and Tangled Up in Blue. They’re all stories. If you’ve not listened to them in a while, go and hear. I think the musical Story I’ve ingested has been among the most important influences on my writing.

So those are just scratching the tip of the iceberg. But more than having influences I think I want to make a few other points.

First, emulate and imitate! I do not know a writer who hasn’t and I’m not sure you can really control that when you’re starting out. Because…we start out as little parrots. Lizzy and Rae are learning to talk more and more all the time. They’ve got some great sentences going on. “Where Mommy Go?” “Where Lizzy At?” “No…My bunny!” But they are catching those words by echoing ours and the other words they hear. When we’re learning to write, I think we naturally move towards echoing. And it takes time to write through it. So…know your influences and listen to the people who say you’re channeling _______ but don’t worry about it so much. Just keep writing. You’ll work through that phase in time.

And here’s my second point on influences. It is important to keep in mind that all of those writers (or film makers or musicians or…) were writing in their own time and space. So when you’re going back to read Burroughs or Howard or Doc Smith, recognize that sometimes the behaviors and beliefs of your own characters and the cultures you create for them are echos of your influences and the times that shaped them. How are women treated? How are people of color treated? Where are the gay people? Pay attention in your influences and in your own work.

And diversify your story intake. Don’t just go back to what shaped you. Because there are new stories being told right now that can bring their own chisel to the block. Go beyond your genre and your comfort zone and let Story catch you off guard. Go beyond the Stories in your own culture and sample a wider buffet.

And I think the most important bit in what I’m trying to say here is: Don’t stop being influenced — let the Story flow in…and out.

I think that’s enough for now. Trailer Boy out!

Friday, September 23rd, 2011 by Rosemary
Write What you Love

As a follow up to my guest post on Candy’s day yesterday (Your love/hate list), I am reposting a blog from earlier this year, because it directly relates to knowing what you love.

When you list all the specific things you love in books, you’ll start to see trends. A little thought into WHY you love what you do can give you insight into what makes you the writer you are–your voice and, dare I say it, your “brand.”

Why do you read what you do?  The answer is probably the same as why you write what you do. But do you spend much time thinking about why your reader reads what they do?

I’m not talking about figuring out “trends.”  Sure, we’d all like a crystal ball to know if witches or green space aliens are going to be hot with teens in three years. I’m talking about knowing why a teen is going to want to pick up YOUR book.

There’s no way to segue into this Statement of the Really Obvious, so I’ll just say it: Paranormal books are crazy popular right now. Here are my thoughts on why:

  1. Exciting things happen in paranormal books.
  2. The circumstances of a paranormal world usually give teenagers a lot more control and/or autonomy than in the real world.
  3. The Big Bad in paranormal books is really Big and really Bad, and…
  4. …the teen character gets to take him down without adult assistance.
  5. Teen characters can make a real difference in a paranormal book.

I’m not a teen, but sometimes I feel as overwhelmed as one when I watch the news.  Teens are faced with some sucking Real World problems right now, and probably feeling powerless. (I do!)  But how satisfying to read a book that presents big problems and big questions in a setting removed from real world rhetoric and political baggage–and lets the teen characters take them on and take them down.

You could probably say those same things about any science fiction/fantasy/paranormal adventure book. And I’d counter that SFF has always been thought of, by some, as ‘juvenile’ because teens have always loved to read it.

After all, when you can’t even vote yet, there’s something very satisfying about taking arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing ending them.

In fact, I’ll go one further and say you can also say that about other non-paranormal YA books. If you look at a books like Ally Carter’s Heist Society or Michelle Jaffe’s hysterical Bad Kitty, the things that those characters do to solve mysteries or fight the bad guys aren’t entirely realistic, even if there aren’t vampire and werewolves. Maybe a better division would be the “realistic YA novel” and the “adventure YA novel.”

Of course, there is a real place for the realistic problem novel for teens. The authors who write those novels have their own list of why they write what they do, and why their readers read them.  If Sarah Dessen is writing a realistic novel about a girl who’s father can’t find a job in this economy, she can’t have her heroine pull off a daring jewel heist to solve the problem. The escapist solution that would be perfectly right for MY book would be cheating HER readers of their expectations.

Okay, maybe HER readers would feel that way, but my point is, expectations are like an author/reader contract. Part of our job is to establish from the jump what kind of novel we’re going to present, and what the reader can expect. (Which is another post, on great beginnings, which I will save for another day.)

So the Super Obvious Question for the Comments:  Why do you write what YOU write and why will your readers read it?