Blogger break so I can, like, be a writer.

| Monday, June 13, 2011
Today's Tune: Cue The Elephants

It's that time during the draft-writing process where it's getting close to done, but isn't quite there yet. Therefore it's also time to temporarily cut some of my more time-consuming distractions so that I can buckle down and, you know, be a Big Girl writer. Unfortunately, one such "distraction" is blogging.

So! I'll be taking a break in order to wrap up my manuscript and delve into the nitty-gritty of edits. The hiatus I currently have planned will last about a month. I may post sporadically, but as of today, tri-weekly updates are suspended until such time as I have a completed manuscript.

I will miss you all very much, but I will be back! Hopefully with a query-able manuscript! In the meantime, I wish you well. Happy writing, and I'll see you soon!

Review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

| Friday, June 10, 2011
So, I only heard about this book the day before it came out (which is to say, Monday). I immediately became excited over the prospect of it, especially after watching the book trailer, created by the author himself. I hoped, I hoped, I hoped that it'd be as cool as the trailer made it look. While it wasn't entirely what I expected, I didn't feel disappointed.

Miss Peregrine's is a very well-crafted, well-written, and fantastically quirky-without-feeling-gimmicky book. If you follow Ransom Riggs on YouTube (check out "The Accidental Sea" and "Talking Pictures," among others), you'll recognize that this book is very, very "him." He's taken his love for real, vintage found photographs, as well as interesting locations and history, and built a delicious little story around it. I've read a few reviews which comment on feeling disappointed that this book didn't end up being a thriller/ghost story/horror, which I suppose is understandable if that's what you were expecting. I'd call it paranormal, but it's in a class away from other paranormal YA I've read lately. Let's just call it "peculiar."

Some have commented that it looked creepy, but didn't really live up. I'd actually disagree. No, this isn't horror/psychological thriller level creepy, but I think it definitely has a little bit of delightful creeping ambiance to it. Not can't-sleep-for-a-week scary, but pleasant goosebumps-inducing.

I did have a little bit of trouble with the voice in this novel. Sometimes Jacob sounded like a realistic teenager, and sometimes his voice took on this oddly formal quality that I couldn't quite wrap myself in. That said, the prose here is a wonderful balance of modern and lyrical. In the end, I could easily overlook my issue with the voice. Some passages also felt a little breezed over, as weeks of time passed and the narrator gave us a general rundown of what we missed. There was a little lull in the middle, but it's not what I'd call boring - just slow. Even this was done with a decent amount of skill, though. The opening chapter was backstory-heavy, but the premise was intriguing enough and the writing strong enough to keep me going. The villains were pretty "mwahahaha," but it seemed to work. Really, those are my only "complaints."

The photographs are a recurring motif through the story. Jacob is constantly finding (or being shown) and describing photographs. One would think this would get repetitive or gimmicky, but it feels very natural to the narrative. Plus, the photographs (which are all real, found photos) are a real treat to see. I can definitely understand how Riggs was able to build a story around them.

The story itself is usually paced well and rarely fails to deliver something of interest, whether it's a strange creature or a strange person or a new location or a mysterious letter or more photos. Riggs even incorporated the Tunguska event into his narrative, which tickled me. The subplots were well-drawn and tied up satisfactorily. The blending of modern-day and history was well-researched and very tangible.

Overall, this novel is a great addition to the YA genre. Pretty obviously set up for a future sequel, but the ending to this one was wrapped up fairly nicely. Not completely perfect, but strong and unique and wonderfully written. Highly recommended.

IT'S A TRAP: The Easy Ending

| Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Today's Tune: Loose Ends

Time for IT'S A TRAP! These posts are intended as somewhat humorous (but true) tributes to traps that we writers occasionally find ourselves falling into. Disclaimer: there are always exceptions to every rule. Sometimes even the worst writer "traps" can be pulled off with style in the right hands.

But they're usually a bad idea. MOVING ON.

IT'S A TRAP! - The Easy Ending

You'll hear a lot of people tell you beginnings and endings are the most important parts of your manuscript. Really, the ENTIRE THING is important, and it should of course be compelling throughout. However, beginnings and endings do have a special importance. Beginnings hook the reader in, bring up questions in their mind, and keep them reading. Endings give them a sense of finality -- a resolution for all the pent-up emotion and tension they've been (hopefully) feeling throughout the story. They need to be significant, strong, and satisfying.

Some manuscript endings do not quite get there. Whether it's because the writer has no idea how to wrap things up or they go for the most obvious solution, the Easy Ending feels flat. Weak. Disappointing. Even frustrating. The ending is the very last scene left in a reader's mind, so it can make or break a novel for them. Here are a few examples of endings that can "ruin" a manuscript.

Perfectly, Magically, Happily Ever After - First, a caveat: happy endings are not a bad thing. It is OKAY to let your characters be content, in love, and enjoying life at the end of your manuscript. In fact, as far as I know, this is a requirement of romance: the couple has to end up together. There's a difference between a happy ending and a PMHEA. Happy endings are heartwarming, make sense within the context of the story, and aren't overblown. PMHEAs are the sickeningly sweet, too-perfect, frustratingly nonsensical happy endings where no one really had to lose anything and everything's cotton candy unicorn farts and skip-into-the-sunset land. They lack emotional impact. Nobody will care that the characters got a perfect ending if they didn't have to truly sacrifice to get there, or if it's outside the realm of possibility within the story world you've built. They may even resent them for being spoiled twits.

The Non-Ending - You've brought your readers down a twisted path of tension and emotion and excitement, and then you just... leave them hanging. You may think you're being clever and ambiguous, letting them decide for themselves how the action will play out, but it's a lot more likely they will be SO PISSED at you. I could insert a sexual metaphor here, but I think you can figure it out. Ambiguous endings can be very powerful and interesting (see: "The Lady, or the Tiger?"), but you really need to know what you're doing. Don't ever, ever do this because YOU don't know how the story ends.

The Twist That Isn't Really A Twist Anymore - She was dead the WHOLE TIME. It was ALL A DREAM. The helpful aliens ACTUALLY WANT TO EAT THEM. He's a SECRET PRINCE. All those friends were FIGMENTS OF HER IMAGINATION. If you want to end a story with a powerful twist, you have to push yourself further than the obvious, because your readers know all about the obvious. They've seen those twists before. They know the signs. They'll be sitting there going, "Please don't let this be 'they don't realize they're on a post-apocalyptic Earth' story, please don't let this be a 'they don't realize they're on a post-apocalyptic Earth' story, UGH IT'S A 'THEY DON'T REALIZE THEY'RE ON A POST-APOCALYPTIC EARTH' STORY. WEAK." Big impact 100% lost.

The Fizzled-Out Cliffhanger - You have to watch out for these if you're planning a series. Cliffhangers can function two ways: to leave your readers salivating for more, or to completely piss them off and make them feel cheated, like you're conning them into buying the next book. You want the former, not the latter. Obviously. Many readers despise cliffhangers at the end of a novel. At the end of chapters, awesome. At the end of a novel? NO. RAGE. While series novels are a continuation of a larger story arc, each individual novel should have its own specific arc which has a satisfying conclusion while still leaving the big questions unanswered.

The Untied Knot - You may have tied up the big, main plot element, but you've left other threads dangling. The reader is blinking at the last page and going, "Wait. Wait. I never found out who left the key! Why was his mother's music box important? Who was the Lady in Red? Is that all? THAT CAN'T BE ALL." Make sure you finish all your subplots. Don't get unwieldy with explanations -- if you feel like you have to, you need to integrate the subplot better -- but don't leave loose threads and hope the reader will forget because you gave them a Big Shiny Finish for the main plot.

This Is The Ending That Never Ends, It Goes On And On And On... - It's totally possible to overdo an ending. This is what happens when you leave 800 subplots loose and try to wrap them up at the very end. Or when you feel the need to beat the reader over the head to make sure they "get" everything. Or you're just so in love with your world and your characters that you can't stand to leave it without giving it a "proper" farewell. Don't lose the emotional impact of your resolution because you got too bogged down in pushing it to the limit.

How To Avoid This Trap

Endings cannot be tacked on like an afterthought. They cannot be hastily created because you just need to end the story already. They cannot be easy or obvious or lazy. Not if you want to make a lasting impact on your readers and give credit to your whole story. You must, you must, you must know how to end your manuscript. Not only powerfully, but in a way that makes sense for your narrative.

Whether you decide on a subdued ending, or a twist ending, or sad, or happy, or symbolic; you must craft it as carefully as you crafted your beginning. Don't go with the first ending you think of (unless it's really, really good). Don't take an easy way out because it's familiar or you have no idea how to wrap up your plot. If you honestly can't figure out how to tie everything up and end strong, than you may have a bigger, manuscript-wide problem on your hands. Which sucks, but fixing a faulty manuscript is better than writing a flat ending.

Your ending should take all of the emotion and struggles of your plot and create a powerful sense of resolution and closure in the reader. (But what if I'm writing a series? The reader still needs some form of closure.). It may leave them feeling content, or unsettled, or weepy, or buoyant, but they should feel something that will make them sit back and think, wow.

What makes you think wow?

What draws you to YA literature?

| Monday, June 6, 2011
Today's Tune: A Lonely Decision

Okay, so, if you are in the YA community and were on the Internet at all this weekend, I am absolutely positive you heard about the big "Wall Street Journal on Darkness in YA" debacle. Someone wrote a misinformed article about why dark themes are featured in YA, a bunch of YA writers/editors/publishers/agents caught wind of it, and a giant outpouring of awesome occurred on Twitter under the hashtag #YAsaves. There was also this rebuttal and this rebuttal and many, many other rebuttals and blog posts and comments.

I don't really have much to say on this topic that hasn't already been said a dozen times over, but I still wanted to acknowledge the attitude and the incredible response. So I'll just say this one thing: Joy and beauty are not mutually exclusive from darkness. Writing and publishing "dark" novels for teenagers is not and never has been about "immersing them in ugliness." It's about helping them break through it. If anyone honestly believes that even "innocent" teenagers do not suffer dark feelings occasionally, then they do not remember what it was like to be a teenager. That's all.

I feel like I should segue into why I write YA literature, though I'm pretty sure I've written extensively about it before. My reasoning can pretty much be summed up thusly: I am fascinated by the psychological and archetypal journey of adolescence. The path YA characters take to become the person they're meant to be is incredible to me. I love this cross-section of stories, and I foresee myself writing them for a long, long time.

Funnily enough, I never considered my YA writing particularly dark. Sure, there's some murder and a bit of blood and some drug use and some tormented emotion, but I never sat down and thought I'm going to write a really dark story. It still surprises me when people read my stuff and go, "Wow, I can't believe this came out of you. It's so dark. And you're... not dark." I always think, really? This is just what came out. I didn't mean for it to be a BIG, DARK DEAL. Also, just because I don't look or sound or act like a person with darkness inside them doesn't mean it's not there. It's always such a fascinating reaction to me.

My work is directly pulled from my teen life. I mean, no, my father was never murdered by a secret order of scientist-kidnapping immortals. But the emotions my characters feel, the feelings of loss and anger and loneliness and rejection? Those are the things I remember from my "nice, easy" teen life. And these are the stories that come out of me, and that resonate with me. That's why I write them the way I do.

What about you, readers? If you read or write YA, what draws you to it? What sort of stories resonate with you?

how to build a quality Twitter following.

| Friday, June 3, 2011
Today's Tune: You Are A Tourist

Today, I wanted to talk about building a quality Twitter following. Not a writing related post, but hopefully it's useful nonetheless.

First I'd like to get this one eensy, tiny little side note out of the way: there is no guaranteed way to blow up your follower count to X number of people in X amount of time. There are certainly methods of pumping up your numbers, usually by purchasing followers from one of many third-party websites, but that's not a strategy for making sure all of your followers are real people who are interested in you personally and care about what you have to say (or what you're selling, let's be honest).

BUT. There are methods that will greatly improve your chances of getting and keeping followers who care and are following you because they, you know, think you're worth following.

Also, let's get this unpleasant-but-true fact out of the way: if you are an aspiring author, people will take you more seriously and are more likely to follow you if you're published or have an agent. People like to follow the success stories -- it gives an author more authority in the public's eye because they're on the other side of the fence. Sucks, but it's true. THIS DOES NOT MEAN that you cannot build an awesome following as an unagented, unpublished author. There are many unpublished (pre-published?) authors out there who have strong followings. Sure, the odds are in favor of the people who have "made it," but you can get there, too. Also, hey, strong online presence is often a GREAT thing to put on your "resume" when querying.

So, let's get to the good stuff.

Strategy #1 - Make Your Profile Attractive
This sounds simple, but it's actually a big deal. First, fill out your account information and personalize your settings. Name, location, bio, website, background, color scheme. DO NOT EVER USE THE DEFAULT TWITTER EGG AVATAR. It will instantly brand you as a new and inexperienced account. Change your avatar to something that shows your face. You can use one of those cute cartoon avatars if you prefer, but it should still be a person/face. This will help users view you as a real person rather than a faceless internet nobody. You don't have to give your exact location, but try to give your state or country. Use the name people will be searching you by. When you write your bio, give them a taste of your personality. Do not be salesy (no "Buy my book now!" or "Editing services available at X cost!") in your bio. Also, avoid terminology that makes you sound like a douchebag. Do not pitch yourself as a "guru" or "seasoned professional" or "world-weary traveler who channels Hemingway." Just be clever and just be you.

Strategy #2 - Create Followable Content
Ugh, easier said than done, right? But it's key. If you want followers (followers that aren't just bots and spammers and follow-backs, I mean), you need to be worth following. People follow Twitter accounts for three primary reasons: entertainment, information, or free stuff. They may also follow you because they know you from elsewhere on the Internet and they like you. Your account should have a variety of content, but it should all be engaging. Be yourself. If you're funny, be funny. If you're witty, be witty. If you're smart, share your smarts. Try to go for an even balance between sharing photos and links, 140-character bites of awesome, and conversation. You should be conversing using @replies & #hashtags. People like to follow users who will actually talk to them.

Strategy #3 - Tweet Said Content Regularly, But Don't Spam
You should be tweeting at least several times a week, preferably a few times a day (2-5 tweets a day is good). People don't tend to follow infrequent or inactive accounts, because there's no point. However, you don't want to overwhelm everyone's feed with constant tweets, either. Avoid sending out several tweets in a short period of time. If you're involved in a Twitter party or TweetChat, it may be a good idea to let your followers know ahead of time so they don't go WTF when you show up in their feed 30 times in 45 minutes.

Strategy #4 - Follow Other Users With Similar Interests
Okay, blah blah blah, a bunch of stuff about presentation and content, BUT WHAT ABOUT FOLLOWERS? These are the building blocks to piquing enough interest to get people to want to follow you. Now this is how you find them. First, who are your target audiences? Other writers? Teenagers? Parents? Readers? You can find those people by searching appropriate hashtags, seeing who's following some of your favorite users, or by using a program like TweetAdder to search for specific keywords listed in bios. Follow people in your target audience. If you target correctly and are creating quality content, odds are good that you'll get some follow-backs. But please note: Twitter has some Follower Policies that you should brush up on. DO NOT follower-churn (follow large quantities of people and un-follow them if they don't follow you back quickly). Don't follow an excessive number of people. If you're following waaaaay more people than follow you, it doesn't look good to other potential followers. They may assume you're a bot and your account may get flagged.

Strategy #5 - Go Through Your Following List and Prune Regularly
This sounds like it's in direct opposition to my last advice, which was DO NOT FOLLOWER-CHURN. However, that's not what I'm suggesting here. Don't bulk follow and bulk un-follow. But there is some sense in keeping your following numbers below or almost equal to your follower numbers. You can use a site like Who Unfollowed Me to see if anyone who was following you before un-followed you, as well as who isn't following you back. You can make the decision to keep or un-follow those posters. Don't un-follow people out of spite, but do use the knowledge to your tactical advantage. That site can also give you hints about WHY people are un-following. Did you lose several followers after you made a controversial post? After you tried to sell something a little too hard? Or were they just spam/unrelated accounts trying to get a follow-back? Take note.

Strategy #6 - Follow Back Smartly
The "follow-back" is big currency in Twitter-land. People like to follow interesting accounts, but they also like to see their own numbers go up. When someone follows you, check out their account. If they're relevant to your interests, follow them back. People who view your account will see that you're not stingy with your follows, so they may follow you just to see if you return the favor. Do it, but do it sparingly. You don't have to follow back anyone annoying, or spammy, or unrelated to your interests. Just be aware that those accounts may be follower-churning YOU and may un-follow after a few days. That's okay. Anyone who does that isn't interested in you or your work anyway. After you get a significant following, you may be able to abandon this technique because people will follow you no matter what, but it's always a nice thing to keep in mind. Don't forget the little people after you make it big.

Strategy #7 - Link Your Twitter Account Everywhere
Your Twitter account should be linked everywhere that you have contact with other people. Email signature. Forum signature. Blog. Website. Business cards, if it's appropriate. Increase your visibility and let people know you have an account. If they like what you have to say elsewhere, they may check you out on Twitter, too. But don't be gauche about it. No bolding, colored font, or huge icons. Just an clear-but-casual mention.

Strategy #8 - Be Involved, Be Personable
You find followers by being friendly and involved in the Twitter environment. Compliment people on something they posted. Retweet good tweets. Find some writer chats and join in. You're a person, so let people feel like they're talking to a person. Not someone shouting from a mountaintop, or some insincere salesman who goes, "Hey, I see you like horses. I wrote a book about horses, you should check it out!" Be a friend. Be a person people like, not because you're faking it, but because you're likable. Don't just talk about yourself/your book/what you're doing. Share, talk, play, engage.

So. That's my spiel for how to build a solid base following of real people who share your interests, will support you, and will care about what you have to say. If all you care about are numbers, there are many methods for pumping them up. You can get lots of follow-backs from people who will never even look at your tweets because they're just trying to pump their own followers. You can buy numbers. You can't buy people who care. You have to do that part yourself.

Ultimately, you should enjoy Twitter. You should have fun with it and do your own thing. Building a following takes time and it takes a bit of work, but it can be really, really worth it in the end if you do it right.


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