Tag Archive: authors

This blog post is a response to a Huffington Post UK article which argues that J.K. Rowling’s success is hindering the success of up-and-coming writers. If you think that sounds a little ridiculous, that’s because it is. Blaming lack of success on someone else’s good-fortune is a little narcissistic and certainly counterproductive. But I’m not here to defend Rowling (who has earned her place in world literature).

No, I’m want to address my concerns with the second paragraph. She says:

I’ve never read a word (or seen a minute) so I can’t comment on whether the books were good, bad or indifferent. I did think it a shame that adults were reading them (rather than just reading them to their children, which is another thing altogether), mainly because there’s so many other books out there that are surely more stimulating for grown-up minds. But, then again, any reading is better than no reading, right?

-Lynn Shepherd, Huffington Post UK, “If JK Rowling Cares About Writing So Much She Should Stop Doing It

(A little advice: if you want your criticism of a book/series to be taken seriously, you need to attempt to read that particular work, even if it’s only a few sentences. At least you can say you tried.)

As a whole, children’s fiction can encompass a broad age range. From picture books and Beginning Readers to the young adult genre. However, when I say “children’s fiction” in this blog post I refer to the middle grade (MG) and young adult (YA) genres because that is what I have the most experience with.

The idea that children’s fiction is not “stimulating” for “grown-up minds” is ludicrous.

Not because they are what I write and read the most. But because this is absolutely untrue. And that is why I love those genres. I have learned more about how to write well from books like The Lightning Thief and The Hunger Games than I have from most of the adult fiction I’ve read (and I’ve been reading in the adult section since I was twelve or thirteen).

My first issue with her statement has nothing to do with that appropriateness of an adult reading children’s fiction, it’s simply part of good parenting (or so my mom tells me):

If your child is reading a book, you should take the time to read it as well.

My mom and I were always passing books back and forth and thus we were able to talk about what I was reading (Still do, actually). It’s part of being involved in a child’s education and staying aware of what they are learning. Most of my thoughts and opinions are the way they are, not because my parents forced them on me, but because we had (and still have) frank discussions that allowed me to explore my own opinions.

Now it’s great (phenomenal!) if you take the time to read to your kids. Some of my best memories are of the half hour or so my mom would spend reading with my brother and I before bedtime (I used to get in so much trouble for staying up to read ahead). Those experiences are part of why I love to read. (Thanks Mom!) But even if they’re past that age where reading together is “cool”—or it’s not practical for your family right now—keep abreast of what your kids are reading.

That brings me to my second issue.

In the grand scheme of things, the Harry Potter series is only seven books (granted, some of them are gargantuan). Now that may seem like a lot to some people. But let’s break it down.

If the average person reads eight books a year and they start reading consistently at ten and the average lifespan is 78 years (these are based on vague internet statistics, if you have better stats, post in the comments), then an average person can expect to read 500+ books in a life time. The Harry Potter series is 1% of the total books a person will read in their lifetime. One. Percent. There will be plenty of time and (hopefully) opportunity to read other books of varying age brackets.

And that brings me to my biggest issue with the above statement.

Children’s literature is NOT inferior to adult literature. In fact, I think that authors of children’s literature probably have more difficulty than someone who writes for an adult audience.

For one thing, kids are far more likely to be…um, frank (brutal) when they don’t like something. They have no problem saying, “This is dumb. You’re dumb. Why do I have to read this?” (I used to work with kids and I still work with teens, so this is from experience.)

The other challenge MG & YA authors face is length.

A typical middle grade novel is going to be under 40,000 words (established authors may have more wiggle room). To put that in perspective an adult novel is usually double that number; Sci Fi and fantasy can end up pushing 100k words.

Because they have limited space, I find that MG & YA authors have to be more intelligent and concise in their writing than their colleagues that aim for the older audience. EVERY word counts for double. They only have 40k words (70k in YA) to develop the plot, expose character, reveal backstory and maybe throw in a theme. And it has to be entertaining. How long do you think a bored twelve-year-old will keep reading?

Now for those of you that padded your college essays with shady spacing and chili recipes, this might not seem like a big issue. But us writers? We’re the ones that spent all night trying to figure out how to cut 2500 words down to a thousand and always ended up turning essays with at least one page more than required. I’m not saying this makes us better than you, it’s just that…we like to write.

My point is that the grown-up brain can benefit from reading fiction even if it’s marketed to younger readers (and it’s all about marketing). I am consistently surprised by the depth of storytelling in MG & YA novels. If you want examples, I would suggest the Percy Jackson series, anything by John Green, Ally Carter’s books, and Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series.

Finally, children’s fiction is just as capable of making us to question society and our own opinions. More so I find sometimes. Most of the adult fiction I’ve read feels more geared towards escapism. It’s the YA books that make me sit up and think about the world. Don’t believe me? Read the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins or Ally Condie’s Matched trilogy.

And don’t forget, some of literature’s favorite classics are classified as “young adult”. For your perusal, I present this list (cross-referenced between Barnes & Noble’s website and Goodreads.com). Tell me you don’t recognize some titles that cover issues we still talk about today:

  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  • To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  • The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
  • The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  • The Once and Future King by T.H. White
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • White Fang by Jack London
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

So what do you think? Do you enjoy middle grade and young adult fiction? What are some of the reasons you like these genres? Can you think of any examples where a MG or YA author displayed fantastic story-telling?

Many thanks to my friend Dot Hutchison, who can be found at dothutchison.com, for answering all my questions and children’s lit. Also, you should check out her book, A Wounded Name. It is one of the two versions of Hamlet I approve of (the other being The Lion King)

Just Another Summer Day by Dia

Writing is like breathing for me, it’s necessary and a part of what makes me the way I am.

Indulge me in a little  bunny-trailing. I’m an avid lover of Twitter. And I might follow some sort of famous people. And some of those famous people might have a Formspring account. Okay, just take out the “mights”, and you’ve got the picture.

Anyways, no names, but someone posted on this person’s Formspring (Margaret’s paraphrase) “After you finish with your current series will you write other things?” I looked at this question and knowing the (very) little I know about this person from their blog and Twitter, I had this reaction:

“There is such a thing as a stupid question.”

Now, I’m sure there are those out there that wrote their one grand opus and then they were done. But the writers I know wouldn’t be able to stop writing without the aid of a lobotomy.

You see, writing is like a disease.

A happy disease, without the coughing, puking or doctors visits involving large needles. You don’t want a cure.

It starts with something small, like a love of reading or make-believe. And then it spreads and the next thing you know your hurriedly scribbling notes onto a Chick-Fil-A napkin while trying to hear some soccer mom’s order over her screaming kids.

Looking back, I should have seen it coming. This writing thing. It just followed the natural progression of things. I was always grades beyond where I should have been reading. I never went anywhere without a book. And then there were the games my brother and I played. We’d pretend to be Transformers (anyone remember the show Beast Wars?) or Digi-destined and we’d come up with whole storylines. Of course they were never very complex, but we didn’t care. Eventually, just for the fun of it,  I joined a creative writing class at my co-op (once a week gathering of homeschoolers where we learned things our parents didn’t want to or couldn’t teach us, i.e. math). See what I mean about natural flow?

I believe it really started with Star Wars. My brother and I were obsessed (well, really, I was obsessed with Padme and her wardrobe, but whatever). We came home from, maybe our third viewing of Episode I and we decided to make it so Qui-Gon didn’t die. Cause that was just sad. And from there, off I went. I’d always had a vivid imagination, plus I was good at entertaining myself. So I started entertaining myself in pretend worlds. Basically, I wrote Mary-Sue fics in my head. I believe I wrote about my character, Danae Naberry, somewhere else in this blog. And as I grew and learned more about writing, my Mary Sue became a little like a real character. Of course, by then, I had expanded to other world’s. Like J.R.R. Tolkein’s. Oh that was bad…I lived slept and breathed Lord of the Rings for three whole years. And that’s about the time I started taking my fanfiction and writing it down. What I got was very bad rewrite of the first half of Fellowship. I think still have that sucker tucked away in some dark corner, because I actually came up with some vaguely usable dialogue and stuff, just not as fanfiction.

From there, I wrote The Ring of Aluthya. Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like. It was my first attempt at original fiction. Over the few years that I worked on it and rewrote it and rewrote it, it went from LOTR knock-off to a story with actual potential. This one too, I have filed for later. Mainly because I just don’t have the skill yet to take it to the level I want to. My second novel, a Cinderella spin-off inspired by my time reading twisted fairy-tales has been shelved until I’m finished with Mind Games, simply because my mind-set is currently in the MG world with David and Annette. They are the ones who keep walking in my head and chatting, even if they do it haphazardly and I often have to ask them to back up and tell the story in an orderly fashion (they like to skip around between books, today’s it’s book one, but yesterday it was book three and some of book two).

And that is my writing life as of yet. It’s crazy to think that I have been writing for over half my life now (that’s only 12 years, before you start feeling impressed). I’ve gone off and on. But even during the days or months or years that I haven’t been working on a book, I’m always writing. It just doesn’t get onto the paper sometimes. At work, I’ll be playing around with the scene I was working on. Thinking up ways to make David a little less perfect or make Annette a little more real. When I watch movies or TV shows, my mind starts analyzing scenes and coming up with what’s going on inside the character’s heads. When I finish a book like The Lost Hero or Wither or Uncommon Criminals (all three of which had less than complete endings) my mind takes those characters and tries to figure out what will happen next, it comes up with scenes and conversations and possible plot paths and tries to figure out [Insert Author Here] will handle *spoiler spoiler spoiler*. And some days, when I’m really bored or life is just a bit too much, I pretend I’m someone else. I turn to my favorite movies or comics or books and I make my own character and do some internal fanfic-ing. Which is actually the start of a lot of my fanfiction now that I think about it…

I am always writing.

It actually gets kind of ridiculous.

To the point that I lie awake in bed, with plot ideas and characters backstory and dialogue spinning in my brain. And it won’t stop.

But I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I am so thankful, that God has given me this gift and that he has given me the passion to pursue it. That no matter where life takes me, or who or what is in my life, writing is constant. Kinda like He is. It’s always there in the back of my mind and if I get nothing out of it but a little amusement and some good stories for my friends, then it is enough.

Not that I don’t also spend time imagining how it would feel to walk into a Borders or a Barnes and Noble and see my book on the shelves…

Montreal Twestival 2009 Cupcakes by clevercupcakes

Do you tweet?

In an age where authors are having to market themselves more and more on Twitter, Facebook, and personal web pages/blogs, online presence is becoming essential. We’ve become a society where you have to market yourself as well as your book.

Now, if you are not already a Twitter convert (and I understand there may be a straggler or two), I know where you are coming from. I resisted the Twitter trend until last fall. I mean, how could I possibly express myself in only 140 characters?

Turns out you can fit a lot into 140 characters.

Twitter has probably become one of the most influential and useful tools in my writing arsenal. At least when it comes to motivating myself to write. Here are a few ways that Twitter can help you in your writing (btw, my Twitter account is @TheGladElf if you don’t already follow):

1. Connection- What really got me hooked on Twitter was when I started following some of my favorite authors. I was getting up to the minute updates on where they were on their current WIP (work-in-progress for the noobs or the acronym deficient, like me). Twitter is a great way to see what the big names (or not so big names) are doing and to get in touch with other writers who are at the same stage that you are. And there is some really great interaction. Find a Twitter chat to participate in, get to know your peers and the people who’ll be reading your books. Getting yourself out there is key to building an audience.

2. Information- If you know anything about the publishing/writing industry it is that it changes constantly. Staying up to date in the latest doings is key. Following accounts like Writer’s Digest (@WritersDigest) and Publisher’s Weekly (@PublishersWkly) will keep you in the loop and informed. I’m constantly finding links to other’s blogs and to web pages with great information.

3. Motivation- One of the awesome things about following other writers is that they are usually very vocal about where they are on their current WIP. It’s nice to see someone else where you are or where you want to be. And it is a constant reminder to you to pick up your pen and get to work. If my favorite authors can manage to write a book while promoting another, going on tour and buying anew fridge what excuse do I have that can compare. Although, you might want to disengage from Twitter to write. It can be distracting. Just a little. Or just a lot.

4. Promotion- Let’s face it. You write because you want people to read your writing. I’ll admit it at least. Because first thing I do when I write something is shove it in my best friend’s face and demand “Read!” Twitter is a great way to keep people updated and interested in your own work. Especially if you blog (which you should). In the last month since I started really using Twitter to post links to my blog (TweetDeck and scheduled tweets are a wonderful thing) it has become the most dominant form of referral to my blog.

5. Fun- First off, I did try to find a “-tion” word for this, but celebration wasn’t quite right and distraction just seemed offensive (and fun rhymes, sort of). Anyways, Twitter is fun. It cracks me up. I mean, I knew that I loved Ally Carter’s (@OfficiallyAlly) humor in her books, but she Tweets funny stuff too (as well as important, informative stuff). Also, you never know who’ll tweet back. A certain author might have tweeted a picture of a page from their upcoming book. And me being me, I might have gone ahead and read even though I knew it would only drive me crazy (relief comes next week, thank goodness). My retweet/reply read something like “AAAAGH!!!” and she tweeted back. Now, I did not take a picture of my computer screen and have it framed…but I might have thought about. Just might have. Suffice it to say, that one moment made a bad day much brighter.

So, I’m sure that by now you have been won over to the wonders of Twitter, or maybe you were already won over, but there are just a couple more things that I would like to mention. Because on Twitter, nobody wants to be that guy (or girl). You know, the one that nobody wants to follow. So before I go, five things that I have learned to help you tweet smarter (can you tell I’m all about the numbered lists?):

1. Be relevant- I think this is the one I run across the most often. Consider your audience. Do they really need to know what you have for breakfast, lunch and dinner? Everyday? If you’re a chef, maybe. But for the most part, try to refrain from the daily doldrums. Now, this doesn’t mean that you can’t add a little personal flair or give a brief (key word, brief) glimpse into your perosnal life, but try to keep in mind your audience and what they are looking to read. In my case, anytime I come across a tweet about writing, or about someone’s book or just, something that has me rolling on the floor laughing, I’ll retweet it.

2. Be careful- Once you hit “tweet”, it is out there until the end of eternity. You can’t get rid of it. It’s kind of like that tattoo you got on Spring Break. Tweet with care. Double check that your wrods have all the letters in the rihgt places. And be careful what you tweet. Think twice and then thrice. and try not to offend anyone famous or rich.

3. Be nice- You know that thing your mom told you. Yeah, that one. I won’t repeat it, but, keep in mind that this may be the first impression that people get of you. Or the second. Have you heard of the “lost the job” horror stories because people assumed the big man didn’t do Twitter (Or Facebook, etc.)? It’s not just that you don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. It’s that you want to create a professional persona here. It’s okay to disagree with someone, but be polite when you do. Trust me, you’ll thank yourself later.

4. Be giving- The world revolves around the sun. Not me. Not you. You know and I know it. So don’t just tweet your own stuff. You want people to follow you? You have to follow people. You have to do more than tweet links to your blog. You need to contribute and be useful. And part of that is helping share what others have brought to your attention. Best way to get someone’s attention? Retweet their stuff (but you should also be picky, make sure anything you RT matches up with the last three factors).

5. Be real- By which I mean, be you. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of people out there who are going to get some part of your personality. Who are going to find it entertaining and thought-provoking and fun. Don’t try to be someone else on Twitter. I mean, if your M.O. is jerk-face, you might want to censor it a little (unless you’re famous, apparently it’s okay then). But otherwise, feel free to be you. Because that’s who your readers are going to want. And that is who they will connect with.

Obviously, I’m a Twitter baby. So please, chime in with any other advice or tips or enlightening (funny) stories you might possess.

where are you from? by Joseph Robertson

To know where you’re going, you kind of need to know…well, where you are going. Really, I’m serious (mostly). Have you ever started one of those books that kind of meanders, taking its time to get from point A to point B to C to D and then finally develops a plot? Chances are no, you haven’t…unless you’ve been subjected to a literature class (not that those weren’t some of my favorite classes). That’s because publishers know that those books just don’t sell well in today’s market. Readers want to feel that they are headed somewhere important. Now, I know there are some writers out there who respond to the idea of outlining a book like they would to government obstruction of their First Amendment rights.  In my experience though, I  find that my writing is better when I take the time to put down what I know is going to happen and then fill in the blanks.

I’m not talking about outlining the story’s every twist and nuance and action. I’m talking about something as simple as “This is Bob. Bob has this problem. This is how Bob solves the problem.” See? Simple. Feel free to insert your character’s name.

Okay, maybe my outlines aren’t that simple, but that’s how they started.

A little bit on my writing process (because it helps in understanding my outlining process): It usually starts with an idea, like a character’s voice or a scene that comes into my head. Which then normally leads to how the story ends. And after that, I figure out the beginning. I know, weird…tell it to my brain, I have little control over how I think. Beginning and end aren’t usually problems for me. It’s the middle bits (the good stuff) that give me a problem. They like to come at me randomly, leaving me to figure out order.

Hence, my outline.

I build it gradually. Starting with what the books basic plot is (beginning, middle, end). Then I grab out the important, story-changing scenes and see where they fit in the grand scheme of things. Should I make Plot Point C into Plot Point D? Or does PPC actually need to happen earlier to help set up what happens in the middle? Then I connect the dots. I have A and I have B, so I add A1, A2, etc. until I have a whole story in my hands.

By writing things down, I’m able to see a basic progression and then figure what holes need to be filled and how to fill them. Now, I do like more detailed outlines, with chapters and what happens (roughly) in each. Which, when combined with my thought process, leads to some pretty funny stuff. For example:

  • “Time to have some fun with David’s head.”
  • “Annette tries to go along –> Surprisingly easy to dissuade (har har, wonder why)”
  • “Horses, escape the castle –> Princess Bride reference it up, Fezzik, window, etc.”

And my personal favorite (for this book at least):

  • “Annette’s super stealthy medieval ninja powers revealed.”

Yes, that is totally a note in my outline–for Chapter 22.

Your outline doesn’t need to be that detailed, but every story needs a beginning, middle and end. So at least jot those down. I can’t tell you how many of my short stories are unfinished because I can’t remember how they were supposed to end. Don’t worry about getting every word and action down, leave yourself plenty of room to move around. If you know your major scenes, jot those down, play around with their order. See what happens when you throw in a few plot twists. Trust me, it is way easier to rewrite an outline than to rewrite an entire book (this and saving multiple drafts will save you much blood, sweat and hair-tearing).

This also helps if you’ve already written the first draft and are looking to adjust/beef up your story a little bit. Maybe you want to gain a fresh perspective or you are thinking of adding an element to your plot. Again, an outline is a great test before you start messing with the actual book.

And the amount of detail is up to you. I go in already with an idea of how I want to break up my scenes, so my outline has chapters. But maybe you don’t. Maybe you like to wait till you’re in the moment. Or maybe you like to look at the book as a whole once it’s finished to see where your chapter breaks need to occur. Maybe you just want a simple roadmap.

There are as many possible outline techniques as there are authors. So experiment, read a little. Look into books that talk about story structure and outlining/planning. My current outlining process was inspired when I read Book in a Month by Victoria Schmidt. Now, I have adjusted and adapted it…because I have a hard enough time being able to stop for an hour and write, let alone pause for a month.

An outline is just another creative tool, just like a character bio, that you can use to help improve the quality of your book from start to finish. It doesn’t mean anything is set in black and white, but it does help gather your thoughts and keep them all in one place (and if you’re anything like me, you need all the help you can get).

Reading: The Medieval Reader by various & Goddess of Yesterday by Caroline B. Cooney

Research: Inside Your Brain by Eric H. Chudler

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