Friday, October 10, 2014

Falling, Failing, and Chutes & Ladders Redux (with essential footnotes that should be read contemporaneously with the piece)

Me, trying to accept the fall...

One of the most interesting things about being a parent is trying to take your own advice. Or at least the advice of others you dispense to your own kids freely. Like this awesome advice from Kelly Corrigan about failing that I've been dispensing to my college son for weeks:

Great advice from Kelly Corrigan, from this terrific speech,
that I've been dispensing to my kids freely.

I mean, I love that.

I love that so, so much.

A few weeks ago, I handed in my next young adult manuscript -- one called THE MEMORY OF THINGS, which I think may be my favorite ever  -- to my amazing, smart, wonderful, cherished editor at Algonquin Young Readers, who unceremoniously fn1 turned it down.

If you don't know the stinging-sharp, kick-in-the-gut pain of rejection, made ten-fold worse by being rejected by someone you know and love, whose approval you deeply seek and desire, then you might as well not bother to keep reading.

But if you do, then follow along with me, here.

This has been my writing life. Most writers' writing life. This constant rejection, coupled with self-doubt, that only gets compounded by more rejection. fn2

I wrote about the path-- my path -- of trying to get my books published maybe best here, in one of my most popular blog posts ever called My Writing Life: Chutes & Ladders. So, when my current editor turned down my current manuscript, I had to remind myself of this: that my prior editor had turned down the manuscript that my current editor loved and nurtured and bought. This is the subjective nature of writing, of making, or trying to make, art.

And, so. Now I set out to find that new editor, the perfect-fit one who will help spin this new, worthy manuscript into gold. . .

The write-up for THE MEMORY OF THINGS in my agent's October newsletter

To do that, I slide down more chutes. I climb more ladders. I find new edges to bounce back from.

I'm ready and excited to bounce back.

Within hours of my agent's newsletter going out, we had five requests to read the manuscript. In fact, THE MEMORY OF THINGS had the honor of garnering, within ten minutes, the first request.

I'll take this as a good sign.

And, while we're waiting, I'll rake leaves. One foot up on the next rung.

And, now, for your reading pleasure: some Beta Reader feedback fn3  on THE MEMORY OF THINGS... (you may click on the photos to enlarge them.)

High School Librarian . . . 

Teen reader I enlisted through an English teacher in Indiana. . . 

President and co-founder of Books are Magic. . . 

Elementary Reading Teacher and avid reader. . . 
- gae

p.s. I also have a piece of women's fiction called THE SWIMMING SEASON out on submission. Love me from this post and want to get more of me? Ask my agent about that one. And about my other dark & edgy YA called JACK KEROUAC IS DEAD TO ME. Go on. Go on. fn4.

Essential footnotes:

fn 1. I mean, perhaps there was a ceremony and I just wasn't privy to it, what do I know? Perhaps she made a voodoo doll of me at my laptop, placed it in the center of the manuscript, and burnt the whole thing down. Perhaps there was cake involved, which would have been lovely too.

fn 2. Of course, the bruised and battered ego is buoyed, thank goodness, by manuscripts selling and books coming out in between, that garner awards and good reviews, and bring letters from teen -- and other -- readers who love them. We call this keeping us out of the ditch. Okay, fine. I just made that up and called it that. 

fn3. Yes, yes, we writers learn quickly that we are supposed to take our BETA readers feedback with a grain of salt... well, so far, my BETA readers have ultimately been correct. So, salt and all, I'm sticking by them. Especially my teen beta reader's feedback. ;) 

fn 4. In fact, what are you waiting for? Here's his phone number. 212 627 9100   You're welcome. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Friday Feedback: How to Keep Going When Your Inner Critic Chimes In, A Few Words About Querying, and a Standing Offer.

my kids hate these sunglasses.

Whoa! Hold on one minute!!!

No one, but NO one, said summer could go this fast.


I mean, seriously, like mind-blowingly fast.

Alas, it has, and, thus, it is somehow our last official day -- and our last official Friday Feedback -- of the 2014 Teachers Write! summer.

*cue tears* Because, trust me, we are all as sad as you are.

Yet, all we can do is make the most of it. Go out with a bang! So, this modgepodge post will contain:

1. some hopefully valuable information on how to keep going when your inner critic chimes in, from Sarah Darer Littman (& a few others);

2. my now-usual parting gift (you'll see in a moment if you're new here...);

3. the name of the winner of the belated-but-not-forgotten drawing for an Advance Review Copy of Amy Fellner Dominy's A MATTER OF HEART which comes out next spring!

and, of course,

4. Some last-gasp Friday Feedback sharing of any excerpt of your choosing!

It's a long, long post, so apologies, but there's lots I wanted to cover. So, without further ado, here's Sarah, with:

#1. How to keep going when your inner critic chimes in...
Sarah is the author of the forthcoming BACKLASH,
WANT TO GO PRIVATE? and several other amazing
YA novels. Click the link and read all about her!

The Inner Crazy Lady:

After reading some campers' feedback to Gae’s question on the Teachers Write Facebook page the other day about how we might improve consistent participation in Teacher’s Write throughout the summer,  I started to recognize a familiar friend – or, more accurately, a familiar “Frenemy" -- showing up in your comments.

I call mine, “The Inner Crazy Lady.” You might call yours “The Inner Crazy Guy” or “The internalized voice of my hyper critical parents/friends/relatives” or, simply, "Bob."

What this particular "friend" does is sabotage your writing process – inhibiting the free flow of creativity, making you afraid to put another word on the page, preventing you from finishing what you started.

Sarah's ICL probably tried to stop Backlash
from being written. I'll say Beyotch!
*meanwhile, if you're reading captions,
write "I read captions" in your comment to
be entered to win an ARC of Sarah's Backlash!
Winner announced next week
on the TW! facebook page! 
How does The Inner Crazy Lady (or Bob) do this?  By telling you it sucks. That this is THE WORST THING EVER WRITTEN IN THE HISTORY OF EVER. By saying that you’re not a writer, you’re a fraud. My ICL still says tells me this even though my fifth book comes out next March, I’ve written many other work-for-hire books, and I have been paid to write political opinion columns since 2003. Put simply, she is a total beyotch.

As soon as I hear one of my students apologizing for their work before they’ve even read it, I give them “The Inner Crazy Lady” talk. I tell them how I’ve learned to trick the ICL by writing my first drafts as fast as I can, so that hopefully I’m finished by the time she wakes up and starts harassing me. If she does start up, thanks to Anne Lamott I have an answer for her: “Girl, this is just a sh*tty first draft. I’m just getting words on the page. I CAN FIX IT (“it” being whatever her complaint is at the moment) IN REVISION.”

Why do I call her a frenemy rather than simply an enemy? Because the Inner Crazy Lady is also responsible for my driven almost to the point of insanity work ethic, and for how I try to learn from the experience of writing each book (including the criticism) so that I can do better on the next one.  It’s okay that she hangs around -just not while I’m writing the first draft.

Find the strategies you need to keep your Inner Crazy Lady (or Bob) in check. And don’t think you’re alone! Every author has one.


Amy Fellner Dominy, author of OyMG, Audition & Subtraction,
and the forthcoming A Matter of Heart on her inner critic...

and, Charlotte Bennardo, co-author of the Sirenz Series & Blonde Ops

and, me, author of The Pull of Gravity & The Summer of Letting Go

#2. a parting gift... So last year, and maybe the year before, I made a so-far standing offer to any TW! camper who regularly participated on Friday Feedback to review your query letter for any of your WIP's when ready. This summer, I hereby extend this offer. I know this gift only really helps those of you who are working on your own fiction, but, hey, camp is free, and at least it's a little something. BEFORE you send my your queries, I beg of you, please do your research on how to write a query letter and read this post: Friday Feedback: KISS those Queries! While the advice in there is harsh and limiting, I stand by it. Though I have seen the rare query that violates these rules and still gets requests, you'd better believe it was because the manuscript described was exactly what that agent was looking (or, hoping) for. If you find yourself ready to query, feel free to contact me at my email or through my facebook author page;

#3. The winner of an ARC of Amy's Fellner Dominy's of A MATTER OF HEART,

as determined in a purely random drawing involving only me, your names on folded paper, and my son's green golf hat, 

but carefully supervised by the accounting firm of My Son's Dog, Charlie. . . 

is Linda Mitchell!!!! Linda, email me at and I'll put you in touch with Amy for mailing information!

and, last, but not least, 

4. Friday Feedback. You know the RULES! Since it's just you and me today, I'll share a passage from the very middle of my WIP I'm turning in to my agent as we speak! Wish me luck! The story takes place near NYC on the day of, and in the few immediate days after, 9/11. The MC Kyle brings home a girl who has amnesia (and some other weird things) and he hasn't exactly figured out how to tell his cop dad, whose been busy down at the site, that he's brought her there... fyi, we don't know the girl's name, and Kerri is Kyle's sister. . .  So, what works for you? What doesn't? Does it compel you to keep on reading? 

See you in the comments!

Kerri’s door is still shut.
            I knock as quietly as I can, then open it a crack without waiting. So she doesn't call out, to tell me it’s okay to come in.
            Except I don’t need to worry about that.
Because she’s not in the room anymore.
            Kerri’s bed is empty. Made up. My plaid pajama pants folded neatly on the pillow.
            I run down the hall to the bathroom even though it’s clear she’s not there. The door is wide open, the toothbrush I gave her gone from the sink.
            My heart races. Why did she leave without telling me?
            I close the door and sit on the toilet to think, then figure, screw it. If she’s gone, she’s gone. What am I going to do about it? 
            It’s her problem, right? Not mine.
I close my eyes and lean back against the cold tank, shake my head against the thoughts that creep in.
The girl on the bridge in those wings.
At the edge.
Leaning way out over the water. . .
            I try to think back to my sister’s room. Did she take the wings with her? I don't remember seeing them on the chair.
I look helplessly around the bathroom wondering if I said something to bother or upset her? Wondering if she left me some clue.
My eyes pause on the magazine basket. It’s out of place a little, maybe. Rifled through. Jutting from the base of the cabinet.
On top is a June issue of the New York Insider magazine with a photo of Washington Square Park on the cover. Stone archway, pink trees in massive bloom. In an inset, a photo of those three asshole prep school boys who they say raped that exchange student this past summer.
Was that just a few weeks ago?
It was such a huge story back then.
I shove the basket back with my foot, and stand up. Why can’t I be an uncaring asshole like they are?
I mean, really. Why do I care about the girl?
It's great news that she’s gone!
Now, she’s not my problem anymore.
I'm relieved!
I should be relieved.
So why do I feel so crappy?

See you all next summer! Or maybe for a few periodic FF's between now and then?! 
xox gae

p.s. please continue to buy, share, tweet and review the titles of all the Friday Feedback guest authors. Word of mouth is everything to most of us! 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Friday Feedback: Ending it All (or at least a Chapter or three. . . )

Happy Friday, campers!!!!

Do the extra !!!s help?

If I'm having a hard time sounding authentic and enthusiastic, well, the truth is, I'm a bit melancholy that our penultimate Friday Feedback is already here.


Teachers Write goes too fast!

Summer goes too fast!

Don't let me get started on all the rest of things that are blurring on by in a heartbeat. . .

Alas. Here we are, the 8th of August with one week to go, so it seems fitting to talk about endings. So, I've asked guest author, Will Ritter, to chat with you all about just that. Or his take on that, which is how to write a good Chapter ending.

This is Will, making copy edits to a mss.

Will is the fun and quirky author of the forthcoming debut novel, Jackaby, (from MY esteemed editor, Elise Howard at the amazing Algonquin YR).

Jackaby is described as: "Doctor Who meets Sherlock" and features a detective of the paranormal as seen through the eyes of his adventurous and intelligent assistant in a tale brimming with cheeky humor and a dose of the macabre.



That is one awesome cover...
Jackaby has been getting rave advance reviews, and, as always, Will will be spending a good deal of time here today, so please check it out when it releases NEXT MONTH!

So, without further ado, here's Will (and me chiming in once in red) with Friday Feedback:

As the school year approaches and Teachers Write draws toward an end, I’m thrilled to be here to talk about endings. I’m not going to devote much time to THE end. THE end is important, but in a way it’s also easier to write. Chapter endings, I’ve found, are much trickier.
Building up to THE end takes a lot of work, but as I approach, I generally find my direction is pretty clear. After all, I’ve been planning it and pushing toward it for the entire book. It’s a lot like wrapping up the end of the school year—finish everything and then leave them with something to think about. Chapter endings are more like wrapping up a unit or a single lesson. They need to make the preceding work feel productive, and set the stage for what’s to come. They need closure and continuity.
A successful chapter ending occurs at a natural threshold. Shifts in location, time, or emotion are all common places to draw that line—but my favorite ones also set one foot over the threshold, enticing readers to step through and see what lies beyond. 
Sorry to butt in, but I love this: "... my favorite ones also set one foot over the threshold..." I mean, I love that. Because it gives you a perfect image in your brain. So, yes, do that! Do that when you end your chapters!
I don’t worry too much about chapter size, although I tend toward shorter chapters as a preference (a pacing choice common in YA). I just try to end each chapter on a strong emotional beat, in a way that will pull readers forward. I want each ending to feel solid, but I don’t want everything to be resolved too neatly. Readers shouldn’t be fully satisfied until the final page.
There are three ways chapter endings go for me. (1) The nature of the chapter pushes things forward on its own, and all I need to do is tack on a nice clincher that reminds readers of what made the chapter exciting. (2) Other times, I’m in an emotional lull, waiting for the fun stuff in the next chapter. In those instances, I often tuck in something portentous like “I told myself not to worry—everything would be okay. I would not discover how wrong I was until morning.” (3) On rare occasions, however, I find I’m in a lull before a lull. When that happens, there’s no manner of clever wording that can make a chapter ending work. I need to edit out the fluff or just rewrite to keep up the pace.
In the following scene from my current WIP, my characters receive some disquieting news from a policeman, and then go to investigate it (a very archetypical detective-fiction plot point). I had originally taken time for the characters to put on their coats, and written some nice period imagery about a carriage ride to the scene. Blegh. Dreadful. I can work in those details in ways that don’t kill the timing. Instead, I hacked away the florid crap and ended on the stronger beat. I want my reader to feel the bubbling urge to follow me into the next chapter, just as my leads want to follow their liaison to the crime scene. What do you think? Does it draw you along, or does it still fall flat?

* * *
“I’m not here to arrest you this time. I’m here to…” Marlowe took a deep breath and closed his eyes. “I’m here to enlist your services.”
Jackaby raised an eyebrow. “What did you say was the manner of Mrs. Cambridge’s death?”
“Call it unnatural causes,” said Marlowe. The corners of my employer’s mouth twitched upwards. Marlowe rolled his eyes and nodded obliquely toward the street. “Just hurry up. I’ve got a driver waiting.” He stamped off down the front step, not bothering to ask if we would be right behind.

* * *

So here's your chance. Share an excerpt in the comments that's a chapter ending (or a section ending...) and see if it leaves us wanting more.

And please be respectful and remember the RULES:

  • what works, first. 
  • If something doesn't, why not? 
  • And no more than 3 - 5 paragraphs, the latter if short! 

Thanks for being here, Will! Congrats on Jackaby's imminent arrival!!!

Will & gae

Friday, August 1, 2014

Friday Feedback: More on Character: Seeing the Face Before You

Charlotte, looking uber hip and cool..
Dare I say, like a Siren(z). :D 

Today I have the lovely Charlotte Bennardo on Friday Feedback, co-author of BlondeOps and the Sirenz series (Sirenz, and Sirenz Back In Fashion). We're talking some more about character, and "seeing the face before you." As always with my FF guest authors, Charlotte is putting in much time, energy and love here, so please check out her books, buy a few, and tell your friends and students about them. 

I like meeting my characters, face to face. Impossible you say, because that character is only in your mind?  Well, we all have a doppelganger (or two…). So there is someone out there who looks just like (or really close to) your character.

When I set out to write my YA sci fi novel, Lethal Dose, I was doing it during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month- 30 days, 1660 words a day every day in November). I couldn’t waste time daydreaming about my character’s physical appearance. Instead of a text-only trait list, I scoured the internet looking for that picture of my character.

For Sirenz and Sirenz Back in Fashion, (co-authored with Natalie Zaman), we agreed that Hades, Lord of the Underworld would be hot and hunky. We imagined Ian Somerhalder (Vampire Diaries) as Hades. Because we wrote alternating chapters, it helped immensely to see the face, know how the eyebrows quirked, or the mouth tugged up on the left in a grin, etc. so we could be consistent. For Lethal Dose, I chose Nicholas Hoult (Jack The Giant Slayer) because he looked like what I imagined for Dalen Steele. Keeping a publicity shot printed on Dalen’s ‘bio’ helped me feel close to my character.

What didn’t work was a ‘grocery list’ of things like “Hazel eyes. Brown hair. 6’ tall, loves his mother,” etc. It’s too ‘dry’ and flat. “A picture is worth a thousand words…” A cliché that works for me. Some people don’t want a definitive image, and they can work like that.  But if your story has a number of characters, how do you keep straight what they all look like, how do you keep them all from blending in?

Nicholas Hoult,
photo courtesy of fanpop.
Here’s a partial sample of Dalen’s bio:                                                                                                              
-19 yo
-6 ft
-hazel eyes
-adept at biology, chemistry, botany
-Earth gypsy
-cool, detached, precise
-sole support for mother Sarita, sister Jenica, and mentor Myca
-loves gletoid legs (large, prolific insect- tastes like chicken!)

A list requires time to sort through and when I’m in the middle of writing a complex scene, taking time to read several pages can ruin the flow—whereas I can take a quick peek at the face without interrupting my typing. When deadlines and fast flowing thoughts are chasing me, anything that helps me stay in the groove works for me.

So, interesting, Charlotte! I used to be the opposite. For my first several manuscripts, I never made character lists or bios (still don't), and purposefully didn't want to look at a photo, especially of a famous person, and equate them -- fictional and non-fictional -- in my brain. I wanted to "see" the character in my mind and not have them look like anyone else in my head. Much the same reason I still don't like when they put a photograph of a character on the cover... I don't want to tell the reader how the character looks so much as let the character look to them however he or she feels through the writing and story.

THEN, in the early revisions of "Frankie Sky" (now, THE SUMMER OF LETTING GO), I got stuck... I felt like Francesca wasn't coming to life in my brain or on the page. I suddenly felt the need to "see" her externally, to make her feel alive. 

I googled photos for days... typing things like "16-yr old girl, looks young, straight hair, thick eyebrows, plain but pretty," into the search bar. Until I came up with this photo... 

**SPOILER ALERT** for those who have not yet read THE SUMMER OF LETTING GO, scroll down fast or cover the screen if you don't want "my" vision of Francesca in your brain.

*** DOUBLE EDITED ALERT*** You snooze, you lose. I'm pulling the photo down to protect the innocent... ;) I warned you earlier...

Anyway, the minute I came across the photo, I knew. It was her, my Francesca, right down to her soulful penetrating eyes.    

Using the photo, I went back and rewrote her. Her dialogue came more clearly. Her relationships came more clearly. Her desires and fears too. I've done the same again for the MC, Kyle, in the WIP I've been working on this year. It really helps me now a lot to let myself find that doppelganger to the character in my story. 

So, here we go! Let's share more about our characters (or feel free to post any excerpt you're wanted some feedback on) in the comments!. And, please remember the RULES. And to check out a copy of Blonde Ops! 

And, now, for feedbacking, here's Charlotte's excerpt from her WIP, Lethal Dose:

Dalen tried to stay as unobtrusive as possible; just a slum rat scouring the marketplace looking for a dropped coin, a lost scarf, a discarded piece of junk that might be useful.
            That’s when he saw the Lexian. His white hair, long ears and pupil-less eyes confirmed his species although he was rather short; about six and a half feet by Earthling standards. His blue-tinged skin was less common than Dalen’s golden. Curious, Dalen inched closer to him and the Garans he was talking with, to eavesdrop.
The Lexian was trying to work a deal to sell some gold uranium alloy, one of the rarest elements in the universe. Even at fourteen, Dalen seriously doubted the Lexian had it. Just a whisper of someone having the stuff would bring not only thieves and cutthroats, but Assassins from the Guild. Dalen wondered how the Lexian could be that stupid to be so obvious—and even stupider for trying to deal with the Garans. They were cold-blooded, reptilian, and lethal not only because of their razor sharp claws but because they were smart—and untrustworthy. The greedy little bastards were always trying to haggle every deal that left the other party screwed. Even a nobody Earthling like Dalen knew they were best avoided.
            The Lexian was trying to get one of the Garans to shake on the deal when Dalen saw the other pour something from a liquid nitrogen-cooled container into the Lexian’s drink.
            He kept silent. Wasn’t any of his business.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Friday Feedback: A True Story from Avi . . . and Character-Building.

So, as many of you know, I had a BIG birthday this week.

And what better birthday week present than to have an author participate here on my blog whose work I not only admire, but also read aloud to my own boys when they were younger!

Talk about the perks of becoming a published writer...

When Avi offered to guest host a Friday Feedback, I thought (omg! omg!) what to ask him to talk about?!?! I scrolled through his blog -- which is rich with wonderful writing information, by the way) and came across a version of this post he shares below here on Character Building. It so resonated with me, that I asked if we could head in that direction.
This was weeks ago, and, so, I was particularly excited when, last Friday, the issue came up in the comments about a character describing himself by looking in the mirror.

Like starting a story with the weather or a character waking up from a dream, it is, of course, a "common-wisdom-says" no-no to have a character describe him or her self using this technique. As I wrote in the comments, however, I have mixed feelings about this hard rule against (and most hard and fast rules for or against anything). I do believe there are times when a character -- especially a teen girl -- will look at her image in the mirror and react to what she (or she) sees, and that this action, and its reveal (the character's subjective perspective on what she sees), is right and organic for the story.

From The Summer of Letting Go.
My editor left it in, so I assume she was okay with it too.

It did get me thinking again about how hard it is to describe a character well, to figure out the right amount of description and make it occur organically.

When it comes to a character's physical description:

  • How much is good and needed? 

  • How much should a writer leave to the reader to fill in? And, 

  • Even if you don't describe your character to a great degree in your story, do you, the writer, need to know what he or she looks like in detail, in order for that character to feel authentic and come alive on the page?

Here to talk more about this is the author of more amazing books than I can count, including in no particular order, the Newbery, and other award, winning winning Crispin: The Cross of Lead, Poppy, Nothing But the Truth, and The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, as well as the forthcoming Catch You Later, Traitor, March 2015 from Algonquin Young Readers. You'll learn more about the story below in his post!

As always, I hope you will pick up the book when it comes out and share it with your students in your classroom!

So, without further ado, here's Avi.

Here is a true story.
Of all my books, Bright Shadow, took the longest to write—fourteen years.  

Of course, I did not work on it continually all those years, but picked up, put it down, until, finally, it was done.  I was rather obsessed with it, a medieval fantasy, about a girl who is given—without her knowing it—five wishes.  In the text, there is very little physical description of the girl. 
A few months prior to the publication of the book, I dropped into my editor’s office. “So glad you came by. We just got the art for the cover of Bright Shadow.”  He held it up. I looked at itMy instantaneous thought was, That’s not her nose.
I am not aware that I ever thought of her nose before—nor did that nose have any consequence for the story-- but unconsciously, I must have pictured her because, the artist had not depicted her nose as I had imagined it. 
Did I say anything to my editor? No.  I felt silly. But I do believe that knowing—albeit unconsciously—what my character looked like, helped me write that book.
I thought about this because my next book, Catch You Later, Traitor, will be published early next year. It is, as they say, in production.  The story is told by Pete, in the first person. Just recently, I received this note from my editor’s assistant:
“One more thing: Our art director has asked me for a physical description of Pete, to give to the jacket illustrator. I’m looking through the manuscript and not finding anything too specific. Would you mind letting me know how you picture Pete?”
In other words, though this book has been in my head—and on paper--for something like eight years, actively working on it for four years, only then was I required to think (consciously) what my lead character looks like.
I quickly wrote back (note: the story is set in 1951):
“He’s 12 years old, just about to go into his growth spurt. (His best friend, Kat, the girl in the story, is taller than he is.) But at the moment, his is youthful looking, not particularly adolescent. Rather innocent, in fact, though on the edge of growing older. Stands tall. Wants to be tall. No slouch. Wishes his voice was lower. I’d bet his hands seem a little big, likewise feet, but not his ears. Nose, blunt, round.  Round cheeks. His eyes are dark and that is the most intense aspect about him. He looks at things, people. Curious. He will be tall, (taller than his father) and on the slim side, long faced. He would like to look like a lean, hard faced movie detective…but won’t, ever. Black hair. Curly. Not particularly neat in dress or hair. Wears Converse sneakers. Lumpy vest sweaters his grandmother knits. Collared shirts. No t-shirts to school. Might have a denim Eisenhower jacket. There is nothing athletic about him—but he enjoys playing sports, punch ball, dodge ball, stoop ball—city sports. He’s a reader, but does not wear eyeglasses. There are not many laughs in the book, but I bet he has a good grin, and he likes jokes. When he is worried, it is obvious.”
Voila! The beautiful cover for Catch You Later, Traitor,
coming March 2015 from Algonquin YR.
My point is this: knowing your character outside your book will help you write about him—or her—inside the book.  

So, given that it's Friday Feedback, let's think and post about character today: Either a literal moment of character description that you're working with or trying to get right, or a section where you're hoping your outside knowledge of your character's physicality will help you get the inside passage right. See, as you read Avi's excerpt, if you can feel how his knowing his character physically helped him to develop the character's personality.

And, please remember the RULES: What works first, what doesn't if something doesn't, and keep it short, please. NO MORE than 5 paragraphs if short, or 3 paras. if they are long. 

My huge thanks to Avi for being here. 

Now, the first few paragraphs from Catch You Later, Traitor. Enjoy!

Catch You Later, Traitor


The way I see it, I stopped being a kid on April 12, 1951.
That afternoon we were playing our regular afternoon recess punch ball game out in the schoolyard. I was about to smack the ball when Big Toby, who always played catcher, muttered, “Hey, Pete, that true about your parents?”
I looked over my shoulder. “What?”
“Is what Donavan said about your parents true?”
I stared at him as if he had walked off a flying saucer. Why would Mr. Donavan--our seventh grade teacher--say anything about my parents? And how come I hadn’t heard?
“Come on, Collison,” Hank Sibley yelled at me. He was near second base, which was someone’s sweater. “Stop gabbing. Recess almost up.”
He blew a huge bubble with his gum that popped as I punched a shot inside third.
Kat, the only girl playing, raced home.
Our schoolyard was cement, which meant if you slid home, you’d peel off your skin. So no sliding allowed. Anyway, Kat stomped on her geography text—our home plate--and yelled “Dodgers win!” well before the ball was thrown home.
Grinning, I stood on first base--my English reader. Next moment the school bell clanged. Recess over, we grabbed our stuff and headed back to class.
“Kicky hit,” Kat said to me.
Kat’s real name was Katherine Boyer. Some people considered her a tomboy. I couldn’t have cared less. She and I had been sitting next to each other ever since fourth grade. In fact, we did most things together—school, homework, movies, radio and TV. Her mother once said we were back and forth between apartments so much, it was hard to know who lived where. Kat was like the other half of my brain.
“Thanks,” I said, but Big Toby’s question—“that true about your parents?”—kept bouncing ‘round my head like a steel marble in a lit-up pinball machine.

We poured into Brooklyn’s Public School Number 10. The old brick building had no music room, no art room, no library, and no gym. All the same, it stank like a locker room. 

- gae & Avi

Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday Feedback: Pushing Your Idea to New Heights

With Huntley Fitzpatrick at
Eight Cousins Books
where we googley-eyed a lot of covers.
Hey all! I had an amazing time at Eight Cousins Books on the Cape, and Bunch of Grapes on Martha's Vineyard last weekend, and somehow a whole 'nother week has gone by. . .

This week, I finally finished my rewrite/overhaul of my manuscript. Now, I've started reading through it trying to figure out if it's good or if it's total crap.

As I've said before, yes, the chasm of not-knowing is that wide. We get too close to the point where only time, and a few sets of more objective eyes, will start to tell.

As I was finishing up the revision this week, I got this great post from this week's guest author/feedbacker, Nova Ren Suma. Honestly, it took my breath away a bit, and made me want to go back in, and try to push my writing more, once again. A thousand sighs when that happens, but, man, do I learn a lot from other authors.

Lovely and pensive Nova Ren.
So, if you don't know Nova Ren Suma for some reason, you should. She is the author of the YA novels Imaginary Girls and 17 & Gone. We're not only literary agency "sisters" both with Dystal & Goderich, but we're publishing house sisters now, too: her new novel, TheWalls Around Us, comes out March 2015 from Algonquin YR. Already, I'm hearing some pretty awesome buzz around it. So please add her earlier books, and especially WALLS to your must-read lists! 

So, here you go, you lucky ducks. Here's Nova:

Last week you got some great advice here on Friday Feedback on beginnings, and now I’m here to trip you up and ask, So you have an awesome first few pages… Great! But what comes next?

Some of us (not naming names… though her initials are NRS) have been known to spend weeks, even months, polishing up that novel opening, getting it just so and just right, only to discover that we’ve lost momentum and aren’t exactly sure where our story should go next. This is often the moment when it feels so easy to give up… To set the novel aside… To see what’s on TV or who’s saying what on Twitter…

But wait.

Maybe what you need to do is push your idea to new heights—and by that I mean, sometimes the most excitement moments of writing come when you get creative and do something shocking. When you raise the stakes.

Here’s an example: 

When I was writing the very first exploratory draft of my novel Imaginary Girls, all I knew at first was that it would start with two sisters at a party at a reservoir in the middle of the night. I had a lot of dramatic happenings I knew would threaten their close relationship, but there wasn’t any BIG, WORTHY moment coming at them head-on that would shake things up.

I was writing a scene in which the older sister, Ruby, dared the young sister, Chloe, to swim across the reservoir in the night.

I lost myself when Chloe was swimming. There was backstory I wanted to insert. There was scene description I got carried away with writing. There were memories. There were pieces to Chloe’s character that I wanted to subtly introduce. There was a lot, and for quite a while she was treading water while I wrote my way through them.

Then it occurred to me: Wouldn’t this scene be way more interesting if something active HAPPENED, like, right now?

But what?

Something mysterious.

Something shocking.

Something that would turn this scene—and this story—on its head.

That’s how, on a whim, I decided to have Chloe swim into a dead body.

Everything changed about the story from that moment, through this sudden experiment. It opened new doors. It gave new possibilities. It offered mystery. And it gave me the chance to really raise the stakes and make some exciting, promising story choices.

So here’s my advice to you when you find yourself treading water in your story, not sure where to go next:

  • ·       Make something active happen to throw your character off-course
  • ·       Raise the stakes of your story
  • ·      Give yourself the opportunity to make interesting choices
  • ·       Surprise your character and surprise your readers…
  • ·       And you may just surprise yourself

If you want to see what happened with that dead body in the water, you can go read the first chapter of ImaginaryGirls, which was published in 2011. But if you want to see me working through that very same problem in a brand-new piece of fiction, because it's Friday Feedback, now you have your chance.

Here’s an excerpt from a project I’m working on in which I decided to raise the stakes in a scene—possibly with a fantastical twist—and then see where that might take me.

So what do you think? Don’t forget the rules: What works? What doesn't, if something doesn't? And… imagining this comes some ways into the story, would this keep you reading? 

(And, when you're posting your excerpts please remember NO MORE THAN 5 paragraphs if they're short, no more than 3 paragraphs if they're long!)

I hand over my set of keys, and it’s when my cousin Misha is walking away, descending the rows of bleachers, that I discover this thought inside me. It’s a bad, unbuttoned thought. I want something to keep her from getting to the car.
I guess I simply want Misha to stumble on the bleachers and drop my keys so I can take them back, maybe fall in the dirt and mess up her cheer uniform. That’s not what happens.
It’s a coincidence, I decide, that the wind comes right then. But is it?
A wild, whipping howl grows in force and slams straight into the bleachers, jolting the entire structure. The weather reports had given an all-clear before the game, but they must’ve gotten it wrong. A storm must have been coming, because it’s roaring all around us now. It’s directly overhead.
There’s a burst of rain, gushing down on us and then leaving us dry as quickly as it came, but that’s nothing. It’s the continued battering of wind. The wind that overtakes the field behind the high school, threatening to raise the bleachers from the ground and transport them with us clinging into Lake Erie.
The wind swirls, and I swear it seems to be centering itself around my cousin in her dark red cheer skirt. It’s like an animal, the way it comes for her. Like it wants to devour her.
I watch as she’s taken, lifted from the bleachers into the swirling sky.
She’s forced up from the bottom as if her teammates have her feet, but there are no teammates to spot her and there’s nothing under her feet. She climbs into the air, held by nothing, her arms out grabbing nothing, the nothing flapping and slapping at her clothes, trouncing her hair.
The bleachers are far below her now, the flashing 0 of the home team’s score at level with her bright blond head. She writhes in the wind, and then straightens. She’s suspended, her body frozen, her eyes on me.
I find myself moving toward her, my arms reaching up and out for her, but my fingers can only graze the toe of one white sneaker. Then they can’t even latch on to that, because she’s lifted beyond the reach of my fingers, into the rattling, shuddering roar at the heart of the windstorm.
I’ve never seen anything like this before. Or wait—have I?
I have. 

Nova and I will both be here around 11 EST this morning, and not before, so please don't worry if we're not here until then.
And, as for the ARC drawing last week for Amy's A Matter of Heart, I forgot (see, finishing manuscript), so I promise, I'll go back and do it this week (and announce it midweek!).  Happy writing!

- Nova & gae