Archive | September, 2011

Giveaway! Win a copy of THE FAERIE RING!

30 Sep

To prepare for an upcoming interview with author Kiki Hamilton, we’re giving away a copy of her debut YA fantasy, THE FAERIE RING!

Debut novelist Kiki Hamilton takes readers from the gritty slums and glittering ballrooms of Victorian London to the beguiling but menacing Otherworld of the Fey in this spellbinding tale of romance, suspense, and danger. 

The year is 1871, and Tiki has been making a home for herself and her family of orphans in a deserted hideaway adjoining Charing Cross Station in central London. Their only means of survival is by picking pockets. One December night, Tiki steals a ring, and sets off a chain of events that could lead to all-out war with the Fey. For the ring belongs to Queen Victoria, and it binds the rulers of England and the realm of Faerie to peace. With the ring missing, a rebel group of faeries hopes to break the treaty with dark magic and blood—Tiki’s blood.

Unbeknownst to Tiki, she is being watched—and protected—by Rieker, a fellow thief who suspects she is involved in the disappearance of the ring. Rieker has secrets of his own, and Tiki is not all that she appears to be. Her very existence haunts Prince Leopold, the Queen’s son, who is driven to know more about the mysterious mark that encircles her wrist.

Prince, pauper, and thief—all must work together to secure the treaty…

I (Sooz) have read it, and let me tell you guys: it’s awesome. I’ll have a full review coming on Sunday on my personal blog, but the general lowdown is this:

This is one of those books you want to read curled up in your bed while the blustery wind blows outside.

It’s just got that atmosphere–you know the one I mean. That feel of cold and magic and high stakes and romance. It’s a definite must-read for fantasy lovers everywhere.

So if you’re interested in winning a copy, leave a comment below! The giveaway is open internationally, and we’ll announce our winner on Monday after the Kiki Hamilton interview.

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Please Lose Sight of Your Plot

28 Sep

I’m not a plot person. I never have been. As a reader plot is, and has been since I was a child, no more than background noise to me. If you’d asked my eleven-year-old self to summarise Harry Potter for you, I’m pretty sure I’d have said, “It’s about a boy wizard,” not, “It’s about an ordinary boy who goes to this awesome magical school and is pitted against the forces of good and evil!”. For me, a character is a story in and of themselves and the sequence of events, no matter how awesome, always plays second fiddle.

As a writer, my inability to be seriously invested in the events of a story has been a bit of a shortcoming. I’ve learned to use the people around me to overcome this issue. Friends occasionally veto ridiculous, plotless story ideas of mine — the one about a boy who really, really wanted to be a tree is a good example of this, or the novel featuring a girl who sat about reading poetry all day. Beta readers and crit partners will tell me if my story wanders all over the place, adhering to no evident structure. Even in the final stages of edits on FALL TO PIECES, my editor’s asking me to cut internal monologue, or needless imagery to move the story along.

In my more recent writing, however, perhaps as a result of going through this processs, I’ve found myself doing the polar opposite: over-emphasizing plot (for me, anyway). I make spreadsheets and timelines of events. I try my best to adhere to a three act structure. This is a good thing, in some ways, because it does keep the story moving along. But plotting (I should say over-plotting) has also proved to have some vampiric tendencies, sucking the lifeblood from my stories and sapping my enjoyment of the craft.

The events that looked so awesome in my timeline are reading as completely flat on the page. The characters are reading like caricatures, whose motivations make little sense. My drafts, sometimes, read like synopses rather than novels. It took me forever to figure out that over-emphasizing plot was doing me no favors. That obsessively plotting really didn’t suit me as a writer, or the stories I was trying to tell.

I don’t think the over-plotting phenomenon is unique to me, either, based upon some of my reading experiences. Often, when I’m reading really thrilling books with plots that speed along, ratcheting up tension in just the perfect way, something will happen, something big, like a character death, and this person will not be grieved, their death will not be reflected upon. Onwards with the plot!

When authors do this (me included) they may be keeping their external plot afloat nicely, but they’re compromising the emotional core of their stories. The ultimate goal of fiction is not to take a reader from Point A to Point B. The ultimate goal of fiction is to create something with an interesting aesthetic, that generates emotion in the reader. When we fail to do that, we are really, truly failing our readers.

It’s a failure that I’ve suffering through these past few months, but have finally moved past. I scrapped the timelines and went back to focusing on meaning and characters. For me, it’s easier to get my words down and then whittle them into a plot shape, than to try and force them into a plot structure. Others work differently — plotters, I envy you your talents.

Nevertheless, for the sake of readerly pleasure I think that every writer has to lose sight of their plot. Not all the time, just now and again. Because I think it’s in those uncalculated moments that readers will truly be able to lose themselves in the story.

What do you guys think about the importance of plot?

~~~

Vahini Naidoo is  a YA author and University student from Sydney, Australia. Her debut novel FALL TO PIECES, en edgy psychological thriller, will be released by Marshall Cavendish in Fall, 2012. She’s represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. You can read more about Vahini on her blog.

Should Your Story Be Told by an Unreliable Narrator?

26 Sep

by Julie Eshbaugh

~~~

Stories told in first-person POV are enjoying great popularity at the moment. I myself write in first-person almost exclusively.  The benefits and limits of first person have been talked about on this blog and on others (first person is obviously a limited perspective, but it also allows you a deeper understanding of the character’s thoughts – see my POV post here) but I haven’t seen a lot of discussion about the reliability of the first-person narrator. After all, not everyone who tells you a story is telling you the truth.  Should we assume all first-person narrators are telling the truth?  Maybe an even better question for us as writers would be, “Should our first-person narrators always tell the truth?”

This blog has covered characterization from a lot of angles, and my colleagues here have given some great advice, such as in this post on contrarianism by Savannah, this great post about sassiness, also by Savannah, and this post about Mary Sues by Biljana.

But what about reliability?  Is the story your MC tells necessarily the “whole truth and nothing but the truth”?

First, it could be argued that no first-person narrator is telling the complete truth, because the story is filtered through the narrator’s perspective. That’s well understood. But what about the narrator who – due to willful deception or just a poor ability to understand events happening around her or him – just is not trustworthy?

Let’s look at some classic examples of unreliable narrators:

  • Holden Caufield, narrator of JD Salinger’s CATHER IN THE RYE:

Holden tells us a story of two days he spends in New York City after having been kicked out of yet another boarding school.  Holden is strongly opinionated, and rants about the “phonies” around him. But is he always being honest with the reader? No. Instead he’s secretive, a bit dodgy about the details, and frequently makes excuses for himself while holding others to a very high standard. As we read, we discover that we can’t assume that Holden’s side of the story is necessarily the way things really happened.

  • Humbert Humbert, narrator of Vladimir Nabokov’s LOLITA:

This might be the strongest example of an unreliable narrator I can think of personally. Humbert is a pedophile and a very dangerous man. But his story is directed to the “jury,” and that should be a tip that he cannot be trusted. He is a character attempting to justify heinous crimes, and so, despite his amazing eloquence, the reader must stay on his or her guard at all times. The narrator is trying to deceive you. The success of this device is one of the many things I love about this book.

  • Nick Carraway, narrator of F Scott Fitzgerald’s THE GREAT GATSBY:

One of the unique qualities about THE GREAT GATSBY is that it is told in first person by someone other than the main character. In effect, it works to keep a lot of the hero’s secrets hidden, and also contributes to the mythical qualities of Gatsby.  However, unlike Holden Caufield or Humbert Humbert, I wouldn’t argue that Nick knowingly deceives the reader. He tells what he knows. However, what Nick is privy to is often limited to what Gatsby allows him to see and to know. In this case, Nick’s unreliability is more a reflection on Gatsby’s character than on Nick’s.

I hope that these examples give you some food for thought about unreliable narrators. Would this technique work for your story?

Here are some questions you might consider in deciding how reliable your narrator should or shouldn’t be:

  • Does the narrator see the situation of the story clearly, or is her or his perspective skewed by lack of experience, self-deception, pride, etc?
  • Is your character too flawless?  Is he or she infallible? Would suggesting that this character may at times be an unreliable narrator make the character more interesting?
  • Is your character unstable or delusional?  If so, and your story is told in first person, it would be almost necessary that your narrator be unreliable. An emotionally or mentally unstable character would rarely be able to tell a story from beginning to end without distorting the truth along the way.

As for me, I am currently examining the hero of my work-in-progress closely, in order to determine if I have made her more honest than circumstances would allow.

How about your own characters, or the characters in books you’ve read?  Any unreliable narrators among them? Please tell me about them in the comments!

~~~

Julie Eshbaugh is represented by Natalie Fischer of the Bradford Literary Agency. You can find her on Twitter here.

Question for Our Readers: Fantasy Going Mainstream

23 Sep

“The Golden Age of Science Fiction is twelve.”

-David Hartwell

I heard it proposed the other day that therefore the Golden Age of Fantasy is also twelve. However, some have said the Golden Age of Fantasy, in a less abstract sense, is right now.

Fantasy as a genre has become far more mainstream in the past few years. From Harry Potter mania, to Twilight diehards, to Tangled, How to Train Your Dragon, and the HBO adaption of the Game of Thrones series, fantasy has definitely experienced an increase in popularity. But is ‘going mainstream’ bad for the genre?

Do you think that Fantasy is losing the quality it once had, or is the quality, along with the quantity, increasing? What trends in modern Fantasy are you in love with? What trends to do you despise?

Differents Types of Romance, or My Love For You Can’t Be Labeled

21 Sep

by Susan Dennard
~~

When it comes to romance in YA (or really any novel), how the romantically-involved characters first meet is dictated very much by the type of romance you want to create. For example, what’s wrong with this picture:

Scene 1: Boy meets girl. They meet eyes; their hearts skip a beat. He comes over and is ridiculously swoon-worthy.

Scene 2: Boy picks on girl. She retorts with her own insults, and soon they’re quarreling.

Yeah, those two scenes sound like two different kinds of romance, don’t they? Scene 1 fits with #1 below, and scene 2 is more of a #2 from the list.

We may think our love is indefinable and vast and SO WONDERFUL it can’t be squeezed into a label, but…the truth is, like most plots, there is a little bit of formula to romance.*

*Note: romance–like any plot–doesn’t have to follow a formula. It just often does because those formulas WORK. Formulas give the reader expectations, and expectations heighten the tension by transforming the question from, “Is their the potential for love?” to “WHEN WHEN WHEN WILL IT HAPPEN? Just KISS already!” The plot keeps the characters apart when we know they belong together, and that builds a natural tension into the story.

Here are just a few examples of romantic plot lines and what’s needed when the characters first meet:

1. Love-at-first-sight? Then you’ll want some visceral reactions that show the heroine/hero’s initial reactions. Sex appeal, yes, but not explicitly so. A heroine might find her mouth dry and her stomach fluttery, and she might think about how good looking the hero is. Or maybe she’s just wondering why she is so compelled to speak to/see/be near this guy… She doesn’t know, but the reader does! (Ex: Hereafter by Tara Hudson)

2. It could be an “I HATE YOU” to “You’re not so bad” to “I luuurve you” romance. Then, the hero & heroine will probably get off on the wrong foot, immediately argue, and then kinda want to kill each other. Personally, I’m a fan of these romances (oh, Mr. Darcy, how I love thee!), and Something Strange and Deadly has some of this. The visceral reactions/attraction will come later, and that pesky hate thing is a great barrier to the final admission of feelings. (Ex: Star Wars, Han Solo and Princess Leia—best romance EVER!)

3. Maybe it’s a friendship-to-love romance. In that case, we’ll see the hero/heroine as Just A Friend, and we’ll move through the story as the MC figures out his/her true feelings. Again, the visceral reactions/attraction will develop as the story goes along. (Ex: The False Princess by Eilis O’Neal, The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting)

4. It could also be a long term crush turned to love if the MC has always loved the hero/heroine, or vice versa. When we first see the love interest, we also first see how the MC feels. If the MC desperately wants to kiss the boy, then the reader wants her to too–and we’ve gotta keep turning pages until it happens. (Ex: You Wish Mandy Hubbard, Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver)

5. Or it could just be a slow, natural relationship. The characters meet, find each other attractive perhaps, and their romance grows from there. The meet up will have just a slight element of attraction or maybe none at all until a few scenes later. (Ex: Paranormalcy by Kiersten White, Unearthly by Cynthia Hand)

What other romance meet-ups can you come up with? Please share!

~~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

One Book To Rule Them All

14 Sep

by Susan Dennard

~~

One book to rule them in all, and in the greatness bind them!

So, I got this idea from Molly O’Neill’s blog, and it’s such a COOL thing to think about, I wanted to share it here. That is:

If you could only ever publish one book (or one more), what would that book be about?

She calls it the One Book To Rule Them All (it’s a LORD OF THE RINGS reference, btw), and I knew instantly what mine would be. Which in turn, made me stop and consider why that one book isn’t the book I’ve already written or plan to write next.

The answer is pretty straightforward: I’m a coward. I fear I can’t do the concept or the genre justice. I fear that I do not have the skills needed to execute what I would want to be my crowning story.

And no, I won’t tell you what that idea is–what my One Book To Rule Them All is about. Suffice it to say it would be middle grade and so deliciously magical (though with no actual magic or fantasy in it) and brimming with atmosphere you would think about it long after you close its covers.

Well…that’s my dream about it anyway. Clearly, I don’t consider myself up to the task of actually producing that. YET.

What about you? Do you have an idea for that One Book To Rule Them All? Or do you even have an idea like that in mind? If so, what keeps you from writing it now–or have you written it?

~~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

Forced Smiles For Reading

12 Sep

By Sammy Bina

~~~

Remember in high school when you were forced to read books you didn’t like? (HEART OF DARKNESS was a thorn in my side, from 11th grade to my super-senior year of college.) For a while you could get away with using Sparknotes or No Fear Shakespeare, but eventually you’d get stuck in that one class where the teacher was smart enough to quiz you on bizarrely random facts that you only would’ve picked up on if you’d actually sat down and read the book cover to cover (and sometimes, not even then!).

No matter what, at some point in your life, you’ve had to read something you really didn’t want to. It was painful. You’d rather listen to someone drag their nails across a chalkboard than read that book again. I’ve had a few of those pass through my hands over the past 23 years (not that I came out of the womb with a book in my hands, but you know what I mean), and no matter what, it doesn’t get easier. I’ve been required to read HEART OF DARKNESS six times since 11th grade, and you know what? By the last time, I couldn’t even force myself to get past the first page.

Over the years, I’ve done a lot of reading — some of it’s been amazing, some of it’s been okay, and some of it has been downright terrible. But there’s something to be said about books you don’t like, and that is the fact that they’re a great learning tool.

Now, hear me out. I’m not telling you to go reread your least favorite book a million times. I am, however, asking you to reconsider it. I was never a huge fan of FRANKENSTEIN, so we’ll go with that one for this demonstration. I had to read it for a Romanticism literature class in college, and I was beyond thrilled. I’d always wanted to read it, and loved the old black and white movie. As it turned out, however, I wasn’t a huge fan of the book. I’ve never been one for epistolary novels (novels told in letter format), so that was the first strike against it. I also didn’t appreciate the framing aspect of the novel, in that it was essentially a story within a story within a story.

But you know what? As much as I disliked that book, I read the entire thing. And I was glad that I did. First, I’d added another classic to my repertoire (which is still sorely lacking, I’ll admit). Second, I’d gained some insight into gothic culture (not always relevant, but at least interesting). Third, it made me a better reader. It made me a better thinker. I really had to sit down and think about the reasons I didn’t like the story, and what I thought could have been done to improve it. Obviously those changes will never be made, since Shelley is dead, I didn’t write it, and the book is a classic, but still. It forced me to consider other alternatives than the ones presented to me. It also made me appreciate other classics that I liked a lot better. As a writer, it helped me understand what kinds of things work in storytelling, and what would be better left untouched.

Sometimes, when we read, we have to paste a smile on our face. Maybe you’re reading something terrible for class, or a friend’s manuscript that isn’t your cup of tea. Maybe it’s a magazine article you disagree with, or an advice column giving out bad advice. Whatever it is, it’s best to go into it with an open mind. And even once you know you don’t like it, keep going. There is bound to be at least one thing you can take away from whatever it is that you’re reading, and you can always apply that to your own writing. With FRANKENSTEIN, I may not have liked the framing, but I could see why it worked. Though I would have preferred an actual novel, rather than letters, I think I now understand (or at least appreciate) why Shelley chose to present the narrative that way. No, I’ll never do those things in my own writing, but I’ve learned to accept — maybe even like, in rare cases — epistolary novels. So while I am still finding myself reading things I don’t always like, I’ve grown as a reader, as well as a writer. And I think that, in the end, is a worthwhile lesson to be had.

~~~

Sammy Bina is the literary assistant at N.S. Bienstock in New York City. In her free time she’s busy overhauling her adult dystopian novel, THE AGE OF NEVER GROWING OLD, for the YA market. She tweets a bunch and has a new blog, which you can visit here.

Coauthoring A novel: Part Three

9 Sep

When I realized Sooz and Sarah were blogging about Coauthoring, I was pretty stoked. It’s something not many people do, and I was excited to get the behind-the-scenes peek into how they worked. Before I had ever co-authored a book, like Sooz and Sarah, it seemed intriguing…and hard to pull off.

So let’s rewind a couple of years, to when Cyn Balog and I were writing BFFs and CPs, but nothing more. If you don’t know Cyn, she writes paranormal romances for Random House– her first was Fairy Tale, followed by Sleepless, and this summer, Starstruck. While she’s been churning out books for them, I’ve been writing for penguin. Our careers have been amazingly similar– we signed agents within months of each other, sold more than a year later, and our debut novels released 11 days apart.

But, I digress. On this fateful day, I was driving to work and Sarah McLachlan’s FALLEN came on the radio, and one line hit me over the head like a ton of bricks:

I got caught up in all there was to offer.

Immediately, I thought: Isn’t that what YA books are all about? Getting caught up in love, lust, war, popularity, power, a hundred other things? Wouldn’t Getting Caught be such a cool title? But what would it be about?

And an instant later, I knew: A prank war. That would only end when one of them got caught. But it would have to be dueling narrative. Two distinct characters and voices. Hard to pull off by myself. And so I got to work and fired off an email to my CP and said… So, are you in?

She was. So we worked up character sketches. True story,  I used a picture of a young, not yet-completely-glamorized Taylor Swift for her to work from for my character, Peyton.

This is what I sent her —->

I thought it was important that she and I had the same mental picture of our characters.

The next day, I wrote a chapter and emailed it to Cyn. The next morning, she sent me one back. I turned on track changes. Critiqued her chapter.

It was a total high, the back and forth flurry.  The constant critique. I still think it was one of the most useful processes I’ve ever gone through. It pushed me to be a better writer.

Sarah and Sooz pretty much covered the “rules” but I’ll add one more, which Cyn and I did: Decide in advance what to do when you disagree. Cyn and I knew early on that if we disagreed on something, whoever wrote that character/chapter would have final say. It worked wonderfully.  Sometimes I edited sentences or phrases she loved, and she put them back.

A few chapters in, we realized that with a dueling POV and a specific story arc, we’d have to plan it out. We used an excel spreadsheet to map out the chapters and figure out how long the book would be. We noted when a prank would occur in what chapter. And then we wrote, knowing it was okay to stray.

It took only a few weeks to write the rough draft, and several more to revise. We took turns revising, we sent it to CPs. We discussed it with our agents. 

And now, this week, the book went up on Amazon as an eBook exclusive:

   It can be  downloaded for any kindle device (Kindle, Ipad, PC, etc), for just $3.99.

  Here’s the synopsis:

Sometimes in war… there are no winners.

Peyton Brentwood is pretty, popular, and Harvard-bound. Or so she hopes. Her only distraction from AP classes and entrance exams is the prank war with her ex-best friend, Jess Hill. Peyton is used to getting what she wants, and she’s not about to let a loser like Jess gain the upper hand.

For Jess, the prank war is an outlet, a way to get revenge on the best friend who left her behind. As if Peyton has the guts to do what it takes to win. Please. There is no way in hell Jess is going to lose this one, even if she has to hit Peyton where it hurts.

These two girls are about to discover it’s best to keep your friends close… and your enemies closer.

 

I hope you guys enjoy the novel!

~Mandy Hubbard

Author of: Prada & Prejudice, You Wish, Ripple, But I Love Him, and others

Agent with D4EO Literary

 

 

Coauthoring A Novel: Part Two

7 Sep

by Susan Dennard (and Sarah J. Maas!)

~~

As Sarah said Monday, the casual idea of coauthoring a book didn’t become a REAL idea for months. And then the actual world-building and novel-writing happened in a matter of weeks.

We were pushing out two to three scenes a day and letting go of our egos (because how else can you let someone read your first draft? It’s scary!). And as we wrote, a new thought weaseled in: What if this is actually good enough to publish? What if…what if…we could show this to our agents?

It was like tossing a grenade into the fray. Suddenly, we weren’t on fire for our own enjoyment—we were infernos of writing madness. There’s something about imagining your book as a REAL, published novel that motivates like no other.

But, all the excitement and dreaming big aside, here’s where you have to remember the fourth rule of coauthoring: writing is a business. Never forget that deciding to SELL a book adds a new dimension to your project—and it also puts more emphasis on being 100% transparent with each other. Why? Because now Sarah and I were talking money. We were talking about the path of our careers. Now we were looking at our writing schedule as a business plan.

And now, we had to bring in our agents.

So we notified our knights-in-shining-armor, Sara Kendall and Joanna Volpe of Nancy Coffey Literary and Tamar Rydzinski of the Laura Dail Literary Agency. We told them we were coauthoring a book, we were really excited about it, and gave them the rough pitch.

Insert Awesome Agents Stage Left.

Without even waiting to see if we could produce something good, our agents were SUPER enthusiastic about the project, and moved right on to the next step: meeting each other. For an actual coauthored novel to sell, both sets of agents need to be involved constantly.  Everyone is CC’ed on emails, phone calls go out at the same time, and the entire process is completely open and honest.

(Also, it is super exciting. I get to work with a new agent (albeit temporarily). Now there are three possible names in my inbox that make my heart go KAPOW.)

Sarah Chimes In: Getting our agents on board was one of the most harrowing and exciting moments for us. Sooz and I were absolutely honored—and thrilled!—that they trusted us (and our work) enough to move ahead so quickly! And, as Sooz said, it’s SO awesome to closely work with another agent! I’ve admired Sara and Jo for so long that working with them still feels a bit surreal.

We wrote up a detailed synopsis of the entire book and we sent it to our agents before their first lunch date. Funnily enough, the agents instantly recognized—from the synopsis alone—which author (me or Sarah) wrote which character. Even in the synopsis, our voices and unique approaches to storytelling were obvious!

So now that we had our agents in the loop and doing their thing, Sarah and I set to revise our shiny new novel. But I was nervous. Now I was telling Sarah something was wrong with her scenes. Gone were the days of gushing praise—we had to sharpen our claws and get honest.

And so what is the fifth rule of coauthoring? Don’t take it personally. This is one of those obvious lessons we all KNOW we should feel with our novels. We all say our skins are thick from years of criticism, but if anyone out there can say they honestly don’t feel the slightest sting the when someone points out their mistakes, then raise your hand (I want to meet you because you’re clearly not human).

Sarah Chimes In: This is definitely a moment where trust comes into play, too. We had to trust each other to see the things we couldn’t, trust that the other person wouldn’t get upset if we pointed out something that needed fixing, and trust that our friendship could survive through it all. You’re not on opposing sides—you are a TEAM. What happens to one person affects the other. And whatever gets thrown your way, you face it together.

So I had to not fret over hurting Sarah’s feelings, and I had to not wince when she let me know if something I’d written just wasn’t working. I read the entire MS, wrote up a master list of all the problems we had—plot holes, character inconsistencies, etc., and sent it to Sarah. We talked in depth about the issues, and then…

BAM. The hurricane was back. No feelings were hurt at ALL—in fact, seeing the problems somehow drove us to want to fix them. We were determined to reach the book we’d initially set out to write. We’d revise two, three, or more scenes a day and swap. And within a week, we had a new book to show for it.

Now Sarah took charge. With the big problems fixed, there were still all the little issues to fret over. Line edits, pacing, infodumps, etc.  She read the whole novel and with track-changes pointed out everything that needed fixing…

And then we were done.  Well, scratch that. We were done enough for a critique partner.  Sarah and I both firmly believe that sending your agent an un-critiqued manuscript is unprofessional. We had read the book so many times by then, it was all blurring together—we couldn’t see the mistakes any more. An external set of eyes was the only way to spot the remaining problems (and to verify that this book we thought was the Greatest Novel Ever Written was actually any good at all).

Once we got the feedback from our CP, we incorporated her ideas, sent the book through one more strenuous wringer of line edits, and then…we held our breaths, crossed our fingers, and sent the darn thing to our agents.

Insert montage of Susan banging her head against the desk and groaning, Sarah frantically picking all the polish off her fingernails, and both girls writing panicked emails saying “WHAT IF THEY HATE IT?”

Sarah Chimes In: Way to expose my nervous habit, Sooz!!! 😉 Seriously, though—while we waited to hear what our agents thought about the ms, we were pretty pathetic. It felt kinda like the moment of truth—what if all our hard work was for nothing? What if we had to go back to Square 1?

The sixth rule of coauthoring is to be available when your buddy is freaking out because you will certainly have your own fair share of freaking out.

Fortunately, our agents didn’t hate the book—they actually loved it! And fortunately, they were all in agreement on what needed changing and twisting and fixing.

Flash forward a month and a half (oh my gosh, it’s only been a month and a half?), and Sarah and I are just finishing what we hope will be our last big picture revisions before the Submissions Fairy deems us okay for editorial eyes. Every new round of revisions is like that initial grenade, and we work furiously for a few days, send the newest draft to our agents, and then conk out for a week of recovery (just kidding. Sort of.).

Sarah Chimes In: Not gonna lie: It’s like a writing hangover.

Every time there’s some new excuse to work on this book, my heart does a little dance because this means I get to skype with Sarah for 3+ hours and babble about our fantasy world (much to the chagrin of our husbands). I love to talk about my writing—like LOVE it—and being able to talk about my writing with a writer…and with a writer who is writing the same thing?? BLISS!

So, hopefully one day in the not too distant future, this novel will make its way to some publishing inboxes and pique some acquisitions editors’ eyes, and you can promise that when that Big Deal Day comes, we will let everyone know—because the third rule of coauthoring is to have fun, and the seventh rule is to share that fun with the world!

~~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

~

Sarah J. Maas has written several novels, including QUEEN OF GLASS, a YA fantasy retelling of Cinderella that will be published by Bloomsbury in Fall 2012. She is repped by Tamar Rydzinski of the Laura Dail Literary Agency, and resides with her husband in Southern California. You can visit her blog here, and follow her on twitter.

Coauthoring A Novel: Part One

5 Sep

By Sarah J. Maas (and Susan Dennard!)

~~~

Seven months ago, if you had asked me about whether or not I’d ever coauthor a book, I probably would have just scratched my head. It was something that SOUNDED cool, but seemed really, really hard to do well—not just the writing aspect, but also the emotional and business sides of it. Though I was fairly certain that if the right person came around, and if the right idea struck us, it could be a fun thing to do.

Enter Susan Dennard.

We’d swapped novels before—I had read Susan’s stunning debut, SOMETHING STRANGE & DEADLY, and she’d read both QUEEN OF GLASS and A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES (my “Beauty and the Beast” retelling). We both loved each other’s work, and had an instant friendship back when Sooz joined LTWF in October 2010, and had jokingly talked about one day writing a book together. The problem was that we didn’t have any idea WHAT to write.

Sooz Chimes In: If you think about it, it’s pretty daunting to come up with an idea two writers agree on. We’re all used to being 100% in control of our stories, our characters, and our worlds. Not to mention Sarah’s books are very different from mine—at least in terms of world or genre…

Then, one fateful day—February 8th, 2010—inspiration struck. We can’t yet explain WHY that date is so important, but let’s just say that a simple: “What if?” question turned into a “Holy crap…that’s an idea for a NOVEL!”

The thing is, neither Susan nor I had ever co-written a novel—and didn’t really know the first thing about it. We knew almost right away that the novel would be dual POV about two sisters. Which meant we each would be writing half a novel, essentially (though this actually doesn’t mean there’s any less work involved). But things like coming up with our world, plot, and characters—things like outlining and writing a synopsis…we had to figure out how to do all those things TOGETHER.

First rule about coauthoring a novel? Be flexible. Be open with your ideas, be open to suggestions, be open to learning how someone else’s creative process works, and what inspires THEM. And be crystal-clear when communicating.

Once we had a basic idea of our book (and by basic, I mean it was still “What if we wrote X?”), we began brainstorming. Every day. For a few weeks. We’d talk on skype, on gchat, over email. Most of the brainstorming went like this:

Sarah: So what if we did THIS?

Sooz: Ooh!!! That sounds so cool! But what if we did THIS?

Sarah: OMG. YES. And what if we added THIS?

Sooz: And then that could tie into THIS!

Sarah: Or we could go THIS route…

Sooz: Or THIS route!

Sarah: You are a genius because then we could tie it in with THIS.

Sooz: I know. And OMG—YES.

We even roughly outlined the first six chapters, but after weeks of brainstorming, we ran into a slight speed bump: when would this novel be set? We had originally envisioned steampunk, but given Sooz’s debut has steampunk elements, we were hesitant to also make ours a steampunk book. We both knew from the start that if this was gonna work, we’d have to be clear about what we wanted—about what was working for us and what wasn’t.

Sooz Chimes In: Like Sarah said, because SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY is an alternate history with gadgets and because I’m not allowed to write a new book that would compete with it, it seemed like our original envisioning of this coauthoring project wasn’t gonna fly. So I straight up told her, “My no-compete clause limits me. Would you be willing to look at different settings?”

And though it was frustrating to realize that our steampunk setting might not work, it was also a great sign that we were getting this communication thing down—we both felt that the decision to avoid the steampunk route was the right one. Without being brave enough to voice our opinions—and open enough to hear them—the project could have fallen apart right there. But then things like edit letters and revisions and other projects came along, and before we knew it, our little project got set on the back burner.

Weeks went by, and to be honest, we didn’t think of our little project all that often. But then one day out of the blue, one of us said: “So, I’ve been thinking about our little project…What if we set it in THIS setting/era?” And the other one said: “…Well, maybe not THEN, but what about a few years before…?”

What followed then was explosion of creativity that I don’t quite have words to describe. We had our setting, and our two heroines, and a villain—for the next few weeks, we built the world. The thing about co-writing a book is that you BOTH need to agree on EVERYTHING. In a hurricane of brainstorming, we built a world from the ground up—a world that we absolutely adored. One book became a trilogy.

Maybe we had it easy. Sooz and I come from the same geekdoms. STAR WARS, INDIANA JONES, various anime…we loved the same novels. We knew, inside and out, the kind of sources we were drawing from, and knew our target audience. And because we were so familiar with the same things, it made getting on the same page way easier (example: I mentioned wanting a “That’s no moon…It’s a space station.” kinda shout-out moment, and Sooz knew exactly what I was talking about.).

But there comes a point when you can’t do any more brainstorming—when you have to bite the bullet and start writing.

Doing that—deciding to put words onto paper—was perhaps the hardest part so far. We decided to each take a character and write their POV in alternating chapters. After we’d write a chapter, we’d swap those chapters and read through them so we’d be on the same page about pacing and plot development. Initially, it felt like a game of chicken: who would be the first one to write their chapter? Worse: who would be the first one to SEND their chapter to the other?

Confession: Sooz is way braver than me and sent her first chapter before I sent mine. And it was so good that I looked back at the first chapter I had written and CRINGED. And then worried that Sooz would find my first chapter so freaking horrible that she’d realize working with me was a terrible mistake and suggest we not do it.

Sooz Chimes In: Sarah is being ridiculous. When she sent me her first chapter, I got chills…and then freaked out because I had already sent her mine and in comparison, hers was SO much better. I told her what I thought, and she laughed and told me how she felt—next thing you know, we were both feeling pretty confident about our scenes and chomping at the bit to get out more!

Second rule of coauthoring a novel? Embrace your belief that your co-author is writing better stuff than you—and writing faster and more of it. It becomes a powerful motivator.

Seeing Sooz produce such stellar stuff made me push myself. It kept me on my toes. It challenged me to write the very best that I could—it made me demand excellence from myself.

Sooz, like me, is a fast worker. We can both write well over 5k words in a day if we’re focused. Seeing Sooz churn out chapters made me not want to let her down—I wanted to match the quality and quantity of work she was producing. Best of all, these weren’t negative feelings—it was liberating. Inspiring. It was an adrenaline rush and a sugar high and like going 0 to 60 in 7 seconds. I woke up every morning eager to get to work, and went to bed every night dreaming of the next day’s scenes.

We finished our rough draft in two weeks. And then began the process of revision—which is a process that Sooz will talk about in our next article on co-authoring.

Third rule of coauthoring a novel? Have fun.

I keep telling people that this summer has been one of the busiest of my life, and it has. But it’s also been one of the most fun I can remember. Every day, I got to wake up and work (via skype, email, etc) with my best friend. We got to giggle about the guys in our book, or go on wild tangents about Boba Fett or my obsession with Ancient Aliens or the alien-raccoon-demon hybrid dwelling in my attic. Or one of our dogs would bark, and the other would bark in response, and we’d have to stop working for 5 minutes to allow our pups to have a doggie skype session.

We started off just writing this book for the hell of it. Just to have a grand time and write about some of the things we love and wish we could do. But it didn’t take long after we began writing before we asked another question….

“…What if we tried to get this book published?”

~~~

Sarah J. Maas has written several novels, including QUEEN OF GLASS, a YA fantasy retelling of Cinderella that will be published by Bloomsbury in Fall 2012. She is repped by Tamar Rydzinski of the Laura Dail Literary Agency, and resides with her husband in Southern California. You can visit her blog here, and follow her on twitter.

~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.