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Interview with Shelli Johannes, author of UNTRACEABLE + GIVEAWAY!

30 Nov

by Susan Dennard

You might have seen my book review for Untraceable on Sunday. If not, read it. This book is impressive–and its author, Shelli Johannes, is quite possibly even more impressive.

Why do I have such glowing praise for Shelli? Because she’s done something a lot of us are too scared to do: she has indie-published her debut novel.

But more importantly than that, Shelli has indie-published it right. She has approached it as a professional author who knows the industry, knows what readers want, and knows how to tell a damn good story.

If you want to hear more about her amazing and empowering journey, I suggest reading her blog series on it (which begins here). I was lucky enough to get an interview with Shelli about her publication process, and all I can say is: WOW. She is an inspiration to us all.

When you started writing Untraceable, what was the inspiration behind it?  A dream? A musical clip? Plain, old-fashioned brainstorming?

My husband came home one day from being in the remote woods for the weekend and said, “I was so far out–a terrorist camp could set up there and no one would ever know.”

The story started out called Grace Under Fire. And it was about terrorist cells in the wilderness (hides face from embarrassment). Years later, I got rid of the terrorist camp but kept Grace and the wilderness.

It actually came in the quarterfinals in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award of 2009. 1 of only 7 thrillers to make the list.

Wow–I did not know that about the Breakthrough Award! (Can’t say I’m surprised either ;)) And what a COOL way for a story to start…mine are always lame dreams, so I’m totally jealous.

What was the biggest challenge for you while writing UNTRACEABLE? 

Editing it. Back in 09, I remember agents HATING the terrorist angle but loving Grace and the overall setting (go figure :)) so I had to go back to the drawing board and rewrite the entire plot from scratch. I did that more than once. But that time was the hardest.

You’re taking a different, unique path for getting your book out there, and you’re really showing other writers how self-publish in a professional, and reader-focused manner. It’s obvious you care about your readers more than making some quick cash. When and why did you decide to indie-publish?

For a few reasons:

  1. I was tired of people telling me a contemporary thriller would not sell well to teens.
  2. I wanted to see if I could do it on my own and learn more about publishing process in general.
  3. I thought it would be fun to create my own thing my own way.

Because I was scared everyone would think I suck, I decided to blog about the process openly – the ups and the downs to see if I could help others decide if indie pubbing was right for them.

I also hear so much about the stigma of indie/self pubbing. I wanted to break through that barrier and create a high quality product I was proud of and show people that you can do it the right way.

Yeah, I think that stigma is starting to fade as more and more writers with high-quality stories take that route. All I can say is: GOOD FOR YOU! For having the courage and the determination to do this the “right way”.

Is there anything that, in hindsight, you wish you had done differently with UNTRACEABLE–either in the writing or publication process?

I’m having so much fun I wish I had done this a long time ago. I wish I had skipped all the unnecessary anxiety. But I believe everything happens for a reason and I am where I am supposed to be.

Too true–I’m a firm believer of that as well. What’s your next writing project? And do you think you’ll continue on the self-publication path with it?

I have a special edition of Untraceable coming out in Jan/Feb with a different ending. And I am putting out Grace 2 – called Uncontrollable early next summer.

Beyond that – I’m not sure. I have manuscripts that have almost been bought on my shelf. Who knows maybe I’ll pull another one out.

But I am writing a WIP that I would like to get an agent for down the road. I love the traditional pubbing process so I hope to do both someday when I am ready to jump back in the pit.

I think it’s so awesome that you’re interested in both approaches and that you want to try to tackle both. I would love to as well…one day…when I’m not so lazy.;) Honestly, though, writing all these books and self-promoting–it must take a lot of perseverance and hard work. What’s a typical writing day for you? 

I drop off my daughter at school around 8 and then hang with my son until I drop him off at preschool at 9. I spend about an hour on the Internet with emails, twitter, Facebook, catching up on blogs etc. I usually write from about 10-12ish. Then I catch up on emails again before I get my son at 1.

But this is not how it is all the time. Especially not right now.

Right now, I imagine your life is wrapped up in UNTRACEABLE promotion. In your spare time, though, what are you reading?

Just finished The Pledge by Kimberly Derting and Fracture by Megan Miranda.

And any final words of advice or inspiration? 

Don’t give up. Let go of you ego. And follow your heart.

Leave a comment below for a chance to win not only an ebook of Untraceable, but also a copy of Escape Velocity and an ARC of Promise the Night.

It’s open internationally, and we’ll announce our giveaway winner on FRIDAY! ALONG WITH OUR BIG NEWS!

And Monday’s giveaway winner (for a copy of PRETTY BONES) is

Nicole Steinhaus!

Email us at letthewordsflowblog (at) gmail (d0t) com with your mailing address!

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The Art of REwriting

9 Nov

by Susan Dennard

~~

It’s NaNoWriMo month.

In other words, it is currently hell-on-earth for many writers around the globe. A self-induced hell that anyone who isn’t participating in just CAN’T UNDERSTAND.

Yes, we clearly enjoy torture, but no, we are not insane. (Though, ask again in 3 weeks…)

Anyway, the purpose of this post is to soothe the minds of worried first-drafters. Everyone will tell you this (including Vahini, here on LTWF), and all I can do is reiterate:

It is okay to write crappy first draft.

In fact, we’re all expecting you too…because so will we.

And, if I’m REALLY HONEST with you, then I’ll just go ahead and share a little secret:

I’m a really bad writer.

Like, downright dreadful.

Here’s a quote that pretty much embodies me:

“More than half, maybe as much as two-thirds of my life as a writer is rewriting. I wouldn’t say I have a talent that’s special. It strikes me that I have an unusual kind of stamina.”

~John Irving

This is so, so, so me.

My first drafts are riddled with long pages of backstory and slow, unnecessary scenes in which characters (i.e. me) get to know each other. Every piece of dialogue has a tag–many of which are “snapped”, “hissed”, and “growled” (my characters, it would seem, are easily annoyed).

My first drafts are so bad, in fact, that I would rather be paper cut to death than share them with anyone. I’m serious–no one reads my first drafts. In fact, my crit partners are usually eyeballing third or even fourth drafts. It’s not just that I’m self-conscious about my prose–it’s that I am perfectly aware I can’t write well.

The issue is that my first drafts come out fast. We’re talking all my first drafts are NaNo-worthy, month-long passions of speed-typing.

I usually have a strong idea of the primary external plot, but I have zilch for my subplots or resonance. And as I write, my Muse strikes me with ideas for clever (or sometimes not-so-clever) threads to weave in.

By the time I finally reach the end of my book, the manuscript is what I (lovingly) like to as one giant clusterf***.

But you know what? That’s okay…

Because, by golly, I am one hell of a REwriter.

Just take a look at these massacred pages from the very first REwrite of Something Strange and Deadly. (It was still in third person! HOW WEIRD.)

Ah, but one REwrite wasn’t enough. Here’s the same section during round 2 of a total REwrite:

So let’s lay out some ground rules about rewriting–some things you might want to come back to when NaNoWriMo wraps up and you find yourself crying maniacally in the corner.

The first key to rewriting is to NOT STRESS. You may have a disaster on your hands, but you can always, always clean that up.

You have a story now (something you didn’t have when you began). All you have to do is take what you wrote and make it WHAT YOU WANTED TO WRITE.

If you want to see why stress is a killer, then read this hilarious post by author Libba Bray. My favorite line?

…then Tim comes in, takes a look at the dirt and staples all over you, your bloodshot eyes and borderline psychotic grin, puts his finger to his mouth in a thoughtful way and says, “I’m concerned.” And you say, “No, Tim, it’ll all work out—I swear!” And you staple some fertilizer to the floor and laugh.

The second key to rewriting is to STAY ORGANIZED. Go in with a plan and that messy first draft will seem way less scary.

You are gonna TACKLE THIS BEAST TO THE GROUND, GOSH DARNIT.

Plus, if you need help figuring that “plan stuff” out, well, I’ve got an entire revisions series that you can work through.

The third and final key to rewriting is BICHOK. Get your Butt In that Chair, your Hands On that Keyboard (or pen, if you’re like me…making it BICHOP) and work! You need to max out your stamina and determination for all they’re worth.

Because eventually and with enough hard labor (and possibly tears–those have been known to happen), you can turn any horrible first draft into a masterpiece.

I mean, just look at what my tattered pages above became:

Yeah, that’s an ARC of my book–an ARC of my REwritten, multi-revised (at least 8 times by the end…probably more), crappy-first-draft-in-a-month BOOK.

And with a little elbow grease and drive, you, my friends, can do the same.

So what about you? Do you write clean first drafts or rely on re-writing to get your novel where it needs to be?

NaNoWriMo Advice: Your Work Doesn’t Suck…That Badly.

2 Nov

by

Vahini Naidoo

~~~

Since NaNoWriMo has just begun, I thought I’d do a post on writing speedily and efficiently without sacrificing quality. It’s not an uncommon sentiment on agents’ blogs that NaNoWriMo is the bane of their existence. The fear (and inevitable horror) of getting inundated with masses of unedited, quickly and poorly written novels, is palpable around this time of the year.

This is probably (definitely) not without reason, since one of the most commonly bandied about ideas when it comes to NaNoWriMo is that first drafts are crap. They don’t matter. You just have to force out the words. You can suck, and that’s okay. It’s okay to suck.

I almost completely agree with this. Suckage is just about the biggest part of writing – but sometimes, I think a healthy dose of egotism goes a long way. You can’t stumble through your draft, obsessing over the fact that you “suck” and then thinking that that’s okay. There’s a distinction there, to me. It’s okay to suck, it’s not okay to be hyper-aware of the fact that you suck.

Why, you may ask? Surely being aware of your general suckitude is a good thing?

In hindsight, I think it definitely is (and you really will have to edit your NaNo novel if you want to get a good final product), but not when you’re writing your first draft. Think about it this way, if you’re delivering a speech and you’re aware you suck at public speaking, you’re going to be super nervous. And if you’re super nervous, your voice is going to quaver, you’re going to stutter and stumble, and get swallowed up in gaping, potholes of pauses.

It’s the same thing when you’re writing. If you’re too self conscious about your suckitude, then your voice will hit the page warbling and off-key. It will ramble all over the place, and fail to seem coherent and consistent. In this case, you have to write with assurance, in order to ensure that your voice, at the very least, is consistent (although half your words may be redundant, your characters may make zero sense, and that subplot about the goldfish swimming about it’s bowl may not be the most scintillating…).

Writing like this, with poise and aplomb, as if you know what you’re doing even when you don’t (especially when you don’t), is the kind of attitude that gets you through a month like NaNoWriMo. So be aware of the fact that you suck, but don’t internalize it to the point where it affects your progress. Instead, push it to the back of your mind, and write with assurance.

And onwards and upwards with your word counts!

~~~

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.

How Should We Handle Racially ‘Diverse’ Characters in YA?

24 Oct

There’s a question mark in the title of this blog post, because I’m actually not 100% sure where I stand on this issue. Hopefully I’ll have worked it out by the time I’ve finished writing this post. Hopefully.

So, diverse characters. There’s a definite push for more diverse characters in YA, lately, but given the controversies like the whitewashing of the covers of Justine Larbalestier’s Liar and Cindy Pon’s Silver Phoenix, it’s obvious that we’ve still got a long way to go. Of course, the need for diversity isn’t limited to race – we still need greater representation of the LGBT community in YA, for instance, and maybe even of boys – but for the purposes of this post, this is the area of diversity I’m discussing.

Lately, I think the issue with diversity hasn’t so much been the presence of it – Ari over at Reading in Color has so many fantastic recommendations – but the visibility of it and, more interestingly to me (since I’m clueless about how marketing works) the type of stories we need to tell featuring racially diverse characters. I feel as if there’s a bit of a schism in the YA community, especially amongst authors, over this. There are people who think that we need to tell stories the actively deal with issues of race, because they are still present and pressing in the lives of many teens today. And there are others who think that we need to have non-white characters whose racial background is simply another character trait.

I fall more into the latter camp than the former, but I don’t find either of these positions particularly satisfying. There’s a grain of truth in the first – yes, many teens today still face identity issues, or racial discrimination – but I find it an oddly reductive position to take. Can we truly, in good conscience, continually write characters whose every conflict, whose entire lives it often seems, are defined solely by racial politics? Surely not – for most of us (or for me anyway, I shouldn’t presume for others) – our social worlds are diverse and multicultural. Race is a thing – sometimes a big thing – that exists, yes, but it isn’t something that defines most individuals’ universes.

Still, I hesitate to embrace the second position, either. It frequently stems from, I think, from some misguided notion that, “My friend is Latina/Chinese/Indian/whatever and no one in my social circle cares! No one around me/where I live is at all racist, so race shouldn’t be a factor at all in my character’s life. It’s as irrelevant as the colour of his/her hair!” or sometimes, even more compellingly, “But I’m Latina/Chinese/Indian/whatever and no one in my social circle cares! My race hasn’t played a big role in my life at all!”. Ultimately, I don’t find these claims very convincing, because issues of race manifest themselves in several spheres of our lives so insidiously and often without our knowledge or permission.

Whether it is known to them or not – and it’s perfectly possible that it’s not known to them – most people have probably been affected by their racial background. If you want specific instances of these insidious manifestations of racial privilege and power, there was this really cool woman, Peggy MacIntosh, who drew up a list of privileges that she, as a white woman, possessed:

“I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.
I can swear, or dress in second-hand clothes, or not answer letters without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty or illiteracy of my race.
I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.”

I speak here as a writer, and as a reader, when I say that representations of racially diverse characters that do not include race as a facet (a facet, that is all, not a totality) of a character’s life and not simply a physical trait, will seem to carry a ring of untruth about them (unless they’re set in fantasy worlds, where race is irrelevant, or in future utopias/dystopias/whatever). And I think it’s really exciting that books that promise to do this are starting to emerge – for instance Sarwat Chadda’s Ash Mistry Chronicles – to let non-white people star in Harry Potter-style stories, rather than just narratives dealing with racial issues.

Oddly enough, and this is something that is never really mentioned in posts about race, I would also really like to see characters of white backgrounds also have race included as a facet, an important facet, of who they are. Whiteness is so often and harmfully rendered invisible, creating an impression that it is normative, the standard. White people are people. Other people are their racial group label.

This centrality of whiteness, or the privileges that come with it, are never examined in fiction –an author with some sleight of hand could demonstrate awareness of the issues even if their characters remained ignorant of them (and there is no real reason why all characters must remain ignorant of them). I think that as long as we champion the ‘differences’ of other races, while seeing whiteness as invisible (and therefore normative), we’re going to continue entrenching the ‘otherness’ of non-white people. It’s this mentality that has probably led to several readers automatically visualizing characters as white, or to the rampant exoticism in ‘multicultural fiction’ – I, for one, do not enjoy reading pages upon pages of description of the awesome spices used to flavor the awesome foods.

Ultimately, what I’m tentatively suggesting is that the way we should handle racially ‘diverse’ characters (and I’m including whiteness as a part of that diversity), is by incorporating race as a facet of their lives, but not the totality.
But guys, to be honest, my opinions on this still aren’t concrete. I’m open – and really interested! – in hearing other people’s thoughts, and continuing to inform my own. So how should we handle racially ‘diverse’ characters in YA?

~~~

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.

Story Threads and Resonance

17 Oct

by Susan Dennard

~~

Note:

This post has been UPDATED

and re-posted on

Pub(lishing) Crawl!

~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. Her debut novel, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, is now available from HarperTeen. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

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.

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.

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