Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Closest Book

The GREAT Karen Lee has tagged me with another Meme. This one states that I am to find the closest book to me, open it to page 123, jump to sentence #5, and post the next 3 sentences here.

What a fun idea! It gives all of us the chance to spy on what our friends are reading. And more importantly, we get a glance into what writers are including at around pg 123 in the progress of their plots.

But before I lay my closest book out here, you must know that several friends and I just spent this past weekend at the beach where we discussed our Myers-Briggs Types extensively. I am classified as a "J" not a "P." This means (among other things) that spontaneity isn't exactly my thing.

But -- I'm trying to learn.

So, when I got this meme from Karen I looked around on my desk. The first book I saw was the Writer's Market -- but Karen already used that for her meme. So I prepared to look a little farther. Then it occurred to me...

The closest book to me at my desk is MINE. MY BOOK. It's on my computer; my own, not yet published (and no-where near ready yet either,) novel manuscript.

And though it's not yet on bookstore shelves, it IS a book to me. (I guess that's a good sign related to my psychological growth as a writer, eh? I believe my manuscript to be a book! But, don't worry. I'm sure that tomorrow will be another one of those days when I become convinced that I have no talent, realize that I have no motivation, and become once again certain that the little things I have gotten published so far have been only because editors saw how pathetic I was and took pity on me...)

But, nevertheless, today is a day for taking risks. So without further adoo -- (ok, well, and bearing in mind that this is definitely a first draft and that it will likely be totally different when finally sent to an editor... and, um, uh, erg... Ah- whatever!) Here is my moment of spontaneity:

Sliced from my own page 123

"Jolie stepped off the tram at the University, and glanced down at the pencilled map Sasha had sketched of the grounds. The Orchestral building was to her left, as expected, and Jolie was amazed again that in two seconds, on a napkin, at a bus stop Sash had still managed to capture the campus in perfect scale.

She slid in through the archway that he had starred on the map and the sound of a violin trilling behind a closed door greeted her."

And, from a book sitting near my desk which actually HAS been published...

Pg 123 Line 5-8 of The Clue in the Crumbling Wall (Nancy Drew) By Carolyn Keene

"Hey, come quick!' he shouted. `I've got something to show you!'
Cob was irritated..."

And now I tag my fellow writer-friend, Bish Debnam. And I recommend that all writers scroll to p 123 in our manuscripts and ask ourselves: Is this paragraph, this plot arc, this little drop of action, this brief dialogue good enough to send to an editor? Or would I be embarrassed to post it online? Eh hem...

May all of our page 123's get more and more glorious with every draft!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Words in the Woods: The YA Writers' Retreat

Cameraderie! At the SCBWI Carolinas Spring YA Retreat 24 YA writers and 3 editors enjoyed a weekend in the woods.

We spent two and a half days writing, reading, discussing, and critiquing our novels for teens and middle graders. It was great to be around people with the same passion and purpose. And I was impressed with the number of published book authors among us.

We stayed up ‘til midnight writing, and got up early for critiques with the editors. We read manuscripts in front of each other. (I, for one, was petrified). We chatted about literary awards over breakfast and lunch, and shared the ins and outs of publishing over chocolate and wine.

It was a relaxing yet busy time, and one of the best parts for me was the networking.

Comments like `Oh, I know someone you should talk to about that, I'll give you their email'...and `what I do when that happens to me is'... and `hey, you really ought to read this book - it will help with your plot and structure'... were common and extremely helpful throughout the weekend.

The editors and published writers shared their knowledge with us. (Some of these tips are paraphrased, and I hope that they won't mind me sharing them here).

Associate Editor Martha Mahalik gave us the much sought after definition of “voice” in novel writing: “Voice is the way you tell the story.” It’s the author’s style which stays the same from book to book (sentence structure, etc), combined with the way each of that author's books’ specific narrators tell their stories (including the narrator’s way of speaking, their impression of the main character, their world view…)

She said that “(Narrative) voice is the narrator’s layer of engaging opinion about the story they are telling.” Authors should 1. know who is telling your story (even if told in 3rd person or omnicient), and 2. know what they are trying to say.

Editor Krista Marino talked about “Point of View,” describing the different POV options and giving example books for many, including: First-person present (Book: Skin Deep) and first-person past (King Dork), third-person limited (The Giver) and Omnicient POV (The Penderlakes). She said she believes the author doesn’t choose the point of view for a particular story, but that a particular book's point of view "chooses you.”

The editors who joined us were Krista Marino (Editor, Delacorte), Martha Mahalik (Assoc. Editor Greenwillow Books), and Sarah Shumway, (Editor, Dutton)

Sarah Shumway outlined the business-side of writing in her presentation on “Pitch and Purpose.” She reminded us that we authors should not try to specifically create a book just because we think it will sell (--just because books about purple spiders, for example, might be popular right now). But that authors should instead write books that they feel a special internal need to write. Still, authors should also be able to explain to an editor why they are the best person in the world to write their current story, and why readers are likely to be interested in this book. There needs to be a selling point, so that one by one the author can convince the editor, the editor can convince the marketing people and publisher, the marketing people can convince the bookstore owners, and the bookstore owners can convince the reading public, that out of all the books on the shelves this is the one that they want to buy and read.

All three presentations were excellent and the retreat as a whole was great! Thanks planners! I learned a lot – and I even got some revising and researching done! Now we look forward to the SCBWI Fall Conference in Durham, NC, September 19th-21st. Hmmm. Can we all get our current drafts complete by then?

Monday, April 14, 2008


At the Raleigh SCBWI Schmooze this past weekend Author Francis O'Roark Dowell shared with us on the topic "what I didn't know I didn't know." She detailed what she's learned from writing seven MG novels and working through the process with a publisher. Her tips to "write every day" and to remember that "even with an hour a day you can write a novel," were encouraging to those of us whose writing time is often squelched by the busyness of daily living.

Francis suggested that "whenever you make a plot or characterization choice -- make sure you also imagine what it would be like if you did the opposite." And that had us all thinking.

Hmmm. Are my characters complex enough? What if my shy character was outgoing, or my snobby character always looked out for the underdog?..

And I, being in the middle of the second draft of my current novel (P.O.C.L,) desperately appreciated Francis' reminder that novel revisions are extremely important, but that they are not always going to be fun. "Sometimes it just really feels like walking through mud."

It's helpful to hear that from an award winning author. It gives the rest of us courage to know that when we find mud and yuck in our own manuscripts we just need to plow right on through it, and we'll come out all right in the end!

As always, the surroundings at Quail Ridge books were inspiring. Thanks Carol, Rosemary, Rene, and all! Many of us perused the book store, picking up Fancis' very popular books like Dovey Coe, Chicken Boy, Phineas L. Macguire...Erupts!, and the Secret Language of Girls -- and getting them signed.

And there was comaraderie, as members of at least 3 local children's writing critique groups came together, along with several new writers and poets who want to get more involved in the children's writing scene. We were even lucky enough to have several people under the age of 14 on hand!

So, we ate, drank (wine, Chick Fil-a, and cheesecake, of course,) conversed, and were merry. Overall it was a very helpful event -- thank you, Francis! And it was great to greet some new faces and to catch up on the writing lives of old friends!
Now I look forward to the Chapel Hill YA Editors' Retreat this coming weekend. Onward and upward, novelists!