Teen Writers Bloc

A Blog by the New School Writing for Children MFA Class of 2012

the book thief 194x300 Jane Envies Markus Zusaks Depth in Character Construction in The Book ThiefI love stories that are told from a unique point of view. The main character could have Asperger’s, like Caitlin in Kathryn Erskine’s Mockingbird, or could be autistic like Christopher in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon. The narrator of the story doesn’t even have to be human. In Three Bags Full, by Leonie Swann, the story is told by a group of sheep who attempt to solve the murder of their shepherd. Or the narrator may not actually exist, like Budo in Matthew Dicks’s Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend.

When I was asked which book was the one I wish I had written, I immediately thought of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. The story is narrated by Death, who tells the tale of Liesel, who is raised by a foster family in Munich, Germany during World War II. I absolutely loved how Zusak’s writing brought out so many emotions. I felt the apprehension when Liesel stole her first book. There were sections that were so hilarious that I actually laughed out loud and parts that made me cry.

The characters in The Book Thief were amazing. They all had multiple layers to their personalities, just like real people. Liesel’s foster mother appeared to be rough and unsophisticated, but you could tell she cared for Liesel. I could immediately tell that Rudy, the boy who constantly teased Liesel, had a crush on her. Even Death was more than just a collector of souls. It felt sympathy for the people who lost their lives and the ones who had to deal with what came afterward.

I would love to be able to write like Markus Zusak. I want to give my characters the same kind of depth and I want my readers to react to my stories the way I did towards The Book Thief. I have a long way to go before I can accomplish this, but the only route to getting there is to keep practicing.

Image courtesy of Alfred A. Knopf

Debut Author Interview: Kristen-Paige Madonia on ‘Fingerprints of You’

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On August - 20 - 2012

img07 Debut Author Interview: Kristen Paige Madonia on Fingerprints of You

This week, we’re super-excited to feature debut author Kristen-Paige Madonia, whose literary YA novel, Fingerprints of You, hit shelves last week. The book centers on 17-year-old Lemon, who finds herself continuing the cycle of teenage pregnancy as she heads off on a cross-country journey to find the father she’s never known. The writing is sharp and vivid, and the Lemon’s coming-of-age is startlingly specific while being surprisingly universal. It’s definitely a book worth adding to your TBR pile!

We caught up with Kristen-Paige to chat about YA versus adult, whether an MFA is worth it, and the importance of having mentors through the publishing process.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer?

Fingerprints of You is my debut novel, though my short fiction has appeared in such publications as Upstreet, New Orleans Review, American Fiction: Best Previously Unpublished Short Stories by Emerging Writers, Sycamore Review, and Inkwell. I was recently named the 2012 D. H. Lawrence Fellow and the 2011 Sewanee Writers’ Conference Tennessee Williams Scholar, and I have received fellowships from the Hambidge Center, the Vermont Studio Center, Juniper Summer Writing Institute, Virginia Center for Creative Arts, Hedgebrook Writers’ Retreat, the Millay Colony for the Arts, and the Studios of Key West. I’ve been writing and telling stories for as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until I began applying to grad schools that I became truly focused on the craft. I received my MFA from California State University, Long Beach, and I currently live in Charlottesville, Virginia where I teach creative writing at the University of Virginia and the non-profit organization WriterHouse. In addition to teaching and writing, I’ve worked all kinds of jobs including positions as an assistant jeweler, a Barnes & Noble bookseller, a nanny, an assistant Kindergarden teacher, a receptionist, a wine pourer at a local vineyard, and an intern with a film and literary agency in Beverly Hills. Now that the book is launched, I’ve set aside a few months to travel so I can connect with readers in person at literary festivals and bookstores, but I’m looking forward to teaching again next spring.

Can you give us a quick synopsis of Fingerprints of You? How did you come up with the concept for the book? 

Fingerprints of You follows the journey of Lemon Williams, a 17-year-old girl, as she searches for her father, a man she has never met. Lemon becomes pregnant in the opening of the book, and I wanted to use the novel as a way to explore that bizarre but beautiful phase in life when you realize the world is much larger than you thought, and that you have the ability to decide what kind of person you want to become. It’s set on the road and amidst the inspiring music and art scene in San Francisco, and the book explores the challenges of growing up in a single-parent home and the various ways we can confront our pasts, our skeletons in the closet. But at the heart of it, Fingerprints of You is about the comfort we find in one another and the security of family; not blood-born family necessarily, but the families we create for ourselves from the people we love and the people that love us back. My work is often inspired by what I call “stolen moments” – I people-watch and eavesdrop constantly, so if I’m lucky I’ll catch something in my surroundings that can be used to fuel a new project, and that’s how Fingerprints of You began. I first imagined Lemon and Stella when I was living in San Francisco, just after finishing my MFA. I liked to work in coffee shops in the city, and one afternoon I spotted a woman and a teenager crossing Fillmore Street in front of the cafe where I was writing. They immediately became Lemon and Stella: a feisty mother-daughter duo in the mist of that strange period of time when the child is becoming an adult and the parent is becoming, in the eyes of the child, an individual or person outside of their parent role.

I love the name Lemon — where did that inspiration come from? 

Lemon’s mother, Stella, is a painter, and when the book opens it’s explained that each month she picks one color to base all of her work on; the September that Lemon was born was the month of “Lemon” — a pale yellow paint color she used for her art work during that time period. But for me it was always her name, from the first page of the first draft, though I can’t be sure why. Sometimes the writer doesn’t get to pick all the details, but instead is presented with them organically and then explores their origins as we write forward.

This is pretty gritty for YA — and called a literary YA on your site. Can you talk about the rap YA gets and why you wanted to write in this genre? 

I love that word, “gritty” — it’s being used frequently to describe literary novels that are straddling the line between fiction for teens and fiction for adults. When you first write a book you don’t think about anybody reading it, at least I didn’t. I was writing for other reasons, so the idea of teens versus adults just didn’t cross my mind during the writing process. But once I realized there was a chance that Fingerprints of You may be marketed in that way, I started reading contemporary YA novels and was blown away by how smart and powerful some of the books are. John Green, Deb Caletti, Jay Asher, Laurie Halse Anderson… I was amazed by the exceptional level of writing and by the community of readers and authors involved in the genre. I think YA demands a specific kind of energy, a sense of urgency and immediacy. Teen readers won’t wait out a slow beginning – they must be engaged from the first page. They won’t hang around to see if the novel gets good in the fifth chapter — they’ll simply shut the book and tell their friends not to bother. And I love that. They demand a great deal from the author, as they should, and for that reason I find the books to be full of life.

It’s a lively conversation, this blurred line between adult and young adult readerships, and I’m finding that there really isn’t a clear definition of the genre, which is one of the things I like best about be called a YA writer. I’m honored to be categorized that way — the community of writers and readers congregating under that label is an inspiring crowd to run with, and there’s an increased recognition that the age of the protagonist doesn’t deflate the literary merit of a book. I’m guessing the blurred lines will become even more indistinguishable, and that’s a good thing – it means readers will be exposed to a wider range of work, and authors won’t feel confined to write inside a specific set of rules dictated by a label.

Of course in some venues there’s still a slight stigma attached to the YA label; there are certain magazines that won’t publish YA reviews, certain book awards that won’t accept YA submissions. Margo Rabb published an incredible article in The New York Times a few years ago entitled, “I’m YA, and I’m O.K.” — which I recommend to anyone writing fiction that straddles the line between YA and adult. Like myself, she wrote a book she imagined being labeled as adult literary fiction but was sold to a YA division. There are inevitably challenges that come with that process, and many adults still don’t realize the high caliber literature that can now be found on YA shelves. It’s an odd thing–these labels based on audience–and I find it fascinating that literature is the only art form that’s adopted the YA category; we don’t classify visual art, paintings or sculptures, for teens versus adults just as we don’t claim music to be one or the other. But at the end of the day I couldn’t be happier with the home that Fingerprints of You found at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

You’ve published a lot of short stories and done a lot of fellowships. How did you approach this, and what did you discover in this path? Advice for other writers?  

I’ve been incredibly fortunate and have landed a number of successes that have changed the shape of my career, but I’ve also applied for almost every award and residency out there, so I’ve had my fare share of rejection as well! I tend to spend a great deal of time submitting my stories, so there is a lot of work involved, there’s a lot of waiting and dead-ends behind that list of successes you’re referring to. So in terms of advice, while there all kinds of tricks or tips I could share, I tend to keep it pretty simple. First off, there are no rules. None. There are writing  techniques that may work and tricks that may help when you’re first starting out, but really there is no one way to do this magical thing we call writing. So no rules.

Other than that, I suggest you don’t bother doing it unless your heart is one-hundred percent invested, unless nothing makes you happier than finding that perfect sentence or writing that wonderful cast of characters you want to spend hundreds of pages with. A lot of people will tell you “no.” Rejection is inevitably a large part of the process, so you have to be doing it for you, not for “them.” You must have thick skin and a great deal of faith, but really it all comes down to doing it for the right reasons – because you love creating stories, you love throwing words on a page. And finally, if you can afford it, I always recommend attending conferences or joining a writer’s group or  organization. It can be a lonely endeavor at times, and creating a community can make all the difference when it’s time to wade your way through rejection letters or celebrate the good news when it comes!

Having done it, MFA — yay or nay?

For me my MFA allowed me to focus on nothing but writing for two years, and that’s such a gift, it’s a circumstance that I’ll never be able to recreate, though I try by attending as many writing residences as possible. So yes, if you can afford the financial commitment and if you are in a phase of your life that allows you to attend an MFA program, I think it’s an invaluable experience. Absolutely. And of course there’s the benefit of working with other authors — while I’m not of the mindset that creative writing can be 100 % taught, I do think there are tools you can learn in a classroom that you cannot learn on your own.

img06 Debut Author Interview: Kristen Paige Madonia on Fingerprints of YouWhat’s your process? What does a typical writing day look like? 

In general, I don’t work well with outlines and tend to find them restricting… for me the process is messy and unpredictable and without rules, which one of the things I enjoy most about writing first drafts. I don’t usually know where a book is heading when I first start. It’s a process of discovery, and I like to allow the work to surprise me and to go places I hadn’t predicted or planned for. The days that I reserve for writing always start with coffee, and I try to work for at least a few hours before turning on the Internet, checking email, or logging onto Facebook or Twitter. My brain is clearer then, and it’s easier to connect with my characters before I invite any real-world chatter into my headspace. I write first drafts on my computer, but I always keep a journal with me wherever I go, and I use it for story and character notes, keeping book lists, eavesdropping in public places, and research. That journal gives me courage when it’s time to write, because I always know it’s filled with literary nuggets I can mine when I’m beginning new work. I break up my writing hours at home by reading or hiking. I live in a beautiful area, and I find that the best thing I can do for my fiction when I’m feeling stuck is to head to the mountains for fresh air and exercise. My iinspiration often comes from sensory details – the way a room sounds when it’s crowded, the smells of certain kinds of food, the way a person holds their body and what it might imply… those kinds of small images. I’m also greatly inspired by music, which certainly came into play with Fingerprints of You in terms of the rich live-music culture in San Francisco. And those stolen moments I was talking about — I often borrow clips of stranger’s conversations or something I’ve seen, an interaction or a specific setting, for inspiration for my work.

What has your path to publication been like? What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you? 

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, and I have my MFA; I’ve attended writing conferences and workshops, I’ve read countless books about the publishing industry, and a lot of my friends are published authors, but no matter how much you think you know, there’s just no way to understand the process until you go through it yourself. I’ve been working with my agent for some time now, and when the Fingerprints of You manuscript was ready for submission, we emailed and talked on the phone quite a bit. Eventually we chose six editors to send it to, and S&S BFYR were part of that original six. I know that makes the sale sound easy, but it wasn’t. Editors have to pitch a submission to a number of different departments (sales, marketing, etc.) and they have convince rooms full of people that your book is worth the purchase before they can make an offer, so there was a lot of waiting involved. And of course selling the book is only the first step! We sold the manuscript in September 2010, and here it being released in August 2012, almost 2 years later. But it really can’t be rushed because each step is unbelievably important – editing, copy editing, proofing, finalizing the book cover, receiving blurbs… I learned so much with each step, and the book is so much stronger because of all the work we all put into it. I was amazed by how many people were involved and so very grateful for their help and support. From my agent to my editor to my publicity team at Simon & Schuster, everyone that has been involved in the release of Fingerprints of You has been one hundred percent professional and determined to support the book as much as they possibly can. Publishers are in the business because they love books, and it’s easy to forget that sometimes when you’re collecting rejection letters and reading heartbreaking stories about authors who get orphaned or novels that get lost in big houses. But my experience has been nothing but positive.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?

When my agent began sending out my first manuscript to publishing houses for submission, a novel that has yet to be sold, I became discouraged and contacted Judy Blume, one of my mentors and advocates, to ask for advice and feedback. At the time I was fearful we wouldn’t be able to sell the book and, consequently, my agent would lose interest, and my career would come to a screeching halt. And she said the most amazing thing: “It’s not your job to sell the book, that’s your agent’s job. Your job is to write the next one.” It was so obvious and simple, but I think of that whenever I’m feeling bogged down or intimidated by the business side of writing. At the end of the day, I’m a writer first. Nothing makes me happier than the process of creating the work, and that will always be the most important thing. So I like to remind aspiring authors that they must be prepared for rejection; they must be ready to hear “no” a lot. But as long as they’re writing for the love of the process, they’ll be able to carve their way through the phases of self-doubt and the fears of failure.

What was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager? What are you reading now?

As a teenager, like many teenagers do, I fell in the love with the Beats, and part of my literary heart will always belong to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. There’s something timeless about the spontaneous cross-country road trip, the jazz and the booze, the poetry, and the indulgent sex and drug binges. It’s a journey book, a genre I obviously favor, and the characters are on a quest for faith and love and friendship, as they hunt for a sense of an authentic and meaningful life.

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley is a new favorite, and I was thrilled to hear the news when he won the William C. Morris Debut Award and the Michael L. Printz Award. It’s a super smart YA book, and I’ve been recommending it to everyone I know.  I also recently read Model Home by Eric Puchner, which I loved, and Eleanor Henderson’s Ten Thousand Saints, a brilliant book and fascinating study of point of view. But right now Richard Ford’s Canada and Alice Elliott Dark’s short story collection In the Gloaming are on my nightstand.

What’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise!)?

I just finished a first draft of another book, which means it’s kind of awful and really messy. It’s very different than Fingerprints of You. It required a lot of research, and I’m experimenting with point of view and the idea of memory and the filters of time. It has been a completely different process than writing Fingerprints of You, and that’s been challenging, but I think it’s been good for me and good for the work. So I’m letting that sit for a couple months now, and I’m starting to take notes for the book after that, a novel with a teenaged narrator that I imagine will be a YA book. But for now I’m just trying to enjoy the debut experience. I’ve been working on Fingerprints of You since 2008, and sending it out into the world is such an amazing thing, so I want to make sure I enjoy every moment of it.

Do you believe in being part of a “bloc” of writers? Are critique groups and writing communities helpful to you?

Absolutely. As a writer you spend a lot of time alone, so establishing a kind of community is crucial. I have a writers’ group that I meet with once a month, and it makes a world of difference to have that kind of support system, to remember you’re not the only one wading through this strange and unpredictable world of writing. I also teach at the literary nonprofit called WriterHouse, and I always feel invigorated and inspired after attending events and working with my students there.

Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us!

Thanks so much for having me on Teen Writers Bloc, Sona!

Fingerprints of You Cover Courtesy Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

IMG 0049 84x150 For Amber, Its Not Where You Are, But What Youre Listening ToCurrently, I’m working on two realistic narratives. Both are in the beginning stages and won’t get fleshed out until summer. My stories tend to be about friendship and love. They are also about how teens react to being given once in a lifetime opportunities — do they squander the chance or take full advantage of what’s in front of them? One day, I can only hope to see my books in the amazing company of such wonderful authors as Sarah Dessen and Jenny Han.

When I write, I usually sit at my desk or on my bed, but I’ve been known to bring notebooks to various Starbucks around the city, too. No matter where I end up though, I need to listen to music in order to block out any background noise that could potentially distract me.  That’s not the only purpose music serves though. We all know that music has the power to inspire. For me, a certain song can spark an idea or trigger a memory that leads to a possible scene or plot point or description. Music influences my emotions in other ways as well. When I’m stressed it relaxes me and refocuses my energy. There’s no way I could write, let alone live well, without it.

Querying Agents Has Corey Losing Her Mind

Posted by Corey Haydu On February - 23 - 2011

comicquery Querying Agents Has Corey Losing Her Mind

I’m on the road to (hopeful) publication. Step One: The Query Letter.

Fact: QueryTracker is an evil enterprise designed to make writers go insane.

Fact: The New York City dating scene is, miraculously, less stressful than the agent search.

Fact: My time in the New York City dating scene included a guy who talked about himself in the third person (G-Man. I’m not kidding) and a guy whose big business plan was to sell tampons on the internet. Just giving you a basic sense of the levels of stress we are talking about here.

Fact: I am currently totally qualified to be working on my novel about obsessive-compulsive disorder because I have developed a OCD habit of checking email over the last month of querying.

For those who don’t know about the process of getting published, it basically starts with a query letter. This query letter has to pithily describe your book in a way that is both original and accessible, descriptive and contained, literary and commercial. Also, it requires bragging about yourself modestly and not sounding insane.

It’s a tall order.

Lucky for me, I have classmates who are actually good at this kind of skill. In the words of my boyfriend, I “go on” sometimes. I’m pretty sure this is a nice/vague way of saying that in my attempt to describe my work I end up writing something longer than the actual novel. I also lack certain skills, like writing business-y letters or basically doing anything that isn’t either writing creatively or serving cocktails to weird tourists or picking out really good restaurants.

But with people like Alyson and Sona on my team I am UNSTOPPABLE. These girls took my 27 page query letter* (*dramatic interpretation of reality) and made it a nice little three paragraph superstar query letter.

Once the query letter was polished into perfection, I added on a few fun quirky details (being careful not to “go on” too much) and picked out the agents who would be lucky enough to consider it. Once agents receive your query letter, they decide whether or not they actually want to check out the book. Sadly, they can (and very often do!) reject the manuscript based on the query letter alone.

This is where the obsessing begins.

Because there is a website called QueryTracker, on which you can see who else is submitting queries, how long it takes agents to get in touch with them, how often agents request Full Manuscripts after seeing an initial query letter, and who is actually getting an agent. Then, if you are prone to craziness, you do complex Beautiful Mind-like calculations to see how likely it is that you will become famous soon.

Note: I never finished high school math.

Note: This is a completely true fact. I squirmed my way out of any math after sophomore year. It has not yet affected my life negatively in any way. Aside from an unfortunate idea to attempt taking the Math SAT 2, which, funny enough, requires you actually have finished your basic math requirements.

The point is: I do not actually have the skills to do any mathematical equations but I’m so nervous and impatient that I, for the first time ever, wish I had learned things like probability and percentages and algebra back in the day.

Long story short: Agents are looking at my novel. It has been exactly one month since I began querying. I am a super-fun combination of excited and terrified. I am a joy to be around.

More on this process later. I must go watch The Biggest Loser, which is the only thing able to distract me from my thoughts of agents and query letters.

Used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at Inkygirl.com.

Steven’s Half-Cooked Thesis Semester

Posted by Steven Salvatore Shaw On January - 25 - 2011

writing 300x200 Steven’s Half Cooked Thesis SemesterAs a new contributor to Teen Writers Bloc, I’d like to let all the wonderful readers out there in on my life as an MFA student at The New School. I’m the only second year Bloc member, and therefore the only one with a bit of insight into the thesis semester. For those of you out there considering The New School’s Writing for Children MFA program (which, if you aren’t, you should be), the thesis semester is an independent construction by each individual student. You acquire a thesis advisor – either a professor in our program, or an outsider – you form a peer group and create your own schedule of what and when you want to submit. You can send in pages as often or as little as you want, as long as you meet your goal. (New School requires a minimum of seventy five pages in order to graduate.) I opted to search outside of the program for my advisor, and ended up with a wonderful editor from Penguin Books. I wanted a new, fresh set of eyes on my work, and I couldn’t be happier with my advisor. Seriously.

In fact, I submitted the first ninety seven pages of my YA novel to my advisor last week, and we had our first meeting this week. All I can say: the ideas are a-flowing! My creative juices are pumping, and I know exactly what my next step is.

However, my task at hand isn’t exactly a picnic in Central Park (by the way, planning a picnic in Central Park is actually harder then one would think). My advisor told me that my characters are really strong and wonderful and that she loved getting to view the world through their eyes. She said I have a very strong storyline and great themes, but I that basically have to change the ground they walk on and the backdrop around them.

There are two major problems:

1) They are too old. College is a tricky time for YA, and generally treads adult fiction territory.

2) There is too much time from start to end; I need to compress the time-span.

What totally sucks is that in the back of my mind I knew all of this before I even sent her the pages. Okay, well, maybe I didn’t explicitly know what needed to be changed. I just knew that something was off. Something major. But I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. And then I get my changes in an e-mail, and I knew right off the bat. Like the cliched old light bulb above my head, she had pulled the chain and suddenly it all made sense.

What’s even worse? That what she told me was what I had originally envisioned when I planned my preliminary notes on the novel and what I wanted it to be. Of course, when I started writing, my fingers and heart got the best of my brain and my notes, and set the whole thing in the winter, a whole year and a half from where I envisioned it.

It might seem like an easy enough task to switch from winter to summer, or to change a character’s age from 19 to 18, but let me tell you: it’s NOT. One might think it’s as effortless as changing “the slushy streets of New York” to “the glittering, sun-kissed streets of New York” or “piles of mountainous snow” to “piles of mountainous garbage,” but it’s not that simple. You have to think of clothing and catch every reference to a scarf or hat-and-gloves. You have to think of the temperature degree in the air and how it effects word choice. You have to think of the thematic schematics behind winter and summer and how it effects the overall arc of your story and its characters. In summation, it’s a bitch.

So what do I do?

I’ve already committed to making this the best thing I’ve ever written. So that means I have to get down to business, put my nose to the grindstone, get my hands dirty, employ every other clichéd sentiment to express hard work and get to work!

The good thing about all of this is that I have a clear vision of what needs to be done. I just know that it’s going to take my novel to the next level. And it doesn’t exactly hurt when an editor at a major publishing house tells you that she fell in love with your characters, especially the protagonist and his struggles. That’s just validation on top of a sort-of-half-cooked cake.

What’s next? I have to switch gears and change the setting from college to the summer between high school and college, picking up directly after graduation. That, and making sure I melt all the snow and heat up my pages. Hopefully the sticky, summer sun will spice things up and take them to that next level.

I have until February 11th to completely alter my characters’ world, make them a year younger, and finish the first (totally reworked) third of my novel. Excuse me while I wipe the sweat from my brow — and get to work.

New Year’s Writing Resolutions: Corey Plans to Be a Businesswoman

Posted by Corey Haydu On January - 9 - 2011

working girl New Year’s Writing Resolutions: Corey Plans to Be a BusinesswomanThis past year has been an especially productive one in terms of creative output, risk-taking, and pushing myself to write every day. I have been mostly successful — a huge amount of writing happened, and finished products are pending. I am days away from a completed first draft of my first YA novel, and am in the third revision of a very special debut novel that has been a challenge and a thrill.

Most days I wrote a minimum of 1,000 words.
I didn’t shy away from really big revisions.
I wrote about a community I actually had to research.
I made enormous, chapters-long cuts to help the books move.
I started a first attempt at a middle grade novel.

Now it’s time, in 2011, to address the other side of writing: The Business Side. With a lot of material under my belt, I need to start figuring out what to do with it. BUT also keep pushing through on my newer work! Here’s my to-do list:

-write a great query letter for my YA novel as well as my adult novel

-sign with an agent

-remember to research publishing imprints and be vigilant about doing further research on my favorite books and authors

-finish my middle grade novel (or you know, get a chunk more than ten pages long under my belt)

-keep reading middle grade work to get more familiar with the genre

-make time for my freelance/paid writing work, even if I don’t feel like it. A girl’s gotta eat!

Wish me luck!

My writing goal for this year: finish my book. I look back at the Amy that started this program in August and think, “Aw. Adorable. She thinks she has a completed book.” Okay well, technically, I did. It was just bad. Endless chunks of exposition and explanatory dialogue is not a compelling way to tell a story, particularly if you’re writing fantasy. Action is key — by trying to “save the good stuff” I created something not particularly interesting to read.

So now I’ve pretty much gutted about three quarters of the original. I have the same characters, the same setting (essentially), the same basic overall concept. But all the events, the action, the way characters get from Point A to Point B, has to be entirely recreated. Not so much a rewrite as a complete overhaul.

Oh, and I’ve conceived the story as a trilogy, so I’d like to get started on the second book this summer. Too much? We’ll see. Wish me luck.

New Year’s Writing Resolutions: Jess’s Strategic Plan

Posted by Jessica Verdi On January - 4 - 2011

The Little Engine That Could 241x300 New Year’s Writing Resolutions: Jess’s Strategic PlanI have never been one to make New Year’s Resolutions. Just because the calendar flips from December 31 to January 1 doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of life, in my opinion. Rather, I tend to mark the passing of time with bigger milestones — birthdays, anniversaries, and major life decisions/changes (starting graduate school, for example!).

However, though it really has nothing to do with the New Year, I have set a writing goal for myself. I am determined to have a solid first draft of my current novel completed by the time spring semester rolls around. Being in The New School’s Creative Writing MFA program has been incredibly inspiring and valuable thus far… but it’s also been a lot of work!

So I’ve found that throughout the fall semester I haven’t had as much time to write as I would have liked. Now that we’ve got six weeks off from schoolwork, I am on a full-fledged writing mission. Can I hit 200 pages in six weeks? I think I can, I think I can, I think I can! And just in case the holidays and my birthday and all the fun new books I’m hoping to get as gifts prove to be too much of a distraction, I’m telling everyone I know about my plan — so they can keep me on track! Peer pressure can sometimes be a good thing!

Image courtesy of Philomel

New Year’s Writing Resolutions: Steven’s Is Determination

Posted by Steven Salvatore Shaw On January - 3 - 2011

 New Year’s Writing Resolutions: Steven’s Is DeterminationI want to let all the readers out there in the blogosphere in on a little secret: writing a novel is hard work. I know, it’s a shocking revelation, but alas, it’s true. Over the years, I’ve found more ebbs than flows in my own writing patterns. I’ve hit some serious writer’s block, and some serious strides. I’ve discovered some story lines don’t work, while others thrive. It’s the necessary road a writer has to travel, and I’ve become a believer that the key ingredient is determination.

Most of the time, if I’m not actually writing, my brain is going at warp speed thinking about what I’m going to write. Usually I fall asleep with scenes playing out in my head and usually these scenes prevent me from catching a good night’s rest. But I can’t turn them off. Every once in awhile – as a writer – a character will come to mind that I absolutely cannot ignore, no matter what I’m working on.

And the novel I’m currently working on centers around one such character. I started this project about five years ago during my sophomore year at Ithaca College, in my fiction writing class. The protagonist, Chase, came to me like a bullet to the brain, and I haven’t been able to shake him since. At first, I wrote this long, convoluted novel (a “finished” work, nearly 300 pages) told from two different perspectives. Back then it was my crowning achievement. What other college sophomore can shut himself away from vodka-and-Natty Ice-induced comas to write 300 pages? Too bad those pages have now been banned to the far corners of my hard-drive, never to be found as long I live. Sure, there are still some kinda-maybe-sorta-halfway decent parts that I could potentially rewrite and work into the new narrative, but 99.99% of it is trash. It’s like my version of a kindergartener’s finger-painting on the fridge: cute, but hardly a Van Gogh.

But, I digress. Chase’s story has changed so much over the years that what I started back then is completely, totally, entirely, wholly, ridiculously (get the point?) different now. The major difference between then and now? Now, I know every detail, every thought, every aspect of Chase so well that he’s more than just a part of me; I’ve become Chase. I know how he thinks, how he acts, and most importantly how he changes. Why? Because I am determined to get it right this time. This new project – the title I won’t reveal quite yet, though I do have one –  chronicles a very important chunk of Chase’s life, where he encounters all these roadblocks and new experiences (vague, huh?), and it all leads to the discovery of one thing: you don’t think I’m actually going to tell you now, do you? You’ll just have to wait until it’s on store shelves. (Which it will be! Positive thinking! Huzzah!)

So my New Years writing resolution is to finish Chase’s story. I want to quiet him in my mind. I want to bring him where he needs to go, to see him through until the end. His story has seen many changes over the years, and I’ve put it away for a few years to work on other projects, I’ve started it time and time again, but I couldn’t truly write it. Now I know I can. Timing is everything. You can’t just force yourself to write, even if the character won’t let you sleep. Every writer is different, but I know for me that I needed to remove personal roadblocks before I could properly flesh Chase out. And now that I have, I’m determined to finish.

Since it’s my last semester at The New School, I’ll be working with an advisor, who has already promised to kick my butt with deadlines. If all goes as planned and I stick to my deadlines (and let’s face it, I’m working with an actual editor at an actual publishing house, so of course I will!), I’ll have a finished novel by April. It won’t be the first novel I’ve finished, but I know for a fact that it will be the first that I’m proud of, the first that I think will stand on its own.

What I’m continuing to find is that writing often leads to places you never expected it to. Storyarc grows and change organically, just like life. And life is hard. But I’m determined to see it through! I’m determined to keep going. Otherwise, what’s the point?

My Secret Slug Identity, Part Two: Dhonielle’s Final NaNoWriMo Numbers

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On December - 10 - 2010

 My Secret Slug Identity, Part Two: Dhonielles Final NaNoWriMo NumbersSalt did not rain from the sky! I waited. No white crystals pushed through my window, attacking my writing desk.

I wished for it. I prayed for it. Nothing helped. Sigh! I didn’t write as nearly as much as I wanted.

As predicted, the first two weeks of National Novel Writing Month were magical. I wrote for several hours a day, clocking in daily at 1,000 words. I marveled at the fresh pages and the new words. I was impressed by my effort and rewarded myself with a spa visit and several vats of ice cream. Then somewhere along the middle, I couldn’t resist the urge to revise. I negotiated with myself: “Dhonielle, if you revise one chapter, you must write a new one immediately afterward.”

This worked well momentarily, but my daily numbers dwindled, whittling away from 1,000 to 850 to 500 over the course of a few days. I couldn’t get the new chapters completely fleshed out because I kept revising the old chapters. Ugh! I couldn’t resist tampering and tweaking the first fifty pages. I cling to a warped philosophy that my book will fall apart if the first fifty pages aren’t perfect. Is there rehab for defunct writers? I need a twelve-step program to rid me of these troubling thoughts and behaviors.

So November 2010 was the Year of the Baby Slug! I wasn’t all out lazy. I wrote just about every day, including weekends, until Thanksgiving hit. Food and family wrecked havoc on my writing schedule, motivation, and mental time. I felt guilty for ignoring out of town relatives as my mind drifted to my story. I carried around my notebook as a reminder, but ultimately held it in my lap as I watched countless movies with cousins and uncles, heated up leftover turkey, and argued about Black Friday sales. I didn’t open my notebook or turn on my computer for about a week, from Tuesday before Thanksgiving to the Sunday after it. I forgot about my characters. The slug had succeeded in infiltrating my brain and body.

But my final NaNoWriMo word count wasn’t pitiful. I finished up at 19,568 words! Better luck next year.

pixel My Secret Slug Identity, Part Two: Dhonielles Final NaNoWriMo Numbers

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