Tuesday, March 31, 2015

MG Author Laurie McKay On Writing The Second Novel

Welcome to the SNOB - Second Novel Ominipresent Blues. Whether you’re under contract or trying to snag another deal, you’re a professional now, with the pressures of a published novelist compounded with the still-present nagging self-doubt of the noobie. How to deal?

Toady's guest is Laurie McKay, who has a master’s degree is in the discipline most important for writing middle-grade fantasy: Biological Oceanography. Her debut novel THE LAST DRAGON CHARMER #1: VILLAIN KEEPER was released from HarperCollins in February 2015.

Is it hard to leave behind the first novel and focus on the second?

Yes and no. Since book two is the second in the trilogy, I stayed with my (beloved to me) book one characters. But it was daunting writing a brand new novel. When I compared my book two rough draft to the shiny, edited, copyedited, proofed version of book one, there was a virtual mountain to overcome to get book two to the same place. I just had to keep climbing. Now, book two is close to being finished, and I’m doing it all over again with book three.

At what point do you start diverting your energies from promoting your debut and writing / polishing / editing your second?

I’m a flurry of semi-organized chaos when it comes to partitioning my energies. I work on everything at once. It takes a lot of slow starts and pondering and waiting. Usually, at some point, something clicks and I gain some focus, and get better at managing my time. At that point, I scribble down a list. If I check off stuff, it helps. Honestly, people have always told me I’m organized, but it’s a frantic type of organization. And prioritizing helps.

Your first book landed an agent and an editor, and hopefully some fans. Who are you writing the second one for? Them, or yourself?

All three. Book one just was released in February, so I hope there are some fans, and I hope they’ll want to read the next two books. The great thing about having an agent and an editor is that there are more people to give me feedback on my ideas, and both my editor and agent are supportive. I think it’s important to listen to them.

When it comes to the story, it’s my book and my characters. It’s important to be open to criticism, feedback, and ideas. In the end, though, I have to write a book I’d want to read, and with which I connect. And I really hope that my story will resonate with others. As writers, I think we need to be true to ourselves.

Is there a new balance of time management to address once you’re a professional author?

The hardest thing about being a professional author with respect to time management is having deadlines! Before I would write regularly, but I could take all the time I needed. If I wanted to take a break one week, no problem. Now, I have to be much more thoughtful. And speedy. In some ways, it’s helped me. Having a time limit, means I can’t do as much staring at an empty page. And, hey, I actually get things done faster now.

What did you do differently the second time around, with the perspective of a published author?

I started book two before book one was published, but one big difference was that I knew what to expect with editing book two. And I’d worked with my editor – who is wonderful – before. It took away some of the anxiety of revising. Also, I hope my experience with my first book helped me improve my writing overall even before I turned in my early book two draft. I outlined more. I thought more about plot structure and tried to keep book three in mind as I wrote book two. For book three, I plan to have an even better outline.

One thing I learned was that while some of the worries about my debut novel diminished, others didn’t, and some new ones popped up as I wrote my second one. Likewise, the excitement was still there for the second book. There was a great sense of accomplishment writing ‘THE END’, and seeing the cover sketch for book two was as thrilling as seeing the cover sketch for book one!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Want To Read Creepy Short Stories By 13 Awesome YA Authors?

Most writers have a couple of short stories banging around their heads, and no good place to put them. In a lot of ways shorts are harder to write than novels, and difficult to place because publishers don't necessarily want to produce anthologies.

Luckily twelve other awesome YA authors with darker sides have that same problem - little stories with nowhere to go. We've banded together to self-publish AMONG THE SHADOWS: 13 STORIES OF DARKNESS AND LIGHT. We've got a Kickstarter to help cover our costs, so if you feel inclined to give a little, please do. Pledges range from $5 to $500 with rewards for both readers and writers alike.

We've got a gorgeous cover and a great lineup of authors!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Book Talk & Giveaway: SIX MONTHS LATER by Natalie Richards

My book talks are coming at you from a librarian, not a reviewer. You won't find me talking about style or craft, why I think this could've been better or what worked or didn't work. I only do book talks on books I liked and want other people to know about. So if it's here I probably think it won't injure your brain if you read it.

Average-achiever Chloe falls asleep in study hall on a beautiful spring day, and wakes up to the snow falling outside her classroom window, standardized test scores that have Ivy Leagues fighting over her, and the crush of her life as a boyfriend. But six months have been erased, and she has no idea how her life became perfect.

Her best friend won't talk to her, making it very clear that Chloe has done something unforgivable. The brooding school bad-boy's number has somehow ended up in her phone, and she has the compulsion to call him constantly, even though they've never exchanged more than a few words. A perfect, pretty classmate has suddenly left town, leaving a wake of unanswered questions. Notes Chloe left to herself in pages of books claim there's a connection, but Chloe can't piece it together.

Memories she can't place start to surface- conversations that never happened and situations that definitely didn't exist. As her life begins to spiral out of control, Chloe has to wonder what price she has to pay to be perfect... and if perfect is what she wants in the first place.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Author Lauren Gibaldi Talks Inspiration

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always including in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewees mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.

Today's guest is Lauren Gibaldi, whose debut THE NIGHT WE SAID YES will be available from Harper Teen June 16, 2015. Lauren is also a public librarian. She's been, among other things, a magazine editor, high school English teacher, bookseller, and circus aerialist (seriously). She has a BA in Literature and Master’s in Library and Information Studies, both from Florida State University.

Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book?

Kind of. I wanted to write about a crazy night, that was the original plan. I like the idea of one night that can change everything, and the magic and possibility a night out with friends holds when you’re in high school. It evolved and changed quite a bit, but I like to think the original feel is still there. I do remember I thought of the title while driving on the interstate with my husband…I kind of just blurted it out, and that shaped the whole “saying yes” plot.  

Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?

I originally had the “then” idea – the one crazy night where the four teens say yes to every idea they have. So I thought about fun things they’d do, crazy places they’d go. But when thinking about it, I kind of wanted to see what would happen next – how the one night changes them and where they would end up one year later. So after writing the first “then” chapter, I went back and wrote a “now” chapter and it stuck. 

Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?

I had a lot of plotting for it because I had to make sure each “then” chapter line up with a “now” chapter. But I threw a lot of that original plotting away and kind of wrote on the fly, which made it more fun, in a way. So, locations and motives changed and I was okay with that. I also realized that the characters evolved as I went on, so I had to go back and alter voices and such. 

Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?

Ideas come to me often…GOOD ideas do not. For instance, while typing this I thought: “You know what would be funny? A vampire retelling of The Great Gatsby.” You know what’s NOT a good idea? A vampire retelling of The Great Gatsby. 

How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?

I’m facing this issue right now! I start writing the first that comes to me and see if it sticks. Sometimes I just don’t like it enough to go past the first chapter. I keep it around, in case I ever want to go back to it, and then start on something else. It’s not necessarily the best idea, but I like giving each possible story a shot. The hardest thing is putting an idea aside when I’m working on a story I’m really into. I’m always worried I’ll forget it. 

Sometimes when I’m cooking ground beef I get distracted by the fact that it definitely looks like a brain. Does that happen to you?

Can’t say it has. BUT NOW THAT’S ALL I’M GOING TO THINK ABOUT. A friend once told me that he feels his brain move every time he drives over a speed bump, and now that’s permanently in my head, too. YOU’RE WELCOME. 

Or, wait, was that a metaphor? 

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Fallacy of Competition

In high school it was who had better clothes, better hair, a cooler car, the hottest boyfriend.

I couldn't wait to exit the rat race, but life is life and people are people. No matter what age, we will compare ourselves to one another. And most of the time we're the ones that come up wanting, by our own estimation.

There a million ways to shortchange yourself as a writer. There's always someone with more marketing dollars, someone who got a better deal, a cover that you covet, a tour you didn't get to go on. We can check our Amazon ratings against someone else, compare shelf-adds on Goodreads -- and that's without mentioning reviews.

It's very easy to go down this rabbit hole. A writer can't use any social media without being highly aware of a book other than theirs that is getting a lot of attention.

And that's fine.

As a librarian I can say that there are plenty of reluctant readers that need one particular book to flick the switch in their brain that turns reading from a chore into a joy. It only takes one to change their minds - and if it's not mine, that's okay. The one book that turns them into a reader has done a service. Once the transformation from non-reader to reader takes place, there's always the option that mine might be picked up next.

Writers need to be aware of that when we feel a little stab of jealousy when massive exposure is being doled out - and not always in our direction. The book that's plastered everywhere may not be ours, but it's creating hundreds - possibly thousands - of readers.

And that's a wider potential audience for everyone.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Saturday Slash

Meet my Hatchet of Death (or, some other colorful description RC Lewis and I come up with at any given moment). This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot us an email.

We all know the first line of a query is your "hook." I call the last line the "sinker." You want it to punch them in the face, in a nice, friendly kind of way that makes them unable to forget you after having read the 300 other queries in their inbox.

If you're looking for query advice, but are slightly intimidated by my claws, blade, or just my rolling googly-eyes, check out the query critique boards over at AgentQueryConnect. This is where I got my start, with advice from people smarter than me. Don't be afraid to ask for help with the most critical first step of your writing journey - the query. My comments appear in green.

Caetlin Lovelell and her family are shadow slaying tunnel guardians by night and socialites by day. It might be better to explain first what this means, rather than jumping in with a hook that has to be untangled. They protect their patrons is this the right word to use here? of the supposed city of prosperity awkward phrasing - are you saying it's supposedly prosperous, or supposedly a city? The phrasing right now could go either way, and the sentence structure is overly complicated in trying to get to the underground baddies, Dorme, against the shadeu— creatures lurking underground that live off human flesh.

When there is a sudden change in the behavior of the shadeu, don't need this comma and guardians start to go missing—including Caetlin’s own brother, Caetlin and her sisters will do whatever it takes to find their brother and protect their family from the war brewing in the underground tunnels, even if it means allying with a mysterious— and most likely dangerous—vagrant guard to do it. This whole paragraph is one sentence. There are plenty of good stopping points, definitely use them. 

I don't think you're getting what makes your plot and characters distinctive and new into this query. What is the sudden change in behavior? What kind of war is brewing in the tunnels? Humans versus shadeu? Hasn't that always been the case? Is it a secret that the socialites are warriors? What is Caetlin's personality like? Her brother? Is the guard a main character that needs to be named? And why would a vagrant be a guard in the first place? Get the individuality of your story into the query.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Book Talk & Giveaway: 45 POUNDS (MORE OR LESS) by K.A. Barson

My book talks are coming at you from a librarian, not a reviewer. You won't find me talking about style or craft, why I think this could've been better or what worked or didn't work. I only do book talks on books I liked and want other people to know about. So if it's here I probably think it won't injure your brain if you read it.

Ann has done all the diets, hit all the pills. But Aunt Jackie's impending wedding might be the kicker she needs to actually stick to it... this time. The latest info-merical promises things she can't believe at prices she can't afford, but Ann's willing to try anything that might push her size 17 down a little closer to mom's perfect size 6.

Shame keeps her hiding the new diet from the family, that and the fact that she knows if her mother encourages her she'll resent it and quit out of spite. Ann's only option to afford the food she hates eating is to get a job. And of course the only place hiring is the pretzel joint. Figures. She gets free refills as an employee. Of course. 

Still, the cutest guy ever works in the same mall and seems to remember her name for some reason, even though the last time he asked her a straightforward question the only answer she came up with was, "I like cheese." The fact that he might pop in to the store on his lunch break makes putting up with  a mean-girl co-worker a little easier... but so do the free refills.

The two and half months before the wedding are whittling away as Ann struggles through dieting and possibly dating. Along the way she learns a few things about friends, her not-so-perfect mother, and how to respect herself... even if she can't wear a bikini in public.

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