Monday, October 25, 2010

An Author in the Marching Band

This weekend I went to my college’s homecoming football game. I organized the first annual reunion for alumni of the marching band. Before you judge, the marching band at my college is really, really cool. Honestly.

About one hundred alumni turned out. One, who had been the conductor of the band in the 1960s, conducted the current band as they played our Alma Mater. As I watched him rehearse with the band I knew I was witnessing an important emotional moment. It might have been the sweeping gestures he used to conduct, which are rarely used today, or what he said when explained how he thought the music should flow.

The difference at the performance was huge. I had only heard it performed as a dirge. The alumnus added variations in the tempo and the volume that followed the words of the song. He made it sound grander and like a sentimental song from the early part of the 20th century that reflects on youth and love for your college.

As I watched, the writer in me struggled to capture the emotion behind what I was seeing. I knew that the beauty of this moment was in the love for the music that the conductor and the band were feeling. And I knew I needed to act fast, this would probably only happen twice – first at the rehearsal before the game and then the actual game itself.

On my way home I reflected on what I had just done. Authors need to be able to separate the extraordinary from the day-to-day and explain it in a way that reaches people deeply… just like that music reached me.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Hearing Voices

A lot of writers start interviews with jokes that come directly from the voices of their characters. It sounds a little crazy but I hear my characters' voices in my head too. More specifically, I hear dialogue, usually entire chunks of conversations. It can be distracting when I'm at my day job and trying to concentrate. My characters can get pretty insistent.

Sometimes the voices help me out when I'm stuck. For example, this past weekend I was struggling with the opening scene of the third chapter of Quads, the first book in the Living Little Women series. In the scene, Sarah, my narrator, is going to her first bike race. It's a very important scene because Sarah is supposed to fall in love with the sport. But telling it from her perspective wasn't working. The problem was that a lot about bike racing needed to be explained, but it was implausible for someone to know all that at her first race.

Then I heard the voice of another character:

Stefano Bennati should have been out racing his bike that morning but due to an unfortunate incident involving Newton's Third Law and a jackass who didn't know how to handle his bike, he was standing on the side of the race course with his arm in a sling.

Sarah needed a person like Stefano, who is the captain of the team and who has been around bike racing for a few years, to explain what was going on. From there, the story flowed logically and I was able to switch back to Sarah's perspective a few paragraphs later, once I got all of the basics down.

Monday, October 11, 2010


I was scheduled to get a flu shot today. Instead I got the flu. As my body works on immunity, I’m stoking it with chicken soup, crackers, tea and maybe a nice walk around the block this afternoon if I'm feeling better.

Last night was a tough night. I woke up at two and couldn’t fall back to sleep. I passed time by finishing Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan and John Green. I have to admit (and it wasn't the fever talking) that this book kind of blew me away. Once I started it, I read as quickly as I could just to find out what happened. Now I'm taking time to savor it, going back and seeing how it was written and try to figure out what I liked about it so much.

It wasn't just the plot, although it was a very clever one: two characters in the Chicago area are both named Will Grayson and when their paths cross unexpectedly, it has major consequences for them and for their groups of friends. I can pinpoint the moment when the book turned from being a good read into a book that I kind of loved: when Levithan's Will Grayson is setting out to meet his online boyfriend, Isaac. The tension was so high and, as a reader, I wanted so badly for it to work out for him. I was surprised at what happened next and I was definitely not disappointed.

I feel like I've been lucky as a reader lately. A lot of what I've read has turned to gold as I've been reading it and even more of it has just been a good read. What have you read lately that has blown you away?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Book Giveaway #7 - Kissyface

Over the years, many young adult books have been focused on two characters and their first kisses. There are some classic scenes, like Bella and Edward's first kiss in Twilight and the brief, passionate kiss between Eugenides and Irene in The Queen of Attolia. One of my favorites is Westley and Buttercup's first kiss in The Princess Bride. William Goldman writes, "Since the invention of the kiss, there have only been five kisses that were rated the most passionate, the most pure. This one left them all behind.”

Here's your chance to tell the world about your favorite first kiss in a YA book. Say what your favorite YA first kiss is and explain why. You could win a copy of Rachel Vail's
If We Kiss.

Post your response in the comments section below by Thursday, Oct. 14. I'll post the winner on Thursday, Oct. 21. Don't forget to leave a way for me to contact you!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Following A Series

I recently read Sue Townsend's Adrian Mole: The Prostrate Years, the latest book in her long-running series about a hapless intellectual from Leicester, England. I've been a fan of Adrian Mole since I was about twelve or thirteen, the same age that Adrian is in the first book in the series: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, age 13¾. Chronologically, Adrian is a couple of years older than me but we've had a lot of similar life and world experiences.

As a follower of series fiction, I get the sense that my experience is a rare one. Because of gaps in publishing, main characters usually age at a slower rate than their readers. Or series often end when the narrator comes of age, or is about 18 or so. At that point, the author has the option of shifting the focus of the series to another, younger character in an effort to keep it going. Sometimes this works very well, such as in Elinor M. Brent-Dyer's Chalet School series. Sue Townsend also did that very well in Adrian Mole although she had a different problem: a few of her key characters were elderly and passed away over the course of the series.

All of this led me to do a lot of what if planning when I started to write my series. My original plan was for four books that followed my narrator through high school. But then I started thinking about what Sarah would do in college, later in life and who she would marry. I ended up deciding that even I never got past writing the first book in the series, it was relevant to know what happened to her in five, ten and fifteen years because the choices that she made at fourteen would have some kind of impact on her life.

Sue Townsend said that she was finished writing about Adrian Mole after Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction. She cited excellent reasons – a little burnt out of the character and wanting to do other projects. But she's written two books about Adrian since then and I hope that The Prostrate Years isn't the end of the road for the series.