Monday, October 31, 2011

Don’t Try Harder

This week I’m sharing my thoughts on I’ve heard a lot of writing advice during my time as an aspiring author. Some of it was useful, some of it I already knew and lots of it made promises that are not likely to be fulfilled.

One of my favorites is “try harder.” People from your grandmother to those people you reluctantly accept as friends on Facebook will tell you that, if you try harder, you will get published, sell your movie rights and get rich enough to buy an island.

I’ve found that none of that is true. I experimented by trying really hard at a few passages. They sucked. In fact, they sucked about as hard as the ones I was lazy about. This led me to a conclusion: if you don’t want to suck try pretty hard. This is particularly helpful when you’re editing your work and experimenting with more and more elegant ways to send your main character down the hall for a drink of water.

There’s another problem with this maxim. It suggests that, if I try hard enough, I will become (cue the music) the greatest author that has ever lived. Let’s be honest. Emily Dickinson blindfolded could write me to pieces.

Here’s what I’ve decided to take from this revelation. Getting published would be SWEET! Being known as a great writer would be AWESOME! But being proud of the book I created and the craft I learned will be harder. To do this I’ll need to work pretty hard for the right amount of time.

This blog would be irrelevant if we all could use a great idea that the book “The Future of Us” by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler brings up. It’s set in the late 90s. The main characters go onto the internet for the first time and find their modern-day Facebook pages. This excellent book can be yours if you answer one simple fill-in the blank question: if you knew then what you know now you never would have ______________. Be sure to add your email address.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Best new take on an old idea

Dystopian books have been super hot and tons of them have been published. This week I’m giving away one and writing about another. At the end of this blog, you can read how you could win a copy of “Shatter Me” by Tahereh Mafi!

But first, the book I’m writing about this week is Gabrielle Zevin’s “All These Things I’ve Done.” I was beginning to think that everything in the dystopian genre had been done… until I started reading it. Zevin combines a semi-dystopia with a strong narrator, aspects of the Godfather movies and a sprinkling of religion to create a gripping, funny and very moving book. It’s a unique innovation on this genre.

The book pays homage to the dystopian genre in several important ways. The world is in trouble. Chocolate and caffeine are banned, creating a prosperous black market. Shortages of clothing and medicines are as regular as the curfews. And, the main character takes on the semi-totalitarian government via a familiar dystopian path of the hero.

The exceptional aspect of this book is the presence of religion. Annie (the main character) is Catholic and really tries to follow her religion throughout the book. Of all of the recent YA dystopia I’ve read, religion hasn’t really factored in very much. I’m very interested to see what happens next because the plot of the first book didn’t follow the typical dystopian story arc.

Now, here’s how you can win! Mafi’s book “Shatter Me” is reminiscent of the X-Men movies and comic books. If you like them, you’re going to love this book. Tell me who your favorite X-Man is and why in the comments below and you could win. Don’t forget to give me your email.

Monday, October 17, 2011

YA Opening Lines that I Love

Everyone has a favorite opening line. This week I'm writing about my favorite and giving away a copy of the excellent new book, Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver and Kei Acedera. Read on to find out how to share your favorite first line and why and you could win it!

As I thought about this it's really not right to say that I have one favorite opener in all of YA. I have dozens. They're each unique and mean different things, so they're impossible to compare. This week I chose one of my favorites: the first line of Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle. The narrator, Cassandra Mortmain, has started to keep a diary and she’s writing in the kitchen sink of the decaying castle that her family owns.

There are a few reasons why I like this so much.

First, there's the absurdity of writing in the sink. People don’t generally write in the sink, they write in chairs. It tells me that the narrator is unconventional

Second, the reason why Cassandra is writing in the sink – when she explains it, you learn a lot about her including the fact that she wants to be a writer, how her house looks and smells (it is in ruins) and the size of her family and where they are. It’s a great place to start exposition from and often, when I’m trying to place a character, I think of Cassandra in the center of the house, writing in the sink.

Third it gives you a good idea of the type of humor the author used. It’s funny it sets your expectations.

What's your favorite line in a YA book? Enter it into the comments below (don't forget to give me your email) and you could win a copy of Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver and Kei Acedera!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Maureen Johnson’s Writing Advice

Two weeks ago I went to Maureen Johnson’s launch party for her latest book “The Name of the Star” at Books of Wonder in New York City. Maureen spoke about her book briefly then took questions from the audience. She gave out two piece of good writing advice which I paraphrase here.

1. Don’t be afraid to suck.

I had heard this kind of advice before I started writing. I wish I had paid more attention to it. The essence is simple. Unless you are the kind of talent that comes along every 50 years your first drafts are going to suck no matter how hard you try. If you do try to make it all perfect you will end up doing what I did – endless rewriting and very slow progress. It took a pretty big effort from my husband to get me out of this habit.

2. Read as much as you can. You learn how to write by reading.

This is pretty easy for almost all authors because most of us got here by having a pretty heavy reading habit. If you want to write I think it helps to read with a few objectives in mind. Try to figure out why you like or don’t like an author. Is it the flow of their language? Is it their word choice? Are they really funny? Why are they funny? That analysis can help you to improve your own writing and help you edit your own work.

I took a third piece of information away from the reading – Maureen’s description of her inspiration and early drafts of The Name of the Star reminded me of the wonderful, exciting time that follows a really good idea. For me, that excitement is one of the reasons why I love writing so much.

This week you can win The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin. To win, just put in the best writing advice you have heard. The best one will win!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Best Book I Read This Month

The best book I read this month is Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. Answer the question at the end of this blog and you could win one of two copies of it were giving away this month!

Fantasy isn't really my thing but I liked this book because it's very clever and creative. For example, the main character uses her magic mostly for good. Sometimes she uses it to get back at her boyfriend. She also uses her magic to color her hair a bright blue. I like this spin on magic powers. And, what girl wouldn't make her hair gorgeous, if she could.

From more literary perspective, I like this book because it weaves topics from several genres and mixes in some themes from traditional orphan stories. Also the description of the setting is extremely detailed and easy to visualize.

Interested? Here's your chance to win a copy of it. If you could change your hair to any color what would it be and why? type your answer in the comments box below (don't forget to give me your email) and you could win!