Friday, August 31, 2012

Fess Up Friday: I'm Giving In to the Seven-Year Itch

Back in 2005, I fell madly in love with the idea of a plot and cast of characters for a YA novel. For a few years, I dabbled with this story as a yo-yo writer and therefore, my progress was rather slow. Then for three years, I worked intensely to finish this story. I would stay up late into the AM hours to write after my dear family had gone to bed. It wasn't easy to stay faithful to just one project for all this time (Oh alright, I sort of strayed by writing a couple of early readers and a picture book MS too. And there was that tiny fling with the beginning of a MG novel). But I stuck to my vows to finish this story and demanded of myself that I finish what I start.

And so I did.  

After about 30 to 40 revisions (yeah, seriously), I sent my manuscript to a super lovely editor who had requested to see it. I submitted the best of what I had. It's been six months since I sent out the manuscript and I haven't heard back from the editor so this means she has passed on my story.

I should be feeling the angst and heartache that comes with rejection. 

But I confess....I feel relieved.

While I'm sure I'd get advice to submit my story elsewhere, the truth is, I have already decided I need to take a break from it. A very long and indefinite break. I tell most people I spent about three years working on this story, as most of the writing was indeed done in three years. But the truth is that I'd really been working on this story for the last seven years, even if I'd only churned out a few chapters per year during the initial years that I began writing. 

After spending so much time holding hands with this one story (with an occasional indiscretion of a new story affair here and there), after all the research, after all the revisions, after all the reads and re-reads and re-reads again and then again, after more revisions, after all the paper that I tossed into recycling, after all the internal  wrestling and shouting matches I had with my plot and characters that I'd once so adored, I have decided I really need some fresh air.

So I told my story I wanted out. I said I'll let it keep the block of space on my memory drive (just in case I ever come crawling back later). But for now, I'm sooo done with that WIP.  

I've heard more than one author say that writing is never wasted, even if the work remains unpublished.  I agree. What I got from writing my first novel is that now I know what goes into writing a novel.

So for now, I'm moving on. I am flirting with the idea for a new novel. Maybe this one will be a keeper.

Have any of you ever decided to call it quits on a story or novel you were working on?    
What's the longest time you've spent working on a story?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Learning with Kidlit: Frenemies

Many people, at some time in their lives, might encounter a frenemy, a.k.a. someone who's supposed to be a friend but doesn't act like one. Sometimes it can be hard for a someone, especially a young person, to understand they are in a toxic relationship. Even if they recognize this, breaking free isn't easy. Thankfully, there's a bunch of kidlit out there on frenemies and bullies, more so now than when I was growing up.

Here are some kidlit and young adult books on frenemies I've read: 

DEAR BULLY Edited by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones (Young Adult- Harper Teen) 70 authors share their experiences, many of which are raw and heart-wrenching, of being bullied, of the complexities of so-called "friendships" they endured, and of their own role as the bully. Contributing authors include R.L. Stine, Lisa Yee, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Alyson Noël, Lauren Oliver, and Jon Scieszka. A few of the bullies mentioned are actually adults- sadly, there are adults who actually perpetrate bullying as opposed to trying to stop it.

LOUDER, LILI by Gennifer Choldenko, Illust. by S.D. Schindler (Picture Book- Putnam Juvenile) A quiet girl "befriended" by a controlling classmate learns she must speak up to set boundaries in the relationship.

PARIS PAN TAKES THE DARE by Cynthea Liu (Middle Grade- Putnam Juvenile) A girl who has moved to a small town meets a group of girls who dare her to complete a tough task to be accepted into the group. 

KISS & BLOG by Alyson Noël (Young Adult- St. Martin's Griffin) A high school sophomore stinging from being dumped by her best friend for the "cool crowd" starts a blog to reveal her former friend's embarrassing secrets.

THE WORST BEST FRIEND by Alexis O'Neill, Illust. by Laura Huliska-Beith (Picture Book- Scholastic) A boy is upset when his best buddy befriends the new kid at school and seems to forget about him...temporarily. 

SMILE by Raina Telgemeier (Middle Grade Graphic Novel- Scholastic) The author/illustrator recounts her experience of being tormented by the "friends" in her group after she suffers a very unfortunate and severe accident affecting her two front teeth. 

Have you ever had a frenemy? 

Feel free to recommend any other books, kidlit or non-kidlit, you've read on frenemies.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The New Adult Genre: What I Make of It

I keep hearing about this genre called new adult fiction, a.k.a. fiction for and about people from ages 18 through their early or mid-20s. From a reader's perspective, I can certainly see a gap between the young adult market and the adult market- there are fewer books out there about people fresh out of high school plowing through college or their first job. Though I've seen  books about college  life (e.g. SWEET VALLEY UNIVERSITY) or first jobs (e.g. THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA), the former has often been written as YA and the latter is usually marketed as adult fiction or chick lit.

Some bloggers have mentioned St. Martin's Press attempt to launch the new adult genre by hosting a contest for writers of this genre. But the big question centers on whether new adult fiction is currently considered a legitimate genre among industry folk.

In a blog post, writer and lit agent intern C.A. Marshall shares her ideas on why the new adult genre hasn't really taken off but encourages writers to write what they want to write because "great books are great books." While Sarah LaPolla, an agent with Curtis Brown, Ltd.  acknowledges in a blog post that the new adult crowd "deserve their own literature," she shares her reasons as to why new adult isn't a marketable genre...yet. 

At WriteOnCon last week, I joined a chat where I asked a panel of industry professionals- three agents and one editor- if they thought there will be a legitimate market for the new adult genre. One agent responded that there is a legitimate market for this. But another agent said that readers find college characters harder to root for. The vibe I got from the overall responses was that it would be nice if there was a market for new adult fiction, but it's not something that has potential to really take off. (The editor recommended a book that she liked which could qualify as new adult called WHERE SHE WENT.) 

It's always helpful to know what industry professionals think. I'm cautiously optimistic and  hopeful for the future of new adult writing. I have a lot of stories in this genre I'd love to tell.

Have you ever had any story ideas set immediately after high school, in college, or in the post-college work setting? Can you think of any published books out there that qualify as new adult?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

WriteOnCon 2012 Highlights

Once I saw the schedule for this year's WriteOnCon, I had this mental itinerary of all the live chats and forum events I was going to participate in. But my baby has been going through a growth spurt these past couple of days so I've been more busy with the nursing than usual. Therefore I didn't participate in all the live events and I didn't get to submit anything in the critique forum...but still, I feel grateful for the experience of doing WriteOnCon again this year.
The events I checked out included:

Picture Book Query Critiques with Emma Walton Hamilton: Last year, I submitted a query for Emma to comment on, and she gave such useful feedback that I'd wanted to post another query for her to review. But I couldn't get my query in the tip-top shape I wanted it to be before the submission deadline. Still, I'm learning a lot by going through other people's queries and reading Emma's comments for them (e.g. ALWAYS proofread your queries, NEVER use the word "quiet" to describe a book, and keep things simple.)  

Back to Basics: Avoid the Fines, Fix your Lines by the Meter Maids: Authors Corey Rosen Schwartz and Tiffany Strelitz Haber share ways to fix broken meter. I've fantasized about writing a picture book in rhyme someday...

Literary Agent Daniel Lazar Talks All Things Publishing: Daniel offers insights on his agent-ing style and some advice to writers. 

Differences Between YA and MG (for the Writer Who Does Both): Author Claire Legrand distinguishes between YA and MG by shedding light on how a MG character's world is smaller than the YA character's world. A MG character asks What is my place in my own world? A YA character asks What is my place in the larger world?

LIVE EVENT: Panel of Pros – Agents Mollie Glick, Cheryl Pientka, and Emily Keyes & Editor Sarah Barley: I've been thinking about stories set immediately after high school and was wondering if there will be a legitimate market for the new adult genre, also known as NA. So I asked the industry professionals a question about that....and I will share their responses next week when I post my thoughts about the new adult genre. (Or you can just click on the link and see what how the industry professionals responded.)

Writing Tips from The Lucky 13s – Kidlit Authors Debuting in 2013: For any unpublished writer who needs some words of encouragement, visit this link and you'd get some solid writing advice from thirteen authors whose books are coming out next year.

LIVE EVENT: Panel of Pros- Literary agents Katie Grimm and Sarah LaPolla & Editors Sara Sargent and Alison Weiss: I asked a question about what agents and editors want to see on the first page of a YA or MG book and the overwhelming response was voice. The industry professionals also mentioned that first lines and a sense of character are important.

I'm sooo looking forward to WriteOnCon 2013.  

Did you participate in this year's WriteOnCon? If so, what did you think of the experience?

Monday, August 13, 2012

WriteOnCon 2012 Conference

Last year, I participated in WriteOnCon. It's an online conference where writers can rub virtual elbows with agents, editors, authors, and other writers. There were opportunities to post my queries for feedback, enter contests, chat with industry professionals, and read lectures about various topics. Best of all, I got to be part of all this for free in the comfort of my own home without having to drive anywhere, book a plane flight, or book a hotel room.

This year, WriteOnCon is taking place tomorrow, August 14th, and Wednesday, August 15th. 

Have any of you participated in WriteOnCon? Any other online writers conferences out there you'd like to share about?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Author Interview with Jennifer Hubbard

This month I bring to you Jennifer Hubbard, author of two YA books- THE SECRET YEAR (Viking) and TRY NOT TO BREATHE (Viking). THE SECRET YEAR is about a boy who revisits the year of his secret romance when he gets ahold of his girlfriend’s journal after her sudden death. TRY NOT TO BREATHE is about a boy recovering from a suicide attempt. A fan of Jennifer’s writing style, I also visit Jennifer’s author blog frequently for her perspective on a variety of topics related to writing and her life as a writer. Jennifer lived in New England as a child and then went to Philadelphia where she attended college and majored in science. She lives in Philadelphia today.  

Any childhood memories of New England you’d like to share?                         
One image I associated with my childhood is Mount Tom, which you could see from our first house. I’ve now lived in Pennsylvania longer than anywhere else, and that’s probably my home now, but there’s something anchoring about seeing Mount Tom. It has a very distinctive profile, that mountain. It looks like a mountain that partly melted and had its top smushed to one side.

In THE SECRET YEAR and TRY NOT TO BREATHE, you write from a male perspective, and you pull it off very well. How do you pull off writing a convincing male perspective?                                                           
I think of my characters as people first. I grew up having male friends and relatives, reading male writers. I don’t think it’s strange that I have the voices of male characters as well as female characters in my head.

In THE SECRET YEAR, Colt relives the steamy relationship he had with Julia as the reader looks on. What are elements that make a romance captivating to readers?                                                              
I believe romance in general is captivating because it plays such a big part in our own lives. The quest for a mate—whether for one night or a lifetime—is something we spend a lot of time and energy on. It’s a near-universal human experience. We want to be loved; we want people to find us attractive. Most of us can identify with the feelings of longing, doubt, jealousy, anger, and elation that Colt goes through in The Secret Year, and that Ryan experiences in Try Not to Breathe.

It’s funny that you use the word “steamy” for The Secret Year. There is an intensity between Colt and Julia, but those scenes are not particularly graphic. I usually say, “It’s all done with atmosphere.” In other words, there’s more focus on emotion than on body parts.

I notice that THE SECRET YEAR has two different book covers. Was this a marketing decision?               Yes. Books are often rejacketed in paperback, or for new editions. Although I love the original hard cover of The Secret Year, I’m happy with the paperback cover as well. Not only because it’s beautiful, but because variety gives more people more chances to find the book. There’s also a Walmart edition with a third cover. And at some point there will be a Turkish edition; I look forward to seeing that cover.

What inspired you to write TRY NOT TO BREATHE, a book about the aftermath of a boy’s suicide attempt? I like that you wrote a book about an “issue” without making it an “issues” book. How were you able to do that?                                  
The flaw in an “issue” book, or “problem novel” as it’s sometimes called, is when the character is just a prop to explore an issue. I try to make my characters fully fleshed—flawed, multidimensional, with some sense of humor. They sometimes do the right thing and sometimes the wrong thing. And their problems are complex. We do see a resolution to the story in the novel, but it doesn’t mean all their problems are forever fixed, or that their lives are neatly tied up with a bow.

In TRY NOT TO BREATHE, Ryan accompanies Nicki to see several psychics so Nicki could attempt to reach her dead father. How did you do the research on how psychic sessions are conducted?                   
I read several nonfiction books and articles by people who consulted psychics, investigated psychics, or worked as psychics (those who believed they had powers, and those who didn’t). I’ve also heard a few readings on TV and radio, and talked to a couple of people who’ve had private consultations. And I had my Tarot read once.

There is no one universal way that readings are done. Different psychics use different practices, and they don’t all claim to have the same powers. Technically, the psychics that Nicki consults claim to be mediums—that is, to be able to communicate with the dead.

What were your favorite books/authors in kidlit and YA while growing up?                                                                                                                            Beverly Cleary, Ellen Conford, Lois Duncan, Judy Blume, K.M. Peyton, Marilyn Sachs, Zilpha Keatley Snyder, Paul Zindel ... you can see they range from funny to serious. I preferred contemporary realism but was OK with some paranormal elements, as in the work of Lois Duncan and Zilpha Keatley Snyder. I usually liked to feel that the events in a book could happen to me; that explains my fondness for realism. 

Any other projects you’d like to talk  about?                                                        
I’ve had short stories published in a 2011 anthology called Truth & Dare, and in Hunger Mountain and Cricket magazines. I’m currently working on another YA novel.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Kidlit Characters Alum: Where Should They Be Now?

Recently, I read an article on Yahoo where authors of old school kidlit shed light on where their former characters would be now as adults. The characters from Lois Duncan's I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER and KILLING MR. GRIFFIN, and Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield from Francine Pascal's SWEET VALLEY series were spotlighted in this article. (Frankly, I find it so gross and unforgivable that Jessica from Sweet Valley would hook up with Todd, her sister's long-time beau.)


Just for fun, I'm sharing how I'd want a few beloved characters from old school kidlit books to end up as adults:

Beverly Cleary's Ramona Quimby: Because Ramona had such an active imagination, I imagine her pursuing the arts, perhaps becoming an actress. Remember in RAMONA AND HER FATHER when she imagined being cast in a commercial and she put the plant-made crown on her head and it got stuck there? Or the theatrical way she'd gone about cracking the egg on her head in RAMONA QUIMBY, AGE 8? Ramona clearly liked attention when she was a child, and it would make sense that as an adult, she would continue to seek out an audience for her antics. Wanting to escape her wild Hollywood lifestyle, she'd return home to Klickitat Street for a break and go on a date with Howie Kemp.

Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet M. Welsch: I don't know if I ever finished the whole book, HARRIET THE SPY. But I remember it's about a girl named Harriet who wrote down her observations about her peers in a secret notebook, and then her peers discovered her notebook and shunned her. I imagine as an adult, Harriet could use her keen wit for observations to be an investigative journalist, a detective, or celebrity gossip blogger. 

Louis Sachar's Bradley Chalkers: THERE'S A BOY IN THE GIRL'S BATHROOM is one of my childhood faves. The story of a misunderstood boy meeting a counselor who got him really moved me. I'd like to think that Bradley grew up to be someone who helped troubled youths, perhaps being a counselor or teacher. 

...On a side note, the Yahoo article also mentioned that Lois Duncan, one of my favorite old school YA authors, had to revise her stories for recent e-book re-releases so that the content reflects the technology teens have access to today, such as cell phones and computers. While I can see how doing this could help teens see the stories taking place today as opposed to a few decades ago, I think Lois Duncan's stories could've stood well on their own even without these new edits. I commented on another blog recently that good writing is good writing, regardless of the time period a work is consumed. Besides, sometimes I get this warm nostalgic feeling when I read kidlit or YA books written at a time before everyone had Google at their finger tips.

Would you like to share any notions of how you would've liked for your favorite kidlit characters to end up as adults?

Do you think old school kidlit or YA authors should have to edit their previously published stories so they reflect the current technology (e.g. instant messaging, emailing, texting) today's young people have access to?