Jun 30 2015

YA Thrills & Chills

On Monday night I attended YA Thrills & Chills at Books Inc. in Palo Alto, where three fabulous women writers — Nova Ren Suma, Lauren Saft, and Katie Coyle — gave wonderful readings of their newly released books and talked about why they write YA and their writing process, and what books they’ve enjoyed lately.

Nova Ren SumaThe Walls Around Us

Book Description (from Goodreads): On the outside, there’s Violet, an eighteen-year-old dancer days away from the life of her dreams when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement.

On the inside, within the walls of the Aurora Hills juvenile detention center, there’s Amber, locked up for so long she can’t imagine freedom.

Tying their two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls’ darkest mysteries…

What really happened on the night Orianna stepped between Violet and her tormentors? What really happened on two strange nights at Aurora Hills? Will Amber and Violet and Orianna ever get the justice they deserve—in this life or in another one?

“I think it’s such a great compliment when people are scared,” Nova Ren said, explaining that she was too close to the process while writing the book to feel fear of what she was writing herself.

I attending this event because of my love for Nova Ren’s past novels, most notable Imaginary Girls, which I still obsess over from time to time. So, I was freaking out a little (read: a lot) to be able to meet her in person and it was fascinating to hear how she approaches the writing process, which she described as part pantsing, part outlining. Nova Ren said the opening was important for her. “I need a way in. To find the right voice.” For the The Walls Around Us, she explained, she spent several months of a writing retreat just working on the right paragraph, trying to find the right voice. Once she found that, act one of the story flowed out fairly quickly. Then, after completing the first 50 pages or so, she would outline the rest of the book heavily in order to work it to completion.

Book Recommendation: All The Rage by Courtney Summers

Lauren SaftThose Girls

Book Description (from Goodreads): Some girls will always have your back, and some girls can’t help but stab you in it.

Junior year, the suburbs of Philadelphia. Alex, Mollie and Veronica are those girls: they’re the best of friends and the party girls of the school. But how well does everybody know them–and really, how well do they know one another? Alex is secretly in love with the boy next door and has joined a band–without telling anyone. Mollie suffers from a popular (and possibly sociopathic) boyfriend, as well as a serious mean streak. And Veronica just wants to be loved–literally, figuratively, physically….she’s not particular. Will this be the year that bonds them forever….or tears them apart for good?

One of the fascinating things about Those Girls is that Lauren Saft wanted to step away from the good girls who tend to populate YA novels and instead focused on the party girls, the ones who drink and smoke and have sex and get into trouble, the ones who are most often get painted as the villain in stories. But they have their own stories, Lauren explained, they have their own insecurities and dreams. Although I ran out of funds and, thus, could not buy a copy of Those Girls, it’s gone on my TBR list to read at a future date, because I’m fascinated by those kinds of characters, too.

Lauren Saft said her writing of Those Girls started with the characters. She had a clear understanding of those girls, their voices, their relationships, and she was really clear on who they were. She mentioned that writing has been described as driving down the road in which you can only see so many feet ahead of you. “I didn’t really outline this book. I just sort of put my foot on the gas and drove,” she said, explaining that she was surprised when it all worked out by the end.

Book Recommendation: The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

Katie CoyleVivian Apple At the End of the World

Book Description (from Goodreads): Seventeen-year-old Vivian Apple never believed in the evangelical Church of America, unlike her recently devout parents. But when Vivian returns home the night after the supposed “Rapture,” all that’s left of her parents are two holes in the roof. Suddenly, she doesn’t know who or what to believe. With her best friend Harp and a mysterious ally, Peter, Vivian embarks on a desperate cross-country roadtrip through a paranoid and panic-stricken America to find answers. Because at the end of the world, Vivan Apple isn’t looking for a savior. She’s looking for the truth.

“I did what nobody should ever do,” Katie Coyle said about writing Vivian Apple At the End of the World, explaining that she join a writing contest, to which she submitted the first chapter of the book and a detailed synopsis. At which point, she proceeded to do nothing with it, assuming she wouldn’t advance any further. But lo and behold, the contest representatives called up and told her she was a finalist and the completed novel had to be submitted in three weeks — which she did. Another eight months of editing resulted in the novel I now have sitting on my bookshelf. Based on her reading from the first chapter, it’ll be quite good. As a fan of apocalyptic stories, I don’t often see rapture tales, so I’m excited to see where this goes.

Book Recommendations: The Metamorphosis Trilogy by Kate Oliver and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel


Dec 15 2014

“Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.”

~ Peter Drucker

My plans and good intentions would have seen me continually working on the Novel in Poems I started in November. While procrastination has certain reared its multitude of heads, I did sit down to get to work a couple of times, only to sit at the screen feeling stymied. This is something that happens often for me as I get into the middles of longer works, when I get lost in the woods of where it could go and start feeling unsure of which way to turn.

As I usually do in such situations, I tried to make my through by setting down ideas of where I want to go, drafting out a kind of a rough outline for the rest of the story. It’s like pulling out a map, figuring out where I’m at and planning out which trails I want to head for. This process usually helps guide me forward. At the very least, I feel good about having put something down on the page.

Coming back to the Novel in Poems, however, I still couldn’t find my way back into the story, which calls for another stratagem. Sometimes moving away from the computer and working on good old-fashioned pen and paper helps to kick start the mind in a different direction. The idea is that I’ll print out existing pages and start reworking them, while jotting down ideas for future chapters. At least that’s what I’m hoping.

The only flaw in this plan is that I don’t have a printer at home — an entirely silly thing not to have as a writer, I agree. Thus, I’m going to go ahead and buy myself a new printer as a personal Christmas present this year.

Speaking of awesome presents for writers. My fantastic friend and roommate bought me StoryBox novel writing software for Christmas. I don’t know much about it, but I’m excited to try it out and see how the outlining aspects of the program works. If anyone has used this before, I would love to hear your thoughts.


Jun 30 2014

Taking Action, Redrafting, and Getting Back to Work

As I mentioned in my review of Save the Cat!, the value of any how-to book is whether it inspires you to take action. For the past several months, I have been stalled out and completely avoiding working on my werewolf novel, The Cold Nothing Taste of Winter. After drafting about two-thirds of the book, plot problems proliferated and I didn’t know how to move forward toward the ending. Since a lot of my fellow writers have been recommending Save the Cat! recently, it seemed like a good idea to give it a read and see if it sparked the flame of progress once again.

It did just that.

Here are a few of the tools from the book I’m using to try to build forward momentum.

Continue reading


Jun 26 2014

Review: Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder

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Not actually the last book you’ll need on screenwriting.

Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder provides a guide to screenwriting from an industry perspective, focusing on what a writer needs to do to prep for the act of writing. These techniques include creating a logline (or one-line), watching and analyzing movies in your chosen genre, creating a beat sheet, and building a board to layout scenes as a form of outlining. Skipping over actually writing process, he then reveals some screenplay “rules” and somethings to look for during edits if the finished draft isn’t working.

Continue reading


May 13 2014

Good Reads for Writers — On Plotting

While scrolling through my blog cue today, I noticed two very good blogs that talk about why stories work and why they don’t. Both posts look at how to approach plotting, coming to similar, but slightly different conclusions. Each has me thinking about my current stories and how I approach them. Hopefully, you find them helpful as well.

Carrie Cuinn – “It takes three points to make a plot, or, how to write an interesting (complete) story.

“While a story can have any number of events, for it to be interesting and complete, it must have three event points on its plot. Less than that, and the story is either incomplete (a vignette or character study) or it usually fails to be interesting. Often, a plot with fewer than three events is both incomplete and boring.”

Lisa Cron on Writer Unboxed – “What Kindergarten Got (And Still Gets) Really, Really Wrong, Part One

“What I learned from working with the incredibly dedicated teachers, the curriculum, and the state mandated tests is that the “story is a bunch of big, eventful, unusual things that happen” idea is firmly planted in kindergarten and nourished from there on out — which is why it can be so damned hard to uproot. It’s at the foundation of how narrative writing is taught, and a major reason why so many kids (not to mention former kids) hate writing. And, for those of us former kids who love to write, it’s a major reason our manuscripts fail.”

Lisa Cron’s post also have me think about how the idea of plot/story being problems can also help writers in another area — creating dynamic characters. Often characters will be seen as too being too passive in stories. However, characters are likely to be less passive, if they have a problem that requires them to act in order to resolve it. So, thinking of story as problem provides a solution two two writer dilemmas — plot and character — with one stone. Very cool.

If you’re a writer, tell me what you’re writing these days? Did these articles help you?

If you’re a reader, what are you reading? Is it well plotted, or does it fall flat in the way these articles describe?