Links Galore

Lots of mid-week link goodness:

  • When number thirteen happens, I tell Walt he either has to read the book immediately so we can talk about it or I tell him the entire plot.
  • Great tips and mistakes to avoid in worldbuilding.
  • This is why I don’t bring up writing with most non-writers. (Or writers, actually. I don’t talk a lot about my WIPs.)
  • Fiction is my favorite, but sometimes we need a little nonfiction.
  • Some people come up with great titles without any problems; for the rest of us, it’s a lot of work and brainstorming.
  • How to successfully read in front of people (or at least not freak out).
  • Common pitfalls in story openings.
  • We should all live like a happy author.
  • I think the recent BBC Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility should be bumped up higher, and can we please strike Bridget Jones from the list? (Yes, I have strong feelings about Jane Austen adaptations.)
  • I’m kind of addicted to Dance Academy, and I had no idea that YA author Melina Marchetta wrote an episode. (If you haven’t read Jellicoe Road yet you need to now because OH MY LORD THE FEELS.)
  • Today in reading cuteness, pugs!
  • Want to learn how to write and sell children’s books from the best literary agency around (including my wonderful agent, Taylor Martindale)? Now’s your chance!

May the Words Be Ever in Your Favor

Another reason to pay attention in school–you could get ideas for your own bestselling dystopian YA series. The Oxford Dictionaries looks at the language of The Hunger GamesThey point out how Panem is a take “panem et circenses,” a reference by Roman poet Juvenal to Ancient Roman society. Another part I liked in particular:

“Like many fantasy writers, Collins has invented some new vocabulary of her own. Anavox is akin to a slave – someone who has been punished for a ‘crime’ and thereby made a mute servant. Her reason for choosing this word is simple: the Greek prefix ‘a’ means ‘without’ and the Latin ‘vox’ means ‘voice’ so avox literally means ‘without voice’.”

When I was in sixth grade, I was so mad at my parents for signing me up for Latin class. But apparently they–and Suzanne Collins–were onto something. From real history to bits of inspired Latin, a little knowledge can really inspire your book.

(image: NYPL Digital Gallery)

The Rules of Storytelling According to Pixar

Yesterday I caught the beginning of Finding Nemo. I’ve seen it at least a dozen times now and I always tear up at the beginning. “No, this time will be different,” I tell myself. “I know what’s coming.” But damnit, every time Marlin holds that little fish egg my lip starts quivering. Sometimes I think Pixar is out to make adults weep as much as possible.

Even if their goal isn’t to steal the tears of every living adult and child, Pixar does know how to tell a good story. So even if you’re not a screenwriter, you should probably check out this list of storytelling rules by Pixar artist Emma Coats. A few that I really liked:

“#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.”

To me, these are all about pushing yourself as a writer. In early drafts, I tend to give my characters easy outs or not insert enough tension to really fuel the story. You want to make things hard for your characters because a) life is hard and b) drama is compelling. And if you can think of an easy way out for your characters, the audience has probably already thought of that as well, which isn’t compelling for them.

Make sure to check out the whole list. It’s a fantastic resource for writers of all levels.

(Also, who’s excited for Brave?!)

(via 109)(image: Pixar Wiki)

Katherine Paterson in Lowell for Talk About Historical Fiction

Grrr, I’m booked that night, but this presentation by Katherine Paterson sounds fantastic:

When: 7 p.m. Thursday, May 3, 2012
UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center, 50 Warren St., Lowell, MA

Paterson, the Library of Congress’s 2010-2012 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, will talk about how historical research, a compelling plot, and a feisty female character combine to create a novel that breathes life into the story of Lowell’s 19th-century textile mills and the labor activism of “mill girls.”

Click through for more info. Apparently you need to reserve a space in advance. I had the opportunity to see Katherine Paterson at another NCBLA event, and she was fantastic. I’d love to hear her thoughts on creating compelling historical fiction.

(via The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance)

Toads, TED talks, and Magical Landscapes: the 2012 NESCBWI Conference

Sara Zarr giving her keynote. Somehow my only picture from the weekend.

Last Saturday I woke up before sunrise, grabbed my bags, and drove a couple hours to Springfield, MA. Why put so much effort into what would otherwise have been a sleepy Saturday morning? Because I had to get to the NESCBWI conference!

I attended the international SCBWI conference in January, but this was my first regional conference. As with the larger SCBWI conference, there was a fantastic writerly vibe at NESCBWI. Fellow attendees were friendly and enthusiastic; presentations were informative and invigorating; and I left excited to get to work.

It’s a smart idea to have a regional conference. While I loved going to SCBWI in New York, I’m not sure I could make the trip out every year. The New England version is a little more manageable. Also, the workshops I attended felt much more focused on a particular topic. I’m sure regional conferences allow a little more tailoring to what particular attendees want to work on, as opposed to a much larger conference. A few workshops I attended were about setting expectations for your writing career, creating magical worlds, and navigating book contracts. Again, really interesting and helpful stuff.

A few highlights/thoughts/fun moments from NESCBWI:

  • In her keynote speech, Sara Zarr (one of my favorite YA authors) talked about what characters care about. So often we’re asked “What does your character want?” but Sara mentioned that sometimes what you want can just be a symbol for what you care about. I hate the “what does X want?” question; the “what does X care about” makes so much more sense to me. (She also related the writing life to Frog and Toad stories. Loved it!)
  • Also from Sara Zarr: “Let your writing actions speak to your commitment.”
  • Cynthia Lord mentioned there are peaks and valleys in a writing career; it’s not always an upward trajectory. She suggested thinking of the successes and rewards as “gifts” from readers. If someone write a good review about you or wants to give you an award, it’s a gift. Gifts can’t be expected, and as a result there’s way less pressure on you to hit those peaks.
  • Kate Messner shared her TED talk with us (so cool!) and reminded us that sometimes fear lets us know we’re exceeding the artificial limitations we set for ourselves.
  • A behind-the-scenes look at New Yorker covers and comics from Harry Bliss. His keynote made me wish I could illustrate.
  • When creating magical worlds, ask yourself questions like “How would geography affect class structure?” and “What kind of medicine or drugs do they have?” Cinda Williams Chima gave such a great workshop; I felt with major fantasy invigoration.
  • The Apocalypsies/Class of 2012 debut novelists are awesome people. It was great to hear about how weird the first novel experience can be. Special thanks to AC Gaughen and Diana Renn for chatting with me afterward.
  • On a more personal note, I was invited to join a fabulous YA/MG critique group. So excited to start workshopping with such wonderful writers!

If you want even more on NESCBWI, make sure to check out these posts by other attendees/presenters. And if you attended, please share your thoughts/links to blog posts about your NESCBWI experience in the comments.


Stop World Building, Start Word Building

At YA Highway, Kaitlin has a great post about world building and how it can slow down your first draft. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes of your character’s world, and it can be a challenge to make sure the necessary information is there while not overwhelming yourself in the details. And while some information is really necessary–has there been a zombie apocalypse, or is this a medieval-esque alternate universe?–not everything needs to be there. Especially in a first draft, when you should be focusing on getting the story written. Kaitlin says:

“So sometimes, when I find myself on the internet for the millionth time, researching if some tiny little thing no one will ever care about is possible, I just tell myself to stop. I ignore my crappy world building, except to leave myself small notes about checking things later, and I plow onward. And then I have a draft. Maybe I have to overhaul parts of it because I realize that something doesn’t make sense, but often, I realize that I was stressing too much over nothing and I’ve actually done just fine.”

I really need to remember this when I get wrapped up in the details of my latest project. It’s okay not to have all the world details worked out at that very moment. The only thing that matters in a first draft is figuring out the story and characters. Different worlds are cool, but people are going to notice if you haven’t fleshed out your characters enough, either. It’s easy to get really bogged down in details and think “But I have to know all the precise terminology for shipbuilding in the 1700s or my readers won’t care about the story!” Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. But usually, when I’m reading I care more about the characters and general plot than specific terms for merchant sailing ships.