Thursday, May 31, 2012

How to Respond to Negative Reviews

I have a friend who hates puppies. True story. She hates dogs, actually, which is just weird anyway. One day, I asked her, "Okay, you hate dogs. I can kind of get that. Some people are scared of them, or were bit by one, or whatever. But what about puppies? Cute little wiggly puppies with waggly tails and puppy kisses."

"I hate puppies, too," she said.

Just like that. "I hate puppies, too."

I mean, COME ON.

I have a friend who hates Harry Potter. The whole franchise. There is not one thing she likes. She read part of the first book, and put it down. She felt that the whole first half of the first book glorified child abuse. And yeah, I get her point. If you look at it that way, Harry is abused by the Dursleys, and honestly? They don't really get their pay back for the twelve years of abuse.

"But the book is about so much more than that," I told her, trying to get her to read on.

"Oh, I know--there's magic and Hogwarts and shizz," she said. "But I don't really care about that."


My own husband hates chocolate. I didn't find this out until after we were married. That's the kind of thing that should be discussed, I KNOW, but it didn't even occur to me that anyone COULD hate chocolate. He's not allergic. I have a friend who's allergic to chocolate, and that's bad enough. But the husband? He just doesn't like it. And I'm married to this monster, y'all.

There are people in the world who hate bacon. Seriously. Not for any religious or ethical reason. They just think it doesn't taste good. There's a Facebook fan club that is just about hating bacon. There are 28 members (SO FAR) and they have BADGES. According to one online source, 11% of America's population HATES BACON.

There are what? 7 billion people in the world now? Statistically speaking, there has to be at least one person in the world who hates puppies, Harry Potter, chocolate, AND bacon. *shudders*

My point? If there are people in the world who hate puppies, Harry Potter, chocolate, and/or bacon, then there are people in the world who hate your book. Put in that perspective, things aren't so bad, huh?

And if a negative review really gets you down? Here's what to do: think about your absolute favorite book of all time. We all have one. A book we love, one that's practically perfect in every way.

Got the book in mind? Now go to GoodReads. Look the book up. Filter the reviews for 1-stars (because I promise you, it does have one stars). And smile. Because if people can rate your favoritest book in the whole world with one star, then of course people can rate your book that way, too.

  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (my fave of the series) has 2,843 one-star reviews.
  • A Wrinkle in Time, one of the best science fiction titles for teens and young people, has 4,359 one-star reviews.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which is funny and insightful and a classic, has 11,212 one-star reviews. Eleven thousand, two hundred, and twelve.
  • Hamlet, written by Shakespeare, arguably the most popular work by the most influential writer in the English language, has 2,198 one-star reviews. King Lear, my personal favorite Shakespearean play, has nearly a thousand one-stars.
  • Okay, okay, okay. We can all agree that some of those above titles might have elements that some people don't like. But who can dislike a classic children's picture book? Let's say...Where the Wild Things Are. I'm not sure, but I'd wager that's the most popular children's book in America. And it has over 2,000 one-star reviews. Curious George? Nearly 1,000 one-stars. The Cat in the Hat? Over twelve-hundred.
If there are people who hate these books, there are people who hate yours. Go pet a puppy, eat some chocolate and/or bacon, and read your favorite book again. Things aren't so bad. People are just weird different is all. 

To share this post anywhere on the web, just click on the green button to the left. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Reason You Need Crit Partners

I came across this quote the other day and while the image doesn't make much sense (um, a fish? Why?) and although the post it's talking about something else entirely, it made me think of one thing instantly:

Critique Partners.

Recently someone on my Facebook page asked me if I paid for editing on my novels. The short answer: no. Of course my novels are edited, but that's something that comes with the book deal. And I did self-edit my novels when I was submitted them, but I didn't pay for an editor.

Instead, I got critique partners. And I have to be honest--I think finding the right match in critique partners might just be one of the very best things a writer can do for herself.

And the quote above definitely exemplifies that. Having a good critique partnership means that you give and take. Your work is critiqued--but oftentimes, it's not the critique itself that is valuable. It's the critique you're doing for the other person.

Example: I would often get a critique that I overuse a phrase or word. Then I would look at it in my manuscript and all I'd see is that I used it maybe three times. What was the big deal? But when I read other manuscripts, and see a very specific phrase used three times within that many pages, I realized how annoying it was. By seeing it in other manuscripts, I really started to understand why something small like an overused phrase makes a big difference.

A good critique partnership will definitely put you on the path to writing better manuscripts from the start. You want someone who can challenge you, point out the things you can't see for yourself--but someone whose work you can be challenged by. Helping others really makes you help yourself.

To share this post anywhere on the web, just click on the green button to the left. It's this new doo-hickey thing I'm trying. Tell me if you like it?

Friday, May 25, 2012

On Goals & Starting Over

Um…wow. I am gobsmacked by the positive response you guys gave me from yesterday’s post. I have to admit, I’m a little ashamed every time I have to confess that the book of my heart never sold (and probably never will), but it’s something I feel needs to be said, especially for people who aren’t published and think that’s the end. Because, obviously, it’s not.

If you haven’t, please also read the comments to that post—especially Jo’s comment. She had a different experience from mine, but one equally important. And also, Nova did her own blog post on the topic, and I encourage you to read it as well.

Two questions that I got in the comments a couple of times and then again several times in private emails yesterday was “when did you know to stop trying to get the book of your heart published,” and “why didn’t you just self-publish the book of your heart?”

I knew when to stop submitting that book when two things happened: I was able to look at it objectively and identify the reasons why it was a hard sale, and I began writing the new thing. This is one reason why I am such a supporter of people writing the next book—because once you write the next book, you realize that life can go on, that this isn’t the end. It gives you perspective. It helps you see where you went wrong, and it helps you to correct your mistakes before you make them. Once I finish a book—totally finished it, even the rewriting and editing—I start the next one. Always. And there is—always—a moment of panic when I think “there is no way I can write another book.”

When you’re staring at a blank page, it seems impossible to fill. And, for me, it’s harder every time, because I remember the work that goes into making a book. Since publication, it’s become harder to write, not easier, because the editing process is so much more rigid than my own self-editing process I went through before being published.

But I force myself to do it. And the first words aren’t easy…but they get easier. And eventually, I forget about what’s hard about writing because I’m so caught up in what’s good.

The other question I got so often yesterday—why didn’t I just self-published—is easier to answer, but I want to be careful about what I say, because I don’t want to accidentally make anyone mad.

When I started writing, I did it for fun. It was a hobby; it’s what I did instead of watch TV (especially those college years when I couldn’t afford TV). And the first couple of (terrible, unpublished) novels I wrote, I half-heartedly attempted to sell, but there was no real direction in what I was doing.

After I wrote the book of my heart, I thought to myself: this is it. This was the best thing I’d written to date, and I felt that it deserved publication (at the time). And I asked myself what I wanted out of it.

People go into publication for different reasons. Maybe they want to make their story available to a wider audience, or see their names on a book, or walk into a bookstore and find a copy of their book. There is no right reason to want publication—and that’s why there are so many paths to publication.

But when I forced myself to think about what I really wanted, it was simple. I wanted to be published by one of the Big Six publishers, and I wanted a traditional career in publishing.

That was my goal from the start of when I really started seeking publication. It honestly never occurred to me to self-publish, because that was not a part of my goal. And while I eventually did come close to an offer from an indie publisher with another title, I ultimately decided to pull the submission, because that was not a part of my goal.

Other people have different goals, different definitions of success. And that’s fine. But I encourage you to do two things, particularly when you’re starting out. Think about what success means to you. Is it more important to you for one specific book (i.e. the book of your heart) to be published, or is it more important to you to create a traditional career path with publication? Is it more important to you to get published quickly, or do you not care about the timeline? None of these have a right or wrong answer—but they define what you want, what your goal is. Analyze what’s important to you, and then don’t go back on your principles. It’s fine to change a goal later if you feel it would be better, but never change a goal because you’ve just given up on it. 

I guess, in the end, the only thing I can really say is this: the book of my heart didn't sell, but that doesn't mean my dreams didn't come true. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Book of My Heart

There is a phrase I'm hearing more and more: "book of my heart." It's a term writers are using to explain to others that the particular project they're working on is one that is very personal and dear to them. All books are works of art and take some of ourselves to write, but a "book of your heart" is one that is ripped from your very soul. It's the important one, your baby, the one that you wrote with blood, sweat, and tears; the one that means more to you than any other.

And it's a beautiful sentiment. If an author tells me she's on submission with the "book of her heart," then I know it's a particularly important time in her life. If an author tells me he's just finished the "book of his heart," this calls for more than a toast--it's an all-night celebration of joy.

But I also think there's an important thing for everyone who's a writer (published or not) to know.

The book of your heart doesn't always sell.

I have a book of my heart. I wrote it in college, and it was my third (unpublished) novel. Writing it was like magic. The world consumed me, and despite the fact that I was working on my Master's thesis and writing academically nearly full-time, I would give up sleeping and eating in order to keep working on the book of my heart.

I loved that book. It had everything I loved: magic, a touch of romance, excitement, mystery, family themes, heartache, tough decisions.

It was the first book that was mine. The other two novels I'd written before were not really good, and they were basically copy-cat novels of other books I loved. But the book of my heart was all me. It is still, I think, the most original thing I've ever written.

But it never sold.

Not for lack of trying. And it came close--very close. Thanks to a connection at a writer's conference, it got to the acquisitions table at one of the Big Six publishers (agentless), and I even got a revision request and a ten-page edit letter. I thought the book of my heart would break me into the market; I thought it would be my debut. And--after about a hundred rejections from agents and a rejection from the Big Six publisher I'd been working didn't sell.

I eventually moved on to the next book. And the next. And the next. And as I wrote each subsequent book, I worried that I would never write a book as good as the book of my heart. That that book had been The One, and since it didn't sell, nothing would.

That's why I'm writing this post today. Because I'm starting to see this phrase, "book of my heart," more and more often, and a lot of times it's accompanied by a corollary: "it's the best thing I can ever write."

And too often? People will only write the book of their heart.

Don't do this. Don't do this. A book of your heart comes rarely--and sometimes you'll only ever taste that magic once--but publishing isn't just about the magic. And sometimes the book of your heart? It isn't that good. Despite the fact that my book of my heart is my mother's favorite thing I've ever written, I can look at it objectively now and realize why it didn't get published and why it probably never will. It slips between the cracks of genre, it doesn't really have a home on any shelf, even in YA. It's too weird. Maybe one day I'll be able to revise it, but for now, it's more like "Jabberwocky" than Alice.

If you're a writer who is unpublished, then I hope and pray you will eventually write the book of your heart. It's a wonderful thing, and the closest I've come to touching magic. But I also want you to know something very, very important: the book of your heart is not the apex of your writing. It is not necessarily the best thing you've written, and it's not necessarily your only shot at getting published.

Very often the book of your heart is a practice novel--you've written it too early in your career, and the quality isn't there (even if you can't see that). Or it's so close to your heart that you can't properly edit it. Or it's a story important to you--but not the rest of the world. Or it was easy to write, and the next thing isn't. Or it was hard to write, and you don't want to think of writing the next thing because that will be hard, too. For whatever reason, chances are that the book of your heart just isn't meant to be published. But that doesn't mean it should be the last thing you write.

And also? The magic will come again. ACROSS THE UNIVERSE was not the book of my heart. I know of no writer that has more than one book of her heart. But I felt the magic when I was writing ACROSS THE UNIVERSE. Maybe the point of writing the book of your heart is to open your eyes to see the magic in everything you write, to find the scenes that speak to your artistic soul.

My point is this: don't weigh all your dreams on one book. Don't think you've only got one chance. If you write the book of your heart and it doesn't sell, remember this: not all of them do. And the important thing is not to stagnate at that point, but to try to find the magic again where you can.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Live in the Zone

So yesterday I tweeted this:

And I so meant it. As of right now, I've listened to the song 237 times. (I told you I get slightly crazy while rewriting...)

Anyway, soon after this, my friends over at @FigmentFiction tweeted me a link to Paradise Fears, a band that did an acoustic cover of the song.

The song is addictive as-is, but the cover as it's own sort of addictive quality. So, during writing breaks, I'd watch the video of them playing again and again.

One of the things I loved about it was the way the main singer gets totally into the song. Check him out at about the 1:40 minute mark--he is totally in that song.

He's in the zone.

Yesterday, I got to a point in the story where I totally fell into it. (It was the source of this status update, btw.) I was typing so fast that my fingers were skipping words as I trying to get the words in my head onto the computer screen. When I was finished, I was breathless and literally on the edge of my seat. And just like that, 2,000 words were written in about a half hour.

That doesn't happen often, but when it does, it's magic.

Whatever you do that you love--sing, write, paint, build--whatever it is, there has to be a moment when you enter that zone.

That's what I live for. That's why I love writing.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Post With Puppies

So, I had this whole rant about grammar already written and scheduled for today.

And then I realized that no one cares about a rant about grammar.

So have some pictures of puppies.

If you're really into rants about grammar (which would make you my kind of person, lemme tell you!) then the gist of it was this:

Dear Writers: A painter doesn't paint a masterpiece with dirty paintbrushes. 
Have respect for your own art and use good grammar.

Except that it went on and on for like a page.

And obviously, puppies are more entertaining.

In other news: it's possible, if I've resorted to rants about grammar and .gifs of puppies, that I should be offline for a bit while I finish up with the rewrite of SHADES OF EARTH...

Monday, May 21, 2012

Poetic Revenge

If you follow my Twitter feed, you might have noticed that I have been tweeting links to a new artist I found online, Australian Gavin Aung Than, who creates Zen Pencils, a series of comics that illustrate inspiring quotes and poetry. 

His work is lovely, and an evening spent reading the archives is time well spent, in my opinion (I've done it twice recently!). I don't think I could possibly pick a favorite (oh, wait, YES I CAN), but I think one of the most stirring and inspiring has been a series that follows one protagonist through three different poems. 

The first is this one: a dramatization of "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley. It's a wonderful poem to start with, but the story that Gav puts with the poem is...stunning. (There's a link at the bottom of the pic for you to see a full-size version. Do that, don't squint.)

Click here to go to the full version. DO IT.

"Invictus" is beautiful no matter what, but Gav puts a face to the poem--literally--and grounds us in a situation that I think everyone can relate to. 

Here's the reason why I love graphic novels and books that use images (like LIPS TOUCH: THREE TIMES by Laini Taylor)--the graphic adds something to the words. A graphic should not just be a literal interpretation of what is happening. You, the reader, need to gain something more from seeing the picture. You should walk away with the idea that the illustration added a new depth, new understanding, new meaning to the words. This is what Gav does so well. "Invictus" is about fighting, and standing up after being knocked down. Gav's illustration of the poem tells a story within the story. And that, my friends, is brilliant.

Next, Gav took a favorite of mine, Rudyard Kipling's "If," and continued the story started with "Invictus." Not all of Gav's illustrations are linked (in fact, most aren't), but this one is continued through a new poem. And this was the moment when I really sat up and paid attention to the story Gav was telling with his illustrations. He's linked two poems together that have nothing to do with each other--they aren't written by the same person, they aren't written with the same historical background. "Invictus" is about standing up again--"If" is about being the person you should be in a world that encourages cowards. 

And the story Gav tells weaves in and out of these two disparate poems.

Click here to go to the full version. YOU KNOW YOU WANT TO.

Now when I finished "If," I thought Gav's work was done. He'd told a complete story--one of downfall and redemption. There's a whole circle here. 

But there's another poem. 

For the next (last?) in the series, Gav brought in Walt Whitman's "O me! O Life!" You can make and argument that "If" and "Invictus" are linked in theme, if not in background, but you'd be hard pressed to find such a link with Whitman's poem "O me! O Life!" 

But Gav did a brave thing. He illustrates not just the fight and the hero's resolution. He shows the aftermath. It's nice to see the hero rise up; it's lovely to see the reconciliation with the father. But in real life, your story keeps going. And you have to wake up the next day, and learn to live with the choices you've made.

Click here to read the full version. IT IS SO WORTH IT.

It's the last one that brought tears to my eyes (although I'm not really a fan of Whitman). I think the easy interpretation of this poem is one of striving to make worthy art, but I love that Gav took it in a different direction--that learning to live with yourself and to be yourself despite others is contribution enough. 

Like I said before, I highly encourage you to read all of Gav's archives. And buy a print, why don't ya? 

Today's question: what poem or quote most inspires you?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Music Post: In Which I Wear Hipster Glasses

So, I'm currently working on edits for SHADES OF EARTH. It is starting to be in real book shape, and I am very excited and extremely terrified by this. I am physically restraining myself from running up to strangers and shouting "THIS BOOK I AM WRITING IS MY GIFT TO YOU I HOPE YOU LIKE IT PLEASE LOVE ME."

My husband tells me I should avoid going out in public until edits are done, and I think he's probably right. Also I tend not to bathe regularly while editing, and I eat a lot of string cheese, and I wear yoga pants and holey t-shirts, and all in all, I'm just not fit for public right now. If I had a butler, he'd actively tell all the society people that "Madame is not in at the moment, please leave your card."

Meanwhile, I have been working rabidly on SHADES OF EARTH. And I know that I'm working rabidly on a project by my music-listening habits. People have often asked me for a playlist, and that's not really my sort of thing. I don't keep track of what I listen to--and often, I will actively listen to music that I can then tune out. Also, I'm boring. I tend to listen to one song over and over and over and over on repeat. Really loudly.

Right now, on the SHADES rewrite, the song I'm listening to over and over and over and over and over again is this one:

The musician here is Alex Day. I found his music in a rather circuitous way. I started off as a nerdfighter, which led me to the hilarious Charlie McDonnell (better known as Charlie Is So Cool Like). Charlie's roommate is Alex Day, and they did a few videos together, so I started looking into his videos, too. This led me to Chameleon Circuit, a Doctor Who fan band, and I discovered the song that I listened to obsessively while writing the first draft of SHADES:

Given the title, it seemed really appropriate for the third and final volume of my book. I love the duet style of this song, and it's just, simply, gorgeous.

Anyway, this all ultimately lead me to downloading all of Alex's songs, where I discovered "The World is Mine," the first song I have listed here. It's got the perfect tone and the most beautiful lyrics. Also: it perfectly fits the final volume of the AtU trilogy.

What songs are you listening to obsessively now? Do you have any fun stories about how you discovered a new musician or song?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

On E-Books

Just found this great article on the evolution of e-books, and wanted to share. Click through for a larger graphic and more info:

I can only speak for myself, but here's what I've noticed in my own reading practices:

  • I have bought the same number of print books since owning an e-reader as before
  • But I have also bought an increasing number of e-books
  • I will typically buy print books from authors I know I like, books I want to get signed, or books I know I will want to re-read and/or complete a set (for example, the final book of a trilogy)
  • But I take chances on e-books--I will typically purchase an ebook that is written by an author I've never tried before, is outside my typical reading comfort zone, etc.
  • If I like the ebook, I will sometimes also then purchase the print book to keep
  • Price is rarely a factor in my ebook purchases. I will sometimes take a chance on a book that's $3 or less that I wouldn't normally, but I buy just as many $10 ebooks as I don't buy $1 ebooks.  I care more about whether or not it's a title that I want to read than the price.
  • That said, I've only ever paid more than $10 once, and that was for an "enhanced edition" because I was curious about what made it "enhanced." I was disappointed; I will be more cautious with future "enhanced editions," particularly over $10.
But the important thing that I'm taking away from these thoughts is this: I buy more books, both print and electronic, than I did before, and I'm buying a wider variety of books. I can't help but see this as a good thing. 

You? How has the introduction of ebooks changed your reading habits...or has it not? 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Life and Death

I love this beautiful, poetic video about life and death. The images are stunning and so evocative.

Anyone else reminded of Kirsten Miller's THE ETERNAL ONES with some of the imagery in the video?

The video itself was inspired by an Edgar Allan Poe, and I originally found it through this fascinating article about Poe and a specific artist-illustrated version. If you like Poe--or are just a fan of 20s art, creepy stuff, etc.--I encourage you to click through. I have already purchased my own reprint of the book :)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Comment to Win--6 Books!

All last week (Monday through Saturday) I did an interview with a different author--and every single interview was paired with a giveaway.

I will close the contest at 7pm EST, and announce winners sometime before midnight. So you've still got a little time left to enter six different contests! You can enter any or all of them, and all you need to do to enter is leave a comment at the interview post, linked below.

Winners are now announced! Thanks so much for entering!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Interview Week: Angie Smibert, Author of the Forgetting Curve

Welcome to Interview Week!
All this week, I'm interviewing awesome authors--and giving away a copy of their book! Come back each day this week for another author and another chance to win an awesome book.

Quick Stats on Today's Author:

We can read all about your life from your bio in the jacket flap of your book. So, what's a completely random fact about you that most people don't know?
I have a gray cat named Brick, which most people think is really strange. Even when I mention that the other cat is Maggie. (Bonus points if anyone can name the literary reference. Hint: think Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor.)

As a kid, what was your favorite book? Have your tastes changed since growing up?
I remember reading all the Walter Farley horse books—Black Stallion, Black Stallion Returns, etc. That may have been where I developed a love of a good series—or just a good author with a lot of books. My tastes may have changed in terms of what I read, but I still like to inhale a good series. (btw, right now, I’m reading Charlaine Harris’ latest Sookie Stackhouse book, Deadlocked. I think it’s the 12th in the series.)

Your most recent title, THE FORGETTING CURVE, is a sequel to your debut, MEMENTO NORA. How was writing a sequel different from writing the first book?
You’d think it would be easier. NOT.  First of all, the timeline was compressed. (See below.) Second, what I originally thought was going to happen (plot-wise) changed—for the better—but it was painful to let that initial idea go. It just didn’t move the series forward. Important lesson in sequels: you need to cover new ground.

It's the inevitable question: what inspired THE FORGETTING CURVE?
Originally, I’d envisioned Memento Nora as a stand-alone. The initial inspiration for the Forgetting Curve was something my editor asked when we were working on the first one. At the end, Nora’s mom spits out her pill and tells her what happened. Would Nora believe her? I realized then that the old Nora wouldn’t.  So I wrote a draft where Nora, Micah, and Winter try to rediscover some of what they learned in book 1. Like I said above, that didn’t work, but rethinking the premise of this book led me a new, better direction. Which is why I brought in Aiden.

One of the things that stood out to me in THE FORGETTING CURVE was the way the kids used art as aform of rebellion. Was there any specific artist or work of art that inspired this inclusion? 
In the first book, MEMENTO NORA, the kids create an underground comic. In the second one, someone in the community (no spoilers) has created an underground low-power FM station (MemeCast) to circulate news that isn’t otherwise available and to give people (kids mostly) a venue for self-expression. Velvet and the boys write and play music inspired by the MemeCast, and they (little spoiler) do get their music played on the ‘cast. 

One of the inspirations for the ‘cast was a low power FM station set up by hackers on the Gulf Coast after Katrina.  (I have a little more info and links on my book site:  Since all forms of communication—phones, radio, tv, cellphones-- were wiped out during the storm and for a long time afterwards, the station provided the community with information it needed. And the transmitter did fit in a lunchbox.

Can you tell us a little bit about the process--particularly the timeline--of writing & publishing THE FORGETTING CURVE?
I wrote a full draft of FC the summer before Memento Nora came out. However, that version was off the mark. (In other words, the publisher didn’t buy it—and rightly so.) Then I rethought it and wrote a proposal (outline and three chapters) for the new version, which they did buy early in Spring 2011. But, the kicker was that they wanted it for Spring 2012. That meant finishing it by Memorial Day so we could do edits and have it to copyediting by the end of the summer. So I was finishing the draft on the train to BEA that year.

If your reader could only take away one emotion, theme, or idea from THE FORGETTING CURVE, what would you want it to be?
Good question. Mike Mullin did a great review of the book (for theLeague) where he touched on some key underlying concepts. But, I think basically the idea is to not take anything on face value. Question authority, whoever that may be.

Beyond the typical--never give up, believe in yourself--what would be the single best advice you'd like to give another writer?
Buy a good chair. Seriously. My back is paying the price.

What do you think are your strongest and weakest points in writing?
Strongest: voice, conciseness, creative settings
Weakest: plot, underwriting

 And now for a giveaway! Leave a comment with your email address below to be entered to win a ARC copy of THE FORGETTING CURVE! One winner will be picked next Monday; sorry, but this needs to be North America only. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Interview week: Robin LaFevers, author of GRAVE MERCY

Welcome to Interview Week!
All this week, I'm interviewing awesome authors--and giving away a copy of their book! Come back each day this week for another author and another chance to win an awesome book.

Quick Stats on Today's Author:

We can read all about your life from your bio in the jacket flap of your book. So, what's a completely random fact about you that most people don't know?
I have the blackest of black thumbs and kill every plant I touch. I have been ordered to stay out of our garden, except to look, and we do not own a single houseplant.

As a kid, what was your favorite book? Have your tastes changed since growing up?
I know this makes me one of millions, but THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA was my hands down favorite when I was a kid. My father gave them to me for my eighth birthday and I think I read the entire series at least once a year. They were the first fantasy books I read and I was just gobsmacked by the idea that authors were allowed to make things up; they didn’t have to ground their stories in reality. That was the moment I decided I wanted to make things up for a living. Since I still read fantasy, and now write it, I would have to say that my tastes haven’t changed much since then.

What’s the most interesting historical fact that you discovered while writing GRAVE MERCY, which takes place in a world based on medieval France? (Either one that ended up in the book, or one that didn’t make the cut.)
There were so many! It’s hard to pick just one. Because it ended up being so very central to the story, I would have to say it was the degree to which the early Catholic Church intentionally (as in it was part of the instructions it gave its clergy) set out to incorporate so many pagan deities, festivals, and locations into their own tradition. It was a well thought out tactic in luring reluctant unbelievers into the fold of the church. Gods and goddesses became saints, Catholic holidays were planned to coincide with pagan festivals, and churches were built on or near ancient holy sites. In fact, that was one of the sparks for the book, a photograph of a stone church built right next to a pagan standing stone.

It's the inevitable question: what inspired GRAVE MERCY?
I knew I wanted to write the story of a girl who was utterly powerless and put her through all the trials and ordeals that would shape her into an instrument of power—not just physical power, but also the power to stand firmly in her own self and make her own choices and decisions.

For that kind of story, I needed a big, sweeping canvas with high stakes and lives and kingdoms at risk, and a time when teens were in a position shape the world around them. That search brought me to the middle ages and a world full of sacred relics, patron saints, and lots of social turbulence.

Then I stumbled across another fascinating research tidbit and learned that many women in the Middle Ages preferred joining a convent to marriage because convent life gave them more independence and autonomy than they could ever have as married women! That kind of lit my imagination on fire and began to play with what sort of convent would be the best avenue for my heroine’s journey, and I decided on a convent that would give her power over life and death. 

One of the things that stood out to me in GRAVE MERCY was the way you created a very realistic girl from a medieval world that would still be sympathetic to readers today. Can you tell us a little bit about how you balanced the medieval world and character details with modern readers?
Wow, interesting question! She wasn’t a medieval person to me, she was simply Ismae, a girl struggling to find her place in this world and carve out some sense of power over her own life, somewhat universal themes that apply to any historical time period. So I focused on her core, internal arc first, and I really do think that those types of archetypal journeys sort of transcend time—they apply to us all.

One of the things I find most fascinating about writing historical fantasy is really trying to understand the worldview of people living in earlier times. What was life like without technology, where there was little understanding of science or the laws of physics and so much of life felt random and out of one’s control? Since Ismae belonged to a convent that served Death, what would her faith look like? How would her devotion be tested? What sorts of rituals would her life entail? Those questions were in the forefront of my mind whenever I sat down to write and helped me get into the head of a 15th century girl—what metaphors and similes would she use? What points of reference would she have? So that was probably the key to having her feel medieval on the page.

I also tried to (mostly!) use words that were only in use prior to the 16th century or phrases that felt reminiscent of that era. I definitely fudged sometimes; when the choice came down to readability I went for that over historical accuracy every time, because my overriding goal was that the story and the voice of Ismae be accessible to today’s teen reader

Can you tell us a little bit about the process--particularly the timeline--of writing & publishing GRAVE MERCY?
 I first got the rough glimmers of the idea for this book about seven years ago. I worked on it for five or six years, squeezing it in between other, contracted novels and projects, so I was able to take my time researching and building the world of the story. Because it evolved into such a strange, bizarre idea, I promised myself I didn’t have to show the finished product to anyone if I didn’t want to. (This is a little lie I often tell myself that somehow gives me the freedom I need to get the story down.)

I ended up doing countless drafts, mostly because there were just so many different directions the story could go in! Not to mention a huge variety of tones it could take, and it just took me forever to figure out which story I wanted to tell. I think that’s one of the luxuries we lose once we become published and are writing on contract—that freedom to play in the world of story and take our time, so I try to make time in my life for those kind of projects.

However, once I settled on the story I wanted to tell, it still took me forever to nail the voice. I got halfway through an early draft and realized that third person POV simply wasn’t working. So I changed the entire book to first person, which is much, MUCH more than simply changing pronouns. There is an entire different flow to language and narration when you change POV. The manuscript flowed much better, but I was still having problems with the heroine getting lost among the dramatic historical events.  It wasn’t until page 350 (of a 420 page mss) that I realized that the book had to be in first person PRESENT tense. I took to my bed for a week with a case of the vapors when I realized that. And writing in first person present is like speaking an entirely different language, so I had to completely rewrite the whole damn thing—again.

Which taught me an important lesson: experiment with tenses and POVs in the early stages of a book—just don’t set your POV choice on default mode.  

So about seven years from first glimmer to publication, and about twelve drafts. Not a quick or easy process, but definitely one of the most rewarding books I’ve ever written.

If your reader could only take away one emotion, theme, or idea from GRAVE MERCY, what would you want it to be?
That we owe it to ourselves to wrestle with the concepts of love and faith and honor and duty. We need to figure out what those mean for ourselves and not swallow whole the concepts handed to us by others.

What's the most surprising thing you've learned since becoming a writer?
How exposed I feel. I never expected that, but the deeper you dig to tell compelling stories, the more you expose parts of yourself, many of them not even consciously. It is a deeply uncomfortable feeling and not one I would choose (I am a card carrying introvert, after all) but apparently it is the tithe I must pay to the writing gods. 

Beyond the typical--never give up, believe in yourself--what would be the single best advice you'd like to give another writer?
You know that book you’re terrified to write? The one that is too hard, too scary, too weird, or too damn intimidating. Yeah, that one. That’s the one you need to write.

(Beth's note: that answer right there, the one above? Possibly the best answer ever.)

What do you think are your strongest and weakest points in writing? 
Evil question!  My weakest points (that I will admit to publicly) are an overfondness for exclamation points, parenthetical asides, and em dashes. And I am truly terrible at proofing my own stuff unless I haven’t looked at it for three months.

Probably my strongest point is that I am always hungry to learn more, try more, take it farther, deeper, wider. I love that I have a career that allows me to learn new things every single time I sit down to work, and I try to take full advantage of that.

 And now for a giveaway! Leave a comment with your email address below to be entered to win a ARC copy of GRAVE MERCY--and it's SIGNED! Please note that the ARC has a different cover. One winner will be picked next Monday; sorry, but this needs to be North America only. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Interview Week: Marie Lu, author of LEGEND

Welcome to Interview Week!
All this week, I'm interviewing awesome authors--and giving away a copy of their book! Come back each day this week for another author and another chance to win an awesome book.

Quick Stats on Today's Author:
  • Marie Lu is the debut author of LEGEND
  • The sequel, PRODIGY, will come out later this year, and I cannot wait!!
  • I was lucky enough to tour with Marie, and I totally kept trying to steal her computer so I could get a sneak peek of PRODIGY
  • Marie's hero, Day, originally had three sisters and first appeared in novel Marie was writing in high school. You can learn more about it here
  • Marie also has excellent taste in tights. Just saying.
We can read all about your life from your bio in the jacket flap of your book. So, what's a completely random fact about you that most people don't know?

I was bitten by a rat when I was three. On my eyelid. I know. I like to think of it as my Spiderman moment, though, and that someday my superpowers will manifest. Especially since I was born in the year of the Rat. That’s got to be some sort of good luck, right?

As a kid, what was your favorite book? Have your tastes changed since growing up? 

My absolute favorite book as a kid was Mattimeo, part of Brian Jacques’s Redwall series. It was my first introduction into the world of fantasy and sci-fi, and I have to say that my reading tastes haven’t changed all that much!

In your book, LEGEND, there’s dystopian government that rules with an iron fist. Because I had the pleasure of touring with you, I happen to know that you have a little experience with controlling governments. Can you tell us about this?

(Beth's note: I totally devised this question on purpose because I think Marie has a cool story that goes with this! Advantage to touring: accumulating insider info, lol!)

Beth knows all sorts of random secrets about me…. :) Anyway, yes—I’ve definitely experience some dystopian things when growing up, although my mom was the one who actually lived through the Cultural Revolution in China (a true, full-blown dystopia). I was born in China and left for the States in 1989, when I was five years old. At the time, I lived in Beijing with my aunt, and our home was a few blocks away from Tiananmen Square. The students in the square protested for a couple of months leading up to the actual massacre, and for us locals, it was something of a sightseeing event. My aunt would take me out to the square every weekend or so to see what the students were up to. I have vague recollections of the white statue of liberty they erected in the square. I was actually at the square on the day of the massacre, although I think the shooting didn’t happen until later that night. I distinctly remember seeing the tanks out in the streets, and that kindergarten was canceled the following day. Of course, I didn’t understand the full magnitude of this event until I was older, but a Tiananmen Square-inspired scene does appear in Legend.


It's the inevitable question: what inspired LEGEND? 
One day in 2009, I was sprawled on the carpet in my living room and lazily watching TV (this is how I daydream), and the movie version of Les Miserables was on. As I watched the criminal Jean Valjean face off against police detective Javert, I started thinking about how fun it would be to write a teenage version of this premise: a sharp young criminal versus an equally formidable teen detective. The thing that inspired Legend’s dystopian setting was when I saw a map online of what the world would look like if all of our freshwater ice melted and our oceans rose 100 meters. It was a fascinating, terrifying map, and since I live in Los Angeles, I immediately thought about what a half-flooded LA would be like.

One of the things that stood out to me in LEGEND was the strong theme of love—and not just romantic love. Both June and Day have strong ties to their families. Is love in varied forms a theme you intended to bring in, or was it a happy accident while writing.
I think a lot of the love themes came into the story by accident, although I can totally see why they snuck onto the page. I’m an only child (a product of China’s One Child policy!), and I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have siblings. As a result, almost everything I write involves strong sibling friendships, rivalries, and/or dark pasts.

Can you tell us a little bit about the process--particularly the timeline--of writing & publishing LEGEND?
Oh man—Beth knows my looooong road to publication. Legend was my fifth manuscript. At the time, I had another (unpublished) story that my agent was pitching, and while we slowly received rejections back on it, I distracted myself by writing Legend. Legend came relatively quickly to me—the first draft took about 5 months, and then my agent and I did two big revisions on it. I’d say the whole writing process took about 9 months. We sent it out in late summer of 2010 and it sold at auction a couple of weeks later. Considering that I pitched my very first manuscript when I was fifteen, I’d say it only took two weeks and twelve years!

If your reader could only take away one emotion, theme, or idea from LEGEND, what would you want it to be?
Day’s motto in the book is: ‘Walk in the light’. I suppose this is the takeaway idea from the story—to Day, ‘walking in the light’ means seeking out the truth and refusing to take the world around you at face value. Not everything is as it seems in the real world, either, and I hope people always seek to find out how their everyday decisions really impact their society. ‘Walking in the light’ also symbolizes doing the right thing and being a moral person, even when you’re surrounded by darkness.


What's the most surprising thing you've learned since becoming a writer?
I’ve learned that there are so many more elements to a writer’s job than just writing, something I never really considered until Legend sold. There’s the marketing and promotion, chatting with readers, touring, meeting people, traveling….all wonderful and fun things, but definitely unexpected!

Beyond the typical--never give up, believe in yourself--what would be the single best advice you'd like to give another writer?
Don’t be afraid to write a bad book. Sometimes you have to squeeze all the bad stuff out before you can get to the good stuff, and don’t be intimidated by the idea that you have to set aside something that just isn’t working and begin on an entirely new story. Staring at a blank page is one of the most terrifying sights a writer can see, but you have to be able to let go of bad writing.

What do you think are your strongest and weakest points in writing?
I think my strongest point might be character creation, only because I’m borderline obsessive-compulsive about it. My character profile sheets are ridiculously long and I have to know as much as I possibly can about all of my characters before I can start writing. I know silly things like their blood types and hexadecimal color codes for their skin/hair/eye colors. I have no idea why. My weakest point? Outlining. I suck so hard at outlining. Every time I attempt one, I veer off by the fourth chapter because my characters have wandered off onto their own path, leaving me to scramble after them. It makes for some very haphazard first drafts.

 And now for a giveaway! Leave a comment with your email address below to be entered to win a ARC copy of LEGEND--and it's SIGNED! One winner will be picked next Monday; sorry, but this needs to be North America only. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Interview Week, Saundra Mitchell, author of THE SPRINGSWEET

Welcome to Interview Week!
All this week, I'm interviewing awesome authors--and giving away a copy of their book! Come back each day this week for another author and another chance to win an awesome book.

Quick Stats on Today's Author:

We can read all about your life from your bio in the jacket flap of your book. So, what's a completely random fact about you that most people don't know?

I absolutely don't recommend this, but I hitchhiked from Helena, MT to Los Angeles, CA with a guy who would, several years later, become my husband. We learned several things during that trip.

1) If kids could drive, we would have been to LA in 8 hours. 2) Mormons are incredibly nice even if they can't give you a ride. 3) Los Angeles will (used to?) pay for bus tickets to send you anywhere in the US, if that meant you wouldn't be homeless in their city.

As a kid, what was your favorite book? Have your tastes changed since growing up?

My favorite books in order of development were BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA, THE OUTSIDERS, IT and THE SILVER KISS. You'll note that the first two books are about poor kids who escape into their imagination and into books. The second two books are about people who escape the darkness in their lives through magic...

And every single one of them has a body count. Which is my motto—it's not a book without a body count. I still read books like these (and I try to write books like these, they all inspired me so much.) I re-read these particular books every so often and even though I see them differently each time because I've grown up a little more, they still move me.

In your books THE VESPERTINE and THE SPRINGSWEET, the main characters live in a historical world close to our own America in the turn of the century—but with a touch of magic. If you could, would you live in this world and time period?
Nooooooo. Not in a million years. I'm fascinated by the past. I love history and archaeology. It gives me genuine pleasure to the past, and to try to bring it to life. But I really like living in a world with plumbing and antibiotics.

But the universe? I'm not entirely sure I don't live in this universe; you probably live there, too! People may well have strange, unaccountable abilities, and magic quite possibly moves the earth. I've seen some remarkable, inexplicable things in my time. I'm not prepared to say there's no magic in the world.


It's the inevitable question: what inspired THE SPRINGSWEET? 

My best friend. I sold THE VESPERTINE as a standalone, so going into THE SPRINGSWEET, I only knew two things: it would be about Zora, and it had to have water and earth in it. Other than that, it was all open. 

I originally wanted to set it in 1893 in Chicago, because of the World's Fair. Chicago just didn't mesh with earth and water, though—it's more of a fire and air kind of town.

So I decided since I was writing a novel about my best friend's favorite character, that I would write a novel that catered to her tastes. As many things she loved, as I could reasonably fit into the framework—and that meant writing a western.

As soon as I started my research, I came across a book called HEARTS WEST, about mail order brides during the western expansion. And I knew then exactly where the book would go.

From the dedication to the acks, this book is a love letter to my best friend. ILU WENDI!

Can you tell us a little bit about the process--particularly the timeline--of writing & publishing THE SPRINGSWEET? 
As mentioned, I had no idea that I would get to write a sequel for THE VESPERTINE. I sold that one in December of 2009, about seven months after we started submitting it to editors. It was a one book deal, and I went through the entire revision process with my editor before turning in a proposal for THE SPRINGSWEET.

So it went something like, THE VESPERTINE went out in March 2009 for submission. It was acquired in December 2009. I got my revision letter, I think, in February of 2010. All revisions on THE VESPERTINE were complete and I submitted my proposal for THE SPRINGSWEET in April 2010.

So I actually wrote the first three chapters of THE SPRINGSWEET in spring of 2010. I didn't get an answer until July of 2010. As soon as Houghton picked it up, I started writing again. I finished the first draft and the round of beta critiques by mid-October, 2010 and turned it in to my editor.

I got my revision letter for THE SPRINGSWEET in March 2011, and I think I finished my revisions by June 2011. I saw parts of the phtotoshoot for the cover in September, and the final cover came in October, I believe.

It comes out April 17, 2012, so it's been a three-year process total to get the book to the shelves, but about two years total for THE SPRINGSWEET alone. So for anybody out there fantasizing about the fast track, I apologize. Even the fast track in publishing is pretty slow!

If your reader could only take away one emotion, theme, or idea from THE SPRINGSWEET, what would you want it to be?
No matter what happens, or how your plans change, you can begin again. You can always begin again.


What's the most surprising thing you've learned since becoming a writer?

What revision really is. Before my first novel was published, I thought revising was polishing, maybe moving some words around or adding a bit here or there to perfect a finished piece. Now I know those are line edits, which come much later.

Revision—real revision—often means deleting some, most or all of the original draft to get to the real blood and bones. Revision has more in common with cleaning fish than it does polishing the silver.

Beyond the typical--never give up, believe in yourself--what would be the single best advice you'd like to give another writer?
Writing and publishing are two different things. Writing is art; publishing is business. They intersect, sometimes in amazing and terrible ways, but they're not the same thing.

So my best advice to aspiring authors is to remember that once you sell your words, you're not doing art anymore. Think long and hard about whether you want to go into business,.Writing will always be there, whether you publish or not.

What do you think are your strongest and weakest points in writing? 
I think I'm particularly good at atmosphere and dialogue. I love creating places and voices.

My books aren't as plot-oriented as they could be, though. And my endings come fast [screenwriting style!] which bugs a lot of people.

I've done a lot of thinking lately how I can shift the beats in my books a little. It can be tricky, though. I don't want to bore anyone by adding the wrong things!

An important note about the prize for today's post: you'll be receiving an ARC of THE SPRINGSWEET. ARCs are Advanced Reader Copies, and they're not final. Saundra has written  an open letter about this edition of the book: neither line 3 nor 4 on page 249 appear in the final book. 

And now for a giveaway! Leave a comment with your email address below to be entered to win a copy of THE SPRINGSWEET! Note: I had previously thought this was signed, but just realized it isn't; I'll let the winner know when it's announced. One winner will be picked next Monday; sorry, but this needs to be North America only.