Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Big Epic Post of Events in July!

Lots of things are happening next month! Which means I'm probably not going to post much. But! This means I might be coming to an area near you, and if I am, I hope I can come meet you!

So! Events!

Orlando, FL
July 12-15, 2012

This Harry Potter fan conference is much more than just Harry Potter.
This year, they're doing a Quill Track, a series of workshops specifically for writers. I honestly believe that if you're a writer who can feasibly come to this conference, this is one to definitely attend. Totally worthwhile. The programming looks amazing.

Irving, TX
July 19, 2012

Other authors in attendance: 
-Andrea Cremer
-Marie Lu
-Jackson Pearce
-Rosemary Clement-Moore

2pm: Realm of the Unknown Party (open to teens only)
7pm: YA Author Panel and Signing

Irving, TX has a fantastic library system. You should absolutely check them out and see what cool things they are doing--not just on July 19 (I hope you come!) but also throughout the summer. 

Austin, TX
July 21, 2012

Other authors in attendance: 
-PJ Hoover
-KA Holt

Signing at the Book People bookstore is one of those nerdy book dreams I've held onto for awhile. My friend PJ Hoover has signed there before, and the pictures I've seen of her events make me want to run to the store and just explore. So I'm especially excited to sign there with her and KA Holt! 

Opening July 21, 2012

This online contest is a great idea--a way for teens to celebrate any book through art (art of any kind--painting, photography, or more). Basically, a teen submits a digital photograph of a work of art, and could win $50 book gift card, signed books, and more! Be sure to check it out and encourage the teens in your life to celebrate art with art!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Writing Experiment

It all started with this article by Rachel Aaron: "How I Went From Writing 2,000 Words a Day to Writing 10,000."

Or, I guess for me at least, it started with the rewrite for SHADES OF EARTH that I recently finished. To finish the rewrite on time, I had to commit to 6,000 words a day, every day, until it was due at the end of May. And in order to do the rewrite, I had to *gasp* outline.

But it wasn't really and outline--I had already completed a draft, after all--and it wasn't really a rewrite, because I was able to keep some scenes I'd already written, so while there was new material, it wasn't all new material, and while it required an outline, it was an outline based on the draft I already had.

So, when Holly Black started asking on Twitter if anyone had tried Aaron's method of increasing word count, I was eager to jump on board and try my hand at it, too.

I'm working on a new book currently. I won't tell you what it is except to point you to this clue. But the point is, it's a completely new, from-scratch idea that I'm building from the ground up. Not a sequel (so the characters are not yet established), not a rewrite (so the story's not already established).

The point of Aaron's article can be summed up like this: plan what you're going to write first, then you can write it easier. This is definitely true for me. When I was teaching, I had a 40 minute drive (each way) to get to work. I spent that time thinking about my stories--so when I sat down to write when I got home, I already knew what I was going to write. It wasn't much detail, but it was there.

Since I quit teaching, I realized that I spend a lot more time on my butt, staring at the screen, and not actually, you know, writing. I've been a bit disappointed in myself that now that writing is my full time job, I'm not writing that much more than I had when working.

I still don't truly believe in outlines--not very detailed ones at least--but I'm going to show you what I've done this past week that left me with a complete proposal and the start of a new book. In all fairness, I have been working on the proposal for awhile now, so that part wasn't new--but the actual text in the story is!


This story is going to be a fantasy, so I had to think a lot about world-building and how the magic system worked. This is the stuff I mostly did a while ago, while I was brainstorming. I have a big art pad, where I've doodled a map of the world I'm building, listed out characters and how they relate to each other, and created the rules of the magic system.


If in the first step I was to gather together all of the ingredients to the story, this is the step where I started mixing them together to create a tasty, tasty story. This is also the point where the random brainstorming had to start fitting into the shape of a story.

Now, here's the key thing for me. I hate outlines. But as Rachel points out in her article, it's not so much about a single outline, but about knowing what you want to write beforehand.

For me, another important issue was knowing where in the novel I wanted things to happen. I have a pretty complicated plot with a lot of characters, so I new I wanted Character R, for example, introduced before the first third of the novel was over, and I knew I wanted Clue A in the first quarter of the book, then at least a few chapters spaced out before I introduced Clue B.

This is the sort of stuff I usually thought about after I finished writing, and then it usually came about as Oops! Of course I need to put this here before this, now I have to go back and change it and cut this and move that and then drink a lot of vodka because holy shizz, this is going to take a lot of work.

So, to do this, I turned to Scrivener.

I used the corkboard feature, something I've never really bothered with before. I basically made a different notecard for each key part of the story that I knew needed to happen. It was very basic--two different cards were about introducing two different characters that are not at the first chapter of the book, there was no more than one sentence description of some key events. I ended up with about 15 index cards.

Once I had that, I worked on re-arranging everything, so that the character were introduced a few chapters apart. I looked at the clues I had, and spaced them out, adding in new cards for red herrings. I noticed that the main character had a bunch of high moments--I kicked her down and added a low moment (and vice versa). This brought my card count up to over 30.


Now I had 30-ish index cards with a brief note of what needed to go into each chapter. From there, I needed to just...write.

What I've been doing--and what's worked very well so far--is that I'll write the chapter I'm working on, then scan ahead a few index cards to see what needs to be done next. This will job my memory--it's sort of like scouting ahead on a road map before starting the car. Then I go through and add more details to the next card after the chapter I just finished. This means when I start on the next chapter the next day, I have a pretty specific idea of what needs to happen.


I've only been using this method a few days. But in those few days, here's what I have:

  • A complete proposal. I went from notes and brainstorming to a complete idea of what I want the book to be, in terms of tone, action, everything.
  • A limited outline. I don't like working with highly detailed outlines. I have no more than a sentence for about 30 chapters, and the full knowledge that I'll probably deviate from this.
  • A road map of where to go. While I don't plan on rigidly sticking to my outline, I do have an idea that within a certain percentage of the book, certain things need to happen. I'm more aware of the direction I need to take the story to be able to hit the highlights.
  • Specifics for a few chapters ahead. This helps me to sit down and immediately start writing, as opposed to sitting down and staring at the computer screen.
  • 10k words. True--I had about half of that already in a rough form. But now I've got a polish 10k that has a lot of the layers and details that I'll often not get to until the final draft.
Will I be able to keep up the pace? I don't know. I'd like to shoot for a steady 3-4k words per day, about double what I typically do (2k/day). But mostly, what I want to cut out is the idle time where I just sit and stare at the screen, or goof off and go online, or make excuses. 

What about you? Do you have any methods you use to write more efficiently?

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Destination Elsewhere

Have I mentioned lately how much I love Penguin? Because I love them like whoa.

Not too long ago, they launched a program called "Destination Elsewhere." It was a ning community where people could talk about all the cool sci fi and fantasy books, movies, and TV. Recently, Destination Elsewhere has moved to Facebook, and they're really focused on creating a strong community full of awesome discussions. Look at their credo:
Destination Elsewhere is an online community dedicated to talking about the best in Science Fiction and Fantasy, from books to film to TV, from any creator or publisher, past or present (or future). Come one, come all.
Awesome, right?

And you might have noticed that the cover photo for Destination Elsewhere has Amy and Elder on it. When I saw that, I thought: this would be an awesome time to give away another book.

This is just a quick, simple giveaway. Like Destination Elsewhere on Facebook (you can do this without even leaving this page through the Rafflecopter widget below), let me know about it on the widget, and you're entered. The prize is either a hardback copy of A MILLION SUNS or, if you prefer, a paperback of ACROSS THE UNIVERSE. Open internationally, giveaway ends June 13th.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Ray Bradbury & His Gift of Hope

I think it was Ray Bradbury's book, Fahrenheit 451, that taught me that the world isn't fair.

I was in high school when I read it, I believe. For a class. I can't remember which class or even what grade I was in, but I remember reading it at one of those hard-seated student desks my high school used. And, later, discussing it with the class.

I remember being so angry that the characters in this book lived in a world that just wasn't fair. It wasn't right that they were censored and controlled by the government. It wasn't fair.

And yet--despite living in a world that was supremely unjust--some of the characters fought back.

This was hugely influential to me and my attitude about stories and writing. My mother is a big believer in happily ever after, but I've found that the stories I like best are the ones like Fahrenheit 451--the world isn't fair, and the characters can't truly escape it...but they fight anyway.

Much later--only a few years ago, actually--someone mentioned that their favorite short story was "All Summer in a Day" by Ray Bradbury. At the time, I'd never heard of that story before, so I quickly went online, found a copy, and read.

"All Summer in a Day" has many of the same themes of an unjust world as Fahrenheit 451--in it, a group of children live in a colony on Venus, a planet where, due to clouds and rain, you can only see the sun once a year. This story is about hope--and how easily it can be crushed and taken away. I won't ruin the story for you--it's short, and you can easily find it online. Read it. 

"All Summer in a Day" and Fahrenheit 451 are very dark. They are sad. They do not end happily ever after. In particular, "All Summer in a Day" speaks of cruelty--even at the hands of our peers--and the ceaseless darkness in any person's heart, even the heart of a child.

And yet despite all this--Ray Bradbury's works give me hope.

I've said before how to me, dystopians are not depressing books. They're books of hope. They're books that say even when things are at their darkest, there is still a glimmer of light.

Ray Bradbury was the first person to teach me that.

This is an incredibly important lesson for anyone to learn. I am grateful that Bradbury's works helped me to see early on that even when the world isn't fair--and it never is, no matter what our childish hearts might want--it is still worth saving.

When I read about Ray Bradbury's passing this morning, that was the thought I was left with: here is a great man, who has left the world a brighter place than it once was. Thank you.

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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Guest Post: Elana Johnson

Today we have the fabulous Elana Johnson, author of POSSESSION and SURRENDER, which just launched today! If you want to catch up with this fab author, you can find her at her blog, her Facebook, or on Twitter. And now, without further ado: Elana on launching a book!

Countdown to a (Book)Launch!
A guest post by Elana Johnson

Okay, so today is LAUNCH DAY for SURRENDER! It is always a super-fun day where I get to have my nails painted and eat as much bacon as I want. My launch party is also tonight at a fantastic independent bookstore in Salt Lake City, the King’s English. (If you want a signed copy of SURRENDER, call them! 801-484-9100. You buy. I sign. They ship.)

For this Launch Day post, I thought I’d bring you through my head as I launch a new book into the world.

T-minus One Week:
Status: Freaking out
Thinking: My book comes out in one week! Seven days. S-E-V-E-N days!

T-minus Six Days:
Status: The calm before the storm
Thinking: Everything’s fine. The book is done; can’t change it now. Fine. Everything’s fine. Fine.

T-minus Five Days:
Status: Zoned out
Thinking: I wonder if anyone has played in Words With Friends yet…

T-Minus Four Days:
Status: Stalking social media for early sightings of the book
Thinking: I want everyone to read my book! Hurry up launch day! Hurry up!

T-Minus Three Days:
Status: Can’t sleep
Thinking (all night long): Oh-my-heck-people-are-going-to-be-reading-my-work-what-will-they-think?

T-Minus Two Days:
Status: Stay Offline, Stay Offline
Thinking: Everyone needs one day they don’t check twitter or Facebook or anything, right? Right.

T-Minus One Day:
Status: Madness
Thinking: Nothing rational.

T-Minus Twelve Hours:
Status: Planning maniac
Thinking: Launch party tomorrow night! Prizes? Check. Pens? Check. New jewelry? Check. Blog tours? Check.

T-Minus Six Hours:
Status: Celebratory
Thinking: Thanks for taking me to dinner!

Launch Day:
Status: It’s my party and I’ll laugh if I want to
Thinking: I can buy anything I want today. I can eat anything I want today. It’s my launch day!

So yeah. Inside my head, that’s what happens during the launching of a book. You don’t want to see what happens outside of seven days beforehand. It’s not quite as pretty as this…

And that’s not all…

You can win one of five SPECTACULAR SECOND books this week! It’s easy peasy lemon squeezy. All you have to do is fill out this rafflecopter widget with what you’ve done, and you can win a signed copy of either INSURGENT (by Veronia Roth), A MILLION SUNS (by Beth Revis), CROSSED (by Ally Condie), PERCEPTION (by Kim Harrington), and IN HONOR (by Jessi Kirby)—all spectacular second novels by some of today’s hottest YA authors.

Bio: Elana's work including POSSESSION, REGRET, and SURRENDER is available from Simon & Schuster wherever books are sold. She is the author of From the Query to the Call, an ebook that every writer needs to read before they query, which can be downloaded for free on her website. She runs a personal blog on publishing and is a founding author of the QueryTracker blog. She blogs regularly at The League of Extraordinary Writers, co-organizes WriteOnCon, and is a member of SCBWI, ANWA and LDStorymakers.

She wishes she could experience her first kiss again, tell the mean girl where to shove it, and have cool superpowers like reading minds and controlling fire. To fulfill her desires, she writes young adult science fiction and fantasy.

 About SURRENDER: Raine has always been a good girl. She lives by the rules in Freedom. After all, they are her father’s rules: He’s the Director. It’s because of him that Raine is willing to use her talent—a power so dangerous, no one else is allowed to know about it. Not even her roommate, Vi. All of that changes when Raine falls for Gunner. Raine’s got every reason in the world to stay away from Gunn, but she just can’t. Especially when she discovers his connection to Vi’s boyfriend, Zenn.

Raine has never known anyone as heavily brainwashed as Vi. Raine’s father expects her to spy on Vi and report back to him. But Raine is beginning to wonder what Vi knows that her father is so anxious to keep hidden, and what might happen if she helps Vi remember it. She’s even starting to suspect Vi’s secrets might involve Freedom’s newest prisoner, the rebel Jag Barque…

Purchase your copy here. 

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Monday, June 4, 2012

Never Surrender

This week is the launch of Elana Johnson's sequel, SURRENDER. Elana's a good friend of mine, so I hope you'll stick around for her guest post (with giveaway!) tomorrow.

Meanwhile, today I'm going to blog about a time I didn't give up. SURRENDER is full of themes of when to surrender and when to stand up for what you believe in, so it's definitely an appropriate blog theme to celebrate Elana's launch. And--if you also blog about never surrendering, you can be entered in a giveaway on Elana's website and get extra points for a giveaway currently going on at Literary Rambles!

Never Surrender

I think I've blogged rather a lot about my query experience, and how many rejections I've gotten over the years. I definitely don't want to beat a dead horse, so instead, I thought I'd tell you about a time I actually did give up.

I was working on the book I wrote before ACROSS THE UNIVERSE. It was a fantasy (just like every other novel I'd written). I was tired of rejections, and I was tired of being close, but not close enough. I looked very carefully at what was selling and how YA was being marketed, and I wrote a book that I thought would hit all the right trends. I had a love triangle, a friendship-sidekick story, a funny character, a tragic character, a school-like setting, a formula for magic that slid into every Hogwarts copycat story there is.

And not only did I make this book fit all the standard cliches, I sent it out to nearly a dozen crique partners and readers. I took every. Single. Suggestion. Someone didn't like the character? I changed her. Someone didn't like a plot twist? Changed. I cut mercilessly, rewrote everything, and did my best to please every single person.

The problem? 

I gave up the story I was trying to tell.

Whenever you do something where you're not being true to yourself, you've surrendered. And I was so desperate at that time to get published that I wrote the story I thought everyone else would like...and lost myself in the process.

That book remains the only book of the ten novels I wrote before publication that I regret. The only thing I learned from my book is that, when it comes to writing (and life): never surrender.

Don't give up your voice. Don't give up what you want to write.

The next thing I wrote after this failure of a book was ACROSS THE UNIVERSE. I had learned my lesson: trying to please other people and write a story for a market didn't work. So I wrote the story I wanted to tell, and it was the story I also thought would never sell. 

And that's exactly the reason why it did.


Come back tomorrow to see a guest post by Elana on how to prepare for a book launch (and to enter into a giveaway for fabulous second novels, including one by yours truly!). Meanwhile, make sure to read this interview with Elana from Literary Rambles, and check out her novels! And if you have an experience where YOU didn't surrender (or, like me, you did), blog about it for another giveaway from Elana!

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