Friday, October 31, 2008
Thursday, October 23, 2008
I sent out my first rejection letters. They were fairly low trauma* (meaning they went to people who’d submitted picture book or middle grade proposals, neither of which Flux publishes). I’m much more apprehensive about the ones I know I’ll eventually be sending to people writing what we DO publish. Even the most professional writers who know that rejection is part of the game don’t want to hear, “Sorry, not right for us.” Those writers, though, can quickly move on. For people just emerging on to the writing scene (Flux publishes many first time authors), rejection can be harder.
One of the things about rejection is that it can lead to self-doubt which, anyone who’s been writing for awhile will tell you, is a writer’s worst enemy. More than any bad review or scathing critic, self-doubt cripples, inhibits, and decimates. Of course, that’s if you let it. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Often, writers are more than willing to give themselves that consent.
There’s a wonderful musical that just closed on Broadway called [title of show]. (Yes, that’s the title of the show.) It’s a wonderful metafiction about two guys trying to write an original musical. Ultimately, the show stands as a tribute to the creative process and what creative people go through in their varied attempts to do their thang. My favorite song in the show is a number called, “Die, Vampire, Die!” It’s about dealing with doubt, that which is inflicted by others and that which comes from within. A vampire is defined as “any person or thought or feeling that stands between you and your creative self expression.” You can hear the song here.** (Warning: Contains adult content. Despite how unbelievably awesome this song is, I wouldn’t crank up the speakers and play this at work. Unless you wait tables part time at the International House of Curse Words. And even if you did, I doubt you’d have access to a computer so you--... I digress.)
“Die, Vampire, Die!” is my own personal creative anthem. It reminds me that someone who doesn’t like my stuff is just one person and I won’t let the vampires in my head make me think otherwise. The quality I admire most in the writers whose work crosses my desk is their fearlessness. They're not afraid to take risks. Sometimes the risks pay off, sometimes... not so much. BUT they took the risk. They got out the crucifixes and garlic garlands and managed to fend off what I can only imagine was USDA Grade A Prime Vampire Attacks. And that will always get my attention and respect.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
*=Bonus points if you sang along with the title of the post.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Lament:The Faerie Queen's Deception by Maggie Stiefvater
Swimming with the Sharks by Debbie Reed Fischer
My Life as a Rhombus by Varian Johnson
Girl, Hero by Carrie Jones
Monday, October 13, 2008
"YA readers searching for faerie stories will be happy to find this debut novel, an accomplished take on well-loved themes.... Stiefvater brings to her story several layers of romance, a knowledge of Irish music and a talent for
plot twists. She is also unafraid of taking plot developments to their logical outcomes, even when they mar the characters' happiness. Vibrant and potent, her
writing will hook genre fans. "
Thursday, October 9, 2008
One of the oldest, if not THE oldest, bits of sage advice around. Some people hear this and they nod, closing their eyes to indicate deep understanding. Others rebel and say, "If we only wrote what we knew, we wouldn't have books like LORD OF THE RINGS or books that deal with experiences no human has had."
This is a good example of what is ultimately a very good bit of advice that, without follow through (or in the hands of the wrong instructor) can go very, very wrong. It's advice that should come with a warning label: You must be this introspective to use this mantra. It's advice that some writers take to one extreme (limiting their repetoire to only writing stories with an autobiographical protagonist who does exceedingly boring things) or the other (the aforementioned "But we wouldn't have LOTR!"). Every day across the world, writing teachers unleash these four words once every six minutes** but it's the excellent writing teachers who lend it a bit of context and explain HOW to use the advice.
Here's the secret: it's not literal. "Write what you know" does not mean limit yourself to the mundane things you encounter on a day to day basis. It's a plea to funnel your experiences, your thoughts, and all the little lessons you've accumulated in life into the worlds and characters you create to lend them that ring of familiarity. Readers love to be swept away in imagination but there's always that bit that pleads, "Give me something I can relate to." No, no one I know has ever been to wizarding school. That's not what J. K. Rowling knew either (so she made it up...shocking, I know). BUT, as Harry grew older and struggled with his growing attraction to girls and the awkwardness of often being branded an outsider, well, Jo just didn't pull that out of a pointed hat. She wrote what she knew about and used it to give her characters depths and feelings. Write what you know isn't about plot, it's about character and soul and those bizarre little quirks that motivate us, for good or bad. It's about articulating your curiosity, your heartbreak, and that which gives you fever.
It's a fact: books infused with our own personal truths are better. (Prove me wrong. I dare ya.)The best plot in the world won't be sustained by cardboard characters spouting cliches. Depth comes from complexities, contradictions, and drive that can only be conveyed with self-examination and a willingness to bare the results. This holds true whether your story is a heart-wrenching, teen angst-ridden drama or a light, funny beach read. And if possible, I think this holds even more true for the fiction we label YA. As Barbara Shoup once told me: "Teens have amazing crap detectors." If you're not writing what you know in a YA book, you'll get called on it.
The best writing advice I ever got? It's not so much advice but it's a quote I keep near my computer that I look to whenever I get stuck.
To me, it says everything I hope to get across when I write and what I hope to see when I read the works of others. "Show me what astonishes/surprises/confuses you." If your characters are astonished, they have to deal with that. And THAT'S where the heart of your story comes from.
Look closely at what Dillard's saying. YOUR astonishment. It has nothing to do with wizarding schools and spaceships and yet everything to do with it. Because, in the end, writing what you don't know should always be informed by what you do know.
*=Do you read Nathan's blog? You should.
**=Totally made-up stat.
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Although A.S. King's debut novel, THE DUST OF 100 DOGS, won't be released until February, it's already enjoying some fab pre-pub buzz (that's industry talk for "it's getting a nice amount of attention that one hopes will translate into interest in the book upon its release").
Then there was the shout out from Alison Morris on her PW blog, Shelf Talker, where she admired the cover (which was then admired by others).
Now, the inimitable Leila over at Bookshelves of Doom has chimed in with her thoughts. To quote Leila: "The Dust of 100 Dogs is entertaining, multi-layered, smart and definitely gripping...."
But my favorite part of Leila's review is where she questions whether or not this is YA. Anyone who pays attention to industry trades or even articles in the New York Times knows that this can be a dicey topic. Where does the Y in YA begin and end? The good news is that EVERYONE has an opinion on the matter, which leads to some great chatter on the matter. (My opinion? I adhere to Flux's credo--YA is a point of view, not a reading level.)
Again, to quote Leila: "The subject matter doesn't pertain to my YA or not YA question -- there's no topic here that I haven't found in other YA books -- it's the tone and the perspective(s). Then again, the genre is constantly evolving and expanding. Maybe in the future the line between YA and adult will get more and more blurred. I'd like that. "
I'd like that too.