Sunday, March 20, 2011

I've Started a New WIP

Yes, yes, I know, the ink was barely dry and blah blah blah.

I am so incredibly thrilled. You know how when you finish a book you spend weeks feeling like you're never going to have another original idea ever again? (Even though your "idea" file is three pages long. In 10 pt. font.) But you don't want to write any of *those* ideas. Not right now. You want something shiny and new. And it's Never. Going. To come to you.

Well come to me it did. The idea has been germinating for a few days, but the opening wouldn't come to me. Everything that ran through my mind was discarded almost as quickly as I thought of it.

And then, finally, it happened. I was riding the elevator up to the 7th floor, I had my salad in one hand and my coffee in the other, and BAM! It was there. The opening five pages.

I ran to my desk. A couple of nurses were there early. They asked me how I was doing as I blazed past.

"Me? I'm AWESOME," I practically shouted. "I can honestly say I haven't been this happy in days!"

[Sits and keyboard, starts tapping frantically.]

"New book," one nurse says to the other.

Yay! Yay! Yay!

Friday, March 18, 2011

An Edgy State of Mind

Something I've been wondering lately...what, exactly, is Edgy YA?

I've read that if your YA novel has elements like swearing, or teen sex, or drinking, or drugs, then you've got yourself an Edgy YA.

So I think about the YA books that *don't* have any of those elements, and I think to myself what you've got there is a boring book.

Oh, don't get me wrong. I suppose there are plenty of books out there that don't include any of the "racy" elements I listed above, but they're becoming the exception, not the rule, at least from where I'm standing.

Which brings us back to the question. What makes YA edgy? I've been thinking about it a lot, since my most recent YA novel has swearing, some sexual situations, drugs, drinking, homosexuality, and atheism, but I don't really think of it as Edgy. (You want what I think of as Edgy, you go pick up a copy of Beautiful by Amy Reed. Excellent book.)

And then it hit me. Maybe edgy is a spectrum, and it roves around depending upon who YOU are. Or, in the case of a teen reader, depending upon what your parents think edgy is. Some adults think Britney Spears is edgy, while I find her...oh, occasionally entertaining, but mostly...meh. (That Baby One More Time song was pretty freaking catchy though.) Some people think Insane Clown Posse is edgy. I don't particularly, though juggalos have been known to freak me out occasionally.

So...edgy YA. I think what I've written would be labeled as edgy by some people, and would be called contemporary YA by others. And it doesn't necessarily matter. I think teenagers will like it. I think they'll find it entertaining. I don't think they'll label it as an Important Work of Literary Fiction. I don't think anyone will speak of my book in a hushed voice. I think they'll just dig the story. And I'm really happy that I feel that way.

What do you think? What constitutes edgy for you? And why do we even have an edgy YA category? I don't hear anyone talking about edgy adult fiction. What is it about teenagers and reading that we're so scared of? Pretty much everyone I know has seen American Pie, but I haven't heard ANY anecdotal stories of ruined baked goods. Why do we fear what our teenagers read so much?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Animation Inspiration - Or, How Disney Taught Me to be Tense

Everything I needed to know about writing I learned by watching Disney movies.

Okay. That's not entirely true. It was really more Pixar.

But in all seriousness, you really can learn a lot about pacing and tension from a good Disney movie. Take the Toy Story series. Those movies are incredible about racheting up the tension. Just when you think Woody's home free *something* heightens the tension, until you are finally, FINALLY given a satisfying conclusion that ties back to something we've seen previously. For example, in the first movie, when Andy's moving, and the toys barely miss the truck, Woody races after them, but time after time they're foiled. First the other toys refuse to help, thinking Woody is still a bad toy. Next, Slinkydog can't reach. Finally it looks like they're out of options, when they remember the rocket strapped to Buzz's back. After some tension-heightening troubles with lighting the fuse, they fly into the air, and Woody exclaims to Buzz that they're flying. Buzz replies that no, they're not flying, they're "falling with style," circling back to something Woody said to him earlier in the movie, only then it was a derogatory comment.

We see this repeated very successfully in the second movie, and again in the third. (In fact, when the characters are finally saved, it references a very well known scene from the first movie.) Genius!

We're told to put our characters in greater and greater peril. Don't give them easy outs. Torture them. Disney/Pixar does a GREAT job of this. Whenever I think about letting my characters off the hook, I kind of think to myself, "if this was Woody, would he be out of trouble yet?" Then I take a deep breath and emotionally pummel my characters a little more.

Man, I have been watching a lot of animated movies with the kids. For my next post, I *might* write about why I believe The Little Mermaid is the greatest love story of all time. Maybe.

How about you? Do you get insight from animated movies, or am I just desperate to find inspiration in my toddlers' television preferences?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

How Long Do You Give a Book?

I have a book sitting next to me on my desk. It's an award winner, and it's on the "best books ever" list of many people that I respect. I probably never would have picked it up, because the title doesn't do much for me, but I bought it because I'd heard such good things about it.

I made it to page 8. I set it down on the desk.

Then I went back to my bookshelf and picked up Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer. After 40 pages, and a very tepid tub of bathwater, I finally forced myself to put it down because my kids wake up the same time in the morning, regardless of whether I've gotten 2 hours of sleep or 6.

So what was the problem with the first book. Oh, I don't know. It was in first person present tense, which I don't typically like, unless it's mind-blowing (I'm looking at you, Hunger Games). It also felt kind of...self-indulgent? I can't pin the right words on it. Any book that has a late-teens protagonist that still calls her mother "mama" gives me a creepy feeling, like the author is trying WAY too hard. Of course, I don't like it when my own kids call me mama, and they're four and two and a half. It all goes back to a deep loathing for a little program that used to be on in the 80s.

So what was so good about Life as We Knew It? Again, it's hard to put my finger on. You just got sucked in, immediately. You believed everything the main character said. When she mentioned the asteriod that was expected to hit the moon, almost in passing, you were like, "Miranda! Come on! This is a big deal!" Yet you were not mad at her for being stupid and naive, because you know you would have felt the same way about it. I guess it just smacks of reality, whereas contemporary teenagers calling their moms "Mama" and refusing to use contractions just doesn't.

But it's an award winning book that lots of well-respected people love. So I'm going to try to give it another chance. In a few years.

And it made me realize how impossible it must be for agents, who don't have a TBR pile on their desks. They have a "should I champion this book to the world" pile. And it's probably way bigger than my TBR pile will ever be.

What about you? What makes you put a book down? Do you ever pick it up again, or are you a "when I'm done, I'm done" person?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Lack of Middle Grade?

It seems that everywhere I turn, I'm reading blog posts about the huge hole that agents see in good middle grade submissions, that there is an enormous, hungry, beast-like market ready to gobble up anything that a good middle grade writer can churn out.

I definitely do understand how hard middle grade is to write. I wrote a middle grade in between my last two projects. It was the hardest thing I've ever tried to pull off. I'd get going, and I'd write a ton of words, and then I'd read over what I read and I'd say "Dammit Penelope! You just wrote 5K of YA. Super." delete delete delete

The voice is very difficult to nail.

But I am also a tad confused, because if there is a lack of middle grade out there, why is the middle grade section at my local Barnes and Noble at least twice the size of the YA section? Is it simply stuffed to the gills with Harry Potter books? Or are there so many timeless middle grade classics (i.e. Harriet the Spy, anything by Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume, the Phantom Tollbooth, etc.) that the shelves can stay full without really requiring the production of new material?

Even though I wrote a middle grade, I don't spend a ton of time in that section. My favorite author of all time, Gordon Korman, is solidly middle grade. He wrote a few YA books, some were better than others...A Semester in the Life of a Garbage Bag and Don't Care High are two notably good YA books he wrote, but his genius is in middle grade, and I pick up anything new that he writes. I also loved When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. The Gregor the Overlander series was very good too, but I found that via The Hunger Games, a YA trilogy.

What I'm getting at is I don't really *browse* the middle grade section. I go get what I'm after, and I don't spend very much time picking through titles, the way I do in the YA section. (Or, if I'm feeling particularly melancholy, the adult fiction section.) So maybe it *IS* full of copies of The Westing Game and Bridge to Terabithia.

What do you think? Do you read middle grade? Has anything spectacular come out lately, or is your middle grade section full of timeless classics? What are you looking for in a hot new middle grade novel?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Write On Con is Coming!

Just in case you live under a rock, I thought I would let everyone know that Write On Con is coming.

It's Tuesday August 16th through Thursday August 18th, online. The website is

You can pick up the nifty widget that you see on the right side of my blog there too.

They're having contests, and all sorts of fun stuff, to celebrate. I'm looking forward to it!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Skipping Books in a Series

So I wanted to expand on my whole "I skipped Frostbite" portion of my previous blog post. I've been thinking about skipping books in a series ever since.

I am one of those people who is addicted to series. If something is in a series, I am about a hundred and seventeen times more likely to read it. (This has not been scientifically evaluated, I'm just throwing out a number that seems reasonable.) Stand alone titles interest me way less. Which is funny, considering how much I LOVE LOVE LOVE Kody Keplinger's book The DUFF, a stand alone novel. You can imagine how super excited I was when I heard that her newest book, Shut Out, is set at the same high school. Is it a series? No. But my reaction was still SCORE!!

Anyway. I skipped Frostbite. How did this happen? I recall exactly. I'd just finished Vampire Academy, and I went to my local Fred Meyer to pick up the next installment, but I didn't know *which* book in the series came next. I picked up a copy of Frostbite and flipped the first few pages, looking for a list of books in chronological order. Nothing there. So I turned the book over and saw little pictures of other books in the series gracing the back cover. The first in line was the cover for Vampire Academy. The next one in line was for Shadow Kiss. I didn't see the cover for Frostbite on the list anywhere. OH MY GOD, I thought. I am holding the last book in the series in my hands and OH MY GOD! What if I read the back cover and something on it spoils the entire series for me?

Of course my eyes immediately flew to the words and one leapt out at me. "Dimitri." I nearly screamed. Dammit!!! Now I know he lives!!! I dropped the book instantly, but the damage was done. But I remembered that the book cover next to the Vampire Academy book cover had been Shadow Kiss, so I picked that one up and bought it.

And that, my friends, is how I skipped Frostbite. Apparently they didn't feel the need to put a picture of the book I was actually holding between Vampire Academy and Shadow Kiss, even though that was where it placed, chronologically, in the series order. I think I figured it out somewhere around book 4 or so. Which leads me to many sales are lost by this phenomena? Why can't books in a series be better about listing the series titles, in order, including the book you are currently holding in your hot little hands?

I know this is not really up to the author, that book design is a different animal entirely. Can someone get the Pimp My Novel guy on this please?

Just FYI, I probably will go back at some point and purchase and read Frostbite, because my "no stone unturned" nature will not allow me to leave a series unfinished, even if I'm fully aware of everything that happened in the missed book. But it will probably be a few years. You should see my TBR pile.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

I'm Reading a Great YA Book

So I just finished the Vampire Academy series, and let me tell you, it was awesome. You know what though? I totally skipped Frostbite. Somehow I failed to notice it in the list of books, and I went straight to Shadow Kiss. The characters kept referring to this person who died, and I always wondered, are they EVER going to tell me how that happened? Um...I suspect they probably did. In book 2. The one I managed to not know about.

But! That is not what this blog post is about, though I will say one last time, kudos, Richelle Mead, for a fantastic series.

No, this blog post is about the book I picked up next, Beautiful, by Amy Reed.

I'm not done with it yet, in fact I'm not even halfway through, but I had to blog now to tell you what an amazing book it is. I don't know how it ends, though it could be that it ends twenty five years later and the main character is a happy, fairly well adjusted married mother of two toddlers who likes to write in her spare time.

Because seriously, I think this book could be about me. Amy Reed, were you hiding under my bed for my entire 8th grade year? (Good job changing the main character to a seventh grader. And calling her Cassie.)

This book has been painful to read. But I can't stop, because it is so awfully, heartbreakingly true. It's even set in Washington, where I live. I used to live across the Agate Pass bridge, *just this side* of Bainbridge Island, where our main character was from (though the story takes place in Kirkland, where my kids' eye doctor is located).

Attention writers! If you write edgy YA, then this book is required reading for you. Not kidding. Go buy it right now, because Beautiful gets it right.

Oh, how I love spot on contemporary YA. And I'm loving this book. I have every reason to believe it will continue to break my heart.

And thank god I'm not in 8th grade anymore. Sometimes I can't believe I lived through that year.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Does an Agent's "Favorites" List Ever Influence Your Query?

I like to find out as much as I can about an agent before querying him/her, and one of the things I look at is his or her "favorite books" list.

Of course, nearly everyone has Hunger Games on their list (and rightfully so, it's an amazing book) but there are a few other books that hit the favorites list pretty often, and one of those books is one that I HAAAAAAAAAAAAAATED. Seriously, like, gouge my eyes out hated it.

When I see that book on an agent's favorites list, no matter what else is on their list, I worry that there is no possible way that we'll see eye to eye about anything, and I do a lot more research before deciding whether to query or not.

What about you? Does an agent's favorites list make or break your decision to query them?