Thursday, February 28, 2013

Grand delusion

My monthly post at YA Outside the Lines is up. A sample:

"... So my particular brand of delusion is the expectation that I’ll sit down and type a coherent story, proceeding forward every day while knowing and believing in the story, and finishing each day satisfied with my progress. Why I believe this, I have no clue. No book I’ve written has ever worked this way. ..."

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


Writing requires a phase I think of as "listening." Waiting for scenes to pop into my head, waiting for character voices, trying to tune into the right channel. Sometimes I feel like Jodie Foster's character in the movie Contact, listening for any recognizable signal to emanate from the sky.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Facing fear: On the road with Charlotte Bennardo

Charlotte Bennardo shares her biggest fear as part of my ongoing guest post series:

Being a writer is not for the weak of heart or constitution: large crowds, nasty reviews, another rejection, and pages of revisions are only some of the problems you’ll face. If you’re a published author, you know this, and maybe these fears have been replaced by newer ones like not getting another contract, disappearing from sight after your launch, and missing sales projections.

Everyone has fears. To be a successful writer, you’ve got to face them. My fear—driving by myself. It sounds irrational with GPS and Mapquest, but I’ve gotten lost so many times that I panic. What’s the worst; I’d have to turn around? Except I’m on a divided highway and the next turnoff takes me to Santiago, Chile. And GPS loses its signal in tunnels, under concrete bridges, and in cities with towering buildings. I’ve gone the wrong way down one-way streets, ended up at a dead end in a really bad neighborhood, and cruised miles out of my way on the highway to not-even-God-knew-where (in the dark, no road lights or signs of civilization—we’re talking Texas Chainsaw territory).

If someone’s there, for some reason it keeps me calmer; maybe because I have someone depending on me. But there’s not always going to be someone with me. My co-author couldn’t make a lot of signings, other authors at group signings came from different places so carpooling wasn’t practical. Plus I’m working on my solo books, which means going solo.

The cure? Force myself to go to booksignings alone. Take the train into the city (because nothing is worse than roaming a big city, not knowing where you’re going), leave extra time so when I get lost (and I will), I’m still on time. Practice makes for fewer panic attacks, less crying (oh yes, I’ve done that), and well, the cursing is down a bit too. I’ve learned to look ahead to the next turnoff, merge, etc. so I don’t have to suddenly zip over three lanes of rush hour traffic to get to my exit. It’s all about doing the prep work and digging down deep. So face your fear! Now if I could only learn how to parallel park…

Sirenz Back in Fashion FINAL
Sirenz Back in Fashion: Diamonds are not a girl's best friend when they come from Hades--because there's always a catch.

Charlotte Bennardo is the co-author of Sirenz, Sirenz Back In Fashion (Flux), and Blonde Ops (Thomas Dunne, 2014), and is working on several YA solo books.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Actions have consequences

I had this observation recently while reading:

I noticed that I was keeping a sort of mental/emotional budget for characters. When a character was wronged, I expected him or her to react accordingly--whether with anger, disappointment, whatever, I expected some kind of backlash. It didn't have to happen right away, but I carried this expectation in the back of my mind, and when the character finally expressed it (directly or not), I felt relief and a renewed trust in the writer. In books where the reaction never comes, I feel disappointed, as if the book is incomplete. As if the author has forgotten something, or didn't truly put him/herself in that character's shoes. As if it rained but nobody got wet, and that's just not real.

Even characters who are outwardly accommodating will accumulate inward resentments if they're treated unfairly. It's part of human nature. Some way, somehow, bad treatment will out. It may come out sideways, it may be subtle, it may even turn inward, but it will happen. To get all Newtonian on you, for every action there will be an equal and opposite reaction. I don't mean that every character will get justice--that's not realistic either--but the negative energy absorbed by that character will go somewhere. It will have consequences.

Atme Nicht

atme nicht
I have a few copies of Atme Nicht, the German-language edition of Try Not to Breathe, on hand. If you teach German (especially to teens), or have another reason to need a German-language version, please contact me at jennifer[at]jenniferhubbard[dot]com.

Here's the description of the Beltz & Gelberg edition:

Ryan hat einen Selbstmordversuch hinter sich und versucht, die dunkle Zeit zu vergessen, der er entkommen ist. Das ist allerdings nicht leicht: Seine Eltern würden ihn am liebsten rund um die Uhr bewachen, wenn sie nicht selbst so viel zu tun hätten, und in der Schule gilt er seitdem als Freak. Nur wenn Ryan unter dem Wasserfall steht und das Wasser mit voller Wucht auf seinen Kopf prasselt, fühlt er sich lebendig. Bis er Nicky begegnet, die ebenfalls ein düsteres Geheimnis mit sich herumträgt. Mit sanfter Beharrlichkeit verfolgt sie ihn mit der Frage nach dem Warum und bringt Ryan dazu, sich den Dingen zu stellen, die ihn im Innersten bewegen. Doch was verbirgt Nicky selbst?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Oh, this place. I remember this place.

Here's a quotation from Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird that has been helpful to me:
"Very few writers really know what they are doing until they've done it. Nor do they go about their business feeling dewy and thrilled. They do not type a few stiff warm-up sentences and then find themselves bounding along like huskies across the snow."

The fact is that sometimes I'm dewy and thrilled, and sometimes I type like a husky bounding across the snow. Those moments fool me into thinking that now I've got this thing all figured out; now and forever, enchanting words will pour from my fingers! So when the dew dries up and my husky comes upon a six-foot wall of ice, it catches me off guard. Every time. Did I learn nothing from Wile E. Coyote*?

And so I also find this quotation (also from Bird by Bird) encouraging:
"Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts."

*obligatory highbrow cultural reference

Saturday, February 16, 2013


"One does not 'find oneself' by pursuing one's self, but on the contrary by pursuing something else and learning through some discipline or routine ... what one is and wants to be."
--May Sarton, The House by the Sea

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Up the Down Staircase

On my local library's giveaway shelf, I found a used hardcover of this book:

Bel Kaufman's Up the Down Staircase.  I have a paperback, but I'm glad to be able to replace it with a sturdier hardback.

First, I must mention one of the delights of used books. It contains this inscription on the flyleaf: "To Mrs. Deutsch from the Class of '67 as a remembrance of UM." I'll just let your imagination decide who Mrs. Deutsch was and what her relationship with the Class of '67 was like.

Up the Down Staircase came out in the mid-'60s, but it's incredibly relatable today. With just a few tweaks of the technology and a couple of the topical allusions, the story could be set today. It features Sylvia Barrett, an idealistic English major fresh out of grad school, in her first year teaching in the New York public school system. She writes, "Many of our kids--though physically mature--can't read beyond 4th or 5th grade level. ... They've been exposed to some ten years of schooling, yet they don't know what a sentence is. The books we are required to teach frequently have nothing to do with anything except the fact that they have always been taught, or that there is an oversupply of them, or that some committee or other was asked to come up with titles."

The teachers face a mountain of meaningless paperwork tied up with endless red tape. There is never any money in the budget to fix broken windows or order new books or even provide a desk and chair for every student. There is the administrator who values the letter of the law above all else. There are the students who can't sit still, who don't show up to class. There are the students whose problems are more than a single teacher can handle: not enough to eat; unplanned pregnancy; attempted suicide; family troubles. There are the kids who simply drop out of sight. Learning, when it happens, happens against all odds. It's rather amazing how little the problems of education have changed in the past fifty years. The only thing missing from the book that would be present in today's school experience is the addiction to standardized tests.

Yet the book is humorous throughout. The humor comes from the built-in absurdity found in many institutional settings where there's never enough time or money, and there's one set of rules for a diverse, one-size-does-not-fit-all population. The book is also written in an engaging format: letters, notes, doodles, scraps, notebooks, and so it is technically a multiple-narrator book.

Have you read it?

source of recommended read: one copy bought, one copy from library giveaway

Monday, February 11, 2013

Facing fear: Drawing a blank

Today my guest is Joëlle Anthony, who continues this year's blog series on the topic of fear, with hope for those of us whose story ideas develop over a long period of time:

My greatest fear in regard to writing is that I’ll never have another book-worthy idea again. It seems to me that every other writer has more ideas than they can possibly use in their entire lifetime, but I am lucky to get one idea a year. Really, really lucky.

Also, I can be very, very slow to develop an idea once I have it. The premise for Restoring Harmony came rather quickly, and was inspired by an article I read, but that was something of a fluke. Also, it went through years of revision and really didn’t resemble the original draft all that much. And that was before it landed me an agent or sold to Penguin. The Right & the Real was partially based on an idea I carried around for…wait for it…twenty years. Yes, twenty years before I knew what the story was and how to tell it.

Right&Real high res
The Right & the Real: Kicked out of her home for refusing to join a cult with her father, seventeen-year-old Jamie must find a way to survive on her own.

I just finished writing a MG novel that I’ve been working on, off and on, for at least fifteen years. My third YA came to me in that lovely state between sleeping and waking, and only took nine months to write from concept to sending it off to my agent, but I’d been playing with other ideas that didn’t pan out for books for more than a year before I got that one. That’s right, a year of false starts, synopses that made my agent cringe, and tossed pages. If that doesn’t stress a writer out, I’m not sure what would.

The new book I started working on this week has my shortest lead-time ever, though, so I’m hopeful this means things are changing for me. It’s only four months or so since I came up with the premise. I’m actually a very fast writer. I can write whole chapters in an hour, sometimes ones that actually are quite good. But I have to think about my idea for ages, sometimes years, occasionally decades, before I can write the book. So maybe it’s not so bad that I don’t have too many ideas, what with all the thinking I have to do before I can write anything.

Joëlle Anthony is a Canadian-American writer living in BC, who teaches writing workshops and does acting gigs in between book ideas.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Time and concentration

"It is not that I [write] all day; it is that the work needs space around it. Hurry and flurry break into the deep still place where I can remember and sort out what I want to say ..."
--May Sarton, The House by the Sea

Writing requires concentration. Sometimes half the battle is gaining access to the place in my mind where a story lives. Opening the channel. Finding the channel.

Finding what May Sarton calls the "deep still place."

Thursday, February 7, 2013

But is it love?

As a Valentine's-month guest at the Teen Librarian Toolbox, I blogged on the topic "But is it love? Romance in YA Lit."

A sample:

"When writing romantic story lines, I like to differentiate between the various shades of infatuation, obsession, lust, and love. It’s easy to mistake one for another, and it can be especially confusing for people who are dealing with these emotions for the first time. ..."

Feel free to hop over there and check it out. I also made several book recommendations, because I live to increase the height of to-be-read piles everywhere.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


A friend and I were talking today about pressure, especially the pressure to be constantly busy, doing, achieving. As a human being I need rest, and as a writer I need a certain amount of downtime for the creative gears to turn. But we've been trained to view rest and downtime as laziness, procrastination, wasting time.

There has to be a middle ground between wasting time and burnout. I happen to believe that much of what we call "goofing off" is actually necessary rest and recreation. We haven't been taught to value this downtime; we're encouraged to be workaholics. We keep doing studies that show that we need more sleep, but we keep structuring our society to give ourselves less sleep. We schedule ourselves from morning to night. If we sneak in breaks, we feel horribly guilty over what we "might have done" with that time.

But we're not robots, and there is more to life than producing output 24/7.

It's okay--even essential--to take a break now and then.

Monday, February 4, 2013

What's going on

Today I bring you a couple of announcements, and a vignette:

If you're in the Philadelphia area, you may want to check out the African-American Children's Book Fair this Saturday, Feb. 9, 1-3 PM in the Community College of Philadelphia gym. It's free, open to the public, and the featured authors are listed at the link. (Thanks to Finding Wonderland for alerting me to this event in my own region!)

In other news, today appears to be the launch day for the German version of Try Not to Breathe, titled Atme Nicht. I share it here just because I find it interesting to see how covers get reinterpreted in different editions:

atme nicht
I like how they used some of the images from the book. Anyway, if you're in Germany, check it out! ;-)

Finally, for your amusement, a scene from the writer's room:

Cat (not actually saying this, but acting it out with emphatic body language and vocal pleas ranging from adorable mews to annoying yowls): Come play with me! Come play String!

[String is a game in which a human minion waves, dangles, and drags a string for the feline master to pounce upon. It is SO MUCH FUN  and HIGHLY ADDICTIVE, judging by the frequency with which a particular cat of my acquaintance asks to play it.]

Writer: I can't. I'm working.

Cat: But if I can't play String, I may die.

Writer: I doubt that.

Cat: You really want to risk it?

Writer: I'm getting enough drama from my manuscript, thank you.

Cat: You are a great trial to me.

Saturday, February 2, 2013


I love this time with a book: when it's nearly finished, and I'm just making small changes to it. It's complete and shiny new. Few people have read it yet. Anything is possible. It hasn't yet been rated, categorized, or appraised.

It's true that many wonderful things can follow this time. It's true that I want people to read this book. It's true that I wouldn't want this pre-release time to last forever. (In this case, it will last for seven and a half more months, and by then I will be more than ready for it to end.)

But this is a special time, in and of itself. The waiting time, the time Before.