Sunday, March 31, 2013

American Graffiti through a YA lens

I recently watched the movie American Graffiti again. What struck me this time was how much this 1973 film really is a YA story, even though it's more commonly considered a nostalgia piece about 1962 (the year of its setting). It's true that the music and the cars are an integral part of the film, and that some details of the story could not easily be transported to any other time. (What current generations, raised by helicopter parents, will notice especially is how all the teens in the film are free to drive around until sunrise, with no hint of curfew or parental involvement.)

But, boiled down, it's a coming-of-age story. The bare bones of the plot could be told in many settings, with many different characters. Two boys are supposed to leave in the morning, for college on the other side of the country. The one who's been eager to leave is suddenly unsure; the one who would just as soon stay has already committed to going, breaking home ties to the point of lending out his beloved car and suggesting to his steady girlfriend that they be free to see other people. In the morning, one boy leaves and the other stays, both of their decisions affected by the events of the night, and both of their decisions setting the course for their separate futures. At the same time, their nerdy younger friend tries his hand at impressing a girl he's just met; this character, who seems at first like just a lovable goofball, has a grim future at war. The fourth main character, whose life has revolved around cars, is beginning to realize that what makes you a king in your late teens won't necessarily set you up for life. On the night in question, he is still popular, still the best racer, still the envy of his peers, but he can see the cliff's edge looming.

I suspect that what made this movie such a success was not just fond recollections of drive-ins, drag races, Wolfman Jack, and sock hops. There's a larger appeal in a story about such nights: The last night your friends were all together. The moment when you realized high school was really over. The day you decided whether to stay or go.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Facing fear: Finding the sweet spot, or, Writing without fear

Today's guest post by Eve Marie Mont continues our "facing fear" series:

For most fiction writers, creating stories is a passion, something they would do whether or not they had any hope of being published. In fact, when I reflect on my writing life so far, it’s those years before I was published—when I was daydreaming about characters, building story arcs, experimenting with language—that were the most rewarding for me. I think it’s because that time truly belonged to me. It was my choice whether to spend an hour of the day writing or seven. My choice to try my hand at contemporary or magical realism, women’s fiction or young adult. I felt like I was in a giant sandbox of imagination playing with dozens of toys. And best of all, no one was watching.

Now that I’m published and contracted for a sequel, those toys have become tools, and that sandbox has become a workshop, one with glass windows through which any number of people can peer in and pass judgment. And my time no longer belongs to me. Now I’m in the business of creating a product, and people are waiting on the sidelines to judge what I’ve created. Somewhere along the line, I stopped playing because of those eyes on me, because of the voices seeping through the windows telling me that what I was making looked wonky and strange, that it was neither functional nor beautiful.

And then those voices became so loud that I stopped listening to the most important voice of all—my own—the one that was trying to tell its next story.

So how do I find my voice again when all those other voices are shouting at me? How do I find the joy in writing when it feels like a job? How do I get myself back into the sandbox?

A writer friend of mine recently told me that when she's playing tennis, occasionally the ball hits her racket so soundly she can feel the impact of it in her bones. The satisfying feeling travels all through her body, telling her she's made perfect contact, that she's hit the “sweet spot.”

When I told her how I'd been feeling lately, she reminded me that when you’re writing freely and tapping into that reservoir of imagination and possibility, you can find that “sweet spot” in writing too, that place where you know instinctively that you've hit on a truth, made a connection, done something well. If you can somehow immerse yourself in the game and play like no one's watching, the words will come pouring forth and it will feel like magic.

So for anyone out there struggling like me to rediscover the joy of writing, try to find that childlike place where fear and judgment don't exist. Play in the sand for a while, and look for your story there. And once you find it, write like no one's watching. If the words come from that "sweet spot," they're bound to connect with someone.

A Touch of Scarlet

Eve Marie Mont writes books for young adults and teaches high school English and creative writing in the Philadelphia suburbs. In her newest book, A Touch of Scarlet, the heroine of A Breath of Eyre returns to find truth and fiction merging through the pages of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic, The Scarlet Letter.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Terra incognita

It's my day to post at YA Outside the Lines, where my topic was the terra incognita of new projects. A sample: "When I start a new book, I’m fumbling around. ... I can’t tell who’s attracted to whom; sometimes I matchmake and it doesn’t work. I’m not always sure who will still be alive at the end of the story. ..."

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Things to consider in paranormal novels

I attended several excellent panels on YA literature yesterday as part of the NYC Teen Author Festival. The panel of paranormal authors* didn't have time for audience questions, but below are some questions I would have liked to ask, along with some of my own thoughts on them:

--If you write the kind of paranormal book where an afterlife is revealed to living characters, then how does their knowledge of the afterlife change the characters' views of life and death? Do they lose all fear of death, and if not, why not? If they no longer fear death, then what is there for them to fear; what are the stakes? And how does the knowledge of this afterlife change the way they live?

It seems to me that so much of how we decide to live depends on the two things we can say for sure about death: that it is inevitable, and that the exact nature of "afterward" is unknown. We have beliefs about what comes next, but we don't know for sure. If we did know--if we could see with our own eyes exactly what happens--it would certainly affect how we handle this life.

Neal Shusterman handled this well in his Skinjackers trilogy. While some of an afterlife was revealed, there was much that the characters did not know about other parts of the afterlife--much that they never knew. And in one of the books, Shusterman introduced the idea of a fate worse than death, which gave the characters something new to fear.

--If you write the kind of paranormal book where characters have special powers, what limits do you place on those powers? Since books are usually about a main character wanting something and not being certain s/he will get it, how do you get around the fact that a too-powerful character can control people and situations and just get what s/he wants through magic?

Some possible limits include:
uncertainty: for example, a spell might not work all the time, or might work in unintended ways;
range: for example, the character can only affect certain kinds of people or events, or can only work within time or distance limits, or does not have sufficient power to enact the outcome s/he wants;
opposing forces: as the main character exerts magic in one direction, others exert it in the opposite direction;
vulnerability: powers could have gaps or points of vulnerability, such as Superman's kryptonite or Achilles's heel;
cost: the price of using the magic might be high (as in, for example, Holly Black's Curse Workers series, where the use of a memory curse also affects the memory of the curse worker).

If we change the rules of our world, then those rule changes have ripple effects. If we remove our normal human limitations, then there must be other (plausible) limitations, or else the story becomes boring because there is no risk and no uncertainty. It would be unrealistic to have characters treating their magical worlds the same way we treat our own nonmagical world. (For example, if you could fly, why would you ever sit in traffic again?)

*By which I mean authors of novels about paranormal phenomena. The authors themselves do not claim to have paranormal powers. As far as I know.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Haunted at 17

Nova Ren Suma's latest book, 17 & GONE, launched this week. I was lucky enough to get my hands on an early copy. It's the story of a 17-year-old girl who is haunted by girls who disappeared at the age of 17, and it's vivid and compelling. I wish I could go into detail about why I admired the story's resolution, but that would get into spoilers. Just trust me--if you like dark and mysterious, check it out.

As part of her launch week, she has invited bloggers to share their own stories of what haunted them at the age of 17. She'll post all the links on her blog on Monday, but there's already quite a collection of posts over there, from such writers as Libba Bray, Carrie Ryan, Nina LaCour, Gayle Forman, etc.

I decided that I would go ahead and share mine, since this is a topic I'll be talking about more in the coming months. And I suppose the appropriateness of the word "haunt" is evident in the very amount of time it has taken me to discuss this publicly.

I was bullied from the ages of 11 to 13, although I prefer to call it peer abuse. It was not about someone bigger and stronger threatening to beat me up for lunch money. Mostly, it was about exclusion and insult. People banding together for the sole purpose of punishing me: not physically*, but systematically, deliberately, repeatedly. A favorite trick of theirs will summarize the whole experience. On the way to middle school, there was a path I had to walk down that had a steep incline on either side. One group of girls would get to this path before I did and would walk in front of me, filling the whole path so that I couldn't get around them. They would then inch down the path, talking loudly about me, hacking apart my appearance, my clothes, mocking everything I said and did in microscopic detail. Had this only happened once or twice, I might not remember it today. But the rest of the day, and the next morning, and the days that followed, continued in kind.

One teacher tried to stop it. Another teacher who witnessed some of it actually joined in with a few snide remarks of her own, which nowadays makes me think that even as an adult she was still trying to fit in with the cool kids, but back then only increased my sense of isolation. As you might imagine, all this made me extremely self-conscious. It made me mistrustful--especially of other girls, because they were the ringleaders (although boys would join in from time to time; there were two boys in my junior high who were especially cruel). It taught me that my natural role in any group was to be the victim, the outsider, the butt of jokes, the recipient of any crap that the others cared to dish out. And after the first group did this to me, it happened twice more, with other groups. I grew to expect it.

Middle school and junior high were the prime years for this abuse. By the time I was in high school, it had pretty much stopped. But the damage lingered; my patterns were set. Self-consciousness, distrust, and the expectation of being unwanted and disliked were part of my mindset. They determined how I related to others. Several unsavory patterns grew out of this: an over-reliance on boyfriends in my college years, a reluctance to get close to female friends for fear they would turn on me, an assumption that new people did not want to meet me. At 17, these things haunted me but I didn't know it. I acted in accordance with this script without being aware it was a script.

It was only in my mid-twenties that I began to realize these mental patterns were assumptions, not facts. To see that I was still reacting to people as if they were middle-school bullies. At 25, I began to work on these issues, to undo the damage.

I am a very different person today. Today, I do not put up with that sort of crap. Today, I have friendships with women as well as men. Today, I know there is kindness and generosity in people, as well as cruelty and pettiness.

But at 17, I didn't know it. At 17, I thought it was all behind me. I didn't see how much I still carried with me.

At the time all this happened, bullying was viewed very differently from the way it is today. It was seen as a rite of passage, an inevitable part of childhood, no big deal. Even now that people are questioning this view, now that our literature and our media are exploring the immediate effects of bullying, I don't know that very much attention is being paid to the aftereffects, the ripples that spread outward years later. And it is the post-bullying years I especially want to shine a light on, and I will be saying more about that in the coming months.

*Although I always assumed that was an option in their minds. I never saw any indication that there was anything they considered "going too far."

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The jugular

I've been writing for years, and I have tackled some dark subjects. I find that my writing gets the strongest response when I write closest to the edge. I don't mean that the topic necessarily has to be edgy. I mean when the emotion in a scene is so honest that I've basically stopped protecting myself--from embarrassment, from pain, from whatever I fear. Ironically, to produce something that raw usually takes many rewrites. Even after all this time, I seldom go for the jugular in the first draft, or the second. I still hold back.

One reason I appreciate my critiquers is that they call me on this; they point out when I'm hiding. Self-protection is so automatic and so ingrained that I can't see my own defenses. Dropping defenses is not instinctive; it's counter-instinctive, really. It must be learned. And I find that it must be relearned with every project.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Cleaning out the brain closet

Three random thoughts for the day:

1. "If my father, the scientist, were here ... he would remind me that success is only a matter of statistics ... . Failure only means that you haven't thrown yourself, face-first, against the brick wall of probability enough times."  --Alina Simone, You Must Go and Win.

2. When people say they're glad that the days are now longer because of Daylight Savings Time, I want to argue, "No, they're longer because of the tilt of the earth." Daylight "Savings" doesn't add a single minute to the amount of light we get.

3. On a happier note: The New Jersey Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, 2013 Annual Conference will be June 7-9 this year, in Plainsboro, NJ. The keynoters will be Lauren Oliver and Peter Brown, and there will be a couple dozen agents and editors in attendance. I'm happy to report that I'll be co-leading two sessions on Saturday, June 8, along with Kit Grindstaff: "The Dark Underbelly: Building Dimensions and Conflict Into Your Characters," and, "Battle Your Inner Censor." The registration deadline is April 30.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Borrowed adventure

The last time my husband and I were in Yosemite National Park, while we were hiking up to the top of Yosemite Falls, we crossed paths with another hiker. Actually, we were leap-frogging, which happens a lot on steep trails: you pass someone, and then when you stop to rest, he passes you, and then when he stops to rest, you pass him again. Anyway, I was a bit concerned about this hiker because it was summer, and it's a long steep trail, and he only had a tiny little bottle of water that was maybe a quarter of the recommended amount of water to carry on that kind of hike. Once when we were resting at the same time, he asked, "Have you been up Half Dome yet?" When I said no, he said, "You should go. It's awesome."

I wasn't particularly interested in going up there--from what little I knew, it sounded beyond the range of what I consider fun, and more into the range that sounds like work--but I didn't know much about it. When this guy who wasn't even carrying enough water said that he'd done it, I figured: how hard could it be?

Then I saw this, and I concluded that I'm never going up there unless I turn freaking crazy. While I have my wits about me, I'll stay on the trails where you don't need cables, thank you very much.*

But as scary as that link is, it's fascinating, too. It confirms that climbing Half Dome is nothing I'd ever want to do in real life. But I love reading about it from a safe distance.

That's part of the joy of reading: the ability to experience tough circumstances from a safe and comfortable vantage point. It's borrowed adventure. I don't believe in reading instead of living, but reading in addition to living provides incredible riches.

*Okay, I did hike Gothics via the Orebed Brook Trail in the Adirondacks, which at the time I climbed it had some short sections of cables, in addition to ladders. But that's about my limit.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Facing fear: Waves of fear

I've gone visiting today, to the blog of Jody Casella. Jody interviewed me about trunk novels, networking and time (mis)management, so please click if you're interested.

In the meantime, Alison Formento is stopping by here, with the latest guest post in my series about writers confronting fear!

Waves of fear…
by Alison Formento

I visited the ocean for the first time when I was twelve. It's a cliché, but terror gripped my insides the moment I stuck a toe into the waves off the coast of Cape Canaveral. The queasy fear churning in my gut might have been the greasy French fries we'd eaten on the car ride to the beach that day—or maybe because my dad kept humming the "da-dump, da-dump" theme music from Jaws.

I stepped deeper into the Atlantic Ocean that day, shivering as saltwater splashed against my knees. A gull swooped by, skimming across the top of the waves like the rocks I like to skip across a lake back in Arkansas.

Something clicked in me, and I let go of the fear.

That click, or release, is a feeling I still carry with me, especially when I'm drafting a new story and I'm afraid I'll never finish it—or I fear the draft won't be good enough to share, even with trusted writing friends. I may delete chapters or whole scenes. I try writing from a new perspective. I take hikes or walk along a beach. I think and talk to myself. I read. I read more.

Then—click. The fear fades.

I face the draft again and write new words, new sentences. The story moves like ocean waves. It may even soar. Fearless and free.


ALISON FORMENTO is the author of award-winning picture books This Tree Counts!,This Tree, 1, 2, 3, These Bees Count!, These Seas Count!, and the upcoming young adult novel Twigs.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Reader meets book

I keep acquiring new books despite the fact that I already live with teetering piles of the yet-to-be-read. Not to mention the books I'd like to reread.

But the important thing about choosing a book is that I have to be in the mood for it. It has to be the right time. Often I'll scoop up a book at a store or a yard sale or a giveaway table because I know I want to read it sometime--just not today. For example, Code Name Verity is in my TBR stack. I know this is going to be riveting and hard-hitting and emotionally wrenching, so I need to wait until I have the necessary time and the emotional fortitude. Then there is Hotel Kid, a book about a boy who grew up in the Hotel Taft in the 1940s. I will probably read this when I'm feeling nostalgic (yes, I am capable of nostalgia for times I never even lived through). Also on deck: Epic Fail, which I expect to be fun, and you would think that surely a person is always in the mood for a fun read, but I am just as often in the mood for serious reads.

This is only a small sample of the books that have been waiting for me. Some have been waiting for years.

I go through phases, too, where I can't get enough of a certain topic. I have gone through periods of reading about Lewis and Clark, the Manhattan Project, Himalayan mountaineering, and Beat writers, just to name a few. I cycle in and out of them. Chances are, if I see a book on one of these topics, I'll snatch it up, even though I won't open it until I'm in that phase again. Richard Rhodes's The Making of the Atomic Bomb is one of the best books I've ever read on the subject, and deserving of the Pulitzer it won. But it's a meaty read, and not likely to be interchangeable with a light romance if the latter is what you're really in the mood for. It's not what I'm going to read when I'm on a contemporary-YA streak, or when I'm working my way through my humor shelf.

We often talk about the fact that "not every book is for everyone," and that's true. But it's also true that not every book is for every mood. There are books I love but still have to be in the right frame of mind for. And as writers, we also hope that our books find their readers at the right moment. Sometimes people say to me, "I have your book, but I haven't read it yet," and I completely understand. It has to be the right time.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Making it better

Life often throws stuff at us that we'd rather not deal with, from the little annoyances like sleet and head colds, to the major leagues of hurricanes and plagues and the like. (And sometimes major tragedies wear the deceptive clothing of the annoyances, which seems extra unfair somehow--"But it was just an inch of water!" "But it was just a little bee sting!") Anyway, we all deal with a certain amount of crap.

And sometimes we make the crap worse for one another. We cut one another off in traffic, we gossip, we throw our trash on the ground where others will have to deal with it. We say mean things.

And sometimes we make life better instead of worse. We bring someone flowers, or clean the food-spatter off the microwave at work, or donate blood. We go out of our way to tell someone how special he or she is.

In tribute to a friend named Mike Yasick, Beth Kephart posted this on her blog: "He demonstrated, repeatedly, why it is far more rewarding, in this life, to be a force of good. Negativity is all sharp edges. Unprovoked cruelty solves no problems. ... Why throw spears when there's a bowl of chocolate near? ... Why not make somebody happy?"

Which also reminds me of John and Hank Green, and the movement they started known as Nerdfighters, whose purpose they describe as "to increase awesome and decreas[e] world suck." And also reminds me of The Birthday Project, which encourages people to celebrate their birthdays with random acts of kindness (here is a list of suggestions).

I'm grateful for all the ways, large and small, in which the people around me choose to be kind rather than cruel, encouraging rather than negative, patient rather than brusque, generous rather than stingy. You're making the world a better place.

Friday, March 8, 2013

The joys of deletion

Today I'm the guest blogger at Lydia Sharp's blog, The Sharp Angle, where I dish about deletion and give six "common places to cut back a manuscript, should you find yours getting too wordy ..."

A sample:

"We don’t have to tell readers everything we know about our characters ... . Even when the history is directly relevant, a little mystery can be a good thing. If readers sense friction between two characters, that friction will pique their curiosity and raise the tension in the scene."

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

What people have been reading all these years

The other day Nathan Bransford linked to Kahn's Corner, where Matt Kahn is reading the top-selling books from each of the past 100 years (although, since some books topped the list more than once, there are 94 books in all). You can see Kahn's complete "100 years, 94 books" list here. The idea intrigued me, partly because I look forward to seeing what someone else has to say about the works of Booth Tarkington and Sinclair Lewis; partly because I find the range of books fascinating (from The Grapes of Wrath to Valley of the Dolls), and partly because it emphasizes how fleeting public acclaim is. Booth Tarkington, for example, won two Pulitzer Prizes and was a bestselling author, yet he's not read widely (or even much, I would venture to say) nowadays. It's also interesting that a single author can so dominate the list (that would be John Grisham, occupying more than 10% of the list's slots, leaving every other author in the dust).

I couldn't resist counting to see how many titles on that list I've read, and it turned out to be ten of the 94. But bestsellerdom is only one way to look at the changing tastes of readers. I thought it would be interesting to look at the list of Pulitzer Prize winners for fiction/novels over roughly the same time period (they only go back to 1918; also, the prize hasn't been awarded every year). The list is below, behind the cut. And while there's some overlap between the two lists, there isn't much.

It turns out I've read nine of the 85 Pulitzer-winning books. And although I've read other works by Faulkner, Steinbeck, Sinclair, Updike, Wilder, Hersey, Michener, Hemingway, Porter, Styron, Grau, Welty, Stafford, Lurie, Roth, Eugenides ... I just haven't read anything they won Pulitzers for. (Perhaps I'm a jinx?)  Another thing that struck me was that I've read more Pulitzer winners from the 'teens and '20s than from recent years--in fact, the most recent winner I've read is 1983's The Color Purple. I haven't read many of the bestsellers from recent years either. It brought home to me how much my reading tastes have veered away from mainstream adult fiction. For years I've been reading young-adult fiction, and adult nonfiction (especially memoir and essays), and when I do read adult fiction, it's usually something that has flown under everyone else's radar.

I should also say that when I refer to books I "haven't read," I actually think of them as books I "haven't read yet." Some part of me expects that I'll get around to reading every book, eventually. That is the part of me commonly referred to as "delusional."

If you had to read all of the books on one list or the other, which list would you prefer?

(Pulitzer winners behind the cut)

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

2013 NYC Teen Author Festival

If you're anywhere near NYC, mark your calendars for any or all of these events later this month. I participated last year and plan to be a spectator for at least one day this year.

2013 NYC Teen Author Festival

Monday, March 18 (Mulberry Street Branch of the NYPL, 10 Jersey Street b/w Mulberry and Lafayette, 6-8):
I’ll Take You There: A Change of Scenery, A Change of Self
Gayle Forman, Kristen-Paige Madonia, Bennett Madison, Jennifer E. Smith, Melissa Walker
moderator: David Levithan

Tuesday, March 19 (WORD Bookstore, 7-8:30, 126 Franklin St, Greenpoint):
The Only Way Out is Through: Engaging Truth through YA
Crissa Chappell, Tim Decker, Ellen Hopkins, Amy McNamara, Jessica Verdi
moderator: David Levithan

Wednesday. March 20 (42nd St NYPL, South Court room, 6-8):
Imagination: A Conversation
Holly Black, Lev Grossman, Michelle Hodkin, Alaya Johnson, Robin Wasserman
moderators: David Levithan and Chris Shoemaker

Thursday, March 21:
SOHO Teen night, 6-9pm (Books of Wonder, 18 W18th St)
Celebrate the launch of SOHO Teen, featuring readings by Jacquelyn Mitchard, Joy Preble, Margaux Froley, Elizabeth Kiem, Heather Terrell & Ricardo Cortés, and Lisa & Laura Roecker.

Friday March 22, Symposium (42nd Street NYPL, Berger Forum, 2nd floor, 2-6)

2:00 – Introduction

2:10-3:00: He Said, She Said
He: Ted Goeglein, Gordon Korman, Lucas Klauss, Michael Northrop
She: Susane Colasanti, E. Lockhart, Carolyn Mackler, Sarah Mlynowski, Leila Sales
moderator: David Levithan

3:00-4:00: Taking a Turn: YA Characters Dealing with Bad and Unexpected Choices
Caela Carter, Eireann Corrigan, Alissa Grosso, Terra Elan McVoy, Jacquelyn Mitchard, Elizabeth Scott, K. M. Walton
moderator: Aaron Hartzler

4:00-4:10: Break

4:10-4:40: That’s So Nineteenth Century
Description: A Conversation About Playing with 19th Century Archetypes in the 21st Century
Sharon Cameron, Leanna Renee Hieber, Stephanie Strohm, Suzanne Weyn
moderator: Sarah Beth Durst

4:40-5:30: Alternate World vs. Imaginary World
Sarah Beth Durst, Jeff Hirsch, Emmy Laybourne, Lauren Miller, E. C. Myers, Diana Peterfreund, Mary Thompson
moderator: Chris Shoemaker

Friday March 22, Barnes & Noble Reader’s Theater/Signing (Union Square B&N, 33 E 17th St, 7-8:30)
Eireann Corrigan, Elizabeth Eulberg, Jeff Hirsch, David Levithan, Rainbow Rowell, Nova Ren Suma

Saturday March 23, Symposium (42nd Street NYPL, Bergen Forum, 2nd Floor, 1-5)

1:00 – Introduction

1:10-2:10 – Defying Description: Tackling the Many Facets of Identity in YA
Marissa Calin, Emily Danforth, Aaron Hartzler, A.S. King, Jacqueline Woodson
moderator: David Levithan

2:10-2:40 -- New Voices Spotlight
J. J. Howard, Kimberly Sabatini, Tiffany Schmidt, Greg Takoudes

2:40-3:30 – Under Many Influences: Shaping Identity When You’re a Teen Girl
Jen Calonita, Deborah Heiligman, Hilary Weisman Graham, Kody Keplinger, Amy Spalding, Katie Sise, Kathryn Williams
moderator: Terra Elan McVoy

3:30-3:40 – Break

3:40-4:20 – Born This Way: Nature, Nurture, and Paranormalcy
Jessica Brody, Gina Damico, Maya Gold, Alexandra Monir, Lindsay Ribar, Jeri Smith-Ready, Jessica Spotswood
moderator: Adrienne Maria Vrettos

4:20-5:00 – The Next Big Thing
Jocelyn Davies, Leanna Renee Hieber, Barry Lyga, Maryrose Wood

Saturday March 23: Mutual Admiration Society reading at McNally Jackson (McNally Jackson, Prince Street, 7-8:30):
Sharon Cameron, A.S. King, Michael Northrop, Diana Peterfreund, Victoria Schwab, Nova Ren Suma
hosted by David Levithan

Sunday March 24: Our No-Foolin’ Mega-Signing at Books of Wonder (Books of Wonder, 1-4):

1-1:45: Jessica Brody, Marisa Calin, Jen Calonita, Sharon Cameron, Caela Carter, Crissa Chappell, Susane Colasanti, Zoraida Cordova,
Gina Damico, Jocelyn Davies, Sarah Beth Durst, Gayle Forman, Elizabeth Scott

1:45-2:30: T. M. Goeglein, Hilary Weisman Graham, Alissa Grosso, Aaron Hartzler, Deborah Heiligman, Leanna Renee Hieber, Jeff Hirsch,
J. J. Howard, Alaya Johnson, Beth Kephart, Kody Keplinger

2:30-3:15: A.S. King, Emmy Laybourne, David Levithan, Barry Lyga, Brian Meehl, Alexandra Monir, Michael Northrop, Diana Peterfreund,
Lindsay Ribar, Rainbow Rowell, Kimberly Sabatini, Tiffany Schmidt

3:15-4:00: Victoria Schwab, Jeri Smith-Ready, Amy Spalding, Stephanie Strohm, Nova Ren Suma, Greg Takoudes, Mary Thompson, Jess Verdi,
K.M. Walton, Suzanne Weyn, Kathryn Williams

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Work in progress

Before is a dream, and after is an accomplishment, but during is ... something else entirely.

I've long despaired over the ugliness of the early drafts of any writing project, but now I wonder why.

A haircut doesn't look so great right after the first snip.
A half-built building isn't really a building: it's a construction site.
Mid-surgery isn't a pretty time.
In its early stages, a cake is just a bowl of raw batter.
Anyone who's ever had work done on a house knows what a mess that can be in the "during" phase.

Many kinds of work proceed through preliminary phases, interim steps. Writing is just one of them.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Stats and slowing down

Today, I have a duo of equally absorbing posts from different ends of the writing-world spectrum. In the business department, we have the results of a Goodreads survey with some reader statistics; in the quality-of-life department, a post about slowing down.

Survey Stats

Thanks to Jon Gibbs for linking to this article, an analysis by Goodreads of survey on how readers find and read some books. There are limits on interpreting these data: only two books, both quite well-known, are discussed. It would be interesting to see how readers discover books that aren't as widely buzzed-about. The results came from a survey of Goodreads readers--a specific and apparently self-selecting community. The survey was also designed to answer publishers' questions, some of which interest me more than others.

But, those disclaimers aside, there are some interesting items in there. Such as, the prominent place of "trusted friend" and "everyone talking about it" as big reasons for people to read a book. And the fact that 37% of their survey respondents read e-books on cell phones, which boggles my mind, since the last thing I ever look for is a smaller screen on which to read. (Obviously, these must be young people who have not yet begun the squinting, arm's-length reading, and "Why does print have to be so small?" travails of middle age.) Another "wow" is the role of libraries as the most popular place for respondents to get their books. The print/e-book percentage for those two books is also interesting (almost half-and-half for one book, with print retaining a slight edge; more like two-thirds print/one-third other formats for the other book).

Then there is the preferred-format question. The largest group, 45%, prefers to read print and e-books. 21% like both formats plus audiobooks. When people prefer only one format, here's how it breaks down: print 23%, e-book 9%, audiobook 1%. While I expect e-book adoption to continue to grow, so far these numbers support what I've always maintained: readers and authors are best served by books being available in a variety of formats. We should not hasten to push the e-book or the print book out of the marketplace.

Slowing Down

And now, for a change of pace. Julie Owsik Ackerman recently blogged: "... I also fill my days completely. Do I have five minutes before a friend arrives? I’ll put in a load of laundry and wash the dishes. Ten minutes before Daniel will likely wake? I’ll write a draft of an essay, check my email, and call the portrait studio about ordering those wallets. Yes, I’m efficient, but many days I feel harried and stressed. I hoped that by slowing my pace to a jog, I might enjoy life more ..." Follow the link to see her plan.