Thursday, June 30, 2011


*The MATCHED giveaway is open until Saturday night! Go enter!*

As someone who writes (sort of) historical fiction, I thought I'd do a post on researching and different ways to get information. LIKE CLOCKWORK in particular required a lot of research...although it's set in a fantasy world, the society is largely and obviously based upon historical India. I did a great deal of research before starting the novel, focusing mainly on Indian customs and clockmaking, as the story has a distinctly steampunk-ish feel and clockwork is a huge part of the magic system.

Below are some of my tips for research:

1. Pictures/videos are always better. When researching a place, culture, or custom, try to find videos that depict what you're looking for rather than just reading about it. With LIKE CLOCKWORK, I rented every documentary on India I could find and took notes while I watched. Being able to watch the people of India interact with one another and with their environment provided me with a basic template upon which to build my own world. Books are all well and good, but a visual image will better allow you to describe the scenery and what's going on, and since I didn't have the money to travel to India myself movies were the next best thing.

2. Personal exchanges are always better. If possible, meet with someone who is an expert in the category you're trying to research. For instance, I visited several mechanical clock shops in Salt Lake City and spoke to clockmakers before writing LIKE CLOCKWORK. When writing the original version of ENCRYPTED I spoke to an uncle who has spent a great deal of time in Nepal. There are all sorts of resources you can use, especially in major museums, so if at all possible try to find someone you can talk to.

3. Go directly to the source. When you read a book with information on a certain subject, find the bibliography and look up each source. Try to trace the information back to its origin - you'd be surprised how much it changes as it is transferred from one source to another.

So for those of you writing historical fiction, or fiction that requires any kind of research, go forth! Become as informed as you can to increase the authenticity of your work :).

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Matched Contest!

100 followers! Yay! Since I gave away a book upon reaching 50 followers, I think it's only fitting to have another contest. This time, all commenters will be eligiAdd Imageble to win a signed copy of MATCHED by Ally Condie (a NYT best seller!). Ally, who is a local author, may well be the nicest person I've ever met. I haven't read MATCHED yet (I'm waaayyyyy behind on my reading....I bought it back in November when the book first launched), but it's next on my list. Plus, I hear it's awesome :).

Here's the cover and the jacket flap description:

In the Society, officials decide who you love, where you work, and when you die.

Cassia has always trusted their choices. It's hardly any price to pay for a long life, the perfect job, the ideal mate. So when her best friend appears on the Matching screen, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is the one...until she sees another face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. Now Cassia is faced with impossible choices: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she's known and a path no one else has ever dared follow - between perfection and passion.

Sounds awesome, yes? Here are the rules:

You must be a follower: +1
Comment: +1
Tweet: +2
Blog: +3
Total your points: +1

Sorry, but this contest is only open nationally.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Improving craft

Getting praised for my writing is pretty much the best feeling in the world. I've put years of time and energy into completing manuscripts, and when another author tells me they love my story, or they found my characters intriguing, I get all warm and fuzzy inside. Like eating a hot-fudge sundae, only ten times better.

But not everybody is going to like my work. There will be people who don't identify with the main character, or find the plots confusing, or simply don't enjoy my writing style. And then there are the people who will tell me, in all honesty, what parts of my story aren't working.

At WIFYR this year, agent Mary Kole from Andrea Brown had this to say:

"It is impossible to get better and look good at the same time."

This statement really rang true for me, because I think it's a very important one for every writer to remember. If people praise your work and tell you how awesome it is, you probably aren't going to get any better as a writer (although there's the hot-fudge sundae analogy to consider). Criticism, on the other hand, can be really difficult to hear, but in the end it (hopefully) will help you improve your craft and perfect your manuscript. A year ago I needed praise more than anything else. I wanted affirmation, a reason to keep working toward the seemingly unattainable goal of publication. But over the past few months I've begun to thirst after criticism. If/when my first book gets published, I want it to be something I'm proud of. I want to show it off to everyone, knowing it's the best it can possibly be.

And more than anything I want to improve as a writer. Criticism doesn't make me feel awesome or talented, but in the end it's going to help my story, and five years from now I'm sure I'll be eternally grateful that none of my first drafts ever got published.

In the choice between looking good and getting better, I will always choose the latter.

Monday, June 20, 2011

And the winner is....

Amber from LitPool! Congratulations! I'll be emailing you shortly to get your address so I can send POSSESSION!

Since so many of you entered the contest, I'm planning several more giveaways for the next few weeks, including signed copies of Ally Condie's MATCHED and Kathleen Duey's National Book Award Nominee SKIN HUNGER. Thanks to everyone who entered, and stay tuned!


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Working with an editor

Update: Thanks to everyone who entered the Possession giveaway! The contest will be open until Sunday night, and I will announce the winner Monday.

So this past week I received my first editorial letter from my wonderful editor at Scholastic, Jody Corbett. I've learned a great deal about revisions over the last few months and I thought I'd share my experiences. Working with Jody is different from doing edits on my own, or even with the help of a critique partner, and I've come to realize that the revisions process is far more complex than I initially expected.

I read through Jody's letter as soon as it appeared in my inbox, and my defensive inner-writer immediately kicked in. I think all authors can relate to this...when someone points out errors in our work, we have the tendency to become resentful and angry. I usually allow myself an hour to whine and complain before giving feedback a second read-through. With Jody's letter, my second look revealed dozens of issues and inconsistencies I had missed when I wrote The Hamsa's Song (by the way, we're coming up with a new title). The changes were overwhelming, but after four or five days of mulling I'm ready to dive in and make this book the best it can be.

I think the important thing to remember with revisions is to look at the big picture. When I receive feedback, my initial reaction is to make a list of all the thing that aren't working in my manuscript. Then I go through and fix them one by one. Although this is a good idea in principle, revising is about looking at the manuscript as a whole, and analyzing why a scene isn't working in relation to the rest of the story. For instance, let's say you have a scene in which your main character receives a key piece of information from a secondary source. Your critique partner tells you that the secondary source gives up the information too easily...maybe the main character could spend a little more time trying to convince this source to tell them what they need to know?

As humans we are inherently lazy, and my first inclination would be to simply go through and add some extra dialogue to draw out the tension in this scene. But my work with an editor has shown me how important it is to look at a scene within the context of the entire novel. Some questions to ask yourself:

~Why is this scene necessary? What does it do to further plot/character development?

~How else can I accomplish this? Is there a way to convey the same information though an entirely different scene?

~Make a list of scenes that could perform the same function as the scene already in the story.

~Examine the scene within the context of subplot. Which characters are involved, and how does this thread of the story relate to the overall theme/arc? Is this subplot integral to my manuscript? If so, are there ways I can alter it?

Jody's editorial letter has helped me look at my manuscript from an entirely different perspective. I have some distance (I haven't worked on this particular book in months), and her comments not only directed me to fix areas that needed work, they also provided the motivation to re-imagine my entire story. Sure, I could go about fixing individual problems, but is there a way to change the basic plot structure in order to deal with these issues in a more natural way? If there's one thing I've learned about revisions from my editor, it's that the editorial feedback you receive is often only the tip of the iceberg (to use an awful writerly cliche). There are probably more changes to be made, and brainstorming sessions with your editor (or critique partner) can really help you identify problems you might've missed. Always remember that editing should be a collaborative process. Jody gives me her notes, but she doesn't expect me to make every one of the changes she suggests, and if we disagree we'll talk things out in an effort to come up with a solution.

I'm going to end this post with a quote from Heather Dixon, author of the newly released Entwined (Harper Collins, 2011). We share the same agent and I recently heard her speak at the WIFYR conference. She said, "Don't revise, rewrite." Editing isn't about going down a list and checking things's about looking at the big picture, and trying to figure out how a structural change to your manuscript can help eliminate smaller problems. The process is creative rather than logical. I am so grateful for my editor (her letter gave me hundreds of great ideas for The Hamsa's Song), and I feel I've learned a lot about the fluidity of story structure and how important it is to not be afraid of making big changes.

To all of you who are revising, good luck! I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments :).

Monday, June 13, 2011

50 followers contest!

So in honor of my 50th follower, I'm holding a giveaway for a signed copy of Elana Johnson's debut novel, Possession. Possession was released by Simon and Schuster on June 7 and it's already generating a great deal of buzz in the online blogging community. I had the pleasure of attending Possession's release party, as Elana is a local author. Below is the blurb:

Vi knows the Rule: Girls don’t walk with boys, and they never even think about kissing them. But no one makes Vi want to break the Rules more than Zenn…and since the Thinkers have chosen him as Vi’s future match, how much trouble can one kiss cause? The Thinkers may have brainwashed the rest of the population, but Vi is determined to think for herself.

But the Thinkers are unusually persuasive, and they’re set on convincing Vi to become one of them….starting by brainwashed Zenn. Vi can’t leave Zenn in the Thinkers’ hands, but she’s wary of joining the rebellion, especially since that means teaming up with Jag. Jag is egotistical, charismatic, and dangerous: everything Zenn’s not. Vi can’t quite trust Jag and can’t quite resist him, but she also can’t give up on Zenn.

This is a game of control or be controlled. And Vi has no choice but to play.

How to enter:
You must be a follower: +1
Tweet or facebook this contest (leave link): +2
Blog about this contest: +3
Comment on this post with your email: +1
Add up your total points: +1

Enter. You know you want to.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Blogger award!

So my good friend and critique partner Liesl recently gave me the Versatile Blogger award! Thanks Liesl! For those of you who don't know, Liesl recently signed with Michelle Andelman of Regal Literary Agency, and her MG novel is AWESOME! I can't wait for it to sell, and I'm going to be first in line at the bookstore when it comes out. Everybody go check out her blog. NOW.

Anyways, the rules of the award stipulate that I have to recite seven random facts about myself. Behold:

1. I'm a jump-roping master. Our PE classes at West High School require us to jump 500 times in five minutes, and I can easily reach 700-800.

2. One time, when my soccer team stayed at a hotel in Idaho while participating in a regional tournament, my teammates and I shoved more than 50 raisin-flavored granola bars out the window (don't ask). In the morning they were gone. To this day, we are convinced it was a serial killer.

3. I absolutely fail at staring contests. Even thinking about a staring contest makes me laugh.

4. I would love to be a boy for a few days, just to see what it's like.

5. My favorite movie in the world is My Neighbor Totoro. Seriously, go rent it or something. It's the best kids movie you will ever see.

6. My favorite thing to do at night is snuggle with my bunny.

7. All my friends still tease me about sophomore year indoor soccer, when our coach made me play goalie for half the game. Apparently I threw the ball backward into our own goal when I tried to catch it. I don't remember it this way.

Anyways, I thought I'd pass this award on to Emery Grey, a fellow teen author who has a wonderfully informative and consistent blog (I greatly admire this, as I sort of fail at blogging consistently). She's great! Go check out her page.

Have a wonderful day, and I'll be back tomorrow with contests!!!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Creating a convincing villain

So, one of the things that bugs me most about stereotypical fantasy is the use of the "UBEREVILBADGUY." We've all read stories in which the uberevilbadguy comes up with uberevilschemes to take over the world - Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings come to mind - and while I thoroughly enjoyed these stories, this fantasy trope sort of gets to me. I mean, why do these uberevilbadguys want to take over the world? What is their motivation? Do they not have any redeeming qualities hidden behind those masks of uberevilcruelness?

(I bet you're getting totally annoyed with my uberlackofspaces. Okay, I'll stop now.)

My point is, creating a complex villain is just as important (and as difficult) as creating an intriguing and relatable protagonist. Your characters, like people in the real world, should not be black and white - just as your protagonist needs to have flaws, a good villain should have positive attributes to their persona while still remaining scary. Creating a nuanced villain is far more difficult than writing about an uberevilbadguy who simply wants to TAKE OVER EVERYTHING AND CONTROL THE WORLD MUAHAHAHAHAHA. (Note: Insanity doesn't count as a motive. Unless you came up with Heath Ledger as the Joker, because he was brilliant.) So I challenge you: come up with ways to make your villain a character, rather than a caricature. What does your villain want? If they are willing to kill people to achieve their goals, they better have a pretty damn good reason. What good qualities do they have to offset the bad ones?

Motivation is a huge issue with villains, and I think it's important to map out character arc and history before attempting to solidify your story. I think one of the best examples of a complex villain is Captain Barbosa from Pirates of the Caribbean. Sure, he was kind of an ass (for lack of a better term), and he's definitely the bad guy, but in the end you felt sorry that he never got to eat that apple.

When developing villains, I ask myself three questions: what do they want, why do they want it, and how do their actions oppose the protagonist?

These three questions also work for many novels in which the villain is not a specific person...for instance, The Adoration of Jenna Fox, by Mary Pearson (which happens to be one of my favorite books EVER). In this book, Jenna's main physical opposition takes the form of the government (a common theme among dystopian works - also, SPOILER ALERT).

What do they want?
The government wants to prevent widespread controversy and protest over a moral conundrum - whether or not to allow the use of bio gel, a substance that can interact with human neurons and thus rebuild damaged organs. Jenna is technically illegal (after a near-fatal car crash, her scientist father used bio gel to reconstruct roughly 90% of her body) and the government is trying to avoid the debate over artificial intelligence and whether or not a person who is 90% synthetic can actually be considered human.

Why do they want this?
Again, the government simply wants to avoid the heated political upheaval that would follow the use of bio gel to create 90% of a human brain. It is an ethically gray area, and the cultural/political repercussions could be catastrophic, particularly for the scientific community.

How do their actions oppose the protagonist?
With her reconstructed body, Jenna's existence in the US is illegal. If the government were to find out about her she could face permanent incarceration to keep her hidden from the public.

As a villain, the government has discernible, understandable goals that could have negative consequences for the protagonist.

I think we can all work on character development. It's something I've struggled with over the years, and I am constantly striving to get better, particularly when it comes to villains. Your protagonist and antagonist are, arguably, the most important characters in your story, and creating complex opposing factions gives your manuscript multiple layers and depth. I'm not saying good vs. evil stories are bad (total Harry Potter nerd here) but there's no such thing as excessive character development. For the most part, developing your villain will only make your story better.