Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Class of 2k13

Hello everyone! First of all, I did an interview over at Go Teen Writers. It's a great blog with tons of helpful tips - check it out if you're interested!

Secondly, the time has come for authors debuting in 2013 to join the Class of 2k13! My CP Liesl is helping to moderate this year's class. If you have a book coming out in 2013, go visit her blog to learn more! Here's a brief description (stolen from Liesl):

"The Classes" is an ongoing group of debut authors that started in 2007. These authors pool their time, skills, and resources to help market their books and offer support in all the ups and downs of publishing. As a group we reach out to libraries and bookstores to make them aware of our books, create swag, organize speaking engagements, create online presence, and compile and organize a wealth of information on everything from web design to book bloggers/reviewers to self-promotion tips. You'll also be paired with a mentor from the previous class who will personally guide you through your debut experience. We'll also listen to your rants about the things you can't/shouldn't share on FB, Twitter, or your blog.

Basic Requirements:

1. This must be your first book*, scheduled for release in 2013

2. Your publisher must be listed in the Children's Writers and Illustrators Marketplace or be an SCBWI PAL publisher

3. Your book should be considered a "children's book", so anything from picture book, up to young-adult.

That's it for now. Have a great Leap Year's Day!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Pretty things

Roses are red,
Violets are blue.
I re-vamped my blog,
It is pretty.

I'm a brilliant poet, as you can probably tell. In honor of my newly-prettified blog, I've decided to do a post of pretty things, because looking at pretty things always makes me happy.

Bunnies! Especially lop bunnies....I might die of cuteness.

Jesse Williams. Let's face it, he's half the reason I watch Grey's Anatomy.

Red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, because everyone knows cream cheese frosting is the best.


Kate Winslet. Not gonna lie, I have a bit of a girl crush on her....such a classy, beautiful lady. Plus, isn't her hair just amazing? I want it.

Kenyan children! These are the nursery kids from Kiamuri Primary, and they are even more adorable in person.

Beaches, people. Don't you wish you lived on a beach like this? blog! Yes. I am super proud of it, since I'm technologically challenged (you can tell by the fact that half the words in this post are inexplicably underlined) and it took me for-freakin'-ever to figure out how to move stuff around. I hope you guys like it!

And for good measure, one more picture of Jesse Williams:

Monday, February 27, 2012

It's easy, really

I just discovered the ultimate secret to writing a novel. Behold:

Who knew it was this simple? I guess I've been doing it wrong all these years. My favorite, by the way, is #4 (not only because it's totally true, but because I imagine it being said with a British accent). (My inner editor is dying because passive voice was used in the last sentence.)(Passive voice is hated by me.)

All right. I'm stopping now. I really haven't had enough sleep in the past week, and blogging without sleep leads to ramblings and tangents and other shenanigans.

Hope everyone's having a fabulous Monday (HA....if such a thing even exists).

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Finding balance

I was a competitive gymnast during my elementary school years. For the most part I loved gymnastics, and I can still do some of the simpler stuff, like handsprings and walkovers and aerials. One of the basic gymnastics moves is the handstand. Being able to hit a perfect handstand is of the utmost importance, because gymnasts end up using them on the beam as well as bars (a straight handstand is important for giants, an upper-level bar skill).

The key to a perfect handstand, I've found, is finding that point of balance. Too much, and you'll flip over into a backbend. Too little, and you'll fall back onto your feet. Once you find that balance point, you clench. Leg muscles, butt muscles, arm muscles....clenching keeps your body tight and helps you stay upright.

People always ask me how I balance writing with college, work, volunteering, sports, and social life. (Oh, and sleep.)(Hahahahahaha sleep.) For me, the hard part is finding that same balance point. I have the tendency to expect too much of myself. Last year during April and May, I forced myself to write 3,000 words a day despite the chaos of planning my upcoming graduation. I'd stay up until 3:00 a.m. doing the homework that I put off earlier. When I try to do more than humanly possible, I only end up disappointing myself, and I don't finish the necessary work. On the other hand, I'm the type of person who needs to set goals if I'm going to get anything done. Without a concrete schedule I'd just sit around watching Grey's Anatomy reruns and painting my nails.

We're all busy people. Some of you have children instead of college, or full-time jobs, or a combination of all three. When it comes to writing, you have to discover a point of balance that works for you. I personally hit that point at 1,500-2,000 words a day. Anything less, and it doesn't get done. Anything more, and I find myself sacrificing what little sleep I do get to complete last-minute homework projects. And once you hit that balance point you have to work to stay there. A gymnast will clench all her muscles to keep from falling, whereas writers use self-discipline. In order to maintain this balance, you have to write when it's time to write, rather than eating string cheese or watching Modern Family or playing around on Facebook. Stick to your schedule. Leave an hour or two for leisure, but don't let yourself skimp on writing time.

Balance is good. Balance makes us happy and less stressed and less likely to go all psycho on friends/family/the random guy in the library.

What's your balance point?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Self publishing vs. traditional - why I chose traditional

This is a topic that has cropped up quite a bit over the last year or two. There are those who laud digital self-publishing as the future of books, while others vehemently defend traditional channels, citing quality control and the necessity of gatekeepers. Now, let me be clear: I have talented writer friends who chose to self-publish. Different paths work for different people; this post is merely to illustrate why I, as a writer, have chosen to pursue traditional publishing.

1. Objectivity. When editors at major houses acquire a manuscript, they do so with no preconceived notions about the author. They select those manuscripts that are good enough to sell. Without this completely objective, highly trained line of defense, how will I know if my manuscript is good enough? Let's face it: we're not objective judges of our own work, nor are our friends, family, even critique partners. My critique partners are wonderful, but our perspective on each other's work is inevitably swayed by personal connection. Personally, I could never bring myself to self-publish, because I don't trust myself or anyone with whom I'm acquainted (even a freelance editor) to proclaim my book "good enough."

2. Editing. I've heard a lot of self-published authors talk about creative control, and how they wish to make their own decisions about their work. That's all well and good, but in my experience, as well as my traditionally published friends' experiences, editing is a very rewarding and collaborative process. When I get an editorial letter, it doesn't say "change this and this to this and this." My agent points out problem areas in the manuscript and suggests ways to fix them. However, I usually end up creating my own solutions for the problems my agent identifies. He doesn't expect me to blindly follow all his notes. It's perfectly possible to work with a good agent/editor while maintaining your own creative vision, provided you're open to criticism. And, in my experience, agents and editors are usually right. They know what they're doing, and odds are their comments will be spot-on. Again, this is a generalization. I'm sure not all editors are created equal. But I think there are far more authors who worship their editors and the help they provide than authors who complain about editors wresting their creative freedom.

3. Marketing. Yes, traditionally published authors are still expected to do much of their own marketing. But even with the expanding digital marketplace, hard copies still constitute the majority of book sales. People who recognize your book from Barnes and Noble will be more likely to buy it online later. Traditional publishers can get you into bookstores, which remains a huge advantage over self-publishing.

4. Stigma. Despite expanding digital options, there's still a huge stigma against self-published books. Why? To be quite frank, 99% of them aren't ready for the public eye. Many authors choose to self-publish because they're impatient. They don't want to spend years honing their craft until they're good enough for traditional publishing. They believe, as many new authors do (hell, I know I did), that their first book will be brilliant. They're the exception. They don't have to write four, five, six manuscripts before they stop sucking.

Once again, I'd like to reiterate that this isn't the case for all self-published books. Some are quite well-written and well-edited. But those books are easily lost amid the deluge of badly-edited, badly-written, and at times laughably awful books that flood Amazon's kindle store. No, not all traditionally published books are great literature, but there's still a certain standard set by publishing companies that most self-published books don't meet.

5. Experience. Publishers are experienced in everything, from marketing to design to editing to distribution. As a college student, I can't afford to hire professionals in order to address each of these issues.

6. National media attention. Traditional authors stand a better chance of booking radio shows, TV interviews, and reviews in national publications.

7. Sense of accomplishment. Of course, anybody who finishes a novel should feel accomplished. It's a huge achievement! But for me, getting accepted by a traditional publisher will bring a sense of accomplishment that simply doesn't exist in self-publishing. I made it. I am validated. There are writers out there who don't need to feel validated, but I personally require that extra confidence boost that comes with approval from a traditional publisher.

8. Your editor and agent push you. They push you far harder than a freelance editor would, because their paychecks depend upon the quality of the product in question. If my book isn't any good, my agent won't earn money. He makes me do revisions even when I don't want to, and now, eight months later, AILLEA'S CARDS is better than I ever would've thought possible.

These are the reasons I chose to pursue traditional publishing. But of course, I am just one person, and I am educated enough to know that not all worthy books will sell to major publishers. There are too many good writers and not enough contracts. So for those writers who elect to self-publish, perhaps that's the best path. Some people have great books that, for one reason or another, get passed over by traditional houses. This is particularly true of business-minded writers with prior experience in marketing/platform building. If you already have access to a large audience, as well as the money to pay for professional design and editing, then self-publishing may work out just dandy.

So what about you guys? Are you pushing for traditional publication, or leaning towards self-publishing?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

11 Questions!!

*Edit: I'm obviously challenged, because it took me two days (and a note from Taryn) to realize I miscounted. There are actually 13 questions.*

So I've been tagged a whopping four times (as far as I know) in the 11 questions game for the platform-building campaign. Since 44 questions is a lot to answer in one day (I'm really not that interesting, I promise), I decided to pick and choose a few from each list. Thanks to Celesta (my wonderful CP), Sarah, Daisy, and Cindy for tagging me!

1. Where in the world would you like to go?
Everywhere. I spent summer 2010 working as a volunteer in rural Kenya, and I've set my sights on Uganda for summer 2013. I'd love to visit India, Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Egypt, Peru, Brazil, Guatemala, and many other places. I plan on traveling a great deal before settling down to (hopefully) have kids.

2. Besides reading and writing, name two other hobbies you have.
I competed both as a gymnast and a soccer player. I absolutely love the outdoors, be it soccer, rock climbing, running, or hiking.

3. Are you a swimmer?
No, I suck at swimming. But I do have webbed toes, so everyone tends to assume I'm a really good swimmer.

4. Why do you write YA?
And I direct you to this post.

5. Do you have children?
I certainly hope not.

6. Have you served anyone lately?
I did a lot of community service in high school (Big Brothers Big Sisters, working in Kenya, volunteering at Shriners Children's Hospital, NHS, Write On!, Humane Society, Food Bank, you name it). My service sort of petered off as I entered college. However, I'm planning to start volunteering next month as a 24-hour rape crisis hotline operator. I'll answer phones at Utah's rape recovery center to counsel victims, and possibly meet victims at local emergency rooms to provide support as they go through the rape kit process. This is a subject that's very near and dear to my heart and I'm excited to start working with RAINN.

7. What's the last book you read?
The last book I finished was Lauren Oliver's BEFORE I FALL. I'm currently reading (and quite enjoying) CHIME, by Franny Billingsley.

8. What's your first memory?
I distinctly remember being unable to distinguish between boys and girls. According to my psychology teacher, gender differentiation occurs around the age of 24-30 months, so I was probably close to 2 years old.

7. Suzanne Collins, JK Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, Neil Gaiman, Judy Blume and John Green call. They all want you to come to their house for dinner, but all on the same night. Whose dinner invitation do you accept?
JK Rowling, without a doubt. I was the perfect age for Harry Potter. Sorcerer's Stone was the first book I read on my own (at age 6), and the final HP movie was released the summer I turned 18. I literally grew up with those books and those characters. No series has impacted my generation like Harry Potter.

8. What is the name of the first story you wrote voluntarily?
Haha. It was called Island of Dragons and Fuzzys. You can read a rather brilliant excerpt here.

9. What is the coolest/strangest thing you've ever done?
I'm not going to lie, streaking naked across an African savannah was pretty damn cool.

10. Do you work?
Hmm. Interesting question. I run a freelance editorial business with my friend Taryn (see the Teen Eyes tab at the top of my blog), I'm a soccer referee, and I write. Does writing count as work?

11. When do you do your best writing?
Honestly? Whenever I take the initiative to turn off the Internet on my computer.

So there you have it! 11 awesome questions and 11 (not so awesome) answers. Thanks again for tagging me! I've been flipping through other campaign blogs looking for people to tag, but it seems like I'm a little behind the game here, and most everyone's already done an 11 questions post. If there's someone out there who hasn't yet been tagged, I'd be more than happy to come up with questions! But for now I'll just leave it at that.

Hope everyone has a great weekend!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

We're all in this together!

Back when I first started out in the writing community, I remember perusing the acknowledgement sections of published books. It seemed as if all the big-name writers had critique parters/beta readers who were published authors themselves (Holly Black and Cassandra Clare come to mind). I recall saying, "That's not fair. They had published author friends who helped them get agents/editors! I don't have any published author friends!"

A presenter talked about a similar experience at LTUE this year. We both believed that, in order to be published, we had to find beta readers who were already successful. Over the years, I've come to realize how wrong I was. Those critique partners did it together. They started out a group of unpublished, unknown writers, and one by one they found agents, editors, and signed book deals. Already one of my betas (Liesl Shurtliff)(who is also my favorite person ever and I miss her a gajillion)(she made me add that after I added a modifier for Taryn)(am I good at parenthetical abuse or what?) has a book deal, and my beta reader (and FAVORITE PERSON EVER)(she made me add that) Taryn just signed with an agent. Slowly but surely, we are moving forward.

So here I am today, with my unpublished, unknown critique partners. And I have the utmost confidence that we are going to do this together (cue bad High School Musical reference). Someday, readers will be able to look through the acknowledgments of my books and recognize the names of my critique partners and betas. And they'll say, "It's not fair! She had published authors to help her along!"

2012 is ours, blogosphere. We are the next generation of YA/MG authors.

So.......yay for us!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


First of all, a few things:

1. Fellow PUSH Novel Contest winner Anna Waggener is having a giveaway over at her blog for three ARCS of her debut novel, GRIM! GRIM won the 2008 Scholastic Awards and from what I hear (there was buzz during my internship at Scholastic last summer) the book is awesome. It comes out in June, so go enter and support Anna!

2. I did a guest post on the PUSH Novel Contest over at Teens Can Write Too, a blog by and for teenage authors. If you're interested in the PUSH Novel Contest, or if you're just bored (I hang around the blogosphere a lot when I'm bored) you should check it out.

3. Congrats to my CP, BWB, and business partner-in-crime Taryn, who recently signed with Vickie Motter! Taryn's an amazing writer (we're almost the same age...woohoo!) and her novel, BEGGING TO BREATHE, is fantastic.

This past weekend I attended LTUE at Utah Valley University, a symposium for sci-fi and fantasy. It was awesome and I had a great time hanging out with my critique partners, Melanie and Celesta. I also got to see David Powers King and other bloggy people. Fun!

Since I don't really feel like doing an in-depth post, I thought I'd list a few random things that struck me from the panels I attended. Writers give such great advice! So without further ado, here are a few bits and pieces I picked up from the presenters.

1. Your protagonist should always be proactive. For instance, if you have a villain in your novel, and the villain has an evil plan, the protagonist's goal shouldn't just be to thwart the villain. They should have their own desires and plans that in some way counteract the villain's. In other words, make your main character proactive rather than reactive.

2. Avoid deus ex machina. For those of you who aren't familiar with the phrase, a deus ex machina is basically a copout way for a character to solve a problem. Let's say your main character gets captured. Things aren't looking good. Then, an older, wiser, and far more adept character shows up to rescue them, and they get out of the situation unscathed. This is a deus ex machina because the protagonist didn't have to solve their own problem. Not that characters can't be rescued at times, but if your book includes multiple situations such as this you may have a problem.

3. Everything should have a consequence. This was my main issue with the final Twilight book: I felt there were no real consequences. Everything turned out fine. Nobody was heartbroken, or injured, or dead. This is a large-scale example, but even on a small scale everything in your story should somehow change the main character's situation in a way that impacts the overall story development.

4. Don't give your characters stupid names. Need I say more?

5. When you're at conferences, try to utilize the buddy system. It's easier to have a friend introduce you to someone new than to introduce yourself. As a writer it's important to make networking connections at every conference you attend.

6. While networking, talk less about yourself and ask more questions about the other person.

7. Don't be rude.

8. Never give up. The single most cliched piece of advice ever given.

9. Don't freak out editors/authors/agents by being creepy.

10. Okay now I'm just listing random things because I can't think of anything else and I really wanted a list of 10.

Yay. There you have it. Did anyone else attend LTUE? How was it? Awesome? Stupendous? Life-changing? I want to hear about it!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Character arc - how much change is too much change?

Last week I finished reading Lauren Oliver's BEFORE I FALL. It was on the long side, but for the most part I thoroughly enjoyed the story from start to finish. The protagonist, Sam, isn't a particularly sympathetic character. She's a bully and her friends pick on those weaker than them. Although I found some of her actions abhorrent, the connection she had with her three best friends was very genuine and heartfelt.

As is typical with YA books, Sam undergoes an emotional transformation over the course of the story. She begins to feel awful about the way she's treated other people, and she starts paying more attention to her childhood friend, Kent, who has always had a bit of a crush on her. I think it's important that characters go through such a transformation. However, they must do so without pulling a complete 180 and acting in opposition to previous character development.

This was the one thing I loved about Sam. She realizes the error in her ways and becomes a more empathetic person, but she never ditches her friends. Popular kids are often stereotyped in books. Here's a typical scenario: girl social climbs, starts hanging out with popular girls, becomes really mean, has an epiphany, realizes being popular isn't important, and ditches her mean popular friends to hang out with the nice nerdy people.

To me, this isn't realistic. Popular people are capable of loving one another (even if they're sometimes mean to others). Even though Sam changes and recognizes that her friends aren't necessarily the nicest people, she still cares deeply about them. This led to a very satisfying transformation. Rather than coming to the conclusion that "popularity doesn't matter and thus popular kids are awful," Sam acknowledges her friends' faults, yet still loves them deeply, just as much as she did before. Because people aren't perfect. Situations are never black and white.

So when it comes to your character's emotional arc, always keep in mind their underlying personality. It's unrealistic to have a protagonist suddenly change all their values. Sam changes to some extent, ultimately sacrificing a great deal to help the people she previously tormented, but she's still the same person, who loves hanging out with her friends and dressing up and going to parties.

BEFORE I FALL is a great example of gradual character development. If you haven't already, I suggest you check it out.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Witness the creation of literary brilliance

....from my seven-year-old self. I found a stack of old stories in my elementary school scrapbook, and I thought it would be interesting (aka hilarious) to share.

*Also, if you have a moment, go check out Angelica Jackson's blog. She gave an awesome shout out to Teen Eyes and we're so grateful! Thanks, Angela!*

Island of Dragons and Fuzzys, age 7. My very first chapter book. The first page is quite amazing, if I do say so myself.

Untitled Story, age 7 1/2. Note the use of a typewriter and my discovery of quotation marks. Also, apparently I didn't understand the difference between quizzes and homework.

Magic Tree House book, age 8. I wrote this as a present for my sister, who loved the Magic Tree House series. Eight was the age at which I discovered computers.

Untitled Story 2, age 9, written with my little cousin Sophie (age 6). One of my first "novels". I use the word "was" in about every sentence.

A. What exactly are "complex features"? B. The phrase "mysterious wonder" made me want to bang my head against the wall.

So there you have it. An evolution of my writing, from age 7-9. I'd like to think I've gotten better since then, but it's a lot of fun to look back on old pieces. 

What about you guys? How old were you when you started writing? Do you have any stories saved?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Want to build your platform?

I know I don't usually post twice in one day, but I couldn't resist! For those of you who haven't heard, Rachael Harrie runs a twice-annual bloggers platform building campaign. It's a chance to meet other writers, participate in challenges, and build your platform in the process. If interested, click on the link to check it out.

Maybe I'm just stupid....

....but sometimes I can't read the little code things you're supposed to type in to prove you're human. You know, the warped letters and numbers? Does this mean I'm not human? That I'm a computer? Ahkdhlkdsjlfjdslfj *cue existential crisis*.
Anyways, these things are annoying, especially when I have to type them in every time I want to post a comment on someone else's blog. Here's the thing: unless you have a wildly popular blog with thousands of weekly visitors, you are unlikely to get spammed (my word verification's been off for over a year now and I haven't gotten a single piece of spam). So as a frequent commenter on many writing related blogs, this is a friendly suggestion: turn off word verification. It's easy enough. Go to settings, click the bar at the top that says comments, then scroll down to the word verification section. Once you turn it off, it will be easier for other people to comment on your blog.

It's not a big deal. I'll still comment on blogs with word verification, as I'm sure other people do as well. But seriously, sometimes those verification phrases are so twisted, pixelated, and distorted they're impossible to read. Am I the only one who has this trouble?

Do a favor to your blog readers and turn off word verification.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

EVERNEATH Contest Winner

And the winner of a signed copy of EVERNEATH, chosen by Random Number Generator, is.....

Taryn!!!! Yay. I'll send the book along sometime this week (or, you know, next month, knowing me). Congrats! Thanks to everyone who entered :).