Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Writing A Novel: Time For Revisions!


When I tell people I'm a writer, I usually get asked these two questions: How many pages is your book? or How long did it take to write it? The answers for both are: It depends and ... it REALLY depends.

Most books go through about a million revisions. My children's writing teacher recently mapped out just how many revisions he had to deal with when putting together his book... and this was a picture book with much fewer words. But by the time an author does several drafts herself, then goes through changes with an agent and then editor, you can end up with a much different -- and presumably much better -- book than the one you'd originally written.

That teacher suggested that if we have someone read our stuff, we ideally find a person who cares about you... but knows what good writing is. Your grandma may care about you, but can she really give you an objective opinion?

My goal is to make my novel as good as possible BEFORE I query agents so I had several writer friends read my first draft and then had another author do a thorough edit on my second draft. She came back to me with 15 pages of notes!

She was very encouraging and I LOVE her suggestions... but I have a lot of work ahead of me. It's work I enjoy, but I still need a day to process her ideas and figure out how I'll tweak my story. And this is why I'm procrastinating by posting in this blog, LOL.

I'm grateful to have writers in my life who will cheer me on but also be honest about my manuscripts. I believe in Novel No. 2 and know that with this friend's help, it's going to be an even better story than it was before.

We're going on vacation in about a month and my goal is to finish these revisions by that time. Then it will be time to chase agents... again.

Meantime, please read and review REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Writing For Children: A Kid's Point Of View


This past weekend, I spent time with my 6 1/2-year-old niece. She's extremely intelligent -- and I'm not just saying that because I'm a biased aunt; she already reads at a fifth or sixth grade level. She's way past picture books and has already devoured the Little House series. Right now, she's obsessed with books that follow girls from various periods in the past.

My niece also loves to make up and write her own stories. She has a wild imagination and reminds me a bit of myself at her age. She especially likes to create stories about magical creatures, such as fairies and unicorns.

Anyway, my children's writing teacher noted that one of the best ways to get ideas for kids' books is to simply spend time with kids. I took advantage of this and picked my niece's brain for the types of books she'd love to read. Here are some of her ideas: they're pretty interesting!

1. Have a story where the princess DOESN'T marry the prince. My niece is already very cautious about making stereotypes (and yes, she knows the word and what it means) and already has strong opinions about how women should be independent. Her parents are raising her well! She likes princess stories, but would like to see something that doesn't follow the typical formula. Frozen came close, but there was still a romance...

2. Lost jewels and imaginary animals. She loves the idea of a magical land filled with treasures and never-seen-before creatures. This idea has been done many times, but hey, a classic is a classic.

3. Poor and needy shepherds. She'd like to read a story about lower class characters who AREN'T secret royals or don't have special powers. She wants to read about people succeeding through hard work... or a story, like Robin Hood, where the poor are helped.

I don't know if my niece is going to end up becoming a writer herself. She's still quite young and insists she's going to become a vet or a paleontologist... or the President. I envy her for having so much hope for her future! I do hope she continues to write, though, and continues to be a cool, quirky, creative little girl.

Check out and review my YA novel REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Writing A Novel: Putting The "I" In Writer


My children's writing class is still going well. We have a very small group this time -- in the last class, only two of us showed up -- so we're able to get a lot of attention from our instructor and have many more opportunities to get our work critiqued. It's been interesting, to say the least.

A couple of weeks ago, I handed in an excerpt from my latest work-in-progress, which is a sci fi YA novel. Most of the comments were positive, but our teacher really didn't like that I'm writing it in first person. His argument is that whenever he reads something written in first person, he wonders who the narrator is speaking to and it takes him out of the story. If a novel is going to be written in this manner, he prefers it if the narrator is writing in a journal or speaking to a therapist, or sharing the story with a friend, etc.

I respectfully disagree. I've always assumed that the narrator is speaking with us, the readers. Yes, if you think about it, you do have to question how the fourth wall is being broken exactly, but it's just one of those things when you suspend disbelief. Even when a novel is written in third person, you have to wonder how the narrator knows all of these intimate details about "real" characters. Yeah, yeah, it's the author and he or she knows EVERYTHING, but the whole idea of reading fiction is to suspend disbelief!

I personally enjoy reading first-person novels because I feel as if I can truly get into a character's head. I like writing them for the same reason. I like third person, too, but first person is very intimate. One isn't really better than the other. It's just my preference.

My teacher suggested that I frame the story and have the narrator speak to someone or record his thoughts, but I really don't want to do that. There are some books where this works; for instance, the narrator writes in her journal in Sloppy Firsts and throughout most of Megan McCafferty's Jessica Darling series. This is perfect for that character, though, and doesn't work for my narrator. There are only so many times when a character can keep or journal or talk to a shrink. I don't want to have to depend on that literary device.

My novel isn't even a full draft at this point; it's a few sample chapters and a vague outline of things to come. But for now, I'm sticking with my original plan and keeping it in first person. I'm not sure where my story is going, but I'm secure with this choice.

Meanwhile, check out my other first-person novel REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Adventures In Children's Book Writing


My Children's Book Writing course has begun -- and I'm finding it to be way more interesting than I'd thought.

I signed up for the course because it's the closest thing to writing YA that Gotham Writers Workshop offers, at least this semester. I figured I'd just kind of ignore the lectures on crafting picture books and put my energy into writing stuff for older kids and teens. But after learning more about how picture books are constructed, I'm fascinated. It's a lot harder than I thought. It wasn't fair for me to assume this was an "easy" thing to do.

Writing the text for a picture book is almost like putting together a movie script with directionals. For example, the first line might be, "Jim and Joe are friends," and then you'd have a directional, (Jim and Joe hugging each other). These are there so the illustrator has an idea of what to draw ... only you're supposed to keep the drawing suggestions rather vague so the illustrator can have some freedom to interpret the concept. Writing is pretty collaborative, anyway, especially when you're dealing with agents and editors, but this takes it to a whole other level. Picture books are very visual, even for the writers. You might be thinking, "Well, duh!" but it's a challenge for me to think about where the text and picture might go on the page.

Because of this, layout is super important and when writing the text, you have to actually say which page the text should fall on and which pictures should be two-page spreads, etc. Yeah, there are fewer words, but the arrangement is a lot more complex.

And, of course, the story still has to be a good one! There may be fewer than 300 words in a kids' book, but it still has to be a gripping tale that makes sense. Trimming things down to that degree is tough. You have to say what you absolutely mean.

Our homework assignment was to write a character who performs an action that has unexpected consequences -- all said in fewer than 500 words. I came up with a silly idea about my cat that began as a joke ... but ended up with a cute idea for a story. My husband was in hysterics when I read it to him and my friend Amy, who has an 18-month-old son enjoyed it, too. Now I'm wondering if I should actually finish thing thing and submit it somewhere. I have no idea how to go about doing this, at least not yet, but it would be funny if after all this time, I end up selling a story for much younger children.

Meanwhile, I'm still working on my latest YA book, the action/adventure one, and am still doing edits on Novel No. 2. So I have a lot going on! It's all good, though. I like keeping my mind and creativity busy. And props for children's book writers... I have new-found respect for what you do!

Read and review my novel REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD on Amazon.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

R.I.P., My Wonderful Friend


This weekend I lost a very close friend of mine. She was sick her entire life and these past couple of months were especially difficult, so I'm not surprised by her death. Still, I can't quite believe that she's no longer in this world.

She and I met about 15 years ago through a mutual friend. It took us a while to grow close because she was very quiet and often kept to herself, but once I did get to know her, I quickly learned what a strong and brave woman she was.

She suffered from constant pain and endured frequent hospital visits/surgeries, but rarely complained and did as much as she was capable of doing. I was often surprised by just how much she could do -- such as when she joined me for a four-mile walk around Central Park. She was tiny; maybe weighed 80 pounds at most, but she had nerves of steel.

Though she had many problems of her own, she almost never asked for help. The last thing she ever wanted to be was a burden. I used to get annoyed with her because she'd constantly apologize for everything, say, "I'm sorry" all of the time. But she just wanted the people around her to be happy and to be the best friend possible.

When it came to her friends, she went out of her way for us. If you were performing in a concert, she was there. If it was your birthday, she'd celebrate with you. The only times she missed out was when she wasn't feeling well enough. When I broke my leg, I was being a big baby about needing surgery so she schlepped out from Brooklyn to Long Island to be there for at the hospital. When my grandmother was on her death bed, my friend accompanied me to see her and managed to coax a smile and coherent conversation out of my grandma. This was the last time I saw my grandmother, so I think of this as a gift from my friend.

As for my writing, my friend was always very encouraging of my work. She's the one who told me that my style reminded her of Ned Vizzini's. She always cheered me on and I greatly appreciate that.

My friend liked to write, too, but I unfortunately never got a chance to read her work. I was always asking to take a look and offered to help edit it, but she was shy about sharing her words. I wish I'd had the chance, not because I'm nosy, but because it would have allowed me to get inside her head. As close as we were, it was difficult to fully understand what she was dealing with -- though I always tried and was as supportive as possible.

I'm angry that she was taken from me at such a young age, but am grateful that I got to have her in my life for as long as I did. I'm going to miss her, but will always remember her kindness, bravery and loving spirit.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Book Review: The Divergent Series


I tend to go through periods where I read certain types of books. Right now I'm on a memoir kick since I just finished that memoir writing class. For a while, I plowed through a series of sports biographies. Last year, I read a bunch of dystopian novels. I began with The Hunger Games trilogy, then moved on to the Matched series, then the Delirium trilogy, then Pretties, then The Program and then finally Divergent.

By the time I got to Divergent, I was pretty worn down by these action-packed, but -- let's face it -- rather depressing series and I didn't really give the novel the attention it deserved. I read through it quickly, then put it aside, not bothering to finish the trilogy. My friend insisted that the sequel, Insurgent, was even better than the first, but I needed a break from these bleak stories.

Well, I recently saw Divergent: The Movie and enjoyed it -- and decided to give the series another chance. For the most part, I'm glad I did. There are minor spoilers ahead; I'm keeping them pretty vague, but read at your own risk.

The first book is well-written and well-paced. Readers are introduced to this futuristic society, which takes place in what was once Chicago. Almost everyone lives in five "factions," which are Abnegation, Erudite, Dauntless, Amity and Candor. At 16, teens take an aptitude test to determine which faction they'll most likely fit. Those unfortunate souls who don't fit in anywhere or are kicked out of a group are "factionless" and have to survive on the streets. Our narrator, Beatrice "Tris" Prior, is an anomaly because she qualifies for three factions... and is therefore "divergent."

Tris, who was raised an Abnegation, chooses Dauntless, and we follow her as she endures a grueling initiation period (think boot camp on steroids). During this time, she falls for one of her instructors, nicknamed "Four." As she grows stronger and their relationship deepens, she learns of a faction leader's evil plans ... and it's up to Tris to be the hero.

Insurgent picks up in the middle of the conflict and Tris' physical and mental strength are really challenged. And then everything falls apart in the final book, Allegiant.

I really liked Tris in the first two books. She's strong and tough, but isn't perfect. I rooted for her to win her fight, and I loved her relationship with Four. In some cases, it was a little hard to buy that a 16-year-old would react in such mature ways, but I could easily suspend my disbelief because the society was so extreme.

The story itself also moved along nicely in the first two books. The secondary characters were interesting and you really got to know the ins and outs of this particular society. In fact, Future Chicago was a character itself which tied everything together.

Unfortunately, Allegiant did not live up to the other books. For one thing, it's written from Tris and Four's points of view. I usually like when there are different narrators, but they sounded exactly the same! I'm not a huge fan of the Twilight series, but the one positive thing I'll say about those books is that in Jacob's chapters, he sounded very different from Bella.

My second issue with Allegiant is that Chicago is an afterthought. Yes, our heroes finally get to see what's "outside the fence," but there is still a lot going on inside the city -- and we're mostly told about it from second-hand sources. I don't want to hear about major events taking place; I want to SEE them. It's that whole show vs. tell concept... and in this case, there was way too much telling.

The worst thing about Allegiant is that it's dull and the main reveal doesn't make much sense. It took me over a week to finish it, which is long for me, and I really made it to the end out of obligation. There are many new characters introduced whom we just don't have the time to get to know or care about and there is a lot of exposition. I wasn't bothered by the controversial ending, but by the time the Big Event happened, I was just ready for the book to reach its conclusion.

It's a shame that Allegiant was such a disappointment because I think that author Veronica Roth is talented and has a lot of potential. She's only in her 20s, so she's still very young and I'm wondering if the pressure of writing such a popular series got to her? I felt as if this last book were rushed and not very well thought out ... and I can imagine her struggling to reach a particular deadline, especially with the movie coming out. I hope she gets to take a breather and really have time to plot out her next work (if she chooses to write something else) because I'm eager to see what she comes up with. Since I did like 2/3 of her series, I'm definitely going to give Roth another chance.

Do I recommend Divergent? Yes ... with the warning that you might not like the ending. The series was worth reading, though, because I did enjoy the story along the way.

Please check out my YA romance novel REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Writing A Novel: Starting From Scratch


My last memoir writing class was this Monday. When it was time for everyone to leave, most of the students thanked my teacher and shook her hand. When I did this, she pulled me into a hug. It means a lot to me that she has so much respect for me as a writer and person. In the 10 weeks of classes, I really do feel I learned so much. I'm excited to see what children's writing will be like. I'll find out this upcoming Monday!

I'm currently editing Novel. No 2, but have also begun a draft for Novel No. 3. I originally planned to revise another old manuscript which I'd written a few years ago, but then got this idea and have decided to try it out. This latest piece is a sci fi story and is written from a boy's point of view. I usually write from the girl's POV and tend to favor realistic fiction, so this is a big departure for me. But it's a fun topic and I welcome the challenge. We'll see where it goes.

My main goal is to have Novel No. 2 "agent ready" by the end of this month. I have a few large sections that need revision and will then go through the book to fix as many typos, other errors, as possible. Then I'll send it out and see what happens. Perhaps the third time is the charm?

I always seem to get a lot of writing done in the spring. I'm not sure why -- maybe because it's a season that feels like a new start? I'm looking forward to seeing how these manuscripts turn out.

Meanwhile, please read and review REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.