Thursday, October 25, 2012

To Anyone Who Has Ever Blogged About YA Cover Design

... and complained about how there aren't enough people of color,
... or too many girls in fancy dresses,
... or not enough people in everyday street clothes,
... or how you hate seeing girls in pieces,
... or overly sexualized,
... or from behind,
... or on a black background,
... and why can't we just get a real girl on the cover for once:

Featured 

HERE IS A COVER FOR YOU. 
BUY THIS BOOK. 
IF ENOUGH OF YOU DO IT, 
IT WILL MAKE EVEN MORE OF A 
DIFFERENCE THAN YOUR BLOG POSTS. 

Need more cover awesomeness? Here is the back, for anyone who's ever wanted to see a person with a disability on a book jacket:
Inside the Book

And you can read the starred review from PW here.

Links to Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: 

(This is not a book I edited, by the way. But I swear to God:  Support covers you like, and change happens.)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Revised Plot Checklist

Recently I sat down to analyze a couple of the novel manuscripts I'm working on, and as is my wont, I ran them through my Plot Checklist, which helps me ensure that I know (and more importantly, the reader knows) what the story is, what is at stake, what emotional ends we're working toward, that things actually happen, and all those other good things. However, the version of the Checklist I featured on my website (which is also the version included in Second Sight) hadn't kept pace with some of my thinking about plot -- particularly what I'm currently teaching in my Plot Master Class,

So I revised the Checklist for my own use, and put the revised version up on my website here, again with a Word template for downloading. (The old checklist is still up here, at the address given in the book.) If you've read Second Sight, the four biggest changes you'll notice are:

  1. The addition of "Desire" to this page. I discuss it in the character talk, but a Desire is such a useful structuring element for a plot -- giving your protagonist a defined goal -- that I wanted to include it here too.
  2. The addition of "Obstacles" -- the things that get in the way of the Desire or of the task your character must accomplish in the novel. Generally there are both Overarching Obstacles -- the major things your protagonist must overcome, like the distance to Mount Doom -- and Periodic Obstacles -- problems in each individual period of the journey. They can be both internal and external (and there probably should be both internal and external obstacles).
  3. "Periods": Rather than thinking about individual Escalating & Complicating Events, I now try dividing a manuscript into periods. A period is a set of Escalating & Complicating Events that occur within a limited period of time, often with one other particular person or in one particular place, during which time your protagonist changes in one particular way. They are often joined by Turning Points (but there are usually more of them than just three or four, so they aren't quite Acts, in the screenplay-structure sense).
  4. "The Experiential Point" -- I wrote about this here.
If you use the checklist, I hope you find it useful! I'll next be teaching my Plot Master Class in Utah on November 17 -- registration here -- and I believe spaces are still open in Hawaii in February as well. The online version will start up in December, and if it goes well, we may run it again next spring. This blog will have details. 

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Postscript: Stephanie Trimberger's Book Signing

A few weeks ago, I posted a request for the good people of the Pacific Northwest to come out and support Stephanie Trimberger at her book signing for The Ruby Heart. Said people responded in force, and you can see Stephanie, her father, Arthur, and footage from the event in this wonderful MSN.com video here. Have Kleenex at the ready:

"Harry Potter" editors make dream come true

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

A Chain of News Links

Two terrific books pubbed officially yesterday:  The Savage Fortress, by Sarwat Chadda, and Stealing Air, by Trent Reedy. I wrote about The Savage Fortress for the CBC Diversity blog here, cheerfully (and with Sarwat's full approval) calling it a book of "no socially redeeming value" -- which is one of the many things that actually makes it awesome. But you should also read Sarwat's own wonderful blog post on the reasons why he wanted to write this book, to satisfy his ten-year-old self "who always wanted another hero like him." And when you're done with that, please hop on over to the Scholastic Savage Fortress site and play the "Master the Monsters" game. I am terrible -- TERRIBLE -- at video games, so my high score on this game is 600; my compliments to anyone who can do better than I did (e.g. the average five-year-old). There's good stuff to come on Stealing Air as well. 

Speaking of diversity:  In this week's Narrative Breakdown, James and I and our return guest Matt Bird discuss creating ensemble casts, including Matt's excellent theory on Heads, Hearts, and Guts, and why there are so few characters of color in ensembles like Girls or Sex and the City. Subscribe on iTunes, and do please comment, review, or tell us what you'd like to see more of!

Speaking of developing your writing muscles: If you'd like to see me give my Plot Master Class in person, registration for the November 17 edition in Salt Lake City is now open! To get a sense of the topics covered, check out the description for the online edition of the class (which is sold out, I'm sorry to say. If I'm able to balance work and my responsibilities in teaching it, we'll run it again sometime next year). I believe there are also still spaces available at both the Master Class and the SCBWI general conference in Hawaii on February 22 & 23, 2013 -- e-mail Lynne Wikoff at lwikoff at lava dot net if you're interested.

Speaking of appearances in connection with educational opportunities, did you know J. K. Rowling is doing a virtual author visit with schools, in support of the new Harry Potter Reading Clubs? You can register a class for the webcast here.


And there the chain comes to an end. Or wait -- a little delight to send you on your way:


Monday, October 01, 2012

All About THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ME: Behind the Book, Q&A, and Giveaway!

Two and a half years ago, I received a few sample chapters of an unsolicited manuscript that made me laugh out loud from the very first page, so I immediately wrote to the author and asked her to send me the whole thing. It was called The Encyclopedia of Me, and it was the brilliant story of twelve-year-old Tink Aaron-Martin. When Tink gets grounded, she decides to use the time to write an encyclopedia of her life, encompassing her family, with two loving parents and two older brothers, Lex and Seb (the latter of whom is autistic); her hairless cat, Hortense; her fickle best friend, Freddie Blue Anderson; and, as the summer unfolds, a new interest in skateboarding and an equal interest in the blue-haired skateboarding boy next door, Kai (whom the much more assertive Freddie Blue just might like as well). The manuscript at that time alternated portions of the encyclopedia with straight-narrative sections. I loved the format, but what I loved even more was the voice, which was capable of hilarious observations like this one: 
Seb frequently smells as bad as Lex, but different. This is mostly because he staunchly refuses to shower more than three times in a week. If you are ever not sure which twin you are dealing with, breathe deeply. If your senses are kickboxed into an eye-watering stupor by the stinging stench of cheap cologne, it’s Lex. If they curl up and die due to the overwhelmingly hideous moldy pong of sweat, combined with the antiseptic, lemony zing of hand sanitizer, it’s Seb. Easy, see?
But Tink's voice was also capable of great sensitivity and thoughtfulness, in contemplating Freddie Blue's behavior or her favorite tree. All the characters felt as rich and flawed and warm and complicated as many real people I know. Tink is biracial, but it's simply a fact of who she is, not the source of any angst (beyond an inability to get her hair to behave). And Karen fully dramatized some great set-piece scenes, like the one where Freddie Blue, Tink, and Kai try to spend the night in a department store. A terrific voice, wonderful characters, the ability to execute some great scenes, genuine emotion, and that aforementioned laugh-out-loud humor all made me fall in love with the book, and I signed it up as soon as I could.

Over the next year and a half, Karen and I worked together to absorb the narrative sections into the encyclopedia entries and turn the entire book into an encyclopedia, with the plot unfolding alphabetically from A-Z. This involved (nobody who knows me will be shocked to hear) a lot of outlines at first, as Karen cataloged all her plot events and encyclopedia entries and mapped them onto each other; and then a lot of cutting and adding, tweaking and refining right up through the proofreading stages, as we juggled entries, photos, and footnotes in within our allotted 256 pages. But the book remained both intensely emotional and very funny -- a perfect tween-girl smart read, and equally great for fans of YA writers like E. Lockhart or Jaclyn Moriarty. Recently I asked Karen some questions about herself and the book.
 
First things first:  What would your own encyclopedia entry look like?

Rivers, Karen (June 12, 1970 - forever). (Karen prefers not to die.) Author of many wonderful novels for children, teenagers, and adults. Born in British Columbia, Canada, she went to college for ages and ages and studied a little bit of almost anything, having contemplated at various different times careers in theatre, journalism, law, and medicine. Then she worked at the phone company and some equally scary places before becoming a writer full-time. She has always loved giant sets of encyclopedias because they contain all knowledge! (As well as for their beautiful gold-edged pages, of course.) She has two splendid children who never fight or spill things, and a dog who -- if properly inspired by a squirrel -- can actually climb trees.  (Only one of those statements is not 100% true.) She can usually be found walking slowly up or down the mountain behind her house, thinking things or taking photographs, or -- on a good day -- both. 

Which came first with The Encyclopedia of Me, the story or the format? How did the other one follow?

I think the story came first, or rather, the character. At the time that I started to write this book, I think my kids were just babies. My older son, my stepson, is autistic. And at the time, his autism was really consuming our lives. Most of our waking hours were spent dealing with certain situations, supporting him, or talking about his autism and how we were going to deal in the longer term. One of the things we talked about was what it would be like for siblings to have an older brother for whom different rules applied. That was basically the germ of the idea of the story, simply that it would be the sibling's story and the autism would merely be on the periphery and normalized because that would be all the sibling would ever have known. It was so much in my consciousness, in a way I think it was my way of trying-on-for-size what that might be like.

When I began to write, Tink originally was going to read the entire set of encyclopedias, inspired by A.J. Jacobs's The Know-It-All. As I wrote, it seemed implausible that she would get past the first As (I started reading them again myself and was struggling by the third entry), so she started to make up her own. It evolved from there. I know people roll their eyes when author's say "It wrote itself!"  But in this case, the format decided itself and it was something of an accident. Originally, it was straight narrative with the entries scattered throughout, but then we decided to take a stab at making the whole book fit the format. In addition to working well with the story (I think!), it was also fun and challenging to write. Sometimes it even felt impossible.  

This is going to sound as crazy as the "It wrote itself!" comment, but I will say that it's much more satisfying to write a book that's really really hard to write, from a technical standpoint. It makes me understand, on a completely different level, why people climb Everest for fun. Having successfully done it once, I have all kinds of ideas for other novels structured like specifically formatted books, such as cook books and etiquette books and ... the possibilities are limitless!

What attracts you to encyclopedias?

The idea that a book holds all the answers. Of course, now I'm grown up, I understand that knowledge changes and evolves, and looking at old encyclopedias, you realize they are full of things that we subsequently now know more/differently/better.  But as a child, they were flat-out the answer to everything. I think Wikipedia is similarly attractive now, but it isn't quite the same.  You don't randomly flip through Wikipedia while lying on the hall carpet on an endlessly long summer day, discovering things about Sri Lanka or the endocrine system that you never knew. The magic of random discovery has pretty much been lost with the loss of print encyclopedias, which makes me sad. I'm ashamed to admit that I don't currently HAVE a set of encyclopedias, but I wish that I did.   I'm slightly hoarder-like and collector-inclined, I think I would like to have sets from various different decades, just to play compare-and-contrast with them (I have dictionaries and etiquette books and medical books across decades, which are lots of fun). But I live in the world's smallest house! So that might not work.

What sort of challenges did you face in working the story into an alphabetical, encyclopedic form?

There was a very real risk that the plot was going to be compromised by trying to force it into a mold. Making the story flow was incredibly tricky (as you know!). The last thing we wanted was for anyone to read the book and be conscious of the manipulation of the plot to fit the alphabet, so we made a real effort to simply tell the story as a straight narrative that incidentally was displayed in alphabetical order. 

Describe your favorite writing space and time.

I love to write during the day because it's a novelty. For the last seven years, most of my writing has been done at night on a laptop in bed (for warmth), after the kids are asleep. I've seen more of 3 a.m. than I'd like to have seen! Now my kids are in school full time and I can sit (!) at the dining room table and write while actually properly awake. It remains to be seen if this improves the quality of my work.   
What novels were the biggest influence on you when you were a young reader? And what encyclopedia did you grow up using?

I read so voraciously as a child and a young adult that isolating books now to say they were more or less influential than any others feels like I'd be contriving an answer to fit what I feel an author should say, as opposed to the truth. The truth was I read everything, absolutely everything that I had access to, in massive volumes. We did not watch TV (or at least the TV we had had a blown picture tube, so we could only watch about 30 minutes a day before the tube gave up, and it involved using pliers and getting electrical shocks to turn it on). We read. I read between seven and ten books per week for most of my childhood/teen years.    

When I say we read everything, I really mean it. My mum was briefly in a Danielle Steele phase, and I read those as eagerly as I read Little Women or A Wrinkle in Time or Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret. Or Flowers in the Attic, for that matter.  My dad read mostly books about war and tall ships, so I have this absurdly detailed understanding of tall ships based on reading the Horatio Hornblower series repeatedly. There was never really a distinction made between "adult" books and "kid" books in my family; nor was there any fuss made about genre fiction vs. literary fiction. They belonged to Book Of The Month club, which I don't think exists anymore, but involved getting condensed versions of popular books in a bound volume every month. We loved those. It's impossible not to be influenced by everything you read; whether it's good or bad, there is something you can take away from it. I suppose it's only a matter of time before I write a tear-jerking romance that is set on a brigantine.  

As an adult looking back, I'd say if I wanted to be inspired by anyone's career, I'd pick Judy Blume.  She really perfected the whole "You are going to be OK" genre of realist YA.  Madeleine L'Engle I think redefined the parameters of middle-grade fiction, blurring lines of fantasy and reality, and I love her for that. I love everyone who tried something new or different and just really went for it, both back then and now. 
You’ve written a number of novels about this preteen/early teen stage of life, and especially the family/friends/young romance conflicts that I think are the bread-and-butter of older middle-grade. What attracts you to writing about this time period? Was it a significant time in your own life?

I learned a while ago (after I was already writing YA) that a person's frontal lobe doesn't fully develop until they are in their early twenties. I'm paraphrasing (and possibly mis-remembering), so don't quote me on this, but I believe the gist of it was that until the frontal lobe finishes developing, people are actually biologically unable to view the world in a not-entirely-egocentric way. The idea that people (and characters) are limited by this brain development to seeing the world in this utterly up-close way at all times is fascinating to me. It explains why I can remember with 100% clarity, things that happened to me, who I had a crush on, what I wore, and how I felt when I was young, but I have only vague recall of what I said or did or wore in the intervening decades. The intensity of that stage of life is what draws me to it again and again. The first time you feel something, it's so powerful. Kids are figuring out who they are, like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, except more like a Choose-Your-Own-Character. The possibilities are endless, which makes teen and pre-teen characters so much fun (and so endlessly interesting) to write.

As a teen/pre-teen, I never felt quite comfortable in my own skin.  Now, when I talk to the kids who I perceived as problem-free and popular and perfect, I find out that they struggled with similar feelings. Who knew? It seems as though everyone always feels like they are slightly on the outside, looking in. In a way, I want to send a missive to my younger self that effectively says, "Look!  Everyone else feels the same way! You are going to be OK!" Except maybe now I can send the bulletin to my readers:  You ARE going to be OK. I promise.

Links:
Giveaway! Even though the hardcover is now in stores, I have a few ARCs of this still lurking around my office, and I'd be delighted to see them go to good homes. Your challenge:  Write a brief encyclopedia entry either for yourself or for the main character of your work-in-progress, and post it either in the comments below or on your own blog/journal/Facebook. (If you do it on your own website, please leave a link here.) I'll decide a winner by the 15th. Thanks!