Friday, February 27, 2009

Words for Teens

So today, I'm interviewed over on a great blog that's set up to inspire teens' love of reading...written by a teen herself.

Take a sec and check it out!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Helping Hand

So I've made no secret on this blog that my current manuscript hasn't come easy. There are days when it feels so arduous to put words on the page that, well, I simply don't, and that's a real rarity for me. As much as I procrastinate writing, I almost always end up getting it done, so when I just flat-out skip a writing day, well...I need to make a change.

I'm nearly halfway through the ms (yay!), so my agent and I took another spin through it and decided on some small tweaks to improve the overall structure. But I still wasn't satisfied. I felt like I was missing something, something pretty big that could take what I now felt was a three and a half-star book to a five star book. So I asked my editor to take a read through, even though she normally waits until a ms is completed.

And I am so very, very, very glad that I did.

To begin with, she really loved it, which sometimes is what a writer needs to hear. As confident as we can sometimes be in our abilities, there is often a tiny nagging voice of doubt, and given how hard this ms has been for me to write, well, yeah, I heard that voice loud and clear. So I now feel like, yeah, I'm on the right track!

But more importantly, with her objective (and seasoned) set of eyes, she made a few plot suggestions that I think are just what the book needs, taking it from good to great, and in doing so, she's really renewed my enthusiasm to sit down and write the hell out of this thing. These are tweaks that I really do not think I would have come up with on my own, and you know what? That's entirely okay. I think that too often, writers fall into the trap of believing that their job is that of sole creator or that it's an entirely solitary entity. And it's so not. Collaboration can often make you a better writer, or at the very least push you to consider ideas that you might not have come up with on your own. I've long said that I'm the type of writer who can take her ms to certain place and from there, I need fresh eyes to guide me to the next level. And I'm pretty happy that I understand this about myself and my writing. If not, I'd be stuck waddling through this so-so ms that can actually be so much better. It's not as if my editor says, "write this, write that," but she helps guide me and get my creative juices flowing, and that is what the best collaborations or editorial feedback do.

So if you're stuck or just want to expand your ideas, I highly recommend bouncing your ms off a trusted reader. I really do think this can help take your work to the next level.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Truth in Fiction

Question of the day: I wrote a NaNoWriMo novel whose plot basically consisted of Experiences That I Know Well Enough to Write About. After getting deep into serious revisions, along came Big, High-Concept Idea-- one that intrigues me more, but I feel I would be BSing my way through because it isn't in any way based on my personal experience (except as a closeted celebrity stalker). How crucial do you think it is to channel personal experiences into your novels? I'm torn because I think I write more convincingly about things I've experienced, but I'm probably screwing myself by FORCING marathoning, teaching, and cat ownership into plots just BECAUSE I've experienced them. I know you emphasize that your novels aren't based on your life, but at the same time you write about women who are in broad strokes similar to you-- I'm thinking of writing about characters caught up in an utterly different world.

This is a good question, and I've touched a little bit on it before. I think you absolutely DO NOT need to write about experiences that mimic your own life experiences. Right now, my current protagonist is very, very different than I am, and her world is set in one that I've never experienced: small town, claustrophobic, limited choices, very different marriage than my own, hobbies that I, personally, have never taken an interest in, a family dynamic totally unlike my own. But the beauty of writing something outside of your personal scope of knowledge is that these days, with the help of the internet, it's not that difficult to do enough research on whatever sort of life you put your characters into, that you can really have an understanding of their situations. (Which I'm doing in my current book with things like infertility and my heroine's love of photography.)

Another example of this is the fact that I had limited experience with cancer when I wrote The Department, and certainly, no first-hand knowledge. I tracked down oncologists, spoke to patients, etc, and found a way to incorporate this research into the book pretty fluidly WITHOUT it having anything to do with my real life. The same held for her job in politics. Ditto Jillian from Time of My Life working at an advertising firm. Again, no previous knowledge of it before I started writing, but I knew it was the best thing for the character. (Because, let's be honest, if I were writing from personal experience, all of my characters would be freelance writers who work from home!) And, um, obviously, I've never gone back in time. :)

I think, and I've said this before, the key to creating a realistic, albeit fiction, world is to have an EMOTIONAL connection with your characters and their struggles. Again, I have very little in common with Tilly, my current WIP protagonist, but I do understand her desire to control her life, control her future, and that's our shared connection. With Natalie from The Department, I understood her bull-headedness and her interest in exploring her past to improve her future. With Jillian, I connected with her "what ifs," even though I'm content with my own life. Right now, with Tilly, it's enough for me to delve inside her brain and her world, and hopefully, bring her to a multi-dimensional, full-fleshed out life. So, I say, go for it! Start anew on that BIG concept and see where it leads you.

Readers, how much in common do you have with your own characters?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Brag About Your Blog?

Question of the day: Should I mention that I have a blog or am part of a network of blogs in my query letter to an agent?

My initial - and very strong - reaction to this question is a resounding NO. That is, unless your blog has a big enough following, like my pal Jen Lancaster's, to merit it, in which case, hell yeah. But the thing about blogging is that everyone can do it. In fact, nearly everyone IS doing it, so mentioning this doesn't mean squat to an agent. I'd go so far as to say that it might actually highlight your lack of other strong credits. I mean, if you've written for journals or magazines or won short story awards or what have you, then THAT's worth mentioning, and if the only thing you have TO mention is your blog, the agent might wonder why you don't have anything else.

(I'm not trying to suggest that you have to have other credits. You don't for fiction, but certainly, if you have them, highlight them. And highlighting your blog might instead draw attn to your lack of them.)

Now, if yours is the rare case of having a huge readership, then yeah. That's considered part of your platform, and by all means, mention it, mention your target audience, mention how it can help you land this book deal and how it will help you market the book. But in other situations? I'd leave it alone.

Anyone have other thoughts on the matter?