Friday, July 29, 2011

"Oh, You're a Writer? What Do You Write?"

Today on her blog, literary agent Sarah LaPolla addresses this issue: you're talking to an acquaintance/someone you're meeting for the first time, and they find out you're a writer. They inevitably ask you, "What do you write?"

I hate this question.

Despite being very forthcoming about my writing on this blog, on the AW forums, basically anywhere online, I'm extremely shy about it in real life. I have fairly close friends who only have vague knowledge of my writerly affliction. If people know about specific projects at all, they only have the murkiest idea of what my latest book kind-of-sort-of is about.

When the "what do you write" question comes into the conversation, I freeze up. I wish I could just say "YA" and have that be that, but outside of the YA world, people have no idea what those two letters stand for.

I usually answer the question with "teen fiction."

The next question, almost every time, is "Oh, like Twilight?"

And I say no, not like Twilight at all. When they probe a little deeper and ask for what the novel is about, I say something along the lines of this:

"Oh, um, well, there's this family, and they have fifteen kids, and the sixth child is, like... not happy? So she starts, like, creating this fake online persona, and, like, then she's actually a man."

This gets me polite smiles and nods and quick changes of subject.

Which I'm glad for. For some reason, talking about writing is really hard for me. Even my mom, my cheerleader throughout the querying process, only knows the above vague summary. My two best friends have actually read my work, but besides that... I write in secret. Maybe because writing has been such an all-consuming passion of mine for so long that it feels too personal to let people in on it.

Real life people, that is. You online folks get to hear everything.

I suppose I'll have to break the code of silence and shout from the rooftops someday, but for now, I'm a secret agent writer, writing under cover of darkness.

That sounds so much cooler than it really is.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I'm Fine, How Are You?

As my neurosis-soaked last post might inform you, I've kind of been in the revision cave lately. I think I'm going to give a final push on this until July 31st, and then on the first day of August I'm going to leap headfirst into a new WIP during my stint at Camp NaNoWriMo! I'm so excited for that. I'm a huge, huge fan of NaNoWriMo and I always wish I had the drive to do it during other months besides November. Lo and behold, NaNo answered my prayers!

So, tell me, what are you guys up to? I really want to know. I feel like we don't talk enough. By the way, you look great! :)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Wisdom from the Revision Trenches

Lately I've been working on a revision of TKoGU. Among the (many) things I'm working on in this round is lowering the wordcount. THE KING OF GROWING UP is contemporary YA, a genre where normal wordcounts are between ~40k-65k, maybe going as high as 80k if you're a multi-published author. My wordcounts for this genre are usually around 50k, with FAKE clocking in at 64k.

But TKoGU, at the end of the first draft, clocked in at 90k.


My problem isn't that it's full of useless scenes and filler. My problem is that it isn't. Almost everything is crucial to the story, there isn't all that much plot fat to cut. I found a few scenes that could go, but mostly I've been skimming the prose itself to try to cut that wordcount down.

I try to play a game with myself sometimes while I'm editing. I try to cut as many words as possible, being absolutely ruthless. If a single word doesn't improve a sentence, it goes. If a line of dialogue isn't absolutely necessary, it goes. Watching that wordcount go down is thrilling, and I feel like I'm really accomplishing something. I got it down to 87k, which is an improvement, if only slight.

But today, while I was playing this weirdo game, I came across a chunk of the story where some dialogue needed to be tweaked to reflective new information that had come in earlier in the revision. A character needed to say a few more things for that information to make sense in this scene.

That required a few extra words. I was worried for a minute. Wasn't I losing my game if my wordcount went from 87,031 to 87,045? Maybe I shouldn't add those couple extra things, are they really THAT necessary?

Then I stopped myself. I just started thinking, "This is stupid. The story needs that dialogue to change. So what if it's a couple words longer?"

The exact amount of words doesn't matter a whit compared to the quality of words.

If I was adding a couple words, but they were good words and not just fluffy filler words, then that's totally fine. I'd rather have a story a few words above where I'd like it to be than a story that is perfect word-wise, but doesn't make any sense.

I hope my lesson learned helps someone out there. Anybody else play the silly wordcount reduction game?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Thoughts on Settings

Settings are one of the foundations of novels -- along with characters, themes, plots, etc. -- and yet I'd say it's one of the most flexible of those foundations.

I'm going to use YA novels as examples because, let's face it, that's what I'm into.

In some novels, setting isn't so important. A lot of YA novels have this typical suburban setting. It's Every Town, USA. These kinds of settings remind me of the cartoon Fairly OddParents, which takes place in Townsville. How much more generic can you get? Often these settings illustrate a very teenage way of thinking: all suburban dwellings are the same and cookie-cutter-ness is bad and it doesn't matter where exactly the book takes place because it could be anywhere and it doesn't really matter anyway because suburbia crushes souls. In these kinds of settings, the universalness (or flat-out genericness) is emphasized.

In other novels, setting is paramount. This story could only take place in this town. Instead of the generic aspects of the town being emphasized, the author draws our attention to the specifics. It's kind of a cliché, but really, in some novels, the setting is like another character.

There are pros and cons to both types of settings, of course, and examples in which each is effective. Courtney Summers' books have generic suburbia settings, as does Barry Lyga's The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl, but it doesn't take away from the awesomeness of those books. The settings just aren't focuses. On the other hand, just try to imagine Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard and Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma without their settings... impossible. Their settings are so well-drawn, so specific and beautifully described, that they would be entirely different stories if they were set anywhere else.

I, as a writer, have gone both ways. I've written a few books where the settings were pretty much inconsequential. You could set the novel in your own hometown in your head, if you wanted to.

But these days, I've been thinking a lot about what type of writer I want to be, now and in the future, and I've decided that I want to be a very setting-specific writer. I want to set my stories in real places that you could actually go to. I love it when stories have that element. Knowing that, if I wanted to, I could get in my car and drive to Forks, Washington in just a few hours is really cool, and makes reading setting-specific stories so much fun. I want readers of my work to have that element of "this place really exists" that I find so exciting.

I want to be a writer of one setting in particular: Vancouver and its surrounding towns. I've lived here my whole life, I love this place, and I want to share some of its awesome with readers from around the world. I grew up (and still live) in Squamish, a small town outside of Vancouver, and my current WIP takes place there. I've found that I have much more fun writing real places than made-up places.

This way, instead of trying to keep a made-up town layout in my head, I can just plunk my characters down on Cottonwood Road, a three-minute walk from my house, and know exactly where they are, what the place looks like, what it feels like. When I mention a character's house, I know which house it is (and in some cases, I know who currently lives there). I can set the scene in vivid, true-to-life detail, and I know that the book benefits from it.

I'll cap this post here, but I have more thoughts on settings. Stay tuned...

Friday, July 15, 2011

Deathly Hallows, Part 2

I went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 last night, at midnight. Because I'm just so whacky and crazy, I went in my pyjamas. The small-town movie theatre was packed with teenagers I'm now too old to have gone to high school with, but there were a few people I graduated with who were home for the summer.

I'm still trying to put this movie into words, and I don't really think I can. I kind of already went through the angst of "Oh my god no more Harry Potter" when the seventh book came out, so there was less of that feeling for me. Movies are almost never as good as the books, and that is definitely true in this case. Still... a lot of this movie pulled me apart at the seams. The death of Snape, one of my favourite fictional characters of all time. Snape's memories and reasons for every action he took over the course of the series. His doe Patronus.

The ghosts of Harry's loved ones surrounding him before he took that last step to meet his enemy.

I cried. A lot. The whole theatre did. There was utter silence, punctuated by sniffles and sobs people tried to stifle but couldn't.

Just thinking of finding a way to summarize all my feelings about this experience makes me freeze up. I just can't do. These books, these movies, these stories have been a part of my life now for eleven years, and to have another piece of the Harry Potter world wrap up is very hard. Because I can't say it any better, I'll leave you with the words of one of my random airhead Facebook friends:

"Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened."

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Book Titles that Remind Me of Songs

I love when books are titled after songs. Sometimes it's on purpose, like these:

Whenever I see those covers, I get The Beatles' "Across the Universe" and U2's "With or Without You" stuck in my head. This is no doubt done purposely, to give the prospective reader a taste of the novel's tone. I haven't read either of these books yet, though, so I can't say for sure.

But it's kind of funny when titles remind me of things the author and publisher cannot have anticipated. Like how this...

Reminds me of this...

Monday, July 4, 2011

What the Heck?!

An important part of revisions for me is outlining. Yes, I outline in revisions, after the whole manuscript is already rewritten. I'm a pantser, my methods are random and weird like that. Anyway, I put each chapter on a Post-It note, jot down a quick synopsis of everything that happens in that chapter, and stick it to the wall about my desk. I currently have two WIPs plotted out on the wall. This is a picture of it:

The pink, dark pink, and blue block of stickies is my outline of FAKE, which has gone through multiple revisions and is (for now) complete. The light pink is the original chapters in Jen's POV, the dark pink chapters are the ones in Orlando's POV, and the blue are the chapters that have been totally changed and revised. I just finished putting up the green block of stickies. It's for my newly finished first-draft, THE KING OF GROWING UP, which is just moving into revisions.

FAKE is 50 chapters. TKoGU is 37.

The weird thing is... TKoGU is 26,000 words longer than FAKE.

What the heck????? How did my much-longer WIP end up with 13 fewer chapters?? HOW??? And it's not even finished! I almost always end up adding words during the revision process, and I know that there are at least a couple thousand words that'll be added before TKoGU is ready for beta readers. This is so weird!! I would've thought that more words = longer outline. I prepared so much space on the wall for the TKoGU stickie block but... it just looks so tiny and empty!

Just goes to show... every manuscript is different. And some manuscripts are really, really weird and make you question everything you knew to be true about writing.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

I Can Haz a Blog Award!

The oh-so-awesome Christine Taylor over at The Writer Coaster has given me the Seriously Cute Blogger Award! Yay! Thanks, Christine. Your kind words about me and my blog are much appreciated!

Okay, that puppy is like, the sweetest thing ever.

To accept the award, I have to list five books/movies/TV shows I've watched in the past 12 months.

1) I read Beauty Queens by Libba Bray last month and oh my gosh is it ever awesome. I bought it thinking "Oh, yeah, this should definitely be in my TBR pile, I'll get to it sometime" but I ended up starting it that same day and finishing it really quickly. It was surprisingly deep, and the satirical elements were spot-on. I found myself laughing out loud and reading passages to my mom, too, which is definitely the sign of something special. Plus -- OMG -- there were no unhealthy relationships or passive females! And there was a romance with a trans character! And sexy pirates! Whooohooo!

2) For movies, the best thing I've seen lately is the Bollywood comedy 3 Idiots. It was an impulse watch, my family just found it on the Video on Demand and thought it sounded interesting, so it was really fun to watch it with no preconceptions. It was hilarious! I absolutely love foreign films because they bring such unique humour and situations -- Hollywood can become monotonous. Definitely recommend 3 Idiots if you're looking for a quirky, weird, and touching comedy.

3) I don't watch a heck of a lot of TV, but when I do, I watch British murder mystery shows. Midsomer Murders is my favourite TV show at the moment, as well as Heartbeat and, of course, Agatha Christie's Poirot. Either British murder mysteries, or old people shows like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Bob Newhart, or Antiques Roadshow. What can I say, I'm an old soul. More like geriatric soul.

4) Another book! I read Divergent by Veronica Roth a little while back, and I really, really enjoyed it. Dystopian isn't always my thing, and the book is pretty daunting (get it?) and huge, but I blew through it in two days. Although it kind of felt like mostly set-up for the sequel, I found I really loved the main character, Tris. Her struggle with selfishness and her discovery that it's okay to be selfish sometimes really spoke to me. I'm definitely going to pick up the sequel, Insurgent, when it's out.

5) I haven't read this book yet, but I would kill to and I just need a moment to squee about it... OMG THE FAULT IN OUR STARS SQUEEEEEEEEEILOVEJOHNGREEN.

...I'm a little excited.

Okay, now I get to pass the award on! I'm supposed to pick five bloggers to give it to, but to be honest I'm a little pressed for time and I can only think of one blogger right now who deserves it!

Aaronni @ Simply Aaronni!

Her blog is so cute and it's really fun to read how excited she is to be writing, editing, and starting her query-go-round. I met her on Absolute Write and I think she's awesome! Go check her out!