Category Archives: Authors

Critiques: Getting Good Feedback And Using It

Author Janice Hardy.

First, sorry I’ve been gone for a couple of days! Thursday was very busy and I woke up Friday feeling like death. I’m better now, though, so onto the post!

I’ve already mentioned Janice Hardy in my post Writers Who Write About Writing, but I only vaguely mentioned a newer section of her blog where she critiques a short section (approx 250 words) of your work in progress or finished manuscript. I submitted the first 250 words of Sing, Sweet Nightingale to her in December and this morning she posted her critique. Her answers are so detailed and helpful I was blown away! You should definitely stop by the site and read through this and all past critique posts, but I am also going to post my 250 words here.
As it stands now, this is the opening to my novel Sing, Sweet Nightingale. I hope you enjoy!

Sleeping is the best part of my day. Everything goes slowly downhill from there. Waking up, searching for new music, faking my way through school, studying useless information for hours, suffering through dinner. The only thing I look forward is the buildup of anticipation before it’s finally time to go to sleep.

Can you imagine living like that? What kind of life that would be? I can tell you right now.

It’s no life at all.

That’s why I’m trying so hard to make sure I spend the rest of my life asleep. Who wouldn’t if they had a choice between paradise and Swallow’s Grove?

I saw my mom at the grocery store this morning. In most people’s lives, this wouldn’t be a story that goes beyond that sentence. That’s it. I saw my mom at the grocery store this morning. The End. That, however, is not my life.

In my life, this event is much, much more complicated.

Horace forgot that we were almost out of food, so he asked me to make a run for necessities. I don’t think twice about this because A) I don’t really have the right to refuse Horace such a simple request and B) it’s the grocery store. What can happen? I grab a cart at the door and start coasting through the aisles, automatically pulling our usual staples off the shelves as I pass. The normality of it, the routine of the actions, lulls me into complacence; I don’t see the danger until it’s too late.

It’s the hair-raising tingle that alerts me first. My head snaps up and some inner sense I’ve always had immediately locks on to the watcher. I almost drop the glass jar of spaghetti sauce in my hand when my gaze meets my mom’s.

Hudson’s chapter continues for another ten pages, but this is the section I sent to Janice Hardy, so this is all I’m posting here. Hope you like it! And please feel free to leave critiques in the comments section.

Technology: Who Was The First?

History is marked by “firsts” and made by those who risk everything on new technology, new ideas, or new trends. Gutenberg earned his place by being the first to create movable type. Henry Ford is a household name not because he invented the automobile, but because he was the first to take that idea and make it accessible to the rest of the world. George Washington, our first president. Amelia Earhart, the first woman to make a transatlantic flight. René François Armand “Sully” Prudhomme, the first winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Before the huge technology boom of the last few decades, firsts were well recorded. We know with relative certainty that Mark Twain was the first author to turn in a manuscript created on a typewriter (Life on the Mississippi) and Jack Kerouc made history with his 120-foot long roll of paper containing the first draft of On the Road. The New York Times has an interesting article on the scroll if you’re interested. You can read it here. But what about the first author to submit a document created on a word processor? Who were the early adopters of that technology?

While literary historians know that Stephen King bought one of the earliest editions of the Mac home computer in the 1980s, was he the first author to do so? And after that? Who was the first to move to PC? Or to write a book on an iPad? Do we even care? Matthew Kirschenbaum, an associate professor of English at the University of Maryland, does.

Mr. Kirschenbaum is looking into the literary history of word processors. The author of the NYT article, Jennifer Schuessler, made an interesting point in the article. She says,

The study of word processing may sound like a peculiarly tech-minded task for an English professor, but literary scholars have become increasingly interested in studying how the tools of writing both shape literature and are reflected in it, whether it’s the quill pen of the Romantic poets or the early round typewriter, known as a writing ball, that Friedrich Nietzsche used to compose some aphoristic fragments. (“Our writing tools are also working on our thoughts,” Nietzsche typed.)

And it’s true. Word processing and the internet has streamlined the creative process, making it easier to write, research, and daydream. It provides us with more opportunities and more distractions than any authors in history have had to deal with and thus changes the way we think and write. Does it make our work more disposable because the very medium we’re using to create it is so quickly thrown away? Or will quality endure just like it has for centuries? It’s something to ponder, but not the point here.

Let’s get back on track:

Mr. Kirschenbaum, whose earlier book, “Mechanisms,” analyzed experimental electronic writing, said he was less interested in analyzing the stylistic impact of word processing than in recovering its early history, particularly its adoption by mainstream writers. And in his lecture, sponsored by NYPL Labs, a unit of the library devoted to experimental technology, he ticked off some of the better-documented moments in that history. Tom Clancy wrote his 1984 thriller “The Hunt for Red October,” often cited as one of the earliest word-processed best sellers, on an Apple IIe, using WordStar software. And Jimmy Carter set off what may have been the first word-processing-related panic in 1981, when he accidentally deleted several pages of his memoir in progress by hitting the wrong keys on his brand-new $12,000 Lanier, a calamity noted in The New York Times.

Given the spottiness of the record Mr. Kirschenbaum is hesitant to proclaim Mr. King the computer-age equivalent of Mark Twain, the first major American writer to complete a work using the new technology. But Mr. King’s 1983 short story “The Word Processor,” Mr. Kirschenbaum ventured, is “likely the earliest fictional treatment of word processing by a prominent English-language author.”

It’s a fascinating subject to someone who grew up in the computer boom and actually watched computers get bigger and more powerful before suddenly becoming smaller and even more powerful. But one topic in particular intrigued me most about this article. Jennifer talks about Stephen King’s story “The Word Processor” and how it came to be:

The story, published in Playboy (later retitled “Word Processor of the Gods”), certainly captured the unsettling ghostliness of the new technology, which allowed writers to correct themselves without leaving even the faintest trace. In the story a frustrated schoolteacher discovers that by erasing sentences about his enemies he can delete them entirely from the universe and insert himself in their place, a reflection of Mr. King’s fascination with his Wang System 5’s “insert,” ”delete” and “execute” keys, recounted in the introduction to his 1985 story collection, “Skeleton Crew.” “Writers are used to playing God, but suddenly now the metaphor was literal,” Mr. Kirschenbaum said in the lecture. 

 Having never written an entire book on paper (or evenon a typewriter) will I ever know how much the computer has changed the way I would have written in a different era? Who can know, but it’s something to keep in mind. Who knows? Maybe the escape, control and home keys will inspire my next book. 😉

Writing: Writers Who Write About Writing

This is Janice. And I want to steal her sweater. 🙂

Recently, I discovered Janice Hardy’s blog. Janice is the author of the middle grade Healing Wars Trilogy, but her website is a treasure trove of useful information for aspiring authors. She covers everything and has even begun offering critiques on short sections (particularly opening sections) of reader’s stories. I could probably write a couple thousand words about the information I’ve found here, but today I’m going to concentrate on one aspect: editing the first draft.

Why am I concentrating on this subject today? Because I’m in the process of doing this myself. My own method of editing has developed over the course of a few years and has fallen into a pattern that works rather well for me. First, I print my book, paperclip each chapter or section, and put the whole thing into an accordion folder. Next, I gather three writing utencils (a black pen, a bright colored pen [usually red, green, or orange], and a mechanical pencil) and a composition book (because they’re cheap). Third, I start reading, watching for things I know I have problems with (like overusing “that,” passive voice, telling instead of showing, etc.), but I do this only to make sure I’m paying attention to the details as I read. In her blog post about the difference between editing and revising, Janice makes this point:

You often hear edit and revise used interchangeably, but they really are two different things. Editing is the nitpicky, line by line tweaks that polish your text. Revision is more macro level, changing parts of the story. But how do you know when to use one over the other? I revise first, because that covers the big issues. The things that may take a lot of work. Once the story is unfolding how I want, then I edit, polishing it until it shines.

It’s a good point, and one that will inevitably save you time in the polishing process.  I am definitely guilty of doing editing during the first revision, but that’s also because the first revision usually comes before I have gotten any feedback. In my head, everything is still working because no one has told me otherwise. Do I think my first draft is perfect? Heck, no. I just don’t know yet how to fix the problems I’m sure are in there somewhere. That’s where sites like Janice’s come in handy.

Within her page on editing and revising, she goes through a list of many of the large and middling issues most first drafts face, things like structure, stakes, and story arcs. She gives you questions to ask yourself as you read through your novel to help pinpoint your major issues. And, trust me, they’re good questions.

So, if you’re like me and beginning the arduous process of revising your NaNoWriMo novel, check out Janice’s blog. You may find some information that will get your draft from problematic to perfect.

MBFI: Sunday, November 20, 2011

I just really like the ceiling of the courtyard in building 1 of the MDC campus. The geometry of it is very pretty.

Another day, another two hours in the car, but still totally worth it. I’d already walked most of the fair on Saturday, so I planned ahead and plotted a route from conference to conference. There was another impressive array of authors on the docket and my day ran the gamut from memoirs and literary fiction to children’s books young adult.

Helen Mitsios (seated) and her friend Cyn who stood in for Helen’s mother

I started out in building 3 where I waited for a reading by Helen Mitsios, co-author of Waltzing with the Enemy, a memoir by herself and her mother, a holocaust survivor. Her mother, unfortunately, was not there as she had passed away earlier this year. For anyone interested in World War II or the Holocaust, this book is a powerful look not only at what it took to survive those horrifying years, but the effect that fear had on the next generation of Jews like Helen. Helen’s mother raised her as a Greek Orthodox and although she never personally abandoned her faith, it became a secret she held onto until the last years of her life.

Hillary Jordan, Jaimy Gordon, and Tea Obreht

Because of the cancellation of another YA event, I ended up in a reading and question session by three award-winning literary authors: Hillary Jordan, Jaimy Gordon, and Tea Obreht. Each read a selection from their books and while each possessed a intriguing descriptive quality, I found myself most drawn to Hillary Jordan’s When She Woke, an almost sci-fi book that is a modernization of the Scarlet Letter. In When She Woke, criminals are no longer jailed, they are chromed, their skin dyed according to the nature of their crimes. The main character wakes up in the beginning of the story and her skin has been dyed red, the same red as freshly shed blood, as punishment for undergoing an illegal abortion. When she refuses to name the father of the child or any of the people who helped her obtain the abortion, she is sentenced to be a “Red” for sixteen years. I’ve always disliked the scarlet letter, but Jordan’s retelling of the story sounds fascinating.

It’s Jon Scieszka!! 😀 The picture is bad, but the light above his head ruined it…

I had a block of time and nothing scheduled, so when I heard someone recommend sitting in on Jon Scieszka’s talk because he was absolutely hilarious, I thought, “Sure. Why not?” Only after I’d already sat down did I realize that this is the genius behind The Stinky Cheese Man (which, apparently is called The Little Man of Cheese in France) and The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs (which, in Denmark, is called The Sugar is Empty… ?)!! I adored those books in elementary school! They are also on the shortlist of books that I loved at a young age and can actually still go back to, read, and enjoy. After his talk I went up to him and said, “This is probably going to be both good and bad to hear, but I loved your books in elementary school.” He laughs and says, “I love hearing that!” But then he blinks and realizes how old I am and says, “Ahh. Yep, I see the bad.” Jon has a fantastic sense of humor and had the whole audience (who ranged in age from his target reading group of 1st-4th graders all the way up through middle-aged parents) in fits of laughter. I was very happy that I wandered into his room and wished that I still had my old copies of his books so I could have gotten them signed.

Jennifer Knight, Jessica Martinez, and Danielle Joseph

My requisite YA event of the afternoon was a panel of two debut authors (Jennifer Knight and Jessica Martinez) and Danielle Joseph who is touring to promote her third book, Pure Red. They all did readings as well as answering questions, and I definitely want to read Jessica’s book Virtuosity. It’s the story of a violin phenom who is approaching the biggest, most important  competition of her career. She’s addicted to anti-anxiety medication which is the only way she can perform, but taking away the anxiety has also taken away any pleasure she has being on stage or pulling music from her violin (which is worth over a million dollars). As the competition looms closer, she begins falling for the boy who is wrong for her in almost every way, but is also her most dangerous competitor. The prologue absolutely pulled me in and I think I shall be downloading this to read while I’m taking a break between edits of Sing, Sweet. To top off the draw, Jessica is a violist herself and performed a small selection from her character’s competition concerto. I missed the first few seconds of it, but most of the impromptu performance is recorded for posterity and you can watch it at the bottom of the post. 🙂

This costume is so incredible!

That event (and a fast growing headache) brought my day to a close, but I am so happy I was able to attend. I met some great authors (and gathered further proof for my theory that authors are some of the best people on the planet) and heard from those who have succeeded the best advice they could offer. Check the internet for local bookfairs and do yourself a favor if you’re an author or a reader: GO!

And now, please enjoy Jessica Martinez’s beautiful performance of a Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto:

MBFI: Saturday, November 19, 2011

I started to write this as one long post, but then I looked at the pictures I wanted to share and what I had to say about the whole event and realized this was way too much for one post. So there shall be two, one for each day of major goings on at the Miami Book Fair International (MBFI).

Saturday turned out to be beautiful weather-wise which was a blessing considering that it rained buckets on Friday most of the day. The wind was pretty strong, but that was nice when you’re spending half the day walking from stall to stall in the South Florida sun.

I arrived around eleven and wandered the booths that lined the streets for the next hour. It was an interesting mix of new and used bookstores, independent presses, self-published authors, and writers services and organizations. Some I’d never heard of, others I recognized, but either way it was a fascinating look at the local writing landscape and I picked up some great books I never would have discovered otherwise as part of my research for Sing, Sweet Nightingale. It’s going to take me a while to read them all, but I think they’ll have some great information!

Colleen Houck, Debbie Viguie, Nancy Holder, and Sarah Dessen

At noon I headed toward building 1 where they held a fabulous panel of YA authors (picture from the discussion at right). The panel included paranormal/fantasy authors Colleen Houck, Debbie Viguie, and Nancy Holder as well as contemporary author Sarah Dessen. They were all fabulously kind and I wish I owned physical copies of Nancy and Debbie’s books (they co-write a bunch of different series) so they could have signed them! Alas, the only book I had was an ARC (advance release copy) of Lock & Key by Sarah Dessen. Now it’s a signed ARC! 😀

Clockwise from top: Colleen Houck, Me, Sarah Dessen, Nancy Holder, Debbie Viguie

These incredibly talented and incredibly kind authors not only gave a great presentation, they answered a lot of questions including my request for advice on building a platform relevant to the YA industry. Nancy and Debbie were especially helpful and I chatted with them for at least thirty minutes before I felt guilty for taking up so much of their time. If you ever get the chance to meet any of these authors, GO! They’re awesome.

Tasha Alexander, Ellen Hopkins, and Sunny Chen

After leaving building 1, I crossed campus to building 3 where another panel was being held. This one consisted of romance authors Tasha Alexander, Ellen Hopkins (also the bestselling author of YA books in verse like Crank), and Sunny Chen (who, if I remember correctly, is usually just listed as Sunny on her books). They spoke about their writing process–which is very different for each of these authors as each one writes in a very distinct style from the others on the panel–and about the perseverance is takes to make it in the publishing industry.

Errol Lewis, Pete Hamill, Mike Barnicle, and John Avlon

In one particular room, The Chapman Room for those of you who care, they held large, ticketed events. The tickets were free, but these were events they expected to draw a large crowd. For example, this is where they held the Christopher Paolini event last week. When I booked my tickets, I saw an event called Deadline Artists. I didn’t recognize any of the names, but the title intrigued me, so I registered for a ticket and attended the event. Turns out Deadline Artists is a collection of newspaper columns dating back to the early 1900s, the best of the best in literary journalism. Errol Lewis and John Avalon put the collection together while Pete Hamill and Mike Barnicle were contributors. Honestly, I almost didn’t stay once I realize what the presentation was about (I don’t read the newspaper and don’t follow politics, so I thought ugh. An hour listening to them talk about politics?). I am so glad I stayed. The conversation itself was fascinating, but it was worth the whole trip just to hear Pete Hamill read one of the columns included in the collection. Hamill was IN THE ROOM when Robert F. Kennedy was shot. He wrote a column about the event as he witnessed it and the beauty, horror, and power in his words is indescribable. Reading them would have been impactful, but for the first time I really understood the value of a reading because when he read his own words, you were there. Absolutely astounding. I recommend the collection to anyone with an interest in journalism or narrative non-fiction.

In addition to all the book-related events over the weekend, the Fair this year also highlighted the culture and art of China. Throughout the day various performers and musicians showed off their skills, but one of the most randomly amazing things I’ve ever seen is this juggling ballerina pictured at left. I mean, I’ve done pointe and I’ve tried juggling. On their own, their already hard-to-master skills. Put them together successfully and I have to bow down before your obvious physical prowess and eye-hand coordination. So cool!!

So ended my first day of the fair, but Sunday was just as exciting! Check back tomorrow for a recap and photos of Sunday!

Authors: Miami Book Fair

Such a wonderful day! I’ll do a full recap later, but I attended the Miami International Book Fair today and I am so glad I did! I got to meet Sarah Dessen, Nancy Holder & Debbie Viguie (andI actually got to speak to both Nancy and Debbie for a while and they are amazing!), Collen Houck, Ellen Hopkins, Sunny Chen, Tasha Alexander, and a panel of newspaper columnists who were incredibly fascinating to listen to (Mike Barnicle, Errol Louis, Pete Hamill, and John Avalon). I hope tomorrow will be just as fantastic! Totally worth the two hours in the car to get there and back! 😀

Authors: Christopher Paolini

It is slightly upsetting that so many really incredible author tours skip out on South Florida. Christopher Paolini is not one of those authors. He kicked off the Miami International Book Fair with a talk/Q+A session/book signing yesterday afternoon and he is, in a word, awesome.

He spoke about writing Eragon (including the incredible boredom that led to him first digging a hole eight feet in diameter, eight feet deep, covered by an old satellite dish and connected to a Viking-style mead hall by tunnel) and also how different (and bad) the first draft of Eragon was–most notably, the fact that Eragon wasn’t named Eragon, but Kevin. Weird. He also spoke about getting slaughtered in a Jedi video game (the name escapes me but I remember he stressed it was number 2) by an online gamer named Eragon. He did brief readings from each of the books in the series (very brief. I think he read the first two sentences of Eragon), answered a lot of really well-thought out questions (unless the question involved Angela), mentioned the possibility of other books set in Eragon’s world (but cautioned that they would not show up for a long time), and then started signing a LOT of books. His hand had to be cramping like crazy by the end of the night! And he’d just flown in this morning, so he must have already been exhausted.

I may seem overly excited by this event, but authors are my rock stars. In fact, they’re better than rock stars because they’re usually nicer, easier to talk to, intelligent (no, I’m not saying rock stars are dumb), funny (I’m not saying they’re dull either), and some of the best people in the world. Christopher Paolini is no exception. I purposefully attempted to be the last person in line (I say attempted because a couple came in late, took the spot, and then used the fact that they were on their honeymoon to keep it… How could I insist after that?). When I got to speak to him I asked him about his actual publishing experience and what advice he would offer authors who are still trying to figure out which side of the fence to jump onto. He tried valiantly to answer a question that I think has no solution, but essentially his advice came down to this: Write the best book you can, know who your audience is, and promote it as best you can because all truly exceptional books will find a home.

Christopher is very nice (he signed up to four books PER PERSON and spent a few seconds talking to everyone), incredibly down to earth, and a Trekkie! So many bonus cool points for that revelation. 🙂  It was also really great meeting someone who is right around my age and successfully doing what I would like to be doing with my life. Very inspiring! There are still a few stops left on his tour, so I highly recommend attending if you’re anywhere nearby. Well worth driving a few hours for!